By day, my porch-based co-worker Poppy and I work on some sketches and picture post-cards to send along to my trusty pen-pals. We also sketch. Crows caw in the trees above, but Poppy pays them no mind.
Technically I am on vacation, but art-making is not merely work for me, but play. This line being quite blurred in the day to day back home, vacation reminds me the importance of the ‘play’ side of the equation.
I begin with pencil, moving on from there to a little traditional sketch with watercolor and a bit of ink. All good, and a great way to warm up.
After a bit, I want to paint but I am too lazy to move off the porch to retrieve the gouache set up. So I ask the watercolors if they might like to play, just for fun.
And these two little paintings happened. I am pleased with them and will treat them as studies for larger works. We shall see. Tomorrow they will be on the wing, stamped for traveling.
Either way, it is fun to feel like I have tapped into something – a bit. We have, after all, been mired in fear and grief, anxieties and longing of late. It can be taxing to a soul. This journey to our Maine homeland has been a pleasant escape, though signs of the state of all things are readily apparent anywhere we go. So few tourists -to drive through Freeport is nigh on creepy. Any ‘outing’ we do has strict protocols for safety and distancing. But we carry on. Occasionally managing an oyster (like on our anniversary) or a beer or two, like last night.
By night, all the household co-workers come together for a bevvie and a catching up on the day, grateful to be together in these strange times. Tonight it’s dinner in, which is good. One can only handle so much town-centered anxiety.
It is nearly 3 pm here and I have yet to get my swim in for the day, but I am keen to try. We shall see…….
Meantime, here is another version of a selkie song I shared yesterday:
With all this ocean swimming of late, here’s a reminder of the wee filim (that’s Irish speak for film) I did a couple months ago (doesn’t it seem like an AGE!!!) with my pal Nuala and her musical mates from the Snowflake Trio:
Outside it blazes a midwestern summer. Inside, cocooned, I write letters to pen pals, grateful in knowing that notes and small treasures will be back and forth in the weeks and months to come.
While on route to Bloomington, Indiana over the weekend, I work on one such little treasure to mail, a knitted crown, fit for a queen.
I hope she likes it, and never loses her youthful moxie.
We are welcomed to Bloomington by old walls, hand hewn, washed with time.
We are welcomed with love.
Our eldest, living, working and studying in this delightful Indiana college town, keeps his distance from us, of course, in true pandemic style, while also sharing with us the things he loves most about his new home town.
We thoroughly enjoy the time there, shadowed as it is by the all of everything. We bike, hike, sweat, take photos. It feels a world away.
Sometimes, in the heat of the day, we escape to our little cabin to nap in the cool air for a bit.
Smoke keeps the bugs away, mostly.
The weekend continues with dreadful temperatures but delightful company. We take to the woods for an early hike.
It is quiet but for birdsong and an occasional fellow hiker. The green is soothing to our citified souls.
This little adventure is a bit of a test run. Not only do we want to touch base and deliver some home cooking to our boy, but we want to measure the state of things outside of our home here in Ohio.
Aside from trips to the grocery store and my occasional visit to the concertina shop to get some part-time work done, we don’t really do anything. This weekend we find ourselves at a restaurant for the first time in months (out of doors, and the staff wear masks and there are plants dividing the spaces, it feels safe…. I think).
I am remotely comfortable with this set up and it all bodes well for our eventual (hopeful) trip north later this month. But the hum of worry stains everything. It just does. Everywhere we turn, there is the threat.
But carry on we must.
and follow the path of those in the know.
Learn what needs learning.
Seek the edges and toe them accordingly.
Our society is so keen on the avoidance of the proverbial elephant in the room. Perhaps we might do well to say what needs saying.
“It’s enough to be walking with you.”
edit: When I wrote “more soon” above yesterday, I didn’t really mean THIS soon. Last night we saw news of outrage and protest in Bloomington after a horrific event. Here is the article:
It is a discombobulated time. I for one feel a bit unmoored and adrift of late. (Perhaps we all do.) It is the season for journeying but I, like everyone just now, find myself rooted to home. Still the journey must go on. And so I go inward.
A new book, just for me. I return to old practices. With no inclination to share.
These past couple of days give the gift of a break in the weather, a lifting of humidity and oppressive heat. The break in weather affords the gift of a bit of hope, at least for me. A backing off of the blue dog which has been hovering at the doors of my heart lately. I make a mindful choice to hit a reset button.
An online music festival provides unexpected glee with workshops in flute and pipes. One instructor speaks of tunes as poetry and palindromes, the other talks openly of the magic of this music, some of it “old and outside the laws of the land.”
I am reminded of my place in the world.
“G is not a tone, it’s a place.” ~Conal Ó Gráda
I’ll admit, it all made me a bit weepy. I am deeply missing my musical mates these last months. I shall just work on my craft and connect how I can.
The noise of the online world feels unbearable as I wade through the news of the physical world day to day. I find myself online less and less in an attempt to situate myself in reality to offer up my best self to the world. This is as it should be. Plenty of times have I vowed to spend less time in the hall of mirrors of the social networks, and always I seem to drift back. Just now however, it is more of a drifting away from that hall and a journey inward, in lieu of summer’s teaching travels.
We have harvested lovely bundles of scapes in recent weeks. Garlic, sent to me from a dear one in Maine, planted last fall as we began the new bed out back – The Before Times. It all seems so far away, muted by the mists of time, dappled with a light we will not see again.
Scapes are like the “flowers” of the garlic plant. Up and up they rise and curl.
Eating them, lightly sautéed, with an egg at breakfast, I taste the garlic to come. It is essence of future garlic.
“While they are indeed a delicacy of early summer, we do not harvest scapes merely for their culinary flare. To harvest these showy curls is to send the energy of the plants down below into the ground to the very base of the garlic – the bulbs – which we will harvest later in the summer.
I see a strong metaphor here for our own meandering growth. It is lovely to flower and curl and show up in the world. But we forget to cut these flowers off now and then to allow for real development below ground.”
This is where I find myself, metaphorically speaking. I need to grow the bulbs. It is summer, and in a normal summer, one might find me off to New Mexico to teach, or to North Carolina to take in some music workshops. And often, I am too busy with these adventures to be spending much time online. This is as it should be.
This summer I devote that time to a more inward journey. To work on my art outside of the constancy of the online world and its performative pressures. To play and experiment. To read books, both for fun and escape as well as for the ongoing journey to educate myself.
It is entirely possible we may find ourselves in Maine later in July. Fingers crossed. We shall do so if we can do so, safely. This potential gives me hope. As does the deep pool of a new book, filled with good paper, some new ink for an old pen, and time to dive into it all without an audience.
But don’t worry, I’m not going far from here, this little corner of the internet that I call home. Til next time……
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
It’s funny to me, my own internal cycles of inward-facing versus outward-facing; of intense productivity versus steeping an idea for a time. The notion of developing something a while and then, at the proper juncture, sitting down to implement that development into something real in the world, something which was once just an inkling in the outer reaches of my mind’s eye.
These cycles are no less apparent in my relationship to the online world. In the midst of this pandemic, and that amidst a country further mired and deeply more into trouble, I have once again, like so many I know, fallen into the trap of too much information and too much time on the standard culprits. It is time for a break. I’ve learned that I do not need to pull a Lorde and burn up my social media presence, rather I simply need to pull back into my own sphere for a bit to recalibrate.
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
A good while ago, knowing the news wasn’t going to get any better anytime soon, I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone (always a wise move even in the best of times) but it’s not enough. There must be a balance to these things. A balance of being informed but not inundated, of monitoring where my attention falls.
I have heard it said that what we do with our days is what we do with our lives. I believe this to be true. And so we must decide what we want our lives to be.
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
There is a lot to take in just now. Heartbreaking news from every corner of the globe, but also breathtaking beauty in our gardens and new ideas to pursue in our imaginings. Neither of these things should outweigh the other. We must pay witness to the tragic, yet not dismiss the miraculous, however small or fleeting it may be.
We must pay attention to everything. Closely. It is what artist’s do really.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
One of the pitfalls of social media is the old “if a tree falls in the forest” concept. If one is not on facebook lamenting the latest lunacy from the white house, is one really informed or engaged at all? My answer is “yes”, perhaps even more so.
So while I may appear to disappear into the folds of my own little world here, you can be sure I am keeping up with the broader context. I might seem to be hiding in the garage making stop motion videos, or getting lost in an imaginary world where animals wear clothing. But rest assured, I am quietly staying informed. Engaged. We all just need a break sometimes.
A time in which to grieve the horrendous loss we are experiencing as a collective, to bear witness to ongoing atrocities in our “perfect union”, and yes, a time to weep at the beauty of the blooming of a simple spring flower.
“Attention, without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter.”
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
Aren’t humans beautiful at their best?
It’s just another manic Friday, here in the time of the pandemic. Downstairs, the Hub finishes a social zoom call happy hour (not to be confused with the constant work related video calls he’s on by day) with his (our) kayak friends. I cobble a dinner together of spring vegetables and pasta thanks to our favorite local market.
It is a dance of sorts. This balancing of our inner and outer exertions. And this dance is different for each person, at each moment. All good dancing requires moment to moment shifts and decision making.
The garden has been covered with pots and jars and sheets and towels tonight. The frost is all over, at least as far as we are hearing from the forecasters. And so we prepare, best we can.
The news in recent days is harder and harsher. We as a country flounder under a most inept and under-equipped leadership. Not long ago there was a man at the helm who while perhaps imperfect, was at the very least, empathetic.
The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.
Listening lately to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming and watching the netflix documentary about her accompanying book tour, I have been brought to tears at where we have come to. From grace and hope for a new world, to a floundering shadow of a dream. I don’t know who we are any more.
I sit with the space of it all. Setting boundaries where necessary (zoom calls ad infinitum (nauseum?) if I opted for it.) and do the best I can. Yesterday I heard from my Auntie (my father’s sister), now in Virginia with her grand-daughter, and we had a lovely chat. I marveled at the balance of it all as we talked. Somewhere I have four “half” sisters whom I do not know, and who do not seem to care to know me. We discussed this, openly and honestly, and it was good. I revel in the family I do have. My own dear sister and brother and the “steps” along the way. We mix and match as best we can, over time. I love them all so much. Now perhaps now more than ever.
I am recently running the roads a lot, which brings me great solace. I realize this is a privilege as I read about not only communities on strict lockdown around the world, but of Aumaud Aubrey, who was murdered while running in a Georgia neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. Finally a public outcry leads to the arrest of his murderers. But I wonder, what took so long? I run with and for Aumaud of late. Praying step by step for his family. It is all too much to take in.
In the long run, I must admit though, this space, with all its heartbreak and uncertainty is for me, personally, and just now, an ok thing. I am breathing and resting, even amidst this crazy pandemic, which is an unexpected gift. I recalibrate at home, supporting the businesses and organizations I hope will still be present when this all passes eventually, supporting my family and friends along the way too. (Did I mention the wee red dragon, my ER nurse sister’s dog, Ari is back with us??) This is all I can do.
This too shall pass, and this I believe. But we will never go back to what was Before. Perhaps we shouldn’t. I have the gift of a great re-thinking here at home, the results of which I do not yet know the outcome (do we ever?) And so I read, and write letters, plant seeds and paint and play tunes. I walk and run and pray along the way as well, such that it is. It’s all very Jane Austen in some sense.
But I welcome this spaciousness such as it is, such how it comes….
“We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel, But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheels depends.
We turn clay to make vessel, But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house, And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.”
Do we collectively even know what we have here just now? In this time of crisis, can we even recognize the level of love possible? I hope so.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Keep well y’all. I love you.
Ps. Did I mention that Michelle Obama actually sent a tweet my way with well wishes for my sister who is a front line worker as an ER nurse!!? We were all thrilled, fan-girling big time all through the family via text and email. I hope Michelle Obama knows the bright torch she carries and the hope she holds for all of us. It must surely be a great burden to bear. I am in awe of her and her family and wish them all well.
It’s been a lovely wanderer of a rainy day. Storms rolling in and around. And, per the usual in recent weeks, we haven’t much we really need to do. Inspired by a recent post by a Welsh artist we follow over in the twitterverse called Sarah Evans, and with a few directions via this site *click*, we decided we might craft of flock of little birds from paper mache.
And so we did.
It was fun and we felt a bit like children.
The birds soon began to really come together. Tony following directions for some “bluebirds” and me going a bit more out on my own to make some local birds we see a lot around here.
Both of us were really content with the outcome of our efforts for the day.
I took mine for a proper photo shoot….
We have Goldfinch.
A cheeky little robin…..
And, I must say, my favorite of all of them, is my little wren. I rescued a little live wren once from the cat’s plans for him and was able to hold it in my hands for a minute while I checked to see if it was ok and to get it safely outside once again. I think that having gotten properly acquainted with that little wren, I was able to breathe a bit of life into my paper mache wren today.
Slowing down and observing are two things that might be considered upsides of keeping ourselves to ourselves just now in the age of Corona.
To begin, a poem from my friend Tina Westerkamp, in response to and in conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while on a run.
Running Conversation with the Connoisseur Over Time
(In which Wallace and I ventilate)
A. It is difficult, even for an expert, to identify which plant exploded the pollen; and
B. Everything is honey to the bee. These two things are one.
It is spring or the cusp of spring.
If I am blue around the edges, and I am;
If the daffodil is a strange attractor shining from the ditch
By the roadside amidst the apocalypse, and it is;
If the vein winding through the newest leaf
Traces the eldest bough branching from the trunk of the tree, and it does;
If the capillaries in my lungs are diminutive doorways
Hinged and swinging in the threshold between my heart
and the wildness of the world, and they are;
If the pinging of last night’s rain on the roof has already been absorbed
By the iterative singing of this morning’s bird, and it has;
And if all of these things happen at once specifically at six o’clock
Down a street in Ohio, and they do; an equation of intersections,
A fracturing of crossroads, is a turbulent nervous system
As intricate as a tangle of honeysuckle, an unfolding
Invasive operation of petals to the mouth
And possibly, therefore, nectar.
After all, the finest splitting of hairy shoots
Proves you must choose which way you turn.
Think of the earth, in theory, as flat as a piece of legal paper,
And politicians drawing their lines on either side
Corralling opinions. Try to follow as their points meander, become
Scribbles and those squirming notes darken the entirety of the page;
And if I may say so we are waiting for someone else to fold
The whole thing, scrap that idea and from its crumpled shape,
Conceive of a new dimension. And yet it could be we are all sculptors now
Fishing forms like clouds out of the wastebasket
Hanging our tossed dreams next to each other
Lining a mackerel sky.
A. Ok, so the pollen has disseminated everywhere.
Some people sneeze and don’t cover their noses.
These are facts. Rumor and disease spread exponentially across space and time,
ignoring borders. No one knows when or where or why things begin.
B. I can see you from April as you write this. Your forehead Is circled by a tricorn hat, blue as a summer moon.
The fleur di lis is golden on your shoulder and heavy after days Of stormy reflections. But suppose you stepped outside of yourself Forgot your positioning and just flew
Allowing each flower to speak its secret name to you through
Its scent and the subtle stinging of your heart….
The holes in our thinking are the only windows through which we can escape. Now A And B are not like laws, chiseled above the courthouse. They are insects with inclinations,
Buzzing around the yard so the woman with ears can hear.
The woman with ears…She hears the peeping of a hundred awkward baby birds;
Each particular chirruping voice is music; is momentum, is the movement of all potential,
We run. Not together of course, but both of us fortunate enough to have the space on our own roads to run. For now at least. There is something animal and therapeutic in running just now. It is a reminder that in some ways, life is still going forward in the world. It is spring time and quite lovely some days. I have only just recently begun my running practice once again, gently ramping up my mileage since autumn to balance a few things out physically. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit more. I am now mostly running once again. This is good.
I had not planned on doing another marathon.
Years ago I went through a marathon phase (that’s a distance of 26.2 miles) and completed 7 races before I was finished with it all. These runs and the training involved helped me birth a healthier self physically and mentally during a time I was working a lot of stuff out personally and learning how to be a parent and partner along the way. I learned I didn’t have to run away from my problems, I could run toward them.
This is a different kind of marathon.
My runs these days allow for thinking time. Peripatetic pondering if you will. I allow the animal body side of myself get the anxiety of feeling hunted by the coronavirus out of my system so that I can think more clearly about what’s ahead and what needs to be done just now. I have read in a variety of places that this unprecedented era in which we find ourselves is best considered a marathon, not a sprint, and that we need to settle in for the long haul.
Everything has changed.
Friday evening we had a zoom call with our dear friends in Maine. We talked of how each day seems to bring a new and uncharted path through emotional territory. Landscapes never traversed by some and left behind for others. The landscape of trauma and uncertainty. They looked a bit shellshocked (aren’t we all?) and I just wanted to climb through the internet and hug them long and close. Later on, after the call, Tony and I found ourselves riding the blissful waves of our evening cocktails and laughing to crying over the muppets and the Carol Burnett show on YouTube.
I’ve heard it said that when preparing to go out for the day in Ireland, one must be prepared for all the seasons in the one day. Emotionally, in this era of the coronavirus, this is what if feels like to me. A roller coaster of crying one minute, determination the next, then silliness, deep belly laughter, a good snot cry in the bath tub, shaky anxiety, sheer panic (in which it might be time for a run).
Well, you get the picture.
There is a tremendous amount of doing everywhere just now. Virtually speaking, that is. A ton of ideas for how to pass the time during the (extremely privileged) time of quarantine. I look back at a blog post from just last week where I decided to throw my hat into this ring with the idea of journaling our way through this perilous journey. Some days I do this, many days I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I remind myself that this blog is my travel journal. This is the work. This is enough just now.
I am doing the best I can. You are doing the best you can. We must all be gentle with ourselves. Like everyone, I do a bit of reading a few times a day to keep up with the breakneck pace of what’s being reported regarding this pandemic. And today, this gem came across my twitter feed.
“The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.” ~Aisha S. Ahmad
I beg you to read it as, despite it’s title, it’s actually a hopeful read about the future and what we can do just now to build that future. It’s about taking care of those most vulnerable in your nearest circles and considering the literal security of your loved ones. It covers the notion that we are all confronting a complete shift in psychological paradigms the likes of which most people have never even considered a possibility.
The article and the author’s gentle approach to moving forward resonated with me with these two sentences in particular:
“…..to those colleagues and friends who hail from hard places, who know this feeling of disaster in their bones.”
“….calamity is a great teacher.”
While of course we have never been here before, to me there is a familiarity to where we find ourselves. As a child I lived through the catastrophic earthquake in Guatemala City in 1976 and while I was small and wasn’t navigating the aftermath in the way my parents had to, something about this pandemic feels familiar in my bones. As the state of the world becomes clearer and clearer and the length to which we must go to keep each other safe becomes more and more stringent, I find it difficult to keep up with the idea of “normalcy”. There is a completely different normal. Any painting or writing or music playing I’ve done recently has been because I simply had to not to cry all the time.
“I paint in order not to cry.” ~Paul Klee
What I have spent most of my time thinking about and doing is more in keeping with the advice in Ahmad’s article. I’ve ramped up my garden plans from long term soil building to get-this-shit-done-NOW mode. I’m obsessively checking in with my older neighbors and my mom and her partner so we can blend any grocery errands to include them. We’ve even taken in my sister’s dog so that she can reduce contact with her family and friends as she navigates her career in the ER. I’ve just been sort of following my gut through all of this. Feeling like these are the things to be done just now. This article made me feel sane and seen and hopeful all in one go. And I love that she reminds us that our creative minds will be back in service, once we allow this all to settle in a bit.
And so, I work on my beautiful little patch of land to redirect the deer….
We get to know sweet Ari who misses his mom but is taking one for the team just the same…..
When I sit down to paint, I find a source photo I like and do small studies and sketches just to stay in practice. They are like a meditation, like a gentle run. I like them quite a lot….. (and you can keep up with paintings I might be working on over on Instagram.) Perhaps they’ll lead to bigger work, but for now, they are enough.
“And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time.”
~Death Cab for Cutie (What Sarah Said)
I’m forging forward with learning the uillean pipes, for good or ill. It’s challenging and fun and is a sure fire trick for giving my mind a break from adjusting to the new normal. The other day a group of 27 women pipers got together from all around the world to share a few tunes. It was miraculous and beautiful and I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. So grateful for it all that I’ll admit to being a little bit weepy for most of the call. I played along on a few jigs and listened and learned.
“So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’
And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain
I have my ship and all her flags are a flyin’
She is all I have left and music is her name”
~Crosby, Stills & Nash
The news is, indeed dire. We in Ohio brace for the worst, but are thankful for the work of our forward thinking, science leaning Governor Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, head of the State Health Department. We brace ourselves while also taking time for a run on a sunny day, the joy of a new tune, the allowance of a breakdown now and then. (This quote from facebook tugged at my heartstrings the other night. I couldn’t even read it aloud to Tony over puzzle time that evening.)
“I was a bit upset, initially, with J.K. Rowling because of the way that the Harry Potter book series robbed Harry, Hermione and Ron of their final terms as Hogwarts students. I felt like we had traveled this far together with them through the wizarding school, and it only seemed fair that we get to watch them work through their last level. Life had different plans for them though, and Rowling wrote the path that was true for her characters as much as it is now for students everywhere — especially seniors. What you are doing right now is helping the world stand up against a deadly enemy in order to protect countless lives. You are Harry Potter. You are Hermione Granger. You are Ron Weasley. You miss Hogwarts, and Hogwarts misses you. But your role here is crucial, and it will bless the paths of many lifetimes to come. Though many will still fall in this battle, you are doing your part to stave off an even greater global disaster. You are being true to your school in the most unexpected of ways, and you will graduate with the honor of having played a key part in this fight. Your work so far and chance for further accomplishments haven’t been dashed. A world of opportunity will await you when we get past this. Take heart and have hope. And remember the words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” #FlattenTheCurve.” ~From somewhere on facebook (if you know the source, let me know!)
We simply do the best we can in this now. All in all, I feel really good. I’m feeling all the feelings in the realest way possible and doing what needs to be done, which on any given day looks different perhaps. I appreciate how lucky we are to have technology to keep us in touch in these strange times and I look forward to forging a new path forward in the world.
And now, before the Riley School Music Committee meets on zoom later today to figure some plan out to keep our musicians engaged, I’m gonna go for a long run.
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 Timeskept 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.
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.
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…….
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.
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.