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.

Songs and spells

I feel wonder this morning, as the sun rises. Sparrows flick by the east facing window but my eyes are glued to the clouds – they shift and change colour like a living watercolour painting. Then they part as if to make space and it’s all blindingly gold for just a few seconds. For a brief spell of time I can see nothing else in the world.

Now the sun’s tucked away, back behind the heavy October blue-grey so I can see my coffee mug again. Reassuringly, the keyboard, the table, treetops above the houses there, some with yellow leaves and just one with branches revealed and articulate, like bone structure.

The flash of sun that suspended all else stays with me though, tucked away behind the calls of time and tasks, a golden light behind a half-closed door.

40 years of watercolour palettes, reclaimed. These three are inherited from my Dad.

Turns out I will not travel north this week, to do a round of back-yard check-ins, to tarp off the cabin deck against the snow, to deliver a commissioned piece. These things will happen mid November now, which seems a lifetime away in these times. Whether it’s because of isolation from CoVid-19 or the work I’ve taken on, or these flashes of wonder, or all that and more, I find the quality of time has changed, quite profoundly, in 2020. Every day feels simple at the beginning and end, but contains full chapters of observation and insight, lessons and epiphanies, choices made.

Was it just yesterday Lisa Koop and I put together a plan for two Wassail winter solstice gatherings at Heartwood Hall?

Yep. Just yesterday, not last week. Huh.

bone structure.

Two days ago I logged in to a Zoom course with David McEown, a superb plein air watercolourist from BC, along with folks from northern US, across Canada and an artist from Sweden. We painted together for three hours, across oceans and borders and time, and I realized I have a great deal of work to do, to reclaim the skill I had at watercolour painting 40 years ago. Daunting. But clearly none of these things are impossible.

The day before that I graduated from an online Adobe After Effects class with Karen from Toronto, Mirelle and Jacinthe from Ottawa and Gatineau. We learned how do to previously impossible things with video and text. This was a simple thing from the first day:

Wonders never do cease, no matter how you hard may resist the cliche. I’m still spellbound by the flash moment with our rising sun, and will be all day now, through the homework in watercolour painting and video animation, the building of Wassails for 2020.

I’m feeling a song or two rising as well, since what the heck? Nothing appears to be impossible, and this little video could use something. Maybe xylophone.

To whomever is reading this, wherever and whenever you are: All my love, truly. May your day be full of wonder and delight.

PS “The Lost Spells” is the name of a new Robert McFarlane book, which is on its way to my door now.