I am busy right now. We move out of the house for summer rental on June 8th. Because it’s a maritime environment, every wall, ceiling, and floor is washed, and all the bedding and slipcovers, and then both offices are converted to bedrooms, everything of ours in the kitchen, and in bureaus and cabinets is squashed into lock out closets. All the stuff that in my impeccable system of housekeeping has been piled in corners and left to breed and multiply through the winter has to be decompiled and dealt with. There is an electrician coming today and we’re standing by for the itinerant appliance repair person who comes from the mainland and whose time is more difficult to get than let’s say, the Pope's.
In addition to that, this is the narrow window of time for many much loved people to come and see us. There were four people here last weekend. There are six people here right now. There are more coming the day these folks leave, and then two more and those may overlap with two more, in which case our neighbor will kindly allow us to house the overflow, and then there will be four more people over Memorial Day weekend and then we have two weeks until we move out.
Oh yes, and then all my pictures have to be planned and made and matted and framed at least for the beginning of the summer art season. The Gallery opens on the 23rd of May and the building has to be finished (Becca, Eileen and I have been painting, and Jerry has been doing construction) and there are innumerable meetings and many, many details.
How am I going to get this done?
My Dad’s father used to make his own shoes and tools. He worked pressing clothes during the day and worked on his farm in the evening. There was economic necessity but there was also an ideological component. There was something morally wrong in not doing everything yourself, unless you had children, and in that case it was definitely wrong if they were not doing everything with you.) My father used to take copper, coat it with two-part epoxy and wrap it with electrical tape. (My father loved two-part epoxy. Everything in our childhood seemed to involve two-part epoxy. Or duct tape, preferably smuggled out of work.) That is how he made his own wire for the boat and I remember holding it for him by the hour so he could wrap it. This, instead of going to the hardware store and buying some. We were not “parasites” - lazy, privileged people who didn’t even know how to make our own wire. We were self-sufficient people living in America, a free and democratic country where everyone was equal. (The boat would be ready in August or possibly September.)
So I tried to do everything myself, with a certain righteous strain, as if my personal worth or even my right to be on the planet could be measured by how overworked I was. But over the years I have learned that it feels so much better and we actually do a much better job when we ask for help. So Gabby (God bless her and keep her) and her folks (ditto) have been cleaning, and Nick (ditto) has been working in the yard, and Becca (ditto) is going to help me paint, and Larry (ditto) is coming to do some construction and Bob, another photography friend, is helping with broken screens and wobbly furniture, simply out of the greatness of his heart (ditto, ditto). As a result, we are in better shape right now than we have often been three days before we move. So I have help. I have plenty of help. What a concept.
This has left me with time, I wouldn’t say with an abundance of time but with enough time to work on my pictures. This has also changed through the years. Going out and about with a camera around my neck is part of my life now. It’s just what I do. The side effect of doing this is pictures. So now, there are so many pictures and I have to choose. And once I choose I have to make them up. There are papers and inks and the size and shape of each picture, and matching mats and frames and glass or plexi. Controlling all that is a little like doing taxes. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds. So I am taking the time to develop a master plan.
Among other things in my former corporate life, I used to be responsible for “performance management” in my company. I used to think a lot about this… how to get a whole bunch of people marching quickly and efficiently in a planned and measured direction. I would go to conferences about this. I would run home and make up forms and manuals and training and incentive programs. I found the conferences a little upsetting. People were paid a lot of money to get all worked up about performance management concepts. I thought that there was too much about going faster and more cheaply and too little about what we were doing and why we were doing it. I remember one time coming home and saying that these systems would have been very useful to Adolf Hitler, that great performance manager.
(I happened to be in a doctor’s office and I picked up an article in Time magazine about suicide prevention. The article said it would be so much better if the people who were at the point of suicide could be reached closer to the beginning of the downward spiral, rather than waiting for them to make a call from the emergency phone on the bridge. They said it would be much more cost effective for the whole system if they could find a way to do that. I thought, “cost effective?” It just killed me how automatically that was written, how deeply that has been driven into our cultural water table. Upon reflection, I thought maybe this was social worker lingo… from people who were used to having to justify what they do to the people who pay for their programs. I know that game, sneaking human values into corporate language, but I imagine a world where the undisputed bottom line includes the value of being alive.)
I used to measure life, especially at this time of year, in terms of “Things to Do.” I would make a list and try to get through it as quickly as possible. But now, because of help, I have the pure luxury of stepping back a little.
I’m thinking about the context in which I work: Where are my tools… what is my way of being organized? I’m thinking about my energy: Do I need to step back or rest for one minute right now… do I need to say “no” to something? What feels good about working? I’m thinking about my purpose. Why am I doing this? What is precious?
I’m older. I can’t blast myself out of a canon and do two weeks of work in two days. (Plus, that requires cramming a lot of stuff into my closets and my closets are already full of other stuff.) Plus, the things I want to do now require consistent effort and emerging, clarifying purpose over an extended period of time. So I need to keep working on context… tools and places and practices that will carry me along. And also, this is something… I used to work as if it was the product that mattered… not what it took out of me to make it. Now I matter more - my life matters more.
I want my pictures to fit together. When people come to see my part of the gallery, I want the whole thing…the wall, the bin, the book, the portfolio to give a coherent experience. There are the pictures for now and then I will have my show in the fall, and that will be a different experience. My niece Elizabeth is going to help me with the matting and framing (she is very good at this) and that will leave me time to do one thing that I never seem to get time to do, figure out how to market my book and if I’m going to do any advertising. I will. See, that’s the difference between having help and not having help. I will have time to do this. I’m often working right now, from five in the morning until ten o’clock at night. (I had to tell you. I’m still my father’s daughter.) But it’s fine. I came in from the studio the other night. Bill said, “How was the commute?” (I used to drive three hours a day.) I said, “Oh, it was terrible… you know, weeds in the path and everything.”
There is a Navajo saying. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I am learning who can be trusted and I’m asking for advice and help. I am spending time on the context and process and purpose of working and I feel that my life matters as much as the output itself.
Yesterday I cleaned the house, prepared bedrooms, made dinner, took the dogs for a walk, wrote some stuff for the gallery, welcomed guests, took a few pictures, moved all my matting and framing materials, ordered more materials, paid bills, printed pictures, talked to a friend and photography client and to the electrician and the appliance repair person, and locked myself out of the car… and the funny thing is… I never felt like I was working. I basically felt like I was doing what I wanted to do. Why do I want to do this? For my life. For the lives of other people. I'm not alone. We're in this together.
It’s five o’clock in the morning right now. The sun will be coming up soon. It’s orange and red and purple across the north and east horizon. The water is glowing blue and silver through a tangle of newly budding trees and bushes. And I’m not getting up to take its picture. I’m enjoying it very much in any case. And Bill is up and making coffee. Coffee. Very nice.