The Bedside Book

Recently I’ve participated in some online workshop-gatherings of a sort.  Neither have been “classes” per se but rather more intended as an artistic shot in the arm – a path to creative exercise that isn’t my own regularly trodden path.

It is good to get out of one’s own way sometimes.  In this strange era of no teaching or traveling, barely making anything of note (besides a fair amount of really good food), there comes this opportunity to step outside of my norm, to tune out this world gone mad for an hour or so once a week.  It has been good.  Creating space for some play time has re-enlivened a few tried and true practices which had gone a bit stale over the course of the pandemic.  One such practice is that of my bedside sketchbook.

I came to the tail end of that little bedside book and it’s rich with interesting characters.  I’ve no idea who they are or why they are, they just are.

Some of them might be worth developing further one day, so as not to be trapped for eternity in the pages of a small book, but we shall see.  For now, here are a few of my favorites…

Sometimes, these Fine Folk would escape the bedside and make their way into the day book, alongside bits of poetry, to-do lists and the keeping of a calendar.  I welcome them too.

I was doodling one time while taking an online group workshop with Conal O’Grada of flute wielding fame. “The twiddle in the middle” are his words and they made me smile.

Yesterday I slipped into the art store before heading into the concertina shop.  I splurged on new versions of red and blue in the oil paints.  I also picked up a cheap little sketchbook to begin another volume of the bedside book.

It is nothing fancy, I just use pencil in it anyway, so no need for fancy.  I collaged the cover to make it my own, and will set it on the bedside table with a newly sharpened pencil to see who pays a visit before I collapse into a restless sleep.

I am restless due to current events and this raging pandemic and all that goes with it.  As I write this, I am receiving text messages from family and far flung friends with the news that the president has once again been impeached.  This is good news indeed, I think.  But honestly, I am weary.  Weary of ignorance and misinformation and cruelty.  I hope we can move through all this and one day gain footing on a sense of normality, whatever that may look like after these horrifying past months and years.  But time will tell.

For now, there is puppy kindergarten beginning this evening.  There are more meals to attempt which feed our bodies in healthy ways.  The sun shone today a good bit as well.  All is not lost, at least right here at home.  And that is what I cling to just now.  I hope you are doing well and hugging those you can.

The Embrace of a New Year

The new year dawns amidst heavy rains, as if the tears of 2020 continue to overflow.  There is a relief in this new day, this new year, even if in reality, it is just another day.

In years past I might have greeted the day a little weary from an overnight of music at Arthur’s house with many of my most treasured musical mates.  Alas, our tradition like so many this dark and difficult season, was simply not to be.  And so we had some curry and watched When Harry Met Sally.  I of course would rather have been playing music.  But that said, it was not a bad way to spend the turning of the year.  I am grateful for that.

So here we are.  A new chapter.  At least according to the calendars.  This feeling of a new beginning is refreshing after the sense of doomed Groundhog Days of the past several months.  The early half of this day I refreshed my studio chalkboard with a new focus word to contemplate for the year and some reminders to keep in mind of goals and plans for the months ahead.  Not so much “resolutions” really, rather ‘things to keep in mind’.

This year’s word is EMBRACE.  It is fitting on so many levels.  At the basest level, I just need more hugs in my life.  I’ve read that hugging more releases the hormone oxytocin into the body, creating happiness.  I am keen to try this as I’ve been a little blue of late.  But haven’t we all?

Embrace also is a challenge to myself to take more seriously all of the gifts that I have,  specifically in my working life.  I don’t take my art work for granted and I have worked hard over the years to improve my craft and get my work out into the world.  But that said, there is always more I can be doing to put the work forward.  I am considering setting up a Patreon page to ask my subscribers if they might like to pay a small patronage toward the making of my art work in exchange for patron only content and thank you rewards.  A bit like kickstarter and other funding platforms, but ongoing and not necessarily project specific.  I have heard wonderful things about the relationship that develops between artists and their patrons.  Money is a difficult concept for artists some of the time, but Patreon allows for people to throw a few coins into the proverbial hat so that artists can do what they do.   So we shall see.  I am still researching it all.  Don’t worry though, the blog will always be here in some form or other.  For free.  I promise.

With 2020 came so much change and grief and anxiety and a necessary re-thinking of the world in general.  The final tenet of my notion of Embrace, is to take what comes -to embrace the challenges of our time right along side with the small joys and achievements.  It is a time of  ‘yes, and’.  It is an era when we must learn to carry sadness and hope together in the same basket a lot of the time.  My goal is to embrace this concept and it’s inherent yin-yang quality and see where it takes me.  It feels like a good, multilevel word I can chew on for a good year or so.

The latter half of the day we met our daughter and her dog for a beautiful winter hike at a place called Glen Helen Nature Preserve.  It was magical with patches of fog and melting snow on bright green mosses.  There were streams and springs there filled with iron-oxide and the rocks at some of these waterfalls dripped a bright orange-red.

This fallen tree had been cut away from the trail we were hiking along. I looked at the growth rings and wondered, ‘how many other difficult years are represented here?’

There was an Adena burial mound just in the woods off the trail and it occurred to me that perhaps this place was sacred to early people in our area.  I am glad it is still treated well now.

Philomena continues to grow and change.  She has ‘divil dog’ moments when she is all wild instinct and needled teeth and it is difficult not to lose patience with her.  But we are all learning together.   As I type this, Charlie and I have escaped upstairs to the studio and Tony has taken over puppy duty.  When she is awake, we have to keep a close eye on her.

When she rests, one of her favorite things is to shuffle herself under her bed in the kitchen where there are radiant floors.  We think it might feel a bit like a weighted blanket to her.  She came up with this funny concept on her own.

Sometimes when she is all the way under, and merely a lump under a dog bed, she reminds me of a passage from The Little Prince

A favorite of mine.

As we attempt to bring our shoulders down out of our anxious ears, and gain an even footing in the world again in the next few months, I wish you a brave new year.  A year where the good will outweigh the heartache perhaps.  A year of mending what has come undone and weaving together all of the lessons of the past 10 months or so.

Sweet dreams everyone.  Tomorrow is another day.

Start Close In

by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

A David Whyte poem from
River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press