But first, there are tunes to play (yay!!… below I’ll list where we are playing locally in coming days) lists to attend to, errands to run.
In the meantime a favorite part of the work I do is to collect bits of ‘swag’ to present to my students upon arrival in whatever destination we may find ourselves. For the Antigua trip, I’ll gather a few things once I arrive to combine with things I’ve gathered here in Ohio- like little altoid watercolor sets to work with (this allows people to try new colors which might not be available in their own sets and to play with limiting their palette as an exercise).
I’ve crafted a keepsake illustrated map of some of our favorite haunts in Antigua which I’ll reproduce for my students. It’s fun! It is my hope that not only will this come in handy to know where they are as we sketch the city, but will also encourage them to create their own version in their own travel journals. We must always map our own course, I do believe.
There are stickers…. always stickers…..
….which encourage a bit of ‘mixed media -ness’ in our books. I’m sure to have a few more tricks up my sleeve but really the true gift will be that of spending time together, slowing down and enjoying this World Unesco Heritage city in all its glory. To say I am excited to return would be an understatement.
Here at home I have been gifted some tree cuttings to root as I re-think the stewardship of our little patch of land. I am mindful of what needs to be done in the garden, and perhaps more importantly, what needs NOT be done as well. Do check out the work of We Are The Ark in the hopes of re-wilding small places to create a network of healing in these times.
While I was making stickers at the library today for my workshops, I saved a bit of time to make some stickers for this cause as well. I’ve mentioned this notion of holding two things at once in our hearts, yes? We must do the work we do in the day to day, while also tending the wild places in the corners of our gardens and spreading the word about the need to be more mindful in this world. Limiting consumption where we can.
In this same spirit I am following closely the work of young activists who are striking from school when and where they can (usually Friday’s but I know it can vary region to region). Emma Reynolds has pulled together a number of illustrators to show solidarity with these brave voices and here is my little drawing…
That is the news from today. For now I am off to rehearse tunes with my musical mates. We don’t often have microphones thrust in front of us, and so we take a bit of time to practice for these once-yearly gigs.
You can find me here in the coming days……
Saturday: Arnolds Bar and Grill 8-1130 pm
Sunday: B-List Bar in Bellevue KY 4 pm-730 ish then Palm Court at the Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel 9-12 (this is quite fancy)
I hope to see you there if you are local to this little river valley. More soon as I get set to hit the road very soon…..
“I don’t want realism. I want magic.” ~Tennessee Williams
There is much coming and going of late. Hither and thither we work and play. I’ll share a bit here as I set aside remembered things to pack away for upcoming workshops. Antigua beckons…..
Narry a week ago, I was working in my own sketchbook in a warm place called Key West. When I wasn’t strolling the colorful streets filled with colorful people, feasting my eyes on color and light, I was bobbing in a pool or better yet, in the sea herself – buoyed by salt, water and sun.
pay no mind to the chitter chatter in the clip above, we were on a sunset cruise. I was captivated by the murky depths. And miraculously I did not get sea sick.
Key West enchants with its embedded quirk round every corner. Some folk come here to drink their cares away, but I for one came to drink in more than just rum. Though to be fair, rum has its place.
If one but stays just off the beaten path, there is charm at every turn and lovely sunsets to behold. And it can be a balm for the soul of a weary, land-locked midwesterner nearing the end of a long, gray winter…..
We paid homage to the sea and to the rich history of the place, even visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway which boasts 55 polydachtyl cats living their best lives on the property.
There is magic around every turn there.
Too soon we must return home once again to the gloom and gray of Ohio. But we look for the quiet magic to be found here.
My daughter and her boyfriend are home for break and he has some new camera gear he is eager to test. He stunningly captures the magic of our yard in the dark. With his extended exposures, our criss-crossing creeks become fully laden with an Otherworldly quality and I am reminded how lucky we are to have this little patch of land of ours.
Art has a way of reminding us of the beauty in the world. Music as well. This week ahead is the high holy season of Irish music and we are quite busy indeed.
Tuesdays there is always a session here in town, even on ‘normal’ weeks. This Tuesday we are at Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. It’s one of our favorite places to play. Saturday March 16, I join the Roving Rogues to play St. Patrick’s Day eve at Arnold’s Bar, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern. and on Sunday, we once again will play in the evening at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza hotel. Come on along and enjoy a fancy cocktail. Escape the green-beer fray, won’t you?
I am so grateful for the music.
And this music as well….
Our Jack was part of a concert celebrating the music of Bach which we attended last night. It was divine and captivating, as Bach can be, and we were swept away on this stormy evening to another world indeed. There is more this evening as well, I can’t recommend it enough.
All is not angelic and ethereal round here however. As I mentioned, I am busily getting last minute things in line for my double workshop endeavor in Antigua, Guatemala. This is keeping me on my toes instead of at the drawing table or in the journal where I belong. I embark on that journey later this month.
But before I go to Guatemala, I am attempting to complete a somewhat hefty hand-made project, which in it’s own earthy way is keeping me grounded in work. That of a 3′ X 4′ latch hook rug project for the annual May The Fourth Star Wars Tribute show.
I’m using a grid to help me keep track of my design on the canvas.
All the yarn I am using for this project is either from my own stash of leftover yarns or has been acquired second hand at Scrap-It-Up over in Pleasant Ridge. This has added some complexity to the rug itself and is helping me to make Chewbacca extra fluffy and scruffy.
My studio assistant Ian takes his job quite seriously.
Until he’s ready to leave the room, at which point he rings the bell to let me know.
Working a bit on this rather ridiculous project each day keeps me grounded and working with my hands which is good for my head ironically enough. And this is good.
And so, the fitting in of all the pieces of this life’s puzzle continues. While I must admit to this being a rough winter in many ways, things are looking up now that the light seems to linger longer in the days, even when it’s snowing. The sun is even shining today as I write this. We must always remember that change is the only constant and we must at least attempt to move forward.
I say this as a reminder to myself really. Behind the scenes here I spend a fair amount of time applying to and being rejected by various opportunities such as with publishers (who often don’t/can’t respond, which feels like throwing work into a great dark abyss…. hello- oh – o – o …….. receiving back only the boniest of echoes) This is all part of the process. I will say, while it does continue to smart, it does get easier the more one applies.
Residencies are yet another application process I find myself often involved in, always looking for some way to go somewhere inspirational, seeking a deeper sense of time and place to make and grow my work. I can’t tell you how many of these opportunities I’ve applied to, heart firmly tied onto the application via the proverbial string, only to be denied for my efforts. I really try to envision myself there when I apply and so I do pour heart and soul into each application.
To those who’ve never thought about these things, one has to remember that merely applying is often a great deal of work – writing essays and statements, gathering photos of work, recommendations, tweaking one’s CV, etc. etc. I fit these efforts into the small spaces between the usual goings on of my day to day. And I just keep trying, allowing a bit of grief and maybe some ice-cream when a particular refusal really gets me down.
But I do keep trying. And sometimes, like throwing spaghetti at the ceiling, something sticks……
I am beyond over the moon to announce that my Maine based friend Julie Persons of Adventures of Claudia and Chicks In Hats fame and myself have been selected to share a month long residency in Ireland next year for the month of October. We are thrilled!!!!
We have put up the party flags and are doing a little happy dance, albeit virtually for now.
I’ll share more about this exciting news as things formulate into firmer plans. But for now it is enough to have the invitation from Olive Stack in lovely Listowel and to know the dates we are to be working there.
So much rich stuff ahead. And the challenges too that we face in this world on a personal level of course, and globally as well. I said to someone the other day that this is the new normal for artists – to be able to hold in our hearts and minds, at the very same time, the dual notions that all will be well, and that things are really wrong too. – This is not an easy task. But I aim to try, as I have for years now. To highlight and showcase beauty, to work for positive change. It’s what the artists I most admire do best.
Baby steps, Micromovements (as this blog has long been named) is how we move things along, how we take the leaps to grow into new opportunities and to try new things that challenge us. It’s terrifying really. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
New album, Songs of Instruction, by Kim Taylor, is now streaming…… I highly recommend it.
The wind blows and blows and blows today. The sort of ill-wind which sets my teeth on edge and often brings on a seizure spell in poor old Iris Rose, our resident canine barometer. Mother Nature seems to be telling us that she’s none-too-pleased with the state of things. And who can blame her.
“Cover me, cover me, cover me, cover me. All the leaves, all the trees, the storms and seas, just cover me.
Cuz I’m troubled by this world. I’m troubled by this world.”
~Kim Taylor (from her new album, Songs of Instruction
Today a random peek at my social media feed provides the gift of a beautiful new rabbit hole down which to venture. The evocative nearly 3 acre world of Bealtaine Cottage, a permaculture life and project of one Colette O’Neill of Co. Roscommon … (I know, I know, more Ireland…. but I don’t seem to be able to find quite the same specific, familiar magic here in the states – Ohio specifically. So here we are, in Ireland, once again.)
O’Neill seems to have a direct picc-line into the heart of all-earthy-things through her blog and video presence online. In her nearly 14 years of living with and on her land, she has documented her journey and now carries an enthusiastic following from like-minded folk around the world. I now consider myself one of them.
To watch and listen to a video post of Colette’s is to enter into another realm of sorts. She is not just a gardener. She is a guardian-er. She is the Bob Ross of Guardian-ing. (seriously, just go listen to her.) Today as I worked at the drawing table, I had her YouTube channel on, going from one meandering, thoughtful video to the next and I found myself transported. These are ad-free videos I might add. Which adds (no pun intended) to their appeal.
Long ago, when I first began this wee artful place of my own here on the inter-webs, a few kind souls, eager to see my art work and writing take flight, suggested I engage in making a bit of money here and there by allowing some thoughtfully chosen ads to roost in this online nest along side my own work. I’ll admit I thought about it.
The push to make money is a strong one in our society. But I realized that those ads might be like the greedy cowbird who comes into the nest seeking refuge and an easy birthing place, only to kick the original egg or fledgling inhabitants out onto the pavement replacing them with their own agenda. In the end, I decided to be ad free from the beginning, much like Keri Smith, whose blog and art I have also admired for many a moon. I have yet to regret this decision though it has meant only the slowest of growth in a world obsessed with scaling things to the next level.
Travel season is coming. I look forward to this, though I have mixed feelings about it to be honest. The workshops I teach involve my going far afield and this means flying- which isn’t the best way to treat the planet just now. But, for the time being, this is just how it has to be as I build things in my work. To mitigate this damage, I’ve taken to driving way less where I can here at home (have cut the day job commute to 2 days at most!) and keeping things as local as possible when I am in town. Small moves such as moving our family medical practitioner to one just up the street, versus clear across town, to name one example. Little things add up, I do believe. And it’s a start.
Our little patch of land has seen a great deal of change in recent years with the loss of trees suffering death and damage from the emerald ash borer, (to name just one culprit.) We have begun the replanting with apples, a new hawthorn tree and some berry bushes (who were nearly decimated by deer last season and so we will be fencing more properly this year).
As I begin to fly hither, thither and yon for my work, I will come home in between trips to plant trees. Willow, oak, maple. More fruit trees as well. We will have to protect them from the deer who can destroy everything in their path – this being no fault of their own really, just a sign of how out of balance things are in our little corner of the world. I am hopeful to put a fence around a small front garden patch to attempt a bit of a kitchen garden at least. With perhaps a trellis of sorts to provide a bit of shade on the front door now the trees aren’t there any more……. I can just picture how happy the morning glories and clematis might be there…….
This is the only thing I know how to do as we move forward. The world is in trouble. There is no denying this, though so many – especially within the current leadership of this country in particular – do deny it. But we can all play our part. I am inspired by those walking the walk far better than I just now. And I follow blindly in their footsteps. Balancing the cliff’s edge of my own mental health, the need to do my work, and the necessities of next-steps-forward for the planet. It’s a tricky tightrope trek to be sure.
I welcome your thoughts on balancing things as we move forward as human beans – with the best options for this place we call home. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error. I find inspiration abroad but closer to home here as well…
This is a world gone mad. Too many things to take in, too much heartache for a body to navigate really. The things I love which carry me into the gentle places of my soul and self and which keep me grounded when the winds do blow have suffered for lack of care. I look at this little home of mine here on the interwebs and realize that it’s been since August that I’ve written. It is not as if I have not written, or drawn, or painted in general. Just not here, where even when no one is reading, it matters most.
Today I took to the woods with one of our trusty dogs, the one and only wild Iris Rose, to ponder a plan of how to negotiate the dangerous waters of our time in a sustainable balanced manner. It is October, my most favorite month of the year. I adore autumn and all it has to offer in the way of cooler temperatures, misty mornings and the desire to get the knitting needles clicking once more….
We admired the colors signaling a late but welcome change of season….
I played a bit with my fancy camera which, like this blog space, has grown a bit dusty with disuse.
The pace of things in the world has me feeling a bit weary. All this running and seemingly little to show for it. The season and my soul alike beg for a backing off, a swing toward the internal to come once more to the still point of my personal center. This country, and the world at large could stand the same I believe.
With the dark season ahead, one often fraught with personal mental health challenges, I am looking back with pride on a few months of wondrous productivity and activity whilst simultaneously crafting a structure of future quietude to keep the wolves at bay in the months ahead.
The Resistance, as it stands, is in full swing and its toiling does take up space and energy. I quite mindfully make the space necessary to be of service in these dark times but must balance that of course. There is canvassing and volunteering and much reading to stay informed. The news is too much to keep up with and it can drag a soul down to low places, but I do my best. I am careful to turn it all off and hit the paints or the road when I need a break.
The flurry of work and words in the past couple of months have been exciting to birth forth. Here I share a few things that have been occupying my eye, my keyboard and notebook, my interest and my heart. It is my hope that I take to engaging more here in this space in the coming months as it forces me, in the best way possible, to slow down. To think about what I am writing and the images I share. Social media channels are wondrous in their own way, and I certainly find myself lurking in the more creative corners of their hallowed halls. There is so much to inspire. But here, in my own designated space, I can think through my fingers….
“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”
….and maybe go a little deeper.
So, last I left you dear reader, it was August, and so very hot. September came along and while the heat gave no break, I encountered a small challenge to make a drawing a day in 1″ square scale. This painterly adventure, combined with a whirlwind trip to Taos, NM was balm indeed to a tired soul….
I completed the challenge and made 30 of these little works.
Even when the news did say there were magnificent displays of ill will and malevolence.
Toward the end of the month of September, my long time, dear friend Kristin (whom you may remember from this post) and I somehow managed to make our way from Ohio (me) and Vermont (she) to Chicago for a seamless meet-up at O’Hare and on to a quick flight out to New Mexico. The opportunity to introduce a dear one to one’s soul home is a gift indeed and we savored every second. Not much was catalogued of our time there, but we did manage some image captures…..
“It’s the most wonderful place you can imagine. It’s so beautiful there. It’s ridiculous.” ~Georgia O’Keeffe
We timed our visit with the Feast of San Geronimo at Taos Pueblo (every year on September 30th, you should go) which enabled me to see and visit with some dear friends there at a very sacred time. It was a gift and blessing to share these folks and this place who are so dear to me, with an old friend from the way back, equally as dear. Kristin said to me at one point, “You’ve built a whole world here, Ames.” I do believe I have. I am deeply grateful.
Our journey was far too short for a proper catch up. To be honest, in spite of the splendor we encountered, we spent a good deal of time in a state of deep grief over the recent goings on at the Supreme Court. There is a collective, primal scream of rage emanating from the women in my life over doing this all over again. How many times has this story been lived, eh? Though this time is was so public, and so top-level. I am still grieving.
But, and this is the thing, somehow we must keep going……..
And so, once home, early autumn life began with a focus toward music each weekend at the Riley School of Irish Music. Those of us who love the music aim to bring just a smidge of this video below to our own playing….
While we may never reach this level, we did manage to play our annual ceili dance once more and folks who attended seemed to enjoy it. Chatting with our caller, Éamonn de Cógáin after the dance, he remarked, “This is growing!!” And indeed it is.
The season brings with it, as mentioned before, a renewed commitment to new needle bound adventures. I’ve invested in some gorgeous wool from my local knit shop to attempt the crafting of a sweater. We shall see…. But in the meantime, it’s always fun to get to know the source of all things wool.
And maybe even attempt a sketch or two.
Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of whiplash of the soul. One minute darkness and rage – the next minute, a shaft of light to pierce that darkness and provide a respite. We here are fortunate to have these moments of lightness. To make art and craft worlds with words is a privilege indeed, and one I do not take for granted. I believe to my core that it is an act of resistance to play music, and craft beauty with line, paint and words. I am fortunate to have the support of family and my day job that enable me to live this artful life. Not everyone can. Yet somehow, artists get the job done, one way or another. Here are just a few whom I support and so should you…..
And so where does this all leave me? As you can see, there’s been a great deal of output here in the form of energy and a good bit of intake as well which is wonderful. But my hope is that I can slow it all down a bit. To corral things to more depth and to a more manageable realm for me as an artist. I like to say that I am a crock pot in this world of microwaves.
My hub and I are running away a couple of days after the election to Guatemala to visit friends and make some art – to shore up our souls for what’s to come in our lives personally and collectively, good or ill.
We will get home just before Thanksgiving (yes, I’ve ordered the bird from our favorite market vendor.) I plan to write here on this blog-space from down there if I can connect, as it’s one of the most inspiring places. So do stay tuned.
Wherever this reading finds you, I hope you are finding some gentility in this rough world. We are at a crossroads as human beings and we have some decisions to make as to the path ahead. For me, it’s one of kindness and art making.
“Hang in there, make art, be kind.” ~Neil Gaiman in response to the news of Brazil’s election of a nationalist, right wing president. To my friends in Brazil, we are here for you.
To attempt any kind of plan on any given day in the month of March in Ohio is to play a game of roulette. But March 24th was the day nationwide when the youth of this country, and those of us no longer so young who support them any way we can, came together to demand something be done about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country. And so it was that our city found ourselves bracing for a spring snow-storm, as well as an anti-gun-violence rally downtown.
Let me first preface this writing with a few quick words just so you’re clear where I stand…. (it’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.)
I am not anti-gun. While not a gun enthusiast myself, I see the place of a shotgun on a farm to deal quickly with a suffering beast or an overzealous predator. While I’d not join them per se, I appreciate the hunters who help to quell the population of deer and are careful to process, consume and share the animals they take down and who do so with a reverence to Nature. I’d rather see an animal taken down with a well placed bullet (or arrow) than one starving to death. I married a Navy guy who was a sharp shooter in college. I am not anti-military. (In fact, I truly appreciate the many veterans who are speaking out on the subject of gun violence.) I am a former school teacher. I am an artist who lives and speaks in symbols, story and metaphor. I know the difference between a shot gun and an assault rifle…..
So, with that out of the way, let me share with you a bit of the past few days, as I have an interesting tale to tell about my own experiences related to this past weekend’s March For Our Lives.
My beloved flute maker and dear musical friend of many years, Dave Copley of Copley and Boegli Flutes, sent along an intriguing message about someone who wanted to commission him to craft a series of flute like instruments out of gun barrels hitherto the March for Our Lives which was to happen a couple of weeks later here in town and all across the country. Upon reading the message, I knew this was something special and encouraged Dave to get involved if at all possible within his budget and schedule and, that I would help out along the sidelines if I could.
Pedro Reyes is an internationally renowned artist known for his capacity to tackle socio-political issues in innovative, creative and distinctly participatory ways. He is based in Mexico City where he lives and works with his family. Cal Cullen heads up Wave Pool Gallery which is “a dynamic place where art intersects with community. We act as a catalyst for social engagement and cultivate artistic development.” Factored into this mix is The Welcome Project which is affiliated with Wave Pool and is helping out a lot of vulnerable new members of our community. Somehow, these folks found flute maker Dave. Inspired by the 17 lives lost at the Parkland, Florida mass shooting this past Valentine’s Day and the activism sparked amongst the surviving students, Dave was to craft 17 flutes from 17 gun barrels to honor those lost and to inspire those now marching for change, backed by the people and organizations I have mentioned here.
(Yes, I know these are shot gun barrels. Please read above statement about my love of metaphor and symbol in art practice.)
Dave took on the project. At this point I was out of the country doing my work in Guatemala but I was keeping my ear to the ground as to how it was going. Last week upon my return, I stopped over for lunch with Dave and Marlene and got a chance to see the flutes in person. They are heavy and cumbersome but play surprisingly well. I make a decision on the spot that I will help to play these at the march the following weekend.
These former guns are still collectively creepy. They are heavy, cold, each a bit different from one another. They pose a bit of a challenge to Dave as an instrument maker but he soldiers on and they eventually make their way to Wave Pool where we give them a spin.
Remarkably, they play beautifully (at least when warm)! He crafts a few in each of a couple of keys. The ones in E are slightly lighter in weight and we choose them to play the coming weekend at the march. We had hoped for some local kids to help play them, but alas, no one shows to the rehearsal. Perhaps a case of mixed signals…..
We find our way into Saturday morning. Local music school classes are not canceled as we thought they might be and so some of our number had to go to work which left three of us to wield the new flute barrels best we can.
I was prepared with my own crafting of the idea as this too was a concept I could get behind.
Those who know me well know I have an evil eye on my flute case. The charm is from Greece and was brought back to me by my friend and mentor Pam shortly before she died. I treasure it….
Somehow, all of the flute-related magic is coming together.
The weather is raw and unforgiving on marching day. The mitts are necessary and perhaps not nearly enough to keep fingers challenged with steel gun barrels from freezing.
We get to City Hall and already there is a great crowd gathering.
We are put into place to begin the work of musical activism. On the steps of City Hall, the three of us present to play remark half heartedly that we sure wish we had more flute players. It is cold and we do not trust our fingers on gun steel. Nor our embouchures really. And wouldn’t you know it….two of the young people on hand for the march chime in, “We play.” Just like that we are 5. And stronger for it. Thank you Lila and Kennisha. You saved the day for us older folk.
While introducing the kids to these strange instruments, we meet Ethel Guttenberg whose grand-daughter Jaime was a victim at Parkland. One of the 17 who sparked this rally, one of the 17 who sparked this gun barrel flute project. I am speechless and reeling from the gravity of what we are doing here.
We play a few classics. We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, that sort of thing. We only have a few minutes. And it’s cold and raw to be placing bare lips and fingers to cold gun metal. Miraculously, the crowd begins to sing along and it is magical. This is the genius behind the vision of Pedro Reyes and his biblical notion of ploughshares from swords. This is not a new concept really, but one brought beautifully to bear by this modern artist. To be quite honest, I find it hard to keep my quivering lip playing the simple music at hand, especially after talking with Ethel.
Ethel speaks to the crowd on hand, which is sizable, especially when combined with like minded folk across the country and around the world. Before her and after her are the children responsible for this amazing event. Kids like her grand-daughter Jaime. Kids, really. Up till now perhaps the world would have discounted these kids. But they are the future. In fact, I’d say they aren’t even the future. They are the now. They are stepping up where our leadership cannot.
“and these children that your spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” ~David Bowie
As a parent of two young adults who weathered some serious storming in their own young lives along the way, I know what it is to be a parent witnessing the undoing of innocence in our children. I have been thinking so much about Emma and David, and their friends, parents and loved ones. I’ve seen snippets of what they are grappling with off stage and out of the spotlight. These are kids, y’all. Children. Children grieving the loss of their classmates. Children grappling with their place in a limelight none of them asked for. Their lives are altered. Taking a peek at what the interwebs has to offer in the way of feedback, a good chunk of it is negative. But a fair amount of it is also positive. From good people like myself wishing them well. Hoping they might even consider running for office one day. Sign me up.
I write to you crickets here in this echo chamber, hoping maybe my words will ring true. Even to just one person. Maybe two on a good day. Hoping that this avalanche of gathering young snowflakes is embarking on change….
I share Sam Cook’s music with a nod to how these kids have made it a point to include people of color so often left out of these conversations. Something I find remarkable and a glimpse of the future…..
People like Naomi.
ELEVEN, y’all. Let that sink in.
These kids are our future. They are poised and educated and can dance their way round the internet in ways I couldn’t have imagined. (Let’s face it, at their age, I couldn’t imagine the internet).
And so, time marches on. At this writing, over a month has passed. More shootings have occurred. These kids have a job ahead of them to be sure. But I have faith in them, despite the internet throwing shite upon them at every turn. Let’s find ways to support them as the tide turns.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~Albus Dumbledore
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 Lifeof 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 aboutthe 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
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.
Solstice dawns bright and beautiful. I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us. I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.
Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.
The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.
After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside. I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere. There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit. To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.
The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions. They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing. This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance. And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world. Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.
We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now. There is so much work to be done in the world. On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable. Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days. Nourishment.
I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online. Here are just a couple of examples…..
Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)
This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world. I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically. (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.)
I wonder, how can I better be of service? How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable?
I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable. (I’m looking at you Capitalism.) How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way? There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation. I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash. I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young. All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.
It is the season of Christmas parties. At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one. We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry. Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days. Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need. Kind. Compassionate.
My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work. On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year. We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments. Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings. In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion. I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful. Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels. That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.
These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light. May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months. May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other. May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.
Once upon a time, I was a traveling child, moving from place to place with my parents as work became available. My younger years, before seismic events both collective and familial changed everything, were spent in a variety of interesting places and we knew interesting people. We lived in a ‘cracky old house’ in a rough-ish part of Philadelphia for awhile, and way up north in Canada for a few years as well. It was there I suffered from scarlet fever at one point and my friends Kelly and Roger both had to take medicines as well in case they too took ill. It is told that the physician braved a snow storm to bring me treatment.
After Canada, a change of scenery took us to Guatemala City. Here my ears heard a completely new and unfamiliar tongue and so I took to not speaking much until I could pick up Spanish and blend in as best as I could. My mom says she would speak to me in English to try to keep it alive in me and I would in turn, answer in Spanish. I lost English along the way.
I was just a little girl who wanted to play and make friends and to fit in where I could. I’m not sure about the fitting in part, but I did make friends, and life was good.
Eventually, things fell apart in my family, as things often go and some of us found ourselves back in Ohio. I was suddenly thrust back into a vaguely unfamiliar tongue which I needed to re-learn. I would forever look at the world just a bit differently due to those early gypsy years. Though in time, of course I assimilated and grew up.
And now, here we are. I tell you this bit of my own back story to add a layer of understanding to my thoughts on this DACA situation we have going here in the US. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 800,000 or so “Dreamers” as they are called, the folks under Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals executive order. Remembering my own childhood travels, I know what it is like to be taken by parents from place to place for whatever reason adults have to do so. For my parents, it was to follow work. We were ‘landed immigrants’ in Canada while there, and I am not sure what our status was in Guatemala, but it was legal. But we weren’t fleeing war, or violence, like many illegal immigrants who have come to our country over time. If we had been, my parents might have made the same desperate decisions for our family, just to try to keep us safe.
The situations we are born into in this lifetime are a luck of the draw really. It is a complete crapshoot that makes one person born in say, a slum in a third world country, and another into royalty or even merely a life filled with basic comforts. It is this fact that gives me such empathy for the Dreamers. Much of life is what we make of it, through choices good or ill-informed. But some of it we just get by luck of the draw or lack-there-of. These Dreamers came to this country through no fault of their own. They were just kids whose parents were doing the best they could for their families. They speak English, pay taxes and contribute to our society in wonderful ways. There are many things they aren’t able to take advantage of due to their status. These are what they’ve given up in order to come out of the shadows created by the choices of their parents.
I do not understand, let alone condone the actions of our “president” on this issue. I wonder if it is merely in the name of cruelty that this decree has come, though I do not claim know the complexities of Washington policy making. I only hope it spurs the Congress to put something more long-lasting into place for the Dreamers. A path to citizenship in the only country many of them have ever known for one example. I also hope that perhaps in the meantime we can re-gain a bit of old-fashioned empathy for our fellow human beans. We in America are so filled with everyone’s Otherness just now, our leadership and the “alt-right” most especially. I will also admit to feeling that Otherness in those who are perpetrating hate and bigotry and the policies which point in that direction. Perhaps this makes me part of the problem. I aim to remember the complexity of each person’s experiences and attempt compassion over judgement, even as I work in the ways of the quiet activist, making calls, engaging in conversation, crafting change at the grassroots level.
But for today, I seek the rainbows. And wish their magic upon the haters. And, of course onto the lovers, the dreamers, and me.
ps: Make your voice heard with your local senators and representatives:
There comes a time in late August, every summer, where I take note of a slight shift in the light in and around things.
This is a visual thing, having nothing to do with temperatures, which at this time of year in our Ohio River Valley, tend to be a bit stifling. But this goldening is not due to heat, rather more to the timing of things.
The school buses are making their routes now around the neighborhood and all things garden seem to be leaning less green, more gold.
Along my runs, the light has a certain slant to it that I love.
By night, even if it’s hot outside, I crack the window, just a bit, to hear the crickets and tree frogs sing.
I am not prone to being hermetically sealed indoors.
I’ll admit to having this blog post brewing for days now, but to being a bit tangled up inside my heart about ‘what to write’ and ‘how to put it’ and ‘shouldn’t I just be painting?’, while none of these question/options seemed to fit. The world, (this country specifically) is going mad of late and to respond off the cuff doesn’t seem enough. To not respond is even worse. And so, in typical slow-cooker fashion, I have been mulling it over. And over.
I so admire the microwaves in our modern culture. The JK Rowlings of the world who are so quick witted and can take down nay-saying haters in a heart beat with a single tweet. Alas, I am not cut of that cloth. I am a slower cooker, a crock-pot, one who stews. Someone who mulls over things and then re-mulls again in the wee hours (this can be a tortuous prospect). But eventually, I’ll occasionally put my two cents in if I feel strongly enough and many times, my commentary is late to the game. But here it is anyway.
It’s been a week since the horrifying events in Charlottesville, Virginia and I am as heartbroken today as I was when they happened last week. Unlike some of my fellow middle class white friends, these marches came as no surprise to me. In fact, the election of President Trump came as no surprise to me either last fall. (I mean, c’mon, I live in Ohio). I may be a white girl, but I grew up a poor white girl, on food stamps, raised by closeted lesbians, and let’s face it, I can still smell trouble when it’s brewing. Our country has been a proverbial tinder box for awhile now, possibly since the election of Barack Obama, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before the white rage hit the stage.
The thing about being an artist, writer, thinker, dreamer in this world is that, much of the time, we must hold two ways of being at the same time. On the one hand, it is my job to rise above the fray and make stuff and think up stories and paint pictures and play tunes. To bring joy. On the other hand, it’s often the artist-writer-thinker-dreamer types who forge necessary change in the world. How to navigate?
On the Book of Faces the other day, an old friend quipped, ‘a lot of self-righteousness here on FB, overflowing, wallowing in it.’ While I had not shared much over there regarding recent events (#slowcooker), he may have been right to a certain extent in that the quick shares just didn’t go deeply enough. I decided to opt out of that platform for a few days and do some deeper digging into what thinkers and writers were saying elsewhere. Here is bit of what I came up with along the way:
While this came together well before the events of recent weeks, I feel to witness this work of art is to begin to take on part of the narrative going on here in our own country (though it hails from South Africa, where racial narrative is fraught with peril as well, different though similar). The work is brilliant, and beautiful and really difficult to sit with. It involves many senses and asks many questions. And if you are in the Cincinnati area, I recommend spending some time with it.
The Southern Poverty Law Center posted their guide to navigating these tumultuous times (see link above) and there is a lot of good information there. We can all start somewhere.
In Boston today, I am seeing reports that a hundred white supremacists are on the march, but in opposition, are 15,000 counter-protestors. This gives me great hope.
As someone who likes to operate in ‘woo-land’ a bit (you know, magic and metaphysics, fairies, crystals, etc.) I think there is still responsibility in the day to day lives we live in ‘normal’ time. Layla Saad of Wild Mystic Woman over on Instagram posted a very powerful letter on her website, the first part of which can be found HERE. (second part is forthcoming).
She asks hard questions and asks those of us in any place of privilege to really question our place in this world and how we came to it. I think it’s brilliant and well worth reading.
I could go on. I like to think the good outweighs the bad in this world but perhaps that is my privileged perspective. I think we must be diligent never-the-less. History has taught us that the bad can come barreling at us out of nowhere if we are not watchful.
In yoga class yesterday, we talked of stress. I made a light-hearted comment that the news is stress enough. A woman in class remarked that there are ‘many sides’ (many sides?? seriously??) to the news these days and we can not always believe what we see and hear there. She left rather abruptly. I wonder if she was a Trump-supporter perhaps. I only know that I don’t watch commentary. I read articles from good publications. I watch and listen (even though it sickens me) to the statements of this current administration. I make my own thinking from there.
I also attempt to move beyond the News of Now and steep myself in broader, bigger thinking. I’ve been reading books and articles by Martin Shaw which I love. There is a really good interview with him on a new-ish podcast called The Lumieres Podcast.
We must feed our minds with good sentences.
John O’Donohue is another thinker whose words resonate just now:
OUR POWER TO BLESS ONE ANOTHER
In the parched deserts of postmodernity a blessing can be like the discovery of a fresh well. It would be lovely if we could rediscover our power to bless one another. I believe each of us can bless. When a blessing is invoked, it changes the atmosphere. Some of the plenitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving kindness. In the light and reverence of blessing, a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely new way. In a dead wall a new window opens, in dense darkness a path starts to glimmer, and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew. It is ironic that so often we continue to live like paupers though our inheritance of spirit is so vast. The quiet eternal that dwells in our souls is silent and subtle; in the activity of blessing it emerges to embrace and nurture us. Let us begin to learn how to bless one another. Whenever you give a blessing, a blessing returns to enfold you.
And this from David Whyte:
is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without; vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature; the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, in refusing our vulnerability we refuse to ask for the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.
To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is a lovely illusory privilege and perhaps the prime beautifully constructed conceit of being human and most especially of our being youthfully human, but it is a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.
The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.
May we find ourselves vulnerable in these tumultuous times.
In coming days there is to be a great shadowing of our sun. May we find secrets behind and within those shadows.
May we find ways of transforming the leaden weight of our current time into something more golden and worthwhile…….
I am preparing a fall show about which I am nervous and excited. More on that soon.
Next summer is shaping up with a few announcements which shall come along soon. Ginger Small is polishing her eclipse-wear and I hope to have a drawing to share with you tomorrow.
Wherever you are, keep your eyes on the stars and sky, but perhaps keep your hearts closer here to home, where we might all strive to make the world a better place.
Til next time……
Update: Here is the drawing of Ginger Small and friends, ready for the eclipse!
I write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening. I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year. But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering. You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on. This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.
The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally. Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time. It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it. Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic. These summers of mine, so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter. They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.
My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy. You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.
It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes. I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly. Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different. The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.
Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive. For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it. It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.
Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.
…or who graciously took our class photo.
Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days. And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.
Kevin hears every note. Good or bad. Especially if he sits right down in front of you….
And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class. If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is. These guys make it look simple.
The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit. We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.
One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session. Here is just a snippet….
It’s amazing when this happens. The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends. Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile. And so I did.
This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song. All of these artists listening to one another along the way.
There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.
Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced. One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday. But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….
There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.
And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!
There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.
By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.
Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers. It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way. The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.
Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform. These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live. Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.
When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so. I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death. She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well. This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it. I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music. We talked about why we play music. Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends. There is no wrong way. But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.
I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,
“Joy is active resistance.”
I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude. What else do we have? It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world. At least this is how I feel.
As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase. The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.
It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us. He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.
(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos! They are truly treasured.)
And now here we are. Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead. These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way. They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing. To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla. To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.
To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.
And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way. A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.
If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week. I’d love to read them!