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 

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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