It has been said that birthdays become less exciting as we grow older. I can remember looking forward to age 12, because my mother promised to allow me to pierce my ears (something I would do multiple times in the years to follow). I remember being excited about 16, for reasons that have now faded. Of course 21 was a pivotal point in becoming an adult and being able to buy alcohol. I remember dreading 30, as if it somehow would signify the curtain closing on my youth. The beginning of growing old, 40 actually wasn’t as dreadful as anticipated, but it wasn’t good either.
2017 marks the last year of 40 for me. For a concept I didn’t fully embrace on the way in, I sure feel like hanging-on to it on the way out. Life is funny that way, it’s all in your perspective.
How Did This Happen?
Last year, at the end of my five-day workshop at Madeline Island School of the Arts, I was asked to return to teach for 2017. Upon comparing calendars, the only week we had available in common was July 10-14.
“That’s my damn birthday week.” I exclaimed. “Ok, FINE. You know I love it here when I agree to that.” I continued, without much further convincing.
And so it was decided.
July 13, 2017
If I had to work on my birthday, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than with the folks at MISA. Madeline Island School of the Arts is an incredible and unique workshop model. Students come from all over the country to stay on campus, just steps from their amazing studio space. Whether you join them for photography, writing, painting, quilting, fiber arts, mixed media, or Plein Air, everyone has access to the studio 24-hours a day. Sharing accommodations and meals, learning together, and partnering to work into the wee hours of the night makes for fast friendships. What could be better than hanging out with creative types from all disciplines for a week, on an island in the middle of Lake Superior?
When you are lucky, you get a week like we did this July – three different workshops running simultaneously! Over 50 students staying on campus, comparing notes over farm house family style meals, visiting classrooms, and comparing work.
On the morning of my birthday, I was presented with a pink frosted cupcake and a strawberry on top. I had barely consumed my coffee by the time I dug into this sugary bliss. How nice it was to be remembered by Charlie and the staff!
My students were full of well wishes and big smiles, they secretly conspired to made me cards of hand-painted paper. When they presented them to me, I promised to put the cards to good use once I soaked up the sentiments. Everything is potential collage material when you are a mixed media artist.
By midday folks from other classes had also come up to wish me well on my special day. Shortly after sitting down to lunch, Brittany and Lydia enlisted the entire room in singing Happy Birthday! as they presented me with a second cupcake–this time chocolate with chocolate frosting and sprinkled with Jimmies (that’s what we call them in the great state of Massachusetts anyway). The whole room, singing. I can’t remember the last time 50+ people sang to me. Big smiles.
My Someone Special had also covertly sent a gift to Wisconsin, and coordinated with the staff to have it presented on the day of my birthday. It arrived with the cupcake and the verse.
My daughter had flown from NYC to Tel Aviv for a summer dance intensive opportunity the day before, but she made sure to get a text out to me on my happy day. My son called just after lunch to say that he had wished I was home, but was glad that I was somewhere that made me happy; we would celebrate when I returned home.
This is the great sweet, sticky stuff that life is made of.
At the end of the week, I left the Island on a 7:00am ferry crossing, then a picturesque drive to Duluth, followed by a flight to Chicago and finally, a connecting flight to Orlando. My son picked me up outside United baggage claim, smiling.
Connor and I celebrated my belated birthday by spending the day together. First Watch Cafe breakfast was followed by hanging out at home and then a movie called Baby Driver at the cinema. (I highly recommend this one, and the soundtrack is great!) Later we went out for sushi and talked late into the evening. I savor these moments with my son, he couldn’t give me a more cherished gift than time spent. (I reminded him that when I was little my Mother always said she just wanted all of us to behave and be quiet for her birthday!)
On The Road Again
I’m only home three days before I head out again to Syracuse, New York.
Why did I squeeze another trip in so tight?
I’m headed to Syracuse, New York today. I fit this workshop into a sliver of space in my schedule so that I could spend a day close to my birthday with someone close to my heart for almost 30 years.
Anna Marie Miazga and her family live just outside Syracuse. Who is Anna Marie? She is the mother of my best friend and one of my roommates from my semester in London, 1988. Many of you remember that I lost my roommates as well as 35 fellow Syracuse University students in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Ever since that terrible time, I have been closely tied with this family. Going to visit Syracuse, the campus, the town, and the family, is like coming home again.
Anna Marie, “Mom” has cared for me like a daughter for almost 30 years. She has taken me in, supported me, loved me unconditionally, and believed in me through thick and thin. She brought me home from college at Easter and taught me how to dye eggs with onion skins like they did in her youth. She put up with me using her Tupperware tongs when dying my bras purple and splattering the bathroom while coloring my hair orange. Anna Marie endured my crazy antics, my terrible cooking, and my re-organizing her kitchen in a fashion that she couldn’t ever find anything. She took me to church and taught me how to pray for Suzanne, she helped me grieve and gave me a shoulder to cry on. Just like a Mom, she worried about me, tucked money in my pocket when she brought me back to school, and reminded me that people are inherently good, despite the bad in the world. She and her family wore temporary tattoos to my wedding!
This is the stuff love is about.
I express it often–in my classes, in my writing, in my social media posts. I never can thank you enough for being a part of and for supporting this amazing journey. As I travel across the country and around the world with my paper tidbits in tow, I am constantly reminded just how lucky I am to be meeting amaizing people while doing what I love.
Doing what I love, a gift that I receive every day of the year.
for being a part of my