Category: creativity

Website Launch!

Exciting news for me! My website, debpaulson.com is up and running. Although a website launch is about as noteworthy these days as a new memoir, when it’s your own, it’s special.

My web designer Adam Stemple, took my vision of a clean, spare, but not “which way to radiology” look and turned it into an awfully pretty, uncluttered website. In it, you will find a great many of my watercolors, searchable and organized in a drop-down menu, a little bio, and my “other” writing—articles, thoughts, and literary criticism pieces that appeal to a specific audience, rather than general (but I encourage you to read them anyway, even if you don’t think you want to know why the children’s book, The Borrowers, may be an affirmation of British colonialist mentality, or how photography was invented. You never know.) “Writing” will update monthly, so check back regularly. In the queue: liminal and mythic time in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (Admit it. You can’t wait.) And of course, I will add new paintings as I complete them. (I’ll be doing the illustrations for my picture book, The Prunes, over the winter and will show them first on the website.)

My blog also lives in the website, although I will also continue to publish it under my word press site, so my followers don’t have to migrate over.

So take a look. Share. Stop back often. And thank you for reading.

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What Makes a Life?

Recently, Richie has been posting, on Facebook and his website, pieces of ephemera from his bicycle history with his reflections and backstory. Since his involvement with bicycles, bicycle racing, and frame building dates back to the early 1970’s this project, taken as a whole, has become a testament of sorts to his life—his choices, his experiences, his observations.

Tonight, we go to my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary dinner party. To give them something, my four siblings and I have been combing through photographs. There are lots of photos of sailing—comfy coastal sailing and gritty ocean sailing. There is one of my Dad hang gliding, another of my Mom horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (looking none too thrilled), a lovely one of her resting on a Swiss mountaintop à la Sound of Music, and one of them in Russia with a young Russian couple they met when they were stuck there for a bit.

Reading the ephemera and perusing the photographs makes me think, what makes a life? Is it adventure and experiences—new places, travel? Is it people—those you’ve met and interacted with within your passion? Or is it something more fundamental?

The common denominator in Richie’s ephemera and my parents’ travels is connection. Each of them has lived—is living—a life filled with connection. Connections to people, places, adventures, experiences, words, ideas, nature.

So what makes a life?

The courage to connect is what makes a life.

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By the Sea

Snails, we are brought up to think, are slow. I am here to tell you that snails are not slow. Not when you’re using them as models as you perch on a low-tide rock, peering into a tide pool with watercolors balanced beside you and you are in the full grip of an artistic fever to capture this light and shaped-filled moment. Then snails hunker along quite annoyingly rapidly. What was, when you first spied it, a sinuous curve of light and dark, two snails in a perfect sine wave and you catch your breath with the awe of it and quickly, quickly! get your pencil and brush and paper out and, secure in the knowledge that snails are slow and you have plenty of time—all the time in the world, in fact, given that snails are so slow—lay down a line of shape and hue and glance to your models and discover that, oh my gosh, that sine curve is no longer. Now the space between them only speaks of space between them and not a beautiful visual harmony and you shake your head a little wondering if in fact you were mistaken at the beginning and then you realize, HEY, they are moving! Little-thick-antennae-sticking-out-suctioning-along-pulling-the-shell-behind-purposeful-moving.

I don’t pretend to know where snails in a tide pool are going. It’s only a tiny tide pool after all. But they have shown me that slow is relative and that time, tide and snails wait for no man.

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Watching Dragonflies Hatch

I was filling up the watering can from the pond when I noticed a small bug-looking thing hanging from another bug on the dock steps. It was odd enough for me to take a closer look. Then I realized I was seeing one bug emerging from a bug, or rather, a casing.   Dragonflies. Watering chores would have to wait. I got my glasses and camera and settled onto the warm planks of the dock to watch.IMG_2349

This bizarre looking thing is a dragonfly emerging from its nymph stage, where it has lived in the water for a year. I can’t wrap my head around how what was a bug is now a bug-casing and there’s a new bug coming out of it.

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The dragonfly has emerged. At this point, It looks more like a worm than a dragonfly, and see how tiny the wings are? As it hangs there, it gets larger and when I compare the casing it came out of, I wonder how it ever fit.

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Then the wings grow–gossamer incredible bits of translucence. Are they unfolding or expanding or both? Really, it is a miracle.

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Then more hanging there while the wings get even larger.

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Now the dragonfly, looking like a dragonfly and twice as large as its original casing, crawls up and faces the wind. It takes its tiny legs and rubs them over its giant eyes. I am so, so eager to watch it fly. But it waits, wings back, more facing into the wind, more eye rubbing.

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And then it happens. The wings that have been up to now, straight back, suddenly open, two on each side, and like a prop plane warming up, they vibrate, feeling the wind.

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And then it takes off, up into the air, and away.

From the water to the air, from an aquatic bug to a flying thing, in less than two hours. And we humans think we’re so clever with our gadgets. We’re just lumbering blind things, compared to this miracle.

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Just Try

I have lots of irons in the fire.

I like to have various projects in various stages and work on them bits at a time. Years ago, I worked at an antiquarian bookstore, and one of my jobs was to do rare and out of print book searches for customers. I created an index card file box I labeled “searches-initiated.” I had a second index card file box labeled “searches-with-some results.” A third file box held “searches completed-and-client-contacted-but-not-yet-final.” To cap it all off, I had a fourth–yes, a fourth–index card file box labeled “passing-through.” This last was for all those index cards where the books were picked up and paid for by the customer. In other words, done. My ostensible reason for the passing-through file was, what if the customer came back and needed some information that was only contained in that little index card? But the  truth was I wasn’t ready to let all that work go. The passing-through file was visual validation of a job completed.

Right now I have lots of writerly things out for consideration—a few articles, queries for books, a web site design, articles half-written and ideas for more. This full plate makes me feel like I’m doing something, but the thing I have a hard time with is, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, letting something go. Like many writers, I think something can always be tweaked. But when enough of these half-finished pieces pile up, I can get discouraged.

Discouragement is when I know I’ve been spinning my wheels long enough. It’s time to commit. Whether it is exactly right in my estimation or not, it’s time to let it go out for someone else’s estimation. It’s time to just try.

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The Commodification of Creativity. . .

. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.

So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.

But these days, though, there seems to be  a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.

This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.

Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.

Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.

If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.

The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.

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It’s a Big Country, or Those Pink Plastic Flamingos are Looking Real Good Now

I just got back from Arizona where it was both a pleasure and a relief to hike without snowshoes, pat green plants and feel the sun on my bare skin. The severity of this winter in Massachusetts was grinding and I didn’t even realize how beaten down (and weird) I was becoming until Richie and I left it. After a few days of hiking in the stupendously gorgeous red rocks of Sedona, my paranoia about what Mother Nature was planning to inflict next dissolved and my sense of confidence, not to mention perspective, reinstated itself.

We watched hummingbirds flit amongst the cacti and, at an outdoor café, laughed when magpie stole a packet of sugar off a table, then ate it in the nearby tree with sparrows scarfing up the leavings. I picked up a lemon that was on the sidewalk. A lemon! On the sidewalk! Fallen from a tree, just growing there!

Naturally, after a few days of this Eden, my thoughts turned to the people who winter down here—snowbirds, the ones we hardy New Englanders like to scoff at.

I scoff no more. Now I think they’re onto something. And what’s more, I’m starting to think that RV’ers are also onto something. We stopped at Whitewater Draw, a spot in the desert near Bisbee where Sandhill cranes gather. Next to the oasis,  a sign at a dirt parking lot informed us we could camp there for free for up to three days. A few RV’s were already parked. How cool is that? You drive your home around the country, park places, plant out the pink flamingoes and lawn chairs, watch the cranes come and go in the sunrise and sunset.

I remember talking to Dario Pegoretti at an early NAHBS when we were both taking breaks, and we jokingly planned a commune in New Mexico with all our frame-building friends. The idea still appeals to me, only now it would be RV’s. We could all drive around in our RV’s, park together in a wagon-train circle, ride bikes (for the cyclists), have a writing prompt session or two (for the writers) and generally have a ducky time avoiding winter.

What do you think? Am I just getting old or is this a ReVolution?

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Seeds in the Winds of Change

I look at the seed catalogues piled up on the little table next to the chaise. They have been piled there since December and I have not been interested. But the sun is at a higher angle and the air, while still annoyingly cold, has softness not discernable two weeks ago. The cardinal is calling, as are the chickadees, and the goldfinches are starting to turn from buff to yellow-buff. Yes, spring’s coming—hard to fathom as I look at the 30 inches of snow covering the landscape—but it must be. So it really is time to knuckle down and make seed decisions.

But I’m still not interested.

I’ve been planting vegetable gardens from seed every year for thirty years and I have to admit it—the thrill is gone. Maybe it’s because the local food supply around here is fantastic. I belong to both a meat and a vegetable CSA. I joke that all I need is a dessert CSA and I’m set.

So I’m thinking about something radical. I’m thinking about planting a flower-cutting garden in place of the vegetable garden. Flowers, big, honking, colorful armloads of flowers. A crop of color and scent. Can I do it? Can the practical Swede throw a season to the wind and be frivolous with flowers?

Ja, I believe she can.

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Don’t Ask; Sell

Crowdsourcing troubles me. I have a hard time separating it from begging. And I wonder, is it a veneer of anonymity that gives crowdsourcing a social palatability that begging doesn’t have?

It’s not that I don’t support the idea of supporting talent–it is, after all a time-honored social system—patronage. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a product of patronage, as is Michaelangelo’s David. Today, we enjoy so many great works of creativity because the artist had a patron who supported him or her. But how crowdsourcing differs from patronage is in the product–there has to be one. If there isn’t, an ethical principle is being polluted.

That ethical principle is why, traditionally, Girl Scouts have sold cookies and people have held bake sales and spaghetti suppers to raise money for their cause. They do this because they intrinsically understand that there needs to be an exchange of power.

My father once told me a story. Many years ago, when he was doing some repairs on his sailboat in Bermuda, two young Bermudians came up to him and asked him for money. He knew how he looked to them—white American with a sailboat; must be rich. But coming from a place of having earned the money through sacrifice and hard work to be in a position of being able to repair his sailboat in Bermuda, he didn’t give them money, instead he told them: “Never ask for money, always offer something for sale.” With his words, he was reminding them of the importance of their own self-respect. The kids went away and a few hours later came back with a bead necklace. My father bought it. The balance of power and therefore self-respect was maintained on both sides.

The ease of internet anonymity may be tempting to some, but the price is self-respect. Don’t ask; sell.

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May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?

Tomorrow’s forecasted snow is number five? Six? I can’t remember. At any rate, there’s already plenty, thank you very much, of snow on the ground. I walked in my snowshoes thirty yards or so to check the culvert and it wore me out, the snow was so deep (although to be fair to myself, I was coming down with a cold).

In the food department, I find myself leaning toward making dinners that are heavy on the carbs—no surprise there, since we spend huge amount of calories outdoors just shoveling and hauling wood and whatnot. So last week, I decided to make baked beans in the oven for dinner and as I was assembling the ingredients—maple syrup that was a gift from a friend’s farm, onions and garlic from the garden, bacon from the farm a half-mile away—I dug out the molasses and realized two things: one, molasses really is slow in January (or February) and two, I had just enough for the recipe. I wondered, had I not had enough, what I would do, since driving to the nearest store, even when it’s not snowing, is still almost an hour’s commitment of time. Then I thought, well, of course, I would ask my neighbors up the road if they had any.

Way back when, when stores weren’t close or transportation so readily available, neighbors really did borrow a cup of sugar or a few tablespoons of molasses to finish up a recipe if they found themselves short. And they supplied to their neighbors as well, when it came to it. So that old saying about borrowing a cup of sugar is based on an agrarian truth, like so many of our adages. It reveals the heart of a community, underscored in a rough winter. Asking for a hand: It’s what people do when they have to and it’s what people give, when they’re asked.

P.S. For a passionate, poetic view of  life in the country, in the winter, see Ben Hewitt’s blog. 

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