“There is another world, but it is in this one.” ~W.B. Yeats
Recently, we spent a week away in another world. Down to the low-country coastal barrier-island of Tybee we traveled, as I was feeling a bit sorry for myself for my lost (or at least post-poned) month’s work in Ireland, among other things. Both of us pining for the sea, we watered the plants here at home, packed the dog and a kayak and some food into the car and slipped away into the pre-dawn darkness.
It was worth the day’s journeying.
We made friends with sand and surf and a few others – crow and cat being among my favorites.
There was much beach combing and waterside wandering.
Even Charlie found her way to the edges of things, though dogs aren’t permitted onto beaches in the proper sense. I think she was content regardless of the limitations.
We should all be more like Charlie in this way, contented amidst the limitations we find upon us in these times.
There was much marshiness and moss which, mosquitos notwithstanding, I found to be quite captivating.
It was all so much to take in. I found it exceptionally healing.
There were weddings to witness….
Sunrises to greet….
Sketches to make….
And paintings to begin…
The space and pace of an off season beach town is something I highly recommend. We were excited to plan a small getaway, but also a bit leery about whether there would be too many other people around whom we’d have to avoid, these being anxiety-ridden Covid times.
In the end, there was space to spare. And we were grateful for it.
Soon it was time to come home to the harvest. We still have a few tomatoes on the vine which may or may not ripen. (I am researching pickling options for green tomatoes….).
I gratefully gathered a few hawthorn berries to make into a tea, though mostly because I merely adore their color.
Eventually we readied the back garden for a small gathering of our family which would serve as a celebration of the season at hand, and possibly seasons still to come.
We sense difficult times in the weeks ahead. Covid numbers are climbing and we will not be able to gather indoors for Thanksgiving, and likely not Christmas either. So I hatched a plan to host a “well-filling, out-of-doors, socially distanced, fully masked, early Thanksgiving” dinner for my family. I decided I’d set a date and let the weather gods determine if it might happen or not. In the end we were granted a most glorious day. We went ahead with our plans.
Thankfully everyone was respectful of our strict protocol for mask wearing when not at the tables eating.
It was just good to have everyone ‘sort of’ together in one place before we head into winter. A winter which may feel a bit like a revisitation to the quiet time of early lock-down and quarantine.
Time will tell. But for this one day, we safely took what we could get.
I like to think Dr. Fauci would approve of our handling of the gathering, he having said, more or less, ‘if you can’t have Thanksgiving outside, and socially distanced, then don’t have it’.
Each separate family household came inside to fill their plates independently. Even the kids were on board. I appreciate the respect and care everyone brought to our day together. I wouldn’t have chanced it all if I thought they might behave otherwise.
There was the typical fare – a turkey, smashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, chips and dips and casseroles galore. All of the standard comfort foods related to our traditional Thanksgiving meal. While thankful I don’t eat like this most of the time, there is something about all of the carb-laden goodies that is truly good for the soul. They don’t call it ‘comfort food’ for nothing. We dove in with abandon and it was delicious.
Given one perfect day of weather for our early Thanksgiving, we then weathered rain on the following day to cast our ballots into the box at the local Board of Elections. We were glad to do so. Even today, people stand in line in the rain to vote in person. At least we are all voting, one way or another.
Later, the rain abated and it was time for a hike in the woods…..
…..where nature is always full of surprising things.
A wander in the woods always has the capacity to reset things in our hearts, allowing for a recalibration of sorts. I have a deep sense that things in general will be slowing now as we head into late autumn and whatever the rest of the season may bring with it.
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.
Excerpt from his books, To Bless the Space Between Us (US) / Benedictus (Europe)
I also have a deep sense that things may get even crazier here in this country in the weeks ahead. Having cast my ballot early, along with so many fellow citizens, I find myself drifting away from the daily news, merely awaiting results of the eventual electoral outcome. I have cautious optimism some days. Other days, a drive into the countryside to the edges of our city gives me pause for all the republican paraphernalia and propaganda to be found there. As usual, time will tell. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is to hold no expectation too tightly. Everything can change on a dime.
This has always been the case, it’s just now more obvious.
I welcome the slow days ahead, as much as I miss holiday frivolity with loved ones. Somehow a hibernation feels more natural for the season. I often crave a bit of quiet this time of year, and this year perhaps I shall have it. Sure there are still zooms and classes and the like, but my intent is to capture a spirit of spaciousness, thoughtfulness and mindfulness in the weeks and months ahead. I think this space might give us some time to reconcile with all that has happened this year. To perhaps shift our way of thinking and being in adjustment to the State of Things.
This month I have reinvigorated a daily drawing practice by participating in the annual “inktober” drawing challenge. This has given me not only practice drawing in general, but making little time-lapse films as well. Here are a few….
I hope the season is being kind to you in one way or another. We are all grappling with so much of late. And it’s all happening quite fast really. My wish is that in the midst of the madness we might find a tune we love to play and play it. That we might see something worth painting and paint it. That we might begin or perhaps continue the planting and plotting of a garden bed.
I’ll share some paintings soon. Keep the faith in the meantime.
” For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself. He must have been capable of intense feeling, and capable of profound contemplation.”
This day is close. Like humid and slow. I’m reminded of Ohio and grateful for the lake here.
This morning, a walk before some rain. I go for some time, in order to walk off a bit of the rich food and drink vacation with friends doth provide.
I walk, hike and occasionally jog a bit as well, past Wyeth style fields…. (keen to get this barking IT band back in working order)
…..up mountain roads, and past signs of life in the outer world.
There are stony sentinels guarding these well worn paths along the way.
The humidity suits the fungi sort.
Upon returning to camp, rain has begun in earnest and I retreat to the boathouse to practice some tunes for awhile.
Soon, the sun is back out, and the instruments have had their fill of muggy conditions. I put them away and go for a swim.
Fast forward to now…. I have made a painting. It’s busier than I would like. Perhaps I have waited too long to paint. Exercising and playing music first on this particular day. All are priorities of course. I work from memory along with a few snapshots of last night’s spectacular sunset. So much going on there, so much to capture.
So I just push paints around for while. There are notes of this one I like. “It is only a study” (this I remind myself again and again.) I am finding my voice (aren’t we always?) in gouache and one can’t make a masterpiece at every turn.
It is late afternoon and dinner hour begins soon so I’ll wrap up and be fully present here at camp, as that is the business of vacation. (Also, maybe another swim, jaysus, it’s hot!)
There are books to read, naps to take, boat rides to experience, meals to share. It’s all a bright balance of good things here and now. I am grateful for all of it…..
I start the day with a long walk and a visit to the sea side where it is low tide. It has been rainy overnight and so the day is soft and gray. There are workers here at home doing outside house maintenance and so I opt to hide away for the day at a table in the basement where it is quiet and cool.
Still working out the kinks and idiosyncrasies of my new-to-me gouache paints, I work from a photo and then just from my imagination to craft a couple of little paintings for the day.
These give me hope for better work to come and I see them as studies.
It also seems that I am seeing an arc to the earth I haven’t noticed before in my paintings. It’s fun to experiment.
My intrepid god-child finishes her work for the day and we once again steal away for the day’s dip in the sea. With overnight storms and the gray – but warm – day, the water feels brisk. But we do it anyway and are rewarded with a refreshing swim, with the added bonus of mere time together.
Walking the path back to the car, I spy a stone which catches my eye.
It says everything else that needs to be said for the day.
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:
It’s fun to see how others have weathered the isolation in recent months. Here it’s Rumikub. There have been many games, apparently.
Locals remind themselves of what is lovely here, in spite of all.
While on my morning walk/run there is a veritable parade of old fashioned cars, harkening to days bygone.
It is good to walk in a place where glimpses of the sea are readily available through the trees.
Before the day gets away, I steal away to paint for a bit, using a new paint set up I gleaned recently from the lovely work and suggestions of Lena Rivo.
Wonderful to find a secluded bench, with shade and a view.
Here’s the wee painting I come up with…..
Later it is time to swim. Of course it is.
Is that a seal???
Alas, it’s just me.
Sea me. I LOVE swimming in the ocean each day. Thankful it is just down the road from us.
Tonight, in the spirit of reconnaissance for a kayak opportunity of Tony’s later in the week, we gather for dinner at another lovely spot, out of doors, away from others, by the sea, and happy to be together.
We are treated to an amazing sunset. And just like that, our first full day in Maine comes to a close.
We are deeply grateful to be here. To fill the proverbial well with hope for the months to come. To remind ourselves AND you that beauty and friendship still exist. That we will get through these hard times.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.”
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.”
This time last week I was in Austin, Texas, visiting artful friends, meeting new trees and dogs. A good time was had by all and I was (and always am) deeply inspired by time spent with these women and their loved ones.
One can read countless articles about the food in Austin, or the music in Austin. But honestly, I really loved the trees.
There were two in particular which captivated my imagination. The first being the famed Treaty Tree – an old, intrepid Council Oak utilized by Native Americans long before our misguided United States was even a glimmer on the horizon. You can read the full story here about how this poor tree was poisoned back in the 80’s and nearly died. But it survives to this day and is loved and protected and shored up and supported in its growth.
The day we visited it, there happened to be officials on hand, measuring and taking stock of the tree and I asked permission to come inside the fence and place my hand upon its trunk. I was permitted and nearly cried when I touched it. Trees are truly miraculous beings and I have a bit of a thing for them.
A second tree which I befriended just happened to be in the back yard of the very friends we were visiting. This tree, now called Bonnie, was a primary reason my friends chose this of all houses and they brought in an arborist to make sure they could care for her properly in the coming years. I think they are glad to know Bonnie. And perhaps Bonnie is glad to know them.
I am guessing there will be more paintings of Bonnie. I spent a bit of time just watching how the evening light played upon her stately form. She’s lovely indeed.
But Austin is not all trees, there are the dogs. One dog especially seemed to sum up all of Austin’s playfulness. Mr. Pickles.
One cannot NOT sketch a spectacle such as Mr. Pickles. Apparently his mom works in the mobile dog grooming world, hence the painted on color. I think Mr. Pickles knows how cute he is as he greeted us with enthusiasm on our visit to the Contemporary Austin art museum.
There was much more to tell of Austin. A beer garden in a grove of trees in the hill country, cocktails made of a desert plant….
Vintage finds in the second hand shops. But mostly we merely enjoyed one another’s company. And this was enough. Even in a city as cool as Austin.
And now I am home. Nursing a cold…..
And deeply worried over our own pup Iris. Our Wild Iris Rose has been unwell of late. Deer poo is nasty stuff and we can only guess that she may have sampled some in the yard leading to intestinal distress. We got her sorted out last week and were in the clear, but this week, among everything else, she was overcome again.
Tonight she is hospitalized and getting fluids. We are hopeful for the best, but it’s up to her. And so tonight we wait.
I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on anything, tea is helpful, yes.
And good books to pass the time…
But it’s worrying, to put it mildly. She has been greatly weakened by this latest illness and we are giving her the best care we know how. And only time will tell. Of all the dogs, Iris is really my girl and I miss her presence here in the studio tonight as I write this. Hoping she’s back home resting comfortably tomorrow perhaps. But we shall take it all as it comes.
Raw December day, wet, dripping with rain and fog. Last night’s few inches of snow turn to slush and mud. I opt for a day home sketching and drinking tea after a busy weekend of music-making, and other such peopling. I am deeply grateful for a flexible schedule.
The paints have been fairly ignored recently, my hands opting for other activities. I know this is simply my way and the paints do call again eventually.
I work diligently on a set of mittens, maybe a second set if there is time. Gifts of heart and hand.
Iris rests in the studio room with me, both of us vying for the space nearest the space-heater.
The house is cozy, with the season’s usual suspects tucked into their places, remembrances of years past.
The paints have indeed been calling, which is why I take to them for a few sketches today. I can always feel the tug when it begins. I see something that I want to interpret. A scene or a landscape featuring a special light of some sort perhaps. And I want to delve in. This often finds me disturbingly out of practice.
Yesterday, before the snow came, I attended an art-book fair. I found it refreshing to wander the stalls of fellow artists and see they are still keen on political disruption, unable to sit with the state of things, pretending this is all *normal*. It is not normal and it will “not always be like this”. I hope this is true.
On route to the fair, I noted the beauty of a pre-snow sky as the backdrop to our city skyline. Today, I sketch from memory.
My friend Kim and I spend the late afternoon and early evening talking about art and resistance and I am refreshed. She shares with me the story of artist Charlotte Salomon, about whom she’s been reading and who’s work exploded from her while evading Nazi capture (and sadly, other evils even closer to home). Her tale has more to it than I can even begin to portray here, and I have ordered the books from the library to dive deeper into it all. In the meantime, there are many articles about her available which I have been reading today. Here are just a few along with some of her images…..
The sheer scale of her making is almost unbelievable. I think about Charlotte painting as if her life depended on it, with urgency and desperation to tell her story before it was too late and I am glad the work survived at all. Indeed, this storied work may very well be the world’s first graphic novel as it is now called. I simply can’t get enough of looking at these paintings.
I think about other artists whose work has captivated my attention, not only for the caliber in the work itself, but for the stories behind the work. Artists like Edith Lake Wilkinson and Alice Schille, both of whom I have mentioned in previous posts here and there, and both of whom I have found inspiring for their art-making lives.
And through the lens of the work of these artists who’ve come before me in the Grand Arc of Art History, I think about my own work in the world. I think about how it continues to evolve, stretched between words and image making, between material studies and experimentation. How it is never comfortable, and when it is, it gets boring. I wonder how many women artists, like myself or others, have flown under the radar their entire working lives. Many more than we might possibly count I would wager.
So on this quiet day, here is where my head is. I mentioned to a friend of mine the other day how spacious this time without the demands and distractions of social media has felt. We laughed that it’s a bit like when as a stay at home mother, your children first go to school (or perhaps when they leave for college) and suddenly, there is room in your head to actually think deeply. We in this world do not spend enough time pondering, wondering, engaging in our own thinking, following the mindful breadcrumbs offered from the gods of creativity.
I wish for everyone to give themselves the gift of this space. I believe the world at large could sorely use some quiet time.
It’s been a wild few days. Outward, ever outward. Shining toward others, ever deserving. Our oldest ‘small’ is returned to the midwest from Aspen‘s heights. He is beginning a master’s course of study in violin performance, settling into a house he’s rented from a family we know well. This gives me the hope that he is therefore surrounded by an extra layer of love as he embarks on this new chapter. I took a day this last week to make the drive out to his new hometown to purchase that first round of groceries (which always proves to be so costly when one is in one’s 20’s) and to have lunch with him and make sure he’s really and truly back from Colorado.
One never knows.
Turns out he’s properly returned. And feathering his new Indiana nest with joy and hope for the future.
Into the weekend we plummet. Another road trip to see an art show in Columbus with a couple of long time artful friends and the younger ‘small’ herself, also settling into early adulthood. It is a wonderful thing when one’s adult children begin to weave their way into our adult lives becoming yet another friend with whom to share experience and art and life. We walk her new dog, marveling at the blessings of *neighborhood* and *community* and the gifts they entail.
The show, In a New Light, Alice Schille and the American Watercolor Movement, is stunning and well worth the visit. The artist’s use of color is at once familiar and cosmic and I become that annoying art viewer with glasses on getting as close to the work as possible, studying brush strokes and color choices up close. I even purchase the catalog. The show is that great. My friends and I study Alice Schille’s life’s arc and timeline and decide she may have known our beloved Mabel. Would they have gotten along? Who could tell. Mabel was a tricky customer. But Alice was making her art. And this is commendable.
The weekend barrels on for myself and my family and while I so enjoy the celebrations and time together, I find myself twitchy today and though quite tired, get the paints out…..
Inspired as I have been by Alice’s work, the watercolors aren’t enough and I reach for the oil’s…..
And I knock out a couple of landscape paintings I am not entirely disappointed with. Not a bad afternoon’s work for one feeling torn in too many directions. One painting feels a bit like home here on the northern edges of Appalachia (culturally speaking at least, for you geographic purists). It is an expression of the days of late August, goldening on into September.
The other is more of a reaching out to the bog lands of Ireland where I will find myself in a matter of weeks. (Still considering taking a small set of oils. Thoughts, dear readers????)
Either way, regardless of where my heart is feeling tugged from one moment to the next, PAINT is always a player -at least in my mind if not in practice- and I am learning more and more (finally) to turn to it when I can, as well as to the trusty old drawn line. I find comfort in the art. I can settle into it. It’s become less something I avoid for *all the usual excuses* and more a place I run toward for solace.
I am thankful for days of celebrating family. And for friends who will travel to see a proper art show. I am thankful for women who made art in a time when it might not have been so fruitful or safe to do so. Have you seen the movie Packed In a Trunk? You should.
Tomorrow is a normal Monday. I have work at the shop to do. Household things to attend to in between attending to the *art mind and body* as it were. Life has to happen. How do you all balance the art making with the need for family time, as well as the solitude which feeds the work and self care?
How can we shut out the world for a bit enough to do our work while not ignoring the realities of the modern age? It’s a tricky business and I welcome any suggestions.