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Solitude is my natural state as writer and artist; I’m in this 3-year residency to do my work, so I’ve had plenty of it. Monday’s call from Trudeau made complete sense to me: Stay home. We can do this together by staying apart. Let’s help one another with the practicalities of our self isolation, and send love and gratitude to those of us on the front lines.

I’d just spent rich time with good friends and family and felt confident in my ability to function well without regular direct contact with other humans. Take a deep breath, get supplies, and then close the door.

It’s now five days since Trudeau’s initial call out to us, and my news informed gut tells me we’re not even close to the peak of this pandemic. Increasingly now, I feel a deep ache for people who feel solitude as nightmare, for whom alone-ness feels like punishment.

There are some whose life and survival revolves around contact, kindness and direct interaction with others – the elderly, the sick, the differently-abled, the stranded. My heart goes out – were I homeless, where would I find safety and nourishment? Were I struggling with my mental health, where would I find help? How could I stay safe as a prison inmate in Barton Jail, which is currently at three times its capacity?

It’s important that this is empathy, not anxiety. I feel a real sense of wonder that my heart opens more, as our isolation continues. I can see this in other people too – some I know, some I don’t.

I have great solitude muscles, yes, but my gut tells this is a new thing we are dealing with. I can’t get REM out of my head. It is certainly changing me in ways I could not have imagined. As I let go of things I can’t control feel my work harness relax I can feel spaces open up for other things I’d never had the time to consider, or do. Or feel. What if has become What is.

I live here in this lovely apartment with Mia the foster cat who loves that I’m always home. I draw, play cello, I write, read, cook, eat, sleep. Such a great longing in me, for human touch and warmth! I’m surprised by this, which also is surprising. Glad to feel human – ache and curiosity, confusion and shockingly deep love that is capable of flooring me completely. There’s nothing at all I can do about any of this but surrender to it.

Every once in a while I read too much news on the internet, and a little overwhelm creeps in. I’ve learned in this short time to close my laptop and turn off my phone. Draw something, play cello, read a book. Go outside, find an old tree to lean on, listen for the hum. Breathe, notice, expand and love what is. Cry, laugh, allow whatever it is to move on through.

Please reach out if you need someone to talk to. Even if it feels a little uncomfortable at times, keep your heart open. Know that you are loved.

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This surprising year.

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This morning’s write is populated by a surprising jumble of images – the giant blue Christmas bulbs on the giant tree at the Distillery District’s outdoor Christmas market. A market that featured a Christmas Angel who wandered through big fat snowflakes and the crowds, occasional a capella singers, a snow-covered booth selling mulled cider and warmed the whole area with the smell of cinnamon, apple, nutmeg.

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Warm sunlight through the golden curtains of the curved tower room windows, spilling over the shoulders of my lovely daughter and across the old worn carpet. The clink of cutlery on breakfast dishes, cup on saucer beneath the rise and fall of engagement, conversation. The simple happy of my Mother’s rich red sweater.

A painting of Guido Fox on the wall at The Duke of York. Ah. He was Spanish. Of course he was – why else would his effigy be burned in ritual these past 413 years, by inebriated English people?

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The welcome pause there, the sprint-walk back past Margaret’s house to the B&B, the gathering of family from across the city, our arrival like love spilling from the car and through the door, the all hands on deck preparation of feast, the sit down in gratitude and conviviality.

Between us, ten countries and four continents traveled. Gathered at table from five different cities. All of us altered, in this surprising year.

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The Shape of Water – with courage, we find a way to move into what we love, no matter how fearsome or impossible the obstacles seem. Thank you Del Torno, for giving us this beautiful tale of a specific kind of defiance.

Let the lanterns be lit and set on the sill.  Like thoughts, like mulled cider to warm those we love who cannot join us in body, but join us nevertheless. 

I’m going to savour every one of these final days of the decade, the surprising year of 2019. May we all find a way to move into what we love. Happy Solstice, everyone.

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Hamilton Residency 10: Manifesto.

Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.

Enlightenment: what you feel as you walk away, unharmed, if you successfully apply this to any dangerous situation.

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My Manifesto, then, as informed by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:

J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Carl Jung’s Red Book, Wassail! 2018, my nine portrait collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of good and bad artistic choices

To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:

Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing  for money.

Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art.

(Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)

Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think.

Werner Herzog put it this way:

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”

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Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out Peta on social media for denouncing the use of wool.

Sing for the young girls and boys with multicoloured hair who are entering a life in which their bodies are commodity, where there is no such thing as physical, emotional or psychological safety.

It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for.

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Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species.

Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.

Act, compose, direct, for the bully boys and their muzzled wives who get elected so they can take an axe to our carefully crafted, compassionate safety nets. This too, is human, they are also “We.”.

Make art that supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide.  Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.

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Go direct. Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context.

Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in deep private, personal insecurity, unhealed trauma, fear. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.

Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that.

Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.

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Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care.

A corollary:  Some people do not have a truth to stand in. Accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.

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Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.

A corollary: divisive, abusive work is not art, it is propaganda. Do not indulge in easy smallness, or the exclusion of anyone.

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As Rutger Bregman, Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Rebecca Solnit and a growing ocean of people have realized, the “Us” of this world is endangered.

So. Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are.  Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.

Make your work count.