Mind on Fire

Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again.  But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure.  I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.

It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio.  For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Life of ours.  While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster.  We must make sure we are on the right track.  Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?

Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip.  This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator.  And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically.  One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico.  Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be about the heart of the matter  – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.

On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it.  He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them.  About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time.  Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing.  Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions.  Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage.  I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.

“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”  ~Terry Tempest Williams

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them.  Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist.  Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder.   Just a different kind of scientist really.

We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life.  Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate.  We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  ~Aristotle

And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms.  In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.

The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west.  I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves.  I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.

We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.

“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light.  They are transparent landscapes.”  ~Raquel Jodorowsky

I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”  ~Loren Eiseley

“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.”  ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Amazing bronze drinking water fountain in Santa Cruz.

But the trip was not all ocean all the time.  I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.

Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.

To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral.  We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet.  With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.

We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while.  It was cold and quite humid.

All in all, it was a wonderful getaway.  January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart.  A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness.  Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.

I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine.  The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before.  But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.

“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”

“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”

I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change.  The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.

This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again.  While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year.  I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.

The energy was palpable.

These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels.  On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny.  Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration.  I marvel.  But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible.  And I find a bit of hope in this.

I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late.  The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California.  Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after.  And there are more adventures to follow.  Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions.  Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep?  Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space?  Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati?  For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one.  But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio.  These are all the questions burning just now.  And likely they will continue to do so for a while.

One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center.  Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones.  From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings.  Who knows where they will lead.  Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear.  Rays of light amidst the dust particles.  Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.

I could live in condos such as these, couldn’t you?

 

 

Heart-full-ness

Winter finally arrived in our fair river valley in the form of a harsh and deadly freeze which assaulted most of the eastern half of this country over the holiday season.

Occasionally, I’d glance at the temperature gauge in our car and see a number hovering around or below zero.  With the biting wind, it often seemed colder.

Our three dogs were not keen on going outside to do any amount of business, especially the smallest of them who found herself at the veterinarian with a nasty bout of colitis which may or may not have been related to cold weather issues and, ahem, business or lack thereof.

And yet, we soldiered through.  Fortunately for the human beans in this pack of ours, we could don coats and boots and we did manage to spend some time outside, in spite of the deadly temperatures.  And it was lovely indeed.

“We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day… even every winter day. I am sensible that I am imbibing health when I open my mouth to the wind. Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always.”  ~H.D. Thoreau  (via Brainpickings)

One particularly brisk day I attended a winter plant walk to see what we could see.  I learned a lot, procured some mushroom tonic which I believe helped me shake a head cold, and met a new friend as well.

Oh to have an alpaca coat in this cold clime!  We had a lovely conversation and I was whispered many alpaca secrets that morning.

Eventually, we were treated to a bit of a thaw, as we are wont to do here in Ohio being neither North nor South.  It is nice to breathe cool air instead of gasping at the cold.

This winter has been so very different from the last.  I look back at last winter’s blog posts and feel the fragility and desperation of a self barely holding on, riddled with illness – in both body and spirit – and a palpable malaise in front of which only the act of writing could keep me.

This winter, today, now, things are lighter.  I approach this harsh world with a new foundation forged of the groundedness which yoga practice, healthy eating and the like have afforded me.  I am deeply grateful.  The other day at in meditation class we learned that the idea of mindfulness, which everyone goes on about in this day and age, is actually a bit of a mistranslation from East to West. That a more fitting way to put the notion is that of heartfulness. 

I found this idea quite captivating and found myself ruminating upon it long after our hour together as a group.  What if, when we begin the spinning sensation of uncontrollable thinking – “good” or “bad” (light or shadow) – we might just go and curl up in our heartspace for a bit?  The space where kindness dwells.  The space where we are beyond judgement.  We are so very hard on ourselves, aren’t we?  When we think dark thoughts, or lose our patience or don’t live up to some constant standard we hold ourselves to.  What if we could just let these human tendencies come, and quietly, without judgement, let them go?  With a full heart.

This notion is not a new one, I am sure.  I am not one for labels or for following one particular tradition or spiritual path.  But this idea of heartfulness over mindfulness really makes sense to me.  And it’s nice for things to make sense now and again, isn’t it?

There is much brewing here in the studio, amidst all of the bothers of the day to day, and the workings of the day job.  Following the lead of my friend Kevin Necessary (amazing illustrator and official cartoonist at our local WCPO) I did something quite out of character the other day and downloaded a digital drawing application on my phone called Procreate Pocket. Kevin had posted some lovely digital drawings and I was interested to see if I might be able to do something of my own with this new tool.

And so I am something of an old dog learning a few new tricks.

It feels nice to use the phone as a tool, versus feeling used up by the phone and all of its trappings.  I’ve curbed my social media use in recent days, being more conscious of whether I am using it, or it is using me.

I’ve ordered some clayboard panels which should be in next week to expand a small painting of mine into a triptych of sorts – a special commission for some kind patrons who happen to like cows.

I’ve said yes to a low-paying illustration job in the hope that the exercise alone will be worth the effort.

I’ve recommitted to not only keeping up with the flute playing so near and dear to my heart, but learning a few tunes on the concertina which I spend so much time around anyway at the shop.  (So far, I have a polka, a bit of a waltz, and half of a jig.  and maybe a bit of that old hornpipe I tried to learn a few summers ago)  I am so fortunate to have access to these beautiful instruments.  I might as well learn to play one.

With the dawning of a new year, thoughts turn to re-centering in the things which mean the most to us.  My word for 2018 is T R U S T.  I like having a word to ponder and work with, versus a long list of resolutions.  I’m learning to trust my own intuition more and more.  A real gift of this stage of one’s life.

Tomorrow the hub and I head west for a couple of days by the ocean in between our busy work schedules.  Like a landlocked mermaid, I can already taste the salt air and am deeply looking forward to hearing the waves crashing.

“Dance upon the shore; What need have you to care for wind or water’s roar?”  ~W. B. Yeats

Keep an eye out in the usual posty places (IG , Twitter) for drawings and musings as we travel.  Wishing you the brightest of New Year’s offerings.  May it be all we hope it can be.  And more than we could ever have dreamed of.