missive the seventh, 6/8/3, east haddam, connecticut

missive the seventh

6/8/3, east haddam, connecticut

this one’s more about traveling. i love to drive, as i might have mentioned. right now i’m in connecticut, but let’s start back in atlanta, sometime last week.

my 2 months in atlanta were very fulfilling, and very full, and very fast. my daybook, where i keep my to-do lists, was empty for page after page while i was in europe and florida. i did lots of stuff, but it was at a slow pace of perhaps 3 items a day, and none of it was vital enough to write down in my daybook. however, it filled right up the moment i got back to atlanta, where i have friends and family, my contacts, all my shows, the galleries and shops that sell my work – most of the irons in the fire that provide me with my income as a starving artist (and i’m doing pretty well by starving artist standards, thanks). my last week in town was a whirlwind of final beers with friends, last chances to arrange commissions, visits round the shops to make sure the bins were stocked with prints, and the last of the shows.

technically, i began my latest round of traveling on memorial day weekend, when i loaded up my mary poppins bag of a car with all my show stuff and headed out past athens to an art festival in watkinsville, a wonderful little town in commuting distance of the university of georgia. it’s old, genteel, beautiful, with tree lined streets and old southern houses (12′ porches you could live on in the summer, azaleas and crape myrtles in the yard, a slightly worn victorian storybook feel about the place). the town itself is just a sneeze on the road; a few old buildings that started life as feed stores and such, had perhaps spent the last few decades as warehouses, and have now been renovated into gift shops and tea rooms, gratefully patronized by the well educated people who live there and work at the university, as genteel as the houses they live in. i love the place. i think perhaps when i come back thru atlanta in the fall i might find rooms in that part of the greater mega-atlanta area rather than trying to stay in the city itself or finding space up in some mountain cabin north of town. the only thing that might bother me is the obvious lack of diversity i find anywhere but downtown atlanta. what with the weather and not getting into several major shows in town this spring, it was actually my show in watkinsville that saw the best sales, which was good. it came at the last minute, like money always does, but the flurry of activity my last week enabled me to pay my bills before leaving town, with enough left over to make a huge dent in this month’s bills. and i have gas and food money on top of that, which is what i’m asking for these days – just enough and a little more.

actually, my request has changed to plenty. just enough and a little more was what i asked for when i was still happy being a starving artist, and i got just that. now i’m moving around more, and my needs are different, and so i’m asking for plenty of whatever i need at the moment. and i’m getting just that. miracles happen all the time.

so i drove out to watkinsville on friday, unloaded the car and set up for the show, and then drove back to town on friday night, buried myself in the storage space where i keep all my stuff, and began the process of packing and sorting. in the space of an hour, every single box was out and lined up against the wall. in the next hour, i moved from one box to another, seizing whatever i thought i might need in 3 months of residencies and putting it into a big pile of stuff on the floor. paints, crayons, canvas and paper, scissors and fabric and dyes, a smattering of essential kitchen equipment, spices and dried foodstuffs, books on silk painting and japanese clothing design as well as wildflower and bird identification handbooks, a small stash of clothes, and my pillow and quilt because i am a little tired of sleeping in entirely strange beds all the time and want a few small tokens of comfort and stability. by the time i was done it was 2:30 in the morning, but i was all packed and ready to load up and leave town. which would have to wait for monday, because i still had a show in watkinsville to drive to and play at, then pack it up and bring it back to storage and find a place for a tent, grids and panels, paintings, prints, a table and a chair. this part actually required a partial unpacking of the stuff already in storage so that i could rearrange once again and repack with the stuff i was going to take with me in front.

but it all fit, and on monday morning i took only the camping equipment out, locked the rest up, and then went to get allison for 3 days at myrtle beach, south carolina, where we came upon the most amazing billboards. 4 amazing billboards, all advertising a drink called outhouse springs. on a swirling lime green and lemon yellow background, with a cute little outhouse as a logo, various slogans extolled the product: “america’s first recycled water”; “l, m, n, o…”, and a picture of the bottle; “originally in cans” and a picture of the outhouse; and “#1, not #2”. they’re the funniest ads i’ve seen in years, and it can only be an expensive joke on someone’s part. i mean, who would make a drink called outhouse springs? i would buy it just for the name, but i mean what reasonable consumer would?

myrtle beach was fun. we stay at the state park, avoiding all the built-up commercialism of this coney island of the south. we camp in the woods, hanging out all day listening to birds and the crash of the surf. allison’s 14.5 now, and her interest is no longer in building sand castles. it’s tanning, and hanging on the pier with all the hot guys. and that’s fine. i let her go, and check up on her from a distance, so she gets the taste of being a teenager without most of the inherent dangers. funny thing is, when i was a teenager, the danger was all i’d wanted, and i’m sure she’s in the same frame of mind. but i’m a mom now, so we’re not having much of that if i’ve got anything to say about it.

the mini vacation with my daughter was over really fast. myrtle beach is about 7 hours from atlanta, so much of it was spent in a car, but that’s also a vacation of sorts. allison and i have always taken long trips together, and the getting there is as much a part of it as the sleeping under the stars bit. we stop at the first convenience store we see and load up on water and candy, and then allison entertains me with the latest cd she’s downloaded. last year the music was goth; all headbanging and screaming and mindless guitar flailing. but she’s grown up now, and this year it’s mainly love songs. but boy have they changed since we were kids. it’s not ‘i want to hold your hand’ anymore. it’s ‘come here bleep and bleep bleep bleep my bleep you bleep’, except that we listen to the uncensored versions. they’re still sweet sentiments of devotion, i’m sure, but in ghettospeak they seem just a bit rough.

however, this is now my favorite song in the universe – stepdaddy. http://i-squad.net/universal/player3/HitmanSammySam/HitmanSammySam.html or the video at http://boss.streamos.com/real/universalmotown/universal/hitman_sammy_sam/video/00_stepdaddy.ram. it’s funny and g-rated so all you parents out there can listen to it.

the drive from atlanta to connecticut isn’t long, just 1100 miles. i did it luxuriously slowly, sort of. the first day was a 9 hour drive, and saw me in charlottesville virginia, where i’ll be spending july, and the second day got me only as far as washington, a mere 120 miles north. i spent that day with my family, lounging around in my brother’s house. but i made up for it on saturday, and 9 hours later, thru the rainy traffic of i-95 north, ended up in this rural paradise.

it’s 400 acres or so in the connecticut river valley, right on an important tributary of the cleanest river in the country, or something. it’s all uphill and downhill, old saltbox houses, barns and little red schoolhouses, and taverns older than god’s younger cousin. very picturesque. a glacial environment, which is one of my favorite types of places. this place was covered by 3/4 of a mile of ice 20,000 years ago, and there are huge boulders in the farmyard, and a partially mined gravel pit on the property where the stones are all rounded and worn, and were dumped here one spring when the glacier started to melt. totally a different place than atlanta.

i love to drive. travelling by any means is a wonderful thing, but there’s something about seeing it at ground level and relatively slowly that i really enjoy. my friend pete, with whom i stayed in florida, retired in may and immediately set out on his bicycle, headed this way. i passed him last week, and he’s just sent out an email saying he made it to dobb’s ferry in 23 days. walking would be even slower. i think i like driving better. i get to sit and think for hour after hour, watching the landscape unfold before me, and the trip is fast enough that i can see the foliage changing, the types of trees giving way to more northern species, the spring schedule of bloom and bud rolling backwards. the dogwoods, which have finished in atlanta, are still coming out here. the irises are only now blooming, and i’m watching the wild rose buds getting bigger and ready to open, probably this week.

i’m staying in a farmhouse, about 140 years old. i’m in the front room downstairs, the old parlor. it’s painted a nice dark green, and the bed is wonderfully comfortable. outside my windows are green fields and distant trees. the birds wake me at dawn, but i ignore them and go back to sleep until about 8:30 every day. and then a cup of coffee and some ditzing about the kitchen table, and by 10 i’m in the studio, painting or even just staring at the canvas. my studio is a little purpose built houselet, 14′ square, with windows on all sides. it’s out beside the barn, where there are other studios. mine is white inside and out, with wood floors, and a woodstove in the corner (which i use at night), a comfortable couch, a comfortable work chair, a boombox for my cds (i brought all of them this time, not just the few i took with me to europe), 2 nice sized tables, one for my photographs so i can pick and choose which paintings to do, and the other one bedecked with all my paints, spread out on a glass pallette, my brushes arrayed in a ceramic jar, and a cup of whatever hot beverage perilously close to my solvents so i can hazard dipping my brush into my coffee several times a day. i brought a lot of my supplies with me, like my persian rug, and my raku brush jar.

when it was me and a suitcase, then i only packed the essentials. now that i have my mary poppins bag of a car, i figured i’d bring the creature comforts that make me feel like i belong somewhere. a whim, certainly; i can still do without most of the things i brought, but i figured since i can, i might as well. a lack of discipline, perhaps, but hey, it’s exuberant summer and excess is appropriate.

there are 4 other residents here, all of us women, as it turns out. we quickly decided that we didn’t want to follow most of the little rules the director has decided we need to follow, like the one that says the kitchen table is for food only. we are all used to the kitchen table being the center of the house, and so of course we read there, work there, hang out and talk for hours there. whoever decided the kitchen table was for eating at is missing the point. we don’t bother making a scene about breaking the rules, and they don’t worry about us if they don’t know. i think it’s more grown up that way. rules are for kids. common sense and getting along and being courteous and thoughtful, those qualities are much more important than following rules.

my day starts at 8:30. everyone else usually comes thru the kitchen at that time, on their way to their own studios to work. we’ve got a woman from albuquerque who does small objects from natural materials. we’ve got someone from in connecticut who sculpts. there’s a painter from minneapolis who is out in her studio as i speak stretching canvas and coating it with rabbit skin glue and handmade paint. we’re all completely different, and we’ve all got a whole lot of technical expertise, druthers, and artistic wackiness to share. it’s a wonderful mix of people. and the little guy who runs the place is like an elf on a mission; we haven’t figured him out yet. get 4 women in a place, and there’s bound to be figuring out going on. we’re busy trying to figure out the dynamics of this place, why people do what they do, and all the other important people things that women tend to find interesting.

when i can tear myself away, i go to my studio, where i’m working finishing my 9th koi painting, playing with 2 really small koiettes, working on a few commissions, painting a picture of the residency buildings, and am halfway thru a pub painting of the famous stag’s head bar in dublin which is turning out very nicely. it’s also nice and large, which i really love painting large paintings.

i can only work for an hour or two, and then i get antsy, so i’m always popping back into the kitchen to make myself another pot of tea, or to read about the impressionists, or to take a nap, or going for a walk in the woods, or trying to find someone to talk to for a few minutes, or checking my email. that’s how i like to work, in short little intense spurts followed by a touch of housework or something even lighter.

given this kind of routine, it’s kind of difficult to tell how much work i’m actually getting done, but i don’t stop working until way after dark, so that must be somewhere from 8-12 hours a day, depending. when i worked for big behemouth, inc. i was putting in 12 hour days routinely, and they sped by and left me exhausted and resentful. i’ve got to say that i don’t mind the gruelling hours and responsibilities of being an artist one little bit.

my fellow residents get stir crazy more often than i do, so there’s talk about a day trip to martha’s vineyard or block island soon. it’s been raining here every bit as much as it’s been raining anywhere else on the east coast, so everyone’s waiting for a couple of clear days so they can work outside. me, i love the rain, and am thinking perhaps i can go to vancouver one of these days and spend some time. i’ve got an invitation to new mexico, so maybe i’ll get that far and just keep going when my visit is over. but that’s not until next year.

i’m all booked up for the rest of this year. except that you know and i know that whatever plans i think i’m following will change and evaporate as i get closer to them. life is a mirage, after all. so i’ll go now. this letter is long enough, and i’m not painting when i’m sitting here. my letters never really say exactly what i want them to say, anyway, and i find that frustrating after awhile. and yet there’s so much to tell you. oh well. keep your spirits up in all this rain and cloud. god’s just really busy changing lightbulbs right now, and it’ll be brighter soon.


love jeanne


  1. […] missive the seventh – 6/8/3, east haddam, connecticut […]


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