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Recalibration

The piano room is the only space I’ve yet to spend decent working time in, these past three months. It calls me today, teasing out some soundtrack to the observations, the tectonic shifts of spring 2019.

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Gulliver, pinned – on a walk to Old Dublin. There was a narrative series of these set into the wall of a new-ish building along the way.

I’ve spent the last three days going through two months of correspondence I’ve not had time to properly respond to. It feels good to take time for this.

I find myself Printing out photos, too – how strange a thing, now! – of the Ireland chapter, the Lyon Chapter, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh.

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St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

 

Transitional moments as well – the wing of each plane I flew in, dipping into sunlight or through cloud; mountains, fields and neighbourhoods through train windows; the great metal sweep of airports – one (Brussels) with its hallway grand piano, open and waiting to be played.

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For an abundance of reasons I want the memories of this trip to become tactile. I learned this from my artist friend Wes Ryan, who has taught himself to consciously keep the memories he needs to keep alive after a serious concussion made it necessary to do so.

Do I claim an awareness of my own deliberately displaced self, this way, I wonder. Is this a philosophical act. Is this research and preparation for the 2014 painting that awaits transformation into the world of now, in my patient studio? I felt so, when I was there two days ago. I’ll go again this evening.

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en route to Ha’penny Bridge, Dublin

Inner travel while unmoored from the familiar took me farther into uncharted territory than I knew was possible. 19 days gone was just enough for me to see the possibility for still more discovery in a longer trip, with the potential to turn my known world inside-out.

I’m still coming home.

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Garden in Montelupo, Tuscany. We trained it into Florence from there.

I took luggage – a masters completed, rich notes from my generous panel to digest; my father’s dignified, graceful passing and all that he taught me in the last hours we spent alone together; a book mostly written; a talk about the book forming itself out of five months of momentum; some deadlines in the comforting future

…questions about why and how art in this time, where are the resonances that will speak in a bell-tone, what is a good portrait; curiosity about solo travel after 10 years of staying put, geographically speaking. All of this was packed, then unpacked and laid out, then re-packed. Some I used, all I carried. I did find answers, but also more good questions.

I’m still unpacking, will be for years to come.

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Entrance to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A great gallery, full of questions like this one.

Music has the tenderest of beginnings. I’m much better trained to hold fragile visuals in place until I can play with them on paper than to catch the ascending pattern of a new, humming thought. For this little project though, I’m doing what I can to hold a safe and welcoming space for the shy notes to enter.

Am I compelled to this because through all the old and layered of UK and Europe that I saw, there was so little live music? A band of young and old guys playing american dixieland in a city square. A young guitarist playing pop tunes in a Lyon street. The silent grand piano in Brussels Airport.

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One of the astonishing mosaics in Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon.

Thankfully, blessedly, some amazing jams and performances in three Edinburgh pubs that nourished my soul and made me wish I had my cello. (A young cellist did offer me his to play but by that time I’d had three pints). Thank you so very much for this, O Generous Soul, outlaw cousin Nick T!

(the vid below features Nick himself and musician Doug Downie, who later sent me an excellent song he wrote by email – great lyrics, a haunting tune. I’ll make a Canadian version of it & send it back to him)

 

There was the invisible young man singing softly beneath the vaulted ceilings that hold up 13th Century Palazzo Vecchio, Oh my love, my darling… I need your love… Perfect notes that traveled like whispers along the arches.

We all heard him, the harried tourists, the tired shop keepers, guides, security guards and ticket sellers. I swear even the stone lions smiled.

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Late in the afternoon,

Alright, I’ve given Paglia a fair shake, but alas, no. The energy required to sift through her self-aggrandizing provocations to find nuggets of meaningful insight is more than I have to spend, especially when other books beckon. Let it be known that I approached her latest with goodwill and open curiosity, and made it through a full third of the essays and interviews printed therin.

I like the paper the publisher chose. It felt like crisp linen sheets on my fingers as I turned each page. A first for me; the quality of paper upstaged what was printed on it.

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I could not overcome a growing distress over the state of the world as seen through Paglia’s judgemental lens. For me, she misses an interesting examination of the rich complexities of what it is to be human by directing our gaze again and again back to herself, as a kind of Queen of Opinion. I suppose that’s the game of (mostly white) pundits and politicos, as paid by the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, FT, etc… to divide and distract us.

Not playin; I closed her book.

IMG_2631Popova now, in Figuring (2019) introduces me to complex, interconnected humans I’d never hoped to learn about and from in this way – Johannes Kepler, Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Sophia Peabody in the first five dancing chapters alone. I will happily carry her bright yellow book with me until it’s done and my mind is fully changed by it. Likewise with Shotwell’s Against Purity (2016), Tsing et al (Ed)’s Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet (2017), Berger on Landscapes, another on synesthesia, another on natural soundscapes.

 

 

 

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Like a spring filly released into the field, I am without academic harness for the first time in 2.5 years. I can read whatever I want to.

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With gown and hood, I graduate from my masters program, then drive around Southern Ontario (as we do) for 17 hours, to deliver, pick up, visit, revisit.

Before that a week of family and friends, to celebrate the beautiful complexities of my Dad and the resonances he leaves with his passing – another kind of travel, through time and story.

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Before that, 20 days of a journey in and through Dublin, Lyon, Tuscany, Florence, Edinburgh and all the related airports, train stations and car rentals, going backwards through the history of my ancestors, taking note of the ideas and economics and systems that formed their world, centuries ago, in four cultures and three languages.

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May feels like a long run-on sentence I have yet to punctuate properly. It sits in a pile of boarding passes, maps, brochures, museum tickets and restaurant receipts on my dining room table.

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But I am Home, where the plants and the windows, the kettle and the bullet-strong coffee, not latté, cafè latté, espresso or cappuccino, much as I love all of those.

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The park and my patient, glowing studio, the now-opened books, my excellent bed and windows in all directions. My cello out of his case and ready for ritual every morning, the starlings singing through the bathroom window.

Home which feels different because I am different after these journeys that still need punctuation, these travels I still need to claim sense from. All in good time.

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The horizons have been pushed far far beyond what I imagined; the world is impossibly, curiously new. There is plenty of good work to be done here which I’m happy and eager to begin.

…after I read just a little more.