Monday, January 19, 2015

To Stand in the Center and See All Around - an Introduction

While I hate to be one of those "sorry for not blogging" kind of bloggers...I do apologize for the silence.  Partly, it is because I have not taken photographs for ages so I feel badly about so many picture-less posts.  And partly it is because I have been pretty flat out busy.   Any extra moments have been taken up with smaller projects and being with a sick friend.  It is surprising how much mental space that uses up, but it does.

All that aside, I have been working (somewhat) steadily on my project for bkbx that will be opening on March 6th.  Save the date!  It is called To Stand in the Center and See All Around.

The piece has been morphing in my head and under my hands.  I am still very much in process of spinning and knitting the black Shetland wool.  My plan, and it seems to be working, is to simply begin the process without expectations.  Using the notion that textiles can become saturated with narrative, I began making the piece.  I spin in silence.  I spin while watching episodes of Chopped and Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown (a cooking theme seems to have started up).  I spin while listening to dharma talks by the MRO teachers and senior students.

I also knit.  I knit in my living room, on the subway, at the Temple, at the Infusion Center where my friend has her chemo.  I will bring my knitting and my wheel (hey - hope springs eternal!) to Nashville in a couple of week's time.  I even spent some time during Rohatsu working out the details of the  installation, which wasn't exactly what I was supposed to be doing but I did it anyway.

The piece is getting bigger and it also is gathering a kind of energy.  It is developing a presence that comes from everything that is being poured into it - intentional and unintentional.  I want to put my finger on what, exactly, that is but I find that it can not be summed up in words.  I suppose this is why it is a thing, an art object, and not a novel or essay.  It has a certain vibe or buzz or mojo - or maybe prana or chi or ki, if you want to look at it that way.  You can't make it happen but you can't stop it from happening either.

I also have purchased 2500 pieces of 1" mirror.  These will be included in the installation, as well.

That whole Minimalist thing?  Yah, not so much.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Gettin' Used By It

There is a Zen koan that includes the teacher telling the student, "I use my time, you get used by it."  When I hear this in my head this morning, I want to smack that Zen teacher.   A bit smug, don't you think?

Extra annoying because I am really feeling each and every remaining hour I have to work on my installation for bkbx.  Will they be enough?  I have my 40 lbs of wool that is slowly - ever so slowly - becoming yarn that is slowly - ever so slowly - becoming knit fabric.  I have 30 yds of black cotton fabric and 2500 pieces of mirror.  Smells like an art installation to me!

In the end, I couldn't just make the pieces and hang them on the wall.  Call it a lack of trust, but to me that was not enough to convey what I want to convey.  Enter 2500 pieces of mirror.  A little sparkle should bring things up a notch!  Also planning some sound elements and a few other things.  Plans, I got'em.  And as you can see, Richard Serra was left in the dust long ago.

It's all StudioLove from here on in...

Monday, January 05, 2015

Being Very Un-Dude, Until You're Not

Let it be known that 2014 was the year that I made bhuja pindasana my bitch.

Do I land it every time?  No.  But something clicked and the thing that was so effortful and difficult suddenly became a thing of ease and joy.  I have no idea why and I suppose the why of it hardly matters.  One of the key components of śraddhā (loosely translated as faith) is smrti (loosely translated as memory).  When one has the experience of the challenging thing becoming an easeful thing, it is not forgotten.  The memory of that experience can be drawn upon at the next challenge.  We create these experiences in our asana practice, which is a small thing, so we can remember them in the rest of our life, which is a big thing.

So, what's up for 2015?  I think I will let go of any asana goals this year.  Instead, I am resolving to take up running again.  There was a time when I ran long distance - marathons even.  It was not a happy time or a healthy time, even as I could run 10-12 miles/day, seven days/week.  In fact, as I look back, it might have been the most unhappy time of my life.  Running that crazy amount was my attempt to wrestle some control over all the things that felt so unhappy.  Instead, I ended up being addicted to exercise and having eating disorder issues.  Fortunately (and it was fortunate), I got injured to the point where I could not run through the pain (and believe me, I tried!).  I had to take my obsessions elsewhere (hello, Ashtanga yoga!).

Despite all that history, I love running.  Still, it has been tinged with this bit of toxic residue and I haven't dared to try it again - fearful that I would fall down the rabbit hole of crazy.  In December, I was talking with one of my yoga teachers about engaging in other physical activities and I told her my running story.  She said, "Running wasn't the problem - you bring your mind to whatever you are doing."  For whatever reason, I actually heard what she was saying.  Just like how bhuja pindasana suddenly felt not just possible but easy, I realized that the problem was never that running was bad or evil or would "make me" become an obsessed anorexic.  I did that.  To myself.  And that it is possible to enjoy running just to enjoy running.

So, later today, I will take a little jog around the neighborhood.  Just for fun.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

On the Docket

As is my want, I ushered in 2015 up at Zen Mountain Monastery, finishing Rohatsu sesshin with a glorious ceremony of setting intentions for the coming year and generally sharing the love.  Only, you know, in silence and with eyes cast down.  It was as wonderful and intense as you might imagine it being when you are awake for 24 hours (only on the last day, but still...).  I started to write a whole, long post about how mistakes are our best friends but I think I will just say that and you can work it out for yourself.  But they are, you know.

Occasionally, I would dip out of my state of deep samādhi and think about what needs to get done this year, and in particular, in the next several months.  Highest on my list is my project for bkbx gallery, which will open in early March.  I set aside everything in December so I could focus on homeschool things with F&L, the holidays and caring for my friend who is ill.  But the time has come to Put My Head Down and Get To Work.

I have many thoughts about how the project is shaping up, which I will share with you shortly.  For now, however, this:

PS.  I know you are waiting to hear about my yoga resolutions for patient, my beauties, all is coming.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Finding Light Without Searching

Affectionately known as Drunk Santa.
It is a symptom of how time flies that Drunk Santa has remnants of both Halloween and Thanksgiving still on him (he came out early this year).  But, at last, his true moment has come and he is decking the halls, or at least the corner by the bookcase, and making merry.  Also a symptom of how time flies is how I practically had to corner Finn and Lucy to get our tree and then get it decorated.  In years past, they would be on me to get the tree right after Thanksgiving.  This year, I had to schedule it with them a week in advance.

My ginormous project, in which Studio Love bitch slaps Richard Serra, is on hold for the holidays (really, almost the entire thrill is to write those words) (even as the term "bitch slap" might be among the most offensive in the English language) (but damn, it is so effective sometimes).  For better or worse, I set aside my spinning and picked up my knitting needles.  A week ago, I had a minor crisis when I realized that one project was definitely not going to be finished in time.  Plan B was enacted and I feel confident that it was the wise choice even as I am still working on it.  More detail than that, I can not share.

Also filling this holiday season for me is that I am part of a team of goddesses offering care and support for a friend who has been recently diagnosed with late stage cancer.  Goddess is her word but I'll take it.  At the moment, there is not a lot of hands-on care to be given, rather I think we are all mostly in the stage of simply adjusting to the news, and it is an adjustment that takes its own toll in a way.  It feels eerily familiar, as much of what is going on is very similar to what happened to Colette two years ago.  At the same time, this friend is very different and part of my challenge has been to not take Colette into the room with me, or at least, to notice when I am doing that.  Of course, this is my reality of it.  Her reality is quite different - for her, it is every second of every day, without the luxury of taking a break.  As another friend put it, we are enjoying our NYD status (Not Yet Disabled).  It is simply a matter of time.

Darkness.  Light.  I love this season because it is so dark, and in that way, so filled with potential - the light is always there.  No need to go searching for will come.  It will come.

Speaking of light, may I extend my sincerest thanks to you, dear readers, for hanging out with me for another year!  Drunk Santa and I wish you good cheer and good health for this holiday season - see you in the new year!  XOX

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Thing About Grizz

Meet Grizzwald aka Grizz

Since we returned from Newfoundland in August, there has been a cat coming around our backdoor.  While he looked somewhat cared for, it grew increasingly clear that he had been abandoned.  He was a sweet thing who seemed to come around for the love and attention as much as the bowl of food we put out.  Occasionally, he would disappear for days at a time and we thought we had seen the last of him but then he would reappear, as sweet as ever.  As the weather grew colder, we realized that a decision had to be made - is he in or is he out?

Lucy came up with a name - Grizzwald or Grizz.  I guess that was our answer.  I got him in the carrier last week and took him to the veterinarian's office.  Grizz needs his balls cut off (to put it bluntly) but he also needed to be checked for anything else that might infect our two felines in residence, who are quite healthy and happy, thank you very much.

Long story short - Grizz tested positive for feline leukemia.  It isn't clear yet whether he has it in his blood only, which is not necessarily a terrible thing, or if it has gone into his bone marrow, which is a terrible thing.  There also is debate about whether it is ok to have him around other cats - most vets will say definitely not but if you dig around the interwebs, things are a little murkier, especially if he is a carrier only (not infected to the marrow).

Grizz has been living in our basement while we get all this sorted out.  He is a very affectionate cat and, mostly, has not shown his testosterone-driven nature.  I have allowed Olive and Webster to have a little contact with him and mostly he seems ready to cede the Alpha status to Webster.  I am afraid Olive was determined to be below him on the food chain but her attitude seems to be "that's your problem, not mine" so I think it is ok.

This morning, I thought I would give them a little face time but that turned out to be a mistake.  Grizz was hungry and if there is one place where he is alpha, it is around his food bowl.  This guy has known hunger and he isn't about to let some posh, bourgeois, fancy cats elbow in on his eats.  He didn't even wait for Webster to make a move before he was giving him some threatening gestures.  Webster's reaction to run down into the basement was a bad idea - Grizz was hot on his heels.  Then: silence.  I ran down after them.  Still silence.  Then I hear a pathetic little Webster meow back behind the laundry drying rack.  What happened next, well, let's just say that Tabby is the new orange is the new black.  Or something like that.  Webster gave me a look that said, "hello?  yesterday I was King of all I surveyed and today?  Buddy has me pinned down and he clearly is mistaken about my inclinations.  What have I done to deserve this??"

Oh, Webster!  I am so sorry.  (Although I am surprised that you use the term "Buddy" since I always thought that was a Newfoundland thing.)  But it won't happen again.  Buddy (his name is Grizz, by the way) will have that situation fixed, so to speak, and you will reign again.

I swear.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Cut It Out

Can you forgive me for that post title?  I hope so.

Finally got myself to MoMA to see the Matisse cut-outs exhibition.  It is my good fortune to have a friend who is a member so not only was it (almost) free to get in, we were able to get in an hour before the museum opened to the great unwashed aka non-members so the galleries were sparsely populated and viewing the works was easy and enjoyable.

Growing up, my family was not what you might call high cultured.  There was not a lot of art around the house, indeed, there was almost no art around the house.  My mom knits - and a most excellent knitter she is! - but looking at art, going to museums, talking about art and art-related  Art was a foreign land and I am sure it was more than once that my parents shook their heads and wondered how a foreigner was born into their family.  But there I was, burbling on about becoming an artist from the time I was able to put those words together.  Hey, it happens.

Within that distinctly non-art atmosphere, very few images of artworks creeped in.  For reasons I will never understand, the only artists that I had really ever looked at by the time I left for art school were Georgia O'Keefe, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Pablo Picasso and Claus Oldenberg.  Weird, right?  But imagine the amazement and joy I felt when I discovered Matisse and Cezanne and Delacroix and Giacometti and....and....and...the world was my oyster in the first year of art school.  Everyday was a good day, for sure.

And yet.  I distinctly remember two images from my childhood the fell outside these narrow confines.  These two, in fact:

Blue Silhouette II

I don't remember how or why postcards or posters of these two works were around our house, but they were and I don't remember even knowing that someone made them.  They were just kind of there - some kind of anonymous example of Art.  Well, today I saw them for the first time in the flesh, so to speak.  As always, when I look at anything by Matisse, the first word that enters my head is virtuosity.  He's got it.  In spades.  These two pieces are wonderful, and they bring back childhood memories, however puzzling.  But I have to say, they feel minor to me compared to other works in the exhibition.  

Yes, this man was a virtuoso.  I especially love that he left things looking unpolished.  The feeling of the hand is there as much as if he were wielding a brush.  They are complex and sophisticated.  And simple and playful.  They are a kind of crowning achievement of his life's work and they are humble and even functional - there are program covers and book covers among the masterpieces.  

There are two short videos of films made of Matisse making the cut-outs.  He sits in a wheel chair with a pair of huge scissors.  He has his assistants doing the legwork of putting the pieces he is cutting together up on the wall (we will overlook the fact that all the assistants are beautiful, young women...ahem).  Truthfully, there is almost nothing remarkable at all about what one sees in the films.  He doesn't have flashy technique.  He doesn't look particularly special or wise.  But, oh my, look what he created!

Seriously, look at what he created!  Go!  Especially go if you have a friend with a membership and get in an hour early.  It's worth it!  The exhibition is on view until February 8th.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude Is Not Some Distant Land

Grasses and trees, fences and walls demonstrate and exalt it for the sake of living beings, both ordinary and sage; in turn, living beings, both ordinary and sage, express and unfold it for the sake of grasses and trees, fences and walls. 
Eihei Dogen, (1200-1253) 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Strange Materials

Excited to share with you this book, Strange Material, Storytelling Through Textiles by Leanne Prain.  Two of my projects, Spindle 7 and SpinCycle, are included in it.  Indeed, I get the last word in!

You may remember Leanne, who hails from Vancouver, as the author of Yarnbombing and Hoopla, The Art of Unexpected Embroidery.  She has generously written about my work in the past and I am thrilled to be part of this book, in particular.  I think the topic - how textiles become "saturated with narrative" as she writes in her introduction - is endlessly fascinating and so beautifully accessible to anyone who has ever worn a piece of clothing or covered themselves in a blanket.  (Hint: this means you.)

The book also arrived at exactly the right moment as I have been spinning and working out the technical issues related to my Richard Serra project (I really gotta think of a better name).   As I have been spinning and swatching, I have been thinking and talking, to myself and others, and feeling all sorts of stuff about what I am up to here.  At a certain point, I thought that it is exactly this - the thinking, talking, feeling, touching - that will make the project whatever it wants to be.  Richard Serra can have his pristine white walls and shiny, black oil stick.  I am already moving in another direction.  I am sure that he would be horrified at the notion that his work contained a storyline, but not me.  I am drenched in it.


Monday, November 24, 2014


We just ended the fall intensive Zen training period.  It was three-months of stepped up practice.  One thing that usually happens during this time is that the teachers assign a theme for an art practice.  This fall, my teacher asked everyone to write poetry (usually one can choose the medium - visual, movement, writing, etc.).  He then gave us a short selection about how to practice written by Hongzhi Zhengjue, a Zen master who lived in China from 1091-1157.  I can't find the piece to copy it here but essentially Hongzhi is asking us to notice what we have excluded, "integrate into our house" and sit upright with it.  My teacher asked us to choose something that we have excluded - be an international topic like the Ebola crisis or climate change or something more personal to ourselves - and write about in a poetic frame of mind.  

Although I had no particular inclination to take up this assignment, as Shugen described it to us, I immediately knew exactly what I want to - no, needed to - write about.  At the end of April, it was 20 years since I was raped.  To me, this event is as long past as the 20 years makes it sound so I was surprised that it popped into my head so strongly even as Shugen was still speaking.  I did a lot of work in the immediate (and not so immediate) aftermath to "integrate it into my house" and I have been quite satisfied that I have found an understanding and acceptance of what happened, so this too made it surprising.  Why bring up this old thing from the past?  But clearly, it was asking to be brought up, so I began to write.

As I began, I realized that what I wanted to explore was about being silenced.  There is the profound and violent silence of the act itself.  There is the self-silencing and second kind of humiliation that comes from dealing with the police and then there is the silence that happens as people begin to tire of seeing your pain.  Anyone who has grieved for a dead partner or friend knows what I am talking about here.  There is a time limit on suffering, or so it seems.  As I wrote more, I also realized that silence has other, sometimes contradictory, faces.  And that I want them all in my house.

We had a reading of our work a couple of weekends ago and this is what I read.  

Lucy left this on my camera a while back, so...fair game.

Silence:  An Epic Poem to be Told with Words in Three Minutes Flat

There’s the thing that happens
And there’s the story about that thing.
Telling the story is another thing.
Sometimes we need our things.
And we need them to be
just so. 

There is a difference between holding and releasing.
But both can be quiet, under the radar,
The opposite of noise. 

Sometimes the people who love you most cannot bear to see you suffering 
and they beg you stop-it-right-now
and because you love them too,
you do.

Once, when I was a little girl, I went with my father to the electrical supply store and the man behind the counter took my hand and squeezed it really hard because I wouldn’t answer his questions.  My father had to tell him to stop. 

Things get solid in words,
Hardly room to breath let alone form and unform
The way things want to do. 

Already people talk too much. 

I read in the newspaper about how soldiers in The Democratic Republic of Congo broke into a house, killed the father and raped the mother while her 13 year-old son was forced to watch.  Then they cut off her leg below the knee and roasted it on a fire and tried to force the son to eat it.  When he refused, they killed him.

I think about that woman often.  How does she manage?  Where does she find strength to make a cup of tea, sweep the floor, fold her clothes?  Where does she find strength to laugh at a joke or take a nice nap?

I think about those soldiers.  Adrenalin pumping through their bodies, fully aroused by the insanity of the moment.  The perfect logic of an almost unthinkable psychosis bringing them to a barbaric climax - as helpless as lost children.

To be quiet is a blessing –
Thank you for not telling me what you think. 

I would like your permission to say something.  Something stupid and ill-informed, that doesn’t add to the discussion, that is self-centered and pretentious.  Something that leaves you rolling your eyes.  Something obnoxious and obviously wrong.  Something at exactly the worst moment, that makes people turn away in embarrassment.

I want to say something without apology. 

How can I ever say anything?  Encase a feeling into letters?  Little set arrangements that make things so nice and pat?  My feelings are like the Gulf of St. Lawrence after a November storm.  They are a bog in Scotland turning plant life into coal.  They are the blue, blue sky. 

Why would I speak?
Can you blame someone for taking a vow of silence? 

You can’t not communicate.  If your tongue fails you, then your body will pick up the slack.  Eyes, shoulders, hands – dead giveaways.  People make fortunes reading the words that you never speak as they float over your body.  The flesh knows.  Every muscle cell is directly connected to the brain.   Each one a tiny holding tank of events, smells, sounds, things remembered and things forgotten. 

To be quiet is a blessing –
But funny how the need to speak becomes a gash, an open wound, arterial bleeding of the most urgent nature, when someone else tells you to be quiet. 

So please,
I want to tell you what I think.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Courage of My Convictions

What is it that people say?  Every long journey begins with a single step?  Well, in this case, every massive art installation begins with a single stitch.

Kind of obnoxious in both instances.  And yet, like every cliche, there is that nugget of truth in it!  I swatched up my first skein of yarn (is swatch a verb?) so I could see what stitch I like and what the various breeds of sheep were looking like.  The lighter brown is Romney.  I don't like it quite so much as the Shetland, which is darker.  In my original idea, I thought I would like the surface to be very textural - I actually didn't want processed wool but thought I would spin it washed but not carded so it would be very thick and thin and still showing its locks.  Then I pictured a huge, hairy brown thing on the wall and suddenly I started having visions of it looking like a huge wall of pubic hair.  Sorry, I know it may sound vulgar to those of you who are the more sensitive among us, but once a thought like that enters your head, it won't go away.  So, I am giving the whole thing a Brazilian and going with good, old, dependable, and most importantly, flat stockinette stitch.  I might even want to full it a bit after it is all stitched together, but that decision is a long way away at this point.

One thought that has been coming up for me as I have actually begun to work on this (once I got the pubic hair out of my mind) is about what the purpose of this work will be and where will my conviction to keep going come from.  Obviously, I do not have the same impulses and inspirations as Richard Serra did when he (or his assistants) made those drawings.  But there was something there that was strong enough to get me this far.  Now the work is taking on its own life.  Even as I spinning these first skeins, I was thinking about what this whole process will bring to the work - the labour, the time and energy.  As someone very wise said to me, the conviction that brought me to begin the work will not the same as the conviction that will keep me going with it.  And that will not the same as the conviction to know that I am finished with it.  Yes, very wise.

I also was thinking about that old bugaboo - how some people will inevitably say something like, "you wasted all that good wool that could have gone into making sweaters for homeless babies for the coming winter."  Even as that genre of comment makes me want to smack the person saying it upside the head, I know the reason that it irks me so much is because sometimes that speaker is me.  As I was spinning, I did have some thoughts along the lines of "Holy shit!  All this wool for something that might turn out to be a total disaster!"  But you know, anything could turn out to be a disaster, including knitting sweaters for homeless babies.

We still march forward.  We still have to knit that first stitch.

Friday, November 14, 2014

And So It Begins

"Go ahead, photograph me....again....if you must."
There were some tense days at StudioLove (hey, if you are taking on Richard Serra, at the very least you have to come up with a name for yourself that isn't actually your name).  My spinning wheel came back from South Dakota not functioning and missing one critical part.  The critical part was fairly easily replaced but the part that was no longer function caused me to quit breathing for a moment or two or a thousand.  I looked between my non-functioning wheel and the 45 lbs of wool currently residing in my living room and felt a wave of panic mixed with despair - not a feeling that I would recommend.

Praise be to the internets because after a thorough search on forums and chats about my wheel, I discovered that others had had this experience and corrected it.  It took me two days, but I also corrected the problem and my wheel spins again!

I set to work immediately.  My first skein is something of a fibre sampler so I could see what each of the types of wool I purchased looks like in finished form.  As I suspected, there is a fairly large difference in colour and texture, which means that I will have to stick to one breed for each individual piece for consistency's sake.  I also was curious how many skeins I would get from a 1/2 lb of roving.  Answer: five.  That is a total of about 600-800 yds.  I have no idea what that actually means for my piece but there is comfort in numbers and solid information like that, don't you think?

The next step is to knit and crochet some swatches to see what I like.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I'll Take It

Last night, Lucy and I were sorting through old photographs that have been stored in a big bin in the basement for many years.  Photographs dating back to the time when we actually took photographs with film and sent them away to be developed.  I had a sneaking suspicion that a lot of them were pictures that would be on the receiving end of "delete" these days - blurry images, pictures half obscured by a thumb, and repeats of an image that was slightly better in the next frame, etc..  I was right in that assumption.  Without too much heartbreak, I was able to toss out half of the collection easily.

Many of the photographs were from the early years of Finn and Lucy's childhood, including the pictures of their births (we didn't take many so they feel extra precious now).  We both got teary-eyed over a picture of Lucy's first and most loved doll, Ashley, who became a member of our family for over a decade and who met a very upsetting end when a friend's father tossed her out after she was left behind following a sleepover.  It still pains me to recall the terrible moment when we discovered poor Ash-a-day-day's fate.

We also had a lot of laughs of their naked, chubby baby pictures and reminiscing about various events and places that we had been, including a bunch of pictures from before they were born.  As we packed up the "saves" Lucy said, "I never think about your life before we were born but you did have one.  I always just assume that you went to college and then you had us."

Me:  "Um..not quite.  There were ten years in between."

Lucy (somewhat incredulous):  "What did you do??"

Me:  "Work, make art, you know, live my life."

Lucy: "Seems like you really dove into the whole parenting thing.  Like, it really changed your life.  I guess.....thanks."

I're welcome!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Annnnnnnnd, One More!

Did I mention that Helen is not an earth-toned kind of person?  I was secretly (and now, openly) cheering that little fact when I realized that I need to clear off all the bobbins that would be returned with the wheel.  I had very finely spun some BFL/silk roving with the intention of making a two-ply but I never got around to spinning the second ply.  Suddenly, I needed to ply it with...something.  I searched around and found some Shetland on my Majacraft bobbins.  It would have to do, although I had my doubts about the colour combination.

The whole time I was plying, I was regretting wasting such gorgeous yarn by sticking these two incompatible colour schemes together.  Once again, I was totally wrong!  After a good soaking and drying overnight, the result is beautiful!  Once again, you just can never tell until it's done.

And that earth-toney goodness is all mine!

(She clutches it to her breast and runs away, laughing.)