In a Building, on a Mountain, near a Telescope, Hurtling Through Space

 

20180619_173034View of the Davis Mountains

Over the last two days, I have spent my time at the McDonald Observatory, touring telescopes, learning about the origins of the universe, and gazing into the cosmos. I have learned about the age of the universe and cosmic microwave background radiation, and how there is a giant telescope with 91 hexagonal mirrors being built to stare into the heavens 10 billion years back.

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Hobby-Eberly Telescope being prepped for the HEXDET Experiment

Awe is an understatement when one looks through a tiny eyepiece on a 36cm telescope and sees the Cassini Division, or a group of stars that look like someone just dropped diamond dust on a piece of black velvet. The awe extends to the surface of each of those 91 identical mirrors, as you watch a lithe and agile woman scamper and climb underneath them in order to take dirty ones out to be replaced with perfectly clean copies. Awe continues when you see photos of your heroes, Carl Sagan and Jane Goodall, Galileo and Neil deGrasse Tyson decorating the walls and declaring the power of imagination and the drive to determine the beauty and power of a great idea.

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Carl Sagan!!! 

The experience of seeing these giant creations of men and women has been nothing short of stupendous. I have decided, and inwardly declared, that astronomy is this wonderful, magic, perfect-as-is-possible discipline in which people combine science, math, engineering, imagination and art. I have seen a telescope from 1939 paid for by a kindly bachelor banker who owned a car but never drove it, who paid for a beautiful German atomic crystal clock but never saw it, and who bequeathed his books, including “The Social Life of Insects” to an astronomy department that had yet to exist. Today I was able to wander around a larger telescope birthed from the need for better technology and the funding of the space race…it is a giant, a megalith of steel, lead, glass and concrete. In it are 4 or 5 mirrors, depending on what its being used for, that bounce light up and down and back again, into the floor below, to produce spectrographs of distant stars. I listened to two students tell us about how they are looking for evidence of exoplanets using the study of spectroscopy and this giant instrument that literally beams light from distant skies down below their feet.

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Harlan Smith Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I have learned that there is no center and all positions within the universe are the center, at the same time. I have learned that the universe has some sort of three-dimensional shape but that it exists on a plane of its own creation and has a fourth dimension of time. Is time, then, a construct? Or is it real? What is real?

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The Art in Astronomy is surprising and beautiful 

These last few weeks have been trying, terrible, and emotionally despairing times for many. Seeing, as a part of the 24-hour news cycle, that our civilization is in decline far deeper than perhaps we had thought leaves us feeling fraught and frayed. Seeing our fellow humans in pain and as humans, though, is a powerful driver in helping all of us see our sisters and brothers as just that. I am an optimist, despite the dark that seems all around. I like to think that at least we saw each other in these moments, and we reached out to help, and help we did, though we must continue. I think the power of extending a heart-in-hand, especially to children and their mothers, will never serve us wrong, and perhaps is a step in the journey to what might be right and better for all of us.

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This is our Sun, whose light is passed through and projected on a wall, and refracted using a diffraction grating. Isn’t it gorgeous? 

I generally always feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in any given moment. It is a strategy that helps me find gratitude and peace with what is happening. I also have been lucky, thus far, to land on my feet. I have been wondering today, especially tonight, as I sat outside a 36cm telescope and listened to it sing like a humpback whale as it re-calibrated itself, as I stared up at the stars and listened to the funny conversations of colleagues trying to take photos of the moon on their smart phones through the Dobsonian Telescope’s eyepiece, that perhaps I have been here for a few days to remember the greatness of the capacity of human possibility and imagination. There is no greater evidence of that than looking at these telescopes up close and realizing the amount of dedication and dreaming that goes into each one of them. I asked the facilitator what drives the design and fabrication of new telescopes, and she told me, “scientific goals”. I asked her what scientific goals are inspiring the new, almost complete Magellan Telescope and she told me there were so many that it was hard to think of all of them. How wonderful an idea is that? That there are so many dreams that a real expert in her field cannot even think of all of them.

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Struve Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I love Langston Hughes’ poetry and this one really stands out to me tonight, my last evening in this building, on a mountain, near a telescope, hurtling through space. May it serve you, too. With love and hope, P

 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

20180619_172618The McDonald Observatory grounds from my southwest-facing window. 

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Be Honest

What a loaded phrase.

What a practice. Can we, any of us, be truly honest with ourselves and with others?

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” – Virginia Woolf

Lately, I have been trying this out: this idea of being myself. I now understand that who we are, or what is important to us, is shifting almost constantly and therefore, our expressions of such self will also shift and change. For most of my young life, I felt like I should portray myself in one way, and hide everything else. I think I learned this from my mother, and from growing up in an immigrant family where success means everything and feelings are swept under the rug, or into the corners of coat closets.

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I have some strange health problems, that probably started when I was sixteen. I inherited a strange genetic immunodeficiency disease, most likely from my father’s side, that is named gammaglobulinemia. It manifests in many ways, mostly in my predilection for infections and constant arthritic-like pain in my hands, wrists, and hips. During my senior year, I had to take a rest cure for almost six months, and spent my days watching movies and eating scrambled eggs, wondering what would happen. During that time, the illness expressed itself in its most intense form to date, but here and there, it pops up, as if to remind me of my own delicate nature. I forget, or shove away, my actual nature almost on a daily basis, as if putting forth a calm and strong and independent persona will chase away the inconsistencies, the weaknesses, the sadnesses, the things about myself that I am afraid of.

A few weeks ago, I chose to do something different. I chose to go to a good doctor and to talk to people about how I feel on a daily basis. It is a huge change for me: previous to this, only those closest to me knew about my feelings of being in my body. Very few people know that I experience chronic pain that limits the way my body moves and feels in space. I took a chance recently and spoke about it, and realized, just as a I realized last winter, when I shared my life story with close friends in Maine, that those who care about you don’t hate you when you express weakness, but rather, they see you as more human, more like them. Today I sat in the woodshop and talked about my friends with another friend and talked about how I have an autoimmune illness and that’s why I feel sensitive a lot and have been going to to doctor a lot since the fall. My friend sat there and asked me, “so…your bones hurt all the time?” And I explained it: how my wrists, hands and hips hurt constantly. He told me that it was strange that someone who works with her hands so much has so much pain, and I told him the truth, that activity is one of the only things that helps with it. He said, “well, I suppose you would have given up on it a long time ago if it was the other way around.” I smiled and said, “well, I wouldn’t have been able to give up on it.”

I supposed there are great risks in the opening of the heart. What happens if people lean into you too close and pierce it, sometimes not in an act of malicious vengeance but just peering too close-in? I spoke with a studio-mate the other day about divorce and its long-lasting implications, and about how I feel at peace with it all finally, as if it happened a long time ago, a time I can’t really fully identify with anymore. She told me that her divorce is still taking its toll, ten years later. So we agreed that all of us experience loss, grief, decisions and their implications, in different ways, and no way is wrong or right.

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I feel like being honest and opening my heart, perhaps for the first time, is a great form of risk-taking, but it conversely feels empowering and creates a sense of confidence that I don’t think I have felt before. It’s a feeling as if my old pair of LL Bean shearling boots are on my feet all the time and that my toes are safe and warm inside sheep-y softness. Of course, self-doubt remains. Questions are tossed in my mind that range from: will they like me? What is wrong with me? Why am I so odd?

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I suppose, here, at the age of 35, living in my beautiful little house in Austin, Texas, that I am finally identifying with my special-ness, something that I was afraid of because I grew up in such a way that taught me that expressing my nature was wrong. But now, in baby steps, I am seeing that, what other people have said to me for years, might be true. Maybe I am an okay person.

Two weeks ago, I was eating a goodbye breakfast at Magnolia with my friend Martha: she was moving to Houston in anticipation of moving to Washington, D.C. One day she will be an ambassador. Anyway, I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen since I left Austin years ago. This friend and his wife and soon-to-be baby moved into my old house in Hyde Park after it worked out so that I could offer them that little place for the same rent that I had paid. They still live there, and he was very vocal at how thankful they are to have it. His daughter lives there, too. A tight fit in that small house with periwinkle kitchen walls and a veggie garden in the back.

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Mirages — or, the Power of Forgiveness

FORTY-FIVE

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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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}

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.

Viva La Vida

Frida Kahlo and Pet Hawk

I have been in radio silence now for quite a while; there are various reason for this, but mostly life just keeps getting in the way of delivering my musings to you here. I have a slew of stories to tell about sailing the Caribbean in Panama, as well as reflections on the ending of my second winter in Maine, as well as new developments in the art-sphere, namely a new studio in a magical place that has been a stomping ground of mine since I was a little girl.

But, for today, for all we have is today….some musings and ideas from two of my favorite artists, that will propel us all forth this second week in April, in the year 2014, my thirtieth year of spending time on this small island that I know call home.

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The Portrait of Alicia Galant (1927) was the first painting of Frida Kahlo’s that made me pause. I was a very young girl of maybe 10 when my best friend’s mom dragged she and I to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts to see the exhibit of a painter who, before that moment, was unknown to me. I remember spending many minutes gazing at this painting because it felt, to me, as if it was alive and glimmering: velvety and viscous, dark and deep set in the night.

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“Feet, for what do I need you, for I have wings to fly?” has been a motto of mine, especially during the metamorphosis of the last two years. I find that holding on to dreams, and trusting that when you  leap, you will land somewhere far better than where you started, and of course, just keeping going, one foot in front of the other, is what will propel you forward to a happier life that is full of intentional actions versus reactions to simple circumstance.

Today, I read this quote from another of my inspirations, Anais Nin, and thought to include it here as a musing on the doubtful part of the creative life: those dark corners of the psyche or even your apartment, when the doubts or fears or seeming impossibilities of what you are doing seem overwhelming. It seems to me that anyone embarking on the creative path will discover these dark corners of themselves; the trick, I think, is to channel those into more making, more artwork, more writing, more pause to understand the temporary nature of each passing moment, so that the creativity can continue, rather than be stifled by the “shoulds” and “should nots” of our cultural world.

“You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.”

Lastly this morning, as I wrap up this scattershot of musings on a Wednesday, gazing outside the window at an early spring day, daydreaming of this afternoon’s visit to the new studio, and thinking about planting pear and black walnut trees on a 5 acre swathe of land on the Breakneck Road, my feelings keep coming back to the idea, that without the sense of love for yourself and others, that no dreams or beauty or art or peace or sense of tranquility is truly possible. May we all be lucky enough to have people that encourage us to find this feeling each day, in those temporary, fleeting moments. They are, after all, what ties us to our earth-bound experiences, and to each other.

frida quote