abstract pastel, watercolor painting by emily weil

daily painting | corpuscles

Today grief is a giant python, circling my neck. Some people I know are afraid of strong emotion so they avoid feelings. I don’t seem to have that ability; today my heart is just a messy, bewildering puddle of loss.

This is one stormy bitch of an ocean to navigate, as most Americans freak out at expressions of pain and sadness. “Don’t get stuck there,” some advise. Others helpfully share admonishments to not “feed the energy” of anguish or rage. Which makes me feel even more alone with my very intense, bright-red feelings. I feel branded. A scarlet letter, tattooed on my neck. Stay away, the letter warns. She’s very emotional these days. She might be overwrought. Out of control. Angry and bitter.

I don’t fear for my sanity (well, sometimes I do, but I’ve been here before). I know that fully embracing the losses of one dead sister from cancer and another sister who committed suicide and my only brother dying from aggressive brain cancer inside of two years is where I am and need to be; feeling every last damn molecule of shock and sorrow. While I hose off the spatters of family dysfunction that regularly spray around the room and forgive me for my metaphor soup.

“I resist nothing” is today’s mantra. That’s the best path. When my mom died my brother’s wife admonished, “rub it in your hair” — fully experience all the grief and sadness. Good advice. Today my gray locks are filthy with ashes. Unattractive but very, very real.

7″ x 7″ ink, watercolor, red wine, pastel on paper = $65

 

 

 

red wine, oil pastel, ink and pencil abstract painting by emily weil

daily painting | fermented art

So my brother likes red wine and I’m the supplier. He doesn’t drink much, so the wine sits and spoils in the bottle (I’m trying a new stopper that may help make it last longer). I brought the half bottles home from his nursing home and decided to get out some paper and splash the leftover Syrah around and see if it’s a viable medium. What a hoot! Layers and layers of winey pigments on this piece, to which I added oil pastels and ink and pencil and all kinds of stuff. Took days of adding and dripping and drying and experimenting and today with Van Morrison serenading me in my headphones, and the boat slightly rocking in the breezy estuary, and the sparkles of watery reflections dancing on my ceiling — well it’s a marvelous and peaceful and very pleasant day. Sweet and welcome few hours of rest. 

The Big Bro we hope will move to a nicer nursing home in a few weeks. His brain cancer is clearly advancing as he is getting more wobbly and confused and tired, but he’s still great company and I enjoy being with him. How fortunate I am to have these rich moments. Every day. Wherever I am.

10″ x 10″ red wine, oil pastel, ink, pastel and acrylic on paper =$130

 

 

 

watercolor painting of tulips by emily weil

daily painting | tulips

Well this darling mini bouquet of tulips that I picked up from Whole Foods cheered me for days (now that I think of it, what flower arrangement wouldn’t?). So since I’m hiding from the world today, resting and putting my neurons back together after a week of car wrangling and Carvana shopping and transmission breakdowns and tow trucks and slimy Toyota dealerships and discussions with my bro of death with MAID (Medical Assistance In Suicide) and hacking through family thickets of dysfunction, I got out my paints to help with the self-soothing process. It’s working (and I’m dreaming of about a month on the Big Island of Hawaii).

There’s something delightfully innocent about tulips. Such charming open faces. My life is often drama central these days and wetting my watercolor paper and adding splashy reds and deep-hued cadmium yellows calms and heals. Lordy I’m grateful today to be in my quiet, wonderful floating home on the Alameda estuary (which is weirdly brown in color this week), listening to the herons squawk and feeling my home gently rock in the breezes and saying hello to friendly neighbors as they walk by. Happy for these few hours of respite. OK now I’d best go clean up the paint spatters from my kitchen counter.

10″ x 7″ ink, watercolor on paper =$90

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of orange lily by emily weil

daily painting | mill valley lily

I don’t consider myself a particularly deep person, but as my life events are quite challenging these days, I am finding that I need to use a pickaxe to dig into my substratum to find strength, stamina and wisdom to navigate this time of loss and difficulty. I liked a quote I found:

“Eventually, everyone will be dropped into the depth of life. It may happen because of some life-threatening illness or a sudden loss or from being loved unconditionally for the first time or by the sudden beauty of grace. But once broken open, the deeper, relational journey begins by which we truly know that we are alive.” (Mark Nepo)

So I’m making some choices that are uncomfortable but essential — to strengthen my faith. I can’t describe what I believe in exactly. But I have spiritual roots that sustain me. So now I strip back more dead foliage and burrow deeper, trusting that I will be OK. I’ll find a good car. I’ll have the strength to lose my brother (and to support him while he fades). I will get the support I need to walk through the shadows of family dysfunction and mental illness and loss. That’s today’s statement, and I’ll keep you posted.

But I want to give a bit of an update to the previous post. My insightful, loving therapist provided me with much understanding which I want to talk about. Last weekend I was deeply, darkly depressed. It sideswiped me and left me gasping. Thankfully I had already had a therapy appointment scheduled, and, Voila! Light. Lucy helped me understand that my dear, goofy brother’s unconscious and sometimes careless comments to me fishhook me back into my painful childhood. My bro was born in 1943 in a time when white men were gods. He was oldest, followed by three sisters. James was the king. We girls were considered useless, less-than, and not much more than a drain on dad’s wallet; we were to grow up and get married and get out of dad’s hair, while older-brother’s lauded education would earn mom and dad parenting points. James unknowingly can sometimes channel dad, expressing the attitude that his opinions/experiences/views hold more weight than mine. At times I have to elbow my way in, in a conversation with him, to get equal time. He has no idea, and he is a kind and loving brother who appreciates me. But this big blind spot can spiral me downward into that place of being a girl who has no value, who is never noticed or supported, and whose dreams aren’t worth mentioning. This was such an Aha moment that Lucy gave me. So I went back to the model that serves me well, which is to be my own loving mother. I told little Em, I SEE YOU. I comforted her and told her how valuable she was in this world. It worked.

Now, back to car shopping…

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper =$90

 

 

 

watercolor painting of santa barbara wharf by emily weil

daily painting | stearn’s wharf + rant

I’m not sure how to do this; hoping that faking it works for now. 

I’m calling on the angels and gods and goddesses and Jesus and Great Spirit and medicine animals and any other spiritual entity I’ve ever heard of, asking for help.

I’m worried that in the face of my beloved brother’s last days due to cancer consuming his brain (gliosarcoma) I’m full of self-pity and I whine too much.

I’m worried that as I continue to grieve my two dead sisters I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I’m worried that I’m folding under the life challenges of my old, 2006 Prius that won’t run and my failing graphic design freelance business and my adult children suffering through mental illness and powerful addictions.

I’m worried I’ll always be alone.

I’m worried I’m an asshole, taking my frustrations out on other humans while becoming bitter.

So the only remedies I can come up with are to 1) Get out of bed in the morning and make my tea. 2) Do my day with as much presence as I can muster. 3) Respond to each curve ball as best I can and hope my bat holds up. 4) Nap. 5) Resist nothing. 6) Practice Radical Trust.

That’s it. Wish me luck. I’m sure my headlights are strong enough to get through at least the next few yards of this mother-effing dark and terrifying and isolated back road. 

I guess I sound pissed off. 

Boy howdy, yes I am.

[painting is from Santa Barbara watercolor workshop I attended last April]

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper =$90

 

 

 

daily painting | lilies at lucy’s

I just wanted to get out my tray of watercolors today and I didn’t care what I produced. I started working from a photo of lilies in my therapist Lucy’s front yard, and it wasn’t quite working so I made it an abstract. I disappeared into art. It was out of ragged desperation — I’m home today after a nutty few weeks that included a string of bonkers events — my bro is slowly showing more symptoms of the brain cancer advancing and mental illness and addictions are ravaging my family and my car is failing (with elusive causes) and I had an argument with the hospice social worker and … well, blah-blah-blah. I was frantic for relief today (while also grateful to have a chance to rest), jogging one step ahead of a melt-down-panic-attack tsunami, so today was weird. I pulled ice cream out of the freezer and melted chocolate to put on top. This alone was alarming — I never do that. I sat and did breathing exercises, fighting off going completely numb while staring into space. I briefly worried I’d lose my lunch. I paced the floor, wondering how close I am to a padded room in the psych ward (but I’d hate the drugs).

My most loving friends would remind me of all that is happening in my family and in my life and tell me my crazy feelings are only natural. But how can I make them go away? Not going to happen. So now as I type this while sitting on my couch with my laptop waiting for the senate hearings to begin I invite the grief, rage, pain, sadness and disbelief to sit beside me. It’s crowded, but this is today’s party at Emily’s house.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | cota street chimneys

Here’s another watercolor sketch from my week in Santa Barbara a few months ago to attend a watercolor workshop. Gosh I’m glad for that wonderful trip there; how amazed and grateful I am that I got to do that, as I came home to the brother brain crisis very soon after. This apartment complex, called “Cota Street Studios”, was designed by an imaginative, coloring-outside-the-lines architect who created quirky chimneys and wonky corners and amusing architectural flourishes that made us all smile with delight. Finding such colorful scenes makes life a wonder, don’t you think?

Well I wasn’t so thrilled with the wonders of life yesterday, I tell ya. After spending $1400 to fix my 2006 Prius last week, heeding advice of knowledgeable mechanics who tell me it’s a great car and worth fixing, it broke again yesterday (same symptoms, ugh). That’s when my dear pal Claire and I, after putting in a day of painting blinds for GGRO in the Marin Headlands, found out that tow truck drivers call that area, “The Deadlands,” as drivers don’t like to go out there. But someone finally did show up to truck us to the car shop in Berkeley and now I will await my mechanic’s next diagnosis. Sigh. Wish me luck. I know in life the tide comes in and the tide goes out. And jeez this muck is getting sticky and stinky.

7″ x 8″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of magnolia bud by emily weil

daily painting | magnolia bud

Lucky me to have time with my dear friend Claire, visiting from WA! We visited my brother and afterward we headed over to Uncle Fuzzy’s yard in Mill Valley to enjoy some Chardonnay and chat. Claire and I (90% Claire, 10% Emily) looked after our old friend as he was dying of cancer two years ago, and the house is still in probate and not yet up for sale so I pulled my camping chairs out of the back of the car and we watched the woodpeckers and crows in the nearby trees and reminisced. During those months in 2020 Claire and I sat in the yard many times, sipping wine and laughing and shoring each other up while Russ (his given name) napped, as we loved him and he was soon leaving. So in Russ’s back yard is a gorgeous blooming magnolia, and this bud was just peeping out and getting ready to pop. 

I feel immersed in death and dying, and that sounds darker than I feel. Death is a fascinating part of life, and yes I will be shattered after my much-loved brother leaves the planet a few months from now. You get up in these years and loss is a part of the landscape. As one writer opined in an NPR interview, once you get past 60 you constantly carry a 100-lb sack of grief on your shoulder, as loved ones grow old and die. Yes, exactly. And there’s a magnificent beauty to that natural unfolding of things, though our hearts break daily. And this is a part of life, and how glorious to fully live, which is my response in the midst of all this. I want to live as largely as is humanly possible until I, too, get ready to leave the earth. I want to skid into that moment, waving my freak flag and laughing and rollicking with irreverence and giddy with joy at having been given this amazing gift of life.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor painting of bouquet of flowers by emily weil

daily painting | tj posies

I did several iterations of this Trader Joe’s bouquet, getting my paints out before my commute to Mill Valley for brother-time. As I’ve said about 100 times already, grabbing my porcelain tray full of watercolors and opening a hot-press watercolor paper sketchbook to spatter some “Opera Pink” onto wet paper heals my soul and helps me grieve. I feel so fortunate to be an artist. I suppose it helped as a kid too, now that I think of it — I doodled a lot with pencils.

Well maybe this post will actually trigger the MailChimp feed to send out emails to you folks who signed up for daily painting alerts. Invisible anti-art ghosts in the system have made things kind of messed up.

So here’s a question I wouldn’t ever in a million years have expected to ask my brother, but I did this morning on the phone: “How’s your penis?” He had a catheter malfunction yesterday which nicked him a little; the hospice nurse came to remedy the problem but, yuck, poor guy. The indignities and discomforts of needing nursing care. Once he was fixed up, I left his facility to drive home. Cried along the way, especially while listening to an interview on the radio (Fresh Air) with a neurosurgeon. I’m kind of tired of learning about brain tumors (while at the same time I continue to be fascinated). Should have changed the station to hear about how we women are again second-class citizens.

7″ x 7″ ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper = $65

 

 

 

watercolor and ink drawing of hollyhock by emily weil

daily painting | peralta hollyhock

As I left my therapist Lucy’s office on Peralta Ave in Albany the other day I noticed this lovely hollyhock towering in a yard across the street (snapped a photo). There’s something about these flowers — I only see them in the summer, and they seem quite accessible and almost pedestrian but also very gorgeous. They are not sophisticated or aloof, like a perfectly grown rose or an elegant lily. Which is why I think they are magnificent. Lucy is helping me walk through this very difficult chapter in my life (and in my family) — death, dysfunction, addiction, estrangement, cancer and suicide lurk. And death is a natural — even miraculous — part of life. And those of us left behind get out our mops and try to clean up the bloody bits of our beat-up spirits. Lucy advises me to keep my heart open. Which often seems impossible. But when I do, and choose to see the love and magic in the world that surround me, my steps are a bit lighter — I appreciate the red-shouldered hawk that flies overhead when I have conversations on the Mill Valley patio with my brother as we sit under a huge, blooming magnolia tree. Bright scarlet dragonflies zoom around outside my houseboat, skimming the estuary waters. Red tail hawks in a nearby Monterey Pine dodge dive-bombing crows. I get to see golden eagles have kids in the Sunol hills. Finches and sparrows mob the bird feeder on my deck. And, best of all, I absorb the warm hugs and loving affection from my brother. It’s a beautiful world.

OK now I am going to follow the steps a counselor suggested years ago when we experience hard times: Dial 911, step over the body, and do the dishes.

10″ x 7″ ink, watercolor on paper