Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Zen and the Art of Potting Around

On a lovely summer day last week, the Mister, the Dog and I went for after-dinner ice cream at our favorite local spot. It was such a pretty evening that I suggested a drive-around.

"Where to?" asked the Mister. 

"Oh, I don't know," I said, "Just anywhere." 

"You drive, then," he said, "You're better at 'just anywhere' than I am."

It's true. I am Sensei of the Aimless Drive.

"You have to get into the Zen of driving," I counseled, "Let the drive take you where it wants to go."

Someone once asked me., "When are you at your happiest?" Although the answer would be better framed as a top ten list that includes all kinds of other things, I didn't hesitate in saying, "When I'm driving." I love driving. I love road trips. I love going for a spin. I love, as my Dad used to call it, "just potting around."

He was the Obi Wan Kenobe of Potting Around. The man could drive for hours going absolutely nowhere. Sunday drives; evening excursions; spring, summer, fall, or winter outings; he was at his best behind the wheel of a Pontiac meandering around city and country, my mother in the passenger seat (she never had a driver's license) and us kids in the back. Even as a teen and young adult I continued to go on these jaunts with them because somehow it brought such peace to the family. The humdrum of life was left behind back at home and we were out in the car, fancy-free, not going anywhere in particular, seeing what everyone else was up to, me looking out the rear window at nothing special and day dreaming nothing in particular.

We had favorite familiar tours, such as River Road along the Assiniboine north of the city; past haunted Old St. Andrews Church where local legend said that if you ran around the old stone building three times at midnight, you'd disappear; following the historic fur trade waterway over to Lockport for a modern-world hot dog at Skinners; and then along to legendary Lower Fort Garry. 

Or we would take a spin along Winnipeg's famed Wellington Crescent to gaze at mansions and enjoy the giant old elm trees that shaded the boulevards. From time to time, Dad would take us on the other side of the tracks to edgier industrial areas or "poorer" neighborhoods where he'd remind us, "You kids need to see that not everyone is as well off as others." 

Driving Nirvana for my Dad would be finding a development of new construction that would cause my mother great glee in exclaiming, "We've never been HERE before, Jack!" It wasn't easy to find new territory; Jack and Helen had lived all their lives in that one city that didn't change much. After my Dad died and I visited Mum from other cities in which we lived, it was clear that she had been longing to go out on drives and I was happy to comply. She was a different person once out in the car. She became calmer, a more worldly soul with curiosity and interest in everything; reading signs and pointing out landmarks to me as if I had never seen them before.

As Winnipeg experienced a building boom, it didn't take much to provide her with some merriment at finding places that, "Oh, we've never been HERE before!" As she approached her 90s, even the familiar haunts she had seen hundreds of times lost their familiarity for her and her excitement became sad for me. Still, it made her happy to be out in the car, seeing things afresh each time.

Driving Zen was a gift my Dad gave me. Some of the best times the Mister and I have are spent following paths unknown; almost lost, but now we have GPS to help us out, so we don't go too far astray. Still, it's fun to turn a corner and see something new. "We've never been HERE before!" I'll say, channeling mother. And if we get anxious about where the heck we're heading, it's always good to remind each other, "It's OK! We're just potting around!" 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Yoga Meets Figure Drawing 101

Some stories lurk around in the cob-webby corners of the brain and are only summoned, like zombies, when something happens to shake them loose from their hiding places. Some are best stuffed right back in there. Still others are amusing enough to dust off and share with one's blog readers.

The following is one such story. Warning: this story contains nudity and crimes against art.

The something that has happened to trigger this particular memory is the recent exhibition at Dayton Visual Arts Center, where I am a member and frequent volunteer. DVAC's annual all-members show is typically centered around a thematic concept, usually related to art history or common practice in art. This year the exhibition is called "The Body Electric," which is a nod to the sponsor, Dayton Power and Light, and which provides artists free-range to interpret the human form or psyche. 

What's the first thing that comes to mind? Figure drawing, right? Of course it does. A studio model and an artist at an easel are iconic, go-to cliches in movies or on TV, aren't they? If you have ever taken an art class, you have no doubt drawn a model.

I certainly have. Oy, have I ever! I was an art student. 

For two years, 20 years ago, I returned to university as an adult to pursue a degree in Fine Arts. I declared a double-major in printmaking and drawing. 

Drawing studio was…well, interesting. Our professor, Judy, had a favorite model. His name was Peter. She declared him to be her favorite model because he was sculpted perfectly and as she pointed out, "This man shows you muscle and bone, all at the same time." This was true. Peter was remarkably fit. Peter was a yogi. Now, don't get ahead of me on the story here.

We drew Peter each and every studio, every week, all through three semesters. We never saw a female model. No one ever came to our studio who looked like Venus on the half-shell a lá Botticelli. We saw no one of Rubinesque proportions. No waif-like, angular Modigliani-ish bodies either. Not even another male. Just Peter. Every time. Peter. Never clothed. Peter's scrawny butt for us to draw. Over and over.

Now, being a yogi is a real benefit for someone with a second career as an artist's model. Peter could hold a pose a very, very long time. And his poses were not your passive, run-of-the-mill "seated on a  chair" variety. Oh, no. We were fortunate enough to draw Peter in very educational yoga Asanas. The Standing Warrior. The Triangle. The Spinal Twist. The Tree. The Downward Facing Dog. The Head Stand. Oh, yes, the Head Stand. In which gravity plays an interesting role with Peter's peter. 

At break time, Peter would stretch out of his pose and run around, elf-like, visiting us student artists to view our drawings and chat a bit. Nude. Why put on pants or a robe? If he had wasted time getting dressed, we might have escaped. Drawing a nude model is one thing; you kind of lose yourself in the act of drawing and stop noticing that you are looking at a naked body. Chatting with a nude person standing next to you is quite something else. You really have no idea where to look.

Then one day, midway through the fourth semester, we got to the studio and Peter was not there! Where was he? Judy gravely announced that the poor man had had a bicycle accident on his way to class and would be laid up for a few weeks. Egad! My mind raced! Would we finally get to draw something or someone other than Peter? 

"So, this week," she continued, "I would like you to draw the ABSENCE of Peter."


You could feel the stunned silence in the studio. Seriously. There was no getting away from the guy. We took up our drawing tools in utter defeat. I created a Studio Model Kit in which some of my previous drawings of Peter could be inserted into a empty studio macquette; sort of an Insert Tab A into Slot B kind of thing. I got a B+

After that, I swore I'd never do life drawing again. It's kind of like that old tongue twister about pickled peppers. Once you repeat it a few times, it gets in your head, and you wish it wasn't. Because, even though, "Pliant Peter picked a pose of perfect posture," I would just as soon forget it!  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Vacay Vibe

On Sunday, two weeks ago, on the very day that we got back from our vacation, the New York Times had an article in the Travel section entitled, "Hanging On to the Afterglow." In it, the author, Stephanie Rosenbloom, talks about how to keep good feelings about your trip burning bright even though those embers are normally pretty much snuffed out by the end of your first week home. Isn't that the truth? By the start of the second week after our return from anywhere, we find ourselves wondering what the heck happened and weren't we somewhere else just a few days ago?

You look forward to a trip with such a lot of anticipation, don't you? You spend weeks or even months planning a vacation; making the reservations, researching hotels, restaurants, attractions, imagining HOW NICE it's going to be to get away. And then you go, and "poof" before you can say Expedia dot com, you're home again eating your stale Cheerios for breakfast, picking up dog poop in little plastic baggies, and watching House Hunters just like you do on the other 351 days of the year.

So, this article came at the perfect time, just when we were wondering where the heck that three course breakfast at the nice B&B went to. Here were some practical tips on how to keep the vacay vibe going long after re-entry to your regular dull existence. Some suggested strategies were along the obviously obvious lines: e.g., flip through trip photographs. Well, Duh! 

Still, other ideas were more creative: keeping receipts and brochures scattered about you at your desk or stuck to your fridge. Wearing clothing you bought on your trip to remind you of the persona you adopted while you were away. Bringing home a special souvenir so you can re-experience a treat that reminds you of a wonderful place; like Rosenbloom's example of a friend who bought a BODUM milk frother in Germany so she could fix her coffee the way she had had it in Berlin. You can buy a frother at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but the point is that if you bring one home from Berlin you remind yourself for years to come of the great time you had there.

Psychologists cited in the article recommend that we reminisce about our holidays; it's good for us to go to our happy places so we can "vacation as often as we like" to renew our spirits. Easier said than done, I find.

And so, I got to thinking about our own little holiday mood extenders. Without knowing we were using any psychology at all, we have been employing subtle tactics for years that remind us of our travels. I am happy to share with you a few of our "Do's" - plus a couple of our "Don't's"!

5. a. Buy a CD. This is a "Don't." It's tempting to think you will instantly recall that quaint, quirky  barbecue place in North Carolina if you play the bluegrass music you listened to while eating the best pulled pork sandwich ever, but the potential for a negative response to ruin the effect is too great, as in, "Did this music sound that bad in the restaurant?" We learned this years ago when Ken's dad brought home music from a Caribbean trip. Steel drums can be really annoying after a day or two. 

5. b. Art. Equally fraught is the purchase of posters, framed tea towels or other visual imagery. Wall art is something you live with for a very long time. Better to buy a fridge magnet with that picture of a sand crab waving a bikini top than commit to 32"x40" framed.

4. Little soaps and shampoo bottles. Do boost these from your hotel rooms and use them when you get home. Fragrance is a strong memory cue and you will save money not using up your regular products for a week or so. Win-win.

3. Note pads. Taking home the note pad from your hotel room and keeping it on your bed side table gives you a nice little reminder each night about sleeping in those giant King size hotel beds with those freshly laundered sheets. Leaving little notes for your spouse such as on the beach resort letterhead, even if the message is a lie, such as, "Meet me on the beach in ten minutes," is a fun way to keep the memory alive.

2. Sand in your shoes. Easiest to accomplish if you have been to the beach, of course, but there always has to be some little tangible reminder you can come up with that will give you instant recall of the place you visited. Tea from London. A bottle of the Scotch from the distillery you toured in Scotland. Barbecue sauce from North Carolina. Sand in your shoes. 

1. Making home feel like the best B&B. We like to do this on our way home from a trip: when we start to feel sad about travels coming to an end, we'll say, "Well, I hear the B&B we're staying in tonight is very nice." "Yes, I understand they make a very nice breakfast and there is a Golden Retriever in residence." "That's always nice, to have a dog about the place."  "Yeah, very homey."

It's good to be home.