WAJO and Me by Susie Lubell

Idan and Roger forever

Idan and Roger forever

Hello magical boy.

It's your birthday! You are six! On the sixth day of the sixth month! That means today is your magic birthday.  And it also means that after months and months of waiting and asking and reminding and waiting more and more asking and more reminding, you are the proud caregiver for a pet hamster named Roger. Who you named sixth months ago. Obviously pronounced WAJO. Finally! And I can think of no better human to take care of a little fluffy creature than you, my dear boy, because you yourself were born a little fluffy creature, with your angora ginger hair and your giganto eyeballs. So I know you will give WAJO all of your love and attention for at least a whole week before I have to take care of the rascal myself. Oh well. 

Beautiful boy, this has been an incredible year for you. You are learning and growing so much. You learned to swim and ride your bike. You learned to write your name and do a cartwheel. You learned to cheat in card games. You learned all the words to several Sia songs, thanks to your sister. 

And next year you start primary school. FIRST GRADE! I can hardly believe it. Wasn't it just yesterday that you were smearing humus in your hair and climbing into the dishwasher? Now you run around with all the big kids and make sure your opinions and thoughts are known. In depth. Ad nauseum. The truth is, even if your siblings are tired of your lengthy explanations about every single thing that occurs to you, I am always quite interested. So you just blabber on. I love it. 

You know what else I love? I love all your fwends. Yuval and Ariel and Eviyatar and Neta and Naama and Eytan. I love watching you guys build forts and make obstacle courses and slide down the stairs on sofa cushions and swing in our hammock together arguing about who's a better Ninja Turtle, Donatello or Michaelangelo. I love that you wear the same super short cut off jeans every day with your fake Blundstones, looking like the sun-kissed Israeli kiddo that you are. I love that you can roll your resh like an Israeli ambassador but you can't pronounce an R to save your life. I love that you want to be an artist like mommy and that you have the patience to sit and learn with me. I love that your favorite color is yellow. I love that you call my flabby belly and under arms your "fluffa" and how your rub your whole face right in there and inhale its magnificence. I love your laugh and how easily it comes. I love how you insist we read you a book every night. And how you love the old Syd Hoff books. I love how you're big and little. 

I wish for you another wonderful year full of hamster cuddles. I wish you an easy transition to big kids school. You're lucky to have a fifth grader as your sister. She'll watch out for you. I wish for your imagination to stay infinite. I wish you continued delight from all the things, large and small. I hope you continue to try new things. To eat. Wouldn't kill you, you know? 

I love you mieces to pieces. 
Your mommy

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. 

TEN by Susie Lubell

Dearest Sugar Bee,

Ten years ago at this moment I was lying in bed next to your Aba, breathing and meditating my way through contractions. He was snoring. For hours I lay there on my side moaning quietly while the contractions grew stronger and closer together. Aba had a bad cold, I recall. When you're older I'll tell you about Man Flu. At around 5 am I woke him up because it was show time. Grandma stayed with your brother and we drove to the hospital. And three hours later you were out. All yellow and furry.

And now look at you. Ten years old. No longer yellow and no longer furry. Confident and beautiful and generous and loving. And funny! The other day when your brother wouldn't give you something you asked for you said, without missing a beat, that your heart was a dark and stormy night. We all fell over laughing.

Indeed the days of dark and stormy have relented for the time being. No more tantrums over ponytails. Or outfits. Or homework. Maybe a little drama still surrounding homework. And piano. No one is perfect. 

This year judo is out and dance has pas de bourreed itself centerstage. Every night the musical stylings of Taylor Swift inspire a frenzied display of cartwheel split combos to make any dance mom proud. In fact I am not a dance mom but you get your fill just watching Dance Moms and cheering for Maddie or Mackenzie or Ashleigh or Chloe or whoever it is. I don't even mind it really since it seems to be helping to improve your English vocabulary. Although you sometimes sound like you're narrating your own sitcom. Bam! What?! Cue: arm fold and million dollar smile.

If only you could get your brother to start filming you, and your mother wasn't such a disaster at baking, I think you might have a future in YouTubing. So far we have tried and failed at macaroons, lollipops, chocolate covered popcorn, frosting, fondant and meringue. I have other redeeming qualities.

In other big news, this year we were finally able to give you the sister you never had. Far furrier than you were, even at your furriest, Muna has your big brown eyes and shares your love of dancing. She's also a natural runner, like you, and loves to have her hair brushed. And eat salami. I'm afraid Muna the Mutt is the best we can do at this late stage my dear. The good news is that she will never borrow your favorite sweater and wreck it or steal your boyfriend. 

Tomorrow Grandma and I are taking you to get your ears pierced. Finally! You've been waiting for this day for as long as you could talk. Begging me to pierce your ears. Well the day has finally arrived. I'm considering getting a nose ring myself or maybe a second hole in one ear. I actually have two extra holes in one ear, that I did myself when I was fifteen, but have since closed up. A story for another time. When Grandma goes home. Grandma says she's getting her tongue pierced. She's pretty hilarious. After piercing we'll have brunch and go to your favorite stationery store, because you are my daughter after all. School supplies are in our DNA. Gotta stay organized too. Ten minutes after Grandma arrived you were already organizing her purse. Everything has its place girl, amirite? (cue: mother daughter handshake).

I wish you another outstanding year. I wish you continued intuition to skillfully navigate your relationships with friends and family. I wish you utter confidence to express yourself in dance and music. I wish you a year without lice. A lifetime even. And I wish your feet would grow so we could share shoes finally.

Love you mieces to pieces, my Sugar Bee.