Solstice dawns bright and beautiful. I head outside with a hot cup of coffee and three eager dogs and marvel at the pink light on a lovely sycamore across the creek from us. I snap a little photo with the ever present phone, as you do in this day and age.
Just after capturing the image, I hear crows calling and they fly into the frame with the same sycamore and I think that would have been a nice photo as well, but I merely stand and watch them fly and listen to a snippet of their airborne conversings amongst one another.
The dogs snuffle around on the ground, surely on the trail of deer, fox or coyote who wander in the night.
After a bit I am chilled (and so is my coffee) so we head inside. I check the usual electra-outlets of things and am thankful for a well curated online sphere. There will be news when I decide to take on the days’ burnings, but for this morning, which is Solstice, I opt to seek beauty for a bit. To sift my intake through the lens of loveliness.
The Splendid Table did a piece a while ago on the country of Georgia and it’s culinary traditions. They discussed which foods would be presented, and how they might be served (in lots of lovely small dishes), and that often, between courses, those at table might take to singing. This morning I am once again reminded of Georgian singing via a post by a musical acquaintance. And now, thanks to him, these lovely singers are in my ears as I ponder the still point in the turning of the world. Somehow these minored harmonies are a fitting soundtrack to the day.
We must be so very careful what we feed ourselves just now. There is so much work to be done in the world. On some days, the prospect of shifting the huge paradigms which must be shifted if we are to survive, seems insurmountable. Music, powerful art, the magic of poetry all serve to shore us up and supplement our souls during these dark days. Nourishment.
I’m grateful for the gatherers of words who keep me nourished online. Here are just a couple of examples…..
Shapechangers in Winter (excerpt)
This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.
Taking hands like children
lost in a six-dimensional
forest, we step across.
The walls of the house fold themselves down,
and the house turns
itself inside out, as a tulip does
in its last full-blown moment, and our candle
flares up and goes out, and the only common
sense that remains to us is touch,
as it will be, later, some other
century, when we will seem to each other
even less what we were.
But that trick is just to hold on
through all appearances; and so we do,
and yes, I know it’s you;
and that is what we will come to, sooner
or later, when it’s even darker
than it is now, when the snow is colder,
when it’s darkest and coldest
and candles are no longer any use to us
and the visibility is zero: Yes.
It’s still you. It’s still you.
I am grateful for my fellow image makers who sprinkle their visual magic around like a healing fairy-dust of sorts.
This past year has been a tumultuous one for much of the world. I find myself in somewhat of a dystopic frame of mind and have had to work quite hard to remain above the fray psychologically. (thank you yoga and the well worn running paths of this here village.)
I wonder, how can I better be of service? How can things change, in part by the actions of small players like myself in the great theater of the world, when our leaders collectively seem hell bent on a path to destruction on the backs of the vulnerable?
I find myself questioning the very systems I once believed undeniable. (I’m looking at you Capitalism.) How can we operate in this world more lightly, how can we exchange work and energy and our livelihoods in a more just way? There are many forging a new path and I find myself becoming a part of that conversation. I choose bartering when I can to the notion of cold hard cash. I read and listen to the words of fellow artisans and writers asking the same hard questions such as Amanda Palmer, Eloïse Sentito, and Ayana Young. All the while, holding on tight to the tail of my work, even when it can feel a bit senseless at times.
It is the season of Christmas parties. At our local illustrators gathering, a few of us talked of how the very act of making books for children is a political one. We tuck the seeds of kindness and compassion in-between the lines and in the imagery of work for children, be that picture books, traditional fairy tales or puppetry. Crafting beauty for the next generation feels like a radical thing indeed these days. Perhaps they will rise up and be the leaders we need. Kind. Compassionate.
My beloved day-job fellows at Carroll Concertinas gathered for dinner last night and talked of the past year’s work. On average, we produce 24 handcrafted, high end concertinas each year. We make all of the parts ourselves and piece them together into these amazing instruments. Our boss and dear friend Wally commended us on our craftsmanship and acknowledged the many other gifts and skills we bring to the table collectively as artists and musicians and fellow human beings. In a some small way, to do this kind of work, at this intimate level, is also a somewhat radical notion. I do not take the gift of this lightly and am deeply grateful. Would that everyone in the world has work which challenges them and makes them happy and compensates them deeply on many levels. That is a world I can wrap my weary brain around.
These are my ponderings on this day, the Solstice, the very time when we catch our breath as the world turns back toward the light. May this metaphor come to pass in the coming months. May we all have the courage to follow the light home to ourselves and to each other. May the mere act of following this light be seen for the very brave thing it is.
Life’s pendulum slowly begins to swing back to a quieter state. Only a smattering of art-related events left to attend to and soon the art work will come home to roost once again where it belongs. Well, most of it. Some small things have sold and will be finding their way to forever homes which feels like an accomplishment of sorts.
Last night, upon returning home myself from an evening of sharing a few tunes with my musical mates, the headlamps of my car alight upon a great buck who has come to pay us a visit. He is regal and quite stately, taking his time crossing the little bridge over our creek.
Today I look for evidence of his brief visit, as he is quite magical and a brain entranced by hours of music can often see things which are not of this world.
I find the evidence in what is left of our recent snow fall, a track across the bridge where my dogs stop to have a sniff of this wild creature’s path.
Playing around with ‘watercolor graphite’ I attempt to draw the buck.
In my drawing he is bulky and strange, but I find myself excited to use this medium which I purchased awhile back and have not yet used much.
Rustiness seems to be the name of the game lately as I have been presenting and exhibiting, showing and teaching, meeting and greeting. A dear friend of mine remarked at my last opening that he could see why I am not a fan of art openings in general (even the fun ones!) because it’s as if ‘you were just getting swallowed by people’. Which feels true.
I am eager to get back to the magic of making.
I have recommitted with a vengeance to the act of daily sketching and outings with our newly sanctioned Urban Sketchers of Cincinnati group are just the ticket to get the pen moving across the page once more.
Though it’s painfully crowded, I manage a warm up sketch at first.
And then a bit later, settle into a quieter place, with a more fantastical little structure to draw.
The rusty drawing skills begin to come to life and I feel the gears slowing down in my bones with pen to paper. It is strangely familiar and I am grateful for years of practice which don’t ever truly leave me.
I finish the sketch at home later that evening with a bit of color.
Our Urban Sketchers group is open to anyone who wants to get out and draw so do join us if you are in the area. I promise we are quite friendly and do not bite unless provoked.
This is a indeed a magical time of year. With the Solstice nearly upon us, in theory we begin to witness a return of light, though the world seems very dark indeed just now. To combat this darkness, we must make magic in our own way.
Over in the land of Twitter, writers Julia Bird and Robert MacFarlane have cooked up a plan for the internet to co-read the novel The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. We begin December 20th, the very same day the story begins, and I am excited to be a part of it. Reading a beautiful classic is a balm in these dire times.
I am inspired by dear friends who have been making magic in the world in very special ways. The first, someone I hike and paddle with, has a job in the world of retail where she knows how to line up deals and coupons to make things quite affordable. She uses this super-power to purchase new coats for those in need to donate to the coat drive at a local charity. This is especially wonderful for the rough and tumble little boys who are so very hard on their coats and therefore gently used coats are few and far-between. I marvel at her spirit of generosity and urge others good at shopping in the world to consider doing something similar.
Another friend has been crafting and conjuring magic in his own way and a few of us closest to him have been presented with a wondrous gift indeed.
A wand. I have other wands. Those with paint-brush tips. But this is a whole new animal indeed. It is a branch of elm, sanded and shaped and bedecked with a gorgeous calligraphy nib for writing and drawing….
It makes lines like a dream. At the other end of this wonderful wand is a little reminder of where my heart lies…
I am truly blessed to know people who play music, make art, walk ever so gently in this world. I aim to be one of them.
Meanwhile, unbelievably (inconceivable?)
It has been 10 years of making magic here in this little online world of mine.
“Creativity is really the structuring of Magic.”
~ anne kent rush
This anniversary time feels momentous. Seismic in its shifting of my work and my thinking and life in general. I look back on the woman who started this blog ten years ago and I know that I have grown and changed.
Around the same time as this blog was getting going, I got my very first tattoo. A moth, rooted. That tattoo has served me well for many years and the symbolism still resonates with me to this day. That said, it had faded a bit and had grown a little tired. When my daughter (now about to turn 21 which here in this country means one is a fully fledged adult) suggests we get tattoos together, I decide to use this opportunity to reinvest in the moth design.
Her idea is to get ferns, each in our own way, to our own liking. Ferns are all about unfurling into one’s true majesty, which I think we both are doing just now as human beings.
She knew right away what she wanted and so, she goes first.
Simple, graphic, hipster. Very her. We both love it.
A few weeks on I come to the idea of reworking my moth and proceed to Flying Tiger Tattoo where my friend and fellow artist Megan Butler works. She comes up with a way to reinvigorate my beloved luna moth, while incorporating the ferns. She also nurtures the root ball of the design, adding in mushrooms to aid this forest inspired work of art, brightening and delineating the roots, giving them room to breathe. I simply could not be happier with it.
It is earthy, bright and beautiful. Colorful and confident. No longer fading. It is more cohesive than the original, more well thought out. It may yet be added to. It is a rich environment for new growth to occur.
All of these things feel applicable to myself just now. Which as I look back on this time last year, fills me with a relief I cherish. This season finds me filled with so much less anxiety and depression, having worked exceptionally hard to shift back into a yoga routine, once again going back to eating vegetarian. Self care and overall health are great gifts indeed. They add to the magic making, at least around here.
And speaking of magic, here are a few more tidbits to share.
Magic in the littlest moments. Noticing. Placing attention on these things….
One of my all time favorite characters in any book is Tiffany Aching. She is a young witch, who is, among other things, “good with cheese.” I like to think she’d be rather proud of my first foray into making cheese. This time, a simple paneer.
And lastly, I leave you with my efforts from the month of October. At the last minute, I opted to take part in “inktober”, putting together an alphabet of creatures as a way to get to know my new fountain pen. It was great fun and I hope to have sets of post cards to share with you in time for the holidays. Prints of individual animals are also available.
*special thanks to my dear and wonderful friend who has allowed me to use her music in my videos over the years. Kim Taylor, you are the very vision of friendship. I love you.
Not two full days home from my blissful week of music in Swannanoa and I find myself flying east to my soul’s home in Maine to visit friends of auld. These are friends who have known me longer than they haven’t, and I am blessed beyond the stars to have them in my life still. As a family we are fragmented this year for what is usually our time of solidarity. But this is how it is to be. One must follow his heart home for recovery after a Big Summer of Big Work; another, I have secretly purchased a two day ticket up to join us for just a moment or two and fingers crossed it all works out as planned (it does). And lastly, our anchor in all things fun, my hub Tony, does his best to come along for just a few days. He is successful and we pack a lot into a couple of days time off.
We spend as much time as possible by the sea or in the sea. Ferrying to our favorite places….
….eating oceanic gifts of the odd lobster or oyster; swimming, beach-combing the ever interesting, ever-changing wrack-line.
To me this is paradise and I collect a few little tid-bits to drag home to paint.
The coastline sets my heart all aflutter – all I want to do is paint. And yet I am restless and frustrated in a way I cannot name – torn between time with those I love and miss all year long, and my desire to make stuff. I also find myself really missing the music I have only just the week prior been steeped in, more so than in other years. Perhaps the music is sinking deeper into the pores after all?
Eventually, the paints do come out. But it takes time.
And keen observation. But the art does come. It starts slowly.
In between boat-trips and cock-tailed laughter, oysters and teenaged catch-ups, we take some time to drive round the old haunts of our early days all together -when there was Peace in the land but our boys did their military duties, deploying too often for our liking, even when babies were due. These are the things that can seal friendships for life.
In spite of hard winters and time apart, we remember our days in Maine with rich fondness. It is one reason we come back each summer.
Chapter 2. – to the lake side
Soon our seaside time was at an end and we were headed inland to a lovely lake house we’ve taken to commissioning for a week each summer. It feels like home, all the while we discuss going full on ocean-time.
We are torn. We love this place.
We love it’s moody skies and ever-changing weather patterning.
And the sunset views, which never disappoint, even on rainier evenings.
Chapter 3 – romancing the stone
Before my family leaves, we take a little kayak jaunt across Long Pond to Beaver Brook where I am captivated by a stone divided into three parts by ancient ice and time and other such forces. I vow to go back to sketch the place, as I have come with nothing but a hat and a paddle.
Soon enough, though surrounded with dear friends, I am left as the only Bogard on vacation which is a strange sensation. Tony has been dubbed the Julie McCoy of the group, always corralling us all to gaming and cocktailing, water-sport contesting and the like and things are really, really quiet with-out him around. This all plucks and strums strings of empty-nesting woes I don’t even think I was aware of until now.
I play it all out in the boat house on my flute.
I make it back over to the little cove where the Beaver Brook runs and the captivating stone resides. I marvel at the language of light and shadow which I can barely translate.
I believe there is something here to translate.
And so I ask the stone to help me.
It’s a start.
I am not one for series usually, but I am called to paint and have been looking for a form I could play with, from painting to painting. Not just the one-and-done sketch I usually go in for. This stone is just the ticket and I am enjoying exploring it’s complexities. There will be more, especially once I am home near the oils. I have traveled lightly this trip.
Chapter 4 – critters large and small
One day I go for a run across the way on the Mountain Road. A place I return to every year for it’s lake views through the trees, its lack of proximity to cars and traffic noise in general. Along the road I find a sweet feather which is eventually identified as a low wing feather of a wild turkey after much back and forth discussion and postulation both online and with my compatriots back at the camp. I even meet a lovely older gentleman along the road who thinks it could be eagle, though my guess is owl. I am not disappointed with turkey, as they are wonderous to behold in the wild.
I set out to sketch this lovely gift before I must leave it behind here where I found it. Sometimes I keep feathers, but this one shall stay.
I appreciate it getting my paint brush filled and setting me to painting, as it comes to me before the stone paintings begin.
This day’s run is truly fruitful as I also spy some horses through the edges of the woods and I stop to capture them with my phone-camera (the only camera I brought this year as I am traveling light. Still not sure about this decision.)
The horses pay me no mind and I think about the wild ponies some artists I follow online are fortunate enough to have in their lives as they go about their daily wanderings. I wonder what I need to do to have more woodland walking right outside my door, more ponies to spy on through the edges of the hedges. This is a constant wondering, as always.
Most times we wander down to the water from our little house here, we are treated to the antics of a local loon family who have some still young but near adult fledglings along with them. I borrow Amy’s proper camera with a decent telephoto lens to capture them up close for this post.
They are absolutely captivating as they call to one another, throughout the days and nights. This is the soundtrack to my dreaming and I am glad of it.
I am indeed glad of dreaming in general as there has been some wakefulness in the household in recent days. A wee mouse has gotten a bit too friendly, joining my friends in bed night before last, which gave them a start indeed. Last night, as lights are out, I hear a rustling and sure enough, wee mouse (we hope it’s the same) is in a paper bag into which I have stashed my knitting and a few varieties of tea I like to bring on my travels. This leads me to believe he is a country mouse indeed (I mean, tea and knitting, come on.) and he is escorted out of doors by our brave knight in PJ’d armor. No harm no foul, but we hope the lil thing stays outside for the remainder of our time here. I calm my late night nerves with a bit of bourbon and sleep fitfully from there.
Chapter 4 – where to from here
I write this missive in present tense, a style I see on occasion over at one of my favorite follows, These Isles. I have no idea if it works or not for others, but for me, today, right now, it works. This writing style allows me to step outside of a linear path of ‘what happened when’ and to step into the concept of the Traveling Now. The Traveling Now is not unfamiliar to quantum theorists, though this name for it is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I find more and more that the order of things matters not. What matters is that we are present in it. Now.
On what might be the calmest evening left in the week, I wander alone down to the waterside for a quick swim in the moonlight alone under the stars. If you’ve never skinny-dipped for whatever reason is holding you back, it is something I hope you do at some point in your life time.
I arrive back up stairs, sobered and refreshed (pre-country mouse adventure) and I find this by John O’Donohue (one of my all time favorite go-to writers):
THE CALL TO LIVE EVERYTHING
One of the sad things today is that so many people are frightened by the wonder of their own presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on for them. This identity may be totally at variance with the wild energies that are rising inside in their souls. Many of us get very afraid and we eventually compromise. We settle for something that is safe, rather than engaging the danger and the wildness that is in our own hearts. We should never forget that death is waiting for us. A man in Connemara said one time to a friend of mine, ‘Beidh muid sínte siar,’ a duirt sé, ‘cúig mhilliúin blain déag faoin chré’ – We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years, and we have a short exposure. I feel that when you recognize that death is on its way, it is a great liberation, because it means that you can in some way feel the call to live everything that is within you. One of the greatest sins is the unlived life, not to allow yourself to become chief executive of the project you call your life, to have a reverence always for the immensity that is inside of you.
I like to think that even something as simple as going to the lake side for a moonlight swim in nothing but my birthday suit is one small way to ‘live everything’.
Tomorrow we leave this place. As we do, we know nothing of the year to come. The third of the four kids who do this magical week with us each year (our two went first, now theirs) is off to college in just a matter of weeks. I do not know what the end of summer into fall-winter and beyond hold. I have some ideas of things I’d like to set into motion, which I will do. But for now, I read things that make my head and heart spin on its very axis, I make plans for an upcoming show that has me thrilled and terrified in equal measure. I continue to answer the (also terrifying though I do not know why) irresistible call to paint in ways I have not yet done. I show up.
This summer has been a gift beyond imagining and I am grateful for it. Each year I grow and make and play in the hopes I can bring that home to my friends and family and to my students along the way. It is a gift, and I do not take it lightly.
I write this to you from my soul-home in Maine where I can smell the ocean on the air upon wakening. I await those in my little family who can make it up here for even a day or two in the coming weeks and miss those not joining us this year. But while I fully sink into life back here where it feels so very familiar, I’ll admit that part of my heart is still under the enchantment of a week of music, magic and mayhem that is the Swannanoa Gathering. You will know that in year’s past there were much shenanigans (and one year even a wedding!!) amidst the musical goings on. This year, it seems that while we had an immense amount of belly laughter and all around craic, the music itself took front and center.
The trip down to Swannanoa this year began, blanketed by a low hum in my heart- consisting of worries Big and small, varying in proximity to me personally. Some closer to home, some via merely a glance at any news, at any time. It seems that the world-at-large continues to fly a bit close to the sun, cosmically speaking, and I don’t feel like I am the only one sensing it. Everyone I know seems to be feeling chaotic and a bit frenetic. These summers of mine, so gypsy-like from the outside-looking-in, are my way of assimilating the year past, and of lighting a way forward as the arc of each year moves on into the darker months ahead, to fall and winter. They are a necessary re-set button and I am glad of it.
My week of workshops in North Carolina last week (was it really just last week?) began Monday morning with classes with the fabulous flute-player and singer, Nuala Kennedy. You might remember her from her beautiful Behave the Bravest, for which I made the album art.
It was so wonderful to be sitting back again in music class learning a few new tunes. I have let my Riley School doings fall aside of late as I work to build my art and workshop-offering practice and I have missed it dearly. Nuala always teaches interesting tunes that strum the heart’s harp-strings and this year was no different. The first three tunes we learned – a march, a strathspey and a reel were all in the key of B minor.
Now I am no musical theory geek but I know enough to know that the minorish keys tend to be a bit more moody and pensive. For me at least, this key fit the mood of the early part of the week and we gobbled the beauty of them up in class and in our flutilla-led rehearsal time which we kept each day between classes, open to any of our classmates who could make it. It is here we made some new friends, which is a bonus each year.
Some days in Nuala’s class we had a special guest, for whom we played a gentle version of our March.
…or who graciously took our class photo.
Between classes we practiced more, occasionally napped or snuck in a shower- as camp life can make for late nights and sweaty days. And by afternoons we found ourselves in the presence of the one and only Kevin Crawford who keeps us on our toes and usually laughing a good bit too throughout the week.
Kevin hears every note. Good or bad. Especially if he sits right down in front of you….
And as if the flute weren’t difficult enough, he’s taken to trading instruments with his bandmate Colin Farrell and playing a jig now and again just to get a laugh from his class. If you are not a musician, you might not realize how hard this is. These guys make it look simple.
The week wore on and little by little, the key of things changed a bit. We came fully under the spell of music and the people who make it and there were moments of magic to behold along the way.
One evening a few of the staff snuck away to one of my favorite corners in which to play, the Kittredge breezeway, and had a bit of a session. Here is just a snippet….
It’s amazing when this happens. The staff at Swannanoa give their all to this week between teaching and hosting other goings-on, but much like us, sometimes they might simply want to run off and have a tune with old friends. Sometimes these are situations we students might join in if invited, other times, it’s nice to just sit back and listen awhile. And so I did.
This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song. All of these artists listening to one another along the way.
There was even a bit of step dancing by dance instructor Siobhan Butler to add to the magic of the evening.
Our week at Swannie always seems to fly by but this year it seemed exceptionally quick-paced. One day it was Monday with the whole week ahead of us, then suddenly, just like that, it was Friday. But as I look back, there were at least a few shenanigans along the way….
There was a ceili to attend on Tuesday.
And I was sure to catch up with my new flute friend Julie so we could snap a picture of our matching flutilla swag!!
There were late night sessions with loved ones from near and far, and we enjoyed music and many many laughs.
By day the skies might open and deliver thunderous rains on occasion, but always the clouds parted, and the sun did shine once more, as it goes in these misty mountains.
Each day we packed in as much music as we could, learning from our teachers. It was fun to approach tunes we may have heard on recordings and to listen to the nuanced differences in how each player approaches each tune along the way. The goal is, after all, to take this music into our hearts and make it our own somehow.
Many evenings saw us attending concerts where we could watch our instructors do what they do best, which is perform. These folks are the best at what they do and it’s a true treat to hear them live. Especially when they gather together and make music perhaps never heard before.
When our days weren’t too full, and we weren’t too tired, we attended what are called ‘pot-lucks’ where some of the staff shared a topic of their choosing for an hour or so. I attended one by Cathy Jordan called The Happy Subject of Death. She and some of her fellow instructors sang murder ballads and other dark songs and there were many tears and a good bit of macabre laughter as well. This all felt in keeping with the minor key of the week for me and I loved it. I also attended a chat by Martin Hayes, sometimes referred to as the Buddha of Irish music. We talked about why we play music. Some folks look to perform perhaps, others might just want to play along with a recording by themselves or sit in the kitchen over a cuppa having tunes with friends. There is no wrong way. But the biggest goal for him, and I must say, for me, is to play with real Joy.
I read this week somewhere that on CNN, someone was quoted as saying,
“Joy is active resistance.”
I believe this to be true and I am holding on to it with all my strength and fortitude. What else do we have? It is this joy in the making – of music, of art, of laughter – which gives us the strength to do the hard things along the way in this crazy world. At least this is how I feel.
As I have stated, Friday came along on the heels of Monday far too quickly for our liking, and suddenly we were rehearsing for the student showcase. The showcase is a fun evening where we get to play a few new tunes together as a class to our fellow ‘gatherers’ and to hear the work of the other classes as well.
It was a steamy, North Carolina style evening and though we were all feeling sticky, we gathered down at the pavilion for the showcase. The photos that follow are some captures by photographer Tom Crockett who’s brother Tim was in class with us. He hiked and took pictures out in the mountains most of the week but attended the showcase on Friday and snapped a few photos of the Flutilla. I share them here with you by permission.
(Thank you so much Tom for the gorgeous photos! They are truly treasured.)
And now here we are. Back in Maine once again, soaking up a bit of the seaside and lake time which we will draw upon time and again in the year ahead. These weeks of art and music, friendship and fellowship, always set me to thinking about things in a deep way. They remind me to practice what makes my heart sing. To play my flute, no matter how clumsy it might feel when not backed up by my flutilla. To push a paint brush around even when I don’t know where it’s going.
To remember to head out into nature more often, as She is the real conductor of things.
And most importantly, to trust my inner knowing along the way. A lesson I am trying so hard to take more and more on board.
If you are reading this and attended the Swannanoa Gathering’s Celtic Week, do leave a comment with your favorite moment(s) of the week. I’d love to read them!
It all began with a request, from my first born, to create a special gift for his long time university level private-lesson teacher/ coach / mentor, Paul Patterson. If anyone could understand our complex and multifaceted young musician, and light a path ahead for him through the throes of life in a conservatory setting, Paul has been that person. He enabled Jack to see that there was no need to choose one musical path over any others – that to study jazz music was not to abandon the classical tradition. This forked path is not for every musician, and it takes a great deal of extra work, but over the years, with the help of some other amazing instructors as well, Paul has quietly given our Jack many tools to follow his musical nose down whichever path that may lead.
Words simply cannot convey how grateful we are to Paul for his patience, his belief in this kid, and for truly shaping a young life in a way none of us thought possible. Maybe in some ways, he even saved that young life and placed it on a more hopeful and focused path when he needed it most.
I had in mind perhaps a painting, of a master and his young student. Or perhaps a handmade book. In typical fashion I thought and thought but was dragging my proverbial heels, artistically speaking, as Jack’s end-of-conservatory recital drew nearer.
Finally, Jack came up with a brilliant, though rather lofty, idea for a gift. The kind of gift which might suit a teacher who has everything he may want or need. What if I were to create a small puppet-styled doll, in the shape of Stravinsky’s famed Petrushka ballet?
And so I sourced some scrap wood from a carver friend, and set to experimenting.
This red cedar is incredibly beautiful, but difficult to carve in the time scope we had (and with my ever-so-rusty carving skills!). So I fell back on some basswood I had up in our attic space which is softer to work with.
After a number of practice runs and false starts, I finally had a serviceable head with which to build Petrushka’s figure and so I set to work on the rest of the body.
I carved and carved.
Shaping things out of little blocks of wood and slowly bringing character and a bit of life to them.
I’ve worked with puppets in the past, most notably with the brilliant Frisch Marionette Company. But my work there mostly centered on the performance aspect of puppetry, not necessarily the building of them.
And so my goal with this particular work was not a proper puppet necessarily, poised and balanced for nuance of movement, but rather a doll, with puppet tendencies, to be presented as an artful gift.
Soon I had pieces of this puppet-doll put together and able to move hither and thither in his own way.
To me, a representation of anything, be it animal, person, or puppet character, doesn’t really come to life (two-dimensionally or three) until the eyes have been gifted the spark of personality.
Creepy as this may look to those averse to clown-styled imagery, it was upon painting this Petrushka’s face that the personality of this tragic ballet-theater character truly fell into being.
Soon I was crafting a little outfit for him, all handmade, as proper gifts often are.
After awhile he was complete, except for the semblance of strings to give him the feel of a proper puppet, if not necessarily the movement of one.
This Petrushka is full of quirky personality, much like our Jack, and much like his amazing mentor, Paul himself.
It’s been a great joy to put time and energy into this project, even if it meant getting behind in and left behind by a few others.
This Petrushka’s workings are a tad on the clumsy side…
But he is a lovely sculptural gift for some one who loves music. Someone who has himself, done much to sculpt the abilities, thinking and sensibilities of our young musician. Things we as parents can’t always do.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I firmly believe in the truth of this and I take pride in the other adults we’ve invited into our lives over the years to help us in raising ours. We are deeply indebted to all of them, and this trend continues into the young adulthood of both of our kids. All that said, Paul Patterson is exceptionally close to our hearts for all the hours he has spent shaping and carving out the musical life of Jack. We often ran into him at gigs Jack had, even outside of University life. He always had much to report on all of the hard work Jack was putting into his music, and how we might best support him in our own, non-musical ways. We can’t thank him enough!
Paul, this one is for you. With love and gratitude.
It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.
If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around. Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.
Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.
Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.
And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes. But if one listens…..
I’ve been listening. With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade. Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.
I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.
This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California. We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn. I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles. It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.
But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.
“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote. You can see her Unicorn here.)
I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival. For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….
I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.
Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze. After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.
Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.
It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.
Some had a way of looking at us.
Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.
Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.
After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.
This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.
And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.
Yes it’s true.
One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times. And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .
Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.
“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett
Yesterday a number of us gathered at the local Irish Heritage Center to celebrate a very special birthday. Our beloved Riley School of Irish Music turns 20 this year and to mark the occasion, we put on a ceili, which could be described as like a wedding, only without the happy couple. There was music from our ceili band, much dancing, called and instructed by the one and only Éamonn de Cógáin, lots of food and drink to be had, and all in all was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
It is difficult to describe the place the Riley School has held in my life personally, and in the collective life of our family. The music my kids (one more than the other) and I have learned and played over the years has changed us all for the better. We have life long friendships now which we’d have never found without this school. I began at the school as a mere parent accompanying my child to fiddle lessons – and I found my tunes and my tribe. This music has taught me many things which apply to a life well lived and art well made. I’ve learned to be less shy, to laugh more, to make mistakes and keep on playing. My son has gone on to pursue music as a profession and my daughter can still pluck out a few tunes on the banjo. (Party tricks do come in handy and one must always be ready to surprise people.) We are better because of this little school which teaches what some might call a simple folk music. Which I suppose it is. But it’s complexity is to measured by the effect it has on the lives it touches. Musicians play so that dancers might dance, at least in the Irish tradition. It was lovely to have such intrepid souls out to dance this day, many mere beginners.
But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.
With all of the malcontent the recent political happenings has dredged up, I have been thinking a lot about the place of music and artfull-ness, and dancing and laughing in the face of all of it. I imagine that those who played Irish music over in Ireland during the troubles certainly must have played in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult times. And we do too, now, in these difficult times. To be fair, I suppose many voters do not think we are in difficult times with our new leadership choice. Though I certainly do.
And so, it is more important than ever to dance. To play our favorite tunes with vim and vigor. To paint the brightest of pictures. After all, we are all running along on the hamster-wheel of life.
I hear told that there was a similar dance, also with a band, in the town square of HamsterTown. One wonders what tunes they danced to that day, and whether their caller could even hold a candle to our Éamonn. I imagine, he’d have given him a run for his money…
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….
…. further combined with the doodling of my own set of characters…..
….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.