Monday, March 31, 2008

Berlin 6AM

That was me, this morning...getting on a plane to Zurich and from there, JFK. We landed at JFK at about 12:45 pm, which was nearly 7 pm according to my clock. I have lots of pictures: art, yarn, chocoloate (what else is there?) but for tomorrow. The rest of this day is for getting through as best I can without falling on my face. I'm tired, but it's a good tired.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not Stained, Not Pure

It is hard to know where to start! I do not have access to the internet at the gallery so I am trying to cram five days of email and information into one hour now that I am somewhere with access. Of course, now I can't think of a thing to say despite that I have been preparing blog entries in my head all day long. So, I will have to share some pictures and see if that sparks anything profound, or not so profound.

This is Sonya and Alex, my hosts in Berlin. They co-organize Hope and Glory and they have been very generous with their time and efforts to make me feel at home here. We are on a double-decker bus heading to Martin Gropius Bau to see an exhibition of an Israeli artist named Dani Caravan.

Before we could get to the museum, however, we had to walk past Checkpoint Charlie, the former point of exit and entry between East and West Berlin. It is now a tourist attraction. I was photographing all the people photographing the people who have just paid 1euro to have their picture taken with a fake US and USSR soldier. Go capitalism! Yah!

Here is a shop near the gallery: Pimp Your Hair. For "Herren und Kinder" which means men and children. Uh-huh.

Now here is an intersection that you will never see in the US: the corner of Karl Marx Strasse and Karl Marx Platz. I stood right there and nothing bad happened to me. I swear!

And last but not least. Please come to the one-night only exhibition of "Not Stained, Not Pure: A Meditation on 10-Days in Berlin" featuring a sound installation, a series of works on paper, an ongoing wall drawing project and a crochet work. Join us at Hope and Glory at 9 p.m. on Friday evening (Emser Str. 126, NeuKolln). Beer will be served.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

It is Easter Sunday in Berlin. I survived the plane rides although there were some tense moments. I have been studiously not thinking about the return trip.

I am set-up in the gallery, which is, as promised, somewhat primitive in terms of living space. But it is everything that I need: a bed, a fridge, an electric kettle and lots of space and time for working and thinking. I have been drawing a lot, walking around a lot, and feeling immensely grateful for the German educational system that means that nearly everyone from all walks of life can speak excellent English.

At the moment, I can not post pictures because I have to use Sonya's computer to get internet access. The gallery may be wired later in the week but perhaps not.

The neighborhood where I am staying is almost exclusively Turkish with a handful of Asian immigrants there too. I realized that, in Dallas, we stayed in Irving, which is the Queens of Dallas. In Berlin, I am staying Neue Kolln, which is the Queens of Berlin. Or something like that. Now that I think of it, Gillams could be called an outer borough of Corner Brook.

Always destined for the outer boroughs. Not a lot of glitz but the food is good.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Snare and Delusion

So...instead of packing or making 90 little books of knitted mile photos for all my generous knitters or preparing meals for my children to eat while I am away...I decided I absolutely had to, right at this moment, take photographs of the spinning that I have been working on so I could post them here. I wish I could unscrew my head for the next 24 hours and replace it with someone else's. Maybe Vanna White. She looks so happy and content on those yarn labels.

But anyway, here are the pictures that are replacing wholesome meals for my darlings:

This is hand dyed targhee top. Targhee is a breed that has fleece similar to merino but stronger without losing the amazing softness. It was not dyed by me but by Spinning Bunny. She calls it "Berry Patch" but I have decided to call it Pynn's Brook, which is where we head every late August/early Sept. to pick the blueberries that are made into the jelly that gets us through the winter. I don't think I am giving away a state secret in naming it thus, given the number of cars we see along the road to the berry patch(es). I spun thin singles, as thin as I could, then navajo plied, which makes it a 3-ply yarn. But because the singles were quite thin, the resulting yarn isn't too bulky. I haven't measured it but I am guessing it is a worsted weight. I think I will have about 750yds when I am finished plying the last of it. This is destined for Wee Ball Yarns. It will be the first time that I haven't dyed and spun what I sell, but this is so perfectly Pynn's Brook to me that I think it is ok.

Here is the other colourway I got from Spinning Bunnies. It is actually yellower than this slightly blurry picture suggests. I was trying to spin thick singles but it is over-spun and irregular, which is disappointing. This will become a hat or something. I can't, in good conscience, try to sell it. I had my wheel set on a very slow speed and high take-up but still it is over-spun. I am not sure what I am doing wrong but obviously I need more practice. I am debating whether to go back to thin singles and navajo plying for the rest of it or to keep trying on the thick singles. I guess it doesn't matter at the moment!...I need to pack!

Things Larger Than Myself

In hopes of distracting myself from my increasing pre-flight anxiety (although it may be too late for such measures), I have been trying to keep up with the situation in Tibet. If you are interested, you might want to take a look at this blog, which has some fairly up-to-date information about what is happening there. The blog is written by a man who is a Unitarian Universalist and Zen priest and he often has information and general thoughts that I very much enjoy reading. Once you read - and sign the petition for whatever it's worth - about the terrible things happening in Tibet, scroll down a little and check out his six-word biography. I may have to steal it!

Here's the link: Monkey Mind

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fear of Flying

As I was obsessively watching the weather reports for Wednesday evening, I realized that I had to get grip on my little problem, which is I am deathly afraid to fly. I have been working hard on this and part of my motivation for going to Berlin was to prove to myself that I can do it. Last night I started have little moments of panic--maybe they were also related to leaving my family for 11 days--but I mostly managed to talk myself back from the ledge.

The last time I flew was in 1997 when I went to Newfoundland for the first time. I remember looking down during the flight back to NYC and being able to see my heart beating through my fleece jacket. I thought that this kind of thing can not be good for one's overall health so I stopped flying (natch). This was really not so hard since I was incredibly busy with two small children and most of my family live within a five-hour drive. Cut to ten years later and this wonderful invitation to come to Berlin and make a project lands in my lap...what are you going to do but get over it already!

Although, I am not sure what it means that I am slightly sweating just writing this down. Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Just did my taxes for 2007. Note to self: Remember to make more money in 2008.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Movie: The Movie

On Wednesday we (Finn, Lucy and I) had a wonderful opportunity drop into our lap. A friend of ours was visiting Deitch Projects, a gallery in SoHo (who knew there were any left?) to see an installation by the film director Michel Gondry. He is known for films such as The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, among others. His installation coincides with his latest movie titled Be Kind, Rewind. In the gallery he has set up about 10 various little movie sets, a props department, costumes and two stations for developing storylines for short films. Visitors to the gallery are invited to sign up for a time slot, which allows them about 2.5 hours of time to develop and shoot a short film. No editing allowed--all shots are final shots. Then, there is a little viewing area where you can see your film, along with others that have been made during the exhibition.

Our friend and his two sons were having a great time looking around and messing with the sets, etc., when Michel noticed them and invited them to make a movie. He went so far as to have the gallery open early so that they could get a time slot since all the others were booked up. But he told them that they needed to invite more people since the project worked best with groups of 6-15 people. And so it was that we were making a short film at 10 am on a Wednesday morning.

Our group consisted of six children, ages 3-11, one teenager, and three adults. In the end, it took us more like four hours to complete the process but it was an amazing experience, especially for the children who lead the process of story development, made the costume decisions, and were just incredible as writers, actors, collaborators. The only downside was that we did not get a copy of our film--everything we produced: our storyboards, title cards, etc., are being kept by Gondry.

We titled our film, Movie: The Movie. A synopsis of the plot would be along the lines of "a group of children break into a movie studio to make a movie about a gang of robbers but along the way they get distracted by a television. They click through several channels and watch: a cooking show, a show called "Hard Wood Floors," the 10 o'clock movie called "Fairies Dancing In the Woods" and a bit of a newscast where they learn that a band of real robbers are on the loose. At that moment, the real robbers break into the movie studio and also get distracted by the TV, which is showing pictures of them as wanted criminals. The gang of children notice the robbers and tie them up and bring them to the police station."

Sundance, here we come!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Built for Speed, Not Comfort

Is it human nature or is it an illness created by living in a culture that values speed over everything else? Yesterday, someone asked me how my project went and my first thought was "what project?" Oh yeah...that old thing...


Part of my feeling like the Dallas project is already behind me is that the next one is looming large on the horizon. A week from today I head to Berlin for 11 days. Eleven days to make art, live art, look at art. Did I mention it is 11 days to do all those things...alone? Yes, after over a decade of having constant companionship, I will have 11 days on my own in a foreign city where my only mission is to make art and look at art. And maybe eat lots of pastry too. It feels totally unbelievable.

My primary thought about making a project in the gallery space where I will be both living and working was to keep it simple. Please, stop laughing! I am sure I can make a simple project if I stay focused. Ok, the project has already morphed a little and involves creating a sound installation, which, you know, I haven't ever really done before. But other than that. Alright, it also involves finding a zen center in Berlin willing to let me record their chanting, then manipulating that sound file with the sound file of chanting I record in NYC, not that my zen center has given me permission to do that yet. And making lots of drawings.

Simple, you know.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Appearing Canadian

Next week Dan will head to Buffalo for a day. No, not just to eat some wings, although I am sure he will do that. He will be carrying our passports to the Canadian consulate there to be stamped, a stamp...that means we are now offically Canadian permanent residents. Sorry, I think that needs to read: Canadian permanent residents!!!!!!!

The consulate sent us a letter saying that "it appears that your application is complete and..." Appears? They love to leave you with that little frisson of doubt, those Canadians. (Like how I am already adding little bits of French into my daily vocabulary--so Canadian!)

We could mail our passports to them, but given our recent experiences with the USPS, we thought it was worth the extra money to deliver them in person. Dan will get them back the same day and be home, with his feet up on our chesterfield, listening to Bare Naked Ladies and eating Kraft Dinner by evening.

Beauty, eh?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What Goes Around...

I just received an email from Janine (yes, blogless Janine of the missing package containing 60 feet of yellow garter stitch. News update: it may have been stolen! Imagine the look on the thief's face when he opens the package expecting a camcorder or something...). Janine grew up in Tennessee and knows from Jesus Loves You. I think her words were "You Yankees are so serious and take things so literally" Ok, Janine! I am laughing at myself. But what can I say? I have a 2000-foot long space in my head where all that knitting used to be. I had to fill it up with something!

More importantly than God and Man, I need to share a project that has come to my attention. It is titled The Lost Boys and it is being created by a Canadian artist named Michele Karsh Ackerman. She has spent time at the Pouch Cove artist residence where she was researching and working on installation projects dealing with World War I and the connection of the young soldiers with the lost boys in Peter Pan (which was first published during the first World War). In her research at The Rooms, she came across the devestating story of Beaumont Hamel.

Her new project is to knit a miniature (doll size) sweater for every soldier who was killed that day at the Battle of the Somme--700 in total. She has 200 knit and needs around 500 more. She would love some help from other knitters, especially knitters in Newfoundland. The sweaters are to all be white or off white (natural). Any kind of yarn can be used (she wants differences in them) but approx. the worsted weight. Please use a medium size needle - about 5mm or 6mm. You are also welcome to tuck any kind of note or personal memorial of your own inside the sweaters.

I have the pattern and would be happy to email it to anyone interested in knitting sweaters. The finished project will be presented at The Rooms, I believe this summer. I am not completely sure the best way to get the sweaters to the artist but I have offered to be a collection point and to carry them to Newfoundland with us in May. If you are interesting in knitting, I will give you more details as I know them via email.

Given that I have been the beneficiary of volunteer knitting from upwards of 90 generous knitters, I thought I had better get some little sweaters cooking on the needles. The first will be for my great uncle Eddie who survived being gassed in the trenches in France in WWI. Then, I think given the senseless and tragic deaths that have been adding up in our name lately--as senseless and tragic as those of the poor Newfoundlanders at Beaumont Hamel--I think there are plenty other memorials that can be made.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Bringing up the subject of god on a blog where most people are coming over to look at a knitted mile seems a bit of a red herring but, in my mind, my attempts to understand this world of ours are as much about knitting a mile as they are about figuring out the meaning of that billboard in Alabama. It's all process: watching the process, being the process, or something like that. I'm still working it out.

After reading Patti and Shawn's comments yesterday, I had a couple more thoughts that I wanted to toss out.

First, I was reminded of a story I read somewhere (sorry for being so pathetic on references). The story goes along these lines: Two Zen monks were walking along--they were monks in a tradition that was very strict and forebade them from touching women--and they came to a river. There was a young woman there who needed to get across for some very important reason (sorry again for being vague on details) but she could not swim and so she asked if they would carry her across. After a brief hesitation, one of the monks offered to carry the woman across, and he does. The two monks then continue on their way. About a half hour later, the other monk finally bursts out and says "I can't believe you carried that woman across the river!" The other monk replied, "why are you still carrying her?"

Later, as I was looking through a book called The Art of Just Sitting, a collection of essays on shikantaza edited by John Daido Loori, I came across an essay by Zoketsu Norman Fischer. Here is a snippet from the first page of his essay titled "A Coin Lost in the River is Found in the River":

"Zazen is fundamentally a useless and pointless activity. A person is devoted to zazen not because it helps anything or is peaceful or interesting or because Buddha tells him to do it--though we may imagine that it helps or is peaceful or interesting--but simply because one is devoted to it. You can't argue for it or justify it or make it into something good. You just do it because you do it. It's not even a question of wanting to or not wanting to. Zazen for zazen's sake. Birds sing, fish swim, and people who are devoted to zazen do zazen with devotion all the time although there is no need for it.

Our life is already fine the way it is..."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

More Questions Than Answers -or- Decide How Much You Want to be Offended Now...Then You May Proceed

Today, being Sunday and all, feels right to delve into a topic that has been simmering in my head since we started seeing "Jesus Loves You" billboards in Tennessee. Actually, I think "Jesus Loves You" billboards are fine, as far as they go, but I did have some questions about a billboard, or rather a series of billboards, that we saw in Alabama. We saw a couple of them that were clearly made by the same person or group, who were not identified anywhere on the billboard. They were all black with white lettering on them, and here is what one said:

Why not stop by my house
on Sunday before the game?
- God

I guess here might be a good place to mention that, as a Zen Buddhist (why do I think that by writing that I have just made myself not a Zen Buddhist?), I don't believe in God. Buddhism is a religion that believes that the idea of a god is yet one more separation between the sentient being and their full realization of the true nature of things. So billboards purporting to spout the casual conversations of God to others should not be a big concern of mine. But something about this little group of them really confounded me. Is it ok for someone - who? - to do just that: to decide to write little snippets of casual conversation and label them as coming from God? And then print them out and put them on highway billboards? What, exactly, is the purpose of this?

I was brought up as an Episcopalian in Massachusetts. My mother's family is full of Anglican ministers and even a bishop somewhere in there, in Newfoundland and England. My dad's family...well...not so much. But the long and short of it is, this is not your "go tell it on the mountain" crowd: stiff upper lip and all that. Of money and religion we do not speak. In fact, when I was still searching for a teacher and a sangha, I went to hear Sogyal Rinpoche give a two-day talk. At the beginning of the first day, his assistant gave a little speech that was along the lines of "you may hear some things here that will resonate with you strongly. Do not go out and tell all your friends but let them sit with you quietly." I loved it. Don't go tell it on the mountain!

But back to the billboard. Here was someone who was inventing the word of God. Isn't that supposed to be frowned upon?

Also, I was reading this book titled "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert on the road. Out of some kind of reverse snobbism, I had avoided it since it was so popular but I was desperate for something to read at one point in Dallas so I bought it and was immediately sucked in. There is a lot of conversation about God in that book. Her description of God as the ultimate in unconditional love, not tied to dogma or really tied to anything except the willingness to be open to it, sounded good to my peacenik, anti-instituitonal ears. One of the main ways she goes about getting closer to God is through meditation, which sounded good to my zazen practicing mind/body. So I am all grooving on this book where this person who is about my age is going to all my favorite places in the world and having these mindshaping, life changing experiences, and then "why not come by my house on Sunday..."

And I was offended. There, I said it. It pissed me off, me: the non-believer, the student of Zen.

I still am not exactly sure what about that billboard that struck a nerve with me. Was it the casual tone? Was it the notion of someone pretending that God is out there recruiting people to visit him/her/it/them? Was it all of that? Also, I thought about if someone put a quote from Buddha on a billboard, would that make me angry? Well, there is a huge difference. For one, "the Buddha" meaning the historical Buddha was a real person, like Jesus. You are quoting Buddha and you are quoting a real person. God is an idea, a concept, or perhaps a phemonena beyond description. You are quoting...what exactly? That billboard made this idea/concept/phemonena of "God" into a person who wants to hang out "before the game"?

Maybe it made me angry because the people I know who are closest to being bodhisattvas on this earth are ones who have worked very, very hard to get there. They move through the world in what seems like an effortless way now, but I know their paths were full of doubt and facing up to all their personal flaws and weaknesses, and full of just plain hard work. This damn billboard seemed almost to be mock all they have done, as if dropping by church before a game was all it takes.

But as I write this, I am reminded of something that the teacher at the Zen Center said as we started a three-day sesshin last spring. He asked us if it mattered what people called us - is one really better than another? More accurate in its description of who we are? He started out with his name, then his darma name, then "teacher... my love...asshole...jerk" Does it matter? Which one do we cling to? And which one trips us up?

Like I said, more questions than answers.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Odds and Ends

Firstly, here is what we saw in Montgomery, Alabama:

Springtime! We discovered a large playground in "Old Alabama Town" and F&L ran around, estatic to be free of the backseat of the car. I wandered around enjoying the old houses, the singing birds and the warmth on my hair. And then, one thought began to loom large: August. 70F/20C is all well and good in February but it comes at a cost. Pay me now or pay me later, as they say.

I think I prefer 70F/20C in August, come what may in February.

Then, these arrived yesterday:

They are from Peace Fleece, a group in Maine that tries to create connections between traditional enemies through fleece and other knitterly items. These wooden buttons were handpainted in Russia. If you order a certain amount from them, they offer you wholesale price, which makes things quite reasonable especially if you go in on it with a friend, which is what I did. Aren't they just so darn pretty? I have no idea what I will use them for except to look at them and feel happy.

And lastly, my reward knitting;

The Texas-bought Manos del Uruguay knit up into Fetching with some modifications made only because I had to shut down my computer for the roadtrip and hadn't bothered to write down the instructions beforehand so I found myself winging it for the thumb hole part. I love them not only for their incredible colours and soft warmness but for the fact of the purl stitches, the use of double pointed needles and the cable crosses. Look Ma! No garter stitch!