Difficult to believe that at this time just last week, we found ourselves in the magical, mist-ical lands of coastal California -my hub just barely cracking through his shell of over-work, only to have to dive straight back in again. But it was good to see a glimpse of himself to be sure. I am hopeful he could be coaxed back to this real life once again soon.
It is always a strange thing to return back to our regular doings back here at home in Ohio. For me, the mark of Good Travel is that it makes for a yearning and a churning of the soul, a fire in the mind, which keeps us asking questions of ourselves about how we are living this One Wild and Precious Lifeof ours. While we balance chores and responsibilities, work and dreams of what can be, time marches on ever faster. We must make sure we are on the right track. Travel and all the soul-nudging it brings with it, is one sure way to track our proper path isn’t it?
Yesterday my daughter sent along a new song to add to a running playlist I get going each year which tends to set the tone for the up and coming Taos sketch trip. This annual trek to the high desert is a flagship workshop for me as an instructor/facilitator. And the yearly playlist often carries a loose theme through the songs which happens strangely and organically. One year it was about light, especially Golden light, as I found myself craving the sparkling quality of light that is found in places such as northern New Mexico. Yet another year the loose theme seemed to be aboutthe heart of the matter – on finding ones heart beating below the surface of all that is thrust upon us in the drudgery of the day to day.
On a whim, I sent along this new song to a dear musical friend of mine, also the parent of a young adult daughter, knowing the both of them might appreciate it. He asked how I found myself relating to this new song and it got me thinking about my playlists in general and how I use and relate to them. About why I gather songs and how they capture a moment in time. Like the old mix-tapes we might have traded around in our teens, these playlists relay a certain kind of longing. Today’s longing is a more complex, multifaceted thing than my middle school obsessions. Now, I find myself pining for wilder places versus people, be it a sea of salt-water or a sea of sage. I suppose my yearly playlists are a listing of love songs to landscapes that are out of reach to me in my daily life.
“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ~Terry Tempest Williams
Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a scientist. I love all animals and could spend hours upon hours in observance and wonder of them. Alas, I do not have the mind of a proper scientist which remembers long and (to me) complicated names and specific facts and figures, and so my observance skills took a different path to that of artist. Now, my very favorite thing is to go to a wild place and watch, and draw, and wonder. Just a different kind of scientist really.
We had the great fortune to obtain access to a beach near Santa Cruz which the majestic elephant seals come home to for a season each year to go about the Business of Life. Here they mate, struggle for territory and status, give birth, nurture and nurse, grow and learn, rest and recuperate. We were fortunate to have a patient guide on our tour who allowed us to tarry a bit longer than other groups so as to take it all in properly.
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle
And amidst all of this marvelous wildness, we had also the comfort of dear friends who welcome us to this wild land with open arms. In the evenings there was a warm fire in the hearth and plenty of tea and long over-due conversation.
The ocean and it’s splendor was a indeed big player in our whirlwind trip west. I had a run on the beach one morning and we sketched the waves. I was captivated by the variety of dogs to be found having their daily walks along the shore.
We also took part of a day to meander down the coast and visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we watched, entranced, the displays of Jellyfish and other watery wonders.
“Jellyfish: The sea offers up flowers of glass like thick light. They are transparent landscapes.” ~Raquel Jodorowsky
I was reminded of some old work of mine with the jellies, and vowed to come home and make more.
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” ~Loren Eiseley
“…the sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonders forever.” ~Jacques-Yves Cousteau
But the trip was not all ocean all the time. I was invited to an Irish music session at a local home of a friend of a friend of a friend, which is how it works in musical circles, and was welcomed with open arms to share a few tunes.
Welcomed with open arms is also how we felt in the Redwoods just minutes inland from the sea.
To walk and wander in a forest of these trees is to experience the notion of Cathedral. We found ourselves whispering in hushed tones out of respect. Even the local wildlife is quiet. With the trees comprised of naturally inherent tannins, they are insect-repellant, and therefore even the chatter of birds is kept to a minimum.
We sat and sketched a giant for a good long while. It was cold and quite humid.
All in all, it was a wonderful getaway. January in Ohio is not for the feint of heart. A friend of mine, also from the world of Irish music, was saying last night that while she has lived in places with reputations for the harshest weather winter can throw at us (i.e. Alaska, Montana) she has found that winter here in SW Ohio/ N. Kentucky is particularly draining for it’s gray heaviness. Difficult to convey to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, we here in this river valley trudge through the winter months as best we can, thankful for the opportunity to get out of town when we can.
I left the Hub in California to do his work and I to come home to do mine. The temperatures were in single digits upon my arrival which was shocking to the system to say the least, considering I had had my toes in the pacific ocean just days before. But, I made some little woolen boots for my smallest dog, brewed a lot of tea, and carried on.
“Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?”
“Have you seen the girl with the heart as big as the sea?”
I am not the only one with a big heart and a mind on fire, yearning and churning for a bit of change. The world at large is calling for it as well, at least women and those who love and respect them.
This past weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of the Women’s March and we did it again. While the news didn’t make much of it, the numbers appeared to be as large if not larger this year. I was at our march here in Cincinnati and while the palpable shock of the election of a vile predator-in-chief was not as present this year, a continuing sense of outrage was.
The energy was palpable.
These strange times seem to have unleashed a free for all on many levels. On the one hand, the highest levels of power, especially in this country, are seemingly above all scrutiny. Politicians who once would have run a president out on a rail for the kinds of shenanigans ours pulls off, merely turn a blind eye and shrug off the behaviors of the current administration. I marvel. But the flip side of this coin is the notion that really, anything is possible. And I find a bit of hope in this.
I find that there is a fire in my own mind of late. The travel bug is turned on full-force by this most recent trek to the fair state of California. Guatemala is right on it’s heels, a mere 37 days away for me, with workshop participants arriving shortly there after. And there are more adventures to follow. Traveling shifts perspectives and asks us to consider hard questions. Questions such as, should we give up this little track of land, with is gardens and trees and lovely, soul-nourishing green space and quietude, for a condominium with less upkeep? Could doing so free up even more time and money for travel? Or would we regret giving up this amazing space? Do we want to even stay in Cincinnati? For me the draw of my family and friends (this includes my art and music family) is a big one. But part of me feels my studio practice could really use a daily walk in the wild, versus the familiar suburban paths here in Ohio. These are all the questions burning just now. And likely they will continue to do so for a while.
One could go a little off the rails with these ponderings, but the work will always bring me back to center. Sitting down to write a bit here settles my bones. From across the room, the paints call to be mixed up to craft some new paintings. Who knows where they will lead. Story ideas come and go, flitting and floating in clouds of doubt and fear. Rays of light amidst the dust particles. Today on this day of endless gray, I’ll follow the words, follow the paintbrush, follow the breath to whatever comes next.
Solstice dawns bright and beautiful. I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us. I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.
Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.
The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.
After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside. I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere. There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit. To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.
The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions. They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing. This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance. And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world. Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.
We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now. There is so much work to be done in the world. On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable. Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days. Nourishment.
I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online. Here are just a couple of examples…..
Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)
This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world. I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically. (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.)
I wonder, how can I better be of service? How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable?
I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable. (I’m looking at you Capitalism.) How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way? There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation. I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash. I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young. All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.
It is the season of Christmas parties. At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one. We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry. Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days. Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need. Kind. Compassionate.
My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work. On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year. We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments. Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings. In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion. I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful. Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels. That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.
These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light. May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months. May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other. May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.
Life’s pendulum slowly begins to swing back to a quieter state. Only a smattering of art-related events left to attend to and soon the art work will come home to roost once again where it belongs. Well, most of it. Some small things have sold and will be finding their way to forever homes which feels like an accomplishment of sorts.
Last night, upon returning home myself from an evening of sharing a few tunes with my musical mates, the headlamps of my car alight upon a great buck who has come to pay us a visit. He is regal and quite stately, taking his time crossing the little bridge over our creek.
Today I look for evidence of his brief visit, as he is quite magical and a brain entranced by hours of music can often see things which are not of this world.
I find the evidence in what is left of our recent snow fall, a track across the bridge where my dogs stop to have a sniff of this wild creature’s path.
Playing around with ‘watercolor graphite’ I attempt to draw the buck.
In my drawing he is bulky and strange, but I find myself excited to use this medium which I purchased awhile back and have not yet used much.
Rustiness seems to be the name of the game lately as I have been presenting and exhibiting, showing and teaching, meeting and greeting. A dear friend of mine remarked at my last opening that he could see why I am not a fan of art openings in general (even the fun ones!) because it’s as if ‘you were just getting swallowed by people’. Which feels true.
I am eager to get back to the magic of making.
I have recommitted with a vengeance to the act of daily sketching and outings with our newly sanctioned Urban Sketchers of Cincinnati group are just the ticket to get the pen moving across the page once more.
Though it’s painfully crowded, I manage a warm up sketch at first.
And then a bit later, settle into a quieter place, with a more fantastical little structure to draw.
The rusty drawing skills begin to come to life and I feel the gears slowing down in my bones with pen to paper. It is strangely familiar and I am grateful for years of practice which don’t ever truly leave me.
I finish the sketch at home later that evening with a bit of color.
Our Urban Sketchers group is open to anyone who wants to get out and draw so do join us if you are in the area. I promise we are quite friendly and do not bite unless provoked.
This is a indeed a magical time of year. With the Solstice nearly upon us, in theory we begin to witness a return of light, though the world seems very dark indeed just now. To combat this darkness, we must make magic in our own way.
Over in the land of Twitter, writers Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have cooked up a plan for the internet to co-read the novel The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. We begin December 20th, the very same day the story begins, and I am excited to be a part of it. Reading a beautiful classic is a balm in these dire times.
I am inspired by dear friends who have been making magic in the world in very special ways. The first, someone I hike and paddle with, has a job in the world of retail where she knows how to line up deals and coupons to make things quite affordable. She uses this super-power to purchase new coats for those in need to donate to the coat drive at a local charity. This is especially wonderful for the rough and tumble little boys who are so very hard on their coats and therefore gently used coats are few and far-between. I marvel at her spirit of generosity and urge others good at shopping in the world to consider doing something similar.
Another friend has been crafting and conjuring magic in his own way and a few of us closest to him have been presented with a wondrous gift indeed.
A wand. I have other wands. Those with paint-brush tips. But this is a whole new animal indeed. It is a branch of elm, sanded and shaped and bedecked with a gorgeous calligraphy nib for writing and drawing….
It makes lines like a dream. At the other end of this wonderful wand is a little reminder of where my heart lies…
I am truly blessed to know people who play music, make art, walk ever so gently in this world. I aim to be one of them.
Meanwhile, unbelievably (inconceivable?)
It has been 10 years of making magic here in this little online world of mine.
“Creativity is really the structuring of Magic.”
~ anne kent rush
This anniversary time feels momentous. Seismic in its shifting of my work and my thinking and life in general. I look back on the woman who started this blog ten years ago and I know that I have grown and changed.
Around the same time as this blog was getting going, I got my very first tattoo. A moth, rooted. That tattoo has served me well for many years and the symbolism still resonates with me to this day. That said, it had faded a bit and had grown a little tired. When my daughter (now about to turn 21 which here in this country means one is a fully fledged adult) suggests we get tattoos together, I decide to use this opportunity to reinvest in the moth design.
Her idea is to get ferns, each in our own way, to our own liking. Ferns are all about unfurling into one’s true majesty, which I think we both are doing just now as human beings.
She knew right away what she wanted and so, she goes first.
Simple, graphic, hipster. Very her. We both love it.
A few weeks on I come to the idea of reworking my moth and proceed to Flying Tiger Tattoo where my friend and fellow artist Megan Butler works. She comes up with a way to reinvigorate my beloved luna moth, while incorporating the ferns. She also nurtures the root ball of the design, adding in mushrooms to aid this forest inspired work of art, brightening and delineating the roots, giving them room to breathe. I simply could not be happier with it.
It is earthy, bright and beautiful. Colorful and confident. No longer fading. It is more cohesive than the original, more well thought out. It may yet be added to. It is a rich environment for new growth to occur.
All of these things feel applicable to myself just now. Which as I look back on this time last year, fills me with a relief I cherish. This season finds me filled with so much less anxiety and depression, having worked exceptionally hard to shift back into a yoga routine, once again going back to eating vegetarian. Self care and overall health are great gifts indeed. They add to the magic making, at least around here.
And speaking of magic, here are a few more tidbits to share.
Magic in the littlest moments. Noticing. Placing attention on these things….
One of my all time favorite characters in any book is Tiffany Aching. She is a young witch, who is, among other things, “good with cheese.” I like to think she’d be rather proud of my first foray into making cheese. This time, a simple paneer.
And lastly, I leave you with my efforts from the month of October. At the last minute, I opted to take part in “inktober”, putting together an alphabet of creatures as a way to get to know my new fountain pen. It was great fun and I hope to have sets of post cards to share with you in time for the holidays. Prints of individual animals are also available.
*special thanks to my dear and wonderful friend who has allowed me to use her music in my videos over the years. Kim Taylor, you are the very vision of friendship. I love you.
“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.” ~D.W. Winnicott
It’s so tempting to run for the hills. To hide. To make the work, but never show it – feeling it to be not good enough, not ready enough, ever. But this is not an option really. And so we forge on.
“Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about at the right place to do something exciting.” ~David Bowie
After a time of being comfortably down the proverbial rabbit hole, alas, I must come up for air and here is the latest. Like some sort of proverbial Icarus, I’ll admit to flying a bit close to the sun of late. But needs must, and rest will come…..
On top of readying my own art work to present to the world, I have also been doing some writing on the work of others. The September and October issues of the online publication Aeqai feature articles of my impressions on some really wonderful locally produced and curated work from lands far away. It has been interesting to pull together art and writing in this way, as I usually write merely here on my blog or craft the odd artist’s statement now and again. To write about the artwork of others and to ponder it through a lens of critique is to more fully grasp it in a sense. Knowing I was to be writing about these shows made me a better viewer of them. I hope to continue writing for Aeqai in future months, adding my voice to those of others shining light upon recent work they have seen.
And what about that work being presented to the world? Well, the stars have aligned to see my work showing in three different venues in the coming weeks, and here they are.
“Transience is the force of time that makes a ghost of every experience.”~John O’Donohue
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”~Simone Weil
First, Transience, a solo show at the Park National Bank Gallery at University of Cincinnati’s Clermont campus. It’s a lovely space and I’m thrilled to have a number of older works dusted off from the archives and showing once again, right alongside some newer work as well. (Yes, the ever so popular Animal Alphabet from Inktober is being displayed in full and the drawings look great all together!) At the heart of the show is my process of gathering from the world and from my experiences to create art along the way in sketchbooks and finished studio work.
It is interesting to see threads of continuity in work through the years which I didn’t notice before. For example, I’m once again showing my painting Selkie which is a bit of a self-portrait-meets-personal-mythology work.
You’ll notice that Selkie offers a rather raw heart to the viewer (my mom has always thought this painting is rather creepy but I rather like her). What I didn’t realize is that I had created some of this same imagery in the three dimensional realm as well in the form of a hand stitched fiber heart, and a cast of my hand in plaster.
These objects were part of other work at other times and I hadn’t realized how they mirrored the Selkie imagery until I went to install this show. My subconscious self clearly has some ideas and themes working themselves out amidst its subterranean depths. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this work once again, on a deeper level and to share it with the students at UC Clermont.
A second show to open with just one piece of mine in it is an artistic tribute to the writings of Neil Gaiman.
I crafted an illustration of Nobody Owens from Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book which I found so captivating. I am excited to have my little painting alongside those of other illustrators from around town and am honored to be a part of the show!
This show opens this week on Thursday evening. Stop by the Know Theatre if you are in town and say hello! (Be sure and get your tickets to Neverwhere as well!)
My painting I Grew A Pair (Apples) will be part of the Off The Wall installation and I have three other works submitted as well. This group show features new work by members of the Kennedy Collective and is an annual treat for the local community. That opening is November 18. There will be cookies. I can promise that.
By tomorrow I shall have all work delivered and by next week, all will be properly installed for viewing in their gallery spaces for the following few weeks. While this all has taken a good amount of time and effort to pull off, I have been careful not to fall into the mindset of busy in the midst of pulling it all together. And I believe I have been successful in that endeavor. Sylvia Linsteadt of Tatterdemalion fame posted an article the other day about the notion of Resisting the Commodification of Time, with which I firmly agree on every level. The article speaks to a level of mindfulness which I believe is desperately lacking in our world just now. Everything so fast and furious, so new and shiny. Mindfulness is at the very heart of my sketchbook practice and the workshops I teach. Just the simple act of slowing down to draw something pulls us back into a better relationship with time, back into our bodies. The world needs us to do this work.
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It is what I was born for—
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world—
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant—
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
And so we do. If you google “urban sketching”, you will see that the practice of drawing in a little book has truly gone globally viral. People all over the world are doing it. Here in the Queen City of Cincinnati, we have joined the ‘official’ ranks of Urban Sketchers and are getting our drawings out there along with other artful places such as Manchester and Hong Kong. If you are coming to town and are looking to sketch with us here, let us know!! We can be found over in the wonderful online world of Twitter and we’d love to meet you!
And that is all for now. I have ghostly beings creeping into my bedtime sketchbook lately who are begging to be fleshed out further into more oil paintings. I have knitting projects sitting idle as well which could use some finishing up. It’s a time of year for walking in the woods amidst the fallen leaves, brewing more and more tea, and gently, ever so gently, slowing down.
It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.
If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around. Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.
Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.
Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.
And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes. But if one listens…..
I’ve been listening. With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade. Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.
I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.
This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California. We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn. I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles. It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.
But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.
“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote. You can see her Unicorn here.)
I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival. For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Perhaps it is the bright face of the full moon which pours into my bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning. Or maybe it’s that I have traveled far and wide just recently, with more journeys awaiting me in the wings of weeks to come. I do not know. But I have been doing a fair amount of vivid dreaming while visiting the landscape of my sleep-time each night.
Generally a deep and dark sleeper, I seldom remember my dreams, but occasionally I get a conscious-time glimpse into that other-world beyond and it’s tremendously exciting and inviting and I do not want it to end. Thankfully, this has been occurring more and more and more.
Once, much like in the poem above from Antonio Machado, I dreamed that bees had crafted a hive in the walls of my home. This dream-time home was different than my home here in waking-time. Yet it was my home none-the-less, as it often goes in dream-translation. It was a quaint little house, nestled in quiet country.
Painted blue, it had lace curtains which blew gently in the breezes. Outside there was washing on the line, bleach-drying in the golden sunshine. Inside, the bees had been so busy in the inner walls of this sweet home of mine that honey –rich, golden honey – began to seep from the very walls themselves. And from the ceilings. Drip, drip, dripping from every corner. Oozing a golden coating on to all. My waking self has a bit of an aversion to being sticky. Give me the mess-making of mud-pies and the following-flowing of dust-bunnies, but stickiness can set my teeth on edge. But my dream self saw and felt this honey coating everything as a great gift from the bees. A sign of the richness in my day to day. Seeping out of the very walls.
I come back often to this dream and the sensations it delivers upon the heart of my remembering, as I am “abeefrnd” after all. I love all things bees. The wax, the honey, the magic of their pollination which in essence keeps us alive as well as surrounded by beauty. Just the other day I was captivated by a podcast featuring a Bee Priestess called Ariella Daly and was once again reminded of the honeyed home awaiting me in my dreamscape.
This morning I awoke from another powerful dream which I took to paper and pen first thing (well, after I’d given the dogs a chance to wee and poured myself the requisite first cup of coffee).
“Intense, wee-hours-of-the-morning dream. Skyscape and seascape were one. I could swim-fly underwater, beneath floating purple and darkened-green continents of mosses. Under-over there, all was turned around – up was down and sideways and back again.
Some feared if I swam-flew in this place, I might never return to above the mosses.
Before this swim-fly time, I was on a beach, with a public beach-house. It was winter and access to the sea was limited. The life-guard then said it was time and everyone cheered and pulled their pick-up trucks on to the beach to sell their market wares.
It was crowded.
This is when I began to swim-fly. This place was not crowded. It was wild and lonesome. I dove in and once under came the turning around of the world. As I dove down, I also flew up. Direction didn’t seem to matter. I could easily breathe this air-water. I was of two worlds. Maybe more. The worlds of Up, Down, Over, Under, Back and Forth.
The masses of mosses had watery, puddled areas in them, like bog-land. Puddled portals of a sort. These puddles led to below-above where anything is possible.”
I could go on an on about the venturing I’ve been up to amidst the murky depths of my own dreaming, but we all know how difficult these images and sensations can be to convey in conscious conversation. So I will simply share with you a few endeavors from waking-time, and in-between times which seem to be contributing to these dreamscapations. (That may be a new word of my own making, though I am not sure.)
The rough little drawings dotting this post are from a small book I keep at my bedside nowadays, along with a pencil. Most evenings, just before sleeping, I scribble a bit into this book. Nothing in front of my eyes to capture. Merely the musings of my own mind and my own imaginings. Occasionally I am surprised at the results. Often, they are simple and rather mundane. But still I doodle.
I began this practice a few weeks ago, inspired by my friend, fellow illustrator, and fab yoga instructor, Stacey Maney who has been doing the same practice herself a good while now and has amassed a number of bedtime drawings. Though we each approach this practice in our own way, we both find it helps to feed the inner muse. This muse is our bread and butter after all and needs to be coaxed and tempted with attentions and praise from our daily habits.
This all differs greatly from my usual sketching practice of the world around me, about which I write here often and much. The deep mind-full-ness my sketchbook work brings has been a richly rewarding gift over the years, a gift I now offer to others through my classes and workshops. And yet, I still want to go deeper. Sketching is not enough. Writing is not enough. In the attempt to bring my own practice to a deeper, soul-entrenched level, I’ve been seeking a nameless thing. I haven’t been sure if that thing is in the form of yet another book or a deeper yoga practice to delve into, or a new teacher, or new habits and pathways of my own intention. In the past I have even been known to run toward (and away from) this Nameless Longing by training for and running marathons. I did 7 of them before deciding they were finally through with what they had to teach me.
In the end, I’ve come to find it is all of these things along the way and always more, ever changing. And so recently, I have been following this nameless need for something, down it’s soft, darkened path. I can almost smell this path, blanketed as it is by pine needles and leaf litter.
It feels so good to be able to smell the earth once more as spring has come upon us. To celebrate this awakening, I have signed up for a class via One Willow Apothecaries called Intuitive Plant Medicine. The ideas promised in this class are exactly what I have been looking for as pathways to enrich my own personal practice as an artist, a writer, a teacher. I firmly believe that to be a good teacher, one must always be learning right alongside our students. Maintaining an openness and the vulnerability of a learner, a beginner, is crucial to meeting students who find their way to us right where they need us to be. And so I am always digging. Always searching for ways to stretch.
I have no intention of becoming an herbalist or plant shaman really, except to suit my own curiosities and affinity for the magical world of plants. But I know in my gut that this seemingly un-related study of the soul-life of plants, and how they can enrich our own lives at soul-level, is exactly the spirit-food I need to stay grounded and growing in my own work in the world.
And so it goes. The seasons are shifting into sunshine and growth. Workshops are happening in the coming weeks and I am busily tending to the earthly details which make them run smoothly. My offspring are both jumping headlong into their adult working lives. Madeleine off to Africa to work with a linguist and some medical doctors to collect health-care stories (a process called Verbal Autopsies). Jack, gearing up for next week’s senior recital over at CCM. How the time is flying. And like between season lettuces tucked in under the other vegetables and flowers, I plant idea seeds in every fertile corner I can find. Hoping something grows and blooms amidst all of this rich life-compost.
note: I haven’t a clue what any of these drawings mean. but they seem to have a feel to them that reaches one into the next. I am interested to get to know the little faces peering out at me from the pages of my little bedtime book and perhaps learn their story.
I find myself unexpectedly weary today after a day of art making and eating and not much else. It was great fun to dive fully into book work but it is work. And work I love dearly. I feel a bit more up to snuff in my sketchbook after today’s efforts so I’ll share a few more Antigua adventures with you here.
I’ve been really enjoying meeting the other artists here in Antigua and beyond. Rosemary has made many connections over the years between service trips for her speech pathology work and textile tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of stopping in to see Lidia López who is a talented weaver among many other wonderful things (I’m keen to learn how to make Pepian sauce from her!).
Lidia was pregnant with her son and visiting friends in Panajachel, and I was a 7 year old kid living in Guatemala City when in 1976 tragedy struck this region in the form of an earthquake. Thousands of lives were lost and it was indeed something one never forgets. But time passes, and as Lidia says, it was not our time then. We had more work to do. And so we did.
It was lovely to chat with Lidia about the work she does and life in general. She patiently let us practice our Spanish on her, although her English is amazing. We talked to her about visiting again when we come for the travel sketch workshop next year which I hope comes to frution.
Our visit was over far too soon and I hope to stop in to say goodbye and share with her some of the work we have been up to in the mean time. Including a drawing I made of Lidia herself.
Later in the afternoon we went to sketch and photograph a lovely ruin…..
I was very happy to have my fancy camera this day as the structures and light at play in this old convent make for beautiful imagery.
But time was ticking and the ruins close fairly early to visitors. We knew we had to get to work if we were to get a sketch in.
As the kids do often put it,
Seems kids have been the same since time began….
We had 40 minutes to do a quick study and we opted for a fairly complicated stairwell.
While this is not a scaled architectural study, it’s not a bad painting to my eye. Coming back to this drawing in my sketchbook in years to come, I’ll remember the light in this stairwell, and church bells on the wind and quiet drawing time with a good friend. The gifts of a well fed travel journal.
Today was a slower paced day in the way of touring. We had meals out of course but mostly we stayed home and caught up in our books. Little things here and there….
…like this creepy antique wooden baby Jesus spotted at a collectibles and antiques owned by a nice fella called Axel.
I also did a page spread in my book to try and learn a bit more about the weaving tradition here in this country.
Although it took me the better part of the day, I’m happy with the results.
I wanted to try to capture the beauty and variety of the indigo dyed corte or cuts of cloth we encountered the other day at the market in Panajachel. Each piece different, punctuated with the colorful seam stitching called randas.
The textiles in Guatemala are not something I can try to adequately comprehend in one go, but it’s been great fun to get a weaving 101 from Rosemary, Mari and Lidia.
Tomorrow there will be more and more drawing. And I hear tell of some hot chocolate which contains chili powder in it. Two days left in this captivating country. For this visit at least.
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.