Morning sounds…

The village minaret  – and its’ loudspeaker – are only steps from our residence and although two concrete walls separate my quarters from the earliest call to prayer, some mornings it seems as though the muezzin is sharing my room – or perhaps only occupying my dreams. The hour of the call no longer coincides with my morning alarm, yet it’s still the signal for first stirrings in the dorm. As the dig mornings count down, I’m more and more likely to doze through these sounds of preparations – a variety of digital chimes, sleepy chatter, the patter of flip flops, water splashing and toothbrushes humming, the to-and-fro of heavier footwear, keys clacking in the lock and the door slamming …and clacking and slamming and clacking…and then uncharacteristically closing quietly…and then slamming again. Off they go to the field, just when my own digital wake-up call starts chirping.

The kitchen is quiet when I arrive soon after, the remains of first breakfast awaiting the house staff, of which I am seldom the first to emerge, but rarely the last. The tea has been depleted, so I light the stove to freshen the pot then take my simple fare of tea, bread, cheese and vegetables out to the courtyard under the pines and cedars. The wind shushes through trees that are filled with chattering birds and frantically cooing pigeons (I don’t know exactly why, but the local pigeons always sound panicked to me.) A pair of stray dogs, mother and pup, romp across the lawn, while a village cat surreptitiously slinks under the tables seeking scraps from last nights’ dinner. The sky is only just warmed by the rose of approaching dawn.

Inside the workroom, the air is still and stuffy from the heat of the day before. As I pry open the windows, the metal frames grate and complain. The cool morning air quickly freshens the room. Only a few of us are here in the offices in the morning. We work in companionable silence mostly, the only noises the click, click of keyboards and an occasional foot keeping time to an audio feed. It’s quiet enough that I can hear the tapping of my technical pen contacting the paper as I fill a drawing with stipple dots of texture.

The sun rises above the horizon, golden light streaming directly across my desk. I pull the curtains closed so that I can see my work surface. A hose hisses as the caretaker sets out the sprinkler in the yard. Women’s voices approach; greetings are called. Şukriye and Leyla have arrived to begin the day’s cooking. Soon the soundscape includes the rhythmic chopping of second breakfast preparations.

Slowly the village rouses. There’s a shuddering of trains at the nearby station and a hoot announces an imminent departure; gears grind as a transport heads up the hill; metal shutters clatter up as shops open in the square.

Good morning, Fevzipaşa.

fevzimorning

 

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Time flies!

I’ve been here on the dig for three weeks and we’re already past the half way point of the season. Spare time seems to be at a premium. I’m using my afternoons to catch a nap rather than socialize or write. The usually punishing schedule is particularly punishing this year; could it be advancing age??

If the pattern holds, we’re easing into September weather. Temperatures are in a slightly more comfortable range – in the morning and evening, certainly. Our start time has been dialled back to account for a later sunrise, and we ended our evening meal after dark tonight. I have a full crate of artifacts collecting beneath my desk, awaiting attention: an assortment of partial stone vessels, clay weights and such. Nothing that you would recognize as ‘treasure’ but it all tells a story. I’ve drawn about half of what is on my “to do” list, and more comes in from the field each day. Maybe that accounts for the lack of free time more than my age?

While I continue to play catch up here, I thought I’d hold you at bay with a few photos from a recent trip to the Gaziantep museum. The stele I’m posed with and the orthostat were two of the very first finds that I was assigned to draw in 2008. I was only here for three weeks that first season – a “try out” for the position of illustrator. I cut my teeth on some major material and passed the test, so here I am nine years later. The museum case may not seem like much to you – but it’s the first time ever that I’ve seen a collection with which I’d been up close and personal: I’d drawn (and handled) every artifact in the display!

 

 

Once around the circle…

Hello again. Welcome back. I know. It’s been a while.

I’m sitting on my balcony as darkness falls. A chill glass of white from a neighbourhood winery sits to hand. The distant clouds are frosted in pink, the nearer hills shading to bronze; following a week under the shroud of a smokey haze, it’s lovely to breathe clear air and see down the valley again. The crickets have begun their nightly chorus – the rhythmic song of late summer that lulled me to sleep my first nights here.

It was a year ago this weekend that I left behind my home in Ontario. I’ve come round the calendar, marking the changes and learning the rhythms of this new home. I’ve seen the summer orchards shade to bronze and copper, watched as winter crept down from the peaks and watched it retreat again, drank in the scent of orchards in blossom, marvelled as clusters of fruit appeared among the rows.  It was peach season when I arrived and it’s peach season again; each day’s offering bigger and juicier than the day before. Berries, apricots and cherries have had their day, now root vegetables and field tomatoes are crowding the stalls. Cabbages and pumpkins ripen in the fields, the trees are burdened with still-green apples.

Summer is far from over here in the Okanagan – but I’ll be heading off in the morning to spend the remaining weeks of the season in Turkey.  After a year of exploring and learning a new place, it’s time to return to a familiar one. The dig at Zincirli opened at the beginning of August and I’ve had word that lovely objects have emerged from the soil and are waiting to be drawn. I’m eager to reconnect with friends – it’s been nearly two years! – and I’m wondering how the sleepy little village of Fevzipaşa has fared meanwhile. I’m awash in thoughts of steaming tea in tulip glasses, tiny cups of morning espresso, late night conversations in a windy courtyard and early mornings awakening to a somewhat-less-than-melodious call to prayer. Adventure – of a sort – awaits.

cay

If you’ve been following this blog previously, you have an idea of what’s to come. If you’re new here – you may want to take a look at this early post to catch up on what I’m up to. Old friend or new – I hope you’ll come along!

The best laid plans…

Yes, I know. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. I know that better than most. You never know when the bus is headed your way. When lightening will strike. Or the rogue cell has started replicating. I’m holding out for this being a mere bump in the road.

Here was my plan about three months back: I was enjoying a busy time at my seasonal job at the garden centre, in the glass house, spending sunny, warm days planting green things while a  bitterly cold and overlong winter raged out of doors. Evenings and days off, I was happily honing the sketches for the next children’s book – an alphabet of the West Coast – which fostered a daily mental stroll through the Pacific rainforest and along coastal beaches. Once the gardening season wound down, I  planned to ramp up to full-time studio hours to finish the illustrations, ending up just in time to jet out to Kelowna for a wedding and then off to Turkey for dig season. And then – who knew? – perhaps on to Europe this year? That was the plan.

Instead? The Zincirli dig season was cancelled due to the current Syrian situation. Disappointing, but that opened up an opportunity to join girlfriends for a week on Prince Edward Island in July. It also meant that I could stay longer in Kelowna once the book was done. I would be home to keep a vegetable garden for the first time in years and finally plant the new perennial bed that I had begun preparing two years ago, repaint the front of the house and stain the back deck…the revised plan kept expanding.

The latest plan, though, has me not going anywhere – not Turkey, not Kelowna, not Europe –  not for a while and that will be after a trip to hospital. I’m scheduled for neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery. I kind of like the sound of it, if not the reality. No, a surgeon is not going to root around in my skull a là Dr. McDreamy in Grey’s Anatomy; he’s going to give my spinal cord a little more room. If you want all the technical details, it’s a posterior cervical decompression with instrumented fusion. Look it up! It’s quite an amazing procedure, really –  if it’s not your spine, that is.

How did all this come about? I started noticing some bothersome symptoms last spring – numbness and tingling in my fingers and a feeling that I might faint when I tipped my head back to look up or reach above my head. It wasn’t constant, so I mostly ignored it. I concluded that I probably needed physiotherapy, that it might be related to previous issues with carpal tunnel syndrome and so I shelved it until I had more time – which was never, of course. The tingling got worse, affecting my arms and, sometimes, legs. My daughter remarked that I was walking funny and truthfully, I was feeling unusually clumsy. So I stopped procrastinating and saw a doctor – who immediately sent me on to a neurologist who then sent me on to a neurosurgeon. Arthritic bone and herniated disks in my neck are pinching my spinal cord – due in part to aging, in part to genetics and in part to some mythical injury that both neurologists are convinced I must have experienced somewhere along the line. The surgery will relieve the pressure and reverse most of the symptoms; I may be left with a bit of numbness in my fingertips.

The current plan? I’ve left the garden centre, the book is on hold and I will have surgery next week and settle in for some recovery time. Kelowna was inside the recovery window, so I had to give that up. Prince Edward Island will be comfortably outside the projected recovery and still on the agenda. The garden hasn’t been planted. The perennials will have to wait and so will the front porch repainting. The back deck hasn’t been stained, but has been fitted up with new patio furniture to create a cosy recovery nest. I’ve loaded up my e-reader and there is still time to round up some interesting plant material to sketch while I laze in healing comfort. Perhaps those of you nearby will drop in during the month of June to laze with me? I may even manage a blog entry or two with all that time for rest and reflection.

That’s the plan.

 

Follow the bouncing ball…

…And that would be the ball that I dropped in not posting here for over a month.

I went into this enterprise primarily to extend the informal ‘newsletter’ I’d been sending out to friends and family while I was on the dig in Turkey. Over the  summer, I decided that I would just keep on once I got home. There are always so many ideas bouncing around in my head. Mentally, I am constantly writing a script for each day’s events and passing inspirations, so I should have plenty of material, right?

Except that I am home – and that means that I have fallen right back into my bad habit: procrastinating. Mind you, I don’t accomplish that by doing nothing – au contraire!  I procrastinate by engaging in a multitude of diverse activities – cleaning out the workshop, sorting through old files, re-organizing drawers, arranging my linen closet and – okay – catching up on Downton Abbey episodes. These are all things which need doing and are worthy of attention (have you seen Downton Abbey?) but don’t exactly fall into the category of “pressing.” In that category, there is an equally diverse assortment of things that need doing: the last of the Zincirli drawings, a conference presentation, a commissioned painting, a book…and posting on this blog.

I have puzzled for years over this procrastination thing. It seems to be a critical part of the creative process. I used “the” process not “my” process, because I have heard so many artists – authors, musicians, song-writers – and scientists and academics complain about this same thing. It is a scientifically established phenomenon: see this article at smithsonianmag.com  Somehow, distraction is necessary to the creative act; it is while engaged in something else – something routine or relaxing or menial – that our minds are freed to untangle the problems we’re wrestling with, to sort through the mess of thoughts and re-assemble them in a different order, creating a path to something new.

I’ve noticed too, that for me procrastination is also about control. Instead of giving in to the pressure of a mounting stack of unaccomplished tasks, I respond by insisting that I do have time to bake this batch of cookies or kick through the leaves on this local trail. I also realize that it’s easier for me to stay on task when a structure is imposed on my day; hence, I’m better at juggling tasks on the dig or when I’m working part-time. In the initial stages of a project I enjoy the illusion that I have all the time I need. Somewhere along the time line though, control will mean getting down to work before a deadline becomes impossible – so structure will be imposed by my delay.

I used to beat myself up over this – but years ago my husband took me to task. He told me that he’d watched me work through this with each book I had illustrated. Yes, he told me, you are always impatient with yourself for not being able to start a project, but nonetheless, you are already at work on it. When it all comes together in your head, when you are ready, you will immerse yourself and nothing will interrupt you; everything else will cease to exist. The ‘everything else’ he referred to was sometimes, I confess, my family.

So I’ve learned to enjoy the scattered, seeming-to-accomplish-nothing time, because I know that it’s part of preparing to enter the tunnel – the hours, days and weeks ahead when my day will be consumed with the project before me and I risk turning into a hermit. I have a new children’s book project on my table – and I was fortunate to spend a week on Vancouver Island recently with the author. Debbie toured me around the wild west coast – beach-combing and hiking and enjoying the breath-taking scenery. My head is filled with ancient emerald forests and crashing surf, tangled luxuriant foliage and multi-coloured tide pools and a million possibilities for paintings. Now, I’m at home tidying my house, my garden, my life – akin to an expectant mother’s nesting activity – while I sort through the mental images crowding my brain. When it’s done – when the information is assembled and the space is cleared, when I’m ready – I’ll sit down in the studio.

While Downton Abbey may cease to distract me then, you might occasionally find me pouring over ads for British Columbia real estate. Have you seen the Canadian west coast?

West Coast Beach

A little thing

I’m sitting at my desk mid-morning. It’s that time between second breakfast and lunch when I re-open the curtains I closed against the glare of dawn to catch what might be left of a morning breeze. It’s hot and I’m feeling slightly stressed. The final objects are here in front of me, waiting to be carted off to the museum in the morning. All the drawings need to be completed today. If I stay on top of it, I may have all the drawings for the 2013 season scanned and cleaned up digitally before I leave on Friday.

I confess, I was irritated by these objects of stone and clay – simple, rough things that a moment ago didn’t seem worth this frantic rush to draw. Studying a featureless clay pellet – I don’t know what it is or what it’s for – dutifully pulling out the magnifying glass to look a little closer to be sure I’m not missing something, there it was: a thumbprint.

A thumbprint!

Nearly three thousand years ago, someone shaped this – whatever-it-is – and impressed a singular mark of their presence into the clay. Someone – who? – took time to create this object. I will take time to draw it – properly.

Humble reflection is in order here: my irritation – and my own creative act –  will be gone long before another three thousand years have passed.

 

thumbprint