(a long) Study in Contrast

I have always assumed that at some point (always in the future), life will naturally become an affair of relatively even rhythm; still with its high points and lows, to be sure, but evenly paced.  This week blew that illusion completely away, yet again.

Late Friday came the news that a loved one needed to have rather major (though scarily, outpatient) surgery ASAP, probably Tuesday, and in the meantime was to be physically restricted, and afterwards, extremely so. I was due at St. Ambrose University on Thursday for a mini-residency that had been locked in place since last spring; my week had been steadily planned around the prep for that. My loved one insisted that I should still “Go! Go and do a damned good job!”

So, Saturday was spent rather frantically lining up support people and systems for my absence, and figuring in when and how the prep could be accomplished during the next few uncertain days, while constantly battling both worry and guilt. Sunday, I shopped for and cooked a large batch of food to be frozen and easily reheated in the microwave, and that evening, searched, found and pulled a couple hundred images for two slideshows from the horribly jumbled recovered files on my external hard drive. Monday I rifled through my fiber inventory and found suitable things that could be recycled or re-hydrated for the St. Ambrose class, leaving only one 2-pound batch that needed to be prepped from half-stuff, chopped it all up and put it to soak, made an inventory list and began packing equipment, and did several loads of laundry. Tuesday, up at 4:30 am, to the hospital by 6. I took the laptop and rebuilt the first slideshow during the surgery, and after the 12-hour hospital stay, set up the house for the reality of the restricted recovery. Wednesday, I beat the first batch of pulp, went for a long but encouraging follow-up doctor’s visit (huge sigh of relief), did a last-minute grocery and home supply run, recycled and/or re-hydrated three more batches of fiber in the beater, drained it all enough to fit into five buckets, finished packing the equipment, got three hours’ sleep, and it was Thursday.

I packed clothes and media, loaded the car with those plus vats, moulds and deckles, pulp, pellons, felts and vac press, drove to Iowa, unloaded, planned the next morning’s studio setup (the room was being used for a class that evening), did a student critique session, drove to the hotel, had a 20 minute power nap, drove back to the school and did the first slide talk to a surprisingly full house, grabbed a takeout sandwich on the way back to the hotel, checked in with my loved one (who was as well as could be expected), finished rebuilding the second slideshow and got to sleep at midnight.  Friday: overslept 30 minutes, hurriedly showered, packed for a long day and got to the school at 8 am, where a small team of us speedily set up a temporary paper studio in the print shop (and I had breakfast on the run) in an hour, made five types of paper with a full, enthusiastic class of beginners, cleaned up and disassembled the studio with the students and team, went to lunch with faculty, did individual student critique sessions, changed clothes, gave a second well-attended slideshow talk, talked with tons of people all through the show reception, then went to a lovely dinner with our small, good group until about 10pm, then drove back to the hotel, checked in with my loved one and got an entire…eight…hours…sleep. Yesterday: up, breakfast with taxidermy, back to the school to load my now-dried-out equipment (I left the pulp for further paper pursuits), drove back to Chicago and my loved one who is doing well, unloaded the car…and then, a total crash on my part.

I knew I would have a great time at St. Ambrose; I’d be working with Professor Joseph, who I’ve known and liked a long while, and I very much enjoy Catich gallery curator and director Heather; we hit it off well even via e-mail, and in person we work together in a fun, compatible, quite productive way.  And, in all honesty and with no false modesty, I have come to expect a ‘good’ reaction to my work, wherever it goes.

But this experience went way above and beyond ‘good’. The work is interacting with the school and larger community in an interdisciplinary manner that is sort of an ideal for me; the best response personally possible.  I’m going to forget a lot, but during the whirlwind, I spoke with professors from the English, Chemistry and Ecology departments who had brought or were bringing their classes to the exhibition for very different reasons (I will soon be reading English essays about individual works, and the ecology students will be thoroughly instructed on the sustainability of hand papermaking by their professor, who asked great questions and took notes). I met several lovely librarians, very nice folks from the Figge Art Museum, a great papermaker and several other area artists, including graduate students from the new MFA program in Iowa City, and had a further bonus when a book artist /educator friend surprised and delighted me by making a long trek just to come to the reception. The overall response was such that I got to feel like a rock star for a wee bit…except for my worries about things at home.

I suppose the lesson learned and the thing to be grateful for is that I can, at my advanced age, still pull off this kind of sleep-deprived, pulled-in-two-directions, high-speed high wire act, even though I really, really, really would rather not have it happen that way. The show reception and residency were excellent experiences; it would have been lovely to have had time to savor them. And yet, I would much rather have been able to have been wholly here and supportive throughout my loved one’s entire ordeal. Why that never seems to be how it happens – or, indeed, what I can do to make that coveted, evenly paced, wholly elusive future happen –  is still a complete mystery to me.

Paper and Paper: Gallery window above, some of the class paper drying below.

(I had no time to shoot any pictures but the last one – taken yesterday morning after loading up the car – but here are some from the show; thank you, blogger).

5 thoughts on “(a long) Study in Contrast

  1. ray hoo for it all!!! i don’t think you are so very advanced in age, but it’s true that that kind of schedule would floor ANYone. i was breathless just reading it. i love the images and am so glad it all went so well! the interdisciplinary part is indeed wonderful, somewhat miraculous. i like that it is REAL, tangible, that everyone is truly engaging with the work and process. congrats!!

  2. When we hit 100, we will be at an “advanced age” — until then, all bets are off.

    Sounds like a fabulous time, and more than somewhat reminiscent of my soi-disant “holiday” over Christmas and New Year’s that turned into almost anything but.

    And there’s nae wrong wi’ that, lassie! 😉

  3. I’ve been waiting decades for life to even out pace-wise, but it’s still a bloody roller coaster and I suspect always will be. Life is busy, messy, chaotic, and then you die.

    At least you seem to be doing well, show and lecture and workshop-wise.

  4. wow. what a time, and how happy you must be that everything worked so well. i think that outcome speaks to your strength and your willingness to be present. and did i say to work hard? take a little time to savor this.

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