Recently I’ve participated in some online workshop-gatherings of a sort. Neither have been “classes” per se but rather more intended as an artistic shot in the arm – a path to creative exercise that isn’t my own regularly trodden path.
It is good to get out of one’s own way sometimes. In this strange era of no teaching or traveling, barely making anything of note (besides a fair amount of really good food), there comes this opportunity to step outside of my norm, to tune out this world gone mad for an hour or so once a week. It has been good. Creating space for some play time has re-enlivened a few tried and true practices which had gone a bit stale over the course of the pandemic. One such practice is that of my bedside sketchbook.
I came to the tail end of that little bedside book and it’s rich with interesting characters. I’ve no idea who they are or why they are, they just are.
Some of them might be worth developing further one day, so as not to be trapped for eternity in the pages of a small book, but we shall see. For now, here are a few of my favorites…
Sometimes, these Fine Folk would escape the bedside and make their way into the day book, alongside bits of poetry, to-do lists and the keeping of a calendar. I welcome them too.
Yesterday I slipped into the art store before heading into the concertina shop. I splurged on new versions of red and blue in the oil paints. I also picked up a cheap little sketchbook to begin another volume of the bedside book.
It is nothing fancy, I just use pencil in it anyway, so no need for fancy. I collaged the cover to make it my own, and will set it on the bedside table with a newly sharpened pencil to see who pays a visit before I collapse into a restless sleep.
I am restless due to current events and this raging pandemic and all that goes with it. As I write this, I am receiving text messages from family and far flung friends with the news that the president has once again been impeached. This is good news indeed, I think. But honestly, I am weary. Weary of ignorance and misinformation and cruelty. I hope we can move through all this and one day gain footing on a sense of normality, whatever that may look like after these horrifying past months and years. But time will tell.
For now, there is puppy kindergarten beginning this evening. There are more meals to attempt which feed our bodies in healthy ways. The sun shone today a good bit as well. All is not lost, at least right here at home. And that is what I cling to just now. I hope you are doing well and hugging those you can.
The new year dawns amidst heavy rains, as if the tears of 2020 continue to overflow. There is a relief in this new day, this new year, even if in reality, it is just another day.
In years past I might have greeted the day a little weary from an overnight of music at Arthur’s house with many of my most treasured musical mates. Alas, our tradition like so many this dark and difficult season, was simply not to be. And so we had some curry and watched When Harry Met Sally. I of course would rather have been playing music. But that said, it was not a bad way to spend the turning of the year. I am grateful for that.
So here we are. A new chapter. At least according to the calendars. This feeling of a new beginning is refreshing after the sense of doomed Groundhog Days of the past several months. The early half of this day I refreshed my studio chalkboard with a new focus word to contemplate for the year and some reminders to keep in mind of goals and plans for the months ahead. Not so much “resolutions” really, rather ‘things to keep in mind’.
This year’s word is EMBRACE. It is fitting on so many levels. At the basest level, I just need more hugs in my life. I’ve read that hugging more releases the hormone oxytocin into the body, creating happiness. I am keen to try this as I’ve been a little blue of late. But haven’t we all?
Embrace also is a challenge to myself to take more seriously all of the gifts that I have, specifically in my working life. I don’t take my art work for granted and I have worked hard over the years to improve my craft and get my work out into the world. But that said, there is always more I can be doing to put the work forward. I am considering setting up a Patreon page to ask my subscribers if they might like to pay a small patronage toward the making of my art work in exchange for patron only content and thank you rewards. A bit like kickstarter and other funding platforms, but ongoing and not necessarily project specific. I have heard wonderful things about the relationship that develops between artists and their patrons. Money is a difficult concept for artists some of the time, but Patreon allows for people to throw a few coins into the proverbial hat so that artists can do what they do. So we shall see. I am still researching it all. Don’t worry though, the blog will always be here in some form or other. For free. I promise.
With 2020 came so much change and grief and anxiety and a necessary re-thinking of the world in general. The final tenet of my notion of Embrace, is to take what comes -to embrace the challenges of our time right along side with the small joys and achievements. It is a time of ‘yes, and’. It is an era when we must learn to carry sadness and hope together in the same basket a lot of the time. My goal is to embrace this concept and it’s inherent yin-yang quality and see where it takes me. It feels like a good, multilevel word I can chew on for a good year or so.
The latter half of the day we met our daughter and her dog for a beautiful winter hike at a place called Glen Helen Nature Preserve. It was magical with patches of fog and melting snow on bright green mosses. There were streams and springs there filled with iron-oxide and the rocks at some of these waterfalls dripped a bright orange-red.
There was an Adena burial mound just in the woods off the trail and it occurred to me that perhaps this place was sacred to early people in our area. I am glad it is still treated well now.
Philomena continues to grow and change. She has ‘divil dog’ moments when she is all wild instinct and needled teeth and it is difficult not to lose patience with her. But we are all learning together. As I type this, Charlie and I have escaped upstairs to the studio and Tony has taken over puppy duty. When she is awake, we have to keep a close eye on her.
When she rests, one of her favorite things is to shuffle herself under her bed in the kitchen where there are radiant floors. We think it might feel a bit like a weighted blanket to her. She came up with this funny concept on her own.
Sometimes when she is all the way under, and merely a lump under a dog bed, she reminds me of a passage from The Little Prince…
A favorite of mine.
As we attempt to bring our shoulders down out of our anxious ears, and gain an even footing in the world again in the next few months, I wish you a brave new year. A year where the good will outweigh the heartache perhaps. A year of mending what has come undone and weaving together all of the lessons of the past 10 months or so.
Sweet dreams everyone. Tomorrow is another day.
Start Close In
by David Whyte
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
way to begin
Start with your own
give up on other
don’t let them
your own voice,
Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
heroics, be humble
start close in,
for your own.
Start close in,
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
A David Whyte poem from
River Flow: New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press
Philomena is a very busy young dog. We are all about redirection around here as well as making sure our new puppy gets enough exercise to keep her energy at a reasonable level. While it is tiring, as she still wakes a time or two for a tinkle in the middle of the night, we are also having a tremendous amount of fun. Philomena makes us laugh. A lot. (ps. a frozen wet washcloth is great for teething. Better than toes, frozen or otherwise.)
Philomena is engaging and curious and quite a quick learner. Last night at bed time, she didn’t even whine when she was placed in her kennel den for the night. She then awoke once at 530 am to go outside, only to go back to sleep in her den until we were ready to get up for the day. She’s figuring out her routine amidst our lives here, and trying her best to make friends with Charlie.
Charlie is having none of it. We respect her in this regard.
After all, Charlie did not choose to get a puppy.
Yesterday Philly walked all the way around a neighborhood block here. It took some coaxing with small bits of chicken to get her to come along, but in the end I think she was glad she did. She is getting to know the neighborhood a bit.
After her walk, which required her walking with the leash, she was given a bit more freedom. Philomena used her free time to chew on a stick. It’s life’s little pleasures, isn’t it?
Today, a work day, Philly donned her leash once more for a neighborhood jaunt. On this walk, colder and more windy, she was carried a bit of the way. But there were still bits of chicken for paying attention to me and for listening when I call her name, and all in all this too was a fine walk indeed.
In a time which seems like a lifetime ago, I used to run marathons as a sort of side hobby. I ran the weekdays with babies in a stroller and managed a long run on the weekends. In the end I took on 7 of these races and while I was no Olympian, I managed to place now and then. More importantly I made some friends and kept in touch with the self in me that had nothing to do with early motherhood. Raising small children, while undoubtedly a most rewarding and important job, is lonesome and occasionally mind-numbingly dull work. Marathoning gave me a balance amidst it all and enabled me to be a bit of a better mom. Essentially, I ran marathons to survive early motherhood.
Now it would seem that coin is flipped. The pandemic we are experiencing in the world is no sprint. It is definitely more of a marathon. I heard from friends in the UK that lockdowns are in place once more there. There are no lockdowns here, though we are experiencing a difficult season indeed. . The United States is once again acting like the lawless wild west of old, relying on people to make up their own rules along the way. As a result, we are dying in droves. While the vaccine roll-out does bring some hope, there is no end in sight to this pandemic. As Kristin Wigg of SNL fame put it the other day, “the trouble with a light at the end of the tunnel is that finally we can see how bad the tunnel really is.” I agree with her. And so we trudge along this marathon route, step by step, day by day, best we can. And to weather this marathon, we got a puppy.
Something about the structure that raising a new puppy requires, as well as the constant navigation of a fairly steep learning curve (each dog is a new universe in and of itself, is it not?), takes us outside of the panic in the world at large. Much like the structure of marathon running helped me deal with the panic of being a clueless young mother so long ago. I am so grateful for this.
And so here we are. A week in. Already in love. Registered for puppy kindergarten in January. This may or may not lead to some agility work for this little pup who is, indeed, a handful as we expected her to be. But while she is a handful at times, she is also the sweetest little thing.
When she settles down I enjoy doing a sketch of her.
There is no better way to get to know a dog than to draw them.
Ever moving, growing like a weed, it is hard to keep up.
We begin a new chapter in recent days. One filled with the sweetness of a puppy’s young breath while haunted and hunted by the pandemic. The weekend saw us driving northward a bit to collect a new dog whom we now call Philomena Amaryllis. A big name for a big personality. We are still getting to know her.
We encountered her through a local heeler group as I’ve been keen to get an Australian Cattle Dog mix of some sort. A dog who can keep up with my miles in the morning, Hub’s miles in the evening, and everything in between. They called her number 9 and something in her eyes reminded me of our wild and wise Iris Rose whom we lost last winter. We still grieve, but life goes on in spite of that.
We inquired about this young pup in particular and I enjoyed getting to know the young woman who would bring her to us once she was ready. Along the way she sent us routine photos of the pups and their parents, apparently from a farm home. I didn’t ask too many questions. Puppies are puppies and they provide us with a blank slate of possibility. They were clean and well cared for, what more could we want?
We made our decision to adopt number 9.
And so we brought her home a couple of days ago and things are fairly puppy centered in our home just now. I’m feeling a bit sleep-deprived and depleted with night-time puppy scheduling on top of some recent health challenges. But we are really happy with our new puppy. At least most of us are…..
Charlie, our sweet “canine house-cat” is not too keen on Phil’s addition to the family. But they occasionally find a peaceful moment.
We remain diligent in making sure Charlie’s quality of life and personal boundaries are respected and maintained, even with the addition of a rambunctious new pup. We give Phil plenty of time and space to run. I find her enchanting and engaging.
Phil was in a motley way when me met her, smelling of regurgitated puppy food as her brother had gotten a bit car sick on the drive down to us for the hand off. So much for her pre-trip bath!
We got her cleaned up and wrapped up and headed for home. She hardly moved a muscle the whole drive. Except when she was nursing in her dreams.
Arriving home we are already figuring out our schedule again as a household. We’ve dealt with the changing landscape of early puppyhood in the past and know that nothing lasts long. We simply spend time observing and correcting, training and treating. It’s a fun and fleeting time.
This week our talented builder, who’s been singlehandedly rebuilding our back room, tested positive for Covid-19. We have not had much indoor contact with him, and when we have it was always masked, but this is nevertheless quite worrisome. And so now we quarantine here with our new puppy. Socialization with neighbors and friends outdoors will have to wait until we make sure we are all healthy and well. Soon the spectre of the coronavirus will be made slightly less grim by the arrival of a vaccine. We merely bide our time in the meantime and try to keep hopes high.
This is not difficult to do with a new puppy in the house.
Today we are walking out in the yard more, allowing Phil to explore while teaching her that we are the source of all good treats and pats. We learn that she is really into traipsing through dried plant life in the garden and this brings her endless pleasure.
It is my sincerest hope that this activity will make for a restful night. But we shall see. This is puppyhood after all. We remain patient and diligent in equal measure.
You’ll be seeing a lot of Phil on this blog in due time. Drawings, paintings and the like. Dogs are my muse after all. Such a close tie to Nature itself. They remind us of our wild selves, all the while weaving themselves into our domestic lives and reminding us to root down into a settled life in the moment. We needed more of this concept in our lives after this devastating year.