I think often about Failed at it Friday, a commitment I made earlier on in the year to regularly share losses. I thought it would be good to honor failures alongside the lessons learned from them and to balance out talk of wins in an era where online life often hides failures or overexaggerates the emotionality behind them with a sense of false, Instagram-appropriate vulnerability.
I think of it often primarily because I went about six weeks getting pummeled by a series of unfortunate events. I wanted to share but couldn’t wrap my head around the entirety of the situation and how seemingly isolated occurrences intermingled in such a way that culminated into a real clusterfuck, to be frank. I also think of it often because of the alliteration and, if you didn’t notice, Fridays happen every.seven.days.. They’re a heinously busy time of the week, a time between Thursday, when I can think: “Hm. Friday. I wonder if I’ll get a pocket of time to get out what I’ve been thinking about that whole clusterfuck.” and Saturday, when I hurriedly go from task to task without the structure of a weekday and I think: “Missed that Friday thing again, huh. Maybe next week.”
This weekend, Memorial Day marks the end of spring and the entry to summer. Earlier in the year, I pledged that 2023 would be the year of consistency and, after being inspired by a certain 90’s sitcom, I dared to have more fun getting dressed every day. I managed to pull that off, dressing in a fun, exciting way Monday-Friday (and if I left the house on the weekends, then too) through both winter and spring, and most days I even remembered to snap a photo so I could track my progress! All clothes purchased this year are thrifted from my local goodwill. Here’s a montage my phone quickly whipped up from my “outfits” album I started this year, starting from today and going backwards to early January.
Weir Farm is really special to me. It’s the only National Park in Connecticut aside from a teensy-tiny portion of the Appalachian Trail. I love National Parks, and was even married in one, so when I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Weir Farm is where I took my first “artist date” in 2017.
Weir Farm National Historic Park: The National Park for Art
The park was once home and studio workplace to J. Alden Weir, an American impressionist painter. When he bought the farm, he was inspired by the acres upon acres of natural beauty it offered. While he lived there, he developed its captivating qualities by digging a large scale pond and additions such as a painting studio and a “palace car”—which a younger me is pictured with above. Weir loved to paint en plein air (outdoors) and didn’t want harsh Connecticut winters getting in between him and his muse, his property, so he had this little shed on wheels that he’d take over to his inspiration point and step inside for shelter while he painted.
After J. Alden Weir died, the farm was home to several other artists, including his daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Mahonri Young, grandson of Brigham Young. (Ya know, the Mormon guy? The one the college in Utah is named after?) It continued to be a private property owned by artists Doris and Sperry Andrews until it was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. It was only in 2021 that Weir Farm was officially designated a National Historic Park, which indicated that it has greater physical extent and complexity than the previous title, and allowed for more funding—I haven’t even gotten the chance yet to see all of the new exhibits!
Because the farm is not only a place of beauty but historically significant for its contribution to the arts, it’s been deemed “The National Park for Art.” There’s an artist-in-residence program, which isn’t abnormal for a National Parks and their push for their Arts in the Park initiative. What is different, however, is that it is only at Weir Farm that they supply art supplies to visitors of all ages so that they, too, can be inspired to create by their surroundings. Beginner and professional painters alike can be seen throughout the park, many set up with their own plein air painting gear and umbrellas for shade.
Over my several visits, I’ve made watercolor works with their provided supplies and several sketches. I even threw together a painting and submitted it to their Art in the Park Contest in 2021 that I’m now too embarrassed to post. Such is the artist life, always improving and not wanting to look back!
Weir’s continued significance for me
In 2021, Weir Farm was getting designated as a National Historic Park while I was in a really rough spot. I was over a year into that yucky ol’ pandemic thing and I had good reason to believe my marriage was coming to an end with all my sense of security headed down the drain with it. It was a time that was challenging but suddenly invigorating. I was getting a lot of help through therapy via zoom, a CBT app, and a weight loss app. I was learning to reparent myself to move on from my childhood trauma so I could muster the strength to weather storms that became unbearable. So when my birthday came around, I treated my inner child as I would care for my own children: I bought myself balloons, gifts and wrapping paper, then told the kids to wrap the gifts. I planned an all-day outing with my boys, first to Weir Farm for us to make art, lunch, and onto to The Aldrich to view art.
When my friends caught wind of the buying-balloons-for-myself thing via group text the night before, they made reservations for us to have a nice dinner—my first kid-free restaurant outing since that whole pandemic thing.
It was over dinner with those friends when I declared: “You know what? If he wants to leave me, fine. I’ll stop worrying about him. I’m gonna do me—me and the kids. I’ve lost this weight, I look good, I’m gonna feel good. I’m having a hot girl summer. He can be along for the ride, he can—not.”
Turns out, that was precisely what our marriage needed: for me to get well. For him to get well. Though we thankfully, surprisingly, (with all the knock on wood required) never became ill with Covid-19, we were sick emotionally and dragging each other down. We were drowning in chaos of a globally-shared trauma, but instead of slowing the breath and relaxing the body to float, we were flailing, creating more waves to splash into the others’ eyes, pressing down upon one another’s shoulders in attempts to grasp a desperate breath.
All that to say, Weir Farm has twice played a role in turning points in my life. The Artist’s Way, including the artist’s dates that Weir was the first of, tore down the barriers that disallowed artistic vulnerability and ultimately changed my life. That 2021 birthday at Weir was a turning point in caring for myself and loving myself the way that a parent should have, furthering my ability and freedom to express myself.
…and Weir does it again.
How interesting is it, then, that Weir is apart of a third pivotal moment? Years ago, with success building from my local gift economy group, a friend suggested we make a local group for creative people. She started a Facebook group for it, but neither of us clearly wanted to put forth the effort required to build it out initially, then our friendship came to a close. The yearning for a group of creative-minded individuals to get together for conversations unrelated to our children, husbands, and obligations didn’t cease. In January 2022, I updated my vision board for the first time in 7 years, and I see it every time I’m at my desk, front and center: Artist Community.
Here it is—Weir it is!
Though I imagined that I’d start an artist’s group in my town, I like that I’ll be meeting with this group at a destination that’s a not-too-far (29 minutes) destination—I’m far enough away where I’ll be committed to creating once I’ve gotten there. I love that it’s brand new, so I’ll be apart of the process as it unfolds. It’s low-key, and I’ve already received very helpful insights from members.
En plein air oil painting is a long-term goal of mine, but even sketching on location that day ended up with me so nervous and uncomfortable that I didn’t come home with anything I’m proud of. Later, at home, I sketched this of one of the other painters in the group.
With the next meeting next month, I feel encouraged to create a Weir inspired painting for the next time we meet!
I’ve been prioritizing time for sketching lately. I identify as a painter, but a painting feels like too much pressure right now with all that I’m trying to balance. I’m stretched too thin and less is needed, for sure. As I get a handle of things, my sketchbook has given me respite. The goal of the subject matter is the same as my paintings: illuminating everyday beauty, marveling at moments misinterpreted as monotony, and savoring life’s abundant sweetness.
The first of a recent visit to Colonial Gardens in Fairfield, CT.
This sketch encourages the viewer to see things through the child’s perspective. To wonder.
The next one is capturing a recent record store visit to Vinyl Street Cafe.
I don’t like drawing faces, but I figure I might as well practice here and there.
The final sketch I’m sharing today I just completed, and it’s from a picture I took in our playroom.
I’ve had so much to write about on here that I haven’t written a thing. I’m dipping my toe back in.
In the article, Cooper reminisced over how much altering the team would do to an off-the-rack article of clothing. They would go so far as to tailor in bathrobes at the waist and insert shoulder pads, so even when she was undone, Fran was never frumpy. This was a real a-ha moment for me. The reason why Fran made whacky dressing so sexy is because each garment was tailored to form-fit her [svelte] body. In other words, the difference between Miss Frizzle and Fran Fine was as simple as tailoring tight around the torso and bringing the hemline high above the knee. Got it.
Before I could even get next-day shipping for Brenda Cooper’s dressing guide, I found myself at Goodwill face to face with a real treasure.
I’ve only sewn Halloween costumes in the last fifteen years and I had completely forgotten that there was a time when I was my oldest son’s age and I would use tutorials from a “T-Shirt Surgery” message board to create different styles of shirts or skirts from things I had thrifted.
The sweater was already hideously tacky, so I had nothing to lose in my attempt to make it suit me.
And I did it!
I LOVE it, and I felt like I had been bitten, I couldn’t wait to do some more. When my friend at the grocery store told me I looked like I was dressed like Dolly Parton, I KNEW I was on the right track.
This weekend I did a simpler mend: I made a thrifted Banana Republic skirt (with pockets!) into a mini skirt:
More Mending to Come!
Like I said, I’ve been bitten. I’ve hemmed a couple pairs of pants, too, but that’s not so fun or post-worthy. The plan is, with Consistency over Intensity as the focus this year, I’ll share more of my clothes alterations on upcoming Mondays. I’ve got a whole pile of clothes looking forward to more form fitting futures!
I’ve decided I’d like to do a semi-regular post about things that didn’t quite go as planned. Realistically, it might not happen every Friday, but since the emphasis this year is on consistency, hopefully it’ll happen more than once. My thought behind Failed at it Friday is twofold: for me and for you.
In our home, we’re moving away from assigned chores since I read Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff. We’ve done so as we focus on the social aspect of household duties. Instead of telling my teen he’s in charge of trash every day and getting mad when I have to remind him many times, I’ve shifted the language to: “Let’s clean the kitchen together.” while I begin, signaling we’re doing this now. He’s still taking the trash out and more, but now we have the benefit of us talking and laughing, listening to his music all throughout.
What I learned from the Mayan families in the book is that when a child is given specific solo tasks, they internalize that those are the only tasks that they are required to do. They won’t do more until instructed because they haven’t see it as their role. Because they’re told to do that task, they don’t grow the mental processes to figure out what needs to be done or to remember to do it. If their only cue to do something is to be told, they aren’t learning a way to remember.
Watching my family members’ attitudes toward chores change has been a rewarding experience that has allowed me to complete more tasks, run my home more smoothly, and leave me more fulfilled.