in the grip

3:56am, sweatered on the couch with the green blanket tucked around my legs. I can’t see them, but I am aware physically and psychologically that I have good, warm slippers on my feet, and that they are a deep, warm pink.

In a moment I will pull the reliable stapler out of my purse, turn on the living room light, clear all available surfaces and begin the process of sorting through the year’s worth of collected paper that represent what I spent and what I earned.  I might also ask the furnace for more heat.

art history:  a painting I did in 1994, stripped of all but the figure.  Symbols added at an art opening in 2014 by people who signed up online and / or came to the event.  The third image is further work on the piece, which becomes more Chagall-like every time I go into it.  Everything about Chagall - his thinking and his work - have charmed me since I studied him at Uni 30 years ago.  The pieces needs to be re-stretched, and finished, but it is the first of many rich and random acts of art.  Who knows when that show will be - 20 years from now?  I'm looking forward to it.
art history: a painting I did in 1994, stripped of all but the figure. Symbols added at an art opening in 2014 by people who signed up online and / or came to the event. The third image is further work on the piece, which becomes more Chagall-like every time I go into it. Everything about Chagall – his thinking and his work – have charmed me since I studied him at uni 30 years ago. The piece needs to be re-stretched and finished, but it is the first of many rich and random acts of art. Who knows when that show will be – 20 years from now? I look forward to it.

How many truths can we hold I wonder.  These bits of paper represent a year of deep shifts – a  marriage ended; a career dusted off and re-worked; a daughter away for months on the other side of the planet then back home; a studio; a cat; a rented house; another Macbook Pro, brakes and tires on a red car; groceries, groceries… the long long, slow process of changing my mind about me in the world.

They’re still in grocery bags, the receipts, the invoices, the bills, because I resist this story, this truth.  I don’t want to look, don’t want to add the numbers, don’t want to know in concrete terms what I already know – it’s been a very tough year financially.  I look around me at the times we are all in, the 99% of us, as the old industrial-think global economy shows it’s fault-lines ever more clearly, and I know it’s been tough for so many.  This is not comforting, but it helps.  I don’t feel anything like a victim, but I do see that the idea of security that we were raised with is largely an illusion.  I believe we need to think differently now, about what we actually need, how we serve, and how we earn our keep.

my studio is on the top floor of this building - three windows north, three east.  This picture shows the building's transformation from the Pacific Hotel into the Circle Bar Hosiery Factory circa 1927  (black blob at the top is a tree close to the camera, not a fire).  My mother's grandfather, Walter Keebler, was the factory owner.  At one point he employed over 200 women there.
my studio is on the top floor of this building – three windows north, three east. This picture shows the building’s transformation from the Pacific Hotel into the Circle Bar Hosiery Factory circa 1927 (black blob at the top is a tree close to the camera, not a fire). My mother’s grandfather, Walter Keebler, was the industrialist who envisioned this change. At one point Circle Bar employed over 200 women.  It was still going strong into the late 1950s.

Clever me – I have succeeded in an hour’s worth of diversion – it is 4:49am, and the lights are still dim.  It is time now to make the second cup of coffee – the one that will fuel my industrious sorting project.

I need one more moment of listening though, before I rise to do this.

Into the stillness and perfect peace of early morning I am aware that someone I love dearly is far away and in pain.  The answer in me is quiet and deep; I don’t know how to connect with her, I feel helpless.  This is another truth to hold, another story to hear and navigate, then repeat.  There is great love here, and beauty, but also fathoms of old sorrow.  I would so love to be there with her, in this moment.

view from my studio window, winter 2014
view from my studio window, winter 2014

Alright.

Time to put the kettle on.

Homing

I’ve known many….

aftertheWinterRain

The trick with the key, the turn of the doorknob, the double beat of the door closing – like permission to lay the day’s burden down.  I’ve had hollers from the back room, running tackles from the dog, slow blink from the cat – but always the awareness that time moves more gently, more collaboratively, here where Home is.

Dad's chopsaw - I cut an 1100 sq foot ash floor on this. Now it's in a painting
Dad’s chopsaw – I cut an 1100 sq foot ash floor on this. Now it’s in a painting.

The places I’ve lived have mostly been safe, most of the time.

I don’t want to be facile – some of us on the planet never find it. Even when surrounded by family and abundance, I can still be in a place of yearning for some other place that flows more sympathetically with my own internal river.

powerlines

My life is ridiculously simple, but I’m still one of the privileged – I’ve never lived through a military war, a forced evacuation, a tsunami or a hurricane.  I listen to second-hand stories about what it’s like to live in places far different from mine – In Tibet; in a Syrian refugee camp; in New Orleans or a small remote village in Uganda where the water is not clean enough to drink, and everyone is sick.  There are other truths I need to work hard to accept – last week a songwriter I dearly love told me that daring to be persistently good at what you do just makes you a target for abuse.  I know that even here being openly gay or lesbian can result in a terrible beating, and pre-teen girls get stolen and sold to broken, violent men.

No wonder we need doors.

scrabbleDoor

Still, I strongly suspect that the same rules apply everywhere: geography & circumstance may change, but not the essential feeling of ‘Home’.  I suspect that there’s a connection between finding that internal sense of permission to be and the ones who emerge from refugee camps and prisons to change the minds of everyone they meet.  Some become great conductors, artists, quiet or not-so-quiet & successful business folk who are fiercely loyal to their chosen community…

beginningofPurple

It’s different for everyone, according to the current of his or her internal river.  To me home is where I can look in an honest mirror for a long moment, take a big breath and then wrestle  – to the death and beyond – with all that’s terrible, inconvenient, painful and loving about Beauty.  Sometimes the result is a painting, sometimes a song, or maybe just one note on the cello.  It’s always worth it.

I leave in a few hours to hang out with all that’s beautiful and distorted and perfect about my family.  We will try to skype with my kid, who is half the world away, having a fine time with good people.  Nothing could be better right now, for me.

Happy 2013 Christmas, everyone.

No straight lines

I dig into the Brahms E minor cello this morning and find myself swimming strong in a strong river – a great deep and fast and roiling that collects and contains a watershed of stories as it carves it’s way through the land.

Why, Mr. Brahms.  It is good to meet you here from across the centuries, far far off the page.  Shall we immerse ourselves together?

His piece curves and bends around it’s internal themes, climbs great hills and tumbles from impossible heights.  Its landscape demands constant, intense commitment, even and especially in the pianissimo sections where the piano commands the melody line.

There are sections I have not internalized yet, where I am yanked back to the written notes, back into my technical head, back into training my fingers that “this is not contortion – this is easy…”.  It’s not easy, but it will be, once I’ve found the technical key and relaxed enough to repeat repeat repeat, repeat.  All the while the river flows on, steady and constant – I know I can immerse myself again.

horozontal_sun

These days on the brink of Spring 2013 seem to be deep with a tectonic level of unrest.  Old contracts that were seemingly set in stone are fracturing on their own, or being consciously, sometimes painfully re-negotiated to reflect a new set of boundaries, priorities and shared realities.

It’s both personal and political – US debates (!?!) over gay marriage and civil rights,  and indigenous peoples with the profoundly deep roots of Idle No More which support dignity, demand clarity and re-negotiation over native civil rights, and seek to work with respected settler allies to protect the land from the commodity boys in their banking suits.

This river we’re in right now is not like the Brahms’ E minor, no.  This river is clogged – with ice, with debris, with garbage collected over miles and years of mutual and self-perpetuated … abuse?  Is that the right word?

ice

This is nothing that the natural cycles of the planet can’t handle.  It will pass, and this debris will be flushed downstream to the filtering grounds.  The spring floods will recede and the landscape will be different – perhaps shockingly so, but there will still be life.

But we humans, with our cultural and personal tectonic shifts – puny in some ways, when you look through say, Commander Chris Hadfield’s eyes.  It’s telling, isn’t it, that we need to use terms like ‘the environment’, or ‘our natural resources’ to describe the planet, as though it’s outside of our bodies?

wide_blue

There’s a southeast corner of my house where the fig tree grows new leaves, framed by two windows.  The easterly window hosts a christmas cactus with pale apricot blooms and the southerly window an amaryllis with eight deep red bells, just opening now.  I can see them unfold as I write.  Spring birds are busy outside; our two inside cats are glued to the windowseats, quivering with fascination.  A slight spring chill reminds me that my feet are bare.

Over all of this there’s a great, vast, pulsing stillness.  I drink it in through my pores, breathe it into my lungs, feel it quiver on my skin.