Monday, April 29, 2013

Be Dare and Bare

In our backyard shop-artroom, I am working on a mosaic for our Copper River cabin; a stylized salmon spawning scene that is played out year after year when the reds run aplenty, and we are blessed with the bounty of the catch. A few more months of cutting, shaping and molding until the piece is complete & ready for installation.

Because so many ideas and projects get backed up in my shop, I feel compelled to assign a completion date so I can move on to the next piece. What I've discovered lately is the fun of working on multiple projects at once; if the creative juices begin to lag on one, I can crossover onto another for a while and go back and forth between painting and cutting glass.

I listen to music often, noting lines from favorite tunes and writing them on the walls (no worries; the walls are unfinished and meant to be scribbled on) as I'm dancing about from light table to glass grinder to work bench. So I had the idea of extracting lines from some of my favorite songs, and doing a sketch or painting or collage to match the mood and content.

One day I was viewing art in a local gift shop when I saw my idea being played out...well, almost. The artist rendered lines from various songs in a cornucopia of fonts, each one attractive and unique. Fonts have their own reach and beauty ( )
and designers from all over the world are happy to share their creations with crafters and 
artists. It's captivating how a font in and of itself can carry so much emotional weight.

Back to my idea of taking a song line and crafting a piece of art. Spontaneity is key...listen, feel...turn up the volume, listen some more and then paint, draw, collage.

"The bittersweet between my teeth, trying to find the in-between..." is from the song, Young Blood by The Naked and Famous. I am indebted to my adult children for continually keeping me in step with their generation of music. I absolutely love these guys. Ah, youth.

"What a shot you could be if you could shoot at me with those angry eyes..." from the song Angry Eyes by Loggins and Messina. An oldie's favorite. Grrr.

"And it's good and it's true, let it wash over you..." from the song, River's Edge by Great Lake Swimmers. Their music is down-to-earth and ethereal at the same time.

"Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup..." from the song, Across the Universe sung by Fiona Apple. I admit, I like Fiona's version better than Lennon's (blasphemy!)'s mellow and hauntingly dreamy.

Live vibrantly, not perfectly. Dare to bare it, as Jan Phillips says. Her inspirational words of wisdom never fail to provide guidance:

"We are healed by creation and the creation of others. We are healed when we transform the events of our lives into other shapes that can be of use---into stories and poems, music and films."

David DiSalvo offers a more straight forward thought on the human heart's longing to create: 

"Anyone who says 'I don't have a creative bone in my body,' is seriously underestimating their skeleton. More to the point, they are drastically undervaluing their brain. Creativity is an integral part of being human, and to deny its expression is like denying the expression of other crucial human elements that we intuitively realize we'd be miserable without."

Or, on a lighter note, consider Albert Einstein: 

"Creativity is simply intelligence having fun."

And there is always more room for fun in this world.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Never Just Rain

Far off. In a field, I am running toward a river. My dog flailing at my side. Camera slung around my neck; snow crunching under my boots, patches of sheer delicate ice flattened with each footfall. 

Out of breath. Over land. Sun crusted on uneven ground I stumble and angry tears come and I don't know why except to think that the world is brushing up too close to my skin. The evocation of lacy ice and silver snow is beautiful, isn't it, and yet it is never just beauty but something crushing and shattering and annihilating just like it is never just rain, but something with the potential to drench and drown. What lies beneath the loveliness are unbearable aberrations: attractive well-educated boys with bombs in their backpacks or holy, abusive two-faced priests who never serve justice; beauty and beast, gorgeous and ugly, foxy charmers that delude over and over, again. Words never and always are just as impossible to convey how I feel dragged through the mud on this perfect day under a brilliant sun, far off in a field running toward a river, moving carelessly, skirting obstacles and landing on my knees, fallen down.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

To Be Present with Suffering

"When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool."    (chinua achebe)

For the past couple weeks, I have been with my brother who is recovering from a serious and extremely painful illness. I've never known pain this severe...necessitating morphine, just a step away from heroin.  His anguish and suffering is beyond words. 

Why is this happening? Why, God? he has asked in the throes of his nightly cries. Fortunately he has a loving caregiver who never leaves his side, and encourages his recovery in a million different ways, both big and small. He is making progress, albeit slowly, and we make it a point to celebrate each new achievement: walking a few more steps each day, sitting upright in a chair without pain, pouring a cup of coffee. Two steps forward, one step back...his progress is gritty, hard-earned and somewhat difficult to sustain.

What is suffering? Is it a revelation of God's presence and love, and an expression of his desire to mine a deeper spiritual connection? Is suffering a ladder to the god of our understanding, a way to plunge deeper into one's soul? Does intense and prolonged pain create greater empathy and compassion in the one who experiences its depths? 

Is suffering a message of love? Do the trials that one endures serve to grow and perfect one's character? 

How we fill the hole that is created by our pain and distress is in our own hands; it cannot be any other way. Some say every deep disappointment in our lives serves to draw us even closer to the ones we love; to let down hardened walls of emotion and soften our hearts. There are no clean and easy answers. In the meantime, we continue to pray. Be silent. Laugh at his silly puns (it's a revelation when humor penetrates pain). Listen to his beloved music. Enjoy the lively conversation of friends who visit.

Suffering has knocked on my brother's door, and it will not leave for the asking. In a way, there is nothing he can do but wait to get well as he negotiates the hills and valleys of his protracted illness. In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron says: "Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us."

My brother's body may be in pain, but it is clear to me his indestructible heart, though vulnerable is still vivid, whole, and abundantly alive.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Story About the Body

A Story About the Body   -Robert Hass

The young composer, working that summer at an artist's colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. 

He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she was amused, or considered answers to his questions.

One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you I have had a double mastectomy"

and when he didn't understand, "I've lost both my breasts."

The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity--
like music--withered, very quickly, and he made himself look
at her when he said,
"I'm sorry. I don't think I could."

He walked back to his own cabin through the pines,
and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the
porch outside the door.

It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found
when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top;

the rest of the bowl--
she must have swept them from the corners of her studio--
was full of dead bees.

Photo location: Charlotte, N.C.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ways of Seeing: An Alaskan Disptach

"Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden." -Phaedrus

I hear the spring birds raising a ruckus in the trees, singing with the coming of longer light-filled days and fertile ground, but my outer landscape is still covered with dismal old snow and undecided ice; ice that melts into puddles and drips from roof eaves, only to re-harden six hours later. Repeated freeze frames, of sort.  The official day of spring has passed on the physical calendar, but underneath my feet lies dense frozen ground. Jealousy rises in my heart as I view on-line photographs of a friend's deep red poppies blooming on a backdrop of fertile green ground. 

Rather than pine, I decide to work with what I have, noticing texture, light, and visual patterns rather than color. My outer world consists of neutrals: black, white, sand, and gray, with a touch of blue ice and sky. I discover that beauty can indeed be seen in the banal and unspectacular: snow, rock, ice, and bark.

With a mind free of occupation as I could muster, I set out to perceive things as they are, simple and without interpretation, remaining open and alert to whatever arose on my hike along a trail skirting the expansive Eklutna Lake. 

I let non-color penetrate the senses. Walking in expectation of what arises next; like a 
wild child...seeing things without the reference of memory, likes or dislikes.

I soon began to realize strong "pings" of perception in ordinary snow scenes; scenes that appeared to be one thing (like ice breaking up), when out of context appeared to be simply forms on a white page that were pleasing, ethereal and naked.

As I walked, I began to think about this massive, glacier-fed lake, Eklutna. 
How it is the major source of clean water for our entire city. How it provides recreation in the summer...kayaking to its far-off shores, and in our "non-official spring": skiing to a cabin at its terminal in April for a weekend of fun and exploration. Chuckling to myself, I remember how my kids used to hunt for their Easter eggs under mounds of old, gray snow.

Hush! Here comes the sun again. I will leave you with this, dear readers. 


On my hike back, I scurry up a cutbank and discover fresh, plump pussy willows.

A good dose of photogenic relief to be sure...with just a dash of heartening color.