Lately, I've been doing strength training a few times a week to build my shoulders, back, abs, and thighs. After a few months, I find that it's easier to work in the studio 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week, if I've got the shoulder muscles to handle the work of using my right arm continuously.
I've discovered a piece of exercise equipment called resistance straps or gravity straps. They're a no-name, less expensive version of the name-brand TRX straps, which were developed by a Navy Seal to allow all those ripped alpha males to lift weights while deployed in the desert where there are no athletic facilities. (To see the product, search for "TRX straps" on Amazon, and to see some exercises, search YouTube). These nylon straps require only your body weight to exercise. They're affordable, small, and portable. You can use them for upper body and lower body exercises, and "going Naval" requires only that you skooch forward a little, increasing the angle of your body to increase the difficulty. I'll admit, I'm not all that Naval.
I also use a yoga swing, a kettlebell, and a NordicTrack for indoor exercising. Even though the NordicTrack takes up relatively little space compared to my husband's elliptical trainer, compared to my other stuff, it's a monster. But a NordicTrack provides the best aerobic workout, because the upper body and lower body are worked separately, and it involves twisting at the waist, like cross-country skiing. NordicTracks are no longer manufactured, but they're easy to find on Craigslist. You have to have good balance to use one. It's tricky at first.
Anyway, walking the dog was clearly not enough, so I'm turning up the music in the studio, and putting in a 45-minute circuit a few times a week. The variety keeps me from getting bored. It does help. My shoulders would be stiffer and sorer without this.
I also notice that I flex my wrist a lot when I paint, which is increasingly painful. So I've borrowed a wrist brace from a neighbor to immobilize my wrist, and see if it helps. I only wear the brace after I've finished mixing paint with a palette knife and I'm ready to switch to a brush. I'm still able to to hold a brush both ways—like a pen and like a remote control—but my wrist isn't flexing, which I understand can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. If I find that the pain is relieved, I'll make an appointment to see my doctor and explain the situation and probably buy my own wrist brace. <Sigh.> Getting older requires more gear just to keep the pain in check. During 2019 I'll hit the big 5-0, and I might as well accept it.
Winter blues. Who in Seattle hasn't looked up at the lowering sky and scurried off like Gollum to lurk in the basement, eat raw fish, and mutter about My Precious? I've adopted two measures to deal with winter blues: light therapy and sleep meds. I got a small light box from LiteBook, and I hang it from a camera tripod every morning and let the light hit my face from above, mimicking the angle of the sun, while I do my morning e-mail, Facebook, research, and writing on a laptop in the living room. I've been using a light box for about 3 months now, and I'm noticing better energy, better mood, and better sleep.
I imagine the average adult muddling through modernity, sleeping from roughly 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. While I usually prefer to take natural supplements after consulting a naturopath, right now I'm making do with an inexpensive over-the-counter sleep aid. It does help.
If you've slogged through this article on the travails of aging while painting, this little tidbit will—I hope—be your reward: I listen to some kind of audio while painting: music, nature sounds, a podcast, something to keep me focused. For years I used a Bluetooth speaker with my iPhone to generate the audio. Recently I bought a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, the kind that use a U-shaped housing that you wear around your neck. They free you from that stupid cord you have to deal with when using plug-in earbuds. That cord runs down the front of your torso, getting caught on stuff and making it hard to concentrate. One day, I tried listening to my usual audio through the new wireless earbuds instead of the speaker. I was able to focus on the work much more easily. I attribute this to the fact that now I can't hear the heat kicking on in the studio, or the crows in the alley, or any ambient noise. It's amazing how much easier it is to stay focused. I've increased my expectation of a good studio day from 3-4 hours a day to 4-5 hours a day.
A few weeks ago I deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and I now use Facebook only on my laptop. That was a good move for me. The studio is an Internet-free zone. (My only exception to this is Pandora.)
I still put a lot of effort into my homemaking duties: cooking, laundry, dishes, errands ... those tasks all fall on my shoulders, and doing them well takes time. It's the deal my husband and I made when we got married, and I wouldn't want to change it. I'm a natural homemaker: domestic, reclusive, and orderly. If I were more career oriented, I'd probably find a way to spend more time in the studio each day, and we'd probably heat up convenience food in the microwave more often, but that just wouldn't work for me. Still, as the years go by, I find that I'm getting less obsessive about my sock drawer and more obsessive about my paintings. So I'm slowly, gradually, systematically shifting the balance between the house and the studio.
Walk softly and carry a great painting. Isn't that how it goes?