A number of years back, one of my dearest friends discovered a little light growing inside of her, someone we all were excited to meet. Someone who at the time we called Orby – for he embodied that ‘little orb of light’ that we, especially his delighted parents, could feel among us as a presence already. There were not only adults awaiting Orby’s arrival here in this world, but a number of young kids, who adored the parents-to-be and wanted to create something special to welcome their new little friend to this wild earthly existence.
So, as one does, we gathered everyone’s ideas. We knew that monsters can be the bane of a young person’s existence, at least at first. This group of youngsters wanted Orby to feel safe and loved and to know that not all strange creatures were out to get ya.
As the artist in this particular community, I collected the children’s ideas of monsters in the form of drawings from them. Some of the kids were older, some mere toddlers, so the monsters ranged in complexity. But they all told a story, and they all had heart.
Some were bagpipes, which had been feared, but without reason.
Others, haunted the high hill tops and deep valleys of far-flung mountainous terrains.
And still others could be found deep at sea, or perhaps outer space. Teaching us of worlds away from our own. For what else are monsters for, if not to inform us of the unknown; worlds outside of our own imaginings?
Orby was born, given an earthly name of Elliot, which suits him beautifully. And soon, he was drawing his own early doodles, as was his young sister Alice Willow just a few years later.
Their beautiful, crafty mama translated a number of their early drawings into little embroidered keepsakes to keep on the wall in their home and they are lovely in their sweetness and simplicity.
I asked her to snap these lovelies, as well as to take some updated snapshots of the Orby quilted flora and fauna in support of an up and coming embroidery class to be held again at my favorite fibery haunt these days, Fibergé.
The drawings of children are so telling – of what they are feeling, seeing, experiencing beyond the bounds of language which eludes the most adult among us, yes? With most kids, if we are paying attention as parents or teachers or aunties or care-givers, there is that first magical drawing which actually has a name. The one in which the child says, “that is the moon.” or “that, is a pig.” or “that is a feather.” for the very first time. These are magical moments when the drawn image is tied to an idea. And if you are an educator or merely a parent fascinated by the stages of youthful development, you know the importance of this jump between what happens inside a young mind, and how that young mind ties it to the outside world through a drawing.
I was in Fibergé the other day picking up a new skirt I commissioned from her collection of AMAZING fabrics (more on that soon hopefully on the blog!!) and we were talking of what might make a nice theme for our next embroidery-class partnership. I love teaching there and was keen to do so again. We got to talking about Mother’s Day and how fun it might be to do something along those lines and we came up with the idea to follow the lead of the kids, much as I had done with the Orby quilt years ago.
As a busy working mama running her own business, Lysha of Fibergé-fame has amazing kids who take it in stride to spend time doodling or playing when mama is with a customer or a vendor. And Lysha pays attention to the evidence of these times with the love only a working mama or papa can have.
I kidnapped a few of these sweet drawings (with permission, of course!) to interpret into samples for the upcoming class this May 6th.
I had a ball and they came together beautifully!
If you are local to the Cincinnati area, do consider joining us for this upcoming class. Beginners are welcome as we will be covering the basics, of course. As you can see by Kristin’s sweet hoops above, simple can be absolutely stunning with a simple chain stitch! But I can also fill you in on how I approached the rest of the monsters in Orby’s quilt and send you home with some ideas for such.
Or perhaps you just want to come in to create a gift for mama, or grandmama (Dad’s? Don’t think you can’t wield a needle? Do check out the work of Mr. Finch!). Either way, consider joining us for a workshop at Fibergé on May 6.
I look forward to seeing you there! In the meantime, stay tuned to this space. travel season is beginning…….
I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days. Welcome, and enjoy!
Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season? Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit. Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold. It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.
This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning. As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant – we find ourselves relatively unscathed.
(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy. And for that I am grateful.)
It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name. And naming it seems important. As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better. Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation? Perhaps. But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart. This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years). Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. and what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined to the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”
~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)
In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths. In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far. By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.
“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English. These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt. These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one. In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás. It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place. In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”
It is this belonging I seek. It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing. For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music. These are languages of pure magic.
Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born. Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist. The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.
Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:
“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”
~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing. The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops. To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general. Like attracts like. The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we drawthese things to us. Drawing is powerful, critical magic. When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives. But it’s become so much more! What I teach is a life-altering practice. And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!
And then there is the music. It’s the Season, after all…..
This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.
Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry. I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.” My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches. And it is true, to an extent. I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots. Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.
A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends. I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon. That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time. A quick in, quick out weekend really. And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time. But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different. In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff. I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart. I was so much more wide awake this time around. And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere. Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me. It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland. Especially at this time of year. It is not my place to claim. I live in Ohio. And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.
I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining. This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming. I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now. Because this is where I am for now.
I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised. Just now. Just this moment. In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky. And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:
“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)
I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me. Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice. While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home. I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us. I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.
I am learning so many new languages. Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world. The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week. The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick. The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels. Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed. I hope to have the ears to listen.
I am eager for the language of story as well. So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places. The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up. But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?. Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular. This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now. This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.
For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
We hunkered in our homes, all of us (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.
We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again. We are all of us ready to go outside once more.
As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding. Up and over our little bridge and the drive. Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors. We were lucky.
Eventually, the sun has shown here and there. And things are beginning to bud and bloom. Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.
But bloom, they do.
While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..
A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives. You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back. Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!! I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.
There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach. You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….
You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..
There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes. It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.
Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs. May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.
What a winter we are weathering. Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)
Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes. The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge. (I am up to the challenge.) All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively. Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed. It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’
But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not! I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood. I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.
While running has not been available to me, walking still has. Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws. I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.
A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence). My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time. There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.
There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season. We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs. I did not take a picture.
We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so. My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….
We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..
“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque, a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley. Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”
Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both? Both, at the same time. animal. woman.
I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity. Political polarity, yes of course. But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves. The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes? And even to how we react to times of great strain. I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another. Why can’t we be Both. I am both Woman and Animal. I am Light as well as Shadow. I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self. When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being. Perhaps like Lavender herself.
Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.
Though if one pays close attention…..
One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.
It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond. so different from our own bulky little bunnies. so I sketched one up.
As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear. The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared. If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing. It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.
But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune. Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp. Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….
This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it. (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers. Can you imagine?)
This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed. (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.
“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”
Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week. This makes me happy beyond imagining. And reminds me that winter will pass. In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally, globally.
“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”
“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”
“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “
So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken. I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere. The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere. I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted. I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.
We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here. I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala. I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town. I do not remember.
But I do remember what calls to my soul:
(we are all artists)
Thank you for reading…..
ps. do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists. they deserve it.
It is Groundhog Day. A day when Punxsutawney Phil glimpses (or doesn’t) his shadow and we are graced with either more winter weather, or an early spring.
I have been thinking a lot about the notion of Shadow. In Jungian psychology, the shadow self is the underbelly of our subconscious. It is all which we have denied or repressed of our whole selves in order to comply with the demands of living the lives into which we are born. Shadow can be perceived as the dark side of self. The bits we do not talk about. To generalize, for many men this might mean the traditionally ‘non-masculine’ traits such as tenderness or being emotionally open in a way that is vulnerable. For women, Shadow could manifest as repressed rage, as it is not ‘feminine’ to be angry, yes? Another way to look at Shadow comes from the definition which analyst Marie Von Franz settles upon, “…in the first stage of approach to the unconscious, the shadow is simply a ‘mythological’ name for all that within me of which I cannot directly know.” It may very well be a side of ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to know, but need to. And therefore, we may project that very self onto others, as a way of protecting ourselves from ourselves, by making the ‘other’ into what we find most undesirable.
The United States is currently weathering a dark night of the soul, grappling with it’s shadowed social underbelly. Robert Bly called the Shadow “the long bag we drag behind us.” We as a country carry a bag behind us full of difficult history built at times upon the backs of the oppressed. These are things with which we must grapple if we are to move forward. So much of the rhetoric we are hearing from those who voted for Trump is based upon changes these voters do not want to see in ‘their’ country. More power being doled out equally to women, people of color, those with different faiths or those hard wired to love differently than themselves. Perhaps those belittling protesters in the recent women’s marches are afraid of the necessary conversations we must have about how women are not, really, equal to men. It is interesting to me that we can elect a president who belittles and objectifies women (and the disabled and, and, and) and yet some are worried that the pink ‘pussy hats’ are vulgar. I think they are brilliant. A genius way to turn the conversation around. And maybe a lesson in the power of words.
I for one am trying, a little each day, to understand how we got here – to this place of being the butt of the joke to the rest of the world.
I have not yet found a balance which feels healthy. That said, we as a country are not healthy. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. And I will not keep quiet.
I have seen our country’s shadow. I am not afraid.
*Update: I wrote this post last week when the drawings first came to mind, just to have it ready to post when a busy week ensued. I knew that the pace of things in Washington might make parts of this post nearly obsolete by the time Groundhog Day actually arrived. I was right. The March for Women and the pink hats seem like decades ago. We now have a ban on folks entering our country if they fit a certain mold (you know, like say, of the Muslim faith, or from certain countries – none of whom have ever harmed us!!) Our Shadow side keeps rearing its ugly (Bigly!) head and yet the people keep rising up in protest which fills me with great hope. I believe we can keep this up. This protesting. Much like runners who pass a baton between the long legs of a race. A race for democracy and human goodness itself. We can do this. Resting when needed. Taking the baton when we can. I am so very proud of this country just now. No, not it’s leadership. It’s people. The lawyers working pro-bono to help those trapped in the new system. The protesters. The Air B&B folks offering free lodging to anyone stranded. I am proud of politicians willing to stand up against this madness who are coming from both sides of the proverbial aisle. I am proud of the world who is hopefully not judging all Americans on the actions of a few in power. I have hope and faith as we incorporate the Shadow. In a recent post on another harbinger of Spring, Imbolc, a friend of mine and I were reminded of and discussed how in spite of spring coming along, there is often a brutal, late-winter snow storm that bites at the new lambs and plant sprouts and bends us once again to the final bits of cold and darkness of winter. But eventually, Spring comes. Perhaps Donald Trump is a late storm like this. Blustering and biting at the new lambs of social kindness and inclusion that the world is striving to achieve. We must maintain hope and vigilance.
Been hard to concentrate round here, what with ‘political whiplash’ as one friend put it. But drawings get done in between staying informed and active. Our friends in Hamstertown are ready to welcome new friends from away who have traveled far and long and have worked so hard to make the journey to a new life.
Meanwhile, this tweet gave me a chuckle, and is quite how I feel about working just now. But I work anyway.
Yesterday here in this fair Queen City of Cincinnati, Ohio, we marched. I must remind my more conservative readers (if you are even still with me here) that this river town is not an ‘elite coastal city’ which some claim are the only places in which marching and peaceful protesting are happening. We are an average blue city amidst the VERY red state of Ohio. And like many citiesaround the world we marched en masse in the thousands. It was remarkable and emboldening.
And here is why we marched.
We marched because this election was so much more than Democracy gone awry for our ‘side’. Shear human decency was pulled through the proverbial ringer this past election season and we did not come out of it the better for our efforts. Many were shocked. But some of us saw it coming down the pike. And now here we are.
We are, it would seem, in a very strange ‘interactive virtual reality project’. And so we marched. On the shoulders of giants.
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
– Maya Angelou
Protesters crafted clever signage to carry along the route.
This day was billed as a day for ‘Women’s Marches’ all around the world. But, as the protesters did chant, “Women’s rights are human rights.” The day was more than just for or about women. We were protesting everything the Trump administration stands for. Black Lives Matter activists were present and marching in solidarity, as were those standing up for the rights of Muslims here in our community, and the rights of those with disabilities. Those who are worried for the future of public education under the person nominated for Education Secretary were there as well with their concerns and signs. Entire families were present. My own included three generations. There were tiny babies and the elderly in wheel chairs or with canes. We all helped each other along the cobblestones of Over The Rhine. It was beautiful.
“The thing about “snowflakes” is this: They are beautiful and unique, but in large numbers become an unstoppable avalanche that will bury you.”
We marched this day to build one another up for what will be four years of chipping away at the rights of many, in favor of lining the pockets of those already too rich for normal people to even conceive.
Just last night I attended a musical birthday celebration and in the wings we whispered about the success of the marches around the world, while simultaneously lamenting the changes already affecting those most vulnerable in our community. One friend, a physician, works with many immigrants and desperately poor folks on the fringe who are frightened to even show identification to their medical caregivers under this new administration. Her office is mostly federally funded. They may not even be present to give care if the promised cuts come along. Another friend, recipient of an FHA loan to purchase her home was emailed that very day of an increase in her mortgage of $150 per month. With a swish of a pen stroke, Trump signed away Obama’s 1/2% tax break, meaning many families will have to scramble just to pay for their homes now. $150 is a ton of money for a working family. But what would Mr. Trump know of such troubles as a billionaire, eh? Sadly, many folks who voted him into office will get a similar email. I wonder if they can make ends meet.
Which leads me to my original question. What comes next? Marches are all well and good and definitely were a shot of desperately needed hope for many of us who lean toward the progressive end of the spectrum. But they are not enough. We have a lot of work to do. I will not say that marches don’t make change. I believe they do. And so does Rebecca Solnit. I recently read her book Hope in the Dark and in it she makes a case for the fact that even the smallest acts of protest can go on to have lives of their own and spark other action elsewhere which we may never witness. Yesterday’s protests may possibly not yield the large benefits we all envision until generations from now, but we mustn’t sit back and wait and see. There are things we can do here and now – ways we can ride this wave of rebellion.
Local government is where seeds of change begin to unfurl and grow and so we can begin there. We must also stay on our national and state level representatives to remind them we are watching their every political move. Post cards, phone calls. Conversations with our neighbors. We must continue to rise up as one voice in defense of the defenseless.
When you’re living on your knees, you rise up
Tell your brother that he’s got to rise up
Tell your sister that she’s got to rise up.”
~Lin Manuel Miranda
And through all of this, we artists must continue to find balance amidst this chaos in order to tend to our own quiet work, equally as powerful in making change as all the political actions. In recent days, two of my past Taos Workshop participants told me that taking my sketch journaling class had literally changed their lives. I don’t share this here to brag or even to market the class, but rather to marvel. To remind myself how important the work is. To remind myself, and you dear readers, how crucial our individual voices are in this tumultuous time. Even if they feel small or quiet.
“I also wanted to write to let you know, ( months after the fact) how your workshop in Taos last summer transformed my life. At the risk of sounding corny, it lifted me out of the cocoon that I had been hiding in for so long. After coming back from Taos, my sense of adventure and joy was restored. I’ve got to tell you how major this is especially for a girl who struggles with depression and anxiety. You are making a difference. You certainly made a difference in mine. Your workshop is so reinvigorating and life giving to the soul. Friends and family have even taken notice of how I’ve taken flight after the workshop. It fed the starving creative in me which is who I am in my deep core. Fast forward four months, I finally quit the job I hated and decided to go back to school full time to pursue my dream of becoming a web designer and user experience guru. Butterfly effect much?”
~2016 Taos class participant. <3 quote used here with permission.
So go forth and doodle. go forth and write your poems of love and rage. go forth and run for local office. go forth and get to know that Trump loving neighbor or family member, and if they are open to it, (and you can stomach it) engage them in conversation. go forth and build this great nation (who is still, “young scrappy and hungry” compared to most of the rest of the world) with liberty and justice for all.
Last night, like many of my fellow Americans, I watched and listened as our president bid us a formal goodbye. His speech, like his presidency, was full of hope and notions of the hard work ahead. Amidst a circus of strange tweets and trendings happening elsewhere online with regard to the next guy in line for his job, Barack Obama was graciously reminding us to roll up our sleeves and get involved.
I awoke this morning to read an excerpt of a poem, posted by a lovely instagram feed which shares a poem and an image each day and I feel it captures the end of this amazing man’s presidential legacy perfectly.
A Psalm of Life (excerpt)
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and wait.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We must beware in the coming weeks, months and years, not to fall prey to the circus that is this incoming administration and Republican led Congress. All of the hoopla the president-elect stirs up with his childlike online ranting, is merely part of the smoke and mirrors behind which changes are already being called for, chipping away at the very foundations of the social safety net upon which our most vulnerable citizens rely. We must be vigilant about keeping our eyes open. About getting involved not just nationally, but locally as well.
Thank you, President Obama, for your class, your nerve, your kindness and open-mindedness. Thank you for your service to this country.
ps. I’ve been listening to a lot of Hamilton lately, steeping myself in the early days of our country’s story as a palate cleanser of sorts to what’s happening now. Below is President Washington stepping down after two terms as president, creating a pattern of a peaceful transfer of power to the next president.
Today I have taken yet another day to do things slowly, to allow a plethora of new medicinals to take hold of this winter’s cold symptoms. I stumbled upon a Keith Haring quote on the instagram page of Sketchbook Crafts which I know to be true and which I jotted into my own book, even as I chased the colors around my own sketchbook, doodling my magical canine beings.
Of late, I have pondered the notion of activism. What can we do in the times ahead which are shaping up to be very different indeed. There are those who will march together on the day following the Inauguration of the vile new leader of the free world. (Alas, I am signed up to take an art class, but my heart is with the marchers here in my town, and in DC.)
And there are those who use their fame and cultural influence for good (unlike some.)
The mere act of making some art feels like activism to me. As does teaching it to people who may think art is not theirs for the doing. Open up one’s heart to their own making and there is no telling the sea changes which can occur. In the coming weeks I am taking some remedial Spanish classes to re-learn a language I once spoke as a child. This too feels like activism. The class is in preparation for another trek down to Guatemala to do some sketching and exploring for future workshops there (stay tuned!!). But I also would like to do more volunteer work in my community with folks who might not know English yet. Small things, yes. But perhaps they can stem the tide of where the election seems to be taking us.
So today, I do what I can do. Everyday the light returns, as does my vim and vigor, and with that, some hope for better days.
A few local illustrators here in this river valley (remarkably productive, as far as illustrators go actually) gather weekly for a bite to eat and sometimes a morning of sketching together. This morning was one such morning and we spent a quick bit of time at the zoo, dodging cooler temperatures and limiting hours to grab a few drawings from life.
We start with the elephants.
I always find my elephant drawings to tend toward the abstract as they mosey and move, like elephants do. Ages ago I worked at this zoo, as a teenager and college student. I loved it. Many of the keepers from back in the day are still present, being the best stewards they can be for these captive beasts. After all, zoos are the best solution to some serious mistakes humans have made.
They were indoors this morning for the chill, but were working their way out of doors where there is more space even as we drew them.
Later we observe some sweet red pandas and eventually a few felines. The cat house is changed from when I worked there years ago. And yet it is familiar.
There is a caracal, this one more curious and mellow than the one which haunted me and jumped at the glass on my watch.
And a bearcat, a local mascot and icon at the university. One of the few collegiate football games I attended back in the day was as a steward for the zoo’s bearcat who goes to represent his home team.
This explains a lot…..
I hear they are vicious but have only really known them to be sleepy.
We have a lovely, but brisk morning out. I am cold and head first to refill my tea water upon arrival at the local market where we gather for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. It is good we arrive early as soon there is a line out the door.
There is the usual sharing of work, a bit of mayhem and illustrated camaraderie as well. I am so thankful for this group of fellow artists at all stages of their careers. They give me hope and encouragement and it’s always fun to head out to draw together.