Monday, July 21, 2014

The Road to Nowhere... Again

What seems like a lifetime ago, we were just starting out. We had two children, ages 2 and 6. The state was in a recession. Making ends meet was tough. Mick went back to school and I took a full-time teaching job. But then everything changed and my husband was offered a teaching job in the tiny town of Grouse Creek--the very town where he began his life, the town where his father had grown up and had spent much of his life cattle ranching. When my husband took the teaching job, it was a dream come true for him. But I had just signed a full-time teaching job and wasn't sure what the next year would bring, so I stayed with our youngest in our house that we had built just two years before. My husband took the oldest child so he could be one of his 25 students in the two room school, grades K-10. We met on the weekends.

After the hardest year of my life, I was more than ready to give up the teaching job and join the other half of my family. I taught part-time and we had a great few years more of teaching. And even though there were some adjustments, we blended well into the ranching town. The town is 70 miles to the nearest real grocery store and most of the road is gravel. Flat tires and breakdowns are common with so many miles of constant travel. Still, there's no place like it or as the Grouse Creek sign says, "A Place Like No Other."

Mick is now nearing the end of his career. Needing a change, when the job came open again, we decided to go for it. We had a great experience 25 years ago, and hope to have another great experience. Times have changed even for the tiny town, in that they have become even tinier. Now Mick will only have 7 kids. And so there isn't a job for me, but I can take my computer and hope to be inspired to write another novel. The town inspired three novels which are set there: "A Question of Trust" False Pretenses" and "Sun Tunnels and Secrets."  They are all still available on Amazon. We will live in the family house again--the house right behind the school. And no we aren't moving. We'll be back and forth a lot. Our house will be lived in, so it won't be empty and will be taken care of. We welcome friends and family to visit this unique place.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lessons from hiking in Yellowstone with a 7-year-old

1. The destination is not nearly as important as the trial itself. The "joy is in the journey" is what it's all about. The more obstacles to increase the imagination, the better. This would include roots that trip most adults "heat censors" to most likely detect "nozzleheads." The best I can tell nozzleheads are fallen dead trees with a shape like a dragon. All I know is whenever I tried to identify one, I was wrong. So apparently these are more visible to the keen eye of a 7-year old.

2. All hikes are better with the promise of an ice cream bar afterward. Driving way out of the way in search of the bar is not of any consequence. And it doesn't matter if you have already eaten dinner or not. When I was just a tiny child, no older than four, part of the allure of our family cabin was the treats that Montana seemed to have more selection and better taste than anything in Utah. I don't know at what point, I realized that the brand Wilcoxson's was the reason. Everyday in Yellowstone we find a store to buy our daily dose because seriously nothing compares to this brand. Our grand children know the drill and happily go along with it. Our last day in the Park, we bought our grandson three bars because who knew when he'd have another chance to have one. These were well-spaced out, but we heard later he threw up at home. Hopefully, it was NOT too much of a good thing.

3. All sticks are potential weapons for fighting something--nozzleheads maybe.

4. All boulders, the larger the better, should be climbed and conquered. And one never knows what one will find--even pizza perhaps. Explanation: One of our favorite hiking spots begins and ends at the Yellowstone River picnic ground. This hike follows a ridge and offers a fabulous view of the canyon full of hoodoos opposite of tower falls (though not the falls itself.) After we'd finished the hike, my husband and grandson made it down before me. I stayed up on the ridge answering emails and phone messages because it's one of the few places in the Park that you can get reception. Anyway just before I got down to the picnic ground, an Aussie with a great accent came out of his motor home and plopped his pizza down on a picnic table then stepped back inside. Then a large raven swooped down and picked up the whole pizza slice. About a half-hour later our grandson was climbing boulders when he found the pizza slice on top of one. He had to go back, find the man the man and show him where his pizza ended up. They had some great laughs about that, but for some reason the man declined to eat the remainder of the pizza--though he added it had been really good.

5. Seeing wild animals on a hike is always a bonus. If there are baby animals, so much the better. On the same hike we saw marmots, Rocky Mountain Sheep and babies, Antelopes and babies. The sheep, perhaps even more tame than the domestic version came right up to me as I snapped their photos.

6. Being prepared means hauling bear spray everywhere you hike in and around Yellowstone. However, 7-year-olds may be disappointed when they don't actually encounter a bear on the trail to spray. Two years ago, this same 7-year-old had gotten too far in front of us on a trail and mom and her cubs came within ten yards of him. Nothing happened fortunately, but the first thing he said to us was "spray it!"

7. Seeing other hikers on the trail is not a downside, but an opportunity to swap tales--especially when you've seen a raven steal someone's pizza--because really what could be more exciting than that?

8. Baby animals cuteness is directly comparable to the baby brother you left at home. Seeing cute baby animals reminds you of how much you miss baby brothers.

9. If one prays to see a bear and one does see a bear, then the prayer was answered. If one prays to see a wolf and a coyote, but doesn't, then it's nothing to be worried about. (Or lose faith over.)

10. Potty talk is always, always funny especially when it's your grammy that says words like peedle pot and stink pot. There are plenty of opportunities for saying stink pot in Yellowstone, since it is full of them. The only problem is that sometimes grammy might accidentally call someone else a stinkpot.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Even Though I LOVE it, It's Still Hard Work.

Today I worked at the Cache Valley Gardener's Market, trying to sell my creative work. I spent most of Thursday unloading the kiln, then waxing the bottoms of the pots, decorating, then dipping each piece in a bucket of glaze, that I hand-mixed--measuring and stirring and screening ingredients--then cleaning each piece by hand, then loading each piece one by one into the kiln. Friday I made some more pottery that won't be finished until next week. Friday night I wrapped pottery in newspaper, packed it into boxes, then my husband helped me load all the wares, boxes and boxes worth into the back of the Subaru. Then on Saturday morning, we unloaded the kiln, then finished packing the new work into boxes, then finished loading the car. Then we drove to Logan from Avon, backed into the spot we were assigned--unloaded all the ware and set it up on two banquet tables. At the end of our four-hour work day, we loaded it all back up again. And unloaded it again when we got home.

Why am I telling you, my unknown readers all this? Because invariably someone says to me, "I bet making pottery is so relaxing." Or, "It sure must be nice having a hobby." Can you tell that I find those comments just slightly annoying. I know, people mean well. They are just trying to find a way to relate to me. I often smile and explain that there is a lot of work involved. Work that I love, but none-the-less, it's still work. I don't usually go into how many hours and hours and hours, thousands upon thousands, it has taken me to learn my craft. I don't often tell them that I earned through sheer hard work a BFA in art, or that I have been creating pottery for nearly 40 years. I don't often tell them that I've had numerous failures, whole kiln loads of failures. Pots crack or glazes bubble and quite often I still fail even though it's less often than it used to be. I find the whole process enjoyable, but far from relaxing. Relaxation is sitting on a beach with a pina colada watching the waves. It's sitting on my front porch reading a novel. It's what I'm doing right now, watching an episode of Doc Martin in my big cushy recliner after working--extra hard.

Friday, May 9, 2014

You Aren't Just Buying a Thing...

A very dear friend shared this with me. I feel like she peeked into my heart and "read my mail"
This is so true!

I've seen this meme posted on facebook every once in a while and I could not agree more. Another season of art festivals and farmers markets is upon us. I feel excited to have the opportunity to sit in the sun and meet and greet potential customers of my pottery and occasionally my novels. To give you an idea of how I came to be a potter, let me educate you with some of what has gone into it. I first began creating pottery in earnest when I was in high school. I am now 56 years old, so that was a long time ago. I would spend hours every day in the art room at Orem High School each day learning the craft. I'd start each practice session with a stack of baseball and softball sized pieces of carefully wedged clay. And try to first center the clay, then pull it into a form. It took months before I kept anything I made. Most of those attempts were failures. Eventually, I began to get pieces that I felt were worthy of taking to the next level, that of firing twice in the kiln, once bisque and then glaze fired. Even then, when you opened the door of the kiln, often what I found as a beginning potter was more failure. Only in learning an art, there is no failure because everything we do helps us learn to become better and better. With every single piece of pottery I've ever made, I can honestly say that I put my all into it. I love that my pottery graces the homes of people all over the United States (a few pieces have ended up in other countries even).

For my high school graduation present, my parents helped me buy a potters wheel. It was expensive, around 600.00 at the time. But considering many pay that much for a phone, I can't complain, especially considering I'm still using that same wheel. There isn't a whole lot of technology involved. It just has to be sturdy, smooth, and revolve fast. For a while, I used a friend's kiln to fire and then the teacher at Provo High lived near me and he let me throw pottery and fire at Provo High after hours, in exchange for helping around the studio. It was a superb deal for me and taught me how to fire a kiln by myself. I spent many long hours at night in the Provo High Ceramics lab. There was a lot of trust that went into that arrangement and I'm forever grateful. I started out at BYU art department, but after two semesters transferred to Utah State where I continued my studies in art education focusing on Ceramics/Pottery.  Finally now, I have a studio in Avon, Utah where I can make and fire my pottery. And to this day, I put my all into each piece that I make. I'm sure most artisans that you meet will have similar experiences of how they learned their craft. So next time you are perusing the wares at an artisan market, remember that and enjoy the experience. Treasure the things that you buy, knowing a little more about what has gone into the creation. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Being Real

Daughter and hubby in the middle of Manhattan. 

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating layers and layers of fa├žade. I think most of us do. We start when we are very young finding out what is acceptable. We learn on the playground that sometimes saying what we really think might be scoffed at, so we learn to pretend to like something just because everyone else likes it. We learn to stuff our feelings at a very young age because we need to appear brave, strong, and intelligent, or for little girls we are taught that being pretty is above all most treasured. We learn to wait and see what others think. In Kindergarten, I sat on a rug with the teacher sitting in a chair. She taught us a little song with a whistle in the melody. I couldn’t whistle, still can’t, but I would pretend by posing my face and mouth the way the other kids did, hoping that no one would know. But a child near me announced, “Carole is not whistling.” So the teacher stopped the song and to my shame tried to teach me how to whistle, drawing attention to my inadequate pretense. I hoped everyday after that we would not sing the song. 

I remember Mr. Atkinson, my 5th grade teacher having us put our heads on our desks with our eyes closed when he would ask us to vote on options or opinions. He told us he wanted to see what we really thought instead of being swayed by the rest of the class. Sometimes he did it the other way so we could see what would happen. He would ask a question where the answer was up for debate and see how we would each look around and wait before raising our hands. Not wanting to be the only stupid one in the class, sometimes those with the right answer would end up changing their minds because the majority thought otherwise. 

Recently, I observed a six-year-old boy announce with glee that he just loved the color pink. I thought to myself that he would soon find out that he can’t love the color pink. The world will tell him that it’s wrong for boys to love pink soon enough, but I hope beyond hope that he can still love the color pink when the boys and girls at school tell him that only girls like pink. We are pegged, categorized and labeled early by gender, by race, by religion, by ethnic and regional values. I wanted desperately to chase lizards, throw snowballs, rocks and play baseball. My young heroes were both Huck Finn and Pollyanna. I knew somehow I was much more like Huck than Pollyanna and that it wasn’t acceptable. I wanted to be like my older brothers even though they rejected me.

Recently we visited our daughter in NYC and I noticed how real people can be. When you are surrounded by seas of people, why pretend to be something you are not? Live in the moment. Live in the now. You will never see the person next to you on the subway again. In a moment where my husband and I were confused by which way to go next to catch our train, a middle aged woman stopped and without us asking for directions politely offered them. She had no one to impress. Goodness for goodness sake. When an elderly woman with a walker got off a packed bus in Brooklyn, she announced as she hobbled out with help from the driver, “I hope none of you ever have to use a walker.” I watched through the window as she made her way down the sidewalk. She caught my gaze, smiled and waved. 

We spent a day with Sherry a feisty woman of 65 plus, an artist of sorts who has spent the vast majority of her life, living in the upper west side of Manhattan surrounded by unimaginable chaos of construction, incessant honking, sirens, and bustling crowds, and yet she manages a peaceful connection with a glimmer of sunlight that tunnels through the walls of cement and steel to her tangled growth of a postage stamp yard in a treasured piece of earth and sky. And in her ground floor apartment escapes to create works of art with colorful thread, beads, paper and paint. As we toured a vast factory building, turned into a modern art museum on the edge of the Hudson River, Sherry had more interest in the brick walls, the hinges, the windows, the doors, and the setting than she did in the actual works of “art.” In this museum it was impossible to tell the real art with the artist’s name by it, to the pile of construction materials in the rooms under renovation. The only clue came from the sign that told us, “this room under construction.”  

Sherry made no apologies for what she found unacceptable and not worthy of such a beautiful building. These weren’t students’ works, where one knows the discovery process was still underway, these were established artists, well-known in the art world, yet Sherry called it for what she saw. The rules of the museum were clear and there were only two. “No touching the artwork and No Photography.” Sherry continually broke these “silly rules.” She took photos of the doors, walls, and of the hinges. She took photos of one exceptional exhibit. She touched the art, blank white canvases, to see what the material was. She touched the plywood boxes. The security guards were on to her and would radio to the next security guard to watch out for “that one.” I found Sherry to be completely endearing and refreshing. I wondered how she cared so little about what people thought about her. She is who she is, no pretense, and no show. 

The contrast of the hustle and bustle in NYC with people on the constant go, where getting from here to there takes energy, strategy and even risk to coming home to my laid back world where on my daily walk I encounter only people I know by name and the occasional stranger who took a wrong turn is easy and comfortable. It’s sweat pants and sneakers compared to heels and tight skirts. But here, I struggle with expectations and image. Being real, being me, is still doable, but it takes effort, energy, and sometimes risk. There was a meme on facebook that said, “In a small town, if you don’t know what you are doing wrong, just ask someone.” It’s funny, but the truth of it is there. In our culture we judge each other. I’m sure they do other places too, but here everything is up for public discussion. 

Poet Mark Nepo said, “As the sun cannot withhold its light, we cannot withhold what feels real.” Learning to speak truth and be who we are takes practice, but doing the opposite, that is to continue to stuff who we are in deep layers of pretense eventually snuffs our light out all together. In the city or the tiny town, I’ll work to be me because as the saying goes, “everyone else is taken.” 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why I Love Living in Small Town, USA

Today I went on a walk like I do nearly every day. My walk is along a country road. I usually travel the same path. One of the families along the way recently acquired a new dog. The new dog watches from her owners' house and gallops up the hill to join me on my walks. Sometimes, she doesn't return home and instead continues to follow me. She did this today. Last time, she followed me she seemed to have no sense about cars, trucks, or school buses. She trots right down the center line and doesn't move out of the way. Today, I was relieved when she ran up a hill when the school bus came. I did not want the bus to hit her. I didn't think either I or the children on the bus would want to see that happen.

But today, unlike other days, the school bus stopped. The bus driver then opened up the window of the bus and called the dog by name! (I'm not naming the dog to protect the innocent) Then the bus door opened and out popped one of the children who own the dog. The boy chased the dog up and down the street, but the dog kept dodging capture. I realized, he needed my help. I grabbed the dogs collar and turned her over to the boy. The boy tried to drag the dog. The dog refused to budge. Yes, the bus is still waiting! Finally I pushed from behind and we got the dog to walk begrudgingly to the bus. He balked at the door, but with the boy pushing and the driver coaxing the dog by name, she got on the bus. 

This reminded me of my own children's bus driver. He passed away a few years ago of a terrible degenerative disease called Lou Gehrig's. He used to wait for our kids when they were late catching it. They would run clear from the house to the end of the road, and he would wait. And once, my son forgot his musical instrument. My son called from the school with that desperate tone and pleaded for help. I didn't have a car. I took the instrument to the next bus that came about an hour later--the bus for the younger kids. I explained the situation. The bus driver took the instrument for my son and delivered it to him at the school. The school was a bit off his route. When I went to the viewing honoring his life and waited in the long, long line of people who might have had a similar experience, that's the image that kept coming to me--of him graciously offering to take the instrument. 

And back to today, after the dog got on the bus, I smiled all the way home. Then, as often happens in a small town, my neighbors stopped their car for a chat. If you are from a small town, you'll know that we talked right in the middle of the road. We caught up on all the latest news until the next car came up behind that one. But that one also was a neighbor who rolled down his window to say hello. In a few weeks I'll be heading to the other side of the country to visit my daughter in Brooklyn and I will love every minute of it, but I will be more than glad to get on that return flight for home.

Friday, February 21, 2014

An Inspiration Dies

I have to admit that I know very little about renowned artist, Nancy Holt who recently passed away. The obituary tells me that she was 75 and died of leukemia. I used her remote land art Sun Tunnels as inspiration for my book Sun Tunnels and Secrets. My husband Mick and I had tried to find the Sun Tunnels a couple of times and when we finally did, it was between novels. My first book, A Question of Trust was out, my second was on its way, and I was hoping to keep writing about the west desert area of Grouse Creek, Utah. When we saw the land art, my husband suggested that Sam, a character in both books find a body at the unique and desolate sculptures. I liked the idea and had been toying around with that idea when my good friend Diane called and told me a story about some friends of ours, older women, at least older than us, who had ventured out from Grouse Creek to the Sun Tunnels and had come across a man who had been abandoned in the desert by "his friends." Wow, the story was full of interesting tidbits and even though a serious situation, was kind of comical. My mind leapt at the idea of not Sam finding a body in the desert, but older women. That was the beginning of my novel when three sisters in their late 70's to early 80's find a naked man who by all appearances is dead.

I've written two books since that one, but for some of my readers it's their favorite. While researching the book, I found out a little more about Nancy Holt. I was so fascinated by her, and feel so badly now that I missed my one chance to meet her. She came out to speak about her projects a couple of years ago. My family and I drove clear out to the Sun Tunnels, about 150 miles, to see her at her beloved sculptures and I didn't dare introduce myself. Still I could tell by her delightful smile and by her work that she is someone I would have loved to meet. It's sad that her husband, also a land artist Robert Smithson, responsible for the Spiral Jetty, was killed in a plane crash decades ago. The obituary said she had no survivors which leads me to believe she never married. I romanticized this in my book and imagined that the Sun Tunnels had been a tribute to her late husband. But this is something I don't know--her inspiration for creating the sculptures, but I do know that they are an inspiration for me, not just for my novel, but for the feeling that you get from the dramatic view of the sun setting encircled in the dark frame. Next time I go out there, I'll feel gratitude for the life of Nancy Holt and her vision.