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 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

 

 

 

watercolor painting of tennessee valley trail by emily weil

daily painting | tennessee valley trail

After visiting my brother in Mill Valley the other day I headed to the Tennessee Valley trail not far away, a spot I hadn’t visited in several years. The fog was roaring in and I knew my afternoon hike would be breezy and deliciously cool. My walking sticks helped me along the way and at one point I stopped to listen to at least five different species of birds calling, including a Swainson’s Thrush, who sings a lilting, gorgeous song (I’m not so savvy about identifying birds by song, but since I bugged GGRO’s Allen Fish about this mystery birdcall a few years ago I knew this one). A wildlife photographer was trying to spot the bird for a good photo but it was elusive visually; its song, however, filled the valley. That lovely walk soothed my heart. As nature always, always does.

So. Time on my hands? Seriously? What IS that? (I’m adapting, however — now in its ninth week, this brother-brain-cancer crisis has consumed my life). But with Covid roaming the halls of James’s nursing home I’m at home for now (no argument there). So the paints are coming out. And the laundry is done. The dust on my bookshelf is wiped clean (it was practically sprouting seedlings). I’m still tired, but I think that is a fact of life these days. And I am learning that I need to call by name the sadness that sits next to me on my couch every day. To welcome it and not ignore it. To embrace it, even. Loss is a central ingredient of my life for now. I accept it.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of leaf

daily painting | feather river leaf

The class I taught at Feather River Art Camp for which I created this quick demo was Watercolor and Ink. The week at camp was such a blast — I can’t believe I actually pulled it off without a major crash-and-burn after seven weeks of brother-brain-cancer crisis (and I was quite pooped once I returned home). Really had fun and was thankful for the schedule that allowed me to teach in the mornings and nap in the afternoons; luckily the weather didn’t get hot until the tail end of the schedule, and it was also fortuitous that the cunning Covid bastard didn’t ambush us until two days before we were set to go home (thankfully I dodged that infected bullet). 

These days I mostly feel upside down, as with great difficulty I embrace the reality that my brother is soon leaving the planet but for now he’s stable and more or less lucid; the hospice folks are supportive and professional and he’s got such a huge fan club he has frequent visitors. And I also enjoy just hanging out with him as we read the newspaper together or watch a Giants game. My emotions are a pinball machine, and I accept that (and I keep Kleenex close by at all times). We have tender moments and he still cracks wise and makes me laugh. I am deeply grateful for our connection and my heart will shatter when he dies but that’s the way things are as you get up into these senior years — people we love leave their bodies. And hopefully that passage into whatever follows death is the terminus of a rich life that was well-lived. That’s my goal in however many years I have left — to live with cheeky gusto and large portions of saucy irreverence. Because! Yes!

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | sibs

Here is Quinn, one of three sisters I was commissioned to paint. It was a gift to their mom, who recently had a big-zero birthday (I am told she loved the paintings). A sibling-palooza! 

Sisters is the ongoing theme of my life these days. I have friends who have precious relationships with their “womb-mates,” and these connections my friends have with their girl sibs comforts me greatly. I was not close to my two sisters who have recently died, and that’s OK. It was more or less the result of growing up in a troubled, cold family. We all tried. Did our best. No lack of love there, but the bonds were thready.

I find this process of grief and loss a jumbled stew — it’s painful, excruciating, fascinating, illuminating, healing and deeply depressing. I know I am shedding things no longer needed during this crucible-like process. I will become clearer, more alive. I’m certain. But for now, the fog wafts around my brain and obscures my vision, for the pain of this loss is unspeakable, after my sister Diana’s violent act of suicide. I am showing up for this process, though. That, I feel, is very important and I think shows courage. Because I often feel upside down (though I mostly stay strapped in).

I loved a phrase I read in a book last night, “holding oneself… in the face of some emotional wind,” describing a character who had survived an intense and threatening experience (Peter Heller, The River). We are frightened, in our culture, of strong feelings. We want them to go away, and soon. But they need to be here, with us, moving around our hearts and minds and bodies until they have exhausted themselves (particularly since we’ve just been through a nightmare pandemic). I often have a hard time allowing myself to feel the grief — my brain says, “Buck up. You’re wallowing.” Or, “This is taking too long. You’re stuck.” Or, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” But reality is I am steeped in a profound process of loss, and it will take however long it takes, and I will stay present with the sorrows. I’m OK with that. And I side-step the harsh criticisms in my head that say I’ve lost my way. Because I haven’t.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | hollyhocks

“In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and it comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.” — Abraham Lincoln [lost his son Edward at age 3, another son William at age 11; after his assassination, his son Tad died at age 18].

Written from the grief bus. Destination unknown. Love, Emily.

7″ x 7″ watercolor, pen, acrylic ink on paper = $60

 

 

 

daily painting | diana

Diana Elizabeth Weil Randrup, my older sister, took her own life yesterday, Friday, May 7, a week short of her 76th birthday. She used a gun. I have no more sisters, now. Diana was burdened by mental illness and anxiety and suffered a great deal throughout her life. She leaves behind two grown children, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She lived in Crescent City, CA. Her daughter and granddaughter had tried to convince her to use more peaceful means, but she had long collected guns and threatened suicide. She was finally successful. Her adult granddaughter, who lived with her, had to endure the shock of finding her body.

This lovely drawing was created by Diana, who had deep oceans of artistic talent. It was a wedding gift to my daughter. 

She was exquisitely talented. I tried to convince her to draw and paint more, but could not. She wrote hilarious send-ups of visits from mom that she shared with select family members. She did beautiful drawings and yarn creations. 

And she was broken. 

In her last few years she refused all contact with anyone outside of her daughter and grandkids who were in the same town; she became agoraphobic and stopped driving. She was paralyzed by terrors and panic attacks. I would send her occasional notes and cards, knowing she would read them even if she didn’t respond. A few years ago, I wrote her a note that may have been more heartfelt than others (I don’t remember) but I about fell over when she wrote me back! I was thrilled that she reached out — very unlike her. After I read the card I tucked it inside my bra so it would be close to my heart and kept it there all day, crying with gratitude. I hadn’t seen her in 20 years, as she refused all family contact. 

This began a correspondence that lasted about a year, which thrilled me. We would exchange political views and anti-Trump rants, mostly. It was a point of connection, obsessing about politics, and we were both news junkies. Her granddaughter Karen told me she would put my cards on the mantle in the living room. I am so grateful to have had that thin thread of connection; she finally stopped writing, saying in her last card it was too stressful.

So, goodbye, Diana. I am enraged you put Karen in this position. And your daughter. You could’ve listened! We could have helped you have a more peaceful death. But you were in too much pain to think of anything but ending your misery. I get that, I do. I hope you are at peace now. We certainly are not.

 

 

 

acrylic abstract painting by emily weil

daily painting | skylines

Did anyone see the PBS show, “American Masters” about Oliver Sacks? I was floored and inspired by his transparency and openness about his life—his missteps, his insights and honesty. And his incredible empathy (I watched it twice). He talked about his journey without hesitation or obfuscation. Which is helping me feel bolder about my own blatherings about my personal adventures and challenges. As I struggle to wrap my mind and heart around the reality of my younger sister’s death, and how difficult it was to connect with her, it is becoming clearer how my childhood wounds shape me. I have healed a great deal and worked very hard for my wholeness. At the same time, wispy fragments of longings as well as my aching quest for human connection that haunted me as a child float through my soul, and I see how I have felt ashamed of these normal and human needs. Like somehow I should be above the desire for intimacy. I should buck up, or something asinine like that. Ridiculous. Today I embrace my humanity and natural and beautiful desires. What is more precious than human connection? Yet I have often thought this was a deep flaw. Boy howdy am I letting that one go!

I worked on this small abstract on the weekend. I didn’t feel like painting at all. But it was a tonic to be in my studio and work with colors and shapes and wet gloppy paint without any attempts to make it pretty. It was a soothing experience, even with tears mixed into the chromium blues.

9″ x 12″ acrylic, oil pastel, pencil on claybord = $140

 

 

 

daily painting | maker farm hoofer

A couple of days ago I grabbed my bike to get outdoors and try to outride the dark thoughts creeping in under my eyebrows. I enjoy riding down the estuary to where the shipping cranes on- and off-load the hulking, ocean-traveling ships. Such a funky, interesting mix of sights and scenes — the clanking of the primary-colored containers as they are loaded onto the ships, small sailboats dwarfed by enormous rust-stained hulls, maybe some cute little oystercatchers pecking at tidbits at the tide’s edge with their cartoony, orange beaks; a few folks living in their RVs, humans letting their pets loose at the dog run. It’s so splashy and unsanitized. Nearby is a fun nursery called Ploughshares, a collaborative operation and a good spot to buy plants for your garden and support the local community. I was delighted to ride past their spot and see folks with rakes cleaning up an open lot alongside backhoes moving dirt around, sheep chomping on composted refuse and piglets wrestling with each other in the mud. Turns out Maker Farm, which had been next door to my marina, found their new home. They let me come in the gate and photograph the activities, and this friendly and curious hoofer came over to say hello. It’s a kind of figure drawing, right? Sheepy, shaggy models. These unexpected and fun moments are such a relief from dodging grief bombs. Last night, while out on my deck, a Great Blue Heron swung around the corner of my house and flew within a few feet of me. I could hardly catch my breath, it was such a magnificent surprise. Beats hell out of dodging raindrops dripping through my ceiling onto my bed in the middle of the night, but that’s another adventure too boring to describe. A Christmas night wake-up, but it’s OK now. Moving soggily onward.

7.5″ x 7.5″ watercolor, pen, acrylic spats on paper = $75

 

 

 

daily painting | nancy’s hydrangeas

As I was Photoshopping this image of today’s daily painting and saving it (you have to clean up photos taken of paintings, no matter what), I cracked up looking at the list of files on my hard drive that start with, “Nancy’s.” It’s because of the amazing things that grow in my friend and fellow gramma’s San Diego yard — pomegranates and gardenias and figs and then these guys. Took a photo of her hydrangeas when there last summer; in winter I root through photos for subject matter (was hoping for grocery delivery sooner today so I could pluck out fresh produce and make a food arrangement still life, but, alas, no internet for half the day today which forced me to paint and put my feet up and read; I guess it was a good idea because my weeping last night left me this morning feeling like I got flattened by the grief bus). SO. Putting asides aside, I was not unhappy to be a homebody today with my paints. It cheered me to create puddles of purple and pink paint for these lovely flowers. I didn’t even feel skitchy today as I often do these days with nervous loneliness and cabin fever. Something about kicking back with my book in the middle of the day felt naughty. I liked it. Especially with a full view of the finches and towhees at the bird feeder. These things boost my sore heart, as did washing up my dishes this morning — I filled a pan with soapy water and the floating bubbles made the shape of a heart. Made me cry. Messages from something bigger than I am, helping me through these days of pain and healing, and boosting my faith and trust. I’ll be OK. We’ll be OK. We’ve made it this far.

10″ x 10″ watercolor, pen on paper = $130