Where artists played

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At the Florence Griswold Art Museum, Old Lyme, CT

And here they disembarked from the train
to make art.
Here, they were welcomed.
Here, they painted on dark doors and wall panels.
Here, even a few women artists were allowed.
Here, they painted cows and sheep.
Far from city streets.

In the late afternoon, the winter sun fills these rooms
with light,
searching for the painters who once sang its praises,
who grabbed their paint boxes and canvases
and ran down country lanes to favorite spots,
who shaped their hopes and shadows
with pigments instead of laws.

And now they are mostly forgotten
in the hues of time.
But here, their stories settle in the brushstrokes,
in the well-worn porch boards,
in the path to the river,
in the cracks of light.

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A night to ruminate

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m doing what writers do on this last night of the year (besides drinking) — I’m ruminating. I’ve been reading old journals to pare them down and remember dates. To look for seeds that were planted. To understand how I came to be where I am now.

I thought I’d collect a couple journal entries here that describe experiences that shaped me. I don’t know if this will interest anyone but me, but maybe you have spent the night doing the same thing.

Here is the first:

May 17, 2001

I am here at Breadloaf — heaven for writers. A place I’ve longed to be. I am writing at Johnson’s Swimming Pond. It’s not much more than a stopped-up river, mud flats, lots of gnats. But I’m sure many other writers have written in this same spot, have found inspiration.

I came here for the New England Young Writers Conference with two of my students — Samantha G and Cathy G. I have no idea what is going to happen, but it looks like a great itinerary. Everything starts happening in about an hour. I am a chaperone for about ten girls out of some 200 students from across the region. 

It is so beautiful here. The trees are newly green — just coming out now. The tulips are out. The trees are flowering. But there’s still snow on the mountains. Crickets are chirping. I am all alone right now. Not sure how to explain how important that is to someone who doesn’t feel the need to be alone to keep it all together. 

I’ve had some great experiences this year — the Nantucket Boston Writing Project weekend, Martha’s Vineyard Writers trip, The Dodge Poetry Festival, and now this. I have been to several poetry readings — Ferlinghetti, Kinnell, Kunitz, Clifton, Lux, Collins and Kumin. I can’t believe all the opportunities I’ve had. Some would never understand how wonderful this was for me. 

I hope I will be back to visit in years to come. Hi to me in the future. What is life like for you 20 years from now? It went by quickly, didn’t it? Well, it’s time to see what this weekend has in store. These gnats are starting to bug me.

Breadloaf, Vermont, 5.17.2001

Sad to think most of those poets have passed on, but that last mention about me in the future is what grabbed my interest. It’s not quite 20 years in the future, but pretty darn close. And it’s not surprising that a mid-life mom, wife and full-time high school teacher was so thankful for time to herself back then. I could have told her she’d have plenty of time to herself in the years ahead.

And so it goes.

In 1997 I wrote a 12-week journal following the assignments for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the assignments was to write a letter to your present-day self from your 8-year-old self. Here is the letter I wrote:

Dear 40-year-old Julie,

Remember me? I’m the little girl who pretended all the time. I loved to read and draw. I thought you were going to be an artist. Everyone was always giving you colors and markers and drawing books. I was designing and sewing Barbie doll when I was just 8. 

And I had complicated stories going on in my head all the time. But that is where they remained. I was too shy and quiet to let anyone know about this world living inside my head. I could look at a picture in a book and create a whole story around one picture. At eight, the world of books also was opening up for me. I was reading all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books in third grade — even the big, fat ones. I ate up books every day. I couldn’t get enough.

I guess I just want you to remember me and how much I loved creating — everything and anything. So don’t be scared — you can do it, you can do anything. Don’t worry about what anybody says about you. Get out and enjoy the sun. Have fun. Laugh loud and long. Be silly. Don’t forget me!

Love,
8-year-old Julie

Maybe it’s time to do The Artist’s Way course again!

2018 was an amazing year. Lots of changes. Lots of adventures. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of firsts — and maybe lasts (we’ll have to see).

2019 promises to be just as interesting. Or at least I’m determined to make it so.

No doubt, it’s all up to me.

 

Thank you

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(This is the longer version of this year’s Christmas letter.)

Peace to you all!

Last year at this time, I was just a few days away from my last day of full-time employment. I had worked 40-plus hours a week, except for one or two short breaks, since 1979, when I was hired as a reporter at the Gloucester County Times in Woodbury, New Jersey. Since then I’ve also worked as a high school English teacher and a writer/editor/manager in corporate communications.

I didn’t plan to retire completely, but it was time to shape a different life. And so, it has been a year of transitions, with a move from Rhode Island, where I’d lived since 1985, to a condo in Groton, Connecticut, which is nearer to my daughters and their families – and three, soon to be four, grandchildren. (Thrilled!)

One month after leaving work, I took a huge leap and traveled to Thailand and Cambodia on my own, where I joined an international group that mixed tourism and volunteerism. We lived with a Thai family, worked with elephants, helped build a school in Cambodia and toured some beautiful temples and markets, including the incredible Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia.

Then it was back to the Connecticut deep-freeze, where I explored the local roads and relied  on my GPS to get me back home. I took care of Charlie and Clark when they were too sick to go to daycare, signed up for online writing classes, became a regular at the local library, attended photography workshops and joined the art museum, where I took art classes. (More time for the things I enjoy.)

When spring finally decided to show up, I was lucky enough to get my own 10’ x 10’ garden plot in the community garden. I was actually surprised when those bare plots grew into little humid mazes of vines. I had luck with green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes and zinnias (which attracted tons of butterflies and honey bees). Broccoli and Brussel sprouts – not so much. I enjoyed digging in the dirt and learning from the other gardeners – even though someone plucked my prize yellow tomato!

Summer was here and gone before I knew it. Lots of tourists in this area, which is close to Mystic Seaport, the RI and CT beaches, and the ferries that take you to Block Island and Long Island. Lots of little inlets and places to walk – I’ll explore even more next summer.

I also took a record number of trips back home this year – first in late May for Mitchell Meylor’s graduation in Sioux Falls; second in August for the Marcus Fair and Iowa State Fair, a girls’ trip to a friend’s home in Nebraska, and an introduction to my great-nephew, Theodore Karney, in Des Moines; and the third in early November when I finally had the opportunity to hear my niece Kaitlyn Meylor sing in her high school musical as Maria in The Sound of Music. Madalyn was also a nun in the musical and had a solo, and Matthew painted the backdrops. Talented trio of seniors – so I’ll be headed out for their graduation in May 2019 (which will be here before you know it)!

As I write this, I’ve just started a part-time temporary job at an art gallery, where I simply walk around and make sure no one’s destroying the paintings. But the best part of the job is the stories people spontaneously share. One of the exhibits is a beautiful display of Tiffany windows, lamps, vases, etc. (The Tiffany family has ties to the New London area.) Several people have told me about the Tiffany windows in their hometown churches. I hope to hear more stories, which will get me through another frigid winter.

I am very grateful for this year of so many firsts and changes. I am grateful to my daughters and their husbands who kindly include me in so many moments of their lives. Oh, yes, and for doubling the number of my grandchildren. (I’m sure that won’t happen again.)

I’m grateful to my sisters and brothers and their families. I hope we all continue to gather for celebrations in years to come. Looking forward to my first-ever cruise with family in 2019! I am grateful for cousins and relatives I don’t see often, but still am glad to stay connected.

I’m grateful to long-time friends from all corners of my life who still keep in touch. I had a chance to see many special friends this year, and hope for more surprises and spontaneous get-togethers in the years to come. Who’s next? If you’re ever out this way, please let me know. I have an extra bed/bath and a pullout sofa (that I’ve never used yet). Guests are always welcome.

I also want to send my love to those who experienced great losses in their family this past year. So many, and it is never easy, especially at this time of year. My prayers are with you.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. This is a lot longer than I expected – I guess I’m getting my 50-cent stamp’s worth.

The kids on my card this year are my grandsons, from left, Clark Breitmaier (who is impatiently waiting for his little sister to arrive on December 27), and big brother Charlie and one-day-old Henry Piazza. Clark and Charlie are good buddies, and I can’t wait to see how Henry and little Eloise will add to the mayhem.

Blessings for the new year,

Julia

 

 

 

Grateful

 

I have not blogged in a while … again.

But I need to belatedly record a gift that overwhelms me. Some may consider this humble bragging. I don’t know. Whatever. I’m just thankful.

While working at Amica, one of my favorite projects was helping with the Thanksgiving card. Amica sent cards to thank thousands of customers for their loyalty for decades, and I supported the project for 17 of those years. Originally, it was simply writing the copy that appeared inside the print card, but over time it became more involved with an animated online card, a website, social media support, a nonprofit project, PR opportunities, press releases. Whew.

This year, even though I was long gone, the team asked me to write the words for the poem for the card, which features the work of Utah artist, Shanna Kunz. If I hadn’t been retired, I would have had the opportunity to travel with the team to Utah to meet the artist. But that’s OK. Not working vs. working. I’m good with that.

Instead, after 17 years of anonymously writing or editing words for the card, they asked me to sit down and talk about WORDS. I enjoyed the chance to do that. Even though a friend of mine remarked, after viewing the video,  that I seemed too serious. (She was used to laughing with me. Always.)

Again, this has always been a project that tugs at my heart. Its premise is to simply say “Thank you” to people who choose one company other another to insure their lives, their family’s things, their safe place and dreams. More than most, I know how jaded people have become with corporate America. As I said, it’s been a tough year. But I’ve seen this company live up to its ethics so many times. They don’t need me to sing their praises. I’ll let their customers do that.

Here’s the link to the online card that features Shanna’s painting and my words:

And here’s the video that shares my thoughts.

And here are the words I wrote:

 

We forever roam through the landscapes of our heart,

          finding strength in the arms and roots of ancient trees,

hope in the flow of an icy mountain stream,

          peace in the rustle of autumn’s last leaves,

                    security in memories that never let go.

 

        We give thanks for the eternal places that call our name,

                                 urging us to pause, breathe, grow.

 

Grateful. Yes, very grateful.

Confession

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For all six or seven of you who follow this blog regularly, you may remember that I was going to sub in the local school district this year after being away from that world since the last day of school in June 1996.

Here’s the link to the post: https://jmsimpson.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/20-years-ago/

I did sub twice so far, and maybe I’ll return for another try.

And maybe not.

My past teaching experience was with high school students. So when I walked into the middle school to sub for an eighth-grade teacher, I thought I’d be in sort of familiar territory. Well, I guess I was, but I had forgotten two things — the decibel level and the fact that adults don’t register in an eighth grader’s frame of reference. In other words, they looked right through me. I was a ghost. In fact, I was worse than a ghost.

I was a substitute ghost.

I couldn’t find the sub plans until halfway through the second group of students. And then half of them wanted to read the assignment silently — a few did. Most of them didn’t. By the end of the day, I was tired, my feet hurt and I was famished (no lunch, although I had to escort them back and forth to lunch).

“Where’s the lunchroom?”

“Just listen. You’ll find it.”

———

My second sub job was for a fourth-grade teacher, who was in the building working on team curriculum. She kindly returned once in a while to make sure the carefully plotted schedule was being adhered to. It had been a long, long time since I’d been in a fourth-grade class, and I was in awe at how detailed the substitute plans were at this level. Math, science, language arts, geography, special instructions for special needs in and out, art, band, music, lunch, bus passes in 30-minute to 45-minute increments. By the time I read all the instructions, I was 15 minutes behind.

Thank goodness for the teacher’s aide, who knew the answer to every question EXCEPT how to get back into the assignment sheet on the whiteboard in the front of the class, which I mistakenly closed with a click of the pen during the first class.

At least I felt like a human being; they definitely saw me, noticed I was breathing. They even said I looked like their teacher’s mother. I kinda did. They listened too. They were sweet, they got excited about everything. They read quietly during reading time (mostly). And they were great helpers (really).

But again, by the end of the day, I was wiped out, my feet hurt and my head was killing me. This time — I had lunch — but no coffee.  And I was desperate to find a bathroom. Ahhhhhh!

I don’t know. I think I’ve learned my lesson.  I like being the student better.

I’m taking a drawing class right now. And I think I’ll stay on this side of the teacher’s desk from now on.

I still have a lot to learn.

On the road

 

I’ve been a little mopey lately. I must have pinched a nerve in my back a few days ago, because I’ve had a dull ache (sometimes not so dull) since then. Anyway, it makes me feel old, older, whatever. Yesterday, I lay on the sofa all day, thinking I needed to let it rest. That night, the pain  gnawed at me, despite a few Tylenol. Needless to say, I decided I needed to take my mind off my leg, get out of the house and go somewhere new.

And, so, since it was a chilly, windy day, I decided to take a ride to New Haven to visit Yale University’s Art Museum. I haven’t traveled very far west on I-95 yet, so it was time to take the leap.

I was so glad I did.

It took about an hour to get to New Haven, because, as usual, there was a backup. But luck was with me because my side was only slow because of the rubberneckers looking at the multiple-car accident that had completely shut down the north side. I counted two exits (about four miles) of stopped traffic, with people hanging out of their cars and sitting on the retaining wall as I headed down the road to New Haven.

I’d driven through New Haven many, many times — for some 30 years we had driven back and forth on I-95 to New Jersey and then Delaware to visit my ex-husband’s family. In fact, I probably drove down more than he did, because I often took the girls down there for visits in the summer without him when I was teaching. But in all that time, I had never stopped in New Haven or visited Yale. So, today was an adventure.

I am thankful for my GPS, even though it seems to give directions a little too late sometimes. It brought me right down to the university’s center, I found parking and headed to the art museum. Best surprise — it’s always free.

I spent almost two hours wandering around the museum’s three floors of amazing rooms of color and form and shape. Around every corner, there was a new surprise. I loved the spaces and the design. And their collection is such a treat — so many familiar names and favorites. I’m not sure what it is, but Edward Hopper’s strong lights and shadows always pull me in, and van Gogh’s soft sunlight calms me.

And you know what? I never noticed that pinched nerve the whole time until I was back in the car driving home. I didn’t have much time to explore the rest of Yale today, but no worries.

I’ll be back.