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…
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.
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.
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.
I emerge always with fewer words.
Gratitude. That’s a good one.
It’s become a bit like being in my own reality TV show, this process of getting paintings out the door. The day has just passed that I’d targeted as my deadline, barring a major dharmic intervention. I will say that I have made great progress, and these two huge impossibles are very close to being their actual selves. And out my door.
But there was a major dharmic intervention on Sunday – one that snuck up on me like a viper and bit me so subtly I didn’t realize it until later when I felt myself go into shock. I kept painting, but in fact I was at full stop.
To back up and provide some clarity, I’ve found a description of dharma that fits here,
“Dharma means the intrinsic nature of a thing. Just like the dharma of sugar is sweetness and the dharma of water is wetness. The dharma of the living being is to render service to God….”
(my apologies, this is not sourced properly in the Urban Dictionary where I found it, so I can’t tell you which guru originally said it)
In my world then, a dharmic intervention is an unexpected event that hits you on all levels – emotional, physical, psychological, professional, personal (insert others of your choice) and shocks you enough that veils you’d never known were there are ripped away to reveal some Home Truths – the difficult ones. In these instances there’s no avoiding or denying whatever has become crystal clear. It’s impossible NOT to have a new perspective about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
So to translate: I thought I was painting about something incredibly deep and wise and well-crafted, from a place of experienced and well-honed detatchment. Something big and unexpected happened, and because of it I now know the paintings are about something else entirely. In a way, they’ve been painting me.
So, another week will do it, I think. I begin an intense course of study today, and every evening is also booked with rehearsals. But I don’t need that much sleep…..
None of us are immune. Just when you think you can see it all and taste the sunbeam of good finish, a painting problem will like a brick wall whose only purpose is to humble you. So, laugh or be flattened like Wile E. Coyote, to bonelessly slide down the mountain. Or both.
I pick myself off the floor and turn back to face the problem-wall. I wind up to run at it again. And again, and again.
This last ten percent is the hardest.
GOD I love this work.
Yesterday was requiem day as I worked in the studio, which seemed fitting, somehow. Every layer of grief and joy is expressed and exposed in them – the Mozart, the Brahms, the Faure, the Rutter. Outside my windows there raged a storm that tore hydro lines and uprooted trees – for a while my phone and my internet was dead, and I was startled that this made such a difference: me utterly alone with my grieving, raging, joyful, impossibly beautiful requiem (Mozart at that point). Some deep internal things happened then that were very good indeed – thank you Bruce Telecom, Mozart, and the Storm.
My work continues to go well – barring another major dharmic intervention, two very large paintings will be finished by the end of Sunday Nov 3, which is also the day of an eclipse of the sun. We will rehearse another requiem (the Popper, for 3 celli and piano), I will get some deep practise in, and the weekly routine will dance on. For me, though, there will be a rich, indescribable difference, thanks to the Storm, the Requiem and Bruce Telecom. I’m humbled by it, actually, in an empowering sort of way.
The tectonic plates beneath us are shifting.
Can you feel it? There is an air change, a sea change, an internal change wherever you look, if you look for it.
How wonderful it is to be alive.
This becomes surreal.
I’m curious about my behavioral boundaries and how they might get distorted in the overflow of this steadily increasing sleep deficit. If I were a Christian Mystic I’d be well on my way to a Grand Vision by now. If I were a shaman who’d also been fasting this whole time, I’d be more than ready to meet my spirit guide. What does one DO with these insights and not-so-sublte proddings that come at 2:30am, 4:03am, 6:12 I wonder. Come on, insomnia friends – break out the what-I-do lists & send them in.
I’ve developed some strategies of my own:
1. Watch Peter Sellers laugh his face off in the Revenge of the Pink Panther. Ideally start with the first ‘Panther’ movie from 1964, and watch the progression of the next three. You will find yourself sitting in the Land of the Absurd, giggling like a 5-year-old. This project will take several nights during which you’ll wonder why you need sleep after all….
2. Find your totem animal and commune with it.
3. Smell those Holbein oil pastels! Honestly! What do they put IN them?
4. Channel BANKSY with a piece that has become too static:
New addition to this post: PLEASE watch this now, esp if you understand Monty Python:
5. Drink MORE coffee. What the hell.
6. Love your inner moose. We all have one, and often it feels abandoned by our adult selves. Sad moose are large and impossible to ignore, so find ways to lighten her up.
Happy Tuesday, & don’t worry, all is well.
The morning is still still and grey weighed down by two feet of spring snow. Even the sky is heavy. The birds do their best to lighten things up but we have no warm welcome for them this year after the long flight north. Just heavy grey, heavy snow, covered in old rabbit tracks.
It is the other end of winter. Still fine and clean here in the country, but since the weather has stayed cold we are in a kind of stasis, shifting restlessly under the great white blanket that gets heavier and heavier even as it thickens each night with new snowfall. Like a dancer who has been told to sit still, a singer told to be silent, and just wait……
But Winter is not for waiting… Winter is for telling stories to each other, to ourselves, is it not? Winter is for listening.
I am glad of it this March of 2013, as we approach Easter next weekend. I have gone deep this winter, deep deep into the ideas of legacy and inheritance, gifts and projections. Into the effects of choice. My work with these paintings and the music I’m writing has naturally taken me there, (amazing to me, what hand tools have inspired) but other encounters and events in these months have resonated – some most alarmingly.
I’m almost, but not… quite… finished…. this process…. like a whale returning from the bottom of the ocean I need this extra time to find the surface again…
When I do emerge, it will feel very very good to speak to real people instead of paintings and recording devices, computer screens and cello strings. It will feel so deeply rewarding to take my own garden shovel and just dig with it, rather than painting the idea, then the deeper idea, then another layered idea… of shovel. (I’ll post the painting here so that you can see – a ridiculous layering of images, just to try to present these ideas about legacy and choice – ack, me.)
I can feel my feet tingling in anticipation of the soft cold mud that will receive them in my first barefoot walk outside.
Until then I work to finish. This is also a fine, fine thing.
Tonight, the Georgian Bay Symphony and the Georgian Bay Concert Choir (some 180+ incredibles!!) will play a program composed entirely by Schubert. Along with many many dear friends, my Mom is in the choir. I will be in the cello section. Mom & I haven’t played together in a big concert like this since Carnival of the Animals when I was 16. What a joy.
HA! As I wrote that last paragraph, the spring sun emerged through the grey. Suddenly, it’s quite a different world out there – full of life and warmth, though appropriately (for me), still covered with a thick coat of white.