Category Archives: coronavirus

Comfort and Joy

“There is another world, but it is in this one.” ~W.B. Yeats

Recently, we spent a week away in another world.  Down to the low-country coastal barrier-island of Tybee we traveled, as  I was feeling a bit sorry for myself for my lost (or at least post-poned) month’s work in Ireland, among other things.  Both of us pining for the sea, we watered the plants here at home, packed the dog and a kayak and some food into the car and slipped away into the pre-dawn darkness.

It was worth the day’s journeying.

We made friends with sand and surf and a few others – crow and cat being among my favorites.

There was much beach combing and waterside wandering.

Even Charlie found her way to the edges of things, though dogs aren’t permitted onto beaches in the proper sense.  I think she was content regardless of the limitations.

We should all be more like Charlie in this way, contented amidst the limitations we find upon us in these times.

There was much marshiness and moss which, mosquitos notwithstanding, I found to be quite captivating.

It was all so much to take in.  I found it exceptionally healing.

There were weddings to witness….

Sunrises to greet….

Sketches to make….

And paintings to begin…

so much more to do on this one. and more paintings to make from our magical time there on Tybee… more soon!

The space and pace of an off season beach town is something I highly recommend.  We were excited to plan a small getaway, but also a bit leery about whether there would be too many other people around whom we’d have to avoid, these being anxiety-ridden Covid times.

In the end, there was space to spare.  And we were grateful for it.

Soon it was time to come home to the harvest.  We still have a few tomatoes on the vine which may or may not ripen. (I am researching pickling options for green tomatoes….).

I gratefully gathered a few hawthorn berries to make into a tea, though mostly because I merely adore their color.

Eventually we readied the back garden for a small gathering of our family which would serve as a celebration of the season at hand, and possibly seasons still to come.

We sense difficult times in the weeks ahead.  Covid numbers are climbing and we will not  be able to gather indoors for Thanksgiving, and likely not Christmas either.  So I hatched a plan to host a “well-filling, out-of-doors, socially distanced, fully masked, early Thanksgiving” dinner for my family.  I decided I’d set a date and let the weather gods determine if it might happen or not.  In the end we were granted a most glorious day.  We went ahead with our plans.

Thankfully everyone was respectful of our strict protocol for mask wearing when not at the tables eating.

It was just good to have everyone ‘sort of’ together in one place before we head into winter.  A winter which may feel a bit like a revisitation to the quiet time of early lock-down and quarantine.

Time will tell.  But for this one day, we safely took what we could get.

I like to think Dr. Fauci would approve of our handling of the gathering, he having said, more or less, ‘if you can’t have Thanksgiving outside, and socially distanced, then don’t have it’.

Each separate family household came inside to fill their plates independently.  Even the kids were on board.  I appreciate the respect and care everyone brought to our day together.  I wouldn’t have chanced it all if I thought they might behave otherwise.

There was the typical fare – a turkey, smashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, chips and dips and casseroles galore.  All of the standard comfort foods related to our traditional Thanksgiving meal.  While thankful I don’t eat like this most of the time, there is something about all of the carb-laden goodies that is truly good for the soul.  They don’t call it ‘comfort food’ for nothing.  We dove in with abandon and it was delicious.

Given one perfect day of weather for our early Thanksgiving, we then weathered rain on the following day to cast our ballots into the box at the local Board of Elections.  We were glad to do so.  Even today, people stand in line in the rain to vote in person.  At least we are all voting, one way or another.

Later, the rain abated and it was time for a hike in the woods…..

…..where nature is always full of surprising things.

A wander in the woods always has the capacity to reset things in our hearts, allowing for a recalibration of sorts.  I have a deep sense that things in general will be slowing now as we head into late autumn and whatever the rest of the season may bring with it.

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
~JOHN O’DONOHUE
Excerpt from his books, To Bless the Space Between Us (US) / Benedictus (Europe)

I also have a deep sense that things may get even crazier here in this country in the weeks ahead.  Having cast my ballot early, along with so many fellow citizens, I find myself drifting away from the daily news, merely awaiting results of the eventual electoral outcome.  I have cautious optimism some days.  Other days, a drive into the countryside to the edges of our city gives me pause for all the republican paraphernalia and propaganda to be found there.  As usual, time will tell.   If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is to hold no expectation too tightly.  Everything can change on a dime.

This has always been the case, it’s just now more obvious.

I welcome the slow days ahead, as much as I miss holiday frivolity with loved ones.  Somehow a hibernation feels more natural for the season.  I often crave a bit of quiet this time of year, and this year perhaps I shall have it.  Sure there are still zooms and classes and the like, but my intent is to capture a spirit of spaciousness, thoughtfulness and mindfulness in the weeks and months ahead.  I think this space might give us some time to reconcile with all that has happened this year.  To perhaps shift our way of thinking and being in adjustment to the State of Things.

This month I have reinvigorated a daily drawing practice by participating in the annual “inktober” drawing challenge.  This has given me not only practice drawing in general, but making little time-lapse films as well.  Here are a few….

I hope the season is being kind to you in one way or another.  We are all grappling with so much of late.  And it’s all happening quite fast really.  My wish is that in the midst of the madness we might find a tune we love to play and play it.  That we might see something worth painting and paint it.  That we might begin or perhaps continue the planting and plotting of a garden bed.

I’ll share some paintings soon.  Keep the faith in the meantime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The U-Bend

It is a gentle, rainy day.  “Soft” as they sometimes call it in Ireland.  This kind of weather might annoy some people, but honestly I like it.  The coloring of things hints at autumn, my favorite season in spite of or perhaps because of inherent melancholia to be found therein.

Melancholia is a constant and faithful friend of late.  I find myself thinking a lot about death.

The gardens themselves lean toward the great sleep, readying here and there for a dying back into autumnal composting and winter’s rest.  Spring’s regrowth will come once more, eventually.  We as humans seem to forget our place amidst nature’s seasons.  Lately I find my mind ill at ease – a feeling of being consistently gaslighted by society.  Over 180,000 people have died of Covid-19 in this country and few seem to even take note of it anymore.  Around 1000 people PER DAY.  How can this not be the day’s big news?  There are even some who don’t believe the numbers.  We throw these figures around and forget that behind every number is a lifetime of dreams and hopes and fears and faults.  Laughter and learning, lightness and darkness.  The messy stuff of everyone’s everyday.  These are someone’s loved ones.  How can the world just go “on”?  I find it almost too much to take.  And maybe this explains why no one is talking about it much.  Maybe no one can take it.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

–Mary Oliver  (I love this poem and was re-minded of it recently by the wonderful daily poem sharing offering of Shippenverse.  Go give her a follow on the socials if you like timely poetry.)

It is a grave mistake in a well lived life not to give death a good mulling over now and then.  I have at times (in the before times) been playing music with my dearest friends in a local session and have found myself so overwhelmed with a tearful gratitude that I think:

“Remember this.  It’s not going to happen again.  These people are a gift.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Pay attention.  We could lose one another in an instant.”

Cheerful.  I know.

But I do maintain that to toe the edges of things, to contemplate Great Mysteries, is to be more deeply alive, to live closer to the bone.

On soft days such as this one, I find myself thinking about Ireland, a land with its fair share of soft days and a place where the lines between life and death, this world and the Other, before and after, us and them, are blurred.  I find myself most comfortable in a place that openly acknowledges the delicate nature of our very existence.  Ireland is such a place.

Looking back on this Year of Years, we come to realize we were truly fortunate to begin the year’s wave of griefs on griefs in such a magical place.  Tony’s mom died while we were over there.  To explore ancient burial sites and wander the misty and mystical Burren in Clare was to feel a part of things in a very deep way.  I wish I could be there again this fall, to process all that has happened – all that IS happening – but this is not to be.

Will you look at this gorgeous new evocative work by my friend Lillie Morris, whose relationship with the music and magic of Ireland runs as deeply as mine. This is entitled, “The Immovability of Stone” which refers to a poem called ‘Stone’ by David Whyte. (I share this with Lillie’s blessing)

Last week in the tail end of a yoga practice a thought, or perhaps even a ‘command’ of sorts came to me.  “Tell the earring story” it said.  And so I shall….

My friend Mia was dying.  I had been lucky enough to leave my day to day behind and spend a few quality days with her before she slipped into that “between place” where she could no longer be reached by us.  It was the wee hours of the morning and no one in the household had slept much that night.  Professional nurses, Mia’s mom Ruth and husband Morris tended to her final moments and then, just like that, she was gone.  The quiet was that strange sort of quiet that sometimes happens in a room where a birth has occurred.  Dying is a different kind of birth I suppose. I stepped outside to get some air and to give Mia’s family a bit of space.  I could feel the All of Everything outside.  It was a beautiful morning.  A bit later, Morris and one of the Hospice nurses approached myself and two other women on hand and asked if we might accept the task of washing and readying Mia’s body for viewing.  Their family’s close community was to come to the house to pay their respects, share food and kinship, and bid farewell to their dear friend.  Washington state allows for a family to hold on their loved ones for one full day before needing to send the body on to final burial or cremation.  This was to be Mia’s day.  We accepted this task with great honor and the Hospice nurse filled us in on what needed to be done.   It’s a strange and wonderful thing to tend to the final physicality of someone we love.  Yes, we were filled with grief, but something about the very earthiness of it all was a salve to that grief.  We were mindful and in the moment.  We put on Mia’s favorite music, opened the window to allow her soul passage.  We washed her gently, and put her into her favorite clothes.  Soon, we were nearly done.  I had put in one of a pair of earrings into her ear when we were interrupted by someone entering the room.  A friend in the community who hadn’t realized we weren’t *quite* finished.  And just like that, the bubble had burst.  Something of a strange reality had entered the room with this newcomer and there was no more that could be done.  Mia’s head was turned and so no one would notice the missing earring anyway.  My fellow caretakers and I had a bit of a strange laugh over this turn of events and the day carried on.  I pulled Morris aside and told him of the earring still in my possession.  He too found it all a bit funny.  The earrings in question were moonstones.  Mia and I had gotten matching sets we before she’d moved out to Washington and we liked to wear them at the same time like a couple of middle school bff’s.  When the day came to an end it was time for the funeral folks to come and take Mia’s body away.  I did a puppet show for the kids in the other end of the house while Morris took care of this bit of business.  Later, he handed me the first earring.  I took some pliers and converted that earring into a small pendant which I eventually took home with me.  I made the second into a pendant as well, and left my set of earrings and that matching pendant with Morris to give to their daughter when she was old enough to wear them.  (she was in the first grade if I remember right.)  I still have my little moonstone pendant and keep it on my flute case as a constant reminder to live this life to the fullest.  Mia reminded me always to follow my art dreams and to keep playing music.  I have done and am so grateful for her early encouragement as we ran mile after mile together in between our busy lives and young motherhood.

I tell the story above as a small snapshot of the complexities of the end of a life.  To remind us that once there was a time when tending to our dead was a privilege.   This virus has so many dying that I believe we have a hard time really taking stock of so much loss.  Our minds can’t wrap around the level of destruction.  And with all of this death, comes a deep loneliness as well as many are having to die alone so as not to endanger their loved ones.  The virus has robbed us of the very things through which we cope with difficulty.  Gathering, hugging, singing, sharing.  And these are difficult times to be sure.

A couple of artful friends in my life are stepping into what one of them calls her “final act”.  They are seemingly facing this next chapter with a grace all of us might hope for in the end.  They wisely advise us all to have the difficult conversations about what we might want for our own end of life chapters, how we might want things to go if difficult decisions are faced.  Have you done this?  Do your loved ones know how you might like to be remembered?

My friend Jeni sent this below to me (not knowing I was brewing a death-themed blog post, but this is how the muse works sometimes, eh?)  And I absolutely love it.  I read this and think, I might have been friends with this woman had we met.

It seems easy in these scary times to just step out of our bodies and forget we are limited beings.   I think many people have really.  So much anger, so little time for self-reflection or kindness.  We aren’t taking the time to ask one another “How’re you doing, like really?”  We won’t be here forever, this much is true.  Something about turning 50 on the cusp of a global pandemic will drive this home to many of us.  Much as the ads promising me the fountain of youth would like me to step away from my own sense of self, I stay put and face this age, my age, as it is.  It isn’t pretty most days.

I make the conscious choice to stay in my body, as difficult as this feels in this harsh world.  I run when I can, even on (perhaps especially on) cool rainy days.

Me and the graceful neighborhood rats

I eat spicy food and cry easily.  Much like old Moaning Myrtle, I am not afraid to talk of death.  Perhaps it is, in the long run, the only thing left we might have in common these days.

Be kind to each other, check in with one another.  Bake some cookies for your neighbors if you can.

And perhaps take some time for self-reflection on these remarkable times in which we find our small selves.

 

 

Genius Home

It seems an age ago that were in Maine.  Coastal time, cool, crystalline lakes, like a dream.

We are now back in our own home, land locked here in our river valley, tending to house and garden, both needing upkeep, updates.

We always know when we have returned firmly to Ohio…..

As Billy Collins’ poem above alludes, there is a certain kind of genius which accompanies basic household chores of care.  This damned pandemic affords us the opportunity of time, if not inclination, to attend to matters here at home.  And so we do.

A bit of harvesting.

And a few things still growing along nicely.

I’ll give the autumnal plants a head start this week I think.  And put other plants to sleep for a time so they might come back to us in the dead of winter.  Beauty in dark times.

This begonia has been through the wars. Originally a cutting gift from my friend Vanessa, it was eaten by deer one year, but eventually bounced back and needed a new pot this year.

I am a haphazard gardener at best, but I am pleased with the results of our efforts this year.  The back garden, fenced during the first fitful, anxiety filled weeks of the lockdown, seems to be holding up.  Keeping the deer at bay.

I am grateful.

The dahlias have put on a show this year.  Somehow they had survived my stashing them in the garage last autumn where they overwintered successfully.  Surprisingly.

They are a constant delight.

My great-Auntie Nancy passed away the day we were on the road home from Maine.  She lived a long life, and did not suffer in the end, which is all anyone can ask for really.  When we attended her funeral, masked and out of doors, I took a posey of my dahlias and some sunflowers too, to place on the grave of my beloved grandparents.  Life has a way of marching on.

Note the dates. My grans, married for 64 years, died within just 3 days of one another. My grandmother, who married at age 16, used to quip about my grandfather, “Why Herbie? Well, he practically raised me.” I can still hear her say it in her quintessential Butler County drawl.

Last week I added another digit to my age line.  It was a quiet day really, a few hours at the concertina shop, take out from a local brewery and a zoom call with some artful and inspirational friends.  It was lovely. I even received some gorgeous flowers.

My mom gifted me the innards of a new Traveler’s Notebook for my birthday. (I made the cover myself from a scrap of leather from the shop.) I am interested to see how this journal system works for me as my own sketchbook practice has shifted in recent years.  When I “go sketch”, I am actually painting and use good paper in good sketchbooks.  But for the day to day, I like to have a workbook to capture ideas, quotes, poems, drawings, lists and etc.  Also a date keeper, not that there is much of a schedule these days.

Perhaps this little book will help me get organized as we do some serious household renovation and reorganization in the coming months.

I already have lists going, and some quotes.  Tunes I must work on……

This is my new half-set of uilleann pipes being crafted by Mickey Dunne in Limerick, Ireland. I think they are a thing of beauty indeed. Though honestly I am not sure quite what I have gotten myself into!  As Louise Mulcahy said in a presentation she did yesterday hosted by Southern California Pipers Club, perhaps it’s just the “medicinal sound of the drones.”  I’ll be sure to post here when I receive my beautiful new instrument!

“Don’t focus on the limitations, focus on the possibilities.”

~Liam O’Flynn (via Louise Mulcahy’s recent research)

Tomorrow morning we bid adieu to our friend Ari, the ‘little red dragon”, or “the wee man” as I sometimes call him.  He’s heading back to my sister’s where she is settled into a full time position as a nurse at a hospital near Louisville, Kentucky.

We will miss him indeed, but we also know there is much work to be done around here and it might best be done with only  the one aged dog along for the ride.  (Plus, he is missed dearly by his proper steward.)

Thankfully, our Little Miss Charlie doesn’t climb steps and mostly sleeps the days away, so she will be the perfect dog to weather the coming months with us as we turn the house upside down a bit.

It is a good time to nestle into a great feathering of the nest so to speak.  My travel journaling work – for now at least – is non-existent for obvious reasons.  I keep the art-wheels oiled here with a few side projects but a bit of a domestic re-design will be my creative project for the time being.   In recent years we found ourselves with an empty nest, the kids fledging to adult lives of their own.  My travel journal business  was where my energies flowed and I never really found the time to re-group here at home.  For now – this year at least – all of that is at a standstill.  Like many others, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the usual things, and so I’m going to just take full part in this collective pause.

I’ve felt for a long while that the speed of things in this world is too much for me personally, it’s just tragic that it’s taken a pandemic to slow things down even just a bit.  With this slowing down has come an opportunity to take stock, decide finally what to do with the old “back room” which has been falling down around us for a few years now.  It’s time to rebuild. We have engaged a builder to begin in autumn sometime.  There will be much shifting and cleaning and decision-making and things will be topsy turvy.  Construction and reorganizing has a way of affecting every corner of the household and knowing this, we are taking the opportunity to reconfigure the whole place.

It’s time.  Getting our home organized and making a little oasis around here will help us bring more peace to the world outside of our home.  Of this I am sure.  To seek beauty in a dark world is important work.  Sometimes, that starts at home.

And that, as my mom says, is all the news that’s fit to print.  We, like everyone, continue to adjust to The State of Things.  We do the best we can.  Being gentle with ourselves and each other.  Following our noses as to how best to proceed.

How are you all doing? I’d love to know…..

co-work

It is monday.  I walk the roads for a bit before the temperatures climb too high.  Our folks here asked us to bring some warmer weather with us when we arrived.

Perhaps we overdid it.

Co-working spaces are selected, but shift throughout the day as conditions change.

As for me, I manage to sketch for a few minutes to get the bones of a little painting down.  Not wild about the results, but practice is practice.

In the heat of the day, a few of us steal away to swim and cool down a bit.  The ocean does not disappoint.

Day three of ocean swim.  I couldn’t be happier.

Today is our 29th wedding anniversary.  We started off right here in this place all those years ago and it’s nice to be here to celebrate this year.  Hopefully with oysters if we get lucky…..

*****later******

and so we were lucky indeed…….

Cheers, y’all!

 

Day 2, in pictures and paint

It’s fun to see how others have weathered the isolation in recent months.  Here it’s Rumikub.  There have been many games, apparently.

Locals remind themselves of what is lovely here, in spite of all.

While on my morning walk/run there is a veritable parade of old fashioned cars, harkening to days bygone.

It is good to walk in a place where glimpses of the sea are readily available through the trees.

Before the day gets away, I steal away to paint for a bit, using a new paint set up I gleaned recently from the lovely work and suggestions of Lena Rivo.

Wonderful to find a secluded bench, with shade and a view.

Here’s the wee painting I come up with…..

I can still see influences in my painting from the workshop I took with Henry Isaacs here in 2015.  (click the blue for the link!)

Later it is time to swim.  Of course it is.

Is that a seal???

Alas, it’s just me.

Sea me.  I LOVE swimming in the ocean each day.  Thankful it is just down the road from us.

Tonight, in the spirit of reconnaissance for a kayak opportunity of Tony’s later in the week, we gather for dinner at another lovely spot, out of doors, away from others, by the sea, and happy to be together.

We are treated to an amazing sunset.  And just like that, our first full day in Maine comes to a close.

We are deeply grateful to be here.  To fill the proverbial well with hope for the months to come.  To remind ourselves AND you that beauty and friendship still exist.  That we will get through these hard times.

Bon courage, friends.

 

 

 

Return to center

In spite of such dire times, our journey home to Maine was fairly simple.  With three drivers, all of our food and drinks on board, we merely stopped for gas now and then and to hit the loo.

There were lovely fogs in New York State as the moon and sun rose together.  There was nearly no one else traveling, which was nice.

Having lived here for years, this feels like a homecoming.
The long awaited first glimpse of the ocean…..

We arrived mid morning to inject ourselves into the family bubble here for a couple of weeks, ever so grateful to our loved ones so keen to have us.  And now we settle.

Poppy’s Welcome

Of course that begins with a dip in the sea.

Shenanigans have begun already.

We found a lovely place to paddle around for a bit and rinse the worrisome drive off of our hearts and minds.

There will be more such imagery in coming days.  I hope you’ll come along as I share this magical place with you, no matter where you are.  There are books to read, sketches to conjure, knitting to wrangle, and music to play.

Wishing you peaceful summer’s breezes……

ps…

There was lobster.

and corn.

and pie.

Goodnight!

Test Run

****** EDITED for recent events.  See below….

Outside it blazes a midwestern summer.  Inside, cocooned, I write letters to pen pals, grateful in knowing that notes and small treasures will be back and forth in the weeks and months to come.

So excited to dive into some vintage stationary!!  (click for link!!)

While on route to Bloomington, Indiana over the weekend, I work on one such little treasure to mail, a knitted crown, fit for a queen.

I hope she likes it, and never loses her youthful moxie.

We are welcomed to Bloomington by old walls, hand hewn, washed with time.

We are welcomed with love.

Our eldest, living, working and studying in this delightful Indiana college town, keeps his distance from us, of course, in true pandemic style, while also sharing with us the things he loves most about his new home town.

don’t worry, we have masks on.

We thoroughly enjoy the time there, shadowed as it is by the all of everything.  We bike, hike, sweat, take photos.  It feels a world away.

This bridge reminds me much of Swannanoa, and the bridge we walk daily there to get to meals, classes, concerts and the like. Perhaps next year. For now, we travel empty bridges.

Sometimes, in the heat of the day, we escape to our little cabin to nap in the cool air for a bit.

Smoke keeps the bugs away, mostly.

The weekend continues with dreadful temperatures but delightful company.  We take to the woods for an early hike.

It is quiet but for birdsong and an occasional fellow hiker.  The green is soothing to our citified souls.

Lake Monroe is lovely, and we get a peek of an inlet while hiking. But I pine for a more glacial lake if I am to be honest. It’s only a matter of days……

John Joe Badger is inspired by this little fairy door and a shrew we meet in the woods…..

This little adventure is a bit of a test run.  Not only do we want to touch base and deliver some home cooking to our boy, but we want to measure the state of things outside of our home here in Ohio.

Aside from trips to the grocery store and my occasional visit to the concertina shop to get some part-time work done, we don’t really do anything.  This weekend we find ourselves at a restaurant for the first time in months (out of doors, and the staff wear masks and there are plants dividing the spaces, it feels safe…. I think).

I am remotely comfortable with this set up and it all bodes well for our eventual (hopeful) trip north later this month.  But the hum of worry stains everything.  It just does.  Everywhere we turn, there is the threat.

But carry on we must.

and follow the path of those in the know.

Learn what needs learning.

Seek the edges and toe them accordingly.

Our society is so keen on the avoidance of the proverbial elephant in the room.  Perhaps we might do well to say what needs saying.

“It’s enough to be walking with you.”

More soon…..

edit:  When I wrote “more soon” above yesterday, I didn’t really mean THIS soon.  Last night we saw news of outrage and protest in Bloomington after a horrific event.  Here is the article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/07/vauhxx-booker-indiana-investigation/

We are a nation on the precipice.  A ‘powder keg’ as my husband called it this morning.  And I am heartbroken.  

 

 

 

 

Attending

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

~Mary Oliver

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.”

~Mary Oliver

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.”

~Mary Oliver

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.

None of us are any good to anyone if we become mired in the unreal world of social media.  My goal personally is to read more deeply about the issues at hand – about this pandemic and it’s long term challenges.  About how the rest of the world is viewing our country (and the UK)  just now in the wake of recent, racially motivated murders.  I’ll investigate ways to look keenly at my own inherent biases and consider how to best navigate them and change from within.  (Here are just two things for a start:  The Groundwater Presentation and The 1619 Project .)

We are in tumultuous times to be sure.

 

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.”

~Mary Oliver

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.

Turns out we DO have white peonies in our yard after all! But we can still share some pink peonies with our gardening friends.

“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report.  An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”

~Mary Oliver

I wonder and worry as to whether I’ll ever get back to Ireland. (And with that, how to get delivery of my new pipes due in October as well….) As a small prayer of hope, I planted some fuschia in a pot in the back garden. I am told the hummingbirds will like it. And maybe the bees too. These can be found all over Ireland in hedge form. Little fairy jewels on display. And I love having them around here at home.

The Key of C

:::  Twist of Hemp ~ Week 27  :::

It is said that “C” is for ‘cookie’.

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.

We will get through this.  Eventually.

 

 

 

A glorious something else

“A glorious something else awaits.”

~Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

I sit with the sadness this morning.  Like so many of us in this time of so many griefs big and small.  Not anything in particular really.  I am fine actually, personally, just now.  The sun is beginning to peek through the clouds and it looks to be a potentially nice day.  I may get to see my sister today, from afar, and we will relinquish the little red dragon back into his normal life back home with her and her support team. He is welcome back here any time of course but  I know he will bring her comfort between her shifts in the ER.

Here, comforts are bursting forth from the ground up.  The long (long) awaited deer fencing is up so we can finally grow some proper food in a real garden bed.

Here are the young-uns. Did you know, egg shells are the perfect little vehicle for growing seeds? It’s true.

A few things are in the ground of course already.  The cold weather kind.  And it looks nice to have some life amidst the structure of it all.

Planted strawberries in pots so they might come inside again over the winter and rest in the warmth. I am learning along the way.
Garlic survived not only the winter, but our trampling around it as we built the garden from the ground up. I wanted to get them in the ground last fall and so it rested whilst we laid cardboard down, then leaves and straw and so much time. Later came more straw and wood chip mulch. Building soil, without tilling. This little patch is the only one with no grass barrier. We will see how it goes.
A note about these lettuce plants. They have served us so well. They started out as seeds in a bag of soil under a plastic bin for warmth over the winter. Here’s the how to: *click* 
We created some archway trellises for the more climbing kind of plant-creatures. I look forward to them shading any summer greens we might be able to plant.

I have nothing against deer really.  Like all of us they are just trying to make a living in the world.  But they are decimators of plant life.  And so, while most of our little acre is at their disposal to wander and chew,  we’ve cordoned off just this little bit for ourselves.  I’ve thought for a long time that growing some of our own food could be paramount.  I always thought this notion might be a bit dramatic really.  But now it all seems closer to home.  Closer to reality.

The deer have been warned to move along from this place. With all due respect.

“Oh the summertime is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming”

~trad. Irish/Scottish folk song

I am grateful it is spring time.  It is good to walk and watch the wild world come alive.  A normal spring time here would see my work year ramping up into full gear.  Today I was due to be waking up in California, ready to find the weekend’s sketching spots for the upcoming weekend.  Well, we all know how that panned out.

And I would usually be chomping at the bit to get back to the Land of Enchantment for a taste of big skies and grand ideas and the feeling that anything is possible.  That is Taos for me.  But, alas.

A thousand tiny griefs.

It is a difficult balance in this strange new era of corona to make space for all the grief.  We as a culture are so quick to categorize the griefs and the joys as big or small, important or trivial – at any given time.  And here’s the thing, we don’t know what one thing or another might mean to any other person but our own true selves.  The joy of a new sunrise to one person might be equal to the birth of a child to another.  Circumstances differ.  We must make space for what that sunrise means to that one person on that very day.

I think the same holds for grief.  There is so much of it just now.  But it does us no good to hold one grief up against another for comparison.  Better to just allow.  and honor.  All of it.  It’s hard to do.  I’ve been heartbroken this last week or so with the cancellation of not only my Taos work, but the magical week of Swannanoa as well.  I had a good long snot cry over each of these in the bath, I’ll be honest.  I’m doing my best to honor these losses, to give them space, even while I read the headlines of the death toll mounting, and hear stories of the front line from my sister and her co-workers.

All of it is heart breaking.  We must make space.

Stunning photography by Seán Mac an tSíthigh. @buailtin on instagram

And we must compost this grief and cultivate joy in this space.

A wee peach tree given to me last year by my dear friend Kim Taylor. This year I shall place it into a larger pot and it can summer out in the garden, to get a taste of life in the big world. I shall continue to nurture it…..

It can feel a bit like a roller coaster of emotions of late.  I was saying to a friend the other day that if this time teaches us nothing else, it is giving us lessons in the notion of being as fully present as possible in each and every moment.  We don’t know if the things to which we look forward will actually come to fruition.  It is a new horizon in tech as we all try to connect real time with our beloved communities and families.  I can say for the record that the incorrect connecting device for one’s computer might actually drive one to tears (again) and another lost connection is added to the list of a thousand griefs.

And so how to navigate?

“Look at how a candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

~Anne Frank

I am fortunate to know many who somehow manage to exist above the fray.  I look to them for inspiration.  The other day Nuala Kennedy took to the airwaves to do a little concert.  It was inspiring and honest and beautiful.  Much like Nuala herself.

Here’s the post:  https://www.facebook.com/nualamusic/videos/10163320918625188/UzpfSTEzMDEyMzY2NTY6MTAyMjE5OTEyMzA1OTIxMjE/

A couple of far flung artist friends of mine are offering up their teaching online in beautiful ways as well.  Erin Lee Gafill of Nepenthe  in Big Sur, California has a lovely community built over on facebook if you look for “Awaken The Artist Within”, and her tutorials are over on YouTube.  Here’s a sample.

Erin is lovely and calm and brilliant in her scope of experience.  She brings a soothing presence to the canvas and to her teaching.  Getting into the paints is on my list of joyful things to do in these pandemic times….

Would like to translate this tiny sketch of a painting into something larger in scale. The canvas is prepped. But the garden calls.

Fabian Hernandez is an artist I met down in Antigua and he too is offering some video tutorials for free over on Facebook.  I know Facebook is the devil in so many ways, but it is an easy platform in a difficult time.  I find myself finding community there (as well as frustration on occasion too) more than usual.  This is to be expected and forgiven.

Here is a still from one of Fabian’s tutorials. You can find him over on FB here. *click* It’s all in Spanish, but you’d be surprised what you can pick up.

And so, here we are.  In need of a bang trim, trying our best.

My friend Rosemary says “I can get used to just about anything, if you just give me a minute or so to adjust.”  And I agree.  (My metaphor for this same idea is that ” I am not a tug boat in the harbor, more like an ocean liner, and it takes me a bit of time to turn course.”  But you get the picture.)

We are here for a while it would seem and every day brings new challenges.  Like everyone I am learning to sit with it all.  Learning to get my head up in the clouds when needed to get a 30,000 ft view over it all for some perspective.  As the weather improves the garden will go on, giving me focus.  I can get out into the back room (currently under construction) to play some music perhaps.  I’m being more mindful in the last week or so as to what I say yes to.  This to give space to the grief that is and the grief that is to come.  And the joy.

I am trying to see all of this as the space I have been craving for awhile now.  But I do miss my friends.   Especially the musical ones.

*small disclaimer:  I write this from a place of deep privilege which is not lost on me.  I am deeply aware of the bigger broader world, this is just my artful snippet of it.  Don’t forget to vote.  wherever you are.