Keirartworks's Blog

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

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The white chair

The test for old chairs is in the sitting, and this one more than passes, happily. It’s an online auction chair, old and formal-ish in the picture that prompted me, upholstered outrageously  – in cream and white.  It looked comfortable in the photo, but this could have been wishful thinking.


Old White and formal-ish comes with a history I can only invent. I find myself doing so in collaboration – my back against hers, my body held softly but with just enough firmness, my lap at just the right height with feet on footstool.

It becomes the chair I write from in the mornings.  The chair claimed first by my visiting daughter.  The chair that lends lightness to the room, drinks in sunlight.

This chair beckons, but does not compel.


Old white was intended for the cabin, where comfortable things are welcome, though curiously it seems to want to stay here, in town.  I sit in its welcome, listeningly, and feel happiness.

Outside the window is springtime.  Conversational starlings and squirrels (both black and red), a carpet of scilla on the tiny back yard, humming with bees.

Yes, that’s what it is.  A simple, welcome, peaceful happiness.



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So much anxiety.


Even here, in this small town Shire-like piece of Ontario, we dutifully find our regular dose of Fox news or its equivalent so we can chew on our worry in a bizarrely informed way.


If not Fox or Sinclair and the suspicious smell of fascism, or the use of our tax dollars to bail out yet another oil pipeline through the wilderness project, then about Stan the heavy-bearded wanderer toasting muttered anarchy with Listerine; about the goose wandering alone for a month in the open field; the pencil thin young woman entering then leaving the methadone clinic to the profit of some private business person who would rather she stay addicted.


The young, ballcapped man, tight with sloppy rage, yanks an aging woman out of a broken down house, her shirt still open to a tan-coloured pushup bra.  Every window in the house is smashed.

Here in the shire, on my way to the store for cream.


We share our news in the bank lineup, the grocery store, the gas station like chatter over an undertow of unease… is any belief system, economic system, political system, educational system not showing signs of extreme erosion, even as others crumble?

It’s not just the climate that’s changing (…weather’s odd for this time of year, doesn’t feel right….).


Today a friend asked, “What do you know for certain?”.  About anything, she meant.  Gave me pause.

I said that I suspect I have a working theory about how things change, but certainly no certainly.

Whatever work I’ve been able to accomplish – internal and external – in these past few years has been a more or less messy mobius of intention, action, and reflection.  All three balanced and juggled like plates or knives, never still, never dropped.  But this is abstract.

Think.  Choose.  Do.  Think again.  Do differently, Think.  Choose again. et cetera.

My working theory is that, A) pivot points occur only in the doing. 

B) well-considered doing (not just ‘busy-ness’) is an effective antidote to worry.

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Loudly we gather

Future Bakery now has wifi and wall plugs for charging laptops.  This is good, because our B&B has no power at the moment, and there is course work to be done, due at 11pm.

The B&B power is out because the hydro lines were clipped by the arm of a crane as it lifted drywall up into a house a few doors down.  Nobody notices anything odd until the lines all down the street start to smoke. “I’ve never seen anything like it”, says the fireman from the other side of the do-not-cross tape.  “Smoke was just pouring out of the lines, all along here.  We’re waiting for Hydro to come now, but until they do we’re keeping people off the street…”

We are fireman-escorted to our car then drive down the road to Future bakery which has both power and coffee, also where a big reno was finished just last month.  I’m sitting where the cheesecake used to be, beside a wall plug that wasn’t here six weeks ago.



We people watch while the laptops charge, while the Hydro guys figure out what’s wrong.

While the conversations, the meetings, the dates, the thin, the abrasive and the low soft voices, the laughter and the listening-faces.  While the staff continue to sort out where everything goes.  While the cars park and shine, the blinking phones, the open doors because it’s spring, the arm tattoos, the scrape of metal chairs on tile floor.  While the resplendent boston ivy soaks it all in, as we do.


This after the night in Ottawa Jail Hostel, managing sleep between two distinct snoring styles and one creaky bunk.  The 5am alarm for lovely Slovenia lady so she can catch her Kingston Train, and the barrel of male francophone teenagers pranking each other in the hallway shower.  The rock paper scissors cappuccino made for me at the campus cafe after hugs all round on behalf of everyone’s mom.


The apartment couch before the drive, then the drive through the 401 rain that clears over the Don Valley, then the arrive and park, the pub (playoff game) and mashed avocado on toast. Out of the pub onto the smoking, taped up street….

Now here, watching.  Now, charged up.  We will go home through the lights and the loud, to the dark.



10:20am, Sunday April 8; home & tucked into the couch under my fish blanket, with coffee number two.

The paper chaos is less overwhelming; I’m now two thirds of my way through a financial study of what happened last year.

What a time it was.  Full of equal parts rage and abundance, despair and deep, welcomed joy.  It has changed me beyond reckoning; the woman I was a year ago seems dim and small, from here.


In the interim, I spent a great deal of money on food nourishment.  I spent a much larger amount on building a solid foundation for my own autonomy – a cabin, on property I am sole owner of since July, on tools for its maintenance and development, on a chainsaw, both symbolic and practical, since there’s a woodstove.

I bought many many books and read lots of them (still a mountain to go).  Because of what Hooks, Solnit, Beard, Maracle, Hess, Hustveldt, Veblen, and so very many authors had to say about the world, I became a feminist.

Change the term if you like; it’s not a religion.  Call it ecological theory, and add Abrams, Kumar, Bateson, and more.  It’s all. right. there. If you choose to look.

I ate my own rage – not voraciously, but steadily, until I began to understand its’ sources.  This cost me a certain extra quantity in beer and wine, though I think mostly as a soft off-switch, and thank the universe this questionable strategy didn’t take me into addiction. This ongoing diet of rage strained my psychological capacities well beyond their old limits.  Worth it.  I can’t bring to mind an intention better set than this one.


I stopped trying to prove my value as a musician.  Also stopped bending to a belief that I must continue to focus my creative energies into the small town I’ve lived and worked in for 25 years. It has been a complex pleasure to do so – both the serving and the release. 

Here, I’ve been enriched by excellent music, fine fine friends, the the enduring comfort of interconnectedness with just about everyone.  It is a place of truly great beauty and ongoing creative challenge that has shaped me, and will always call me home.


Here I’ve also encountered deep poverty, systemic mysogyny (which is everywhere),  an oft-embedded distrust of single, strong women artists (many folk just downright bewildered by this), and men who felt entitled to claim Centre in intimate relationship, thereby marginalizing my own yearnings and directional urges.

I absolutely aided and abetted in the latter, also it’s hard to live with an artist, no matter what. 

In the slow process of eating and digesting all my stored up anger, I’ve sorted out that a large part of my chronic relationship pain was the result of direct resistance to old, old patriarchic assumptions.  It was less about the men I loved, several who are still good friends of mine – (hello and love if you’re reading this) – than these old, cultural assumptions.

This is a relief to know.


I spent another large chunk on higher education – investment in my own expansion into the world beyond this physical community.

This has given me respectful insight into my own thinking mind, and uncovered a hunger to study still more.  I now actively seek a tribe of thinker-artists who are at work to help solve the complex puzzles of right now.  Wherever they may be.

I will finish this masters I’m in and find a way go to Glasgow to do another, in visual art.  My dad’s parents were born there.  I want to touch that place, for them and for me.


After years of real poverty (it’s not just me and my friends – most artists live this way – here’s an excellent CBC article), the abundance of last year made my internal poverties clearer to me, by contrast.

Poverty is limitation.  It is the word ‘No.’ , and the word ‘Can’t.’ 

It begins with the experience of one’s perceived value in the context of family, and the family’s perceived value in society.  This perception is rooted in early experience and largely defines how each of us present ourselves in the world. If we do not own who we are as separate from what these early experiences taught us, then more often than not, we present ourselves as having limited value (as our experience has taught), and we get that same response mirrored back to us.  It manifests in physical, emotional, psychological  – and financial …poverty.  There’s so much to be said about this process.

My recently re-read journals are a chronicle from all my teenage and adult years.  In some, every third page is a budget, a financial strategy, an income projection; a detailed examination of which debt gets paid first after monthly expenses and before food.  Every page is threaded with anxiety, even through joys and exuberances.  

IMG_0489No matter how much personal power you may have, poverty can and will eat it all, over time.  Add race, gender and class to this, and getting out is nigh impossible without the kind of life-sustaining help that doesn’t end up owning you.

Here’s what MLK has to say about it (a facebook post – write to me if you’re [understandably] not on fb-I’m digging for the original).

I am humbled and grateful to be white, Scots-Canadian and further privileged by a family inheritance which would make a massive difference in the lives of many of my friends.  Determined, also, to use what financial, creative, and intellectual power I have in support of a cultural system that includes and empowers rather than sustaining what we know is destructive and abusive.


Full-time artists know what the underside of the poverty line looks like.  It gives us, among other things, a kind of street cred.  We are a tribe who has learned what day jobs are best for paying rent but not draining creative energy so that studio work can continue.  Day jobs are for some a last resort, since jobs like that are hard to find.  So we teach, we build projects and programs, we collaborate, we apply for grants, we community fund our cds, exhibitions and tours, we make it so, so that the art work can happen.

We generate far more than just paintings, or songs, or books, or films, or plays.

Last fall, my body stopped me in my tracks, as a bad bow-arm injury resulted in the resurgence of a rotator cuff injury sustained in the building of what is now my ex-husband’s house, the paltry settlement for which also happened last year. Complex, yes?


I’m pretty tough so I let this go on far too long, until the pain was constant and debilitating. Then I surrendered, and stopped generating.  At all, for a while.

And I spent some money on time.  Time – to savour the moment, to learn the song of my cabin, to dig deeply into school, to write, to think.

More than any of that, to simply Be, for a while.


Of course, this has led me back into the studio.


conte pastel, in progress, from yesterday.  I love Paul Klee, and his colour.  Some day his colour theory book in english translation will be affordable and I will find a way to buy it.

What the tax people will get is a page of numbers that all add up.

This is the real story.

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Driving Time

In July 2017 I bought a car.  At that time it had 45,000 km on the odometer, which is partly why I bought it.

In our tradition of car-naming my daughter and I named him Thom, short for Thomas. Not Tommy, ever.

He is an indigo Blue Honda Fit.


By now, April, 2018, and Thom and I have racked up another 30,000km together.  There have been things to do and people to see.


While we were driving (by ourselves, never when witnessed), a song came.

It became an earworm.  Then it grew, longer and longer….

back_leftI recorded bits of it into voice memos. A few weeks ago when we parked at home, there were enough bits, so I wrote them down, strung them together and recorded a rough version.

Here it is…



…complete with frogs (one from Costa Rica, another from Toronto) and badly played xylophone (I’m a cello player, not a percussionist, damnit. Also at one point the frogs had a falling out).

Warning – it is an earworm.


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The hum beneath the noise

A sideways start to the day so my antennae have been awry.


I’ve been picking up on things I wasn’t expecting to see or consider, so experiencing the odd sensation of living out two narratives at once:  the planned, artistic inquiry into functional art and the role of repetitive action in studio work, and the unplanned trundle through jumbled pieces of family story interaction/reaction have overlapped themselves.


I’m experiencing a kind of synesthesia in which my mother’s story about her conversation about social media, conspiracy theory, the deep south, Alberta and guns is intermingling –  with an image of a cotton plant’s blossom and fibre spun into threads then woven together make fabric.


I can see long long bolt of wet, hand-scrunched white cotton, and a handful of skilled Indonesian workers adding three sets of strong dye.  I can see them, precise and efficient, building the wax print.  Then more dye, more scrunching, more dye again, add sunlight, sprinkle setting compound from a bucket.  Remove the wax resist, then wash. Package and send from Indonesia to Canada, where I then buy two yards each of several bolts to make functional art with.


Thinking about how our notions of guns as a necessary protection is printed into us, just as racism and misogyny is. How for those of white, European descent, colonial privilege is dyed into our very nature.  How a wax print resist can protect part of an these old ideas from being erased by bleach.  How after the shock of change the small part not erased still holds, but differently – transformed into a beautiful repeated pattern, altered by the new colours around it.


Two complexities inform each other in my sideways day, and that’s just fine.

The videos below describe how old and incredible this process is in Indonesia;  it’s time for me to get back into the studio.


Chickens in the background in this modern batik making video from Java. Note:  this is not traditional Javanese batik – for a video description of this with beautiful gamelan soundtrack go here

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The Great Rise Above

A strategy emerges…

Frustrated, once again, by an intolerable situation I find myself yearning, once again, to be in a position of greater power.  A very wise, intensely intelligent friend gently reminds me that there is already enormous power is in what I do, what I make, and the way I offer this to the world.  I’m grateful for the reminder. It’s all too easy to forget my own resources when I’m staring at closed doors.


She is right about it.  I do feel this power each time I gather the time, the focus and the funding to weave thought together with art and music, dig into the deeper meanings of experience to produce and present a show, a book, a well-turned blog or a song.  In those moments I live at the epicentre of my own authorship, which is the most powerful place anyone can speak from.

When I am there, especially when collaborating with others who work from a place of integrity, I can embrace diversity and rise above petty manipulations with ease. I can use my strength (and the humility that goes with it) to connect, include, direct attention to, propose solution for, mentor, encourage and inspire others to find this place for and in themselves.

This is real power- the kind that empowers others, who then empower more others, and others so that positive empowerment extends throughout the entire complex ecosystem of this planet. It includes, connects, relates, nourishes, and directly addresses disparity.


I can’t always be in that place. When I’m out gathering experience, sharpening insight, building resources and connections for production, I often bump into my own triggers, stumble upon long-smoldering fires that light up when poked. It is a place of questioning I go to, and many times those questions lead to more closed doors.  No matter how fiercely I glare, I cannot burn a hole in them; they will not open to let the healthy air through.

Behind most of these doors is the place where our five-thousand-year-old patriarchy still thrives in self-perpetuating, ever spiralling madness.



But things are changing.  Doors are becoming less opaque, so we can begin to discern the goings-on behind them.  No matter how benignly they’ve learned to present themselves, the active players appear in increasing contrast to the determined inclusivity of the marginalized voices we hear and join, in global women’s marches, Time’s Up, Black Lives Matter, March for our Lives, and so many more.  I’m relieved by this, even in the midst of my abhorrence of the willful damage that continues to be done.  It’s better to have names and faces to represent patriarchic culture than rail against the blank wall of systemic misogyny and racism.

It was in this context of frustration that I watched the footage and photographs, read the written responses to the March for our Lives movement two mornings ago.  As I did, I cried.  Tears of gratitude.


The Rise Above is important because it fosters clarity and wastes no energy on diversionary tactics.  I saw real rage, real grief transformed through integrity into the clear, directed action of millions upon millions of people – led by youth.  They will not stop, and nor will I.

There’s a reason that Tolkien’s work endures.  The ring of power melts in the very fires that forged it – our own European industrial revolution, run terribly, horribly amok.

Things are changing. We’ve all had far more than enough.