My phone is in Kingston, 200 km of driving sleet and transport trucks ago.

I travel through this with my daughter from my aunt to my niece. There’s a rightness to the timing.

Bill Reid's Orca
Bill Reid’s Orca

In the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau I find a plug upstairs after the cafe closes.  There’s a bench with cushions so I cross my legs and balance the laptop as I would find centre and lift my paddle in a canoe. Then I write, staring at horizon.

There’s a curve in the tail of Bill Reid’s Orca that keeps him suspended in the air, impossible and alive.

My paddle-calloused fingers type,

I intend…

2001- a painting from a show called Sea Hear, in which I tried once again to paint music
a photo of  ‘Play’ from a 2001 show Sea Hear, in which I tried with all my heart to paint music. My daughter, at 5, chose all the imagery for this one, especially the orcas.

Weightless I am, suspended in the air like this massive hunter whale.  Out of my element, on purpose:  I intend.

I am above the Ottawa River which looks drugged into surrender by the ritual, annual, comforting January cold, across from the Parliament buildings where Justin son of Pierre sits with renewed and informed vigour as our head of state.

They built the beautiful, flower-shaped, buttressed library on the river side, away from the possibility of attack.  Those Statesmen, their advisors, their Wives.  Some of them in came and chose and made it so in ways I can respect.

Bell1, 2015, 20" x 24", mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.
Bell1, 2015, 20″ x 24″, mixed media (acrylic) on canvas.

I think about my Scots ancestors who fled here two generations & eight generations ago to look for a horizon they could aim for, for once.  I think about now and La Loche and four people dead like lightning, like an arrow to what we need to see and be accountable for.  I think about Idle No More, about Truth and Reconciliation.

I can barely remember the last specific, technical idea I had about music or painting – these old old ideas are far stronger.

'Black'. 2014, 36x36, acrylic on dyed cotton.
‘Black’. 2014, 36×36, acrylic on dyed cotton.

I intend.

To take the next precious decade of my life to examine and build a good answer to these things I wonder and care about, more every day.

My thinking fingers have written this:

We are all a product of our own small community that overlaps in myriad ways with larger ones like the Internet, like a city, a collective, a field, an orchestra, a band, large or small.  I’ve come to believe over this small span of years that each is an ecosystem that thrives according to the strength of it’s connectedness.

I’ve found also that few connectors are stronger than the making of good music. As a painter who also writes and performs regularly as a vocalist/cellist…

…I have experienced this time and time again: visual art and writing connect us more deeply to ourselves but music connects us, through ourselves, to others. One might say that community music is like mycelium – a connective tissue that can convey a supportive ‘nutrient’ through the system to everyone who requires it….

photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper
photo by Robbin McGregor, bee-keeper

The timing is right.  I will get my Master’s degree at Laurier, in Community Music.

Like the impossibly suspended whale, like a Rebel, I will pay for this with the proceeds from my paintings.  They will be on paper and canvas, in watercolour, ink and oil.  They will sing.

Bent_Tree_close

Find a door you like, one that calls change to you.  Then you go through and in.

It is re-focus time in the studio.  I have all weekend for this – just one little gig for an hour today, then back at it.

PrintingMaterials

I think of studio as a map both for and of my mind.  It’s a container for schedule; a flexible structure that can be altered according to the needs of each project.  Currently, it’s a mess – the detritus from several months of steady-work-no-break is all around.  I’ve been gifted some tools and supplies, materials and media from my father who is packing up his own studio for a big move – they have yet to find their functional place.  Other materials have never had functional space, and languish invisible in the back of an old filing cabinet drawer…

This will not do.  It begs a re-think, a clearing out, a clarification.

I love the way this draws me inexorably to a hunt for passions, new or old.  Arrows are questions, propelled by a bow of necessity:  what am I drawn to?  How and whom will these ideas serve?.

I discover I’m feeling compelled to work this out on paper as I did when I was 15, with media I’ve not used for years…

I clear the boards, make a pile for burning.  Sweep and clean the floor, listening.

Sewingfoot

Sacred space certainly, but this place is no shrine.  It’s a factory inside the factory my Great-Grandfather built.

Factories run on schedule.  Which reminds me of something Annie Dillard wrote,

A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. … It is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. 

The Harness is off.  It’s over there on the floor.

Curious, to see this thing I’ve worn for 30+ years…  Who made it?  Why so tight?  Why the rough rope?  It’s ingenious, actually.  There’s a pull cord I see that will jab thumbtacks into my backside when I’m slowing down, and simultaneously tighten the collar around my neck…  added incentive to get through the last 10% of every project?

I recognize that this harness was designed by me, however unconsciously, from the inherited protestant ethic of Work as Suffering.  Life is work, therefore (inevitably) Life is Suffering.  Extrapolated:  If you don’t suffer, you’re not working hard enough.  This idea can take the joy right out of any task – even if it’s your highest calling.  It can in the extreme lead to the wearing of hair shirts, to self-flagellation, martyrdom/victimhood,  the false rationalization of the need to live like a starving artist …

up next.  Two paintings about how we choose to use our energy - to engage, or not.
up next. Two paintings about how we choose to use our energy – to engage, or not.

To be clear – I’ve had a super-productive, satisfying time since April, when I began work on the #Selfie project.  It’s been an experience full of engagement, surprise, transformation – rich with reward on every level.   I also met my harnessed self full-on several times, too, and recognized someone driven in a way that is not healthy.

With several new projects on the table now – each one full of promise, potential and fascination, I find myself wondering about this.  As I take the breath one takes before diving in, I wonder

Do I really need the thumbtacks?

Does it need to come to suffering and self-denial, this finishing?

Must it be a battle, every time?

 

resist underpainting
resist underpainting

At the very least I need to radically alter the design.  To find and use material that I like – softer, padded. No thumbtacks, no injectors full of anxiety, no neck collar.   Maybe it should be more like a well-crafted tool that will help me to pull a heavier load.

Or maybe the work isn’t heavy, and I don’t need a harness at all.

This is quite a thought.

dance step 2 resist underpainting.  The power is in the space between
dance step 2 resist underpainting. The power is in the space between

Maybe I just need to change my mind.

This is exciting.  So is 2014-2015.  So many neato, challenging collaborative and solo projects ahead.  So many Incredibles to work and play with.  Without suffering for any of it.

So, Honoured Protestant Ancestors.  What you lived and suffered in protest to is no longer life-threatening; the ethic no longer applies in any way that’s healthy and life-affirming.  Sleep in peace, with big smiles.  Grins, even.

 

“If you bring forth the genius within you it will free you. If you do not bring forth the genius within you, it will destroy you.”

– Jesus, gnostic Gospel of Thomas (which didn’t make it into the bible.  Too bad.)