Snippets from Steepletop

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First Fig 

MY candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

Second Fig

SAFE upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

The Singing Woman from the Woods-Edge

WHAT should I be but a prophet and a liar,
Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar?
Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water,
What should I be but the fiend’s god-daughter?

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,
That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?
And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,
But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,
As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,
You will find such flame at the wave’s weedy ebb
As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother’s web,

But there comes to birth no common spawn
From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,
And you never have seen and you never will see
Such things as the things that swaddled me!

After all’s said and after all’s done,
What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

In through the bushes, on any foggy day,
My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,
With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,
A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

And there sit my Ma, her knees beneath her chin,
A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,
And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying
That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,
He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,
He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,
And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

Oh, the things I haven’t seen and the things I haven’t known,
What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,
And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,
With a “Which would you better?” and a “Which would you rather?”

With him for a sire and her for a dam,
What should I be but just what I am?

The Prisoner

ALL right,
Go ahead!
What’s in a name?
I guess I’ll be locked into
As much as I’m locked out of!

The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society

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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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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.

PhotoDiary – L’Automne

dan photos september 2013 549A natural reflecting pool, Route 1 near Milbridge, Maine

dan photos september 2013 544Marshland

Last week, I went out, with borrowed camera in hand, and took photos of the beauty that is autumn in Maine, autumn in our Acadia National Park, autumn on our island. I am so sad for people who are coming here to see our park and are being shut out or, in some cases, ticketed, for those of who live here can see it all the time. Maybe this glimpse will, at least, help for those of you who are not lucky enough to come and visit during leaf season. I, myself, have not seen anything like it in my lifetime. Once more, I stand ever thankful to be here, right now.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery

dan photos september 2013 554One early fall morning at the Carriage House near Northeast Harbor

dan photos september 2013 553I noticed something miraculous and held in time…

dan photos september 2013 556Bricks, granite and leaves sharing similar hues!

dan photos september 2013 567These autumn colours are electric, especially when posited against grey roof tiles and trunks

dan photos september 2013 570dan photos september 2013 578dan photos september 2013 584A glimpse of the far side of Lower Hadlock Pond outside of Northeast Harbor does make you wonder how it all happens so quickly…

dan photos september 2013 586…you can see it again on Parkman Mountain in Acadia National Park.

dan photos september 2013 601The trees are beginning to rest…

dan photos september 2013 589…the grasses are sprouting rainbows from their bases…

dan photos september 2013 590…green is turning to gold.

dan photos september 2013 593Before it all fades to grey, it is time to bear witness to the rash of colours all around us!

dan photos september 2013 596dan photos september 2013 603dan photos september 2013 609Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

George Eliot

Another Rainy Day…

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“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca

Let’s talk about rain; Maine is truly a rainy state. After spending most of my adult life in Austin, Texas, land of almost desert-like plants and a serious lack of rain due to a ten year drought, when I moved away from Texas and to Philadelphia I had forgotten that these things called umbrellas existed. The first few times it rained, I was trapped outside sans-protection, and became soaked. Since living in Philly, I’ve adjusted and now have my own umbrella, striped with color, naturally, that, hopefully, travels with me on rainy days, protecting my head.

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I moved to Maine almost a year ago, in the midst of a bold and warm and sunny summer. I lived in a giant tent built in the basement of my parents’ house and spent most of my days there as I was very ill with shingles. Sometimes, I ventured out into the garden or down the road to the lake to swim. The summer was golden and light and even the breeze off the ocean was warm.

This year, however, is a rather wet year. As I sit here, at this moment, in the morning, having finished one cup of coffee and needing to get to work, I am listening to the rain fall, again, on the deck, off the picnic table, off the eaves. I am wondering if my plants will ever grow big and bushy with all this rain, all this lack of sunshine. I have to say that the consistent rain, interrupted here and there by sun, is rather similar to the wintertime darkness and absence of my favorite star.

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People say here that you must take Vitamin D to deal with the lack of light, and I think they are right. It is hard for me to understand how the sun can come out so few and far between; this is a place in which you feel so lucky and excited about sunny days that it’s as if everyone is outside all day long, soaking in sunshine with the knowledge that tomorrow, it may be grey and windy, rainy and cool again. Like today.

Yesterday was one of those days and I spent the whole day outside building a fence of peabrush. I am in the midst of a garden transformation, taking the blank slate which is the yard of my little house, and building an outdoor sitting space and green screens and veggie patches and flowerbeds. After all day in the sunshine, my shoulders and back were bright red and warm, I felt the strange chill of sunburn, I sat outside on the deck at night and looked at the few stars peeking through the thin, wispy nighttime clouds.

The parking lot next to my house is large and full of spaces demarcated by white lines. There is a yellow painted path, newly dubbed the Yellow Brick Road, that shows you how to walk down the steps to the water. At night, there are no streetlights and if you stand in the middle of the lot, staring upward through the power lines and beyond the trees, a whole world, a patchwork quilt of stars opens up before your eyes, each and every night. To the Northeast are mountains, silhouetted slightly against the nighttime sky, and everywhere you turn your head are more stars, clustered together and far apart, shining, twinkling brightly. Over the ocean rises the Moon, when we are lucky enough to have her, and she sits happily in the eastern sky as the nighttime passes.

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Last night, I lay about in my bed, curled up under a down comforter, flannel sheets and a woolen blanket, reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and imagining the scene set in the book, the scene of Manderley and its grounds and its epic loneliness, emptiness, romantic desolation, as set here, in Northeast Harbor, amidst the mansions of old wealthy families, the cold hallways set with beautiful artworks and conservative wooden furniture upholstered in salmon and off white silk, the kitchens larger than most houses I have lived in, empty for months, populated only for weeks. In the winter, I can pretend they are mine, or partly mine, anyway, and now have to realize that, just as the de Winters in the book, in the summer, the houses, and their ghosts, must awake. Are there creatures like Mrs Danvers in the houses in Northeast Harbor? Are there skeletons in closets and banshees wailing at the gates? As old rock walls begin to pitch and break apart, as pink paint peels off walls and old sinks rust, what happens to the families within? The people…who knows all the stories?

Such a spookiness and a subtle fascination, this rainy place full, now, almost, of its summer population, its summer people, summer not residents. Soon, the streets will be filled with people, Billionaire’s Island in full swing, mostly hidden behind heavy wooden doors, and behind leaded glass windows. Sometimes, I can see a glimpse of this old-fashioned life out of a mid-century novel, by catering parties in those beautiful kitchens, holding delicate antique china, staring out at the ocean from the patio, but most of the time, the wonder comes at night, under the covers, thinking about what it would be like to really live in a house like Manderley.

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Christmas Window Wunderkammer

Wunderkammer above my bed — the place of inspiration for this project

I did tests on small stones before collecting and committing myself to larger ones.

Andy Goldsworthy

 

I wrote about the project a few days ago, but…I am in the process of designing and making the parts to create a Christmas window at a shop-gallery in Bar Harbor, Maine. I install on Monday, and it is shaping up nicely. Today is Thanksgiving, but our family is celebrating tomorrow and so today is a giant work day — long and delicious.

In the vein of long, delicious work days, I have started my day by watching the sunrise (it was another beautiful one), reflecting on my amazing road trip from yesterday (still working on writing about that one), and designing a giant Wunderkammer that is three windows large for the holiday window project.

 

Silhouettes — Partridge in a Pear Tree and Two Turtle Doves

 

Here are some links pour vous….perhaps you will like them and they will help you (and I) understand what I am doing….

Why is a Wunderkammer kitsch? from La Rocaille — one of my new favorite blogs.

Andre Breton’s interactive Wunderkammer

and just in case you need a refresher on who Andre Breton was….

The Joseph Cornell Box – I am trying to justify buying this book right now…Joseph Cornell is a huge inspiration on all of my artworks and projects…

Joseph Cornell Collection at the Guggenheim

Rosamond Purcell at the Big Town Gallery, her books at Amazon.com and her  website.

This is a great blog dedicated to window displays in London, and it is WONDERFUL!!! I am very sad to be missing the windows in New York City this year. But, as they say, if you build it, they will come! (Or something…) Here’s to a day of creativity, art-making, inspiration, walking, listening and looking!!!

 

A day of composing is a day well spent…