La Sandia or How Art Fosters Connection by Susie Lubell

The flattening process before framing. 

The flattening process before framing. 

This story is at once a simple telling of how I ended up with a poster from La Sebastiana Museum House in Valparaiso Chile, the home of legendary poet Pablo Neruda, and a sweeping narrative of connectivity that defies borders and time to make found what was once lost.

In 1996 I traveled alone to Chile. I had just graduated from college and I had a bee in my bonnet to learn Spanish. I hadn't managed to find the time to study abroad during school but I had taken a year of Spanish and wanted to practice. I did some research using the newly discovered interwebs and found several Jewish organizations in Central and South America. Then I started writing letters. Hand written letters to whatever contact person I found. One such letter landed in the hands of a woman who worked at La Comunidad Israelita de Santiago. After we spoke on the phone to make sure I wasn't loca, she offered me to stay with her family in Santiago for however long I wanted. Which I did. I became an honorary hermanita to her four young girls, ages 7, 9, 12 and 16. It was a wonderful experience and we are in touch until this day. I have made ketubahs for two out of the four girls so far...

During that time I traveled the length of Chile with a cast of traveling companions both random and entirely sent by a higher power. One of those companions even eventually led me to Mr. Rosen in a circumvention that only the universe could have concocted. At one point I was visiting Valparaiso, the seaside town where Neruda built a home overlooking the Pacific to spend his days writing poetry in peace. While I was there I bought a poster. On it was a screenprint of a watermelon on a cake stand with an excerpt from Neruda's poem, Oda a La Sandia, Ode to the Watermelon, inscribed around the edges. 

…the round, magnificent,
star-filled watermelon.
It’s a fruit from the thirst-tree.
It’s the green whale of the summer.
— Pablo Neruda

I can't tell you how much I loved that poster. We all have things that we've collected which hold more value than the small sums paid for them. Some originally belonging to a relative. Some reminding us of our childhood. And some that just dive right under our skin and lodge themselves there for no reason at all or not one we can understand at least. Or at first. I took the poster home with me, along with a few advertising posters I'd lifted from Metro stations, some Pomaire pottery, a woven purse, a brass chicken wall hanging, a carpet and a few CDs. 

At this time I was still in my twenties so the idea of spending money to frame something, even something as beloved as a watermelon poster from 6000 miles south on Pacific Coast Highway, was never even a consideration. I also moved around a lot at that time. Four years in Israel. A year around the world. Two years in North Carolina. Finally, in 2003, we settled in Northern California for a stretch and I found my watermelon rolled up in a tube. Still unwilling to spend money on framing, I attached it to some foam core board with spray glue. Over the years it became warped and wrinkled and dirty. I attempted to remove it from the foam core and it tore. Finally I said Vaya con Dios to my watermelon and heavy-heartedly put it in the recycling. I made a few attempts over the next few years to find another copy, all in vain.

Fast forward to March 2017. A friend of mine is now traveling in South America and I'm following her journey with her husband via Facebook. I have never met this friend. We have only connected online and via email. She is a graphic designer and ketubah artist from Vancouver named Naomi Broudo and in 2010 she contact me while she was setting up her ETSY shop. Over the years we have sent each other clients, asked for advice, offered advice, encouraged one another and generally supported one another's growth as artists and business owners. We even share a common trajectory. She and her husband lived in Israel for a stint. Her son was born here and then they moved back to Canada when he was nine. When I was going through the horrors of our first weeks in country, she read my words and deeply understood my suffering. But we have never met. 

Since I have a special place for Chile in my heart, I commented on a few of her posts. Around the same time an issue came up for me about licensing my work to an online ketubah re-seller with whom I knew she was at one point involved so I sent her a message. And from across the globe, she replied immediately. She also mentioned that their next stop was Santiago and then on to Valpo. In half jest I typed, ...if you happen to be at Neruda's house and see a poster with a watermelon, please get it for me and I'll pay you back... 

A week later she messaged me that she had indeed found the poster and had purchased it for me. Just at that time my inlaws were visiting in North America and they would overlap a few days when Naomi returned. A week ago they brought it home with them on the plane.

Oda a La Sandia is mine again. A gift from my friend Naomi. 

It turns out that is just the beginning of the story of La Sandia.  Just this morning I was perusing a weekly newsletter I subscribe to called Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. It is masterful, in case you feel like subscribing to something. In it she mentions a children's book about Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the world's first computer programmer, a book she has added to her list of other children's books about important figures in art and science, including one about Pablo Neruda himself. With Neruda on my mind and my new poster unfurling in my studio, I clicked on the link which uncovered an article about how a childhood encounter taught him about the unity of all beings and why we make art.

One time, investigating in the backyard of our house in Temuco the tiny objects and minuscule beings of my world, I came upon a hole in one of the boards of the fence. I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared — a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvelous white sheep. 

The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole, but the boy had disappeared. I went into the house and brought out a treasure of my own: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
— Pablo Neruda

Maria writes that the great poet never saw the hand nor the boy it belonged to again but that the brief encounter, with its childhood simplicity, impressed upon him a lifelong lesson about the longing for commonality that compels us to create:

To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things. That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together…
— Pablo Neruda

This is the power of art and the creative spark. Countless times it has helped me forge connections that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. So I continue to put my gifts out into the world and I wait for them to return to me under a new guise. Art, in its most general and expansive definition to include all works created from our imaginations, functions like a magnet, bringing people, ideas, energy, stories, and inspiration directly to us, along its own divine frequency, only to  leave us again as new work which, in turn, moves along to touch the next person in an endless, unbreakable circle of creation and connection. Viva la sandia.


Free Lunch by Susie Lubell

This might seem like a very ordinary picture but it is actually the culmination of years of dreaming and growing and building and working and leaping, eyes open, into the scary unknown. There is nothing staged about this photograph. It is not especially beautiful. This is my desk in the middle of my work day. A dirty palette. A bunch of paint markers in a Paw Patrol cup. A sketch I was working on yesterday. A water bottle. And lunch, made and delivered by my husband in the middle of the day. Why is Mr. Rosen home in the middle of the day, you may ask...?

He's home because he quit his job. He's been a medical device engineer since he graduated from university in 2000. He's an outstanding medical device engineer. Since leaving his company a month ago, several other companies have approached him. But he's not going back to work just yet. He's taking a break. And why is he able to take this break, mid-career, with our mortgage and our three kids and their activities and our travel commitments and bills? Because I now earn enough to support us for a while. 

I earn enough money as an artist to support my family.

Can we just delight in that for a sec?

This did not happen over night. I wasn't discovered. I don't have a huge social media following. No one asked me to write a book. I'm just a regular person who pays attention, makes calculated decisions, and is not afraid. Me supporting the family may not be sustainable for the long term. We will re-evaluate as we go. But for the next six months to a year, I earn enough money for my husband to take a break, follow his own curiousity, spend WAY more time with his kids and explore his uncommon gifts. He gave me this opportunity seven years ago when I left my corporate job to pursue life as a working artist. Now I can return the favor.

These days you can find Mr. Rosen rennovating our attic to be his home office. He has also completed a bee keeping course and will soon bring our hive home. He is playing in a band in Tel Aviv. He is dancing in Jerusalem. He is DANCING people. And he is schlepping our kids around to hockey and piano and scouts and dance and making lunch and dinner and straightening up and sometimes doing the laundry. And he's not doing all the things the way that I do all the things, but he's doing them nonetheless and it's fine. 

And he brings me lunch on most days. And then he spends his afternoons with his kids, doing projects, helping with homework, going on bike rides. BECAUSE HE CAN. He has the time. And I don't have to wrap up my work day at 1 pm, which has, as my business has grown, been the source of much anxiety. I get the whole day to work, something I have craved for a long time. 

The kids still come up to my studio to chat and ask questions. Things that their father could certainly help with. But it's a transition for them too and I try hard not to shoo them away. Nor do I expect my husband to handle everything. We work a lot more together. Life is far less stressful. We support each other and enjoy the support of our friends and family. We also put up with people's comments and confusion and assumptions. Their remarks about starving artists and about Mr. Rosen's early retirement. We don't care anymore. There's simply no time to waste one second of this life feeling stuck or burnt out or fearful.  

I never thought this was possible and neither did he. But here we are, moving forward, enjoying the challenges and the process and the time together as a family. And the lunches. 

Gone 'Til November by Susie Lubell


I finished this painting yesterday. It has been hanging in my stairwell since June. Untouched. I don't get a lot of painting done between June and November. It's the end of school. It's summer. It's Jewish high holidays. It's a lot vacation and a lot of obligation and a lot of time off school for the kids and it's hot as hell. It's like I have Seasonal Affective Disorder except not when it's cold and dark. I have it when it's hot and bright. So this morning I was telling Mr. Rosen how it's almost November! When I come back to life! When I know I have five months of winter to look forward to. When I know I'll soon be wearing my high boots and my sweaters. When I can make a pot of tea and be cozy and close my eyes and smile and paint. Because there are no school holidays for two months! And all I have is time! Then I told him I would just need to find a way to be gone til November every year. Which made me start to sing the song by Wyclef Jean. AND THEN PEOPLE, I swear to you no more than five minutes later, that song came on the radio...

Timing is Everything. Part II. Or How I Came to Paint a Donkey in a Pink Housecoat. by Susie Lubell

Once the initial excitement of being selected to participate in the Women of the Book project wears off, the panic sets in. What in the hell was I going to paint? How would I interpret this wacko chapter with a talking donkey. I had managed to wiggle my way into the project without fully realizing that these women were all highly accomplished, highly trained, widely exhibited contemporary artists. I had told the curatorial committee to trust my process. Like I have any kind of process at all! I finger paint! And the kicker is I have three weeks to get it done including a round of critique by the curatorial committee. I was leaving for August so it had to be done before then. Did I mention I had just broken my toe?

So I start to do research. I read whatever sources I could find on Balak. My mother in law brings over books and sends articles. I spend that whole first weekend reading Torah. And interpretation after interpretation. All the while I just keep having visions in my head of Bilam standing together with his donkey like in that American Gothic portrait by Grant Wood (see above). Except the woman is a donkey. I start doing some sketches. And there's one with Bilam riding the donkey and one with the donkey riding Bilam and one with Bilam and Donkey sitting at a dinner table together. 

Then finally I meet Shoshana, the founder of the project, to get my piece of parchment. She drops off the tube with the parchment inside and gives me a bunch of scraps too for experimenting. She is lovely and encouraging. The parchment feels weird. Like a lamp shade. How am I going to paint on this stuff? I take it home and immediately start painting in acrylic on the scraps. I experiment with gesso, without gesso, I spray water on it. I glue some paper to it. It seems pretty sturdy. I can totally do this. No problem.  It dries all curled up. Damnation. I lay books on it overnight and it flattens out. Salvation. 

Without knowing exactly what I'm doing and without a full understanding of the material I'm working with (both the story and the parchment), I decide to start painting. I just need to put paint down because I'm running out of time and the blank parchment is giving me anxiety which is making my toe hurt. I spend an hour making marks and strokes, mainly finger painting. Every few minutes I read the text again. I start to pray. I'm not kidding. I tell God that I need a little vision on this thing. I ask God how it all ties together. The paranoid king, the blind prophet, the talking she-ass, the blessings, the curses, the rage, the beat-down, the orgies with Midionite women, the plague, that horrid impaling scene at the end. What. On earth. Does. It. Mean. God? 

When God doesn't answer I call Sharone. She was a religious studies major and even considered the rabbinate at one point and we chat for a long time about what it all means. I tell her about my American Gothic vision and she can see it too. We talk about the master and servant relationship, about the powerful ruler archetype. We talk about disobedience and how it plays out over and over in the parasha. We talk about how Bilam disappoints Balak and the donkey disappoints Bilam and the Israelites disappoint God. Again. We talk about the context of this chapter. The Israelites have been traveling for nearly all of their forty years in the desert and God is still trying to get them to behave so they can enter the promised land. And they are still totally blowing it, And we talk about the divine feminine - that feral, creative, subversive spirit and makes our donkey heroine open her mouth and tell her master what's what. 

And with all that in my head I go to work. And as I paint and pray and meditate, the parts of the story unfold onto the parchment. You can read about my interpretation here. I send Shoshana a preview and after presenting it to the committee she comes back with some critique. I make some changes, hand off the final piece and hope for the best. 

Timing is Everything. Part I by Susie Lubell

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

Three and a half years ago my father-in-law calls to tell me about an article he has read in the Jerusalem Report about an American woman in Israel who has initiated a community art project called Women of the Book. She has gathered dozens of Jewish women artists from around the world to each create a visual interpretation of the 54 weekly chapters of the Torah. There's an urgency in his voice which is rare. He thinks the project might interest me and he's right. I do some research on the woman and it turns out that she is about my age and we have some friends in common. And she lives about 20 minutes from me. It also turns out that according to the project website, they are still accepting new artists. So I send her an email. 

She replies. Turns out the selection committee is meeting in a few days and she invites me to submit an application. So I spend some time looking at the available chapters and am not inspired. It is a lot of tedious laws and not the good kind, like don't kill anyone. They are regarding genital discharge and marrying your brother's wife if he dies in battle. In short, the nasty laws and laws about doing the nasty. I know. I'm very mature. The only thing half way interesting to me is the bit about stoning of the wayward son but that hits a little too close to home. I tell her I'll take a pass.

A week later, after further research, I settle on parashat Terumah. It talks about instructions on how to build the alter for God while traveling in the desert and I feel like there might be some good imagery there to work with. Also my mom is coming for her first visit since we have made Aliya so I'm in the process of setting up the spare room for her to feel comfortable and I'm seeing some parallels there. It's kind of a stretch. I write a short essay about my ideas and send in a sketch and images of my latest paintings. 

She sends an email that she has just had a baby and so the process has been put on hold in the interim. That is fine with me. I am in no rush. I never hear from her again. I never followed up either. Something isn't right and I know it. I forget about the project.

Fast forward three years and I get an email from the same woman. She's cleaning out her inbox and is very sorry for never having responded after my submission. She wants to know if I am still interested in the project. There are still chapters available and they are listed on the website. I can't decide if I am disgusted or delighted that she would get in touch after all this time. I decide to go with delight and reply to her that the website is not up to date and I can't figure out which chapters are still available. Weeks pass and she doesn't reply. I am not surprised. This was March 2015.

In June 2015 I get a call from her. She's seen my latest work and thinks I am a good fit for the project. Where have you been cha cha?  She goes on to explain that while my previous work, the watercolor landscapes, are lovely, the medium doesn't work with the project. The paintings are meant to be done on parchment, like a real Torah scroll, and eventually stitched together for display. She tells me that the project is going to be featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale at the gallery at the the old train station in Jerusalem. It's all finally coming together but she's still missing a few chapters. I tell her that frankly I am not interested in any of the available chapters and she mentions that a new one has just become available since another artist decided to leave the project. She thinks it's perfect for me. The chapter is Balak. 

Now I am not a Torah scholar. I can count on one hand the chapters that I know by name. But I know Balak because it's the one with the talking donkey. THE TALKING FEMALE DONKEY. It's the one where Bilam the prophet goes to curse the Israelites at the request of the Moab ruler Balak and instead God fills his mouth with words of praise: How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel. I have won the Torah lottery. 

So I submit another application with some ideas and a collection of my recent works. I come to understand from the updated website that it's a longshot since the artists involved in the project are leading contemporary Jewish artists who have exhibited in all the big museums around the world. To make a baseball reference, this is the Show. I set my expectations low. And anyway chances are good that I'll never hear from her again. A week later I get an email that the curatorial committee has met and they want to invite me to participate in the project and when can she drop off the parchment...That was a Thursday. The next evening is Shabbat and the portion of the week is Balak. Timing is everything. 

Allowing for Failure in the Creative Process by Susie Lubell

Imagine how different our professional lives would be if we allowed more time for ourselves to play. Tinker. Mess around. Daydream. And not just "creative" professions. Isn't it Google that allows their employees to spend 20% of their time developing pet projects. They've done pretty well for themselves, I'd say. I think probably the best ideas come out that way. They certainly don't come out from telling ourselves to come up with them.

A few days ago I got to hear an incredible speaker in our tiny community library. World renowned collage artist and illustrator Hanoch Piven came to speak on the topic of communication, creativity and play.  Maybe you don't know his name but you've seen his collages on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire and Time Magazine. He's kind of a big deal. And yet his genius sort of evolved from a place of failure. A little background:

Hanoch Piven always liked to draw as a kid. He loved cartoons and caricatures but instead of pursuing this passion he found himself studying software design and math after his army service.  Safer choices. But dissatisfied with this path he applied to Israel's premiere art school, Bezalel, and was not accepted. So he applied to other schools and ended up studying illustration at the New York School of Visual Arts. At some point he began to feel that his drawing skills just were not at the same level as his classmates and he hit a wall. He tells the story of how he came across an old poster advertisement for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and the image was simply the contour of the face, a black block for a mustache and a wisp of black bang on top. But it was so obvious that not only was it Hitler, it was Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. He was astounded by how such little visual information could convey so much. Soon after he was trying to draw a caricature of Saddam Hussein (this was around the time of the Gulf War) and nothing was working. He saw a box of matches near his drawing table (his girlfriend at the time was a smoker) and by simply placing the matches as Hussein's exaggerated mustache, not much else was needed to convey the persona. 

And so began a 25 year career of creating collages, mainly celebrity portraits, out of everyday items, food and garbage. Every portrait he showed was immediately obvious. He also talked about how the process of creation for him is more about playing than anything else. His studio has boxes and boxes of items and he simply plays with pieces again and again, switching and reconfiguring, until something works. And up until it finally works, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. He says, "there is a lot of inspiration in the process itself. To start the process with failure. To allow yourself to fail. But once you are there, the failures lead to success". 

I love the idea that he creates by playing. He accesses that curiosity that we all have as children but often lose as adults. It reminded me of that quote by Picasso "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." He even showed a picture of Picasso, one of my favorites, one that I have hanging in my own studio, sitting at a table with rolls at the edge where his fingers would be. Silly Picasso. 

This is exactly where I'm at. I'm letting myself play. I'm painting layer over layer until I like what I see. When something isn't working, I let it dry and let it go. I glue some paper on top, make some new marks and move forward. I look at the those marks and see what emerges. A woman, a monkey, a giraffe. Whatever it is, I let it in. Hearing Hanoch speak about his own similar process was like getting a little nod and pat on the back. You got this girl. Keep at it.

And I should also mention that for someone so accomplished, he comes across as a lovely man. A mensch really. He holds creativity workshops all over the world for children and adults and lectures on the topics of creativity, communication, innovation and education. Here are a few snippets to enjoy. The Ted Talk especially contains much of the material he shared with us in the library.

And the Sea Parted by Susie Lubell

Sometimes connections and messages present themselves and I happen to have my eyes open and then I get to witness something extraordinary.

Last week was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and my Facebook feed was full of Never Again sentiment with all of the horrifying imagery that, together with chicken soup, Sabbath candles, Fiddler on the Roof and standing under the chuppah, forms the core of my Jewish soul. I clicked on a few links and managed to see images I had never seen before which I didn't think possible. One link in particular focused on the children of the holocaust and I stared at the tiny, terrified, malnourished faces and I thought of my own children and the world we live in today. This year the anniversary of liberation coincided with the Torah portion Beshalach, the splitting of the Red Sea. And just as the Israelites were released from bondage and crossed over to redemption, so did the survivors of Auschwitz. Except even now, after so much time has passed, nothing much has changed. Humans around the world are still enslaved and broken. European Jews live in fear again. Humanity hasn't learned. Let's just say I was not in a good place. 

The next day, on Thursday, I went to a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. In fact I just went to drop off a print that the mother of bat mitzvah girl had bought from me as a gift for her daughter. This was a client of mine from Sweden who had flown to Israel with her family to celebrate the occasion as they had done for their three older sons. She invited me to join them for the ceremony but I had a doctor's appointment and anyway wasn't sure I would want to spend my morning at a bat mitzvah service for a family I didn't even know. 

That morning I looked up the address and discovered the ceremony was at Congregation Har El in Jerusalem, the founding congregation of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. And it turns out the rabbi there was the first rabbi of our Reform congregation in the little town where we live. I had a feeling I'd be canceling my doctor's appointment.

When I entered the modest sanctuary my client Anneka walked over and welcomed me with a big hug. I gave the print to her daughter Hannah and when she saw Magic Girl with her name inscribed in Hebrew she actually squealed and bounced on her tiptoes. I spoke with Anneka and her husband for a few minutes while we waited for the other guests to arrive. In fact they were German but had moved to Sweden many years ago because of a real estate opportunity. They lived an active, progressive Jewish life in Sweden but were thrilled to be able to celebrate the bnei mitzvah of her children in Jerusalem. Their daughter had learned her Torah portion by studying via Skype with Congregation Har El's cantor.

Once all of the guests arrived (we were only about 25) Rabbi Ada welcomed everyone in English and invited Hannah to the bima to read the poem "I am a Jew", written in 1927 by Jewish French writer, poet, translator and playwright Edmond Fleg. Je suis Juif. But Hannah read it in her native German. And to hear this beautiful twelve year old girl, with the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen, read and affirm again and again, in German, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, felt like redemption itself.

Together we chanted the prayers of the morning service, the same ones I read when I became bat mitzvah almost thirty years ago. And when it was time for Hannah to read her portion from the Torah, which was passed to her from her father to her mother to her older sister and three brothers, the rabbi mentioned that the breast plate decorating and protecting this holy book was donated by Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father and sole surviving family member, when he visited the synagogue in the 1960s. On it, in large Hebrew letters, is engraved In Memory of Anna. Both names, Hannah and Anna, are derived from the Hebrew word for grace. And indeed Hannah was the essence of grace as she chanted her Torah portion, before family and friends, seventy years after the ovens at Auschwitz and only a few weeks after the horrific violence in a changing Europe. Her voice was brave, almost defiant, as she affirmed her sacred place in the history of the Jewish people. And with belief and hope restored, she walked us through the parted waters to the other side.

Not My Circus. Not My Monkeys by Susie Lubell

My painting process is evolving. For this piece I started out by making a big background mess full of color and marks. And then to quiet it down I added some paper layers, the bits I found at the Jaffa flea market last week. And then I looked at the painting upside down and I saw a mouth. I saw a wide opened mouth with teeth which became the face of the little dancing guy. And those two circles under him became balls or color wheels or I don't know what. And then I saw the eyes of the woman next to him so I fleshed her out. I drew his body and at first she was holding him in her right hand but that was weird so I just left him jumping in mid-air. And then I saw the monkey. It was just his nose and eyes at first and then I sketched all of him. And the clown and the monkey were kind of on the same plane so I put them on a high wire. And then I understood what was going on.

Have you heard this Polish expression? Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Which is to say that not all of the crap and drama that's swirling around me is actually mine. Some of the crazy belongs to me, but not all of it.

This is true even about my own kids. I mean, I do feel the need to be aware of what's happening in their respective circuses but in some cases I actively step away and remember that it is not happening to me. For instance and totally hypothetically, it is not my place to tell another mom in my son's class that her kid sucks because he excludes my son, as much as it would give me great satisfaction to do this. It's not my circus. Sure, my son is kind of like my monkey, but he is not an extension of me. He is his own person. And my job is to equip him with what he needs to ringlead his own circus.

This is also true of our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors. It's important to listen and support and care and be available but it's also important to have boundaries. It's not my job to fix everything or everyone. In fact, when I do that it might suggest I don't have a lot of confidence in the other person's ability to manage their monkeys. And that is not a message I want to relay at all, especially to my kids. I want to empower, not undermine or underestimate. But supporting without interfering is a tightrope act all by itself.

Especially Outstanding by Susie Lubell

Three years ago, when we moved to Israel, I met with a counselor from the Ministry of Absorption (Immigration) and she "registered" me as a new immigrant artist and told me that I could present my work in front a committee and potentially be selected as an "outstanding" artist and receive some money from the state to help establish my studio in Israel. This sounded somewhat terrifying but I figured what the hell. She said I would get a letter in the mail the next time one of these committees was meeting.

Many months passed and I never got a letter, so I called. And called. Like twenty times. And finally someone knew something about what I was talking about and said, oh yes, the committee is meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem and you should bring your portfolio.

Wednesday was tomorrow.

I mean, what if I hadn't called so many times? What if still no one knew what I was talking about? Did everyone else get the formal invitation? WHY DOES NOTHING IN THIS COUNTRY EVER WORK BESIDES IRON DOME? So after I finish ranting to Mr. Rosen about how completely idiotic is the Ministry of Absorption I pull together whatever original work I can find, a few new canvases I have just completed and my laptop and hope this will sufficiently impress the committee.

The next morning I park downtown in Jerusalem and schlep all of my stuff to a nondescript building and notice about 50 other people sitting around waiting to present in front of the panel. So I sign in and wait. And wait. I wait for three hours. When it is finally my turn I set up my laptop and show the four people my website and then in Hebrew I explain to them about what I do and my business and what I've been working on lately. And then one woman says, thank you, that is all. I had been in there five minutes. I was second to last and it was past lunchtime.

I leave feeling furious. Why does the government of Israel even have these programs to help professionals when really they should put the money toward some management consulting or something because for starters they could have assigned us individual times so that we didn't have to hang around forever and even my seven year old could have come up with that one! Crimey!

I get in the car and drive home, still fuming and I think of all the things I could have articulated better. And I think about how much I hate my website. The next day I just can't take it anymore and I call up the Ministry and find my way to the coordinator for the artist panel and give her a piece of my mind. I tell her that we waited for hours and that we should have had time slots and then when I was finally seen at the end it was only for five minutes and the committee wasn't friendly at all and it was a total waste of my time. And she says, what, was your name again?

Susan. Susan Lubell Rosen.

There is a pause.

Were you the one with the watercolors and Judaica and the website? You were one of the last ones?

Yes, I say, bracing for a total shredding of my work.

You were selected as Especially Outstanding. You were the only one. Out of everybody. It's interesting that you left feeling totally discouraged because we thought your work was wonderful and that you have a big future ahead of you. 


In a million years I couldn't have guessed that one. Note to self: see yourself how others see you and tell your self doubt to take a hike (I might use a different phrase if it was just me and self-doubt having a chat. Something that rhymes with pluck cough). So I take back some of the mean things I said and the coordinator says that next year they'll use time slots. She tells me to wait for the official letter and then submit a proposal for how to spend the stipend and then wait for approval and then buy the stuff and then wait to be reimbursed. All in good time.

And that is also how I came to be on an official list from the Ministry of Absorption as an Especially Outstanding new immigrant artist and how I came to find out about a gallery in Jaffa that was receiving submissions from new immigrant artists for an exhibition and how I came to participate in my first group exhibit in a gallery in Israel.

Now that's what I call Especially Outstanding.

From Berlin with Love by Susie Lubell

This past May, in the middle of packing up our house to move, we went to Berlin for five days. And we had THE BEST TIME EVER. Berlin is beautiful and easy to navigate and fun and bike friendly and charming and full of tasty food and not super expensive and VERY HISTORICAL. So we kept busy but also managed to sleep plenty and hang out in parks and not watch our kids. Because we were BY OURSELVES. I know. It's confusing. But wait, where were the kids? THEY WERE AT HOME WITH THEIR GRANDPARENTS.

While we were there we had the wonderful fortune to meet someone whose artwork I have adored for many years and whose online presence is just delightful in every way. We met up withStephanie Levy for coffee at a lovely cafe in her neighborhood and chatted for two hours about everything from motherhood to living abroad to being a working artist. We laughed about how for a long time we couldn't find cranberry juice in our adopted countries! Or hydrogen peroxide! We talked about the daily struggle to fit everything in, to live so far away from family and some of the classic language blunders we've made. And the cultural differences when it comes to raising kids. Fascinating stuff. Well, let's just say we couldn't shut up. Plus she has a Tennessee drawl that just makes you want to bust out your fiddle.

Anyway, she runs a whole host of online and in-person creative workshops and lucky me, she asked me to be part of her latest one Creative Courageous Holiday which is a five week online course to add magic and myrrh to your holiday season. I'll be sharing some of our Channukah customs from over here in the Holy Land and seven other fantastic artists (including, I just found out, Lori Portka, who I just wrote about yesterday!) will share their personal thoughts, tips on holiday creativity and family traditions. I have a friend here who takes her kids out of school for a field trip to Machane Yehuda (Jerusalem's famous outdoor food market) for their annual tasting of traditional Chanukkah donuts (sufganiyot). That's a tradition I plan on adopting this year too.

The class also includes dozens of festive recipes, craft projects (thinks DIY gifts and Pinterest worthy holiday decorations), creativity prompts, inspiration from Berlin's world famous holiday markets, mixed media journaling, traditions from around the world and a lot more. Starts Monday so sign up here.

Rain by Susie Lubell

I've been watching the weather forecast on my phone for the last week waiting patiently, or with very little patience actually, for the week of rain scheduled to start Thursday night. Which it did! We've had a few intermittent showers over the last month but nothing that resembles the true end of summer. But I think it's over. In Israel we have basically two seasons. Hot and Cold. The spring and fall are very short. It mainly means you can wear jeans with your sandals. The fall may as well not exist altogether since the trees don't change color. Spring, on the other hand, is spectacular with unimaginably beautiful wildflowers at every turn, but the fall is kind of meh. Needless to say I'm pretty delirious about the weather changing, with the exception of its affect on my allergies. Rain cleans everything up. It settles the dust from the summer. It brightens up the place. It forces me to take inventory, switch stuff around. I find myself in the attic searching for rain boots and umbrellas and down comforters, all packed away last April. The whole thing makes me giddy.

A few weeks ago I went through the same process with my website. I wanted a fresh start for a new season and I was desperate to brighten up the place. But more than just a visual makeover, I needed to really examine my value proposition and take proper inventory of what I do. For other artist/bloggers out there, maybe you've struggled like I have to extract something cohesive from all that you do. Something that is uniquely you, something compelling in this world where everything under the sun already exists. For many years, before I started making art again, I was writing about motherhood and family life. About balancing work and life with kids. I had a lot to write because everything was new. The lack of sleep, the worry, the potty training, the exhaustion, the everyday toils of a new mom. And then I started my business which had little to do with what I was writing in my blog. Occasionally I'd try to make a connection but it felt forced which is how it continued for years while the pace of my posts decelerated to a near standstill.

So when my kids finally went back to school in September I looked at everything. I went into my proverbial attic and sorted through the clothes and boots and gear until I got a clear picture of what I had to offer, my BRAND. And that's when I could finally make sense of the many hats I wear and pull together a unified online presence to showcase it. Moving here three years ago opened up a source of constant inspiration for me. Sometimes to the point where I'm completely over stimulated and can't get anything out. But when I slow down and spend some part of every day creating then the work flows. What I witness here on the day to day is what feeds my art and my writing. There is no distinction. And taken together, it's my vision and voice, which is the one thing I can offer to the world that doesn't already exist. Because nobody else, thank god, is me.

So here's to rain and settled dust and clean slates. It's a work in progress. More later on how I built the site in one week of late nights using WIX.

Shabbat shalom.

Cat and Canary by Susie Lubell

Her cage was purely decorative.

Her cage was purely decorative.

I have to be honest. I don't exactly know where these paintings are coming from. This one started out very dark. Like a lot muddy paint. Like what my three year old comes up with if I don't get the brushes out of his hands in time. And from the mud emerged an anemic spooky girl and a weird black shape hovering over her. And then the girl got covered over and the black shape was a bird. And then the black bird was sitting on top of a big cage. But then the bird had to go and the cage got a table. And there was a giant magnolia looking tree which I covered up and the pot for the tree turned into a cat in a dress. And a different bird appeared on top of the cat. And then I broke out my new neon vermillion cheapy paint from the craft store and held my breath and slathered it on. And suddenly it all came together for me. This painting was me dealing with fear.

People, I can't paint a cat. I mean not really.  Cats are hard to paint. Truthfully most everything is hard for me to paint. I have a terrible fear of making mistakes and wrecking everything and having to start over and it's fairly pervasive. I feel it when I'm dealing with money, parenting, writing, cooking and especially when I'm painting. Which is why for many years I've stuck with the kind of stuff I can do well - little buildings, trees, fields, birdies. Also because i have so little time to create, I don't want to waste any of it on stuff I have to redo. Or can't sell. It can be kind of debilitating.

But all of that amounts to fear.  Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of sharks in the deep end (that's a literal fear of mine, but may have some figurative aspects). Here I am trying to raise empowered, self-assured, courageous kids while letting my own fears limit my potential. So I'm cracking that shit wide open. I'm painting cats because I can. And they can be in a dress. I'm allowing myself the space and freedom to make mistakes and start over how ever many times I need. I'm reserving judgement. I'm telling the critic in my head to pipe down. I'm leaving the cage to sit bravely with the one thing that, left unchecked, has the power to eat me up.

The Flood by Susie Lubell

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

Don't be alarmed but a chicken is driving the ark.

There is a lot going on in this painting. I know. And as my friend said when I showed it to her, wait, let me call Marc Chagall and tell him his flying alpaca is loose. What can I say? I'm almost giddy to be back making art in the studio. Well let's go back even further. I HAVE a studio. I have a gorgeous space on the third floor/roof of our house with a giganto balcony that overlooks all of the southern Judean hills. Mr. Rosen installed wood floors and built me a huge, wall to wall desk for better flow and production. And I have a space to paint on an old architects desk that we fixed up and on the walls of the stairwell for when I need everything upright to spray water and fling paint around. Plus there's a little table and chairs for small people to come and paint or draw or glue felt to toilet paper rolls for, let's say, an upcoming holiday, which there are thankfully none. But now that the kids are all back in school, the place is mine again.

On Sunday I got down to business. Staring at a blank canvas after many months of non-creativity is a little daunting. So I finger painted to make the white go away. Then I added some pretty papers that I'd collected. And some old maps. And a stamp. And I tore a page out of an old Hebrew English dictionary I have whose words often dictate the direction of the piece and guess who showed up on that page. Noah! I swear. If you look closely you will see Noah is one of the entries. As is the word for distilling. Also drunkenness. Anyway, it happens to be that the Torah portion for this week is Noah and the flood! I mean, come on people! You can't make this stuff up.

So I take that to be a sign from the almighty and I smudge some more paint here and there and soon a pink sparkly ark and a chicken appear and a stormy ocean and dry land in the distance creating the perfect background for a flying alpaca in a housecoat holding an olive branch in his mouth. Just like that. And all I could do was get out of my own way and welcome the flood.