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Shock and shift

What happens when we don’t take responsibility for healing our own lives, and instead project our buried trauma out onto other people – our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues? 

What happens when we use all our energy in criticism and complaint, when we use charity and judgement as a way of maintaining privilege and superiority over ‘weaker-thans’?  When we use power like a gun and intelligence only to manipulate?  Is this not a way of describing blight?  Does this not weaken the entire system of life?  Weinstein.  Ghomeshi.  Trump.  Any person of any gender who identifies with embitterment, any person who inflicts their own still-festering injuries on others. 

So, at any point in our lives, each and every one of us, until we choose to do the work and grow up.

Mill Dam, Owen Sound. Fall 2014

What happens instead when we don’t accept diminishment, and instead use our considerable strength to knit together, to hold space for change, to join, to empower and build.  What happens to us.  What happens to the world.

Harriet Tubman.  Georgia O’Keefe.  Emily Carr.  Gord Downey.  Elizabeth Warren, who persists.

What happens when a small, any or multi gendered group gathers in the kitchen to wash, dry, put away dishes from the meal they made for 30 people? What happens when they gather to weed a garden, repair or build a quilt, build a house, make music, block out a play, collaborate on a project, get something done together…  the conversation knits and weaves, joins and clarifies, connects and strengthens.

It’s about the doing, but the doing isn’t the point.  The weaving, the connecting, the building, the sharing and comparing is the point.  The anchor of hearth, the rhythm of ritual, the resources of valued difference.

In this contemporary culture, many-gendered, magnificent embroiderers, quilters, designers and fabric artists have taken the diminuitive notion of ‘women’s work’ and transformed it into empowerment – an actual, functional, powerful approach to healing our homes and our bodies and building the world anew.  Artists and musicians, actors and writers are more and more equally represented by all cultures, all genders, who have empowered themselves to speak from their own power, to openly share their hard-won strength and dignity with us.  Does this not strengthen us all?  Is this not another way to describe nourishment?

Endurance, independence, perception, wisdom.  Strong opinions, well informed by context and shared with humility.  To do something valuable with one’s anger.

Not the pursuit of virtuosity as an identity, but for joy.  Not to claim then fight nasty to maintain one’s trumped-up value .

Instead, always to include, to hold space for. Powerfully.

The We, the Us, without the Them.  We, the ecosystem from which no living being is excluded.

This requires courage.

 


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An ethical line

To draw a line.

A simple line can identify both home and trespasser.

Political lines describe differences, places of meeting:  here and there, you and me, us and them.

Natural lines are always clear, but changing.  Shoreline, treeline, river, snake, stick, shadow.

“Snakeroot”, 6×6″, graphite and acrylic on paper, 1999. Sold

Lines can protect the sacred, the private, the personal from the public.  Open, traveling lines explore, closed ones separate, keep safe.

Implied lines blur understanding, strong ones describe structure.  Like ladders, scaffolding.

An ethical line supports both the one and the other.  If drawn with clear intention, such a line can offer a way through conflict to respect, reconciliation.

A good, quiet line, both firm and generous.  Provocatively simple.


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Colour Pages #2: Green, like breathing

Aggression is the other side of green.

AgressiveRed

As a 14-year-old downhill racer I was trained to attack the hill, to ski not just on top of it, but in it. At the same age I was also developing my approach to cello. My first teacher – a passionate violinist who adored Kreisler, who played always from inside the music – would beseech me to ‘stop playing like a girl’.  He deliberately invoked my rage- so I roared.

Bless him.  I might have remained a mouse, hyper aware of my environment and expert at invisibility, had he not prodded the carnivore in me.

GreenlikeChagall

So Mouse found her power.  From there I developed card games in which I could dominate, energetic ways to push and pull inside a debate with family, and learned to love the exhilaration that came with playing the bass line in string trios, duets, and as principal cellist in two orchestras.  For a deeply introspective kid it was a wobbly but decent way to explore my urge to join.

Colour_Urge-to-Join

Later this approach became more sophisticated with my Uni friends and their fine fine clever minds. Even though my intuitive self felt heavy inside the quick of their conversation I could pull and move the feeling in the room with my cello ‘sensibilities’ – anchoring where I chose, releasing when I chose, pulling and pushing the ‘dance’ of it all – though I was not conscious of my manipulations.  I didn’t know I was flexing my silent ‘roar’. I remember inflicting wounds, and feeling bewildered from inside my own invisibility.

I had an understanding that it was proper to be ‘mouse’ when not playing music.

You could call that naive, and it was.  In retrospect I could also call my naiveté an abuse of personal power, since I was – unconsciously – manipulating the human ecosystem without regard for the effects of my ‘flexing’.

Trail2

We all have this story, or a version of it; we travel into our powerful selves only by increments, we learn temperance through experience.  I tell mine here not as a confessional but because it’s a way to feel what green is.

I offer the idea that green is the colour of naiveté, of newness and innocence.  It grows into the colour of strength when tempered with awareness, and nourished by tenderness.  I think we breathe green like forests do, and like leaves do, to filter toxins from the air and drink the sunlight- to feel the deep joy of spirit at peace.

taken September 27th, 5pm.

I offer too that green is the breath that supports the roar of red.

moss like this reminds me of lungs

Some painting notes, then – a technical application of Green in 2-D  painting.

Both green and red are essential in my practise of painting.  I tend to overlap yellows and blues on the page or canvas to make my greens, but the result is the similar, somatically. If I need to I use Hooker’s, Sap, or olive greens, but I avoid opaque greens completely.  (Too many institutions were painted this flat, bad-tasting colour in the ’50s.  I do wonder why.)

Here is a little green artists’ pigment history  – (for more link to this excellent page here).  It’s interesting that for me Emerald Green acts more like crimson on a canvas if used in it’s pure form – and the pigment used by Van Gogh and Cezanne was extremely toxic.  A ‘not-green’, if it’s also rat poison.

Sap Green
Derived from the unripe berries of the Buckthorn shrub. It is highly fugitive, as is a sister-pigment, Iris Green which comes from the sap of the Iris Flower. During the Middle Ages, Sap Green was reduced to a heavy syrup and sold in liquid form. Today’s synthetic Sap Greens are lakes obtained from coal tar.

Emerald Green
Also known as Schweinfurt Green, Parrot Green, Imperial Green, Vienna Green, and Mitis Green, this beautiful but poisonous of pigments was also marketed under the name Paris Green as a rat poison. As a paint-pigment, it was prone to fading in sunlight (an effect which could be reduced in oil paintings by isolating the pigment in between coats of varnish) and also reacted chemically with other colours. For instance, it could not be combined with sulfur-containing colours, like cadmium yellow, vermilion or ultramarine blue, as the mixture resulted in a deep brown colour. However, it had a brilliance unlike any other copper green known to modern chemistry. It is said that Emerald Green was the favourite pigment of the Post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne. In some of his watercolours, thin washes containing the colour have browned, but thicker applications have remained bright green. Van Gogh was another avid user. Modern imitations include “Emerald Green” or “Permanent Green”.


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Forest-maker

I have a little time to say some things that are important to say about my dad, now 81.

oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah.  The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral - climbing them was wild like a circus act.  This replaced them after I left

Oak stairs designed by dad, built by Lou Currah. The ones I climbed to get to my room were spiral – climbing them was wild like a circus act. This is what replaced them after I left

There are some people who are reliable in their ‘rightness’, who – if asked a genuinely perplexing question about human complexity and what to do next – will listen, consider and then dig deeply for an answer.  Without fail, that answer rises out of compassion, intuition and a razor sharp insight into what, to most others, cannot be seen.  My dad had that.  It’s close to mystical for me – what he knows, almost without knowing.

Fireplace - designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973.  Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

Fireplace – designed by dad, and build by an artist-stonemason circa 1973. Back room (to balance the cool dark cave of the schoolhouse), designed by dad, and built by him, my mom and all their friends.

We painted together, when I was a tweener.  It was mom’s idea I think – but a good one.  It means we were terrified together, met our internal demons together, screwed up lots, burned bad pictures regularly, found humility together.  With me, 31 years his junior, he was always the teacher, always suggesting, offering, nudging.  But I knew that we were also partners on the torture road to find-your-place with paint.  I was glad he was with me then and I still am, now.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There's a rightness to this.

from the dark into the light. Designed by Dad. There’s a rightness to this.

While dad and mom were teaching full time, raising my sister and I (which involved the normal feeding, cajoling, suggesting and exploding that parents do, but also gymnastics, piano, cello, spinning and weaving lessons; 2 orchestra rehearsals a week, piano trio rehearsals and concerts; a farm with 24 head of cattle, six goats, twelve chickens, and a half-acre garden), my parents came to every single concert I played.

Dad, in the back, front or corner of every venue, cried joy at me with a wet face beaming.  I didn’t need to look – without seeing him, I felt him there.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country.  My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards,  institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Briar Hill was built in 1867 by colonial scots stonemasons, the year Canada became a country. My parents bought it in 1968 as a decommissioned rural school, complete with desks, a centralized woodstove, a wall of slate blackboards, institution green paint, and big white globe ceiling-hung lights.

Dad was my teacher in  grade 12 french – not a good idea, since I wasn’t academic, and that’s the way he taught.  It was okay though.  He was also careful to carefully mention that my hair looked nice that way every once in a while, when he sensed I might be down.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70's.  The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation.  In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep.  I loved it.

I remember waking up here as a child in the early 70’s. The green ceiling was coming down to make room for 18 feet of elevation. In the mornings I would go into the bathroom and half my face would be covered with plaster dust from overnight sleep. I loved it.

In 2004 dad and I went to Scotland together.  I was shocked to feel myself crying, face wet, as the Glasgow train climbed north into the rising highlands.  We stayed in Oban, and later Campbeltown, where McArthurs are from.  We walked the entire circumference of Kerrera, dad getting faster and faster as the hours of walking went by.  I ran beside him, as I had when I was a child, trying, but not quite able to match his strong stride.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees.  The cornfields I once ran through -  powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests - habitat for deer, birds ... for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken.  Dad is forest-maker.

In his life here, dad has planted thousands of trees. The cornfields I once ran through – powered by joy with my sister- are now pine forests – habitat for deer, birds … for flora and fauna that Used to live there, until the trees were taken. Dad is forest-maker.

Happy fathers’ day, James Robert.  I’m fu’ the ‘nu with love for ye.

 


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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.


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Soil change

These days the greater part of my awareness is below the ground amid the roots of plants I’ve put there  – encouraging them to reach down, to spread through the warm rich mix of compost, loam and peat moss I’ve made for them  – drink drink, feed, grow.

Above ground the signs are good – everyone is standing up tall and strong, producing flowering buds (some for the first time in years) and spreading out as far as possible to catch the sun.

my favourite elm, leafing out again over the north garden

my favourite elm, leafing out again over the north garden

These plants are themselves the meeting point of earth and sun – where miracles occur.  No matter how often I witness this burst of spring growth I’m still astonished by it.

What a will to live and be huge!  What tenacity! – to come out from under three feet of snow and in two short weeks grow from dormancy to golden green and glorious and sweet sweet scent and bloom!

these blossoms are SO heavy - most years their stems can't hold them up, esp after a rain.  Strong stems this year....

these blossoms are SO heavy – most years their stems can’t hold them up, esp after a rain. Strong stems this year….

We exist in partnership, these plants and I.  They cannot choose where they will grow, are entirely reliant upon my attention for this.  Some feel aversion to others and demand to be moved elsewhere.  Some need more space, some need more sun, others less, some more water, some want their roots exposed, other need them deeply covered – I can hear them telling me if I listen properly.  Once they’re settled where they want to be though – the miracles happen – Ah!  What joy.

I believe it is also this way with music education.

celli rehearsing for trio performance in Kiwanis Music Festival this April

celli rehearsing for trio performance in Kiwanis Music Festival this April

Here in this small small town that has witnessed so many big musical triumphs by it’s young musicians, we are in need of a soil change and some enlightened educational planning.  There are very young players who have no access to decent instruments (soil), positive and consistent guidance into proper technique and a regular place to play together (sun).   Very few schools offer string programs now, save for two exceptionally strong programs to the east.  Strings are the heart of any orchestra – without them you can’t play the beautiful classics that so inspire kids to make the world a better place.

OSCVI is a highschool 150 + years old with a rich musical tradition that I am and so many others are a product of – this year the orchestra program at OSCVI was cancelled, for lack of string players.  For me, and for so many others who were enriched by the music from OSCVI, this feels like a sucker punch.

This is not acceptable, to have no school orchestra in this town.

I don’t believe it – that kids don’t want to play stringed instruments anymore.

They are there – the kids who want to play.  They are there, the parents who will support them.  They’re just not getting any sunlight.

Edouard Bartlett - a great gardener of young players.  Photo by John Newton of Ed at Heinl's with a Stradavarius violin, looking cheeky.

Edouard Bartlett – a great gardener of young players. Photo by John Newton of Ed at Heinl’s with a Stradavarius violin, looking cheeky.

We need to change this.  We really really do.  Music allows kids to blossom in a way that academic achievement never will.  In fact, learning to play an instrument well, and in concert with others can only support academic achievement – but this is a by-product.

The real benefit of playing music with your peers is that you learn step into your confidence, accept who you are, respect yourself and others, and learn how to love learning.

Then miracles happen.

Shall we prepare to be astonished?


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Power and comfort

The studio is dark.

I am entirely at peace in this space – made small and comfortable by the light of one candle.  Muffled, intermittent cars drive north or south through slush outside and I stare out my big, arched third floor window at headlights, streetlights, house lights.  The clock ticks like a slow walk.

Epictetus has answered a question I had earlier,

” There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will ”  (translated from the original greek)
Epictetus, AD 55 – AD 135

Tara-free-lunge-Dec-31

powerful Tara, a horse I met on the last day of 2012

Tara is a highly athletic six-year-old purebred Canadian horse who came full of rage to her current owners and would not do as she was asked.  She resisted to the point where she became a dangerous threat to herself and everyone around her.  An old dominant mare at another farm taught her another way to be by insisting for three hours- repeatedly, fiercely, physically –  that she listen to and respect her elders.

These pictures of Tara four years since then show her free-lunging with her incredibly patient 16-year-old owner, and doing everything she’s asked to do … with great sass & personal style.

Power is not a simple thing.  Epictetus also maintains that “Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.”
(taken directly from the page devoted to him in wikipedia – see link above)

A comforting confirmation for Tara and another for me from a greek slave who obtained his freedom and founded a school of philosophy.

Just a note,

I’m glad that Stephen Harper has found a way to respect and meet with the first nations people of Canada.  Too bad it took him 23 days of a hunger strike.