Little, Big

Some days I wake up into where I am as though I’ve never noticed before how truly lovely it is. At the moment it’s here where I come for first pre-dawn coffee, where I take note of the morning sky, the quality of first light. Here where the tone of my day is set.

morning room

This room is full of a hundred versions of red, all rich and glowing in sunlight. The christmas cactus blooms in apricot and peach, an aloe grows like a prayer – from their red and green pots they drink in the sun. A water glass flashes light from the old kist. It’s there for the cat to drink from, which she does with particular ceremony on sunlit mornings. I can see and hear the wind, and the starlings, the sparrows, gulls, crows.

studio in April 2020. I’m on my way there soon & will get a current photo for the penultimate day of November 2020

Every room in my apartment, every tree on my walk, every space in my studio has the capacity to take my breath away, when I’m awake & clear enough to actually see it. A particular, resonant view of the moment and place I’m in: Oh, this is beautiful.

As you read through the story Little, Big for the first time, it dawns upon you that one of the characters is the old house in which the Drinkwaters live. Rooms that should be perfectly ordinary, are not. In fact there are far more rooms inside than could possibly fit the available space described by its exterior. All is not what it seems; what appears to be just little is in fact marvelously, astonishingly, big.

Written by John Crowley in 1981, many editions out there. Give it to readers you love who appreciate a magical inner world. For the sake of Crowley’s story and your future delight I can’t tell you a whit more than I have. It’s a book I ration for myself as I did Tolkein, as a kid.

the aliveness of paintings while they’re still wet

What I’m learning to understand is that the illusion of smallness and insignificance applies everywhere; the inside of us is far, far bigger and more resonant than anything outside. Everything begins, and ends, in the internal way we perceive ourselves in and of the world.

We’ve been isolating inside our lives and houses this year, will continue so through the holidays. If 2020 were a character in our collective story, then there would be many many versions of possibility inside, waiting to be seen in a lit, resonant moment. Some look bleak indeed. Others, for certain, are breathtakingly beautiful.

If it’s a choice, and I think it is, I choose the latter.

So there is the tone for my day.

I believe there’s a lunar eclipse happening in the wee hours of tomorrow (November 30). Might mean a nap this afternoon, since I think I’d like to see that if possible, from the evening window.

Where to look

Snow in the skies today, first time this fall. I’m reminded of every other first snows I’ve experienced, how watching the way the flakes move makes the wind visible, like magic. A grin that begins in my belly. Then watching, still in all the swirling: here we go, into Winter.

I was born into these seasons; my body is aligned to and by the rhythm of them. To NOT have days in which the light becomes shorter and shorter until it seems just a blink, oh, I would miss it. I love the richness of twilight that whispers into deep long nights. That’s where the stars sing from as the earth spins her eye across them, as the moon spins around us.

But it’s easy to be distracted from the magic by what’s happening on the streets these days. Wall street, Bay Street, Sherman, Barton.

On my way home from the studio I pass darkened factories, a derelict line of houses where a rose blooms golden from a choked garden. Boarded up businesses or just abandoned ones but a thriving McDonalds. Antifa Coalition headquarters, darkened and broody. Ivor Wynne Stadium eerily still and silent all these months, even the echo of cheering gone. Then a wave of small children chattering home from school with parents. Some are alone, kicking stones along the street.

I walk my big 5-foot square painting of Georgian Bay waves southward through heavy trucks, squealing brakes and throaty muscle cars, or just cars, constant on Barton. A bicycle with a tiny whining engine whizzes through stop signs, hood up, mask on. Birds, dogs, and wind. Trees and gardens falling into slumber. The painting’s heavy so I switch arms every block, a gallery-in-motion with alternating views: houses, street, houses. A neighbour calls from his porch, “Nice sail!”; I’m on ‘street-view’, so I can grin to him.

if the painting were a mere two inches smaller – 58″x58″, let’s say, it would have fit up my stairwell.

Just a thirty minutes of noticing while I use my legs to move with, my arms to anchor the five-foot ‘sail’ to my body. Because there are no vans available and it’s just half an hour. Because I need the space in my studio, and I want Georgian Bay in my Hamilton apartment. Because I want to read the street weather, not just the sky.

Because I live in a house that’s full of stories, on a street that connects through these stories to those in other houses, close to a neighbourhood were some people do not live in houses but in cars or vans or doorways, where for some McDonalds is the default because its cheap.

It’s easy to get distracted. Real Estate prices are ridiculously high here, as are rents from Toronto landlords who bought 20 years ago, and yet minimum wage has not risen proportionately – not even close. University students aren’t renting this year – why would they when classes are online? So that extra income from renting the basement is gone. CoVid-19 has boarded up half of the small businesses and all retail work is precarious, so is it cash business that’s keeping a lot of folks here afloat? Savings are dissolving – I know mine are – and CERB was over after 28 weeks, or since October 3, whichever came first.

Amid all of this other stories emerge, if you choose to hear them. Turns out deficits are a myth, which is extremely hopeful if we can learn to act accordingly. I watch discussions about circular economies and Indigenomics that make perfect sense on so many levels: economies are relational, complex. I notice too that there are high level discussions about universal basic income, that caremongering networks are still going strong – stronger even than they were at the outset of CoVid-19 in March. It is now illegal to demand a doctor’s note from your employee if they are sick, or it soon will be.

Also and importantly we are increasingly, actively committed to working with other species on this planet now. Case-in-point: the once-extinct Trumpeter Swan now numbers in the thousands, with a strong and well organized coalition of human defenders and helpers throughout Ontario and the US. They were first reintroduced back into Ontario (after 100 years gone) at a beach half an hour by car from my house.

My personal best and only answer to the pressure and bad is to keep doing what I do. It makes me a better human and I see no value in staring at the mud, sitting in it until I become mud, even though some days mud pulls at me like a magnet. I choose differently, even as my savings dwindle, since every fibre of my being believes that art is as essential to human life as love and hope. So, I make art, carry it through the streets, weave it into video and story, and offer it up as a sure-fire way to wash the mud off. It’s what I can do, and I get better and better at it all the time. I will launch my current wave of work online this fall and winter; we’ll see what happens.

A golden rose blooms in a choked garden, the snow makes the wind appear. The stars sing from out of the deep night, and the moon spins herself around us. Deficits are a myth, and economies are relational. Nothing we can imagine is impossible.

My faith in human ingenuity, in our ability to rise above all of this mud, together, is unshakeable.

permanence?

Writing grants instead of working in the studio which is where I yearn to be. So as a break and with your indulgence I’ll share a list of some learned things from this CoVid self-isolation summer.

I have only a handful of decent insights – notes to self – that pull their weight for me. Looking forward to comparing these notes with others’, since we’ve all been navigating. In the meantime, randomly…

Thinking with just your mind is wildly overrated.

Sea Legs, if you want to function when the ground keeps shifting: you need to find them.

Anchor yourself with a flexible sense of humour, and functioning – at any level – is a lot easier. Use discernment in all things, but specifically the things you put into your mind, your heart and your body: information, love, food.

Trust your intuition, especially if it’s running against the prevailing cultural current. Rest when you can; move your body regularly and with appreciation.

Grant writing has changed only a little. It’s still a translation of a lovely round idea into a fixed number of words that give it square corners, like a stamp or a block. That said, writing and submitting applications is an extremely useful exercise – I would recommend it to all artists who want their work to resonate with other people – translation, like objectivity, is necessary. And it’s your job.

We still use the word Merit as though it justifies a subjective judgement, as though the idea of a meritocracy was EVER more than a way to support the Eurocentric worldview of white people (mostly men) and at the expense of all other people. Language is full of antiquity though, and I’m sure a better word will be found.

Habits are interesting. Invisible little nasty-sweets posing as daily comforts. Some are seriously dangerous addictions, disguised as fluffy quilts that were handed down from your ancestors. Others are regular ways to hide yourself away in a fold of time. Oh, I always do this at 4pm….

Habits tend to support a conflated ego, which is what makes them so damned difficult to unravel and repurpose. They are reliable, reassuring and extremely difficult to resist if you’re feeling vulnerable. but The thing that makes them habits and not rituals (which are conscious and deliberate) turns them into a hole in your memory. The more you rely upon them, the larger the hole gets.

I don’t think habits are the same as naps. I could be wrong.

Also:

Rain is like love. Nourishing, and not always comfortable.

Water is like music.

Life is good,
especially when it’s challenging.