“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time. The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.
These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world. In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits. It is time for a break. I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough. There must be a balance to these things. A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.
I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives. I believe this to be true. And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
There is a lot to take in just now. Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings. Neither of these things should outweigh the other. We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.
We must pay attention to everything. Closely. It is what artist’s do really.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept. If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all? My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.
So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context. I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing. But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed. Engaged. We all just need a break sometimes.
A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.
“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”
It is also for ‘cute’, and maybe ‘cuddly’ (to look at maybe).
To John Joe Badger (and to me, his ‘c’reatrix) “C” stands especially for ‘community’, which is at the heart of this music. So many of the early days are spent in the woodshed, alone, learning our way around a new instrument. But in the end, the tunes are meant to bring us all together. The goal is to elevate a simple tune into a momentary, never-to-be-repeated magical thing that reminds us that we are all in this life collectively, come what may.
And what a May has come.
This week’s illustration (while, of course remembering that “C” does, indeed, stand for ‘cookie’) is dedicated to two other “C”‘s. Caitlin Warbelow and Chris Ranney, the brains and brilliance behind an amazing project called Tune Supply and who put together a concert featuring 45 artists from around the world this past weekend in celebration of Mother’s Day.
In the comments of the video from this virtual concert are a variety of links to support individual artists involved in this heartwarming project. Or one can just go here to donate to the project as a whole and the artists ‘c’ollectively, in ‘c’ommunity.
Give it all a listen. It’s wonderful. It’s hopeful.
Also in the interest of ‘c’ommunity, but a bit more close to home, I personally have been leading/moderating an online version of a session each week with the folks from the Riley School of Irish Music. It’s not sleek, and it’s imperfect, but we take turns leading tunes or sets of tunes and we play one musician at a time, knowing that somewhere in the world, our mates are playing along with us. We can see them, but not hear them as we play, and we all go unmuted then to chat in between sets. Mostly, we catch up with each other, just make sure we are all playing a bit week to week, and not spending too much time staring into the abyss of a global pandemic. While not an ideal situation, it beats a blank. And let’s face it, few people are in an ideal situation these days.
The same goes for monthly Urban Sketchers virtual outings, both locally here in Cincinnati, and all around the world. (pssst! There is one here this Saturday!! Come join us for a zoom throw-down!) It’s not about the drawings so much as it is about the ‘c’ommunity that can come together again eventually to draw as a group. For now we do our drawings from an online prompt on a mutual theme, then we “throw down” our drawings all together via a zoom call (noon this saturday). Not sleek, not perfect, but it keeps us ‘c’onnected.
These adjustments may need to be in place in some form for some time to be sure. But in the meantime, I am thankful for the virtual world to keep things at least ‘c’onnected. Send me a comment or a message if you are looking to join a virtual session or sketch group and I hope we can connect.
I sit with the sadness this morning. Like so many of us in this time of so many griefs big and small. Not anything in particular really. I am fine actually, personally, just now. The sun is beginning to peek through the clouds and it looks to be a potentially nice day. I may get to see my sister today, from afar, and we will relinquish the little red dragon back into his normal life back home with her and her support team. He is welcome back here any time of course but I know he will bring her comfort between her shifts in the ER.
Here, comforts are bursting forth from the ground up. The long (long) awaited deer fencing is up so we can finally grow some proper food in a real garden bed.
A few things are in the ground of course already. The cold weather kind. And it looks nice to have some life amidst the structure of it all.
I have nothing against deer really. Like all of us they are just trying to make a living in the world. But they are decimators of plant life. And so, while most of our little acre is at their disposal to wander and chew, we’ve cordoned off just this little bit for ourselves. I’ve thought for a long time that growing some of our own food could be paramount. I always thought this notion might be a bit dramatic really. But now it all seems closer to home. Closer to reality.
“Oh the summertime is coming
And the trees are sweetly blooming”
~trad. Irish/Scottish folk song
I am grateful it is spring time. It is good to walk and watch the wild world come alive. A normal spring time here would see my work year ramping up into full gear. Today I was due to be waking up in California, ready to find the weekend’s sketching spots for the upcoming weekend. Well, we all know how that panned out.
And I would usually be chomping at the bit to get back to the Land of Enchantment for a taste of big skies and grand ideas and the feeling that anything is possible. That is Taos for me. But, alas.
A thousand tiny griefs.
It is a difficult balance in this strange new era of corona to make space for all the grief. We as a culture are so quick to categorize the griefs and the joys as big or small, important or trivial – at any given time. And here’s the thing, we don’t know what one thing or another might mean to any other person but our own true selves. The joy of a new sunrise to one person might be equal to the birth of a child to another. Circumstances differ. We must make space for what that sunrise means to that one person on that very day.
I think the same holds for grief. There is so much of it just now. But it does us no good to hold one grief up against another for comparison. Better to just allow. and honor. All of it. It’s hard to do. I’ve been heartbroken this last week or so with the cancellation of not only my Taos work, but the magical week of Swannanoa as well. I had a good long snot cry over each of these in the bath, I’ll be honest. I’m doing my best to honor these losses, to give them space, even while I read the headlines of the death toll mounting, and hear stories of the front line from my sister and her co-workers.
All of it is heart breaking. We must make space.
And we must compost this grief and cultivate joy in this space.
It can feel a bit like a roller coaster of emotions of late. I was saying to a friend the other day that if this time teaches us nothing else, it is giving us lessons in the notion of being as fully present as possible in each and every moment. We don’t know if the things to which we look forward will actually come to fruition. It is a new horizon in tech as we all try to connect real time with our beloved communities and families. I can say for the record that the incorrect connecting device for one’s computer might actually drive one to tears (again) and another lost connection is added to the list of a thousand griefs.
And so how to navigate?
“Look at how a candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
I am fortunate to know many who somehow manage to exist above the fray. I look to them for inspiration. The other day Nuala Kennedy took to the airwaves to do a little concert. It was inspiring and honest and beautiful. Much like Nuala herself.
A couple of far flung artist friends of mine are offering up their teaching online in beautiful ways as well. Erin Lee Gafill of Nepenthe in Big Sur, California has a lovely community built over on facebook if you look for “Awaken The Artist Within”, and her tutorials are over on YouTube. Here’s a sample.
Erin is lovely and calm and brilliant in her scope of experience. She brings a soothing presence to the canvas and to her teaching. Getting into the paints is on my list of joyful things to do in these pandemic times….
Fabian Hernandez is an artist I met down in Antigua and he too is offering some video tutorials for free over on Facebook. I know Facebook is the devil in so many ways, but it is an easy platform in a difficult time. I find myself finding community there (as well as frustration on occasion too) more than usual. This is to be expected and forgiven.
And so, here we are. In need of a bang trim, trying our best.
My friend Rosemary says “I can get used to just about anything, if you just give me a minute or so to adjust.” And I agree. (My metaphor for this same idea is that ” I am not a tug boat in the harbor, more like an ocean liner, and it takes me a bit of time to turn course.” But you get the picture.)
We are here for a while it would seem and every day brings new challenges. Like everyone I am learning to sit with it all. Learning to get my head up in the clouds when needed to get a 30,000 ft view over it all for some perspective. As the weather improves the garden will go on, giving me focus. I can get out into the back room (currently under construction) to play some music perhaps. I’m being more mindful in the last week or so as to what I say yes to. This to give space to the grief that is and the grief that is to come. And the joy.
I am trying to see all of this as the space I have been craving for awhile now. But I do miss my friends. Especially the musical ones.
*small disclaimer: I write this from a place of deep privilege which is not lost on me. I am deeply aware of the bigger broader world, this is just my artful snippet of it. Don’t forget to vote. wherever you are.
I wonder if I will ever get to my places again. To Taos, the west of Ireland, Guatemala. (I will walk to Maine if needed, eventually.) Flying could be tricky from here on out. We are in changed times. I try to be open to what needs to happen from here. I know there will be choices.
Yet there is much hope in the world, though it’s hard to find it on a windy day. I find that merely being in my body properly (something I’ve worked decades to achieve) is difficult some days just now in this time with its fear and uncertainty so familiar in my bones.
The wind howls outside.
A bard of the ages is lost to us this week; one who was the soundtrack to our era and many others as well. I wept at his passing and wish for his loved ones to know a gentle grief if at all possible.
Tomorrow I am told a delivery will occur.
The makings of a boundary here. To cordon off a bit of our small yard to keep for ourselves, away from the voracious overpopulation of deer. I’ve lain awake at night worrying over this deer fence, about its placement, its date of arrival (will it come soon enough for us to get our tomatoes in?!).
I know it’s not about the fence.
Perhaps I can carve a small safe place in the confines of this new garden bed. A place where I might leave my worries at the gate and tend to hopeful things there.
And there are hopeful things.
I keep on with the pipes. (If you missed it, I made a little video):
I’m working with Seattle based musician and song-writer Alex Sturbaum to create some art work in support of his latest album project which is appropriately called Loomings. His songs are timeless. A new bard for the ages.
A big box of really nice paper in a larger-than-I-am-accustomed-to size arrived just the other day and I hope to continue to explore the world of gouache painting. In discovering this new medium I have found a way to take painting on the road without all the solvents involved in oils.
Yet now I wonder if the road will still be there when this is all over.
I try not to think too far ahead. Some days I am not even sure what day it is. I just run. Doing my best to stay ahead of it all.
To begin, a poem from my friend Tina Westerkamp, in response to and in conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while on a run.
Running Conversation with the Connoisseur Over Time
(In which Wallace and I ventilate)
A. It is difficult, even for an expert, to identify which plant exploded the pollen; and
B. Everything is honey to the bee. These two things are one.
It is spring or the cusp of spring.
If I am blue around the edges, and I am;
If the daffodil is a strange attractor shining from the ditch
By the roadside amidst the apocalypse, and it is;
If the vein winding through the newest leaf
Traces the eldest bough branching from the trunk of the tree, and it does;
If the capillaries in my lungs are diminutive doorways
Hinged and swinging in the threshold between my heart
and the wildness of the world, and they are;
If the pinging of last night’s rain on the roof has already been absorbed
By the iterative singing of this morning’s bird, and it has;
And if all of these things happen at once specifically at six o’clock
Down a street in Ohio, and they do; an equation of intersections,
A fracturing of crossroads, is a turbulent nervous system
As intricate as a tangle of honeysuckle, an unfolding
Invasive operation of petals to the mouth
And possibly, therefore, nectar.
After all, the finest splitting of hairy shoots
Proves you must choose which way you turn.
Think of the earth, in theory, as flat as a piece of legal paper,
And politicians drawing their lines on either side
Corralling opinions. Try to follow as their points meander, become
Scribbles and those squirming notes darken the entirety of the page;
And if I may say so we are waiting for someone else to fold
The whole thing, scrap that idea and from its crumpled shape,
Conceive of a new dimension. And yet it could be we are all sculptors now
Fishing forms like clouds out of the wastebasket
Hanging our tossed dreams next to each other
Lining a mackerel sky.
A. Ok, so the pollen has disseminated everywhere.
Some people sneeze and don’t cover their noses.
These are facts. Rumor and disease spread exponentially across space and time,
ignoring borders. No one knows when or where or why things begin.
B. I can see you from April as you write this. Your forehead Is circled by a tricorn hat, blue as a summer moon.
The fleur di lis is golden on your shoulder and heavy after days Of stormy reflections. But suppose you stepped outside of yourself Forgot your positioning and just flew
Allowing each flower to speak its secret name to you through
Its scent and the subtle stinging of your heart….
The holes in our thinking are the only windows through which we can escape. Now A And B are not like laws, chiseled above the courthouse. They are insects with inclinations,
Buzzing around the yard so the woman with ears can hear.
The woman with ears…She hears the peeping of a hundred awkward baby birds;
Each particular chirruping voice is music; is momentum, is the movement of all potential,
We run. Not together of course, but both of us fortunate enough to have the space on our own roads to run. For now at least. There is something animal and therapeutic in running just now. It is a reminder that in some ways, life is still going forward in the world. It is spring time and quite lovely some days. I have only just recently begun my running practice once again, gently ramping up my mileage since autumn to balance a few things out physically. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit more. I am now mostly running once again. This is good.
I had not planned on doing another marathon.
Years ago I went through a marathon phase (that’s a distance of 26.2 miles) and completed 7 races before I was finished with it all. These runs and the training involved helped me birth a healthier self physically and mentally during a time I was working a lot of stuff out personally and learning how to be a parent and partner along the way. I learned I didn’t have to run away from my problems, I could run toward them.
This is a different kind of marathon.
My runs these days allow for thinking time. Peripatetic pondering if you will. I allow the animal body side of myself get the anxiety of feeling hunted by the coronavirus out of my system so that I can think more clearly about what’s ahead and what needs to be done just now. I have read in a variety of places that this unprecedented era in which we find ourselves is best considered a marathon, not a sprint, and that we need to settle in for the long haul.
Everything has changed.
Friday evening we had a zoom call with our dear friends in Maine. We talked of how each day seems to bring a new and uncharted path through emotional territory. Landscapes never traversed by some and left behind for others. The landscape of trauma and uncertainty. They looked a bit shellshocked (aren’t we all?) and I just wanted to climb through the internet and hug them long and close. Later on, after the call, Tony and I found ourselves riding the blissful waves of our evening cocktails and laughing to crying over the muppets and the Carol Burnett show on YouTube.
I’ve heard it said that when preparing to go out for the day in Ireland, one must be prepared for all the seasons in the one day. Emotionally, in this era of the coronavirus, this is what if feels like to me. A roller coaster of crying one minute, determination the next, then silliness, deep belly laughter, a good snot cry in the bath tub, shaky anxiety, sheer panic (in which it might be time for a run).
Well, you get the picture.
There is a tremendous amount of doing everywhere just now. Virtually speaking, that is. A ton of ideas for how to pass the time during the (extremely privileged) time of quarantine. I look back at a blog post from just last week where I decided to throw my hat into this ring with the idea of journaling our way through this perilous journey. Some days I do this, many days I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I remind myself that this blog is my travel journal. This is the work. This is enough just now.
I am doing the best I can. You are doing the best you can. We must all be gentle with ourselves. Like everyone, I do a bit of reading a few times a day to keep up with the breakneck pace of what’s being reported regarding this pandemic. And today, this gem came across my twitter feed.
“The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.” ~Aisha S. Ahmad
I beg you to read it as, despite it’s title, it’s actually a hopeful read about the future and what we can do just now to build that future. It’s about taking care of those most vulnerable in your nearest circles and considering the literal security of your loved ones. It covers the notion that we are all confronting a complete shift in psychological paradigms the likes of which most people have never even considered a possibility.
The article and the author’s gentle approach to moving forward resonated with me with these two sentences in particular:
“…..to those colleagues and friends who hail from hard places, who know this feeling of disaster in their bones.”
“….calamity is a great teacher.”
While of course we have never been here before, to me there is a familiarity to where we find ourselves. As a child I lived through the catastrophic earthquake in Guatemala City in 1976 and while I was small and wasn’t navigating the aftermath in the way my parents had to, something about this pandemic feels familiar in my bones. As the state of the world becomes clearer and clearer and the length to which we must go to keep each other safe becomes more and more stringent, I find it difficult to keep up with the idea of “normalcy”. There is a completely different normal. Any painting or writing or music playing I’ve done recently has been because I simply had to not to cry all the time.
“I paint in order not to cry.” ~Paul Klee
What I have spent most of my time thinking about and doing is more in keeping with the advice in Ahmad’s article. I’ve ramped up my garden plans from long term soil building to get-this-shit-done-NOW mode. I’m obsessively checking in with my older neighbors and my mom and her partner so we can blend any grocery errands to include them. We’ve even taken in my sister’s dog so that she can reduce contact with her family and friends as she navigates her career in the ER. I’ve just been sort of following my gut through all of this. Feeling like these are the things to be done just now. This article made me feel sane and seen and hopeful all in one go. And I love that she reminds us that our creative minds will be back in service, once we allow this all to settle in a bit.
And so, I work on my beautiful little patch of land to redirect the deer….
We get to know sweet Ari who misses his mom but is taking one for the team just the same…..
When I sit down to paint, I find a source photo I like and do small studies and sketches just to stay in practice. They are like a meditation, like a gentle run. I like them quite a lot….. (and you can keep up with paintings I might be working on over on Instagram.) Perhaps they’ll lead to bigger work, but for now, they are enough.
“And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time.”
~Death Cab for Cutie (What Sarah Said)
I’m forging forward with learning the uillean pipes, for good or ill. It’s challenging and fun and is a sure fire trick for giving my mind a break from adjusting to the new normal. The other day a group of 27 women pipers got together from all around the world to share a few tunes. It was miraculous and beautiful and I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. So grateful for it all that I’ll admit to being a little bit weepy for most of the call. I played along on a few jigs and listened and learned.
“So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’
And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain
I have my ship and all her flags are a flyin’
She is all I have left and music is her name”
~Crosby, Stills & Nash
The news is, indeed dire. We in Ohio brace for the worst, but are thankful for the work of our forward thinking, science leaning Governor Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, head of the State Health Department. We brace ourselves while also taking time for a run on a sunny day, the joy of a new tune, the allowance of a breakdown now and then. (This quote from facebook tugged at my heartstrings the other night. I couldn’t even read it aloud to Tony over puzzle time that evening.)
“I was a bit upset, initially, with J.K. Rowling because of the way that the Harry Potter book series robbed Harry, Hermione and Ron of their final terms as Hogwarts students. I felt like we had traveled this far together with them through the wizarding school, and it only seemed fair that we get to watch them work through their last level. Life had different plans for them though, and Rowling wrote the path that was true for her characters as much as it is now for students everywhere — especially seniors. What you are doing right now is helping the world stand up against a deadly enemy in order to protect countless lives. You are Harry Potter. You are Hermione Granger. You are Ron Weasley. You miss Hogwarts, and Hogwarts misses you. But your role here is crucial, and it will bless the paths of many lifetimes to come. Though many will still fall in this battle, you are doing your part to stave off an even greater global disaster. You are being true to your school in the most unexpected of ways, and you will graduate with the honor of having played a key part in this fight. Your work so far and chance for further accomplishments haven’t been dashed. A world of opportunity will await you when we get past this. Take heart and have hope. And remember the words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” #FlattenTheCurve.” ~From somewhere on facebook (if you know the source, let me know!)
We simply do the best we can in this now. All in all, I feel really good. I’m feeling all the feelings in the realest way possible and doing what needs to be done, which on any given day looks different perhaps. I appreciate how lucky we are to have technology to keep us in touch in these strange times and I look forward to forging a new path forward in the world.
And now, before the Riley School Music Committee meets on zoom later today to figure some plan out to keep our musicians engaged, I’m gonna go for a long run.