pandemic

Anxious

 Have we used up all our anxiety on police brutality and racial injustice, the pandemic, global warming, and the upcoming elections? Apparently not.

Once again there are dark smoky skies raining ash and a neon red hot sun, and we’re spending our days checking the evacuation maps and nights  listening to our cell phones ding/beep/shriek at us about new warnings. 

My family of three is still here, watching and waiting, and not so close to the fires as we were a month ago. But oh lordy, my friends across the plain are evacuating and it’s another deja vu. 

It calms me down to sketch people. This guy is from the Sktchy app that has the interesting poses. When I finished it this afternoon I realized he looked like an evacuee, waiting to find out if his house burned down.

I never really spent much time learning to paint with gouache. It’s really quite different from other mediums. But I’m determined to make use of the black toned paper in my sketchbook and I need to use an opaque medium. So I will just muddle through and keep trying til it becomes more natural. I finished it off a bit with pastel pencil.

I thought I’d save this one for Halloween! I mean we can’t go trick or treating this year so maybe I’ll just sketch more of these. I made a pretty girl look a bit goulish. She did have yellow hair though.

Decided to sign up for the Inktober challenge on Sktchy and practice some new ink portrait licks with tips from the teachers.  I’m hoping it will keep me from the anxieties lying in wait at every turn. Want to join me?

Meet Vivan

This week I invited myself over to one of The Living Room’s transitional shared living houses so that I could visit with friends I’d made while doing their portrait stories last year.  Those of us who went to the day shelter on a regular basis, participants and volunteers, have been missing the sense of community we enjoyed there while eating lunch, attending groups or sitting in the garden.

Vivan

I got to check in with Vivan and ask about her life with Covid. She spoke of her odyssey from Sloan House to Astro Motel to Sonoma State emergency housing, until finally a spot opened up for her at this shared house. Even with all the changes she’s been through, she still has the optimism and energy I remembered. She’s in line for permanent housing soon and plans to finish her books of stories and cookbooks, and eventually have her own food trucks.

Her comments about pandemic life could have been anyone’s. “I feel stuck here. I’m not out walking and am gaining weight.” And then she teared up to say that the pandemic had destroyed her chance of visiting her dad this year, which would be the first possible time since 2013.

If you haven’t seen my exhibit of the portrait stories : This is My Story: Women and Homelessness, you can view it now on the Santa Rosa Arts website.

And visit The Living Room to find out more about what they’re doing now and how you could help.

The Changing Scene at The Living Room

As the pandemic continues to cause a make over at The Living Room, I’m looking for ways to document it in sketches. In a recent visit I was allowed inside the gate to see how the program keeps changing to meet the constantly evolving needs of a community in medical, social, and economic crisis.

In March, when they were ordered to close the doors on the day shelter with its rich offering of services, they morphed quickly into a program with a new mandate to offer food and housing, including referrals for men and women. When I spoke with them recently, their outreach program had placed 60 people in 6 weeks and the numbers of people they were serving hot meals was growing exponentially.

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Not only did the services change, but the “campus” also has undergone changes. One of the first was an outdoor plumbed hand washing station.

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And more recently refrigeration units were installed outside the offices. TLR now is opening a pantry program so they will be functioning like a free grocery store with the items people need to make nutritious meals at home. In this way they are responding to an anticipated increase in unemployment by the end of July and a lot more hunger in the general population.

They also have plans to convert portions of the campus to housing for women, since it doesn’t seem likely the day shelter aspect of the program is likely to return for some time.

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Meanwhile the participants I knew, like Silvia here, are seen only occasionally at TLR and always masked of course.

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I’m learning to read the welcoming look in their eyes on my rare visits when I run into people I know.

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If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, I invite you to look at my exhibition of portrait stories of these women, titled This is My Story: Women and Homelessness, on the Santa Rosa Public Arts website.

And to learn more about The Living Room and how you could help, visit their website.

Fences

When life seems to be turned on its ear, as it has with this pandemic, I cling to this practice of expressive art like a life raft. The process of making the art takes precedence over the accomplishment of a masterful outcome. The intuition about what materials and tools to use takes precedence over any kind of well thought out plan or design. The sensation of mark making becomes more important than the mark made. I try to dive in and not come up for air too quickly.

Of course this leads to questions about how to finish. So in this piece even my idea of adding the hands didn’t quite finish it. The blue reminded me of the bluebird couple that sits on the corner of the roof we can see from our dining room table. So I painted one of them and collaged it on. . .then needed the eggs. And finally as I wrote, even a garden scene like this turned out to be about the pandemic. . .in a helpful way.bluebird

acrylic inks, gel pen, drawn with a stick, splattered and scumbled on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

We try new ways to live with each other,

with masks and gloves and zooms,

The same fences that keep us in

are those that keep us out.

Nature topples those barriers we make,

finds a way around or between them,

Its winds dry our lonely tears

and sun warms our tender hearts

Birds share their freedom of air travel

without passport, mask, or elaborate protocol.

Welcome to my studio! (video)

We built my art studio when we moved to Sebastopol, California from the SF Bay Area 20 years ago. It’s a simple building where my creative spirit has taken flight and supported me for these many years through the many vicissitudes of modern life. It has been the home for my workshops and the setting for many ongoing friendships with students. And for years I opened it to the public for open studio events twice a year.

Since the pandemic and sheltering-in-place began three months ago, it has become a kind of hermitage. I have had to cancel workshops and rethink the ways I use my studio, as well as find new ways to encourage myself and others to actively pursue art. In that spirit I invite you into my studio to imagine with art with me.

Since the video here has no voice over, let me just orient you. As you enter you will walk counter clockwise around the room, looking out some windows as well. Those of you who have been here for classes will notice the more open floor. I took down one of the tables to make room to move for streaming Jazzercise classes! The comfortable chair is an addition as now I have the space to read. The paintings on the wall are mostly mixed media acrylics. There are tables to do Muse painting/collage, watercolor illustration, a wall section to clip Muse pieces up as they are “born”, a section for portrait stories of homeless women, and of course birds, birds, birds and then the garden where they live outside.

Enjoy watching the video, while I enjoy imagining meeting you here in person!
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To watch, click on the picture or see it here.

Meet Victoria

Victoria is one of the first ladies I met a year and a half ago at The Living Room. She was in the knitting group and later I would see her in the art groups. One day she told me about her connection with Homeless Action, a group of grassroots activists in Sonoma County working towards ending the suffering of people who do not have a home. She was particularly involved in the legal struggles to protect homeless people on the streets from being arrested when they had nowhere else to go.

Her story is one of the most remarkable I learned when doing this portrait project.

Victoria

Victoria would come to the art group that Ruth and I led on Fridays. Sometimes she would burst into song and others would join in. After doing some art play sometimes we would do a free write, like I do in Muse Groups. Hers always revealed a quirky sense of humor that would keep us laughing.

One day she brought some aged wooden shingles she’s picked up in a construction trash pile, and we gave her the paints she wanted so that she could paint the madonna on one. When the others saw what she’d done, they wanted to try it too. The madonna is still in my car and she asks about it. I’m happy to hold onto it and the blessings that flow from it until she has a more permanent living situation.

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I have lost touch with my friends who, before the pandemic I would see on my weekly visits. So you can imagine that I was relieved to see her on one of my trips to the The Living Room after the pandemic started.

I sat with her on the roadside while she ate her lunch. She’s still in the shared living situation and involved with yet another group serving homeless people: SAVE Sonoma Applied Village Services and, due to being in the high risk (virus)category, does what she can by phone. But her current housing is time limited and she fears what will happen next, when there is so little permanent housing available, a problem she knows well.

Jodi

Sorrow poured on sorrow and anger overflowing it all. What dark and challenging times! So I want to share the recent death of a homeless friend of mine, striking the note of what value her life was to those of us who knew her.

Jodi was one of those people for whom the term “salt of the earth” seemed to apply. She smiled and laughed a lot and was always very animated. She would have made a fabulous campground host, which is what she and her husband had planned, until he died suddenly.

Jodi

For a while Jodi came to The Living Room almost every day to eat, sometimes to do laundry, shower, and rest her body after sleeping in her car. She was a loyal friend to many and one in particular, who was like a sister to her. And she had a connection with dogs, knew the homeless dog population well, and cared for them in every way she could.

Jodimemorial

Jodi was one of the women of whom I did a portrait story for a project I have been developing for The Living Room. I dropped off her framed portrait this morning to display with her memorial in the parking lot of TLR, where people in need come between 10am and 1pm each weekday to receive hot food and other necessities. Chairs are placed six feet apart in from of the memorial so that people may stop and take a minute to write in the book any memories they have of Jodi.

As I was leaving today two of her friends saw the memorial and were dismayed to hear she had passed. In that moment they had me and each other to share memories with. Hopefully many more will see and share their memories of her and feel uplifted by her example.

 

The Living Room: Pandemic Times

When the doors of The Living Room were ordered closed over two months ago to protect an already endangered population of homeless and at risk women and children from the viral spread, the staff got busy reinventing the program to meet the needs of the pandemic. Outside the gates. In other words, in the parking lot.

Last week I found my spot again under the redwood trees on the outskirts of the parking lot. I was sketching and hoping to see some of my friends, participants of the program I have come to know for the past year and a half of volunteering in the programs.

Redwood Gospel Mission had parked their mobile shower truck in the parking lot and people were lining up for the free hot meals – a breakfast and a lunch of healthy and appetizing food which they could carry off to eat somewhere off the property. Some headed for the side street and curbs, others for the bus stop or their cars.

Men were welcomed along with women and children. A man emerged from his shower and, after picking up his hot meal of pulled pork and veggies, did a little jig of happiness, exclaiming to no one in particular, “This feels so good! I want to live here!”

TLRpandemictimes

After getting their food, which was handed out the window of the kitchen, people were invited to go around to another window to pick up mail or get referrals and toiletries if needed.

My friend Ruth was getting her food bag and stopped a minute to talk with me. I asked how she was coping since the Covid crisis. She still sleeps in a tent with her partner, but no longer has the support of the programs and her friends at The Living Room, can’t do her laundry and rest comfortably there, and so much more. Also since the libraries are closed, it’s more difficult to stay connected with what’s going on, not to mention find public bathrooms to use. The encampments tend to be so dirty with trash that she doesn’t stay there, where otherwise there might be some sense of community.

Sheltering in place has a whole different meaning when your “place” is a tent or a car. I’ll be sharing more stories as I learn them and sketch stories of these folks who come to The Living Room. They’re our neighbors and we wish them well and want to be of help in any way we can.

The Living Room offers a variety of ways you can be of service. You can find out more on the their website and Facebook page.

 

Final Days New Orleans

We set out on another Garden District walk, inching up Jackson Street with a stop here to admire the palm fronds spilling over the sidewalk, and there to gawk at the boughs of trees that extended down to the earth and up again, and there to catch sight of the bird serenading us with vigor. We took pictures of lichen painted leaning fences and antique gate handles with rich verdigris patina.

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Until finally we just sat down on the sidewalk to sketch the next house. This one looked a bit run down and haunted, causing a passerby to query “Why are you drawing this house?” (meaning, because there are so many nicer looking mansions)

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We were headed to one of the historic cemeteries where people were buried above ground inside the tombs, since the water table in the city is so high. The gates were locked and the cemetery closed while much needed maintenance and repairs were happening. But the view from outside the gate was fascinating. There are so many places in New Orleans like this, with a Halloween vibe that makes you want to carve a pumpkin, go trick or treating or read a gothic novel.

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Next day we took two buses (for $.40 total fare) to a neighborhood down river aptly named Bywater. And there I believe we encountered not one other tourist! We walked along the Mississippi on a trail reclaimed from post-Katrina devastation and found a jewel of a hipster lunch cafe.

NOLA17 After lunch we found a hurdy gurdy man outside his music/clothing/etc. resale shop who was friendly and excited to have some prospective customers or at least people interested in the hurdy gurdy.

The houses in Bywater were smaller than the Garden District, but were so charmingly diverse and colorful, that in the interests of time, we did thumbnail paintings.

As we were leaving we talked to a woman who pointed out an intersection nearby that had “bad juju” so that none of the businesses survived for long. She also shared what she’d had to do to exorcise the spirits from her house with a combination of Feng Shui and Voodoo or something like that. Like I said. . .the stuff of Halloween.

Later in the day on the way home I stopped at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium because I love bugs! I think it comes from having raised two little boys with whom I spent lots of time finding chrysalids, following butterflies and bringing crickets home for the leopard gecko and  praying mantis. As I walked through the museum I kept having flashbacks of my little boys faces lit up with delight! So of course I revelled in the exotic butterflies and beetles and tasted the bugs in the cafeteria. They have no taste on their own, but are quite tasty with cajun spices and in chocolate chip cookies!

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And then it was our last day, with just enough time to wander in and out of all the strange and wonderful shops on Magazine St, grab a last sketch, and meet Brenda.

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Somehow we started talking while she was waiting for the bus and I was loitering. It wasn’t long before I learned that she’d worked in the medical field her whole life and had lost her home in Katrina, and that her son had died two years ago. And then she said something that has stuck with me since, as I’ve contemplated the repercussions of the pandemic crisis. She said that what people gained from Katrina was a greater knowledge of what’s really important in life – kindness and caring for each other.

As we parted we shook hands (the last of that act for a long time now!) and introduced ourselves.  It felt a bit like a blessing to take with me on the airplane and into my life at home with the (bad) news digesting and the hand washing and social distancing. . .a blessing to stay kind and caring and find a way to look out for each other.

If you’ve stuck with this travelogue this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope you are finding a way to live with the onslaught of news and lifestyle changes. Stay well and let’s stay connected in all the ways we can.

And do lots of art of whatever kind you have access to!