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Pivot

So much anxiety.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….).

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.


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Forensics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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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Listening Blanket.

I find myself looking back through eight years.

This is a lot like my recent experience of standing inside Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirrors.  There is no floor, no boundary, no anchor point, nothing concrete, just a feeling of wonder, rising into awe.

As I scan and assess these eight years passed through the lens of now, it is like that. Everything I had thought to be firmly rooted in permanence is changed. This includes me. It includes how and what I remember.

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Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009

I think of Stephen Hawking, who died on the same day I visited Kusama’s rooms.  Who spent his life exploring the phenomenon of time, and published a book in 1988 which translated mathematical code for us.  In it he wrote, “You cannot predict the future.”.

He also wrote this: “The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”. This I have more trouble wrapping my head around.  Perhaps Kusama offers clues in those infinity rooms. Maybe all that I no longer recognize after eight years of life is a form of living proof?

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Also Kusama. (please forgive my finger upper left)

In this house, where I have lived these past four years is a collection of things from two family ‘anchor’ homes which were dismantled and dispersed, in 2013 and 2015.  Also here is one lamp, two plants, books, a piano, a chair and a bed which come from another house I built (with my now-ex husband) from 2006 until 2013.  In the room above me are art supplies and equipment from my factory building studio which I opened in 2009 and closed in 2017 – another home dismantled and dispersed.

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studio, January 2017, with my friend Knuckles the wise polydactyl cat

On the walls here are paintings I’ve made from five solo art shows dating from 1998 through to 2014.  Three of them are directional paintings, West, East and North, that describe summers I spent in a ‘hut’ studio at the farm my parents gifted to my estranged sister and I in 2004 as Tennants-in-common.  After a prolonged and emotional struggle, my sister and I agreed to dissolve the joint arrangement in 2017.  As a result I no longer own any interest in the farm. Some of the trees I planted there are now twenty-five feet tall – they live their own complex story now, and will far outlive our little manouverings.

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The final room of Kusama’s exhibition  – these stickers have been/ are being placed by us, the visitors.  Over time, the physical things in the room appear to lose their form.  Another kind of dismantle/dispersal, where increase in entropy moves in the direction of time.

The paintings on my walls resonate differently than they did when I made them, as I gaze from this place of me, now.  My sense of ownership is radically different than it was when things seemed more concrete, more permanent.

Who was that woman who painted these things, I wonder?  The way I might wonder about a woman reading a book on the subway.

I find this liberating.

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Here’s what Oxford English Dictionary has to say about entropy:

  • Physics 
    A thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

    ‘the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time’
    count noun ‘the sum of the entropies of all the bodies taking part in the process’

 

  • 2: Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

    ‘a marketplace where entropy reigns supreme’

 

  • 3:  (in information theory) a logarithmic measure of the rate of transfer of information in a particular message or language.

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I find I can relate more directly to the original.

Origin

Mid 19th century: from en- ‘inside’ + Greek tropē ‘transformation’.


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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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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.