“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett
Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday. Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple. There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family. The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better. We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school. I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe. This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made. I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing. My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo. (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.) We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music. Which I suppose it is. But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches. Musicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition. It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.
But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.
With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it. I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times. And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice. Though I certainly do.
And so, it is more important than ever to dance. To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor. To paint the brightest of pictures. After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.
I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown. One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn. I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…
A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center. The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor. I loved it! We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself. Here are the early experimental results……
I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling. But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm. I do enjoy it. I hope you do too!!
Always a step ahead, is our inner muse, in whatever form it takes. For me, it is often Ginger Small, so small yet so intrepid. So willing to step in to the trust of adventure in spite of her perceived size, stature and strength. After all, we are all only as big, powerful and strong as we believe we are.
And so we send these muses ahead of us to pave the way. Ginger has left here (with a sliver of my own gypsy-traveling heart) to begin the trek out west to Taos where I will teach later next week. It’s more work than a week should be and so I pack and prepare maybe more than most might for a normal work week. I love this work. This week is what I prepare for all the rest of the year. This week of sharing my book-based process of sketching and keeping a visual diary with workshop participants. I love it. And during this week, I am always inspired to pursue my eventual studio work more fervently once back home.
Ginger Small, my little book character yet to be snatched up and published but yet ever so present in my imagination, has gone on ahead of me, as my imagination and muse-selves are wont to do. I wish her “Fair Winds and Following Seeds” , a play on an old navy tradition of wishing one on a journey or a move ‘fair winds and following seas.” For we are following the seeds of inspiration. To see what feeds us. What grows with a little planting, watering and weeding.
Whatever you are pursuing in your own artistic journey, Fair Winds and Following Seeds to you. And let me know what comes of it. For after all, we are on this journey alone, yes. But also with one another
Today is my 46th birthday. As is often the case this time of year, things are in a state of semi-controlled chaotic flux, what with school starting soon and Big Moves happening for both of the kids. Jack returned from Brazil just in time to join us on our annual summer sojourn to the coast of Maine and is now in the process of returning to his collegiate life across town. Meanwhile, in similar fashion, our youngest, Madeleine, is making lists and preparatory pilings of her own as we move her into a dormitory at Ohio State University next week. Things are getting real. They are embarking on a world of their own making….
All of this is, as expected, a little on the bittersweet side of life. But it is also the Way Of Things. This is why we raise them. So that they can hopefully head out into productive lives of their own. It is time for us to focus back on ourselves for the first time in ages. I for one am feeling a delicious fire burning in my art work, music and in my inner life, while the Hub, Tony, has plans of his own involving far flung watery places to explore. It is an exciting time for all of us.
So let me just catch you up a bit on happenings since I last wrote. As you now know, I am in the process of putting together a new workshop, launching in February. I’ve had quite a bit of interest, and a few sign ups too! And while I have been mostly on the road since the announcement and not able to ‘blast’ it properly as of yet, it is my hope that this class will be a ‘go’ with just enough folks to make it a reality. Do let me know if you have any questions!
Ah yes, the road. How it beckons!! Last I touched base here at my online home, I was off to a week of full on music at Swannanoa.
This was a week of complete bliss for me personally. Tearful reunions with people I only get to see once a year. We fell straight into tunes and laughter and musical mayhem that only ‘band camp’ can provide. I opted for two classes, both in flute, with two of my favorite instructors/musicians/people on the planet, Kevin Crawford and Nuala Kennedy.
They are not only brilliant teachers and players but they are absolutely hilarious to spend time with. In my own teaching I try to emulate the sense of fun and level of laughter I’ve known in classes with these two. It is through a childlike sense of play and creative experimentation that the best learning is to be had. Learning a creative pursuit as an adult can be daunting! Whether it’s playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, adults take themselves (ourselves!) so seriously. Getting out of our own way is half the battle. I am still riding the wave of magic and beauty of that week, with renewed gusto to practice my tunes, to keep learning and improving. I intend to make it back to this week again next year. There is such a sense of ‘Brigadoon‘ to it all, magically happening each summer and then just like that, it’s gone….
Of course, if you follow my summer patterns at all, you know that no summer is complete without a dip of my toes into the ocean in my soul’s home, Maine….
Ginger Small and I were reunited up there as I’d heard very little from her all summer. And we have much work to do!
I spent a fair amount of time just gazing out to sea and doodling….
…that is, when I wasn’t partaking of the bounty of the ocean. YUM!
Our time in Maine usually allows for a bit of the ocean and a bit of the lakeside as well. I did a fair amount of oogling and doodling there as well.
It is a time we treasure, and each year we know it might be the last where everyone attends. Any next year could see the kids doing their own thing elsewhere. So while I painted and sketched a good bit, and came up with a number of tiny paintings, it is never enough.
Maine tugs at my heart strings harder and harder each year. Every year, it gets more difficult to leave the fresh salt air and cool breezes available there.
“She loves the serene brutality of the ocean, loves the electric power she felt with each breath of wet, briny air.” ~Holly Black
Having lived there once upon a time, I know life in New England is not all summer time and roses. Winters are cold and long. But I simply must spend more time there.
“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.” ~Ranier Maria Rilke
For a while now, my dear, long time friend Amy (she who attended to the births of my children, my soul-sister) and I have admired the whimsical, colorful world of artist Henry Isaacs.
His paintings are impressionistic, energetic, and brimming with color that is at once straightforward and complex. They are the kind of paintings that make me yearn to pick up a paint brush and paint. But not in my usual sketchy fashion.
I’ve had this yearning to paint for awhile now. And I have painted. Here and there. I’ve made some paintings that I like a fair bit. While others have lacked the intensity I wanted them to have. They often feel too cautious to me. I’m not quite sure how to approach the materials, having had only nominal amounts of instruction in this particular way of art-making. Often as soon as I have found my way into a painting, it’s time to quit to attend to Life. And by my next visit to it, I’ve lost the steam. Clearly, I need some help.
So in honor of everyone in this household going off and learning new things and forging exciting new paths, I am heading back to the coast of Maine in just a few weeks to take a workshop with Henry Isaacs. I am so very excited to learn some new ways of approaching paint and then applying these lessons to the sights and sounds I find so enchanting by the ocean.
“I have sea foam in my veins, for I understand the language of the waves.” ~Le Testament d’Orphee
Perhaps I may get the opportunity to paint the ocean of sage in the high desert of New Mexico at some point as well. Again, something I have yearned to capture, but outside of my sketches, have never seemed to accomplish successfully.
I believe in following the voice of one’s heart. That intuitive voice that whispers ‘this, yes, this!!!!’.
I’m following that voice as much as I can these days. My Right Work seems to be a three-pronged dance made up of teaching workshops in beauty-filled places, making up whimsical stories and pictures for the young at heart, and just painting/sketching/drawing by myself (also in beauty-filled places). In between there I’ll work the day job when I can, manage the comings and goings of these adult children of mine, and try to keep this house in some sort of working order. Oh yeah, and music. Always music.
Today is a day of musing. Pondering my life’s path. I feel like the 46 year old me is waving enthusiastically to a younger version of me as if to say ‘This way! This way! Aside from a few bumps in the road here and there, life’s going along quite nicely just now! Just hang on!’ Because it is going along quite nicely actually.
I’m excited at the timing of this painting workshop opportunity, as it falls just as I have a moment to catch my breath before really needing to buckle down to work this fall on February’s offering. I get another taste of salty Maine sea air before they must batten down the hatches for yet another winter. My kids will be off doing their own thing for the first time really ever. I’m thrilled and excited and incredibly grateful for all of it.
Happy birthday to me.
….and here are some of the new Tiny Offerings from recent travels. Let me know if you would like to own one!
I think there is nothing quite so nice as to get a little something in the mail. And so I am a sender of mail myself. I love to write cards and letters to friends far and wide. Most recently I took to making a slew of wee thank you gifts in the form of tiny, one of a kind paintings. I am hoping they will be well received by those lucky enough to be on my list lately… This exercise of making tiny paintings is something I do with my classes as a way to shift our thoughts on scale and the time it takes to make a work of art. Unlike some miniaturists of late, these little paintings don’t take too very long at all. And they capture the impression of a place quite quickly. This series was clearly based on my recent weeks in Taos and I am keen to keep going with them. I gild each little painting in gold leaf and it becomes like a little jewel to don a card or perhaps dress up a page in my journal. There is a small part of me that wonders if these would be something to sell at some point. You may see them soon at the local art center gift shop perhaps…..
Are you a fan of tiny art work? Send me a message and perhaps I can whip up a tiny painting for you! I know Ginger Small will be happy to get some new works into her Tiny Gallery.
After a long day of travel, peppered with delays, cancelations and many, many hours of knitting, snoozing and sketching, I found myself at long last, arrived in theLand of Enchantment. Ginger Small was as annoyed with the delay as I was at the way our day of travel had gone…
…and for the second leg of the journey, opted rather for a hot air balloon ride.
Last I heard, she may have tracked down her cliff dwelling friends further down the mountain, but that is a tale for another post.
Meanwhile, I arrived, very much alone. I was greeted by moody skies, a darkening landscape and storms.
It was all quite lovely really and I just got into my little car and drove, intent to make the most of the last of daylight, intent to eventually arrive in Taos.
Thunderbirds guided me up the mountain.
After a day off to soak at the hot spring and nap and visit, yesterday finally found me truly landed and ready to get to work. There are many supply gathering sort of errands to be handled, and meetings with the team of folks here in town and at Mabel’s who make this workshop possible. But I did take a couple of hours yesterday to hike a well loved desert path.
I met many new friends, who were in full plummage due to recent rains.
I was able to sit for a few minutes with my sketchbook and do a quick rendering of a bit of the Rio Grande Gorge before I had to head back up the path to get back to town. It was wonderful to sit in the quiet and witness Raven riding the thermals, and to feel the sun on my shoulders, and the breeze on my cheek. The noise of town and traffic well behind me. I need more open space in this life.
It feels so precious to be back in this strange land, so very different than my own homeland. By experiencing, exploring and cataloging new landscapes, we are surely discovering and perhaps even altering our own inner landscapes. Every visit here reminds me I have much to glean here. From myself, and from the land.
The trip has only just begun, and there are already so many tales to tell and drawings to be made. I am grateful for this quirky place and it’s rugged landscape and beautiful people who are fortunate enough to live here full time.
Ever wondered where intrepid hamsters head off to when they escape? I think I may know…. Ginger Small seems to be in the mood to head to New Mexico again for some tea and piñon in the high mountain desert, and perhaps a little mystery as well…. I shall be joining her to teach my Illuminated Sketchbook workshop of course. But I hope to follow Ginger’s desert adventures here and there as well, if she permits it. I’ve heard there has been a lot of rain there this season, and things are exceptionally green, for the desert.
The partial story below was recently discovered and I hope to uncover more of it very soon. It’s rough writing… think of it more as a sketch….
A while ago, years perhaps, (or was it just last week?) I was curled up under some fresh shavings, about to enjoy a long awaited and delicately saved blueberry yoghurt treat when suddenly, a soft glow began to emanate from somewhere not too very far outside of my habitat. This was no normal glow. It was neither warm, nor cool. It was just… green. In the way newly grown ferns are in the springtime, just prior to unfurling. This green spoke of freshness and strangeness. I had a sense this light was for me. I do not know how I knew this. Somethings, I guess we just know. And so I quietly shuffled out from under the shavings to take a peek.
One might wonder why I did not stay hidden beneath my shavings. I was, after all, quite sleepy, and I was so looking forward to my yoghurt treat. It may have been simpler to remain hidden. But I have found that often, the best adventures come on the heels of the moment we trust the small intuitive voice which tells us, though this may be a strange green light, it seems friendly enough.
And besides, I smelled tea. And desert sage. And, could it be?…. a hint of burning piñon? !
I decided to undertake dire action, and climbed out of my habitat to greet whatever – whomever – might be shining this light in my direction.
The instant I made this decision, to shed the boundaries of my normal habitat, things got very interesting.
I was suddenly surrounded by colors I’d never encountered and vistas which made my heart sing. I was not sure where I was heading, but I had a feeling, it was going to be a wild ride….
Til next time,
…And that was about all I could find of this particular adventure, though Ginger has hinted there is more to the story.
A week ago today I arrived in Taos here to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to begin my long awaited residency. It has, thus far, been a magical time filled with wonderful opportunities for inspiration around every bend. I have had a chance to catch up with my Taos based community of friends over tea and the odd burger and beer. I have had hours to walk and admire the natural beauty, even on the meltiest, most muddy of tracks. I’ve been able to set up a bit of a routine which looks a bit like ‘up, write, coffee, check emails etc, write or draw some more, take a walk, have some lunch or a visit with a friend, walk some more, work some more, have some dinner, and then paint.’
I am so thrilled to have so much time and energy to myself. While time is certainly passing as it is wont to do, each day feels nearly endless.
I love the idea of having enough energy at the end of the day to get a second wind and play with my oil paints. Here in Taos, where so much seems possible, I have been able to paint a bit in the evenings. And to think I considered not packing my oil paints…..
It’s been an interesting transition into full time creative work on a daily basis. When at home I am used to dividing my time between day job work, animal/household daily chores, cooking etc. Just dealing with the day to day life of things which are part of my very rich and gratifying life. I fit the art and writing in where I can.
However, here in New Mexico, everyday I stand at the edge of a great chasm of time and space which, I will admit, had me a little rattled upon arriving. While I managed to step up to the drawing board and writing notebook a great deal each day to go about making the necessary work at hand, I spent my first few working days under the great weight of a sense of generalized anxiety, the likes of which I had not experienced in ages. Not just nerves but the Utter Sense of Crushing Doomfor which I am, sadly, somewhat hard wired. The familiar elephant on my chest just wouldn’t let up.
So I walked, I wrote, I practiced my flute, I painted and drew picture postcards to place myself into the heart and mind of Ginger. I just kept moving. There is a lot of current writing and talking about creative work and how it can tend to go hand in hand with anxiety, what with all of the unknowns faced by those of us giving birth to new things and the vulnerability inherent to this work. At least I’m in good company.
After some well timed conversations with friends who get this side of me, I began to visualize the elephant on my chest and decided to ask her why she might have taken up residence on my heart, disallowing this work I truly love so much. And a word came to mind. Play. And then another. Relax. So I opted to take an afternoon off of drawing and writing and took myself and my elephant for a hike. Not just a walk for exercise, but a real hike a little out of town to a little bench I had heard might be waiting at the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge.
Elephant and I had a little chat. I told her that while I can work when she’s snuggled so weighty upon me, it’s actually much easier to let ideas flow when I am not in a state of overwhelming anxiety. She looked over at the gorge and asked me if she might ever be able to ride the wind in the way of the Eagle. I told her anything is possible.
And so, on the little bench at the edge of the Gorge, I helped elephant strap on a little harness which is linked to a very capable parachute, enabling her to safely ride the thermals. To my knowledge, she is still out there. But I’ve made her a little bed in the corner by the fire to lie in and have promised her a lollipop if she keeps to herself while I work once she decides to come back.
Adjusting to life in Taos is exhilarating and challenging and different every time I visit, so those first few days feeling so weighty is no huge surprise. Therefore, it is also no surprise that now the elephant has stepped away for the time being, I am finally feeling comfortable in my own skin again. I am relaxing and playing and getting even more work done. (Funny how that works, isn’t it?)
I’m taking my daily adventures and figuring out what Ginger Small has to think about it all. She’s having a ball. She has skied with her friends (utilizing the handy Raven Ski Lift Company who are ever so trustworthy as one cannot be too careful in the mountains when one is a mere Small Creature)
And Ginger managed to make friends with a field mouse on the Pueblo who taught her how to walk quietly among the buffalo and to gather the purple cacti that small creatures find so medicinal. This adventure was exceptionally powerful.
The Wonderings and Wanderings of a Small Creature in a Big World is coming together – bit by juicy little bit. I am enjoying the work and am so grateful to have the opportunity to be here. You all continue to remind me how loved and supported I am while out here…
Mail is a thrilling thing. I’m excited to head into week 2 of conjuring the Adventuresome Correspondences of one Ginger Small.
p.s. There’s been a fair amount of counting in a long lost language of rhyme in the Rabbits Who Herd Sheep department as well.
Do stop in over on facebook, instagram, twitter etc to keep up with our adventures. And thank you, again, from the bottom of my thankfully lightened heart.
In just over a month’s time, I have raised over 65% of my goal of $2500 which will offset costs for my upcoming writing/working retreat in New Mexico. It’s been amazing to get checks in the mail and see paypal bits pop up in messages on the computer. Thank you SO very much!!
There are still two weeks left to contribute to my residency fund and every teensy bit helps. I am busily preparing the cards and other rewards available for contributors as thank you gifts. It’s wonderful to see Ginger’s adventures in print on cards and it feels like a sneak peak into what she will look like in book form, which of course has been a long time dream of mine…..
I am humbled by all the support and praise of this little character I spend so much time with. A dear and far-flung friend of mine said this about our Ginger…
“I love that she’s so fearless! Sailing, traveling, etc. I admire that. I think it strikes a chord with people.”
And it’s true. She IS fearless. Or at least, like most of us, she pretends to be. And that affords her opportunities in the world she might never have dreamed possible! There is much about Ginger’s story I do not yet know, and that the point of this residency in Taos. To suss that story out. There is a wonderful scene in the movie Miss Potter where Beatrix Potter is presenting a new painting to her publisher, friend and future fiancee, Norman Warne, about a rabbit’s Christmas party. She says about the story of this legendary party…
“Now I know such a legend exists, because I made it up…. I know on this night, that they will eat and talk and laugh and dance, and roast apples on the fire, but I’m not certain how the party ends, because I haven’t made that part up yet.”
And that’s exactly how I feel about Ginger’s story. There are things I know. She is adventuresome and a bit of a fashionista, in spite of her shyness. She loves to meet other animals who are equal parts like her and unlike her, and she loves to send postcards….
The postcard angle is where Ginger got her true start and it continues to be a huge theme in her story. Since I too love anything to do with hand-crafted correspondence, it is no surprise that I have been following the work of the Letter Writer’s Alliance for a number of years now. With their tag line reading:
“An Alliance for those who enjoy letter writing and postal adventures.”
it’s no wonder I love the work they do, gifts they share and postal related products and activities they post! You see that stamp on the post card above featuring the cardinal? That stamp is an example of what the LWA calls “fauxstage”. Not true postage contributing to the delivery costs of the card, but rather a stamp-like image that adds to the postal allure of the card. I adore letters and postcards that come with extra cool stamps, don’t you?? Well, it occurred to me that with Ginger’s love of all things postal, a wee partnership with the LWA might be in order. So I contacted them to see if I might put together a Ginger themed stamp design of my own to offer as a free download on their site. It would prove to be a fun exercise for me, and would be a gift to offer to others who adore sending well adorned envelopes and postcards through the mail.
And so, amidst the busy-ness of this season, I am also preparing for my retreat from things in just over a month’s time, for that is when my best work is known to peek out of it’s shy nest hidden at the edge of the woods….
“Physically, the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed. If we were to look among the wealth of our vocabulary for verbs that express the dynamics of retreat, we should find images based on animal movements of withdrawal, movements that are engraved in our muscles.” ~Gaston Bachelard (from The Poetics of Space)
We’ve had a mad road trip to a cacophonous regional dance tournament and ill loved ones bravely facing down end of life visitations and decision-making. There are concerts in which to participate and to attend… gifts to seek out and parties to plan for, bake for and to attend. It is December, and somehow the Spirit of Waiting which our souls crave during this season of Advent and Solstice is harder and harder each year to achieve. Yet I celebrate all of the gifts of gathering this season brings while I prepare for the calm at the end of the storm.
During those first few precious days of a New Year, I will retreat to work in Taos, at a place that never fails to stir my deepest creativity. I’d love for you to be a part of this retreat; to follow the story of a small creature in a big world, who believes in the magic of a well drawn, hand-written postcard in the mail box. I’d love for you to join a young rabbit, who in spite of being a rabbit is quite the shepherdess, as she counts her sheep in a long lost language of rhyme. Pitch a coin into the little donation basket being offered by these creatures. Be a part of their burgeoning adventures. I thank you kindly for all of your support.