Category Archives: life

The Basket Times

Oh y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

Not all heroes wear capes.  

Grace under pressure.

Cooling palm across my brow.

Eyes of an angel.

Lay me down.

~Elbow

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

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

We are in that moment as a country.

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

~Hothouse Flowers

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

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

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

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

Queen & David Bowie

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

We must learn to be openly alone.

Together.

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

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

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

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

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

~Brendan Kennelly

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

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

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

Perhaps we might make light out of ruin.

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

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

~Terry Pratchett

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

 

Isolated Holiday

Twist of Hemp ~ Week 19

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invoke the learning
Of every suffering
You have suffered.

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

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

~John O’Donohue

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit !!!!  

Lying low in Splendid Isolation

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

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

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

~John O’Donohue

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

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

Here we are.

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

Now I am on lockdown here at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I too did a bit of painting myself……

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cat who hugged back

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

~Jenny Slate, Little Weirds

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

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

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

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

We all feel a little bit lost here lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On tea and frustrations

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

On a monday

For Angie,

My heart is poured out like water.

My bones are scattered.

My heart, like wax, is melted.

Psalm 22:14

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

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

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

photo: Matthew Abbott, NYT, Metro UK

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

Fear and fire, mayhem and madness.

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

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

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

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

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

Sending love and thoughts for gentle rains to Australia.

Winding Down

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

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, Amiel’s Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Untitled

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

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

We resist.  

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

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

We maintain gratitude for the littlest of things.

We tend to them with care and full presence.

Still we grieve.  Also with care and full presence.

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

Most of all, we rest.

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

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

(via Sharon Blackie)

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

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

This book:

And this one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Let us keep courage

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 Underland which 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.

“CAESURA”

‘In verse, a pause in the rhythm of a line after a phrase; in choral work, a moment where singers might catch their breath.’

via Robert Macfarlane on twitter

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!

 

Enchantment on the edge

” 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.”

~Peig Sayers

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.

This fiddle playing owl graces the doorway of Neligan’s Pub in Dingle, where we happened upon an “open” session in which to play a few tunes.

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.

Things I took away from meeting Seamus: I have good tone (this is really good news) and I need to work on my ornamentation (not news to me of course, and also not unexpected from a Sligo styled player)

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…..

One can see the rains coming in just in time to take cover….

Small beauty, amidst the majestic.

 

The wind makes drawings in the grasses.

Dizzying heights.
Classic cliffs. There is a reason this place is famous.

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.

An old “famine cottage” along the Slea Head Drive. Although it was €3 to enter, we found it fascinating and ghost like.
Mary, ever present. The Goddess in modern vernacular.

“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.

we begin to see where the swirls come into play….

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.

Looking out to the Great Blasket Island from the Blasket Cultural center. An amazing place to visit should you get the chance.

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.