ink and watercolor painting of berries by emily weil

daily painting | berries

As I write this, a watercolor painting is drying in the sun. I thought I would post this class demo done a few weeks ago (a quick one of red berries) and say hello (join my next workshop, “Watercolor and Sticks and Ink” at Frank Bette Center in Alameda in January!). 

Here’s today’s book review (I know, you’ve been holding your breath). I’m reading Auntie Mame, a memoir written by her orphaned nephew, Patrick Dennis. I was expecting a fun romp and an inspirational read about a one-of-a-kind woman who lived life on her terms. And it is an interesting recollection about a lost era in Manhattan, but it also has dark undertones and an undercurrent of sadness, for Patrick had lost both parents, Auntie Mame was a bit of a self-absorbed hedonist even though she loved her nephew, and I suppose I am projecting my own biases when I say that the characters of the book are a bit shallow and racist (if fun, and fun-loving, and interesting). The Broadway play based on the book seems to have been a sanitized version of the story, as was the movie with Rosalind Russell (but her performance was stellar). 

So… why was I attracted to this book, after I’d read a reference to it in the NYT? I think I wanted to read about a strong woman (and boy howdy she was that). And I wanted to have a read that would take me away into another world (checkmark next to that item as well). So why does it make me feel slightly melancholy? Well, duh, lots of things make me sad these days. But Auntie Mame for all her vivaciousness and ability to survive seems hollow and someone with the depth of a paper towel. She just doesn’t grab me. But I’m not done with the book yet. 

OK, going back to my painting. I surely am enjoying my quiet, sunny house today and soon I’ll head out for bike ride out in the lovely but chilly sun. Then I’ll come home and make a nice dinner and have a happy hour cocktail and feed my guinea pig and tomorrow will return to brother-care, something I am grateful to be able to do.

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | november

My brother is upstairs dying. He’s dying while playing online poker with his long-time pals. He’s dying while he eats his lunch of “unidentifiable white fish.” He’s dying while I sit in a pocket of thin November sunlight on a lovely patio with views of Mt Tam, listening to the pleasant watery voice of a garden fountain that is murmuring next to my comfy outdoor-furniture perch. [And yes I suppose I should acknowledge that my brother is also upstairs living, which is true and wonderful.]

I am staring through sun-lit branches of autumn reds and yellows, waiting for my grief-tears to catch up with me; it’s pointless to try and absorb the NYT Book Review, for my attention span does not stretch past five sentences. I am immersed in sorrow and that is my present moment that I haltingly, reluctantly embrace. There’s a gray-cloudy peace that comes from this acceptance of wretchedness. It’s awful. I adore my brother and losing him will be like losing an essential body part. I dread that concrete wall of loss I will smash into — but there it is, getting closer. I clutch at hopeful lessons and positive thoughts but they are slippery and fleeting and I’m exhausted and angry from trying to keep my damn chin up. And… last night’s moonrise took my breath away.
[This painting was a quick watercolor class demo]

9″ x 10″ ink, watercolor on paper

 

 

 

daily painting | aldersly rose

Ahhh… the hungry ghost. He’s back. Here I was cooking along on this watercolor — I loved how the rose was developing — and then things got a bit muddy and complicated and the hungry ghost is jabbering in my ear about what a shitty artist I am. I HATE that.

A hungry ghost is a Buddhist concept I heard about in a lecture once. It is perpetually ravenous and feeds on joy, happiness, contentment and self-confidence. I notice that when I feel happy to be an artist or confident in myself as a sister or competent as a GGRO bander, the damn ghostie likes to rob me of my moments of peace and joy.

So I’m going to post this painting anyways. It is from a photo of the lovely rose garden at Aldersly, where my ailing brother resides. Those wonderful folks there told him that if he wished to employ Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID), they would help him do that in their beautiful rose garden (he has brain cancer and had expressed a wish to die outside).

He just told me he has decided not to make the choice for MAID, but will let that damn hungry cancer ghost do its nasty work. And I support him (as I would whatever he chose). Today painting is soothing me (I just started another rose painting) as I take a day off from brother care to stay home and rest. I feel so fortunate. I can paint and enjoy my home where I feel safe and content. Many,  many gifts in my life. 

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

 

 

 

watercolor and ink painting of peruvian lilies

daily painting | peruvian lilies

Over the last weeks I’ve gotten my paints out to poke around at being an artist pretty regularly, but without uploadable results. Today after a blast of a morning playing at my new passion, paddling in a dragon boat in the alameda estuary, I came home to draw and paint, doing my best to be heedless of results. Good thing, too — I photographed some lovely sunflowers in Seattle two weeks ago as I wandered through my sister’s old neighborhood (we scattered her ashes in her favorite park), wanting SO badly to produce a good sunflower watercolor. Nope (they were OK, just not up to par). So I decided to do a wet, sloppy painting of these lovely purple Peruvian lilies from Trader Joe’s. 

It’s an excellent October afternoon — a few breezes (not as bad as forecast), slightly overcast skies, comfortable temps, smoke-free air. Enough sun to dry the paints when I prop the painting in the window.

And again I lean hard into the things that keep me right-side up. As my brother fades from brain cancer (fatigue, wobbliness but thankfully no headaches or seizures; he’s mostly still lucid) I find myself feeling skinless and vulnerable and out-to-sea most of the time. I’m learning to accept this state of my mind and heart. It’s exceedingly painful and uncomfortable but I certainly have no control over my desperate, excruciating emotions (and a pox on those who blow “toxic positivity” in my direction — do look that one up). And so be it, dammit. I’m here. I’m showing up. I’m trying really hard not to be an asshole (with splotches of success). Getting outdoors in nature (Tomales Bay was a treat last week) and getting out my watercolors and bending the ears of my compassionate pals are my mainstays. I don’t know where I am on any map. Can’t tell where I’m going; I am without a horizon. But as I write this my guinea pig Buster Posey is foraging in his cage for small-animal hay and making cute noises, I’m roasting some veggies in the oven (the thyme smells deliciously fragrant), the view outside my window of the marina is beautiful and calming, and I wave to my neighbors walking by on the docks. Life is awful. Life is hard. Life is wonderful. Life is amazing. 

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

 

 

 

water-soluble graphite painting of sweetgum tree by emily weil

daily painting | sweetgum tree

On the lovely Aldersly grounds in San Rafael, the skilled nursing facility where my brother now resides, there is a large, lovely shade tree on a lawn near a bench where Jim likes to rest after he does a few laps on the pathways in his walker to stretch his daddylonglegs (he’s 6’5”). Yesterday I rode my bike down to an Alameda nursery to ask for help in IDing the tree; with their help my best guess is American Sweetgum (Jim and I are curious).

Jim (or James or Jamey depending on my mood) thinks it would be nice to die under that tree. I agree. We have lots of deep talks about his ending as the galloping brain cancer takes over, and he may decide to use the MAID (“Medical Aid In Dying”) drugs to end things sooner rather than later so he can fulfill his desire to die outside. Lots of ongoing discussions on that topic. 

Yesterday was a rest day. I was knackered; a recent talk with bro was emotional and intense as we hashed out my concerns he is married to someone who emotionally batters him (there have been many conversations along those lines in recent years). I’ve long been concerned for him, as have been his closest friends who adore him. But the bashing has been so effective he adapts rather than confronts. I am nervous about explicitly writing about this family drama, but the model of abused/abuser is classic — denial, obfuscation, excuses — and I believe in being open about these painful topics as it’s something we don’t talk about. And we need to talk about it. I’d worry a bit if I was alone in my view, but his considerable group of supporters all share the same opinion.  

And I am powerless. Except to support and love him as he gets ready to leave this world and I am glad for him. No more brain cancer, no more Parkinson’s, no more spousal assaults. He’ll be done. The thought of being left behind makes me double over with stabbing stomach pains. But here I am. Armed with my pink pepto-bismol. I’ll be OK. 

10″ x 10″ ink, artgraf graphite, ink, watercolor on paper = $130

 

 

 

watercolor, ink and acrylic painting of pink flowers by emily weil

daily painting | albany front yard

I took out my phone to photograph a delightful front yard I strolled past in residential Albany last week. Pink flowers, backlit in the morning sun, danced like delicate, tutu-adorned ballerinas. They were lovely. When I got out my paints yesterday, at first I painted from a photo of an enormous magnolia blossom blooming in the tree outside my brother’s skilled nursing facility but the results were flat and dull. So I roamed around my photos and found these cute little pinkies and did painting #2.

I had a whole day at home yesterday and could get my house back into shape a bit and make a nice meal (“lemony pasta”). While waiting for layers of watercolor to dry I did chores, and it felt good to tidy up the lily pad. I’ll head back to San Rafael for brother-time this afternoon, as I miss him on those days I stay home. Precious times, these are. My heart is broken but I am fully, energetically, juicily alive and paying attention as I make this nutty, sad journey. Most days I do not feel like getting out of bed. But I still have to get to the bathroom. And then, hell, I might as well make a cup of tea. After that, yes, there’s always stuff to do.

8″ x 8″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $85

 

 

 

watercolor, ink painting of roses by emily weil

daily painting | roses

Tired, so tired. Friends at times remind me how taxing caregiving is, and how exhausting grieving is. Yes and amen; I’m there. And trying to cut myself some slack as I hear inner voices telling me I’m lazy or I should be more productive. Get back, mean critics who live in my head! Go and bully someone else (happy to share a few suggestions).

I have frequent conversations with myself. Sometimes I am gentle and follow my therapist’s direction to be as loving and compassionate with myself as I am with my dying, vulnerable brother. Sometimes I feel like an utter failure in life, wondering how I got here. Other times I think I am brave and sturdy, getting up every day and moving forward. 

My dear bro is considering end-of-life options, perhaps employing MAID — Medical Assistance in Dying. Either with this choice or letting the cancer take over his brain, he has an abbreviated future. And I support whatever he chooses. It is, after all, completely up to him. Some in the fam disapprove  of this possibility and I hope he follows his own truth. He’s so steady — a decent and kind man. The staff in his skilled nursing facility are fond of him as he is not demanding or difficult. But his life is small and getting smaller, and though he is not in pain, it isn’t a happy existence. And he lets me frequently pester him to get up and take a walk outside or ask him to tell me anecdotes from his 79 years on the planet or discuss the dynamics in our family or explore death options. These moments are often sweet and intimate and I will hold them dearly in my heart for the rest of my years. I am deeply grateful. 

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $130

 

 

 

abstract painting by emily weil

daily painting | class demo abstract

I was photographing this painting today and as I edited it to clean up the image in Photoshop I realized it’s kind of a big penis in a salad bowl. Oh well. The unconscious mind at work again.
I was doing this class demo in today’s watercolor workshop I taught, showing different kinds of paper (smooth vs. textured). Then as my marvelous students beavered away on their paintings with great dedication I fooled around a bit more on the composition.
I LOVED teaching the workshop today. A welcome break from brother-care; pursuing my art passions keeps my feet on the ground. One of my lovely students professionally designed commercial displays and many of us have enjoyed his brilliant creations in the Gump’s and Macy’s windows in San Francisco. Another student, amazingly, works for a traffic engineering group for which I worked in the 1980s when in art college; I did admin work for the small office and now the company employs 300+ employees. The founders of that company were very kind to me, and in off hours sometimes let me work on class assignments on their office computers. I’m thrilled at their success.
And life goes on, and isn’t it amazing? Queens leave the planet and kings rise to rule. Enjoyed my day — as I express myself in the arts, at the same time various friends and family members and I support our dear brother as he considers MAID — Medical Aid in Dying; he is experiencing his demise from brain cancer. He reflects often on his life — yesterday he learned that the Mosquito Fire in the Sierra foothills consumed his previous home and ranch where he lived with his first wife — we went outside to enjoy the gardens at his nursing facility yesterday and the smoke was in the air and he pondered if he was inhaling his burnt-up house.

8″ x 7″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper

 

 

 

watercolor, ink, pastel painting of morning glory by emily weil

daily painting | pill hill morning glory

I can’t remember why I was driving over Pill Hill in Oakland last week; trying to get to the freeway after getting a 2nd booster shot at Kaiser I suppose (Pill Hill is what folks call the area off Broadway that is chock-full of hospitals and medical facilities). But I pulled over for some reason, I think because my purse was on the back seat of my car and the seat belt sensors are ridiculously sensitive and Michelle was yelling at me (Michelle is my wonderful new RAV4). 

Anyways these enormous morning glories, the size of large saucers, with their pointy, lavender tips, were profusely blooming on the corner so I snapped a few pics and painted the scene a few days ago. They were just so healthy and gorgeous. I always get a kick out of seeing lush gardens in urban areas, and that corner of Oakland is about as urban as you can get.

Anything that is part of the natural world comforts me enormously as I watch my brother slowly fade and decline from brain cancer. Last week I visited my wonderful friend Sandy who very recently lost her husband to a heart attack. I was so glad to see her and left the house (the house I grew up in) at dusk. As I went out to my car on that wooded Mill Valley hillside I was surrounded by bats! They danced around me and over my head and I was frozen in awe and wonder, listening to the whooshing of their wings. I love bats. It was bat magic.  

10″ x 10″ ink, watercolor, pastel on paper = $130

 

 

 

painting of magnolia seedpod by emily weil

daily painting | seed pod

At my brother’s previous home, Marin Terrace in Mill Valley, a real shithole of a nursing facility (I will be filing complaints), the one saving grace was that there was an outside patio with a huge magnolia tree that provided shade and a pleasant place to sit and chat and visit. After the flowers bloomed (the luscious beauties only lasted a day or two), these seedpods would be left behind and they were so beautifully designed — such a fascinating and sturdy structure. My bro would pick them up and play with them, and so would I — the stem had a kind of velvety feel to it.

So since my bro has now moved to a much nicer facility (Aldersly in San Rafael) I thought I’d draw/paint one of these pods which I’d saved. He needs some fresh artwork for his new room so I’ll bring him this one today.

Death and dying and grief are part of my world, daily. Sorrow joins me every day at the table and takes my hand and I accept those frequent visits. Yesterday I learned that my wonderful new friend Sandy lost her husband suddenly from a heart attack. No warning. Sandy purchased my childhood home in Mill Valley and has lived there for 50 years and through a few crazy-wonderful turns of events we have become connected (sometimes I even stay at the house, thanks to her generosity). Russ was a lovely, kind man. I did not know him well but was very fond of him, and he was very sweet to me. RIP dear Russ. Please look after Sandy. I will try to too.

7″ x 9″ ink, artgraf graphite on paper