Keirartworks's Blog

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

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Drop the veil

I just need to write this here, shout it out on whatever broadcast range I have – it’s SUCH good news.

At age ten Larisa Yurkiw told me her goal was to compete for Canada at the winter Olympics.  Against incredible odds she has just qualified to do exactly that – 2014 in Russia.  I taught Larisa cello for 4 years starting at age 6 so in many ways she will always be my kid, but she’s everyone’s, really.  We are so so proud.  I am very much inspired by her determination, heartened by her grace and calm.  Here’s a link to one of many articles about her story, so you can be inspired too:  Toronto Star, Jan 17, 2014

Bent tree on the Lion's Head section of The Bruce Trail, 2013

Bent tree on the Lion’s Head section of The Bruce Trail, 2013

And now leap with me – to a coffee shop conversation I had this morning that stuck with me…  so why do I write this blog?

It’s not a confessional, nor is it a journal  (I also write in one of those and have done since I was seven – nobody gets to read those; they will be burned).  The writing I do here is edited and then proofed then edited again, for a purpose I can only barely describe.

I think it’s a ‘ping’ – to reference my friend Marcus’ blog, Echolocators.  It’s as clear a depiction of the process and experience of being an artist/musician as I can imagine and write – with all the ugly, painful and ridiculous bits included alongside the sublime.  I do know I’m never satisfied with the results, but I get that this too is part of the process.

I write this material partly because I believe it’s time we collectively de-mystified and un-deified this idea of what an artist is, and understand finally that art is a set of tools, like carpentry tools or plumbing tools or surgery tools.  What sets any of these skills on fire, and makes miraculous results possible is passion, which everyone is capable of.  The rest is just work.  Simple, pedestrian, deliberate, clean, persistent work.  If you get that, then you get what humility is.  And every once in a while, when you get out of the way of your own perceptions of ‘how it should be’, you also get to participate in something brilliant.

elderberry flower buds

elderberry flower buds

There’s a dark side to this.  Artists & musicians who have the craft, the drive and the courage to hone their skills can hit a bell tone with them that resonates with and reaches millions of people.  Immediately (at least in North American cultures) they are perceived as fair game to be de-humanized – into an action figure doll that anyone can manipulate and play with and project their … stuff onto.  The bigger the bell-tone, the brassier the bell, the more toxic this can get.  People who are star-struck want a piece of that fame shine and when they find they can’t possess it, they will often try to destroy it, through slander and abuse.

“Celebrity is the chastisement of merit and the punishment of talent.”, said Emily Dickinson

thyme from my mom

thyme from my mom

Still, we do this… pinging.

…There’s places in your mind
Been working overtime
Trying to name a brand new sound
There’s places in your heart
Listening to the ground, to the ground
All your windy life you’ve waited,
now it’s time.

Kris Delmhorst, from “Brand New Sound”
Shotgun Singer, 2008



Most of the pings are imperfect, some are misdirected, some never get uttered.  Many that are released come back to us though, echoing off the surface of far away things we can only name by our voicings.  It’s good to know there’s something there in the dark of humanity.  Good to know if you’re swimming towards obstruction or if the way ahead is clear and open.

So…. Ping.  Glad you’re there.


“The soul should always stand ajar.”  – also Emily Dickinson

These days


Delightful days, these.  In the grand pause of morning I can recall at least one, sometimes three marvelously shocking, transcendent moments for each day of this month – some mine, others I’ve witnessed.  Is this what you get when you jump into Georgian Bay at midnight on Nov 1?  If so I’ll make it annual.

The only painting I cannot sell the original of - inspired by Ted Huges' book "Crow", and painted after a near-death experience on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

The only painting I cannot sell the original of – inspired by Ted Huges’ book “Crow”, and painted in ten minutes after a life-threatening experience on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

We are alive in a rare time.

Perhaps I’m not the only one sensing this recent surge to collaborate with one another, to push the old boundaries of comfort, desire and suffering until a new level of release is achieved.  Tavener addressed it in his August interview (check the post before this one), Ted Hughes articulates it in a letter to his son (excerpted below) and if I look around me in close friends, family, colleagues I witness an active, sometimes urgently expressed willingness to … ‘turn and face the change’. Even, and maybe especially if there’s no clue as to what that IS.

my oldest friend Marcus' latest contribution to the ongoing conversation...

my oldest friend Marcus’ latest contribution to the ongoing conversation…

I found this at 6am this morning, written by one of my most favourite poets of all time – a writer brutal in his honesty, wild in his deprecating humour.  Share, share.

Ted Hughes, from a letter written circa 1985 to his Son Nicholas (it’s worth reading the entire text, and a brief contextual article)

….At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears.

And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself.

The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

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Demons and Memory

My friend these forty-eight years and fifty to come is reserved but possibly this is because he is so exquisitely aware of and compassionate with his audience.  If you can lift yourself to the place where he responds, appropriately, to the dynamics and currents of the moment,  you will hear him, clearly and cleanly like a gift.

Is it not true that everything we do, all the sounds we utter, each move we make is designed to signal a thought – to communicate?  Most are unaware of this and favour instead the heavy sludge of daily complaint to the fine turn of a thought, a phrase, a reference that might lift laboured conversation to the place that …fireflies inhabit.

Demons vs Memory; grace wins.

Demons vs Memory; he/she who has more Grace, wins.

I recently worked all night long, alone with my 49-year-old demons, to make something beautiful.  We had twelve hours before the deadline, starting at 7pm.  It was inexpressibly difficult and clumsy; a fierce battle of wills waged in a field far away from the golden nugget I’d thought I was seeking.   Their arsenal included everything I’d ever done wrong in my life, no matter how subtle or appropriately catalytic.  The only weapon I had was a healthy form of ego-depricating humour, and humility, which turned the tide in the final battle, to my utter astonishment.

I woke the next morning feeling beaten and brutalized by Our Fight and went to a nice birthday breakfast.  My Demons came with me, as they do.  I realized, with the effects of my all-nighter still resonant that in that birthday full of the terribly unintentional distortions of Family the only thing I could do was … um … try to make a clumsy internal peace and um… move to another place less habitually toxic… keep my head down…

and try not to be pulled into, try to make make peace with the heavy collection of family demons who’ve all been firmly consigned to Our Too-small Basement.  Like a tide, they Will Rise, if bidden by emotional moons.

clumsily, I left at the right moment, so overall I think I hope I won over my demons.  This is good, because I can no longer remember the details of their rage and its origins so I’d lose if challenged in a Family Fight.  Or if I were enraged enough, in an unguarded moment I’d set them loose with the power of a thousand thousand raptors to wreak death upon the Multitudes.  Did I mention that I am by nature intolerant?  Loosing my demons, therefore is a thing to Avoid with Great Intention.

I just sent the awkward result of that night’s recorded audition thousands of miles over the internet to people with Criteria, whose job it is to measure what I did.

Let the chips fall where they may, and thank you for writing what you write, my friend.

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The Parkdale branch of Toronto Public Library is packed full of people reading, working, talking, goofing around, crying, whining and laughing.  The security guard gives advice to a young girl, who says something like  ‘I just feel like they’re not hearing me sometimes….’.

The library is a single floor, nestled in a relatively underprivileged neighborhood close to one of my old apartments.  It’s a carpeted, swimming-pool sized room  – twenty fully-occupied work tables surrounded by walls and stacks heavy with books.  A quick scan counts at least 40 backpacks, eight pairs of rubber boots, one wheelchair, three umbrellas, five languages, one crutch and four sharpie hi-liters.  There are perhaps 150 of us here, between the ages of five and ninety.

The walls are leaf green on drywall, sky blue on cinderblock.  The same paint was used on book stacks and is repeated with earthy brown in the carpet pattern – sixties Escher-like overlapping circles.  I wonder – did the head librarian choose this decor (I like it), or does somebody out there design library colours & consult with TPL?….

I’m sitting between two men who are both wearing widely striped sweaters, so my peripheral vision is zinging.  It’s a comic exercise in focus to keep my eyes and my attention here on what I write.

Kensington Market, Toronto, photo by Marcus Vichert

Kensington Market, Toronto, photo by Marcus Vichert – close as I could get to Parkdale.

It’s been 2 hours, and is now 6pm.  I’ve spent some time digging around in Carl Jung, Virginia Woolf and a book called Old Mistresses; Women, Art and Ideology.  Good chewing, while the hum of library rises and falls in the room.  If I close my eyes it feels like swimming; my thoughts float as they will on gentle waves of sound and movement.

swimming in thoughts...  A painting of mine from 2002 called 'Resonance'

swimming in thoughts… A painting of mine from 2002 called ‘Resonance’

Then I open my eyes and the striped sweaters snap me back here.

Today in the Toronto rain I’ve been thinking about how things become valuable.  And which things become so, and why.

There are those things one might expect, but sometimes forget to be enriched by.  I love my daughter’s capacity for courage, her willingness to leap where most others would not.  I adore and cherish our youngest cat’s unsatiable need for play and discovery; the fierce protective loyalty of our second-youngest, Samantha.  Purrl, the older indoor cat for her silent, compelling intelligence – I’ve never met a four-legger more articulate than she.  Oliver, the roly-poly old man cat, now deaf and slow, but still so engaged with the world around him.

2012, house.   by Dominie McGruer

2012, our house.  We made those walls, those quoins, that garden. 
by Dominie McGruer

I so value our house, and the way it continues to teach, demand of, and heal us, at soul-level; the 100s of trees we’ve planted over seven years that grow and grow – even the ones who were girdled by rabbits; the plants that so willingly and generously work with me, the sun and the rain in our gardens – oh my, but God lives there this spring, in all his/her glory.  I am astonished, honoured and so keenly respectful of the will of things and people to grow, grow and bloom.  I value the sincere friendship of my husband.

Jaqueline duPre, Marcus Vichert, Fiona MacDonald.  Fran McArthur, Mary-Katherine Finch.  Jose Abreu, Kati Gleiser, the woman across from me who is so gently and graciously helping another woman to edit her manuscript online.  Michael Klaassen, who just wrote to me.  Emily Helmut, who just bought a cello and knows who she is.  The tibetan monk who just walked in.  The colour yellow, which is like the sun, especially on a wet day. Everyone who makes art, writes and sings.  All of us who play.

Blue and white striped sweaters. Crutches, for those who need them.  People who design the decor for, work in, and spend time in libraries, all over the world.

Life is here, and I value all of it.