Elizabeth F.

Here’s Elizabeth, Making up for two weeks. Thank you for viewing… 

What are you good at?

Science – biology, natural history, designing experiments that help reveal how the world works.

Public speaking and education – Every talk I give tends to result in an invitation to give another.

Plants – Identifying them and helping others to do so and to appreciate them.

Ants – Quite good at catching them, identifying them, and helping others to appreciate them (I co-authored an award-winning book, A Field Guide to the Ants of New England. Woo-hoo! Yeah. Whatever. But they really are amazing creatures. Go out and find them!

Illustration – I can stipple away happily forever (I have been designated by friends and colleagues as the “Dot Lady”), illustrating the wonderful organisms I see and bringing them alive on the page. I happily take criticism from scientists, myself included, to make those drawings really accurately portray the characteristics of the organism that makes it unique. And we make it happen together, collaboratively! I learn something in doing that, and my science evolves accordingly.

Music – I “play out” with guitar and voice, with a duo (Easy Wind). I have a “love-hate” relationship with music. My mother was a concert pianist, and I grew up with a fair amount of pressure to excel, which I did at a very early age. But I rebelled by not practicing as I should have, and I still rebel by not practicing. This is a loss to me, because I am very passionate about music and it gives me joy in ways that little else can. But I am imperfect in making disciplined music happen, and that can bring me to a place of despair. I can hear how the music should be (I can sight-read and figure out chords with the best of them), but I fall short on guitar because I have never had a lesson and my hands, dammit, are not strong enough to make the chords I know I need to. Continued practice over the years has done no good; my hands are weak, and are becoming weaker due to arthritis as my age progresses. My voice is still strong, if faltering, but I wish I could bring the songs I want to sing, for others, to full fruition. I still play out, and that gets me beyond despair, but I wish it would bring me actual joy (it does during periods of emotional distress when I’m just playing to myself).

What do you like to do?

Hang out with friends and meet new friends…in my home, on the trail, in a restaurant, on the phone, wherever connection happens.

Give energizing presentations, workshops, and field trips that people really relate to.

Produce work (usually research papers, essays, newspaper articles, or the occasional illustration) that induce people to notice new things.

Go for walks or do field work (professionally) to notice nature around me. Sometimes I discover rare plants or ants or discover new things about organisms! I also notice how nature is changing with the seasons, and I fall silent and listen and watch, and feel at peace.

Read, watch movies, attend lectures, readings, concerts, and museum exhibits, and learn.

Wannabe skills:

Color. I work mostly in black-and white, using colored pens when I want to. I’ve had only one workshop in watercolor, which is the “lingua franca” of a botanical illustrator, and I’ve suddenly become away of the “technique.” Wow. But color still overwhelms me. I can do it in knitting and occasionally in pastel and colored pens, but have nowhere near the ability to see as some others in this course can. Again, wow.

What does perfection mean to you?

I was a consummate perfectionist as a youth (see “mother as concert pianist” above). I made myself completely miserable striving for some semblance of “perfection.” Yes, I made all “As” but was that “perfection?”  Hardly. It made no difference to the world. Somewhere in my twenties, I gave up on that ideal and realized that a life consisted of making others’ better and in striving to feel some peace amidst the chaos. There is no “perfection,” unless you subscribe to a religious archetype (if you do, no disrespect meant). We are all imperfect beings, striving to do the best we can in a profoundly imperfect world.

Lesson Seven: What do you care about?

I care about the earth.

I very much appreciated Jane’s essay on becoming distinctively “your own.” I was tapped, two weeks ago to give a talk on an exhibit on “Van Gogh and Nature” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. Goodness knows why…but I am the artist/ecologist at New England Wild Flower Society and a bunch of big donors wanted to hear me speak. Never mind that I was completed unqualified…but one of the things I noticed about the series of his amazing paintings was at the beginning: when he was trying on other Impressionists’ painting styles. He had paintings that resembled those of Gaugin, Monet, Manet, Degas…he was trying them on for size. They didn’t fit. He was his own artist, whose voice had not emerged yet. When it did, it burst forth. But, just as many of us were challenged by others to imitate other great artists as an exercise, so did he.

For whatever reason, the series of exercises in this course have put me in touch with the planets. In this lesson, we were asked, “What do you care about?” Immediately, I thought, “I care about the earth.” No hesitation. So, I have pulled together one of the skills I identified last week, stippling, with a prelude to the “series” I might make in the coming week, if I can find the strength and time. I have been very inspired by the paper exercises (bust out of the square!) put before us, as was I by Gay K.’s fabric knots, and so much more. So I’m still obsessed by paper and its possibilities (and remember, I am the “Dot Lady.”). So here’s the beginning, blank paper and shadows (and maybe a moon to the right).

And then the sun, with all its spots and swirls…or is it our asteroid-pummeled planet, newly formed and hot? (Actually, it looks a bit like a pizza…I know that, glorp):

But then life happens, swirling around it. Mostly water, clouds, and ice toward the poles, but a bit of soil and green toward the equator.  Can this be the start to a series? Or merely a celebration of the origin of life?

Oooh!  Now it looks like a pizza with blueberries!  Who knows. I’ve taken up a huge amount of web real estate, making up for two weeks. Thanks for viewing. You all are wonderful and I take inspiration from you!