Friday, July 11, 2014

How To Use Time and Not Be Used By It

Two months in Newfoundland is not much time.  According to our current day, workaholic, blood-thirsty capitalistic society, two weeks is considered a long vacation and two months is unheard of - what are we, in France or something?  But stepping a little closer to reality, two months is not much time at all.  For a moment, let's set aside the point that I do not consider my time here "a vacation."  I consider being here to be central to my life as an artist - it is a rich, fertile, nourishing place.  Given all this and my limited time here this year, I decided to use the time as I would an artist residency.

When I started The House Museum in 2001, the motivation and ideas for the project were coming from my first impressions of this place.  I didn't know anything about it really but I had a strong impulse that felt like it came from somewhere very deep inside me.  A feeling of knowing, even as I knew nothing.  The process of making and running that project for five years (!) brought me much closer to this place.  In a way, I came to know too much.  I got a bit jaded and cynical.  Newfoundland was this or Newfoundland was that.  It's always a bad sign when you think you know something so definitively, in my opinion.  Fortunately, I had the good sense to stop running The House Museum at that point and to spend time just living here.

Oddly enough, the question that was central to The House Museum - why are you here? - was never so pertinent or unanswered as when I stopped running The House Museum.  Why was I here?  I no longer had the obligation (as it came to seem to be) of running that project.  I no longer had an angry husband who was pissed that he had to spend all of his vacation here.  I no longer had two little children who needed full-time attention.  With all the obstacles cleared away, I was suddenly unclear about what I was doing and why.  I seriously considered closing this chapter of my life - without obligation meant that I was, in fact, not obligated to hang on if there was nothing to hang on to.  But that impulse that stirred in 2001 is still there.  I feel it.

So, this time will be spent rediscovering this place.  I know a lot now so it is time to get back to not knowing and, instead, to begin seeing what is in front of me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Home, It's Where I Want To Be

At long last, we have arrived!   And it is glorious.

We got on the ferry last night after spending the usual shocking amount of time in North Sydney.  Oh, how many days of my life have I spent hanging around in North Sydney, Nova Scotia?  It is time that I will never get back and, frankly, I am not so happy about it.  Possibly the only place more bleak than North Sydney is neighboring Sydney Mines, that uses the motto, "Rich in Hospitality....and Coal!" Need I say more?

It has been something of an odyssey - the storm, the delays, the no-cabin, the being parked on Deck 1 (it's a long story that involves a lot of waiting around).  Both Lucy and I had moments - many moments - when we wondered if Newfoundland is really worth it.  And maybe I say this every year....but it is so worth it.

This place.  This crazy place.  It is home.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Churning Up Above and Below

There was much talk about digestion in Nashville.  No, not like a group of old people at the dinner table.  This digestion consists of taking in all the information and experiences of our nine days of training and really absorbing them.  Tossing them around in our minds and our bodies and seeing what happens.

For myself, however, this process had to be delayed (we shall not speak of it as constipation as this delay was made consciously and deliberately and I can end it at any time, I swear).  I so deliberately delayed my digestion because we had only three days in NYC before heading north.

Unfortunately these training modules happen in late June so our time in Newfoundland must be pushed back - normally we would have been there for months already.  Of course it is an embarrassment of riches so I am not complaining!  When I booked our ferry crossing, I thought that for once I won't need to give weather a second thought the way I do in April or May.  How wrong I was.

As we drove northward it was clear that Hurricane Arthur was going to interfere with our crossing.  Indeed, the ferry departure was moved up to a time that made it impossible for us to catch.  So we - along with many others - rescheduled.  The earliest we could book was for Tuesday night but I am holding out some hope that we might get on one tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Lucy and I are on something of an enforced vacation, holed up in Cheticamp on Cape Breton while the storm passes over.  Seems like the perfect time for some digestion.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


We have crossed the halfway mark of our time here in Nashville.  Each day, classes have run from 7 am to 6:30 p.m. with short breaks for breakfast and lunch.  If it is very intense for the students, I imagine it is doubly intense for the teachers (there are three).  They are giving us everything they have, without holding back.  In fact, that is their goal so that, at the end of the three years, we will be our own personal version of everything they know.  And they know a LOT.

It's funny.  We all arrived a bit cautious about the others and unsure of our own abilities and experiences.  Some people, especially the West Coast people, know each other but many of us arrived alone without a friend to sit next to for reassurance.  We have slowly - and quickly - come to know each other through class discussion and mealtime conversations.  Although it has been my multi-year project to be less shy and more open, I was plenty wary of my fellow students.  As one person put it, yoga people can be so weird.

To my delight, I have had no reason to stay wary.  Far from weird, we are, as a group, interesting, experienced, sincere people.  Some have more knowledge in one area and some in another but we all have something to contribute and we share a deep desire to learn and to be of service to people who are interested in how yoga can be used therapeutically.  If I may say so, we are a most excellent group!  No doubt this is because the teachers are most excellent.  I hope you will study with them if you can.

Besides the in-depth discussions about philosophical topics - oh yes, I can go on about the meaning of life, believe me! - I am especially fascinated by the three observations we have done.  Three willing (and brave) people have come in and had three consultations with one of the teachers while we listen and watch.  After their visit and the person leaves, we discuss our observations and clarify what we saw and didn't see.  Each of the people has a serious issue - two of them are living a life of debilitating chronic pain.  Watching the teachers in action has been beyond inspiring.   Each of the people has come in a bit scared and uncertain about this process and has left clearly feeling better than they have in years.

It is rather heartbreaking to be honest.  Our tools are so simple and so easily within reach for absolutely everyone.  It is hard to reflect on the years of suffering that each of these people have endured, going from doctor to procedure and medication.  Maybe it is exactly because part of the healing comes from stopping the notion that the fix is coming from "out there" and to turn the light around about what is happening, and not happening, in here.  To be clear, I don't mean that, if you break your leg, you can meditate your way to proper bone healing.  Of course not.  At the same time....look closely, really closely, at your life.  Often the answers are not far off at all.

It is difficult to even begin to share in a coherent way all that has already happened in a few days.  Fortunately for me, another participant is more eloquent than I am.  Please read what she has to say.  It's lovely and, truly, just the tip of the iceberg here in steamy Nashville.

Monday, June 23, 2014


For the past several days and for several more yet to come, I am in Nashville, TN, to attend the first module of training in yoga therapy course - a three-year program that includes a total of six trips to Nashville, many web-based meetings and, I hope, one trip to India to study.

It is very exciting.  It is very intense (seven 12-hour days and two 6-hr days).  Naturally I have many thoughts and opinions about the whole thing but, at the moment, no time to share them.  Indeed, I must sleep now or I will deeply regret it in the morning.

See y'all soon!

PS.  Newfoundland is much nicer in late June than Nashville.  Just saying.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Handpainting Fibre and Yarn Workshop in Gillams, August 2nd/3rd

This summer, I will be hosting the wonderful Ani Michelle Mueller, who is the creative force behind Widdershins Woolworks.  She will lead a two-day workshop in Gillams on hand painting and dyeing fibre and yarn.

She will focus on handpainting yarn and fleece using acid dyes.  Topics covered will include colour mixing, painting tips for best results and she will share all her hard-earned secrets for getting the most beautiful, unique product for knitting and spinning.  Ani has over three decades of experience as a fibre artist and business owner, so she has much to share with us.  You can see some her work on her website.

There is an option to attend one ($100) or both days ($175 - and I highly recommend you come both days!).  Fees include lunch and all materials.  Please be in touch with me if you are interested in attending and/or need assistance/advice about housing.  There are a very limited number of rooms in Gillams that will be available first come, first served for participants.

As you can see from these examples, Ani is not your average fibre worker.  She's got Talent.  She also is very funny and charming.  And did I mention generous?  Well, she is.  The course fees are based only on the cost of getting her to Newfoundland and back.  Ani herself is accepting no fees for her teaching.

I have no doubt that it is going to be a blast.  A blast resulting in oodles of gorgeous fibre to take home and play with.  Also mad skillz to take home and play with, yo.  The only question that remains is...

....will YOU be there to be part of it?

Monday, June 09, 2014


Two shows worth seeing at The Brooklyn Museum:  

Of course there are more than just two excellent shows there (and the wonderful fountain in front of the Museum) that are worth seeing.  So go already!  Plus, the Botanical Garden next door is free on Tuesdays so you can combine the visits if you have the stamina.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Glory Days

These are the glory days in the garden.  The roses are out and their scent is intoxicating.  Add to that the smell of the honeysuckle (hey - I don't agree with it being there but since it is...), and being in the backyard is a heady experience.  

She is a little miffed that she doesn't get to go out but the birds are happy.

My goal has been to simplify.  Being gone for the main gardening months year after year has resulted in a tangle of invasive plants (see mention of honeysuckle above), none of which can be tolerated in such a small space.  So I have been digging out the beds and replanting with low maintenance perennials and a few annuals.  Would I rather be creating a mini-farm for subsistence living in an urban setting?  Yes, but it just isn't happening.  My denial of that is why I have such a mess back there now.

Little by little, it is looking better and happier.

And a happy garden is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Minky (2004? - 2014)

Our most beloved cat, Minky, has moved on to larger hunting grounds, leaving us with years of fond memories of her loving nature towards people and ruthless nature towards any and all small birds and mammals.  

She enjoyed spinning almost as much as I do.

Last summer, we noticed that she was walking slowly and not really engaging in the merciless hunting that had made her reputation.  She had to stop and rest when traveling up the hill between her winter home and her summer home.  A trip to the vet in Corner Brook revealed that her heart was enlarged - a genetic condition that would end only one way, sooner or later.  The vet didn't recommend the pills and the other treatment involved traveling with her to PEI for thousands of dollars worth of surgery - surgery that would only result in the same outcome i.e. death, albeit months or possibly, years, later.

Minky brings new meaning to the Utopia Tent.

Minky was a dignified soul who didn't need to go through all that travel and invasive treatment.  She spent her earliest days at the shelter in Curling, winning the hearts of the volunteers there with her warm, friendly manner.  Also, she caught all the mice that were foolish enough to try to take up residence at an animal shelter.  We noticed her because of her sleek, all black appearance - like a mink or perhaps, like a Minky whale.  Thus her name.

She offered us years of dedicated service in keeping varmints away, sometimes resulting in multiple catches in a day.  We learned to watch our step first thing in the morning as there would be some tidbit waiting on the welcome mat as a gift of appreciation from Minky.  In her enthusiasm, she even carried a live chipmunk into the house during one of my public House Museum events.  She also loved to sleep on your lap and crawl up to rest her face so she could look right into your eyes.  She trained me well - a quick tap on my face at 3 am was all it took most nights to get me up so I could let her outside.

Last fall, as we packed up to head south, she knew, as she always did, that this meant she would shift back to her winter home.  We always fancied that she preferred our house - and she probably did considering the love and attention that was showered upon her there.  But last year, she lay on Finn's bed and looked at me out of one eye as I raced around, packing.  When I met her eye, I knew it meant only one thing - this was our final good-bye.  She never allowed me to give her tearful good-byes in year's past - she simply would have none of it and would wander away before we could weep and wail in front her.  I always respected that about her because, let's face it, who were we really weeping for, if not ourselves? Last year, she allowed me to pet her and speak softly, offering my apologies that, once again, we were leaving her behind.  I knew it would be for the last time.

I have been half expecting to hear of Minky's death this past winter, but no, the word was that she was fine.  Then, today, I heard from our neighbor that she has been missing for a week and, despite the efforts to find her, she seems to have gone.  I am not surprised.  This is how she lived - not making a fuss, just doing what was needed.

We loved you dearly, sweet, beautiful Minky!  Thank you for sharing your life with us.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Only one of us still has red hair!
This photograph dates from just a couple of days after Lucy was born.  A wild time, no doubt, because not only did I have two children under the age of two, we purchased and moved house just a couple of weeks later.  I guess if you are going to play, play.

I am only posting it because it is sitting on my desktop and it is pretty darn cute.  Also, I have been mostly caught up in shredding old tax forms from this same era and other various, visually boring enterprises.  But if super cute, red-headed baby pictures are not your speed, may I offer you this, which a school teacher friend of mine placed before my eyes.  All three of us whom you see above laughed til we cried.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Noticing, Aging, Resistance and Dick Cheney

At the end of my yoga practice this morning, I was chatting with a friend and fellow yoga teacher about whether or not there is a time when you reach your peak of flexibility and/or strength as you age.  She is just a little older than me and has been feeling particularly stiff lately.  As always, I struggle with building strength, or as one of our teachers likes to say, Robyn you have no es-strength!  (She is from Colombia).  This teacher walked back in the room and joined the discussion.  While we were feeling like, yes, there is a time when you start to naturally decline in those areas, she was pretty adamant that everyone, everyday, must adapt and accept their practice to suit the reality of their current physical state - age makes no difference.  When you fail to do that, whether you are 20 or 80, that is when you suffer, feel anxious and experience disappointment about expectations not being met.  I would only add that it might actually be that everyone, every minute, needs to do that since how the practice is going can change radically from moment to moment.

So what of that?  A little humility can be an excellent thing in *cough, cough* some people's practices (no names, please).  Yet there is a difference between my saying (you know, just as an example) that I may never be able to come back up from a drop-back and I will never be able to come back up from a drop-back.  Accepting how things are right now isn't the same as solidifying it into a thing that will remain unchanging into the future.  As I experience this in my yoga practice, I sometimes even remember it in the rest of my life too.

A couple of weeks ago, I substitute taught a class where I essentially made this the theme of the class - I asked the students to look at the sensation of resistance (in their mind mostly) as we moved through asana.  I deliberately chose asana that I find annoying and difficult and I have noticed others also feel irritated by.  My premise was that, by noticing that sensation,  they would be able to better recognize it in other areas of life and learn some ways of not getting all done in by it.

Let's just say that it wasn't one of my more popular classes.  No one actually walked out but I could tell a few wanted to and almost no one would meet my eye at the end.  I am laughing about it now (laughing at myself, mind you!) but it was pretty rough to feel the hostility in the room growing and growing as the class progressed.  They felt resistance alright - towards me!  It is safe to say that most people who come to yoga class for a bit of sweaty vinyasa flow to some rockin' tunes are not really up for turning the light around and examining their mind. Ok, ok - lesson learned!

Yet even as I feel badly about disappointing those people in that class, I also feel like I don't practice yoga to just feel good about myself and I certainly don't teach yoga to spoon feed people more of what they already get everywhere else.  That is selling yoga short.  Big time, as Dick Cheney would say.  So, perhaps as I had to face, and accept, the silent but searing disapproval of that roomful of unhappy yogis, it actually gave me some good tools for learning how to stand by what I believe, to notice and adapt according to the present conditions, and to not solidify that experience into absolutes - "I am a terrible yoga teacher" comes to mind.

It is such a funny thing, this putting ourselves into various physical postures.  As we do it, we create and recreate the world - our world - over and over in its entirety.  What a gift!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning includes washing the front windows, weeding and replanting the back garden, weeding and replanting certain areas of my social life, and downloading the pictures on my phone camera.  

Thus, I present these images for your viewing pleasure....

Phoenix by Xu Bing at St. John the Divine
Met up with Patti and her daughter on their whirlwind tour of universities of the Northeast on the Upper West Side one lovely evening recently.  We took in this incredible installation at St. John the Divine - titled Phoenix by Xu Bing.  If you find yourself in the general area, I highly recommend wandering in and having a look.  Quite a story surrounding the work and the installation itself is spectacular.

The view from here...
Getting back in the studio after all my projects has been a challenge.  Enlivened as I was by the experience of presenting both those bodies of work, it is hard to settle into a clear direction for the next step.  At the same time, I appreciate how it is exactly this kind of moment where good opportunities exist.  One idea that keeps coming up is about how it is impossible to actually repeat anything.  As someone who makes things (sometimes) that, in theory, are completely reproducible by anyone with basic crochet or knitting skills, I should be able to repeat my projects if I want.  In theory, I could even make editions of my work.  But every time I have been asked to do that or desired to do that, I have never, ever been able to actually do it.  Is it because the exact conditions that allowed for the original creation have passed and the new set of conditions are simply different?  I don't know but I have some ideas of how to possibly play with this notion...stay tuned.

Men taking up too much space on the train.
One of my new favourite blogs is called "Men taking up too much space on the train".  It is a collection of photographs submitted by train riders who have noticed, well, men taking up too much space on the train.  It is a simple, visual exploration of how men unconsciously display their privilege in this world of ours.  In my experience, you don't have to look too hard to find it, especially on the train.  Here is a recent picture I took on the 7 train one evening.  He is taking up three - count 'em 3! - seats at evening rush hour.  Also highly recommend this short piece on McSweeney's, An Open Letter to Men on the Subway Specifically During Morning Rush Hour on the A Train Between Jay Street and Canal.  You know who you are...

To end on a more upbeat note - some beautiful tulips celebrating not just spring but Lucy's theatre debut as Sam the Janitor in the world premiere production of Expresso, written and directed by Leo Lion, who is a 14 year old homeschooler.  Don't let that fool you - every bit of it was amazing.  Congratulations Leo, Lucy et al.  Bravo!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Strikes and Gutters

When I went to South Dakota (already a month ago!), I brought extra knitting with me because, you know, just in case I had some down time.  Hey, we all have our fantasies, right?  Needless to say, I did not have any time for recreational knitting on that trip until the drive home.  

Leaving Aberdeen, I stopped at the blogless Janine's house near Madison, WI.  With her encouragement, I frogged a sweater that was almost 3/4 finished.  It was one of those things.  I started knitting it knowing that the yarn choice for the pattern was not great.  The whole time I was knitting it, I was saying to myself, this isn't quite what I want.  Each row was confirming what I already knew.  And yet, I kept on knitting.  Such an experience is not limited to knitting, in case you are thinking that it sounds kind of familiar: just keep moving forward and all the fundamental wrongs of this relationship will miraculously become right.  

Yeah, so that didn't really work out.

Fortunately, it was just yarn and knitting so ripping it out was not too horribly painful.  I already have picked out a new pattern for the yarn so I feel a renewed excitement about the whole undertaking.  It's all about "moving on" and "letting go of any lingering bitterness" and "not attaching to feelings of anger or self-recrimination" and "releasing any resentment" about "how things are."

That sort of thing.

I will start the new, more wonderful, sweater tomorrow.  Hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, I have a new pair of socks on the go as my subway knitting.  They are somewhat green.

And I finished plying my first yarn on my rental wheel.

It's so pretty!  But I am not too attached to that either because "moving on" works two ways.  Actually I am lying.  I can't take my eyes off of it and laying my cheek against it and walking around the house showing it to the cats and saying, "look how pretty this is!"

Fortunately the cats refuse to feed my obsession and ignore my displays.  Maybe I should go wake up the kids...?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hands, Palm to Palm, Together

To leave flowers to the wind, to leave birds to the seasons, are also acts of giving.
(Eihei Dogen)

The Earth gives and gives and gives - every second of every day.  It's not such a bad idea to say thank you once in a while.

Happy Earth Day!