Going Back

“You’ll have to excuse me: I’m drunk as a lord…” man on a couch in the studio hallway: 9 on a Wednesday night.

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It has been a long time since I have written any musings here, and my only excuse is a series of technological glitches and a lack of personal spaces. In Maine, I lived alone (with the exception of four months with roommates — that is another story for another day!) and also rented a studio at the Tool Barn: I spent most of my time on my own, in control of my spaces and what I did in them. With the exception of evenings with friends, I was very solitary. Since coming to Texas, I share my time, most of the time, with a very wonderful person who makes me laugh and I appreciate a lot. I live at my friend Jackie’s house, in a guest room, and about half of my stuff is still in Maine. I am separated from my trappings of life, for what they are, which now is very few, due to circumstance.

When I think about the fact that I have not slept in my bed, my comfy, lovely bed, in almost three months, or seen the embroidered portrait of the owls above that bed, or many of my little precious things around, I believe that this separateness led to the feelings of floatiness, of uncertainty at being “back” in the place that was my home until four years ago. It is a funny thing to feel your physical manifestations of self separated into three places. This must be what rich folks feel like, right?

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Twelfth Night

I think, also, that my absence from writing has been an expression of this feeling of not having a place. Turns out that returning to a place, no matter how long you had spent there in the past, is not the same as if you never left. In fact, it is entirely different: mostly in a good way. Mostly, there is the feeling of understanding how to get around while also appreciating each experience as unique and present and new. So although the newness is overwhelming, at least you know how to get to the grocery store.

It would seem as if I have landed on my feet, despite a rusted out old Subaru Forester and no room of one’s own. I somehow have landed a wonderful, part-time (almost full-time but not quite) teaching position creating a course connecting science-technology-engineering-art-&math, am helping renovate an old Spartan Imperial Mansion that belongs to some friends in which I get to live until something more permanent shows up, spending time learning and rediscovering being in relationship, staring at Texas skies and sunsets, and creating where and when I can. Here is where I am wistful (and complain) about the fact that I miss the studio at the Tool Barn: especially late nights or early mornings when I was there alone, puttering around on projects.

But, as life is, if one thing, a series of temporary moments, I know that pieces are falling and settling into place, after what seems like quite a while to wait! My name, of course, is putting me to the test something fierce right now: probably a good lesson. A studio will come, a room of my own, a place to settle in with myself. Until then, I find rooms and doorways and the shady spots under trees.

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Cinema Paradiso

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In Moments

Last night, I was sitting on a small bed in the lamplight and I was brushing my teeth. It was midnight and I was staring at my lover sitting at the opposite end of the room, staring off into space. He seemed to be thinking deeply about something, occasionally shifting his head and nodding, sometimes stroking his beard with his right hand. Distractedly, I moved my gaze to the ceiling, to a wreath I had made yesterday out of mustang grape vines and spent poppy pods. Feeling something, I looked back, and noticed him looking at me and smiling.

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Sunset thunderstorm with rainbow…yes, it was actually this color

On Sunday, I took a walk with a small and young friend who is new to me, despite having known him since he was about three. We watched pond skimmers on the surface of a tannin-stained creek and then threw rocks of increasing size into it, creating cannonball-like effects upon its surface. We moved on after the largest one created waves so large they spread almost instantly across the creek bed. Later, we were walking along a country lane and came upon a large field with a tilled-up bed on its left. The earth was black and stood up in perfect rows and the rest of the landscape was that early spring green that is so electric it seems colored in with a pencil rather than created through chlorophyll and sunlight. As we stood there, my young friend said, “don’t you want to own a bunch of land someday and have half of it fenced off so all you could do is ride a horse all around it?”. I smiled and said yes.

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Ireland’s fuchsia bells interpreted in textured sterling silver

Last night, my jewelry teacher of ten years, Bob, walked up to me and hugged me so close and laughingly asked, “are you suffering some culture shock? Hmmmmmmmm?”

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Good morning poppy forest

Last week, my best friend and I walked through my old and her current neighborhood, gazing at fancy houses and drinking iced coffees on a late spring afternoon. She tricked me, you see, into a false sense of strolling, because all of a sudden, we turned down an alley and before us was a house with four wooden tall birdhouses and a field of poppies. Rather like somewhere in Europe, but actually in Austin, Texas, the poppy flowers were suspended on their stalks and in the air at the same time, moving lightly and liltingly in the breeze. Someone else was on the other side of the field: we watched each other til we realized he was taking photos, so we moved out of his way.

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Sunlight at the Barton Creek Greenbelt

When we were driving back from Houston via Route 71, meandering toward Bastrop on rainy but sunny Saturday afternoon, two weeks ago?, on the right side there was a large field populated by beautiful black cows. The cows were that perfect, deep, midnight black that seems to pull all light into it. Some were standing, some walking, some laying down with babies beside them. The field, normally green and grassy, was overwhelmed with thousands, millions maybe, of pink buttercups, a wildflower that some call primroses but children of Houston seem to know them as buttercups, from the years of balancing them on our noses and holding them up to reflect their bright yellow pollen color onto our necks. The field was filled from highway to horizon with nothing but pink flowers and black cows. In the background was a bright blue sky, dotted ever so perfectly with white clouds.

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Maidenhair ferns on limestone

The other night, I drove home through a huge thunderstorm, in which my car was buffeted around by winds that reminded me of blizzard wind. Across the sky in front of me stretched a flash of white lightning on black sky so large it seemed to span miles.

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Look up!

On Monday I sat on a cool concrete patio of an old hotel-house with one of my best friends: someone I hadn’t seen for three and a half years. We drank Arnold Palmers and beers and went for a walk and looked at photos and laughed and confirmed our mutual doubts that we really don’t know anything.

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Top secret phone-call-making spot behind an ol’ oak tree

Being back in Texas is beautiful and overwhelming and friendly and strange all at the same time. Last night I skipped through the halls of an antique shop and spoke in silly Russian accents with another old friend…”you are soooooo prettttyyyyyyyy” we said. “No, you are sooooo prettyyyyyyy….your mama, she did goooood.”

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Branching

A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.

Mirages — or, the Power of Forgiveness

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Great accomplishment seems imperfect,
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness.
Great fullness seems empty,
Yet it cannot be exhausted.

Great straightforwardness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquility set things in order in the universe.

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In my house, near the door, there is an old mirror that I gleaned from my parents’ camp house in Salisbury Cove, before it was torn down sometime in the fall of 1999. The mirror is chipped and faded: covered in scratches, you can hardly see any reflection but light. Tucked in one of its corners is the mantra: to err is human, to forgive divine.

For a few years now, I have posted this mantra in two places: by my front door, and on the wall of my studio-workspace. I look at it multiple times each day and think about what it means for that specific day and time. For the most part, I seek forgiveness of myself: for my mistakes, for my actions, and sometimes, for my speech.

When I returned from Austin last week, late on Tuesday night, I found my home changed. No longer was it the comforting, cozy space that I had left. Instead, it was a comforting and cozy home in which I live alone, on 10 acres, far off in the distant lands of Maine. After ten days in the light and love of friends and discovering new love, I came to Maine changed. I realized that I have a powerful and profound sense of positivity, and this is something that I can hold in my heart as a true strength, despite any and all adversities that are flung at me. However, as in all things, it is valuable to take time to reevaluate circumstances and belief systems when they are presented with alternative truths and/or realizations.

About a week ago, I took off on a road trip to West Texas with my best friend of many years. We camped in Marfa and in Presidio, Texas, and we drove through Big Bend. On our first night out in the desert, we made bean tacos in a community kitchen and camped in the parking lot of a place called El Cosmico. We drank tequila and smoked cigarettes whilst wearing hoodies. We laughed and we cried, but mostly laughed. We stared at stars. We talked about friends and lovers and life and husbands and divorces, change and acceptance and the present. It was, to me, one of the highlights of our friendship. The next night, we met a gaggle of strangers and later left them to perform some rituals in the dark that involved prayers for presence, prayers for strength, prayers for forgiveness, and a genuine desire to strive to be happy. In the darkness of the Chinati mountains, with a frog chorus behind us, we lit some words and some photographs on fire, we stamped them out from this world into the next, and we drank more tequila and laughed and cried and told stories to each other and thanked each other for the other one’s time.

Upon returning to Maine, I was forced to reevaluate that positive attitude that I am so proud of. I realized that maybe I was missing some things, or kidding myself, somehow. I realized that the vision of myself as an axe-wielding, blizzard-braving woman who lives in a cabin in Maine was missing some huge pieces: namely, the love of old friends and the love of one who sees your darkness and wants to walk with you, anyway. In Austin, I was almost constantly struck with the beautiful merging of those two relationships, for my friend-family in Austin not only have loved me for years, but recognize my darkness and choose to love me, anyway. Perhaps this is the mark of true friendship: something I have been lucky enough to find here, as well. And in a mystical universal bonus, I found one old friend who wanted to hold my hand and gaze into my eyes and love me and walk with me. When I think about those ten days, it is with utter awe that I reflect upon them, for I feel like my large and open heart, one that keeps growing as time goes by, was rewarded a million fold by those who already lay within it: my friends, my loves of my life.

In this cabin, late at night on a weekday, as I sit in the light of an old brass lamp and listen to music on a tiny speaker, watching the crackle of wood in the wood stove, I am almost constantly reminded of Jackie’s kitchen with its loteria cards, of Rodi’s laughter in the West Texas desert, of Chuck’s maligning of roses in his living room vase, of Angel’s tarot trailer, of Cody’s garden and the stars that shone out above him, of Bob’s studio and his knowing smile, of Julie’s tears and honesty, of Martha sitting in her office in her purple silk shirt, of the movement and changes of all the people who formed my family of friends for twelve years. It is the history of our lives, the mystery of the wending and waving paths of life, that forms our concept of love and life and friendship. While I have loved my time here, and I truly have: having grown from a broken and bent version of myself to the stronger and resilient and more prone to humor version that presents itself now, I have done so with a sense of resolute solitude and independence. However, whilst in Austin, not only did I realize that I ran away from my life of many years, from my family and friends, but that I was a critical part of a net, a spider’s web, of people, who would never really let me go no matter how long I stayed away. So while I felt truly alone, which I did, especially in the fall-winter of 2012, all my loved ones regarded me from afar with love, kept the net close and strong, and waited with love for me to visit them again.

There is a great comfort in change and realization and personal growth. There is a message in this from the universe, and that message is the one tacked up on a piece of white paper, written in blue pen, decorated with squiggles and eyeballs and hearts: to err is human, but to forgive, divine.

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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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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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Three Things

Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.

Clementine Paddleford

How do we know when it’s time? Is it something that occurs to you on a cold spring day whilst walking through the woods? Is it a hidden message in the wind on a fall evening? Is it a discovery, during the eating of ice cream on a walk along the shore? Is it just, finally, paying attention?

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The Funny Bone

I am sitting in my bedroom, listening to the soft sounds of skateboarders coasting under my windows, having just returned from another lovely weekend at Haystack: site of creative encouragement and exploration on an approachable yet massive scale. Two weeks ago, for three days, I helped others learn how to make machines out of wood and metal, I encouraged peoples’ senses of their own creativity, and helped them develop an aesthetic. I listened to people become frustrated, I watched people remain calm, I taught people how to solder and how to raise bowls from copper sheets, I supported our wonderful teacher rise to the occasion of others’ creative urges time and time again. I helped someone make a robot that walked, and an Icarus who flew. I listened to a poem read aloud once per night, and also listened to peoples’ encapsulated memoirs read early on a Monday morning. I witnessed dedication and laughter, struggle and success. I grew physically tired but mentally inspired. I sat at dinner with strangers and with friends, and I felt a part of something larger than myself: a fleeting feeling that when one gets it, one has to hold on to it, note it, and pay attention.

I went to Haystack two weekends ago with a decision in mind: one that is rather large and means uprooting, change, and new beginnings. I went to Haystack with one thought in mind, and that was to sit with this decision and listen to its comings and goings until I had an answer. Through teaching people how to make automata, mechanical toys, and watching them persevere, learn, grow, and begin to know each other, and as I sat at a distance, next to a large yellow anvil in the center of the studio, I spent my time thinking about changes, and “going back”, and going forward. The only thing I made this weekend was a cutout in copper of a rather important idea, I think:

What are you really thinking about right now?

As I cut this out of copper, over about two and a half hours on a Friday night, I thought to myself about all the meanings of this question. I gleaned it from the Oblique Strategies, a pet project designed to help creative types overcome blocks in their processes. I found it related it to my life and probably, the lives of others in my life. I am really thinking right now about the course my life has taken, where I am right now, and where I wish to be. For the first time in a long time, I feel the pieces of life are quite clear to me;  as in, I can see what I wish to be components of my life in a holistic way, and am now seeking to craft that life for myself. That craft-work of life-making, if you will, requires some significant changes in my day to day life and in my interactions with the world, while also requiring holding on to the huge lessons I have learned here in the two years since I started this writing project, with you, in the fall of 2012.

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The Backbone

Let me begin with a story from the fall of 2006, when I was a very new teacher. I taught a science elective for 8th graders and had the requisite crew of misfits who came to my room for an hour and a half every other day. One sat in a sink, one constantly drew pictures of knights and dragons, one was very tiny and giggled, two barely spoke English, one was a mathematically oriented super Goth teenager who counted things like floor tiles, and one was obstinate and charming at the same time. This group, of course, ended up being my favorite group of that year, mostly because they were so strange and goofy and would do anything I asked of them. We navigated through that year together doing projects  on pollution and archaeology and space and inventions, but the best day was one day when I brought a huge box of crap from my house and dumped it on a table and told them that they had to make something. The girl who sat in the sink immediately grabbed some sparkly fabric and made a cape and wore it, I think, for the rest of the day. The tiny one who giggled made me a tyrannosaurus rex out of parts of an old sewing machine and hot glue and delivered it to my desk the next day. Later, we invented fantasy environments that had to have all the components of actual biomes: shelter, water, food, etc. and I discovered that the boy who later lit a toilet on fire truly appreciated the ins and outs of colored pipe cleaners and pom poms, having created a fuzzy environment that was rainbow colored and bedecked with glitter.

Today, in the fall of 2014, eight years and what feels like a lifetime later, I am realizing the power of that class in terms of my teaching and my learning and what I create on the Earth. I am currently seeking a way to integrate my love for teaching with my current life as an artist. I miss teaching children: the children who I see as needing bridges into our larger cultural landscape, but didn’t know how to integrate all of these parts until a friend of mine and I were talking and he told me he felt that maybe I could just do it again: that I was hiding a set of skills and passions in an apartment that looms above a quiet street in a small town. For many reasons, I felt like I had to choose one or the other: the city or the country, the teacher or the artist, and in that conversation, I realized that I didn’t have to choose between because I could choose all.

When I took a step back and looked at all of the pieces, as a whole, I realized that I had devoted many years of my life to teaching and improving children’s access to education in disparate circumstances, and that I had a litany of experiences and stories of children who had impacted me in a meaningful way, and vice versa. As Maya Angelou said, these myriad stories are the rainbows in my cloud, and are all of those who I call up with me when times are challenging and troubled. To give them up would be a shame, would be a sorrow, and would not be acknowledging the power of all of those tiny rainbows, even the ones who I met during that hard experience in inner city North Philadelphia.

Let me tell you another story. This past weekend, I assisted my friend Sarah and we taught fourteen adults how to make automated machines using wood, plastic, metal, porcelain, etc. One of our students was a woman about my own age, who turned up looking a little unsure, but all of us show up to Haystack looking a bit unsure. On the first night, she carried in a giant suitcase full of stuff. She was a beautiful woman, shorter than I with dark hair under a knit cap. She had a strange air to her, as if she was distracted or not fully present,  a lilt and a slight lisp to her voice, and a dark scar under one eye. After she brought the case in, and opened it, she exclaimed how she couldn’t believe how she had made everything inside it. I asked her to explain and tell me what was happening with her as I had heard her earlier explain rebuilding an old cabin and living in a small town near Blue Hill. She told me that she had recently been in a serious accident and had broken her back and had had to relearn how to walk and take care of herself again, and had somehow found herself living in her father’s old cabin with broken windows and trash and tools half buried in the yard, and that she had to haul water daily and had replaced the roof and was wondering what she was doing and was slowly realizing that she wasn’t going to be able to stay there for the winter. I identified with her, and she reminded me of myself, broken apart, confused, and full of sorrow, when I landed on this island two years ago, and I told her that I thought I understood what was up: that her survival instinct had kicked in at some point and that her homeplace was her land and her project and that she was just reconnecting the parts that had been flung apart during her traumatic experience. Interestingly enough, after a day of confusion and no direction in her process, she ended up cutting out a backbone of brass, and building a ribcage of copper that she riveted to the backbone. Later, we soldered a sternum on to the ribcage, added a tube and made it a syringe ring that, when the plunger was pushed, springs shot out of a central tube and out and up of her ribcage. In a way, she rebuilt her back and her body out of shiny, beautiful metal: a model of what she was going through in her life, made by her hands, directed and coaxed and bent and heated and cooled, tumbled, refined, she created something so beautiful that it caused many people to draw their breath in sharply, even if they didn’t know her story.

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The Wishbone

What do I want?

I want to spend time remembering, here, with myself and with you, my audience, the many rainbows in my cloud, for I had almost forgotten them. From now on, for a while, I will spend some time recording my teaching stories, which are the backbone/funnybone/wishbone of my blogging. After all, I started blogging about my teaching stories way back in 2006 on LiveJournal.com, an outdated blogging resource but very interesting to reread 8 years on. It is amazing how one’s writing style can change for the better…thank goodness for time!

I want to teach kids who need adults who really care about them to build bridges with them to learn science and read books and create art in a supportive atmosphere that is stable and has a history and is run by a caring staff who is in it for the kids, not for their own self interest. I want to teach at places like Haystack, and Metalwerx, and Arrowmont, and Penland. I want to teach classes in my studio and bring the creative spirit out in anyone who crosses my threshold. I want to share with people the power of their own expression. I want to challenge myself to always express myself, too. I want to see different kinds of people every day, and occasionally, to hide out in a coffee shop late at night. I want to be able to bike some places, and walk some places. I want to go to community discussions on social issues that are important to me, watch documentaries in the dark, and to stroll through museums. I want to cease to be intimidating, but become intimidated and challenged by others. I want to be surprised by people, places and things. I want to take my love of my last two years, and my knowledge of the thirty two that preceded it, and combine it in a life in a place that is good for me.

I spent the three days two weekends ago learning and growing from fourteen strangers and a few friends. I purposefully didn’t really make anything, but just sat by that anvil and thought, when I wasn’t up and helping people make their automata. I sat on steps and thought, I lay in my bed and thought, I stared through trees and out at the ocean. I watched crows fly and coast on thermals over the tops of the studios yesterday morning with the glinting ocean stretching out behind them. I realized, here we are. Nothing really is right or wrong: our decisions are just choices, realities that we put into place, knowing what we know, recognizing imperfection, seeking a more holistic hold on life, one of people big and small, of the possibility that love means a myriad things, that being able to spread ones arms or wings or whatever you want to call them, may be something to consider, after all.