Keirartworks's Blog

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


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Lamps and chairs

When I told dad I would present my final masters research (with some bad-assery) in ten days, all the terrible anxiety and fear vanished from his face. He smiled.

He is in the final, non-verbal stage of dementia, frustrated beyond imagining that he has no words and only emotion, no time, only an endless Now of waiting.

He aches for contact and love, is willfully strong in his child-like, impotent rage at the hospital and nurses and pushings around; time to get up now, time to eat now, time for your bath now, time to brush your teeth now, come one now, you can do it….

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Complex, these relational family stories, aren’t they.

I’ve just moved my work and my life to the city where he grew up – a twenty minute walk from Delta High School where he was a young football hero, the much admired alpha-male athlete, scholar and master of ceremonies at assemblies, funny, smart, beautiful in body and strong in integrity. He was a dreamboat.

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So often in my life I’ve been astonished by his empathy for those who struggle, his wrathful impossible judgement of people from cultures not his own. By his blind reliance upon others – mostly my mom- for the simplest of human requirements – laundry, house cleaning, the facilitation of travel, trips, makings-so.

He has uttered bone-headedly hurtful things to me without a hint of awareness or remorse. He has offered, with infinite tenderness, a perfect, graceful insight at the precise moment it was needed.

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He wrote poems to us, when we were small.  The Keira Lynn flower’s the one I love best… (i.e., more than petunias, snapdragons, and pansies). When things were sometimes difficult, we communicated in carefully considered, written notes. In these, he always, always told the truth.

He cried, every time I played or sang. I do this too, without restraint, when I’m moved.

In the past week I’ve visited him four times, six hours return from here. Each time, fewer words, more frustration. Each time, more moments of peace, and grace.

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He smiles because he knows that even though it was never my role in our family to be the academic one. Nevertheless, I will present this final bad-assery of a masters capstone in ten days, and it will be good.

It will be better than good now, because I have his chairs with me to write in, his lamps, for inspiration. He is helping me.

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My dad is an artist, these are his horses.

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Thanks for your help, Dad, it’s perfect.  I love you.

 


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Cabin Stories 4: weather

The tarps work well. Easy to pull out and put away, which is required since sometimes rain comes unexpectedly at 3am. I am quietly and ridiculously proud of this.

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It occurs to me that I haven’t been myself for some years now. That the strong, creative me, fully open to possibles and wonder is only just now beginning to stand up, be seen and look around again, in these past few weeks of Cabin.  She sings, draws and writes every day now.

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There was a glimpse of this me in 2014, but it was chewed up and diverted by small town commercial gallery egos (abetted by my own stubborn naiveté about the way things work in that world), by painful/ joyful diversions into and out of romantic love and by the increasingly heavy requirements of paying for culturally prescribed things. Things that, from here, I’m not sure I needed.

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Many of the things I did need then I don’t need, now. In retrospect, the psychological distance between those needs then and these now is a lot like the distance from the top of the dover cliffs to the rocks below them.

Down is where you look when fear runs in your veins. Down to the meeting place between Forever Sea and Rocky Shore (while your friend the little white dog tugs at your leg to pull you back from the edge).

And then if you look up, where fear has no place, you can see your old, embedded practicalities for what they are: just a few small options among a big-sky-full of others.

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As I surrender to the last hours of Day 29 after The Leap of Faith, I can see what I could not have imagined before I found my courage. 

My ‘friend the dog’ is the cat who joins me to watch the sun set each night. The place where rocky shore meets the endless water has expression as vast and diverse as any behavioural spectrum, but this inspires fascination, not fear. On every level I know I am stronger. 

When the beauty around me reaches impossibly generous levels of gentleness, I stop drawing/writing/reading/singing, and just witness.

Gratitude.

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There is strong emotional weather, to be sure. Beauty without shadow is nothing you can build a good path from. I welcome it – there’s always room for change. Change is all around, here – dancing with life. 

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During and while all of the storms pass over and through, the spiders spin, the birds forage, The butterflies do their impossible, the waves sculpt the shore, and the trees drink both sun and rain, stretch themselves steadily upward and down. 

The clear sky remains the same, regardless of weather, full of options. I trust the sky.

I’ve landed well.

 


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radically inclusive

Let’s say in a fit of wild enthusiasm you’ve made a generous statement about the music you love to play:

“Anyone can play in this band!  Come on over and jam with us!”

 

Word gets out because your music is fun so five new people show up to the next band rehearsal, in this order:

Geoff, a classically trained oboe player who’d like to try playing your drum kit

Ruby, a 12-year-old angry slam poet in a hoodie (no eye contact)

Mairy’s whistle-playin kitchen-jammin Uncle Pat

Pete’s mom Sherry, who sings twice weekly with the Sweet Adelines (so knows how it works)

Rico the PTSD’d army vet (in his wheelchair), who plays a mean harmonica

 

Your bandmates Eric the Ego (lead singer) and Tasteful Steve (guitar) are over there with their mouths open, staring at you in disbelief.  Your pal Sam (great bass player) is smirking through her inscrutable look and has shrugged, just now.

” Well.”, you think to yourself, “Um.”

But this is what makes you so good at what you do: you decide in that moment that this will become a band project, and ‘the band’ will rehearse as usual, but on another night. With a little finaegling, this makes the situation okay for everyone (indicated by a second shrug from Sam).

What ensues from there is perhaps one of the best, funkiest, tastiest most heartfelt art-records ever made, a massive collaborative process of laughing changes-of-mind & heart & music & life for everyone, including Eric (the less overblown), SuperTasteful Steve (the less serious), Sam (who sang at the Adelines’ last concert in full leathers), Geoff, Pat, Sherry and Rico, who now regularly go to slam nights with Ruby and her African-Canadian girlfriend.

Next Project?  How about an online thing linking Iqaluit midwives with spinners/weavers from Georgian Bay who then write songs with retired Mounted Police?  (Sam’s idea).

Bell Hooks would say….  Huzzah!

Paolo Friere would say…  Huzzah!

Lees Higgins and Willingham would say… Huzzah! Huzzah!

Rebecca Solnit would of course write a review of the entire mad thing for the Guardian, with exhaustive research that proves without a doubt that yes, inclusiveness requires great courage (and willingness to laugh at ourselves) but makes us all so much better.

 


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internal inquiry into a considered response

There’s no other way to heal, I think.

I’ve read this many times.  It is lodged in my blood now, where it often sings me awake at night, sometimes until dawn.  It is in my belly too, still mostly undigestible.

The difficulty lies in the difference between what my heart reads and what my head understands.  Or maybe that’s where the difficulty lies. I’m not sure yet.

We learn battle-readiness, to defend our tender new-budded truths.  We are misinterpreted; this can break our hearts.  We misconstrue, often to preserve the rightness of blame, the righteousness of feeling hard done by; this will initially comfort and inevitably constrict.  In the end the effect is the same:  diminishment and poverty. 

I can’t name all of the possible alternative choices, but they are known by their effect: gratitude, openness, expansion.  Love.

Oh, the bluster and the poverty of me!  As though what sparks my interest should dominate all else, till there’s no breath left in the room, and the small simple beautiful thoughts creep away to hide their perfect nakedness.  Lest they get burned by the mocking loud, the snorting judgement, the braying, betraying complaining whine.

I don’t regret this bluster- it has been an important tool for survival these many years.  I do amend it now that I’m out of survival mode:  more heed paid to the exquisitely naked, small simple thoughts.  The tiny observances, the two-way conversations held safely in trust.  All the time in the world to listen well, with love.

It is one of those nights – my blood sings me awake at 3am and now dawn sits pregnant in the east.  Sheets and sheets of luxurious rain cool street and soil after weeks of heat too strong for the season.  I am grateful for the known comfort of this natural balance, counterpoint to my tender-sore conundrum. 

What to do?  I ask the morning, as she emerges. 

In response, the rich rain sings of gravity, release, surrender.  

Family. We are family.  I have no good answer to this difficulty, for how can I be who I am not, even if who I am offends so?

So. Let the rain and the tears fall where they may, in gravity, release, and peaceful surrender.  May the good answers come over time like waves on the shore, with no urgency. Small and simple, held safely in trust.


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Grand Plan

In the corner of my well-collected room there is a gilded chair, with cushions of soft cedar green.

I observe both chair and my pleasure in it, thinking how odd it is to have something right there in my room so finely made that the gilding is not ostentatious, but appropriate.

I do not sit in it.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch I do my reading in.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch where I’ve been reading anthropological studies of the Western Conservatory Music culture all day

Art Fundamentals 7th edition (Ocvirk/Stinson/Wigg/Bone/Cayton, 1994); Free to be Musical (Higgins/Campbell, 2010); The Tone of our Times (Dyson, 2014) – this week’s doors, waiting to be unlocked, to be passed through. Other doors I’ve left open behind me, each granting passage into a thought-provoking room, hallway, staircase.

view from reading couch

view from reading couch

Up, down, through, in.  Cognitive dungeon to library to kitchen to widow’s peak – each a different ‘ology’, each a story that links to all the others ever written, and those only now being conceived.

My mind is becoming vast like an ever-expanding castle, which, although timely and immensely satisfying, is not entirely comfortable.  Often it’s a tight squeeze.  I forget things like where the car is, what music I need to find, what day it is….

Union Station subway poem, Rush hour Oct 27

Union Station subway poem, rush hour Oct 27

Travel and roads.  I’ve spent a great deal of time not-home, in-between.  I don’t mind this 600+ km each week of highway through orange maple trees and purple skies, cropped fields and pumpkins on shelves by the roadside. Pumpkins like people, each one a different shape and size, some sideways, some flat, some enormous, others tiny, a couple of them smashed into pulp on the road.

In between I read through and into cognitive change.  I tune my cello/voice and play/sing for Tom Thomson, for Mary Sue Rankin, who are gone from here but also Not-Gone, ever.  I am honoured and humbled to be part of a circle teaching gift from three powerful indigenous women, and to be gifted an improvised-traditional calligraphic rendering of my friend and colleague’s Chinese name. As the kilometres go by and events sift down into understanding, I realize with growing certainty that the most valuable ones are those that cannot be purchased.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Oh yes.  Lawyers (an interesting and useful contrast), to collaboratively and fairly settle and resolve a marriage that ended three years ago. Muffler replacement on my hard-working honda.  These are purchased in the name of maintenance, a ‘taking care of’.  A garden full of beautiful perennials (rescued from the bad marriage), now being choked by goutweed – I will start digging it out tomorrow morning, also putting away the beautiful summer writing space on my back deck, now blanketed by yellow ash leaves.

Certainly, for things like these, for ‘taking care of’, it’s good to earn a decent living.

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My beautiful ash tree, three weeks ago, just after Thanksgiving. Now it’s mostly on the deck.

Remembrance day concert soon in the marvellously thriving community arts centre – this one a collaboration of elementary school musicians and the community concert choir, who both need cello, lucky me.

Things you can’t purchase, but have the greatest value.

Generosity.  Thanks-giving.  Remembrance.  Care.

 


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There and back again

It’s been such a long long time since I’ve allowed myself to feel the wonder of my own buoyancy.

A field of oats on off the sideroad where I drank my morning coffee

A field of oats on off the sideroad where I drank my morning coffee while my excellent bandmates slept..

Sing a B-flat major chord to the sun as it dips below the western horizon.  Play and snap and thunder through two sets of Charlie Glasspool’s excellent music with four excellent and complex human beings. Floating propelled on a big white boat that can open itself to kiss Tobermory and then South Bay Mouth, sharing people back and forth like fluid full of stories, food, art, and music.

Travel in Good Spirits, says the Chi-Cheemaun.  And we did.  There, and back again.

and another oat field, blue and shifting in the morning breeze, to the right.

…and another oat field, blue and shifting in the morning breeze, to the right.  At some point I forgot I was drinking coffee, and I drank the blue green of these fields instead.

Mostly my rehearsals are efficient things, scheduled between other things that need attention.  Like ritualized steps through the weeks they land precisely where they were planned – morsels of joy and the rich job of listening closely to make the right sound at the right time.  Twelve pieces learned and somewhat polished in two hours for a gig the next day.  Beginnings and endings.  Sheet music road maps are explored and memorized, fingerings and bowings, dynamics marked in (or chord progressions, lead lines, rhythmic textures , vocal harmony parts where and when).  Later you pull these out and play with an mp3 to embed them, and on the way to the gig play the mp3s over and over & think your way through your part…  I had three rehearsals like that this week – each of them highly rewarding of course, but quickly finished and on to the next thing.

Docking sign at Tobermory.  I liked the paint cracks from weather

Docking sign at Tobermory. I liked the paint cracks from weather

Sometimes it’s about more than getting the notes right, but there’s no time to explore the bigger philosophy, to feel and hear the deeper currents and learn to ride them with integrity, with sensitivity.  Rehearsal is over too quickly, too efficiently, and I carry a residue of missed opportunity through the day…

On rare occasions, though, there is time and a shared inclination to go deeper.  There was this week with us as we sang our way to the boat, on the boat, and back again into the next day.

Vessel

We stepped off the schedule planet, my friends and I, and onto planet possibility for an intense two days.  I can’t (and wouldn’t) speak for them, but I certainly know I am changed by it.  I feel like a child who has discovered a myriad of new ways to play with old toys.  Songs and solutions pop into my head while driving, while reading, immediately upon waking.  I can handle and deal with about twice the detail load, and I still have plenty time for wonder.

She opens herself ni the approach to Tobermory

She opens herself in the approach to Tobermory

What a simple thing, to change so much.

Stop, and play with like-minded people in a place of possibility for long enough to make it count.  And it will count.

 

Thanks you guys.  More, please.


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Forest-maker

I have a little time to say some things that are important to say about my dad, now 81.

oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah.  The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral - climbing them was wild like a circus act.  This replaced them after I left

Oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah. The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral – climbing them was wild like a circus act. This is what replaced them after I left

There are some people who are reliable in their ‘rightness’, who – if asked a genuinely perplexing question about human complexity and what to do next – will listen, consider and then dig deeply for an answer.  Without fail, that answer rises out of compassion, intuition and a razor sharp insight into what, to most others, cannot be seen.  My dad had that.  It’s close to mystical for me – what he knows, almost without knowing.

Fireplace - designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973.  Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

Fireplace – designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973. Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

We painted together, when I was a tweener.  It was mom’s idea I think – but a good one.  It means we were terrified together, met our internal demons together, screwed up lots, burned bad pictures regularly, found humility together.  With me, 31 years his junior, he was always the teacher, always suggesting, offering, nudging.  But I knew that we were also partners on the torture road to find-your-place with paint.  I was glad he was with me then and I still am, now.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There's a rightness to this.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There’s a rightness to this.

While dad and mom were teaching full time, raising my sister and I (which involved the normal feeding, cajoling, suggesting and exploding that parents do, but also gymnastics, piano, cello, spinning and weaving lessons; 2 orchestra rehearsals a week, piano trio rehearsals and concerts; a farm with 24 head of cattle, six goats, twelve chickens, and a half-acre garden), my parents came to every single concert I played.

Dad, in the back, front or corner of every venue, cried joy at me with a wet face beaming.  I didn’t need to look – without seeing him, I felt him there.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country.  My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards,  institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country. My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards, institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Dad was my teacher in  grade 12 french – not a good idea, since I wasn’t academic, and that’s the way he taught.  It was okay though.  He was also careful to carefully mention that my hair looked nice that way every once in a while, when he sensed I might be down.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70's.  The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation.  In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep.  I loved it.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70’s. The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation. In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep. I loved it.

In 2004 dad and I went to Scotland together.  I was shocked to feel myself crying, face wet, as the Glasgow train climbed north into the rising highlands.  We stayed in Oban, and later Campbeltown, where McArthurs are from.  We walked the entire circumference of Kerrera, dad getting faster and faster as the hours of walking went by.  I ran beside him, as I had when I was a child, trying, but not quite able to match his strong stride.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees.  The cornfields I once ran through -  powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests - habitat for deer, birds ... for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken.  Dad is forest-maker.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees. The cornfields I once ran through – powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests – habitat for deer, birds … for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken. Dad is forest-maker.

Happy fathers’ day, James Robert.  I’m fu’ the ‘nu with love for ye.