Keirartworks's Blog

hmmm. hmmm? Observations, actions and connection points through art.

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Dark mornings

Before she went blind at age 42, she read tea leaves for signs of joy and trouble.

Through the subsequent five decades I watched, fascinated, when Grandma took her glass eyes out to clean them, as casually as I now clean my glasses.


For many of those eye-blind years she lived alone in house the size of the one I live in.  Every single thing in that house had precise place and function.  She could hear you think, and smell through walls.  Her scrying skills sharpened and she knew things before they happened. In this house, with these sharp senses she navigated meals, cleaning, laundry and dignified self-care with a sensibility that both astonished and empowered me.


Is this why I drink my first morning coffee in the darkness – to honour her five decades without light?

In part I think this is true.  I do often think of her as the first light whispers through the windows to ghost the doorway and glint the curve of my mug.



Light seeps in hushed like tiptoed joy.

Good morning, Jeannie Brown. You are welcome here.


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List of five

A rainy 5:20 am in the darkening northern hemisphere.  It is November 1.


I was lucky enough to be on the road every weekend last month, to and from Kingston, Toronto, Peterborough.  I drove through ridings filled with campaign signage, fields of shorn crops, hills of red and yellow trees, towns surrounded by housing developments and the occasional marsh, feeling grateful and tiny.  Skies full of bruised purple clouds shedding rain even as the slanted sun blazed through to set hill and valley aflame.  All night on super highways through a 386 kilometre downpour, I wondered at my strange need to always be not the fastest, but the first, even on slippery roads.

The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in

The beautiful front porch of the Peterborough house I stayed in

For the first hour, driving is thinking.  In the second hour mental chatter dissolves into a song of the land and the way through it.  By the third there is no-mind, by the fourth, lightness of being.  I hadn’t realized how small my world had become, before October’s road trips.  Thanksgiving, indeed.

coach house garden in old Kingston

coach house garden in old Kingston

Home on November 1 is a tunnel into winter.  I assess, I simplify, I clean up the past seven months and carefully file valuable things – deck chairs and tables, garden plants, kayak, things found on hikes, shared laughter, simple grief, great joy, humbling rage that left me stronger when it had passed.  It’s the inner garden we prepare to tend now, during and enduring the frozen months.  Experience is compost.

Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale

Rue flourished this summer. Beautiful plant right out of folktale

I draw and paint bells for a show in early December.  I dig through art history to find work that explores line, light and colour for a drawing course I’ll launch this fall and winter. I write and teach music in my studio, and plan for an open house in five weeks, while Canada reclaims her soul after a dark decade.  Me too.

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Storm-Stayed, 2014

The Blizzard’s Promise:  to bring us all closer.


We look out of snow-packed windows at white white nothing but white and wind and remember how wonder feels.  What warm is, what nourishment tastes like.

It tastes like time.  Like open, endless time.


Time tastes a little like fever.

Now finally I can… and then I can… and then…


Still the wind blows and blows and we peer out and still see Wonder.  The taste of nourishment is different, now.  More like Memory.  Like something you loved a long long time ago and just remembered….

Without even realizing you’ve moved your body to the table where your hands are now occupied with making something that reminds you of what that felt like and hours pass by ….


We’re all alive, right now, with all the other people who are alive.

Thank God for that.  More, please.

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I’ve known many….


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.


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.


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…


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.

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we carry these things privately

In art school we talked about negative space – the less obvious part of any picture that does the most to define the subject.  When building a 3D illusion on a 2-dimensional plane this is one of the neatest tricks – to first define what’s NOT in the drawing, in order to clarify what is.

Grandvista Gardens, Dundas, somewhere near 1968...  Marcus?myself, Lee, Rebecca, Marcus & unidentified other RH side

Grandvista Gardens, Dundas, somewhere near 1968… Marcus?
myself, Lee, Rebecca, Marcus & unidentified other RH side

We’ve had a lovely lovely christmas, and a beautiful Solstice leading into it.  Great music was played and shared, connections forged and re-forged among friends and family, warm, sincere thoughts expressed in gifts, in laughter, in deep conversation.  Over and through all of this there has been a generosity of spirit that to me seems many times magnified over previous years – and those previous years of goodwill have also been remarkable.  Among other notable things this year there’s a new highly contagious trend – to pay for the guy behind you in the drive-through.  The one you’ve never met, and don’t need thanks from.  Huh.

Throughout all the visits and the meals and events there have also been absences – people and memories left silent and unremarked.  For me, these have defined and enriched Christmas 2012 as much as anything.

My family lived in London England in 1967-68.  Here my sister and I skip through a graveyard...

My family lived in London England in 1967-68. Here my sister and I skip through a graveyard…

Negative space becomes positive, once you see it for what it is.

We now have four cats – and another marvelous one has adopted the couch (and anything else he can play with) in my Studio.  Purrl, Oliver, Samantha, Benjamin, Tolouse-Lautrec.  Each as different as could be, but joined together in the eternal Cat fascination with all things moving.  I’ve played long and wild with all of them this week.

But Mark, my brother, my protector, beautiful, noble, intense – how is it that you are also here, through forty years and more?  I can feel you standing like a wall of safety between me and any new person, any potential fall, any threat to my person.  Thanks.  There’s only one of you.



Lee and I on the swings under the big maple at Briar Hill School, somewhere around 1972

Lee and I on the swings under the big maple at Briar Hill School, somewhere around 1972

The compost bin is beside the big maple tree at my Parents’ house – I was there yesterday morning, on the side away from the swings, staring at her now immense girth.  This tree was at least 100 when we arrived at the Schoolhouse in 1971, and she’s since almost doubled in size.  The swings are long gone.

This year L was present in her absence.  I have only one sister, and she was even closer to Mark than I.  I sense that he walks and runs and sleeps and chases and leaps with her in Germany too.  Look after her, M.

Cousins, 14 years ago.

Cousins, 14 years ago.

Cousins, circa 9 years ago.

Cousins, circa 9 years ago.  And a Thomas.

A,B,M – this is your Aunt.  You are all far far away, doing far away things, but I call each of you home to Annan for a snowfight, a hike, a tribal dance, a silly contest, and a hug.  You can do this in your minds – but make sure you do this.  All my love,

My sister, on Trudeau's back.  I was right there beside them when this happened - she was furious at him.  And now he, too is positive-negative space, worthy of much consideration.

My sister, on Trudeau’s back. I was right there beside them when this happened – she was furious at him. And now he, too is positive-negative space, worthy of much consideration.


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I’m about to leave for a long-awaited trip to Lake Superior.  We’ll take the kayaks, a lovely new tent & good camping gear (the best wedding presents ever); the bikes, some tomatoes from the garden since the plants are now overflowing, books, cameras, and my own cluttered mind, in hopes that the latter can be washed clear in the cold cold waters of the Great Lake.

It’s like jumping off a cliff.

I think about what I’ll come home to with my clearer mind – a ‘before-and-after’ question.

I look around now and I see bags and clothes and recyclables, a painting that needs re-framing, trim for the interior windows on a chair, fireworks left over from Dom’s birthday, a set of bongos, three bats of roxl insulation, a huge bag of birdseed, hats and coats and bags – and that’s just the obvious layer.  Add a psychological one which in part will explain my mental clutter: each item is connected to an ongoing narrative – my gardening shirt from yesterday, which I will wear this evening while mowing the lawn; cardboard recyclables from food we’ve consumed, which we are hoarding for future woodfires; the painting I gave to Grant the first Christmas after we met of a frog (why a frog?) under a tree; the pile of trim made from cherry wood which was a posthumous gift from Grant’s highschool shop teacher; and on it goes.  Please note- the last two sentences are as unnecessarily long as our house is unnecessarily full of stuff. 

writing place of choice downstairs at home

None of these things are simple – some carry stories heavy with complexity – the roughly oval, green-striped rock, for example, which we brought back from Ireland.  In my mind it goes with a picture of Grant’s dad who is walking alone toward the ocean on Nicholson’s point, his coat billowing in the coastal onshore wind.  The entire family was on this trip back to find Nicholson roots in the North of Ireland, near Kilkeel and the Mournes.  We had a poignant, rich time that was full of laughter and discovery, and two months after we returned, my Father-in-law died suddenly from a heart attack.

taken by a kind passer-by in our rented house in Tipperary, near Nenagh, on the last day of our trip.

For me, the whole story of Bob is embedded in that rock, which nestles against another from Russia, and another from Dunaad in Scotland, and many many others, all holding connection to place – the French River, where we camped with my parents 8 years ago; black basalt from the shore (above); a piece of rubble from the great wall of China.  They rest together in a big wooden salad bowl on legs (another great wedding present), which likely will never be used for salad.

We’ve inherited furniture and plants – desks from McMeekin’s; a dresser that once belonged to my great-grandfather Keebler, who built the Circle Bar factory where my studio is; two christmas cacti-one from Grant’s maternal grandmother, and another from the paternal.  Both those ladies come with stories that could fill volumes.

More psychological clutter. We’re getting better at it, but, when we’re relaxing at home we see all the events, choices, labours, tasks and materials that went into putting the house here these past six years – and also what the next tasks, tools, labours & materials will be. Sometimes this is just not restful.

If I close my eyes, I can hear all the tales from all these things, this house, these posts & beams-  singing softly into the room – each with its own resonance and frequency.  It’s very very rich.

It can also be deafening.

Note from 2016:  I’ll have to do this trip on my own someday.  We didn’t make it to Superior, and the marriage was over by the next summer.  My life is MUCH less cluttered, now.