What do you want from me?

I’ve asked this question a dozen different ways over the years, but it remains an important question — because painting is how I make my living. My collectors and friends have always given me good input.

When I first started painting, I didn’t know what I wanted, much less what my future collectors would want.  I painted very colorful abstracts for awhile.  Then I painted wildlife for a (long) while (and still do), and then I started adding structure to my abstracts.  When I’d put in my 10,000 hours (5 years of 40 hour weeks, honest), my signature style emerged and people really responded. Really responded.

The “geometrix” (now tradmarked) style earned me a lot of collectors, all over the country and the world.  It evolved into painting nearly 100 cities, which earned me more collectors, and the cities still sell regularly in print formats.

When we moved back to the Lowcountry, I was surrounded by natural beauty; there were no cities in sight.  Having painted multiple cities a year, for many years, I decided to paint one or two a year either by request or if I am doing an event in a new area — because it’s just silly to mess with a good thing, right?  I still promote the cities, because people still love them – thankfully!

But I also wanted to paint the sort of marsh life that surrounded me here; the things that still make me go “oh!” when I see them.  Like dolphins strandfeeding in Whale Branch when I cross over to the islands.  The little clatch of tall white birds that turned out to be storks.  And the bigger group of pink birds that were spoonbills.  The first time a painted bunting landed on my feeder, I went “oh!” and scared him away.  (He still comes back, with his little green “wife.”) After Matthew, there were a couple maccaws in our southern pine, but after a few hours (resting?) they’d moved on.

So I paint these guys.  And people love them.  All of them seem to find homes.

What, you ask, is the dilemma?  Well, part of the dilemma is looking like a dilettante (after 17 years) because I have several distinctly different bodies of work. Every business of being an artist guide there is says “pick one.”  Otherwise you don’t look serious.  Well, 100 cities is pretty serious. A hundred abstracts is pretty serious.  A hundred or more wildlife paintings and mixed media pieces are pretty serious, but it’s always a matter of perception.

The other part of the dilemma is which to promote, because that is what I need to do now.  I need to decide which of these to share with the world in a big way.  I have to decide whether to become the queen of the cityscapes, or the lady of the landscapes.

I’m at the point in my career that I am pulling back the stops.  It’s a good thing.

It’s exciting to live your life always building.  When I discovered painting, and the joy of creating and sharing my creations, the passion was strong to just keep painting, every day.  I’ve done that and the results have been enormously rewarding on so many levels.

But I’m cutting back on live shows in the field, and concentrating on online sales, and that requires a finer focus.

So, I need to choose.  Cities?

Wildlife?

Lowcountry landscapes?neighborhood watch sm (2)

 

 

 

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it’s humbling

 
Artists work largely solo.  Ever since I started painting (almost 17 years ago), I knew I’d never not paint.  I knew it was something I would do for the rest of my life, because it is such a pleasant endeavor.
I didn’t expect people to ask to buy my paintings.  But once they did, it made me take different elements into consideration.  I knew I wanted them to be pleasing to the eye; nothing jarring or disconcerting.  I leave that to the young people from art school.  That’s their job.  My paintings had to be something I wanted to look at every day without being bored by them, too. If people were giving me hard earned money, they deserved something special.
Once I realized that people collecting my work meant that I could paint every day, that’s what I did, and I’ve been painting full time since 2007.
I can honestly say that I’ve never had a “block,” a lack of ideas for paintings.  Though, I will also admit that there have been many bad ones!  The “unsuccessful” pieces just get painted over, though, and very often those “remixes” became some of the most successful!  (NC Wyeth once encouraged his son Andrew Wyeth to “paint over” paintings, just because the underpainting did bring something je ne sais qua  to the second one.)
But you never know if a painting is a complete, successful piece until other people see it.  And when other people are affected by something I’ve created, it’s thrilling.  And humbling.
I have an incredible group of collectors who have multiple pieces of my work in their homes.  That is really humbling.
Think about it.  I am working on faith, with  inspiration from God, the skills He gave me, which I have honed, and I am creating images out of the ether that other people want to hang in their homes.  That’s pretty amazing.
So when I have collectors who share pictures with me of their “Carol Joy Shannon wall,” I am blown away.
I always want to create a way of looking at places that will make some synapses twinkle. It’s important that if you give me money, I give you something of real value, which will add to your life in some small way, every day, and in some big ways some days.  Art adds value to everything around it.  That’s my goal, anyway.
I have a big sign in my studio that says “why should I care?” which may sound callous, but it references the paintings.  The paintings coming out of my studio need to make you stop and look.  They need to evoke something.  They need to speak to something in you.  They should be “pretty” but they should also be interesting enough to get your attention.  Otherwise they are “décor” and you can buy them for $25 at Pier One.
In my living room is a 36 x 36″ beauty that I just love.  It’s more than a year old.  Usually, after a year on the circuit of shows and galleries, if a large painting like that hasn’t spoken to someone enough to take it to their home, I will give it the “remix” treatment.  But this one is still speaking to me.  It is telling me it needs to bring me pleasure for awhile.  And it does.  So when I am humbled by realizing others like my work enough to fill walls throughout their homes with it, I can sit back and forget the business of art, and remember the enjoyment my paintings brought me, when I first started doing this.
A little “slap up the side a the head” for myself. 
collectors4
This is a photo I received.  These guys like to travel and have collected reproductions on canvas of their favorite cities.  I’ve painted 100 cities.  We added a special original to their collection recently, which was painted with much love, because I know them now.  They are part of a sort of family of mine.  The one piece of this endeavor I didn’t anticipate was how people really need art.  And what joy it brings them.
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a hurricane that wasn’t, a show I didn’t do, and a weekend of changing everything

We’ve been in the crosshairs before, and lost trees and power to Matthew and Irma, so we were prepped and ready for Florence.

I was supposed to do a show in Augusta GA this weekend, a hundred miles up a narrow 2 lane through the Savannah River Nuclear Site, most of which has no cell service whatsoever.  I waffled and analyzed and waffled some more, and finally, when it appeared that the storm would be swinging in over us AND Augusta, I cancelled my hotel and took the “no penalty but no refund” option with the show.

That was Thursday night.

On Friday morning, it was so beautiful here that I took a picture of our back deck, with the sunshine, the sago palms and our adoptive cat.  By Friday afternoon, it was blowing pretty good, so I took in the rest of the seed feeders and hummingbird feeders and made a nest for the cat on a chair out of the rain, and was glad I made the decision to stay home.

Saturday was rainy and windy all day, but it was also clear that we weren’t going to get much of any of the storm itself.  Thankfully.  But Saturday was spent getting in touch with all the members of my husband’s family who were in the storm.  Everyone lost power except us.  Everyone had tons of rain.  Most of eastern NC had far too much.  It was hard to watch.  These are our old stomping grounds after all.  We kept our boat in a stack in Morehead City for years, and all the places getting mashed up were familiar to us.  We could picture the wild horses on Shackleford, and wonder.  We watched docks we’ve tied up to splinter.

We knew we couldn’t help anyone; our family are all adults, and we’re 4 hours away with flooded Interstates in between us.  We know how a simple trip can become a challenge, after the fall floods of 2015 closed miles of I-95.  In that event, coming back from Raleigh, we were rerouted through some of the roads that themselves became flooded and washed away.  And during an early spring hurricane in 2016, I had to ford several roads between 95 and Hilton Head to rescue my work from a belatedly cancelled show, when 4 exits of I-95 were completely flooded.

When I worked on cruise ships, our fear wasn’t sinking, it was fire.  Living in the Lowcountry, the thing you rarely consider is flooding.  We are always surrounded by water.  There is a boat landing 4 miles from our house that will take you to the sea, even though it is over 20 miles away.  The tidal rivers come in past SR 17.  The blackwater swamps come in from the Combahee all around our road to Beaufort.  But generally, all this water means we never flood.  We are built to flood and drain, flood and drain.  But the tidal rivers in eastern North Carolina showed what can happen when all the wrong elements come together at once and there is nowhere for the water to go.

18 trillion gallons of water is a ridiculous number to try to process!  That is what has fallen on eastern North Carolina!  It will be years…..

So, in the midst of the low-barometric pressure headache (always happens) and the cabin fever from 3 dark days with nothing to do, wondering if I made the wrong or right decision about an art show, and a trip home among toppling trees —

I notice that something has deducted almost $400 from a bank account I keep almost nothing in.

Then I find out it’s the website people. They have charged me for a year, of everything, and no, there is no way to have just a website anymore.  I have to have the specialized one with all the bells and whistles.  Very nicely explained, but still….

I have been pondering how to streamline all my social media and generate more sales.   I’ve been trying to figure out how to work smart and not be all over a number of different platforms to keep up with.

So I told them to just cancel it all.  As long as I had my domain name (which I’ve had for a decade or more) I’d wing it.

So, as Forrest Gump said, “just like that, it all changed.”

So now, I am back in the ether, untethered, getting ready to recreate everything, with an eye to spending more time here, with you.  And less time burning up the highways in my Ford Econoline van, hoping this show is better than the last one, and that middle America is ready to buy art again.  The hurricane and big tech forced me out of my comfort zone.  So you’ll be hearing a lot more of my rants and raves and random observations.  You’ll be seeing more individual works of art in a different setting for more convenient acquisition, and who knows what else will evolve?!  I’m planting my flag in this space and building a new camp around it.

It’s time to spend more time in the Lowcountry, on the sofa with my laptop, chatting with my peeps, and getting up now and then to paint something gorgeous for someone I haven’t even met yet! I like the freedom change brings, don’t you?

 

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I’ve been in the same place all along!

Well, not really, but it occurred to me this morning how much Beaufort resembles a clone of Key West and Charleston.  There’s a good reason for that, of course: all were built and settled by sea captains and their families, during roughly the same time period.

Beaufort grew up around Port Royal, which was established by the Spanish in 1566, fought over with the French, and eventually settled by Scottish and French farmers and traders, who interacted with the local natives in the interim before the plantation culture emerged in the early 1700s.

Key West was “discovered” by Ponce de Leon in 1521 and a salvage and fishing port grew up around its deep harbor.  It was loosely claimed by the Spanish until Matthew Perry planted the US flag there in 1822.  In the interim, it was an important trading stop in the all-important southern trade routes, up and down the southern coastal US, around the Caribbean, and up to the ports of the Gulf, like New Orleans and Mobile.

Charleston was established in 1663 by English proprietors, given the land by King Charles II.  It was somewhat “planned”, and because of its wonderful harbor, succeeded to grow into the jewel of the southern colonies.  Which meant those Spanish and French ships that were running up and down the coast were trying to grab it.

The common element among the three is the sea captains.  Whether they were running sugar, rum, cotton or indigo, they were sailing among these harbors, and many of them settled in one or the other.  If they were ordinary seamen, or salvors,  they built simple, solid wooden houses, and you can still see them today on the back streets of all three cities.  They angled them to catch the wind, and built broad porches for shade. I lived in one of these on Thomas Street in Key West in the 1980s.  It still had cook house in the backyard, and a (now-covered) cistern, which had collected rainwater in the early days.  Probably built in 1800s, it had a number of handglazed windows, remarkably unbroken in 100+ years of hurricanes and life in general.

The rich captains built elegant two story mansions, with porches on both.  If you were really rich, the porch went around two, or even three, sides, providing shade for the rooms behind it.  These homes often had multiple outbuildings, and in Charleston they had lovely gardens, to provide even more shade.  These days these compounds have become some of the most desirable real estate in the world.

There is a smaller group of both types of homes in Beaufort, with a little more land around them than in either Charleston or Key West.  But, if I put you on a block of Duke Street in Beaufort and asked you where you were, you might very well guess Key West.  And if you did the same on some of the streets north of Calhoun in Charleston, in the old days before they were all fluffed and puffed and gentrified, you might have guessed the same.

Of course they aren’t alike in most of the other ways besides architecture.

The tight little streets of gingerbread houses in Key West neighborhoods have the sounds and smells of the Caribbean.  In my neighborhood roosters crowed all day, and chickens roosted at night in my Spanish lime tree, the only place I’ve ever seen chickens actually “fly.”  The Bahamas Village neighborhood on two sides was colorful and ebullient, and resembled nothing in Charleston, or Beaufort.

There is no place in Beaufort or Key West like my French Quarter neighborhood in Charleston, either; everything around us built of brick, with little alleys that skirt the tourist filled sidewalks, live oaks pushing those sidewalks out into the street, hidden gardens with wisteria vines bigger around than my whole body.  My Church Street neighborhood rang with the bells of a half dozen churches within a couple blocks.

I don’t live in Beaufort.  My husband likes privacy and space, so my usual city lifestyle is now gone.  But I enjoy our acre in the swamp near the Combahee River, not too far from the Sheldon Church ruins.  It’s nice to interact with real wildlife, not just Saturday night drunks lost and reeling.  It’s probably going to stay “country” for a good while, too.  It will be some time before the Beaufort growth reaches us.

But I get to walk around Beaufort and drive up and down the streets when I go to the gallery where my work is shown.  In avoiding the usual tourist traffic (not in the NYC, Atlanta category, but “traffic”) I discovered the “Key West streets.”

So, from 1986, when I lived in Key West, on to the 5 years in the 90s when I lived in Charleston, I have now come to live near a delightful little town that seems to me to combine the nicest qualities of both — without the tourist mobs.  But, they are surely not far behind.  Every place I’ve ever lived has been “discovered” while I was there!

I lived in Las Vegas when it was a “town” of 400,000.  Now look at it!  When I lived in Seattle, my little town of Woodinville was considered “country.”  Now it’s a suburb.  When my son and I lived in the little house in Key West, the Conch Republic was just beginning to make the transition from somewhat-seedy fishermen’s and drug-runner’s haven to the gingerbread Margaritaville  it is today.

I moved to Charleston a year and a half after Hurricane Hugo, when the insurance money was just beginning to turn peninsular Charleston from “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash” to the historic jewel that became the #1 destination in the world, for awhile.  It’s current condition as a theme-park version of itself has been a result of all that attention.  And, thanks to that fantastic harbor that made it so desirable in the 1600s, it is now one of the biggest exporters in the country, shipping cars built by Mercedes, Volvo and BMW, as well as Continental and Michelin tires.

When I moved to Raleigh in 2000 to work with the Habitat for Humanity regional center, Raleigh was a pretty uninspiring little city of less than half a million.  But the Research Triangle Park, built back in the 1950s by people who were deemed idiots for doing so, finally earned its keep.  RTP filled up with tech and medical business, and pharma research teams, providing almost unlimited employment all during the recession.  So, when Raleigh tore out its pedestrian main street and allowed cars back in, it was on the forefront of the urban renaissance initiated by young professionals all over the country, who decided they liked the convenience and intimacy of “downtowns.”

Raleigh became the #1 place for professionals, young entrepreneurs, retired people, you name it.  A vibrant downtown, a job-machine at RTP, a city devoted to art (with a .5% budget contribution), world-class art museum, music scene, and equidistant from mountains to seashore — what was not to like?  My sleepy little city became too big to navigate.

So here we are in the Lowcountry, and I’m pondering the similarities between the three cities I loved to live in on this coast, and I’ve decided I am just where I am supposed to be: in the best of three worlds!

 

 

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what did you think would make you happy?

Continuing on the idea of reflection — I have a 26 mile drive into town, so…

I thought about what I might have wished for when I was 18, diving into the world.  I don’t remember what I wished for.  Probably something shallow, like glamour and riches.

Some of my friends in high school knew exactly what they wanted to do, and be, and went right about making it happen.  One of my junior high school friends knew she wanted to be a lawyer in 6th grade.  That wasn’t really big for girls in the early 60s.  She ultimately became the first woman lawyer for a major national equipment manufacturer.  I hope it was everything she wished for.

I was never that driven.  I didn’t find anything to be “driven” about until I started painting when I was 50.  That was the first thing that I thought about day and night and was consumed with — other than the random dramatic love affair back in the day, of course.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t mature enough at 18 to simply wish to “be happy” or I wouldn’t have had so many bad boyfriends.

The new age concept of envisioning the life you wish to have and pulling it in had not really evolved then, but it was evolving, and I’m sure I bought into some elements of that.  I was enough of a hippy to believe in karma, and I still do. We do reap what we so.  But it wasn’t until much later that I learned to do directed dreaming.  So, at 18 it was largely “daydreams.”

What were yours?

Did you have a “thank the Academy” speech? A magazine cover?

I read recently that young people are taking vacations based on their Instagram value.  It’s probably why they’re falling off cliffs.

I am snarky about young people whose highest aspirations are to be famous, no matter how.  But I suppose when you are young, there is always going to be a little of that.  We all think we’re pretty cool when we’re young — in between bouts of crippling uncertainty!

You have to have a few mistakes under your belt, overcome them and move on, before you develop real confidence. Otherwise it’s not confidence, it’s posturing. Mistakes are the university of life.  I had a boss once who was a real piece of work and he told me one day that he had never failed at anything he’d done.  My first thought was “rubbish! You’re lying.”  But my second thought was, “if you really think that, it explains why you are such a miserable human being.”  Keeping up a façade of perfection is bad enough, but if you’ve never reached out of your comfort zone far enough to fail — at anything — you’ve never tested your own mettle.

So, since we know that life is really just a matter of surviving with the tools we’ve been given, learning as much as we can, accepting ourselves warts and all, and trying to find the happiest pieces — does it have anything at all to do with what we thought life would be like?

My daughter just posted a sarcastic little thought about all this — about thinking high schoolers were cool when you were younger, then that college kids were cooler, and so on, and getting to adulthood only to find out that we’re all out here floundering around day to day, figuring it out as we go.  We all wish we knew “the answer,” but none of us do.  And being a “grown-up” just gives you the freedom to make bigger mistakes!

When my son was in his twenties he was very disappointed to discover that being an adult was pretty much just putting one foot in front of the other. Every day.  The exciting “peaks” are very, very much outnumbered by massive flat valleys of simple work-a-day stuff.  That can be a tough realization too.

So, what did YOU want to be when you grew up?  Did you become it?  Is it what you wanted?  What did you learn along the way? And did it bring you happiness?

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Living well is the best revenge*

* a quote from Gerald Murphy (see end)

Jimmy Buffet did “A Pirate Looks at Forty” but a lot of us, including Jimmy, are now looking at a much bigger number, and it generates a certain degree of self-reflection.

My high school class of 350+ people recently celebrated our 50th reunion.  Of that number, 63 are dead. This is the time in our lives where if you don’t realize you are fortunate to still be here, you are probably oblivious to a lot of other things, as well.

I wasn’t able to attend the reunion, but I’ve been talking with a few of us, via email and FB and sometimes even phone, so I’ve heard some of the stories and seen some of the pictures.  In many ways we haven’t changed.  I still see the 18 year-olds behind the thicker faces, accented with the lines we’ve earned, now framed in grayer hair.  I’m sure that, physical limitations notwithstanding, most of us still feel like we’re about 25.

But we’re not 25, and those intervening years are the ones I was thinking of today.

There have been several classmate updates that have been disturbing and hard to get out of my head.  They’ve reminded me how important it is not to put off the things you want to do until you “have the time and money.”  Because you might end up with neither.

I was talking with an acquaintance recently about traveling.  She is making trips here and there, driving and flying to places she has always wanted to see, now that she “has the time and the money.” When questioned why my husband and I didn’t travel these days, I answered that we had done a lot of traveling in our years together, and we weren’t in a position to do so right now.  Whereupon she archly informed me that “we planned for our retirement.”  But her husband isn’t well enough to join her on these jaunts, so what was planned? They planned for the money portion, and just assumed they’d both be healthy older people, I guess.

I didn’t plan for retirement.  Frankly, I didn’t expect to live to be old enough to do so!  If I’d known, I might have socked away some extra funds for travel and all those good things, but here’s the deal: I LIVED LARGE.  I lived every minute of my life as if I wouldn’t grow old.  I traveled for decades.  If I wanted to see a country and couldn’t afford a vacation, I just moved there, and stayed a year, or more.  I did what I could to see as much of life and our planet as possible.  And I have no regrets.

I did things that scared me, because I knew I’d regret it if I said “no.”   Much of my early adult life was a series of spontaneous adventures that might not even be possible in the dangerous world we live in today.  Some of the most unlikely choices turned into the most memorable experiences.  And, often the scariest adventures brought the most reward.

You have to be willing to take the risk, and be able to say “yes” in the brief moment you get to consider it all.

“Yes, I will take the job,” which can’t be described  in much detail because it involves international diplomacy, a (friendly) Middle Eastern country, and constant travel.  A job which, while exhausting and demanding enough to wear me out after a couple years, amounted to experiences I’d never imagined.  Kings, sultans, queens, world leaders using aliases, secretive meetings in Geneva; it was like a movie script and provided a wealth of knowledge no amount of money or the toniest university could provide.

“Yes, I will help you sail a 35′ boat from Venice to Istanbul in January.”  It was an offer I’d never had before, and at 49 was unlikely to have again.  And, for every day of icy decks, storms on the Aegean which stranded us in port, and even the Force 9 gale on the Marmara Sea which sank 3 fishing boats around us– it was still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

So, now that I am “old” I have already seen the places I wanted to see.  With a few exceptions, I have done most of the things I ever wanted to do.  Without compromising my integrity — or my virtue! — I did it all by the skin of my teeth.  I would have been an illegal alien in Monaco, so I sang songs in a fancy private club whose owner was connected.  I didn’t speak the language well enough to get a job in Slovenija, but I wrote a column for the newspaper — which was evidently translated well enough that the readers laughed in the right places. When I was in between jobs in Charleston, I worked on films and TV shows, in any capacity I could, sometimes even in front of the camera.

I also lived my adventures on my own terms which was, and is, important.

Until my 40s, I was attractive enough to turn a few heads here and there, but I came of age in an era where women were fighting to be recognized for substance and skills, so I never took that easier route.  It didn’t feel genuine.  And while it’s very likely that looks came into play for the singing and the diplomatic jobs, I couldn’t have done either on looks alone.  I’m pretty sure few of us could — even when we were young and cute!

I was brought up by hardy Scandinavians who believed you could do anything you put your mind to, and that as long as you carried your own weight, and took care of your responsibilities, it wasn’t important to acquire a lot of “stuff” or show off your accomplishments.  So, it wasn’t at the top of my list to have a ginormous house or win an Academy Award.

Instead, I set out to see the world and learn as much as I could about everything along the way!  And I did it all when I was young enough to enjoy it to the fullest.  But even in my late forties I worked on a farm in Italy, slinging bales of hay, milking sheep, working non-stop all day every day.  It saved my life!  I called it “therapy with sheep,” and it was like a year and a half long physical “boot camp.”

“Can you do this?”  “I don’t know, but I’ll try”  has pretty much been the mantra of my life.

Maybe it was growing up in Maine.  My son’s father was a blue-water sailor and after sailing out of Maine for 4 years, and then getting to know my Maine friends in Las Vegas, he determined he would always want Mainers on a crew, “because they are reliable and no-nonsense.”  There aren’t many drama queens in Maine.  If you throw us a knife and tell us to cut a line, we’ll do it and ask questions later.

Maybe it was growing up on the coast and getting a taste of the exotic, watching the boats come in and looking up the places where they were from.  Maybe it was just the simple desire to not settle.  I never wanted to be the person who woke up one morning when her kids were grown and wished she’d chosen a different path.  So I took all the different paths I could!

And I am very content in my 60s to write about what I’ve seen and done. I don’t need more adventures.  I’m very content living in the middle of the ACE Basin surrounded by swamp, listening to the frogs in my back yard and thrilling to the sight of a painted bunting, or a group of deer under the trees.

So, for me, living well is just living.  Thrilling to the little beauties of daily life, being thankful for having had a fabulous one, and being thankful to be alive long enough to reflect. And part of living well is knowing that I’ve done everything I could to have an interesting, fulfilling life, without leaving the bucket list until it was too late to do it.

Not everyone is built to jump on the boat to Jamaica at the drop of a hat, but what I would advise any young person is to grab the opportunities that grab you.  Don’t pass up the chance to do something you really want to do because it doesn’t look like the sensible choice.  If you really want it, and you can do it without hurting someone else, or leaving someone in the lurch, grab it! Go!  Even if it doesn’t turn out like you expect, at least you won’t be left wishing you’d done it.  And it’ll probably be a great story!

 

 

* The Murphys, Gerald and Sara, were Americans of privilege who, in the 1920s rejected what was expected of them, moved to France, and became some of the first bohemians.  Their homes in Paris and Antibes became centers of hospitality, and of a circle of creative friends including Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Stravinsky and many others, and their friendship with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald became the (somewhat controversial) basis of “Tender is the Night.”  I’ve always chosen to abide by the adage, rather than worry what others saw or thought about me.

 

 

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Sorry, but all y’all can’t possibly move here…even if you want to!

Over the course of my life, I’ve had the good fortune to live in some of the world’s great places.  I grew up on the coast of Maine, lived all over the state of Florida, including Key West and Miami Beach (both before and after it was cool), in Seattle before it got huge, in Charleston before it was the #1 destination,  in Monte Carlo, on a 600 year old farm in Tuscany , the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia (well, the Istrian peninsula, home to the best preserved Roman ruins anywhere), a ski resort in New Hampshire, and now in the heart of the Lowcountry.

It’s this Lowcountry home which made me realize that nearly every place I’ve lived, I’ve lived in just before it was “discovered.”  I lived in Key West with my son in the 80s, in a funky little neighborhood on the edge of Bahamas Village- right before Key West was groomed to within an inch of its gingerbread life.  Key West is now an expensive, jam-packed theme park version of its former seedy self.  (Oh, for the 70s, when the bars were still dives and Conchs ruled.)

We lived in downtown Charleston in an old carriage house, a block from the Dock Street Theater and slightly north of Broad. We moved there right after Hugo took the elegant old dame from her slightly threadbare state (“too poor to paint, too proud to whitewash) and, with the magic of tragedy followed by insurance, turned her into the belle of the ball.  Charleston today, while still an elegant lady holding tightly to her Southern roots, has become such a destination that the only quiet places on the peninsula are the hidden gardens and narrow alleys south of Broad; though many of those handsome old homes are now owned by people “from away,” and the Confederate  Home for Women and Children has been closed because no one qualified to live there any more. (Requirements for orphans and the elderly included a direct line to a Confederate soldier.)

The little “country” town of Woodinville that we lived in in the early 80s, is now a major suburb of Seattle.

In the gallery today, a family  from Nashville told me the Nashville area is getting a million new people a year. Not visitors, residents.

And my beloved Lowcountry, a sleepy backwater 20 years ago when I lived in Charleston, is welcoming so many folks “from away” that I fear for the future of the southern way of life altogether.

But what can you do? When I lived in Seattle in the early 80s, the influx of Californians was so great that Oregonians were being outright rude: you’re welcome to visit, but you can’t stay.  And Seattle natives talked of putting up a wall.

In most instances, when an undiscovered place enjoys a surge of popularity, it is welcome, bringing income and fresh faces and the flattery of being desirable.  The changes aren’t noticed right off, because now, instead of being the place no one can find on a map, you are the place everyone wants to visit.  So, Charleston went from being a city that needed to establish the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition to get people to come there in February, to being a hot southern city crowded with tourists every day of the year, with no off-season at all.  The pretty historic peninsula  which used to roll up the sidewalks in July and August, and belong to locals in the “winter” months, has cruise ships docking several times a week.  The excitement of an event like SEWE is now overshadowed by the sheer work involved in getting around when there are 50,000 MORE people in town for the weekend.

During the 14 years I lived in my husband’s home town of Raleigh, the population tripled.  Never a deeply southern city to begin with,  it is now populated with so many people from the northeast and the west coast that you’d be hard put to find anyone who even knows what “all y’all” means any more.

No, I am not a person who is afraid of change, who’s xenophobic (I lived in the Middle East and eastern Europe, y’all, and spend several weeks a year in Haiti in the 70s), and I know that even though I’ve spent 50 years in the south, I’m still not a GRIT.  But, when you love a place for it’s way of life, it’s hard to see that destroyed by overwhelming numbers.  And the unfortunate truth is that the people moving to these places because of their way of life, tend to forget that, and try to rearrange things in the way they’re used to elsewhere.

Venice, Italy is a cautionary tale.  I’ve never actually lived there, but I’ve spent large chunks of time there at every opportunity since the early 70s.  In those days, it was still Venice: old, full of history, absent of vehicles, peopled with old ladies with shopping bags, kids with booksacks, snobby Venetians who had their own dialect, arrogant handsome gondoliers, and the occasional rich ex-pats from England or America, with artistic pretentions and plenty of money.  But the neighborhoods were real neighborhoods.  The laundry hung over the canals in the ghetto.  The baker shook his floury towel out the window at the pigeons.  Old men helped equally old ladies off and on the vaporettos.  In other words, a real city, with a distinct way of life all its own.

It was also, like most of Italy at the time, a place where you could get a lot for your money, if you were resourceful.

Today, thanks to the European Union, which has open borders and no restrictions on buying and selling land across former borders, Italy is no longer any more affordable than any other European country; and Venice is no longer really Venetian.  The last time we were there, I didn’t see a single little old lady in a black dress and sensible shoes lugging her groceries.  I didn’t see a single  schoolchild.  Many of the palazzos, like the big columned houses in Charleston, are now owned by people “from away,” who rarely visit and often rent to other strangers.  The restaurant staffs are almost totally Philipines and the restaurant owners are from everywhere. The haughty gondoliers still ply their trade and sing the occasional aria, but no one hasa private gondola any more, and you’re likely to hear much more English, French and German around you on the streets than the Venetian dialect that so charmed writers in the 19th century.  So the appearance of Venice is the same, but the feel is vastly different.  We are almost — not quite — to that “theme park version” of Venice.

The metamorphosis of Venice is a lot like what’s happening to the south: people who don’t want to live in the ugly cold places are moving to the nice warm ones.  They’ve always done it, but now it’s easier and even more desirable because work and the way of life in those cold places has changed too, so the warm places are appealing in other, different ways now.  We can’t stop it.  We can rail against it, but the proverbial cow is out of the barn.

So I guess the salient issue is how to retain the character of these places we love from being destroyed by sheer weight of numbers, simply to save the way of life.

We used to have a great southern humor writer named Lewis Grizzard and he would get fed up with some of the things we’re talking about here.  He boiled it down to a simple gesture – the wave. The two-fingered wave from the wheel,  when you pass a car in your neighborhood. The wave of thanks when someone lets you into or out of traffic.  The “hey” when you pass on the sidewalk.  It was all part of that southern hospitality, acknowledging others, not just passing them by.  He summed up his diatribe with this: “wave, dang it, you’re in the South!” and that’s how I’ll wind up mine.

 

 

 

 

 

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