It seems many things in our little acre of land are bell shaped just now, fairly ringing with the bodacious arrival of a proper spring time. Daytime warmth coaxes and whispers to the plants to grow and the evenings, cool again for resting before another day of more and more growing.
If one listens quietly enough, for long enough, the chiming of these little bells might be heard all around. Small ones, tinkling near the ground, nestled and tucked under larger, louder plantings.
Other bells chime deeper, perhaps with the promise of a new backyard food source.
Some have a note so high and so sweet, only the most careful listeners might hear them.
And still others have a chime so light and ephemeral, one can’t really know if they sing the song of the mists or the breezes. But if one listens…..
I’ve been listening. With my trowel, moving plants around and tucking in new gifts from friends in trade. Planting seeds and pondering plots and plans, all while these little bells ring and chime and sing all around me.
I’ve been listening with my pencil and paint brush and ink, to capture a bit of this ephemerality, and pin it’s simulacrum to my paper as best I can.
This is good practice as tomorrow I must leave my little plot of land here for a few days to lead two days of sketching with a very speical group in California. We will visit a lovely garden and some wonderous trees as well, whose names I am eager to learn. I am so lucky to do this work I do, encouraging folks to find the paths of their own ink lines, pencil marks and paint puddles. It’s teaching season once again and I am glad for it.
But always I will come back home, to this little place, which is feeling really magical just now with the gardens bursting forth and the beauty of the bells in my ears.
“I am sure there is magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to make it do things for us.” ~Frances Hodgson Burnett
(thank you Cathryn Worrell for this gem of a quote. You can see her Unicorn here.)
I’ll be back in a few days with tales of a land far west from here, but where friends await my arrival. For now, I leave you with some more magic for your ears….
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
Perhaps it is the bright face of the full moon which pours into my bedroom window in the wee hours of the morning. Or maybe it’s that I have traveled far and wide just recently, with more journeys awaiting me in the wings of weeks to come. I do not know. But I have been doing a fair amount of vivid dreaming while visiting the landscape of my sleep-time each night.
Generally a deep and dark sleeper, I seldom remember my dreams, but occasionally I get a conscious-time glimpse into that other-world beyond and it’s tremendously exciting and inviting and I do not want it to end. Thankfully, this has been occurring more and more and more.
Once, much like in the poem above from Antonio Machado, I dreamed that bees had crafted a hive in the walls of my home. This dream-time home was different than my home here in waking-time. Yet it was my home none-the-less, as it often goes in dream-translation. It was a quaint little house, nestled in quiet country.
Painted blue, it had lace curtains which blew gently in the breezes. Outside there was washing on the line, bleach-drying in the golden sunshine. Inside, the bees had been so busy in the inner walls of this sweet home of mine that honey –rich, golden honey – began to seep from the very walls themselves. And from the ceilings. Drip, drip, dripping from every corner. Oozing a golden coating on to all. My waking self has a bit of an aversion to being sticky. Give me the mess-making of mud-pies and the following-flowing of dust-bunnies, but stickiness can set my teeth on edge. But my dream self saw and felt this honey coating everything as a great gift from the bees. A sign of the richness in my day to day. Seeping out of the very walls.
I come back often to this dream and the sensations it delivers upon the heart of my remembering, as I am “abeefrnd” after all. I love all things bees. The wax, the honey, the magic of their pollination which in essence keeps us alive as well as surrounded by beauty. Just the other day I was captivated by a podcast featuring a Bee Priestess called Ariella Daly and was once again reminded of the honeyed home awaiting me in my dreamscape.
This morning I awoke from another powerful dream which I took to paper and pen first thing (well, after I’d given the dogs a chance to wee and poured myself the requisite first cup of coffee).
“Intense, wee-hours-of-the-morning dream. Skyscape and seascape were one. I could swim-fly underwater, beneath floating purple and darkened-green continents of mosses. Under-over there, all was turned around – up was down and sideways and back again.
Some feared if I swam-flew in this place, I might never return to above the mosses.
Before this swim-fly time, I was on a beach, with a public beach-house. It was winter and access to the sea was limited. The life-guard then said it was time and everyone cheered and pulled their pick-up trucks on to the beach to sell their market wares.
It was crowded.
This is when I began to swim-fly. This place was not crowded. It was wild and lonesome. I dove in and once under came the turning around of the world. As I dove down, I also flew up. Direction didn’t seem to matter. I could easily breathe this air-water. I was of two worlds. Maybe more. The worlds of Up, Down, Over, Under, Back and Forth.
The masses of mosses had watery, puddled areas in them, like bog-land. Puddled portals of a sort. These puddles led to below-above where anything is possible.”
I could go on an on about the venturing I’ve been up to amidst the murky depths of my own dreaming, but we all know how difficult these images and sensations can be to convey in conscious conversation. So I will simply share with you a few endeavors from waking-time, and in-between times which seem to be contributing to these dreamscapations. (That may be a new word of my own making, though I am not sure.)
The rough little drawings dotting this post are from a small book I keep at my bedside nowadays, along with a pencil. Most evenings, just before sleeping, I scribble a bit into this book. Nothing in front of my eyes to capture. Merely the musings of my own mind and my own imaginings. Occasionally I am surprised at the results. Often, they are simple and rather mundane. But still I doodle.
I began this practice a few weeks ago, inspired by my friend, fellow illustrator, and fab yoga instructor, Stacey Maney who has been doing the same practice herself a good while now and has amassed a number of bedtime drawings. Though we each approach this practice in our own way, we both find it helps to feed the inner muse. This muse is our bread and butter after all and needs to be coaxed and tempted with attentions and praise from our daily habits.
This all differs greatly from my usual sketching practice of the world around me, about which I write here often and much. The deep mind-full-ness my sketchbook work brings has been a richly rewarding gift over the years, a gift I now offer to others through my classes and workshops. And yet, I still want to go deeper. Sketching is not enough. Writing is not enough. In the attempt to bring my own practice to a deeper, soul-entrenched level, I’ve been seeking a nameless thing. I haven’t been sure if that thing is in the form of yet another book or a deeper yoga practice to delve into, or a new teacher, or new habits and pathways of my own intention. In the past I have even been known to run toward (and away from) this Nameless Longing by training for and running marathons. I did 7 of them before deciding they were finally through with what they had to teach me.
In the end, I’ve come to find it is all of these things along the way and always more, ever changing. And so recently, I have been following this nameless need for something, down it’s soft, darkened path. I can almost smell this path, blanketed as it is by pine needles and leaf litter.
It feels so good to be able to smell the earth once more as spring has come upon us. To celebrate this awakening, I have signed up for a class via One Willow Apothecaries called Intuitive Plant Medicine. The ideas promised in this class are exactly what I have been looking for as pathways to enrich my own personal practice as an artist, a writer, a teacher. I firmly believe that to be a good teacher, one must always be learning right alongside our students. Maintaining an openness and the vulnerability of a learner, a beginner, is crucial to meeting students who find their way to us right where they need us to be. And so I am always digging. Always searching for ways to stretch.
I have no intention of becoming an herbalist or plant shaman really, except to suit my own curiosities and affinity for the magical world of plants. But I know in my gut that this seemingly un-related study of the soul-life of plants, and how they can enrich our own lives at soul-level, is exactly the spirit-food I need to stay grounded and growing in my own work in the world.
And so it goes. The seasons are shifting into sunshine and growth. Workshops are happening in the coming weeks and I am busily tending to the earthly details which make them run smoothly. My offspring are both jumping headlong into their adult working lives. Madeleine off to Africa to work with a linguist and some medical doctors to collect health-care stories (a pricess called Verbal Autopsies). Jack, gearing up for next week’s senior recital over at CCM. How the time is flying. And like between season lettuces tucked in under the other vegetables and flowers, I plant idea seeds in every fertile corner I can find. Hoping something grows and blooms amidst all of this rich life-compost.
note: I haven’t a clue what any of these drawings mean. but they seem to have a feel to them that reaches one into the next. I am interested to get to know the little faces peering out at me from the pages of my little bedtime book and perhaps learn their story.
I find myself unexpectedly weary today after a day of art making and eating and not much else. It was great fun to dive fully into book work but it is work. And work I love dearly. I feel a bit more up to snuff in my sketchbook after today’s efforts so I’ll share a few more Antigua adventures with you here.
I’ve been really enjoying meeting the other artists here in Antigua and beyond. Rosemary has made many connections over the years between service trips for her speech pathology work and textile tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of stopping in to see Lidia López who is a talented weaver among many other wonderful things (I’m keen to learn how to make Pepian sauce from her!).
Lidia was pregnant with her son and visiting friends in Panajachel, and I was a 7 year old kid living in Guatemala City when in 1976 tragedy struck this region in the form of an earthquake. Thousands of lives were lost and it was indeed something one never forgets. But time passes, and as Lidia says, it was not our time then. We had more work to do. And so we did.
It was lovely to chat with Lidia about the work she does and life in general. She patiently let us practice our Spanish on her, although her English is amazing. We talked to her about visiting again when we come for the travel sketch workshop next year which I hope comes to frution.
Our visit was over far too soon and I hope to stop in to say goodbye and share with her some of the work we have been up to in the mean time. Including a drawing I made of Lidia herself.
Later in the afternoon we went to sketch and photograph a lovely ruin…..
I was very happy to have my fancy camera this day as the structures and light at play in this old convent make for beautiful imagery.
But time was ticking and the ruins close fairly early to visitors. We knew we had to get to work if we were to get a sketch in.
As the kids do often put it,
Seems kids have been the same since time began….
We had 40 minutes to do a quick study and we opted for a fairly complicated stairwell.
While this is not a scaled architectural study, it’s not a bad painting to my eye. Coming back to this drawing in my sketchbook in years to come, I’ll remember the light in this stairwell, and church bells on the wind and quiet drawing time with a good friend. The gifts of a well fed travel journal.
Today was a slower paced day in the way of touring. We had meals out of course but mostly we stayed home and caught up in our books. Little things here and there….
…like this creepy antique wooden baby Jesus spotted at a collectibles and antiques owned by a nice fella called Axel.
I also did a page spread in my book to try and learn a bit more about the weaving tradition here in this country.
Although it took me the better part of the day, I’m happy with the results.
I wanted to try to capture the beauty and variety of the indigo dyed corte or cuts of cloth we encountered the other day at the market in Panajachel. Each piece different, punctuated with the colorful seam stitching called randas.
The textiles in Guatemala are not something I can try to adequately comprehend in one go, but it’s been great fun to get a weaving 101 from Rosemary, Mari and Lidia.
Tomorrow there will be more and more drawing. And I hear tell of some hot chocolate which contains chili powder in it. Two days left in this captivating country. For this visit at least.
Yesterday we took a field trip to a town called Panajachel where a weekly market was to happen. We awoke early to be driven higher into the hills near Lake Atitlan. Though rain was forecast, we were greeted with a most lovely day.
I was traveling with my friends Rosemary and Steve of course, who are helping me build my second travel sketch class, but we also were accompanied by Mari Gray of Kakaw Designs, based in Antigua. More on Mari’s work in a bit, but suffice it to say, this was a business trip for her. For me, it was a nearly overwhelming array of color and texture. All gently used and ready to be repurposed.
It was difficult to choose! I purchased one small bit of cloth I hope to make a wee something of eventually but at the very least, it’s just a gorgeous bit to have on hand as a throw.
The prices were amazing and we counted our quetzales and haggled a bit with the vendors which was fun and good Spanish practice.
Soon we were vended out and went in search of a place to eat with a view of the lake. We found a little spot courtesy of our lovely driver and knowledgeable guide, Andres, and we all enjoyed the breezes.
We didn’t tarry long though as we had an afternoon appointment at Multicolores, an amazing artist cooperative changing the lives of women artisans in many areas of Guatemala.
We were greeted at the mysterious teal colored door along a busy side street in Panajachel by the lovely Rosario who proceeded to show us around and introduce us to the vital work going on at Multicolores.
Artists from Guatemala are trained in this rug-hooking technique and given further instruction on basic things as well, such as color theory and even vision statements.
They were asked to really consider their life’s calling. One wall hanging said:
Solo existen dos dias en el año en que no se puede hacer nada. Una se llama ayer y otro mañana. Por lo tanto hoy es el día ideal para amar, crecer, hacer, y pricipalmente vivir.
Loosely translated, there are only 2 days in the year that you can do nothing, yesterday and today. Every other day is ideal for loving, growing, doing and principally living.
So, not only are these artists learning a skill they can earn a real living off of, they are bettering their lives all around. They take used clothing from the local thrift shops and painstakingly turn them into exquisite utilitarian works of art.
There are also a few beautifully embroidered dolls available as well, which some folks might not consider utilitarian, but I do. Play is a most useful thing.
Will you look at her sweet hair??!
These guys had secret coded messages to share with anyone who knows the language of symbols.
After much careful consideration and admiration of the sheer amount of work this collective produces, Rosemary chose a new piece of art for her newly remodeled space at home. Its stunning. And even more so in person!!!
As much as we had enjoyed this full day, we soon needed to get on the road to avoid traffic on top of the already two hour drive back to Antigua. With rain and pea-soup variety fog on hand, Andres calmly got us through a somewhat white-knuckled drive and we were home by sundown.
It was a day of no art making for me, but rather of gathering material for consideration. The best travel journals come from real, lived experiences and the impressions these experiences bring to us on many levels. The tastes and smells of food, the textures of things at the vendors, the people. Conversations with new friends and those overheard at the parque while walking. All of these things get recorded and captured in some way, even if they don’t make The Book on that very day. There must be a balance to it all.
This taking-it-all-in field trip mode continued into today with a visit to Mari’s place back here in Antigua. It was amazing to see how this young designer lives and works and to just visit and have an opportunity to see the things she creates with the types of materials acquired the day before. She lives in a hidden little magic place with a sweet dog.
Such a sweet, magical place, even the fairies are in residence.
Evidence of Mari’s passion for textiles is at every turn.
Soon we got to see some of her products and how they come together. These lovelies have been well worn and even re-heeled over the years. They are still beautiful and on my wish list.
She had a few shiny new pairs around as well But they weren’t in my size.
We so enjoyed hanging out with Mari again today and I feel I’ve made a new friend here in Antigua. I’m so thankful Rosemary knows so many lovely folks here!!
This all just takes us through to this morning! I could certainly tell you of Lydia, a beautiful weaver and vendor (and yet another lovely friend of Rosemary’s) who lived through the same earthquake I did in 1976. And I might also share our afternoon visit to a local ruin and the sketches which resulted. But alas, those sketches could use some daylight to best share and perhaps these are tales for another day and another blog post.
We have another solid three days here in Antigua and no more lofty plans such as the last couple of days have seen. Just working in our books and soaking up more of the beauty here in Antigua Guatemala.
We are still working out details for the 2018 Travel Sketchjournal -Antigua trip but if you’d like to be on a list to get more information as it unfolds, just comment below or send me an email.
This morning began misty and mysterious. I sipped coffee and sketched a bit.
We breakfasted – and, following the sunshine, then did a bit of perusing the shops round town. Have I mentioned the feast of textiles to be found here? Old and newly made, well worn and repurposed, they are everywhere. Draped on the furniture, piled in shops, peddled by Mayan street vendors.
Besides the traditional, there are more modern and quirky things to find as well. I picked this one up for Jack.
Because remember that time he played fiddle and banjo in a hilarious Fringe Festival play called Hot Damn, It’s The Loveland Frog? And also played the frog at the very end… With banjo?
Hmmmm, yeah. Me too. What can we say? It was a paying gig, and it was fun, strange as it all might seem.
I picked up a pair of pantalones from a lovely vendor named Gloria whose passion for the handwork she does in her home pueblo of San Francisco A.C. is truly inspiring.
They have pockets! I love pockets.
All over town things delighted our senses, more to bring back to our sketch practice later over a lunch of leftover pizza which was delicious!
I could make art for ages merely on the procesión we witnessed yesterday.
All the while, our watchful volcanoes drift in and out of their self made mists, teaching us to breathe.
After some work on next year’s travel sketch workshop plans and pondering, Rosemary, Steve and I drifted out once again for our evening meal. Taking in Antigua along the way.
For days, it seemed as if it would never stop raining.
We hunkered in our homes, all of us (including the Faeries, I do believe!) watching the gardens begin to awaken between raindrops and the rollercoaster weather patterns for which our region is known.
We tended our indoor plants as well, hungry to touch something green once again. We are all of us ready to go outside once more.
As the rain poured down, our normally babbling brooks not only rushed but eventually even did a fair amount of flooding. Up and over our little bridge and the drive. Thankfully, the flood waters only lapped up to the door, with nary a trickle actually making it indoors. We were lucky.
Eventually, the sun has shown here and there. And things are beginning to bud and bloom. Risky behavior for these intrepid plants, as warm days are still fleeting.
But bloom, they do.
While the streams rushed outside our doors, and the Ohio River and its tributaries raged closer to town, another far sweeter and gentler River has begun flowing…..
A new album of folk-styled music has been taking shape out in Seattle where my young friend Alex Sturbaum now lives. You may remember Alex from my post about his amazingly hand-crafted wedding a few months back. Recently Alex created a Kickstarter campaign for his River Run Wide project and it has been successfully funded (though there is always room for more)!! I was thrilled when he gave me a call and asked me if I might be able to produce some art work to contribute to the design of the CD and it’s wee booklet.
There are so many tales to be told and behold through Alex’s music -both via traditional songs he’s interpreted for this solo album as well as his charming original works. Narratives rich in visual detailing and a sense of nostalgia for something just out of reach. You can practically smell the salt air of a ship’s passage in his maritime songs….
You can feel the pull of a mighty river and maybe hear the voices of those working it just over the lapping of the river waves on shore…..
There is a longing for home that music such as this evokes. It may very well be a sense of home which can never be quenched.
Congratulations to Alex, and his talented band of merry, music-making friends, with whom I’ve shared a number of late night sing-alongs. May this album head into the world and encourage more singing, more gathering and telling of old tales, more joy in the making of music.
What a winter we are weathering. Not for the normal reasons which might lead to a bout of winter weariness such as darkness or the ice and snow (we’ve had little of either, though we do suffer our fair share of a seemingly endless milky-gray pearlescence, which is a nice, wordy way of saying ‘day to day dismal’.)
Instead, there seems to be a general sense of malaise in all corners, at least to my winter-wearied eyes. The political climate of late is one I am deeply committed to keeping track of, though how to do so and still nurture my rich inner world is proving to be a bit of a challenge. (I am up to the challenge.) All told, through this winter’s darkness, both literal and metaphorical, I’ll admit to having had to dig quite deeply to find any light lately within my heart- physically, creatively. Some days I have felt quite extinguished indeed. It’s been a hard time, ‘I don’t mind tellin’ you.’
But, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and all is not lost, fear not! I am back to running the local village paths once again more routinely, just in recent days, no matter the weather! This morning I awoke with the clearest head I have had in months, the cobwebs having been cleared from my seratonin-deprived brain by just a few short, but successful hard runs around my neighborhood. I could nearly weep with joy for the returning of this source of bliss and emotional sustenance in my life.
While running has not been available to me, walking still has. Our dogs enjoy a wee trot outside each day, provided the roads aren’t too salty for their exposed paws. I delight in a rhythmic jaunt where I can get lost in my thoughts.
A few days ago, the sun did shine for a day. (read: a brighter milky-pearlescence). My hub and I went to the local nature center for some sketching time. There are all sorts of very still, very dead, yet somehow quite animated taxidermy-style animals there and we took some time to draw them.
There was woodsmoke in the air there that day, and a sweetness as well, signaling maple sugaring season. We enjoyed learning about how our native forebears likely processed, consumed and traded the sweet, valuable maple syrup and crystalline sugar using handmade tools they gathered from the earth and adapted to their needs. I did not take a picture.
We discussed that day of how sad things have been (how sad I’ve been) and we talked also of how mood-changing a song might be when it catches our ears just so. My Hub found one such song called I Don’t Recall done up so very beautifully by Lavender Diamond. They have a new video….
We were intrigued by the biography of this project to be found on Spotify…..
“The folk delight that is Lavender Diamond originally came to life in Bird Songs of the Bauharoque, a punk operetta inspired by the work of American painter/architect Paul Laffoley. Vocalist Becky Stark wrote and created the piece with a friend while living in Providence, RI, and starred as Lavender herself, a winsome part bird/part human who wants peace on earth.”
Hub wondered at which point in the song she was human and which bit might find her in bird form – to which I argued, why can’t she be both? Both, at the same time. animal. woman.
I’ve been pondering a great bit lately this whole notion of polarity. Political polarity, yes of course. But also the light vs. the shadow sides of ourselves. The Masculine and Feminine bits too, always in a dance, yes? And even to how we react to times of great strain. I am intrigued (and often infuriated) by the discussion of a perceived necessity to choose one thing over another. Why can’t we be Both. I am both Woman and Animal. I am Light as well as Shadow. I enjoy tapping into both the (traditionally regarded) Masculine AND Feminine within my whole self. When I allow this, I am more wholly alive as a total human being. Perhaps like Lavender herself.
Music has indeed been a balm and an inspiration when Mother Nature is resting and doesn’t give us much to go on in the way of sketchable stuff.
Though if one pays close attention…..
One of my favorite flute teachers shared a song the other day which caught my ear, as songs of old often do.
It put me in mind of leggy hares to be found across the pond. so different from our own bulky little bunnies. so I sketched one up.
As I continue to climb out of the dark hole of my recent state, I am grateful for things which catch my ear. The music often being the first and foremost quality of a song shared. If I get a tune rolling round in my head, words or no, that can be a good thing. It can, indeed, change the tone of an entire day for someone sitting rather on the edges of things emotionally speaking.
But sometimes, what catches my ear is deeper still than just a catchy tune. Sometimes, as I listen to a newly found thing, often on obsessive repeat, (yes it’s true, and part of my charm, I like to think) the words partnering with the music to enchant the heart can act like will-o-the-wisp. Lights in the darkness, taking me down an enchanted lane to other worlds….
This morning the lovely Lin-Manuel Miranda (you know, of Hamilton fame?) shared the music of one Ali Dineen in the form of this song in particular, which much like the Lavender Diamond song above, has a happy feel to it. (and, turns out, Lin was one of Ali’s 7th grade teachers. Can you imagine?)
This song led me down the proverbial musical rabbit hole of her music in general and I was not to be disappointed. (Thank you Lin!) Little lyrical snippets pulled at my heart strings as I jogged the paths here amidst this gray, cold village here in Ohio.
“Somewhere else there were
miracles, carnivals, and a space in the air
only your bones could fill.”
Just weeks away, I am reminded by this tune, is a trip south to Antigua, Guatemala where I will sink into constant art-making for a solid week. This makes me happy beyond imagining. And reminds me that winter will pass. In spite of how hard things can seem just now, personally, nationally, globally.
“Spring it brought madness and chaos and song
the wind growing warm, the days growing long
I watched the world blow through your mind
we stooped low to pick up what it left behind
Scattered stories of our country’s childhood,
though we’re deaf to their sounds
We’re trying to stand up straight
but we don’t know what’s weighing us down.”
“go when your feet are restless
go when you hear a faraway song
heed what your bones are saying
don’t wait for your saint to come….”
“go where your name is spoken
stay when you feel like standing still
no one can guide your footsteps
so walk where you will “
So, yes, later this spring, I will travel to Guatemala, where once upon a time, my name was spoken. I have been trying to tap into that little gypsy girl who lived everywhere and nowhere. The me who spoke Spanish “like a native” (my mom’s words) and who seemed to feel at home anywhere. I seem to have lost track of her over the years but I am keen to get reacquainted. I’ve been taking a formal Spanish course locally and it’s been more difficult that I had expected.
We conjugate a good bit, which I will admit, I don’t know how to do adequately in English, in spite of my ability to speak the language here. I am banking on a small faith that this class will warm me up to hear my name spoken on the warm volcanic breezes in the Highlands of Guatemala. I’m told I went there as a girl when my Nana Campbell came to town. I do not remember.
But I do remember what calls to my soul:
(we are all artists)
Thank you for reading…..
ps. do go toss a few coins into the hats of any or all of these amazing artists. they deserve it.
It is Groundhog Day. A day when Punxsutawney Phil glimpses (or doesn’t) his shadow and we are graced with either more winter weather, or an early spring.
I have been thinking a lot about the notion of Shadow. In Jungian psychology, the shadow self is the underbelly of our subconscious. It is all which we have denied or repressed of our whole selves in order to comply with the demands of living the lives into which we are born. Shadow can be perceived as the dark side of self. The bits we do not talk about. To generalize, for many men this might mean the traditionally ‘non-masculine’ traits such as tenderness or being emotionally open in a way that is vulnerable. For women, Shadow could manifest as repressed rage, as it is not ‘feminine’ to be angry, yes? Another way to look at Shadow comes from the definition which analyst Marie Von Franz settles upon, “…in the first stage of approach to the unconscious, the shadow is simply a ‘mythological’ name for all that within me of which I cannot directly know.” It may very well be a side of ourselves that we don’t necessarily want to know, but need to. And therefore, we may project that very self onto others, as a way of protecting ourselves from ourselves, by making the ‘other’ into what we find most undesirable.
The United States is currently weathering a dark night of the soul, grappling with it’s shadowed social underbelly. Robert Bly called the Shadow “the long bag we drag behind us.” We as a country carry a bag behind us full of difficult history built at times upon the backs of the oppressed. These are things with which we must grapple if we are to move forward. So much of the rhetoric we are hearing from those who voted for Trump is based upon changes these voters do not want to see in ‘their’ country. More power being doled out equally to women, people of color, those with different faiths or those hard wired to love differently than themselves. Perhaps those belittling protesters in the recent women’s marches are afraid of the necessary conversations we must have about how women are not, really, equal to men. It is interesting to me that we can elect a president who belittles and objectifies women (and the disabled and, and, and) and yet some are worried that the pink ‘pussy hats’ are vulgar. I think they are brilliant. A genius way to turn the conversation around. And maybe a lesson in the power of words.
I for one am trying, a little each day, to understand how we got here – to this place of being the butt of the joke to the rest of the world.
I have not yet found a balance which feels healthy. That said, we as a country are not healthy. This is not normal. This is not business as usual. And I will not keep quiet.
I have seen our country’s shadow. I am not afraid.
*Update: I wrote this post last week when the drawings first came to mind, just to have it ready to post when a busy week ensued. I knew that the pace of things in Washington might make parts of this post nearly obsolete by the time Groundhog Day actually arrived. I was right. The March for Women and the pink hats seem like decades ago. We now have a ban on folks entering our country if they fit a certain mold (you know, like say, of the Muslim faith, or from certain countries – none of whom have ever harmed us!!) Our Shadow side keeps rearing its ugly (Bigly!) head and yet the people keep rising up in protest which fills me with great hope. I believe we can keep this up. This protesting. Much like runners who pass a baton between the long legs of a race. A race for democracy and human goodness itself. We can do this. Resting when needed. Taking the baton when we can. I am so very proud of this country just now. No, not it’s leadership. It’s people. The lawyers working pro-bono to help those trapped in the new system. The protesters. The Air B&B folks offering free lodging to anyone stranded. I am proud of politicians willing to stand up against this madness who are coming from both sides of the proverbial aisle. I am proud of the world who is hopefully not judging all Americans on the actions of a few in power. I have hope and faith as we incorporate the Shadow. In a recent post on another harbinger of Spring, Imbolc, a friend of mine and I were reminded of and discussed how in spite of spring coming along, there is often a brutal, late-winter snow storm that bites at the new lambs and plant sprouts and bends us once again to the final bits of cold and darkness of winter. But eventually, Spring comes. Perhaps Donald Trump is a late storm like this. Blustering and biting at the new lambs of social kindness and inclusion that the world is striving to achieve. We must maintain hope and vigilance.
Today I have taken yet another day to do things slowly, to allow a plethora of new medicinals to take hold of this winter’s cold symptoms. I stumbled upon a Keith Haring quote on the instagram page of Sketchbook Crafts which I know to be true and which I jotted into my own book, even as I chased the colors around my own sketchbook, doodling my magical canine beings.
Of late, I have pondered the notion of activism. What can we do in the times ahead which are shaping up to be very different indeed. There are those who will march together on the day following the Inauguration of the vile new leader of the free world. (Alas, I am signed up to take an art class, but my heart is with the marchers here in my town, and in DC.)
And there are those who use their fame and cultural influence for good (unlike some.)
The mere act of making some art feels like activism to me. As does teaching it to people who may think art is not theirs for the doing. Open up one’s heart to their own making and there is no telling the sea changes which can occur. In the coming weeks I am taking some remedial Spanish classes to re-learn a language I once spoke as a child. This too feels like activism. The class is in preparation for another trek down to Guatemala to do some sketching and exploring for future workshops there (stay tuned!!). But I also would like to do more volunteer work in my community with folks who might not know English yet. Small things, yes. But perhaps they can stem the tide of where the election seems to be taking us.
So today, I do what I can do. Everyday the light returns, as does my vim and vigor, and with that, some hope for better days.
A few local illustrators here in this river valley (remarkably productive, as far as illustrators go actually) gather weekly for a bite to eat and sometimes a morning of sketching together. This morning was one such morning and we spent a quick bit of time at the zoo, dodging cooler temperatures and limiting hours to grab a few drawings from life.
We start with the elephants.
I always find my elephant drawings to tend toward the abstract as they mosey and move, like elephants do. Ages ago I worked at this zoo, as a teenager and college student. I loved it. Many of the keepers from back in the day are still present, being the best stewards they can be for these captive beasts. After all, zoos are the best solution to some serious mistakes humans have made.
They were indoors this morning for the chill, but were working their way out of doors where there is more space even as we drew them.
Later we observe some sweet red pandas and eventually a few felines. The cat house is changed from when I worked there years ago. And yet it is familiar.
There is a caracal, this one more curious and mellow than the one which haunted me and jumped at the glass on my watch.
And a bearcat, a local mascot and icon at the university. One of the few collegiate football games I attended back in the day was as a steward for the zoo’s bearcat who goes to represent his home team.
This explains a lot…..
I hear they are vicious but have only really known them to be sleepy.
We have a lovely, but brisk morning out. I am cold and head first to refill my tea water upon arrival at the local market where we gather for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. It is good we arrive early as soon there is a line out the door.
There is the usual sharing of work, a bit of mayhem and illustrated camaraderie as well. I am so thankful for this group of fellow artists at all stages of their careers. They give me hope and encouragement and it’s always fun to head out to draw together.