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.

Morning in Jaffa by Susie Lubell

Jaffa oranges! Well these are actually just clementines...

Jaffa oranges! Well these are actually just clementines...

Yesterday was a beautiful day and I spent the whole morning in Jaffa, a beautiful and gritty enclave just south of Tel Aviv. It was magic. Even the parking gods smiled upon me (I was literally praying to find spots while still on the highway). First I met a client of mine from the US who is here for work (she's a translator/interpreter and owns her own firm).  She moved here in her younger days, met an Israeli, got married, moved back to the US, had kids etc. Now she's back and forth a lot. Obviously we had plenty to talk about. She has commissioned a few pieces from me over the last few years and it was great to finally connect over coffee. I dropped her off at a hotel to meet up with one of her translators and then I stopped by the little gallery where my work was hanging the last few weeks. I retrieved my three pieces and then wound my way back to the Jaffa Flea Market, home of the best assorted crap and treasures worldwide. I find the place to be a little overwhelming if I'm actually looking to buy something so I decided to only look for the one thing I'd been trying to find for a few years now - an old printer drawer to hang on the wall for my kids to stick all their tchotchkes inside. It turns out that they are expensive! And hard to find! But I found one at a really good price and now I'm thinking I probably should have bought two because neither of the older kids will want their figurines to mingle. I guess I have to go back!

But the best thing I found was the thing I wasn't looking for at all. Isn't that always the way? I found a guy selling all sorts of cups and dishware but who also had a duffel bag full of small "blue books" or little lined paper pads typical for Israeli students and bits of paper remnants - stamps, library receipts, old id cards, medical approvals - from a woman named Yael Hasid who died a few years ago. Fascinating stuff! The blue books are from the fifties with the most incredible handwriting in both Hebrew and English. One is for a course on Shakespeare. King Lear! Another is about child psychology and the Montessori method. And there's a transcript from selections of a Susan Isaacs book entitled Troubles of Children and Parents. Hmmm... I was already imagining the zillion collages I would make with this stuff. Well he charged me about $5 for a bag full and now as I look through it all I am thinking how strange it is that I have in my possession this woman's old writings, obviously thrown out by her survivors or estate lawyers or whoever, the kind of stuff that we all throw out all the time because otherwise we'd be drowning in our own stuff. But now I'm kind of getting attached to this woman I don't know and I'm not sure I'll be able to tear up her work and glue it to a canvas. I look at her handwriting and it's almost like a time capsule. No one writes like that anymore. No one writes anything by hand anymore.

It reminds me a short film I saw maybe six months ago on the online NY Times Magazine I think about a woman who was cleaning out her mother's apartment after she passed and making boxes of what to keep and what to give away or throw away. You could see how much this woman loved her mother and how difficult it was for her to part with her mother's things. I can see how this pile of papers was maybe the easiest thing for a son or daughter to throw out. How other things, maybe the stuff that held more significance to them, were more difficult to part with. We generate so much stuff in one lifetime and most of it doesn't much matter after we're gone. Lord know how these papers ended up in the duffel bag with the guy selling cups. He said he got it from someone who cleared out the apartment of someone who died, but that seems odd. If I were Ira Glass maybe I'd write a chapter for This American Life. But I'm not and Yael wasn't American anyway. I think I'll read through her work a little a bit and pay her due respects. And then I'll turn her old stuff into something new.

Flowers!

Flowers!

love grafitti

love grafitti

pretty gritty

pretty gritty

printer drawer score

printer drawer score

good stuff

good stuff

you know my thing for colored veneer

you know my thing for colored veneer

a treasure trove

a treasure trove

You May Remember by Susie Lubell

An elephant never forgets.

An elephant never forgets.

I don't know if it's since we moved to Israel or since I turned 40 or since the war last summer, but I am feeling the love and while I hate to admit it, it has a lot to do with Facebook. Damn you Facebook. Just when I think you are pure evil, I discover your redeeming qualities...

I'm not talking about birthday love, which I appreciate as much as the next guy. A hundred birthday messages straight to your inbox is pretty sweet. But it's more than that. Lately I have felt an incredible amount of support and love from old friends, some even just old acquaintances, with whom I am in touch solely because of Facebook. But there's something about these people that I have known for so long - DECADES - that I consider sacred. These include my oldest friends who I sometimes see when I visit my mom. But I'm also thinking about the kids that I never said two words to growing up and will likely only see again at our 50th high school reunion. We lived different lives. I was nerdy and played soccer and didn't go to dances. I was in Hebrew school and went to Jewish sleep away camp in the summers. And I played piano and did community theater. Those were my things. I wasn't a cheerleader or a swimmer or a stoner or in the Chess Club. I didn't have boyfriends. I wasn't in Glee. In fact I did join our version of the Glee Club my senior year, which opened up a whole new realm of friendships. That was fun and unexpected. We sang about Jesus a lot. Less fun (for me).

Anyway, I'm talking about all of you. The people that I once knew well and with whom I have lost touch and those I only knew by name and face (and reputation) because you were in another grade or we never had any of the same teachers. By the time we were seniors there was a lot of more crossover and barriers came down while we all scrambled to finish and move on. I must say I never felt bullied or teased, nothing that left any scars anyway. I felt appreciated. I felt included. And I thank the almighty infinite powers that there were no smart phones. The only documentation we had was the yearbook and that was plenty. How lucky we were to be born in the seventies.

And over the years I have gotten back in touch with a lot of these people through Facebook. Because it's fun; I'm interested to see how everyone turned out. And I tell you I have a genuine affection for so many of these folks. I see their sons who look EXACTLY like they did in fifth grade and I want to reach through the interwebs and give them a great big hug. I see girls who seemed like train wrecks in high school with wonderful careers and I think YOU GO SISTER. Classmates of mine are living all over the globe, living close to home, married, not married, with kids, without kids, taking over the world, drinking a beer, enjoying life, managing through troubled times. I find it absolutely amazing. Because we share something so elemental. We grew up together. Our family lives and life experiences may have been vastly different and yet we were together from 8 AM to 3 PM five days a week for twelve years. We learned to read together. We had slumber parties together. We went to the LA Olympics together. We lived through the Night Stalker together. We went through puberty together. We watched the Challenger explode together. We had braces together. We did the bar mitzvah circuit together. We toilet papered houses together. We lost friends together. We hated trigonometry together. We sang together. We won and lost soccer matches together. We ate frozen yogurt together. We watched Dead Poet's Society together. We went to Taco Bell together. We learned to drive together. We took the 5 to the 55 to the 22 together. We protested for our teachers together. WE LEARNED STOICHIOMETRY TOGETHER (you may remember...though I doubt it). We applied to college together.

We went through a lot separate, but a lot of it we did together.

I see you all on my screen and get your wonderful messages and some of you even buy my art, which means more than you will ever know and I feel the tricks of time. On the one hand, it's as though no time has passed and we are all essentially the same kids we were back in elementary school. But on the other hand we have been through so much and we've hit an age where we can look back with fondness on a time when things were simpler. And we no longer judge each other or categorize. And we can appreciate each other and be proud of who we have become and all we have done in our forty+ years. I want you to know that I remember you. And I thank you for your part in shaping me.

Shabbat Shalom.

A+ in Comprehension by Susie Lubell

Our daughter radiates love. She is a professional snuggler. She likes to get close. She loves to laugh. She has an unbelievable intuition. She understands people and situations. The other day I was watching a video an old friend had sent me from Peter Gabriel's Secret World tour, a concert we had seen together. My daughter snuggles in close to watch together on my phone and then she whispers to me, is he getting divorced? In fact the whole album has mostly to do with his devastating divorce. How does she know these things? Her emotional intelligence is magnificent. She can probably talk to the dead. I'll keep you posted.

The rest of this post is on the Times of Israel.

 

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. 

Huh?

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.

Big Dreams by Susie Lubell

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

Her dreams were much bigger than she originally admitted.

I've been lying to myself and most everyone else. Or rather, I haven't been totally truthful about my professional aspirations. I have minimized them because of this fear of owning my dreams. That if I told anyone that what I really want is to have my work hanging in galleries and museums, to have exhibitions all over world, to teach workshops in self expression through painting, well then they would know. And maybe they would laugh at me. Or say, oh yes, wonderful, but then secretly snicker and think, who does she thing she is? She's not an artist. She can't even draw a cat! She doesn't make art. She makes decorations. She can't teach people to paint because she never learned how to paint! And anyway, once anyone knows that I have these aspirations, then I would be held accountable for making good on my declarations. Like taking out a mortgage.

A few years ago, when I was taking steps to design a career as a creative professional, I took an eight week coaching class based on the book Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd. This paragraph from the book sums up everything for me:

"Some fear is healthy. It keeps us from jumping off buildings and saying smug things to violent drunks. But fear also works against us. Fear colludes with our most conservative self and allows us to stop before we try, dismiss before we think, mock before we imagine. We've all seen it in others; it is so easy to perceive when ou watch a friend refuse to take advantage of some remarkable opportunity, simply out of fear. But tey don't often say, "I'm too afraid." They say, I don't know if I'm ready," or "I'm just too busy right now." At the heart of their fear is the message, "If I try to get something really wonderful, I'll have to screw up everything that is already just okay."

So I've been keeping my dreams small because I fear the kind of criticism and rejection that comes with sharing and achieving big dreams. But there's another side to that fear (psst. I'm like the three billionth person to share this quote. It's still worth sharing):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson

I just can't do it anymore. I can't be small. Being small serves no one. I'm big. Like a whale. And my aspirations are whale-sized too. Unfortunately my whale-sized aspirations have to live in harmony with the everyday demands of my regular life including the whale-sized pile of laundry to be folded on my bed.

But it doesn't matter does it. The thing that matters is the truth. And the truth is that I dream big. Because anything else only serves to deny the world my gifts. We all have gifts don't we? And gifts are meant to be shared.

Aliyanniversary by Susie Lubell

We moved to Israel three years ago today. It's our aliyanniversary. Sometimes I think back on that period in our lives and I don't know how we did it. We had a baby, sold our house, moved to a temporary house, packed everything we could fit into a 20 foot container, sold everything else, boarded a flight with TEN pieces of luggage, three car seats, a stroller, a porta-crib and four carry-ons, said goodbye to our family, friends and lives in America and landed in Israel. Eyes wide shut. What were we thinking? I'm still not 100% sure. I do know that despite the two wars, the endless bureaucracy, the heat, the snow, the giant void in mentalities that I encounter daily, the inability to follow all the PTA emails in Hebrew, the absence of Trader Joe's, the financial struggle, the DRIVERS, the feeling that no one knows what I'm saying, the littering, the constant tension between Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews, Secular Jews and Orthodox Jews, my eldest and his sister, we're pretty happy. I can't explain it. Here, I'll try.

All of these things make me feel incredibly grateful that I have a partner like Mr. Rosen. And three healthy, well-adjusted kids. A group of sister-friends (not to be confused with sister-wives). Family who support and love us, both here and in America. Plus strikingly beautiful nature and spectacularly gritty cities for inspiration. Nothing is easy here. For me anyway. The intensity is relentless. I always feel like I'm fighting and it's exhausting. But I feel alive. I take nothing for granted. It could all be gone tomorrow. Or the next day. Or after the chagim.

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.

Creative Ritual by Susie Lubell

Dogged

Dogged

Let's just say, between you and me, that I don't have one. A creative ritual. Many artists do. I don't. The other day I was reading a post by my friend Lori describing her gorgeous, intentional painting ritual and I almost started to cry. It was that beautiful. And I know it's taken years of hard work for her to get to this level of mental and emotional clarity. She begins by lighting her abundance candle and then rubbing essential oils on her hands and heart. She breathes deeply and prays, summoning her angels and guides and asking for their help and wisdom in creating her work. She waits for their presence and the work flows through her. You can read about ithere. It's absolutely moving. I love that she has this ritual. I am considering stealing it. Because here's what it looked like in my world on Thursday when I tried to create. 

After I get my kids off to school I make myself some coffee and run upstairs to the studio. Then I realize my glass pallete is still full of paint from the day before and all of my brushes are rigamortis because I'd been distracted and forgot to wash them. So I bring everything downstairs and dowse the brushes in magical paint remover / brush restorer and I make some toast. Then I scrub the paint off the palette and head back up the stairs. I grab a canvas that now has several layers of ugly all over it. But I still feel calm yet excited for what might appear on the canvas today. I squeeze out my paint, dab my fingers and started smudging. I listen to music. It's nice. Then I hang up the canvas and squirt it with water so it drips and makes more shapes and I hope that when I come back it will resemble something. I go downstairs and wash my hands and flip the laundry. I fold the dry laundry. It's now about half way through my morning and the anxiety of picking up my kids starts to creep in. My coffee is cold. I grab my canvas again and I see what my be a goat. Maybe a ram. And I think, great! This week's Torah portion is the binding of Isaac so of course I would paint a ram! But on closer examination it looks like a dog. And when I flesh it out a bit more it is absolutely a dog. Huh.

By now it's very close to pick up and I still haven't made any lunch. So I hang up the canvas, run downstairs, throw some frozen shnitzel on the stove, heat water for the cous cous and cut up some vegetables. My son usually bikes on Thursdays because his sister comes home later and I don't want to have to pick them up separately. But he has a flat tire and I have to get him. He sits down for lunch and I run upstairs to try to make sense of the dog. My hands are a mess again but it's time to get my daughter so I run downstairs and get in the car and get paint on the steering wheel and pick her up. I'm still wearing my painting apron.

She comes home and eats and I run upstairs to try again. It is not flowing. I now have paint in my hair from trying to get the apron off because I have to pick up my three year old from his preschool and actually go inside so I can't wear the paint apron. I check the time and now there's paint on my phone. He comes home and eats and I make small talk all the while completely obsessed with the dog. Then it's 2:30 and my oldest has his piano lesson. Again, no bike. I take him. Baby falls asleep in the car. I put him down in his bed and my daughter comes upstairs to consult on the dog. She likes him. She makes herself a palette and starts to make her own painting. We paint together for half an hour and it's nice except the time is ticking. 45 minutes are up so I leave her and race down to pick up my son. I give up on the dog for today though he gnaws at me and I am distracted. I do the dishes which serves to get the paint of my hands. Very efficient. I flip the laundry again and fold. I will try again tomorrow.

And so it goes over here. There is no intention. There is only chaos. And sometimes I really like the work that emerges from the chaos. But mostly I'm left feeling like I just chased a chicken for an hour.

There's obviously more than one way to create. And each of us finds our way. My way, for right now, is mostly about survival which is true across the board, not just about making art. But I think if I could take a second and CALM DOWN and listen, really listen, I might get a little guidance and find that the work flowed better. I think an abundance candle would also help.

P.S. My friends Lori and Liv are starting what I'm sure will be a spectacular 8 week online course called Infinite Purpose. I just signed up, as I do most things, the last possible second. It starts TODAY. I have personal experience with Liv's intuitive gifts so I am sure it will be an unforgettable experience.

Growing Up by Susie Lubell

I had a conversation last night with my son and while I was having it I was very conscious of it being one of those big conversations that you have some times as a kid and you keep with you for a long time. He's ten now so things stick. Everything gets filed away as experience and later drawn upon or discarded.

I had put the other kids to bed and he was reading in his room. And then he came into my room and told me that at his scouts meeting, his counselor, who is a sixteen year old kid and the son of our old neighbors, told the boys, who apparently had been fighting, that getting a bump on the head or a bruise from a fight with a friend goes away after a few days. But words stay with us forever. If you say mean things to someone, my son told me, that person keeps those words inside them forever. He sat on my bed and we spoke about it for a good fifteen minutes. He was so earnest. He suddenly seemed like a rational human.

There are problems with the kids in his class, the boys and the girls, and those are the same kids in his scouts troop. I don't know why they did it that way but if I questioned every single thing here that made no sense to me I'd be in a constant state of inquiry and that gets exhausting. Someone must have had a reason. But his class in particular is known to be problematic. They've been together since first grade and it's gotten worse every year. And a lot of the kids now have smart phones now so there are chat groups and bullying goes on there. We have steered clear of that nonsense although my son has not been entirely unaffected.

I asked if anyone was making fun of him or calling him names and he said no. But that some of his friends had been made fun of and that hurt his feelings too. I told him that was called empathy. It's a concept I have been trying to convey to him for years with little success. He's a first born. The sun and the moon dance around him for his sole entertainment. In fact just a day before, literally a day before this conversation, he was fighting with his sister about something (ridiculous) and he huffed off to his room. A few minutes later I joined him and we talked about the pattern that he and his sister always fall into. She wants to play with him, he's not interested, she tries to get his attention any way she can and starts bothering him, he gets annoyed and they start yelling at each other, one of them spits, the other hits. Crying. Game over.

I asked him if he could imagine what it's like to be his sister, which I have asked a million times. Imagine that you have an older brother and you want to play with him but he mostly ignores you. And for the first time he told me directly, I can't imagine that because it's not real. I don't have an older brother so I don't know what that is like for her. He didn't know and he couldn't imagine. Problem. I was staring at a future narcissistic megalomaniac.

But then the very next day he understood. Well he understood in the context of his friends, but I saw a tiny pinhole in our conversation and wormed in the bit about his sister. And then he understood that also.

I am sure there are a zillion terra bytes of research on why kids are mean to each other. It must be something about our society; about the way we raise them to look out for number one. And I know it will only get worse. On the other hand, I marvel at my son'scounselor who is all of sixteen and a kid himself, who, despite having to deal with a toxic group of boys, managed to impart a positive message to my son that struck him so deeply that he needed to have a bedside sit down to process it. There is still hope.

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.

Suing National Insurance: A Cautionary Tale by Susie Lubell

Maybe the money from National Insurance is at the end of this thing...

Maybe the money from National Insurance is at the end of this thing...

This is a long story and starts three years ago. But I haven't written a proper long story since theSnow Storm of 2013 so I'm due. Take a deep breath.

Three years ago we arrived in Israel. It's was November 16th. The next day we started taking care of business at all of the government offices. We needed new ID cards, health insurance for everyone in our family, we needed to sign the kids up for school and also register as new immigrants or, in my husband's case, a returning resident. It was a lot of time and forms and hassle and lines but we got through it all and no one died.

Fast forward about 15 months. I'm having a conversation with a friend about the recent elections and she is grumbling about how budget cuts had reduced her government child allowance by nearly half. Right. Sucks. So I go home and ask my husband if he had seen a difference in our child allowance in his paystub. I figured it was a line item there and that the money had been going into our account from day one.

The rest of this saga can be found on The Times of Israel.

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.

How the Sukkah and My Mental State Came Apart by Susie Lubell

It's safe to say that by the end of sukkot this year I was holding it together about as well as this sukkah, which is to say completely falling apart. I don't know why it's so challenging but it is. It's a solid three weeks of festive meals, and going to synagogue, and planning to go to synagogue and then not going because it's too hectic or hot or far away to walk, and hosting friends and family or being hosted or feeling like you have to host or be hosted because that's what we do and if you don't then you're a high holidays loser. Listen, we did our best. We gave it all we had. We dipped apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah. We ate a round challah. We sang songs about sitting on our porch counting birds. We fasted on Yom Kipur. The kids rode bikes as is tradition in this part of the world (it's the one day of the year the roads are empty. Like literally no vehicles. At all). We built a lovely sukkah. The kids and I made toilet paper roll creatures to hang from the sukkah as is commanded in the Torah after thous shalt not murder. We shook our fuzzy stuffed toy lulav and etrog and said blessings. We ate in the sukkah. We went camping and endured a thunder and lightening storm the likes of which has not been seen in these parts since Noah and the Ark. And we danced around with a stuffed Torah (we like our religious items to be fuzzy and huggable) for Simchat Torah. We even managed to celebrate my son's tenth birthday amidst all the holiday madness. It's enough!

And that is why, come Friday afternoon, the home stretch in a never-ending slough of festivies, I had a total come apart. I just needed to have a Friday night that wasn't a shabbat. I needed my old life where I could have a nice dinner with my family and then go to the movies with a friend. I needed to be American for one evening. And it wasn't possible. Because there's no one here to be American with. Everyone's home with their families, whether or not they are observant and that's just how it is. And most days I like it just fine. I like how the Sabbath provides a wonderful rhythm to the week and then forces you to slow down for a day. But after moving and the summer and the war and holiday after holiday after holiday, I just wanted it all to go away.

In the end I got my wish. Mr. Rosen took the kids out all day on Saturday for a long walk and picnic with friends while I got my studio in order (which paid off because I've started painting again and it's fabulous!) and then went out to Jerusalem with a friend to see a movie and eat a hamburger. Just us. No kids. And it was a total reboot.

We live here with such intensity, day in and day out, that I frankly don't even notice anymore on most days. But then it catches up with me and hoo-boy it starts to look a lot like a nervous breakdown. And then it is a nervous breakdown. But all that is in the past. The sukkah is down and my spirits are back up. The future is holiday free for at least two months. And together we say, Amen.

The Big One-Oh by Susie Lubell

Hey kiddo,

Ten. Years.

Today you are ten years old. Today I am ten years older than I was when you were born. 

We have been doing this thing, me and you, for a DECADE. Non stop. It's the longest job I've ever held. And the worst paid. Still, it has its benefits. Like sometimes you still let me hug you. Thanks. And you always sign out of your Google account and close your tabs on my computer. Thoughtful. The truth is you are still very much my little boy just as you are also really growing into your own person. Still as captivated by cell phones as you were when you were a toddler, but coming to terms with the fact that you may end up the last person in your class to actually own one. That's the breaks. Your parents are cheap and old fashioned. And we think kids should communicate by speaking. Or writing. With a quill. You'll thank us later. Or not. We don't care.

Your curiosity about the world continues to amaze and delight. And by the world I mean the World Wide Web. To such an extent that after months of talking about creating your own website and being a site administrator and owning your own server, you decided to make it happen by hacking into your school's website, making yourself the administrator, hacking into the school district's mainframe, creating a new preschool and appointing yourself administrator of that website too. Success! Then we got a call from your teacher who in fact loves you but was concerned that you were turning into the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. She kept calling you a donkey on the phone which I found to be very insulting until I realized she was saying the word for serious, not donkey. Hebrew. And it was indeed serious. We even had to meet with the principal. But Aba and I knew that your intent was not malicious. You just wanted to be in charge of the Matrix. I get it. For months you had been pestering us about creating an "eshkol", which to me sounded a lot like a grapefruit, which in fact means a cluster of interrelated websites and that's exactly what you did. So we were secretly proud of your gumption. And since you were so mortified once you understood the gravity, or as I like to say, the donkeyness, of your actions and nearly gave yourself an ulcer and took away your own screen time for a month, that seemed like enough punishment.

But this year your obsession with computers has also yielded a new and highly entertaining hobby. Card tricks. Since the beginning of the summer you have learned dozens of card tricks, like upwards of a hundred (!) and now thanks to the 24 inch Magic Mat (think giant black mouse pad) brought by Grandma on her recent visit from America, you slide and flip cards like a pro. And most of the tricks are downright fantastic. No one can figure them out. I know you're just following the videos you see on You Tube but Aba and I like to think its helping you to build stellar math skills not to mention outstanding fine motor skills. We're also hoping you start doing shows for little kids' birthday parties so you can start earning your keep. From there it's The Ellen Show and then Vegas. The future is bright.

There may also be a glimmer of hope for your relationship with your sister. The bickering continues but I have witnessed several instances that might resemble something related to or associated with camaraderie. You should consider that even though she's younger than you and probably will always be smaller than you, if she keeps up with her judo, she will one day throw you down. And then you'll have no one to saw in half for your Vegas act. And your brother, whose main interests include sitting on your head and playing 52 pick up, is indeed your biggest fan even though you spend much of your time trying to get him off you. It's true that little sisters and brothers can be pests, but it's mainly because they idolize you. And occasionally because you're being a punk.

My birthday wish is for you to take pride in and enjoy whatever you do this year whether its playing piano, riding your bike, participating in Scouts, learning card tricks, writing for the school newspaper, putting your clothes in the hamper. All of it! Be kind to yourself and the people you love. And know that no matter what, no matter how many government websites you take down, you are loved and adored by your family and friends. And by all the kids in the preschool that you invented.

Mieces to pieces,

Mommy

The Last Four Months by Susie Lubell

afterwar.jpg

Hi. It's me. Susie.

The last four months have been difficult. For many reasons. And whereas difficulty and stress once made me want to express and communicate and share and storytell, now it makes me quiet. That may be a sign of maturity. Or depression. There have been good times. Proper laughing big smile silly dancing chocolate good times. But mostly stress and concern and overwhelm. And I am sick of it.

We moved. We bought a house last December and it was finished in June and we moved into it. So with the exception of five glorious child-free days in Berlin with Mr. Rosen, we spent all of May packing. Ourselves. We didn't hire anyone and that was a mistake and if we ever move again which I never will so help me lord almighty (that's not true. We will probably move a few more times because I love to suffer) I will hire someone. A bunch of people. I will hire a staff of specialists to help me do it. I will hire a box guy and bubble wrap guy and a guy to move heavy things and a guy to move light things and a guy to supervise all of my guys. I will do the opposite of what we did which was haul all of our boxes in our Mazda 5 and all of our furniture tied to the top of it. Only a mile away but still. Schlepping your refrigerator and your sofa and your armoir on the top of a car is dumb. Almost as dumb as climbing on top of your car when you are eight months pregnant to adjust the mountain bike that fell over when you pulled into a parking spot at Anthropologie under a low hanging tree.

But we did it. We moved the whole place ourselves. From a place with a garage to a place without a garage which means finding space indoors for all the crap that really has no business being indoors. Like bike tires. And a table saw. Whatever. But we barely had a week to unpack before...

The war.

And then there was a war. And every single person lost their shit. People stopped making any sense at all and I went on defense. People called the war a genocide and I felt compelled to point out that the population of Gaza has been growing steadily in the double digits for decades. People said that the Palestinian people never really existed anyway but I thought they should know that these were actually the people living here before the Jews moved back in the early 1900s. People said the war wasn't fair because we had a defense system that worked really well and we should have also built one for Gaza. Um, that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard until I heard people say Palestinian moms want their children to die for the cause. And then I was done. People spewed their hatred and misconceptions and lies on social media platforms the world over like they'd been waiting for years for just the right reason. And this was it.

But we eeked out a decent, even pretty good, summer. My kids slept in our our secure room all of July and August. We didn't go to the beach because they were bombing the beach. We didn't spend time at their grandparents house because they were bombing the city where they live. We listened for sirens and even now, a month later, my three year hears the phantom wailing and asks if we need to lie down. We still managed to have fun and having to stay close to home made us do less and that was just fine. And sleeping all together was like one long slumber party. Friends who were supposed to come cancelled. Unexpected visitors did come! We even took a family vacation to Slovenia which was magical and wonderful and we prayed the cease fire that began when we left would stick for our return. It didn't.

And all this time I kept quiet. The few times I posted something that made any kind of sense to me, someone else, mainly folks I didn't even know, felt compelled to set me straight. So I shut down. Because none of it mattered. There were no more facts. Only stories.

And then it was over. Just like that. People were protesting all around the world against Israelis and Jews and Hamas and the war and the media and then it was over and every one went about their business even as ISIS mass killings and starvation tactics and beheadings were just revving up. I guess every one was sick of protesting by then (she said while trying to retrieve her eyeballs from the back of her head). We all breathed. The kids went back to school. And it was as though nothing happened. Except something big had happened and I'm still experiencing a kind of loss. But there was no time to process or get back into any kind of routine because then Grandma came for two weeks and we ran around mad trying to find plants for the house and frame pictures for the house and buy hooks for the house and fix things that broke when we moved and still be home in time to get the kids from school and take them to the dentist and take them to judo and make dinner and piano and make lunch and scouts and buy groceries and do the laundry and do the laundry and do the laundry. And while it was fun and wonderful and its own kind of therapy, it was exhausting.

And now it's high holidays and I'm hosting and cooking and cleaning and getting together and making plans and it feels a little bit like choking. I need to SLOW DOWN. I need to stop rushing. I need to walk. And enjoy. And breathe in the autumn air. I need time to myself. I need to take inventory. I need to refill where I've been depleted. I need to paint. I need to garden. I need to take pictures again and share and express and communicate. Because it's been four months. And that's a long time to stay quiet.

Three by Susie Lubell

Dear Tiny Tush McFlat Foot,

I'm two months late in writing you for your birthday. Two months ago we were in the midst of moving to our new home and the insanity sort of hasn't let up. But don't worry. On the day of your birthday we were surrounded by friends and family who came to help us bless our new home and I was reminded of when you were born.  On that very day we sold our house in California which opened up the real possibility that we would move to Israel. The day you were born began a new era and so we called you Idan (era in Hebrew) after your great grandmother Edythe. And we gave you a second name, Hillel, after your great grandmother Helen. It was our great wish for you and for the world that your being here would somehow usher in the era of Hillel, the great and wise rabbi who is known for expressing the golden rule or what I call reciprocal kindness: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

I'm afraid, Babu, we haven't much figured that one out. You see, once we got the house set up and things were starting to settle down for us in our new place, the war started. We're fighting with Hamas. Again. And I haven't felt much like writing. It appears neither side has learned to treat the other as he would want to be treated. It seems so simple really but people feel a lot of hatred in their hearts for all the bad things that have happened to their families over the last hundred years. So we live on an endless loop of he did it / no, he did it and it's mine / no it's mine. Over and over again. It's like when you fight with your brother and sister, only like a zillion times worse. And with bombs. And scary tunnels.

But life continues despite it all. You still spend your days with Yulia, goddess of all caregivers. And you made a best friend this year. Her name is Omer and I hope you stay best friends for a super long time because I like her mom a lot and that's important. This year was a big year for you for so many reasons. You stopped wearing diapers! Kid, I can't thank you enough for that. You started sleeping in your big bed! Now you even have your own room! Although that was sort of short-lived since once the sirens started everyone moved into the secure room. We like to think of it as a summer slumber party.

You've become quite the conversationalist in the last few months, especially for someone who barely spoke until about a year ago. Your speech is often peppered with kaki and poo poo and pee peewhich doesn't much surprise me since my speech is peppered with crap and shit and pissed off. I especially like when you tell a story by saying the same sentence four times in four different intonations. Maybe you should pick up Mandarin, since you already speak Hebrew, English and Russian. (spasibo Yulia). You really are an expert at the art of narrative. And you've been able to express yourself and your concerns clearly during these tough times. Like after we were at the pool with all of our friends and two sirens went off. We ran over to the wall by the bathrooms and layed down flat like we're trained to do. I put my hand over your head and realized your own hands were covering your head. Then you and I talked about the weeeoooweeeooo for a while in various intonations. It's depressing that you're only three and already know how to duck and cover.

We have a cousin serving in Gaza now. He's your third cousin on your Grandpa Stanley's side. I met him when he was about your age when I first came to Israel. He has a twin who is thankfully already out of the army. I remember him as a beautiful, crazy, little boy just like you and now he's a soldier fighting an awful war. A war we could have avoided had the leaders on both sides made better choices over the decades. But now the war seems entirely unavoidable.

I wonder if we'll still be on the loop, fighting the same wars, in fifteen years when it's your turn to wear a uniform.  We're all fairly certain that your brother will be designing Iron Dome 2.0 and safely managing it's operation from behind a computer screen but I'm not sure about you. You were quite dovish in your twos, but now that you're three you've become fairly combatant. Only time will tell. For now I look at your beautiful, healthy little three year old body, so strong and agile and full of life and I thank God everyday that you inherited Grandpa Stanley's flat feet which hopefully disqualifies you from a range of combat positions. It's kind of sick but these are the things I think about.

I hope the big boys out there can end this war soon so no one else has to get hurt. Maybe they need to spend some time at Yulia's to learn about sharing and taking turns and compromise and not hitting or biting and saying nice things. We could probably all use a refresher.

all my love to you sunshine,
Mommy

Unconscious Coupling. It's also a thing. by Susie Lubell

Hi Gwyn,

It's been so long since I last wrote and now I see that we have kind of drifted from our shared destiny. We were so parallel for so long, what with both of us losing our dads to cancer and marrying foreigners and having our kids at the same time while maintaining our astonishingly successful careers. Well I have a pretty good reason for not being in touch since I decided to have another baby and then we moved to Israel. So it's been hectic.

But I see you've been busy too. Snapping your body back to its prepubescent state and starring in a few movies. And then all the singing and dancing around in Glee. I bet that's fun. I'm doing a lot of that too, but in my living room. Not on television. And no one's paying me. But it's still fun.

Listen, I was really sorry to hear about your divorce, er rather your Conscious Uncoupling or decoupling or unraveling or whatever you're calling it. I totally get it. Kids are older. You and Chris want different things. Mid-life crisis and all that. It's not easy. My husband and I have had our ups and downs too but we are sticking it out for now. We're calling this stage of our marriage Unconscious Coupling actually. You might have heard of it. I mean there aren't any studies written about it or anything but it's a very real phenomenon. It's when you're so exhausted because of all the kids and meals and grocery shopping and the cleaning and the working and making ends meet and schlepping and hosting and laundry that you fall asleep having sex. Am I right? Or when you are both so tired after you put the kids to bed, that you just sit on the couch and finger through Facebook updates together and let your eyes glaze over. Like. Like. Share. Like. Oh Like! Like! Like! Right there! Yes! Liiiiiike....It's not the most romantic, but it requires very little bandwidth. Uncoupling isn't really an option for us anyway since I'm a ketubah designer. Bad for business. Branding issue.You know what I'm talking about.

Anyway, famous people can really count anniversaries like dog years. By Hollywood standards you guys have been married for like 70 years so don't let it get you down. You done good.

And now that you're available, you should know I have a really adorable brother who is a non-famous surfer and lives in Mexico. Maybe you need to hunker down with a regular nobody like Julia Roberts did. I'll send you his email if you're interested. Then we can finally get our kids together for that long overdue double playdate...

All the best,

Susie

The magic had been inside her all along by Susie Lubell

The story goes like this: There was once a little girl who spent most of her time playing outside, climbing trees, inventing games, exploring her world and delighting in the endless reaches of her imagination. She knew she was magical.

And then the girl got a little older and started to compare herself to everyone else and the more she did that, the less she could access her own unique spark, until she all but forgot she was magical in the first place. And it took many years for her to realize that the magic had been inside her all along. That she had unique gifts to share with the world and stories to tell that were completely her own. She was only required to be her most authentic self and the magic would once again reveal itself in mysterious and wonderful ways.

This illustration which I created for my seven-year-old daughter had been in my mind for quite a while before I was able to finally get her down on paper. But the minute I did, another kind of magic unfolded. Suddenly women near and far, friends I had known as a child and not spoken with in twenty years, people I didn't even know, reached out to tell me how they'd been touched by this little girl in a tree. How the words spoke to them. How they had once felt like the girl and hoped to feel that way again. How the message was one they wanted to impart on their own daughters.

At first I was surprised but then it all made perfect sense. I had put aside my drawing insecurities (I have those) and without fear or hesitation, I shared my gift and the magic swirled. Here's to encouraging the little girls in our lives to be true and brave and embrace their magnificent gifts!

Of course, I couldn't create a piece for my daughter and not make something for the boys. I thought about all of the images out there directed at boys with a focus on power and bravery and physical strength. But boys are so much more than the Spiderman costumes they wear every day to preschool for a year. They are bounding energy and big plans. They are soulful, kinetic creatures with wild imaginations. And with that in mind I created Super Boy who is inventive, curious, enterprising and thoughtful and still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Magic Girl andSuper Boy are available in print and poster sizes in my ETSY shop. Or buy both and receive a special "sibling" discount. Plus, through March 14th, you can use the code SUPERMAGIC at checkout to get an additional 25% off your entire purchase on ETSY

P.S. And did you know that repeat customers get 20% off every future purchase? The discount code can be found on the the thank you card packaged with your prints. If you have lost the card or never noticed the discount, please email me or message me on  Facebook and I will send you a reminder.