Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Fun of Personal Writing and Publishing

Remember that day?

A neighbor of mine for many years  gave me a copy of his memoirs, in bound and printed form. It was a book he had written by himself, with no idea of publication and sales in mind. He personally chose the title of the book, designed the cover and had the book copied and bound for further distribution to his family and friends, as he saw fit. 

I read the book with great interest and then shared it with another neighbor who asked to borrow it, and since then it has been loaned to another person who is supposed to return it to me when they are done reading it.  I am happy to share the book with others.  This book is not sold in any stores.  There are probably only 20 or 25 copies of the book in its entirety.  It is a book that is likely to be cherished for years to come owing to the fact that we all enjoy reading about the life of a friend or family member when it has been so carefully laid out and presented.

My neighbor is a retired architect who had a very successful career  in government who has authored numerous technical manuals and bureaucratic reports but never until now, a book he could call his own. The book he gave me as a gift is about his life, not his career.  It is about his childhood, not his life at the office.  It is a story about introspect and old friends, people who inspired him, people he loved, or who puzzled him.  In his book he tells funny stories and relays charming moments that changed his life forever.  I really enjoyed reading his stories.

He and I talked at great length about the value of writing such a book, a personal book to be shared with family and friends and not a book to be submitted for publication, reviewed, edited and the like. Its purpose houses no future career.  He doesn't want to sell the book to make money.  He wants to share his ideas and perspectives in printed format, and he has done so, very successfully I might add.

Personal writing can become part of a larger story.  Professor Lillian Schlisser published an historical book based on the letters and diaries of a hundred women who took the trip across the continent to Oregon or California between 1840 and 1870 in covered wagons. Without access to their hand-written notes their stories, Professor Schlisser could never have written such a personal narrative that unfolded so beautifully into an historical perspective.

Personal writing often goes beyond straightforward documentation of what happened.  It may also open the mind to think more imaginatively and creatively.

Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times reviewed research showing personal writing may lead to behavioral change and improved happiness.  Through writing and rewriting our stories, we may change personal perceptions about ourselves and others ultimately leading to improved health.

One thing I wanted to do but never got around to doing until I retired, was writing a novel that exceeded the boundaries of my professional, scientific and technical world that I lived in for most of my adult life.  My desire was to write stories that  are free-wheeling, imaginative and footnote-free, largely based upon personal experience, but not limited to it.

Years later, my personal novel and a series of short stories are written and re-written numerous times.  Chapters have been added, deleted and merged with other chapters.  Dialogue has come and gone.  Characters have appeared and disappeared.

It only required me to take moments out to write and rewrite.  There were no travel costs, no public speaking engagements because of it, no stress over trying to sell it.  It just is.

These unpublished stories are slowly developing a life of their own.

I open up my computer and see them on the screen and always enjoy relating to them.  Sometimes I rewrite a paragraph, reformulate a dialogue, redo a paragraph, choose or delete a word.

It is one of the most enjoyable things I have done, on my own, for no one in particular.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Beyond Painting Kitchens and Bedrooms: On to Oil Painting

Just this month I became a student of oil painting, something I always wanted to do, but never took up owing to other obligations.  

Until now, my painting experience centered on kitchens and bedrooms. This time, I took on painting for fun.

The Oregon Society of Artists (OSA) provides classes and workshops and also runs a gallery.  Its main office is right here in Portland and opportunities for learning and experiencing art abound.

My current teacher is Michael Orwick, a strikingly good artist. Michael teaches a weekly session at OSA where we have learned so many valuable things about palette, form, value, structure.  He makes us brave and encourages us to freely redo things, and to not get frozen early into a painting from which we cannot free ourselves up to try new things.  

Michael Orwick also emphasizes to us that art is fun. Just this last week he  engaged in a painting duel with another colleague leading to lots of laughter and entertainment.  It also resulted in two very beautiful paintings.

A few months ago, through the Oregon Society of Artists,  I also attended a  one day workshop of Marcus Gannuscio where we worked to learn how to paint the human head and face more quickly and accurately, using oils.  We worked to complete a painted portrait sketch from a model in one session.   I found the lessons learned from this class useful even when sketching non-human forms such as trees or houses because what he focused on in the class, was perspective.

I like it that these very outstanding artists see the need to encourage the rest of us to play along with them.  Just like sports, there is room both for professionals and amateurs.

Now that I have started to learn about oils, here are my first observations.

First, oil painting is very forgiving.  This versatile activity allows one to quickly shift the perspective, change the light, subtly move a shape or alter a color  all affecting the painting in a matter of seconds.  Nothing is permanent.  All colors and shapes are malleable. We don't even have to wait for the oils to dry before we move on, or change them around. The fact that oils are so forgiving brings space and opportunity to the canvas.

Second, planning ahead improves the outcome.  Setting the structure of the painting and thinking ahead on what perspective and viewpoint one wants to project, deeply affects the results.  I have discovered that oil painting, like writing and for that matter even research, is greatly enhanced by planning ahead and envisioning a structure ahead of time.

Third, oil painting frees the mind and encourages meditation.  Oil painting opens up the mind and frees it for time to think, for meditation, speculation and wonderment about the world we see around us.

Fourth, oil painting is ceremonial.  Like a Japanese tea ceremony, oil painting has a tradition. The way in which we bring out the brushes, set up the canvas, put up the easel, prepare the palette, sketch the plan, lay out the structure, choose the values and colors, is all very ceremonial. There are strong traditions attached to each event and they vary by artist. There is even a tradition in the act of painting itself by looking closely at something, then squinting to look at it again, walking away and coming back to take another look, all leading to new observations, unfolding right in front of you.

Oil painting is both the art and science of ceremonial observation, put to the test with a brush and some oil paints.

I am so glad I finally remembered to take up oil painting.

Below are some of my first experiences with brush and paint, each one providing me with a new perspective on what I see.  No doubt, as I continue to learn, the style and color and depth of new paintings will emerge.  There is no longer such a thing as a finished work.  All works are unfinished, subject to change, open to a revisit.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where is Everything? Simple Estate Planning

In an emergency, what would it be like to tell someone over the phone where the details of your life are, your bank accounts, insurances, personal papers, tax statements, bills, passwords?

What would it be like to in a hospital bed while trying to tell your spouse or children where your prescriptions are,  your charge accounts, your banking details, bills to be paid and the like? 

If you are living with someone, how well do you both know where everything is?

Did you prepare your will and declare a health proxy and  conclude that you were all done with your estate planning?  A
 recent New York Times article said there is more to estate planning than just preparing the will. 

We still need a short, clear instruction manual telling someone where everything is and how to gain access to it, including the will itself.

I started to list of all the things one needs to know about our home and economic management, then asked my husband to go over it and amend it as he saw fit. When we were done, we had nine pages of details, all describing essential matters related to the management of our home and other assets.  

In it we listed the following things:

Executive File
  1. Property
  2. Taxes
  3. Lawyers
  4. Physicians
  5. Bank accounts and credit cards
  6. Stocks and bonds
  7. Automatic electronic payments
  8. Insurance policies
  9. Utilities to be paid      
  10. Real estate charges (Home Owner Associations)
  11. Internet communications and computer controls
  12. Property titles and deeds

Forewarned:  We set out to do what we thought would be a quick and simple task.  But it took us almost a week to complete all the details.  

For each item on the list, we took the  time to find all the original papers and file them correctly.  We also threw out old, irrelevant papers that we had kept beyond their usefulness. 

We then listed all our computer IDs and passwords and tried them all out to ensure that they were still correct. 

Another critical task for us was  weeding out all the junk that was filed in between the essential items in our paper filing system.

Here is what we did when describing our home management in our Executive File that we prepared.

I drafted the Executive File.  

My husband then took it and amended it.  

Then we sat down together and reviewed it.  

We were amazed how much we learned in our review.  He had information that I did not, and I had information that he did not.  We took some time out to explain things to each other.

Everything was in front of us in one place, at least temporarily.  We did a lot of searching to find everything that we needed.

First, we wrote up our description and then printed out several copies including all our typed passwords. 

Second, after printing out our Executive File, we then deleted all the typed passwords in our electronic file  and left them blank so we would know they were available, but only in print.  No passwords were left on the computer.

We placed a printed copy of our Executive File with all passwords in our bank safe deposit box. Now a designated person will open the safe deposit box and find inside not only  our Last Will and Testament and copies of our property deeds and titles, but also will have access to our Executive File.

This should make things much simpler for others to help in the management of our affairs.

It certainly makes life simpler for us.  We don't have so much explaining to do.

For those of you interested in a more detailed example of what we included in the Executive File, see below.

Executive File:  Illustrative Example

  1. Property (List of property owned by address, date of purchase, purchase price, mortgages, if applicable, address and phone of persons providing custodial care, key contractors such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers.)
  2. Taxes (Income, Property, Name of accountant, Location of most recent income tax statements, how each is paid, if electronically, ID and passwords for payments.)
  3. Lawyers (Names and addresses, work conducted.)
  4. Physicians and medications (Names and addresses, list of medications from each.)
  5. Bank Accounts and credit cards (If electronic, ID and passwords, account numbers.)
  6. Stocks and Bonds (Address, electronic locations, ID and passwords.)
  7. Bills including Automatic electronic payments (Electronic bill pays, list all automatic deductions from bank accounts, charges for on-line computer storage, E-Z Pass and other automatic transportation charges for daily commuter travel, list of bills sent via mail rather than electronically.)
  8. Insurance (Life, Home, Auto, Health.)
  9. Utilities  (Phone, Internet, Cable, Electric,Water. )
  10. Real estate payments required (Managerial services of condos, co-ops, mortgages and other loans.)
  11. Internet communications and computer controls (ID and passwords.)
  12. Property titles and deeds (copies and instructions where originals are kept)

I hope that you enjoy doing this as much as we did.  It takes a bit of a push to get started, but once engaged, it moves right along.  Good luck!