Category Archives: life

Where your name is spoken

Looking Westward, a drawing of mine from a few years ago…. Raven is a bird close to my heart.

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:

Music.

Art.

Stories.

Other Artists.

(we are all artists)

Thank you for reading…..

~a

ps.  do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists.  they deserve it.

 

 

 

 

The Shadow

February 2, 2017

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.  

 

 

Do what you can do

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.)

But there are quieter avenues of activism as well.

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.

 

On rest and re-cooping

In which we wait too long to do our shopping and alas, the wicked good slippahs from Maine are on back order. But the sketch was well received.

There is great value in slowing down, even if such restful slowing is thrust upon us.  Internal rewiring continues, this seismic shifting written of recently.  Illness continues to pervade the household, my hub hacking and racking in his own version of winter’s torture.   The weather gods seem to be arguing over whether to allow winter’s arrival after all.  I attempt daily forays out of doors to test my lungs with a bit of walking and jogging (I would not yet call said activity anything kin to ‘running’, but we must start somewhere. )  One day bundled in woolens, the next in shirt sleeves.  It is no wonder Christmas dinners and gatherings are somewhat sparsely attended by extended family.  Good to spend time with those healthy enough to be together.

Utilizing bits of energy hither and thither, my work space once more resembles a place ready for Deep Working and Fresh Thinking.  It is the sunniest place in the house on a rare sunny day.

The morning routine here at Chez Bogard has been exponentially simplified with the unexpected offer to re-home our lone hen, Elvyra.  I had been worrying over her, alone and cold without her sisters to snuggle up to, but had been loathe to take on new hens, thus perpetuating our chicken experience.  I have adored keeping hens.  I love their gentle chatter as they scritch in the yard for off-season insects on a warmish day.  They make me laugh with their antics. (you really should see a chicken running across the yard sometime) And of course, when possible, there is the miracle of freshly laid eggs.  But a lone hen is a depressing thing.  They are not creatures built for solitude, but rather for more of a hive-minded existence.

With Elvyra as The Last Hen Standing, we were at once in a holding pattern and a decision making position as to whether or not to get more chickens.  With the traveling we do, and some interesting and creative thoughts as to life once the kids leave college, we decided it might be best to opt out of hen-keeping for the time being, at least for a few seasons.  And so, while catching up with a dear friend at our local music session (my first in weeks – I could hardly play without coughing or losing my lip to atrophy from disuse) she offered to introduce sweet old Elvyra to her young flock of hens – solving our lone hen/what do we do now question, while simultaneously offering a much better life for one lonely chicken.

Elvyra and I got along famously, but chickens just need other chickens.

So Farmer Kate arranged for a friend of hers to pick up Elvyra who’d been stashed in a crate for transport and we commenced Operation Chicken Hand-Off.   I was nervous for her.  Chicken introductions can be tricky.  But in the end, I heard the next day that all is well.

Elvyra is keeping herself to herself, feeling a little shy in the first few days but observed to be roosting, eating and drinking.  Her new flock is giving her the space she needs and there is no pecking-order business happening from either party.

With yesterday’s incredibly unseasonably warm temperatures, the flock explores the farm and scritches for bugs and Elvyra is apparently right at home.  Remarkably simple creatures, chickens.

The cessation of our chicken adventure (which began with grassroots political change in our village to even legally have them!) leaves room for energies to be spent elsewhere.  I continue to rest with complete abandon both body and soul.  While not completely off line, a mindful avoidance of once-routine clickety behavior on my part and moderation/modification of such continues.  Anxieties are still, blissfully, at bay.  The blues may even be shifting and lifting, a bit, though I allow an engaged conversation between lightness and darkness in my heart to be ongoing.   The ebbing and flowing between sadness and joy are the warp and weft of a wide awake life.  It can be an uncomfortable state at times.

But, as Elizabeth Zimmerman has so aptly put it:

“Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”

and so I do.

Postscript: 

RIP Carrie Fisher, whom I heard passed away just a bit after posting this.  This quote from her caught my eye and speaks eloquently on why we sometimes must share what we feel inside….

“It creates community when you talk about private things and you can find other people that have the same things,” Fisher told Terry Gross. “Otherwise I felt very lonely with some of the issues that I had.”

May we all continue to nurture our inner rebels with strength and grace and humor, as she did, both on screen and off.

 

 

recalibrating

Brew a cup of tea kids, this may be a long one.  But I hope my thoughts below get you thinking and shifting as I have recently……

Things have looked a lot like this in recent weeks.

And this….

As stated in my last post, I was blindsided by a virus which left me breathless and hacking for what has turned out to be weeks on end.  It hasn’t been pretty to say the least.  I’ve missed out on many if not most of the earlier festivities of the season, but I just couldn’t muster the energy to ready myself, let alone be social.  And of course, I didn’t want anyone else to capture the same condition.  It’s been miserable.

Getting sick is never a picnic, but when it lingers like in my situation, or worse, becomes a long-term or is some form of chronic condition, it can really mess with one’s psyche.  I am personally prone to delving down into darkness at times and I have at my disposal all sorts of tricks and tools which help me to stay where there is light.  

Sadly, in recent months, due to a variety of unrelated reasons, these tools found themselves unavailable to me.  And the tricks, haven’t been able to keep up.  This past summer I broke a toe over the course of my kayaking adventure up north.   While it was painful, I figured it would heal in time, which it has (sort of), but not without a months-long break from my go to meditative behavior, running.  Add to this the stress of the election season, both the leading up to it all and the drastic and dreaded results.  And finally, this chest cold, which has kept me away from music and my art work for weeks as well.  Running and music and the arts.  Quietude and peace.  These are my go to, stay sane approaches to life in this crazy world in which we live.

With these tools falling away, combined with hours alone and prone, I’ll admit to the last few weeks having been a dark season of sorts.   That said, through this darkness, some deep thinking has been happening.  A seismic shifting in a sense.  With the allowance for rest in order to welcome and conjure wellness has come a stillness and quietude I haven’t experienced in months, if not, if I am to be quite honest, perhaps years.  I’ve been thinking about everything and my small place in it.

With all of this thinking and pondering, the Universe seems to be responding with little tidbits to follow toward a new way of operating.  Breadcrumbs for my consideration, if you will.   I share a few of them here because I sense a change in things to come, at least here in my world.  And if you follow this world of mine, and the work that I do and share via various platforms, you may sense the change as well.

The message above is the most lovely auto-response to an email I have ever received and it came from photographer Morgan Wade whose words so inspired me in a recent blog post.  Something about it spoke to my very soul.  I forwarded it to my husband, who is a sounding board for for me in all things business and asked how I could get to this point in my own work.  He replied, ‘well, you just set up an auto-response for your own email.’  Simple.  Except, it’s not simple, because I think what I was really asking was, ‘how do I get to a place in my life where I am so seldom checking in online that I might require such a lovely auto-response?’.

This was the crux of the matter.  I am desiring, nay desperate for, a break from the online world. As I lay ill, I didn’t have the inclination nor the desire to get online.  At.  All.  With my interweb activity falling away, my overall generalized anxiety seemed to let up a bit as well. (since about october or so, it had been through the roof!!)  This easing of anxiety can be a danger zone sign as often it can signal the onset of a depression, at least for me.  All of this is a cycle I am aware of and look out for.  But honestly I think it has been a bit of both things.  I am depressed, I’ll admit it.  And I will look to medical treatment if the usual tools do not work as I gain my health and energy back.  I promise.  But I am also less anxious due to not being online.  So here come the next few breadcrumbs….

I was on route to a proper doctor a couple of weeks ago and heard Diane Rehm talking about the digital world vs. the analog world.  It was a great show and got me further thinking about how pervasive the digital world has become, in spite of the fact that we are still physical beings living in an analog world.

Shortly after hearing that show, I came across this article in the New York Times about the somewhat rebellious notion of quitting social media.  I found this to be such a tempting and interesting idea that I went to the library and got the book by the author of the article and promptly devoured it.

The book itself is geared to business professionals, more specifically those in the realm of ‘knowledge worker’.  But I found much of what the author, Cal Newport, has to say applicable to anyone looking to dig a bit deeper into their own work.  (ps, my word for 2017 just happens to be “clarity”.  Like I said, I feel like the Universe has been sending me signs.)

Frankly, there is a part of me that is tempted to do as he suggests and quit social media completely even beyond the break I have been on since being sick.  I was discussing with my dear friend in Vermont about how our lives have changed in the years since these sites and technology have seemingly taken over.  We were rehashing how fake news essentially put Donald Trump into the White House.  She made a wonderful point; ‘if someone had said, 5-7 years ago, “Would you sign up for a technology that would fragment your attention, cause you mass amounts of generalized anxiety and use the notion of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ to help you decide whether your current work is valid or worthy?”‘  Of course, the answer would be no!  Yet, this is essentially what we have signed up for, it has just happened glacially, without our awareness of it and we are now in the quagmire of the fallout of it all.

Both my friend and I have backgrounds in behavior modification, myself in the field of special education, and she in Applied Behavior Analysis.  We know for a fact that intermittent positive rewards are the crux of cementing behavior in most people.  This is psych 101!! The rules governing this idea are what drive the pointed, personal logarithmic systems presented to us on sites like facebook, twitter, instagram and the like.

Yet, we, like millions, find ourselves here.  We are in this world where so much of our communication with others happens online.  We are sold the idea that these communications are a necessary way to work and live in the modern world.  Perhaps there is some small truth to that in many styles of work.  But perhaps now that we have become familiar with the tricks of the online companies who vie for our attention, we can become more mindful about how and why we use these online platforms.

This is my intention.

At about the same time as Newport’s book found its way to me, another arrived in the mail.  This one, a gift from a dear friend who has championed my work in many ways for years now and with whom I’ve shared many of the struggles of being a gentle-minded artist in an often cruel world.  

 

Even at my healthiest, it is difficult to face the realities of this world without being sad.  Images in the news, in spite of my respite from social media, have haunted me recently, as I am sure they have everyone.  But many answers can be found in this delightful little tome from two modern spiritual masters…..

“Despair can come from deep grief, but it can also be a defense against the risks of bitter disappointment and shattering heartbreak.  Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope.  To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

The fact that this book has reached my heart and I can hear what it has to say, means I am possibly not as deep into the darkness as I may have feared.  Which is a welcome thought.  But I do continue to ponder things.  To wonder what is holding me back in my work.  What keeps me from doing the Deep Work that Cal Newport speaks of?

I feel like there has been a somewhat of an upshot to recent events, both universally and personally.  Perhaps this is me grasping at a silver lining, but I like to think I have hope.  I like to think that people are, for the most part good.  In spite of the fact that the news reports only the bad.

We have a man coming to power in this great country who has encouraged and emboldened bigotry and misogyny in his followers.  The upshot here is that Saturday Night Live is practically writing itself and in spite of how terrifying a world our president elect presents to us, we have a weekly opportunity to laugh.  Another upshot is that we have uncovered a lot of hatred and ignorance in our fellow countrymen. Perhaps we can heal a bit of that somehow.  I don’t know.

Again with regard to the election, I’ve heard my thoughts above about our collective relationship with the online world echoed by many people I know.  I think we are all recalibrating our idea of what it means to connect with others, professionally and personally, especially via the internet.  This has to be a good thing.  I have also seen a rise in activism in folks who used to stay more quiet about politics in order to keep the peace (myself included).  We are not staying silent any longer.  I believe this to be a good thing as well.   Even if it means getting into an occasional heated discussion.

The arrival of this dreaded chest cold virus, it’s timing in coming along with the holidays has given me pause; caused me to somehow hit an inner reset button.  I truly feel a sea change has been set in motion and I have the inkling of a plan in place to follow as I feel better each day.

We’ve had some new electric lines installed in the bedroom I now use as a studio.  This means I can safely plug in a space heater for these single digit temperature days (we live in a drafty old place) and multiple lighting sources, and perhaps a printer!  The space is a tangled mess just now due to the construction and to my own fragmented state leading up to all of this recent upheaval in general.  I see this all as a good thing as well.  A shaking up of the status quo.  I now realize I have been running on a sort of auto-pilot.  Playing a whack-a-mole game with my work that had me running after every little idea in toddler fashion.  No wonder I fell ill.  No wonder, that along with the wildly fascinating election cycle, I found myself unable to tear away from the online candy/junk-food in my day to day.  It seemed the only quiet place I had was my day job where I would dig into a book on tape or a podcast.  I am ready to find depth in my studio work once again.  Diving into my sketch journal work and illustration with renewed vigor.  With kids home for the holidays, there will be some reorganization of what little storage space we have so that I can streamline my workspace by removing what isn’t currently in use.   And with this renewed, more spare set of goals and supplies, perhaps some deeper work will get done.

Clarity.  It is, indeed, my chosen word for 2017.  I am grateful that some of this much needed clarity is befalling me already, before the arrival of the New Year even.  I have many times felt the need to back away from life online as the noise became too much.  But I have never felt such a deep desire to really come to some balance of power with it all in such a way as these recent weeks and months have caused.  As I read Deep Work especially, I came to realize that in the grand scheme of things, I am not too badly ingrained in life online and I am capable of balance, in spite of how badly I needed a break.  I do allow for boredom on a routine basis, I do forget where I put my phone.  I write real letters and go out weekly to play music with real friends.  My dear friend Penny and I come together about quarterly for a meal out somewhere to catch up and sample fine food together.  If the phones come out, it is merely to share a photograph.  We don’t “check in” online when we do this.

All of this being said, I do need the online world in the work I do.  And I have gotten a LOT of good from the majority of my efforts there.  I love crafting these blog posts and disseminating them on the various platforms.  I love sharing my work and ideas and snapshots into my working life, which is, after all quite personal.  I have made true friends via my online presence.  (I’m looking at you, Lee, Angie, CC!!)  But there needs to be a shift.  I still plan to check in now and again online and post here and there.  Likely more so on instagram vs. Twitter or Facebook.  (If you are on Instagram, you can find me at ‘abeefrnd’.)  If these platforms are how you catch the odd post, then consider signing up to subscribe to my blog posts here so you can be sure to see them.  And if you have comments, bring them here as well!  I’d like to consolidate a bit.  That’s all.  My plan is to spend less time jumping around looking for connections and responses.  I cannot chase an audience through online tools which may or may not be sharing my posts with ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ depending upon the logarithm du jour.

As you can probably tell with how wordy this particular post has become, these things have been floating around in my mind for a while now.  And they provide a rather complicated flotsam and jetsam of approaches and opinions dependent upon each person and how they want to live their lives.  I just know myself.  I am distractible to begin with and have allowed myself to fall prey to the tantalizing online distractibility many of us have over the last few years, and especially in recent months due to the election.  But now my eyes are open.  I have renewed commitment to a mindfulness in the place these distractions hold in my life.  I value my own work and sense of peace enough to direct what comes into my internal sphere and when.   I’ll read news when I choose to, not when I see ‘click-bait’.  I will reach out to friends when I think of them. (I do this already, but don’t be surprised if instead now it’s via a postcard or a phone call to go for a walk.)

I’d love your thoughts on all of this.  How do you mitigate the effects of the online world to you personally?  I’d love to know.  What tools and tricks do you use?

Many blessings to you my dear readers, wherever this missive may find you this holiday season.  I wish you light and joy and togetherness and peace into the New Year.

In(sta)sanity

img_5508

I don’t know about y’all, but I feel rode hard and put away wet after this last week or so.  That statement may seem like an uber-use of the vernacular, but I am after all, an Appalachian.  I’ve always known this to be true, as my kin hail from Breathett County Kentucky, but today I read it in the paper.  And during tough times, I look to my tough heritage for strength.

The mountains are burning.  And some days it seems, if we are to believe the bright screens we cling to,  so is the world at large.  Naively I thought the end of the election would bring about some solace.  But hateful things do not always recede.  At times, if they are repeated and retweeted, they become the reality only a small few desired.

And so, each day, I attempt to fathom the next step.  Not only for our nation necessarily, but for me.  As an artist.  As a maker.  As a purveyor of whimsy and (I hope) beauty in this big ol’ goofy world of ours.

I have read here and there that social media took a high profile part in the election of this new reich and I do not doubt it.  We live in a vastly different world than even just at the last election.  These platforms are part of our lives, whether we wanted them to be or not.  It is up to us to determine how much of it gets into our inner sphere.  It’s not as simple as turning off the television anymore.  We must be vigilant, especially as artists who trade in the visual, to closely monitor what reaches the inner sanctums of our minds and hearts.

In the perhaps misguided attempt to find an answer to ‘How Did We Get Here?’, I have recently instigated conversations with Trump supporters in my own network of family and life-acquaintances.  I have looked at surveys on what makes our society tick.  (Please, please, please.  Watch this documentary.  It’s important.)  And I am still without an answer, and alas, with some serious tensions in relationships of old.

I’ve deleted and retreated a bit, I’ll admit.  In the interest of my own sanity and my policy of ‘Only Light In, Only Light Out’ (which lets face it, paying attention to the news causes to slip a bit), I’ve taken to seeking out my fellow artists and thinkers for comfort.  My critics would call this my ‘echo chamber’.   But I would counter, I have work to do.  And I am finding it hard to do the work I am called to do in a culture of hatred and speedy, snarky commentary that I cannot even read in real time, let alone respond to.

So how to navigate this?  ‘Find your tribe’.  While I am fortunate enough to have real, live, fellow artists to gather with and seek support from in my ‘real world’ here, I am also eternally grateful for my online community who live all over the globe.  I can reach out and seek out the very words I need to get into a hopeful, studio-friendly, art-making state of mind.  The Instagram platform of social media is especially powerful in this way and today especially, it did not disappoint.  The lovely Pixie Lighthorse spoke on her Instagram page on how the acts of stirring soup and tending to home fires can be as powerful as those of outer activism.  And photographer Morgan Wade provided the pep-talk I needed this morning asking the vital questions we must answer as makers….

What wakes me up?   Coffee.  (still working on the deeper more philosophical question here.)  Music, beauty, a brisk walk.  Time with loved ones.

What and who am I fighting for?  My people.  This includes myself, my children, my family, my neighborhood, my community, my nation.  (that is the who).  The what?  Kindness, civility.  A slowing down/backing up of all the awful.  I think my work tends to these tasks in some way.

What kind of world do I want to live in and pass onto our children?  One in which we mustn’t constantly walk in fear.  One in which we can be ourselves.  One in which judgement doesn’t play such a deep role in our sense of self.

What softens me to myself?  Letting go.  Of judgement. Of fear.  Playing music and making pictures.

So this recent in(sta)sanity, combined with music played with friends at the local session, and before that, a Brazilian Jazz Combo show by my oldest and his jazz mates….

fullsizerender

…. further combined with the doodling of my own set of characters…..

img_5481

….has me feeling, for the moment at least, a bit more on an even keel.

Here is the thing.  I doodle.  And usually those doodles amount to nothing more than putting little creatures into people-like clothing, and creating little stories with the pictures.  It seems so simple.  But at the heart of it, it is not simple.  At the heart of things, I make drawings of small, vulnerable creatures who try to make sense of a world that is so much bigger than they are.  In this way I think I speak to everyone just trying to get along in this big, overwhelming world and not become prey to the likes of our president-elect.

I have a number of other little ‘rodent-in-clothing’ drawings that I can’t yet share but know that I am at the drawing board daily, between spells of tears, and that I am desperately biting back the desire to run away in a caravan or high-powered zeppelin.

luggage-tag-ginger

 

Under Pressure.

I am just returned from an intensely inspiring conference at the Mazza Museum, an oasis of beauty and innocence in northwestern Ohio of all places.  If you are anywhere near Findlay, Ohio and have an interest in or love of children’s picture books, I highly recommend a visit.   The weekend conference seemed to be geared toward teachers and librarians, the very folks who use and champion the work of people who make illustrated books for kids (in whose ranks I will be one day!!)  There were also a couple of us art folks lurking in the audience as well of course but it was really wonderful to meet such lovely educators and book enthusiasts.

The panel of authors and artists was top notch.  top-notch-panel

We heard from David Wiesner who spoke eloquently about “worlds within worlds within worlds”.  He signed not only the book I picked up for my nephew, but also my sketch book.  I consider this inspiring glitter to have been bestowed upon my lowly book.

david-wiesner

Next day we heard about “sharing the truth of the world”, “clinging to a raft in a sea of doubt”, and how publishing a book is like an electrical impulse going pole to pole to pole from author Tony Abbot.  He also discussed the tremendous responsibility behind the notion of telling a good story, whether through words, pictures, or both.

tony-abbot

“Children are a much more important audience than adults.” ~Laurie Halse Anderson

Sergio Ruzzier talked of his love of picture books as a child when the ones with too many words proved overwhelming.  I am anxious to try out pen and ink in a new way after his demonstration and talk.  His books are beautiful, and his lecture was really entertaining.

sergio

Brian Biggs’ series Tinytown books (among stacks of many he’s made) are all about “creating a world I want to live in.”  Amen.

Nikki McClure had me in tears during her speech, as I have been on the verge of tears ever since the election and all that has gone with it.  She was honest and vulnerable in her talk as she too spoke of deep grief over the meaning of recent events.  They are not trivial and are not politics as usual.  She spoke straight to my heart.

“Make.  Learn.  Speak.”

“Books are a place of calm and centering.”

“Trust the child.”

“Draw. Draw. Draw.  Thinking comes later.”

“Books should have food in them.”

“Use color to tell the story.”

“All you need is a pencil.  All you need is a dream.”  (in which I am, once again, weeping.)

Dan Santat finished off the conference, exhausted from what seems like a grueling touring schedule, with an inspiring talk about his own work and the trajectory it’s taken.  He talked of embracing boredom, and being comfortable in your own skin as an artist.  That is where one can find one’s individual style.  I shared with him this sweet image of my good friend Alice who is a huge fan of Beekle.

alice

All in all, it was just what my gentle heart needed after this past week.  I had to drive through the heart of Trump-ville to get there but it was worth it.  And I cried some more on the way home, allowing my grief to flow, although I know the conservatives who voted for our new President-Elect just don’t understand this depth of sadness and are asking us to get over it and stop being such crybabies.

Well here’s the thing.  Perhaps it’s this election and all of the vitriol involved.  Perhaps it’s the essence of middle age.  But I am done being told, in ways subtle as well as straight up obvious, how to feel.  About anything.  To be an artist, in my truly humble opinion, is to have an open heart.  To feel deeply whatever it is I am feeling.  There is really no other way to our best work.  And so I weep.

The Mazza conference was just the shot in the arm I needed just now.  I feel recommitted to getting my stories and pictures out to publishers and eventually into the hands of teachers and librarians and children themselves.  I had spent the days before this conference wondering how to move forward from here in a country so hell bent on moving backward in time.  We had come so far and yet now, we tilt back into a time of rekindled hatred and distrust.  It is heartbreaking.

So the pressure is on now, to give love a chance.   I leave you here with some Bowie and Queen.  In hope.  Under Pressure.

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love
Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure
Under pressure
Pressure

While we’re together (A very Oberlin wedding – illustrated)

sometimes, photos aren’t enough to convey the richness of a magical time with those we love.  sometimes, we need the drawn interpretations of a journal entry or a few sonic scrapbook snippets as lenses through which to taste this fleeting magic…….

battleground

(push play…. just below. enjoy the harmony, and perhaps, a guffaw or two…)

gods-2

handmade-finery

promisestoasts-and-teajigs-and-reelsdancing

eventually, as many magic times do, festivities melted into songs over cups of tea, and a few more sips of celebratory libation by those who were on that path….  here are a few more tracks of songs sung, littered with the sounds of toasts being made, more laughter, and some scratchy sketching here and there just near the recording device.  Best wishes Alex and Rae.  You are loved.

 

For Friendship

best-of-friends

For Friendship

May you be blessed with good friends,

and learn to be a good friend to yourself

Journeying to that place in your soul where

There is love, warmth, and feeling.

May this change you.

May it transfigure what is negative, distant,

Or cold within your heart.

May you be brought into real passion, kindness,

And belonging.

May you treasure your friends.

May you be good to them, be there for them

And receive all the challenges, truth and light you need.

May you never be isolated but know the embrace

Of your anam cara.

~John O’Donohue

Last weekend my good friend Tina and I took a rather long road trip north to Vermont to visit another good friend of mine, Kristin, newly moved to Burlington from Portland.  It was indeed a whirlwind weekend, bookended by many, many hours in the car.  All of it flew by in a flash, and yet seemed to go on for ages as well.  That’s the thing about friendship.  It’s a time bending endeavor.

We laughed harder than we had in ages.  We cried at the shared human experience.  We talked of art and politics, motherhood and menopause.  We dreamed artful ideas which seem ever more real when discussed with our anam cara, our soul friends.

It was a blessing to see my old friend in her new neighborhood, which finally seems like a place she and her family can settle for the long term.  It was an equal blessing to have my other old friend along for the drive, which due to our chit-chat and shared reading and pondering and wonderment, seemed not to be a long drive at all.

But the best blessing of all is that these two now know each other truly, having only met in passing before now.  It was like we had all known each other our whole lives.  Which, perhaps, we have.

It’s worth working on friendships, in spite of or perhaps especially when, life gets in the way.

 

Musical Activism

“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.

Pavilion Wedding at the Swanannoa Gathering

I am returned, once again, from the magical world of the Swannanoa Gathering, which this year celebrates it’s 25th anniversary.  And once again, it was quite the week of music and mayhem, tunes and tricks, laughter and love, friendship and food, beverages and beauty.

There are many ideas floating around in my head for drawings and illustrations seeded by this past week which I shall soon share here of course.  Art begets art and by spending the week with so many talented and creative folks, I am fairly swimming in artful thought-glitter!!

As you can see, there is much joy to be had in a week at the Swannanoa Gathering.  This is so very sorely needed in this heavy world at what feels like a very dark time.  I was keenly aware of the bits of the outside world which seemed to follow us beyond the mists into this special place.

mists of reality closing in

But in spite of dark times and a world awash with so much hatred and violence, we came together, once again.  A dear friend of mine from Swannanoa overheard someone say one night at a ceili where everyone dancing seemed to have a smile on their shining faces, “Why can’t we be like this all the time?  All of us?”  I don’t think he meant just us at the gathering, but maybe more the world at large.

ceili fun
Yes, for a brief second, Cillian Vallely was a dancer.

So hard not to smile in the midst of this music.  Heartfelt, Joy-filled….

And in the midst of all of the fun, we were there to learn.  Everyday, we went to the classes available to us to soak up all the tunes and tips we could from our multi-talented instructors.  For me, this was Nuala Kennedy in the morning, and Kevin Crawford in the afternoons.

The rapport and sense of play these two bring to teaching and playing and performing is simply infectious and I find them both incredibly inspirational in my own teaching work as well as of course, the music itself.

class begins

Nuala teaches

in which kevin hunts down a roving F #
“who’s playin’ that F sharp lads?? it was over here somewhere…”

Neither one of them lets us get away with anything but our very best work and so on the edge of our seats, we huffed away on our flutes and learned so very much.  My mind is still quite thick with all of the information we gained over the week!

The week was not all classes though….

There were concerts, lectures, opportunities to play more slowly on a new instrument.  There were sessions till all hours of the night.  And of course lots of laughter and community with friends.  Here is a small sampling…..

slow real slow
Slow, real slow. Slow session needs a reminder to slow down sometimes, so a sign was placed to much laughter!

 

peaceable kindom
John Skelton cracks up at a flute ‘truce’ between Nuala and Kevin, who often are seen as camp rivals. All in good fun!!
A highlight of the week was this blast of flutes playing all together. This sound is one of main reasons I got into playing flute in the first place.
A highlight of the week was this blast of flutes playing all together. This sound is one of main reasons I got into playing flute in the first place.

 

clash with the fiddles
The fiddles didn’t take too kindly to the notion of ‘Rejecting the tyranny of the fiddle’!

 

Ellen and I attempted to stay dry whilst at dinner one night. We look rather sweet and somewhat Parisian or something I believe!
Ellen and I attempted to stay dry whilst at dinner one night. We look rather sweet and somewhat Parisian or something I believe!

(side note: during the storm, a huge lighting strike occurred on campus.  it hit a tree and out went the power.  it was captured in this amazing sound byte by my friend Mary….. listen for at least 40 seconds…..)

 

Love walks
These two celebrated their second anniversary this year at the gathering where they were married. (click!  It’s a link to the post about the Swannanoa Pavilion Wedding.)

 

misty selfie
So steamy at times there in the North Carolina mountains!

 

last night's songs
A song between old friends.

 

In which we concertina beginners hang on by any G we can grab onto!
In which we concertina beginners hang on by any G we can grab onto!
Nights in the breezeway provided lovely acoustics and a break away from the crowds round the regular session tents.
Nights in the breezeway provided lovely acoustics and a break away from the crowds round the regular session tents.

 

The walk from our living quarters to meals and other things over on campus.
The walk from our living quarters to meals and other things over on campus.
Woodland wildlife
Many folk saw bears around campus, but all I got were some tree-giraffes….

 

The food served up by Osborne and Pei En is so scrumptious! They treat us so well. Thanks for this snapshot Bob!!
The food served up by Osborne and Pei En is so scrumptious! Over the years they’ve become good friends who welcome us back kindly. Thanks for this snapshot Bob!!

There is so much more in the world of sweet snapshots I could share with you here.  Special thanks to my flute friends Kate, Bob and Colin who generously shared their pictures for this post.  And I could leave the update here and that might be the end of it.  But while we were at camp, the world was continuing on its crazed path of recent self destruction.  News was leaking in.  The music we were making took on a whole new gravity.

As is often the case, the ‘Flutilla’ was planning some mischief for the end of week student showcase.  In years past we had made fun with the ‘rivalry’ between Nuala and Kevin, as our allegiance to them both made them often wonder, ‘hmmmm, who do the flute kids like best?’  But of course we love them both equally and we get something different from each.   So this year, we took on the fiddles.  Which seemed a fun direction to go, based on the hijinks at the concert the other night.  And so I drew up a little drawing, and we made a plan for take over in the form of wearable art…..

 

 

Reject the tyranny of the fiddle!!!! (coined originally by Kieran O'Hare)
Reject the tyranny of the fiddle!!!! (coined originally by Kieran O’Hare)

Update!!!:  Due to the high level of interest in this design, I have created a tidied up version of it to put on products such as totes, shirts and the like which you can order from the link below.  Proceeds will go toward a scholarship to Celtic Week at the Swannanoa Gathering.  Viva la Flutilla!!!!

Resistance is Flutile

Visit my Society6 page HERE (click on ‘here’)  🙂 

But then we awoke the next morning to read the dreadful news of Nice and beyond and we approached the day more somberly.  I had the feeling that my blog post from before leaving for camp was even MORE important and we all talked about how important and actually ‘serious’ the ‘fun’ we were having at camp truly is.

My dear friend Joe Bly wrote a gorgeous poem, in true mythical epic poem format that had begun with the ‘let’s take down the fiddles’ sort of approach and idea.  But as he wrote it, it changed.  Into something bigger and better than all of that.  With his poem, the ‘tyranny’ we speak of became all that is evil in the world at large.  All the violence and negativity.  The work and fun we embarked upon at the Swannanoa Gathering is the rejection of all of that.  The folks I know from the gathering go back to their real lives as doctors, teachers, paramedics, therapists, healers, parents, lawyers and beyond.  They are bright and active in their communities and keenly aware of the news.  And into that work in the outside world, they bring the laughter and creativity that a week of music camp can ignite.  I simply marvel.

Cloaked in the mists of Tír na nÓg, the Otherworld of Swannanoa, Where three hundred days pass as three, Rival Clans of the Blackwood vied in feats of strength and skill, Lost in the Loop of myths and legends.

Come! Ye Fianna of the Flute! Daughters of Méabh, Sons of Cúchulainn! Come forth from the mists and meet in the ford of the river that divides us, For now is the time to cast arms beneath the waves And in Friendship and Honor Unite.

We are reborn as warriors anew as we march forth into the shining day.

For are we not free? For do we not face the shadow of a common foe, Hearts and eyes open wide?

For we shall not grovel in fear of the Darkness But serve the light of the clear morning.

Behold! The fog lifts! We shall Behave the Bravest, as we find Common Ground, Carrying the Tune before us as the new standard of peace and fellowship.

We are the new Druids, raising our staffs of

Blackwood, Horsehair, Silver Wire and Skin.

We cradle the sacred rite passed down through the mists of legends, And it is our sworn honor to push together against the night, With our strength and our weapons of music and laughter.

Now, more than ever.

I do believe that Joe may have channeled something divine in this poem.  He read it  aloud at the showcase before the flutes came together as one and played a jig together in unification.

The shirts and our grand plan were secret so we handed them out 'trunk sale' style in back of the pavilion. Great fun!
The shirts and our grand plan were secret so we handed them out ‘trunk sale’ style in back of the pavilion. Great fun!
There are so many of us when we band together!!!
There are so many of us when we band together!!!
star teachers
Everyone flutey wore the shirt. It was grand!!!

The evening wore on and there were so many gorgeous tunes and songs put on by everyone….  We soaked up and steeped in the final evening together.

Jack played in the showcase with his fiddle class taught by Martin Hayes, the Buddha of the Fiddling world
Jack played in the showcase with his fiddle class taught by Martin Hayes, the Buddha of the Fiddling world

As the week came to an end, we all talked much of not only the music we had experienced, but also of the wisdom we were given by those who light this musical path.

martin speaks of presence
Martin Hayes is a font of musical life wisdom and I love him for it!

A highlight of the week for me was a ‘potluck’ lecture-talk put on by Martin Hayes who is a great fiddler, not only in the traditional sense but also as one who is constantly pushing the boundaries of the music itself.  He spoke of being truly present in our music and that to do that we must be present with ourselves.  This notion of presence really struck me.

When I play music, or make art, I am most truly present.  And the doing of these things over the years has enriched my life and caused me to be more present in all aspects of my life.  Presence.  It’s crucial.  Presence in ourselves.  Presence with each other.  This alone could help heal a lot in this world, I do believe.

some notes jotted down from martin…

“…raw beauty of a melody.”

“simple music, heartfelt.”

“connective tissue between musician, instrument, and player”

“anything that further releases inner expression is valid”

“allowing.”

“trying is an obstacle”   (yoda??  is that you???)

“presence”

“leave the safety zone behind”

“trust the unknown.”

“create a spell.”

Last week at Swannanoa was more than just music.  It felt a lot like activism.  Pursuing creativity and kindness, music and beauty in a world so hell bent on the opposite seems like an insurmountable challenge at times.  But I accept this challenge.  As best as I know how to.  I share my approach to art work in the form of teaching and I’ve been told it has changed lives for the better.  Much in the way my instructors at Swannanoa and beyond have changed mine.

I am deeply grateful to be on this beautiful planet at the same time as these people.  These musicians and friends of mine.  The world needs their beauty.  My beauty.  and Yours.

“Sing and you shall defeat death; sing and you shall disarm the foe.” – Elie Wiesel.

It bears repeating.