The Queen suggests…

The first few hours of the year 2020 are dressed with finely sifted snow. No hollering or screeching of tires, just the old trees rumbling peacefully in Gage Park. Some fireworks to the northwest begin at 11:55 and continue for fifteen minutes. I sense a breathing out in the world, like a photographer does, after taking a shot that requires patience and utter stillness.

2010 to 2019. Quite a decade.

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Houses. Ten years ago I lived in a house I’d spent five years building with my husband. Three years later I walked away from both – a good move. I will forever miss the trees there, and the walls I built with my parents but to stay would have been unthinkable.

I lived in four beloved places in that decade after I left the house with the trees. Released two of them, built a tiny, sacred one that will anchor my soul for lifetimes to come. It’s a seven-generation kind of place. Has a heartbeat.

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Cars. Chelsey the Tercel, Sam the 20-year-old red Impreza. Katie the silver Fit, and now Indigo Thomas, just cleaned inside and out by my family, in time for Christmas. All cars loved, two of them grieved like old friends when they passed on – Sam developed a hole in his gas tank, but for two weeks after I kept driving him anyway. The unbelievable cost in gas was necessary in my process of letting him go.

Music… a decade of cello – teaching, playing, cajoling, gigging, laughing, snorting & cursing (happily) at tricky bits. No regrets there, but I did eventually injure my bow arm and now must pay attention and play differently. My old friend  – (now ninety) with whom I bonded when I was sixteen – came back into my life. He sits across from me now like a strong anchor in stormy seas. Not an instrument, really. More like my grandfather whale.

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A great deal of learning and discovery about the capacity and stretch of my own minds (heart, brain and gut). Their limitations, too. Funny how doing a Masters in Community Music extends my awareness and insight into so many things that I’d once thought were not related to either community or music. Like writing. Painting. Or just …art, in the world. For and about people of all species, for and about provocative relations with the world.

Family. Our home was packed up, distributed and sold; my dad passed too after a slow battle with dementia, having mostly made his peace with humility by the time he chose to go. I read in his chair now, my book is lit by his lamp. I hear him every time the train passes my house. Ten months before the decade’s end I moved into a place five minutes by foot from the house where he lived between his ages of nine and twenty-five. Up the street from the stadium where the Tiger Cats won every home game last season. In a way that makes sense to me, I know they did this for Dad.

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Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, 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. A house of many many great gatherings.

I live two minutes by foot from Gage Park, whose trees were no doubt climbed by my dad in the late ‘Thirties, and twenty-two minutes by indigo blue car from the park where Ontario’s reintroduced Trumpeter Swans spend the winter.

I moved myself here to make art in whatever form it comes, in collaboration with past, present and future. To make a meaningful third anchor for myself in this Treaty 3 land (1792) of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Attiwonderonk and the Anishinabek nation., this city of immigrant workers, artists and broken old industrial buildings, where 125 years ago the wives of the cotton, then steel industry magnates made certain there was an art gallery of note, and began collecting good work.

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These broken old industrial places are connected to our shame, that as a city we prospered early on the labour of African slaves stolen from their villages, as we deforested then paved over the astonishing beauty of 10,000 years of traditional Haudosaunee territory. The rows of immigrant worker houses are connected to the fires raging in Australia, the melting ice caps in Antarctica. the steam and fire still belching from the steel mill to the tar sands in Alberta and to all those who continue to insist that money is the most important thing.

Now the artists are here, to tell the story of where we’ve come from, and where we are going.

Here in the beginning of a new decade, our payment for unchecked colonial, industrial and now neo-liberal greed comes due. We all arrive, willy nilly, at the place where we question our entitlements. Each of us is called to be accountable to ourselves, and then to all others – including other-than-human others.

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Rage is good as a fire-starter, but it can’t be sustained; it burns itself out, leaves a dry husk behind. I much prefer curiosity as fuel for creativity. It is sustainable, can participate in a full spectrum of observation and emotion, can offer up epiphany and insight, understanding and compassion, but it cannot live in a place of fear.

It’s my sense that we need to find our way to courage, to muster enough curiosity to balance the fear. That this, not anger, is a good way forward.

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At age ninety-three, Her Majesty The Queen of England maintains her dignity and decorum, even as she carries the inherited sceptre and shame of British colonialism. She suggests that we take this next decade one well-considered step at a time.

…small steps, taken in faith and in hope, can overcome long held differences and deep seated divisions

Morning

Today the breeze is playful and cool, pushes me out of bed, teases me out of my sluggishness – it was a long night of paying attention to good friendship, while L was in surgery. My liver was talking all night long.

It went well, Kate writes, he is resting now.

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I’m in first coffee ritual here beside the east window where the sunlight floods in. It’s top floor street side, wide open so city is fully present – rubber rubber on asphalt, engine effort along Gage Ave, the dinging train as it squeals through back yards, the hydro guys and their heavy equipment project, replacing wooden poles with cement ones all down the street.

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These sounds rise and fall with the morning rush. Now a fluting robin (not alarmed, for once), starling and house sparrow chatter, a squirrel’s repeated scolding.

In a while I will close it all out and bring my focus in to cello practice, which is like making love with my soul. The day forward is always richer for it.

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Second coffee will be at my studio, where I’ll continue work on this

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and this…

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photoshop composite mockup. The actual will be much more interesting…

At least one of these will be finished by the weekend, and I hope hanging on a wall outside my studio, so I can move on to the next one, and the next.

It’s the first time in my life that I’ve had both time and resources to devote to just this, long enough to seek and discover deeper layers in my work. A gift out of this past winter spring, especially the travel in Europe has been a curiosity about new places my work might go. New levels of fearlessness. If Klee can, if Braque can, well then, so can I.

I’m solving stalled pieces, will work my way into #Portraits.

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#Portraits, which propelled me to Hamilton and the Cotton Factory, which continues to intrigue. It is a continuation of, maybe a deepening of #Selfie, into ‘Other-than Self’. Or maybe ‘Self, In Other’. All of that, and more.

I’m fascinated to see where this will go now. The first summer sittings are booked, and I will soon have November dates in Hamilton and Owen Sound to announce for the shows.

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Of course, a collaborative book about process and research, as I did with #Selfie. Also music that we make together. That means you have a part to play, too, O esteemed ones.

Stay tuned.

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Recalibration

The piano room is the only space I’ve yet to spend decent working time in, these past three months. It calls me today, teasing out some soundtrack to the observations, the tectonic shifts of spring 2019.

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Gulliver, pinned – on a walk to Old Dublin. There was a narrative series of these set into the wall of a new-ish building along the way.

I’ve spent the last three days going through two months of correspondence I’ve not had time to properly respond to. It feels good to take time for this.

I find myself Printing out photos, too – how strange a thing, now! – of the Ireland chapter, the Lyon Chapter, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

 

Transitional moments as well – the wing of each plane I flew in, dipping into sunlight or through cloud; mountains, fields and neighbourhoods through train windows; the great metal sweep of airports – one (Brussels) with its hallway grand piano, open and waiting to be played.

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For an abundance of reasons I want the memories of this trip to become tactile. I learned this from my artist friend Wes Ryan, who has taught himself to consciously keep the memories he needs to keep alive after a serious concussion made it necessary to do so.

Do I claim an awareness of my own deliberately displaced self, this way, I wonder. Is this a philosophical act. Is this research and preparation for the 2014 painting that awaits transformation into the world of now, in my patient studio? I felt so, when I was there two days ago. I’ll go again this evening.

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en route to Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin

Inner travel while unmoored from the familiar took me farther into uncharted territory than I knew was possible. 19 days gone was just enough for me to see the possibility for still more discovery in a longer trip, with the potential to turn my known world inside-out.

I’m still coming home.

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Garden in Montelupo, Tuscany. We trained it into Florence from there.

I took luggage – a masters completed, rich notes from my generous panel to digest; my father’s dignified, graceful passing and all that he taught me in the last hours we spent alone together; a book mostly written; a talk about the book forming itself out of five months of momentum; some deadlines in the comforting future

…questions about why and how art in this time, where are the resonances that will speak in a bell-tone, what is a good portrait; curiosity about solo travel after 10 years of staying put, geographically speaking. All of this was packed, then unpacked and laid out, then re-packed. Some I used, all I carried. I did find answers, but also more good questions.

I’m still unpacking, will be for years to come.

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Entrance to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A great gallery, full of questions like this one.

Music has the tenderest of beginnings. I’m much better trained to hold fragile visuals in place until I can play with them on paper than to catch the ascending pattern of a new, humming thought. For this little project though, I’m doing what I can to hold a safe and welcoming space for the shy notes to enter.

Am I compelled to this because through all the old and layered of UK and Europe that I saw, there was so little live music? A band of young and old guys playing american dixieland in a city square. A young guitarist playing pop tunes in a Lyon street. The silent grand piano in Brussels Airport.

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One of the astonishing mosaics in Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.

Thankfully, blessedly, some amazing jams and performances in three Edinburgh pubs that nourished my soul and made me wish I had my cello. (A young cellist did offer me his to play but by that time I’d had three pints). Thank you so very much for this, O Generous Soul, outlaw cousin Nick T!

(the vid below features Nick himself and musician Doug Downie, who later sent me an excellent song he wrote by email – great lyrics, a haunting tune. I’ll make a Canadian version of it & send it back to him)

 

There was the invisible young man singing softly beneath the vaulted ceilings that hold up 13th Century Palazzo Vecchio, Oh my love, my darling… I need your love… Perfect notes that traveled like whispers along the arches.

We all heard him, the harried tourists, the tired shop keepers, guides, security guards and ticket sellers. I swear even the stone lions smiled.