Monday, August 24, 2015

Coming Home to Roost (or The Kindness of Strangers)

Sometimes one can ignore one's faults and glide, swan-like, through life.  And sometimes those faults accumulate and come home to roost in a big way.  Friday afternoon was like that.

On the plus side, I was teaching yoga at a new place, which I am very happy to be teaching at - Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn.  More about that another time.  For this story, all you need to know is that I was teaching there on Friday in the late afternoon.  When I left the studio I discovered that my car had been towed.  Many times I have parked near the studio without problem so I didn't look too hard at the signs, which were right next to my car.  Fault #1 - thinking I know what's what.  In fact, there is no parking from 4 - 7 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Normally, this might result in a ticket (and it did last Friday as well), but the city has days when it likes to collect extra revenue so it sends out armies of tow trucks to take away cars that otherwise would just be ticketed.  Last Friday was one of those days.

Ok.  Having your car towed is a fact of life here, so I didn't get too upset and went to the tow pound to get my car.  My Canadian makes a difference.  Going through the bureaucratic hoops, I got my registration and insurance out of the car and used the ATM machine to get cash to pay for the fees, which are substantial.  But no!  The registration was out of date.  Huh?  I knew that I had renewed it so I searched my document folder.  Not there.  More bureaucratic hoops to go back to the car and look again...still no registration.  Fault #2 - disorganized.

Explaining my situation did not move the clerk very far, so no car for me.  The city charges $20/day to keep the car in their lot overnight.  I won't bore you with further details but suffice to say that other faults, such as procrastination and failing to respond to friend's communications also came into play.  Indeed, just about all my faults coalesced in this one moment.  It came home to me hard as I was frantically texting with Lucy, who is in Newfoundland now, about searching the house there and asking our friend to help out and she wrote back, "I am really not comfortable with this."  i.e.. doing my dirty work, and I couldn't deny that this is exactly what was going on.


Nonetheless, the car was still in the lot and I was planning to head to Cape Breton on Monday (that would be today).  These two things do not go well together.

On the plus side, years of Zen and yoga practice (not to mention parenting two teenagers) has given me a fairly good dose of patience and I mostly was able to stay cool and keep things friendly with the various people behind the counter in Brooklyn and Newfoundland in my attempt to get a copy of my current registration faxed to the tow pound.

This morning, I was not on the road to Cape Breton.  Instead, I spent four hours making numerous phone calls, texts and emails to people on both coasts of Newfoundland and Brooklyn.  At last, the deed was done.  But not without the assistance of four people who were willing to take time out of their busy day not just to respond to my various communications but to actually GO to the DMV in Corner Brook, wait in line, and deal with the bureaucracy there to get it faxed.

So many life lessons here but the one that really brings tears to my eyes is this one: We are not in this alone., it is real.

A huge thank you to Lucy, Olive, Hannah, Lisa and Phillip from the Corner Brook DMV for all their help!  I haven't actually gotten the car keep your fingers crossed that there isn't some new thing that has to be done.

Truly, never will I be so happy to pay the City hundreds of dollars as I will be today.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Starting From Scratch


August 24–September 25, 2015
Handwerker Gallery, Ithaca College
Ithaca, NY
Curated by Mara Baldwin and Eleanore Kohorn ('16)
 The plot of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novel, Herland (1915), follows the travails of three male explorers as they stumble upon and are hosted by an enlightened and geographically isolated nation of women.  Utopian literature gained popularity by writers and readers alike over the course of the post-Enlightenment era, a trend reflecting cultural exposure of increased travel and trade to other social systems, causing many to compare, evaluate, and criticize previously-accepted standards of living.  Female authors in the genre almost exclusively write about more perfect worlds that are female-exclusive or devoid of gender altogether.  These novels, Gilman’s Herland included, are bereft with unapologetic severity, self-aware absurdity, unexpected humor, and bountiful ingenuity in the clairvoyant revisioning of a more perfect society. The artists in this exhibition share this radical impulse, of throwing everything out and starting over in pursuit of a new social order built on equanimity and a preemptive resourcefulness, rewriting history to include the lost stories, artifacts, and initiatives of invented feminist societies. 
Featuring work by Elisheva Biernoff; Angela Ellsworth; Robyn Love; Tara Mateik; Sophie Mörner; Rebecca Purcell, J. Morgan Puett, & Jeffrey Jenkins of Mildred’s Lane; and Amanda Wojick.
A little preview of my piece, Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All, 2015.  Hand knit and crochet yarn, fabric, mirrors, paper and tent frame.
The yellow stripe (formerly known as The Knitted Mile) runs through the entire gallery, eventually leading visitors to this alcove where they are invited to look in each envelope and pick a card.

There are six cards in total, each with a question or phrase designed to provoke.

The stripe leads into the tent, where there are cushions for sitting on.  And lots of mirrors.

A visitor contemplates his card...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's Gonna Be Great

Are we there yet?

My project for the exhibition at Ithaca College is titled Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All and it is questioning the whole notion of utopia - how do we know we aren't in utopia right now?  Why is utopia always over there and never right here?  It is part of an exhibition that is centered around the book, Herland, a novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman written in the early 20th Century.  The book describes an all-female utopian society that is over 1000 years old (they reproduce asexually).  It is an ideal social order: free of war, conflict, and domination.  My piece is kind of the Doubting Thomas in the show.  Or maybe the Doubting Thomasina.  It asks all sorts of questions and then leaves the visitor to sort out the answers for themselves.

As per usual, creating the piece involves a lot of handwork.  As I still have work to be done on my piece for the exhibition at the Inverness Arts Centre up in Cape Breton, I am getting anxious to finish this piece.  Yet I keep coming up with ways to make it better (read: more complicated and intricate).  Today, as I am finishing up the last crochet stitches for the outside of the tent, I found myself totally immersed in how it will be when I am finished and on to the next step.  The stitches that I am doing right now?  Huh?  Am I making stitches?  But, man, when I am's gonna be great.

So, umm....why is utopia always over there and never right here? 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Agni and All About It

Agni is a Sanskrit word for fire.  We talked about it a lot when we were learning about Ayurveda in relationship to someone's digestion at yoga therapy training in Nashville.  If your digestive agni is diminished or goes out, trouble will follow.  We have all met someone like this (or maybe been someone like this) - no appetite, low energy, generally not very engaged or excited by life.  They need their agni sparked up again.  The good news its that it isn't hard to do if you catch it before it becomes something more serious.  There were a couple of people who were experiencing low agni and, after making some simple dietary changes, they were perkier and happier and feeling much better by the end of the training.

But what about other kinds of agni?  I have been wondering if it is ok to let some fires go out.  Readers of this blog may have noticed that I tend towards doing a lot of things.  My motto usually is "Go big or go home" or, as George Carlin once said, "If you are going to play…PLAY!"  No half measures for me.  This has certainly been true with my art making.  Ambition has never been a problem for me.

Or has it?  For the past year or so, I have been reluctant to admit to myself that I just don't have that same burning fire of ambition about my art making that I once had.  This fire fueled many of my projects, allowing me to work long, hard hours to get things done.  It also fueled some less attractive aspects of myself - a competitiveness and jealousy about other artists' successes.  It doesn't make me happy to admit it because these are very small-minded places to live out of but, if I am honest, I see how they are inevitable partners with that kind of ambition.  The ambition that I am talking about is the difference between saying, "I want to be an artist" and "I want to be a famous artist."  For most of my adult life, I have leaned heavily towards the latter.

As I have been working to finish the pieces for the two shows opening at the end of August, I have been somewhat alarmed to find that I can not conjure up that kind of fire.  I love my ideas and I think the work will be interesting and provocative but that all-consuming, obsessive energy around it is just…gone.  I keep looking and looking but honey, that fire has up and left.  The ashes are cold.

When I mentioned this to Elizabeth, the Ayurvedic practitioner who was leading our training, she immediately said, "oh good!"  I was puzzled.  Is it good?  It certainly makes meeting deadlines a lot harder for me!  Later I realized that, when you take away the "famous" part of famous artist, then you are left with just the artist part.  In other words, without the striving for attention and accolades, you are left with the work; you are left with (dare I say it?), the Art.

It feels a little like walking around in new shoes.  There are places where this rubs me the wrong way and I am getting blisters that hurt.  I think it is a positive thing but it is a big change after so many decades and that makes it feel uncertain and a little painful.  What I think will happen (is happening) is that all that agni that was fueling my ambition for my career and my art world status is now free to fuel the actual art.  You would think that this would feel so refreshing and wonderful that it would be a glorious thing.  But I am not finding it to be quite like that.  It isn't that simple.  I had a lot of my identity caught up in that striving, ambitious part of me and that makes it a little hard to let go.  Our faults, even when we know they are faults, can be very comforting on occasion.

All of this is has been dancing around in my head as I fill my living room with yet another huge crocheted piece.  At least that part hasn't changed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hot Stuff

Last week, I was upstate at the Monastery for sesshin - my first ever summer sesshin.  What's the big deal?  This is the big deal: student robes are made from 70/30 poly-cotton and they cover you from neck to ankles to wrists.  It was a giant sweatiest.

See?  Robe after sweaty robe...
When you are given a practice for your meditation, whether it is the beginning instruction to count your breaths to ten and then start over again or a koan or shikantaza, it is easy to think that anytime not spent doing this is time spent not practicing.  It is especially easy to fall into that thinking during sesshin where the whole environment and schedule has been arranged to be perfectly suited to doing your practice all day long.  What I have been learning - ever so slowly - is that those practices are designed as a means of noticing our minds and so we can begin to learn about ourselves and our habits and patterns.  The goal isn't actually to count to ten and then start over.  I think the goal (if there even is one) is to notice what comes up when we try to do that.  We live in a goal-oriented society and I am certainly a card-carrying member of it so the frustration of getting lost from my practice is usually interpreted as failure in my mind.  I suspect that I am not alone in that.

For reasons that I don't understand, when it was the hottest and most humid, I also experienced an almost non-stop series of hot flashes for the first 24-hours of sesshin.  I was cooking from the outside in and the inside out.  Truly, it was a special version of hell.  I wanted to run away.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to float in a cool lake and never step foot back in that zendo and I definitely wanted to toss that stupid polyester robe in the trash can.  And so like that, hour after hour.

Good times.

Finally on Tuesday evening, drenched and exhausted, I had a thought that maybe, just maybe, the practice I needed to do was not to fight what was happening quite so much.  Added to the physical discomfort and feelings of being trapped in a hefty bag were the feelings of failure that I was "not doing my practice" and frustration that I was so pathetic at this thing that I have now devoted myself to for years.  It's like a little extra special pain on top of the regular pain - a kind that I invented just for myself.  So, I thought maybe I could skip that extra pain that I invented just for myself and look at the regular pain, which in this case, was the heat coming at me from all sides, including inside.  I tried to be curious about what exactly was going on during a hot flash - they are quite curious things after all.  I noticed that they start in my arms and back simultaneously and, after one passes, there is a kind of beautiful moment of peace.  I am evenly coated in sweat but now it is cooling and the strange sensations are over.  It is a quiet moment of calm.  I am not sure it is worth the price one has just paid but it was nice knowing that it would appear at the end if I could just stay with what was happening and not go down the road of opinions and ideas about what was happening.

Oddly enough, or perhaps predictably enough, after that, things settled down.  The hot flashes were fewer and less intense.  On Thursday night, the heat broke and the rest of the week was warm but pleasant enough, even in our hefty bag robes.  On Sunday, a new monk was ordained and it was a time for celebration.  I still found ways of inventing new extra pains to add to any regular pains but - and here is the beauty of sesshin - I had the time and space to notice them before heading off into crazyland.  And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Knot fer Nuthin'

I knew it would happen one day.  It was a day that was always in the future.  But then the future came to my doorstep.  It was the day when I would have to untangle The Knitted Mile.  

After its brilliant premiere on the streets of Dallas, TX, the piece has mostly been stuffed into two, large garbage bags.  It was an almost-but-not-quite mile-long knot.  Once I took it out and showed it as a giant pile, along with the photographs of the knitters who helped me make it.  But mostly it has sat in my studio in its very undignified form, almost anonymous given the humble, if practical, covering.  This piece, which has gotten into books and has gained me invitations to exhibitions and other projects, has not been fully appreciated in the intervening years, I am sad to admit.

And then the day - THAT day - came.  It was time to untangle.

A friend helped me carry it home from the studio where it is too dirty for this kind of work.  I gingerly unveiled it.  Was it as bad as I remembered?

Yes.  Yes, it was.  (Sorry about the poor photographs - it was a dark and humid and, did I mention hot?, day.)

I found one end and began the process of laying it in a box like a fire hose.  It is the same way I laid it the back of the car when I installed it in Dallas.

Query:  Is it unethical to do something in front of someone with the knowledge that they will get so irritated by the way you are doing it (which is to say, the wrong way) that they will push you aside so that they can do it (which is to say, the right way)?

There might have been a little Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer fence painting kind of thing going on but, as some might have predicted were they of the nature to make those kinds of predictions, certain others could not bear to watch my incompetent untangling method.  Just as she was beginning to say things like, "shouldn't I be paid for this?", a friend texted her and she found an escape hatch.  But I could tell that she was a little disappointed too.  This is the kind of thing that really excites her.

Then it was just me and knitting and the humidity.

Confession:  I might have cried once or twice.

In the end, the box was filled and I was left with two balls.

Two rather large balls.

This is fine.  It will work for my piece for Ithaca College, which I have titled, Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All.

And so it is.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Respect the Meconium

One topic that came up during the Nashville training (in addition to Ayurveda) was transference and counter transference in the student/teacher relationship.  We were mainly discussing it in relation to our roles as teachers - many of us also will begin mentoring other yoga teachers trained in this tradition as well.  Our training is preparing us/has prepared us to work with people one-on-one, which creates a much more intimate relationship than in a typical 1.5 hr. group yoga class.

People come to yoga looking for something - usually they are seeking moment of calm in their stormy lives or they want to do a headstand.  One of those two.  (I'm kidding!!)  A teacher worth their salt is embodying the practice and discipline that she teaches, so it isn't difficult to see how one could fill in the blanks in a way that skews reality one way or another.  People need their teacher to be better than they are, else why have that person as a teacher?  Yet, there is not a direct relationship between knowledge, understanding and realization and being a good person.  In fact, one can have a stunning depth of understanding and realization and still be a total asshole.  It is hard to reconcile this fact because if you "get it", indeed, not just "get it" but have a penetrating insight into the true nature of things, why would you go around harming people?  It doesn't make sense!  And yet, it happens.

I think delusion is like that first poop that babies produce after they are born - the meconium.  It is dark green and made up of the waste of everything the then fetus ingested while still in the womb.  Just as  you might look at the teacher who has done something so harmful, so painful, to others that you simply can not believe it, you look at your beautiful, little baby and experience a kind of shock and awe that this tiny, perfect being has managed to produce such a horrific substance.  The sheer volume alone is alarming but mainly it is the way it defies being cleaned-up: its tenacity as it clings to everything that comes within a foot of it.  You have to tip your hat to it, man.  It is not fooling around.

And so with delusion.  Composed of everything we ingested before we even knew we were ingesting things, it clings to everything.  That's its nature.  Sometimes we are not covered in it.  For some of us, even a lot of the time we are clean.  But. if we think we have cleaned it up completely, you can be sure that you will find a big, old schemer down the front of your shirt the next time you look down.

One of my projects over these past several years has been to learn to respect my delusions.  First, however, I need to get to know them.  Of course, I can't know them all but I have noticed that they have patterns and tend to run along thematic lines.  Occasionally when I get a glimpse of just how deep seeded they are, it is a moment of breathtaking humility.  Perhaps this is what a good teacher needs above all - breathtaking humility in the face of their own delusions.  This isn't a false modesty - it is ok to know things and even be good at certain things.  It is more like what Donald Rumsfeld said about the known knowns and the unknown knowns.  Know that the unknown knowns run deep.  And are very sticky and difficult to clean up.

It is a good place to start.

Friday, July 03, 2015

There Is No Such Thing As Summer Vacation

Since returning from Nashville, it has been something of whirlwind.  Getting back into my schedule, birthday celebrations, Canada Day celebrations (are they two or one thing?), and general socializing with loved ones has meant all that profound Ayurvedic information has gone out the window, for me personally anyway.  Yesterday my main food group was ice cream.  Can you say vāta aggravation?

In true vāta style, there is no time to linger on that - I have places to go and things to do!  At the end of August, I will be in two exhibitions, one of which I am co-curating.  There is work to be done for both of them.

The first exhibition is titled Interlacing Converations, which will be presented at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts in Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Interlacing Conversations explores intersections of traditional and experimental fibre arts. The exhibition celebrates projects made possible through collaboration and exchange across geographical and cultural distances.  I am co-curating this show with Elizabeth Whalley, who is the new director of the ICCA.  I think it will be very exciting because we will be presenting the work of some amazing artists such as Mackenzie Kelly-Frere, Barb Hunt and Janet Morton, among others, along side the work of local craftspeople from Cape Breton, without distinction between what is art and what is craft.  By this I mean that everything will get equal billing.  And yes, I realize that I have listed most of the fine artists by name and just lumped together the craftspeople but that is only because Elizabeth has been handling that end of things and I don't yet have their names.

Mackenzie is creating a site-specific piece in collaboration with local knitters that furthers one of his previous projects Air Over Land.  The new project, Cast-Offs, is a series of 50+ hand knit wind socks/flags that will simultaneously fly over Inverness, Nova Scotia, and Calgary, Alberta (or just outside of Calgary).  He created a Ravelry group for the project if you want more information or if you want to participate.  Check it out here (Ravelry link).  

There will be much other beautiful work and I will show images as it progresses.  For myself, I will be performing my SpinCycle piece (and I am very excited to have my Canadian premiere of that piece!) and re-installing To Stand in the Centre and See All Around in a new way.  I won't say too much more except that I am back at the black Shetland.

Interlacing Conversations opens on August 30th.

The other exhibition came about during my time up at The Saltonstall Foundation.  I had a studio visit with Mara Baldwin and Vin Manta of Ithaca College.  Vin wrote up a blog post about it here.  Mara, who is the curator of the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College, then invited me to participate in their season opening show, Starting From Scratch.  Starting From Scratch uses Charlotte Perkins Gilmans novel, Herland, as a jumping off point to think about utopia, gender, isolation, exclusion, and community.   I will be re-purposing The Knitted Mile and creating a new Utopia Tent for this exhibition.  I am hoping to do an artist talk/performance while the exhibition is up in September.  More on that later!

Starting from Scratch opens August 24th.

Busy times!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Go to the Gunas!

Photo courtesy of YATNA/Yoga as Therapy North America
Barely had I returned from Ithaca when I had to leave for Nashville and module #3 of my yoga therapy training.  This time around, we spent most of the nine days learning about Ayurveda, a sister science/art to yoga.  The teaching was led by Elizabeth Cunningham-Bossart, who managed to make this highly complex topic accessible to us - offering us just the right amount of information so that we can use some Ayurvedic tools to help us in our yoga therapy practice.

Some aspects of the Ayurvedic model seem to be counter-intuitive and go against commonly held beliefs about health.  For example, in Ayurveda, most people should not ever do a juice cleanse and many of us should not be eating salads, raw veggies or fish everyday.  But when you look closely, as we did, statements like that make a lot more sense.  We have two doctors and two other Western medically-trained people in our course.  They repeatedly confirmed that the Western model of medicine was just beginning to notice and confirm many of the things that have been known and studied by Ayurvedic doctors for millennia.

It felt a little disjointed to go from intensive art making to intensive yoga therapy training but I have faith that everything will fall into place as it should.  Meanwhile, it was wonderful to spend all that time with such a lovely group of caring people.  My love and gratitude to them all!

Friday, June 19, 2015

We Have to Own It

It is not unusual for me to spend these long road trips in total silence.  If the kids are with me, we usually listen to books on tape for part of the time but, if it is just me, then I prefer silence.  I enjoy my thoughts and occasionally try to do "driving zazen".  Somehow, the time passes swiftly by.  Yesterday, however, I decided to see what was on the radio in Virginia.  Finding the local public radio station, which I was shocked even existed in rural Virginia (biased Yankee that I am), I heard the horrible news about the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  And I listened to the story as it unfolded the rest of the day.

On one call-in show, I heard with my own ears this thing that I had only read about - white people (who would identify themselves as such) calling to say that this young man was a lone-wolf, mentally ill person who should not be held up as representing all white people.  One guy even said, "I have a lot of black friends!"  This response is part of the problem.  I don't care if your best friend is black.  You, me, we**, have to own this thing - 100%.

My relatives were living, dirt poor, in Ireland and in Newfoundland at the time of slavery in the United States, so there is part of me that wants to say, "But it's not me or my people!"  Or "But I have black friends!"  The question remains - is there blood on my hands?  Sorry my fellow lily-white people, the answer is yes.

Having spent some time looking deep inside (and not just on long, silent road trips), I have felt -viscerally - the pain of being female in this patriarchal culture.  Not just my personal story with the large and small, gross and subtle, ways that I have been silenced, put down, objectified and negated, but the experiences of every, single woman on the face of this Earth throughout history.  Believe me or don't believe me, but I know that I have touched this pain.  And when I remember that feeling, which is not so hard to do because it is not so far beneath the surface, I think about how there must be a very similar pain experienced by every black and brown person on the face of this Earth.  I don't know this particular pain but I am guessing that the accompanying feeling of sadness at the foolish waste of human potential, the senseless waste of beautiful human life, and the anger that we do this to each other, is similar.

When men say things like, "not all men…" in response to sexism, it is very similar to a white person saying, "but I have black friends!".  Men - yes ALL men - have to own their privilege and their responsibility for the history of oppression of women.  Nothing will change until every single man admits his role.  Likewise, every single white person - myself included - has to own this terrible history of racism that the United States was built upon, even if their relatives were dirt poor and living in Ireland at the time of slavery.  And if men who do take responsibly often fall into the trap of then mansplaining how to make things better, I think, likewise, white people need to take responsibility and then shut up and listen.  The way to make things better is not to whitesplain what to do.   It is time to listen with humility and a desire to atone for this violent, grotesque history that we continue to benefit from everyday of our lives.

What can well-intentioned white people with black friends do in the aftermath of this horrible hate crime?  Step #1: Take responsibility. Then, be quiet and just listen, even when it is hard to hear what is being said, even if it feels unfair (it's not), even when it hurts.  This is part of atonement - taking responsibility and really hearing the pain of those who you have injured (yes, YOU).   My suggestion for how to do that is to begin by just saying it to yourself - say some words out loud to yourself that make sense to you but are real, honest and do not sugarcoat things.  And maybe apologize while you are at it.  Say these words one time each day.  Very simple, very do-able and, I suspect, very powerful.   No need to shout it from the rooftops.  Saying it to yourself is enough - for now.   I have faith that what to do next will make itself clear if we can just get to Step #1.

And I suggest we get right on it.

** By "we" I mean you, Whitey

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Time Flies

Tomorrow morning - very, very early tomorrow morning - I will head south to Nashville.  I have made this trip two times before and I will make it yet three more times.   The weather report, last time I checked, said they were having a heat wave.  The forecast is for high 90s (high 30s for Celsius lovers) for most of the time we will be there.  This is why my motto has always been:

Head North.  Things are Better There (Also The Bugs are Smaller)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Stain is the Perfection

A friend of mine gave me a large bin-full of vintage textiles that once belonged to her Aunt Electra, who lived in Tennessee and sold them for a living.  Until she died, that is.  Over the years, my friend has given them to me in increments, a pile at a time, knowing that I appreciate their intricacies and the skill and sheer patience that went into each one.  She usually says, "Robyn, I know you love these, maybe you can make art with them."  Sometimes I even find little price tags on them.

I brought this bin with me up to Ithaca because, truth be told, these beautiful, precious textiles have felt a bit like a stone around my neck.  What good is it to hoard them in a plastic bin?  Yet, the idea of making something with them was mostly horrifying.  A lot of the work I see made from vintage textiles (Shawn, you are an exception!) looks like, well, not what I want to make.  And the idea of cutting them up or otherwise altering them seems like sacrilege.  I know only too well what has gone into their making.

On the morning that I left for Ithaca, I stopped by my studio and, at the last minute, I grabbed the bin.  I will be brave, I thought.  I won't get intimidated by their beauty and their age and by the ghosts of the hands that made them that still hover around them.  Once I arrived, I unpacked the lot of them, which is how I found my old pillowcase which isn't quite to the standard of the other stuff but clearly sparked something.  Or maybe it just felt ok to cut up because I was the maker?  Whatever.  I divided the contents of the bin into categories:  1. Still too beautiful to use (these went back in the bin) 2. Usable to alter and manipulate i.e. cut up and 3.  Suitable for embroidery.  And then I forced myself to use them.

Some of them, I ruined.  I choked.  I let their preciousness overwhelm me and, by caring too much, I ruined them by being too stiff and too self conscious.  It's the worst feeling - knowing that every mark, every action is just compounding the awfulness.  It is a lost cause from the very beginning, and even as I know this - I see it, feel it, taste it - I keep working as if I can turn the tide.  When has that ever worked?

Every now and then, however, things did work.  The stain became the perfection.  When that happened, the lovely vintage textile became more than what it was.  How?  The textile is still the textile.  The ink is still the ink.  The embroidery thread is still the embroidery thread.  By ruining it beyond repair, it became bigger than it was.  It is process that can't be replicated.  There is no system or technique.  Each time I pull one from the pile, the questions are as fresh and new as they were for the one before.  Do I know you?  What do you want?  What do I want?  And how shall we make this happen?

Monday, June 08, 2015


The last Sunday of our Saltonstall residency was given over to a public open house event that included readings by the writers and open studios for the visual artists.  It was a glorious day and there was a healthy turn out of people hungry for art.  I would like to think we delivered.

It was a little sad to clean up my studio, knowing that the mojo developed over the course of the past three weeks would not fully return.  At the same time, it was nice to step back and give each thing some space and see it all in a newer, cleaner, context.

I set out a table of materials because it seemed like people would enjoy handling things - and they did!

This is the last piece I made from my childhood pillow case series.  Each piece became more and more elaborate and, to my mind, more painterly.  I am totally grooving on the colors and patterns, each stitch like a brush stroke (only better).  I honestly have no idea how they read to anyone else.  I am not sure where I will take it from here.  So, more questions than answers in this department.

I also had a table of natural and unnatural wonders - things I collected and made during the course of the month.  I didn't pursue this line of thinking and exploring very far but it has potential.  People seemed to react and engage with the things.  

Including Mr. Snake.

He has a long story behind him, which I won't recall except to say that he, in his ever increasing state of decomposition, has been my daily companion outside my door.  Finally, I brought him in to the studio - him and the ants that died as they tried to eat his dead body.  Poisoned?  We don't know.

Devon Moore, the poet in residence, wrote a poem about Mr. Snake, whom we found at our feet the first day she arrived.  Here she is reading that poem:

Her first book of poetry is just out and you can get it here.  As she is an incredibly talented poet, I highly recommend that you do get it.  She is the only poet I know that can elicit audible gasps from the audience when one of her lines cuts especially close to the bone.  

She also wrote a beautiful poem about sleeping in Connie Saltonstall's bedroom this month for the book that we made together.  I can't say it is an edition because they are all different.  They are almost-an-edition of six.

We decided to title it "Four Weeks with Nira" or, actually, 4WKS W/NIRA.  It is named after the most wonderful dog in the world, Stephen Kuusisto's seeing eye dog, Nira.  

Rabbits!  I smell rabbits!
There she is!  I can't imagine this month without her delightful tail wagging, crumb eating, loving gaze giving self around.  She is about to retire as Steve's seeing eye dog, being a mature lady of ten years.  I wish her many more years of well-earned leisure and much fulfilled sniffing!

I could wax poetic about Nira all day long but perhaps I should add that Steve is pretty great too.  He is here finishing the final draft of his next book, which is a memoir/history of seeing eye dogs.  As the extrovert of our group, he has been a most welcome dinnertime companion.  The small bit of the book I was honored to read left me a bit misty about the eyes.  He is a most talented writer as well.

I have left out the two other visual artists here only because I had to be in my studio while they were in theirs.  Let me correct that now!

Nydia Blas is a photographer (mostly) who makes sharp, smart work about women and girls and how they are perceived in a racial, sexualized, gendered culture.  What does that mean - go look for yourself.

Camille Laoang uses pens to create meticulous and elaborate mandalas that are partly a rendering of her personal experiences and part spiritual practice.  May I add that it was sometimes kind of intense to be working below Camille, knowing that she was above me silently working with such focus and attention.  We are, shall we say, on different ends of the scale in terms of neatness and working methods.  Who knows, maybe she was up there laying on her bed, reading Us Weekly and eating Doritos.  Whatever the case, she was a foil for my own wandering thoughts and I am very grateful for her presence, real or imagined.

Finally, I want to thank Patti, who drove all way from Rochester (!!), and Alex and Nuala, for coming yesterday.  I especially want to thank Lesley Williamson, the director of The Saltonstall Foundation, for her devoted hard work to make this whole month happen.  Herding cats does not even begin to describe it.  And, of course, The Saltonstall Foundation itself - this month has been such a gift. I am sure that I will be experiencing the results for years to come.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


The last few days here have been cold and rainy.  As I am rather a fan of cold and rainy, this has not been a big deal.  In fact, it has been downright lovely.  This morning was full of fog but now the sunshine has returned.  

Today might be the day when I actually hike the trail behind the studio building.  When we arrived, we were told at our orientation about how many ticks there are around here.  This fact was emphasized so strongly that all of us city slickers were put off going into the woods at all.  There is even a sign in the kitchen that says "Ticks climb UP!"  Sheesh.  

Look out ticks!  I'm a-coming in!

Meanwhile, here is a detail of one of my pillow case pieces.  I am thoroughly enjoying playing with color and texture and composition.  Yes, these are the basics of art making but they are also things that have been secondary to my work for a long time.  How novel it feels to think about these simple things, to just feel  and play and enjoy.

Yes, yes.  This is me.