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Pivot

So much anxiety.

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Even here, in this small town Shire-like piece of Ontario, we dutifully find our regular dose of Fox news or its equivalent so we can chew on our worry in a bizarrely informed way.

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If not Fox or Sinclair and the suspicious smell of fascism, or the use of our tax dollars to bail out yet another oil pipeline through the wilderness project, then about Stan the heavy-bearded wanderer toasting muttered anarchy with Listerine; about the goose wandering alone for a month in the open field; the pencil thin young woman entering then leaving the methadone clinic to the profit of some private business person who would rather she stay addicted.

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The young, ballcapped man, tight with sloppy rage, yanks an aging woman out of a broken down house, her shirt still open to a tan-coloured pushup bra.  Every window in the house is smashed.

Here in the shire, on my way to the store for cream.

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We share our news in the bank lineup, the grocery store, the gas station like chatter over an undertow of unease… is any belief system, economic system, political system, educational system not showing signs of extreme erosion, even as others crumble?

It’s not just the climate that’s changing (…weather’s odd for this time of year, doesn’t feel right….).

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Today a friend asked, “What do you know for certain?”.  About anything, she meant.  Gave me pause.

I said that I suspect I have a working theory about how things change, but certainly no certainly.

Whatever work I’ve been able to accomplish – internal and external – in these past few years has been a more or less messy mobius of intention, action, and reflection.  All three balanced and juggled like plates or knives, never still, never dropped.  But this is abstract.

Think.  Choose.  Do.  Think again.  Do differently, Think.  Choose again. et cetera.

My working theory is that, A) pivot points occur only in the doing. 

B) well-considered doing (not just ‘busy-ness’) is an effective antidote to worry.


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Dear snow,

…dear Minus 25 Degrees Celsius, dear 70 km ph Winds and your Death-chill-Factor,

what the wind makes out of snow

Thank you for finding a way to freeze a substantial part of the city’s water system – at the very point in our heavy winter when we collectively agree to become grumpy that the world is not green and growing.

The first birds have come north, singing thinly in the cold, but – singing!  Each is reported like an omen and we fear for their lives in the brutal crunch of minus 35.  Then the temperature rises a few degrees to minus 12, skies clear to reveal blue sky yellow sun and we shed our coats in celebration, only to heave them on again a few hours later when the wind bites into minus 20, (feels like minus 38) again.  We each want to stay in bed under blankets or max their VISA on an unplanned trip to Cuba NOW.  Sweaters are coveted for warmth not style and thick woolen socks worth double their weight in gold…

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This year there’s a deeper freeze to contend with.  For the first time in at least one generation, possibly two, we the city folk need to contend with what the country folk have known forever, that we are not entitled to comfort without appreciation, warmth without work, nourishment without conscious, proactive, collaborative effort.  All the automatic things we do – toilets, bathroom sinks, bathrubs and shower stalls, kitchen sinks, kettles, glasses, pots for boiling, living potted plants – all of these require replenishment from a source that is now dry and frozen.  We actually need to think about … how water?  Where water?  Need water.

Third-floor roof of the studio building.  Looking Southwest across the harbour

Third-floor roof of the studio building. Looking Southwest across the harbour

We of the four seasons climate are frozen deeply into this cold place where nothing flows, where movement requires effort, just when we would normally be feeling the ebb of winter…

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Instead we now know just a little more about our small city’s system for water into tap – the pipes, the flow, the people, the equipment, the efficacy.  We have some time to think about it, since this isn’t going away fast.

We share our resources, our houses, our bathrooms, showers and sinks.  We’re crying Discomfort! but also I think we whisper appreciation for the ones out there all night in feels like minus forty whose job it is to pit themselves against weather and harsh, and try to fix, try to fix, try

Spring seems like years away.  But it will come and all of this will transform into a story we will tell and tell again.  Remember the end of February 2015…?

I want to thank you, Snow, Cold and Wind, for all of this.

When in six weeks I stand t-shirted and digging in my garden I shall think of the winter show of 2014-15.

And I shall miss you.

 


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Lift out

These days begin in darkness and wet.

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We live in multiple layers of clothing against the cold damp of constant seeping rain, walk under umbrellas, and peek out from under shelter until some blue sky appears.

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Then we breathe the blue and the coloured leaves, and roll in the damp ones underfoot.  We go to the flashing streams, the roaring falls, the pounding waves and we exult

..until the rain and the cloud and the pounding wind bring us under and in again.

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These times.  Pressured, heavy, challenged, shifting.  Some of us don’t have dancing feet.  Some have not learned to swim.

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Two days ago in Ottawa a man died on Parliament hill.  He suffered from serious mental illness  – serious enough that he found himself a gun and  shot another man who worked as a soldier there.  I grieve for both men, whom we, in our culture, have failed to see clearly.

Poem for Michael Zehaf-BibeauMichael Zehaf-Bibeau, for Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist, and for every single one of us who struggles with addiction and mental illness, in sorrow for this:

Broken Voice
September 24: studio

Thought can re-write history, she says
Meditative thought influences the order of things
Orders them more neatly so there’s less damage done.
and there’s the
small voice the difficulty
swallowing
the closed throat mid-
sentence, the little
alarms shot with adrenaline
the subtle gagging that
no one notices but
There’s no problem. Who

…said there was a
problem?  Mental Illness is only
addiction is only
another form of terrorism-
We just need more Security and

I think I caught something in
the subway – just a virus it
comes and goes it’s
not
permanent.

…something about bare feet, walking
about not leaving prints behind,
and if you do your feet print
history

I’m looking at them now,
the prints
but I can’t read
I’m not sure what happened.  Or how…?

I just want to drink an ocean of alcohol
passive-watch movies that siphon rage
go to classical concerts full of fury, listen to poets
who have found something
to let somebody else do the darkness
the refined, articulate hurt that they’ve managed to
filter through all of their exhausted bewilderment how
can I

Impotent. Invisible. I just want to sleep. only sleep.
it’s taking every ounce of my strength
to resist the rampage,
The terrible roar in me.


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Swimming in Music

Rehearsing and conversing with the highly engaged and engaging pianist Marc Pierre Toth and composer Richard Mascall last night, the day after dinner with pianist, singer-songwriter, electronic artist and visual artist and dear dear friend Kati Gleiser – and snowshoeing with her today.  Talk  – of Shanghai, Japan, Hannover, my neice Anna in Germany, The Toronto Maple Leafs, music music, school, beer, beef, Kung Fu, Shaolin & Soccer, Poetry, Redwood trees screaming, Ted Burtynsky, the Job of art-making and presenting, Eco villages and how long it takes to make zuccini loaf while staying in one, Toronto Cafes & dances, technology as a tool, not a device to facilitate avoidance….

I feel just like this looks.

I feel just like this looks.

Through all of this plays Beethoven 5th Piano concerto, Mendelsohn violin concerto, Tchzaikovsky, Dvorak – which the Youth Orchestra presents to the folk of Owen Sound at the Roxy Theatre Wednesday evening, and the divine music of Sarah Slean, who I get to rehearse and play with on Thursday. Now there’s a lady chock full of joy and purpose – I am so looking forward to this.

This week is a collaboration to wake up the world.


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Fig Leaf on a Snow Day

Open-faced and shovel-sore, I stare out the window at a thousand-thousand demons of whirling, whipped snow.  I think about beauty, and the job of art.

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out the window I write by – add whirling dervish snow demons & you get the picture

If there can be a line we take towards healing the terrible distortions of our belief systems, I think it must be drawn by artists.  There can be no measured, scientific path through the strata of abuses we have inflicted upon ourselves for generations  – it must come from a place of feeling and listening and responding.

Artists, writers, composers, musicians, actors, directors, curators, editors, publishers, conductors are by nature steeped in the human mystery, and of necessity highly skilled in creative problem-solving.  These are the people who need to serve here  – to acknowledge our collective rage, our worry, our sorrow and our sense of betrayal, and to answer with compassionate, edgy work that stirs the pot.

same plant as mine - beautiful thing that can grow to 40 feet tall

fiddle-leaf fig tree

The fig plant leans like love toward the light.

I admire this plant and do my best to encourage its growth,  but as I observe it in the pause of today I hear deep-embedded, unbidden moral whisperings:  The forbidden fruit of  knowledge.  Nakedness and shame.  Banishment from Eden.  Original Sin. 

Ack.

The Holy Roman Church has a lot to answer for – including the pirating of a fig leaf’s raison d’etre, and the placing of said moral reference in my mind. But the more nefarious cultural distortion is far far worse – must we – is it in ANY way appropriate and helpful that we should be so ashamed of our own naked selves?

How much damage has this caused – this shame of being who we are?  How can we accomplish anything of value if at the core we believe have no goodness of our own?  Early in my life I read about and far preferred the material written by the early Gnostics, who were persecuted by the Church because they felt that God resides within each of us, and our true purpose in life is to understand ourselves in this context.  Elaine Pagels is a good source for this discussion – see “The Gnostic Gospels” here

These moral seeds of unworthiness and shame have been sown deeply, and have more roots than we can imagine.  To present just one example of many,  permit me to ask  how the Church of Scientology could even pretend to exist if the Holy Roman Church had not preceeded it?

I just watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” (excellent UK review here), then dug a little more into YouTube for recordings of L.Ron Hubbard, South Park’s explanation of the Scientology core belief system, and some interviews with current Scientology Leader’s niece who has defected, thereby breaking her billion-year contract with the church which she signed at age 7.  Said neice and others who have gone clear of Scientology report that the Church sells it’s prospective members the idea of true individuality and success but relies upon strict and often violently reinforced rules of conformity.  Keep your members weak and fearful and make sure they toe the line.  A proven formula.

It’s incredible what large numbers of people can believe in if they are compelled and taught early enough, or if they are desperately lost in addiction and need help – that the birth mother of Jesus was a virgin, for example, and Mary Magdalene was not one of the apostles (even though she authored a gospel) she was just a prostitute.  If you suspend your belief, just for a moment, it’s interesting to wonder where these ideas came from.

Even if you provide ample room for miracles, which do happen, the biographical treatment of Eve, Mary and Mary (not to mention the horror of the witch hunts) speaks to an attitude towards women by the old Christian Church which is decidedly short-sighted and …. abusive, shall we say?  So how does this play out, over 2013 + years?

I look at a fig plant…..

Reba says: "you're kidding, right?"

Reba wonders about this too.

We are all of us increasingly culpable and exposed in the blight of industrial wastelands,  in the hypocrisy and greed of the Big Bank Boys and their Corporate/Political allies.  In the stories of people with mental illness who live anonymously on the street or in closets, who inexplicably fail at school, who are incarcerated after being pushed beyond their limits – we recognize our own bewildered selves.

It’s hard to look, but it has nothing to do with shame, though maybe that’s what got us here.  Love, now – and compassion holds some promise.  I do think Jesus had many things right, depending of course on which version of the bible you’re reading – see Elaine Pagels on the Gospel of Thomas (the Doubter?  or maybe just a healthy skeptic), which was NOT included in the Biblical texts (Beyond Belief – the Secret Gospel of Thomas)…

ahh.

ahh…

I’m glad for this snow day.  Glad for the whirling demons outside, the fig tree and the wood fire that warms my back, and the time to layer these ideas one over the other & watch which questions emerge.  It has inspired me to write dangerous poetry.  To continue to make art that is slightly uncomfortable and looks straight in the eye of forbidden questions.  To play play play music with all the beautiful rage and rebel that I can muster…

So happy Friday, all.  Sad for you if you didn’t get a snow day.  I hope you get one soon.


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White.

Our covenant with Winter:  that there will be space and time to contemplate, to examine and re-examine,  to be still.  In the rich pianissimo of deep snow, quiet things sing their subtlety, small things hold great significance, and you can see the wind.

I cannot imagine a life without this.

The tops of tall trees at Cyprus Lake in 2009. I keep using this photo because I love it so – you can see the shape of the fierce northeasterly winds that year.  The trees are bent like frost giants, trudging impossibly up a mountain…

I awake with the phone yelling in my ear (wrong number)- it’s 6:30am, cold, and still dark.  I stumble into routine and before I know it, the cats have been fed, the coffee is made, and I am waking while I read something random.  As the light rises to fill the window in front of me a thought-nugget registers – it’s a quotation from George Santayana (Life of Reason (1905) vol. 1, Introduction):

” Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim “

They’re good words.  Enough to shock me awake….but we all have to sometime.  Stay with me.

….

Santayana has the right of it – and not just for religious extremists, but also for myself and everyone I know.  It behooves me then, to remember Why I’m doing what I’m doing – while I’m doing it.  This is not so easy a thing when I have the bit in my teeth (these past two weeks for example).

There’s now a foot of snow in our laneway – enough to resist the sun today and stay with us. I exult in my boots, my gloves and coat. After last winter (which was not), I am so grateful for the white.

I dig a little into George S.  In vol. 4, ch.3 of the same work he says,

An Artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.

Another thought that requires at least one hundred thousand chews.

whouff. I think that’s the word.

Then in chapter 8 of that voluminous work he says,

Nothing is really so poor and melancholy as art that is interested in itself and not in its subject.

Ah.  Is this why I struggle?  Or do I struggle to unwind the meaning here?  Semantic brain rises….

again: whouff.

But it is now 8, and I must leave off to begin the moving part of my day.  Kid to school, load in to studio, copy, cut & tape the 12-page choir piece for string player functionality (Friday rehearsal, Sunday gig), practise – but damn, I left my cello at home, go get it.   At 11:30, good friend Larry Jensen comes to rehearse for a gig we play together in a week (see below).  After five minutes of work on the first tune (a tricky, subtle, soaring instrumental that L wrote), I forget George & his chewables completely.  After the fourth song Larry plays for me (brand new, soft & hushed like winter) I’m wiping tears from my eyes, overcome.  We keep working,   I learn my parts, we tweak & pull, then some more and some more, and then we are done. 
I’m more than done actually.  I am entirely certain that I no longer need to do any work today (after 11 hours of string trios with the youth orchestra kids this past weekend and more teaching/coaching last night, that’s all the gas I have in my tank):  home, to light the woodstove.
That done, and a few other things besides I come back to this page to find that my trolling this morning also caught this from George Eliot (1819- 1880):
I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music.  It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain.  Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.
How utterly appropriate is that?  Two Georges, one day.
So now the woodstove is roaring behind me and the window in front is dark once again.
‘night all.
(see below for more info on next tuesday’s gigs).
PS.  if you are here in town and can come to this show at the Bleeding Carrot, please do.  These are rare nuggets of timeless beauty, and the more of us that gather to share the more the memory will glow.  The juice you need to make it so is at the bottom of this post.
Earlier on the same night I mark World AIDS day at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound with my friend Richard Mascall and possibly one or two other special incredibles.  Here’s the link for that  – come & observe the brief vigil with us, or take a few moments on your own to think about everyone we lost, those who bore witness to their deaths, and those who still carry the virus.
You’ll notice an overlap in times – the venues are not far apart, and I will be in both places.


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Red?

A black squirrel just yelled at me for 3 straight minutes while hanging upside-down on the trunk of a downtown spruce tree.

Was that because I was reading a book about Jungian psychology while sitting in a red car and wearing a red sweater?  It can’t have been for no reason whatsoever, so it must have been the book and the car and the sweater – unless…

Perhaps the squirrel was responding to the residual weird and murky energy roiling around the event that had occurred just before – while reading in my red car and my red sweater I was parked temporarily halfway on the curb, with my hazard lights flashing.  A young mom and dad passed by pushing a stroller, and he said, forcefully, “GOOD BOOK?”  then repeated the same thing over his left shoulder as they walked on (he was striding deliberately – his back decidedly ‘Up’).  I nodded, slightly bewildered, then realized he actually meant what he said next, “why don’t you leave some room for people like us to walk on the sidewalk next time?”  – this accompanied by a look intending to wound and intimidate.  Mom of kid smiled nervously at him, as if to witness his strength in the face of such a red, immovable object as I.  I believe I could hear her thinking, though I could be wrong – “I should like him for this?”.

I responded to his request by moving my car into a driveway, wonderingly.  Then the squirrel started in….

So in retrospect, I don’t think it was the Jungian Psychology book, although the dad did call attention to ‘book’.  Maybe the squirrel objected to Jung – alas, I fear I will never know.

I think it was the colour red.  And the fact that the person I was providing a ride for was 13 minutes late, which I was aware of, even though said person had requested the ride with some urgency.

So perhaps the red was actually glowing warm in the sky above the car [though I don’t think I was that frustrated], and the dad’s Red saw and recognized my Red, so we engaged in a Red conversation?

Red calls to Red?  Is this the way wars and feuds are seeded  – so innocently –  a warm spot that accidentally ignites some hot repressed rage that needed only the smallest thing to ignite?

hmmm.  I am so NOT interested in fighting anyone.  Especially squirrels.

So, all ended well.  Angry dad’s ire was diffused (though I think he’d rather have fought me) when I parked my car, and the squirrel stopped yelling and ran up his tree when my passenger arrived and got in.

I drove said ride-ee to destination, and then came back to my studio, wonderingly.

hmmm.

Moral, so far:  Be careful with Red.  No pointing.

Happy Wednesday all.  I recommend Blue.