Wednesday, January 30, 2019

coffee with mcabee

I love coffee.  I love the smell, I love the taste, I love the caffeine.  I have a "coffee cabinet" at home where I keep all my coffee and just opening the cabinet door makes my mouth water.  It smells comfortable and warm.  For the record, iced coffee is not really coffee.  Coffee is hot.  There's no reason to discuss this.  

But one of my favorite things about coffee is that it is a social drink.  I know the saying is "in vino veritas" (in wine there is truth) but there's something about the nature of coffee that brings out a genuine communicative spirit in people...without all the silliness that alcohol can bring.  If you need proof that coffee is magic, just know that coffee is the special elixir that makes even a hermit like me want to sit down in a public space with people and have a conversation.  

Stealing a great idea from Jerry Seinfeld, I've created my own little series of "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee".  Except I'm no comedian and the car thing rarely works out because I mostly meet people for coffee.  In the past few months I've had conversation and coffee with Kevin Morrissey, a superstar high school art teacher from Summerville, Ali Stigal, my first sculpture studio student worker from Lander, Ashley "the whisk" Bush, a former student and racquetball buddy, Donovan, professor of religion at Belmont University, G, my lovely wife and several others. And each time I got to enjoy some good coffee and some good company.  

Some of these coffee sessions have popped up on my Instagram but I keep thinking that there's something really cool about these people that you don't get to know because you weren't there.  And Instagram doesn't really lend itself to lengthy stories under the photos because who really has time to read all that crap when you're trying to scroll through everything new in your feed before you fall asleep at night?  So I've thought about creating a space for those coffee talks here.  It's an excuse to write more often and a way to introduce you to some of the really exceptional people I'm lucky enough to trick into getting coffee with me.  So grab yourself a coffee and read on...

Let me introduce you to this week's "Coffee With McAbee" gang.  Left to right is Armir, Laura and Katherine.

Armir is one of those people you run across in life and you just know he's a good human.  He's professional, helpful, thoughtful and he's a natural leader.  I think I've known Armir forever.  He wont see this post but if he did he would think that was funny because his path through his degree has not been a traditional one.  Armir is in the Air Force reserve and he's been called up a couple of times while he's been an art major at Lander.  This means Uncle Sam has pulled him away for some travel to exotic places and delayed his 4 year plans.  So I met him as a freshman 7 or 8 years ago.  Then he came back.  Then he spent some time in the sand and now he's back again to finish up.  

Last semester was his first semester back and we worked about an hour once each week into our schedules for coffee at the on-campus Starbucks.  We have always enjoyed a very honest dialog and that's one of the things that makes you want to be around him.  We also share some "basic" taste in coffee so we make sure to have all the fancy, sweet coffees and we dare anyone to make fun of us.  Then we share advice and funny stories and talk about how great our salted caramel mochas are.  

This semester doesn't allow us quite as much time but we've carved out 30 minutes and we even invited some other people to join us.

Which brings us to Laura.  Laura is from the town I live in and we both have the same daily commute to Lander.  I met Laura when she came in as a freshman art major.  I taught her, watched her graduate and then became a coworker with her when she joined the university as a photographer.  She still comes to some of our art events and she even slogs with us pretty often too.  Twice this week we've driven behind one another on the drive in to work.  Laura is also an honest and awesome person.  She babysat Blue and Violet several times, took some family portraits for us and she's been brave enough to dog-sit a few times.  If I trust you with my kids and dogs....that's really saying something.  Laura is good people.  Like Armir, she speaks her mind and you can count on her telling you the truth.  She also loves people.  The real kind of love that causes you to spend your vacation days from work traveling to Haiti to serve others.  But maybe don't tell anyone that Laura has coffee talk with us because I don't know if her boss knows!

The lady on the right is Katherine.  She's one of my current students and one of my current sculpture studio workers.  She's in our BFA degree and she's been a standout student since the first project in my 3D Design class.  A year ago she had never even seriously considered sculpture as something she'd want to do and now she's well on her way to being a professional sculptress.  She is an honest and trustworthy person (notice the pattern here?) as well.  And despite the fact that she's prone to enjoy a coffee with ice in it every now and then, she's really fun to talk to about art.  When you ask her to consider a work of art or an idea about art, she will take that as the most serious challenge in her life.  She will devote herself to really taking it apart and analyzing the concept before providing a well-thought-out critique of it.  She's just as serious about her projects and she really devotes herself to them.  Last semester she logged the most hours per week in the sculpture studio by a ridiculous amount.  

So these three coffee pals are from three different time periods and we all somehow came together over coffee.  While they are all honest, genuine and trusted people, perhaps the most important character trait to me is that they all enjoy a good laugh.  When you're starting your day, or perhaps looking for a friend to hang out with, there's just nothing like a good jolt of sugar and caffeine and a good laugh.  If you're lucky enough to be near these three humans, make it your goal to become their friend.  You will be a better person for knowing them.  

And if you like coffee and don't mind me, I'm always looking for more excuses to drink extra coffee.  Email me.

Monday, January 21, 2019

joy to spare

It's 3:44pm and it's 39 degrees outside.  We've had a very mild winter so far, which is probably a large understatement, but yesterday turned windy and cold.  Sort of a shock to the system considering I've been wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts for a month.  While I'm a world class sweater when I'm active, when I'm sitting still my fingers and toes get cold.  Here in my drawing studio there's a HVAC vent under my desk, right beside my feet.  I'm currently very grateful for the heat that is flowing out of that vent.

Come to think of it, I'm actually very grateful for a lot of things.  I hesitate to call our gas heat a "small thing" but sitting here considering other things for which I am grateful, that vent seems like it could easily be overlooked.  But I don't have to pause for long to generate quite a list of things that spark a genuine feeling of gratefulness.  I wont bore you with a list and as I've mentioned here before, some of those things are just mine to know...but there's also a good chance that you may be on that list.  

I've stumbled across some mentions of "gratefulness" on Instagram lately.  Forgive me, I do realize that Instagram is not the research source of choice for most thinkers, but as a hermit, Instagram is one of my biggest connections with the outside world.  You've seen this stuff too...every November you see people post things they're thankful for each day...until the second week when they start complaining again.  Christmas and New Years bring new waves of it as well.  

The heat just came on again.  

Over the years I've developed a community of running friends on Instagram, people of all backgrounds, all ages, all shapes and sizes and one thing that seems to be a common denominator among them all is gratitude.  I'm starting to think it's related to running.  I mean, maybe it's having time in your head while running...or maybe we're all just crazy...but there's something that seems to make runners dwell on the things that make them happy to be alive.  For whatever reason though, I've noticed a lot of it lately and I've been thinking about it.  

I've had a couple of people tell me recently that I was a happy person.  It's kind of a weird thing to hear from someone.  I almost instinctively want to take a defensive position because it feels somehow accusatory.  Maybe even dismissive.  And this is totally just me and my interpretation of it, but sometimes it comes from someone and while they say "You're just a happy person" it really sounds more like "But you are just fortunate and you can't understand that some people actually feel real pain".  What I want to say in that moment is "You're not wrong about being fortunate.  I am.  But you are wrong to assume that a happy person doesn't also feel the pain of worry, anxiety, fear and loss".  But what I actually say is nothing.

It doesn't always sound that way, though.  A friend recently said something very similar and I took it as a compliment.  In fact, I met an arts professional recently who saw my creative work for the first time and commented "you seem to have joy to spare!" which made me really, really happy.  One of my goals for my artwork is to make people smile and this was a clear indicator that I am communicating joy in my work.  But where does that joy come from?  Why do others see me as a happy person?

As I said, I don't have to pause for long to generate quite a long list of things for which I'm grateful.  One of the reasons for that relates back to running.  When I run, first thing every morning, my brain is pretty active.  I often think about problems that need solving, things I need to scratch off my to-do list for that day or maybe I think about ideas for my creative work.  But always - every day - I pray when I run.  I don't know how that sounds to you, but it may not be exactly what you think.  I only joke about being the Pope...I'm certainly no saint.  I'm sure an unhealthy percentage of my praying is selfish but I try to use my time wisely and mention the names and needs of people I know.  As I do this, I also mention things I'm thankful for.  This amounts to a daily gratitude list and the regularity of it keeps me aware of how fortunate I am and generally sets the tone for each day.  Of course, I still get ticked off when slow people drive in front of me and I still have days when everything seems to be something I need to complain about.  But having that moment of gratitude each morning puts me in a better position to be pleasant or even happy.  

So maybe I am a happy person.  But maybe it's not because my life is any different from yours.  Maybe it's just because I'm forcing myself to focus on thankfulness every morning.  

Maybe you think I'm wrong.  I know how you can find out.  Set aside a couple of minutes every morning to really think about things you're grateful for.  Say them out loud, make a list, write them in a journal and let's see how it affects your day.  If it doesn't work for you, I'd love to hear about it.  I'll be over here with my feet over the vent until spring.

Friday, January 18, 2019

how was your break?

 "How was your break?"  When you have a few weeks off from campus activities, this is the question you get to answer 47 times when you return.  Of course, no one really wants to know the details of your break, they just want to hear it was good.  But if you ask someone a question, you need to be prepared for the actual response, right?  I mean, don't ask a question you don't really want the answer to, am I right?

Ok, so I know you didn't really ask, but my break was really good.  Wanna hear about it?  Oh good!........

 You probably guessed it started with waffles.  

 And Metal Megan and Luke got married.

 It kinda snowed.  This was the brief view at my house before our little dusting of snow melted in a couple of hours.  Mom's house, about 30 minutes north of here, got several inches and lost power for a couple of days.

 Other than that brief winter visit, it's felt a lot more like a wet spring around here.  A very wet spring.  It's been really warm - like - running in shorts without a shirt kind of warm first thing in the morning.  And it's rained just about nonstop since graduation.  My running trail alternates between mud pit, small creek, actual river, lake and then back to mud pit in one lap.

 We had a sunny day to play tennis.

 And with more time at home I cooked a bit.  Violet and I had homemade pizza night and we even made up our own dessert pizza recipe...peanut butter, banana and chocolate.

 I got to see some old friends and have coffee with them.  It's always fun to talk to people over coffee.  That's Ashley "The Whisk" with her infamous butt drawing.

 G and I were able to schedule a breakfast date one morning after ditching the kids at school.  Biscuit Head for the win.

 Then Blue got out early because of exams so I got to almost eat with him.  He got braces in December so he was having a little trouble with the chicken.

 I got to hit Spill The Beans a couple of times.  Again, coffee is the best.  Coffee and sunshine.  I'm doing fine on my coffee intake this winter but my sun deprivation is pretty high.

 Bolt graduated.  I was very happy for her until we slogged for the first time without her this past week.  Now I miss her.

 Actually several art people graduated.

 When the kids got out of school, I became the Director of Activities.  All the good activities are outdoor activities so we put some really firm limits on phone and computer time and if it wasn't actually raining, we went outside and breathed in the real air.  They even ran with me once.
 We explored in the woods with BB guns and played in the ravine.

 I got to pet this cow and it was everything I hoped it would be.  I need a cow.

 And it kept raining.

 Blue and Violet got to go hand out gift bags and blankets to some nursing home residents.  It was really cool.

 Since it wouldn't stop raining, we made time to go check out the local waterfall and to look at the flooded river nearby.

 Any Director of Activities worth his salt knows to take the kids to the climbing place to help get that energy out.

 We did all the Christmas things too.  We looked at lights, decorated the house, hosted a party and played Bingo on the old military base Bingo cards from the 1950s at the family party.

 Coffee and sunshine.  

 The elf guy visited again.  Look closely to see him and his Barbie friends doing PiYo along with the video.

 This was what Christmas day brunch at mom's looked like.  Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

 That's mom, the founder of the feast.

 After brunch we slept off the calories and then headed to Waffle House for our fancy family Christmas dinner.

 Because Waffle House is fancy enough for us.

 We got another sunny day so we hiked at Croft State Park.

 We got to go to the beach too.  I saw a few of these sea urchins on my morning runs and when I found this one he seemed to be dead.  The shells are really beautiful so I picked him up and ran a mile or so with him to show him to the kids.  As they were looking at him in the room he started crawling across the kitchen counter.  So then I had to take him back to the surf and set him free.

 It only rained on us a tiny bit at the beach but we only saw a glimpse of the sun a couple of times.

 Even a rainy day at the beach is still awesome.

Violet and I got to ice skate.  It was a true southern ice skating experience though.  It was about 70 degrees that day, there was a large puddle of water across the surface of the ice and I was in shorts.  We were only a little bit irritated with the reckless kids and parents who endangered everyone on the ice with their nonsense.

 I had a birthday.  I turned 47 and a bunch of really awesome people ran with me on my birthday.  

 Did I mention that it won't stop raining?  I've gone through all my running shoes because they get so wet it takes a week for them to dry out.  

 And then Katie got married!

 The photos paint a picture of break being all fun and games.  Of course this is not accurate.  Don't get me wrong, I had a great time and did lots of fun things with awesome people, but I'm just like's not always cloud nine around me.  I didn't feel great every day, there was some sickness around and the break kind of started out with some general heaviness that's hard to explain.  The sun hid from me most days, there was the never ending rain and it's just harder to be happy when it starts getting dark at 4 in the afternoon.  But I got up and ran and felt invigorated and looked for things to be happy about.  I'm no doctor, but I highly recommend that for all your dark days.  Coffee and sweets help too.  
I also did a lot of actual work.  I heard a lot of "I wish I had four weeks off in the winter" from people in their most judging voices.  And really, I get it, heck, I agree with you and I do realize it's nice.  Not hopping out of bed for a 5:40am alarm is really great for 4 weeks.  But in the spirit of honesty...I did work a lot during my "vacation".  I shifted my schedule and when I started an hour or so later each day, I also ended each day at least that much later as well.  After catching up on a lot of chores that hadn't been done because of school, I was able to turn my attention to professional development and research, both of which are required by the job that gives me a winter break.  I went to museums, recorded things in the sketchbook and most importantly, started and finished 4 new large drawings before school started back.  I'm also kind of proud that I finished a book that's taken me a little over a year to read.  Not proud about how long it took.  Just that it was a tough one and that I made it through and may have learned some things.

So to get back to just captioning photos....that was one of the drawings I completed in it's early stages of creation.  

 I got to catch up with Ali for lunch.  No coffee this time but a pretty decent sandwich.

 A good friend asked me what I would do on the perfect last day of vacation before school starts back.  I think I did it.  I had been planning to go to the Columbia Museum of Art (about an hour away from me) to see the Jackson Pollock at some point during break but it kept getting pushed back.  So on the last Friday before classes began, I drove down and spent some time there.

I am not a huge Pollock fan.  I get why he's important and I did my part and watched the movie made about his life.  I've just never loved his stuff.  But I have to tell you, being in the room with his painting "Mural" was a really great experience.  I don't get emotional or weird looking at art.  I think that's important to state here because I've seen some great things by all the famous people, but I tend to look at it less as a tourist and more as an artist.  I look at how it was made and I see it from that perspective.  I'm not easily awestruck.  This exhibit was set up so well that by the time you enter into the large gallery with the painting, your anticipation has been sufficiently built.  And then there it is. Honestly, my heart rate increased because of the energy of the lines and the colors.  

I'm also a pretty quick art viewer.  I look, I assess and I'm ready to walk to the next one.  This is probably the first time I've been compelled to sit down and just spend some time in the presence of the work of art.  All total, I think I spent a little over an hour with this one.  There was a lot to see.  I happened upon two of the museum curators doing an interview (in the photo) and got a bit of a lesson on the painting which was great.  Later I got to chat with one of the curators more and her excitement about the work made the experience even better.  If you're a local or live in driving distance, it's up until May and you should check it out.  

So I'm glad you asked.  That was how my break was.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

birthday running

This year I asked friends on Instagram to run with me for my birthday.  Y'all know I love running and maybe I talk about it too much.  Through Instagram, I've found a community of people who are just as weird about running as I am and over time I've even developed friendships with many of them.  I've observed them and learned from them over the last few years and I can tell you that I have never found a more happy, grateful and supportive group of people anywhere.  

When I woke up on the morning of my birthday, I had a small, warm dog curled up against me so I wasn't in a hurry to get up. I could also hear the steady rain beating on the roof and I wasn't eager to get up and get out in it right away.  So I grabbed my phone and checked mail and opened Instagram to find messages from running friends in countries closer to the International Date Line.  (forgive the lazy screenshots below)

 My Friend Shiva had already ran for me with her son in The Netherlands.  Shiva hosted a runstreak during the month of December and gave away prizes.  She's a super cool person who does a lot to promote a healthy lifestyle in her community and she's an advocate of cold water dipping for good health.  I'm still working up my nerve to try therapeutic cold showers.

 And then Logan Edwards Parker sent this!  She's wearing her cool Lumineers shirt and she and her husband Duncan did .9 miles through Charity Miles for ASPCA.  Charity Miles is an app I use when running that has large corporate sponsors donate money to your favorite charities based on miles you log.  I highly recommend it.  Logan is a Lander Art grad and she was one of my favorites to have in class.

The Gazelle got up and ran in the rain. Gazelle is a current student and a consistent slogger at school.  She's been running a 5K every day for about a month now.  She's getting faster too.  I could learn a thing or two from her determination.

 Cardinal Bolt is also an everyday runner.  She's logged miles every day...even when she had her gall bladder yanked out.  She got out in the rain and cranked out a 5K too!

 This is my friend Ursa.  She's from Slovenia and she's just finished her PHD thesis.  She does cancer research and I'm pretty sure she's going to be famous for that one day.  She's also a run streaker and has over 490 daily runs in a row going for her.  She's also very kind.  When I was forbidden to run after surgery this year, Ursa took up my daily 5Ks for me for over a month she worked a 3.1 mile run into her busy schedule because she knew how much I wanted to be out there.  This is a kindness I will not forget.

 Jess is a friend from the Canadian wilderness.  I mailed her something once and it took months to arrive.  I think the Pony Express delivered it.  Jess owns a bakery and coffee shop and I'm pretty sure I'm going to work there when I retire, if only to draw her chalk street sign each day.  Jess ran over 4 miles with grizzlies and mountains and stuff.

 My friend Jessica from Michigan takes cool photos on her runs.  She got out and logged a 5K for me and paired it with this cool pic.  Jessica is a good example of the caring community of runners in IG.  Even though we don't know each other very well, she was thoughtful enough to do this for me.  Really awesome.

 All of these messages made me smile but this one made me laugh out loud.  I didn't expect Nick to run for me.  I've tried to get Nick to slog with me at school and he's laughed in my face.  But dude got out and ran.  He totally deserved Chick-fil-A afterwards.

 I met Dominic this year through a virtual run.  He lives in Texas and travels a ton but he's always finding a way to squeeze a run into his day.  He'll run at 5am, he'll run at lunch, he'll run at night, but he always gets it done.  He was thoughtful enough to run 1.47 miles with the .47 dedicated to me turning 47.  He's so cool.  

 Spencer waited until the rain passed, I think, but he sent me this Snap after his run.  He used to tell me he couldn't run because his heart would explode but last semester he took the Walk/Job exercise class and he took it very seriously.  He went from not running, to running a 5K with a decent time in just a couple of months.  I'm proud of him.

 Sydney (Syd Vicious) decided to start running on my birthday.  She said she felt like she was dying but what a huge step in the right direction.  Syd is becoming a potter and she's going to need to stay in shape to lug clay around and throw.  She's even ran another time since this one!

 There's Catherine, my New Zealand friend.  She got up before the sun and ran up a mountain to catch the sunrise.  For her it was already the day after my birthday (because the Earth is round and physics or something) but as she said, we celebrate birthdays all week!  She's such a sunshine soul and she's really someone you need to know.  She has a beautiful family and lives in a gorgeous place.

 Ashley is another sculpture student and regular slogger.  She got out and ran and sent this very Spencer-esque pic.  She's been running on her own and I think she understands how much running can help with stress and clearing your mind.  Fun fact about Ashley...she used to be a gymnast.  

 Sweet Jimmy.  Jim is my colleague, buddy and Lander look-a-like.  Just yesterday someone saw him and thought it was me.  Happens all the time.  He and Tyler got out and ran with me in addition to his crazy regular work out.

 And look at this....Sarah Hinson who I haven't seen in maybe 15 years or so got out and ran with me at the ECHO Global Farm in Florida.  Sarah was so fun as a student, one of those happy people you want to be around.  I can't believe she remembers me!

 Laura is the school photographer at Lander.  She does other important things too, but this is the job she's been perfect for forever.  She's taken photos of the kids, babysat for us and even watched the dogs for us a couple of times.  She's slogged with us several times this last semester and we've made her go farther even when she didn't want to.  It was so cool for her to run for me.

 And look at Ms. Oliver!  Hayden is a high school art teacher in our region and she's sent us some really great students recently.  She got out late but she's creative enough to put together a safety bag before going out running in the dark.  It was a clear plastic bag with a flashlight and a can of mace....perfection!  This was a great surprise!

 This one cracked me up too.  This is Holly and her husband Preston.  They're super active people.  Holly is a runstreaker, a horse rider and an artist.  We just got to know each other this last year and she's really great.  On my birthday I made a joke about the only gift I really wanted was for Moonpie to sponsor me as a runner.  I still think I'm the perfect person to start The Official Moonpie Running Team.  Holly and Preston had my back when they held up their Moonpies and tagged Moonpie in their post.  Such a thoughtful thing to do.

 Do y'all know Cessquatch?  Brandy is an all time favorite former student and an excellent racquetball opponent.  When she's not stealing my doughnuts, she's being a graphic designer full time and she's running with Charity Miles for my favorite charity, Habitat for Humanity.  She even wore her sculpture shirt!

 Lei is another friend I met doing a virtual run this year.  He's in California and while he has Type 2 Diabetes, he's handling it without medication by running.  He's currently on a 600 plus day runstreak!  And it's not uncommon for Lei to run double digit mileage.  He's a beast!  He did something really funny with his running post for my birthday...he ran 4.74 miles, a palindrome of my age, 47.  Then he used cookies and containers to make little "butts" as a joke because of my butt drawing Monday posts.  So thoughtful!

 Dorothy is another runstreak friend on a 700 plus day streak.  She loves to run outside and when you live in Wisconsin, that's no easy task in winter.  But she suits up for it and runs in the ice and snow in addition to her other daily workout routines.  She's also the mom of 4 kids so she stays busy.

 Beth did an early morning run with me.  Running virtually with Beth is all I could ever do because she runs so far and so fast.  She runs marathons the way I eat Moonpies.  She also has 4 kids, teaches piano and holds down a church pianist job too.  Can you imagine?  Earlier this year she taught me the phrase "I can do hard things" and it was particularly helpful this year.  When I get up during the semester and run in the dark, I come back inside and have a monster cup of coffee and one of the first things I see from the outside world is a pic of Beth finishing up her run in the dark.  Somehow there's comfort knowing there's another crazy person out running with me.

 KathKath...that was her nickname in my class...downloaded Charity Miles at my request and got out and ran.  It may have been a day late, but that's how we celebrate birthdays.  We also celebrate them with a slice of cake, just as KathKath did when she returned from her run.  Katie is now an award winning book illustrator and artist.  

Logan Woodle is a sculpture professor at Coastal Carolina University.  He was one of my students at Winthrop back in the day.  One day I was talking to him and he just casually mentioned that he had started running and was running every day.  He didn't want to make a big deal about it but he had been running a 5K every day for about a year at that point.  I was dumbfounded.  This was the second birthday in a row that Logan ran with me.  He didn't send a photo or make a big deal about it.  He just texted me "happy birthday" and let me know that he was out there too.  

And what birthday would be fun without these people?  Blue, Violet and G always make me happy on my birthday.  They loaded me up with gifts and made me super awesome cards.  They left me notes and gifts before school and work and then took me to eat afterwards.  They are wonderful.

So that was the start of year 47.  Or was that the beginning of year 48?  I forget how birthdays work, I'm old.  But it was a great day and I'm grateful for whatever part you had in it.  And because I was lazy and didn't crop the screenshots, you can look up each one of these amazing people on social media and learn more about them.  I promise they'll add joy to your life.