In the days after Valentine’s

I feel something soft about the morning. I can see it in the pastel sky, hear it in the slow wash of tires on the wet street below. Sunday. Two crows barking.

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A wave of consumer propulsion towards all things pink, red and heart-shaped began last week and crested on Thursday and Friday when even the grocery store designated one person to wrap the flowers held by a long line of men. Some of them still in reflector suits from road work, some in steel toe or galoshes, others bearded and toqued or in natty winter coats, all of them jovial, joking amongst themselves, glowing. They carried their bouquets gently in that line, respectfully.

It was a wonder, all that masculine flower action in East End Hamilton.

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I bought a vase full of brilliant yellow roses and spikes of eucalyptus, in celebration of the line of smiling men, in celebration of all of us. Picket line teachers, impatient Ford 150 drivers, control freak Tim Horton’s managers and people who throw emotion around like bullets from an AK47: all of us. And me too, tucked away in my echo chamber studio, deliberately making mistake after mistake and learning from every one of them. Some of the mistakes I’m making are quite stunningly beautiful, which is a lesson in itself.

My world expands and not all is comfortable; I celebrate the gifts of that.

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Has our idea of love shifted I wonder. From the hard angles of claiming and owning and obedience to something softer and simpler: you are beautiful and valuable, to me. You. In the midst of all this impossibility and stress and pressure, the mess and the fear and the rage, I can stop and hold a long moment for this deep deep truth. I can put it in these flowers I bought and stood in line with to have wrapped, for you.

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I think of all the loves of my life so far – HA! in some ways much like my time in the studio now.  Some not at all comfortable, all insistent that I learn and stretch beyond what I can imagine. All gifts – to feel my my heart open wide, and also to feel it close again, calloused so I can heal. Through all of this it grows and beats and connects with living breathing beings; I am okay, I always have been, and will always be.

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The yellow roses light up my living room. I’ll use the vase to put others in when I need to hold a long deep moment and remind myself of the long, enduring song of Love.

My Love for Us. All of us. Which is the same huge, eternal, glorious, simple thing as my Love from myself to me.

Late in the afternoon,

Alright, I’ve given Paglia a fair shake, but alas, no. The energy required to sift through her self-aggrandizing provocations to find nuggets of meaningful insight is more than I have to spend, especially when other books beckon. Let it be known that I approached her latest with goodwill and open curiosity, and made it through a full third of the essays and interviews printed therin.

I like the paper the publisher chose. It felt like crisp linen sheets on my fingers as I turned each page. A first for me; the quality of paper upstaged what was printed on it.

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I could not overcome a growing distress over the state of the world as seen through Paglia’s judgemental lens. For me, she misses an interesting examination of the rich complexities of what it is to be human by directing our gaze again and again back to herself, as a kind of Queen of Opinion. I suppose that’s the game of (mostly white) pundits and politicos, as paid by the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, FT, etc… to divide and distract us.

Not playin; I closed her book.

IMG_2631Popova now, in Figuring (2019) introduces me to complex, interconnected humans I’d never hoped to learn about and from in this way – Johannes Kepler, Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Sophia Peabody in the first five dancing chapters alone. I will happily carry her bright yellow book with me until it’s done and my mind is fully changed by it. Likewise with Shotwell’s Against Purity (2016), Tsing et al (Ed)’s Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017), Berger on Landscapes, another on synesthesia, another on natural soundscapes.

 

 

 

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Like a spring filly released into the field, I am without academic harness for the first time in 2.5 years. I can read whatever I want to.

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With gown and hood, I graduate from my masters program, then drive around Southern Ontario (as we do) for 17 hours, to deliver, pick up, visit, revisit.

Before that a week of family and friends, to celebrate the beautiful complexities of my Dad and the resonances he leaves with his passing – another kind of travel, through time and story.

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Before that, 20 days of a journey in and through Dublin, Lyon, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh and all the related airports, train stations and car rentals, going backwards through the history of my ancestors, taking note of the ideas and economics and systems that formed their world, centuries ago, in four cultures and three languages.

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May feels like a long run-on sentence I have yet to punctuate properly. It sits in a pile of boarding passes, maps, brochures, museum tickets and restaurant receipts on my dining room table.

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But I am Home, where the plants and the windows, the kettle and the bullet-strong coffee, not latté, cafè latté, espresso or cappuccino, much as I love all of those.

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The park and my patient, glowing studio, the now-opened books, my excellent bed and windows in all directions. My cello out of his case and ready for ritual every morning, the starlings singing through the bathroom window.

Home which feels different because I am different after these journeys that still need punctuation, these travels I still need to claim sense from. All in good time.

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The horizons have been pushed far far beyond what I imagined; the world is impossibly, curiously new. There is plenty of good work to be done here which I’m happy and eager to begin.

…after I read just a little more.

 

Old things and dungeons

Grocery store “…ya, seven car pileup in Dundalk.  I’m not going home to London looks like…”

snowfort stories – there were three of us, so …  that’s when the snowbanks along the roads were 14  feet high- we used to run along the top and jump over the hydro lines… 

I guess some people like winter, probly they don’t have to shovel…  Better get extra, looks like we’re socked in…

detail from a painting I'm working on now.  I think it's about my parents...
detail from the painting on the wall in front of me. – a teacup I got from david sereda and Stuart Reid

I’m here in the warm painting light thinking about old things.  There’s nothing in this studio that isn’t grounded in history.  Even the studio space is specific to this – it was part of a ladies’ hosiery factory founded and run by one of my great-grandfathers (mother’s mother’s father) in the 1920s that at one time employed 200 women.  If I close my eyes I can hear them talking to one another in counterpoint to the rhythm of the knitting machines…

I just finished a painting that I’d thought was about a snaffle bit – a reference to Athena’s golden bridle that Bellepheron used to bend Pegasus to his will.  I was going to call it Unbridled – but that just shows how little I know.  It’s called Chalk Horse, and in this painting, she is a mare.  We have been locked in battle for a week, but I do get it now.  She’s lived in the Oxfordshire hills for somewhere near 3000 years, and is known as the Uffington Horse.  This week she’s been very much in my studio.

Snaffle bit?  Pah.  Stomp.

detail of the same painting
detail of the same painting – my father’s excellent chop saw.  I cut 1000 square feet of 1 & 1/4″ ash floor on this puppy.

There’s something about writing music or prose, about making paintings that demands utter openness and honesty.  It’s a place of utterly precious fragilit, but there’s nothing judgemental about it – it’s just that when an image rings true then it has become itself – that’s the work.  Any contrivance, any force of will or intention will just get in the way.  So you listen.  It’s got to be collaborative if it is to have any relevance to the world at all.

Good art is always relevant to the world – it’s the why of it.  Art, music, writing, dance, theatre,  – these immeasurable, difficult things are our best chance to change our minds about ourselves.  This is where the difficult questions get asked, the ones that require real honesty to answer.

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We are all of us very good at building dungeons for ourselves, are we not?  As I listen to Leonard Cohen, at age 75, sing about his Secret Life, I think this must be so.  We build them of bits and pieces of our failures and from inherited shame, and keep the dark door shut, when instead we need to spend well-considered time there, alone with ourselves – it’s the hardest thing to do, perhaps.  For me, this is where I get humbled, every time – groping around in the dark for something I recognize, something that can hold a difficult beauty.

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I emerge always with fewer words.

Gratitude.  That’s a good one.