I debated even posting a John Joe Badger drawing this week.
Where does my work illustrating anthropomorphic creatures even fit in to the fabric of things just now? I went for a long walk to do some thinking, and I kept coming back to the idea that the music that John Joe, and I, play is steeped in at least a couple of concepts connected to the times at hand.
And so, I sat down to draw a badger.
Irish music is joyful to the ear to be sure, and yet when you read Irish history, there is so much strife, oppression and “troubles” along the way. Music may have provided some solace to a country facing dark and challenging times. The tunes are a small something. Sometimes.
The troubles of one country aren’t the troubles of another of course. But maybe musical solace is something we can share.
The second concept I keep coming round to is that of listening. In the world of Irish music, there is no greater skill really than to listen. You can be a fab player of all the lovely tunes available to you, but if you don’t listen to the other players and to the players of history, your session experience will not be a successful one. The best sessions, the ones where we feel that deep sense of community and tuneful camaraderie, are the settings where each member of the musical community are listening, deeply listening to one another, while also listening to the history that got us here.
We find ourselves at a time in the United States where deep, communal listening is necessary. There are many ways to do this. There are many ways to protest recent atrocities and to amplify the voices of African-Americans who have for too long been sidelined.
Since John Joe Badger is primarily an illustrated character, I share with you this:
Children’s literature can shape young minds who will shape the future. Let us feed their minds with books that inspire a future we can be proud of.
I’ve barely published a thing. So I barely have a voice, really. But I believe in the power of story and of the drawn image. I believe in the idea of change and that this change can be driven via inspiring imagery.
This weekly John Joe illustration is my small offering, in this space, just now.
If you read this blog regularly and want further reading and deeper ideas on how to dig in and do the hard work, I suggest digging into the following:
This is Week 30 of my little series. Depending upon the state of things, John Joe and I may go on a bit of a hiatus until fall when things like velvet waistcoats, hot tea and strolls in the forest come back into fashion. But we may surprise you and keep going. I do not know.
Either way, through it all, the tunes and the tea will still be flowing. In hard times, joyful tunes and aromatic tea are a balm for the senses of a sensitive creature.
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time. The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.
These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world. In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits. It is time for a break. I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough. There must be a balance to these things. A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.
I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives. I believe this to be true. And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
There is a lot to take in just now. Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings. Neither of these things should outweigh the other. We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.
We must pay attention to everything. Closely. It is what artist’s do really.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept. If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all? My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.
So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context. I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing. But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed. Engaged. We all just need a break sometimes.
A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.
“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”
In this brave new world of zooming here and there and everywhere, we are confronted with the giants among us, musically and culturally speaking. We have opportunities to hear from them about their musical journeys and to learn from them in classes in the online sphere.
These opportunities can have a badger feeling rather small sometimes, but take heart John Joe! We must all start somewhere, yes?
The news is dark and darker, every day. The only occasional escape is to turn it all off for awhile now and then and creep into our imaginations. It is here where joy may be found in a jaunty tune, from lands far from this tame old river valley.
I put together some moving drawings to accompany this delightful music from Snowflake Trio and voilá!! I hope you enjoy watching and listening as much as we enjoyed making it.
It is also for ‘cute’, and maybe ‘cuddly’ (to look at maybe).
To John Joe Badger (and to me, his ‘c’reatrix) “C” stands especially for ‘community’, which is at the heart of this music. So many of the early days are spent in the woodshed, alone, learning our way around a new instrument. But in the end, the tunes are meant to bring us all together. The goal is to elevate a simple tune into a momentary, never-to-be-repeated magical thing that reminds us that we are all in this life collectively, come what may.
And what a May has come.
This week’s illustration (while, of course remembering that “C” does, indeed, stand for ‘cookie’) is dedicated to two other “C”‘s. Caitlin Warbelow and Chris Ranney, the brains and brilliance behind an amazing project called Tune Supply and who put together a concert featuring 45 artists from around the world this past weekend in celebration of Mother’s Day.
In the comments of the video from this virtual concert are a variety of links to support individual artists involved in this heartwarming project. Or one can just go here to donate to the project as a whole and the artists ‘c’ollectively, in ‘c’ommunity.
Give it all a listen. It’s wonderful. It’s hopeful.
Also in the interest of ‘c’ommunity, but a bit more close to home, I personally have been leading/moderating an online version of a session each week with the folks from the Riley School of Irish Music. It’s not sleek, and it’s imperfect, but we take turns leading tunes or sets of tunes and we play one musician at a time, knowing that somewhere in the world, our mates are playing along with us. We can see them, but not hear them as we play, and we all go unmuted then to chat in between sets. Mostly, we catch up with each other, just make sure we are all playing a bit week to week, and not spending too much time staring into the abyss of a global pandemic. While not an ideal situation, it beats a blank. And let’s face it, few people are in an ideal situation these days.
The same goes for monthly Urban Sketchers virtual outings, both locally here in Cincinnati, and all around the world. (pssst! There is one here this Saturday!! Come join us for a zoom throw-down!) It’s not about the drawings so much as it is about the ‘c’ommunity that can come together again eventually to draw as a group. For now we do our drawings from an online prompt on a mutual theme, then we “throw down” our drawings all together via a zoom call (noon this saturday). Not sleek, not perfect, but it keeps us ‘c’onnected.
These adjustments may need to be in place in some form for some time to be sure. But in the meantime, I am thankful for the virtual world to keep things at least ‘c’onnected. Send me a comment or a message if you are looking to join a virtual session or sketch group and I hope we can connect.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
Aren’t humans beautiful at their best?
It’s just another manic Friday, here in the time of the pandemic. Downstairs, the Hub finishes a social zoom call happy hour (not to be confused with the constant work related video calls he’s on by day) with his (our) kayak friends. I cobble a dinner together of spring vegetables and pasta thanks to our favorite local market.
It is a dance of sorts. This balancing of our inner and outer exertions. And this dance is different for each person, at each moment. All good dancing requires moment to moment shifts and decision making.
The garden has been covered with pots and jars and sheets and towels tonight. The frost is all over, at least as far as we are hearing from the forecasters. And so we prepare, best we can.
The news in recent days is harder and harsher. We as a country flounder under a most inept and under-equipped leadership. Not long ago there was a man at the helm who while perhaps imperfect, was at the very least, empathetic.
The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.
Listening lately to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming and watching the netflix documentary about her accompanying book tour, I have been brought to tears at where we have come to. From grace and hope for a new world, to a floundering shadow of a dream. I don’t know who we are any more.
I sit with the space of it all. Setting boundaries where necessary (zoom calls ad infinitum (nauseum?) if I opted for it.) and do the best I can. Yesterday I heard from my Auntie (my father’s sister), now in Virginia with her grand-daughter, and we had a lovely chat. I marveled at the balance of it all as we talked. Somewhere I have four “half” sisters whom I do not know, and who do not seem to care to know me. We discussed this, openly and honestly, and it was good. I revel in the family I do have. My own dear sister and brother and the “steps” along the way. We mix and match as best we can, over time. I love them all so much. Now perhaps now more than ever.
I am recently running the roads a lot, which brings me great solace. I realize this is a privilege as I read about not only communities on strict lockdown around the world, but of Aumaud Aubrey, who was murdered while running in a Georgia neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. Finally a public outcry leads to the arrest of his murderers. But I wonder, what took so long? I run with and for Aumaud of late. Praying step by step for his family. It is all too much to take in.
In the long run, I must admit though, this space, with all its heartbreak and uncertainty is for me, personally, and just now, an ok thing. I am breathing and resting, even amidst this crazy pandemic, which is an unexpected gift. I recalibrate at home, supporting the businesses and organizations I hope will still be present when this all passes eventually, supporting my family and friends along the way too. (Did I mention the wee red dragon, my ER nurse sister’s dog, Ari is back with us??) This is all I can do.
This too shall pass, and this I believe. But we will never go back to what was Before. Perhaps we shouldn’t. I have the gift of a great re-thinking here at home, the results of which I do not yet know the outcome (do we ever?) And so I read, and write letters, plant seeds and paint and play tunes. I walk and run and pray along the way as well, such that it is. It’s all very Jane Austen in some sense.
But I welcome this spaciousness such as it is, such how it comes….
“We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel, But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheels depends.
We turn clay to make vessel, But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house, And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.”
Do we collectively even know what we have here just now? In this time of crisis, can we even recognize the level of love possible? I hope so.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved youall your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Keep well y’all. I love you.
Ps. Did I mention that Michelle Obama actually sent a tweet my way with well wishes for my sister who is a front line worker as an ER nurse!!? We were all thrilled, fan-girling big time all through the family via text and email. I hope Michelle Obama knows the bright torch she carries and the hope she holds for all of us. It must surely be a great burden to bear. I am in awe of her and her family and wish them all well.
In which John Joe Badger takes to the spring time forest in search of a snack. He discovers woodland based culinary treasures so fleeting this time of year. It is difficult to gather with loved ones just now and so, we take to the quiet end of the woodlands to gather food, and otherwise stick close to home in our hut or possibly out in the woodshed when it’s time for practicing music.
The tune in this little film was newly composed just for John Joe himself by Andrew Finn Magill. John Joe and I are deeply grateful for this beautiful gift.
It’s been a lovely wanderer of a rainy day. Storms rolling in and around. And, per the usual in recent weeks, we haven’t much we really need to do. Inspired by a recent post by a Welsh artist we follow over in the twitterverse called Sarah Evans, and with a few directions via this site *click*, we decided we might craft of flock of little birds from paper mache.
And so we did.
It was fun and we felt a bit like children.
The birds soon began to really come together. Tony following directions for some “bluebirds” and me going a bit more out on my own to make some local birds we see a lot around here.
Both of us were really content with the outcome of our efforts for the day.
I took mine for a proper photo shoot….
We have Goldfinch.
A cheeky little robin…..
And, I must say, my favorite of all of them, is my little wren. I rescued a little live wren once from the cat’s plans for him and was able to hold it in my hands for a minute while I checked to see if it was ok and to get it safely outside once again. I think that having gotten properly acquainted with that little wren, I was able to breathe a bit of life into my paper mache wren today.
Slowing down and observing are two things that might be considered upsides of keeping ourselves to ourselves just now in the age of Corona.
There are quiet gifts arriving daily here at our lowly little acre. A baby oak seedling I have been stewarding in the last year or so made it through the winter and has wee buds of life bursting forth. My good musical friend Emmanuel found this little tree in a setting that mightn’t have let it grow and asked if he might dig it up for me. I said yes and so the little seedling arrived and I have crafted for it a home here and the rest has been up to it. It seems happy. I am grateful for friends who see the world like I do.
Ferns are coming up. They are a bit like big-footed teenagers romping through the house. Taking up too much space, yet gorgeous in their unfurling. We have some to share if you would like them. They love shade, and spreading out. Much like human teenagers actually. Just send me a message if you would like some. we can have a socially distant digging party of sorts.
A number of weeks ago, eager for spring, I took a few cuttings from the willow tree we planted last year, which is thriving (don’t worry, I humbly asked permission first).
These spindly little cuttings quickly made roots and are now forming proper trees in various places in the yard. Getting trees to grow is a big goal of mine here, having lost so many in recent years. I look forward to helping these little trees become big trees in the coming years.
In the veggie garden, plans are afoot to attempt what’s called a “Hugelkultur” which is basically a little mounded garden space which increases ground space as well as makes way for the organic matter necessary to feed hungry plants.
My beloved hawthorn tree, which is thriving, has spring buds upon it. She seems really happy to be the mother hen of this new protected garden space and is relieved of the old armor we kept on her trunk to keep the destructive deer at bay. We are all breathing a bit easier now, in spite of a pandemic.
a few bits and bobs have gone into the ground and I visit a few times daily to see how we are faring.
But garden gifts aren’t the only ones quietly arriving day to day here at Chez Bogard. The post has been a blessing as well. Some of my more trusty penpals have taken to the postal waves to comfort one another in these strange times and thankfully, this has included me.
I’ve received belated birthday gifts, hand painted seed collections, long missives with the hopes and dreams of a pandemic age. I’ve sipped the gifts of exotic tea bags and read articles from far flung periodicals lovingly snipped and sent along. And just yesterday, party flags arrived to welcome the new deer boundary.
Firstly, my artist friend Michelle who is hunkering in Sheboygan WI sent me 50 snapshots of her view of Lake Michigan near her home. 50 snaps for 50 years of my own life. She is a talented gift giver. For my 40th, it was pebbles in a hand crocheted bag. I still treasure them. I’ll admit, these in their beautiful blueness took my breath away and made me a little weepy.
Gifts such as these make my heart soar.
Letters come, big and small, sometimes bearing other gifts beyond words within, like tea and seeds. But often the words are enough. The two above are from two separate pen friends. Both know I adore the natural world.
Other gifts will keep on giving long after arrival. These pumpkins will be tested on the Hugelkultur this year. I love the little drawing on their seed pack. One of a kind.
And the flags, well the flags were a request actually. I have had them in my living room and now I have a few sets for my garden – the new living-room as it were. They are part prayer-flag, part party-flag.
Joyfulness is a form of prayer. I adore them.
Joy in a time of sadness.
They are crafted by my soul-sister in Vermont, @complimentcoins who makes little bits of love and kindness to sow into the world like seeds.
Some of her little coins are on order to send to my beloved pen friends around the world. We could all use a bit of love and kindness just now, don’t you think?
There is much news that needs attention paying to it just now. But a big one for me is the notion that the federal postal service is in question here in our country right now. This is a long time coming as the service has been saddled with rules and restrictions that have caused their budget to be out of balance in recent decades. It’s a long and complicated thing which I don’t truly fully understand. But one thing I do understand is that the timing is crucial.
As we face this pandemic, we also stare down what is likely the most vital election our country has ever faced. Voting by mail simply must be an option this fall in the face of uncertainty at best, and a second wave of the virus at worst. And sure enough, those in power would like to defund the post office by October. Just in time for the election.
We must be diligent. And let our representatives know how we feel about this. Via post, ideally.
I for one, plan to vote by mail at the earliest opportunity. That was my original plan before all of this madness arrived as I hope to be in Ireland for October and a chunk of November this autumn. Time will tell if I get my residency after all, and honestly that is the least of my worries in a world of so many worries just now.
If this idea resonates with you, write a letter to your senators, write a letter to your loved ones far away, and even one to those just up the road. A hand written note or packaged gift can brighten these dark days in ways few other things can.
We small creatures must take to the postal waves and make our voices heard. It is the only way.
Go. Be the gift.
Ps: you are not alone in feeling a lack of concentration in these strange times. I really enjoyed this article about the Allostatic Load. We will get through this. (Charlie, this is for you.)