Painter’s Way

I have written before about the Oregon Country Fair, but I haven’t written much about the PEOPLE. The community of gentle, wonderful people that make the thing possible. It’s a large group of people I feel deeply connected to, although I’ve only had the pleasure of their company a scant 5 years (and really, 3 of those were by proxy.)

I suppose that isn’t a long time, but something wonderful happens when you spend 170 consecutive hours with folks, shouldering the heavy burden that the recyclables are — sliding through the mud, directing a fleet of ancient trucks, repairing those trucks, watching the trucks slide into the mud, lifting things, laying hands on every single piece of glass, plastic and aluminum — both returnable and not — that is thrown into barrels (and NOT thrown into barrels, thank you very much.) We call the people who work at OCF “family”, because it’s completely how it feels. Sleep deprivation, filth, discomfort, giving comfort, laughs, food, tears, etc — it all leads to an incredible bond.

We call our elders…”elders”, because it is respectful and because it is a nod to cultures who treat age with a respect that is sometimes lost in the youth-obsessed mainstream. One of our elders began to rapidly lose his battle with cancer recently. We had been kept abreast of events to keep in our thoughts –treatments, chemotherapy, analysis, waiting, accepting.

When further treatments were proposed he opted not to deny the inevitable but rather to embrace it. He did so in a way I have never seen anyone do, but in a way that I want to be a model for my own life, should such be my lot.

Through the listserv and Facebook, it was announced that Mr. Painter would be having a farewell send-off. A celebration of life.

 

The local core members — along with the family — mobilized as only they know how. People were called. Roles were assigned. camping-canopies were dug out of garages, outdoor heaters were found, as were an army of mix-match plastic chairs — as the house could only accommodate so many. And the prospective visiting list was over 200 strong. Casseroles were made. A sign up sheet was made, so each person who wanted one could have their moment.

I have often had examples of how to live, but this was the first I’d really had of how to die. It was the most simple thing, yet the most profound thing.

Pictures began to pop up on the Facebook group, and the look in the man’s eyes is something I find difficult to describe, for it is something I haven’t seen before. The earnest, joyful face of a man who is having it his own way, fading peacefully at home, surrounded by a sea of loved ones. Young and old, time-worn and new, everyone who could make it did.

From his recliner in the center of the room, bolstered by pillows and warmed by a crocheted blanket someone had made, again and again his pure, open face of surprise, delight, at each new familiar face (and perhaps even some less familiar ones, still offering joy, still offering gratitude for having known him, spoken with him). Here a person kneeling in front of him, leaning in. There a person sitting on a stool laughing with him. There a person showing him a collage they put together, or a painting they painted in his honor. Each holding his hand — save the crew member who skyped in from Japan.

We are not as close to him as many are, and we opted to let those who needed it have their time. But I have been following it all on Facebook because it is beautiful, and makes me swell with gratitude that I know such decent, wonderful people.

 

 

 

Visiting hours closed over the weekend, but for a week after the goodbye party updates ripples of warmth and beauty continued to surge through my feed. Pictures from when he was young. Pictures of people visiting with him. Pictures of flowers. Messages from crew members. More casseroles. A recipe for a depression-era raison cake that was a favorite of his. Updates about the man himself, so many including the words, “he is lucid, happy, and pain-free.” One update described how he woke to see the sunrise , and expressed his wish to be reborn as a night-blooming cactus.

He breathed his last Feb 2 — almost two years after he shared his diagnosis with us. At that time he said that, untreated, the doctors gave him four months. He opted for treatment so he could go on his own terms.

What a note to leave on. We should all be so lucky to have the grace to recognize the end when we see it, and to greet it surrounding by flowers, love, and smiling faces.

It is in giving that we receive

I am starting to wake up to the fact that managing social media — particularly my personal feeds, which are not curated like my art business feeds — is an activity that comes under the heading of “socializing”. That is, navigating a social space. Which is to say: it is an extroverted activity.

That was not my initial user experience of the internet way back in the 2000’s when we were all just blogging into the void. That felt introverted. And I have been, without realizing it, mentally categorizing surfing the web as an introverted activity — EVEN THOUGH I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that reading things online put me into a “reactive” mode, not a “receptive” one.

I have been trying to keep a closer watch on myself as I surf the web, and that has become particularly true as the American public generally loses its mind over the Syrian refugee crisis. There is a great deal of inelegant behavior on both sides of the issue on my feed. (Because truthfully I don’t know what saddens me more these days: the blind hatred of “refugees”, or the eagerness with which my so-called progressive friends express hatred of the people who have this stance, rather than focus on dialogue and perhaps education.)

One thing I saw during an infrequent visit struck me. A friend-of-a-friend had posted something about her work at a local refugee resettlement office. To paraphrase what she said: she does not have time to educate people, nor discuss politics, nor point people to helpful info-graphics. She is too swamped and too overwhelmed {and, one gathered, too crushed and irritated} by the amount of hateful threats their office has received since the bombing in Paris. (Threats that include bombings and slitting employee’s throats).

“I don’t have time for this”, she said. “I don’t have time to deprogram you. All I can say is what I have said before: go volunteer at your local refuge resettlement office.”

I did some digging. ‘Refugee resettlement’ is one of those jobs that I’d never really thought about, but one that I was deeply moved to discover. Of course there are people who help on this side of that journey. There has to be.

Portland has a reputation for being the whitest city on the west coast, so I was mildly surprised to find a helpful list of programs right on the city’s website

Each of these programs linked from that list has, at the very least, a wish list of items most needed — usually toiletries and personal care related, but some with very specific needs like certain mattress sizes. These lists should loom large in all of our Christmas giving, I think. 

I stuck with my roots and emailed the coordinator for the Catholic Charities program. I knew they were busy, and did not expect a prompt reply. Within almost 24 hours however I received a beautiful email from the woman, with details outlining various positions available but also the smaller ways people can just plug in, which is likely how I will have to operate, at least at the beginning. 

The email had an application attached, and also had a fascinating sample of upcoming arrivals, as well as the current new postings on a sort of help-needed bulletin board. 

“This is by no means exhaustive” she said. “It’s just today’s update. I’ll be writing up a new update later today.”

It was something like 20 people, all with specific situations and needs. This person with some mobility issues that gets lonely when her son is at work and would benefit from some companionship. That person who wants to enroll in community college and just needs help going through that process. A recently resettled family that needs help navigating the bus system and getting the hang of the grocery store. Several people just needed friends, one in particular who lives with extended family sits at home fretting about things, and needs someone to “engage in positive activities” with.

That list was incredibly powerful for me. It was like seeing cells under a microscope for the first time. Or, in this case, putting demographics and very specific stories to a singular mass that we call “refugees”. Most of the people on the list I saw live in the same quadrant I do. Which is to say: most of these people are my neighbors. And each of them need something fairly human and basic, and I look forward to doing my share of of that help once I have gone through orientation.

It doesn’t solve the refugee crisis, but it is one very direct thing I can do to help. 

One person can’t fix it all. But if each person does whatever they can, well, that’s something.

And I’d rather do something than nothing.

 

With apologies to November

Usually this is the time of year where I place my feet firmly in the Thanksgiving / autumnal camp and make an argument for taking things one month at a time, to enjoy what we have now and not rush off to the GIMME GIMME GIMME season. (That’s really easy to do here in Oregon, because it is not going to even THINK about looking like ‘winter’ for at least another five weeks.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to November. After a rough day I was seized by a compulsion to make these little greeting cards. I had some folks to write to, and I am always of the opinion that non-bill related mail is as thrilling as it is rare (alas) and so fun mail should be made as fun as possible. So I started noodling around and made these.

I am not a stranger to celebrating the seasons with little homemade creations. In fact I do a version of it every year, I think. That paper turkey still makes an appearance every year, and why I have not yet made little skeletons and bats for Halloween is anyone’s guess. 

Anyway. These were incredibly fun to make, and they looked GREAT in envelopes. I started getting more ideas. I started roughing out sketches and thinking of maybe pimping these to a proper card outlet once I get enough ideas. 

To add to the excitement, people on my personal Facebook page started going bananas when they saw these. They wanted to know how to buy them, and whether or not I’d be making Christmas cards. Well? It had crossed my mind. But to offer the cards that were just sitting on my desk would mean…selling a handmade, original thing, which would put the price at something like $200 – $450 — which is to say, priced as a piece of ART, not a thing you can scribble on and send to your friends. LAME.

So the question became: how can I do it? Is this sort of thing viable for a one-woman outfit like Simply Kumquat?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I did eventually find a print shop that would be able to PRINT and CUT OUT the cards, as cards, which was something like a miracle. (Such places exist! I had no idea!). I scrambled around to get quotes, so that I could work out both: 

1.) if I could price them accessibly, and,

2.) if I would be able to order them at all.

Because the truth is: the upfront cost is incredibly high on these, particularly for a person who cleans houses for her day job. The first batch will cost roughly 85% of my monthly income, and for those playing the home game, 96% of my monthly income goes to obligatory spending such as rent and bills. I really do want to offer these cards though because they’re cool and I they’re the sort of thing I would buy off the rack if I saw anything like them in the shops. And I DON’T see anything like them in the shops, at least not where I’ve been nosing around.

Which is all to say: this is the test-run. The listings are live. Go order some and see if I’m not right. I have little flimsy fakers hanging around while I wait for the real proofs to arrive from my print shop, and even those are filing my heart with so much joy. 

If they sell, awesome! I can make more designs in spring. If they don’t, well, on to the next idea. 

 

Apples, apples everywhere

At the beginning of the month we trekked out to our beloved Mt. View Orchards to pick apples. We go every year, and with the addition of my brother-in-law — newish to preserving and very enthusiastic — we wanted to make sure we got a good haul. 

We indeed got a very good haul — something like sixty pounds!  That seems like a lot, but it was amazing how quickly we got through them, particularly with all the apple butter we made. Man nothing burns through apples like apple butter, especially if you keep adding apples to the crockpot as it cooks down, (which is what we did, slowly, over the course of two days.) That behavior will significantly decrease your apple population, but you also end up with the richest, most glorious apple butter you can imagine. Christmas presents: accomplished. 

We also made about five quarts of applesauce (I’d envisioned more, but I think I’m the only one in the house that cares about applesauce so we’ll just see how far that gets me), a glorious cake tart thing I make every year, and we are trying our hand at apple cider vinegar, since we had so many apple peelings on our hands. (And we go through rather a lot of that stuff.)

We also ate a lot of the peelings just as is, like chips, because dang these apples. You don’t want to waste a thing. 

Things I wanted to try but have not yet include apple chips in the dehydrator, Béa’s baked apples, and fruit leather (which may be where the pear / apple butter ends up, as it was not nearly as exciting as the straight up apple butter.) I also want to make Smitten Kitchen’s apple cider caramels, because HOW CAN YOU NOT. 

The result of all this — mostly of the apple butter — is that the house has smelt beautifully like autumn. Or like heaven, as one of my roommates put it. He sent me this video of little apple rosettes in puff pastry, to which I replied: challenge accepted. 

Cedar waxwing feathers

Something made a snack of a cedar waxwing in my backyard — I didn’t see it in progress but I found the feathers. A whole lot a smooth greyish brown ones, and several diagnostic ones, including the namesake “wax” tipped secondary flight feathers. 

I’d never seen these up close before — they’re very striking. As though someone shaped them with scissors and then dipped them in paint. 

The Sparkling Salish Sea

I didn’t want to talk about this until I could show you, and short of standing with you on the shore and demonstrating, this is the next best thing.

Apparently the waters surrounding the San Juan islands (which we visited recently) are filled with noctiluca scintillans (also known as sea sparkle!) a microscopic organism. (Not a plankton itself for it eats plankton, but just as small.) Agitation of the water’s surface causes a chemical reaction within their little organelles, and they glow for a brief moment with a fascinating blue-greenish tinge that you have to really pay attention to at first, because it seems unreal. (It reminded me of the table-cloth we were “seeing” at the blind cafe.)

Once you do finally accept that what you are seeing is real, it becomes captivating. I was particularly mesmerized by the waves crashing onto the pebbly shore, and the sparks of light that would dance of the surface of the bouncing pebbles — the bright hiss of the peebles tumbling in the surf registered as a sizzle, coupled with the dance of light so quick it seemed like electric sparks.

These guys are dinoflagellateflagellate meaning they travel via flagellum (like sperm — they have sperm tails) and dinos meaning they are tiny dinosaurs. (Just kidding. It is latin for “whirling.” They spin!)

(…whirling-lizard?) *checks Wikipedia and the OED via the local library website* No, we’re good: the Greek root “dinos” means whirling, whereas the Greek root “deinos” means terrible, potent, or “fearfully great”.

Back to our creatures. They feed on plankton, which is apt to bloom in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the San Juan islands, and evidently this bloom is reliable enough that bioluminescent tours exist. We knew nothing of this phenomenon before we went out to the shoreline at night, so in our case the discovery was as serendipitous as it was delightful.

You know now, so I’ve spoiled the surprise for you, but I don’t think I’ve diminished the wonder, because there really is no picture I can show you that will replace seeing the thing for yourself with your own eyes. So get to it, will you?

Explorations down the aural canal

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE EAR CANAL IN THE PAST 26 HOURS OR SO

You are apparently not supposed to clean them with Q-tips, not even a little bit, despite the fact that Q-tips look and feel expressly designed for that purpose. (What…are they for then? Can anybody tell me?) My mother did not teach me to clean my ears in any fashion, but neither did she teach me not to, so alas, I do from time to time. What can I say? I have gunky ears, and once had the magical if alarming experience of getting them sort of…douched via turkey baster by a medical professional, and the great wads of sediment that came out of my ears were unlike anything I had ever seen. And I heard clearly for what felt like the first time in my life.

– Speaking of douching: Ears, like vaginas, are self-cleaning organs. No cleaning necessary. Wow! Who knew? And color me surprised and ashamed a little, for not trusting my own body and the nonsense it produces. These things happen for a reason.

What is one to do about the gunk, then, if one has that ears-filled-with-cotton feeling? Place a warm washcloth against your head, over your ear, to allow it to sort of “melt” and “drain” the proper amount. (Which is different for everybody, and depends on how good your system is at fighting disease.)

You can drip in a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, but it should be applied via dropper (not Q-tip!) and the solution should be warmed to body temperature, as cold fluid dripped without preamble into the ear canal can cause pain and dizziness. (I had my doubts, but then I thought about Neti Pots, and the various false starts I’ve had with water not QUITE the right temperature, and realized it makes perfect sense. Your tubes. They are not acclimated to climate change.)

You can also just chew your food. According to an article cited by wikipedia: “Cleaning of the ear canal occurs as a result of the “conveyor belt” process of epithelial migration, aided by jaw movement. ” So, just go about your business.

Your eardrums recover if you puncture them, in about a week or two, which I guess makes perfect sense, but to confirm this on WebMD was interesting. I’ve held one of those a since-childhood misconceptions that seem absurd when you examine them with your adult mind but that sticks with you because of the purity of feeling (be that joy or terror) (usually terror) in the original question that led to the formation of the hypothesis. One of these misconceptions was that if you touched the electric cables that go into the ground from a telephone pole, you’ll get a nasty electric shock and probably will die. (This is…almost certainly not true, since the object that inspired this theory was on a playground we would visit on a weekly basis, and the wires were between a distant swing set and a popular slide, and it seems unlikely that EVEN IN TEXAS IN THE 80s a person would build a large playground for children around something so casually lethal. But still to this day I have no idea if its true or not. Touching something to answer the question, “will I die if I touch this?” is not something even my four year old self would have dreamed of doing, and I’m certainly not going to start now. I can live with the uncertainty.)

Another one of these theories? You Only Get One Pair Of Eardrums, And If You Puncture Them, That’s It. Gone Forever. Deafness.

While the body can fail us in many ways, a fit body has a delightful way of healing superficial abrasions, and so it’s neat to learn that “perforation of eardrums” — as it is officially called —  is fairly trivial so long as you don’t, I guess, try for a morsel of inner ear at the same time.

That there are several kinds of “ear infection”. They are impossible to accurately diagnose without a visit to the doctor. I haven’t done that yet, because the folk treatment of warm garlic oil and the washcloth thing helped enough — far better than even ibuprofen. I remain keenly aware of my ear canal, but I can chew food again and can look over my shoulder without needing to fight the urge to meltdown like a toddler with the same affliction.

Q-tips (or cotton swabs to use the non-branded name, though not nearly as vivid to the North American mind,) were originally called “Baby Gays”. They were invented provisionally in 1920 by a woman named Ziuta Gerstenzang, who wrapped cotton wool around the end of a toothpick for what purpose? CLEANING THE BABY’S EARS.

Leo Z. Gerstenzang, her husband, is the man who witnessed this miracle and who took the idea, manufactured an object, and produced it for mass consumption, so his name credited for “inventing” them, but really, isn’t he just the production guy? Who was dealing with the baby’s nooks and crannies, who was fretting over filth lurking deep in the baby’s dark crevices, who saw the toothpick and had the flash of inspiration to use it in a way that would confound doctors many decades later? That would be Ziuta Gerstenzang, and not her husband, thank you very much.

(Note: even the “official” version of this origin story is apocryphal, but L.Z. Gerstenzang IS credited with inventing Baby Gays, that much we know. There are numerous anecdotes, and all of the ones I read were along the lines of “he got the idea from his wife”. PRETTY SURE THAT MEANS THE WIFE IS THE INVENTOR, but thanks for the Assertion of Patriarchy, o authors of history.)

Improper use of Q-tips is one of the chief causes of impacted earwax, which leads to one of the various ear infections, and is suspected to be the reason children get so many.  Nervous parents, like the good Ms. Gerstenzang, wanting the best for their off-spring and in so doing causing them more harm.

– Again according to Wikipedia, anthropologists have used earwax to track human migratory patterns! Apparently east Asians and native Americans tend to have “dry type”, which is grey and flaky, and very different from what Africans and Europeans often have, which is the brownish wet stuff. Wet-wax peoples also tend to have more sweat production and body oder, yay us. May or may not have to do with the grey-wax folks historically living in very cold places, where sweat is fairly moot. And I suspect frozen earwax would be intolerable.

NOW YOU KNOW

What’s in a user image?

I have been using Mr. Stargazer as my user image for a long time. I couldn’t remember how long until I had to dig around for the original file in my archive-drive, and found him in the folder labeled…2010. Good God.

It’s not that I feel a particularly VISUAL affinity to the guy, it’s just that at the time I didn’t have a lot of featured faces in my work aside from him, and I liked his wistfulness, his gazing upward towards the heavens seemed hopeful to me. He was also one of the first finished paintings that I sold immediately upon unveiling him to the internet, so that felt like a sign of good luck.

I am also the sort of person that only changes their user image once every five years or so — at least on Facebook, which is the only place I use a picture of my own face. (It feels weird to use a photograph on my “official illustration business” social media things, as an illustrator).  I have so few pictures of my face — I don’t have a particularly photo-happy group of friends — and I’m not big on “selfies”.

I never really gave my choice of the Official Face Of Simply Kumquat much thought until that Newsweek thing happened, and I started talking more with my fellow civic minded lady-illustrators. The topic of user images came up in many of these discussions. Does a person “present” as male or female, and why? Do you use a user-image that represents you, or an entity that the industry wants to hire?

There’s a lot of stories about authors using initials, because J. K. Rowling sounds less telling than Joanne Rowling, I guess. Did you know her pen name for adults is currently “Robert Galbraith”? Not Rose, Rachel, Rebecca, or even Robin, which could maybe go either way. Robert.

On the one hand, I get it, because she’s not in the business of Changing The Knee-Jerk Reaction Of The Masses, she’s in the business of selling books. And the name “J. K. Rowling” is inextricably bound to the writing of children’s fiction, just like the name Lemony Snicket. The difference here is David Handler can use his own name when writing books for grownups, whereas Ms. Rowling has opted to adopt a pseudonym that will hide her inconvenient gender from the eyes of people who think women can’t write serious books.

This idea was further brought to my attention by this Op-Ed in the New York Times, which influenced this self-portrait of mine very heavily.

I am kind of straddling both worlds here, according to that article. My limbs, rather than being entwined like supple vines, are pointy and stick out at angles. But I suppose am looking dreamily into space — partly because of the real logistic difficulty of eyeballs through refracted eyeglasses as I was exploring a bit in those sketches there, and partly because it isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s out there.

I am somewhat androgynous as far as humans go — so I realize this picture isn’t really all that gender-y anyway, and may not even warrant this entire conversation. But I wanted to mention it because I was thinking about all this as I was painting it, and all the placements here are intentional (just like any painting).

At least my user image no longer sports a beard, so it’s more clear who we’re dealing with when you get emails from me. That’s the hope, anyhow.

Reflections

It was roughly 11 years ago today that I sat next to the weird guy in Art History class, to save my shy friend the trouble. A few weeks later I took this picture of him. (Well, mainly of the scenery, let’s be real.) (And eight years after that, we tied the knot.)

People would always ask me where that picture was taken, and would be astounded when I told them — along the drainage ditch off one of the very quiet main streets in our very sleepy agrarian college town. This town is not really known for its picturesque pockets, but rather is known for being one of the least desirable places to get your bachelor’s degree in Colorado, of the mainstream choices. (It is also known for being home to a meat packaging plant mentioned in the book “Fast Food Nation”, and one of the places targeted in the ICE raids.)

My memories of that town include these things, but they also include the small-town downtown, with its fine park and pagoda, that would be lit up by lights every December and make a veritable Winter Wonderland to wander in. There was the excellent Mexican food — made by immigrant laborers — at taquerias where English was barely spoken and the telenovelas would be blaring, and the portions were as generous as they were delicious. The enormous cottonwood trees, not just limited to campus but sprinkled throughout the district, which would turn golden in October and filter the sunlight. The majesty of the sparse farmland to the north, where I would drive on lonely roads for hours in the crystalline frost of late autumn, before the ice of winter came in earnest.  

I really don’t think it was JUST because I was falling deeply in love — though doubtless that was part of it. That first picture really epitomizes something we both feel strongly about: that there is something impressive, surprising, magical, or just plain nice looking everywhere, so long as you’re patient enough to look. You don’t have to spend lots of money or time to find it. And it doesn’t have to be that far away.

Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)
Most recent picture I took of him. 2015. (Similarity to the first picture is purely coincidental.)