Keirartworks's Blog

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Impossible.

There is too much to absorb, digest, translate, re-form into something good and relevant, and far too little time.  Someone – Leonard Bernstein? referred to this as one of only two things needed to accomplish Great Things.  But when, as my marvellous friend Maria puts it on Wednesday, “every minute of my time is accounted for from now until Monday at 10pm”, Bernstein does not comfort, despite my really good plan.

So thank you Annie Lamott, for your timely, perfect, pithy truth.  I have read and received it from three disparate sources these past three days, and now the angels of safe containment and healthy boundary are here (I called them) to guard the perimeter while deep focus reigns supreme within; it’s buckle-down time.

To tell a good story well, and thoroughly – a living, breathing story, this is necessary.  Necessary to trust that though all hell may be breaking loose out there beyond the perimeter, this story is relevant, it needs to be told.  Necessary to filter out the hooks and pulls, the triggers and the waverings, and make use of the fine fine sieve that lets in only the heart of things.  The heart of things, that resonates with everything and everyone you love, that threads and connects this good story back to their good, strong hearts.  Resonates and strengthens, if the story is told well.

A heart breaks; snow falls steady onto five inches of itself.  A woman drives slowly through zero visibility; a cat eats the head of its kill.  Wildfire claims someone’s beloved farm; blame is released like a sigh, back into love.  Tears fall in shock; another paragraph is written.  Someone wanders, lost; the kettle boils for tea.  The Heart of things.

Humility meets courage; another page is printed.

The Heart of things.

Impossible.


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Door, Window, Kitchen

As if I know how to do that.  Of course I don’t.

As if not knowing how has any bearing whatsoever on the fact that I will do it, regardless.  Honestly, what utter nonsense.

I’m feeling rumpled.  It’s not a comfortable feeling, through not a dangerous one either – I wouldn’t classify this as a mental health issue, for example.  I believe it’s easily managed.

I just don’t want to manage it. Not at all.  I’d rather feel all the way rumpled.  Taste what this feeling might be suggesting to me that seems so unpalatable.  Taste then spit, if necessary.

I’ve been investigating examples of the applied philosophy of inclusion, mostly in higher education.  Treatises, exhortations for reform, sincere and accurate laments.  This has made me prickly.

Just now I’ve taken a short break to read about “Manifesto”, a video installation project by Munich-born artist Julian Rosefeldt which features Cate Blanchett playing 13 diverse characters. Each one spouts “a call to action without a care for consequence” (Guardian review), “about the need to wake up, tool up, use art to revolutionise humanity and humanity to revolutionise art”.  I’ve bought the movie since as an artist I’m fascinated by cultural action and reaction, by art and revolution, and it’s another, artistic interpretation of my reading focus.

I’ll watch it when I’m through the day’s tasks.  I’ll also watch more video installation made by Rosefeldt (lots to see on his website).  After, I’ll dip into DJ Elliot’s new book, Artistic Citizenship.  I’m thinking it will all piss me off, but hoping I might instead be surprised, and find humour.  It would be a welcome relief to find myself snorting with laughter.

Perverse.  Reverse.  Re-version, re-story.  Open and closed ‘forms’, i.e., classical baroque versus collaborative composition.  A spectrum of open and closed applies to everything we participate in, every choice we make.  Dapper Dan and Haute Couture; collaborate or conduct; don’t participate in the old toxic systems with their embedded, power-distorted rules, or cling to them in desperation; people or sheeple, dualism of all kinds, gender-based habitual thinking.

But, by god, if you’re a voice for inclusiveness, for open forms that invite collaboration, innovation, and creativity, that encourage voices that have not been heard to speak, make it relevant to us, all of us, right now.  If you see or hear something important that is not accessible to those of us that don’t read, that don’t ever enter galleries or concert halls, that struggle with poverty and have been dominated all of their lives (by white people, for example)…it’s your job to interpret.

I don’t give a damn if you don’t know how.  Figure it out.  Find a meaningful way to connect to people you can only imagine right now.  To people way way out of your comfort zone.  It’s not supposed to be comfortable.

There it is, that’s it – not a bad taste, just different.

I’m uncomfortable because this is my job, and I haven’t the faintest clue how to do it.  But I will figure it out.

Door = way through.  Window= view beyond yourself.  Kitchen = where people gather.

 

 


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I seek privacy

I seek privacy while I taste these new things.  These ideas and thoughts that co-mingle inside my being, each one changing the colour and tone of the one before, sparking new thoughts in marvellous chemical reactivity. 

More like alchemy, it feels.  As though I’m levitated, it feels.

All of this internal, so I have few words – there are no words in fact, at this point, to describe the changes in me.  My feelings are volatile, powerful enough to do damage, and yet I know they must be felt as they are, acknowledged, contained, allowed to move.  I do not happily sit in conversation these days for fear I might erupt.  I’m sure people who don’t know me well think I’m the same as I was.

Artistic Citizenship (Elliott, 2017); Engaging in Community Music (Higgins &Willingham, 2017); Teaching to Transgress (Hooks, 1994); Pedagogy of Hope (Freire, 1992); I am Woman (Maracle, 1996); Unsettling Canada (Manuel, Derrickson, 2015); The Mother of all Questions (Solnit, 2017); Remixing the Classroom (Allsup, 2016); Success for All… (New Zealand – Rakena, 2015); Women’s Work, The First 20,000 Years (Wayland Barber, 1994); Klee Wyck (Carr, 1941); at least twenty mind-changing journal articles from all over the planet (1996 to 2017)…

For these ideas to take, they need to spark, and oh, but they are.  This is not a mental exercise, but a heart-based one. I’m not new to academics, but I have been away from the process for some decades, in which time I obtained some common sense about the way things work.  Heart first.  Then mind.

Then Voice.


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radically inclusive

Let’s say in a fit of wild enthusiasm you’ve made a generous statement about the music you love to play:

“Anyone can play in this band!  Come on over and jam with us!”

 

Word gets out because your music is fun so five new people show up to the next band rehearsal, in this order:

Geoff, a classically trained oboe player who’d like to try playing your drum kit

Ruby, a 12-year-old angry slam poet in a hoodie (no eye contact)

Mairy’s whistle-playin kitchen-jammin Uncle Pat

Pete’s mom Sherry, who sings twice weekly with the Sweet Adelines (so knows how it works)

Rico the PTSD’d army vet (in his wheelchair), who plays a mean harmonica

 

Your bandmates Eric the Ego (lead singer) and Tasteful Steve (guitar) are over there with their mouths open, staring at you in disbelief.  Your pal Sam (great bass player) is smirking through her inscrutable look and has shrugged, just now.

” Well.”, you think to yourself, “Um.”

But this is what makes you so good at what you do: you decide in that moment that this will become a band project, and ‘the band’ will rehearse as usual, but on another night. With a little finaegling, this makes the situation okay for everyone (indicated by a second shrug from Sam).

What ensues from there is perhaps one of the best, funkiest, tastiest most heartfelt art-records ever made, a massive collaborative process of laughing changes-of-mind & heart & music & life for everyone, including Eric (the less overblown), SuperTasteful Steve (the less serious), Sam (who sang at the Adelines’ last concert in full leathers), Geoff, Pat, Sherry and Rico, who now regularly go to slam nights with Ruby and her African-Canadian girlfriend.

Next Project?  How about an online thing linking Iqaluit midwives with spinners/weavers from Georgian Bay who then write songs with retired Mounted Police?  (Sam’s idea).

Bell Hooks would say….  Huzzah!

Paolo Friere would say…  Huzzah!

Lees Higgins and Willingham would say… Huzzah! Huzzah!

Rebecca Solnit would of course write a review of the entire mad thing for the Guardian, with exhaustive research that proves without a doubt that yes, inclusiveness requires great courage (and willingness to laugh at ourselves) but makes us all so much better.

 


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Rage like a mountain

There’s nothing new. But there is a new urgency I can’t ignore or discount – to do so would be futile, and frankly, cowardly.

It appears that I’ve come to a place of no return with critical parts of my life that have always been up for negotiation.

Like the movement of tectonic plates, a deep and radical shifting of my priorities.

I find myself, with some regularity these days, shaking with rage. I feel also, and at the same time a profound sense of deep and steady calm, no less intense and alive than the anger.  The word Ferocious comes to mind.

I have somehow expanded my capacity to contain Ferocity.

It feels quite safe in a dangerous sort of way.  I’m mindful of a need for care.

While I read for my masters.  While I make buffalo stew.  While I use my chainsaw to cut firewood, practise new bow technique on my cello.  While I write, sew, draw, listen to Joni Mitchell and RVW Symphony number 9 for work and pleasure.

While I think about wise, strong people who have been denied a voice of their own for far, far too long.

It’s difficult to put my finger on the ‘why now’ of this.  I think that doesn’t matter.  It’s the thundercloud that matters.

I will do the things I do for better reasons. I’ll learn to do other things, because they need to be done.


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Shock and shift

What happens when we don’t take responsibility for healing our own lives, and instead project our buried trauma out onto other people – our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues? 

What happens when we use all our energy in criticism and complaint, when we use charity and judgement as a way of maintaining privilege and superiority over ‘weaker-thans’?  When we use power like a gun and intelligence only to manipulate?  Is this not a way of describing blight?  Does this not weaken the entire system of life?  Weinstein.  Ghomeshi.  Trump.  Any person of any gender who identifies with embitterment, any person who inflicts their own still-festering injuries on others. 

So, at any point in our lives, each and every one of us, until we choose to do the work and grow up.

Mill Dam, Owen Sound. Fall 2014

What happens instead when we don’t accept diminishment, and instead use our considerable strength to knit together, to hold space for change, to join, to empower and build.  What happens to us.  What happens to the world.

Harriet Tubman.  Georgia O’Keefe.  Emily Carr.  Gord Downey.  Elizabeth Warren, who persists.

What happens when a small, any or multi gendered group gathers in the kitchen to wash, dry, put away dishes from the meal they made for 30 people? What happens when they gather to weed a garden, repair or build a quilt, build a house, make music, block out a play, collaborate on a project, get something done together…  the conversation knits and weaves, joins and clarifies, connects and strengthens.

It’s about the doing, but the doing isn’t the point.  The weaving, the connecting, the building, the sharing and comparing is the point.  The anchor of hearth, the rhythm of ritual, the resources of valued difference.

In this contemporary culture, many-gendered, magnificent embroiderers, quilters, designers and fabric artists have taken the diminuitive notion of ‘women’s work’ and transformed it into empowerment – an actual, functional, powerful approach to healing our homes and our bodies and building the world anew.  Artists and musicians, actors and writers are more and more equally represented by all cultures, all genders, who have empowered themselves to speak from their own power, to openly share their hard-won strength and dignity with us.  Does this not strengthen us all?  Is this not another way to describe nourishment?

Endurance, independence, perception, wisdom.  Strong opinions, well informed by context and shared with humility.  To do something valuable with one’s anger.

Not the pursuit of virtuosity as an identity, but for joy.  Not to claim then fight nasty to maintain one’s trumped-up value .

Instead, always to include, to hold space for. Powerfully.

The We, the Us, without the Them.  We, the ecosystem from which no living being is excluded.

This requires courage.

 


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Dark mornings

Before she went blind at age 42, she read tea leaves for signs of joy and trouble.

Through the subsequent five decades I watched, fascinated, when Grandma took her glass eyes out to clean them, as casually as I now clean my glasses.

 

For many of those eye-blind years she lived alone in house the size of the one I live in.  Every single thing in that house had precise place and function.  She could hear you think, and smell through walls.  Her scrying skills sharpened and she knew things before they happened. In this house, with these sharp senses she navigated meals, cleaning, laundry and dignified self-care with a sensibility that both astonished and empowered me.

 

Is this why I drink my first morning coffee in the darkness – to honour her five decades without light?

In part I think this is true.  I do often think of her as the first light whispers through the windows to ghost the doorway and glint the curve of my mug.

 

 

Light seeps in hushed like tiptoed joy.

Good morning, Jeannie Brown. You are welcome here.