Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Cabin 17: trauma and old trees

Ah, Dr. Ford, I believe you. In my bones I believe you, and all the other women our age who were used and abused without remorse or acknowledgement. I’m one of them, a few times over.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, thank you from my heart for speaking your truth; I am humbled. Galvanized, to listen and hear more.

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The mother apple tree who sheltered my old studio cabin, twenty five years ago. I ate her wonderful, sparky apples every fall.

I have read and read and heard and felt and re-lived then re-re-claimed, re-re-built so much in myself this week. I’ve deepened my understanding of the legacy of those times, and found other voices born out of that darkness like Martha Wainwright’s, among others.  The experience has been like grasping a lightning rod in a raging thunderstorm – trigger after trigger, jolt after jolt.

I thank the universe I’m planted firmly in a good place, now, stronger by far than I was just two months ago. Strong enough to take it all in, and then breathe it on through me. It had to go somewhere safe, this rawness.

Re-living trauma – is the only way out back through? Through me, along with my heart-felt forgiveness, into the ground, where it can transform into something clean.

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Nobody can heal if you do not release resentment and anger, since rage cancels love, and only love heals. Survivors need to forgive (but never forget) so that abusers can then heal their own damaged selves. Perpetrators need fierce, firm, but loving help from all of us, since accountability in this culture is a difficult thing to own, and truly atone for.

So trauma through and out of me, into the same clean ground where trees find nourishment and connect to other trees. Where they share nourishment and news at the rate of one pulse every third of a second.  It’s enough.

Humbled even more, I can turn away now from my deliberate, focused witnessing and releasing of this week. I can walk forward, relieved, into love and expansion in both my work and my life. My heart knows I will not get pulled backward, again.

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I feel deep gratitude for this older, familiar place. I thank the old apple who fed and restored me a quarter-century ago, who now feeds the soil with her body.  I visit the willow I planted near to her, who now towers over hawthorn and cherry to dance with the sky.

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The forest at my present cabin is one hundred years old, steady with good healthy growth. Over this past century the trees there have learned to buttress each other against the prevailing, ever strengthening westerly winds. It’s beautiful to see.

Human lives are so quick, by contrast. I build a tiny house in mere months, race my busy self around the place, and only gradually notice how much more I notice, when I’m still. I come in to an urban centre for supplies and watch myself join the inevitable human fray: we gulp our news and nourishment at hyper-rapid rates, pause rarely.

Maybe this is why music. We do tend to touch roots together to drink in music.

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If we are going to heal ourselves and each other, if we are going to reach a point of acknowledgement and atonement – both in our human ecosystem and with the natural ecosystem that sustains us – we’d better learn to actively expand outside of our quick narrow worlds.  To do this slowly.  Listeningly.  To notice, then respect what we’ve been moving too fast to see.

To learn, finally, how we can respectfully and lovingly buttress each other against the wind and weather, which, as we know, will only get more difficult to withstand.

 

*Some good reliable sources, if you are interested in reading more about these #MeToo related issues: I recommend you start with Solnit, (this is a facebook link, but she has published many informative reliable essays), and continue from there.


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Cabin 16: inter-species kin

A lovely, gracious wind-down to the green-breathing season this year. I divide my time this week between a lovely old farmhouse where an ancient cat needs my care, and the well-come cabin in the woods, surrounded by my new inter-species kin.

Each time I return to the lakeside I’m amazed at how the place is bathed in sound: a chorus of frogs in cross-rhythm to waves on the shore; the crow family sharing news; squirrels who gather, sort and file.

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The forest floor is already becoming obscured by leaves – green, still – that fierce winds have torn from branches this past week. The mushrooms continue to appear and recede, a steady, varied display of abundance.

Critters have new patterns in these last weeks of warmth. An astonishingly beautiful black toad visits my front door; caterpillars descend from the trees on threads I can barely see, looking for a place to cocoon.

 

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The light changes. I can feel the planet tilting away from the sun in this mid-northern place. The arms of daylight are long and golden, filtered through a greater distance of sky than in midsummer.

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I expand my heart back into rehearsal, pour my body back onto rivers of highway, my thinking brain back into academic and freelance writing research. It feels good to grow back into the larger world.

As I look for urban studio space I can feel my artist body-mind kick into active translation now: how will I tell this story in the world of people?

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In Leaving my Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity (1992), Marion Woodman writes,

Individuation begins with the painful recognition that we are all orphans. And the liberating recognition that the whole world is our orphanage.

My experience this summer/fall as the only human in a living, breathing natural ecosystem has delivered epiphany after epiphany, inspired 500+ pages of notes and observations, filled up camera cards with video and still-image reference. Pages and pages of doodles and sketches – blind, seeking attempts to describe the rhythm of this place and it’s effect upon me.

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In Conscious Femininity (1993, Inner City Books)Woodman offers this, like a warm golden thread stretching from past into future,

“Soul-making is allowing the eternal essence to enter and experience the outer world through all the orifices of the body … so that the soul grows during its time on Earth.  It grows like an embryo in the womb. Soul-making is constantly confronting the paradox that an eternal being is dwelling in a temporal body. That’s why it suffers, and learns by heart.”

and this,

“Live your own life and not the one projected on you.”

 


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Cabin 15: A shedding

The bowl is close to full with impressions, gathered from this place through me.

Loon songs, shore waves and tree frogs singing in alternate – major second, minor third, major fifth, unison.

Owl, just after twilight. Snarls of nocturnal hunters as they chase then meet their kill – the unforgettable, intense charge of those screaming moments.

Squirrels, smaller critters: scuttle, collect, stash, prepare, and inspire me to do the same.

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Smaller and smaller sounds: a snail, crawling. A caterpillar, chewing. A nuthatch’s claws, scaling bark.

Trees, breathing.

Me, breathing.

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An astonishing variety of spider web, from filagreed net to flowing gossamer fabric. Replaced within a day after a wind storm. Not replaced, now, in the pathways I travel regularly.

The ongoing, astonishing concert of mushrooms pushing up out of the blanket of mycelium under my feet. My feet step differently now.

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Cedar branches curved lovingly around the trunk of an old ironwood, or in an upwardly repeated pattern like ribs grown out of a spine. Growth and decay in the same place; death and life seamlessly connected.

A battered, heart-shaped rock that smiles so lovingly that I smile back, each time.

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The surprise of sunlight through the leaves onto a new place I’ve never seen, rich with old story that I begin to be able to read and feel.

Rain like a steady healing balm. Rain like violent aggression, roaring thunder.

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Huge pounding waves that spit rocks at my shins, just as easily as they spit my body when I crawl toward land, then suck it back hard to pound and spit out again.

Those same waves that hold me safe and cradled, clear me of grit and stain – when I release myself to them, away from shore. When I am out of my element, trusting.

Such fierce tenderness, from this great lake.

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Wind, that comes through here from around the planet, from Oscar this last time, spreading news from the sky. From my upstairs window, eyes closed, I felt sure I was on a ship traversing the sea, carried by that wind. I sang into it like joy.

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Breezes from no specific direction, like intriguing, surprising suggestions. Invitations-  to collaborate.

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I realize I have been learning (re-learning?) a language here. I know also I’m just beginning to find the place where my own rhythm fits, in a strong, dignified way, within it.

As an artist in this time and place, I have a strong feeling that my task now is to find ways to translate, to intersect what I’m learning with the quick, blaring, bright (also soft, compassionate and supportive) places where people gather. To re-learn, through the older lens of this graceful, growing place, the language of human.

This week I venture forth. Like the fool of the world, I take my simple understandings (bread and cheese wrapped up and tied to a stick) out there – to find a good place to bring my bowl of treasures and begin to sing them into form – music, art, writing, performance.

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..to seek my fortune. A story as old as the hills, and possibly something that many women in their fifties need to do in these times of shift and change, to shake off the effects of old contractual assumptions that no longer serve.

The quest to find a winter place includes all of you who read this blog, of course. I’ll be out there talking and connecting, but I also travel here, where I write. I invite you to connect with me if you know of a place that might work for this, if you hear an intriguing suggestion on the breeze.

It can be anywhere in the world where people gather, in a people ecosystem.

 

 


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Cabin 14: September

I swim in the rain. The lake is now well beyond bracing, but not yet head-achingly cold.

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It occurs to me as I go in for the third time that this is perhaps what the crows had been trying to tell me,

HEY! Time to think about Packing Up! COLD COMES!

What I didn’t hear then, I hear now, loudly, clearly. During the shouting swim, after the swim bundled and watching the fire blaze hot in the cold rain.

From my snug place under the new guest-house tarp I understand that my days here are now numbered.

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I think about the fire in my belly, and what it burns for: beauty, art, connection, integrity.

I think about what I will take with me from this place, what I will leave behind, six weeks from now.

I think about cutting and stacking firewood in a place where it will stay dry, so I can visit and stay for a snowstorm or two, in the darker months.

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The wildness of this place has seeped into my bones in the time I’ve lived and worked (and howled) in this place.  I realize that I’ve never felt more anchored, more safe than I do, here.

I memorize this feeling and pull it over me like a blanket of sounds – waves on the shore, rain and wind in the trees, crows spreading news.

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I have just enough time left to make a new skin for myself from that blanket. It will replace the old crusty carapace I broke out of, then ate. I will wear my new skin into the urban studio I’ll work from this coming winter, and draw music, art and story out of it.

The intersected ecosystems of urban many-human with wild and natural. My (estimated) two-year tour to find the intersection points between human and natural ecosystems. Like stones from the shore I’ll pick up stories, defining moments, shared burdens and acts of collaboration, write them into my skin, make art.

Then share it.

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I shoo the matronly porcupine out of my cabin in the wee hours of this morning, gently and respectfully. She’s just curious, after all. Leaves slowly, lumberingly, quills only slightly raised.

I’m so grateful to be the adopted wild thing here this summer.


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Cabin 13: Up before the Crows

Here among the trees it’s difficult to differentiate between strength and power. But this is a good place to observe from: my human experience of both.

In people terms, it’s easier to see: that man has great power but uses up the strength of those around him and wields it abusively; this woman is strong in her personal power to withstand abuse, and does not abuse in return, etc. You can switch the genders if you like, it certainly works both ways.

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Humans most often connect power with money, and we have a cultural belief  – a rule of thumb even – in the West that the person with the most money/power will become corrupt. I’m not sure that’s true across the board, but certainly it seems to be playing out alarmingly, right now.

I see nothing that resonates with that here in the forest by the shore. The power here is enormous and palpable, but always collaborative: that tree is the oldest and strongest; she is powerful in her support and shelter of the younger trees. Everywhere I look, here, there is integrity.

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Wisdom, here, is easy to mistake for beauty: the long arcing reach of a branch, the new growth out of a fallen but still living trunk, the tiny white mushrooms among the giant orange ones. The oldest trees and rocks seem wisest, but not in the way we would measure wisdom in human terms. Here it is the way everything is connected, intertwined, mutually supportive – an active web of old, shared wisdom.

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Humans are complex in a different way than this ecosystem is, as a rule. We inevitably distort the natural system that has endured for millennia, perceiving it through the myopic lens of our little speck in time.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes are measured according to their potential and actual effect on human populations, since this is the measurement we can most easily relate to.

There are other ways to measure the effect of crisis, catastrophe, trauma. I’m curious about these, since I am the only one of my species, and by far the least important [useful? connected?] living thing in the fabric of here.

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I remember reading Claude Levi-Strauss in my third year Antho course. It was the early ’80s, and although indigenous studies existed then, their blessedly corrective influence had not made it to my University (tho my marvellous Woman Professor of strong opinion did ask us to consider the ethics of Mr. Levi-Strauss’ methods). What I learned in that elective course was about the early white, male dominated colonist mode of observation:

go to the remote place, take notes, find samples (people, artifacts, photographs), bring them home to Europe, write about them, pronounce yourself an expert.

His 2009 obituary is here – an excellent, informative read.

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In the light of contemporary understanding and my own experience here this summer, I might describe Mr Levi-Strauss’ approach this way:

Bring your preconceived theories and embedded european belief systems to a remote, unfamiliar place. Using those as a lens, forage for information and samples from the field that fit your theory, not worrying too much about consent or effect, since you’re doing this for the good of Mankind, which isn’t here in this place. Bring notes and samples home to Europe, write and teach from them, accept the acknowledgement of your peers and the public as a leading expert.

Do not ever admit that you are using other people and their cultural belief systems to better understand your own. That your lack of awareness or acknowledgement of this agenda is dishonourable and disrespectful to all concerned. That taking from them, without deep mutual understanding and full consent is an act of abuse and entitlement.

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I think of what indigenous  means, and find myself comfortable, today, with this loose definition:

Here before me.

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Most mornings, the Crows wake up the world along the shore. Spreading news where news is needed, standing watch. I’m learning to distinguish their voices, begin to hear vocabulary, urgency or its lack, which voice has seniority, which voices are learning.

The tone of a crow’s question. Her statements.

A few mornings ago they came here, to tell me something I think. Of course I didn’t understand.

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There is no question whatsoever that I arrived with preconceived theories and embedded belief systems, just under two months ago. Without knowing it, I came also with an unhealthy dose of ptsd, stored up from the past fifteen years. We all have this; I just brought mine here where it soon became as obvious as an oil spill. 

As the trees and the lake patiently heal my fractures and behavioural maladjustments, I also come into closer alignment with an older, unbroken self. I become more aware, more collaborative, as I learn the way of things around me, the deeper rhythms beyond what I perceive with my quick, trained, authoritative human eye. The integrity of this place sends me back inward again and again, to measure and assess my own.

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I’m more conscious of the way I walk through and in, how I am always in relation to what is around me. How every choice I make affects and changes what is here. I take more care to acknowledge this, and choose wisely.

This makes me feel better about taking photographs for painting and writing reference in the winter. For use in this blog which I fully acknowledge is written, mostly, for humans.

5am. Making peace.


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Cabin 12: inside an Art Project

Thanks James, for coaxing this out of me.

I heard a rumour you’d moved,  he said. How are you doing?

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A year ago I read Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, in which she suggests that artists find places where no one has been, and then find a way to take us there (Scientists do this, but collect data to analyze for us.  As good metaphors do, this one planted itself like a long echo, with pulses one year apart.

I just heard the first of them.  Ah.

The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

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Lobsters can’t grow beyond their hard shells unless they crack their old skin, pull their soft bodies out, and then eat the old shell.

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There are You Tube videos of this that are exhausting to watch: the process requires a period extreme discomfort, after which the lobster is soft and vulnerable to predators. But it’s unavoidable: grow, or die inside your old, hard skin. To moult and risk being consumed is to live.

(In case you read a 2007 online story that suggests otherwise, you should know that this is not true about eagles.)

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I can be softer, here. I’m human, so this softness makes me stronger.

As my old skin falls off, my listening increases. I move differently, feelingly.

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Lost, to what, I wonder, as I receive and note impressions of this place that notices me: the shy veery who comes ever closer; tiny mushrooms twenty feet up the trunk of a sapling; the perfectly coiled snake; the bee, the impossibly strong, intertwined tree roots, the enormous mushrooms, the song of waves on shore.

Twilight is my favourite so far, but there is no time of day, no weather that is not rich with beauty and promise, so long as I am present in it, and open.

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Thank you, Rebecca, for the long echo. Thanks, James, for the simple question, artist to artist. Thanks Scott, for helping to fund studio space for me this winter, so I can build the work. I look forward to making your painting.

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I am living inside an art project. Lost, on purpose, here where the horizons are broad.


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Cabin 11: The Guest House

Perhaps a little space for an outdoor kitchen might be good? A place to hang my lantern so I can read. Shelves that make a little more sense. Some clearer idea of protocol, i.e., dishes, garbage, drinking water, coffee and how/when to prepare for dark._MG_9439

A good friend these past forty years comes from afar to reconnect, and applies his reliable insight to this off-grid situation of mine.

“Would you come here to seek relief from bureaucracy and the vicissitudes of life in these enervating post-truth times?”, I prompt.

He offers welcome, pragmatic suggestion. As always when in the presence of my friend’s formidable mind, I begin to look at the mental, emotional, physical and psychological puzzles presented by this off-grid situation through a different lens.  Hmmm.

Yes, indeed.

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Possibilities for learning what we know so far: why moths, when, and where from? Why and when peepers, and how different from tree frogs; how many of each and where?

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Mushrooms: which ones and where, in what conditions; and mycorrhizae: connecting which tree to which plant; where is the information, the nutrient, the pulse of this (I’ve just read it’s one pulse per second, but need to know more).

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What happens when I walk through all of this, when I breathe here, work here. How would I describe my own footprint in this powerful, complex but oh-so delicate place?

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How do I describe all of this to guests, who come to stay in my guest-house?

This is where I go with my artist body-mind. My brilliant, pragmatic friend nods, witnesses, agrees. Then he suggests, “Perhaps a tarp that pulls out from here, so we can stay outside should a flash thunderstorm occur?”  Since one did.

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Thanks for the visit, my friend. All good inspirations, for a time somewhere in my future. For now, though, they are the tangent too far. There’s much to attend to.

I focus my efforts in grant application writing and research design – into people – and continue to explore the quantum possibilities of where I will migrate to, after the snow flies.