How will art change my writing?

As a lifelong writer, it’s a complete switch in direction to suddenly, obsessively, sketch. First thing in the mornings. Before coffee. As I’m hanging out with friends. In the winter’s evenings. I’m committed, and addicted, to sketching. Doodles? Portraits? Still life? Pen and ink? Landscapes? Watercolours? Cartoons? I’ll try anything.

And I have to wonder how this changes my writing. Will it? Will it make my stories brief to the point of novels becoming a short story in a magazine? Will I master the art of slow-reading, editing out every other unnecessary word in my own works in reaction to this simplification?

I’m curious. Yet, I can’t stop sketching long enough to read anything of substance nor to write much beyond a short article or blog. I must get back on the word-wagon though. That’s why I quit my day job, right? To focus on submitting, working at, improving my writing. I give myself a hard time, the days seem so long, what am I doing with myself? Flake!

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Then I look at all that I’m working on, learning, and researching. Since quitting the retail job, my income has dropped significantly, yet my interest in people and their stories has increased. I have time for you, mostly. Tell me what you’ve read, experienced, but not just how much you drank on the weekend, although maybe that will be the next book? Drinking as the social outlet in small towns?

Flake? How can I call myself a flake? Because I work from home? Because my days are my own? I don’t know but it’s true, I am hard on myself. More. More. Must do more. But let’s see, remind myself of all I’ve done in the last few months. A book length travelogue. Three photo essay books and another in the works this week. Four photography calendars. Three articles for fempotential.com’s travel section. Two articles for Classic Land Rover magazine in the UK and a position on their staff for a new section called Stateside Stories. Postcards of five of the cartoons from the Before Coffee series. A Flickr account. Two stock photography accounts with well respected websites. Two interviews for upcoming essays. Submissions each week to various publishers. A press pass for a huge Overland Travel Rally in Arizona. Yep, it’s coming together. I’m reaching my goals steadily.

In the meantime, life revolves around researching online, following the calls for stock photography, setting up more platforms on social media, looking for the magazines and papers that take submissions on travel related essays complete with good quality photos.  BE SMART says my notice board in the kitchen.

  • Submit
  • Market
  • Art practice
  • Research
  • Travel

My morning is feed the critters, make coffee and go back to bed with a sketch pad. Then it’s time for a walk with two dogs in the brisk sunrise quiet of New Mexico. Back to the home and with laptop warming up for me, I make a quick breakfast. Check emails. Check  list of goals for the day. Research the questions that came up from the day before, for example, what is the industry standard for single panel comics? When is the deadline to submit the watercolours to the gallery in Madrid? Mornings are full of online work, the writing, following threads and taking notes. I get overwhelmed by words, by the ideas and potentials and it’s hard to focus. Hence the lists for the next day, a way to allow those ideas to settle into priorities and action plans.
The afternoon is less word oriented. Reading has fallen aside in the last three months and I know that as a writer, I need to read more. Yet, I can’t. It’s time for a break, for new inspiration, and that’s coming from sketching, and from asking my professional artist friends, and even watching Youtube videos on beginning art techniques. The amount of people with quality tutorials leaves me in awe, the notepad filling, and yet more ideas pop up.

With a hike in the hills with the dogs, watching the sunset with the dogs and Little Stevie at the overlook by my home, we settle in for the night. Another few hours of sketching, trying out techniques and styles, a last minute look online at social media, and then to bed with a magazine or short story, it’s all I can manage. I’m tired.

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My articles have started appearing regularly in a few places, and it’s an amazing feeling. There are many submitted that weren’t exactly rejected, but no one responded. I’ll wait a month and check in with those editors. I need to learn a system for keeping track as my notebook is a little distracted as am I. Classic Land Rovers, travels as a solo woman, the pets, and simply put this life of mine. I’ve not yet looked into writing about the off-grid homestead of mine, why not? It’s just what I do, nothing special to build a wooden outhouse one weekend? Or to fix a leaking roof? To wander around my home with dogs, cat and two chickens following along?

These sketches of mine, the daily practice is taking me along fast. I don’t know where this new discovered talent will take me, but aiming high, how about getting published? Syndicated? Well, hell, why not? It’s good to have goals…I’ll work on it. I will.

From these beginning doodles in January:

And to this, the last week in February, I’m happy and amazed at the learning curve. Where will I be by the end of the year? That is the commitment, to sketch every day, and I’m on it.

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It’s going to be interesting to see how my essays change as my focus is now on being brief, direct, and still quirky. We’ll see. It’s a process. I’m not stopping.

Living The Dream: 5

DECEMBER: ON THE ROAD STILL

A state police truck drove behind me, lights flashing. I pulled off the road, reached for insurance card, and opened a window. Nelson sat up, curious as ever. He stuck his nose against the windscreen to peer through the snow. The officer drove past us and stopped at the gas station. I followed, still wondering what was going on. The lights died as the officer climbed out, stretching, and smiled at me. He pointed inside and mouthed he needed coffee. Damn, sounds good. I parked in the sunshine and cracked the windows for the pup. Nelson sighed and lay down again. It’s a hard life being my dog.

The gas station smelt of coffee and burritos; there was a café hidden in the back room. The counter was crowded with locals mostly was my guess, all chatting and laughing, huddled in layers of coats, hats, and scarves. The officer stood among them, sipping on a steaming cup of coffee. He grinned at me.

“Hope I didn’t worry you too much, hon, I just needed to warm up. My heater broke this morning, it’s throwing out cold air and I can’t turn the thing off. My hands are freezing. Officer Jaime Ramirez, at your service by the way. And you?”
I reached out a hand, pulling off the leather gloves with a smile of relief, “Jennifer, nice to meet you, in here that is. Can I scoot past and get a burrito? Thanks.”
The rest of the guys made a space, laughing loudly and talking to the officer about road conditions. The breakfast burrito with green chile was wrapped in aluminum and passed across to me. Only $3.75. Unbelievable. I stood at the window and stared at the snow, a whiteout, I’d been driving at twenty or so miles an hour for so long that my hands had cramped. Nelson had snored as he slept innocently at my side.
I’d not expected this storm, that’s for sure. A week exploring the northern roads, the mountainous border of New Mexico and Colorado, had brought us to Raton. The interstate could take me either north to Denver or back towards Santa Fe. I was stuck with indecision. I finished the burrito and ordered one with steak for my boy. I sipped at a huge coffee as I waited.

“Where are you headed, Jennifer?” Officer Ramirez leaned against the tabletop and glanced at the storm raging outside. He’d taken off the hat and sunglasses and his eyes showed the stress of a long night’s driving duty.
“I don’t know to be honest. What do you recommend?”
With a laugh, he suggested anywhere but here. “Are you staying in the area? If not, I’d say go south, Las Cruces, or something. Ever been to Roswell? Anywhere down there? That’s where I wish I was right now.”
We both sat down at the table and drank in companionable silence. Officer Ramirez had short gray hair, with dark amber eyes, heavy lidded, and laughter lines etched into his weathered face. He was a handsome man in his late fifties, and I relaxed into his easy presence. I told him briefly of my travels through Farmington, then into the Apache reservation, and getting lost in San Juan Mountains for a few days after that, followed by the various campsite closures near Pagosa and how I’d found a creek in the mountains near Williams Reservoir to camp next to.

“It’s a strange time to tent it up here, you know?” He grinned and put his coffee down. “If you’d come a few months ago, I’d say go see Sugarite Canyon but it’s snowed under right now. Like I said, go south.”
The snow faded out and the sky suddenly cleared above Raton. The chatter behind us dropped off as folks fumbled for coats, paid checks, and quickly hit the road. I warmed my hands on Nelson’s burrito. The café cleared out.

“I know. I know. None of this was planned. But, hey, it’s beautiful. Anyway, I reckon you’re right. I can’t camp in my truck in this. Well…how far is it to get to Roswell? I’ve not been there yet. Four or five hours?”
“More like six or seven from here, more if the interstate is snowed under. You could stay in Albuquerque and break it up I guess. There’s a great old town neighborhood worth exploring, diners and motels near by, and that kind of thing for the tourists. Anyway, Miss; it’s been nice to chat for a moment. I hope I didn’t worry you too much when we both pulled up here.” He stood, and passed me a card with his number at the local office. “In case you need help ever, call me, okay? There’s always someone rooting for you.” He smiled as he dropped ten dollars on the counter and left.

 

I filled the gas tank and cleaned out the front seats. I put trash into the stations’ cans, and wiped down the windshield inside and out. With our home now clean, the pup fed, and another coffee propped on the dash, I settled in. Grabbing the coffee, I put it between my legs for warmth and we hit the road again.
I was tired, deeply tired. I couldn’t stop driving though. I couldn’t settle. I hurt too much. I remembered too much.

Living in limbo

February. Most of my friends are having a hard time. Winter never really came, the snow didn’t turn town in a wonderland, it’s just been cold and the tourists left us alone. I like it. Winter that is. I do. I like wearing layers, making fires, cooking big hearty meals, and sitting in bed early as I draw, write or read. It’s a good time for me. Usually.

This year is different. The snow didn’t fall, well apart from a dusting once or twice. There’s been no challenging drive through the drifts in my four-wheel drive, no tromping through the untouched crisp of ice and sugar frosting. My home is comfortable, maybe too comfortable for someone like me. It’s, well, boring. I’m done. The floor is in. The wood-stove is oversized and I sit around in tee-shirts and jeans. The windows are now double-paned, and curtains keep the heat in over night. Not so long ago, when this was a shack and nothing more than dirt, broken windows, and one room, I’d wake up in a union suit, shivering and cursing, struggle to light a shitty little leaking wood-stove, and then with the insulated coveralls on, I’d set up up the camp stove to make coffee. It was great!

This year is different. Here I am in tee shirt, the dogs and cat are lounging around near the wood-stove, there’s a spitting of snowflakes on the dirt outside, and I’m in limbo. It’s not just the time of year, not just the weather, or that I’ve renovated my shack into an off-grid comfortable home, it’s more.

Last year, I spent summer living in a van with the two dogs and a cat called Stevie. We wandered around the Northwest for months, finding little towns, great back roads, camping in the hills and on the beaches. It was incredible, so inspiring and relaxing. I read tons, day-dreamed, wrote and photographed the time we spent together. While on the road, I kept checking out each town, each area, talking to locals and visitors, seeing how they found those places. I was looking for a new home.

I need a challenge apparently. Life is just a tad too easy on me right now. I’m enjoying it, being self-employed, scrambling for money each month is nothing new, and I’ve found a talent for sketching, for cartoons and that keeps me engaged in the morning and evenings when the computer and internet are turned off.
I need more. Does that mean I lack a sense of contentment? No, for me it means that I know life is precious, a gift, there are no guarantees. I want to grab life, force myself into new situations, discover sides to myself I’d not noticed earlier. I want to live. Fully.

It’s not enough to stay in this little village of three hundred or so. It’s not enough to talk about the weather, the return of the local band, or who was so drunk the other weekend. I like all that, I do. The familiarity. But it’s like I’ve grown up, I need to leave this family of sorts as if I were a teenager again. It’s time to claim my place in a bigger world. To discover and be discovered. I don’t know how that looks, but it’s time to leave the nest.

With that in mind, this winter has left me living in limbo. Each day I sketch, learn from artists, and practice drawing. Each day, I write and submit to magazines and newspapers. I read avidly, although I’ve a had a few weeks with no writing or reading, unusual for me. I’ve applied for freelance work and seasonal work. I’ve sent out ideas all across the Northwest and even the Midwest. Now I wait.

There is nothing I can do but wait. Practice, draw, write, read and research. I wait. I’m told that by the end of March, I’ll hear back. In April, my brother and his family are visiting me here. It might be the kid’s first and last time in Madrid, I might be gone. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

And this state of limbo has me appreciating the snowflakes on the doorstep, the muddy prints across the kitchen floor, and the conversations with old friends. You just never know. I’m grabbing each minute here. With my friends and family. You just never know.

 

Living the Dream: 4

Click on the image for a link to the book’s details.

JUNE: NARC

A sign at the door announced: There is no town drunk. We all take turns. A room opened up in front of us empty but for ten or so wooden tables and a handful of locals sitting at the bar. The oldest bar in the area the waiter told us as he took us to a table by one of the windows. He sat us down and took our drinks order. The local beer was our choice, Santa Fe Pale Ale. I figured it was what everyone around here drank. Mark smoothed out his dirty blond hair, trying to tame his curls into some semblance of style. The stubble on his chin and cheeks had saved those parts of his face from sunburn but his nose glowed and the rest of him didn’t look so good. I kinda liked the rough look on him. I told him so.

“That bad? Oh, I’d better go clean up.” and he practically ran to the bathrooms. I waited for him to come back before I started my pint, but he was too long gone.

“Cheers.” I muttered to myself and drank deeply. “Not bad, not bad at all.” I drank some more and started to feel better.
Mark came back over, his hair wet and flattened. A stain from the water dripping off his face covered the buttons on his shirt. Thinking he looked all tucked in and presentable, he sat down next to me, facing the bar.

“I need to get a battery operated shaver. I can’t do this cowboy thing for much longer.” He pulled out his notepad and made another note. “Tomorrow? Drive to Santa Fe to get supplies? I heard there’s a Super Wal-Mart this side of town – we could go there.”
“Do you reckon they’d have solar lights? I’m not into stumbling into a cactus in the middle of the night again. You know, we get to do the right thing and be all Green now. Oh, do we need to get a tent? Did you ever find it in the U-Haul?”
“No, I didn’t find it. But we’ll probably find the RV this afternoon and move into that. Anyway, we’ll need to drop the truck off tomorrow unless we want to pay for another day or two? We could get some groceries and another cooler while we’re out. What else?” He looked at the lists that kept growing minute by minute. He scratched his beard.

“Water, we need more water containers. Can we fill them at Wal-Mart? What about batteries for the flashlights? Matches? Fire starters? What else?”
The list grew and grew. We sat and drank while making plans. We didn’t even talk about the home he’d build, just the settling in phase. One day at a time, or so my uncle used to say once he got sober. Too much caffeine and rum had made a mess of him. Then again, he’d been much more fun after his tainted coffee in the mornings.

Mark went outside for a cigarette. I sat alone and looked around. The tavern was dark and wooden with a single sided bar complete with mirrors and high stools. A stage stood ready for the bands on the weekends with a PA system and speakers laying off to the side. The air inside felt stale and warm. All four windows were firmly closed and by the paintwork was my guess. The tables all sat empty but for ours. Mid afternoon on a Thursday didn’t bring out many drinkers or tourists apparently. The bearded and stocky bartender chatted with a few people, shaking his head occasionally, and laughing at their jokes as he pocketed their tips. He walked past me on the way out to the porch, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He stopped to ask if I needed another yet.
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
He nodded once, saying nothing more, and kicking the solid wood door, he went outside.

“Where are you from?”
A young man sat himself down opposite me and smiled. He was missing one tooth in the front. His skin was toasted a dark brown and he smelt odd. He had a short dark brown beard and long hair tied back in a ponytail. The tee shirt was worn to transparency. He held out a hand. It was dirty.

“I’m Dave. Pleased to meet you.”
I shook his hand out of habit and introduced myself, “I’m Jenny. Do you live around here too?”
He nodded and took a big gulp from his pint. “Yep, came here in ’96 when I was a kid. I grew up here. It’s changed that’s for sure, what with everyone and their dogs moving here. Well, yeah, anyway, I’ve not seen you around so I figured I’d be polite and see where you’re visiting from.”
I sipped my pint and wished Mark would come back in. I told Dave how I’d moved here from Olympia, and that we were going to build a place out of town on our land.

“We?” he echoed.

“Yes, me and my boyfriend. Mark.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” There was a pause as he finished his pint in one long gulp. He stood up and nodded absently. “Well, yeah, see you around I guess.”

I drank some more and pulled out my camera, deleting the blurred photos from the drive the day before. I put it away as the waiter had poured me another pint and dropped it off as I looked over our lists for in the morning and sighed. There was too much to be done. I sighed again.
“Are you okay?”

The waiter was standing nearby with a pitcher of water with ice.

“You’ll need this if you’re not from around here, you’ll get headaches, hangovers, feel sleepy and probably get all irritable. It’s altitude sickness; some get it worse than others. Be careful for a while, especially with alcohol. It’s twice as strong if you’ve come from sea-level, okay?” He topped up my water glass with more ice before heading back to the bar. He was tidy in his black tee shirt and jeans, short brown hair, and shaved unlike the rest of the men around. I scooped out a piece of ice when he wasn’t looking and put it down my bra.
The door opened and Mark came back over grinning loosely.

“Some guy got in my face, calling me a narc.” Mark sat down next to me and gave me a kiss. A big slobbery beer and smoke flavored kiss.

“What’s that for?”
“Bringing me to this crazy town. A narc. Me? Why did he say that?” He sat there in his black tee shirt with sweat stains drying out nicely, and tucked himself in, scratching at his newly forming beard. I described my brief visitor at the table and asked if that was who’d talked to him.

“I wouldn’t call it talking, but yeah, a young and ugly bugger, scruffy and full of himself. Yep, that’s the one. He kept on calling me a Fed, not listening to a word I said. I get the feeling he says that to anyone new. Someone else out there told him to give it a break and they all made fun of him for picking on me. I told him to call me Special Agent Bradley in future. I think that helped me make friends with the other guys out there after he left. The bartender, he was all right. He’d been out West to Oregon and Washington before he settled here with his wife and kids. I liked him.”

“Did you tell them we live here now? That we’re locals?”
“Yes, but they’d already heard about us walking up Gringo Gulch in the middle of the day. Danny had stopped in here to tell them about picking up some tourists walking out in the noon sun.”
“And?” I sipped more water. “What else did you find out?”
“Not much, I tried to tell them that we bought the place so we’re not tourists, but they kind of laughed. It wasn’t mean, but sort of sarcastic, you know? Oh, and you know what? I’m told there’s an old school bus on the property, not an RV like the one the realtor promised. Somewhere on the back half of the forty acres Pete set up camp in a converted 1950s school bus. He lived in it until his daughter got him an RV or something and then he hit the road and sold up. Anyway, they reckon it’s probably all set up for us, better than waiting for the monsoon season in a tent.” Mark reached over and drank the rest of my pint.

I passed him the water too. “Finish that,” I said and I told him why he’d had those headaches all day long. He frowned but downed it in one.

“A bus you said? No RV?” I asked. “And monsoons?”

“Yep, regular as clockwork I’m told.”
We sat there nursing the beers when it occurred to me. “What about our stuff? Where are we going to put it all? When exactly does it start raining?” I needed details.

“In July.” Mark grinned. “So in about a weeks time. Do you want to go live in a school bus with me then?” he offered with a wickedly disbelieving grin.
“Yeah, why not.” I punched him lightly.

“Really?” He looked shocked. “You’d do that?”
“On one condition,” I told him. “No pack rats, cute or not.”
“Deal.”

We clinked glasses and called for the check.

Click on the image for a link to the book’s details.

Living The Dream: Chapter 3

DECEMBER: CAMPING

The sun woke me. Nelson poked his nose under the covers and scooted closer against my shivering sleeping bag clad body. He sniffled contentedly as his warmth seeped through the layers of blankets and I laughed. The sun peeked over the mountain, and steam rose from the lake in front. The frost on the windows shimmered as it faded and dripped. The fire pit beckoned.

“Coming out, Nelson?” I sat up and grabbed the jacket and hunter’s cap. Nelson claimed the pillow instead and wagged his tail. “Okay, okay, you just warm yourself while I make the fire, get the coffee going and fry up some eggs, is that it?”
Thump. Thump. Nelson smiled his doggy smile as I opened the door and climbed out. The only problem with the 4Runner? You can’t open the tailgate from inside. I can live with that though.
Ravens flew overhead, crowing to each other as they swooped and soared in the light breeze. I shivered but poked at the embers. I added some old pinecones, yesterday’s newspaper, and a handful of small sticks. The fire took within minutes. I set the grate over the rocks and prepped the coffee pot. With chores done, I settled back on the tailgate.

I’d woken only the once during the night. Well, Nelson woke me. Another nightmare, I guess. He’d nudged his wet nose in my face until I took a deep breath and woke. Thump. Thump. I recalled reliving my memories of Mark and living in the hills together, walking along the arroyo to the school bus. The overnight solstice party at Andrew’s home with all that live folk music. Louise’s dogs greeting me on my weekly volunteering visit with her rescue. My heart broke to think I could lose all that.
I shook myself free of the images and tied my hair back into a loose ponytail. The coffee pot farted its readiness and I used the jacket sleeve to grab and put it onto the campsite’s concrete table, my new kitchen. I moved aside a crate of canned soups, snacks, teas, and cooking supplies. I poured out a mugful and added cream and honey. My days always start in such comfort if I can help it.

Nelson groaned softly then jumped out and ran down to the lake and drank deeply. Then he peed into the lake.

“Hey, bud, you hungry?”

Nelson bounded up, ears flat and tail wagging, and I passed down a full bowl of kibble. I’m constantly amazed at how much this boy can put away.
“What should we do today, then? Head west? Or simply find somewhere warmer than here? Like Arizona, you think? I wish I hadn’t forgotten the map at that tavern but oh well eh? I can fake it. The truck will take us wherever we want, and in comfort too, right boy?”

Nelson burped and sat down at my feet, staring into the hills around us, as if looking for someone.

“I know, I know, I miss Frida too.” Nelson looked up at me, hearing her name, but his ears drooped and he lay down across my boots unhappily.

In the bus together last summer, Mark had liked to sleep in with the dogs, but not me. Up and out early for me, sitting on the porch, watching the birds cruise the neighborhood, listening for the coyotes in the hills. Grabbing my journal, I wrote a few phrases remembered from the day before, just my passing thoughts, little reminders of sights and sounds on the road, just the two us, a girl and her dog. Those short interactions at the gas stations. The conversation with Salty Dan at the tavern in Farmington, meeting his wife, and talking of books we’ve loved. Finding the cemetery at the end of the national forest road, one that was in memory of firefighters who’d lost their lives protecting a nearby village. The eagle in the ponderosa. The snakeskin on the boulder at the signpost for this campsite. I made notes about Mark too, his comments that still hurt, and the ones I could answer now, too late I know. I carried this book with me, in the jacket, with a notebook of tasks to be taken care of if I decided to stay in Oliver. If I decided to make a go of living alone in the bus in a small community like that. I didn’t yet know, didn’t know if I had it in me. To go back or to see everyone again.

I stood and gulped back the last of the coffee.

“Ready yet, fella? Ready for a walk?”