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Me: Part 2

Us and boysAfter a couple of years in the country, we relocated back to Nashville where I went through two years of high school before another move to Murfreesboro, an hour south of Nashville. During my high school, I got involved in school programs, ranging from sports – basketball, track and swimming – to acting (yes, acting!) and church (I was secretary of our CYO group) and even earned a 100 hour badge as a candystriper volunteering at the local V.A. hospital.

Despite all these activities, the transition to Murfreesboro was tough since I’d left some close, wonderful friends behind during a crucial time in my teenage years to try to gain acceptance in a school where most everyone had grown up together. I processed my feelings in writing and escaped into books even more. In fact, I often got in trouble for reading off-topic in class — even honors English class.

I absolutely loved writing and felt comfortable doing so. So much so, that in college, I frequently wrote other student’s term papers along with my own.  I left school to earn a paycheck, married young and soon had a couple of children and life as a stay at home mom bringing in a little side money as a sportswriter for a local weekly paper and then working as a stringer for another local newspaper.

My tumultuous six-year-marriage ended so I entered the ranks of the 9-5 employed in customer service. A few years later I remarried a wonderful man — my best friend — and continued to work, too busy to write. I returned to school and received a B.A. (cum laude, I might add) in Mass Comm from Middle Tennessee State University. While there, I was writing for the school newspaper and as a stringer with the Tennessean, covering some random stories from a major pollution issue to the cotton crop’s prospects to tragedies such as a young boy dying from diabetes.

After graduating, I moved into a fulltime reporters role with a suburban Nashville daily paper and wrote for a few years longer before deciding a corporate communications job would be more lucrative. I simultaneously joined forces with a friend of my brothers and co-wrote a screenplay and, with my partner’s approval, wrote the subsequent novel based on the story. It gathered dust on a shelf as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on but I’m glad to say became my first published novel, Empty Sky, which was finally published in 2014.

The art came into play this way: My two sons joined different branches of the military and served in Iraq. They both served in the infantry and both were embroiled in some of the worst fighting during our years there. My eldest, a Marine, was in Nasariyah in the beginning of the war which was described as “a Turkey Shoot, with our Marines as the targets.”  My younger son was in the mechanized infantry in Anbar Province where half-ton IEDs were the widow-makers and son-stealers.

I’ll be honest. It unbalanced me for a few years. Not that I became a raging alcoholic or ended up in an institution. Rather, I let anger and outrage over what I perceived as an egregiously ill-advised course of action eat away at me. I was bitter and intense and outspoken and not a pleasant person to be around.

Then I found art.

My sons were stateside and safe and I was able to let down my guard. With a makeshift studio beckoning, I taught myself some basics and took classes and workshops and found a community of fellow artists to paint with.  It was the release I needed and at once my soul felt so much lighter!

Technological advances sent my consulting business the way of travel agencies, and forced me to find steady employment. I did, and have since moved to Florida with my husband. Thankfully, we have a great home with a great studio and separate office where I can paint or write as is my inclination. I decided after finally publishing Empty Sky last year to take a stab at completing the sketch of another story I’d started years ago. Over this past several months I finished it. It is my sweet second novel The Gray Lady of Long Branch and it’s being released August 25.  I hope you’ll consider reading it!


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My first formal painting session!

Investing time and $ into this promise to myself, I enrolled and started watercolor painting classes today in Nashville at Centennial Park Arts Center. It is located in one of those buildings you’d miss if you weren’t specifically looking for it, off in a corner of the park. What a wonderful place, though, just perfect!

As you enter, there is a gallery, shaped like a short, very wide T, with lots of windows. The studio I paint in is to the right, down a little hallway. I can tell it’s a special place, just by the energy! I didn’t know a soul, as is often the case when I get into one of these “Lucy, what did you do?” scenarios where I get into something and wonder at my sanity as I take a deep breath and go through the doorway.

It so happened, though, that I found a warm, congenial atmosphere there. Several folks were already engrossed in work, but Hazel King, the instructor and a pistol-of-a-nonaganerian(I looked it up!)-woman greeted me warmly. I noticed that experience was sweetly etched in her face and she had plenty of sparkle and shine still in her eyes. Reminded me of my mom at her elfish, most-mischievous best.

I explained I was new to painting and meekly went to the files to find a reference image to paint and set myself up in a quiet little corner to get to work. I had my original British supplies and a nifty new painting box David had given me for my birthday. It had three drawers and was stocked with watercolor, oil, and acrylic paint supplies, one set to each drawer. And the top lifted up to produce an easel. I had ditched the oil and acrylic supplies, added the british painting supplies for more variety, and the watercolor paper I had bought in the U.K.

Hazel showed me how to line my workstation with old newspaper from a big pile nearby and I promptly got started. It was amusing and educational listening to the rest of the group talk as they worked. At times it would grow quiet, but more often than not, Hazel would pipe in and make an observation on someone’s work. “There’s not any value change in that at all!” she’d bemoan. And “look at that, don’t you see all those colors in that? It ain’t just red, you know!”

“She is hard of hearing and can get very critical at times, but don’t let her discourage you,” Lynne, a friendly 30-something, warned. She had come by to freshen her water and glanced over my work. “Very nice!”

I explained I had never really painted before and she quickly became mentor, friend, and art confidant, showing me how to place dabs of water on paper, fan it around, and create little surprise blotches of beautiful color.

Unfortunately, I’m chairing this major weekend conference in Washington, D.C. next week and with so many details to tie up before heading up there Tuesday, I had to leave class early.

Still, I managed to tap into something, and found an impromptu, easy-flowing style in the iceboat I painted. I was pleased and proudly brought home my work to show David who claimed to be pleased and impressed too.