Splendour in the Grass

Splendour in the Grass, by William Wordsworth

What though the radiance
which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass,
of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Two days ago, my friend shared Wordsworth’s poem with me after listening to me explain the reasons why I felt as though I was grieving the loss of summer. The past few months have been some of my happiest; spending time with my family, hiking, baking, taking photos of scenery along Lake Superior’s shoreline, and most importantly, painting more than I could have hoped for.

I don’t easily cry with other people but I couldn’t help but cry during our chat. Bless you, Lindy, for understanding that I was having a hard time processing the thoughts and emotions that were making it so hard for me to face the upcoming school year. I didn’t know how much was bottled up inside until the tears began to fall.

The next day, a friend who is now a principal in Saskatchewan, shared the following post on social media:

Friends in eduction…if you are not following DeathEd.ca by now, start immediately! He is talking to us right now. Sending everyone connected to schools a huge air hug and best wishes as we (socially distance)navigate these new waters. We got this. We always have and always will 🤛🏻🤗💜

I clicked on the first video I found.

…and I ugly-cried.

And then I felt better. Not great, but better. And I’ve been able to breathe a little easier too, rather than clenching my jaw and trying to relax my shoulders after my chest tightens whenever a thought of September happens to drift through my mind. *Those who consider August a bit like Sunday night during the school year will understand.

I hope you are doing well with this big, weird adjustment we’re about to jump into. I begin work on Monday morning, and I know that it will so different than usual — but I also know that I work with amazing colleagues and my students are worth every ounce of effort we will use to make sure this school year is not only safe, but a great learning experience.

Cheers to everyone who has a hard time with change. We’ll get there.

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Morning in Red Rock

I woke up one minute before my alarm. 5:29 am. A confused and sleepy dog beside me, I quickly got up, grabbed a light jacket, my phone, and slipped the harness over Cooper’s fur. There was already a hint of light in the sky, so I didn’t want to miss the show.

The window kept fogging up on the two-minute drive down to the waterfront, but the vibrations from the windshield wipers were unnoticeable compared to the sound of Cooper’s breathing. He might have contributed to the foggy windshield.

We arrived to a satisfyingly quiet morning at the marina; the water stirred by a few slow ripples and the occasional duck, paddling to find a morning snack. Cooper happily jumped out of the car and began his usual zig-zag walk, something I’ve grown used to since our family adopted him. His excitement for every smell is so sweet that I decided quickly I wouldn’t train him to walk in a socially-acceptable straight line. I think more people should walk with as much enthusiasm as he does. Picture the Phoebe run from Friends.

Who wouldn’t want to get up early to enjoy this view?

I felt compelled to wander slowly. I didn’t want to spoil the experience of soaking in the sunrise by trying to find a good picture for my next painting. Besides, Cooper didn’t seem to mind leading the way, and isn’t it better to be surprised by unexpected views? In the end, it was worth it.

By the time we were ready to go home, Cooper and I were both breathless. His nose and my eyes were overwhelmed by everything we thought was beautiful, and I knew that whatever else came our way throughout the day, at least we had a wonderful start.

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Figuring out Priorities

Having more time at home has allowed me to reevaluate some of the things that are important to me, or should be. Although I’m an artist, I wouldn’t say I’ve been producing enough art, and I’d like that to change.

When I’m painting, I would say that it’s the closest thing to meditating I’ve ever experienced. It’s still a challenge to really get in the zone, because there are other people who share my home with me, and I don’t think it’s fair to chase them away just so I can get my art groove on. So, I plug in my headphones, find a good playlist, and tune myself in to my painting. *if you have playlist suggestions, please leave me a comment 🙂

Rossport Shoreline, 24 X 36″, acrylic on canvas

I finished Rossport Shoreline a few days ago, and couldn’t wait to share the image with friends and family. I was so excited that I had finished a painting after being overwhelmed by everything over the past few months. Teaching through quarantine was not fun. No studio, no students to see, not the same.

If I can revive myself by creating art, then clearly I need to do more of it. If I am going to be distracted by something, I’ll be happier because I’ll be thinking of the next composition, or the next colour combination. Over the past few years, I’ve had fun working with my daughter as a representative for a company, but it never felt right. So, this week, I decided that I will happily sever that unnecessary tie, and move on.

Art feels right. It’s who I am, and I can’t wait to head out for more excursions near water, collect way too many photos, and try to manage the nervous excitement of deciding on the next image to use for a painting.

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I Cried it Out Tonight

My friend Peter sent me a message after reading my tweet that I had posted just a few minutes before.

He wrote “Saw your tweet – want to vent? We are all ears.”

So I vented:

Most of the time I’m pretty good, but with June approaching, and only 3 hours allowed per week, the year is almost done. It hit me this week when the principal broke it down into hours and I didn’t know how to respond. Now that I’m planning final tasks, or trying to, I feel like I don’t know enough. I’ve taught art for 20 years, but NAC is slightly different and I’m not exactly panicking but not feeling confident that I’m doing a good job. I want to finish strong while not overwhelming students. I want them to have some good memories of this experience and of me too, if that’s not too selfish. Sigh.

And then I cried. About school, about this whole situation, about my students, about everything I don’t know.

Our conversation began in our group chat with Doug, who is another good friend. And in this little chat, my friends let me vent, sort out my thoughts, accept love and support over the internet, and eventually, I felt better.

I still have a lump in my throat because I’m not sure how to do a good job these days, although I’m trying. Is trying enough? I sure hope so.

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QuaranZine

My grade 10 art students have been studying Dali & Surrealism over the past while, and we’ve discussed possible connections between war time, and our present situation with COVID-19.  For many students, it was a bit of a stretch to compare the two time periods, but most students thought that people could use aspects of Surrealism to help them deal with stressful times.

I explored the work of Hannah Hoch, one of the main figures in Dada collage (Dada was an art movement, created at about the same time as Surrealism, and has some similarities).  Her collages reminded me of some recent posts by Austin Kleon, so I checked out his feed on Instagram.

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His collages and zines were a perfect fit for my class (or at least, I hope they will be), and provide a link between last week’s discussions, with something students can focus on this week.

The challenge for a studio teacher during quarantine is trying to plan while considering that students don’t necessarily have access to certain materials.  Even though I wish I could send them packages of supplies, it’s just not that easy right now.  So, it’s time to be flexible and creative.

I figured the best way to anticipate what my students would need, was to begin the project I’m about to share with them.  I began to search for paper, and found an old photocopied sheet for the booklet.  Then I searched for glue, which was hard to find.  And I’m sure that not everyone has glue at home either, so I made some after finding recipes online.

These quaranzines (I thought I was so clever and used this title on my zine, only to find out Austin had already thought of it in one of his posts!) will help me and my students to document this time period, while stretching our creative muscles… and being resourceful when we need to solve a problem or two.

If you’re interested in creating your own quaranzine, why don’t you try it out and take part?  Tag me (my class account is @niprockart) and I’ll share your zine with my students.  The more ideas, the better, right?

 

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Architecture + Minecraft + Social Distancing

I’m not sure when our current situation will change, but for now, we’re spending a lot of time inside.  Hopefully social distancing will soon become nothing but a memory, but until then, it’s helpful to have some ideas for ways to pass the time.

Since my kids were little, they spent time doing artsy activities.  They didn’t really have much of a choice – it’s a part of who I am, so naturally it just makes sense to share creative ideas with them.  Gone are the days of crayons and smelly play-doh, since both of my kids are teens now.  Which makes me happy because I teach high school.

Not that I’m structuring our time at home.  Not one little bit.  It’s time to relax, eat too much junk food, watch an insane amount of Netflix and Disney+, and every now and then, try doing something productive.  While I was organizing my school bag, I noticed an architecture book I had quickly packed away on the last day of school before March break.

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My son has always loved architecture, so I showed him the book and asked him to pick about five of his favourite buildings.  Within minutes, he had selected several buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, his all-time favourite architect.  I challenged him to turn on his XBox and try to build his favourite building.

Voila:  hours of happy architecture studying, careful measuring, and then reading details about the building to find out more info.  I know it sounds a bit geeky, but when you find out that a child (or student) loves something, that’s where you start.  (If you want to learn more about this, research Teaching for Artistic Behavior, read The Open Art Room, or Dive Into Inquiry).

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As I write this, Ethan has moved on to another building, inspired by the Glass House, and is slowly creating a world that will be filled with architecture inspired by noteworthy architects.  Not a bad way to spend his time.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House inspired Ethan’s design

 

 

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A Stitch in Time

This summer, I had planned to hike several local trails and make the most of our beautiful region.  I had a painting to finish, and wanted to make sure I had several images that would potentially inspire my next artwork.  My son and I headed out to Mazukama Falls in early July, and although the falls had dried up for the summer, the trail was challenging and beautiful, which made for great memories and pictures.

Soon after, I started to experience some health issues.  *Note:  if TMI makes you feel uncomfortable, stop reading now.  If not, you’ll get to know me better by the end of this post.

Throughout the month of July, I made several trips to the hospital in Nipigon to ask for help with what I thought was a relentless UTI.  I tried to make light of it, poking fun at myself for being ultra-sensitive, when others would probably power-through problems like this.  I had most of the symptoms of an infection, but not all, which seemed weird.  But it wasn’t clearing up and I began to feel guilty for bothering the doctors when I’m sure they could use their time to treat patients who really needed their help.

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When the third round of antibiotics didn’t make a difference, I began to feel frustrated.  Why isn’t this getting any better?  Within a short time, I developed pain that got much worse, and we ended up in the emergency room where they treated me for renal colic.  After a number of speedy trips to the emergency room, the doctors began to run more tests so that we could find answers to the questions that were piling up.

X-rays led to ultrasounds, where a questionable lump was found somewhere near my left ovary, which could be pressing on nearby tissues and causing my symptoms.  More blood work, a CT scan, and a lot more pain medication helped us move forward even though we felt clueless and desperate for answers.

If you’re anything like me, you can become your own worst enemy when you’re trying to find out what’s wrong with you.  A mere sniffle can suggest that you’re on death’s doorstep if you browse through Google’s list of ailments that match your symptoms.  Not the best idea when your anxiety is already taking over the controls in your worried little head.

What did help, besides my constant conversations with my Mom and little sister, was the care I received at the Nipigon hospital.  There are challenges when you live in a smaller community, but they pale in comparison to the rewards.  Whenever I visited the emergency room, I didn’t have to explain what was going on because the nurses and doctors already knew.  It was strange being treated by nurses who, just a few years ago, were students in my classroom.   And not very often does a doctor give you his cell number and encourage you to call or text any time you need something.

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Even though it was just an MRI, the idea that the doctors might find something scary was always at the back of my mind.

 

 

 

 

If I wasn’t going to be able to go for the long, beautiful hikes like I had hoped, I knew I would need something to keep me busy.  I was beginning to spend a lot of time on my couch or in bed, and I get bored quickly.  A change of plans became an opportunity to learn something I hadn’t had the time or discipline for, and I quickly became lost in my new world of knitting.

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I became a fan of YouTube tutorials very quickly; they are absolutely perfect to use while learning a new skill because you don’t have to worry that you’re an inconvenience to someone else.  If you’re taking more time to understand a concept, or if your hands aren’t doing what your brain is telling them to do, it’s easy to pause the video or to re-watch a segment countless times until you feel more comfortable with the material.

My first stitches were horrible but I continued anyway, because hey, I had time to kill.  Ever so slowly, my little projects didn’t look as weird as the first one, and I began to feel proud because I could see progress.

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After I finished my first hat, I was so excited that I could actually make something that could be useful, so I made another one.  This time, I learned how to decrease stitches so that the top of my hat wouldn’t be so wrinkled.  The next hat was fully decreased and had no wrinkles in the top at all.

By this time, I’d had one surgery (a stent, which made sure my kidney could function properly) and was waiting for a hysterectomy.  The doctors found that I had a large fibroid on my uterus, which had been causing renal pain.  My husband made an odd comparison, but it made sense to me:  it’s like a large rock sitting on top of a garden hose, blocking the water.  You can strengthen the hose, but it’s important to remove the rock.

On September 16th, I had my surgery.  It felt so odd to be off work in the fall (I think the last time this happened was when I was on maternity leave), but I was so happy that we were making progress with my health.  Even though there have been a few complications after my surgery, I’m feeling better and better every day.  My strength is back, and I’m loving my independence rather than having to ask for help all the time.

In a few weeks, I’ll be back in the classroom, catching up with my students after a long break.  I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to take my time to fully heal and that I will have a rewarding job to return to (thank God for my union).  I have a feeling that I’ll miss having the time to knit, and I’ll definitely miss the slower pace of each day.  Until then, I’ll make a point of listening to podcasts, learning a new pattern, and hopefully visiting with friends and family that I miss.

 

 

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Clay: Hard Work but So Worth It

One of the challenges of studio work is organizing “messy” materials with large classes.  Some teachers might be hesitant to work with paint or clay because of the possibility that the materials won’t be used properly, clean-up will be too difficult, kiln firings will interfere with the class schedule, the list is endless.

The bonus of working with these materials is waiting beyond fear.

Today, I was able to phone a parent whose child discovered an unknown talent that had been waiting for the potters wheel.  As soon as he began centering his clay and forming his first bowl, I could see that something was different in the way he worked.  Pure talent.  I can’t wait to see what else he creates.

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Tomorrow, I get to phone another parent because of what I’ve seen when her child works with the coil technique.  Beautifully formed vessels that are structurally sound and so much larger than I can create.  So unexpected, and so refreshing!

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Right now, both of my grade 9 classes are working with clay, which means that I need to make sure that there is enough material ready for over 50 students.  Organizing this much clay is keeping me on my toes, but it’s been so much easier to recycle used clay since I began using our pug mill.

Until this year, I’ve had to soak any clay that dried-out, and wedge it all by hand.  Sometimes it was too much for me, and I ended up hurting myself which meant that I had to ask my students for help or accept defeat and postpone using clay for a while.

Everything has changed this year.  I’d been saving old, dry clay for *years* and I’m so happy that I can breathe new life into some old dusty bricks.

An unexpected bonus is the ability to participate in an Empty Bowls fundraiser next month, which will benefit our Legion and our Food Bank.  It makes a huge difference for students when they know that someone will need to eat soup out of the bowl they make!

I am so grateful for the funding that was provided for purchasing our pug mill, and I hope that our community benefits from the work we do in the studio.  In a small way, I hope to pay it forward, and to share this story with my students while they create.

 

 

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Keep It Simple. (thanks, Rachel)

I wanted to share a few things because they stood out to me, and maybe they’ll stand out for you too.  The first is an image, shared by @Alison on Instagram:

Sometimes I get a bit caught up in trying out new things.  Which lead to more things.  Soon, I’ve got so many things to keep track of, I don’t know how to handle it all.  That’s basically been my life over the past 5 years, and I’m learning how to keep things simple.  My health requires it, and my family deserves it.  And so do I.

Six days ago, as I was tidying up, I somehow made my back unhappy and it didn’t let me off the couch for about four days.  While in my couch “time-out”, I had the time to watch a few movies, dig in to “Girl, Wash Your Face“, by Rachel Hollis, and I even listened to a few podcasts (also by Rachel — holy cow, she is a creative force).

One page stood out above all the rest:

I stopped.  I think I might have even held my breath a little.  How did Rachel know this feeling?  Goosebumps.

I haven’t been painting for months:  there is always something else to do.  Work, of course, and cleaning, and bringing the kids to lessons, and…, and… .  How is it that I let the most important to-do item fall to the bottom of my list?

My friend Liz (a retired teacher who is adventuring and teaching in China) spoke to me about using our gifts, and that there is a reason why they’ve been given to us.  It’s true — when I create, and especially when I paint, I feel that I am living life to its fullest.  In a way, it’s a bit of a selfish feeling, but I also feel closest to God in those moments.  And I miss it.  In this way, Rachel is right:  it is a way to worship, to reach closer.

Now, to carve out the time.

 

 

 

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Take 10 Minutes

Take 10 minutes and go for a walk.  This is one of the suggestions provided by my therapist today.  I think it’s important to share this with you for two reasons:

  1. It really is important to go for a walk, even if it’s a short one.
  2. We need to mention therapy more often.  If we talk about it, perhaps it will become more normalized and people would benefit from getting help when we need it.

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Although some of our conversations have improved, and we encourage “others” to talk about mental health (think about #BellLetsTalk Day), we rarely discuss our own mental health.  There are a variety of reasons for this, including social awkwardness and the potential of sharing too much information.  I get it.  There’s a time and place for everything.  But where and when do we have these conversations?

So, I’m having one.  Actually, I’m having a few.  Last week, I asked my doctor about therapy, and he was more than happy to book a referral.  Until then, I learned more about my workplace EAP (Employee Assistance Program), and had my first over-the-phone session this evening.  Surprisingly, it went rather well, although I had been disappointed that there were no face-to-face options for our area.

 

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i love therapy. therapy is the best goddamn thing i ever did for my mental health. i treasure all of it, the hard moments, the scary moments, even my bad therapists managed to teach me something in the end. therapy still has a stigma around it. sometimes when i’ve mentioned to someone that i attend therapy, they ask “why?” get that uncomfortable look, and i sense their gears turning, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, haha. “because i’m mentally ill and i’m working on myself”, i say. sometimes it gets awkward, but most times it opens up some real, vulnerable conversations. i love when that happens. so i always make a point of saying “i’m off to therapy, i’ll be back in two hours”, when i left school or work to go to an appointment. because that’s what i do if i have an appointment at my dentist or physician, and there’s noting unusual about that, so why should therapy be any different ? i’m proud of the steps i take in therapy, i’m proud to see progress, even if it’s slow. therapy is cool 🌈 • • • #mentalhealth #mentalillness #mentalhealthawareness #psynligt #nostigma #mentalhealthwarrior #recovery #schizophrenia #eatingdisorders #bulimia #anorexia #ptsd #borderline #bpd #ocd #bipolar #bipolardisorder #anxiety #depression #pain #chronicillness #adhd #art #digitalart #artistsoninstagram #comic #crazyheadcomics

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What are your thoughts about mental health?  Do you talk about it?  Are there people you feel more comfortable talking to?  Have you talked with a therapist?  Have you benefited from using your EAP?

 

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