Remembering Kyoto

This past week has been kind of stressful. We have lived in our house for nearly 20 years and after many years of being on a very low but slightly scary adjustable rate mortgage, we are finally going for a fixed rate refinance. We want to remodel the master bath at the same time we are building a beach house from the ground, well, sand, up. Not sure getting both a new beach house and a new master bath at home is going to happen, but I can dream. Our banker suggested we do all this crazy financing stuff at once and we agreed. Unfortunately, refinancing requires a home appraisal. As I explained to our 21 year-old son, the appraiser is going to tell the banker how much our house is worth if the bank had to sell it tomorrow, for example, if we default on our mortgage. Our son decided that there was no reason for him to clean his room because the appraiser would know that if they had to sell the house, that all his shit stuff would be removed anyway, so who cares what his room looks like, or his bathroom, or the laundry room (which is also full of his dirty belongings). I explained to him that if the house looks like we don’t care about cleaning it, we probably don’t care about taking care of all those important details that he cannot really see, and he will discount the price. Even if he doesn’t, the kid needs to clean his room for the appraisal. Mom put her foot down.

I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy but… I think I have only been in the lower level of our house (where our son’s room is and that messy laundry room) once since dday. I used to spend a good deal of my time keeping the basement clean, doing everyone’s laundry, changing the boys’ sheets regularly, dusting, vacuuming and then as they got past middle school, I had them clean up after themselves. No matter how clean their environment had been to that point, apparently they didn’t care enough about living in a clean house if they had to clean it themselves. When they were gone on trips, I often snuck down into their rooms and thoroughly cleaned them. They always loved a clean room, but they knew at that point, it was a special treat when I cleaned them. Giving up time with friends in order to clean their room just did not seem much of a priority. I thought certainly at some point their room would get so dirty they would not be able to stand being in there. I was dead wrong. On one of my cleaning sprees, our youngest was maybe 14 years old, I actually found a mini-keg in his bedroom closet, empty of course. We had been out of town and left the then 14 & 16 year old boys by themselves under the stipulation–no parties. Pretty sure they both had a party, or two, or three. It was about that same time that I noticed some pictures on my Facebook feed that The Peacemaker was tagged in of a rather large raging party and the photos were snapped in our kitchen, and his bedroom! Before I could really get a good look at them, they disappeared off Facebook. I was always surprised my boys accepted my FB friend request in the first place. Anyway, we have a really nice lower level. We remodeled it/finished it off about 10 years ago when the boys weren’t yet in high school. We built two bedrooms down there plus completely remodeled the laundry room and their bathroom. We live on a hillside and the rooms on the “lower level” have full-sized windows, doors to the outside, etc… Our son returned from college approximately 2 months before dday. He spent those two months unloading his stuff back into his old room, which I had turned into a beautiful guest room while he was away.

sammy's room

Above (taken with the big camera) is a snippet of what it USED to look like… when the Peacemaker’s room was a guest room 😦

He also made a mess of the laundry room and he likes to enter the house and invite his friends over through that lower level door. Many times we do not even know who is down there (our room is two floors above). As long as he is in school or working, we agreed he can live in our house, however, after dday I just could not bring myself to go down to the lower level and therefore I have done no cleaning down there, no laundry, no nothing. I had my trauma blinders on. Blue Eyes has been on laundry duty since dday. Yesterday afternoon, I went down to the lower level for the first time in more than a year. Blue Eyes and I spent five solid hours cleaning the guest room (used to be the Pragmatist’s room), the room where The Peacemaker “puts up” his numerous friends. OMG, what a huge fucking mess. My allergies are still screaming at me. After realizing this is my house after all, I decided I cannot avoid going down to the lower level any more and the rules are about to get more strict. Mommy is not so incapacitated by grief any more.

Below (taken with the iPhone with limited light, thus not quite as beautiful as it should be) we still do have one guest room as the Pragmatist really has moved out for good (is there an emoji for a happy & sad face at once?)

guest room

Wow, so after all that lead in, what I really came here today to say is… while thoroughly cleaning and decluttering the entire house, I found some of my original watercolor paintings from nearly 30 years ago. I found one in “the guest room” downstairs, and I found all my Sumi-e Ink block paintings as well. My husband is somewhat of a minimalist in his style and he also tends to like clean lines in his architecture and his furniture. I, on the other hand, lean towards cottage/bungalow/homey/comfy/cute, and French country. For many years I have tried to marry the two styles together to come up with something that works for both of us. Well, it never actually did work that well, (pretty sure this is NOT an analogy for our marriage?!?) so now, we tend to go more clean and traditional with mid century lines. And everything that I have ever loved that lent itself to cute, cozy, cottage, resides in my decent sized walk in closet. My custom painted birdhouses, my favorite pillows with a toile pattern, my collection of antique china tea cups (started by my Swedish great grandmother), my collection of miniature american pottery vases (started by my grandmother)… all in my closet, and it is really cluttered in there (no way am I posting a picture of it even AFTER cleaning it). What I also found was my other old art case that included my calligraphy supplies and my watercolors. I kept them all these years even though I have not painted a watercolor for decades. I also found all my old Sumi-e paintings from my time in Kyoto in a cardboard tube (makes me think of the Brady Bunch when they are running around the amusement park… ) in my closet behind boxes and boxes of shoes. It was like Christmas in there as I looked at all the shoes I had forgotten about. Anyway… back to Kyoto.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.43.20 PM

The above photo was taken at the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove outside Kyoto, Japan. When I lived in Kyoto in 1987, Blue Eyes and I visited Arashimaya. It is a beautiful place. The photo is not mine and there wasn’t a source on the website I pulled this from, but I have dozens of similar shots in a photo album somewhere. I was too lazy to go find one of my own and scan it, mostly because I am EXHAUSTED from cleaning. Most of the actual photos I post on my blog are mine. If they are recent, I have taken them either with my iPhone, or my Nikon D300 camera, which once you put a lens on it, is incredibly heavy and after suffering tendinitis in my right elbow, sometimes the Nikon is too heavy to lug with me everywhere. It does take amazing photos, but I have found that I kinda like my iPhone camera too.

I painted this watercolor (that I found yesterday in the guest room) of a lady crossing the Arashiyama bridge holding a red umbrella. I had very little experience when I painted this and the poor thing has sustained some damage over the past 28 years as it was never framed. It also makes me laugh when I look at it because it feels so controlled, so rigid (like me in some respects, especially in my late teens, early 20’s), and the perspective of the lady crossing the bridge is funky. It looks like she is walking on the railing, ha. Many times I have thought about just tossing the thing, but my husband always loved it, and now my older son seems to have taken a liking (thus having it stashed away in his old bedroom). If it has lasted this long, I may as well keep it.

watercolor arashiyama bridge

During my time in Kyoto, I attended a Sumi-e (ink wash) painting class at the Kyoto Cultural Center in Gion. The class was taught in Japanese and all the students were Japanese, except me. At the time I had very little Japanese language expertise, very little!!! I was also at least 30 years younger than most in the class and up to 50 years younger than some. They welcomed me with open arms and I became somewhat of a commodity. They liked to practice their very limited English with me/on me? They were shocked and surprised if I spoke even one word of Japanese and they were astonished that I could use a Sumi-e brush (not sure they have a lot of faith in general in Americans). I learned to love the Japanese and their culture. My passion for art and painting grew while I lived in Japan. I was stressed out because with working and Konpas (after work drinking parties), Blue Eyes was gone from our apartment up to 16 hours a day on the weekdays. I filled my time with teaching English and taking classes. I took Japanese language classes, painting, and Ikebana, traditional Japanese flower arranging. I also met a high school senior (at Baskin Robbins, ha) who wanted me to help her with her English for an upcoming exam and in turn, she would take me to all the shrines, and temples, and castles, etc… and explain the history and all the details in English. I jumped at the chance. As I start back to painting, even though I am not painting watercolor anymore, I still remember with such fond memories all my Kyoto experiences. Maybe I will go back to all my old photos and paint all those shrines and castles in acrylics. Or maybe I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself.

I purchased a canvas a couple days ago and I plan to paint something for my mother for mother’s day. My mother will be out of town on Sunday, so I actually have a few additional days. I would love to get it painted and framed before I give it to her later next week. Not sure if I will be able to accomplish a finished product I am proud of, but in the meantime, I am remembering back all those years ago to my sweet Japanese Sumi-e instructor and all his kind words and votes of confidence as I muddled through with the old traditional Japanese brushes and blocks of ink. For some reason, I am still a little scared to pick up my new acrylic paints and brushes and paint something, but I figure if an awkward 23 year-old can stand up in front of 20 people who don’t know or understand her culture, and don’t speak her language and show her simple ink wash paintings, a battered and emotionally bruised almost 52 year old can paint something for her mother that shows how much she cherishes the woman that gave her life and gave her everything good, and wise, and strong.

The Sumi-e painting is somewhat unforgiving in that it is like watercolor… you need to know what you are going to paint before you paint it. Not a lot of room for error. Also, the Sumi-e painting is done in simple single strokes really utilizing the brush for shapes and shadowing and depth, and it is done on extremely thin and vulnerable paper. I am surprised these paintings have lasted this many years. The painting for my mother will be in the style I was painting at the plein air workshop: lots of paint, lots of color, much more forgiving, but that could be my downfall. The more chances I have to fix my perceived mistakes, the more difficult it is. I tend to overthink, and overwork. I hope to have something to share by next week.

In case you couldn’t tell as I blabber along here, this is all part of my own therapy and personal growth. Sharing my art is not easy for me. Although I love to write and am pretty open with my emotions and opinions, I am not really an exhibitionist. I share these rather personal moments because I think it is good for me. When I was a teen, I used to tole paint. It is a style of painting that entails painting American folk art designs traditionally on wood or metal. I never painted because I thought I was good at it. I painted because, as an awkward adolescent, painting soothed me, it grounded me, it made me smile, and it was a hobby I loved. My mother has kept everything I tole painted. My sister begs for every oil painting I produce. My husband and artist son adore my watercolors. It is such a warm feeling to have the people you love appreciate something you create. I am smiling right now.

I am not an artist.

I am a woman who loves to paint.

Getting back in touch with activities I love to do helps me feel more connected to myself and to the world around me and helps me not to recede back into that place where I want to hide from everyone and everything.

Thanks for joining me on my journey. Below are a few of the Sumi-e paintings I found from all those years ago…

sumi-e bamboo 2

Above and Below: Bamboo, inspired by Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

sumi-e bamboo 3

Below: Cherry Blossoms on a very old tree branch

sumi-e cherry blossoms 2

sumi-e morning glory

Above: Morning Glory  Below: Vegetables

sumi-e vegetables

sumi-e hydrangea

Above: Hydrangea  Below: Bird Eating Pomegranate

sumi-e bird pomegranate

12 thoughts on “Remembering Kyoto

    • Thanks, NH. Happy Mother’s Day! It sounds like you like color 🙂 . The painting I am doing for my mother is very colorful. I hope she likes it! Enjoy this special day with your kiddos. ❤

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  1. Thank you for sharing, Kat. I love your “hobby” – I wish I had a tenth of that ability!

    Isn’t it so weird that we were such brave young women, and with the shit kicked out of us now we self-doubt and are cautious in ways that would have horrified us back then? It annoys the bejesus out of me! I push myself to not be so fragile and careful, to take more risks. I don’t know if it is the cheating, or age, I suspect a combination of both, with a smattering of responsible mother thrown in for good measure. Whatever it is, I hate it!

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    • Yeah, throwing caution to the wind is not in my nature. I actually wasn’t that way when I was young either, but I was more fearless back then. After dday, I felt like I was being punished for being the “good” wife, the responsible parent, the one who always followed the rules and never let anyone down. Over the past year I have thought about leaving home and running off, far far away. Actually NZ was high on the list of destinations as I have a friend there who was welcoming me with open arms. But then I realized, I needed to stay at least long enough to figure out what had really happened to me and my life. Now that I have started to figure that out, I realize I don’t hate my life. I think the biggest risk for me (will I be happier without him?) is in breaking away from my husband and forcing him to heal himself. He wants to rely on me. He wants me as that safe, old security blanket. As I pull away and become more independent, he has broken down and become more vulnerable. I think we are finally getting to the point where I am actually doing things for myself and he is realizing that nothing in his life will work out right if he doesn’t take responsibility for who he is and what he has done. I’m not even sure we need to physically separate as long as I am not dependent on him emotionally. Since I only have boys, I want my boys to be able to look at their mom as a separate entity from their dad. When someone asks them about their mom (a female… someone it seems they are destined not to understand?), I want them to be able to say she is a fearless woman who is independent, strong, loves to paint, and cook, and bake, and garden, and she loves to write and we love her because she is open and honest and never shuts up. You never feel lonely with our mom around. They don’t even need to say I am smart, ha!!! I’m pretty sure after all the years I spent parenting them, that they do feel what I describe here, and I really don’t want to mess that up now by being weak, and timid, and afraid, and broken. For myself and everyone else, I want to be strong. We are strong, Paula. Happy Mother’s Day to you!!!

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      • Perfect ♥. I am a bit of a rules geek too. I think most faithful people are. But I could live! I could get out of my comfort zone and experience life. Believe it or not, attending a traditional Japanese art class with older Japanese language only students is quite scary. But not in a terrifying way, more a squirmy, uncomfortable way. And you nailed it.

        Love your wishes for your boys’ memories and opinions of their mom. They will. They will think that about you. Probably already do xxx.

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        • For me, I honestly think going out and living has nothing to do with being in a relationship with the opposite sex. These guys have it all wrong. When they go out and do these destructive things, they are making their lives more miserable, not more fun or exciting. They usually realize that pretty quickly after the fact, and the damage is done. Me really living has a lot to do with me letting go of the past, and smiling and laughing throughout the day like I used to. Yesterday our dogs got baths at the groomer. The mini aussie ran inside and jumped on me and started kissing my face and he had the cutest little doggie bandana on. I rolled on the floor with him laughing and burying my head in his soft clean fur. I can’t really replace that feeling with anything. I am a pretty simple person after all. I cannot believe someone took advantage of that. I feel your pain. Do something exciting for yourself this week, Paula. Take a chance and live a little. I am not proposing any Thelma and Louise shit, but you know. ❤

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  2. I think you are a very good writer. I think you are a very good painter and artist. Your work is lovely. How wonderful to have such a talent and passion. I would love to paint but I don’t have any talent for it. I live in a university town where I can take classes for no credit. Maybe I’ll try that:) and see what happens.

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    • Thank you so much for your very kind words. What excites one person doesn’t always work for another, but what’s the harm in giving it a try. I love trying new things. I took a writing class and although I love writing, I didn’t love the critiques and being compared to others in terms of style or content, but I still very much enjoy writing. I want to take a drawing/sketching class as I also enjoy sketching, but feel I lack the basic skills, hopefully I can learn them. I find that when I am focused on something artistic (unlike listening to music or reading some books where I can get triggered very easily), I am so immersed in what I am trying to create by myself, for myself, that I have no place in my mind for ruminating on all the trauma. I wanted to start painting again quite a while back, but I just didn’t have the energy. I am so happy that I have passed this hurdle. Last night my husband knelt in front of me and buried his head in my lap. I was thinking, oh brother, what’s up with him now and he just looked in my eyes and said how happy he was that I seemed to be getting me back again. I kissed the top of his head and told him I knew it was just a matter of time. 🙂

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  3. It’s wonderful that you shared this. I love to see people’s art, I feel like it says something about. Person that words can’t say. But it tells me what I already know… That you are beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day day 💋

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    • Thanks for the beautiful words and vote of confidence, C. Funny to look back on the subtlety of my earlier watercolors and realize what I am trying to do now is be bold and less controlled. As soon as I get off WP, I will go begin my mother’s painting and because this style of painting is so new to me, I plan to document my process… to learn and grow. Putting paint on paper makes me feel anxious and liberated all at the same time. I hope you are enjoying your weekend! I am enjoying my clean house. 🙂

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  4. I have a 4’x5′ canvas in my apartment with an acrylic I did years and years ago on a “binge painting” weekend. I haven’t painted anything since that weekend in 2008, but I am having a strong pull to do a companion piece for the other side of the wall. I was thinking of doing an impressionistic take on an Utamaro woodblock print, but we’ll see…
    Here’s to acknowledging and supporting our creative energies 😉

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    • Wow, I have never painted that large before, but I think it would be fun! I hope you do GO FOR IT!!! I have done a couple oils that are 3′ x 4′ and they took me forever. Again with the overworking. I am trying to loosen up and be more free, thus the acrylics, outside!!! I chose to go small for my mom because it is for her sewing room, which is not large. For our soon to be built beach house, I can go as large as I want. If I start now, I might have something I like by the time the thing is built. I love the ukiyo-e woodblock prints. I am sitting at my desk in my home office and am surrounded by four old framed woodblock prints. My children went to a Japanese Immersion school and I chaired two of their auctions. These antique woodblock prints were found in the attic of a local Japanese family’s grandma and donated to one of the auctions I chaired (basically meant I did the lion’s share of the work, which also meant storing everything at my house). I had them framed for the auction and then I purchased all of them for probably far more than they are worth, and I LOVE them. Yes, let’s embrace our creative energies and keep our minds off destructive thoughts!!!

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