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

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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Gloriousness & Wretchedness

Fear

“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ” 

Pema Chodron

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Fear sat behind us on a beige couch as we ate dinner together at a short table. Fear sat and watched, and waited for us to notice its presence as we talked and laughed and touched.

Into the kitchen, it followed us as if it knew that one of us would look up and see it staring us in the face. It had been a glorious afternoon and evening. Fear stepped in and overtook a simple request, twisting it into something with a meaning it didn’t really have. Fear caused silence and a lack of joy: it caused confusion and awkwardness and a smidge of sorrow. Later, in bed, it caused us to turn away, and later still, to miss each other somehow, and to drift away.

What happens when fear drives the bus? What happens when it overtakes simple affections and communication and steers us away from each other? All too easily can this happen, and sometimes, only a couple of hours or days of clarity can help shed light on something so murky as those feelings of: Will s/he listen to me in the future? What is happening here? Is this meaningless, or meaningful?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the area of deep breaths and clear thoughts, of truly listening to the other and attempting to meet their needs even if it inconveniences our own momentary desires. There can be such anxiety in moments, as if the whole world hinges on a singular passing segment of time, when, with perspective, we of course can see and realize that we are all, after all, only living and acting out of our own beliefs and our own minds in that selfsame moment. It is so difficult not to ascribe deep meaning to things like the sweet words lovers speak to one another late on a fall afternoon, or to a feeling of uncertainty very early in the morning.

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Time, in its passing, teaches us that although we may notice the moments and feel them intensely, that perhaps instead of acting based on reactive decisions made in those moments, that we should see the experience as a whole, and take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that…the only thing to fear, is Fear itself. And keep moving: understanding that the value of the whole outweighs momentary confusion or inconvenience or uncertainty or that dirtiest of dirty words, insecurity.

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”

~ Pema Chodron

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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.

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North Wind

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In the midst of a meadow

A skylark singing

Free from everything

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There are hotspots on the ice, on the lakes and ponds of our island, that look like black neurons embedded in the hard, icy surface. The pattern they make echoes perfectly the endings of our neural cells, or the pattern of growth in reindeer moss, or the paths of rivers as they progressively etch the surface of our planet.

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Why are there such similarities in shapes and forms that are found in nature? Why is that the millions of bubbles suspended in the ice of a frozen pond mimic the lattice of old bridges, or that the edge of a huge crack in that same ice, one of the cracks that stretches thirty feet in one direction and 4 inches down, has the same structure and form as a chunk of granite a few feet away at the water’s edge? Why does ice, frozen under the lake’s surface, look like a field of daisies, or the surface of a sea urchin, or the tentacles of a jellyfish?

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Are we, as humans, so desperate to find meaning in our lives, however short they may be, that we find meanings and patterns in natural phenomena? Or are those patterns simply patterns: repeating shapes and structures that are big and small, in hot and cold, in water and air, all through our Earth system? When I look at photographs of nebulas and galaxies, I see shapes that resemble eyes and horseheads. When I sit on a frozen pond and stare down through the ice, I see shapes that resemble stars and clouds in space. Perhaps there is no great meaning in these similarities: perhaps they are simply a repetitive alignment of the atoms that make up all that is our planet Earth.

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It is very, very cold here at the present moment. Last week, on the coldest day of the year, I went ice skating with a friend on Little Long Pond, at sunset. As the sun’s light descended into peach and orange, all around us, the shadows stretched long and the fir trees reflected, black, on the pond’s surface. I skated to the far end of the pond, across a patch that, in summer, is a swampy bog of reeds and grasses. I skated over ice with brambles and grasses growing up out of it: it looks like hair growing out of skin. As I headed back to my boots as they sat on shore, I noticed the sunset, pink, reflected on the ice’s surface.

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Three times lately, I have been skating at Jordan Pond — an epic and majestic place with two mountains at the end of the lake, and trees on all sides. In summer, this place is crawling with people; now, not a soul. On my first and second visits, the wind blew, shrieking with all her force, out of the north with a viciousness and a bite that is unexplainable except when you are experiencing it. (Estimated wind chill was -33F!!!). I struck out on the ice, fighting the wind and battling forward along the middle of the pond. The pond narrows at the boat launch, where my boots and the truck sat, and funnels the wind into a tunnel of cold, strong air. The wind was blowing at 30 knots at least, and it almost blew me over as I stood up on my skates.

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Fighting forward, swinging my arms and legs side to side like a high speed Olympic skater in slow motion, I was dressed in mechanic’s coveralls over a down jacket, performance fleece, wool leggings, corduroys, a hat and a  hood on my head and a scarf wrapped around my face. I scooted, slowly over the ice, occasionally pausing during greater wind gusts, turning my face away from the inevitability of frostbite and giving my legs a break. Slowly, across an intense, bumpy ice flow that spanned the width of the lake, I inched my way toward the smooth center of Jordan Pond, and stared down beneath my feet at frozen bubbles and black water. So clear that you could detect stones and branches beneath you, it felt scary and unnatural, as if you were flying or scuba diving, or both.

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Skating over this alien landscape felt dangerous and otherworldly: as if I was caught here in this moment in time, and that I would never be able to be here again because it could just disappear with the snap of my fingers, or this week’s thawing temperatures. Flying and gliding over the ice is like riding a bicycle or racing a sailboat or sawing a piece of silver or vacuuming a large carpet: all you think about in those moments of movement is the act itself, of paying attention to the ice beneath your feet so that you don’t catch your skate blade in a crack and fall. In those moments, you hear the wind howling in your ears, the rapid flapping of the leather of your mittens, the clattering of a piece of velcro as it is wrenched loose from the hood that protects your head from losing all of your heat, gliding over green water and black, staring at pond stones and deer bones and birch trees now suspended, frozen, at the lake’s bottom.

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 This past summer I took some friends who had never been to Mount Desert Island around this lake on a walk, and listened to the water lap the rocks at pond’s edge. Now the water is silent and like glass; it still looks like open water at a distance, but is 6-10 inches thick, solid, frozen. Patches of snow-ice dotted the pond the further I skated down, as if they were giant white lilypads stretched across the lake’s surface. Skating over those lilypads is deliciously bumpy, and you feel the shock absorbing properties of your knees and ankles as skates and your body bounce across.

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The wind was at my back as I skated over to a sacred spot discovered the day before: a place where the ice had frozen into tiny, perfect floral shapes, where it looked like algae or sea urchins or jellyfish, or all three at the same time. The wind, with so much force, pushed me so hard that I sped up very fast and took a few moments just to glide between the icy lilypads, leaning on one skate or the other to direct my path around and between them. Needing no push from my muscles, I was simply guided forward by gusts of intense north wind. I finally managed to slow down by doubling back and facing the wind again: able to slow down and stop, I took a moment and looked at the two mountains that are the distinguishing feature of this pond.

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Returning for a third visit this morning, at sunrise, I spied birds’ wings made of ice trapped under the pond’s surface, and vertebrae, and skeletons. I saw the shape of two birds fighting each other, complete with feathers flying. I saw jellyfish, and shapes that looked like antique carousels, and baskets, and cages. I saw spirals trapped and motioning me down into the black depths. I took a few moments and lay down on the ice and stared at a 10 inch crack in the surface. I looked at it from one side and saw how the early morning sunlight was shining through its cracks, making it appear polka dotted, or etched by some invisible hand. I looked at it from the other side, and peered closely and noticed how much it echoed the shape of the mountain that stood in front of me, on the west side of the pond. I noticed the strings of bubbles and noted how similar their patterns are to the way cave glow-worms hang, or the shape of the nails and pins we use to build houses. As my friend and I lay there, bundled up against the cold, on our bellies, gazing into the ice, a huge boom echoed below us as a new, large crack formed somewhere behind us. The boom, the cracking, was so forceful it shook us: you could feel the vibration all through your body. At that moment, we stood up and skated around each other again for a few moments, savouring the serendipity and the silence and silkiness of perfect ice, and then went off to begin the day.

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