7 October

Rachel Barlow: The Essence Of The Open House

by Jon Katz
The Essence Of Open House

When I thought about what the Open House meant to me yesterday – gloomy day, rain,  small crowds and all – what came to mind is Rachel Barlow.

Rachel is a Vermont artist, mother and spouse, she also a legendary multi-tasker (here, she is painting, talking to her sister on the phone, talking to me.

She is also a very valued friend.

She can actually multi-tasks more things that, during my writing workshop I’ve seen her talk about sentence structure, politics and also do tech support (her day job) at the same time.

Rachel suffers from bi-polar disorder and depression, she has also become an increasingly popular and well-known artist, she sketches, paints lovely water colors, and lately, has started doing oils.

She also writes children’s stores and has a blog where people can buy her art and read her funny, poignant and insightful writings about family and life. I like to say her family writing is the hip version of Erma Bombeck.

Rachel and I have known each other through the good and bad times, but we don’t ever quit on each other. Rachel’s challenge is that she has no idea how talented she is, she thinks everyone in the world is smarter and more creative than she is.

it has been the joy of a lifetime to see her develop and grow as an artist, something she seems to do every day.

Even though everything about her life calls into question that neuroses, it is a nut I have not yet been able to crack. I will keep on trying. She hasn’t run away from me yet.

Rachel is one of the most gifted artists and writers I have ever known, and I am proud to say she has been a student in every one of the Writing Workshops I have offered, we are heading into our sixth year of working together.

She and Maria have also become friends, and I think Maria has become a valuable inspiration to her, and she has become an inspiration to Maria.

No matter what is happening in  Rachel’s life – and many difficult things have happened in Rachel’s life – she never stops writing, painting, sketching, creating.

I love Rachel very much, we are close enough that we rarely need to speak to each other.  Rachel is forever struggling to balance her family – she has two sons, her work, and her art, a struggle that will almost surely never end.

For Rachel, as for many of us, the creative life is complicated, it always pits security and money and comfort against creativity, freedom and  and meaning. Bit by bit, day by day, Rachel is winning.

it is never easy.

This year Maria invited Rachel to come and paint during the Open House, and Rachel agreed.

When she got here, she realized she had forgotten her canvas. Not to worry, she said, have you got a piece of wood or bark? Of course, Maria did, and Rachel said she would be happy to paint on that.

So she set the wood on her easel and went to work.

Whenever I saw Rachel during the day, she was surrounded by people watching her paint. How sweet that image, Rachel in her element (she is soon to become an art teacher in Southern Vermont) painting at our Open House.

I was busy and lost track of her.

Later that afternoon, long after the Open House had ended and everyone left, the dogs barked and Maria looked out the window. Sometimes people come later, sometimes they stay late.

“It’s Rachel,” said Maria. “She’s out there painting.” And it was Rachel, she had come back after tending to some work, she wanted to finish the painting,  do some more work on it, she had been standing out in the mist and chill by herself, touching up her wood landscape.

She never told us she was there, or bothered us. I went out to see her.

“I’d like to buy that from you,” I said. “No,” said Rachel, “but I’ll trade you for payment for the class. (I actually don’t charge for the class, but there was no point in wrecking this opportunity).

Deal, I said. Rachel will finish up the painting at home and bring it to me next week.

Rachel has a great spirit. She has faced many difficult things, and continues to face many difficult things. Bi-polar disorder and depression are both things that cannot be cured, they can only be managed.

I think Rachel’s creativity has grounded and steadied her, it is now as large as the depression, and I have seen it take a larger and more important role in her life every time she sketches, writes or paints.

And she does all of those things brilliantly. How many people can say that? She will make a wonderful teacher, she understands are and the need for encouragement. I hope you never stop writing and painting, I said.

“Are you kidding?,” she answered. “That’s how I earn my teaching credits!”

I’m so glad we stuck it out with one another. She would never see it this way, but she has changed me as much or more as I have changed her. And she has taught me as much or more as I have taught her.

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