January 6, 2019

Altered Altar

This is the floor of my studio, right now. Yesterday, with the solar eclipse and new moon as motivators, I decided to get started on making an altar.

An altar. FULL STOP. I couldn't have contemplated such a thing or even said such a word a couple of years ago without a full body cringe of squiggy discomfort. An altar? Me? In my home? What? Since then I've read a lot, thought a lot, questioned a lot, worked a lot, stretched a lot, relinquished a lot, embraced a lot, and changed a lot, as one does.

My altar is not an altar of or to any religious faith (although it will contain a Ganesha figurine and possibly a Buddha head), it's more accurately a display or vignette of items that hold personal significance to me. My altar will serve as a personal touchstone, with elements of beauty and symbols that encourage and remind me of how and who I am and want to be.
This gorgeous, aged, chipped, carved wood frame will become the container, the altar, for my rotating collection of objects and symbols. I've had the frame for years, but haven't before now figured out how to use it or display it. The flat interior edges (the rabbet) are two and half inches deep. Perfect, I think, as a little shelf for special, little objects.

I'm going to add a shelf midway-ish up the height of the frame. And since I have no way to determine just what is in the paint and finishes that remain adhered to it, I'm going to gently clean and then seal the surface with polyurethane. It pains me to do something that isn't reversible, but I'd rather have any potential carcinogens and lung irritants safely sealed in place.
This is such a magnificent frame. I am over the moon with happiness that it will finally adorn my wall and serve a purpose other than just looking really friggin' cool. Creating an altar feels like an apt way to begin the new year. It will certainly include elements of my word for 2019, spaciousness. Sorry for the abrupt ending, I'm out of practice writing posts. . .

December 27, 2018

52 Books

For an explanation of 52 Books (2012) click here.
Links to all other previous lists
52 Books 2013 :: 52 Books 2014 :: 52 Books 2015 :: 52 Books 2016 :: 52 Books 2017
BOOKS 2018
The Goldfinch • Donna Tartt
Dancer • Colum McCann
All Over Creation • Ruth Ozeki
Gift from the Sea • Anne Morrow Lindbergh
At the Water's Edge • Sara Gruen
The Last Kingdom • Bernard Cornwell
The Girl on the Train • Paula Hawkins
The Fiery Cross • Diana Gabaldon
People of the Book • Geraldine Brooks
The Secret Garden • Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Mists of Avalon • Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Bridges of Madison County • Robert James Waller
When It Happens to You • Molly Ringwald
The Wise Man's Fear • Patrick Rothfuss
The Pale Horseman • Bernard Cornwell
Transit • Rachel Cusk
Winter Journal • Paul Auster
Wizard and Glass • Stephen King
American Gods • Neil Gaiman
The Language of Trees • Ilie Ruby
The Devil's Workshop • Alex Grecian
Threats • Amelia Gray
Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You • Alice Munro
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto • Michael Pollan
The Passenger • Lisa Lutz
Slade House • David Mitchell
The First Bad Man • Miranda July
Lords of the North • Bernard Cornwell
Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist • Judy Chicago
Sword Song • Bernard Cornwell
Cat's Eye • Margaret Atwood
Mortal Fear • Greg Iles
Black Swan Green • David Mitchell
Jezebels of the Earth • Wandering Meadowlark
Hag-Seed • Margaret Atwood
One Good Turn • Kate Atkinson
Beautiful Ruin • Jess Walter
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone • J.K. Rowling
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo • Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire • Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest • Stieg Larsson
A Breath of Snow and Ashes • Diana Gabaldon
Exit West • Mohsin Hamid
The Graveyard Book • Neil Gaiman
Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Lives • Becky Aikman
The Handmaid's Tale • Margaret Atwood
The Last Painting of Sara deVos • Dominic Smith
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century • Kirk Wallace Johnson
Started Early, Took My Dog • Kate Atkinson
This Must Be the Place • Maggie O'Farrell
The Burning Land • Bernard Cornwell
The Hunger Games • Suzanne Collins
Taft • Ann Patchett
Catching Fire • Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay • Suzanne Collins
The Mistress's Daughter • A.M. Homes
Dark Places • Gillian Flynn
Bonfire • Krysten Ritter
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children • Ransom Riggs
The Robber Bride • Margaret Atwood
and an insightful, amazing, amusing, and helpful unpublished manuscript written by a good friend

December 18, 2018


Dear A - - -

I've been thinking about new beginnings, fresh starts, hitting the personal reset button, and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. But, as you know, our phone conversations clock in at, at a minimum, four hours. (When you left voicemail this morning, I was at my workplace's annual holiday breakfast, which I had completely forgotten about when planning my days off this week. Oops.) Regardless, I have too many things I want to do in my days before heading north for the holidays, especially in the studio, to make space for one of our epic phone rollicks. Instead, my rambling, one-way conversation is coming to you as a "letter."
Sure, I could put pen to paper and mail this through the postal service. It's always so pleasant to receive something personal in the mail, isn't it? A lift, a spark, a hug, delivered right to your door or end of the driveway, as the case may be. But, as I know you receive my blog posts in your email and file them away in a separate folder until you have time to sit with them, I thought: Hey! Two birds, one stone. (What a horrid expression! Sorry, birds!) An e-letter to you to sow the seeds for a future conversation plus a "new beginnings" blog post all-in-one.

New beginnings. I've been wanting to reconnect to this space through regular posts (whatever regular winds up being: Weekly? Bi-weekly? Don't know, what in the end feels right and doable, I suppose). But I've been struggling to find my way back in, struggling to interest myself enough in my own words and ramblings to share them here with a wider audience. Even if that audience is only two, that's still wider than the limits of my own head. Struggling, that is, until the format of a letter to you hit like a bolt of lightning. Don't worry, I'm only a little singed around the edges, and plan to cut my hair soon anyway, so no lasting damage done.
Oh dear. I'm cluing in to why our phone calls are epic in length. Because we wander. Even writing to you, imagining this as a conversation with you, wandering ensues. We wander beautifully & curiously & playfully & inquiringly & rantingly & goofily & searchingly & intuitively. Our conversations are like rollicking tromps through the countryside, from meadow to brook, forest to hilltop, thicket to lake shore. Were a couple of lovable, inexhaustible hounds, meandering to and fro, noses to the ground sniffing everything, noses in the air seeing everything. I love our conversations. I wish we recorded them to listen back to later. To be able to take notes. Some of the stuff we stumble upon is pure gold.

Right. New Beginnings. What I have been holding on to, making space for, mostly just reminding myself over and over, is that new beginnings can happen any time. ANY TIME. Every new breath is an opportunity to begin afresh. Okay, not exactly revolutionary or earth shattering of a thought. But still. Instead of putting off starting something - like trying to figure out how to create a cracked open milkweed pod shape with fabric pieces - until tomorrow, next week, the new year, whatever conceivable future time frame feels new and fresh in the moment, I remind myself that this very moment is a new beginning.
With your years of meditation practice, I imagine this is not a new concept to you. And I have to interrupt this train of thought to say that it's not a new concept to me either. But, somehow, in recent years (um, over the past decade perhaps?), more and more time-based procrastinations and avoidances have crept into my daily habits. And I don't like it. It just doesn't make sense to me, intellectually if not in practice, to put off something I want to do or need to do with the justification that tomorrow or next week is a fresh start. I'll do it then. Why then? Why not now? And, really, the "then" in those ego trickster mind games never seem to arrive. Or keep getting pushed back.

Well, I've barely scratched the surface of what I thought I wanted to get down in words for you. But this will have to do for now. I'll leave you with a passage from Dani Shapiro's book Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life on this very topic of new beginnings, a passage I have glued to the inside cover of one of my sketchbooks:
     When I was first learning to meditate, this idea of beginning again was revelatory. It still is. The meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg speaks of capturing the mind scampering off, like the little monkey that it is, into the past, the future, anywhere but here, and suggests that the real skill in meditation is simply noticing that the mind has wandered. So liberating, this idea that we can start over at any time, a thousand times a day if need be. I see many parallels between the practices of meditation and writing but none are more powerful than this. Writing is hard. We resist, we procrastinate, we veer off course. But we have this tool, this ability to begin again. Every sentence is new. Every paragraph, every chapter, every book is a country we've never been to before. We're clearing brush. We don't know what's on the other side of that tree. We are visitors in a foreign land. And so we take a step. Up the stairs after the morning coffee. Back to the desk after the doorbell has rung. Return to the manuscript.
     It never gets easier. It shouldn't get easier. Word after word, sentence after sentence, we build our writing lives. We hope not to repeat ourselves. We hope to evolve as interpreters and witnesses of the world around us. We feel our way through darkness, pause, consider, breathe in, breathe out, begin again. And again, and again.*
Things I did not get to that I'd like to remember to talk about with you:
     1. Spirals vs circles, linear vs cyclical time
     2. The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image
(my current read, I'm fascinated with the author's theory that written language is the universal reason varied cultures shifted from egalitarian Goddess worshiping polytheistic societies to patriarchal, mysogynistic monotheistic societies in which God is imagined as male.)
     3. Reading deliberately, list of books to read, books on shelf that remain unread or unfinished

* Shapiro, Dani. Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013, pp 109-110.

November 8, 2018

Shifting Perspectives

A shift in perspective. Deliberately altering one's view/mindset by changing one's outlook/point of reference. Employing new words to describe a tired concept. New words create new perspective, fresh ways of thinking about a particular problem or sticky wicket.

This is where I have been: listless, immobile, stagnant, motivated yet resistant to starting. Starting anything: art, creative idea follow-through, decluttering, ordering the house, cleaning, cooking. Stuck. Stagnant.
After much not helpful deliberation and stern self-talkings-to, reflecting on a conversation with a dear friend got me thinking. What if the stagnancy in me is a reflection of the stagnancy in the house? Stagnant energy, if you will, enclosed in the house, gathered and trapped amongst the areas of clutter and the items unpacked yet not arranged.

I intellectually know that my clutter hasn't changed. Nevertheless, being overwhelmed into paralysis by the sheer volume of the decluttering I dearly wish to tackle, that helplessness completely shifted when I replaced the language in the story. Instead of cleaning and clutter-busting I am releasing stagnant energy and inviting in fresh energy. Complete game changer.
It began with removing the air conditioners from the windows in preparation for colder weather. (Did anyone else abruptly move from A/C to heating in a single day?) The first window was filthy, so I deep cleaned every nook and cranny and polished the glass to a shine. The difference was amazing! It not only let in more light - clear, unwavering, unfiltered light - with the idea of energy exchange in mind, it felt like I had removed a barrier to the stagnant energy escaping the house. More window cleaning ensued. Which led to removing the pockets of clutter around the windows. And arranging the windowsills to be pleasing, harmonious, happy.
This shift, this change in words, change in conceptualization, altering the story and self-talk, I wonder how it can be applied to creative work. When stuck, or blocked, or feeling in a rut creatively, when feeling "uninspired," or tapped dry, how can I shift my perspective to unlock movement and effort? How can different words used to describe the blocked feeling, a fresh way to conceive of the issue, provide space and motivation for the joy of making?

Through this process of physically clearing and cleaning and removing blockages, the synchronicities keep on coming. Perhaps it has been framed and inspired by my early choice of word for 2019: Clarity. Regardless, this timely post from The Craft Sessions about unlocking creativity through changing our self-talk says what I am trying to convey much better than I can say it. And this guest post over at Annapurna Living - about windows of all things - landed in my inbox with a soft chuckle and nudge to keep on keeping on. As George Bernard Shaw put it, "you are the windows through which you must see the world."

October 11, 2018

Soul Salve

"It is a gross misunderstanding to imagine warfare as endemic to the human condition."
- Marija Gimbutas, from the preface to The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe*
Reading those words Tuesday, as well as the entirely of Preface: What Is Civilization? by anthropologist and archeologist Marija Gimbutas, was a much needed breath of fresh air. A deep, cleansing, releasing breath. 

Examining "the way of life, religion, and social structures of the peoples who inhabited Europe from the 7th to the 3rd millennia B.C." Gimbutas asserts:
Widespread fighting and fortification building have indeed been the way of life for most of our direct ancestors from the Bronze Age up until now. However, this was not the case in the Paleolithic and Neolithic. There are no depictions of arms (weapons used against other humans) in Paleolithic cave paintings, nor are there remains of weapons used by man against man during the Neolithic of Old Europe. From some hundred and fifty paintings that survived at Çatal Hüyük, there is not one depicting a scene of conflict or fighting, or of war or torture.
No warfare, no conflict. Village sites chosen for "convenient setting, good water and soil, and availability of animal pastures," rather than defensible or inaccessible positions. Further, no images "have been found of a Father God throughout the prehistoric record." 
The religion of the Goddess reflected a matristic, matrilineal, and endogamic social order for most of early human history. This was not necessarily "matriarchy," which wrongly implies "rule" by women as a mirror image of androcracy. A matrifocal tradition continued throughout the early agricultural societies of Europe, Anatolia, and the Near East, as well as Minoan Crete. The emphasis in these cultures was on technologies that nourished people's lives, in contrast to the androcratic focus on domination.
Set aside any judgements about Gimbutas's research, and just imagine that for a moment. Culture focused on nourishing the lives of all its citizens rather than a society of division, stratification, hierarchy, and domination. This. This concept/struggle/desire, in a freakin' nutshell, has been the driving force of my art practice for nearly 30 years (which is as long as I have had an art practice).  

I could say, Marija Gimbutas, where have you been all of my life?!?! But, actually, I remember having one of her books on goddesses in my collection during my first year of art school. I had several books on the Goddess and goddesses. I no longer have any of them on my shelves. I can't remember passing them along, nor why I had them to begin with. Did I purchase them? Were they gifts? I can't recall ever poring over them. I'm sure I didn't turn to them for inspiration (as I am wont to do now). What seems likely to me, not that it matters or is of interest to anyone other than me, is that I bought those goddess books for the sole purpose of finding the meaning of Sheela-na-Gig. (I've mentioned this before, under the MUSIC heading in this post). Once sussed, I never really gave the books another glance.

Full circle, eh?

*All quotes in this post are from:
Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

August 28, 2018

Distracted Deliberateness

I have not abandoned this space, dear readers. What began as silence due to distraction - complete inability to focus on anything from reading a single book to studio work to cooking meals to you name it - changed with reading these words:
". . . the more he talked about the book he wasn't writing, the harder it became to actually write."
- from Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Avoiding this space due to distraction became deliberate silence. Rather than talking here about the ideas I have for work - work that I haven't begun - I am choosing to not talk. And rather than talking about it, I have been able to begin. Which I find fascinating. Perhaps more musings on that in the future, but, for now, the silence shall continue. Deliberately.

July 26, 2018

Anger as Fuel for Creativity

I am angry, people. Raging angry. These days, it seems to me that anger gets a bad rap. The bad rap is attached to the (mistaken) interpretation of anger as a violent action or as justification for destruction. Anger is an emotion, plain and simple. It is not action. It is not impetus. It is a feeling.

But far too often, and too often whipped up by sensationalist media stories, anger is equated with hatred, bigotry, close-minded judgement, and any number of destructive beliefs and/or behaviors that are employed as crutches to supposedly justify and explain rude, disrespectful, threatening, and/or violent actions. I do not subscribe to this understanding of anger. Rather, as poet David Whyte describes in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, anger is:
the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. Stripped of physical imprisonment and violent reaction, anger is the purest form of care, the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for.
My internal living flame of anger was stoked mightily by my recent reading of Judy Chicago's Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist. First published in 1975, I expected the material to be dated.  I was unpleasantly surprised by how relevant the book remains. The institutionalized chauvinism, sexism, and phallocentricity that Chicago describes so thoroughly infuriated me, I had trouble sleeping for weeks. I seethed anger. My anger roiled into resentment.

When I took a step back and was able to identify the resentment, I realized it was clouding my anger. My resentment was pure negativity. It served no useful purpose. In fact, it blocked the channels, established long ago in my studio practice, that funnel my anger into creative work. With effort, I consciously and purposefully released my resentment.

And then, the a-ha! moment. Resentment banished, yet still angry, I read a short piece in Womankind magazine that focused my anger and provided a new avenue for creative work - ecofeminism. As described by Antonia Case in "Ecofeminism" (Womankind #16, pp 20-21):
French writer Françoise d'Eaubonne coined a term in the 1970s called ecofeminism, which examines the relationship between the exploitation of nature and the position of women in society, believing that there is a link that warrants further examination. D'Eaubonne argued that the ecological disaster we face is a result of a patriarchal system that treats nature as a resource to be used and exploited - dominated and controlled - rather than a precious reserve to be given the space and means to flourish.
I'm hooked. My anger has a focus, and a potential outlet in new work. While I plan to continue to make yoni pieces and work that celebrates, venerates, the feminine, I can't deny the part of me that gets fired up and energized by anger. Anger, for me, is a creative tool. Anger is inspiration. Anger is fodder for art. As David Whyte puts it, my anger truly does illuminate what I belong to, what I wish to protect, and what I am willing to hazard myself for. The form of expression I use for it is my art work, anger as creation rather than destruction.