Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Yes But, What About Yoga?

On Monday evening, we had our last yoga class at Full Tilt.  It was a very small class - only two people (thanks Shannon and Cheryl!) - but in some ways that was perfect.  Shannon has been coming since I began teaching and is very dedicated.  Cheryl is a new student (to me), joining the class only this summer. 

Not yoga-related, but it is pretty.
Colette gave me my first break as a yoga teacher, before I even had any teacher training at all.  Fueled only by a desire to share the love, I made up sequences based on classes I remembered and videos I watched.  Amazingly, no one was injured.   That experience inspired me to actually get some training and the rest, as they say, is history.

Until that history reaches an end.  Full Tilt, Colette's farm and artist residence centre (and yoga studio), is for sale, and while it is in the care of the estate's executor, no one is allowed on the property (save those who are visiting it with the intention to buy).  When I look back over the years that I taught there, I think what strikes me most is that yoga really happened, almost while we weren't looking.

The classes were never huge.  I think eight to ten were as many as ever came at one time - mostly it was around four or five people.   Yet, there was a sense of a community.  For the students who showed up for class each week, I think it all added it up to something transformational in ways that were both subtle and gross.

In yoga, there is the idea of samskara-s, which translates loosely to mean habits.  We create samskara-s every time we take an action and the more we do one thing, the bigger, deeper our samskara becomes.  So, our negative samskara-s could be seen like ruts in the road.  The more we take that road, the deeper the rut, the harder it is to get out of it.  According to Mr. Desikachar, in yoga we are working to replace our negative samskara-s with positive samskara-s.  I feel like I have witnessed this in myself and my students, at least a little bit.

Sometimes I wonder why yoga has this power, especially the asana.  I mean, anyone can do a bit of stretching and a bit of gymnastics and walk away feeling a little more limber, perhaps, but not changed in some more profound way.  Yet, even if all you do is asana, yoga does change people in profound ways.  Very, very slowly, but it does.

I also think about how it is possible to misuse yoga so that our negative samskara-s get ever deeper and reinforced.  One needs a teacher to point this out, I think.  In the beginning, we are drawn to whatever style usually because it reinforces certain qualities that do not need reinforcing.  It is possible, with the guidance of a good teacher, to use that very thing to actually help us break through the negative and make it a positive.

Shall I make an example of myself?

Here is what I mean.  Ashtanga has a reputation for attracting Type A, overly-ambitious, competitive people who obsess about mastering asana, have lots of preconceived ideas about advancing through the series as quickly as possible, and who enjoy the physical punishment of doing such a rigorous practice six days/week.  Sounds like a fun crowd, no?

I won't say that I don't fall into some of those categories.  And I won't say that I didn't spend the first several years of doing my practice caught up in all those things.  In fact, I will say that I was exactly like that.  I thought I was aiming towards one thing but the practice had other plans.  When I had visions of myself mastering the primary series and quickly moving into second series, my teachers put me back to half-primary.  I have written here about this before, but to quickly recap - they put me back there for a good long while.  So long that I finally had to get over myself and begin to (hold on to your hats) enjoy the practice of practice.  When I began to think that one could easily be very happy doing the half-primary for a lifetime, my teachers gave me more postures and I was soon doing the full series.

I have witnessed myself go in and out of that cycle over and over: I get ambitions about where I "should" be and then work through that to a place of comfort with where I am.  I remember having quite a set back when I inadvertently overheard someone telling one of my teachers that I had a "beautiful practice".  That messed me up for a good while!  If and when I do have a beautiful practice, I would say that it is a very humble practice, first and foremost.  If you didn't see humility among the list of qualities that I first mentioned, then you will see what I mean about how yoga can take what is exactly your particular poison and turn it into medicine.

(This is where it gets incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't practice ashtanga...sorry!)

This summer, as I have been practicing on my own, I had set up some loose goals (I mean, I am still a Type A - haven't cured that yet).  Among them were to finally be able to come back up from bhuja pindasana on a regular basis, to really get bakasana into the vinyasa's where it is supposed to be, and (insert dramatic music here) to get to where I can come back up from my drop-backs.  So, what has really happened?  I had a little break through with both bhuja pindasana and bakasana, again, almost when I wasn't looking.  A subtle shift and suddenly they are not so impossible.  I would say it had more to do with awareness than strength.  As for my drop backs (and coming back up)?  They have not advanced very far.  Instead what has greatly improved are my jump-throughs and my sirasana.  So, go figure.

(Ok, back to normal talk.)

So, is the yoga found in the newly improved sirasana (headstand) or is it in the fact that I stopped putting a lot of judgement and narrative around my ability to do sirasana?  That answer is fairly obvious.

And, with that, I need to actually go do my practice and then prep for teaching at a new space in Corner Brook.

Nothing stands still...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Getaway From The Getaway

We find ourselves on the east coast of the island.  A friend was looking for companionship on a drive across the island, and one airbnb search later, Lucy, her friend, Hannah, and I were barreling down the Trans-Canada, sipping our coffee from the Deer Lake Tim Hortons.

As someone who drove nearly across the continent and back alone, I was patiently generous with my friend's need to have someone else along.  You might even call it a bit patronizing...until we actually had a flat tire and were standing on the side of the two lane highway with 18-wheelers charging past us.  Thank goodness that never happened on my trip!  And extra thank goodness for the kindness and genuine generousity of one man who stopped his 18-wheeler and put the spare tire on for us, then directed us to a place where we could get the tire more permanently repaired.  Buddy did it all with good cheer and incredible efficiency then hopped back in his truck and was gone.  We were so grateful!  Somehow his skill and attitude made what could have been very stressful and disastrous into a 20 minute minor diversion.  Thank you, kind sir!

And then, we were here.

Our friend is in St. John's but I am not so interested in St. John's.  We are a little more than an hour south of St. John's in a town called Kingman's Cove.  It makes Gillams seem like a bustling metropolis. But that is exactly what I wanted.

It is possible to be here and not hear any cars in the distance.  None!  Not even a little.  It's a beautiful place.  We have one more day and then back to our wild life and that Bay of Islands bump and grind.  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Daemon Unleashed

The Tour de Fleece may be over but it has unleashed a daemon....

I can't stop spinning!  

Every morning, I think, "no, I won't get involved with that today, I have so many other things to do."  And then I think, "well, how can it hurt if I just do a little while the kettle boils?"  And then it is 12:30 p.m. and I am still in my pajamas and Lucy is wandering around looking for food like some wild-eyed street urchin in Naples circa 1946.

But look....

This is Merino.  And look at those colours!  This isn't some wussy, cloying Merino.  This is Portuguese Merino.  This is Merino that isn't afraid to stand up for itself.  This Merino isn't all "woo-woo, look how soft I am!  Only don't expect to see any stitch definition and, by the way, I will pill up after just one wearing..."  No, no.  This Merino is all, "step aside, there is an adult present" (use your best James Earl Jones voice when you read that).  

Or, you know, these are the thoughts that run through my head as I am spinning in my pajamas in the early afternoon.  Apparently the descent from hard working artist into full-fledged fibre-y debauchery is swift.

But I didn't show you this!  Look!  It's a wee Turkish spindle, suitable for use on long flights or bus journeys or any other time when you are in a tight, cramped space but absolutely must spin some fleece.  It happens all the time!

I first spied this little cutie when I went to the wonderful Golden Willow in Regina, SK, for the Knitting Sprawl project.  Deborah had one (among her many spindles) and I was captivated.  I mean, who wouldn't be?  She let me play with it a bit and gave me a quick tutorial about turkish spindles, and then we left.  

For four years, I have thought about that spindle but I have never seen one like it again.  Fast forward to July 4, 2013.  I find myself, somewhat unexpectedly, in Regina, SK, again.  I do what any quick thinking person would do - I head straight for the Golden Willow and I buy one of those spindles.  No, it was not cheap but it was a little birthday present to myself.  You see, I spent my birthday on the road, by myself.  It was all perfectly fine and I felt not a twinge of unhappiness about it...but when faced with the price of the spindle vs. its size, I did think certain thoughts that attempted to justify the purchase: cost + birthday x aloneness = buy the tiny spindle!

Plus, it can do this:

Yes, let's see that again:


This isn't about rational thought...this is addiction.  Sheesh.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Nature...Or, Run For Your Life

Now that the project for Saskatoon is behind me, and the next big one isn't until next spring, I am spending the rest of our time here enjoying what it has to offer - a whole lotta natural beauty.  The Type A in me also wants to list all the other things I will be doing but - deep breath - I am just going to let that go.  If you wish to believe that I will be lounging around under a tree, reading a book for the next five weeks, so be it.  And frankly, that doesn't sound like the worst fate.

Lucy and I took a hike up behind our house yesterday evening.  There is a trail that goes all the way up to Gros Morne, if you have the shoe leather and the stamina for it.  But we just go to the community pasture to check out the goats and sheep (there weren't any this year - wonder why?) and to this always-strange abandoned racetrack and ball field.  It lived up to is strangeness last night by being host to a cow and a bull grazing, unencumbered by any fencing.  As much as we were intrigued, we kept our distance...that bull was mighty big and had some horns that looked like serious business.  They barely glanced our way so we were probably being overly cautious, but hey - we're city slickers.

We walked home via the highway.  There is a point where the road is cut from such a steep slope down to the bay that the tree tops of the hill beneath are just above road level.  This is where some osprey have their nests.  Last night, two of them started making a lot of noise and circling around us as we walked by.  These osprey fish in the bay right at our beach and we have seen them dive bomb the fish often.  As one of them put its wings into dive bomb position, both Lucy and I started running and shouting, "we come in peace!" and maybe "help!"  I was waiting to feel the claws ripping my scalp off....

...but it turned out that the osprey's ire was directed at some crows that were hanging around.  Lucy and I had a good laugh at our cowardly behavior.  I think the message of that hike was: nature is scary.  Or maybe:  we have to get out more.

This is remaining Shetland that I chain plied.  It actually didn't come out so well...and I am wondering if Shetland is just not a good candidate for chain plying.  Does anyone have any opinions?  I would gladly fess up to simply doing a poor job of it but I also chain plied some merino I had sitting around on some bobbins and that came out beautifully.  So..was it me or the sheep?  What do you think?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Greater Than the Sum of Two Parts

One skein = one cat's body length

Technically (I don't know what you mean by technically, Bob), I have met my Tour de Fleece goal.  I spun two sets of singles of this gorgeous overdyed Shetland and plied them, all on my spindle.

It resulted in about 132 yds of the most Shetland-y Shetland I have ever seen.  Can't you just smell the peat burning from here?

I do feel like my spindling skills improved and I learned that a girl's best friend in a traffic jam is her spindle.  But I am rather embarrassed to admit that I made a ridiculous mistake.  For some unfathomable reason, I did not divide the fleece evenly when I split it in half.  Yes, that's right...I managed to botch up the simple act of dividing it in half.  I will use as my excuse that I had probably driven for 10+ hours so everything was a bit fuzzy, if you know what I mean.  Oh no, now that I reflect a moment, I remember when I divided the fleece...ahem...mistakes were made, as Ronald Reagan once said.  Enough about that.

The results of my inability to divide one into two evenly was that I have a good ounce of fibre (maybe more - sheesh!) left over.  After studying my spindle spun yarn closely and considering the amount of time and effort that went into those 132 yds, I did what any sensible person would do...I brought out my wheel.  I am spinning the rest as a thin single and will chain-ply it into a lovely little skein...on my wheel.

I like my spindle.  I enjoy spindling.  I appreciate its transportability and its connection to pre-history.   But darlings,  I looooove my wheel.  You may have read one or two love letters to it here (cough, cough).  Does this make me a lesser spinner?  Am I less pure for putting my wheel over my spindle?  Why am I even asking myself these questions in the 21st Century?

The answer is: why don't you just be quiet and spin, for heaven's sake?

And, I think, that is just what I will do.  Cheers!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Bucket of Capelin

On our first visit to the west coast of Newfoundland in 2001, we went to a place on White Bay called Sop's Arm.  We were trying to get to a ferry to Harbour Deep - a town that was only accessible by boat, which intrigued us greatly.  Or maybe we were checking out a high school that was for sale as part of my big dream of making a museum about culture and tourism.  In any event, we missed the ferry and we just wandered around Jackson's Arm and Sop's Arm, two small communities on the bay.

In Sop's Arm, we met a young boy who was very friendly and who spoke to us at length about the "two buckets of capelin" he had caught the day before.  He had a heavy Newfoundland accent to the point of almost being unintelligible to us and there was just something otherworldly about him.  The whole experience seemed more like something out of a Flannery O'Connor story than anything else.  "Two buckets of capelin" said in a strong accent became a catch phrase for us - something we said in response to just about anything.  

"Whatcha doing?" 

"oh, I don't know...but I have two buckets of capelin.."

Yesterday, a friend delivered a little less than a bucket of capelin...

They are sweet little things, aren't they?

Later, we went to a birthday bonfire for our friend Katherine Knight.  She is the person who made the film about Colette, Pretend Not to See Me.  She is making a film now about the new hotel on Fogo Island.  She is a wonderful filmmaker and really, really good at asking questions.


This is for all my New York friends....yes, we needed our winter hats on the beach last night.  T'was a wee bit chilly.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

That's Where You'll Find Me

The evening we left Newfoundland for Saskatoon on June 27th, it was about 8C/45F and damp.  It felt like summer would never arrive.  Of course, on the mainland, summer was in full bloom so I experienced some heat on the prairies.  When I got back to the ferry in Cape Breton (NS), it was still very damp (some might call it "rain") but we had at least hit 20C/70F.  And it has been pretty glorious ever since.  

Possibly not so surprisingly, I came home and promptly got sick.  Something had to give!  So I have spent these past two glorious days mostly asleep or sitting around on the couch.  It has its charms to be sure but I very aware of how fleeting these days are - one can not take warmth and sunshine for granted.

One thing that I have been doing somewhat steadily since the big road trip began is spinning 4 oz. of overdyed grey Shetland (dyed by Widdershins of course!) as part of participating in the Tour de Fleece.  My goal - a modest one to be sure - was to spin and ply the whole 4 oz using only my wonderful Kundert spindle.  For one, a spindle is very portable so it made sense since I was on the road for most of the TdF.  Also, as someone who purports to teach people to spin on spindles, well, my skills could be stronger.  

I discovered that it is possible to drive and spin, if you count sitting in a traffic jam as driving.  I actually got a fair bit done in the two tie-ups I experienced on the trip.

Remarkably, this is the first, full 2 oz. on the spindle.  It doesn't look like much but it is spun quite fine (excluding that end bit there).  I will begin the second 2 oz. but I have a feeling that the TdF is ending rather sooner than I might like it to (just checked - it ends on Sunday).  

Then again, it is a perfect activity for people with head colds.

Monday, July 15, 2013

So, I Drove to Saskatoon for the Weekend...

Here are some more photographs from Saskatoon - my project and the art walking tour that followed on Sunday evening.

Keeley scored me some actual river water for foot washing.

Potash soap rules!

What is your idea of utopia?

And does it include many crocheted cushions?  Clearly, mine does.

The Bessborough Hotel

Shelley Miller's cake icing mural on 20th Street W.  It survived the rain.

Corey Bullpit's mural on the back of AKA Gallery.

Walking between locations.

20th Street W

David LaRiviere's project, a sign for his imaginary product, Liquid Bacon.  He got everyone to jump and cheer for Liquid Bacon.
JenSK's yarn bomb of a tree on 20th St. W

Atmospheric Saskatoon

Walking home from the art walk, what did I see looming over downtown Saskatoon?  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

We Want Our Utopia Now

A small intervention, but still, an intervention.

As grey and rainy as it was on Saturday, it was sunny and brilliant on Sunday.  During the lull due to wet weather, I came up with Plan B for the project:  scrap the treasure hunt aspect and use the signage to simply direct people to the tent, which I installed near the Vimy Memorial, along side the river.

A gorgeous spot and one, it turned out, that I would share with hundreds of dog owners (and a few intrepid cat owners).  Sunday also was "Pets in the Park" day in Saskatoon, with a full-on festival of dogs (and three cats and a bearded dragon lizard).

At first I thought this would mean I would have loads of takers for my utopian experience, but then I remembered owners really just care about their dogs.  They have a kind of penetrating single-pointedness of vision that does not allow for things like foot washing and contemplative conversation about utopia and temperance.  To be honest, I didn't mind.  I didn't really want dogs romping around in the tent.

So, it started out quietly, but slowly, people (without dogs) began to stop by.  The foot washing turned out to the pivotal aspect of the project.  Several people were openly reluctant to do it - I mean, you have to take off your socks and get your feet all wet and everything.  But the ritual of it...the water, the soap (it was a huge hit, btw! People wanted to buy it!), the did what rituals are supposed to do, which is alter the mood and establish a new frame of mind so that one is ready and able to experience something new.

The light in the tent - filtered through the white cloth - was gorgeous and mellow.

My original cross stitch pieces were hanging in the tent and, if there was an awkward, what-do-we-do-now moment, I used them to start the conversation.  But mostly people dove right in and shared very openly.  In fact, I stepped away to get some lunch at one point only to return to find a full tent (under the guidance of the wonderful Lana Wilson - thanks Lana!!) and everyone having a very intimate conversation about very personal things in their lives...and they had just met.

It was like that.

And so it continued until about 5 p.m. when I said good-bye to the last visitors and dismantled the tent.

The night previous, there was a panel discussion with the four featured artists, Shelley Miller, David LaRiviere and Corey Bulpitt, with the keynote speaker, Anna Waclawek, moderating.  For me, this might be the highlight of the whole thing.  I so enjoyed meeting the others and listening to how they talk about what they do.  So interesting!  At one point, I was asked about the participatory nature of my work by someone who had done a piece like that but felt that it had "failed" in as much as people didn't do or interact the way she wanted them to.  And that's the thing, isn't it?  One works for months to create an environment conducive to creating a certain kind of experience...and what if it simply doesn't work?  What if no one shows up?

The answer I gave, and the biggest lesson that I always need to learn over and over, is that this process is a gift.  And, having the nature of a gift, I can't control how it is received.  In fact, I almost can't worry about that at all.  I am giving without expecting anything in return, otherwise, it is not really a gift and I am not truly giving.

This can be challenging for the very reason I just mentioned - working for months to make something happen means one feels a huge investment in having whatever it is actually happen.  But have to let that go and just allow everything to come in and go out and know that, whatever happens, is exactly right.

This project is a case in point.  It did not turn out how I imagined it - many aspects were changed and even the main point of it shifted in response to what was really happening around me.  It was up to me to respond and be flexible and open - neither leading nor following exactly.  Or perhaps both at the same time.

Later Sunday evening, there was a walking tour of all the projects plus some other storefront window installations by local Saskatoon artists.  It was a long, full day.  Truly it was a long, full trip - the driving, the project, the city, the artists, the people who visited, the driving back.

Very full and very wonderful.

Thanks especially to Keeley Haftner, organizer of the Street Meet Festival, Dagmara Genda, director of AKA Gallery in Saskatoon, Anna Waclawek, the other participating artists, Shelley Miller, David LaRiviere, Corey Bulpitt, and JenSK.  And extra thanks to Allysha Larsen and JS Gauthier for hosting me in their house (and their cat Merlin who chewed me out every morning for not being Allysha).  Thank you all so much for everything!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Transcending Transcending Potash

For Day #1 of Transcending Potash, I got up at 5 am.  I sat zazen (it seemed never more critical than today).  I drank my cup of tea (also very critical).  I worked on all the last minute details - finished crocheting a cushion for sitting on in the tent, looked up where I could make copies of the clues I came up with for the treasure hunt, took a bath in the awesome claw foot tub at the house where I am billeted and (again, critical), played with the very old and sweet cat here named Merlin.

Living in temperance (the true meaning of the word, not the one that the Temperance movement gave to it, which is the opposite of temperance), I acted with purpose and calm.

Well, sort of.  Actually, I had all my usual pre-project jitters where I want to curl up in a ball in a corner and just wait it out.  Months of work and focus and effort and my reaction is:  I don't wanna.  This happens every, single, time.  I make the project and then, could I please just go home now?

But no!  I thought about Colette and her fearlessness - in her performances and her life.  Surely I could find some gumption and get myself out there!  I put on my special "We want our utopia now" dress (and apron) and headed out.

I headed out, ignoring the heavy rain pouring down.  By the time I reached the first clue location, it was clear that this thing was not happening.  The festival organizers agreed - wait until tomorrow.

A strange case of watch what you wish for...I felt quite disappointed even as I felt a twinge of relief too.  And, suddenly a whole day without obligation opened up to me.  Part of the festival was a knit-in at a cafe near the gallery.  I could do that.  A talk on yarn bombing by the Regina artist who made that amazing chair piece.  Sure!  Sounds fun.  Maybe I will take a nap too.

But just look at that statue of Chief Whitecap (supposedly) pointing out a good place for the Temperance colony to settle to John Lake, the minister from Toronto heading up the expedition.  It is just begging for some kind of intervention.  Amazingly, this is not from 1950 but was put there in 2006!

Tomorrow had better be sunny...

Because I am a VISUAL artist

Because I am a visual artist, I have no photographs to show you.

Because I got myself a right fancy smart phone that works all across North America - unlocked, if you will.

Because I learned that word from the teenager behind the counter at the cellphone place.

Because I got a right fancy smart phone, I take all my photographs with that now.

Because my right fancy smart phone is so much smarter than me, I can not figure out how to get these photographs into my computer.

Because there's gotta be a cord or a cable here somewhere.

Oh, whatever.

Because I still have work to complete before the calendar tells me it is Saturday and I had better get my visual artist ass out there onto the rough and tumble streets of Saskatoon, I will leave you now.

Because no one said making a treasure hunt/performance involving potash soap was going to be easy.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Winnipeg or Saskatchewan or Wherever You Are

A day of rest in the 'Peg.  Tomorrow:  Saskatoon!  Briefly, I thought that I was going to be on the local Saskatoon morning show but it turns out that they couldn't fit me in on Friday.  Guess my 15 minutes of fame, Saskatchewan style, will have to come from somewhere else.

Meanwhile, if you are jonesing for some Street Meet art, you can take yourself over to the downtown Saskatoon Hilton Hotel.  They have bravely installed two of my crocheted works in their public spaces, along with a chair covered in some pretty remarkable crochet by Regina artist, Jen Keturakis.

Here is an image of Jen's chair....sit at your own risk!

The placement decision for this piece really cracks me up.  It is brilliant!  There are going to be some bewildered, breakfast-time faces at this particular Hilton Hotel....