Category Archives: whimsy

Edge time (chaptered)

Chapter 1.  – seaside

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….

I like to sketch my fellow ferry passengers when I get bored.

….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 wandering.

I’ve been carefully breaking in these shoes since spring time and they now wear like slippers. Such a sturdy travel shoe, and one of a kind. You can get your pair at Kakaw Designs.

And keen observation.  But the art does come.  It starts slowly.

I was captivated by the limey green of this seaweed on the coast at Land’s End on the very tip of Bailey Island. Wonder if you can eat it?

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.

Note the loon family….. they were part of our world all week. Calling to one another, teaching the youngsters how to be loons on Long Pond. The kids gave them names. Parents Jose(Paco) and Marcia, and their kids, Judy and Lola.

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.

Pretty sure this is the mama, Marcia
Judy and Lola are never far from her. And she works hard to keep them fed. a mama’s work is never done.

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.

John O’Donohue

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.

 

 

A week in a minor key

 

One of the small things I love most about Maine is that in the 70’s billboards were outlawed. There is nothing but green and granite to contemplate when on the roads. It’s so part of the charm of this place and I wish it were in my day to day.

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.

Surely Wee Lochlann is soaking up every note. He’ll be playing circles ’round us in no time, I’m sure of it.

…or who graciously took our class photo.

Thank you Julie Adams for sending this along!

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.

Here Kevin expresses to us that he hopes at least a bit of the tips and tricks of the trade he teaches us will be something we take home and apply to the tunes we already play. Always a challenge. Challenge accepted.

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.

Yes, that is Grainne Hambly, John Carty and Martin Hayes. Royalty in the Irish music world, really and all around great folks indeed.

This little session was a perfect blend of tunes and song.  All of these artists listening to one another along the way.

Eamon O’Leary and Cathy Jordan take in the tunes 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.

We talked of the importance of being silly together. Why must we be so serious all the time? The world is serious enough as it is. Let us laugh together more often, yes??

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.

Here we were listening to Paddy Keenan play Condon’s Frolics from the album Poirt An Phíobaire. I love how delighted Kevin is when listening to one of his old favorites. He passes this delight on to us along the way. Thank you Kevin!

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.

The flutilla force is strong here. For the record, the bodhran player shown here, Matt Olwell, is also an amazing flute player himself. Maybe next year we will add a couple more flutes to this routine….

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.

In between acts, we shared stories and laughter. Ellen and I have shared so much over these long years at Swannie, we have decided we simply must get together more often. Let the wild rumpus begin, I say!!
Here is Kevin’s flute class playing a set-dance into a Jig. The air was so humid, I am surprised we could even play!
Kevin is one of three of my musical mentors in the flute department. He, and my dear friend Ellen Redman here, have changed and enriched my little life for the better. I am beyond grateful for their teaching and their friendship over the years.
This is a rare capture of myself with my flute instructor John Skelton, whom I work with back in Cincinnati when I can at the Riley School of Irish Music. He too has changed and enriched my life for the better through music and a lot of laughter.
This week Nuala Kennedy taught us a couple of interesting reels and we added some harmonies. This is another week where I learned how to use one of the keys on my flute. Nuala is a brilliant teacher.
How did I get so fortunate to have such amazing, caring teachers to work with???

(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.

I love the little boat called Intuition.

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!

Til next time….

Sometimes, I day dream of tunes in the pavilion, to the rhythm of tree frogs singing.
If you’re even remotely curious about Irish music, this is a fantastic read

A story of Petrushka

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.

Bells of Springtime

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….

 

 

All in a day

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.

Enameled porcelain.

Telephones.

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.

Ya esta por ahora.   Antigua, I love you already.

Hamstertown Ball

“You can think and you can fight, but the world’s always movin’, and if you wanna stay ahead you gotta dance.”
— Terry Pratchett

riley-school-turns-20Yesterday 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.  dancers-learn-their-3s-and-7sMusicians 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.

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But soon our caller Éamonn had everyone laughing and trying steps and smiling and dancing.

dancers-learn-to-swing

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…

hamstertown-ball

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….

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…. 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.

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A favorite sort of day

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It is my favorite sort of day.  One which began inspired and meditative, flowing along at my own pace, following my nose in an artful way, with no lists or have-tos clouding my inner compass.

Today I have been graced with the following….

pencil-meditations

Meditation at the very tip of my pencils.

stew-on-the-stovetop

Green chili stew on my stove top.  (I don’t eat much meat, but this stew’s protein came from my friends over at Grassroots Farm.  I am so very grateful for their work.)

best-tea-in-best-mug

Many (many) mugs full of tea.  It’s fuel.

ghosts-at-the-doorstep

Ghosts at my doorstep.  It is a liminal time of year, is it not?

autumn-breezes-in-the-treetops

Cool autumnal breezes in the tree tops.  We have been afforded a most beautiful fall season.  This doesn’t happen every year.  It is a gift.

flame-on-the-windowsill

The warm glow of candlelight on my studio window.  (The gorgeous candle is by my favorite honey and wax peddlers, Bee Haven to be found locally here in Cincinnati at Findlay Market on week ends.

iris-ever-familiar

A four legged friend who is up for adventure and doesn’t talk that much.

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and finally, some paint on my paint brush.  I’ve been coaxing a little painting along lately who is not so keen to tell me all of her secrets. She is to be wooed slowly it would seem.  I am giving her time and space to tell me what she knows.  We will go from there.  But this much I do know…..

she knows of the power in the flutter of a moth’s wing.  she knows she must always have a basket handy for carrying the gatherings, (though what is in her basket, I do not yet know). she spends a great deal of time outside as it tends to keep her thoughts clear.

For now, that is all.

On the move (experiments)

A couple of weeks ago I took a short stop motion animation workshop through my local artist’s collective at the Kennedy Heights Art Center.  The instructor is Kate Ball whose work is interesting and hand crafted and which has just the right amount of surreal creep factor.  I loved it!  We had a ball working as a group and I knew I’d want to go home and try it myself.  Here are the early experimental results……

I have no idea if I will keep working in this medium as the paints are calling.  But I like that this is just another tool in my took kit in the art making realm.  I do enjoy it.  I hope you do too!!

 

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