At the End of January

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Coming home, I light a fire: coaxing flames and warmth from cold and sometimes frozen wood.

Glowing embers, twinkling lights, and old brass lamps brighten my small home that is blanketed by cloudy yet starry skies and surrounded by a sea of glimmering January snow.

On the stove is a red pot of beef stew, and in the oven bakes cornbread in an old cast iron skillet.

“I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness. In reality those who satisfy me are those who simply allow me to live with my ”idea of them.” – Anais Nin 

Amidst the Blizzard

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Here we are, about 22 hours into a blizzard, with warnings of more to come tomorrow. I am shocked by the amount of snow outside and also dismayed that my epic shoveling attempts have now been completely covered over by more and more snow. After a walk in 40 mph gusts, staring at the snow flurries blowing over my desolate stretch of highway, it is natural that my heart and mind start….wandering.

I spent this evening making artwork for a restaurant in Bar Harbor, a place I truly love and for which I have been given carte blanche this season. During this process, I began researching hobo poems.

This was my favorite:

I’m wondering son with the nervous feet,
That never were meant for a steady beat,
I’ve had many a job for a little while,
I’ve been on the bum and I’ve lived in style;
And there was the road, stretchin’ mile after mile,
And nothing to do but go.

Good words to think about: ideas to ponder whilst one is stuck inside, listening to the whistling wind and wondering what is in store for us tomorrow…

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When Things Get Weird

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I wrote this text earlier to a friend of mine, and it was about socks. I said something to the effect of “don’t make me come over there and throw them all around to show you to appreciate what you have!”. After texting that little gem over, I realized something, which was that I needed to read that statement as much as I snarkily needed to send it.

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This post is not about socks, obviously, although I am a huge collector of socks and really, really appreciate them, especially on days when it is hovering around 0 degrees. Right now, as I write this, I am wearing two pairs of socks, thigh highs and silk tights, a wool cardigan and a wool hat that was almost snaked off my head last night by an unmentionable character. But that is another story.

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I have been thinking about winter, about things getting weird, about analogies like sharks and minnows. In short, winter is beginning and so are the deep thoughts: the thoughts that cover things like: what am I doing? How am I doing it? Am I doing it well enough? What do others think of what I am doing? What do I think of others? What is the meaning of all of it? Is it temporary or is it really a giant game of dominoes, sometimes cascading quickly and sometimes piece by piece?

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It is January 6th, 2015. On January 6th, 2010, I was living in a small house with white walls in Hyde Park in Central Austin. On January 6th, 2005, I was living in a small apartment with orange walls in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. On January 6th, 2000 I was living in a terrible but cheap apartment with tapestries on the walls in South Austin. On January 6th, 1995 I was a freshman in high school in Conroe, Texas, and was learning alot about people. I had met my first love and was tossing around the idea of having a boyfriend for the first time, not yet knowing that I had met my first love because at that time, we just shared Capri Suns and tangerines at debate tournaments.

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I was just reading another blog by a very talented flower artist, Sarah of SAIPUA, and she mentioned the self-indulgent nature of end of the year wrap-ups and instead focused on goals and hopes for the new year. I am hoping (ha!) to do the same as her: instead of focusing on what happened, because holy hell what a year, I am looking ahead knowing what is behind. She made a statement in her year-end review to the effect of hoping that she keeps doing what she is doing with love and intention, and that it doesn’t get weird, and neither does she. Her quote “…I hope I don’t get weird. Because that shit happens in the creative world, you and I both know it” really hit me, because “getting weird” is something I do think about in terms of being an artist. In myself, I know myself to be an ethically conservative, politically liberal person who looks to outside observers, probably, like a tattered bouquet or a well-traveled moth: many colors thrown together, prints, patterns, textures, all topped with wild and crazy curly dark hair and eyes that are green-blue-grey, irises ringed in dark. I am distinctly black Irish in appearance, in my face: in my clothes, I am a walking ad for loud prints that somehow complement each other most of the time.

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I am getting off topic. Things Getting Weird — whether this is with self, with space, or with vocation, it is something that I worry about. I am embarking on this life that very much evolves every day, in the sense that there is no outside structure that I am working within anymore, like I did when I was teaching in the public schools. Now I am inventing the structure, embarking on what I hope will be a huge adventure that sustains me emotionally, spiritually and financially as well as providing space and skills to others who wish to hone them. At this point, after these last two years, my contention is that artistic expression and care for yourself and others is THE answer to THE question of Why. We are here for each other, we are here to create beauty, we are here to make the world a more beautiful place, a better place.

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I know that artists, typically, see the world through a more colorful lens than other people. I only know how I see the world, being that I am only privy to my own experience. I know that I have always seen the world my way and have sought to express my feelings within it by making things for as long as I can remember. When I was five I was carving stamps out of linoleum and trying to watercolor clouds on blue sky backgrounds. Soon after, I learned to sew. Later, I learned how to bead, and then to make jewelry. Somewhere in the middle there I started making the boxes that are my favorite things to make, the assemblage sculptures as they are technically described.

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I also know that artists are regarded with a bit of chagrin from the general public: our passion and our emotions are regarded as questionable in a sense, despite the fact that the general public benefits from our ideas as they are constructed through physical objects like paintings or clothing or jewelry or sculptures. I know that our strong connection to our emotional selves can sometimes be overwhelming, although I suspect that all people, even hedge fund managers, get overwhelmed by emotions some of the time. Sometimes artists are regarded as lazy or flaky, and while our behaviors may dictate those judgements (mine definitely do), it is often that our thought processes, our spinning wheels if you will, are diving into the Weird, into the Dark, into the Heart of the matters of our lives. Without those dives, nothing we would create would have the meaning to ourselves or to those who consume our artworks. Oftentimes, I find that people find meaning in small elements, in the minutiae, and that in my creations, people will see things entirely different than what was my intention or my take away from a creation. I like the personal and the profundity of objects: our markers of our time on the Earth. Many artists, I know, fall from time to time into what I call the Deep Well: the mental cage of fragility and doubt and loneliness that can cloud and confuse our judgement of others and of ourselves.

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So, when things get weird in the creative world, as they are bound to do, how do we communicate out of those spaces so that the weird doesn’t become crippling, or that we truly distance ourselves from everyone, regardless of their merit? In other words, how do we maintain the creativity as a positive force, and not just a vomitous outpouring of emotion and insecurity? How do we maintain and function despite the delicate ins and outs of our conscious and subconscious beings? As I continue along this path that I have taken, a path to create a school and opportunities for more artistic resources in this community, I have to consistently take stock of how my own worries about how others see me is really not a part of the project as a whole. What I make is my own, what I do is my own, what others take away from it is theirs. Lately, I have been working hard on understanding that I have to have the confidence to do what I believe in, and that everyone may not like me or understand my choices along this path, but that if I am true to my heart, then that is what is most important.

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This is rather a lengthy and rambling treatise of fear of the unknown and expectations of a new year; I need to stop for a moment and remember that the fear of failure, or fear of disappointment, is illogical and also immaterial. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I do on the Earth, because for my own experience, my own self worth, is predicated by decisions that I make for myself.

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What is the takeaway here? What do I mean: what do I want to say? Little else than I am trying to look forward and spend less time in the far ago. I am going to try to be more emotionally available, finally, and this means that I am also becoming more responsible and less selfish. I am going to try to be more comfortable in my colorful skin: to connect the pieces of myself within myself and not doubt it all so much. I am going to have more fun.  I am trying to stay true to my beliefs and be okay with being a little bit odd, but not become “too weird”, because you and I both know that shit can happen. Art and the business of art is a beautiful way to live in and create a world, one for yourself and one for others.

Maybe I am the shark, and maybe I am the minnow. Maybe I am both.

{…all paintings in this post are by Egon Schiele}

New Beginnings

“THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea” 

W. B. Yeats

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Late Autumn via Skylight: Degregoire Park, Mount Desert Island

So here we are, on the first day of a new year: 2015! How did we make it here, marching through the muddy cloudiness of life, keeping feet forward and a sense of hope in our ragged hearts? Magically, almost, the universe ushered in a new year last night late on a cold January evening; ours was marked with fireworks and fire and friends, and it was good to kiss a new year on the cheek, welcoming in the wishes of another turn around the Sun.

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Treasure from the River’s Bottom: Lincoln, Maine

This is the third January 1st that I have ushered in this cold and magical place where the ground is covered with moss and crinkles when you walk upon it on a cold winter’s morning. This afternoon, as I moved armload after armload of freshly chainsawed wood to its winter home of pallets set in the side yard, I watched the sunset over two mountains in the distance: it was colored pink and peach and seemed to be held interminably above the ridge of those mountains, clouding them in rose and salmon and magenta. I remarked to the neighbor who was helping me chainsaw piles of birch timber how lucky we are, and he remarked how everyone watches the sunset in different parts of the world, everyday. I disagreed and still feel that today was special.

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Sargent Drive in Snow: Northeast Harbor, Maine

So what does a new year mean, in its essence, in its whole, in the grand scheme of things? It is hard to posit meaning in and of itself; only to say that we are welcomed with opportunities and responsibilities in each moment, really, but especially in the birth of a new year, another transit around our central star, a time to reflect and plan and foresee, as best as we can, what is to come.

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Ice in the Driveway: at the Tool Barn, Hulls Cove, Maine

I have spent my year of 2014 in quiet and not so quiet contemplation of how I got here: how I came to be in this peaceful and quiet place, surrounded by misfits and oddballs, a kinfolk for sure of people who seek meaning in the everyday, who try to make it despite the natural adversities of life here. Here is a place you have to consciously commit to, as the way of life is so different, so difficult, even, and yet, so soothing and comforting and welcoming and warm. As I sit here in my new house, my home I hope to say, I am listening to and watching the fire burn, staring at old brass lamps that are glowing in the darkness. I type on a table that has been in my family since I was a small child, transplanted from England to Texas. This small pine table sat in many kitchens of ours; we moved many times within the same corporate-created borough of north Houston. We, an immigrant family seeking place and meaning in a foreign environment, created ourselves, as we all do, as products of our environment, our family and our friends. Today, that old table is covered with an antique quilt top gifted to me by Angel many years ago, one night during jewelry class. I always meant to make it in to a quilt, but haven’t so yet, and so it has become a beautiful tablecloth, covering a cheap heirloom of sorts, providing a grounding force in this new home.

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Treasures Hidden Inside an Antique Piano: Bar Harbor, Maine

Each morning, I look out my kitchen window at Champlain and Gorham mountains while I drink coffee. When I venture outside to grab more wood or make the move to my car to go to work, I gaze upon the notch between Dorr and Cadillac. At all houses here, previous to this one, I gazed upon the ocean. Here I look at the mountains, and the metaphor is clear: no longer a time of intense reflection, this time is for grounding and building, embracing this place and finding a spot in this community, continuing to build upon my projects, create more beauty, more artwork, in these awe inspiring, and at this time of year, rather desolate surroundings.

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The Cusp of December: Belt Buckle in Copper, Bronze & Milky Opal, 2014

I have found that it takes a certain person to make life work here: there is an intention within those who choose to be here to live and work and make a life despite adverse circumstances that are mostly based on a seasonal economy and general lack of orientation around money. Money here is not a driver, but experience is, peace is, serenity is, building things that will stay becomes a sort of guiding force for all of us. Once you have found it, you want to hold on to it. I remember discussing with a friend how he felt about his first stone wall, and how he went to check on it regularly over its first few years. I asked him if he was afraid it would have fallen down, but no, that wasn’t it: he wanted to see how it was standing, how it was living as a piece in a grander landscape. I suppose that is how all of us are here, there, and everywhere.

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The Flower Tower: a Memorial for Eden, Bar Harbor, Maine

My hopes for 2015 are for more creativity and more communication and for connecting the dots between how I see myself and how others see me. I wish to become more present, more available, less of a mystery and more a citizen of this place. For the past two years, I have waffled back and forth about staying and going, whether to commit, or not. In reality, I haven’t committed to anything in five years, until right now. I moved into this beautiful little house (photos forthcoming) a bit less than a month ago, and have found, after all the ups and downs of recent times, of the discoveries, enlightenments, experiences, sadnesses and true joys, have found a home.

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A Helping Hand: Davistown Museum Sculpture Garden, Hulls Cove, Maine

Thank you for reading. It is the winter, truly, now, and I look forward to writing more about how it unfolds here, sharing my thoughts with you and yours. It is time for a celebration of a sort: as a friend told me the other night, how amazing is it to be 34 years old? Or however old you are. Enjoy it.

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At the Tool Barn, Autumn 2014 – photography by George Soules

Full of Grace

“All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.”

- Simone Weil

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Let us talk about grace, and about cultivating grace. Grace, to me, implies a feeling of wafting oneself through an empty room, early in the morning alone, or late at night in a party of people, carrying yourself as if you alight on tiny clouds of air instead of treading upon the solid earth that all must walk upon.

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Grace implies taking breaths and steps back from awkward or uncomfortable moments: in other words, taking pause. Grace, to me, is colored green like the wings of a luna moth: a creature which, in essence, is the emblem of impermanence and fleeting time.

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Grace makes me think of gazing with eyes wide open, with a heart that is full and only opens greater despite past hurt or breakages of trust. Grace is hope. Grace is love and a desire for others to find their own path in this world, whatever series of mud puddles they stumble into along the way. Grace is acknowledging that everyday you too step in those mud puddles, land with egg on your face, stand up with skinned knees and sore palms and just keep going.

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Grace is standing up straight even if you feel self conscious. Grace is squeezing someone’s hand, or wrapping your arms around someone’s neck in the darkness of a bedroom on a gloomy Tuesday. Grace is relishing moments. In times when there are more unknowns than knowns, when the future is uncertain yet faith remains, grace is catching oneself while stumbling, playing pretend on an imaginary highwire, knowing that, after all, there IS a net. The net is you and yours: present, past and future.

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit, Chapter One

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(the remaining chapters of this most excellent book can be read here)

Being the adventures of the Bastable children in search of a fortune

TO OSWALD BARRON Without whom this book could never have been written

The Treasure Seekers is dedicated in memory of childhoods
identical but for the accidents of time and space

Chapter One: The Council of Ways and Means

This is the story of the different ways we looked for treasure, and I think when you have read it you will see that we were not lazy about the looking.

There are some things I must tell before I begin to tell about the treasure-seeking, because I have read books myself, and I know how beastly it is when a story begins, “‘Alas!” said Hildegarde with a deep sigh, “we must look our last on this ancestral home”‘—and then some one else says something—and you don’t know for pages and pages where the home is, or who Hildegarde is, or anything about it. Our ancestral home is in the Lewisham Road. It is semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one. We are the Bastables. There are six of us besides Father. Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all. Dora is the eldest. Then Oswald—and then Dicky. Oswald won the Latin prize at his preparatory school—and Dicky is good at sums. Alice and Noel are twins: they are ten, and Horace Octavius is my youngest brother. It is one of us that tells this story—but I shall not tell you which: only at the very end perhaps I will. While the story is going on you may be trying to guess, only I bet you don’t. It was Oswald who first thought of looking for treasure. Oswald often thinks of very interesting things. And directly he thought of it he did not keep it to himself, as some boys would have done, but he told the others, and said—

‘I’ll tell you what, we must go and seek for treasure: it is always what you do to restore the fallen fortunes of your House.’

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Dora said it was all very well. She often says that. She was trying to mend a large hole in one of Noel’s stockings. He tore it on a nail when we were playing shipwrecked mariners on top of the chicken-house the day H. O. fell off and cut his chin: he has the scar still. Dora is the only one of us who ever tries to mend anything. Alice tries to make things sometimes. Once she knitted a red scarf for Noel because his chest is delicate, but it was much wider at one end than the other, and he wouldn’t wear it. So we used it as a pennon, and it did very well, because most of our things are black or grey since Mother died; and scarlet was a nice change. Father does not like you to ask for new things. That was one way we had of knowing that the fortunes of the ancient House of Bastable were really fallen. Another way was that there was no more pocket-money—except a penny now and then to the little ones, and people did not come to dinner any more, like they used to, with pretty dresses, driving up in cabs—and the carpets got holes in them—and when the legs came off things they were not sent to be mended, and we gave up having the gardener except for the front garden, and not that very often. And the silver in the big oak plate-chest that is lined with green baize all went away to the shop to have the dents and scratches taken out of it, and it never came back. We think Father hadn’t enough money to pay the silver man for taking out the dents and scratches. The new spoons and forks were yellowy-white, and not so heavy as the old ones, and they never shone after the first day or two.

Father was very ill after Mother died; and while he was ill his business-partner went to Spain—and there was never much money afterwards. I don’t know why. Then the servants left and there was only one, a General. A great deal of your comfort and happiness depends on having a good General. The last but one was nice: she used to make jolly good currant puddings for us, and let us have the dish on the floor and pretend it was a wild boar we were killing with our forks. But the General we have now nearly always makes sago puddings, and they are the watery kind, and you cannot pretend anything with them, not even islands, like you do with porridge.

Then we left off going to school, and Father said we should go to a good school as soon as he could manage it. He said a holiday would do us all good. We thought he was right, but we wished he had told us he couldn’t afford it. For of course we knew.

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Then a great many people used to come to the door with envelopes with no stamps on them, and sometimes they got very angry, and said they were calling for the last time before putting it in other hands. I asked Eliza what that meant, and she kindly explained to me, and I was so sorry for Father.

And once a long, blue paper came; a policeman brought it, and we were so frightened. But Father said it was all right, only when he went up to kiss the girls after they were in bed they said he had been crying, though I’m sure that’s not true. Because only cowards and snivellers cry, and my Father is the bravest man in the world.

So you see it was time we looked for treasure and Oswald said so, and Dora said it was all very well. But the others agreed with Oswald. So we held a council. Dora was in the chair—the big dining-room chair, that we let the fireworks off from, the Fifth of November when we had the measles and couldn’t do it in the garden. The hole has never been mended, so now we have that chair in the nursery, and I think it was cheap at the blowing-up we boys got when the hole was burnt.

‘We must do something,’ said Alice, ‘because the exchequer is empty.’ She rattled the money-box as she spoke, and it really did rattle because we always keep the bad sixpence in it for luck.

‘Yes—but what shall we do?’ said Dicky. ‘It’s so jolly easy to say let’s do something.’ Dicky always wants everything settled exactly. Father calls him the Definite Article.

‘Let’s read all the books again. We shall get lots of ideas out of them.’ It was Noel who suggested this, but we made him shut up, because we knew well enough he only wanted to get back to his old books. Noel is a poet. He sold some of his poetry once—and it was printed, but that does not come in this part of the story.

Then Dicky said, ‘Look here. We’ll be quite quiet for ten minutes by the clock—and each think of some way to find treasure. And when we’ve thought we’ll try all the ways one after the other, beginning with the eldest.’

‘I shan’t be able to think in ten minutes, make it half an hour,’ said H. O. His real name is Horace Octavius, but we call him H. O. because of the advertisement, and it’s not so very long ago he was afraid to pass the hoarding where it says ‘Eat H. O.’ in big letters. He says it was when he was a little boy, but I remember last Christmas but one, he woke in the middle of the night crying and howling, and they said it was the pudding. But he told me afterwards he had been dreaming that they really had come to eat H. O., and it couldn’t have been the pudding, when you come to think of it, because it was so very plain.

Well, we made it half an hour—and we all sat quiet, and thought and thought. And I made up my mind before two minutes were over, and I saw the others had, all but Dora, who is always an awful time over everything. I got pins and needles in my leg from sitting still so long, and when it was seven minutes H. O. cried out—’Oh, it must be more than half an hour!’

H. O. is eight years old, but he cannot tell the clock yet. Oswald could tell the clock when he was six.

We all stretched ourselves and began to speak at once, but Dora put up her hands to her ears and said—

‘One at a time, please. We aren’t playing Babel.’ (It is a very good game. Did you ever play it?)

So Dora made us all sit in a row on the floor, in ages, and then she pointed at us with the finger that had the brass thimble on. Her silver one got lost when the last General but two went away. We think she must have forgotten it was Dora’s and put it in her box by mistake. She was a very forgetful girl. She used to forget what she had spent money on, so that the change was never quite right.

Oswald spoke first. ‘I think we might stop people on Blackheath—with crape masks and horse-pistols—and say “Your money or your life! Resistance is useless, we are armed to the teeth”—like Dick Turpin and Claude Duval. It wouldn’t matter about not having horses, because coaches have gone out too.’

Dora screwed up her nose the way she always does when she is going to talk like the good elder sister in books, and said, ‘That would be very wrong: it’s like pickpocketing or taking pennies out of Father’s great-coat when it’s hanging in the hall.’

I must say I don’t think she need have said that, especially before the little ones—for it was when I was only four.

But Oswald was not going to let her see he cared, so he said—

‘Oh, very well. I can think of lots of other ways. We could rescue an old gentleman from deadly Highwaymen.’

‘There aren’t any,’ said Dora.

‘Oh, well, it’s all the same—from deadly peril, then. There’s plenty of that. Then he would turn out to be the Prince of Wales, and he would say, “My noble, my cherished preserver! Here is a million pounds a year. Rise up, Sir Oswald Bastable.”‘

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But the others did not seem to think so, and it was Alice’s turn to say.

She said, ‘I think we might try the divining-rod. I’m sure I could do it. I’ve often read about it. You hold a stick in your hands, and when you come to where there is gold underneath the stick kicks about. So you know. And you dig.’

‘Oh,’ said Dora suddenly, ‘I have an idea. But I’ll say last. I hope the divining-rod isn’t wrong. I believe it’s wrong in the Bible.’

‘So is eating pork and ducks,’ said Dicky. ‘You can’t go by that.’

‘Anyhow, we’ll try the other ways first,’ said Dora. ‘Now, H. O.’

‘Let’s be Bandits,’ said H. O. ‘I dare say it’s wrong but it would be fun pretending.’

‘I’m sure it’s wrong,’ said Dora.

And Dicky said she thought everything wrong. She said she didn’t, and Dicky was very disagreeable. So Oswald had to make peace, and he said—

‘Dora needn’t play if she doesn’t want to. Nobody asked her. And, Dicky, don’t be an idiot: do dry up and let’s hear what Noel’s idea is.’

Dora and Dicky did not look pleased, but I kicked Noel under the table to make him hurry up, and then he said he didn’t think he wanted to play any more. That’s the worst of it. The others are so jolly ready to quarrel. I told Noel to be a man and not a snivelling pig, and at last he said he had not made up his mind whether he would print his poetry in a book and sell it, or find a princess and marry her.

‘Whichever it is,’ he added, ‘none of you shall want for anything, though Oswald did kick me, and say I was a snivelling pig.’

‘I didn’t,’ said Oswald, ‘I told you not to be.’ And Alice explained to him that that was quite the opposite of what he thought. So he agreed to drop it.

Then Dicky spoke.

‘You must all of you have noticed the advertisements in the papers, telling you that ladies and gentlemen can easily earn two pounds a week in their spare time, and to send two shillings for sample and instructions, carefully packed free from observation. Now that we don’t go to school all our time is spare time. So I should think we could easily earn twenty pounds a week each. That would do us very well. We’ll try some of the other things first, and directly we have any money we’ll send for the sample and instructions. And I have another idea, but I must think about it before I say.’

We all said, ‘Out with it—what’s the other idea?’

But Dicky said, ‘No.’ That is Dicky all over. He never will show you anything he’s making till it’s quite finished, and the same with his inmost thoughts. But he is pleased if you seem to want to know, so Oswald said—

‘Keep your silly old secret, then. Now, Dora, drive ahead. We’ve all said except you.’

Then Dora jumped up and dropped the stocking and the thimble (it rolled away, and we did not find it for days), and said—

‘Let’s try my way now. Besides, I’m the eldest, so it’s only fair. Let’s dig for treasure. Not any tiresome divining-rod—but just plain digging. People who dig for treasure always find it. And then we shall be rich and we needn’t try your ways at all. Some of them are rather difficult: and I’m certain some of them are wrong—and we must always remember that wrong things—’

But we told her to shut up and come on, and she did.

I couldn’t help wondering as we went down to the garden, why Father had never thought of digging there for treasure instead of going to his beastly office every day.

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Kindness

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I have just learned that Stuart Kestenbaum, long time director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, is leaving his position in the spring of next year. My last post discussed at length my last Haystack experience, and how transformative it was for me and for the people in our class. One of Stu’s great gifts is his incredibly wacky sense of humor: his voice is soft and his manner full of grace, and his jokes sneak across to you almost constantly, causing everyone in his presence to have no choice but to laugh. In addition to this, he is a beautiful writer and has a habit of sharing poetry with Haystack attendees, including myself.

When I went to Haystack two weeks ago, I was shrouded with doubts and feeling regarding an ethical position of mine in this life: one of attempting to be truly kind to all people regardless of how they act outwardly. A couple of years ago, I started trying to adopt an attitude of not taking anything personally and understanding that we all act out of fundamental self interest, regardless of how things may feel in the moment. Recently, I had added to this philosophy by tacking on the idea of impermanence, or the temporary nature of all things. I find that when people are challenging, rude or just plain mean, an attitude of understanding it is not personal, but rather is something happening within their own hearts, and that the experience itself passes in mere moments, it helps to remain kind and to feel solid enough in my own self to keep progressing in this beautiful game that is life.

Here is the poem that changed my doubts into confidences a couple of weeks ago. Stu read it to us on Saturday night, just before workshops started, and it changed my questioning feelings into feelings that made me feel stronger and more determined to do what I love to do on the Earth, which is to talk to people, share with them, be kind to them, try to understand them, and help them express themselves in positive and productive ways.

Lots of love and admiration to Stu: wherever he goes from here is lucky beyond words to have him tell stories in his unique, lilting and loving style.

Kindnessby Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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