Happy birthday

To me. Today, October 13, is my birthday, which I must sometimes share with Columbus Day. This was annoying when I was younger and worse when I was very young, since every seven or so years My Day would be subsumed in that guy’s day. No mail! No birthday cards!

Now I don’t mind: I like sharing a day with an explorer, adventurer, seeker of the strange and unexpected. The thought of setting sail on a tiny boat with no bathroom of my own isn’t a huge draw, but the idea of setting out to find something new is.

IMG_0610I was trained not as a writer, but as a visual artist. Though writing is now my art of choice, painting is still a source of deep pleasure and inspiration. A visual way of thinking informs all my fiction and a lot of my nonfiction too. My tendency toward overindulgence in descriptive writing is a function of having been a visual artist for more than half my life: I like to describe what I see. Both criticism and appreciation have come my way for that particular sin.

I can’t give up the visual just because I’ve embraced the verbal. Aside from looking at art in museums (this birthday afternoon will be spent at Dia:Beacon, with friends), I still have to make art too. Not the paintings, drawings, prints I made when I was a serious visual artist, but smaller, less demanding projects that satisfy my need for color and design.IMG_0607

If I don’t make art with regularity, I get—well, crazy. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep at night without doing a little paper-cutting for the collaged cards I love to make. Cards aren’t important art by any means, but the beautiful Japanese papers I use are a banquet of color; cutting out intricate shapes with a small, very sharp pair of scissors is utterly absorbing; and arranging those cut-paper shapes is design heaven.

IMG_0604But then there is painting, probably my first nonhuman love. To me there is nothing–nothing–that is like painting. Since I can’t, won’t, don’t make paintings anymore, I paint ceramic tiles. I know, I know, that sounds like ladies painting plates. It’s not.

Maybe there’s an element of left brain/right brain adjustment going on when I paint tiles, but I’m never sure which side of my brain is asserting itself when I switch from writing to tiles to writing again. What I am sure of is that five or six hours of painting a tile gives me a rest–in the way that riding a bike or baking a pie or pruning the roses gives other writers a rest.

Because is it my birthday—and an official holiday—I indulge myself by sharing a few of my ceramic tiles with you.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Marcus Book Stores, San Francisco, CA

R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago, IL