Wednesday, May 20, 2015

All Day, All Night

Answer:  Of course I brought my spinning wheel!  I also brought some black Shetland because, well, the fat lady hasn't sung on that one.  But first, I had to clear some bobbins.

Yumsville!  This is some Polworth dyed by the wonderful Ani at Widdershins.  She is going into retirement from her online store so I am not even linking you up.  She is still selling yarn and roving out of a shop in Taos.  I suppose it is time to grow up and really start dyeing all my own roving now.  The mama bird has kicked us out of the nest.  Ok, wallowing in self-pity is over….isn't that a gorgeous yarn?  It bloomed a bit more than I expected so the plying isn't quite all it should be but it is soft and luscious so what more do you want, anyway?

After working in the studio all day, I don't have much left to offer after supper, but I have started an embroidery as my evening project.  It began like Total Trust and I thought I might show the reverse side, but I deliberately set out to do it that way this time.  It is so funny how projects insist on being themselves - almost immediately it was clear that this was not what needed to happen.  Apparently this is what needed to happen.

And so it is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Starting yesterday, the computer has been going to the main house for the day.  It's siren song was too powerful and I found myself "checking" things far too often when it was left around, handy at a moment's notice.  Notice how productivity skyrockets when the computer is put out to pasture!  Today, however, I have to take one of three yoga therapy exams (who knows, maybe I will do all three!).  There is no getting around having to take them while I am here so I am trying to focus and get them done.

It's funny how I try to pigeonhole these activities, as if I could.  Art now, yoga later, parenting next.  But they are all mixed up.  Yesterday, after a strong day in the studio, I set out my yoga mat and things just started pouring out of me.  Not literally exactly although there were some tears.  Totally unexpected and definitely not on the schedule.  Difficult and shitty and wonderful, all at the same time.  What a treasure to have this time and space to let it all hang out, together.

Meanwhile, the world has become very, very green.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dropped Stitch

Some months ago, I received an invitation to participate in an exhibition to be presented at Neddies Harbour Inn in Norris Point in Gros Morne.  Titled, Dropped Stitch, it was to be something of a Salon de Refusés.  The story of how such a thing came to be is, perhaps, beyond the scope of this blog.  The important thing is, I wanted in.  

I wanted in but this piece - my piece - is not currently on view in the exhibition, which by the way, opens tonight.  If you find yourself standing outside the Neddies Harbour Inn, please go inside and see the show!  It is, by all accounts, wonderful.

This piece - my piece - is still en route.  When I agreed to be part of the Refusés, I had all sorts of ideas.  So many ideas that I found it difficult to choose which one.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.  Then, I made this piece, or an earlier incarnation of this piece.  It was just kinda meh if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.  Shawn, one of the co-organizers of the exhibition, emailed me to inquire about what I was submitting and to confirm my participation.  And that is when I told a lie.  I told her it was in the mail.  I thought that I would send the earlier incarnation of this piece and I would go, right then, to pack it up and mail it.  So my lie would be a very small lie - a matter of minutes or maybe an hour.  

But the meh-ness of the piece was too much.  It kinda sucked.  I didn't want to send such a sucky piece so I held onto it and waited for it to tell me how to improve it.  Or for the piece that I was supposed to send to present itself to me.  As I write this, I am thinking that this story could be seen as lying to protect my artistic integrity but that might be pushing it.  Mostly I was just embarrassed that I only had this rather sucky piece and it seemed better to not be included at all than to be represented by this thing.

Meanwhile the clock was ticking.  Finally, weeks - yes, weeks! - after I told Shawn that the piece was in the mail, I realized what had to be done.  I painted the whole thing with ink, then I re-embroidered the words.  Then I painted only the words with ink.  Then I re-embroidered the words again.  And so, like this, several more times.  And then I realized the back was much more intriguing than the front. It was saying the thing that I was trying to say - Total Trust.

I made a backing for the front just in case someone would be tempted to show that side, which was now the wrong side.  And, by gum, I mailed that thing!

Dear Shawn,  I am very sorry that I lied about my piece being in the mail but I am happy that I didn't mail it.  It is much better now.  If you don't want to include it in the show, I understand.  Liars must take the consequences of their actions.  I am excited about the show, whether or not my work is part of it.   
Love, Robyn

Viva les Refusés!

Total Trust, 2015, ink and embroidery on found textile, 25 x 20 cm
Dropped Stitch will be on view at Neddies Harbour Inn through the summer and until the FibreArts NL conference ends in early October.  Please see it if you can!  It features works by ten western Newfoundland artists including Jackie Alcock, Shannon Ann Coyle, Niki T Hollahan, Barb Hunt, Robyn Love (maybe!), Urve ManuelShawn O'HaganJoan Payne, Brenda Stratton and Molly White.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

First, some pictures!

The view from my patio.  If it ever warms up, I can imagine this being Studio B for me.

The view from the road.  It's pretty here.

Found these by the side of the driveway.  Intriguing space alien seed pods that were later identified as treasels or treasles.  Apparently they were used to comb or full wool before metal carders came into play.  No wonder I was drawn to them!

Studio A.  It was feeling a bit antiseptic until I filled it with blankets.  Ahhh…much better now.

Please don't ask.

It has been 18 years or more since I made studio-based work.  The simple and obvious reason is that it felt impossible with first one, then two, young children.  Adapting to circumstance, I developed a way of working that allowed me to carry on while caring for babies, then toddlers, then homeschooling older children.  To be honest, I am finding it a little overwhelming to have all this time and space and materials and No Excuses.  

I am making stuff - drawings, objects, textile pieces.  But what is it?  Perhaps best not to ask!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

This Kind of Time

It was a fitful night of sleep.  The stimulation of the long drive, meeting the other artists and writers, and getting oriented to the place made it difficult to settle.  Also - the birds!  It was as if I was standing (or laying down) in the center of an amphitheater and the birds were cheering in concentric rings around me - rings and rings extending outwards for miles.  I am not a stranger to nature but this…I have never heard such a raucous chorus!  Hey birds - chill out!

Above and beyond the newness of it all, I could feel in my body a growing anxiety as the night wore on and I was still awake.  "Oh no, my day will be ruined tomorrow if I am so tired.  How will I get everything done?"  And then I realized, there is no where to go, nothing needs to get done, no one is looking over my shoulder.  I can sleep or not sleep.  I can eat or not eat.  I can lay in bed til noon (or beyond), if that's what suits me.  I can do a two-hour yoga practice.  I can sit meditation all day long.  I can go for a hike or a bike ride or drive into town.  Or - wait for it - I could make art.

I have forgotten, if I ever knew, what this kind of time is like.

I will not lay in bed 'til noon.  No.  My thought has been: how do I honour this opportunity that has been given to me?  I think the answer is, do what's needed.

Monday, May 11, 2015

And We're Off!

Well, almost.

The threatening messages still appear, even a day late.

First, I must eat a piece of Lucy's Mother's Day coffee cake.  She made it late at night on Mother's Day itself so I was able to partake this morning.  Delicious!  As I chewed and felt grateful for her efforts, I realized she had a method to her madness.  Unless I suddenly become a complete glutton (and let's not rule that out), most of the coffee cake will be left behind for certain other people to consume.  Hmmmm.  I may have to bring some with me to Ithaca.

Because it is Ithaca where I will be headed in a few short hours' time.  What lies ahead?  I don't know!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Preparing/Not Preparing

In less than a week I will head up to Ithaca to begin my month-long artist residency.  I have been trying to get the household ready for my absence and to make decisions about what to bring with me.  I spent most of Saturday in my studio and ended up feeling like I should take everything because, hey, you never know.  That bag of shoes that Finn wore when he was two?  I needs it!  That card of moose antler buttons?  What if it turns out that I start making something and moose antler buttons are missing link?  Gotta have 'em!  Paper scraps circa 1998?  Bring'em!  And on and on like that.  Finally I decided that I would come to my studio on Monday morning on my way of out of town and just pack the car until I get tired of going up and down the stairs or I run out of space in the car, whichever comes first.

That's the kind of sharp decision making that I am famous for.

I have deliberately tried not to think too much about the residency in terms of what, exactly, I will work on.  I have several ideas floating around but I have actively pushed them away when they have threatened to come to the surface.  I don't want to limit myself.  Of course this strategy has had the side effect of making me worry (slightly) that maybe I won't be able to make anything.  Maybe I will lose my inspiration.  Maybe I have forgotten how to make art.  Maybe I suck at art.  Maybe I was never an artist the whole time.  And on and on like that.

You would think that, after 30+ years, that line of thinking would get tiresome but I see that there is still some traction left in them old thoughts.  Fortunately they didn't get very far this time because, as I sat in my studio staring at several decades worth of materials, my hands started to make things.  Things like I have never seen before.  Ideas and materials started to come together and even if I wanted to stop my hands, I couldn't have.  I had to force myself to stop, however, because it isn't quite time yet to get started.

Soon.  Soon.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Liberation Prison Yoga

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a link to an indiegogo campaign for a program that supports yoga classes at Riker's Island prison in New York City - the Liberation Prison Yoga project.  For awhile now, I had been thinking about how I might be able to reach populations that need yoga and its benefits as much as or more than the usual group of self selecting people who wander into a yoga studio.  And here it is!

Not only did I give some money towards the fundraiser, which will double the size of the program, I also signed up to be a teacher!  The complicated bureaucracy of the prison system means that it will likely be fall before I begin teaching, but it is in the works.

The program's founder and director, Anneke Lucas, made her initial goal but she just added an additional $5000 to expand the program to be even bigger and better.  The deadline is tomorrow!  I hope you will consider supporting this beautiful program that brings the healing powers of yoga to those who need it most.  And we all benefit from that!

Monday, April 27, 2015

It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times

Today I am back from a week-long sesshin at the Monastery.  I have a lot to do to make up for being away for a week but I haven't done most of it.  Although allowing one's mind to settle and quiet down leaves a lot of energy for actually doing what is in front of you, I haven't been very focused today.  And although this extra energy made me feel light and, well, energetic despite getting very little sleep, I feel pretty tired today.  Further although many good and important things happened during the course of the week, I am left feeling quite… to say?……at the beginning.

My neighbors across the street suddenly started showing up at the Temple in Brooklyn on Sundays.  It was a funny moment as we looked at each other and said, "What are you doing here??!"  They keep coming back and seemed to have enthusiastically embraced the practice and the community.  Just before sesshin, I gave them a ride back to our neighborhood and we chatted about various aspects of Zen practice.  They had lots of questions and I did my best to answer.  Today I feel like ringing their bell and telling them to forget everything I said two weeks ago.  I can't really remember what I said, but please, forget it.

My teacher gave me a practice two and a half years ago.  Almost every week, except for times when either he or I are away, I have private face-to-face teaching with him where I present my understanding of my practice.  It is a koan practice so it isn't that I just let him know how things are going, there is a passing through that happens; an understanding or realization that is there or not there.  It isn't amorphous or vague - you either have it or you don't have it.  For over two years, he has gently or not so gently told me to keep working on it.  A hair's breath away?  Keep working on it.  Mountains and rivers away from it?  Keep working on it.  You already know?  Keep working on it.  I know you know?  Keep working on it.

In the rest of my life, to be told no, you're wrong, for over two years would be a pretty clear indication of, shall we say, failure.  Or, at least, that I am simply not very good at this.  The thing about this practice is, success and failure don't actually come into the picture.  As someone who is generally competent and usually pretty quick on the uptake, this kind of perspective is a bit of an adjustment.

I have gotten better at sesshin in the sense that I actually do my practice a lot of the time.  I used to marvel that, out of an entire week, if I added up how long I was really concentrating on my practice (versus daydreaming, fantasizing, sleeping or otherwise blathering to myself about myself), it would probably be an hour or so.  Now, it is closer to about 50% of the time.  I hope that I am not being too generous with myself there but it feels about right.  But that is really the question:  Am I wasting time or am I really practicing?  If the answer is that I am really practicing, then "Keep working on it" is a fine thing - the absolutely correct thing - no matter how long it takes.  To even say that it is taking a long time doesn't make sense.  But it is a weird thing too because no where else in the world has these standards.  So I have to remind myself every so often that even this feeling of being lost and clueless is exactly the right place to be.

Still, while there is no problem, it is an uneasy place.  I am pretty sure that's the idea.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Question? Answered!

Most years go like this:  January to mid-May:  New York.  Mid-May to mid-Sept:  Newfoundland.  Mid-Sept to December:  New York.  Except when we stay in Newfoundland for the whole winter. which is always pretty exciting.  And beautiful.  And cold.  And snowy.  This year is shaping up a little differently.

For one thing, I have to be in Nashville for another yoga therapy training at the end of June.  For another thing, Finn is leaving the nest early.  I used that phrase in a post to an online homeschooling forum recently.  Last night, Finn called me out on it.  He couldn't believe I used such a hackneyed cliché (are there any other kinds?).  Apparently he has high standards for my writing.  Who knew that I had raised such a literary snob?  I wonder what he would think of my digressions?  In any case, he is heading to Italy for a year (or so) to be a WWOOFer.  I wish I could say that it is his deep love of the land and the soil that has brought him to this decision but, I can not.  It is his deep interest in Italian food and the slow-paced lifestyle.  WWOOFing seems to be the most likely way for him to experience it on a budget.  So, off he goes on his grand adventure at the end of May.

Finn's grand adventure didn't, in itself, change too much and Lucy and I were still booked on a ferry in early July.  Then, I started having some doubts.  As loyal readers know, I have been part of a team of women caring for a friend who has Stage 4 cancer.  She calls us her goddesses.  Somehow, recently, I was dubbed "Head Goddess" although I am not sure how that came about.  I am thinking of adding it to my business cards, however.  Although my friend has been holding her own - indeed even more than holding her own; she has been doing great - I have been feeling uneasy about being away for so long.  It just doesn't feel like Head Goddess behavior.   But it still wasn't really clear to me what I should do.

Then a golden opportunity fell into my lap.  I have been searching around for places to teach yoga that would be welcoming of what I do, which is decidedly not Power/Sweat Express/Kick Ass/Rock'n Roll Yoga to the Stars.  It's been a tough sell in this More is More/Vata deranged/if-I-don't-leave-here-drenched-and-exhausted-then-I-haven't-done-yoga city.  Then I remembered J. Brown.  J has made a name for himself as the "gentle is the new advanced" yoga guy.  He trained in the same lineage and has a studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he has carved out his audience of people who appreciate what he is doing.  It's kind of a miracle, really.  So, I made contact and offered my services (our lineage is small so we know lots of people in common).  I went to his class.  We hit it off.  He offered me a spot in his teacher training on scholarship so we would be on the same page, teaching-wise.  And thus my question of to stay or not to stay was answered.  J's training is largely self-directed but he does hold workshops on Saturday evenings throughout the summer.  Hello, New York summer!

I still have to be up in Cape Breton at the end of August to install the show in Inverness and then we will travel on to Gillams.  Enrollment willing, I will be teaching at the big fibre conference in Gros Morne in early October.  Does that mean winter 2015-16 in Gillams?  It's not impossible!  Just as things sorted themselves out for the summer, I am going to trust that the answer to that question will come in the fullness of time.

Monday, April 13, 2015


After months of spinning only black Shetland, there had to be some pushback….

BFL and silk, chain-plied (hand painted roving by Widdershins Woolworks)

First of two plies in the works - Targhee (hand painted roving by Widdershins Woolworks)

BFL two-ply (hand painted roving by yours truly)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Glass Beads and Gun Powder

On Monday, I took my installation down at bkbx.  Another artist's show opened last night (really beautiful - go see it!).  For me, the whole project was about experimenting.  Materials, ideas: none of them were fixed so all of them were open to change.  The thing that began the process ended up being all but invisible.  Some people were disappointed by that, and I had moments of doubt myself, but in the end it was simply how it went.  And I think it left the door open to another project or perhaps to making this one bigger.  Fortunately, I will have that opportunity because the piece will be re-installed (and perhaps re-envisioned) at the end of August as part of an exhibition that I am co-organizing in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  More about that later.

As I reflect on the installation, the process of making it and the feedback from people who experienced it, I find myself thinking about what's wrong when we (I) are (am) timid.  In art, and in life, there is a spectrum of wildness or daring.  I have a friend, Donna Sharrett, who makes gorgeous collaged pieces.  They are exquisite in the purest sense of the word.  I will never forget her telling me about the agonizing she did when she decided to add a new element to them.  For her, adding a glass bead when before there were none felt like leaping off the cliff.

Donna Sharett, Dancing Barefoot, 2014.

At the other end of the spectrum are artists like Cai Guo Qiang.  He thinks big - really big.  What I find remarkable is that, sometimes, his work is just as exquisite as Donna's collages, even when the scale is huge and the materials are gun powder and rockets.  I think of this one, Black Rainbow for Valencia, Spain.  (Link is to a video that it definitely worth watching.)

Being rather a fan, I have gone to several of his artist talks.  I remember one time, I think it was when the piece above was new, it was the aftermath of 9/11 when the US was discovering just how wrongheaded it had been to invade Iraq.  Cai was speaking and someone asked him about George W. Bush and his politics.  Everyone in the audience was waiting for him to eviscerate GWB.  Not just waiting for him to do that but wanting him to do that because, in that audience at least, everyone was so angry about what had happened.  We all felt so powerless and it would have been so gratifying to hear this brilliant artist put poor, stupid George in his place.  But no.  Cai just waved his hand and said something like, "Politicians come and go" and moved on to the next topic.  It really struck me that here was someone who had such a huge vision and had such a broad perspective that the rise and (inevitable) fall of a politician who had an eight-year term limit was not worth spending much time dwelling on.  His ideas were larger than any moment in geopolitical time.

I think it is important to note here that it would be easy to put Cai above Donna and say that his daring is greater.  In a way, it is - his failures are larger and certainly involve more people.  But I wonder if there is another way to see it: that Donna's inverse scale - the drama of adding a glass bead - is possibly just as monumental as rockets firing gun powder over Valencia.  How do we understand our own timidity and hesitations?  What - exactly - is holding us back?

That's what I want to know.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Impractical Labor Studio Tour

ILSSA - Impractical Labor in the Service of the Speculative Arts - I have written about it here before.  It is a community of people who make art using impractical methods just because we want to - our motto is As long as it takes!

I love ILSSA and its mission so it is extra fabulous that they invited me to participate in their new blog, Markdown.  They are doing a series of interviews/studio tours with members.  Here is a link to mine.  I hope you will take a look and then check out the other ones too.  People are doing amazing things!

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Happy Fellow

On New Year's Day, I came home from the Rohatsu sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery feeling quite beautifully exhausted.  We need a new word to describe that feeling, which is being physically tired but with a relaxed, yet sharp, mind.  The next day, I allowed myself to disperse that feeling just a bit by looking at my Facebook page.  A friend had posted a notice about an artist residency in Ithaca, NY.  Maybe it was because the place is called The Saltonstall Foundation, a name that to me says "Boston" not "Ithaca" (Saltonstall is a big name in Boston, with family ties there that go back to the 1600s.  Massachusetts Governor, Leverett Saltonstall's wife, Alice, once famously said, about California, "It sounds lovely but who wants to live 3000 miles from the ocean?").  Naturally my curiosity was peaked.  Then there was just a general feeling that I had been having that I have spent a lot of time lately developing my Zen practice and my yoga practice and my art practice has been riding along in the backseat - enjoying the ride! - but coasting a bit.  So, add to that mixture the special energy that one only gets following Rohatsu and I found myself sending in an impromptu application, because the deadline was January 2nd - no time to over-think this one.

There are times when I have posted grant applications when I just know that it will be a winner.  And there are times when I am fairly certain that I have just done a very important exercise in figuring out something about my work and myself but no money or opportunity will be immediately forthcoming.  That second one is most of the time - there is just a little (or sometimes big) feeling of disconnect inside of me that lets me know that this idea or project or time just isn't quite ready yet.  But on January 2, 2015, everything felt connected.  It's not the kind of thing that one can force to make happen.  But, you can improve the chances by creating the right environment and fixing mistakes from past experiences and by trying again and again.  It's kind of like grant samādhi - when you are in it, you are in it, but if you think you are in it, you are not in it.

A few weeks ago, when the name Saltonstall popped up on my cellphone, I knew exactly why I was getting the call.  I do not say this arrogantly!  I have a mountain of rejections behind me and, no doubt, in front of me too.  No, it was just that I knew that the time was right, the place was right, the name was right, and I was right!  I am very pleased to say that I was selected to be one of the 2015 Fellows at The Saltonstall Foundation, which means I will be working in residence there from mid-May to mid-June.  Here is the list of all the artists and writers who have been selected.

I am very excited about the opportunity that this residency presents.  I have been trying to not plan what I will work on up there but a couple of ideas are loosely floating around in my head.  It is such a privilege to have the time and space to work on them.  Thank you to The Saltonstall Foundation and to Connie Saltonstall who was, yes, born in Boston but moved to Ithaca and who made it her dying wish to support other artists in this way.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!