Tuesday, March 29, 2011

School Lessons

Recently I took a weekend  class at the Woodstock School of Art with  artist, Meredith Rosier. I had seen her work at a gallery last summer, and a friend of mine recommended her workshops. It had been a year or more since I had taken a workshop. Though weekend classes take away my time off, they invigorate and energize me in a way that I can't explain. 

My art  background is thin and scattered.  My family discouraged my pursuit of art, and told me I was not good enough.  Because they refused to pay for my tuition if I studied art, I took a year off from high school to work and save for community college where I pursued an Associate in Art .  My training was basic, filling in all that I did not get in High School:  Drawing and Composition,  2 and 3D Design, Anatomy, Painting 1 and II,  lots of Art History, and the other courses that one has to take; math, psychology, science, gym.  I was on the Dean's List most of my college degree, in spite of my father having cancer and witnessing his death. 

My junior college portfolio did not get me into the Fine Art Department of the local State college and the rejection was keenly felt - so keenly - that I decided not to go back to school.  Maybe they were right. I wasn't good enough.

Jobs came and went, I got married, had children, got divorced.  My ex's support was sporadic at best, so I went back to school to get my BS and MS in Art Education. They pay was good, the time off matched my children's schedules.   I took as many fine art courses as the department would allow, though art ed students were looked down upon by the fine art students.  THOSE WHO CAN'T DO- TEACH echoed in the hallways and in my head. 

I never stopped making art, even if it was designing jewelry or working in glass.  I started designing greeting cards using the then new hot medium-collage. Over the years I got good at it. Some of my collage art was shown locally, and then internationally.  But I still wasn't satisfied.  My passion was the paint and I itched to get back to the paint and the palette, but I had no self esteem. 

Aa friend of mine from early college days, Rob Hacunda,  offered to give me some painting lessons.
to become reacquainted with the paint.  Then a few classes with Christie Scheele, and I learned even more.  I showed a few paintings, selling a large one at a gallery in Woodstock. 

Something inside me ignited. Perhaps it is that I don't know how long I have on this earth, the realization of which hit hard when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. There's no time like NOW echos in my head.

As time passes, I become more and more obsessed with making art even though the little voices of doubt still come to haunt me. So I have decided to go back to "school" to learn all that I missed, only this time I don't care about the degree.

Meredith's class was amazing,working in abstraction and tapping into the subconscious.   I hope to study with her during the week in a group class soon.  I am also studying painting with Chris Gallego.  I have been putting more and more of my free time into making art,  and feel like I am once again a college student, full of the desire to learn.

I don't know where my art is going, but I am avidly working. Ink, chalk, paint.  I am learning the gamut from abstraction to realism, hoping that each will give me  tools to find my voice. 

And every night I pray that I live long enough to fully explore the gifts I have been given. I have a lot more work to do before I am done.

Patti O Art

PS bad photos of the abstract drawings from the class I took.  The log study will be posted when it is just a little more um...refined!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life Lessons

The more I see, paint, experience, hurt, and laugh, the more I grow.  I embrace the difficult and painful because I now know they contain poignant lessons for me.  I celebrate each day with gusto and appreciation,  embracing the bad with bravado as I navigate the unknown waters.

Last week's visit with my mother ended in a lesson about love, caring, and the human touch - all experienced in a Springsteen sort of way.

Anyone who knows me well knows of my struggles with my parental units. Abuse. Alcoholism. Mental illness.  The culmination of a lifetime of hard work and therapy brings Acceptance, and with acceptance comes love. Or,  perhaps it is the other way around.

.....I braved traffic and lines to get my mom a bagel stick stuffed with lox cream cheese.  I had forgotten it was the day of Kingston's St. Patrick's Day Parade, and the roads and plaza were packed with the traffic from floats and people.  As I crawled along I wondered if I should have not bothered.  Besides, she would not know what she was missing if I just showed up with the flowers.

But something told me to forget about time and the crowds, and pick it up for her.  I figured it must get pretty boring eating all that nursing home food. 

She was thrilled that I was there, and seemed not to care that I had not visited in a month and was joyful that I was there now.  I handed her the bagel stick, and her eyes opened wide.  In spite of missing teeth- the bridge is just too painful, she enjoyed each bite with gusto and delight.  

I set the flowers in a vase by the window. Pink carnations, her favorite.  We spent an hour looking at magazines together, she occasionally handing me a catalog of furniture that she thought I'd like, a recipe. An article.  A photograph.

I went over to her nightstand to put on some hand lotion.  She tried to give it to me to take home.
I refused it.  But something made me stop. And something made me  wonder how long it had been since someone had touched her with love.

"Mom, give me your hands, I am going to give you a hand massage".  She leaned back on her pillow and closed her eyes, smiling as I massaged her hands, her arms.  I had never touched my mother like that before, and I told her how young and smooth her skin was.  She smiled, and through her missing teeth, I saw her heart.  Through her almost 80 years I still saw youth. Through the lips that cannot talk, I heard her whisper about love.

I stayed much longer than I usually do.  I was basking in a comfort that I had never felt before. 

And I was grateful for that Sunday morning, grateful that I didn't stay in bed, grateful for the trip to the Bagel Shop.  Most of all, grateful for that Sunday morning lesson of a lifetime.  A lesson of love.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lessons of the Week #1

I am glad this week is over and I get to start a new one today, one that is full of inspiration, determination, and healing.

After a week of emotional upheaval after losing my art room and having to toss, pack, move, and unpack nearly 20 years of hoarded art supplies, I am ready to let it go and ponder the lessons I had to learn.

I had been so upset by how the move played out that it was making me sick, emotionally and physcially.  When my chiropractor hinted that some of my back pain was due to stress, I had to do a WHOA PATTI, and take a few steps backward and shift my thinking.

So- instead of feeling victimized, I shifted my thoughts to be joyful that I am getting a new space, and am enjoying setting it up .... as my OWN space.  To help myself in this transition, I made a list of all of the wonderful things about my new room:

1) though I am tucked in between child care and the detention room,  for the most part it is a much quieter place to be than my previous room.
2) the room seems bigger, and though I don't have a view of the mountains any longer, I gained a new view/perspective of the world: the woods.
3) I have a lovely little kitchen area which I have set up as such.  My home away from home.
4) the shades work and stay down without rocks.
5) I no longer have to haul my things up a flight of stairs.
6) less storage will mean keeping things simpler. My life needs to be simpler, and nothing wrong with starting here.
7) this has provided me with the opportunity of having round #1 of sorting.  Eventually I will retire and have to do it, so this is preparing me for what is to eventually come, and make it easier down the road.
8) I will get to hang out with a new group of staff whom I do not know well. It will give me an even richer school experience.
9) While in the mode of purging, it has carried over to my house, which means I am coming home and purging here.  Again...a good thing as I have too much.

I still have a storeroom which I have not touched. That is another thing I will have to deal with this week. But I have already found a home for some of my things,  and I will continue to purge purge purge. 

And the grand prize is that by purging my room, I am purging some of the dreck I have been carrying around me in my soul.  Spring cleaning outside and in--- it's all good.

Photo...of the classroom I walked into Monday morning last week...which sent me into orbit. I will take a photo this week of what I have done with my new space.


Sunday, March 06, 2011


Lying awake for hours at a time in back pain AND having night sweats is a time I do most of my thinking.  Thankfully my insomnia seems not to disturb the others sleeping in my bed.  Larry gives an occasional snort in his sleep, and Shiva, his cat, purrs when my hand accidentally touches his back.

Often I can get back to sleep, but tonight is one of those times when the only thing I can do is get up, move around, go to the freezer and pour a schluck of vodka at 4:30 in the morning, hoping that it will enable me to get back to sleep.  I am thankful that it is not a school night, as this option would not be available to me if it was.  Hopefully I will go back to bed and sleep in as long as I need to.

There have been a lot of minor earthquakes recently in my life.  A close relative has tipped over the edge, leaving her family (me and my brothers/sisters and cousins) with having to find a safe place for her to live, and an estate, properties, and four storage units of three generations full of "stuff" to deal with. My school had a fire in the classroom next to mine, causing major smoke damage to my room.  Last week I was given short notice to get out 20 years of art supplies out, and I am scrambling to decide what to keep, what to throw out, and living in another classroom full of chaos.  Rumors are flying around about the school I work for...and whether or not we will all have jobs.  I have 19 years in...and am 53.  I pray for just one more year so that I can at least make 20 years...and hope for a buyout.....so I can leave with some decent retirement..as my husband has none.

Somehow in this madness,  to sooth my psyche, I make art, I write, and try to have the appearances of a sane woman.  And in the tossing and turning of the night, I have come to a place of peace and resolution.  I will find a home for what I have not used in the last 5 years in my art room and for the remainder of my time teaching, whatever that is, I will keep it simple.  And if I lose my job, I will deal with it then. In the meantime, I will keep reinventing myself along the way, promoting my art, making a name, and get ready to segue into the next phase of my life.

And my goal, no matter what happens, is to do it all with panache, style, and passion.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I still have a few years yet before I can retire, unless laws get passed that cut the arts from high schools in NY, or else laws that protected American workers, like the seniority law, are stricken off the books.  As of this writing,  in NYC, "a bill to strip away the heart of fairness in layoffs -- seniority -- passed the Senate 33-27.  All Republicans voted in favor of the bill along with two Democrats" (Richard C. Iannuzzi)  And why may I ask, are only teachers that are being targeted in this?

Dead wood is no good -  in any job, but have a system in place and be proactive in making sure teachers who are not doing well do PIP (Performance Improvement Plans) and have the support that they need to improve, as well as having administrators showing their faces in classrooms and observing what is going on in their schools!

I have been a teacher for nearly 20 years.  I am active in my union, which is a strike against me.  I say no to things that I am not contracted to do, yet make sure that my students get the education they deserve. I spend a lot of money on my students as well as time outside of my mandated hours doing things such as art shows, research, etc.  I do my job, AND DO IT WELL, and consider myself a master teacher.   My students love me, even though I make them work hard.  They know I truly care for them and their futures.

But if seniority law is changed, then I become prey for being cut because I make too much money, I don't have the right religion or political beliefs, and I won't kiss ass. 

I, as well as many other teachers in America, teach some students whose parents don't value education, and neither do the students. So how can you say I am a bad teacher if they don't pass art? How are you going to evaluate me in a fair way? I have watched teachers take the blame for the downfall of education, rather than those in state ed, administrators, or the parents who don't do their jobs and expect us to create miracles.

I have had students from Europe who roll their eyes when they listen to the complaints of American students. I have had a near riot on my hands when I put notes up on the board.  Students sit in their classrooms and text on their phones that their parents have bought...not hearing a thing.  Am I am to blame for their failure?

How about x who was a permanent sub who was told by administrators to dumb down the lessons so that the kids could  pass and then X lost the job because X wouldn't???

American is going down the toilet and has itself to blame for the situation it is in.  Not the teachers.

Patti O soap box