feeling prickly

turkey-soup

In recent days I was caught unawares with a little virus that has kicked my proverbial backside with a hacking cough and periodic fevers that leave me achey and miserable.  I am thankful to have the flexibility to be able to stay home and keep this all to myself, though this meant  missing one of my favorite annual events, the Riley School of Irish Music’s Peace and Merriment concert.  But miss it I did, as I’d not wish this cough on anyone.

I am fortunate to have a live in love who makes a really nice soup and who puts up with my rather prickly attitude as a patient.

feeling-prickly

I’m also thankful for friends who live away who call to check in on me and remind me of my worth as an artist and a human being.  (this discussion having nothing to do with feeling sick, but only magnified by such).  And so little by little, I get my breath back.  Hoping tea and books and rest (and maybe a spot of whisky) will see me playing music again soon.  And rocking a more positive attitude.

For today though, I just feel prickly.

Hamstertown Ball

“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett

riley-school-turns-20Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday.  Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple.  There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn  de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family.  The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better.  We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school.  I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe.  This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made.  I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing.  My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo.  (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.)  We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music.  Which I suppose it is.  But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches.  dancers-learn-their-3s-and-7sMusicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition.  It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.

Éamonn-teaches-and-encourages

But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.

dancers-learn-to-swing

With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it.  I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times.  And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice.  Though I certainly do.

And so, it is more important than ever to dance.  To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor.  To paint the brightest of pictures.  After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.

I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown.  One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn.  I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…

hamstertown-ball

In(sta)sanity

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I don’t know about y’all, but I feel rode hard and put away wet after this last week or so.  That statement may seem like an uber-use of the vernacular, but I am after all, an Appalachian.  I’ve always known this to be true, as my kin hail from Breathett County Kentucky, but today I read it in the paper.  And during tough times, I look to my tough heritage for strength.

The mountains are burning.  And some days it seems, if we are to believe the bright screens we cling to,  so is the world at large.  Naively I thought the end of the election would bring about some solace.  But hateful things do not always recede.  At times, if they are repeated and retweeted, they become the reality only a small few desired.

And so, each day, I attempt to fathom the next step.  Not only for our nation necessarily, but for me.  As an artist.  As a maker.  As a purveyor of whimsy and (I hope) beauty in this big ol’ goofy world of ours.

I have read here and there that social media took a high profile part in the election of this new reich and I do not doubt it.  We live in a vastly different world than even just at the last election.  These platforms are part of our lives, whether we wanted them to be or not.  It is up to us to determine how much of it gets into our inner sphere.  It’s not as simple as turning off the television anymore.  We must be vigilant, especially as artists who trade in the visual, to closely monitor what reaches the inner sanctums of our minds and hearts.

In the perhaps misguided attempt to find an answer to ‘How Did We Get Here?’, I have recently instigated conversations with Trump supporters in my own network of family and life-acquaintances.  I have looked at surveys on what makes our society tick.  (Please, please, please.  Watch this documentary.  It’s important.)  And I am still without an answer, and alas, with some serious tensions in relationships of old.

I’ve deleted and retreated a bit, I’ll admit.  In the interest of my own sanity and my policy of ‘Only Light In, Only Light Out’ (which lets face it, paying attention to the news causes to slip a bit), I’ve taken to seeking out my fellow artists and thinkers for comfort.  My critics would call this my ‘echo chamber’.   But I would counter, I have work to do.  And I am finding it hard to do the work I am called to do in a culture of hatred and speedy, snarky commentary that I cannot even read in real time, let alone respond to.

So how to navigate this?  ‘Find your tribe’.  While I am fortunate enough to have real, live, fellow artists to gather with and seek support from in my ‘real world’ here, I am also eternally grateful for my online community who live all over the globe.  I can reach out and seek out the very words I need to get into a hopeful, studio-friendly, art-making state of mind.  The Instagram platform of social media is especially powerful in this way and today especially, it did not disappoint.  The lovely Pixie Lighthorse spoke on her Instagram page on how the acts of stirring soup and tending to home fires can be as powerful as those of outer activism.  And photographer Morgan Wade provided the pep-talk I needed this morning asking the vital questions we must answer as makers….

What wakes me up?   Coffee.  (still working on the deeper more philosophical question here.)  Music, beauty, a brisk walk.  Time with loved ones.

What and who am I fighting for?  My people.  This includes myself, my children, my family, my neighborhood, my community, my nation.  (that is the who).  The what?  Kindness, civility.  A slowing down/backing up of all the awful.  I think my work tends to these tasks in some way.

What kind of world do I want to live in and pass onto our children?  One in which we mustn’t constantly walk in fear.  One in which we can be ourselves.  One in which judgement doesn’t play such a deep role in our sense of self.

What softens me to myself?  Letting go.  Of judgement. Of fear.  Playing music and making pictures.

So this recent in(sta)sanity, combined with music played with friends at the local session, and before that, a Brazilian Jazz Combo show by my oldest and his jazz mates….

fullsizerender

…. further combined with the doodling of my own set of characters…..

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….has me feeling, for the moment at least, a bit more on an even keel.

Here is the thing.  I doodle.  And usually those doodles amount to nothing more than putting little creatures into people-like clothing, and creating little stories with the pictures.  It seems so simple.  But at the heart of it, it is not simple.  At the heart of things, I make drawings of small, vulnerable creatures who try to make sense of a world that is so much bigger than they are.  In this way I think I speak to everyone just trying to get along in this big, overwhelming world and not become prey to the likes of our president-elect.

I have a number of other little ‘rodent-in-clothing’ drawings that I can’t yet share but know that I am at the drawing board daily, between spells of tears, and that I am desperately biting back the desire to run away in a caravan or high-powered zeppelin.

luggage-tag-ginger

 

Under Pressure.

I am just returned from an intensely inspiring conference at the Mazza Museum, an oasis of beauty and innocence in northwestern Ohio of all places.  If you are anywhere near Findlay, Ohio and have an interest in or love of children’s picture books, I highly recommend a visit.   The weekend conference seemed to be geared toward teachers and librarians, the very folks who use and champion the work of people who make illustrated books for kids (in whose ranks I will be one day!!)  There were also a couple of us art folks lurking in the audience as well of course but it was really wonderful to meet such lovely educators and book enthusiasts.

The panel of authors and artists was top notch.  top-notch-panel

We heard from David Wiesner who spoke eloquently about “worlds within worlds within worlds”.  He signed not only the book I picked up for my nephew, but also my sketch book.  I consider this inspiring glitter to have been bestowed upon my lowly book.

david-wiesner

Next day we heard about “sharing the truth of the world”, “clinging to a raft in a sea of doubt”, and how publishing a book is like an electrical impulse going pole to pole to pole from author Tony Abbot.  He also discussed the tremendous responsibility behind the notion of telling a good story, whether through words, pictures, or both.

tony-abbot

“Children are a much more important audience than adults.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson

Sergio Ruzzier talked of his love of picture books as a child when the ones with too many words proved overwhelming.  I am anxious to try out pen and ink in a new way after his demonstration and talk.  His books are beautiful, and his lecture was really entertaining.

sergio

Brian Biggs’ series Tinytown books (among stacks of many he’s made) are all about “creating a world I want to live in.”  Amen.

Nikki McClure had me in tears during her speech, as I have been on the verge of tears ever since the election and all that has gone with it.  She was honest and vulnerable in her talk as she too spoke of deep grief over the meaning of recent events.  They are not trivial and are not politics as usual.  She spoke straight to my heart.

“Make.  Learn.  Speak.”

“Books are a place of calm and centering.”

“Trust the child.”

“Draw. Draw. Draw.  Thinking comes later.”

“Books should have food in them.”

“Use color to tell the story.”

“All you need is a pencil.  All you need is a dream.”  (in which I am, once again, weeping.)

Dan Santat finished off the conference, exhausted from what seems like a grueling touring schedule, with an inspiring talk about his own work and the trajectory it’s taken.  He talked of embracing boredom, and being comfortable in your own skin as an artist.  That is where one can find one’s individual style.  I shared with him this sweet image of my good friend Alice who is a huge fan of Beekle.

alice

All in all, it was just what my gentle heart needed after this past week.  I had to drive through the heart of Trump-ville to get there but it was worth it.  And I cried some more on the way home, allowing my grief to flow, although I know the conservatives who voted for our new President-Elect just don’t understand this depth of sadness and are asking us to get over it and stop being such crybabies.

Well here’s the thing.  Perhaps it’s this election and all of the vitriol involved.  Perhaps it’s the essence of middle age.  But I am done being told, in ways subtle as well as straight up obvious, how to feel.  About anything.  To be an artist, in my truly humble opinion, is to have an open heart.  To feel deeply whatever it is I am feeling.  There is really no other way to our best work.  And so I weep.

The Mazza conference was just the shot in the arm I needed just now.  I feel recommitted to getting my stories and pictures out to publishers and eventually into the hands of teachers and librarians and children themselves.  I had spent the days before this conference wondering how to move forward from here in a country so hell bent on moving backward in time.  We had come so far and yet now, we tilt back into a time of rekindled hatred and distrust.  It is heartbreaking.

So the pressure is on now, to give love a chance.   I leave you here with some Bowie and Queen.  In hope.  Under Pressure.

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love
Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure
Pressure

A slower kind of grief

gray-day

It is a gray, cold day here in Ohio.  Like many people I know, both here at home and abroad, I awoke this morning after a fitful few hours’ sleep to a world blackened by the election results of this country of ours.  I am shocked, honestly, at the outcome of what has been a really painful time to be an American.  Perhaps I am naive but I thought better of neighbors, extended family members and yes probably even a co-worker.  I find it truly hard to believe that anyone would vote for someone who carries himself in the world the way our new president-elect does, though I knew there were those people out there, fearful enough to go for his vague messages of ‘change-maker’ and ‘political outsider’.  But yes, perhaps I was fooling myself.

And today, I am grieving.  Not in the way one might be disappointed after an election goes in favor of the other party.  I’ve had those years and that did feel bad enough.  But, one wakes up, trusts in the system and has an extra cup of coffee.

This is a deeper level of grief.  A grief I am truly having trouble wrapping my brain around at the speed expected of such things in the world these days.  I am a slow cooker when it comes to most everything.  I don’t do well with hurrying along emotions or decision making.  This morning I visited my usual online haunts first thing, to commiserate with friends, and perhaps begin to wrap some words around this awful sense I’m feeling in the gut of my deepest gut.   And I found an interesting phenomenon happening there.  One which I think is indicative of the pace of things in the modern world.

People are already moving on.  

I think part of this notion is the desire not to get mired down in the deep dark depths of negativity, which on the whole, is admirable.  And yes, I do believe the path forward must be one of light and peacemaking.  That said, I can’t go there yet.  I am still grieving.  At my own apparently geologic pace.

For many of my more moderate friends, this election was difficult in that they really didn’t feel they had a choice.  I know many who ‘held their noses and voted for Hillary’.  While I don’t understand this thinking, everyone comes to their beliefs through their own experiences (and, it must be said, ‘news’ agencies).  It’s my own experiences that are feeding this deep aching grief of mine, however.

For a short while there, I’d had a sense that the world, and indeed our country, were changing for the good.  There seemed to be more acceptance of those with differences, a real desire on the part of people to further understand one another’s religions and cultures and true selves.  This felt like a world I could live in.

Some snapshots…..

When I was a kid, after having moved around all sorts of places in the world, my broken family came home to live back here in Ohio.  We were poor, very poor, and my single mom did her very best to do her very best through work, food stamps and night school.

A few years later our household eventually held two women and three children, living together under one roof and this was apparently problematic in the small Ohio town we landed in.  We weren’t exactly lovingly accepted into the community fold.  In fact, one time, we even had a rock thrown through our living room window.  Even at that time, I knew why.

As a woman, I’ve witnessed and experienced the countless subtle and not so subtle ways women can be demeaned in our society. Hillary Clinton’s campaign gave me hope that in spite of this, perhaps women could have their equal time at the table.  That inclusion could be possible for everyone.  As the mother of two young adults, one of whom is gay, I was feeling like the world could be safer than the one I grew up in. That fewer rocks of ignorance might be thrown through our windows.  That maybe my daughter could pursue her own path of service and leadership in the world on an equal footing.

I don’t often write here on this blog in such a personal way.  I attempt to keep things liminal, otherworldly and artful.  I shall head back down that rabbit hole for my work and my own sanity eventually.  But I feel compelled to write this personally after this dreadful election.  Tweets and facebook posts aren’t enough.  We must do some deeper thinking as a country.   Some slow, deep thinking.  I wonder if anyone slows down to think any more.  It certainly doesn’t seem so.  It’s all about the next tiny parcel of semi-information, and sound bytes –  small cogs in the wheel of the world spinning out of control.  Perhaps the pace of things is different elsewhere.  I don’t know.  I do know that I’m having a hard time with how things are rolling along here and now.  I worry that this very pace of surface information flying hither and thither contributed to the awful results we face this morning as a country.

This all being what it is, today I plan to get some spring bulbs into the ground.  Which feels infinitely hopeful.  I am trying to tap into our wiser selves a few months in the future….

hope-for-better-days

And I await the arrival of a missing printer which I am fairly excited about.  These are small, practical things I am looking forward to in my small day to day.  But I will continue to grieve for the bigger picture of things.  I am deeply grateful for friends who get that maybe for some of us, this grieving may take some time.  Those of us who have been desperately poor, or have been victims of misogynistic behavior or have been on the ‘fringe’ of society somehow or other, will need a bit of time before we can ‘move forward’, ‘stay positive’, etc.  We can get to that in January.

Thanks to my dear friend Justin for these beautiful, kind words which he wrote just as I began this lengthy blog post.

“I see a lot of folks on my feed telling folks that are reacting negatively to the election outcome to keep it together and get over it . . . so I just want to throw this out there:

If you’re sad, no shame. If you’re angry, no shame. If you’re scared, no shame. There is absolutely not a DAMN thing wrong with sadness, anger, or fear. You don’t need to “get over it”, “man up”, “move on”, “grow a pair”, or whatever else. You have (and God knows you don’t need it from me) full permission to experience YOUR experience, and there isn’t a soul alive or otherwise that has the right to make you do any different. Love is the greatest ally to all persons on this planet, so start with yourself and own your experience, no shame.”

And while we are on the subject of wise words, here are two more quotes bringing me some small solace this morning.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”   ~Julian of Norwich

julian

“FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.
SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”     ~(not sure if this is quoted from the book or the movie, but it’s from Tolkien’s The Two Towers. )

 

While we’re together (A very Oberlin wedding – illustrated)

sometimes, photos aren’t enough to convey the richness of a magical time with those we love.  sometimes, we need the drawn interpretations of a journal entry or a few sonic scrapbook snippets as lenses through which to taste this fleeting magic…….

battleground

(push play…. just below. enjoy the harmony, and perhaps, a guffaw or two…)

gods-2

handmade-finery

promisestoasts-and-teajigs-and-reelsdancing

eventually, as many magic times do, festivities melted into songs over cups of tea, and a few more sips of celebratory libation by those who were on that path….  here are a few more tracks of songs sung, littered with the sounds of toasts being made, more laughter, and some scratchy sketching here and there just near the recording device.  Best wishes Alex and Rae.  You are loved.

 

A favorite sort of day

autumn-breezes-in-the-treetops

It is my favorite sort of day.  One which began inspired and meditative, flowing along at my own pace, following my nose in an artful way, with no lists or have-tos clouding my inner compass.

Today I have been graced with the following….

pencil-meditations

Meditation at the very tip of my pencils.

stew-on-the-stovetop

Green chili stew on my stove top.  (I don’t eat much meat, but this stew’s protein came from my friends over at Grassroots Farm.  I am so very grateful for their work.)

best-tea-in-best-mug

Many (many) mugs full of tea.  It’s fuel.

ghosts-at-the-doorstep

Ghosts at my doorstep.  It is a liminal time of year, is it not?

autumn-breezes-in-the-treetops

Cool autumnal breezes in the tree tops.  We have been afforded a most beautiful fall season.  This doesn’t happen every year.  It is a gift.

flame-on-the-windowsill

The warm glow of candlelight on my studio window.  (The gorgeous candle is by my favorite honey and wax peddlers, Bee Haven to be found locally here in Cincinnati at Findlay Market on week ends.

iris-ever-familiar

A four legged friend who is up for adventure and doesn’t talk that much.

paint-on-my-brushtip

and finally, some paint on my paint brush.  I’ve been coaxing a little painting along lately who is not so keen to tell me all of her secrets. She is to be wooed slowly it would seem.  I am giving her time and space to tell me what she knows.  We will go from there.  But this much I do know…..

she knows of the power in the flutter of a moth’s wing.  she knows she must always have a basket handy for carrying the gatherings, (though what is in her basket, I do not yet know). she spends a great deal of time outside as it tends to keep her thoughts clear.

For now, that is all.

Homestate Tourism

clifton-gorge-river-3

A couple of days ago I took the plunge to schedule a trip on my own back down to Guatemala to scout out a new sketch trip option, the lovely town of Antigua.  I will meet up with friends there next March who know the area and will be there already on a service trip.  And I will explore the town as a tourist and as an artist and as a teacher.  It’s exciting to think about offering a second sketch-travel option to the wheel of my working year and I will certainly keep you posted as this new workshop develops.  Of course, my Taos based class offered at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House will continue to grow and change on its own as well from year to year, and hopefully for years to come.

All of this booking and planning, along with our recent and up and coming travel has me thinking a lot about the notion of tourism.  My practice of keeping a travel journal, even for the mundane day to day, developed out of a desire to be more mindful and grateful for what is right here in front of me.  It has worked, and continues to work for me, whether I’m doing any actual sketching or not.  I’ve learned to open my eyes to things through this practice.  It’s a true gift.

And so yesterday, with artful eyes wide open, my Hub and I took a day to drive to out to Clifton Gorge, near the town of Yellow Springs, Ohio for a hike, and to be tourists for the day in our own neck of the woods.  Something I’ll admit I forget to do at times being so busy running off to other seemingly more exciting places.

clifton-nature-center

ohio-natural-resources

The gorge is a natural thing, having been created amidst the havoc of the glacial era of our state’s history.  It is deep and mysterious and we could hear the roar of its river as soon as we began our hike through the woods.

clifton-gorge-river-2

 

Often times here in our region, nature has been altered in some way, such as a river dammed up to create the lakes we sometimes kayak, so it’s really nice to visit something that feels so wildly unstructured. And yet, there were nice touches of the man-made along the path, created in the days of the CCC, which reminded us that we weren’t so far from civilization.

ccc-wall

We hiked for a good while on the path, photographing and taking note of things along the way.  It felt good to just move so I didn’t do much sketching until later in the day.  Sometimes knowing when to sketch and when not to worry about it all is part of the fun.

forest-shrooms

forest-shrooms-3

forest-shrooms-2

forest-friends

clifton-gorge-path

clifton-gorge-river

All of the water that rushes through the gorge prompted early settlers to build mills to harness the power of the water.  After our hike we visited the old Clifton Mill, still in operation as a mill and restaurant.

clifton-mill

mill-wheel

inside-clifton-mill

Eventually, we were a bit thirsty, so we stopped for a beer at the local brewery.

yellow-springs-brewery

This place not only has delicious beer but also has a ‘no television’ policy in place which thrilled me.  One of my deepest annoyances with the modern world is this idea that there must be a television going at all times in all places.  One can hardly escape it these days so it was really a treat to enter a place where people were conversing and enjoying each other’s company.  While dogs are not permitted inside the brewery itself, they do have a lovely back porch area where dogs are welcome.   So, now comfortably seated by the bike path, we did pull out the sketchbooks.  I doodled the dogs.

brewery-dogs

brewery-dog

All in all, it was a beautifully spent, perfect October day.  We could have stayed home and done chores, sure.  But instead we opted to be tourists in this beautiful place we call home.  Ohio.

It’s true that I often think of living elsewhere once again, perhaps a place near a pebbly sea-shoreline I could walk each day.  These wishes persist.

wishes

But for now, we are here in Southwestern Ohio.  And, to be quite honest, not entirely unhappy with it.  Being a tourist for the day right here at home was a nice reminder of contentment.

On the move (experiments)

A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center.  The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor.  I loved it!  We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself.  Here are the early experimental results……

I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling.  But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm.  I do enjoy it.  I hope you do too!!

 

part rabbit warren, part spin on art & life & etc. art, illustrations & workshops by amy bogard