For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
We hunkered in our homes, all of us (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.
We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again. We are all of us ready to go outside once more.
As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding. Up and over our little bridge and the drive. Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors. We were lucky.
Eventually, the sun has shown here and there. And things are beginning to bud and bloom. Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.
But bloom, they do.
While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..
A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives. You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back. Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!! I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.
There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach. You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….
You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..
There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes. It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.
Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs. May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.
What a winter we are weathering. Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)
Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes. The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge. (I am up to the challenge.) All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively. Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed. It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’
But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not! I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood. I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.
While running has not been available to me, walking still has. Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws. I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.
A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence). My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time. There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.
There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season. We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs. I did not take a picture.
We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so. My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….
We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..
“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque, a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley. Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”
Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both? Both, at the same time. animal. woman.
I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity. Political polarity, yes of course. But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves. The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes? And even to how we react to times of great strain. I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another. Why can’t we be Both. I am both Woman and Animal. I am Light as well as Shadow. I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self. When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being. Perhaps like Lavender herself.
Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.
Though if one pays close attention…..
One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.
It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond. so different from our own bulky little bunnies. so I sketched one up.
As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear. The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared. If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing. It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.
But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune. Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp. Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….
This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it. (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers. Can you imagine?)
This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed. (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.
“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”
Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week. This makes me happy beyond imagining. And reminds me that winter will pass. In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally, globally.
“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”
“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”
“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “
So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken. I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere. The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere. I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted. I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.
We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here. I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala. I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town. I do not remember.
But I do remember what calls to my soul:
(we are all artists)
Thank you for reading…..
ps. do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists. they deserve it.
It is Groundhog Day. A day when Punxsutawney Phil glimpses (or doesn’t) his shadow and we are graced with either more winter weather, or an early spring.
I have been thinking a lot about the notion of Shadow. In Jungian psychology, the shadow self is the underbelly of our subconscious. It is all which we have denied or repressed of our whole selves in order to comply with the demands of living the lives into which we are born. Shadow can be perceived as the dark side of self. The bits we do not talk about. To generalize, for many men this might mean the traditionally ‘non-masculine’ traits such as tenderness or being emotionally open in a way that is vulnerable. For women, Shadow could manifest as repressed rage, as it is not ‘feminine’ to be angry, yes? Another way to look at Shadow comes from the definition which analyst Marie Von Franz settles upon, “…in the first stage of approach to the unconscious, the shadow is simply a ‘mythological’ name for all that within me of which I cannot directly know.” It may very well be a side of ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to know, but need to. And therefore, we may project that very self onto others, as a way of protecting ourselves from ourselves, by making the ‘other’ into what we find most undesirable.
The United States is currently weathering a dark night of the soul, grappling with it’s shadowed social underbelly. Robert Bly called the Shadow “the long bag we drag behind us.” We as a country carry a bag behind us full of difficult history built at times upon the backs of the oppressed. These are things with which we must grapple if we are to move forward. So much of the rhetoric we are hearing from those who voted for Trump is based upon changes these voters do not want to see in ‘their’ country. More power being doled out equally to women, people of color, those with different faiths or those hard wired to love differently than themselves. Perhaps those belittling protesters in the recent women’s marches are afraid of the necessary conversations we must have about how women are not, really, equal to men. It is interesting to me that we can elect a president who belittles and objectifies women (and the disabled and, and, and) and yet some are worried that the pink ‘pussy hats’ are vulgar. I think they are brilliant. A genius way to turn the conversation around. And maybe a lesson in the power of words.
I for one am trying, a little each day, to understand how we got here – to this place of being the butt of the joke to the rest of the world.
I have not yet found a balance which feels healthy. That said, we as a country are not healthy. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. And I will not keep quiet.
I have seen our country’s shadow. I am not afraid.
*Update: I wrote this post last week when the drawings first came to mind, just to have it ready to post when a busy week ensued. I knew that the pace of things in Washington might make parts of this post nearly obsolete by the time Groundhog Day actually arrived. I was right. The March for Women and the pink hats seem like decades ago. We now have a ban on folks entering our country if they fit a certain mold (you know, like say, of the Muslim faith, or from certain countries – none of whom have ever harmed us!!) Our Shadow side keeps rearing its ugly (Bigly!) head and yet the people keep rising up in protest which fills me with great hope. I believe we can keep this up. This protesting. Much like runners who pass a baton between the long legs of a race. A race for democracy and human goodness itself. We can do this. Resting when needed. Taking the baton when we can. I am so very proud of this country just now. No, not it’s leadership. It’s people. The lawyers working pro-bono to help those trapped in the new system. The protesters. The Air B&B folks offering free lodging to anyone stranded. I am proud of politicians willing to stand up against this madness who are coming from both sides of the proverbial aisle. I am proud of the world who is hopefully not judging all Americans on the actions of a few in power. I have hope and faith as we incorporate the Shadow. In a recent post on another harbinger of Spring, Imbolc, a friend of mine and I were reminded of and discussed how in spite of spring coming along, there is often a brutal, late-winter snow storm that bites at the new lambs and plant sprouts and bends us once again to the final bits of cold and darkness of winter. But eventually, Spring comes. Perhaps Donald Trump is a late storm like this. Blustering and biting at the new lambs of social kindness and inclusion that the world is striving to achieve. We must maintain hope and vigilance.
Today I have taken yet another day to do things slowly, to allow a plethora of new medicinals to take hold of this winter’s cold symptoms. I stumbled upon a Keith Haring quote on the instagram page of Sketchbook Crafts which I know to be true and which I jotted into my own book, even as I chased the colors around my own sketchbook, doodling my magical canine beings.
Of late, I have pondered the notion of activism. What can we do in the times ahead which are shaping up to be very different indeed. There are those who will march together on the day following the Inauguration of the vile new leader of the free world. (Alas, I am signed up to take an art class, but my heart is with the marchers here in my town, and in DC.)
And there are those who use their fame and cultural influence for good (unlike some.)
The mere act of making some art feels like activism to me. As does teaching it to people who may think art is not theirs for the doing. Open up one’s heart to their own making and there is no telling the sea changes which can occur. In the coming weeks I am taking some remedial Spanish classes to re-learn a language I once spoke as a child. This too feels like activism. The class is in preparation for another trek down to Guatemala to do some sketching and exploring for future workshops there (stay tuned!!). But I also would like to do more volunteer work in my community with folks who might not know English yet. Small things, yes. But perhaps they can stem the tide of where the election seems to be taking us.
So today, I do what I can do. Everyday the light returns, as does my vim and vigor, and with that, some hope for better days.
A few local illustrators here in this river valley (remarkably productive, as far as illustrators go actually) gather weekly for a bite to eat and sometimes a morning of sketching together. This morning was one such morning and we spent a quick bit of time at the zoo, dodging cooler temperatures and limiting hours to grab a few drawings from life.
We start with the elephants.
I always find my elephant drawings to tend toward the abstract as they mosey and move, like elephants do. Ages ago I worked at this zoo, as a teenager and college student. I loved it. Many of the keepers from back in the day are still present, being the best stewards they can be for these captive beasts. After all, zoos are the best solution to some serious mistakes humans have made.
They were indoors this morning for the chill, but were working their way out of doors where there is more space even as we drew them.
Later we observe some sweet red pandas and eventually a few felines. The cat house is changed from when I worked there years ago. And yet it is familiar.
There is a caracal, this one more curious and mellow than the one which haunted me and jumped at the glass on my watch.
And a bearcat, a local mascot and icon at the university. One of the few collegiate football games I attended back in the day was as a steward for the zoo’s bearcat who goes to represent his home team.
This explains a lot…..
I hear they are vicious but have only really known them to be sleepy.
We have a lovely, but brisk morning out. I am cold and head first to refill my tea water upon arrival at the local market where we gather for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. It is good we arrive early as soon there is a line out the door.
There is the usual sharing of work, a bit of mayhem and illustrated camaraderie as well. I am so thankful for this group of fellow artists at all stages of their careers. They give me hope and encouragement and it’s always fun to head out to draw together.