Just a hint of snow. The occasional fat flake visible against the still leafy tree, in slow dance downward. I watch, mesmerized as if my back window has become a television, the floating white stuff a metaphor, a plot device in the opening credits that whisper a coming change.

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There are things I am pleased about. The great functional beauty of my living space. The ancient trees five minutes away from my front door, the warm community of artists that surrounds my studio and work. The hum of this reconstructed painting as it nears completion in a few days, in time for its’ entry submission into a group show.

The way this painting, with its’ odd off-balanced, skewed gravity has informed what I will do with the other golden one – a permission to work with graffiti on my own work – to include a vulnerability, a soft ‘wrongness’ in what the piece will say, or sing.

To include an ache.

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New awarenesses have risen in me in these days spent writing, reading, drawing – and watching the rain, the wind, the first snowflakes dance slowly downward. This is what I’d hoped for when I leaped off the cliff last winter, though of course there were, and are no guarantees.

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Now the train song, second of the daily five as it curves past my neighbourhood’s houses – high metal squeals, deep chug chug of engine, bell clanging a clear, steady, andante A. My mother would have named that note without checking, which warms my eyes a little, remembering. The mark of a real musician, I used to think.

I know that at some point in my three years here I will record that train song, and add my own voice to it, like graffiti.

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This morning I’m feeling more than a little raw and chafed by the lack of beloved human voices in my world. The rootedness I feel only at my cabin is a lump in my throat, a wetness behind my eyes. I yearn for that safety, that belongingness, today.

As I listened to our Estonian residency artist Kai Kaljo talk about her time here in Canada last night I heard a thread of this in the way she approaches her work. Belonging and not belonging, comfort and discomfort, public recognition and then forgetfulness. In a dark time after everything changed she drew dead flowers, because she found them beautiful. Eventually realized that her creative self was rising, impossibly, again and change was good. Of course it’s good. But still.  Why eyes? asked the young artist. What is the significance of eyes for you?  “I don’t know, really. You decide.”, says Kai.

Kai gifted me a print of the opened window she stared through and loved all through her Italian residency, said as she signed it “I think art is like a window, yes?”. After the rich art talk and the connections made I closed my studio door and wondered why I felt different.

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I begin to understand that my known internal voices have long been misinterpreted by me, out of a learned assumption that outside voices automatically hold more authority. An old old lesson; my older sister finished all my sentences when we were children together. Somewhere beneath conscious awareness our culturally competitive parents approved of this as a mark of her superiority of mind and were entertained by it.

Instead of arguing I learned to archive my unspoken thoughts deep in a subterranean library. Floors and floors of shelves full of unspoken observances, delights, curiosities, private games, resonances and interesting relations with other-than-humans. Beneath those floors the wounds, traumas, bewilderments, betrayals, shocks I believe we all have some version or extreme of, levels below levels, each darker than the one above.

By doing this I could become the mirror required of me aboveground, and did so for many years, since “mirrors show everything but themselves. …nothing of your own will be heard”

Or possibly this is what I did. It’s a good working theory at least, based on what I’ve gleaned so far. In any case I’ve known for a good long time that for me stories are best mined in the dark.

IMG_0375 In The Faraway Nearby Solnit says,

 

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. …. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two?

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The end of my annotated, allegorical Masters story, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms keeps changing, as I get closer to telling it aloud in collaboration with an Owen Sound audience on December 7.

Since I last spoke the story at the end of April, my father passed, I traveled for a month in Europe, returned to find I lived somewhere else, was surprised on the summer road by the strangeness of Grief, and then the comfort of Retrospect. Both have since become my good companions. So of course the story’s end changes. It describes a beginning I’m only just now beginning to glimpse through the trees.

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To echo Kai – I’m not sure why these curiosities are here, or these aches, these lumps in my throat. Am reluctant to over-explain, wise enough to know that the only way through is in. I do trust them, that they’re here for good reason. Maybe they’re for you?

I really don’t know. You can decide.

 

The taste of anxiety on my tongue over the Canadian election has been an undeniable distraction. How can there be so many voting humans in this immense and beautiful country who deny the urgency of climate change?

I’ve been watching the polls, stuck in bafflement, for weeks now.

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EVERYONE I speak to on the street appreciates a sunny day, the shelter of a healthy ancient tree, a green park, a lovely garden. Every human eats food that has been polinated by bees. Grocery Stores. Restauraunts, markets, clothing, drinking water, vehicles, light switches, plumbing, musical instruments, furniture… none of this would exist without our interconnectedness with other-than-human species and complex natural systems on this planet. How is this deniable?

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Maybe I’ve been living in denial. Maybe there are other humans out there who do not make use of these interconnected things, are living soley on money – sleeping on it, driving it, wearing it in layers against the cold, stuffing it in their ears. Eating it like junk food, but not getting any nourishment, hence the appetite for more, more more.

I’ve never met a human like that, but clearly they must exist, since according to the polls, thirty-one percent of Canadian voters support a party that will not even discuss the possibility that all of these daily interconnections are at the verge of collapse.

Even though the science. Even though increasingly extreme weather. Even though extinctions, melting glaciers, lethal heatwaves…

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In Canada, despite the fact that the remaining 58% of polled voters recognize the urgent need for Climate Change Action, this means the ‘denial’ party who lives just on money could form the next government.

What in the name of life and love are we doing here, in this moment? Who ARE these 31%-ers? Who has convinced them they can live on money, alone, and never mind real food polinated by bees?

That’s quite a snowjob.

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It’s not difficult to follow the money if you know where to look. We all felt this way when Trump won, too. Rebecca Solnit keeps a weather eye on the news behind all the distractions and posts today about Russia’s tactical involvement in the 2016 US election,

Senate intelligence report introduction: The Committee found that Russia’s targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society. Moreover, the IRA conducted a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood. The IR.A’s actions in 2016 represent only the latest installment in an increasingly brazen interference by the Kremlin on the citizens and democratic institutions ofthe United States.”

The Committee found that paid advertisements were not key to the IRA’s activity, and moreover, are not alone an accurate measure o fthe IRA’s operational scope, scale, or objectives, despite this aspec~ of social media being a focus of early press reporting and public awareness.16 An emphasis on the relatively small number ofadvertisements, and the cost ofthose advertisements, has detracted focus from the more prevalent use of original, free content via multiple social media platforms. According to Facebook, the IRA spent a total-ofabout $100,000 over two years on advertisements-a minor amount, given the operational costs ofthe IRA were approximately $1.25 million dollars a month.17 The nearly 3,400 Facebook and Instagram advertisements the IRA purchased are comparably minor in relation to the over 61,500 Facebook posts, 116,000 Instagram posts, and 10.4 million tweets that were the original creations ofIRA influence operatives, disseminated under the guise of authentic user activity. …

Continue reading

Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.

Enlightenment: what you feel as you walk away, unharmed, if you successfully apply this to any dangerous situation.

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My Manifesto, then, as informed by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:

J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Carl Jung’s Red Book, Wassail! 2018, my nine portrait collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of good and bad artistic choices

To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:

Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing  for money.

Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art.

(Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)

Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think.

Werner Herzog put it this way:

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”

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Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out Peta on social media for denouncing the use of wool.

Sing for the young girls and boys with multicoloured hair who are entering a life in which their bodies are commodity, where there is no such thing as physical, emotional or psychological safety.

It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for.

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Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species.

Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.

Act, compose, direct, for the bully boys and their muzzled wives who get elected so they can take an axe to our carefully crafted, compassionate safety nets. This too, is human, they are also “We.”.

Make art that supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide.  Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.

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Go direct. Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context.

Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in deep private, personal insecurity, unhealed trauma, fear. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.

Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that.

Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.

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Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care.

A corollary:  Some people do not have a truth to stand in. Accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.

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Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.

A corollary: divisive, abusive work is not art, it is propaganda. Do not indulge in easy smallness, or the exclusion of anyone.

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As Rutger Bregman, Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Rebecca Solnit and a growing ocean of people have realized, the “Us” of this world is endangered.

So. Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are.  Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.

Make your work count.