It's Day 60 for us in quarantine. Even though we both worked from home before the Stay at Home order, things have changed. We keep running lists of supplies needed, review online orders before we send, and grocery orders the night before in case we need to add anything. We no longer shop in stores. We use drive through pick up for groceries, pharmacy and home improvement needs.
In some ways, life is the same. We still walk every morning, start work at our individual desks and watch TV in the evenings. But the TV we watch is aimed at shows that uplift. And even though we care deeply about the upcoming election, we can't seem to tolerate politics. I used to enjoy the opinion section of the newspaper. Now, I skip it. I miss eating out with family and friends and I worry about restaurant workers. I miss getting to know every dog we meet on our walks. I miss taking our animals to the vet and chatting with a whole office of animal lovers. I miss meeting with artist and writer friends. I look forward to Skype visits, but it doesn't compare to the real thing.
We're the first generation to drain a country of sanitizers, toilet paper and surgical masks. We're the first to experiment with a wide variety of hand sewn masks. The first generation to populate the internet with an abundant array of free entertainment and education. Artists are lifting spirits. Healers are healing, caretakers caring, teachers teaching, everyone giving what they can.
The sky is clearer, animals roaming freer and the earth sighing.
Today, my state lifted the Stay at Home order and began opening businesses. But we don't feel safe going out. We order more soap, sanitizer and masks, and we talk about the future with question marks.
Being an animal lover and a writer of children's books, I was fascinated with an interview I heard of an organization called Red Rover. Besides providing shelter, resources and finances for animals and people in crisis, they raise awareness in children through their Reader's Program. It's aimed at educators and provides a list of books for ages 5-11 that inspire understanding and empathy, like Buddy Unchained, Hens for Friends and Rescue and Jessica: A Life Changing Friendship. The books are sorted by theme: Domestic Animals, Pet Loss, Wildlife and Animal Behavior. A three-week online course teaches how to maximize the impact of the books with discussion questions and activities.
For kids who prefer a digital experience, Red Rover offers a bi-lingual app. It targets ages 7-11 and functions like a graphic novel, adding pop-up questions, discussion topics and games to help kids practice emotional awareness, critical thinking and compassion.
Red Rover also publishes Kind News magazine, for 8 and up, and Kind News, Jr, for ages 5-7. The magazine teaches how to care for pets and how to take action to improve animals' lives. In March, Red Rover participated in Read Across America and gave one lucky educator a $200 bookstore gift card, plus a year's subscription to Kind News magazine. I like to imagine the kids in that classroom being so inspired they become animal and human rights advocates.
I love stories about books making a difference. Red Rover is using them in a big way to make this world a better place. They have a host of powerful videos. Here's one:
A blank page, a white canvas, a lump of clay. Artists experience a unique thrill when faced with a new project. I've never tried to analyze it, but for me I think it's a mix of exploring the unknown and anticipation of what may grow from words, paint and clay. And hope. I want it to be successful. I hope it will come closer to being the type of work I admire.
I just finished a book I've been working on for over a year. I'm a little low on creative energy and still sweeping the last story from my brain. You develop a relationship with each project. Bond with it, commit to working through good times and bad. It can be hard to let go. But I had an idea for a new story so I scratched out a beginning. Then my brain kicked in and started asking the main characters questions. Who are you? What do you want? What's standing in your way and what will you do about it? The answers will fill blank pages and hopefully, another book will be born.
As a visual artist, I face a blank canvas with photographs, sketches or props as guide. I have a vision of what I hope to create and I can't wait to translate it on canvas. I've done very little sculpting and crude ceramic work but I love a lump of clay. What will it be? A pot, a figure, or an abstracted thought? From our minds to our fingers to the medium, we express. What do you want to say to the world? Stretch a new canvas, create a new document, buy a new batch of clay. Start a fresh project today.
If you're wondering why there's a photo of my dog Teddy illustrating this post, it's simple. When we adopted him two months ago, he was a blank slate. He's getting to know us. We're getting to know him, asking questions as we go and eager to grow this relationship. Sort of like his hair. He had next to none when we met him. Now he has chocolate brown spots that shine in the sun like fudge. He's a work of art, for sure
Just so you know, I'm not ashamed of using Teddy as a metaphor and since it's pretty much The Year of Teddy at our house and he doesn't mind being photographed, you'll probably see a lot of his mug.
Life doesn't always happen the way you plan. In February we put a deposit on a puppy. I posted a picture of the litter when they were four weeks old and promised to announce which one we chose along with its name. But just before we were scheduled to pick the puppy up, the breeder discovered it had a serious health issue. Instead of waiting for another litter to be born, we decided to adopt a rescue dog. We fell in love with a mixed-breed puppy. Unfortunately, the people fostering the dog fell in love with it too and announced they were going to keep it.
So two weeks ago, we stopped by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and came home with the strangest looking, nearly hairless, nine-pound wonder. His name is Teddy. He's a one-year-old rat terrier mix who's been neglected and dumped by too many people in his short life. He's already won our hearts and I'll be sharing his story along the way.
Our meandering journey to adopting Teddy reminds me of the path art takes. Stories start as one thing, twist and turn, morph and mutate, ending at a place we hadn't imagined. I'm a wild start-at-page-one-and-let-the-book-unfold kind of writer. I have only a vague idea who my main character is and what they want when I start. By the time the last word of the first draft is typed, I'm just beginning to figure it out. Other writers diligently outline their books before they start. They know a great deal about the plot and characters. But even careful planners admit their stories change as they write. Plots thicken, minor characters demand a bigger part, and major characters surprise us with unforeseen secrets.
I think the best art is created with a lightly held concept. Flexible minds allow projects the freedom to grow. Paintings are layered testimony to the changes artists make. A brighter color here, more texture there, something solid in that corner, and underneath it all, the line or splash of paint that first marked the canvas. I've heard carvers say they allow the material to tell them what it will become. In each chunk of rock or wood, a figure or object waits to be revealed.
Discovery is a thrilling part of making art. And it doesn't stop when the work is complete. Paintings and stories continue to speak as long as people interact with them. Each viewer interprets the art in a unique way and sometimes they reveal insights even the artist didn't see.
Teddy is nothing like the cute cuddly puppy we hoped for. He comes with the kind of baggage you'd expect in a confused, neglected dog: no manners, health issues, etc. But he greets each day with optimism and he's eager to please his new family. We are holding him lightly and looking forward to discovering what he'll become given the care and respect he deserves.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor