Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.


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Artist residency in Hamilton: highly recommended

I cannot imagine my life without the experience of the Cotton Factory artist residency. On all levels – personal, professional, academic, philosophical and physical (since I have now moved my work and my life here) – it continues to enrich, expand and amplify my world.

Residencies are transformative things, I’ve learned. In some ways, contradictory, since you come in to them with a clear, proposed plan for the work but also with an intention to engage with completely new surroundings and people which influences your practice, your insight, and thus, your work.

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The Cotton Factory hosts a mid-length residency. In retrospect, I can see that three months of absolute focus on visual art practice is both a blessing and a challenge. For me, the first month included Christmas and music gigs, all in cities outside of Hamilton, and so I spent what studio time I had establishing momentum for January’s work.

This was satisfying; I was able to stretch my art muscles, and take two pieces that had floundered in my last studio to a new level.

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In January I settled into my proposed plan, which was ambitious: ten collaborative portraits of folk from three cities (none of them Hamilton), a book that explored process and insights gained about art and portraiture, and an artist’s talk/performance.

I settled into Portraits, yes, except that my powerful response to Hamilton and the Cotton Factory community and space was impossible to ignore. It became imperative that I respond also to where I was, that I explore the rich history and culture of industrial Hamilton (which included both of my paternal grandparents, emigrants from Glasgow, Scotland), in my work.

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Pavement II: Gate. oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn bottom edge. Improvisation meets structure, and a narrative emerges.

Within the first two weeks of January – seven weeks after the beginning of my residency,  I realized that my work in The Cotton Factory and in Hamilton needed to be extended. I signed a three-year lease on another studio down the hall.

Now I had two goals fighting for priority in the seven weeks left of my Arts Council residency:
1. Portraits Project, and
2. a conceptual series on paper which explored the human spaces of industrial Hamilton.

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry and progress based on profit/ ownership) on what was once a thriving natural environment. The growing sense I had, that the natural environment – the spirit of the land – was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space through natural growth – with or without human collaboration. Vines using barbed wire and chain link to climb on, trees still growing beside junkyards, grass breaking through pavement.

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The first of five pieces on paper I presented at the artists’ talk for the 2018-19 Cotton Factory Residency. Pavement 1: door and chain. A response to my month-long stay in a student apartment at Barton and Emerald Streets in Hamilton. Pretty disempowered neighbourhood – I found myself walking there with eyes down, was warned not to go out at night.

My impression – of impossibly overlapped stories from 100 years of european emigrant workers who had been imported from their original cultural homes and offered ‘a better life’ in the new world. Enticed from their homes by government-supported businesses, they populated that treaty-acquired, previously populated land, which soon became unrecognizable to itself. They came for wages and in exchange became the visible backbone of the Big Industrial Dream of constant, unsustainable growth – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the perpetually growing, industrial profit/ownership machine.

The same machine that slaves from the south had been picking cotton for for a century or more, in chains, without wages or anything remotely approaching autonomy. These people – not enticed, but forcibly removed from their villages and homes, then commodified and traded –  were the true, but invisible backbone of the cotton industry. For more insight please see this excellent PBS series “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, available to rent or own. Here is PBS’ news release announcing the series.

Oh, the damage done. How much wrongness and entitlement can we own, as white people, in the origins of this story?

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Pavement III: Stairs 2019, conte, oil pastel, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn edge. Overlapping stories, up and down the back factory stairs.

The effects of all of this are all clear and visible now, in old industrial Hamilton. The shores of Lake Ontario, once forests populated by indigenous people, is now dominated by abandoned factories, populated by immigrant settlers and the descendants of slaves. How do we address this, as artists?

In three months, I could only begin, with fences, locks, chains and gates. Trains. What I knew of my grandparents.

[NOTE:  I have received some pointed and negative feedback on my original blog post that I believe is warranted. I want to address my error, as pointed out by a reader, whom I have thanked for her input. 

Here is the offending paragraph, as originally written:

Gates and fences, ways through and in to working spaces. The imposition of an idea (human industry) on what was once a thriving natural environment, and the growing sense I had, that the natural environment was still there, patiently waiting for its chance to reclaim the space in collaboration with humans. My impressions, that 100 years of emigrant workers had been just as harnessed and used as ‘natural resources’ by industrial design was part of the story – my ancestors, transplanted here, to feed the same machine that slaves from the south were picking cotton for, a century ago.

My point about the industrialists’ abuse of the natural landscape for use in the development of factories and suggesting that the immigrant workers were “just as harnessed and used” was awkward and without proper reference points, and this I believe is the beginning of my error. The land was acquired through Treaty between the government and the indigenous peoples (see treaties No. 3, ‘Between the Lakes Purchase and Collins Purchase’and Brant Tract 3&3/4 here. See also the website Native Land, an ongoing indigenous- run project which maps indigenous territories and nations on several continents. Be sure to read their ‘about’ page). The immigrant workers were paid, in exchange for the ‘harness’ of daily work, and so benefitted from the possibility of a new and more prosperous life in Canada. This is not at all like slavery, and though it was not my intention to imply so, the effect on my reader stands, and I take responsibility.

My point should have been absolutely clear, that I  feel that the Cotton Factory building is full of overlapping stories, none of which would exist in that place without the people who picked the cotton that arrived by train. The (white) emigrant workers – my european ancestors – were in fact beneficiaries of the work of enslaved people, through the wages they earned. The toil of slaves and that of white emigrant workers should not have appeared in the same paragraph, without clearly distinguishing the extreme differences between the conditions experienced by them. I have corrected my post to reflect my intended point, with gratitude to AMR for calling me on it. This note will remain embedded in the post as well, for clarity.

My work and my reading actively inquires into the generational, cultural, physical and environmental effects of colonialism and industrialization, white privilege and entitlement. I sincerely apologize for any offense taken as a result of my lack of clarity. 

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Pavement IV: Fence 2019 acrylic, oil pastel and vine charcoal on paper. Machine sewn lower edge.

I wrote this poem in response,

Song for the Workers

 

If I stood on the street where you walked to work
every day
If I asked what you thought what you remembered what
would you say?
Did it take, what did it take from you
Did you break, how did you remake yourself
again, and then again and then, and then
How many miles of pavement
through the long working years?

 

Did you ever wonder
over a hundred years wonder
where it would all lead us?
Out the grey porch door
down the long street
over the train tracks
through the opened gate
through the big door          (with the others)
Up the long stairs               (with the mothers)
across the wooden floors to the chair,  to the treadle
I think of you now, when I push my gas pedal.
Ten million miles of thread,
fed carefully through your steady needle.

 

For Jeannie Brown,
and for Hamilton where she made herself fit,
like all the others, all the mothers,
the brothers, the daughters and sons.
Transplanted, harnessed,

 

In the name of God, waged.
In the church, when the bells.
Every Sunday.

Hamilton is a place of factories, trains and churches of every faith from every country out of which emigrant workers came. In some ways it is the most european city I have yet experienced in Canada, because of these hundreds of years of carefully maintained connections with ‘home’. I can find food from any part of the world in the grocery stores.

The City of Hamilton acknowledges that it is situated on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory. (Note: Haudenosaunee – This name refers to the Iroquois Confederacy comprising of these Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Anishinaabeg/ Anishinaabek/ Anishnabek/ Anishnaabeg – this name covers Ojibway, Odawa, Algonquin, Potawatomi, Nipissing, Mississaugas, Saulteau, etc….all the Algonkian/Ojibwa Nations.

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Pavement V: Three Crosses, 2019 conte, acrylic and vine charcoal on paper, machine sewn lowest edge.

Because of the Hamilton Arts Council / Cotton Factory artists residency, and this rich, complex history into which my own ancestors’ stories are woven, I have moved my work and my life to Hamilton. Portraits will open in the fall of 2019, and I will publish and tour a performance of my Masters thesis book, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms shortly afterwards.

There is a rich fabric of artists, music and community here that grows into future collaborative work and artistic exploration well beyond the horizons I could imagine in the fall of 2018, when I applied for the residency.

highly recommend that you – artist from any culture in search of a practice-deepening, perspective challenging, new friendship-building, pivotal experience – apply to the excellent Cotton Factory Artist Residency program. From wherever you are, in the world.

Here’s the Link.

(Write to me if you’re from away, and I’ll help you figure out accommodations. keirartworks@gmail.com – put ‘CF Artist Residency – Help!’ in the subject line.)


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Aftereffects

Miles traveled, journeys completed, contracts in the final approach to resolution. Dad’s passing was five days ago, my capstone presentation four days ago, our first family gathering now two nights past.

I drove south through and out of the fog this morning, to find sanctuary.

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For the first time in many weeks of research, trips north and back, navigations, negotiations and witnessings around the approach of death and all its reverberations…
I feel I could paint. At least I could if I weren’t slightly nauseous with exhaustion, so, correction: I mean that I remember that joy, can feel its approach from the other side of tomorrow.

In my studio there is peace.

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Out from this peace whispers something I want to try to articulate, however clumsily – something about how we see ‘the other’ only through our selves.

If I am confident, I see and connect with confidence in someone else. If I feel vulnerable but cannot admit or attend to it, I see threat, seek to blame.

What I believe I communicate is hardly ever what is received, and the corollary to this: my experience of My Beloved is entirely dependent upon my awareness of mySelf – my personal, emotional ‘weather’ in the moment.  ‘Objectivity’ is, most often, an illusion.

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If, in each exchange we are both actor and witness, then all of our existence, our awareness of self is relational – depends entirely upon connection and interaction with ‘other’. In how many ways do we hold memory for each other?

I seek old friends to remember parts of myself I’d forgotten, parts they have kept safe for me, should I need to revisit them. I do this in return, for them. But each of these pieces is less about ‘the other’ than it is about our connection, our mutual reflection upon the space where we, together, focus our attention.

The me that L knows and loves is a different me than the me that D or M knows and loves, and yet they are all me. My sister’s memory of our childhood together is vastly different than my own.

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It is this way with my dad, as we gather to share memories of him, and try to make sense of them all. He cannot be rebuilt, has dissolved from the action he was into a Resonance. Through this ritual of sharing Jim stories each of us claims back the parts of him we saw and loved, or were injured by –  as treasures, or, as the grain of sand, the irritant, that over time might develop into a pearl.

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This is what I can decipher from the whisper that rises out of the studio Peace. It feels awkward, clunky, and so I will continue to sift and sort through this elsewhere.

The more subtle parts of these aftereffects require music and paint, which approach from the other side of tomorrow.

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His was a beautiful soul, one I will always love. I will keep my memories of him safe, should they be needed, and I will make pearls from the sand.

 

 


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Perspective

My dad has died. Twenty-seven hours ago, now. Oddly, I have no sense of his absence, rather a steady, gentle regard, a muscled arm around my shoulders as I write and work.

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There are tears, of course. Of course. When Dave quotes Hamlet in an email,

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

….and as my heart swells, flipping through photographs posted by dear old friends who have taken and gathered them over the years,

Dad laughing, dad dancing with my sister, Jim in deliberate consideration of a thought, a feeling, Jim goofy for the camera, Jim with his muscled arm around my daughter’s shoulders, walking with her through the giant trees.

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But today is Masters Capstone day, and he insists, gently, powerfully, that I present my research with clarity and integrity. That I deliberate, pare down, find the nugget of truth, and honour it with simple elegance.

He, and I, insist  – that I ingest all of this ink, this complexity of academic theory, this gravitas and make it light, for the camera.

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I don’t have enough time, of course. Of course I don’t. I remember dad, chewing his thumbnails while driving us into school in the mornings… writing lesson plans in his head.

Not enough time.

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But I know from experience that the best music is made this way. Come at the gig all swollen with intensity and feeling, push the details into play at the very last minute.

IN the moment when you begin, and can release what you’ve internalized in all the long weeks of preparation, there is a lightness of being. A rightness.

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The gig starts in eleven hours, I don’t have enough time, the details are not in place.

But the work of deliberate consideration and paring down is done. I have the elegant nugget now, safe and glowing within my ken.  In every hour then, I’ll slap another detail into place.

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Then I’ll get goofy for the camera.

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Lamps and chairs

When I told dad I would present my final masters research (with some bad-assery) in ten days, all the terrible anxiety and fear vanished from his face. He smiled.

He is in the final, non-verbal stage of dementia, frustrated beyond imagining that he has no words and only emotion, no time, only an endless Now of waiting.

He aches for contact and love, is willfully strong in his child-like, impotent rage at the hospital and nurses and pushings around; time to get up now, time to eat now, time for your bath now, time to brush your teeth now, come one now, you can do it….

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Complex, these relational family stories, aren’t they.

I’ve just moved my work and my life to the city where he grew up – a twenty minute walk from Delta High School where he was a young football hero, the much admired alpha-male athlete, scholar and master of ceremonies at assemblies, funny, smart, beautiful in body and strong in integrity. He was a dreamboat.

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So often in my life I’ve been astonished by his empathy for those who struggle, his wrathful impossible judgement of people from cultures not his own. By his blind reliance upon others – mostly my mom- for the simplest of human requirements – laundry, house cleaning, the facilitation of travel, trips, makings-so.

He has uttered bone-headedly hurtful things to me without a hint of awareness or remorse. He has offered, with infinite tenderness, a perfect, graceful insight at the precise moment it was needed.

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He wrote poems to us, when we were small.  The Keira Lynn flower’s the one I love best… (i.e., more than petunias, snapdragons, and pansies). When things were sometimes difficult, we communicated in carefully considered, written notes. In these, he always, always told the truth.

He cried, every time I played or sang. I do this too, without restraint, when I’m moved.

In the past week I’ve visited him four times, six hours return from here. Each time, fewer words, more frustration. Each time, more moments of peace, and grace.

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He smiles because he knows that even though it was never my role in our family to be the academic one. Nevertheless, I will present this final bad-assery of a masters capstone in ten days, and it will be good.

It will be better than good now, because I have his chairs with me to write in, his lamps, for inspiration. He is helping me.

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My dad is an artist, these are his horses.

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Thanks for your help, Dad, it’s perfect.  I love you.

 


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Capstone 2: Seven Swans

Seven hundred pages and four years of journals, four hundred pages and four years of blog posts, two hundred photographs, twenty projects / performances, thirty poems, three notebooks, and three binders full of journal articles and syllabuses, a bookshelf of Community Music and related literature.

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All but the last two are my data, which I’ve sorted through for keywords and phrases, references and pivot points, using a sieve made out of the course syllabuses for my masters.

I can with complete honestly share with you that in the process of doing this, the person who wrote the data over these past four years has become quite distinct from the me who is reading through, and analyzing it.

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What has been caught in the sieve has then been fashioned into a story, called Seven Swans, Seven Rooms, that I will make into a physical book (just learned how, then made the paper for this book yesterday with the inspired and inspiring artist Susan Barton-Tait – check out her work here).

As I do this I’ll take the journal articles and CM & related literature and tie it back in to the story, which will be added to the book as annotation.
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Three weeks from now, with the active help of my audience, I will tell you a tale of transformation from the more than human world, where trumpeter swans deliver messages, where doors are opened by secret keys, where a woman is saved by, then released from, knowledge.

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After that, with the more passive assistance of powerpoint, I will briefly tell you the other story. After both are told, like Jan Martel’s Pi, I will offer you the question:

Which story do you prefer?

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After some discussion with the audience and a panel of wonderful PhDs for whom I have a great deal of respect, we will all make our way down the hall to my studio for wine, nibbles, conversation, and I hope, some spontaneous music-making.

I love good research, and what can be made from it.

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Hope you can come to this: 6pm, on Tuesday April 30, room 206 at The Cotton Factory.

This is a free event, a ‘show-and-tell’ after 31 months of Masters study at Laurier. That said, there will be ways to help me pay for the event, if you are so inclined. Books and cards for sale, signed copies of the Seven Swan’s book available for pre-order, paintings, and plain old donation jars.

I will continue to check in here between now and then. Write it you have questions!

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Thanks, for reading.


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Capstone 1: in every direction, a window

The morning is introverted and full of stillness.

My ambition and drive are sleeping, I neither expand or contract, I am simple with my first coffee. Listening, in my purple slippers and with these six red candles, to the train, the starlings, the panicked robin, the traffic that sounds like wind.

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Cello is warm and awaits my daily workout upstairs, eight pieces of artwork still lean, a box of old cards from 1994 is there, still unpacked and place-less.

Already, the day claims a slow approach, deliberate and sensual. With my ambitions and yearnings still (uncharacteristically) at rest I have a different awareness in this moment of Morning.

As though the Moment bows to me, hand extended: a silent, respectful invitation to dance.

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I accept, on the condition (granted) that I finish the thought that whispers from behind me and a little to the right.

Research is like a dance with listening. The idea you begin with shifts as you move through space and time, in constant contact and conversation with the material you study. You and the listening moment, together then apart, in rhythm, sway, skip, twirl, in step. The dance changes your awareness, deepens the question.

Reading is also listening, from inside a warm blanket, tucked in with hot tea and soup. Active reading is like this too, save that the soup and tea are like elixirs that demand a body-response: speak, write, note, answer, connect.

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What is painting, then? What is making music?

It feels to me as though painting is about bringing all of these listening moments together with my acquired skill, getting my ego the hell out of the way, and allowing the moment to sing, for as long as it takes. Same with playing.

You show up, clean and ready. Then you surrender to the piece.

Sounds simple, but it’s not.

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Read, dig, collect, code, analyze, dance, draw, write, paint, sing, play. Oh ya, also eat, walk, sleep, connect, laugh, practice and hang the paintings. Use the phone with your voice to tell people you love them.

I’m going to dance with the rare listening moments, all the way to my Masters capstone performance on April 30.

I need a BUNCH of people to come and be an active part of it.

Please write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information, and/or stay tuned to this blog if you are interested. Details to follow.


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Portraits 2: broken hearted?

Time teaches that there’s more to this story we’re in now than ‘broken heart’.

So many other hearts are broken, badly and beyond repair, in this world, across religion, family, geography, faith and belief, music and art, that there’s no room now for any one person’s ache and wrong. We are in an ocean of ache, still buoyant on the impossibly, miraculously resilient raft of human love and ridiculousness.

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I write here to fully claim my personal online voice that emerged almost a decade ago to release the pressure from the daily relational muzzle I’d learned to wear. To accept full responsibility for the effects of the choices I made in response or reaction to events, traumas and pressures in my life. All of what I’ve written has affected people in ways I cannot know – I hope positively, but I cannot know.

I was harnessed by both the impossibly restrictive muzzle, and the resulting survival-need to release internal pressure, from age zero. Thankfully I was given art, not guns, as tools.

Oh, Christchurch New Zealand. Oh world.

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This is the blog and the time that requires me to be wide open, fully responsible for my choices and the effect they have had on the people I have held close in my life, as well as the people I affect without even knowing. My choice, my works, my notes and paint – all of it.

I’m no victim.

In the final estimation, I believe those affected by gun violence aren’t, either. Nor do I believe that the shooters can claim immunity from inflicting pain, because they themselves are in pain. I, too, choose to make change with the tools I have learned to use, learned from pain, and thankfully, also love. So, I am also a perpetrator, since I choose action.

We are both victim and perpetrator, all of us. We all inflict pain and damage; we also heal. We all have the capacity to choose something larger, something generous, something warm and impossibly, miraculously resilient.

It’s NOT a cliche, it’s conscious action:  soft, gentle, firm, tender, shaking, shuddering love. You choose to risk your heart, and you DO this.

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Difficult things matter. They are never, ever easy, but they matter.

Please – we need to learn how to go where it’s not comfortable to see ourselves reflected, to handle this drowning extremist wo/man in their panic, all of us – well before they open fire. They are us. We are we.

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I don’t know what to do, here in the second day of my apartment with next to no furniture, with too much work to do in too short a time, my heart all in yearning for peace, for integrity and connection and miractulous human impossibility.

I’m sorry, human and non-human world, that we can be so harmful to one another. Please, please. Let’s find another way to be here together.