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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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 flower by emily weil

daily painting | mill valley posey

Sometimes a complete collapse is the only reasonable thing to do. Since I am voluntarily isolating myself after five cases of Covid broke out in my brother’s assisted living home, where he is in hospice care, I’m making sure I am not infected and of course not visiting Jamey’s residence (doubtful they’d let me in anyways, though they did on Friday; that place isn’t the most organized).

Deep depression and alienation is how I’d describe my last couple of days. The I-can-hardly-move, wearing-lead-shoes kind of dark stupor. Big black clouds encase my head; visibility severely limited. This morning when I woke up, I performed my usual routine of grabbing my headphones and doing my guided meditation (though I can barely concentrate on it these days). Afterwards I was far, far away. Kind of comatose. So I didn’t fight it and lay in bed, letting myself be drifty and exhausted. Two and a half hours later I came to (my poor little guinea pig had a delayed Sunday brunch).

So many reasons to feel pulled into the muck. Catastrophic Supreme Court decisions, the loss of both of my sisters, politicians who care only about power and not Americans, strife within my family, my brother’s aggressive brain cancer, more than a million Americans dead from a cunning pandemic (as the kind counselor with hospice says, any one of those things would flatten a person).

And today, I just can’t fight it off. So my activities will be simple. I will go for a bike ride, call my brother, and get out my paints. This crumpling of my spirit will not be resisted. “There’s beauty in the breakdown,” is a line in a song from the movie, Garden State. Today I am ravishing.

7″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | alameda dahlias

Sidewalk blooms flourish outside urban Maker Farm near my marina (these dahlias are from a summertime photo). Spent better part of weekend slopping drippy wet paint around, using my kitchen counter as an artboard; I have new paint spatters decorating my laptop. Had to make myself turn off TV news and put on headphones (blues channel, Amazon Prime station) so I didn’t grind my teeth as I painted. I worked on 4 or 5 paintings and only got one “keeper.” Which is fine, I am not so concerned with final results, but it is nice to get one I want to show here. I felt elated to have cooler breezes and improved air quality, and gosh am I getting good at adapting to this Covid-infested world. Grateful for friends with whom I can visit at a safe social distance. Glad for walks through Mill Valley with my sister, stomping through our old neighborhood and having the current owner of our childhood home invite us in, everyone wearing masks (we knocked on the door to see if we could walk through the yard; I’ll write more about that amazing experience in another post). Happy for times with Claire as she works on getting Uncle Fuzzy’s house cleaned out. So pleased to have talks on the phone with grandkids. Life as an old lady is pretty good even in this 2020 shit show. Worth it to put on my rubber gloves to dig through yuck and look for the sparkly things.

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

 

 

 

daily painting | good times.

This 12″ x 12″ board has had about 9 lives. A difficult, fussy, persnickety, demanding painting, this one. I don’t know how many layers it has — I kept starting over as I thought each version sucked. Finally I started adding circles with oil pastel crayons, paint, crayons and pencils and kept going and started to like it. I’d truly given up on it (and on trying to do small paintings on boards altogether) so it was kind of a happy surprise. It seems cheerful, yes? Kind of like a party. Which is curious as it’s the polar opposite of how I’m feeling during this shit show that is 2020. At least I can almost open my windows today. Maybe. Fingers crossed. Here’s hoping. Anyways as I was working on this in my studio last weekend, between layers of paint I went to stock up on Chardonnay at The Wine Mine, next door; the air was so thick with smoke I could barely see the nearby Oakland hills. The young woman behind the counter had a double mask on, as did I — one for smoke, one for Covid. I noticed and remarked on her face apparel. “Good times,” she said, which made me laugh.

12″ x 12″ acrylic, oil pastel, pencil, crayon on claybord = $185

 

 

 

daily painting | berkeley bowl beets

Berkeley Bowl has an amazing produce section. When I shared a house with Lisa in Oakland before I bought my houseboat, her parents would visit from Florida and wander around “The Bowl” stunned, taking photos. And there are beauties like these to paint! I love them with their yellow-orange bulbs, bright leafy greens, twisting and curling root ends and general amazingness. They will shortly be roasted and marinated for a salad. Senior shopping hour has been scary and stressful for months, but it’s getting easier and better. No more standing in line with other elders for 45 mins, it’s not as crowded (phew!), the beans shelves are not empty and I am less likely to come home and have a nervous breakdown from leaving the house. I am grateful to creatively shoehorn all the food into my fridge, arrange glorious root veggies on my table and get out my watercolors (I get in a hurry as I’m excited to paint such lovely subjects and have to remember to put the milk away). It’s worth going to The Bowl just to buy such still life arrangements. But I get to eat them too, and life is good. OK all this writing about food is making me hungry so I’d best get cooking.

9″ x 12″ watercolor, pen on paper = $140

 

 

 

 

daily painting | mt tam

I am in a quandary about what to write today. I will say that I took a photo of this scene after a lovely walk with sister-in-law Jane along the watery pathways in the Richardson Bay marsh in Mill Valley, CA, my hometown; Jane was taking a class at the nearby Bay Model in Sausalito (after many months our paths finally crossed so I could deliver to her the painting she commissioned of her ship). This mountain is iconic to me, as I saw it every day out our window growing up. It is a bittersweet sight — I love its beauty, but it was a backdrop to a painful childhood. I get to admire this beautiful postcard-gorgeousness often these days, visiting Uncle Fuzzy who lives nearby and who is fighting cancer. And what a fun visit with Jane! Catching up on family stuff, talking about her work on the dredging vessel The Yaquina, discussing retirement and complaining about Trump and how his policies affect her work. OK I’m overdue in Mill Valley so I’d best get going. Thank you for reading this. Maybe tomorrow I’ll talk about reaching a significant point in my life as an aging woman. Seminal moment, yesterday. I’ll bore you about it later. It probably is related to going to Mill Valley so often and making peace with who I am, where I came from and how the hell I landed where I am today.

9″ x 12″ watercolor, pen on paper = $140