Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Change is hard. Embrace it.

At the End of the Rainbow, oil on canvasboard, 16X20, $2029 framed.

This weekend, I received a frame back from a gallery, unwrapped, battered and bruised. Some galleries treat artists’ work with shocking disrespect, so there’s no news there. However, it’s a large, expensive frame and there’s coffee splattered all over the linen fillet, as if it was stood in a corner during a party for the other, more popular paintings. That just adds insult to injury.

“What’s the point of galleries, anyway?” I grumbled. That’s a question I’m asking myself more and more. The internet and COVID have expedited shifts in the art market that are, I’m afraid, permanent. I can either roll with them or whine that everything is changing.

The Late Bus, oil on canvasboard, $435 framed.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light, is a line by Dylan Thomas that was part of every schoolchild’s repertoire in my youth. Along with Invictus, it was just about the worst advice ever.

The truth threads a narrow line between those two poems. We’re not the masters of our own fate, and raging against change is a fatal misdirection of our energy.

Meanwhile I need that painting for a show that I’m hanging this weekend. I’ve taken the frame apart, sprayed the fillet with hydrogen peroxide, and will start the laborious business of repairing the corners this morning, if it’s possible.

Red bud and Red Osier, oil on canvasboard, 12X16, $1449 framed.

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen is one of the great lies we all labor under. Many people get stuck in it. Sadly, the troubles we’ve seen—disrespect, death, abandonment, duplicity, hypocrisy—are horribly common.

“But you don’t understand!” the soul cries out. “It’s worse because it’s happening to me!”

We humans love to discuss our injuries, hurts and losses. We take them out, caress and feed them, and then wonder why they grow. We especially like to convert our hurt into anger, because grief is enervating and anger at least feels alive.

Best Buds, 11X14, $1087 framed.

I had a potential exposure to COVID and have to quarantine until tested. I’m vaccinated and unlikely to get sick (although I can be a carrier), so it’s an inconvenience and I’m getting the test as a courtesy to others. That’s something to be profoundly grateful for, because until very recently, the potential implications were far more dire. COVID has hit me hard and personal, so I know of what I speak.

“I’m so mad at anti-vaxxers,” a family member texted. What’s the point, I asked. Anger just sows division. And if and when we ever get around to solving our soul problems, it adds another layer that must be unpicked.

Meanwhile, I chatted with the charming lady who sold us our new dishwasher and stove. “You already know this,” she said, “but every place is having trouble getting good help these days. I’m working six days a week because I’m the only person in this department.”

On Monday, I made oatmeal on a borrowed hot plate. “Do. Not. Talk. To. Me,” I told Doug and the dog, because I had to concentrate. By Tuesday, the hot plate and I were old friends. Change is hard, but we have no choice but to embrace it.

With first world problems come first-world responsibilities

Our workloads are tailored to the times we live in. None of us can balance a 21st century job and a 19th century lifestyle.

Hard drive and bubble wrap, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, $435 framed or $348 unframed, shipping included.

I first glimpsed our new economic reality a year ago, when I damaged my laptop. I picked out a new Lenovo ThinkPad, and waited. And waited. After months of temporary delays, they announced that it was never, in fact, going to be available.

That scenario has played out, with variations, over and over. Even the simplest tasks are drawn out almost beyond endurance. I was in a fender-bender on October 18; the repair is tentatively promised for Christmas week. I ordered garage doors in mid-summer. They came last week, minus their openers.

Toilet paper and hiking boats, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, $435 framed or $348 unframed, shipping included.

Last summer I looked at dishwashers and was told that I couldn’t get the model I wanted. Ever. But my local big box store is reliable. We ordered a new dishwasher and stove. On Monday, the dishwasher arrived. The delivery guys ripped out the old one, installed the new one, and decided that it was defective. They left us with a kitchen swimming in water and a storage cubby where a dishwasher is supposed to be.

That evening, our old stove self-immolated, with our best bean pot bubbling inside. Our kitchen has been reduced to a coffee bar. The irony, of course, is that we’ve been trying to remodel it for a year; we haven’t found a contractor.

Monkey toy and candy, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, $435 framed or $348 unframed, shipping included.

“Be grateful that you have towels, indoor heat, indoor running water, and a washing machine,” a friend chided. She’s echoing those who have characterized our supply chain issues as ‘high class’ or ‘first-world’ problems.

With first world problems, of course, come first-world responsibilities. Automation didn’t free us to create leisure time. It freed us to increase productivity, creating the most robust economy in world history.

Blonde Santa, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas, $435 framed or $348 unframed, shipping included.

Women have always worked outside the home; they were, for the most part, servants. In 1939 there were as many domestic servants as employees of the railroads, coal mines, and automobile industry combined. It was not until World War II that the work life of women was modernized.

My own grandmother was one of these working women. During the Great Depression, she took a job that required she live in; my father was farmed out to her sisters.

Dish of butter, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas. Please don’t mention to my refrigerator that its mates have both died, lest it get ideas. $435 framed or $348 unframed, shipping included

Most servants were employed by middle class households. Before the ‘labor-saving devices’ of the 20th century, it was impossible to run a middle-class home on one person’s labors alone. Automation first eliminated the need for domestic servants, and ultimately freed all women to pursue careers.

People say we’re suffering a ‘labor shortage.’ My local Hannaford can’t hire people to stock its shelves, for example. But the population hasn’t changed significantly in the 20 months since COVID struck. Our economy is a vast and finely-tuned apparatus and we’ve somehow thrown a wrench into it.

I don’t normally shop on Black Friday, but I’ll be going out today. I want to see how we cope with shortages of everything. Will there be sales in an economy that can’t stock necessities? Will people be able to check out their purchases in stores without employees? Will my goddaughter find a tree skirt that looks good on her? It’s hard to say.

Meanwhile, you can always book a painting workshop, although Sea & Sky at Schoodic is almost sold out. The rest of them are here.

Welcome back to real life

We’re just beginning to fathom the changes between the pre-COVID and post-COVID worlds.

The last time I was in the Picker Room of the Camden Public Library was for an opening for my pal Peter Yesis. That was the last opening the library had before COVID shut it down, programs coordinator Julia Pierce told me recently.

I’d recently seen my old friend Christine Long at an art opening in Rochester, NY. She’s an epidemiologist, and she muttered that she hoped she’d be able to retire “before COVID hits.” That gave me pause, because Christine is a very smart woman. Until then, I assumed COVID was going to be a flash-in-the-pan, like avian flu had been.

Termination dust, oil on canvasboard, 6×8, $435

It was, however, still a blip on the horizon on the evening of Peter’s opening. That night, Ken DeWaard introduced me to the ‘elbow bump.’ I thought it was funny, but I’ll probably never shake a stranger’s hand again. That’s only one small change between the eras we might call pre-COVID and post-COVID.

That week was the last week I spent in what I might call ‘old time.’ The next Thursday I flew to Argentina, and all hell broke loose. People have asked me why we still went when COVID was marching across the globe. The answer is, simply, that our own government said it was safe to travel. 24 hours later, they changed their minds.

Owl’s Head, 18×24, oil on linenboard, $2318

The calendar notation anno Domini (AD) tells us that something profound happened at that moment that changed the course of human history. No, COVID isn’t on the same scale as the birth of Christ, but it seems to have made lasting changes in our culture. We’re still just beginning to fathom what they are.

It’s both fitting and passing strange that I’m the first artist scheduled in what I hope will be a long, uninterrupted line of post-COVID openings at the library. My show is called Welcome back to real life and it will be up in the Picker Room for the month of November.

Belfast Harbor, oil on canvasboard, 14×18, $1594

The opening will be Friday, November 5, from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. The library asks that masks be worn, which is just one small way in which post-COVID life differs from what we knew before.

2020 was an unprecedented challenge for artists, with galleries closing and classes and workshops cancelled. It also created new opportunities. For example, I would never have taught online before. Now I actually prefer it to live classes. It’s an opportunity to work with students from all over the country, and it allows students to hear everything I say one-on-one to their classmates. That’s impossible in a large room or outdoors.

On that subject, my students reminded me yesterday that the new session starts the week of November 8. There are a few openings. My website is undergoing a redesign, which I don’t think will be finished by then, but you can get the general information here, and contact me here to register.

Welcome Back to Real Life; paintings by Carol L. Douglas
Camden Public Library Picker Room
55 Main Street, Camden Maine
Friday, November 5, 3:30-5:30 PM

The show is hanging through the month of November.

Broken economy

COVID didn’t cause the supply-chain problems we’re experiencing—it exposed them. Hopefully, we’ll solve them before another, bigger disruptor comes our way.

Main Street, Owls Head, oil on gessoboard, 16X20, $1623 unframed.

Early this month my laptop suffered a catastrophic failure. This is not the fault of Dell; I’d poured molten wax and water into it during a Zoom class in the winter. It had been wonky ever since. In fact, it had limped nobly on for longer than could be reasonably expected.

I called my programmer daughter for advice because my programmer husband is sick to death of fixing my stuff. Through the miracle of modern electronics, we had two calls going for a while.

“He’ll say, ‘she needs one built like a tank,’” I told her, just as I heard him yell, “She needs one built like a tank!” To be fair, that hasn’t actually worked. I once bought a hardened-case, ‘rugged’ specialty laptop. It didn’t last any longer than any other laptop.

Bracken Fern, oil on canvasboard, 9X12, $869 framed.

My daughter has had a Lenovo ThinkPad for four years. It’s doing fine, so we settled on the configuration I needed and placed an order. As you can imagine, one of the critical requirements is that I could actually get the darn thing.

And, of course, I can’t. Every day, its delivery date is pushed back another two days. There is a global semiconductor shortage. Of course, we’re blaming it on COVID, when the real issue is a supply-chain problem that COVID exposed.

Nighttime at Clam Cove, oil on canvasboard, $869 framed.

My workshopsare experiencing a related problem. Students report that they can’t get rental cars in their destinations. Yesterday, visitors to my gallery told me that they couldn’t find a rental car in Portland; they had to fly into Boston instead. Rental-car companies sold much of their fleets in the pandemic. Now there’s a shortage of rental cars just as Americans are jonesing to get on the road. The car-rental companies can’t buy replacements because of the aforementioned semiconductor shortage. It’s estimated that this will cut worldwide auto production by more than a million vehicles in 2021.

So, we understand: we must wait patiently for anything that has a chip in it.

Last month the bottom of our garage door crumbled off. It’s far past repair; it’s a heavy, wonky, old thing from the 1940s. I ordered replacement doors from Home Depot because I find them reliable, and you can’t even get a contractor to return your calls in today’s market. Yesterday, I got a notice from their home office—the door will be here in mid-November.

Apple Tree Swing, oil on canvasboard, 16X20, $1623 unframed

That’s been the case with every major purchase we’ve tried to make this year. There’s no inventory, and even things made within the US have a six-month lead time. If these supply-chain disruptions are impacting my business, they’re impacting every business in America.

Of course, COVID didn’t cause the supply-chain problems we’re experiencing—it exposed them. Hopefully, we’ll solve them before another, bigger disruptor comes our way.

So far, we haven’t experienced supply-chain problems in paint or canvases (although there are no manufacturers of pigments within the United States). Therein lies an opportunity.

People generally look at paintings in terms of their own enjoyment, but fine art is also an investment. The art market is fickle, and there are no guarantees of profitability, but with a little critical thinking, you can fill your home with beauty that can appreciate over time.

Courage, friends

If you have a fear-hangover from COVID, perhaps Easter is the season in which you should make a conscious choice to drop it.

Working together, our best intentions can yield some astoundingly damaging results. That, in so many ways, defines the past year. With largely good intentions, we’ve managed to significantly dent the world’s economy, infringe on personal liberties, isolate the elderly and marginalized… and still COVID marches on.

It’s been rotten for the body religious, which was already hurting. Here in America, we reached a grim milestone in 2021: fewer than half of Americans consider themselves to be members of a church, synagogue, or mosque. That’s shocking for the nation widely considered to be the most religious in the western world.

I learned this week that St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Rochesterwill remain shuttered for the second Easter in a row. As I wrote about galleries last week, I doubt that many institutions will survive two years of closure.

In summer, 1999, I was asked to do a set of Stations of the Cross for St. Thomas’. By that September I’d been diagnosed with colon cancer. I had four kids, ages 11 to 3. My primary goal was to stay alive long enough to see them raised.

Finishing an art project seemed frivolous, and darned near impossible. I was especially disinterested in one that dealt with the violence leading up to the crucifixion. The following year was a late Easter, so by the time Holy Week arrived, I had a rough version finished.

I drew in my hospital bed, from my couch, during chemotherapy. I wasn’t at all engaged or enthused. When I was well enough, I arranged a massive photoshoot and took reference photos. The final drawings were finished two years later. They weren’t my best work, but at least they were done.

And yet, they’ve been in use for two decades. Every Holy Week, I got notes from a parishioner telling me how much they appreciated them. I’ve certainly gotten more meaningful mail about them than any other work of art I’ve ever done.

Except last year. Last Easter, the churches of America were closed. Their people observed the rites from afar. That was appropriate then, but we’ve lived out our penance for a year now. It’s almost unbelievable that the faithful among us don’t see the urgent necessity of gathering together to celebrate the risen Lord, this year of all years.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Today is Good Friday. It commemorates Jesus taking the punishment intended for all mankind’s sin onto his own, all-too-human, body. It culminates in death and hopelessness. That’s what the Stations of the Cross are about, whether they’re in the Catholic, Episcopal or any other tradition.

Are you still afraid to go to church on Sunday? It’s hard to reconcile that with the promise of eternal life that Easter represents.

I’ve traveled as much this year as any year. I’ve taken sensible precautions, including at least a dozen COVID tests, all of which were negative. Although I have the same fears and griefs as anyone else, there’s a part of me that’s simply not afraid. I respect death; heaven knows I’ve seen enough of it. I have lost people I love to COVID. But I choose life.

Fear is a prison, a mighty weight, and the brake that stops all forward motion. If you’ve been left with a fear-hangover from COVID, perhaps Easter is the season in which you should make a conscious choice to drop it.

The Stations can be walked virtually here:

Set 1

Set 2

Set 3

Set 4

Set 5


Another gallery bites the dust

The galleries and artists who will succeed now are the ones who can sail the internet, constantly shifting tack and adjusting their sails.

Blueberry Barrens, Clary Hill,  oil on canvas, 24X30, available.

This week I learned that a fine coastal Maine gallery, associated with two other exhibition spaces besides its home shop in Belfast, is closing this Friday. Their gallerist, whom I like and admire, is now unemployed.

This gallery had a good reputation among knowledgeable art connoisseurs, but was hampered by its physical space. It simply could not host visitors in a safe, socially-distanced manner. Maine’s business season is ruthlessly short, so they wisely closed before the season opened.

Bracken Fern, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, available.

This is the third gallery I’ve been associated with that’s closed since the start of the pandemic. I’m not taking credit; it’s the times. But I’ve hated to watch them close.

I was halfway through writing this when I received an email cancelling a plein air event for the second year in a row. “The driving force is finding hosts for our artist friends who travel great distances… In addition, we cannot be sure what restrictions will be lifted, or re-enforced come July 1,” wrote the organizer.

Let’s be brutally frank here: it’s unlikely that the events or galleries that miss a second season will survive. Their customers will move on to other venues, other products, and other interests. 

Beaver Dam, oil on canvasboard, 11X14, available.

These changes are no surprise to those who watch the art market. Although no systematic count has been made of attrition in galleries, the American art market is estimated to have shrunk 24% during 2020. That’s the worst contraction since the crash of 2008. There’s one light in all this, but it’s a dim one: online sales doubled in 2020. It’s clearly the direction in which art sales are moving.

“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” is a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. It may have been true in the 19th century, when economies were local, but it’s not true now. In modern America, the quality of your product is no more important than your marketing skills.

Home Farm, oil on canvasboard, 20X24, available.

That marketing happens increasingly on social media. The difficulty is that social media is relatively new, so it is constantly being tweaked. Its constantly-shifting algorithms mean that yesterday’s strategy won’t work today.

Compared to most artists, I know a lot about digital marketing. That’s not very good, because compared to the worst-run big box store, I know almost nothing at all. I’m a one-woman shop, and I don’t have all day to research and tinker with my website, email, blog and Instagram. I can’t even fix the deficiencies I know about, because I also need to paint.

But I know that the galleries and artists who will succeed now are the ones who can sail the internet, constantly shifting tack and adjusting their sails. There is no other answer.

Artist with the soul of an accountant

There are some unique lessons to be found in the detritus of our COVID-year returns.

Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Electrico, painted in my extended sojourn in Patagonia last year. Available.

I like to tell people I’m an artist with the soul of accountant. This isn’t really true; I’m just making fun of my painting. I hate bookkeeping as much as the next guy.

This time of year, my accountant friend Laura Turner is doing a lot of tax returns. She likes it because each one is a small bit of history. I don’t share her enthusiasm for slogging through the minutiae of the tax code (which changes constantly), but auditing your own books does take you back.

Last year I wrote a lot of refund checks—$4,550.40 worth, to be precise. These were deposits for workshops, and they all went in a flurry in late Spring, as we realized the world was not going to open back up again. They represented future payments as well. Compared to others, my losses were small, but for me they were painful.

Cliffs, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

My computer tells me to whom I issued those refunds. More than 80% of them turned around and bought something else from me during 2020—another workshop, a class, or a painting. There’s a lesson in that, one we can learn from our retail neighbors.

Modern big-box stores are open and easy about taking returns. Buy it, take it home and contemplate it. If you don’t like it, return it. My late friend Gwendolyn used to call it “buying on the American plan,” which tells you it’s not universal. It’s possible here because these retailers work in volumes so large that the cost of this goodwill gesture is relatively small.

Powerhouse on the Rio Blanco, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

That is not true for the sole proprietor, whose operation may include unrecoverable deposits and expenses. But it’s still a good idea to issue refunds cheerfully when you can. It establishes your integrity and goodwill.

I’m conservative by nature. I prefer to do business as I always have. But in April 2020, I was forced to rethink that. Every gallery I did business with was closed, either permanently or temporarily.

I made my first diffident step in buying a license for something called ‘Zoom’. By June, I was confident enough to convert that to an annual license. It was the best investment I’ve ever made.

Rain, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

That month, I also bought a party tent and opened an ad hoc gallery in my driveway. I went on to have the best sales year I’ve ever had. Nobody is more surprised about that than me, but it speaks to a second essential truth: we usually have to be smacked upside the head to make positive change.

I think citizens should prepare their own tax returns so they have a notion of how the tax code actually works. My fellow Americans don’t agree; in 2018, only 43% of electronic filers did their own returns. Even those who use a tax preparer are responsible for laying out the bones of their story. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

I always hover above the ‘send’ key for a few moments, hoping I’ve remembered every important thing. Itemized returns are never perfect; there are always bits and bobs you mislaid and just don’t recall. But hopefully, I’ve written it more as a memoir and less as a novel.

I didn’t outrun the weather

Even the dismal road has its blessings.

The open road in Minnesota. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot

“You should have been a cross-country truck driver who paints,” Mary Byrom told me. This week, that’s exactly what I am.

I didn’t stop to paint in the Badlands on Wednesday. It was a crying shame, for they were beautiful and the weather was clement. But the sky told me the weather was changing faster than I’d anticipated. “I have to get ahead of this storm,” I told my husband, and gunned it.

Our original plan was to cut down to I-80 and stop in Iowa. According to Google Maps, that would shave twenty minutes off my trip. “I don’t believe it,” I said, and stayed on I-90. Anyways, I kind of liked the idea of driving 2000 miles on the same road. We coasted into Albert Lea, MN in the late hours.

The Badlands are vast and fascinating. Photo courtesy Dwight Perot.

My dog and I did a quick tour around the shrubberies but neither of us wanted to prolong the Minnesota winter experience. It was ferociously windy and snowing steadily. That bad weather I’d wanted in Thermopolis had caught up with me.

The next morning, I borrowed a shovel to clear out the bed of the truck. We wrapped our stuff in contractor bags and eased back on to the highway. I have a niece who lives in Minnesota on purpose. She tells me that the temperature tomorrow will drop to -15° F. It’s hard for me to see the attraction when the wind is howling and the mercury is dropping, but she too is from Buffalo.

I amuse myself on long-distance drives by doing arithmetic. This trip, I calculated just how far behind we were dropping behind. After I got to -5 hours, I decided my game was too depressing. It was still better than talk radio, however.

My truck will get a tonneau cover as soon as I swap the tailgate back to the original.

My son is with me. He’s a responsible driver but he’s young. There was no way I was letting him play bumper cars in a blizzard.

Travel generally gets cumbersome east of the Mississippi anyway. There are tolls (which you can’t pay with cash right now) and the clean, efficient rest stops of the west have been replaced with travel plazas where you must run a gauntlet of merchandise in order to freshen up. And, of course, there’s much more traffic.

At a rest stop, I caught a message from Jane Chapin. A 40-car pileup had paralyzed I-80 eastbound in Iowa. It’s days like this that reaffirm my belief in a providential God. Had I not ignored my itinerary, I’d have been on that road.

That’s not to say my prayers are always answered. Yesterday an old friend died of COVID despite my earnest entreaties on her behalf. There has been no respite in the onslaught of COVID recently; another friend lost her husband to it last week. I was already struggling with those back-to-back deaths when I learned that still another friend has been diagnosed with a very serious cancer.

I realize there’s no equivalence in these things; Kathy’s death is a cataclysm, whereas a truck is just a truck. But still, I’d lose all hope if it weren’t for the occasional touch of heaven on my shoulder. When the stakes are high enough, we’re all with that guy in the Bible who cried, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!”

I’m going right through Buffalo but there will be no public funeral. That’s actually a relief since it takes the decision out of my hands. I’ve been all over the country; I ought not risk bringing more COVID to my friends and family. My uncle’s funeral back in March was private for just that reason. In this plague year, the obsequies are gone but the grief remains.

Five ways to spend your stimulus check

It’s meant to be an economic stimulus, not life-support.

The Dooryard, 11X14, oil, by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $550 (regularly $735 unframed)

Whether or not you wanted it, the government recently put $600 (or more, or less) in your checking account. It’s meant to stimulate the American economy, but I’m not sure how much is helped by our usual purchasing patterns. After all, much of what we buy at big box stores is made overseas. Assuming you don’t need the money to pay the rent, how can you spend it to benefit your neighbors as well as you?

Invest in your health. Sadly, $600 won’t buy a tummy-tuck, but it will pay for exercise classes or a gym membership. It could also buy physical therapy for that persistent pain, or a round of preventative dental cleanings. How about good winter gear from Maine’s own LL Bean so you can exercise comfortably in the winter? The person who said “there’s no bad weather, just bad gear” is an idiot, but warm boots do help. 

Fallow Field, 12X16, oil, by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $675 (regularly $895 unframed)

Don’t forget mental health. I’m from New York, where all the best people have had therapy. It’s not cheap, but it can exorcise the demons that keep tripping you up.

We’re all suffering from disconnection these days. More data on your phone plan or a fiber-optic internet service provider can mean better connections with others. If your technology can’t keep up with modern communications, update them.

Jack Pine, 8X10, oil, by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $315 (regularly $420 unframed)

Buy art. I’m not talking just paintings here, although that’s a great idea. Instead of replacing the next item on your list with something utilitarian, why not buy something beautiful instead? Consider handmade jewelry, hand-dyed textiles, or a handcrafted table instead of yet another particle-board whatsit from a big box store. (As a dedicated green, I’m a firm believer in good used furniture.)

This is not just about making work for a starving artisan, or even about indulging yourself. If carefully selected, art can yield better long-term gains than the stock market. Not only will you enjoy handling and seeing the object every day, your heirs may thank you after you’re gone.

A caution—there’s a world of difference between ‘collectibles’ and art objects. If you don’t understand the difference, find a competent gallerist to help you.

Winch, 12X16, oil, by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $675 (regularly $895 unframed)

Learn something new (take a workshop or class). There’s been an explosion in on-line learning because of COVID. Why not use your spare time to learn to sing, do Pilates, or paint? You can find classes on almost anything. (Sadly, my own Zoom painting classes are currently waitlisted.)

Or, sign up for a workshop in the summer. I’ve got four on the docket for next year—Sea & Sky at Schoodic, Pecos, and two watercolor workshops aboard schooner American Eagle.

If you’d rather figure it out yourself, acquire the tools you need. One of my painting students has been buying router bits; he’s teaching himself to make frames. Get a guitar or a good used piano and make some music.

And there are always books, which were the original door to shared knowledge.

The Whole Enchilada, 12X16, oil, by Carol L. Douglas. Stimulus sale price, $675 (regularly $895 unframed)

Buy a tree. I’m a pretty cheap person, so my idea of planting a tree has always been to dig up a sapling, transplant it, and wait for it to grow. The older I get, of course, the less practical that approach is.

All of us could use more beauty in this world, and our local garden center is a great place to find it. I’m seriously thinking of yanking those overgrown, dormant shrubs this winter and replacing them with something pretty in pink.

Donate to a charity. There is always need right in our own communities, especially in this pandemic year. Mainers can consider Maine Community Foundation. In Rochester, I like Gerhardt Neighborhood Outreach Center. I’m sure there’s an organization in your town that could use help.

Joy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin

In some ways, 2020 has been a very good year for me. But that is set against loss, both my own and others’.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

If I had a bucket list, Tierra del Fuego would certainly be on it. So, when, in March, I had the opportunity to paint there and in Patagonia with my pal Jane Chapin, I jumped. COVID-19 was still just a rumble from China, albeit moving closer. Within 48 hours of our arrival, the Argentines quarantined us in the mountainous region near the Chilean border. As the first snows of the year hit the higher elevations, we painted glaciers and meted out our remaining canvases.

My uncle Bob, from whom I inherited the travel bug, had been in Patagonia a few years back. He was following our exploits by text. He never learned that we made it home, because on March 29, he became an early casualty of the pandemic. It is the worst grief I’ve sustained since the loss of my parents.

Glaciar Cagliero from Rio Electrico, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas

I came home feeling very deflated. Painting events were cancelled; my own gallery in Rockport couldn’t open. I asked our local police chief if the new regulations would allow plein air classes; he thought no. The windjammer American Eagle, on which I was scheduled to teach two workshops, cancelled its season. My workshop at Schoodic was rescheduled for October, but it hardly mattered. Nobody was signing up for anything, anyways. By June, my revenues to date were down $10,000 from 2019, and that didn’t include the cost of getting back from Argentina. If I’ve ever been inclined to quit, it was then.

There are two important lessons you can take from your Christian neighbors. The first is to live in faith rather than in fear. That doesn’t mean being foolish. I follow the quarantine and testing regulations of the states to which I travel; I use hand sanitizer and a mask; I avoid unnecessary public exposure. I do not, however, let COVID paralyze me. I recognize that the ultimate disposition of my life isn’t in my hands.

The Dooryard, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted for an event that had to go online; the results were decidedly mixed.

That’s true regardless of your beliefs, by the way. You can do nothing to insulate yourself from the ultimate reality of death. So many Americans (including my uncle) followed the rules punctiliously, but the virus still found them.

The second is that humans need to be flexible to survive tough times. Mature Christians listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, even when it asks them to do odd things. Non-believers may call this ‘listening to their gut,’ but the basic requirement is the same—one has to be open to new ideas. That’s not so easy at my age, when system and structure have had decades to accrete.

On the other hand, Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation was a hit, even online.

I was extremely resistant to teaching online. I didn’t think it would be a good experience for my students. However, my friend Mary Byrom encouraged and coached me, and today I think it’s at least as good as live classes. It has forced me to be more proactive in designing lessons. That, in turn, has given me the nucleus of the book I’ve always intended to write.

In the end, much happened that was lovely. I suspended minimum enrollment requirements and ended up teaching three successful workshops—at Schoodic, in New Mexico, and in Florida—despite concerns about travel. I learned a new technology, and even made some pretty terrible painting videos. Learning is growth; in that regard, 2020 has been a very good year for me. But that is set against loss, both my own and others’. So much of life is like that, a mix of sorrow and joy.