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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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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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internal inquiry into a considered response

There’s no other way to heal, I think.

I’ve read this many times.  It is lodged in my blood now, where it often sings me awake at night, sometimes until dawn.  It is in my belly too, still mostly undigestible.

The difficulty lies in the difference between what my heart reads and what my head understands.  Or maybe that’s where the difficulty lies. I’m not sure yet.

We learn battle-readiness, to defend our tender new-budded truths.  We are misinterpreted; this can break our hearts.  We misconstrue, often to preserve the rightness of blame, the righteousness of feeling hard done by; this will initially comfort and inevitably constrict.  In the end the effect is the same:  diminishment and poverty. 

I can’t name all of the possible alternative choices, but they are known by their effect: gratitude, openness, expansion.  Love.

Oh, the bluster and the poverty of me!  As though what sparks my interest should dominate all else, till there’s no breath left in the room, and the small simple beautiful thoughts creep away to hide their perfect nakedness.  Lest they get burned by the mocking loud, the snorting judgement, the braying, betraying complaining whine.

I don’t regret this bluster- it has been an important tool for survival these many years.  I do amend it now that I’m out of survival mode:  more heed paid to the exquisitely naked, small simple thoughts.  The tiny observances, the two-way conversations held safely in trust.  All the time in the world to listen well, with love.

It is one of those nights – my blood sings me awake at 3am and now dawn sits pregnant in the east.  Sheets and sheets of luxurious rain cool street and soil after weeks of heat too strong for the season.  I am grateful for the known comfort of this natural balance, counterpoint to my tender-sore conundrum. 

What to do?  I ask the morning, as she emerges. 

In response, the rich rain sings of gravity, release, surrender.  

Family. We are family.  I have no good answer to this difficulty, for how can I be who I am not, even if who I am offends so?

So. Let the rain and the tears fall where they may, in gravity, release, and peaceful surrender.  May the good answers come over time like waves on the shore, with no urgency. Small and simple, held safely in trust.


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Thank You.

There’s a perfect stillness in this house.  A resting of all the places that will later see activity, development, growth.  I need this calm like a desert wanderer needs shelter and green; somehow my little house knows and holds me like a mother would, gentle and strong.

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What to say?  Good lord and lady but there have been betrayals, haven’t there?  Personal and political. Family and State.  Driven by greed for money and dominance, a great overwheening, toxic need to be first, best, shiny-est: I watch as the old ship of my family breaks apart over money and the misuse of power, as ten muslim refugee families walk north into Manitoba, seeking refuge from the United States of America.

Honestly, and from the bottom of my breaking heart, I don’t get it.  We are not here for this.

I’ve been searching the dry desert for some answers for a long time, as a woman, artist, daughter-sister-mother.  I’ve found only questions in the sand – heavy ones that have become increasingly difficult to carry. I’m not going to be useful, I know, if I collect still more questions and carry them farther; I’ve got to figure out how to put them down.

relief from the desert on last week's walkabout.  These are water dragons.  Astonishing, tiny and shy.

Relief from the desert on last week’s walkabout. These are water dragons. Astonishing, tiny, shy.

We have daily choices to make now, each one of us.  Mine involve full acceptance of the cold bite of reality: not everyone has access to her own decency; many people are broken beyond repair.  I catch myself getting pulled into negativity, and delete the articulate, powerful paragraphs I just wrote.  I resist the impulse for retail therapy, for numbness fed by alcohol and thoughtlessness, though boy do I feel the pull.  I override the dullness I feel when I look at this painting in front of me, and wet my brush to make a change. I value the great beauty of small simple things, and get to work on building the strength and stamina I need to shelter and protect them.

The giant grouper fish who played with me through the aquarium glass !?!

The giant grouper fish who played with me through the aquarium glass !?!

I practise warm human resistance to abusive behaviour, and thank the universe for John Cleese, Meryl Streep, Saturday Night Live, The Netherlands, The brilliant people who made this site, Idle No More, my beautiful mother, my strong smart funny daughter, her courageous and determined director father, my wonderfully kind, generous, gifted companion and Love, all of my marvellously positive, music-hungry students.  I thank the heavens for our human ability to make music and art, and to make change.

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I read an old book about power versus force and realize that this place we’re in, this climate of despair and abuse is not new.  We’ve been here before, and we can stand our ground again.


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In search of light-heartedness

The bells, the paint, the studio cats who complain at the rain.  The reflective work, the promotional, the inquiring work, the rehearsals, the gigs, the scheduling work, the self nourishment which since November 9 has increasingly been – hard work.

The grim manifestation of positive, hopeful, pro-active paintings, songs and video as I emerge slow and stiff from the flatline shock of the US election and its results.

I trudge.  Plod, sink.  Grind my teeth and trudge on.

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Never has the political felt more personal to me.  We grieve like Sisyphus watching the boulder he pushed up the mountain for one hundred thousand years slide from his grip to roll away and down. It’ll be back at the bottom in mere months, picking up momentum as it goes.  He knows he must go after it, push it up again…

The reality of that election, what it means personally and for the world I love has me on the edge of melt-down, all the time.  I grit my teeth and trudge, propelled by clean rage – the only engine still running.

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Never have I felt so urgent a need to think differently.  To find a clearer way to do my job – making/sharing art and music, being human.

Jack Dixon, American author, ‘The Pict’ (2007), The Barn:Memoir of a Family During the Nazi Occupation of Holland in 1940-1945′ (2014), and many more, wrote this:  

If you focus on results, you will never change.  If you focus on change, you will get results.

Toni Morrison, American Editor, Writer, Playwright, Literary Critic, ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Song of Solomon,’ ‘Beloved”,’A Mercy.’ (and many more), wrote this:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That’s how civilizations heal.

I know from experience that the rage engine, however clean, burns out and in the end costs me months or years of positive energy.  The joy engine, the hope and the laughter engines go farther with a far gentler toll. Kindness, love, generosity – these are the best engines of all, and I/we will need them in the months and years ahead.  So I search for the means to re-start them, to maintain and fuel them.

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I’m making gatherings, since this is a thing we do together, repair and maintenance of joy and friendship.

  1. Studio tour here (live music, art, functional art, books, honey and a beautiful retrospective show of my dad’s paintings).  10am to 4pm, Circle Bar Art Factory, 1190 2nd Avenue East.  Write to me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/205689303185216/), or at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.
  2. Random Act of Christmas Music with the Cello Choir, at Frog Pond Cafe, 11am – 12:30pm, Saturday December 10.  We will play and bring lyrics for those who want to sing.  Highly recommended.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/209666356146246/
  3. Get your Wassail On!, at Heartwood Hall, Solstice night, 7pm Wednesday December 21.  We’ll bring a string orchestra, lyrics and good cheer, others will bring poems, songs, stories, and good cheer, you can come and bring your voice …and good cheer, in celebration of human beings everywhere as well as here.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1721170268210795/

if you’re not on facebook, write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.  I would love to tell you more.

See you there, in person or in spirit.  All my love to you, truly.

Keira

 


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Once upon a tone…

I’m having trouble reading.  A smorgasboard of fascinating printed material, practically glowing inside beautifully designed covers – right in front of me, and I can’t find the anchor point, the stillness that gives permission to dive in and engage, without great effort.

It’s not glasses – I replaced my old foggy set with two exceptionally clear and useful pair, gone the headaches.  It’s not disinterest – I couldn’t be more passionate about the material this Masters course and my own inquiries offer me, or hungrier to understand more deeply.

Not schedule, not lack of sleep, not poor health, not an ability to interpret and articulate, focus or retain but still a trouble I am increasingly aware of.

It’s my patience, my attention span.  Somehow in the past four years, I’ve become hooked into distraction.

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Point-of-view alters understanding.

I need to consciously choose to dig into a new concept now. Decide, again and again to make a practise of reading each paragraph two times (necessary, to understand the irrationality of the Pythagorean comma and it’s resulting philosophical effect on the holy trinity, and hence contemporary governance).  I take mental and written notes, then move on only when I feel the bell of understanding resonate in my bones and blood.  The next time I sit down with the same book, I review, repeat, wait for the bell, then move on.

One hundred hundred chews per mouthful.  If I don’t do this I reach the end of a chapter and all I can think about is …. whether Donald Trump represents for our times the black hole that is Pythagoras’ comma.

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So.  Throw paint at something, and find the sanctuary of ‘Do.’, away from the beckoning screen, the humming pile of books.

Thank you, iPhone, thank you Macbook Pro.  This is the result of you and your entire ecosystem of marketed convenience.  Three years ago I did an art project called #selfie that required extensive online research into and active participation in social media that still has me connected to thousands of people I know only virtually. Two years ago I dived into the vast ocean of tweeters and texters by accepting a 4s into my life, and the result was the twisting of my thought processes, overloading of my senses with so much irrelevant data that my mind – my mind – needs remedial care, just so I can read.  A Book.

And yet, books are the better diet, I’m finding.  Lightly sprinkled with internet research, they are once more becoming the oatmeal of my day.  I have receptors for this information, still. Each time I insist, my attention span lengthens a little more.

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The Tone of Our Times (2014, MIT), by Frances Dyson – the main course of my reading at the moment.  Dyson is connected to a community of Scientists and Artists (ISAST) who have some simple goals:

  1. To advocate, document and make known the work of artists, researchers and scholars developing the new ways that contemporary arts interact with science, technology and society.
  2. To create a forum and meeting places where artists, scientists and engineers can meet, exchange ideas, and, where appropriate, collaborate.
  3. To contribute, through the interaction of the arts and sciences, to the creation of the new culture that will be needed to transition to a sustainable planetary society.

Important book.  Sassy, even, to my reading ear, and very dense.  I’m on page seven of the intro and already I’ve needed to dig into terms and references online, like monochord … cosmology; techno-gnosis; doxa…

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A hundred hundred chews, and not too much at once.  Here are the first two points of Ed Boyden’s (also MIT) advice about “Managing brain resources in an age of complexity” (November 13, 2007)

When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called “How to Think,” which would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules, which I sometimes share with students. I’ve listed them here, followed by some practical advice on implementation.

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.

2. Learn how to learn (rapidly). One of the most important talents for the 21st century is the ability to learn almost anything instantly, so cultivate this talent. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works. (I often need a 20-minute power nap after loading a lot into my brain, followed by half a cup of coffee. Knowing how my brain operates enables me to use it well.)

So I change it up, the reading, and I don’t gorge myself.  I also have dessert waiting for me – a beautiful little book titled Once Upon a Time; A Short history of fairy tale, by Marina Warner (Oxford, 2014).

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She begins, “Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections….”

Ah, how I love a good map.  But first, a little paint throwing, and then half a cup of coffee outside in the long autumn sunlight.