Category Archives: life

All Seasons, One Day

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)

I.
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.

II.
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.

III.
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.

IV.
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.

V.
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,
irregular spheres,
Floating.

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.

Here’s the link: Why You Should Ignore All That Corornavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

“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.”

and

“….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.

“It is not talking of love, but living in love, that is everything.”

And so, I work on my beautiful little patch of land to redirect the deer….

We had quite a bit of luck with the fishing line trick last year. This is for the front yard (along with some twig weaving for flair). A proper fence around the veg garden in back is in the works….

We get to know sweet Ari who misses his mom but is taking one for the team just the same…..

Miraculously, he doesn’t seem to mind the uillean pipes!!!!

Ari and Charlie get along just fine.

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)

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I went on a morning run in the historic and beauty-filled city of Antigua Guatemala. It was early and only a few people were out and about, really. I needed a run to clear my head before the day’s teaching ahead of me. There were tourists at hostel doorways awaiting shuttles to their next destination, backpacks at the ready. There were smiling sisters awaiting a church opening. A fruit vendor was turning a corner on cobbles and found himself quite stuck and so I asked him if I might help get him over the bump in the road. He grinned and said, “Sí, sí! Gracias!” And so we pushed and pushed the cart onto more level ground then waved a goodbye as we both headed on to our work day. As I neared home to our Posada, the Parque Centrál came into view and a lovely “quinceañera” was by the fountain in her gown getting her photo taken. Like many others on this random, average Antigua day, I stopped and admired this young woman on the cusp of adulthood. The color and light and temperature were perfect. A beautiful moment, marking a turning point in one young life. I got a little teary, as one does at these things. Today I painted this moment from a photograph, from a very different vantage point. And no less teary. So many milestones missed this season amidst the worries surrounding this global pandemic. And I’m reminded that it’s all right to grieve it all. My heart goes out to the graduates and prom goers and brides and grooms and anyone who was planning anything. This is really really hard. On SO many levels. And it’s ok to grieve all of it. Pouring love into my paintbrush as it’s the only thing I know how to do.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I went on a morning run in the historic and beauty-filled city of Antigua Guatemala. It was early and only a few people were out and about, really. I needed a run to clear my head before the day’s teaching ahead of me. There were tourists at hostel doorways awaiting shuttles to their next destination, backpacks at the ready. There were smiling sisters awaiting a church opening. A fruit vendor was turning a corner on cobbles and found himself quite stuck and so I asked him if I might help get him over the bump in the road. He grinned and said, “Sí, sí! Gracias!” And so we pushed and pushed the cart onto more level ground then waved a goodbye as we both headed on to our work day. As I neared home to our Posada, the Parque Centrál came into view and a lovely “quinceañera” was by the fountain in her gown getting her photo taken. Like many others on this random, average Antigua day, I stopped and admired this young woman on the cusp of adulthood. The color and light and temperature were perfect. A beautiful moment, marking a turning point in one young life. I got a little teary, as one does at these things. Today I painted this moment from a photograph, from a very different vantage point. And no less teary. So many milestones missed this season amidst the worries surrounding this global pandemic. And I’m reminded that it’s all right to grieve it all. My heart goes out to the graduates and prom goers and brides and grooms and anyone who was planning anything. This is really really hard. On SO many levels. And it’s ok to grieve all of it. Pouring love into my paintbrush as it’s the only thing I know how to do. (from IG)
There are a few things that can drive the hum of covid worries from my mind for a little while at least. A good long run, time working in the garden, sleep (when I can achieve it) and, the most predictable and reliable, painting. Painting is an escape into shape and color, light and shadow, form and volume. It is the great escape for now. I’m grateful for it, in these troubled times. (from IG)
Thinking of my friends in Antigua today. Wondering how everyone is during this crazy time. The streets of so many bustling towns find themselves empty just now. I just look for light and color. (from IG)

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.

 

 

 

Rambling ways

As any of the long time readers among you here already know, much of the focus of my work involves the art of keeping a travel journal.  I am often found wandering the world to my favorite depth-filled places to capture a bit of their magic and bring it home with me, in my journals and on this blog as well.  My travels have shaped who I am since I was a small girl.     Though divorce and poverty curtailed my adventures in later childhood and my teen years, the gypsy spirit of early life remained.  Through more localized years here back in Ohio, I learned to appreciate the magic all around me in the mundane.  I walked barefooted in the creek behind my friend’s house and searched for fascinating crawdads.  For vacations we camped and hiked, and once even took a “Big Trip” up to the Great Lakes.

“You pass through places and places pass through you
But you carry them with you on the soles of your travelers shoes.”              ~ The Be Good Tanyas

Like many in the world just now, I do not know what my work will look like in the coming months and possibly years.

There will likely be a curtailment of my rambling ways at least short term .  Time will tell.  But this doesn’t mean that I won’t be working in my sketchbook, or that I’ll quit teaching.  I may need to go back to what got me here in the first place.

“And I’m going to quit these rambling ways
One of these days soon, ooh”   ~be good tanyas

You see, the amazing trips I take and the workshops I teach started off because people would get a glimpse of my sketchbook and say, “you should teach that.”  It took me a long time to take these comments seriously.  For the longest time, I didn’t even know other people made books like mine, filled with thoughts, doodles, sketches, quotes, artful experiments, photos, stamps, etc.  It’s just what I did as a way to check in with myself.  A way to have a history of it all.

“What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away.  Too strong to stop.  Too sweet to lose.”

~ Willa Cather

The piles and piles of books I have amassed over the years have played a large part in teaching me who I really am at the heart of it all.  My travels are amazing, sure.  But sometimes it’s the bits between the trips where the real work is happening.  The practicing.  The daily dredging for internal inspiration.  The reaching toward a lighter way of being in the world.  Turning away from the constant stream of what the broader popular culture says I should think and care for, and figuring out my own true north.  All of this happened in my books.

How to Make a Travel Journal for Turbulent Times?

There is a lot of content flying around on the internet.  Really great stuff from artists and musicians and writers, interpreting this time in their own way.  Continuing to make art in spite of dire uncertainty.  I’ve also seen many fellow artists admit that they are simply a bit shell-shocked by it all and are finding it difficult to concentrate.  This is where I happen to fall.

We mustn’t be too hard on ourselves.  I’ve been blogging and drawing a bit, but the hum of worry about The State of Things occupies a lot of bandwidth.  I am beginning to settle in to this new normal, this grand and difficult state of unknowing and anxiety and I am beginning to think about my own contribution in the midst of it.

This morning in the wee hours, the words Traveling through Turbulent Times kept weaving and wandering through my troubled mind.  And so I grabbed onto the tail of one of those threads and followed it awhile and came up with some ideas.

Many of us are home bound now, for the near and foreseeable future.  Our mental health might be taking a toll.  Making art is a great way to rewire our brains and get our thoughts pointed in a healthier direction…..

“Do not let the world make you hard.”

old adage via @malakagharib

So, let’s start a travel journal.  Right now.  In the midst of chaos.

An historian I follow over on twitter (wish I could remember which, but I can’t) posted something that stuck with me.  They said something to the effect of:

“Start a journal.  Write all of this down.  What you feel, how you are affected by all of this, all of it.  Historians in the future will thank you.”

I believe this to be true.  Even before all of this started, I have always believed that everyone of us matters.  I still believe this.  Our voices are recognizable on the phone when a loved one or friend picks up on the other end of the line.  This holds true for drawing and writing as well.

“The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.”  ~the be good tanyas

So below are some tips to get started and links to light the way.  I give you these with a promise:

I will be here.  Reach out to me here on the blog, over on IG or Twitter or Facebook and send me a message.  We can chat about what holds you back, ideas to get a page started or completed, what to do about a drawing.  We can do this, together.  This is my gift to you for the time being….

Step 1:  Get yer materials together.  

A book, a little set of watercolors and a few things to write/draw with.  That’s it.  Most of us have some sort of blank book we “don’t want to ruin” lying around on a shelf somewhere.  Get it out and mess it up.  As for watercolors, if you don’t have them, try to order them, or, send out the proverbial bat signal in your local community.  Some one is bound to have something lying around.  We will work together with the materials YOU have.

Step 2:  Set an intention (and optional step 2.a, collage the cover of your book.  Nothing fancy, just some cut out stuff you like.  Get some glue all up in it.  Allow to dry.)

Pick a quote that you like.  If you find this overwhelming, let me know, I have a stash of them.  A good one for the time we find ourselves in is:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

~JRR Tolkien, Fellowship of The Ring

Now write or type or print this quote into the front cover or first page or so of your book.

a few volumes with collaged covers.

Step 3: (the scary step)  Begin

This is the hard part.  The part where you will not like your drawings for a while perhaps, or you might notice your handwriting has tilted one way or another, you might “mess up” a page.  Keep going.   Trust me.  And here are a few ways how as you move forward…….

Make lists.

Seek the words of the wise ones.  Write or type them out on an old typewriter or print them out to glue into your book.  (not just for the intention page, but wherever you feel like sprinkling them throughout your own book.)

Don’t be afraid of the dark stuff.  You can always paint over it if you need to later.  But get it out.  Write that shit down lads.  Get. It. Out.  On to the page.   Look at work by Amanda Grace, Julia Cameron, and others.

Slow down and savor the small things.  Make a cup of tea in your favorite cup.  Try drawing it.  Then do it again.  Notice the differences in your drawings.  Make notes.  Do it again.  Look at the work of Dan Price and Danny Gregory.

If you are new to watercolor, begin by just making colors.  See how much water is too much, too little.  See how far you can stretch a color out with just water, thus creating value.  Make little color swatch squares, page after page after page of experiments.  Make a day of it.  Try to match some colors in your home or yard if you are permitted out of doors.  There are so many greens and grays in the world it might make your head spin.  (Hit me up if you are struggling, and we can do a zoom chat and make some colors.)

Time travel!!  Use old photos of past trips, or online photos of dreamed of journeys as inspiration and source photos for drawings.   Approach these drawings in a variety of ways.  Contour drawing, just paint, paint and ink, pencil.

Add text/words to your page.  Try your hand at Haiku or The American Sentence.

Make a note every day of something that makes you go *gasp*.  Pay attention to these things.  They will light the way.

In spite of the world seeming dim just now, write down the things you see, hear, read that are positive.  Our brains are hardwired as a survival trick to follow the negative.  We must circumvent that to stay mentally healthy.

Pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Pick a color, and draw/ paint/ list 3-5 things that are of that color around you.

For 1 week, make a page of what you eat each day.  Draw or print pictures to put in your journal.

If you are able to get outside at all, either on a hike by yourself, or just out in your own garden, make a nature journal.  Get to know the work of my husband Tony over on instagram.  He “doesn’t consider himself an artist.”  But I beg to differ.  He just began, and kept going……

Keep track of which birds are coming or going, what plants are popping up.  Learn your weeds and your mushrooms.  Draw them.  There is no better way to get to know them.

Note that Cathy Johnson is offering her book about keeping an artist’s nature journal for free viewing online.

“copy” the work of artists you admire.  Do this in your sketchbook as a great way to learn.  Make a note on your drawing of who you are “working in the style of” and what you learned.

Don’t be afraid to be silly, get into your imagination a bit now and then.

Step 4:  Keep going, enjoy the journey.  

Hook up online with your local chapter of the Urban Sketchers.  If you don’t have a chapter near you, come join us Cincinnatians.  It’s a wonderful, inclusive community.  All chapters around the world just now are working virtually.  It’s a great time to practice from the safety of your desktop while getting to know your fellow sketchers online.  Join us!

As a global community, we are collectively on entirely new ground.  There will be discomfort and grief.  And possibly a lot of it.  I can only say that a practice of sitting with a simple sketchbook set up and taking stock, even in, and perhaps especially in, the roughest times, can be a bit of a soothing balm to a weary soul when all is said and done.  These personal impressions of ours are important to express.  And one day we may even want to share them.

We will get through this, alone, together.  I’m off now to get out of my pajamas (it’s 2 pm.) and to make a pot of soup and some cookies.  I plan to wrap these up to deliver to neighbors as a way of saying hi, I love you and to connect in a way that isn’t online.  Then likely I’ll play a few tunes, write a bit in my journal, make a painting.  Join me.

With love,

amy

 

The Basket Times

Oh y’all.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a hug.  I get them here from my hub now and then, and I am grateful for that to be sure.  But I also miss my mom, and my friends, especially the musical ones.  So many of whom are the most generous huggers.  Out on my run today I encountered many others outside enjoying the (for the moment) mild weather.  We crossed the road to avoid one another.  I think we are all terrified of what’s coming, or is possibly already here among us.

Today I heard from one far flung friend who said that yesterday she felt like a basket case.  And that today she was doing all right, all things told.  I told her that I was feeling the exact opposite.  Yesterday felt like things were going to be ok…..

Then, after last night’s tornado warning, complete with sirens (thank the gods however, not the tornados) and a sleep filled with vivid dreaming that was no true sleep at all, I’ll admit to feeling a bit more fragile today.

Some days we fill the baskets, other days we are busy making the baskets.  And then, some days, we are just the basket cases.  These are the Basket Times.

My sister is an Emergency Nurse.  We chat on the phone occasionally and she gives me the update from her ground level view on this crisis.  She and others like her have heard what’s coming from places far away.  They are as ready as they can be.  I salute these heroes just now with their uncanny ability to thrive and shine in mayhem.   I marvel.

Not all heroes wear capes.  

Grace under pressure.

Cooling palm across my brow.

Eyes of an angel.

Lay me down.

~Elbow

When we were expecting our second child, we were under the care of a team of midwives.  They were much less ‘medical’ in their approach to birth.  Much more willing to let things be as they needed to be as they moved forward.  Our Madeleine was 16 days late.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea in recent days as I ponder the notion of control, and the human thinking that we might actually have control over anything at any time.  Especially with regard to the state of things in the world being what they are.

Right now we are in a time of waiting.  A time of deep un-knowing.  It is like that expectant time before the birth of a child.  But darker, of course.  I am reminded of the depth of similarities between the energy in a room awaiting the birth of a new one and that of a room on the edges of greeting death.  I have witnessed both many times and in spite of the differing circumstances and people involved, there is always that moment of stillness, just before and just after this crossing that feels somehow transcendent over all other times.

We are in that moment as a country.

“Sunsets over the city, clouds are rising
And you can see clear up to the night time sky
And if you’re feeling precious, you want to do well
Think of others, ask for a prayer underneath Christchurch bells”

~Hothouse Flowers

We all have our ways of being in the world.  Some doers.  Others shining in ways I can’t comprehend.  There are those (perhaps one leading a large country, for example) who seem built to wreak havoc and sadness where e’er they roam.  I for one am a bit of a watcher.  raised in a variety of settings which helped build long internal antennae, I merely observe.

People are dealing with this crisis in an array of ways.  There is panic and grief and creativity and generosity.   There is judgement and finger-pointing, joy-making and a renewed sense of community in some unlikely places.  Aside from the obvious, there is no wrong way to deal with it all and we must each follow our own path, depending on what kind of basket day it might be.

I’ve heard it said, “this slowing down is such a gift.”  Well, yes, for some.  Those with the privilege to weather the economic storm this slowing down brings, sure.  It’s lovely indeed actually.   I’ve also seen others’ online contributions ramp up in a near frantic wave of “doing, doing, making, making!” which is indeed inspiring in this time of being home-bound and maybe a bit restless and in need of entertainment.  But this level of doing is only right for some.  We must all just do as we can and as we must as this all pans out.

“Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”

Queen & David Bowie

We mustn’t forget to take breaks from the online sphere now and then, to admit to friends (yes, perhaps even professional contacts) that maybe this afternoon, we aren’t quite ourselves.  We must check in on one another and do what we can.

We must learn to be openly alone.

Together.

This is a time of great change and uncertainty.  And we do not know what is ahead.  But perhaps we might learn something from the springtime emerging all around us here in the northern hemisphere.  We can learn to begin again.

“Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.

Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark determination
and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and the future
old friends passing through with us still.

Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.”

~Brendan Kennelly

From what is broken and empty in our western, consumer driven, capitalistic culture……

……perhaps we might bloom again into something different, better, brighter.

Perhaps we might feed each other in new ways, locally and in balance…..

Perhaps we might make light out of ruin.

Happy first day of spring.  May we, here at Equinox, come to balance once again.

Balance. It was all about balance. That had been one of the first things that she had learned: the centre of the seesaw has neither up nor down, but upness and downness flow through it while it remains unmoved. You had to be the centre of the seesaw so the pain flowed through you, not into you.”

~Terry Pratchett

Oh and ps, if you need a good, cleansing cry,  check out this new work from my dear friend Kim.  (click the green letters!!)  She makes musical magic with word and song.

 

Isolated Holiday

Twist of Hemp ~ Week 19

It is generally held that piping can be thought of as a relatively solo pursuit.  Especially at the very beginning when no sane individual (even a true fan of the music) wants to be within a mile of one new to the uillean piping tradition and practice….

But there is one day a year when all the practicing adds up to getting out to play.  That day is St. Patrick’s Day.  Now, John Joe Badger is definitely not ready for public prime time on the pipes (ahem, neither am I, dear reader, and so we stick to the flute for now when playing in public!!) but as he learns his tunes in lonesome fashion, he never knows who might be listening and taking note that more and more recognizable notes are being strung together for all of his solitary efforts.

 

 

It’s a sad St. Patrick’s Day this year, what with gigs canceled and missing my mates who make this time of year a real favorite of mine.  But though we may feel alone in these uncertain times, we are not.

We must make our merry music still and know we are never alone.

There are plans in Ireland for everyone to sing together at noon in musical and cultural solidarity.

Inspired by Italians singing together whilst in quarantine, I look forward to seeing the results later today online.  As for myself, and of course, good ol’ John Joe Badger, we will spend part of today playing music.  I will keep drawing and painting as it all brings me such solace.

I do so from a place of deep gratitude for the ability to place my energy in these pursuits.  I am safe and healthy while self-isolated.  But there is much fear and uncertainty in the world just now.  And for that, we must take courage and lead from a place of love.  Always.

When the light around lessens
And your thoughts darken until
Your body feels fear turn
Cold as a stone inside,

When you find yourself bereft
Of any belief in yourself
And all you unknowingly
Leaned on has fallen,

When one voice commands
Your whole heart,
And it is raven dark,

Steady yourself and see
That it is your own thinking
That darkens your world.

Search and you will find
A diamond-thought of light,

Know that you are not alone,
And that this darkness has purpose;
Gradually it will school your eyes,
To find the one gift your life requires
Hidden within this night-corner.

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

Close your eyes.
Gather all the kindling
About your heart
To create one spark
That is all you need
To nourish the flame
That will cleanse the dark
Of its weight of festered fear.

A new confidence will come alive
To urge you towards higher ground
Where your imagination
will learn to engage difficulty
As its most rewarding threshold!

~John O’Donohue

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit !!!!  

Lying low in Splendid Isolation

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

~John O’Donohue

“Hiding is a way of staying alive… One of the brilliant & virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world.  Hiding, done properly is the internal faithful promise for a future emergence.”

~David Whyte from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and meaning of everyday words.  (I was reminded of this snippet via the lovely Tanya Shadrick who’s work you should read as well.)

Here we are.

Our worries so collectively numerous as to be overflowing.  Amidst all this corona-consumed madness it is difficult to sort out the complicated feelings we are all experiencing as we navigate an unprecedented global crisis.  I find it hard to believe that just a week ago I was newly home from a few weeks away in a land blessed with color and volcanic breezes.  I’ll admit I am a bit homesick for lovely Guatemala.

Now I am on lockdown here at home.

This is not out of fear for my own safety, but rather a trust in those who study the paths pathogens take, and knowing that to hide away for a few weeks, or more, is to be a good citizen of the world.  I worry for my older relatives and friends and hope they keep to their promises to lie low.  This too shall pass, yes?

An old friend and co-worker of mine, who’s name I won’t mention here, is treating this time of crisis with online mockery.  He is, thankfully, one of just a few.  I know his mocking stems from fear.  Fear of losing his income with gigs drying up.  I remember when he was tenderly tending his ailing father many years ago, and I wonder, would he have mocked if this crisis occurred then?   I do not know.  I try not to judge.  I really try.  Those he mocks are panic buying all the essentials – yet another behavior borne of fear.

Fear and anxiety are so thick in the world just now one can almost smell it.

As a country and as a world community, we are being asked to come together (or rather more truthfully, to stay apart) for the good of those most vulnerable among us, and to allow the hospitals to do what they can with the inevitable scenario as it plays out.  It’s been generations since this level of selflessness was asked of us all – especially of Americans.  Our overriding culture is not one which rewards selflessness, or slowness, or quietude but these are the very things necessary at this crucial time in history.  As I write that though, I am also struck thinking about all of the beautiful offerings I have seen online from people reaching out to one another to give assistance in some way or other.  Propping each other up with offers to pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, offers to help with child care, calls to be kind to those manning the shops and stores still open with necessities.  And I think, perhaps our WWII era ancestors might be proud of us after all.

What would the twitter feed look like back in WWII???  I wonder……

One can almost hear a shifting of universal paradigms.  This morning I went outside with the dog and a cup of coffee.  Sunday mornings are often comparatively quiet, but this hush was exceptional.  The occasional car went past on the local highway which usually sounds like an angry seashore.  Birdsong was raucous and beautiful.  A sign of spring, yes, but also a sign of the human world having hit the pause button for now.  It’s eerie and beautiful, this quiet.  It’s a quiet I have been craving my entire life.  I find it sad that it has to be a crisis of this level which brings about such a wished-for hush.   But I’ll take it.

A sad time of year for the world’s social calendar to get canceled. As you may have guessed, St. Patrick’s Day will be a quiet one this year.

In the coming days, weeks (and who knows? maybe months) we are all adjusting to this slowing down.  Yesterday my hub and daughter spent the day painting with Bob Ross.  They chose a “calm” painting video of his and got to work.

I too did a bit of painting myself……

….. in a little book I obtained in Antigua and which I covered with a beautiful textile “scrap”.

I painted abstractly from photos I have of the ruins……

I wonder about the state of the world and feel that we find ourselves in a new and unexpected era.  I wonder what we will learn from it, if anything.

With St. Patrick’s Day essentially canceled, many of us are woodshedding tunes we hope to learn.  I like to call these “quarantunes.”  One is called Splendid Isolation, which is apt.

And another couple of tunes….. (I about have the first but still working on the second. And oh, June, your tone.  What is your secret?????)

Sometimes during times of strife, I turn to the music and remember that many of the old-fashioned Irish tunes were composed and shared in times of great turmoil and sadness.  During mass emigration and scattering of loved ones, during times of brutal occupation and ensuing troubles.  I am reminded that we can get through this, together and will once again rollick as one.

We are all just doing the best we can just now, and this is crucial to remember.  We must go gently.  Those unaccustomed to staying at home with little to do might feel a bit stir crazy in coming weeks.  Those unaccustomed to the constant undertow and thrum of anxiety will have some adjusting to do.   This gives me a chuckle as an anxiety-prone introverted wanderer and I think, ‘finally, a scenario I was built for!’

There is a lot of pressure via the online world to turn this time of quarantine into a hub of productivity.  There are posts about Newton and his genius calculus figuring.  And Shakespeare and his writing of King Lear in the time of the Plague.  While I do plan to paint and play music,  these are things I do anyway in my day to day.  I reject this notion that we must produce in order to have value somehow.   Let us give in a bit to boredom.  To not doing all the time.  This slowing down to think and feel on a deep level may be the greatest thing that comes out of these dark days.

Like many, I am nervous about the future.  Besides my day job at the concertina shop (and thank the gods for it!!)  Nearly ALL of my paying work comes from my travel journaling workshops.  We got Guatemala done and dusted just as the virus was beginning to really affect travel plans and the psyches of my participants.  I have canceled my yearly spring trip to do the 2-day workshop in California.  Perhaps things will have come back to some level of normalcy by June and Taos will go off without a hitch.  But I do not know and I am steeling myself for all possible scenarios.  As we all must do in uncertain times.

As we move forward in the coming days, let us merely be gentle.  Gentle with ourselves and kind toward one another.  Most people acting badly are doing so out of fear.  I believe it was fear that elected our current president (and will ye look where that’s gotten us?!).  May we feel our own fear and honor it while at the same time not acting from that place of fear, but rather from a place of love and tenderness for one another.  Keep reaching out online, keep digging in those gardens if you can (dirt is good for the immune system!), keep playing and creating if you feel like it.  Allow yourself to just shut down too if you feel the need to.  It will all be ok.  Somehow.

The cat who hugged back

“And I see the leaves turn a bit in the air and the breeze coming in feels like the whole world is a pet that is breathing on me and I think, ‘Well, I am so sensitive and I am very fragile but so is everything else, and living with a dangerous amount of sensitivity is sort of what I have to do sometimes, and it is so very much better than living with no gusto at all.  And I’d rather live with a tender heart, because that is the key to feeling the beat of all of the other hearts.'”

~Jenny Slate, Little Weirds

Greetings from the House of the Broken-Hearted.  It’s taken me a few days to get to this post, with yet another chapter of sorrowful news.  I am so used to writing about dogs.  Their antics and full presence in my life has always been a more public thing here in this space of sharing.  But the cat, well, the cat somehow occupied a quieter, more private, place in my heart.  How to even begin to write about the gentle and constant presence of a quasi-domesticated creature who has shared our home for nearly 16 years?   Yet with a few days to ruminate, and scroll through old photos, I knew I owed at least a blog post in honor of Ian Small.

It seems Iris and River were holding up the train for this old cat who, much to our sadness, opted to join the rest of the ginger-flavored crew onto the Next Great Adventure late last week.   With age had come blindness and confusion, weight loss and miscalculations around the litter box situation.  We had been navigating all of this for a good long while.  When I took Ian into the vet well over a week ago, hopeful for a simple fix, she said, “Whenever you are ready, it’s time.”

I came home to sit with it for another week, to give a chance for goodbyes and a few more nights’ snuggling.  But eventually, he peacefully joined the others.  The vet reckons that the big dogs with their big physical presence and their tight routines, had actually aided in Ian’s adjusting to losing his sight a while back and with them gone from his world, he felt a bit lost.

In which Ian shows off his best impression of Greg Louganis.

We all feel a little bit lost here lately.

Ian was a tiny kitten who grew into a huge ginger bear.  The kind of cat who hugged back.

In his prime, he didn’t know a stranger and welcomed all with curiosity and a sweet demeanor.

As he got older, napping was really his most sincere occupation, which he took quite seriously.

This is of course when he wasn’t studying the activities at the bird feeders outside.

It was a difficult decision to give Ian a peaceful passing.  One wonders if the time is ever right.  But in the end, he left us quickly and painlessly and I feel confident it was the right decision, as bereft as I was to have to go through with it.  And there had been so much suffering here lately.  I was not going to prolong it for our beloved cat.

It’s really strange to be in the house right now.  So much change.  So much loss.  A mass exodus of what had been a true life’s blood of the household.  It will be an adjustment I am sure.  And I am soul-weary.

Travel beckons now.  I am nowhere near ready.  But I have in my heart lessons from some four-legged friends on how to be fully present at all times, how to relish in the sensuous delights of occupying a physical body, how to play and make friends and live in a state of beautiful curiosity.

And for all of this, I am deeply grateful.  Rest easy sweet Ian Small.  May there be tuna and catnip upon your arrival in the Land Beyond.  You’ve earned it.

 

On tea and frustrations

It has been one of those weeks for John Joe Badger and company.  Sometimes that’s just the way it is.  Life intervenes with unexpected catastrophes, things are dropped and perhaps broken, loved ones fall ill and must be attended to.  We are all in this together.

When things are a bit shattered and scattered, and we have taken stock of damages, the next thing to do is to put the kettle on.  A good strong cup of tea is called for.

I suppose all this Irish music and trips to the emerald isle have given me a keen taste for a strong cuppa over the years.
New flying feck buttons, key chains and magnets. Limited supply just now, but I am having fun with them!

After a few flying fecks have shot through the air, we always come back around to the tunes – once the dust has settled, and the tea has warmed and soothed our frazzled nerves.

 

Iris solemnly swears she will never eat bad deer poo again, ever.

Hopefully John Joe will have a more musical post for you all next week.  He’s been fiddling with the reed in his pipes and is beginning to “get his crow back”.  Stay tuned!!

 

 

 

On a monday

For Angie,

My heart is poured out like water.

My bones are scattered.

My heart, like wax, is melted.

Psalm 22:14

Miraculously, the sun shines here this morning, setting aglow a sycamore tree outside my window.  I am delighted by this quiet beauty here at home, yet a feeling of deep sadness echoes in my heart.

Yes, and.   As it goes most of the time these days.

I talked with a dear friend in Australia yesterday.  A long overdue delicious conversation, rich with traded thoughts on writing, art, friendship and of course, the fires raging there and the crack-pot politics of both our countries.

photo: Matthew Abbott, NYT, Metro UK

It is all so much to take in, really.   The news from there in Oz, the war-drum-beating antics of the leadership in this country, the climate deniers in both.

Fear and fire, mayhem and madness.

I attempt, this morning, to find quiet in all of it somehow.

And I suppose, the usual paths will just have to do.

My work, both here in the studio and at my beloved day-job.  Moving my body to remind myself to remain there as I am prone to jettison at times.  Resting my mind – careful and mindful as to what is permitted to take root there.  Always a delicate balance.

There is nothing I can do just now with regard to the bush fires in Australia, or the beating on the drums of war by my own government.  But I can sow a bit of kindness where I can when I go out into the world today.  I can keep to my work of depth and beauty, in spite of and perhaps because of what is going on in the world at large.   It is challenging.

We must keep faith, we quiet artists, hiding in the sidelines of things.  But this can change the world.  At least on a small scale.   If this is all we can do, for now, today, then we must do it.

Sending love and thoughts for gentle rains to Australia.

Winding Down

“Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for the unknown God. Then if a bird sing among your branches, do not be too eager to tame it. If you are conscious of something new – thought or feeling, wakening in the depths of your being – do not be in a hurry to let in light upon it, to look at it; let the springing germ have the protection of being forgotten, hedge it round with quiet, and do not break in upon its darkness.”

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Amiel’s Journal

We come toward the end of what feels like a turbulent year, and I suppose a turbulent decade.

The weather has been unsettlingly mild here in our valley.  Then last night a tempest blustered in with all the drama of a storm we might normally see in March.  Complete with thunder and lightning, the wind put an end to any idea of peaceful sleeping.   And now, this morning, it is more seasonably cool, the skies a steely gray, which I love.

All in all though, we have been blessed with a restful holiday, busy enough with gatherings and visitations, yet spacious too, with blocks of time affording moments of self-reflection, some well over-due house-tending and organization. A true hitting of the proverbial re-set button.  It’s been nice.

In a few days the workaday routine will return once more of course, but with it, a tad more intention in how it is all approached.  My “word” for 2020: INTENTION.  I’ve never been one to subscribe to “resolutions” at the New Year, as it all seems so pressurized and fraught with potential failure.  I for one do not thrive under those conditions.  But with a word or two steering my course each year, I find I can tack toward a general desired direction and I suppose that is just how it goes.   The work is mostly internal these days, breaking down the strange damaging stress responses I seem so hard-wired to; changing the old fear-based, internal dialogue into something a bit gentler, more flowing.  Through all of it, to simply allow it all to just be, much like the gorgeous quote above suggests.

There is a small note in my calendar “allowing” myself to return to the noisy world of social media once the New Year dawns.  I jotted that note down with a question mark next to it, wondering how that return might feel after a month away from it all.  I thought I might be chomping at the bit to re-engage.  Alas, after more than a month away from the ‘Big Three’ (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) I am even more keen to stay logged off.  And so, I must make some sort of plan to have a more balanced relationship with these platforms.  I wonder if the work I do can yet carry itself without the back up of “sharing” on social media.  I do not know.

As with all things, the outcome will likely not be one thing or another.  I will have seasons of engagement online and seasons of withdrawal for deeper work, this is for certain.  And in the long run, it won’t matter if I am “posting” daily or if I take a week or two or three off now and then.  Y’all know where to find me.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~Wm. James

Tomorrow, John Joe Badger will have a post here wishing everyone a bright and tuneful new year, and I wish you all the same.  Thank you for reading, for coming along on traveley and painterly adventures along the way, either in person, or virtually here on the blog.

 

Untitled

“So the days slipped away, as each morning dawned bright and fair, and each evening followed cool and clear. But autumn was waning fast; slowly the golden light faded to pale silver, and the lingering leaves fell from the naked trees.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

A week’s time into the hiatus from the more time consuming of social media platforms.  It is surprising to me how little I miss them.  The season of gratitude and a shared meal around the home table is past and we are thrust into the highlight of the capitalist calendar.

We resist.  

We walk in the woods.  We play music and sketch.

a recent Irish Music session, also attended by the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers
Music at my flute maker‘s home. Their dog, Ruby, occupies the best seat in the house as we play and she dreams.
In which the written musical page appears, as happens when our Jack is home for a few days.

We maintain gratitude for the littlest of things.

We tend to them with care and full presence.

Still we grieve.  Also with care and full presence.

Notice how River’s name on the “tower of love” happens to find itself situated beneath that of a Shitty Cat.  I wonder of the story there….

Most of all, we rest.

As promised to myself, I practice the art of slowing down, of diving into deep time.  Knitting, reading, drinking tea.  A gentle but firm pressure on the reset button.  It is good.

“The times are urgent.  Let us slow down.”  ~Bayo Akomalofe

(via Sharon Blackie)

There is still *busy-ness*, as there is in life.  Appointments to be kept, jobs and presentations to attend to.  But it is all a bit less noisy and for that I am deeply grateful.

Here are a few of the delightful things occupying my mind, eyes, ears and heart of late….

This book:

And this one:

I look forward to a catalyst for dreaming due out in the coming months by Jackie Morris.  Even the updates on the process of its creation are delicious.  Consider supporting The Unwinding. (click the link, there is a beautiful video.)

A friend of my daughter’s turned her ears to a podcast….

“Reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.”  ~Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

I’ll admit to a bit of back and forth between the lovely depth and gentility of this wonderful consideration a favorite series of mine, and the live news coverage of impeachment hearings going on in my own country.  Somehow, the magical world of Harry Potter seems to make more sense than the one here in the not-so-United States, especially when viewed through a blind republican lens.

Via email, I receive updates from another podcaster, Jocelyn K. Glei.  Her show Hurry Slowly began as a mindful methodology toward higher productivity, but has become a meditation on transformation of spirit, so sorely needed in the world right now.  In her newsletters, she collects and shares lovely links which create a rabbit warren of inspiration.  Much like I do here.

Since logging off of social media, I’ll admit that the sensation of “writing for the proverbial no one” is a bit more pronounced.  But I have no fear of missing out as it were.   Instead, I am wondering how I might be able to do these longer breaks more often.  I am glad of the gift of time.

Have you opted for some time off on the social media channels?  How do you balance your online time?  Are there blogs or newsletters to which you subscribe which bring you joy outside of the soundbyte realm?  I’d love to know.

PS, for Mary Oliver…..  coffee and rainy days indeed!!  <3