“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 walk in the woods. We play music and sketch.
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.
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.
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….
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….
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
Fine Folk grace the pages of my sketchbook, along with wise words from the wisdom keepers I trust. I look to these wisdom keepers as beacons, following their light, as will-o-the-wisp….. into the darkness.
One such beacon, writer Robert Macfarlane, was featured in an interview with Krista Tippett of the program On Being. They discuss a recent book of his called Underlandwhich is a gorgeous, lengthy tome; an exploration of the world beneath our feet as seen and sensed from a variety of angles. It’s the kind of book that deserves to be by one’s bedside to fill the mind with juicy and delicious language as a doorway into dreaming. This book apparently took Macfarlane 6 years to complete. He dipped into other projects along the way of course, but this one crept along, under everything else it would seem. It was worth the wait.
Underland explores a concept of Deep Time, one that is beyond human, but which can be tapped into by those of us with the proper notions to do so. If you have been reading my ideas here over the years, you know this is something I hold dear, this time-bending. I believe it is at the heart of the things we treasure as human beings. Good art, rich poetry, the ability to go beyond the day to day. To send our cultural tap roots down into the flow of All Things and perhaps channel something up. All of this of course takes time and practice. And there are no guarantees.
‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’
I really admire the depth of the work of writers such as Macfarlane, and I look to them for clues as to how to dig deeper into my own work. Art as well as writing. Even on social media channels, he and others like him make places like twitter and instagram into arenas of culture and idea-weaving. I aim to do the same, having curbed my own use of such channels into avenues of art and music. It’s a tricky balance in a world filled with instant sound-bytes and the next great and funny thing. Last week Macfarlane announced he will be off of twitter for a while with the word caesura and its definition.
I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do that.’
The idea of taking a break from social media is by no means a new one, by myself or anyone else for that matter. There are books on digital detoxing which I have looked to when desperate for a break from it all. Lately, thankfully, I have not felt desperate to leave the online arenas of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I have them fairly well and carefully “curated” in order to see things which inspire me. New books to read, artists to research and learn something from, science to pique my curiosity and better my stewardship of my little part of the world. I choose when and how to get my “news” as that can be fraught with peril in this day and age. We must be careful what we feed ourselves, body and mind.
And yet, although not desperate to leave per se, I could use a break. What keeps me tethered to the usual channels is the business end of things. Usually, I am in marketing mode this time of year. Selling my classes to Taos and Guatemala. Hustling to show the world that yes, we go to beautiful places, have an amazing time together and make a bunch of gorgeous work. (WE DO!!!!! ) And this is all part of my job. But this year, I have been given a great gift….. My classes for 2020 are mostly sold out (there are two slots left in the second week of the Antigua offering. That’s it!) For once, I can relax a little bit. And so I am considering a break over the holidays.
If this idea comes to fruition, I’ll be off of twitter, facebook and instagram from Nov 29 – Jan 1.
I wonder sometimes, if I make something, or write something, but I don’t shout it into the void of the social media platforms, have I really created anything? This is the culture we are sold in this modern age. I would like to confront this culture, especially in my own mind. I’d like to follow some breadcrumbs of my own making just to see where they may lead. Without the pressure to report.
This will be an interesting experiment. I just began a weekly story idea which will continue to grow here, but folks will have to come find it, or wait until the New Year when I get back into the swing of things of sharing. Soon, I’ll be packing for Guatemala and sharing via instagram sun-kissed, color-washed images of our time in Antigua. It is in this way I beckon to future students to step into the sunshine with me and come on along!! But with the classes filled to brimming, and a lovely waitlist padded out for Taos, I feel I can take the social media break I’ve been craving for years, without having to crash and burn mentally to get it. It’s a good place to find myself.
So we shall see. It is always a balance. I may yet shift this plan into something less stringent. But I am always leaning toward trying a new tactic with regard to my presence in the online world. And for once I have the space to do so.
In other news…….
With Riley School out for break, I am back to sketching along with my mates in the Cincinnati Urban Sketchers. Last week we had a “boUrban sketchers” outing where we tasted bourbon at New Riff distillery. It was great fun!! Come along with us sometime!
I have a few paintings up at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center’s winter Collective show, EMERGE. This one below was the belle of the ball. I received many complements and offers to buy it. But alas, it was snatched up by a private collector just days before the show. I think the theme is one I’d like to explore further. The quietude of this piece seemed to speak to a number of people.
The other work on which I received a good bit of feedback is this little lovely, Bonny Hills, whose skies are filled with subtle color. This is a second theme I hope to explore further in more paintings in the new year. This one has not yet sold…. One of my fellow collective members said to me, I get the sense you were meant to be in Ireland. How right she is.
In the music arena, the Riley School of Irish music will present its annual holiday program Peace and Merriment, at 2 pm December 14. Our address is 2221 Slane Avenue in Cincinnati. Hope to see you there! We also play a weekly session out in town: 1st and 3rd Wednesdays we can be found at Ludlow Garage in Clifton, 2nd and 4th Tuesdays , Streetside Brewery on Eastern Avenue. Stop in and say hi!
” I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me. Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief.”
We are more than a week home to Ohio now. In this time we have run the gamut of human emotions. Grief over the loss of and funeral for Tony’s mom, love and glee at reconnecting with far flung family at said funeral, relief at being in one’s own bed and living space, awe at the turning of the season, as autumn in Ohio carries its own special splendor. Overwhelm at the return to the reality of regular responsibility.
So often the case, I find my soul lagging behind my body after a trip of such magnitude and so part of my mind’s eye is still fixed on the magical hills and cliffs and windswept beaches of western Ireland. But I am more fortunate than most who return to the US from a trip to the Emerald Isle. I have music.
I shall start with that.
Irish music has been in my life for a good while now. Beginning with my son taking on the challenges of the fiddle, which led not only to his life’s work as a musician but also to me forging my own brambled path via whistle, flute and eventually (gods willing and the creek don’t rise) the Uillean pipes. To say this music is a gift in my life would be a vast understatement. Everywhere we laid our weary heads whilst in Ireland had something to do with the music.
Our friends in Blackrock, Co. Louth are both musicians. Through their work over the years, they have come to know many influential people in the relatively small world of traditional Irish music. And this is how I came to find myself treated to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a private lesson with a legend.
Seamus Tansey is a force to be reckoned with. His playing carries the wild, untamed side of Irish flute music and his mercurial personality matches this fierceness. He’s a character not to be crossed, from everything I have ever heard about him. And yet, because I came connected to someone he holds in high regard, I think he took a shine to me. Our lesson was mostly me being stunned at the musical gymnastics he was asking for and him being patient with my inabilities. There is nothing more humbling than this music and I have so much to learn, it’s true. Perhaps this lesson with a legend would have been better spent on one besides myself, one with more knowing of the intricacies of this tradition. But when one gets this opportunity laid in front of them, one must say, “I accept.” I am grateful to Seamus and his lovely wife Joan for their gracious hospitality, to Simone and Sean for shuttling me to Northern Ireland for this opportunity and to Lillie whom I took to the airport hotel in Dublin far earlier than maybe suited her so that I could get to Belfast in time for all this. Life is rich indeed, and we all do things to build each other up, do we not?
One of my favorite evenings of this trip was of a night in a Kerry kitchen, trading very local tunes with my friend Michael, a lovely box player who is a bit too shy to play at the sessions but who has loads to share. Another favorite memory is that of an open session in a little pub in Dingle called Neligan’s. Another box player called Michael, along with a few other lovely players and another lovely night of tunes indeed. A shout out to publican Dara who makes all feel welcome and at home in his pub. Thanks for the encouragement to come along and play! (We shall catch up to ourselves in Dingle shortly here in this writing…..)
Dingle is quite the touristy place really. I can only imagine the throngs during the season. But I think of this music as a bit of a back stage pass. Knowing a few tunes and humbly sitting in (only when invited, of course) at a local session can mean that the local musicians might stick around for a chat after the tunes. And just like that, one makes a new friend or two.
Thankfully for Tony, all was not incessantly musical. There was much touring to be done in our short time in Ireland. I was keen to hook him on this country I hold so dear with the hopes of luring him back once again. I will be there next year for a whole month of course and I hope for him to tag along for a bit of November perhaps….. we shall see.
We took in the windswept Cliffs of Moher where there was not only natural splendor…..
But the splendor of quirky humanity as well which made my heart swell. There was an intrepid couple from away, maybe Portugal or Italy (difficult to hear with the wind blowing) who were keen to get some iconic wedding photos made….
Her veil blew in the wind and the rains did fall. Everyone seemed to be good sports about it all.
Others got in on the fun and had their own impromptu wedding shoots….
It was one of those rare, feel good moments when one feels a part of things and good to be a human. These kids might have been from Germany (again, so hard to hear with the wind as it was). But strangely, all seemed right with the world for the moment.
Eventually, the next day, as you know, saw us headed further south, further west to the Dingle Peninsula, “Corca Dhuibhne”. We soldiered on through rain and fog and down impossibly small roads which found us over impossibly foggy mountains. The skies did clear and Dingle did cast her spell eventually and we found the music there that night at Neligan’s. Sadly we barely had 24 hours to explore this amazing peninsula, but we took in what we could.
All around there was a feeling of being in an “other” world, of being blessed by those who exist in a greater beyond. Things seem chancey and strange here.
“Then I went to Ireland. The conversation of those ragged peasants, as soon as I learnt to follow it, electrified me. It was as though Homer had come alive. Its vitality was inexhaustible, yet it was rhythmical, alliterative, formal, artificial, always on the point of bursting into poetry.”
~George Thomson, The Prehistoric Aegean
Language, in English as well as Irish piles up like stones. Every nook and cranny, every stream and small strand has a name.
The sheer breadth and depth of such a small place is difficult to capture and express. It is said that Ireland is the size of our Indiana. And yet, it carries aeons of legends and myths, tales of wonder and woe. It would take a life time to learn and unpack it all.
We start with small words, easy to learn. Familiar concepts.
Creatures we know we love already.
Perhaps through painting the sights we see, learning the tunes which waft through the air, and engaging in a word or two of Irish here and there, we might find our way to being accepted by this land I feel so drawn to. I am keen to spend more time in Ireland.
I like the idea of being able to walk to the sea, and to the local bookstore, and the local pub, which might not only feature a warming bevvie, but also a nice cup of soup on an evening I don’t feel the urge to cook.
I actually don’t even mind the backward driving….
I love the constant presence of ravens and crows (kind of like in New Mexico).
But alas, here I am, now, in Ohio. And I do not grieve this. I have an amazing inlet and outlet for music via the Riley School, I have a wonderful community of fellow artists. We have a patch of land where I am about to go set some garlic in for the winter and batten down the hatches against the squirrels. Life is good wherever we are.
But I am glad to know of a few places, one especially, which make my heart sing. Most folks might go a whole lifetime and not find this. For this I am grateful.
We are returned to Ohio. Our journey to Ireland, at an end for the time being, we sift through laundry, piles of post, lists of things we ought to be doing to return us to “real life” and “normality”. Yet, these notions are unreal in themselves, for every journey changes us, and this one especially. I will write of a lovely day spent by the sea admiring the magic of moving water and sky, and of meeting musical legends large and small along the way. I will even write of the enchanting spell the west of County Kerry might cast. For there is so much more to tell you…..
But for now, we are on the cusp of Samhain and the veil between life and death is thin. Especially for our family. You see, while we were away in Ireland, my mother-in-law passed away peacefully. My husband had arrived with news that hospice services had been engaged for her and that her time was nigh, though no one knew just how long she might linger with us. In the long run it was all sooner than we had expected, but isn’t that the way of things? We are never ready, even if we have prepared for an age. He had just seen her days before leaving to meet me, and I had visited her just days before leaving for Ireland myself a few weeks prior. I am glad I made the time.
We were now so far from home, and there was some flurried discussion of shifting flight plans and making our way back to Ohio sooner than later. We opted out of this change and chose to sit with all of it for our few remaining days of travel in Ireland.
Ireland is a place of great depth. Depth in the beauty of its landscape. Depth of history and story. It is actually a rather appropriate place to consider the loss of a loved one.
One can’t move in Ireland for the archeological treasures to be found dotting the landscape. We visited many in the coming days. Newgrange being the first. It is a “passage tomb”, thought to be a place of ritual and ceremony.
It contained the remains of ancient ones, known now only to the mists of time before written history.
Ancient people built these great structures to be in tune with the heavens. They were at one with the seasons and the turning of the wheel of the year. Newgrange is known for bringing the sun into the deepest part of the inner sanctum of the tomb at the winter solstice. One can only imagine the level of engineering prowess this must have taken.
Their care in collection of materials from around the country, and the artful manipulation of stones and designs must have taken them generations.
Amidst the day to day tending to the feeding and sheltering of themselves, these people still took the time and effort to create these tombs honoring the passage of loved ones to another realm. Death was important to them.
It is said that the Celtic peoples of old had great esteem for the concept of death as an inherent part of life. That they honored this concept in how they thought about the cycles of the year, and their own place in it as mortal beings.
It is said that while the Celtic people of the ancient times must have certainly grieved the loss of their loved ones when they passed away, for they were only human after all, it was all understood to be The Way Of Things. The many passage tombs we were to encounter in subsequent days honors this idea and I found it all strangely comforting.
There is something about this time of year that offers us a chance to consider our own place in The Way Of Things and to remind us that we are only here but a short while in the vast depths of time.
It is crucial that we make the best of our time here. To strive to be the best incarnation of spirit we can be, to offer that back to whatever great power put us here in the first place. We cannot know the intentions of the cosmos.
Knowth, in the same general vicinity as Newgrange, was the next stop on the day we learned of Tony’s mom’s death. Our eyes danced with dizziness at the spirals spied on so much stone and at the great vastness of scale the many passage tombs provided.
Stones were to be a constant theme in the days to come as we traversed the country and took in all we could in the days we had left. I put the work of writing and painting aside and simply experienced it all with Tony, which felt like the right thing to do.
We left the east part of Ireland to head west toward the Burren, a place I was keen to see this time around.
It is a magical moonscape of sorts. Many of the roads are mere cow tracks or bóthairín and I found myself holding my breath as we occasionally met another car traveling in the opposite direction. We made our way to Poulnabrone Dolmen which is considered a “portal tomb”, which was also a means of honoring the dead. The murky, misty weather intensified the mysterious feel of the place and we fell in love with it all immediately. It was in keeping with the depth of how we felt about everything going on and seemed to be an appropriate way to spend some of our time in Ireland, considering the circumstances.
Barren though it all seemed at surface level, there was life everywhere in the cracks and crevices of stone.
On route to the Cliffs of Moher on this day, we spied the ruins of an old church. Less ancient than the pre-historic sites we’d been visiting. We parked for a look at the place. It was no less enchanting for its relative modernity.
Once again we were struck with the connectivity of life to death in this place. Graves upon graves, old and new, just next to a place where cows graze and birds flit about. There is a peace to it all.
Later that evening we spent an enjoyable and delicious meal with dear friends in Ennis. I read stories to the kids while the grown ups shared wine and cooked. There was fresh baked bread which was divine. There was time to laugh and converse and sing a bit together. It was ultimately quite healing.
There is so much more to tell of our brief time together in Ireland, and I will weave that part of the tale into this broader story on another day. I will tell of how we left Ennis far too quickly to catch the ferry back once more to my beloved County Kerry, and how we dodged raindrops to play amidst sea and sky along the Dingle peninsula where we could. And how we eventually made our way back east once more again to fly home.
Once more through the mists….
And here we are, on a gray, autumnal Ohio day. Sifting through old photos of Patricia Lynn Musick. Pat is someone who had the strength of stone and steel in her very bones. She raised my Tony and his brothers on her own with nerve that saw her through many trials in her lifetime. By the time I came to the family, she had found her first love from teen years and had married him and cared for him through his life time of health problems. She used to be a beautician and so would perm my hair for me when it was fashionable at the time, but way out of my budget. She was fierce, whether playing cards or caring for her home or working the many jobs she held to keep things together. She was proud and had a sarcastic sense of humor. She loved her grandkids and they loved her. We now have her last dog, Charlie, who needed a bit more care than Pat could give her as her own health further declined. We took her often for visits which I think Pat appreciated.
I dedicate this post to the mother of my beloved.
Pat, go bhféadfainn Dia do bhealach a lasadh. May God light your way.
Too fast paced of late. Frenetically crossing to-do lists off as if penance for up-coming traveling. Only time out of doors can check this process. Finally the temperatures drop to comfort level, leaving “hotumn” behind us.
October temperatures in the mid-nineties will make one crabby.
I find myself outside on a beauty-filled day. Collecting leaves, plotting a small hillside in the back for a new vegetable bed slated for next spring. Tunes wander through my head. I take a break to capture a bit of this ochered season with my camera. The old sweet gum tree in front is particularly lovely, dropping her petals into the main creek which is, miraculously, always running with a trickle even in the driest of times. There are little skimmers paddling along in their own little world, which I suppose they do with or without our observation.
I put together a slow paced little gathering of sweet gum and skimmers for you here. The music is used with permission and is by Nuala Kennedy. Once upon a time I did a little art work for the cover of the album where this track can be found. The whole collection is divine and if you haven’t heard it, you should.
It is my hope that in this busy time of harvesting and preparing for the darker days of the season, you too might find the time to settle down for a spell and take in the small wonders.
~Irish saying that translates literally as “People live in each other’s shadows.” (via @nualamusic)
Today is the 30th of September, and the facet of my heart that shines brightest in New Mexico sunlight beats in time with those of my soul family there as they celebrate the Feast of San Geronimo.
This celebration is sacred to my friends, and we don’t talk much about the meaning of it all. Rather we bask in the company of one another, we celebrate a successful harvest with food and community and we encourage the Lady of the Mountain to don the golden colors of autumn.
There is talk of Shadows when the Koshares appear to wreak a bit of havoc, which adds to the festival atmosphere.
It is a day to sit in communion with the land and the mountains and the folks who live on and with it. Today I send a lot of love out into the cosmos, especially to my beloved Land of Enchantment.
We are home from Maine, landlocked once again to Ohio.
Ohio is not without its beauty to be sure. There have been errands to run, adjustments to be made, momentous birthdays to acknowledge and celebrate.
Suddenly I realize it has been a coon’s age since I had my paints out mixing and dancing their way around the palette. I must dive back in.
August breezes, when they blow, are humid and hot. I figure this weather is a strange combination of the dooming of climate-change and good old-fashioned late August in the mid-west. How are we to know?
Storms do break up the monotony of late summer. They make for dramatic skies and monumental cloud forms.
From the West, always, the clouds gather.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of age that clouds and birdsong catch my attention now more than ever. I seek to paint them in between the expectations of a busy, modern life.
This past weekend there were tunes, on tunes, on tunes. Again I remember – this makes for intense happiness in my heart – I recommit. The painting and the music are inextricably linked. I may not be very good at either, comparatively speaking. But each makes my small heart sing. And surely this is a measure of something in the world.
Something. – in the epoch of our own humanity. We are but a blip in the matrix of the Universe as we know it, and yet we seek these bits of joy and meaning like spiritual breadcrumbs of a sort.
There are more tunes slated for this evening when a few of us gather to choose the autumnal soundtrack for the Riley School of Irish Music. Tomorrow is a road trip to settle one of the smalls (newly returned from western adventures) into his next adventure in grad school. It is good to have him near at hand once again.
Travel beckons again soon. I find myself already getting organized for a weekend trip to Sheboygan in September and a longer journey back to Ireland in October. Some day if I truly settle in one place, it will be a strange day indeed. I embrace this traveling side of myself and am grateful for those loved ones who keep the dogs fed and the home fires burning when I am away. It does not escape me that I am truly fortunate.
When I travel, I travel lightly. I do not plan to take the oils to Ireland this go round as I’ll be on the go more often than not. But I have ordered a new sketchbook and I have extra watercolorey books to pack as well.
The goldening, autumnal season will see me diving back into a world of words each morning once again to find my way through the dark of winter. There is nothing quite like pouring a cup of coffee, lighting a candle and putting pen to paper. This might keep me sane in the dark months to come. But so will hitting the road, discovering and re-discovering new places and new tunes.
What plans do you have this late-summer/early-autumn to feed your soul? How do you survive winters in general? What have you drawn or painted lately? As always, I’d love to know.
I find myself over coffee, eating pie for breakfast. This is not a bad thing. As I choose pie over cake any day.
Yesterday was my birthday. It was, by some accounts, One to Be Reckoned With. On paper I turned 50. But as I have never been one akin with numbers, this slice of information seems irrelevant really. Over the years of my wild and somewhat nomadic life, I’ve known friends and loved ones who’ve lived and loved but briefly in this earthly sphere. From their early leaving I’ve learned to count my days and age here in this world as blessings, not curses. They might give anything to be here.
“Welcome to the Crone sisterhood! Time for an adventure. Remember this is the age Bilbo set off!” ~Christina Wald (Creatrix of Embrace the Crone.)
Collectively, we are fairly recently returned from a magical time in Maine….
“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of equal trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (via@brainpinkings)
We spent a couple of weeks resting and recharging after a spring and summer of hard work and hard play. I for one simply can never get enough of the sea. In recent years, I have taken to ocean swimming whenever possible. I do love the lakeside where we spend the bulk of our time, but honestly, I am an oceanic creature. I long to come home to that each visit. These brief forays make me wonder, why do we live so far from the sea?
“Swimming, One Day In August
It is time now, I said,
For the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.
Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.
I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.
About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit.”
“It is time now, I said, for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.” And so it is.
“Terrible things are happening outside. Poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. Families are torn apart; men, women and children are separated. Children come home from school to find that their parents have disappeared.”
~Anne Frank via @annefrankcenter
Recently on one of the many and varied and periled portals to the online world, I shared the above quote from Anne Frank to my profile. I do my best to be a good citizen in this world and prefer to engage in political discussions over a cup of tea or glass of wine, face to face and with respect and regard for friends and family with differing views. But on one particularly difficult news day, Anne’s words came to me and I shared them in response to the day’s events. I honestly believe that sometimes to say nothing (even online) speaks volumes. Even if one is attempting to keep one’s online sphere to work and play (i.e. art and music).
It is no new concept to be misunderstood online and so I was not surprised to be challenged and shamed for sharing the above quote. “Why compare the recent ICE roundup to the atrocities of the Holocaust?”, I was asked.
Yes, this is different. No, these folks were not being rounded up and led to their deaths, necessarily speaking. Yet I do not think Anne Frank would mind my quoting her in these difficult times. History has taught us that small steps in the loss of our humanity amidst the atrocious treatment of and attitude toward others can be devastating over time. The Holocaust did not happen over night, but rather incrementally while no one was paying attention, until it was too late.
It is my opinion that we as a country and perhaps as human beings in general are at a crossroads of great importance. The United States seems to have lost the plot, especially when it comes to empathy toward our fellow ‘human beans’ as I’ve often put it. The world is left wondering what the hell is going on. I am fortunate enough to travel outside of the country to know this first hand. I am also fortunate enough to know folks far less progressive on the political spectrum than myself who agree with me on this current trajectory of inhumane cruelty-turned-policy we face in our government. At the heart of it all, we simply mustn’t dehumanize one another. Not at the border, not at protest rallies.
And so where to from here?
On this my first official day in The Age Of Cronedome (let’s face it, the words “forty-something and fifty-something have very different cultural connotations, though they essentially are but a day apart) I am in a quite privileged place of having space in life to make some decisions regarding my service to the world. Perhaps I have some wisdom after all. I continue to believe that the gifts of Art and Music are paramount to my calling in this world. These will continue to be my focus and my center. But I also feel a deep commitment to my own human-ness and to the human-ness of others. I also intend to continue to apply that level of care and humanity to the not-so-human elements of the natural world. It is time we begin not to be the center of our own planning. The world needs more of us.
Essentially, as far as age goes, I’ve crested. I am likely to live far fewer years on this side of fifty than on the first. So it is more important than ever to simply own who I am in this world and in this lifetime before I embark on the Next Great Adventure, as it were. I am deeply proud of being a soft-hearted, quick-to-cry “snowflake” (as the modern vernacular puts it) who doesn’t fear living in a world of pure imagination. I like to think this vulnerability is part of my charm. Yet much like my beloved Tiffany Aching, though my outer shell may be soft like chalk, I have a center of hard flint which is likely to start fire if it’s agitated enough. In other words I am tougher than I might seem.
Perhaps you dear readers may see a bit more of what some might call “politics” on this old blog space. Or perhaps not. But either way, I’d rather you think of it as me just doing what I can while I can during my time left on the earth.
“We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table.” ~DH Lawrence (via September Publishing and Dr. Sharon Blackie‘s If Women Rose Rooted.)
There is love above all. And just behind that, the notion of right work, which for me is always where I come home to. The day might be long, the news might be dire. But there is always a tune to figure out, or a painting with whom to dance or a dog to walk, a loved one to hold.
“When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.”
–excerpts from the poem “On Work” by Khalil Gibran
For me, to do my work, is to love the world. Even at its most unloveable. This notion, along with that of coming back to my own breathing, are the only things I know to keep me centered in the maelstrom of life. For at the heart of it all, this is what love is.
“You don’t have to move mountains. Simply fall in love with life. Be a tornado of happiness, gratitude and acceptance. You will change the world just by being a warm, kind-hearted human being.”
~Anita Krizzan ( via a text to me on my birthday from the one and only Amy Malcom who really needs to start a blog, or better yet, write a book. Her words make a world.)
So back again, to the breath and the work. I’ve become so practiced that I can find my way in seconds if I but remember to breathe deep, or set about mixing the colors, or playing the scales……
“I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.”
~John Constable, 1821
For those of you who’ve been reading awhile, thank you. To you quiet new ones, welcome. It’s an introverted paradise here where I sometimes feel I’m writing to a tribe of crickets, but then I meet one at the Trader Joe’s and I’m no longer so lonely in the writing. (Joan, do come back to RS, the whistle awaits!!)
Happy birthday to me. Here’s to many more years.
ps, the art work I share here is often for sale. Do let me know if any of it strikes your fancy and we might work out an exchange. I picture a back alley transaction involving my wearing boots with many buttons, a hat to hide my visage and perhaps bringing along a young dragon looking for a new home.
I am between traveling. Home from a brief visit to Aspen, Colorado, where our son Jack is part of the Aspen Music Festival, living his musical dreams to the fullest. It is truly something to witness, one following their truest path. He is at home in music.
While he worked and practiced and performed, we took in the natural splendor of Aspen and surrounds, grateful to Jack’s wonderful hosts who took us in and treated us like family.
It occurred to me while sitting at the base of the Maroon Bells that the best people in our lives, many of the most important connections moving us ever forward and truer in our own lives, have come from a few simple things – art, music, and the pursuit of what makes our souls sing most heartily.
I think about the time years ago, sitting at the base of those same iconic mountains, when I made the decision to pursue a proper art degree upon returning home from a metalworking class I’d taken at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass near Aspen. What is it about the clear mountain air and the presence of a stately, ancient mountain which affords us such lofty notions? I do not know. But I’m beginning to pick up on the fact that if I have something to think about, I should find myself at the foot of Taos Mountain, Volcan de Agua, or perhaps those lovely iron-laden Maroon Bells to find my answers.
Aspen felt like a proper vacation after the rich and deep work done in New Mexico. While the Hub and I did sketch quite a lot in some gorgeous locations, there were often times I personally just sat and took it all in. Jackie Morris of The Lost Words fame recently stated on an episode of Folk On Footthat one of the most difficult things for her to learn as an artist was that the sitting and thinking and looking and thinking some more, are as important to her job of Artist as the pencil and paint to paper practicalities of her craft – perhaps even more so. Having not come from a background and family of practicing artists, she’s found this notion difficult in past, and has only recently begun to truly take it on board. I feel much the same.
That said, the watercolors and pencils do beckon in beautiful places, and I did make a few drawings.
Aspen is steeped in the arts, with ties to the taste and aesthetic of the Bauhaus tradition in its design and of course in the music festival itself held there each summer. Everything is better with the arts involved.
Today, just now, I write to you here fairly giddy with relief, gratitude and a sense of overwhelming possibility. I have *finally* (after literally years of frustration and hemming and hawing) upgraded my tech tools here in the studio.
I’ve invested in a more travel worthy laptop machine for writing and photo-manipulation on the road, and even opted for a large home-base monitor when I am at my desk in the studio. Sometime today (*hopefully*) a little scanner will arrive and I’ll get that set up as well. All of this is in keeping with the plan to get more work made and into the world. Let’s be fair, I work. I work a lot. In some ways I am never NOT working. But so much of my energy was going into technical glitches and the waiting and slowness of manipulating photos on outdated technology. If I was to engage in a blog post, I needed a solid day to get it made. And so, I found myself putting off writing. I have so much work to share, but with an old scanner, my work never translated well to digital, and so it took a lot to get it tech-ready for sharing online or presenting for publication or applying for grants and residencies. With some encouragement from Vanessa at NessyPress and moral support from the Hub, I took the plunge and threw the necessary gold coins into the abyss to get the tools I needed.
It took some doing, and a few trips to the computer store and calls to the tech folks at apple, but we managed to get it sorted. And here I am, knocking out an update here in a more prompt and succinct manner. This feels sustainable. It was time for this investment.
But tech tools aren’t the only important thing, of course, merely being the vehicles by which the work is dispersed in this world. I also took a bit of time to make a traveling oil paint set up.
Watercolor is generally my go to travel companion. I have the set up I love, a little traveling “van” in which to cart it all, and it really works. Even so, I pine for the oils when I find myself in beautiful places. Our family trip to Maine, coming up later this summer, is a perfect combination of loads to do combined with plenty of “down time” to just play. That play might be on the water, catching up on books we’ve been meaning to read, or perhaps trying new recipes with one’s best friend in tiny kitchen at camp. But there is always more time, and that is when I start feeling restless, wishing I’d brought some oil paints to play with.
So I put together a handmade pochade box of sorts, crafted from an old wooden cigar box, plus a little carrier for any wet panels I may want to bring home.
The pochade box is pretty sturdy, and the wet panel carrier will do until I decide if this is something I may do again and again. All in all I spent about $20. A worthwhile investment on vacation satisfaction I do believe.
Upon returning from Aspen, I felt overwhelmed with home chores and the work needing caught up on at the shop and in my own studio. And so for the first day or so, I just painted and played music.
This practice set my head on straight and I was then able to sink into the tasks at hand. I am deeply grateful for all of it. I often think that in this day and age, it is difficult to remember to take a few minutes to breathe. To play a tune, paint a picture. There are Big Things we must tackle (did you hear Amy McGrath is taking on Mitch McConnell??), situations we must face, as heartbreaking as they are (there has to be a better, kinder, more humane way forward at the border, don’t you think?). Life is complex, and tormented at times, but it is also beautiful and simple in many ways as well. It always has been.
Next week I am off once again for my own musical adventure at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina. On the one hand, this week is truly a get-away-from-it-all Brigadoon of sorts where we forget the world outside, focus on learning tunes and improving our craft and catch up with dear friends who have become musical family over the years. But on the other hand, it is so much more.
This week at music camp, and for that matter, my week of teaching in Taos each year, are a form of deep magic. Magic which in some way counteracts all of the darkness we see through our screens in this modern age. The very human physicality of coming together to play tunes, sing songs, laugh and cry together over the year’s happenings, somehow counteracts the “badness” in the news. It’s not a cure all to be sure. But it is the way many of us take respite from it all, if only for a moment, in order to get back out into the world and do the work.
Artists confront the difficult in this world. Just look online at the work of artists during WW1 who were interpreting the previously unimaginable through their paintings. I personally have taken to avoiding the echo chambers of social media for my own outrage over the state of things nowadays. But I have my ear to the ground. I support candidates who are doing good things in the world. I take to the streets as needed. I volunteer with and support the vulnerable. But I also seek joy. And beauty amidst the outrage. For if I, or any of my artist friends begin to lose perspective (and isn’t it so easy to do?) then we amount to nothing.
It is my hope to be a source of light in the darkness in this modern age. A reminder there is a place by the hearth-fire for anyone who needs a break between difficulties. We cannot do it all, let alone singlehandedly. Art and Joy, Music and Friendship, Beauty and Solitude are worthy pursuits, even in this fast paced, crowded, often seemingly ugly world. Let us make art and music.
It is travel season. I am recently returned from California and while away, my studio window robins hatched and grew.
Mere seconds after this photo was snapped, this last one fledged. It’s a bit like life itself. How fast they grow. Though our fledglings double back on occasion and for this we are grateful.
California was rewarding in her splendor as always, but had a few weather related tricks up her sleeve which complicated things for my workshop days. That said, I packed in a lot in just a short time, both as a traveling artist and as a teacher.
We had an appointment to meet watercolor maker Amanda Hinton of Limn Watercolors where we got to see how her fabulous paints are made from scratch. It’s a fascinating brand of magic she does and we were smitten with all the colors. And with Amanda herself.
Limn colors do the usual fun stuff watercolors are known for, like mixing beautifully and replicating stained glass with their translucency, but some of her colors can separate and bloom in evocative ways that we have found enchanting. I have a whole row of her colors in my paint set now which afford me abilities I’ve not had in the past.
It was great fun to try and buy a few new colors to add to our collection and I am so thankful to Amanda for her time and warm welcome.
Also in Berkeley was a wonderful creative re-use arts supply store and the amazing Burma Superstar restaurant. We even managed to stop into California Typewriter, of documentary fame…..
We were warmly welcomed by Ken and Herb and enjoyed looking at the machines currently in store there.
All in all it was a perfect, busy, sunny California day.
The sunny bit was not to continue. Alas, the weekend forecast was wet. wet. wet. So we worked indoors with exercises students will be able to take out of doors on their own at a later time. Not ideal, but neither is sketching and teaching in the rain. We were at least cosy.
There is plenty to draw in the home of an interesting, artistic friend. Here’s a small demo drawing of a wee humbled Buddha I did for the workshop.
The following days were to see us dodging rain drops to capture the wild water on the coastline.
Again, not ideal, but we managed. Day two of workshops was moved by one day for those available to make it, and we did manage a few hours of sunlight between rainstorms on our day of working together. We also managed a few more sketches.
Painting at the sea side is by far one of my favorite things. I am often torn between the desire to simply sit and stare at the shifting light and color of the ocean and to capture it in my sketch book. This feeling is magnified by the limited time I always have by the sea.
I find myself wondering why I do not live nearer to big water.
Somewhere where I might take my blue art van and wander down the lane to the sea shore for a few hours to sketch and stare….. maybe daily.
Suffice it to say, time in Santa Cruz is never enough time. In the same way that time at Ballybunion Beach is never enough. Or time on Monhegan is never enough. Alas. Time marches on…..
Next up is an ocean of a different kind. An ocean of sage. In just two weeks’ time I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship travel journaling course at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House once again. Every year is a gift and I am thrilled to be heading back.
The weather seems like it might be more cooperative in Taos than in California, even leaning more cool than in recent years. We shall see. But at the very least, sunshine, New Mexico style.
My studio is less a place of making just now and more a place of packing and preparations.
The art van, of course, at the ready. A new sweater for the (hopefully) cool Taos nights, and maybe a friend or two along for company.
Swag is being readied.
I consider what art supplies to bring for my own making, while making sure that I have all the extras for the workshop participants as well.
It can make one’s head spin to be sure. But the paint set is clean (after being dusted quite heavily by volcanic ash in Guatemala and a grain or two of sand in Santa Cruz) and refilled (note the lovely middle line of mostly Limn colors!!)
I have a few new pencils to try, including a light blue one suggested by Kristin Meuser during her workshop and a couple of Blackwing pencils all the rage with my illustrator friends.
All of it tucks away into the little van, along with a book or two to draw and paint in. It’s all quite compact actually.
This year I have made the decision to simplify my packing process for the Taos trip. I am only bringing a few of my current books, not a box full of past years’ books like I do normally. And instead of bringing yet another box full of published books for people to peruse, I will bring a list of said books to share with my students so they can explore when they get home via bookstore and library. We will instead focus on the work at hand. It’s a strange shift, but I feel good about it.
It’s easy to look at the wonderful empty classroom at Mabel’s and feel like we need to fill it with things other than ourselves and our small packs of art supplies. This is especially the case for me as facilitator. But this is not true. That room fills with laughter and conversation and the joy of working into the wee hours on sketches begun earlier in the day. WE fill the room. WE are enough, with just our supplies on hand.
I am so excited to get back to Taos where this whole traveling-art thing began for me so many years ago. Every year is different, and yet there is the lovely familiarity to lean into as well. I am open to what I have to learn there year after year and am grateful for the opportunity to go back once again.