The Geographic :: Week Eight

In an effort to stretch out my newly adopted slower pace from last week, I started off this week by meeting a friend for coffee first thing Monday morning after my son's carpool drop off. The week unfolded with a string of commitments for me and my family, which is nothing new right? We all lead busy lives and there is not one woman I know that isn't juggling her calendar, her lists or the management of her home on a daily basis to make it all magically happen.

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The work for this painting project has me digging deep into emotional terrain that I haven't visited for quite some time. I feel a spiritual connection to the old me and I'm kinder to her during this process of recollection. While unearthing some of these memories has been hard, I feel like it's been made so much easier because I am sober and have the presence of mind that won't let me wander too far down the path and into pity party territory. I'm vigilant about sticking to the truth, with as many facts as I can remember. But when you drink to excess, like I often did, things do get murky.

However, when I go to bed at night, my mind has had a different plan. My poor decision making has quietly been haunting me while I sleep. It's been quite an emotional week. In dissecting the landscape of my drinking habits over the course of many years, I'm revisiting my reckless behavior in my dreams. The excavation of my past has me vividly recreating certain painful and sketchy situations, often ending in a dire consequence. It's been a pretty fucked up way to wake up.

 One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

One of my wet gessoed panels fell on me today

In an effort to quell my (almost daily) anxiety attacks over the last two weeks, I met with my sponsor to talk about what I could take off of my plate in order to help even out my emotions.

What we discussed was whether or not I should push forward with the additional 4th step work having to do with sex conduct and harms done (yes, it's a real thing) with my sponsor that we had just started a few weeks back. Actually, my anxiety attacks started right around that time, too. Hmmm. She suggested that we hit pause with that work and pick it back up once my work is complete for the art show in June. At first, I balked at this suggestion. I told her it felt like more procrastination on my part and that I think I needed to push through. She gently offered (as she does) that I reframe my thinking about the old story that Tammi is a Procrastinator with a capital P and, instead, look at hitting pause on my step-work as a version of self-care.

 Gold star-seeking Tammi Image taken 2016 by  Laura Schneider Photo

Gold star-seeking Tammi
Image taken 2016 by Laura Schneider Photo

I resisted.
I told her I was hearing her, but I wasn't fully signing on for the delay.
I didn't want to quit.
I wanted to finish the work that I set out to do.
I wanted to get a gold star for doing the work. 
I told her I'd think about it and get back to her.

And, I went home and thought about it and came to the conclusion that she was right. Dammit.

I hit pause on my step-work and the world didn't end. The anxiety attacks haven't stopped, but I have a feeling they might.


The panels I ordered from the local art supply store didn't come in until late Monday afternoon, so I didn't go into the studio on Monday. Instead, I did some research on painting techniques, listened to podcasts, made notes on The Geographic project and took myself to lunch. Remember, self-care must be part of my process with this body of work!

 48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

48 x 48 x 1.5 inch hard wood panels (BEFORE)

On Wednesday, I showed up ready to get busy.

I needed to gesso the two 48 x 48 inch panels and I had to be pretty efficient about it. I didn't have a lot of time to waste because I needed to bring these two panels home, so that I could paint on them over spring break.

The two freshly gessoed panels will need to communicate and start a dialogue with these two larger format paintings (below) over the next 10 days (while I work from home instead of the school studio).

 WIP: No. 12 - Lush

WIP: No. 12 - Lush

 WIP: No. 13- Parched

WIP: No. 13- Parched

I popped by the hardware store tonight and purchased a large canvas drop cloth, so that I can paint on my front deck.

 View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018 Photo credit: Steve Hecht

View from our front deck in Valley Ford, CA - March 15, 2018
Photo credit: Steve Hecht

This photo is not enhanced. The late afternoon sunset was bathing the fields in this golden, glorious light. Look at all of the value changes in the color green and the monochromatic grey sky. 

I'm completely inspired by my surroundings this week. 

On my drive home from town, words kept popping into my head that related to the landscape, as well as my thoughts on the past and my drinking days.

Cutoff
Crop
Buzz(ed)
Not Sustainable
Mowed Down
Empty
Overgrown
Unkempt
Wild

 This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike. Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

This is what it looks like when lightning strikes a cow. The cow did not survive the strike.
Photo credit: Anna Erickson, Hands Full Farm, Valley Ford

We had a big thunderstorm here late Wednesday morning before I left for school. The thunder shook my house with picture frames shifting, glasses rattling on the open shelving in my kitchen, and my dog hid under my desk. Lightning struck a cow on my friend's ranch just two miles away.

The extreme beauty and fragility of this place is never lost on me. I'm so grateful that we moved here when we did back in 2006, even though I didn't know why I was choosing to move here at that time. 

 I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

I loaded up all of the Valley Ford paintings that are in progress to work on over spring break.

The phrase geographic cure is one I read in the Big Book of AA. It references a desire to relocate in the hopes of reframing one's drinking - a fresh start in a new place. Escapism, really. When I moved here it was under the pretenses of buying a home and settling down, but if I'm being super honest - I liked the fact that I would living at the top of the lane on a dead end dirt and gravel road. I could isolate and be alone with myself. My drinking would escalate here.

Living in the valley of Valley Ford felt like what I deserved. I felt a loneliness that even today I can't fully describe why I felt that way. I was surrounded by good friends, a wonderful husband and the best kid. But the feeling of incomprehensible demoralization was always with me near the end of my drinking. All I wanted to do was to drink and be left alone. I felt hidden and tucked away from the community that used to keep such a close eye on me when I owned my wine bar in Bodega Bay. I felt liberated, too. I felt like I deserved to drink the way I did because, hey, everyone else I know drinks this way, too. Which was a story I told myself for years.

But I no longer feel like I need to shed this town or the memories I made here, even the bad ones. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. I feel a need to embrace it, re-inhabit it, make it mine again.

 Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Laying claim to my art cubbies at school 

Memory is always reinventing history. Memory is how we see history in the present day.
— Clément Cheroux, Senior Curator of Photography, SF MOMA

This quote made me pause and wonder if my memories are, in fact, reinventing history. I'm trying to paint and summarize how it was, but maybe that can never be a fully accurate portrayal. If memory is how we see history in the present day, then these paintings will illustrate my own history but with the added benefit of my current history, too. It doesn't have to be all doom and gloom with this project. My transformation can be factored into the landscape, too.

Layers.
So many layers.

This is what I love about this project. I get to channel my feelings into the work and turn these thoughts over and over in my mind, like rocks in a rock tumbler. They seem to be coming out softer, smoother and with less of an edge. A softening of my memories is happening in real time. 

 Blank slates. Fresh starts. Do-overs.

Blank slates.
Fresh starts.
Do-overs.

I'm accepting the ways things were and acknowledging where it led me.
I'm letting a lot of these feelings go, as they no longer serve me.
I'm forgiving myself in the process, too.
I'm finding greater peace and clarity about those years I drank the most.
I'm acknowledging that's who I was then and that's not who I am now.
I'm extending myself some grace.

I feel like I'm finally coming home to myself through this work.