Today I have the great pleasure of presenting a bit of my illustration work and sketchbook process to some college students at a local university. So I have been collecting a few of my books and drawings and have been thinking deeply how all of this stuff has affected and changed life as I know it. It’s amazing really.
Yes, I am an artist by trade and vocation. But I don’t think one has to be An Artist to find one’s path through life in an artistic manner.
Human beings are born makers.
“When we pay attention to who we believe we are and we surround ourselves with the things that reflect that story, with all its urges, aspirations and processes, we develop a perspective that’s uniquely ours to share. In turn we can share that unique perspective and, acting from a place of greater wholeness and awareness, thus become better and more useful members of our community.”
” I never knew I was creating a world which was an antithesis to the world around me which was full of sorrow, full of wars, full of difficulties. I was creating a world I wanted, and into this world, once it is created, you invited others and then you attract those who have affinities and this becomes a universe.”
I’ve made up a pot of stew, and put the kettle on as well, as this is one of those long and winding posts to share with you a few notions of what’s on my mind, in my heart in recent days. Welcome, and enjoy!
Remember that warning in my last post regarding the poor plants eager to strut their stuff so early in the season? Alas, the last gasp of winter (one hopes) has been blowing across the eastern half of the country and sure enough, those antevernals have taken quite a hit. Many of our flowering trees will have to wait until next year to flower once again, as they are already burned by the brutal cold. It’s sad, but it’s life in a way. Time in the way of trees. Though to be fair, it’s been a strange season in many ways – as if winter got lost along the way and arrived late and possibly drunk to it’s own party.
This probably seems especially true further out east where recovery from the blizzard is just beginning. As for us back here in the hollers of south-western Ohio, we had a bit of snow the other day, some serious cold and wind in the meantime, but all in all -unless one is a spring time flowering plant – we find ourselves relatively unscathed.
(I did manage to rescue a few of the daffodillies before things got too crazy. And for that I am grateful.)
It’s been a time lately of a restless longing which I can’t seem to name. And naming it seems important. As if by naming this vague sense, I could perhaps grab it by the tail and reel it in a bit to get to know it better. Is it the annual hushed call to be outside, barefooted and full of wonder, after the long months of winter’s hibernation? Perhaps. But I sense it is also a desire to delve even further into work I do from the heart. This art/writing/teaching practice of mine seems to be doing some shifting and deepening on it’s own over these last months (maybe even years). Whispers of this seismic activity have been in the darker cornered spaces for a time now, but I am beginning to pick up words of meaning hither and thither, as if I am possibly (finally) learning the language of my own heart.
“How do I talk to a little flower? Through it I talk to the Infinite. and what is the Infinite? It is the silent, small force. It isn’t the outer physical contact. No, it isn’t that. The infinite is not confined to the visible world. It is not in the earthquake, the wind or the fire. It is that still small voice that calls up the fairies.”
~George Washington Carver (former slave, plant genius)
In the deep desire to learn this language, I have been following bread crumbs down many darkened paths. In my ears as I draw and paint or do the delicate handwork at the concertina shop day job, have been podcasts and stories from near and far. By early morning I gobble up books and other publications crafted by such writers as Sharon Blackie, Robert MacFarlane, Sylvia Linsteadt and Mary Reynolds whose words and images evoke lands quite far from here but which sound so very familiar to the ears of my soul.
“Once, we were native to our own places; once we belonged. There is a Gaelic word for it and coming from a language which rises out of a deeply connected animistic world view, it is not easily translated to English. These are the languages of root and leaf, of field and stone, of seaweed and salt. These are the words whispered in our ears by the land as if by a lover; the languages which tell us that we and the land are one. In Irish the word is dúchas; in Scottish Gaelic, dùthchás. It expresses a sense of belonging to place, to a certain area of land; it expresses a sense of rootedness, by ancient lineage and ancestry, in the community which has responsibility for that place. In the Welsh, the word cynefin has a similar meaning. This is the way our ancestors lived.”
It is this belonging I seek. It is this belonging we all seek really, if we but take time to listen to the whispers of our own longing. For me, much of this sense of belonging has come by learning the languages of art and music. These are languages of pure magic.
Through the language of creativity and the visual arts my true inner self was awoken, around the same time as my children were born. Birthing and motherhood were for me the creative sea-change which unleashed my inner artist. The kids and I have artfully come of age together in some ways.
Robert MacFarlane tweeted this quote the other day:
“”With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see”
~Botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’d go a step further and say one sees even more clearly through the act of sitting still and quiet and drawing. The notion of learning to pay attention in this bold and beautiful world is at the heart of what I teach in my workshops. To open up to beauty in small ways as we go about our travels or our day-to-day is to open up our lives to beauty in general. Like attracts like. The more we hone in on that which makes our hearts sing, the more we drawthese things to us. Drawing is powerful, critical magic. When I started my journaling classes, I saw them as simply a way to make some art, to share the notion of being more creative in our lives. But it’s become so much more! What I teach is a life-altering practice. And it’s wonderful to awaken to this and shout it to the skies!
And then there is the music. It’s the Season, after all…..
This bright beautiful music for which I am grateful every day of the year, not just on St. Patrick’s Day. The learning of any music making is a gift of being human in general, but to find that specific type of music which sings to one’s soul – which opens up the notions of community and friendship and travel in new ways – well, that is a true bronntanas an chroí, a gift of the heart.
Like so many Americans, mine is a hodgepodge heritage of mixed ancestry. I know bits and bobs of where I come from, genetically speaking, and lord knows I’ve grown up a child of the world at large – moving from place to place, often country to country in the early years, traveling always and mostly saying, “I could live here.” My family teases me about this, that I seem to be at home most anywhere, especially if there is beauty to behold and capture in my sketches. And it is true, to an extent. I tend to bloom where I am planted, with only shallowed roots. Yet I am always pining for that ‘perfect place’ to call home, while knowing there is no such thing really.
A number of years ago I traveled over to Cavan, Co. Ireland for ten days of the annual Fleadh Cheoil (“Festival of Music”) with my son and a few other close musician friends. I had been to Ireland once before to run a marathon. That had been a memorable trip, full of laughter and tourism and many, many miles with my friends from DC where we lived at the time. A quick in, quick out weekend really. And we didn’t even get far out of Dublin as there was simply no time. But this more recent trip to County Cavan was far different. In the years since my last visit, I had learned so much about Ireland beyond the touristy stuff. I had taken some big bites of the music and had begun to make it my own in my heart. I was so much more wide awake this time around. And the land itself spoke a good deal louder there in the Cavan countryside, away from the traffic and the noise of a road-race, circus-like atmosphere. Each day as we walked the village roads into town from our little house, I felt a sense of home that, if I am to be completely honest, scared me. It’s trite in some ways to admit to that sense of home in Ireland. Especially at this time of year. It is not my place to claim. I live in Ohio. And yet, I have not been able to shake it off in the years since.
I purchased a tiny landscape painting by local Cavan artist Imelda Bradley on the street one day when the sun was actually shining. This moody image of the misty, lake-strewn land of 365 lakes (one for every day of the year!) hangs by my bedside now and informs my dreaming. I look to it to inform my sense of home back here at this home, where I live now. Because this is where I am for now.
I am seeking to deepen that sense of belonging right here, right now. For now is all we are ever promised. Just now. Just this moment. In all of my recent reading and research, I am seeking to find that sense of dúchas in this place in which I currently find myself. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Wendell Berry’s work, as he lives just down the way in rural Kentucky. And funny thing is, apparently so is Robert MacFarlane across The Pond who tweeted this out recently:
“….to defend what we love, we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”
~Wendell Berry (agrarian, writer)
I am finding the language I seek through a mycelium-styled network of like-minded artists, writers and thinkers, many of whom live far away but whose word-ways feel familiar to me. Sometimes they lead me back around nearer to where I live now which is nice. While I read the latest book by Irish garden designer, Mary Reynolds, I also will sign up for an up-coming plant-magic sort of class with Asia Suler of One willow Apothecaries, just south there in the Appalachian mountains, a bit closer to home. I find both of these gardeners carry a similar take on the magic to be found just below our feet and the messages it all may have for us. I also plan to seek out the four stands of old-growth trees right here in my own city (yes, it’s true!!!) as written about by local naturalist John Tallmage in a book I am still devouring called The Cincinnati Arch, Learning from Nature in the City.
I am learning so many new languages. Layers upon layers of expression to bridge the gap between myself and the world. The Spanish language, which I will re-visit and practice once again in Guatemala in just over a week. The language of Irish music, which I’ll play so much of the day tomorrow on the Feast of St. Patrick. The language of trees, which I hope to learn on many levels. Having taken down a number of trees recently, I am wholeheartedly asking our little patch of land what it wants in the way of new trees to replace those which have passed. I hope to have the ears to listen.
I am eager for the language of story as well. So many of the stories to which I am drawn are from far away places. The local stories, at least the older ones, are proving difficult to dig up. But I shall seek them out, even as I enjoy the others, for if a story calls to your heart, then surely there is something there to be learned from it, yes?. Here in Cincinnati, we live on land much like The Chalk, described by Terry Pratchett in his Discworld books, the Tiffany Aching series in particular. This Land Under Wave is as good a place to dig in for now. This place from which to explore the rest of this wide and wonderful world, this place to come home to.
Some while back, I received a gift in the form of a little book on a necklace from a dear friend who knows I love the allure of a blank book. Knowing this book would be near to my heart for years to come, I opted to fill it with some of my favorite quotes and a few doodles as well. The result is this tiny book of truths. I find it to be even more fetching now, filled with words and images I have chosen.
This is the case with all blank books – journals, sketchbooks and the like. They really come alive when we put ourselves into them. I suggest we fill all of those old blank books we might have lying around with quotes and drawings, musings and the day to day magic that makes us individuals. When you do so, do check back and share what you’ve made. Every person’s journal, no matter how big or small is a one of a kind. Just like you!