Being An Artist

An exquisite Hydrangea was in full bloom when we visited Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia, PA on  June 14, 2015.

It took me a long time to get to where I considered myself an artist.  Perhaps it’s because I stepped away from it when I left art school in the 1960’s and mostly gave up my creative endeavors for many years.  Art school was tough for me.  I suffered from two major health crisis while I was there, plus super fights with my parents during my freshman year.  Hard to imagine now, in retrospect, what could have been in my brain, thinking it was a good idea to continue to live at home with my parents while attending college.  I suppose I’m not the only one to do this, and I’m guessing my parents were the ones pushing it.  Mom always seemed to want to keep me close to home.  And probably the money was no small matter.  They were both professionals, both with what looked like good jobs but not exactly rich.  Money was always tight.  Mom worrying over the bills each month.  Smart ass kid, I used to try to understand it, thought I could help.  By getting a job maybe.

When I left art school I moved to New York City.  I had big dreams.  I wanted to sing.  I wanted to perform on the musical stage.  I got accepted to a small show being put on by a choreographer named Phil Black.  I was used to high school performances, big shows with lots of performers, no expense spared.  Beyond that all I knew was Broadway.  I didn’t have any understanding of the way things worked.  I stuck with the show until I saw the public school in Queens where we were going to perform.  I was disappointed and totally creeped out.  I thought, “What am I doing here?” and quit.

Lots of auditions followed but the process was not easy and the boys and the beach called out to me.  In no time I was dating and having a great time.  I got married, had a baby.  Life got to be more about family.  I still liked to paint, draw, but there was a baby around now, and making a mess was not possible.  So over time, my art form became photography.  For years it was just a distraction, something to entertain myself.  Not serious.

I do take it more seriously now but still, what is it that makes it art?  Is it when it’s beautiful, like some of the flower photos I take?  Or is it when it reflects the human condition in some way?  Or is it just some innate quality that make some think, “Wow, that’s incredible,” while others think, “Boy is that weird!”  That’s kind of how I feel when I look at the choices for museums and award winners for arts grants and such.  So I don’t know what makes something art in the wider sense, but I do know, today, that I am an artist and do say that with pride.  Whether others think my work is art or just pretty, or interesting, informative, I’m happy if it pleases me.  I am my first and most important audience.

 

Inside Brigadoon

Azelie Aquadro (Fiona) and Josh Warren (Tommy) in rehearsal at the Shea Theater July 2010.

This is the unedited text of an article published in the July 8, 2010 edition of the Montague Reporter, a local weekly newspaper. In the interest of space and the editors preferences some changes were made to the published version.  ~ Ellen Blanchette

For the past several months I have been in rehearsal for Brigadoon, the musical opening this weekend at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. The Country Players produce one musical a year for the Shea Theater and this year it’s Brigadoon, by Lerner and Lowe, a magical concept of a Scottish town that appears only once every hundred years. It has a love story, of course, and lots of gorgeous music for us to sing, some dancing and lots of fun. For all the hard work and long hours of rehearsals, basically it is the fun of it that makes us want to stick with it, face our fears of making total fools of ourselves, and get out there on stage and sing and dance our hearts out for the audience.

Tim Wilder (Charlie) dancing with Marybeth Mizula (Jean) in a pre-wedding ballet that defies tradition.

It has always been my dream to be in musical theater. Ever since I was a young child and had a taste of what it felt like to perform on stage, this dream has persisted in my mind. It was why I moved to New York City in the mid-1960’s, why I took classes at HB Studio in lower Manhattan, grateful for the opportunity to study with renowned actors like with Sandy Dennis and William Hickey, and musical performance with George Axeltree. It was why I kept all of my sheet music and kept learning songs well past the age when it seemed to make sense. I love art and writing very much, but music is my heart. So here I am, forty years after my last stage performance back in the theater. As it turns out, I’m not alone in this process. As I talked to my fellow actors this week, I found many who had put aside their love of theater for other pursuits, only to return.

Azelie Aquadro, playing the romantic lead (Fiona) had set aside her  love of theater to study  English and Linguistics at Boston University. It was her friend, Ashley Blom, who she’d known in high school, who brought her back to community theater. Ashley plays Meg, a lively girl who is surely a bit of a tart, more or less the opposite of Fiona who is waiting for the right man to come along. Both of these beautiful, talented young women bring life to their parts and make the show an absolute pleasure. Azelie has a lovely high soprano voice and a charm and beauty that is unpretentious and delightful. Ashley has a strong voice and stage presence and great comic timing. Playing the male romantic lead is Joshua Kenneth Warren. Josh has a strong elegant singing voice, an ability to make each scene with Azelie (Fiona) truly romantic. The two of them singing their love songs will surely bring some tears.

Ashley Blom plays Meg in Brigadoon. Here in the rocking chair Meg’s mother sat in while her father slept (so the story goes.)

There is a real family aspect to the Country Players. Of the Connelly family, there is Amy, the director, her daughters Maureen, the producer, and Emma who is part of the production staff. Then there is Dave Grout who is Maureen’s husband and a very funny man with a natural gift for physical humor in the tradition of such greats as Jackie Gleason. Dave plays Jeff, one of the two strangers from the 20th century that wander into this town caught in time. Along with Tommy (Josh) his traveling companion who is as serious, romantic, thoughtful as Jeff is the cynic, the two play off of each other in a contrast of life views, with Tommy struggling to have faith in what he believes and Jeff arguing for rational thought, with humor, of course. Dave Grout has also served a vital role as assistant director of the show.

Dave Grout, Alex Fortune, and Ashley Blom

Every aspect of the development of this show has been done with good humor, kindness, and great consideration for the feelings of the actors, many of whom are quite young. The cast goes from elders who have been part of the Country Players for many years, to young people who have just started performing. Jack Arnot, playing a village elder, Mr. MacLaren, has been with the Country Players for almost 30 years. Maureen Connelly says she started at 7 years old when her mother took her to audition for The King and I, beginning their involvement with this group that has lasted for over 15 years. Amy Connelly has been a producer, director and much more over the years. This is her first time directing a musical.

Maureen Connelly Grout, left, with Jeanne Miller, Sarah Rose Adan, Hannah Winans and Angela Grove.

The lovely Maureen has a smile that would light a room on the darkest day. She has been exceptionally kind to me as I struggled to find my way to face the challenging reality of working in live theater. We are so lucky to have as our musical director the talented Amy Crawford, whom I have known in the past as the accompanist for the GCC Chorus. She has also worked as musical director for many previous shows. Also, I must give credit to the talented choreographer, Haley Descavich who has worked tirelessly to make us all look good while we dance.

I must say something about the kids who are taking part in the show. They are serious minded and professional in their approach to the show even as they lend a spirit of carefree fun to our rehearsals and demonstrate the kind of joy in their performance that only the young and therefore unselfconscious can display. Among them, Stone Dresser, a fine dancer and charming young man. He was in fifth grade at Sheffield this year, formerly attended Montague Center School. He plans to attend Gill Elementary in the Fall. Spencer Hubert, now in eighth grade at Great Falls Middle School is a member of the Middle School Concert Band and the Turners Falls High School Marching Band, playing trumpet. Spenser sings and dances like a pro. Sarah Rose Aden from Erving will be going into eighth grade at Frontier Regional High School in the fall. This is her third show with the Country Players. Hannah Winans of Conway is 12 years old, just graduated from sixth grade. She has been doing musicals for five years. William Anderson Gregory loves to dance. This is his first theater production, joining his father, Weldon Gregory who told me this is his first show in 20 years, since high school days.

While we have been busy rehearsing, Gail Villieneuve has been busy working on costumes for all of us to wear. She has been assisted by Sharon Weyers and Judy Delany. Judy is married to Dr. Bob Delany who plays Mr. Lundy in the show and has been with the Country players for many years. So it seems to me that I have now joined a very large family, one that loves to sing and dance and play. We are in final rehearsals this week, opening in just a few days. I hope everyone will come see the show. There are still two shows left, Saturday evening, July 17 at 8 p.m. and the matinee on Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Shea Theater box office in Turners Falls. Reservations can be made by calling 413-863-2281.

A Musical Gift for the Holidays

Shelburne Falls, MA

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

These two songs sung by Ellen Blanchette and recorded on December 25, 2009, offered here  as a gift to friends and loved ones.  I hope you enjoy them.  For those of you who like me were in the class of ’61, these songs should bring back fond memories. The love songs of our youth, when love was new and very romantic. Click on the link to play the song.

Mr. Wonderful

Loving You

I tried late last night (which was actually very early this morning) to post these songs on my facebook page.  It seems facebook doesn’t let you do that.  I even sent off an email around 2:30 a.m. to my friend Adam Bergeron to ask him how he posted his music to a facebook fan page.  Not that I expected an answer right then but it was a last bit of desperation before I let myself go to sleep.  Then this morning, as I lay listening to NPR and doing my lazy wake-up slowly thing I like to do when there’s nothing important to get up for, the answer suddenly occurred to me.  Isn’t it interesting how the mind continues to work on a problem while we sleep?  The solution, which I do hope works, is to post it here and then post the link to this page on facebook.

I was inspired to record this song as a gift to my fellow Overbrook High School classmates and my former high school sweetheart who said something very kind about my singing voice when we first reconnected.  Music was the very most important thing in my life when I was a young girl.  I sang all the time.  It was in many ways the only thing that made me happy, and kept me going to school.  I didn’t like school, wasn’t smart like most of my classmates.  It was hard for me to learn things and I spent many hours doing homework and studying in order to maintain a generally B and C grade level.  The rare A occurred only if there was a teacher or a subject in which I was actually interested.  That didn’t happen often.  Mr. Loper’s chorus, which met every day at lunch hour, and brought us out to perform during this holiday season to places like Ocean City, NJ as well as our own school auditorium, and All City Chorus competition, gave me something in my life that truly mattered. What I learned there enriched my life and gave me skills that I have continued to use throughout my adult life.

I doubt many of my classmates, or even my closest childhood friends, knew that I was an unhappy child with many stresses at home.  Singing was what I did then to lift my spirits.  Singing these songs last night woke me up and kept me up because when I sing it fills me with energy and joy.

Until recently I hadn’t thought much about my former classmates, many of whom who went all through school with me.  We never saw each other after graduation.  We went off to college or other lives in other places.  We didn’t live close together, our parents didn’t know each other except for those in my own little neighborhood.  I am surprised at how much their presence in my life has comforted me in these my elder years.  It brought back happy memories and let me view that part of my life in a much more positive way than I had before.  I am grateful for their return to my life and so I offer this gift of music to them and to all of my friends and loved ones.

Life Takes It’s Own Path

 

The last of the spring iris blooming in Turner Falls- June 25, 2009

The last of the spring iris blooming in Turner Falls- June 25, 2009

I’ve been neglecting this blog for most of the year. I got busy doing other things. Living life. I signed up for a class last fall without planning to. I met Margery Heins in Fosters Market in Greenfield, Mass. which is where I go for most things because there’s not much in Turners Falls. Somehow she managed to talk me into joining the Greenfield Community College chorus. She’s the director/professor. She told me she needed sopranos and I should come sing with them. It’s a little confusing because this is a class but functions as a regular choir. She has us perform all over the place and does twice as much as would normally be required of a class. I belonged back in 2005 and it was a lot of fun but they changed some rules and I couldn’t get a “senior waiver” for tuition so I didn’t go back. I turned her down at first. Then it played on my mind. The draw of music. How I love to sing. So I joined. I’d forgotten how much work it was. I was exhausted. I got sick. I kept going, kept singing, almost died of fatigue but still showed up. Something in me drives me to work and do my best no matter what the obstacles. That’s good and bad. It’s how I destroyed my health years ago, working in the city, taking the train back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan, ignoring the pain in my body. Everyone does it. I thought when I moved to the country it would be easier but my health was too compromised by then. So I retired early and thought I’d just stop. Apparently I don’t know how to stop.

I didn’t go back to chorus this spring but when I saw a seminar being taught by the well respected photographer, Tom Young, I ran in and signed up. It was quite a challenge and I’ll talk more about it in the future, but it gave me a new way to look at my photography. I think I was getting bored with photographing the same things all the time. However much other people liked my work, I was beginning to lose interest. Tom got me to look at things differently and now I go out with a new attitude. I’m noticing things I never saw before and even finding old work that I ignored because it wasn’t what I thought I wanted. Now I see it differently.

So the question isn’t anymore about whether it’s business or art. Art is all there is. The question seems to be is it commercial art, or is it fine art. And what is the difference? And can it be both?

That is the question that the work itself will answer.

WHAT BELONGS TO US?

 

In the dark days of winter these plants brighten our lives.

"Holiday Poinsettia" photo by Ellen Blanchette

 

On the New York Times website are photos from the concert at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon.  Great photos of the people gathered to see it, of the President and Vice President elect along with their families, and the artists who performed.  Along with the photos are some descriptions of the event – who sang, what they said, what Barack Obama said.  On the Huffington Post I found a link to a web broadcast of the concert.  Unfortunately, by the time I found it, the concert was over.  If I like, though, I can go back at 7 p.m. or 11 p.m. and try again.  This generous gesture from HBO does some small bit to make up for the fact that they basically stole this event from the American people by purchasing the exclusive rights to the broadcast.  Why stole, you may ask, if they paid for the rights?  Because this was not something that should have been sold.  This was part of the Inaugural events that should be open and freely available to everyone whether they could afford access to HBO on cable or through it’s internet link.  This is a part of history, it is a public event that could only be held as exclusive if all the other networks and news organizations were willing to accept the fact that they couldn’t cover it.  What was it that made ABC cover Obama’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial live but not show the concert?  Somebody told them not to?  How dare anyone decide that something held on public property, with the participation of our newly elected public officials participating, an event leading up to the swearing in of our 44th President, with millions of people excited to see everything to do with the day that we finally get to see the new President take office, how dare they steal this and keep it for the few from the many?  By what right?

Why do I care about this?  Because it is just another example of how free TV is being replaced by pay TV. There is an assumption that everyone has cable.  They don’t.  There is an expectation that most people can have access to the internet.  Not true.  People think that because libraries have computers and there are schools with internet access that the majority of Americans are connected.  They are not.  Most people living under the poverty level cannot afford the $100+ per month to pay for cable.  Dial-up internet barely gets you anything anymore with the bandwidth required for any live streaming totally beyond what such old-fashioned methods allow.  And libraries?  Are you kidding?  In our town the library has maybe four computers available when they’re open and that’s not all that much so what are they talking about?  That’s for people who want to go check email in the afternoon on their way to the grocery.  It’s more a way of life for penny-pinching senior citizens. For anyone with serious interest in anything more, a home computer and internet connection is what they need.  I pay for it because I couldn’t stand doing without it, and I offset the cost by using it for my phone service, which makes it cheaper than any land-line telephone service alone.  Still, it’s money I really shouldn’t spend. Anybody living below the poverty level with kids to feed is never going to be able to afford it.  As for cable, I only have what they call “basic” which means I get to pay for what I used to get for free, network broadcasts plus some a couple of extra channels that offer nothing much of value.  There’s a debate in the courts now about maybe cable companies won’t be required to carry C-SPAN if they have to offer too many local access stations.  Our local access channels (which I do have) carry a little of this and that, some local bands, some talk between a couple of geezers, mostly poorly shot with generally terrible sound quality.  They cover town meetings, which is of value although probably pretty boring for most people.  They do have a kind of neat view of the eagle bird’s nest above Barton Cove. You can watch the chicks get hatched and the eagles feeding the chicks and all, very cool.  But should this replace CSPAN?  No.  Not that I get CSPAN.  I would have to subscribe to an “expanded standard” cable package.  So, no CSPAN, no CNN, and mostly I’m locked out of everything important that goes on because the networks have abdicated their responsibility for news coverage, claiming they no longer have to because now there’s all those cable news channels.  Is this anyway to run a country?  Nope.

WAITING

 

 

Falls behind the Montague Book Mill

Falls behind the Montague Book Mill, December 22, 2008

On Monday I went to the Book Mill in Montague to photograph a lovely young women who at 17 years old is in her senior year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She began the program at the university when she was 14.  David Detmold of “The Montague Reporter” asked me to take the photo for the paper. Someone else had already written the article so all I had to do was meet her and take the picture and leave but I chose not to rush.  I like to take my time with portraits.  It helps me get a better picture if I can get the person to relax and quit paying attention to the camera. It gave me an opportunity to talk with her and she turned out to be totally charming.  She said in public school her 4th grade teacher made her sit off by herself because she didn’t know what to do with her.  I thought that was awful.  What a wasted opportunity on the part of the teacher.  After that her mother home-schooled her, and then the university brought her into a program they had for exceptionally bright young people.

That morning I drove very slowly on roughly plowed streets to get to the mostly frozen bookstore/restaurant. Today the roads are clear of snow although it’s still piled up on lawns and open spaces.  The ice has been melted by warmer temperatures. What’s left behind is sand and gravel that makes the road crackle under my tires.  In the higher elevation there is still ice along the side of the road, and slush that makes the ride up and down the hills quite a challenge. As I drove through the forest Saturday night on my way to Wendell, it was the fog that made the trip heart-stopping.  I surely held my breath through most of the 30 minute drive with no cars on the road ahead of me to follow and no visibility beyond the range of my headlights.  Putting on the brights only made the lights bounce back at me off the fog.  The party, however, was totally worth it with a live band to die for and fun people to share the night.  It was a 60th birthday party for an old friend who danced the night away with the energy of a teenager. Hooray for Deva!

While we party and celebrate family events and the long awaited end of 2008, we also wait for the world to change. We are holding our breath waiting for our new President to take office.  We are waiting for signs that the economy will improve before we go out and buy that sweater or new pair of boots.  Truth be told, if we just wait a little bit longer we won’t need those sweaters or boots because spring will be just over the horizon and we’ll be thinking of summer clothes.  Sometimes waiting brings change that makes new opportunity possible.  If I were in the garment business, I’d be thinking about really great summer dresses.  When’s the last time anybody had a nice summer dress for us to buy?

Barack Obama said during the campaign that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  The meaning of this was unclear to a lot of people (and frequently made fun of by the press) but his supporters seemed to get it.  Did they?  Or did they just like the sound of it?

I took it to mean that we are the ones that will solve the problems of this nation.  We wait, and wait, for a leader or a saviour but in fact we are the ones that have to save ourselves.

Take the matter of clothing.  Of all the reasons out there for the disappointing holiday sales, the one most overlooked is the total lack of invention and creative thinking in the garment industry. Having made the decision to outsource most of the production of clothing to third world nations like Vietnam and Hondorus, a choice promptly followed by a dumbing down of the clothing designs to accommodate the less experienced employee pool, what is found in most clothing stores is just plain boring.  I say, if clothing manufacturers want to improve their sales, and really this is true for all categories of products, they need to bring their production back home to the good, well educated, experienced, American workers who have produced quality goods for over 50 years and were once considered to be the backbone of this society.  You cannot have a strong consumer economy without two things – good paying jobs and good quality products.  If we start making things here at home, we build the quantity and quality of the goods we have to sell overseas. That helps solve our trade imbalance and improves the lives of Americans by giving them good paying jobs.  Which obviously gives them money to spend.  That is the way the economy used to work, before somebody decided that Americans could make less money and still spend lots of it on products that were made more and more overseas.  

I never could understand how the economic policies of the conservatives, starting with the Reagan administration in the 1980s, were supposed to work.  It just didn’t make sense to me.  If they sent all our jobs overseas, who was it they expected to buy all those products when they brought them back to the U.S.?   The concept of outsourcing our jobs while still expecting the American people to keep shopping in order to support an economy built on American consumerism seemed bizarre. And yet, it worked for a really long time.  I finally got it after the entire system imploded a few months ago.  The answer was simply to provide a whole lot of credit to everyone and encourage Americans to borrow beyond their means and go into debt to purchase foreign made goods.  This house of cards was doomed to ultimately fail.  There have been warnings. The tech bubble. The Wall St. collapse in 1987, the recession at the end of the first Bush administration.  Sadly, the failings that caused that recession were overlooked and attributed to “bad actors” instead of the failure of supply-side economics.  Then we had trickle-down misery, with the rich mostly protected from the consequences of their bad behavior.  This time it just crashed down on everyone.

So why am I writing this – to depress everyone even more?  No.  To say that we are the ones who can save this economy.  If the world depends on us buying their goods, then we should, prudently, return to buying what we need, and even a little of what we want, with an eye to saving some money in an actual bank so the banks won’t have to always have their hands out to the feds to give them money to lend.  If we continue to wait, and wait, and wait, then we are waiting for something that cannot come without us.  It is in fact our inaction that is at least in part responsible for the economic downturn that, ironically, is causing us to not shop. So, shopping is good as long as we have the money to pay for what we buy.  Spending is a necessary part of the process of living in this modern society.  Saving is very good and we should do more of it.  And cash is better than credit when you’ve got it but credit is good too, to get you through a time when you have less money than you need, as long as you can feel secure that in the future you’ll be able to pay it back. Digging yourself into a hole you can never get out of, that’s the part that’s bad.  And living like there’s no tomorrow is bad because tomorrow always comes and sometimes that can be a big surprise if you’ve been living in denial.  Reality.  That’s what this is.  In the end, we will all be better off living in reality.  Maybe then we can all stop taking all those anti-anxiety medications and we can get a night’s sleep without sleeping pills.  That would be a good thing.

SLOW MOTION

Rockefeller Center holiday display December 2001
Angels & American Flags
Rockefeller Center, December 2001
    

I feel like the world is slowly collapsing around us as we sit and watch, helpless to stop it.  We are waiting for the new President.  We’re waiting for Wall Street to start acting rationally again.  We’re waiting for banks to start lending, for somebody to help the people who are daily being forced out of their homes as foreclosures continue unabated, for something to stop the constant loss of jobs and company closings.  We watch, we wait.  I’ve felt this way before.

It’s like the days after Katrina when the people of New Orleans couldn’t do anything but wait for someone to come help them.  The waters had stopped rising but everything was ruined.  There was no place to buy food, no fresh water, no way in or out of the city because there was water all around and so they sat in shelters or on roof tops while bodies floated by.  Those on dry land couldn’t get gas for their cars or money from their banks.  The gas stations were dry.  The banks were closed.  Nothing worked.

In the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the trains stopped running in Brooklyn where I lived.  The quiet was eerie. A lot of the stores were closed.  People were afraid of what would come next.  We hid in our homes, only going out for food or other necessities.  I remember I kept a radio in my ear as I did my errands because I was afraid to be away from the news for even a minute.  People put together survival packs with water and flashlights and portable radios and – yes, gas masks.  We were afraid someone would drop chemical weapons on us next.  We were afraid of everything.  People couldn’t sleep because every time they heard a plane fly overhead they thought it was another attack.  The whole city was sleep deprived, paranoid.  An entire new meaning to the saying, the city that never sleeps.

Now we wait while the members of the current administration try this and that, and mostly fail to make a difference.  They’ve spend billions of dollars to prop up the banking and financial institutions that were at fault to begin with.  Money that was supposed to be used to help people stay in their homes somehow ended up being spent on bonuses and dividends to stockholders in companies that back in September were supposedly about to collapse.  Nobody understands anything, the American people have absolutely no faith in those in charge, and so everyone is sitting and waiting for a sign that it’s safe to spend a few dollars on Christmas gifts before they take that risky trip to the mall.  We could all just skip Christmas, we’ve done it before.  In 2001 my son and I agreed there would be no holiday gifts exchanged. It just didn’t seem right.  Instead I sent out cards to all my friends and family with a photo of the American flags flying at Rockefeller Center in place of the usual gold and silver holiday flags.  Around the nation, the idea of all those American flags on display was taken to be a sign of patriotism.  For many of us in New York City it was more about honoring the dead – like the flags we put on graves on Memorial Day.  We were a city grieving, the flags were our way of expressing our grief.

Now in a way we are grieving again but nobody feels like flying flags.  We are the ones being buried now, buried under a mountain of debt.  We have been victims of multiple outrageous schemes that have stolen our future.  We look down a long tunnel of despair and fear is surely creeping back into our psyches once again.  We get daily advice from people on CNN who still have their jobs, preaching about being frugal and planning our 2009 budget, cheerful young folk who imagine that a 50 year old man with kids in college who just lost a high paying job and is now about to lose his home can solve his problems by planning a family budget.  Frugality is a given when you’ve lost everything.  With any luck the guy losing his home won’t have cable news anymore so he won’t have to listen to their nonsense.

After fiddling for a week, the President finally announced on Friday that he would give the money to the auto industry to keep them from collapsing along with the rest of the economy.  He did basically what he could have done a week ago but somehow needed to look like he was giving it a lot of thought first.  In the meantime the stock market did its panic dance and people stayed away from the stores wondering if they would have jobs next week.  Way to go W.

Everyone’s counting on Obama to save us.  NY Times columnist Tom Friedman wanted him to take over last month instead of waiting until January.  Too bad we have those pesky laws to get in our way.  I thought he was nuts when he said it but now I wonder if there will be much left to save by the time he gets to take the oath of office on January 20.  Of course, the lack of confidence in our future is at least in part due to the steady drumbeat of dire predictions – the statements of “the worst economic crisis since the great depression” do nothing to encourage the Americans who still have homes and jobs and money in their pockets to go out and spend some.  Having been on a 10 year shopping binge, there really isn’t all that much we need to buy right now and there’s nothing wrong with a nice pair of socks for a Christmas present.  Being frugal is what we’re all about right now.

The financial storm

Photo by Ellen Blanchette:  Cypress and Lily Pond
Chanticleer Gardens, Wayne PA, May 15, 2008

Reading about how the financial crisis keeps spreading ever outward, into the far reaches of the globe, makes me sad for all those who struggle yet somehow separate from it all. While thousands of people (or is it millions?) worry over the loss of everything, their homes, stock portfolios (I do have art portfolios, does that count?) now hedge funds whatever they are, I sit quietly in the eye of the storm with not a single thing changed in my life. That is because I have nothing and therefore nothing to lose.

I do have a safe warm place to live. I have food in my cupboard and in my refrigerator even if it is tiny and I keep hitting my head on the freezer door when I get up from looking inside. I have clothes, shoes, I do need a winter coat but no worry, my credit is intact.  In this upside down economy, as long as you pay your bills you are a good bet but if you own a house that once was worth $500,000 and now is worth only $300,000 you are up a creek. How does that make any sense?

The thing is that people in this country who are used to having a lot of stuff don’t know how to live without. They don’t know what I know, that in America, if you lose your job after working hard all your life, you should not starve or freeze. Unlike those people in China that I saw last week on TV, standing outside a factory that used to make stuff for Mattel, who had just lost their jobs and now were worried about being able to buy food for their children, in America we look out for our own. There are unemployment benefits, food stamps, help to get you through. There is a safety net.  And if you are elderly, there is Social Security to make sure you don’t suffer in your “golden years.” You don’t need a big house with solid gold bathroom faucets (Kenny Rogers once showed off his on some TV show years ago and I never forgot it.) You don’t need 10 bedrooms. You don’t need a big lawn or a lily pond although they are really nice. You need a roof over your head and food in your belly and some clothes to keep you warm. After that, it’s all gravy. And you know, gravy is fattening and may make you slow and lazy. There’s more to life than gravy.

There was a song years ago, The Best Things In Life Are Free. If you doubt that, go for a walk, look up at the sky, listen to the birds sing, watch the ducks play in the lake, or the seagulls fly over the ocean, watch some dogs play or some squirrels hunt for acorns in the grass and think about what it takes to live in this world and what makes you happy. I find when I’m doing something useful I feel better and when I worked for people whose only purpose in life was to make more money for themselves and other rich people who had more money than they knew what to do with I wasn’t happy at all. Our financial world is upside down because our values are upside down. A lot of people already know that. More will be learning the lesson now. Maybe in the end that’s a good thing.

Art Show

 

Elegant White Iris

Elegant White Iris

 

I’m back working to show some of my artwork in Greenfield along with many other artists in our Artist Window Display – AWE.  Prepare to be AWED is our catchy phrase to promote the display.  I wrote a little about it last spring.  The photo posted below is from that show.  The Iris above is my latest photo on display now at L Salon on Miles Street in Greenfield, MA.

 

Window display in Simon's Stamps, Greenfield, MA

Ellen's window display in Greenfield, Spring 2008

 

The display last spring was easy.  I took six photos with pre-cut mats and metal pre-cut frames, put together with easy to use hardware, and put them up on little wrought iron display easels in the window of Simon’s Stamps in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  It did take a bit of work to print the photos and put the mats and frames together but nothing very difficult or complex.  This time I’ve been struggling and a lot of that struggle is internal.  By which I mean that I’m fighting my own fatigue and desire to quit and forget the whole thing.  I’ve been busy, working for the first time in several years.  Not a real job, not an office 9 to 5 kind of job like I used to have.  Not even a show up and work for somebody else job.  A little job where I go to select board meetings, in local town government, and report on what they say. Easy.  Only not so much.  The meetings are at night, dinner time so I never know when to eat. I get home and I’m hungry and tired and the story has to be filed with the newspaper first thing in the morning so I fight with myself over whether to write or eat, write or sleep, write the story at night and get it in so I can sleep the next morning, or sleep first then get up fresh and write the article early in the morning.  Either way it’s a fight because I don’t want to do either.  Truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.

So I’ve been working on this little art project.  Last spring I bought a large format inkjet printer so I could have bigger prints of my photographs to show.  Then I had to get larger paper which it turns out is about three times what the smaller (8 1/2 x 11) paper costs but also, it’s only sold in packages of 50 instead of 20 or 25 so it actually costs 5 times what the smaller paper costs.  Each step along the way I question what I’m doing, trying to decide should I or shouldn’t I spend the money.  A friend stepped in and solved some of my dilemma.  She offered to buy the paper if I’d let her print her photos on my printer.  This helped us both and I was glad to do it.  I made wooden frames using pre-cut molding that comes with V shaped plastic inserts that helps in putting the frames together.  That saved me a lot of money and it was fun. The wood glue was goopy but I didn’t mind.  The finished product was excellent and I felt proud.  I cut my own mats using a mat cutter I bought about a year ago. I spent several hours practicing cutting scrap mat paper before I finally cut a quality beveled frame in the center of a mat. When I succeeded it felt great. Cutting my own mats gave me much more control and the finished product was so much nicer.  The photo of the white Iris (above) taken in a friend’s garden this spring looks great in the large 16 x 20 black wood frame.  I put it on a wooden display easel in a tall window of a beauty parlor on Miles Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  Miles Street is just off of Main Street where most of the stores with artwork on display are located.  

The wooden easel is rather flimsy and I was worried about it but the very charming young woman who runs the beauty parlor was reassuring and so I decided it was ok.  I’d intended to put another one in but that has been more difficult as the second wooden easel, bought last week at a local art/frame shop, has such a thin support bar I didn’t feel it would hold the frame up so I’ve been on a quest to solve the problem.  I did go back to the art store but that was futile, which I knew but went anyway.  That was yesterday.  Today I went to Home Depot hoping to find something that would work and only managed to get some cheap pine cut to size but we still have to put a hole in it before I can use it on the easel.  It’s larger that what came with the easel but doesn’t have an edge to hold the artwork back and may not work out.  I could drive down to the mall instead and try to find something better there.  In the meantime I framed two smaller pieces and would have taken them in to put in yet another store but ran out of time and energy and decided to just go to Network Chiropractic instead to get a treatment, relax, turn the dark clouds in my mind into clear blue skies which Wayne with his healing ways helped me do and so I feel better about things and am not so conflicted now.  We’ll see what morning brings.

Gas Tank Gimmicks

Woman reading on a warm sunny day

A young woman relaxing, reading on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Fall, MA

 

With all the talk and battling policies in the presidential campaign, nobody is willing to tell the American people the one thing they can do to lower the cost of gasoline.  Drive less.

Nobody wants to say it because they don’t really want you to do it. Well, ok, maybe some of the conservationists do. They’re the ones telling us the government should raise the gas tax. Of course, they’re not trying to get elected. Who would vote for them?

The truth is, many of the of people running government today are themselves enriched by our dependency on oil. Once the big oil supplying nations around the world saw that the American people were willing to pay anything for gas, they just lifted the lid on prices and they’ve been soaring every since. Don’t you think it’s strange that the prices never went up so high before? That’s because the conventional wisdom was we wouldn’t pay high prices. Member nations of OPEC used to be very worried if the price of crude went up above $30 a gallon. They thought the American people would stop buying, find other ways to get around. Maybe years ago people had such choices to make but not anymore. And that’s the point. So many more people live in suburban communities now, not to mention rural areas where I live where there is hardly any mass transit and driving is the only means of transportation. While conservationists think rising prices are great, that all these high gas prices are going to make people find other means to get around, “invest in alternative energy”, the reality is people are going broke – and losing their homes in some cases – because the cost of going to work is more than they can afford.

But still, I see a game in this. President Bush came out and said he is upset that we haven’t done what he’s asked to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. His solution? Drill in Anwar, Alaska. OK. I couldn’t help but wonder – if we let him drill for oil in Alaska, will he talk to the Sheiks and get them to pump more oil onto the market to lower prices? Is he just holding out for what he wants before he talks to them and says, ok, you can open the spigot now?

The other thing he wanted was an easing of the impediments to building more oil refineries. I have to admit I don’t understand this one. It seems logical to have more refineries. Perhaps someone can help me out here. What is the problem?

Still, when it comes right down to it, we the people have so much power. We just don’t know it. If we would drive less, spend less money on stuff we don’t need, fill savings accounts in our local banks with the excess money saved from all that junk we didn’t buy and gas money we saved from car-pooling and saying no to our kids once in a while (no it won’t traumatize them for life) maybe our economy wouldn’t be built on match-sticks.

I went to a meeting in Greenfield, Mass. this week on Sustainable Living with a focus on transportation and the one good idea I heard that everyone could do right now is car-pooling. Not just with fellow workers although that’s what a lot of people do and is very good for everyone. But this could start at home. Families with three cars could consider leaving one (or even two) at home and driving each other to work or school. Imagine the benefit of not getting that 16 year old his or her own car until they graduate from high school. It could be a graduation gift! The greatest benefit would be that they would all actually get to graduate, as so many of our youngest drivers die in auto accidents every year. Why not let kids drive the family car (is there such a thing anymore?) for a while to get the experience of driving before giving them ownership and a level of freedom they’re not mature enough to handle. Perhaps they could drive their parents’ car on date night. Conversely, maybe it would be better to have a parent drive them when they’re going to a party, for safety and to avoid those hazards of intoxication young people sometimes get into unexpectedly, out of a lack of experience. Wouldn’t it be so much better to just have an understanding in advance that Mom or Dad would be picking them up from the party at a particular time instead of having them “call” (who does that?) if they’re feeling like they need a ride.

There are so many ways in which our dependence on the automobile has skewed our society in a dangerous direction. We are fighting a war not so much over oil as because of it. This war started with a terrorist attack by a group who claimed to be angry over our presence in Saudi Arabia. We’d been there since our war against Iraq in 1991. Our entire involvement in this part of the world is because of oil. If this was just a bunch of people living in the desert fighting with each other over water rights we wouldn’t care about them at all. Yes, there is the issue of Israel, but the Arabs would have no clout with the U.S. if it weren’t for oil, and the argument over Israel would be a lot simpler.

I keep hearing that people have to be responsible for their own actions. I think that we as Americans are more than willing to do our part. We just need to know what that is, and in this election year, we are just going to get silly solutions that don’t work. Is anybody really going to pas a gas-tax holiday in this year of huge deficits and national debt? If anything, the politicians will give us just enough flim-flam to keep us from guessing that if we all stayed home every Sunday and watched tv and played with the kids (or the dog) and didn’t drive one day a week, we could lower the cost of gas at the pump in a month.

So, you heard it here first. Don’t shop, don’t drive one day a week, and put the money you save in a savings account so the banks won’t have to borrow from China to keep themselves afloat. That’s what you can do for America.