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Songs and spells

I feel wonder this morning, as the sun rises. Sparrows flick by the east facing window but my eyes are glued to the clouds – they shift and change colour like a living watercolour painting. Then they part as if to make space and it’s all blindingly gold for just a few seconds. For a brief spell of time I can see nothing else in the world.

Now the sun’s tucked away, back behind the heavy October blue-grey so I can see my coffee mug again. Reassuringly, the keyboard, the table, treetops above the houses there, some with yellow leaves and just one with branches revealed and articulate, like bone structure.

The flash of sun that suspended all else stays with me though, tucked away behind the calls of time and tasks, a golden light behind a half-closed door.

40 years of watercolour palettes, reclaimed. These three are inherited from my Dad.

Turns out I will not travel north this week, to do a round of back-yard check-ins, to tarp off the cabin deck against the snow, to deliver a commissioned piece. These things will happen mid November now, which seems a lifetime away in these times. Whether it’s because of isolation from CoVid-19 or the work I’ve taken on, or these flashes of wonder, or all that and more, I find the quality of time has changed, quite profoundly, in 2020. Every day feels simple at the beginning and end, but contains full chapters of observation and insight, lessons and epiphanies, choices made.

Was it just yesterday Lisa Koop and I put together a plan for two Wassail winter solstice gatherings at Heartwood Hall?

Yep. Just yesterday, not last week. Huh.

bone structure.

Two days ago I logged in to a Zoom course with David McEown, a superb plein air watercolourist from BC, along with folks from northern US, across Canada and an artist from Sweden. We painted together for three hours, across oceans and borders and time, and I realized I have a great deal of work to do, to reclaim the skill I had at watercolour painting 40 years ago. Daunting. But clearly none of these things are impossible.

The day before that I graduated from an online Adobe After Effects class with Karen from Toronto, Mirelle and Jacinthe from Ottawa and Gatineau. We learned how do to previously impossible things with video and text. This was a simple thing from the first day:

Wonders never do cease, no matter how you hard may resist the cliche. I’m still spellbound by the flash moment with our rising sun, and will be all day now, through the homework in watercolour painting and video animation, the building of Wassails for 2020.

I’m feeling a song or two rising as well, since what the heck? Nothing appears to be impossible, and this little video could use something. Maybe xylophone.

To whomever is reading this, wherever and whenever you are: All my love, truly. May your day be full of wonder and delight.

PS “The Lost Spells” is the name of a new Robert McFarlane book, which is on its way to my door now.

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open windows

Solitude is my natural state as writer and artist; I’m in this 3-year residency to do my work, so I’ve had plenty of it. Monday’s call from Trudeau made complete sense to me: Stay home. We can do this together by staying apart. Let’s help one another with the practicalities of our self isolation, and send love and gratitude to those of us on the front lines.

I’d just spent rich time with good friends and family and felt confident in my ability to function well without regular direct contact with other humans. Take a deep breath, get supplies, and then close the door.

It’s now five days since Trudeau’s initial call out to us, and my news informed gut tells me we’re not even close to the peak of this pandemic. Increasingly now, I feel a deep ache for people who feel solitude as nightmare, for whom alone-ness feels like punishment.

There are some whose life and survival revolves around contact, kindness and direct interaction with others – the elderly, the sick, the differently-abled, the stranded. My heart goes out – were I homeless, where would I find safety and nourishment? Were I struggling with my mental health, where would I find help? How could I stay safe as a prison inmate in Barton Jail, which is currently at three times its capacity?

It’s important that this is empathy, not anxiety. I feel a real sense of wonder that my heart opens more, as our isolation continues. I can see this in other people too – some I know, some I don’t.

I have great solitude muscles, yes, but my gut tells this is a new thing we are dealing with. I can’t get REM out of my head. It is certainly changing me in ways I could not have imagined. As I let go of things I can’t control feel my work harness relax I can feel spaces open up for other things I’d never had the time to consider, or do. Or feel. What if has become What is.

I live here in this lovely apartment with Mia the foster cat who loves that I’m always home. I draw, play cello, I write, read, cook, eat, sleep. Such a great longing in me, for human touch and warmth! I’m surprised by this, which also is surprising. Glad to feel human – ache and curiosity, confusion and shockingly deep love that is capable of flooring me completely. There’s nothing at all I can do about any of this but surrender to it.

Every once in a while I read too much news on the internet, and a little overwhelm creeps in. I’ve learned in this short time to close my laptop and turn off my phone. Draw something, play cello, read a book. Go outside, find an old tree to lean on, listen for the hum. Breathe, notice, expand and love what is. Cry, laugh, allow whatever it is to move on through.

Please reach out if you need someone to talk to. Even if it feels a little uncomfortable at times, keep your heart open. Know that you are loved.

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Inclusion

Drippy Sunday morning; the world outside has shrunk …which appropriately rhymes with Funk, because Funk is precisely what I’m in.

… niggly, prickly snappish me with a million essential things to attend to but instead I chop a fridge full of vegetables and chicken into tiny tiny pieces, beat up a dozen eggs, fry severed onions into carbon, do five sets of loud dishes and answer every question with a maximum of two wedged-out words …

frontPorch_Jan2015

“Mom, can I have a hug?”

Grunt. “May I.”

“….Yes.”

FrontStepJan2015

I don’t know why I’m feeling this way.

While chopping onions I feel grim satisfaction at my power to slice through, to un-make a still-living thing.  While I feel this I think about art and manipulation and rage; growth and green and death which in turn makes more growth and green.

It is possible to smile though a clenched jaw.

buried in this pile is a garbage bag with kitty litter in it that the truck didn't take away, even though it was tagged.  I don't want to think about it.
buried in this pile is a garbage bag with kitty litter in it that the truck didn’t take away, even though it was tagged. I don’t want to think about it.

Of course we are all far too busy for real sanity – what did Norm Bell tell me at the afternoon TOM Gallery opening today… that our generation is the last that has experienced what we now think of as ‘down’ time. (Link to a review of Michael Harris’ book, The End of Absence – thanks Norm)

I do remember, in my bones, what it felt like to be empty of everything but the sky I gazed into, far away from any connection to the rest of humanity or it’s obligations or measurements of my time and effectiveness and function.

I remember the micro sound of a caterpillar chewing leaves beside my head – wondering what the sound was, discovering it’s origin then …wondering in a larger way that I could hear it at all, so small a thing…

BackPorchJan2015

I write from tomorrow about that volatile place I was in. It has taken me to my studio, where I wake to the clutter of promise, the smell of colour, the yearn and memory of cello.

I know what to do, when yesterday I did not [I will dig into paleontology and paint artifacts]. Yesterday in the storm of my own inexplicable rage I felt battered and almost violently unexplained.  At the gallery in a crowd of people I know well I felt awkward, too-strong and my words, like a pack of battling cousins came out sideways, fist or feet-first.  Yesterday it was next to impossible to find compassion.

I’ve read somewhere recently about the making of art that it comes from these places of unexplained pain, answers the pain through process, then tells the story.  This could be so, for those who must make art, must make, must … self-provoke?

I miss this.
I miss this.

I do love winter.  We get more beautiful winters here than anywhere else in this vast province, (larger than France and Spain, combined).  Perhaps it was the melting of the white into dirty brown that set me off unexpectedly, traversing the landscape through my own unstable lava fields.  I know I’ve been missing green, and gardening, but I strongly suspect that there’s more to my rancour than this.

I have a day in my studio to paint, to practise and to tick things off the long list.  Another tomorrow, then Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday afternoon we will travel to Toronto to visit with good friends, and on Saturday I will visit the Zoo, which is wonderfully peaceful in the wintertime.

I’ll say hello to the river otters for you,

river otter
river otter