Category Archives: life

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

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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…..

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….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…)

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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

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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.

 

Chip of a Star

This time last week, hard to believe, I was packing up boxes and cases, making last minute visits to loved ones in my home away from home, grasping hugs and goodbyes to new and old friends alike, with promises not to forget.

big sky at mabels

It’s easy to come back home to our day to day lives and forget the work we have done while in Taos.  The week out there being just one in a year full of so many work-a-day weeks.  Weeks when we might be tempted to forget the importance of our day to day creativity.  And how crucial that creativity and the belief in it are to a Life Well Lived.

Air BandB girls

Each year I marvel at how a little class focusing on keeping a daily visual journal can become such Big Work.  It IS Big Work.  And I mustn’t forget.

swag  For myself in my own practice of it, and for my students as well.  What once started as an art class with some sketching and gathering involved, has morphed into a week each summer where some like minded folks come together to open up to the world.

It’s really as simple as that.  And as complicated.

I’ll attempt here to share a little bit of what we accomplished this year in Taos.

First off, re: the little ditty at the very above.  I really miss my Taosñas.  Each is a beautiful Chip of a Star.  Every year whoever needs this class comes to it.  I panic a little as registrations come in (or don’t) and remind myself that this is not up to me.  My job is to put it out there and those who are supposed to be there, will be there.  This year was no different.  I had some repeat attendees whom I hope benefitted from new tricks, and some newbies whom I hope are affected forever by the power of the work.  I really, really miss them.  We somehow manage to pack a year in a day, everyday, day after day.  And every morning they’d show up at breakfast, exhausted, raw and ready for more, much like myself.

Pictures cannot do the week justice.  But I have a few snapshots to share, and a few more words as well.

mabel speaks 2

I arrived in Taos and the town was hopping, unlike usual.  The Mabel and Company show was making quite the splash down at the Harwood, and if you are in town, I recommend you see it.  This place has attracted artists and movers and shakers since before history.  The show at the Harwood gives us a snapshot of one such time in history when the attraction was especially compelling to the likes of Georgia Okeeffe, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence.

Georgias cross

On both the front and back ends of this trip personally, I opted to get out of town and visit the old Lawrence Ranch, now owned, operated and managed by the University Of New Mexico.  I was blown away by the sense of place I found there.
DHL rests

In particular, the famed Lawrence Tree captured my imagination and the interest of my pencil.  I truly enjoyed spending time with this tree.

to touch the lawrence tree

In my heart of hearts, I think each tree has a soul of sorts, but like people, some trees have a soul which shines brighter than most.  This is one such tree.  And Georgia O’Keeffe knew it herself.

 

It was an honor to spend some time with it.  Humbling as well.  Because, let’s face it, not all of us are Georgia’s.  We must all find our own way.

NM skies from the Morada

Meanwhile, folks arrived and gathered and we began the week with some exercises “where the tight are loosened, and the frightened are freed.”

loosening up Sallys contour drawing day 1 Day one loosens

I love the energy of these early drawings.  And wish I had gotten more images of all of the work done that morning.  Basically, we laid some locally found color down and then did some contour drawing over top.  But the end product was less about what was on the page and more about what remained in the heart of the artists themselves.  Suddenly, those who came to the table buttoned up with all kinds of amazing skills, found their work loosening and changing and growing.  And the beginners, well, they had these gorgeous instant drawings they didn’t know they were capable of creating!!  It was pure magic.

Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, the Pueblo had a dance to attend.  So we moved the afternoon class to the evening, and traveled en masse to witness the dancing.

I have taken to not posting much about what we witness at these dances at/in the Pueblo itself, as they are sacred, and really only to be witnessed first hand.  But overall, for Day 1 of an art workshop, this was kind of a spiritual ticket to the delicious underworld of it all.  Someone remarked that the energy in the classroom that evening was more like that of Day 4 than Day 1, and I credit that to the workings of the day at the Pueblo.

L'Engle truth

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As the week went on, day two into day three, all began to roll together.  I had structure laid down for the work each day, but into that structure, Magic came.  And the days, once again stretched and changed and became Other.

Creativity is really just the structuring of Magic. 

~Anne Rush

NM skies

Lani sketches

In the past we have had the great pleasure of visiting the buffalo herd of my now dear friend Harold Cordova.  In spite of some serious new responsibility on his shoulders we once again paid a visit to these amazing animals who were nursing some new members of their herd and shyly introduced us….

buffs 3buffs 2buffs in situ

As usual, these regal beasts wove their way into our hearts and into our sketchbooks.

buffs sketch Christinas buffs

And in the spirit of the endlessness of the days of this particular trip, I found time that evening to play some tunes with local Taos friends who have become dear to me over the years.  In spite of teaching all day.  In spite of a spiritual visit to some otherworldly animal friends.   Eventually, we did this twice during my time there this year.  Again, I marvel.  At the sheer deliciousness of it all.

taos tunes
photo credit to Linda Dietrich

Of course, all work and no play, make Amy an insufficient instructor, and so I did manage to get my feet up now and then, as per the instructions of the history of the house….

dennis hammock

I’m no Dennis Hopper, but I do know how to put my feet up .  Special shout out to my dear friend Jamison who set this bit of relaxation up for me there.  All in keeping with the spirit of the house.

hammock time

(yes, this hammock was in the same spot as Dennis’s hammock back in the day.  Amazing how the stories of old speak to us in this day and age, via something so simple as a hammock.)

Meanwhile, we worked and worked and worked….. (and I took a few  – but not many- pictures.)

anitas lani a la F Franckdrawing the pueblosketching cloudssallys mountainssketching tara

Sadly and soon, it was time for our annual end of workshop dinner….

beauty repeatingfinal tearfull dinner

The food at Mabel’s was, per the usual, show stopping.  They are true artists.  And we are grateful for the gorgeous, plated dinner to which we were treated that evening.  (not to mention, the breakfasts and lunches day to day!!!)  No dinner in Taos that evening could have compared to ours, I am certain of it.  The food and the people of my day-to-day in Taos are what I am missing the most, really.

the view to the loo

I am now back in Ohio.  I have lots of delicious plans for further travels with loved ones and into musical mires which themselves transcend time and space much like my time in Taos.  But these are different than Taos, and I am still missing my time there.  The me there.  The Us there.  There is a small bit of me that hangs onto it throughout the rest of the year.  A bit that only those Who Have Been There can really relate to.

My goal is not to forget.  Not to forget how crucial this work is in a crazy world so hell bent on crushing delicate creativity.  Not to forget how Big this work is when sometimes my day-to-day feels so very small.  Not to forget that lives have been and are being changed by the simple act of keeping a journal, or of making a little drawing of something beautiful each day.  This is important.  This, is work worth doing.

In the end, I think Lani Potts, a workshop participant this year and also an artist and a poet, put it most beautifully in this poem which found its way into her journal….

Lanis Poem

GO FORTH, AND DOODLE.

go forth and doodle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enlightened

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It seemed like it would never stop raining.  This gorgeous, flower-filled spring time of ours has lingered on and on in its misty, fog-filled mornings and cold temperatures.  I actually really love cool temps and soft rain showers.  A part of myself could probably even live in a place like Ireland.  But here in Ohio, folks have done planted their tomatoes and are wonderin’, ‘when will we get some predictable sunshine and finally dry out???’

The past day or so we have had not only dryness, but sunshine.  Sunshine worthy of summer’s glory.  This sunshine has put me in mind for New Mexico, which for me and my intrepid sketch journalers, is just around the bend!  I am grateful to be warm (but not yet sweltering, thank heavens!), and grateful that travel season is only a matter of weeks away.  I am grateful for work that takes me to beautiful places to spend time with interesting people.  And I am grateful for friends, family and ‘faminals’ who welcome me home when that work is done.  Today, I am grateful for sunshine, a full day in the studio (with a couple hours off to paint some walls at our local art center) and the sense that the real work of summer is upon me.  Looking forward to getting back to Taos, drawing and painting all I can capture!

Be sure and follow my adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in the coming months.  I’ll be sure to share lots of images, and will blog when I can!

At One

We are down to one hen, having lost the family favorite, mischievous, curious, moxie-laden Bernadine.  Her personality here on our little acre of land will be sorely missed.  11295616_10206664562194990_1017598909952787150_n

That leaves us with Elvyra, who was kind of the extra one from the beginning.  We went to the little farm in Kentucky to get four chicks, and came home with 5.  The farmer suggesting ‘that little easter-egger over there’ might be a good one to have if we wanted a pretty flock.

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And pretty she is.

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Of all of the flock, this one has been the quiet one.  Part of the flock enough to be safe, but not overly keen on human attention or affection.  Having read that lone hens are prone to depression and rapid decline, I have been keeping a close eye on Elvyra, but so far, she seems ok.

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She preens her feathers regularly and scritches around the garden and woods for bugs and fresh spring green things.  She’s still laying daily and roosts  predictably at night.  She is eager to de-coop in the morning and join me for a cup of coffee and some treats on the back stoop.  It’s become a bit of a thing for me lately amidst this crazy time of year.

There is just something so soothing about watching a hen peck around the yard for a bit each day.

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Even if it is just the one.

 

I’m gearing up for the Taos trip here in a few weeks and so have ramped up my yoga practice and running routine to get my head on straight, to be the best I can be for my incoming students.  Spring can be a frenetic season with graduations and birthdays to be celebrated, chores to be caught up on and of course the usual day to day work to be done.  Busy.  a word I loathe, but to which I must occasionally succumb.  I am woefully behind in my own sketchbook, but have instead been at the easel a bit each week in a painting course I decided to take from Manifest Drawing Center here in town.  I am learning  a lot in this class about color and painting in oil paints, some of which I hope to apply to my own teaching out west.  It’s important to me not to rest on laurels and to always be finding new things to share in my classes.  I am keenly aware that to do this work is a great gift.  I do not take it for granted.

While we are down in numbers in the avian world, our canine sphere is fit to burst since last year.  It’s nearly a year since we took over the stewardship of my Mama-in-law’s little dog Charlie.

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She was not as little as she really should be when she first joined us.  But with some exercise and the company of other dogs, she has trimmed out a good bit and her more boisterous personality has begun to shine (read, bark).

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Charlie seems quite happy here with us and still makes regular visits back home to Mom as well, which is good for everyone.

And so, on this very average day, I must get back to work.  Attempting the task of getting ahead of myself a bit before the summer travels begin in earnest; pondering the One-ness of all things via the simple avenues of home – ‘fanimals’ and family.

Til next time….