I had such a great plan, before CoVid-19 changed us. A working car-trip across Canada to Banff residency in the summer or fall (Banff is of course now closed, all programs cancelled into early fall), an artist residency in the Shetland Islands for a month, where the shore meets the land and the land calls to my soul. A beautiful story of seeking out my ancestral story, rooted in Scotland, but so deeply connected to Canada. A working study of the migrations of people, because of poverty, climate, famine, colonialism – humans move constantly now, as water does.

If water stops moving, it stagnates. This is rare though, since water will eventually find a way to flow even if through evaporation, then into rain. People are like that too, by nature. It’s my observation, so far at least, that humans will eventually find a way to transform themselves and their circumstance – in some direction. Those who don’t are the most miserable.

If ever there was a recipe for simultaneous, global human transformation, this would be it, right now. Here we are in week four of self-isolation, and all our outer quests have become inwardly turned questions. We’re all on a new level of RIGHT NOW: parents full time with their kids, partners full time with all the fault lines in their relationship; writers full time with their blocks (and no cafe’s to write in); siblings with their mutual woundings; extroverts climbing the walls and narcissists in denial.

I’m on my own, with a foster cat. Not a problem, I say, in the first week. I’ve been in self-imposed isolation for a over a year here in Hamilton – a city where I know perhaps three people socially. In the second week I get lost in news, definitely stagnant, as the truth sinks in and statistics climb.

In week three I realize how wide open and vulnerable I am in this solitary space. I’ve become deeply grateful for Cat’s presence and companionship, since I miss simple touch beyond what I could have imagined. I realize how relational I am, and how I must now relate meaningfully with ME – there is no one else, no one else is coming. I can’t hide from my own gaze; my heart, my ache and my joy is all right there on the table (or the floor, depending). There’s a lot I can see that I love, but also much that I’m deeply, richly uncomfortable with. In my bones I know that this long isolation is going to change me, permanently.

I am afraid – of everything I can sense but don’t understand. Then I realize I’m okay. Safe, just not in control. Thank heavens for the old trees in Gage Park. I lean on them, and into them.

It’s in week three that I go back into the studio. I’ve been avoiding it but now the building is closed to the public, and very few people are there working. What a relief, to be stretching those muscles, flowing again. After some good forward motion with my commission work I try out the online instructions* for a DIY cloth face mask, on a whim – not difficult, even for a pretend sewer.

I have a great old 1956 Singer and plenty of black and white thread; I see the stash of batik fabric I’ve been hauling around for three years and there’s enough to make a modest social media gesture – I will make and send a cloth face mask to you gratis if you need one – PM me your address & colour preferences.

I Imagine making ten or so, perhaps 20 over the next week, but over the next 3 days I receive orders for 100. Donations too – generous ones – to cover the cost of making and delivering. Orders continue to come in steadily, every day.

The first 12 are urgent – high-risk friends and family. I make them – oh so slowly, in retrospect – then drive 3 hours north to deliver them, personally, invisibly: I’m outside your house right now, will leave in your mailbox.

Home late the next evening I’m feeling overwhelmed by the response. …so okay, but what about my other work? and how do I triage these orders, from front line delivery folk to L’arche workers to Factory workers to people with high risk health issues and wow everyone in my family needs these too… What ARE the delivery costs, then? No idea. Orders from BC, Quebec, and five cities in Ontario so far – I did say anywhere, didn’t I. Damnit.

I figure out a system that could fulfil 100+ orders in a relatively short time, and learn how to be more efficient. I also figure out that if I want to to keep making and sending these masks, I need to cover my costs in this time of no-income. Inspired by Hamilton’s hugely successful 541 Eatery and Exchange I build a model whereby those who can afford to donate are given a pay-it-forward figure – one that will make the project sustainable for me (tho not profitable, on principle), and also include a percentage towards a mask for someone who needs it but is financially stretched, for whatever reason.

Orders keep coming in.

didn’t take pictures today, but here’s a pre-isolation Toronto photo from February. Seven weeks ago.

In Toronto this afternoon I drive past familiar and loved places, now closed and inaccessible. Old apartments, my beloved B&B, Dufferin and College, Parkdale, Queen East. Two masks there (high risk), three here (high risk), two more there (front line worker). The streets are like ghosts.

I’m still working on the Water/ Human Migration research project. I’m collecting tree stories from people (that’s another post). I’m working with these marvellous commissions which teach me more than I’d ever imagined a project could – so very appropriate to now.

And I’m making cloth face masks, too, for whomever needs them.

If you need a cloth face mask (or a few), please write to me here: keira@keiramcarthur.ca. I would be happy and honoured to make and send what you need. If you are able to donate, the minimum suggested donation is $10 per mask. $20 pays for someone else who is stretched and some delivery costs… etc. $200 which pays it forward to a bunch of people, and their mask deliveries (thank you thank you to the generous person who did this – I just ordered more supplies with your help). Wait time depends on the triage – health risks and front line workers are top priority – I’ll give you an estimate for when you can expect them.

*If you’d like to make your own, then Hooray!! Here’s the link to the instructions I’m using: https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Cloth-Face-Mask/. I like it because the masks are reversible (fashion or mood options – black or pink today?), there’s a sturdy nose wire (mine require pliers to bend and anchor nicely on the face), they require high thread count cotton or cotton / poly (which I have a fair amount of) and most importantly, they are hand-washable – so, re-useable.

I resist the obviousness of GPS as a tool to locate, navigate, identify.  Most interesting to me is when GPS is wrong, as in the case this spring when a K-W woman, travelling in deep fog at the tip of the Brice Peninsula, drove her car into Georgian Bay instead of the Hotel parking lot.

tap water filling the bucket I used to water my garden every day, in this dry dry summer we had

There are so many other ways to identify that have more meaning, make more sense. They pull from deeper source data to inform us about identity.  Navigation there is not by straight, measurable lines.

very simple shore cabin where I spend several summer weekends this year. This is Georgian Bay, at the mouth of the "sound" that leads to Owen Sound, where I live and work
This is Georgian Bay, at the mouth of the “sound” that leads to Owen Sound, where I live and work.

I live in a place surrounded by water.  It rains and snows more here than any other place in Ontario.  Travel by car in any direction and you’ll find a river (likely with a waterfall), a lake Great or small, a creek or stream – in less than fifteen minutes.

Jones Falls, Owen Sound
Jones Falls, Owen Sound

My mother’s family has lived here for six generations before me.  The (scots) paternal side of her family was famous for their foundry, where they made enormous propellers for lake and ocean-going ships “At one time, [Kennedy’s] supplied propellers for about ninety-five percent of marine traffic on the Great Lakes” (Grey Roots Museum and Archives).  Water people.  Industrialists.

a brass replica of a Kennedy Propeller pattern. I'm using this as reference for a series of paintings.
a brass replica of a Kennedy Propeller pattern. I’m using this as reference for a series of paintings.

Mom’s Maternal side (Pennsylvania Deutch – descendants from German refugees of the 100 years war) not so famously made ladies’ hoisery, employing 200 women at a time when women were organizing to get the vote. A great great great uncle of mine fought for the North in the American civil war; we are making a book of his letters home at the moment.  Dependable people. Steady.

It is in that factory building, on the third floor NE corner, where I have kept a painting/music studio these past eight years.

studio a couple of years ago

My parents are retired (and excellent) Highschool English teachers saturated by music, literature and art (Mom – ARCT Piano, Toronto Conservatory; Dad a painter of landscapes and literary references).  My daughter is now twenty, mostly fluent in Japanese, studying modern languages and international studies at U of Ottawa.


I had a mentor and teacher as a young music student who was fierce like a grandfather to me.  As a young man he used to play violin like Fritz Kreisler in my Great Grandmother Kennedy’s parlour for the WCTU ladies. He later played at my parent’s wedding and made both of my cellos, the first of which was just returned to me last summer after 14 years. (link to that blog if you click on the picture I believe)


Instead of studying cello at Laurier at age seventeen I chose to study Visual Art at York University.  Somehow I felt that the formal study of music would ruin my love for the pure joy of playing it.  I will never know if I was right, but I’ve also never regretted the decision.  I’ve been able to do both in my life and love them equally. Each practise informs the other I’ve found, so I teach musicians how to draw and it makes them better players.


It is this very thing that has led me to a Masters in Community Music – at Laurier, where I chose NOT to study music performance 35 years ago.  I love the way life travels us back to ourselves.

This 2015 Canadian election.

I don’t want to know how many hours I’ve spent online trying to write through and responding to ‘stick with the brand’ thinking, or the conversations that possibly should have been more focused on personal issues.

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Ring the bells that still can ring…

At the beginning of each day I tear myself from Guardian articles and online debates about the pros and cons of strategic voting and move on to more immediate and practical things, like building the integrity and health of my meagre artist’s income:  details about rehearsals and performances, venues and instruments, music part distribution, class schedules and coaching in schools, cello practise and pedagogical research about teaching; the development of a new art course about Line, Light and Colour in time for folks to make Christmas gifts; the development and manifestation of new functional art for the November Studio Tour; at home, gathering up fall bounty and cooking/freezing soups, stews, stock for the winter, putting Summer into the back shed…

...forget your perfect offering...
…forget your perfect offering…

To not attend to these things would be to exhibit a total lack of self respect.  But I’m aware that the current reward at the end of each day is permission to engage wholeheartedly in the process of this election, which grows more and more like a comic book each day.

The personal is political.  In this 2015 National Election Canada struggles to reclaim, rebuild and then manifest our Self Respect, while the world watches.

...there's a crack - a crack in everything...
…there’s a crack – a crack in everything…

I fully intended to use these days in my studio to work on the #Water project, but this election has changed my mind.

The Massie Hall #Water show has been postponed until April 2016, when the ice cracks and the streams flow again after our long long freeze.

Instead of a Massie Hall show in November, I’m opening my studio to show new work, inspired by the election, by Canada, the state of the world, and by Leonard Cohen.  That will be on November 28, we’re thinking (several artists will be involved), and you’ll hear more details from me soon.

...that's how the light gets in. L.Cohen, 'Anthem'
…that’s how the light gets in.                                       L.Cohen, ‘Anthem’

I’m alarmed that we have come to this, in Canada, in my beautiful riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound.  I want to be represented regionally by a states-woman, who can articulate my concern to Ottawa, about Truth and Reconciliation with First Nations people, about the toxic distortion of human governance that is Bill C-51, about climate change and the development of clean energy sources, about access to our own locally grown food, about poverty and dignity and full support for the arts in this country.  Our Beloved CBC under threat via TPP.  Our Beloved lakes, streams and waterways sold to China through FIPA.

I’m painting ships bells that call all hands on deck.  They will be hung at The Bean Cellar in Owen Sound the week after my studio tour, on December 4.  I’ll be posting them here in process until then.

Please Canada.  Election day is tomorrow.

Please vote for Self-Respect.