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.)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Gratitude in Woolen Form

Believe me, I know what you are saying.  "Oh Robyn, I could barely sleep last night wondering what the yarn you made for Helen looked like!"

I have heard your desperate cries and so, here they are - skeins of gratitude.

BFL, single ply, I don't remember the yardage on this one.

Merino, N-plied, about 100 yds

Merino, two-ply, over 250 yds here.

A wee skein of BFL, single ply - around 43 yds.
There was one more, a biggie (625 yds)  in greys that was Icelandic and alpaca too but I don't have a picture of that one.

Are you getting the sense that Helen likes colourful yarns?  If there was one thing I remembered about our conversation when she loaned me her wheel, it was that she was not an earth tone kind of person.  She said that she likes "jewel tones."  I thought that I knew what that meant and, further, I thought it would be no problem at all because I like to fancy myself as being something of a colour person, what with all those years of art school and so forth.  Imagine my surprise when everytime I reached for a colourful roving, it was earth tones straight out of Central Casting.  I would think, "this looks nice, she'll love this one."  And then I would have to look again!  "She said jewel tones! What's with all the mossy greens and browns?"  Suddenly I had no idea what jewel toned meant.  Everything was looking earthy to me.

Doubt creeps in like that.

Finally, I resolved to simply spin what was in front of me, which happened to be a nice pile of Merino and BFL rovings.  As it turned out, Helen seems pretty pleased, and that is what is most important.

Thank you, Helen!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Spinning Demo TODAY! at Gauge + Tension

TODAY!  I will be at Gauge + Tension, a pop-up yarn store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (110 Meserole Street) from 2 - 3 p.m. to lead a spindle spinning demo.  We will talk about wool, spinning, spindles and how all those work together to make delicious yarn.  Hope you will stop by and say hello.  I will have extra spindles for trying out this ancient and oh-so-satisfying craft.  

My intentions are pure, I swear!  

Making the mess a little smaller by returning borrowed items is always a good idea.

Today also is the day that I will return the spinning wheel that I borrowed from Helen.  She very generously lent it to me almost six months ago.  I have been using it happily - it seems to like to be used.  In return, I spun her up some yarn but you will have to wait until tomorrow to see that.  It seems only fair to let Helen see it first.  She called it a "minor favor" but I disagree.  It was a very, very kind thing to do and I am very grateful.

Instead, here is a cute kitty in sunlight photo.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 07, 2014

What Is It?

Here is a snippet of the conversation over at Diva/Divan/FridgeFest (the collaborative project that I am a part of, along with other visual artists, performers and writers).  I am not even sure of the context with which to frame this except to say that this is me talking:

I do not know if I am part of an institutionalized system of belief or religion. That said, several times a week, I put on a robe and a weird little bib thingie that I invested hours of deliberate and directed stitching and chanting.  In this get-up, I perform rituals with other people, who also are wearing robes and some have bibs too.  Why am I still unsure if this is institutionalized?  We didn't make it up!

Chogyam Trungpa wrote a book titled "Spiritual Materialism".  It's a great book.  He also said, "Zen is “the biggest joke that has ever been played in the spiritual realm. But it is a practical joke, very practical.”  

He also said this:
Once we commit ourselves to the spiritual path, it is very painful and we are in for it. We have committed ourselves to the pain of exposing ourselves, of taking off our clothes, our skin, nerves, heart, brains, until we are exposed to the universe. Nothing will be left. It will be terrible, excruciating, but that is the way it is. 

But back to that bib, because, for me, this object that I created with such intention - literally acknowledging with each stitch that we are all connected - is an object of fascination.  In Japanese, it is called a rakusu.  I always know where my rakusu is and I bring it with me whenever I travel.  I touch it everyday.  I made a very special case for it.  Every time I put it on, I do a small ritual.  Every time I take it off, I do a small ritual.  It is just cotton cloth.  It is steeped with meaning.  Sometimes I mistakenly think I am important when I wear it.  Every time I put it on, I remind myself that it means that I want to be helpful.  And then I forget that, over and over.
What is it to have one thing - one handmade object - that means so much, made from so little?  Eons, universes, lifetimes, inhalations and exhalations all concentrated in this one humble thing.  

What is it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Enough Already

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.12

abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ

Through diligent effort and non-attachment to results, we will settle our mind. (My loose translation.)

This sutra has been sticking with me these past several weeks, particularly the notion of vairāgya, or non-attachment to results.  I have read, memorized and chanted this sutra for years now but, for most of the time, it was just words.  I suspect I could have been chanting Mary Had A Little Lamb for all that I understood it or believed it.  And yet, suddenly the opportunities to release my hold, my expectations, on getting my desired results have been piling up.  They have been piling up so high that even I have had to stop and take notice.  

This non-attachment to results aims directly at the heart of my ambitions for myself so it takes nearly an metaphorical anvil falling on my head for me to pay attention.  Indeed, I have worked extremely hard for most of my life to deliberately NOT pay attention because paying attention might mean that I will have to give up some long-held beliefs, and, seriously, who wants to do that?  I won't catalogue the list for you (you're welcome!) but I do want to describe one situation.  I want to describe it because it involves yoga asana practice.  

Believe or not, I frequently question the validity of yoga asana.  Why is it any different from general stretching or acrobatics?  There is enough written about the history of contemporary asana practice as we have come to know it to show that it isn't divorced from Westernized ideas about health through physical fitness.  If my goal is to settle my mind, why am I putting my legs behind my head almost everyday?  I may have a slight (ahem!) exercise addiction and it is possible that I am a little vain about the current state of my abs (ahem, again!), so I am not unaware that yoga asana is feeding some less than healthy states of mind for me.  So why?  Why do it?

Here's why I do it (abs and addictions aside).  The past two mornings, I have gone into my Mysore class in Manhattan.  It is just south of Times Square and walking through Times Square each morning is nothing less than a major yoga practice all its own, let me tell you!  But I digress.  Yesterday, my teacher pointed out how I was holding my pelvis in an certain asana.  In fact, I was doing this particular action in every asana but, for whatever reason, it actually became clear to me at that moment and I shifted.  It almost makes me want to cry to even write about what happened.  It was so subtle and so immense.  I shifted and something somewhere near my sacrum released and when it released, it was like a monumental "ahhhhhhhhh."  It was like years of tension and misguided effort and teeth-clenching and striving melted away.  Not only did my psoas release (which is what I think actually happened), but a large muscle up my spine released, which took a lot of pressure off of a lot of nerves.  All that tension meant that I had been in pain pretty much all the time but it was so constant that I didn't even know I was in pain until it went away.  

And I am pretty sure it wasn't just physical pain either.

Today, it released more.  Not only is my asana practice feeling different, simply walking around feels totally different.  Here's the thing - I had no idea!  The person who is supposedly so tuned into her body had no idea that I was carrying around that much tension all the time.  Damn!  This, my friends, is why we do asana practice.

So what about vairāgya?  Once that tension released, I didn't want to go back to my usual practice.  I need time to integrate what happened and this means I scaled back practice to something that looks much simpler and "easier" than what I normally do.  Even a month ago, I would be having anxiety about doing less and not achieving more, not marching forward towards the great goal.  You know...the goal!  Don't ask me what the goal is because it's always been right there - just outside of my line of sight, just beyond my grasp.

So today, I did LESS than I am capable of and it was okay.  It was good even.  And I thought about my Zen practice and my art career and my yoga teaching and my parenting and all my relationships, and I thought, however it is going right now - it's enough.  It's plenty!  It's plenty and it is enough.  I don't need to fix anything or add anything or achieve anything or get rid of anything.  There is nowhere to go, nothing to cover up and there is no goal.

No goal.

May all beings release their psoas and realize the great wisdom that comes from a balanced sacrum!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Move Over, Richard Serra

When it comes to big egos in the art world, let's face it, there is a lot of competition.  In fact, it is kind of a given because, again let's face it, when no one gives a damn what you do or make, it takes a pretty strong sense of one's own vision and worthiness to actually express that vision.  It's a delicate balance between having a healthy amount of self-esteem to keep going in the face of continual rejection and having a massive ego that is always whispering in your ear, "I must express MY vision, do MY work, me, me, me....and screw you."

I have known plenty of excellent artists who didn't have enough of the former to keep going and I have known plenty of terrible artists who had too much of the latter who are still out there,  Naturally I like to think of myself as the humble but strong artist, working away for the simple love of making things.  But if I am honest with myself, there have been some pivotal moments when I had a choice between making other people happy and making my work and I chose making my work.  I suspect that, for anyone who is serious about making art, this will happen eventually and more than once.  Maybe it isn't even about having a big ego, maybe it is simply knowing that this is what you are here to do and then, doing it.  In yoga, we would say it is following one's dharma.  There is a line in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna that it is better to follow one's dharma with faults than to be wildly successful at something that isn't one's dharma.  (Chapter 3, verse 35, for those who care about that kind of thing.)

And so, with all my faults, I carry on.

Several years ago, the Metropolitan Museum had a show of drawings by Richard Serra, an artist whom no one ever accused of having a deferential nature.  It was an excellent show, and despite myself and my feelings about Richard Serra and his ego, I really loved the work.  They were monumental drawings made black oil stick covering (almost) every inch of the paper.

Courtesy of the New York Times, April 14, 2011.
I really loved them,  except.

Except, the oil stick caused a kind of reflection of the light, a shininess that bugged me.  "How much better these would be if they were made of black wool that would absorb the light!" I thought.  Indeed, I have thought about this idea for these several years and it has not gotten old or died from boredom.  Indeed, this idea has insisted that I purchase 45lbs of black wool and begin to spin it so I can make my response to those Richard Serra drawings.

But a fraction of the boxes containing said wool.

As I have finally put my money (and time and energy) where my mouth is, I can't help but laugh at the notion that little ol' me, the one who has taken vows to serve and be a bodhisattva, is taking on one of the biggest egos in the art world.

You can draw your own conclusions!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Please Teach Me

This past weekend, I had the honor of being the monitor for a person who was sitting Tangaryo.  In our tradition, this means sitting in zazen for almost 12 hours (dawn 'til dusk) as the final step before becoming a formal student in the Order.  It is based on the traditional practice at Zen monasteries of making the person requesting the teachings to bang on the door and be turned away three times over the course of three days - they sit outside the gate for three days, no doubt stewing about exactly why they want the teachings so badly that they are willing to sit outside for three days while rudely being turned away by some joker behind the door.  In the Mountains and Rivers Order, the process isn't quite so harsh.  But it isn't quite so easy either.  There are several steps that take months of discernment and effort to complete.  As I mentioned, the last step is sitting Tangaryo.

The process is pretty simple - get up early and begin sitting.  Stay that way until lunchtime.  After lunch, sit again until evening.  It amounts to about 12 hours.  One is encouraged not to move very much so there is no walking meditation and no set periods or bells or anything.  It is just yourself with yourself.  I remember clearly when I did it thinking that I was glad it was something I would only have to do once.  It's not so easy!

But, things change.  Being asked to be the monitor, who is the person who sits with the potential student(s) to make sure everything is ok, is an honor.  It is a chance to serve and be a part of this very special process.  It also means that I am setting an example of strong sitting and generally creating a certain tone, which actually does happen even when you are in silence and just sitting still in a room together.  Energy is created.  A life-long bond is created.  Funny, but true.

The next morning, as part of the Sunday service, there is an "entering ceremony" for the new student and I got to be part of that as well.  Remembering back to when I did that ceremony, it was all blur and it seemed impossible to remember my cues.  Somehow, the simple instructions felt hopelessly complex and beyond my abilities.  This time, I realized much of the protocol already exists in my body - when to bow, how to approach the altar - it felt clear and natural, not quite the stormy, grey waters of four years ago.

Is this progress?  Maybe, I suppose.  But then again, it is possible to learn new things.  I am not sure it makes them special, if you know what I mean.  As I reflected on my own Tangaryo experiences and how the whole thing felt so different now, I realized that I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I asked to be a student.  Because that is the very last step of all - actually sitting in front of the teacher, just the two of you, and saying the words, "Please teach me."

Yes, I had no idea at all.  And may it always be so!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tap, Tap...Is This Thing On?

What the heck is going on here?  No posts for ages.  My hits are way down.  It's like something happened and everyone forgot to tell me about it!  

Nah.  It's happened.  Finn and Lucy have been getting settled into their fall schedules.  I was back up at the Monastery again for a little bit.  Various yoga training stuff has been taking up my attention.  And, you know, the usual never-ending things like cooking and cleaning and pissing off most of the New York City homeschooling community with demands for self-reflection.  Turns out, people hate that.  

But Art also happened!  Art IS happening!  Indeed, I stand poised on the verge of making a large investment in wool for my Next Big Thing.  You see, I have a vision.  It is a vision of how something needs to look in order to convey the idea of what I want to convey.  The project is still in the "you know what would be wicked cool?" stage when I am totally psyched about the materials and the process and the idea.  In order to keep this excitement going, it is critical that I ignore the somewhat forlorn pile of boxes that is my Fierce Heart project returned from South Dakota and, instead, picture the new piles of boxes containing the materials that will be transformed into this vision.

I have been debating back and forth about this project and which vision exactly I want to present but given its large, time consuming nature, I need to make a decision.  I am thisclose to doing it.  All will be revealed in the fullness of time, be assured.

And meanwhile...

Lucy turned 16!  Not so surprisingly, she is a pretty amazing young woman, confident and with strong opinions (especially about what her mother is wearing, saying and doing).  I am very happy to know her.  Here she is at about age two...a really cutie-pie!
Lucy and The Flabber, a slightly traumatizing doll to give a two-year old but, hey, a gift is a gift.
I am working on a new sweater!  I have already made some changes to the design but it is entertaining and I can still carry it on the subway so there is some progress being made.

Here is a funny little butternut squash who was all confused about what it wanted to be when it grew up.  He became part of our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner.  A right tasty little guy, he was (and from the Monastery garden, too!)

And these?  These are the last flowers of the season from my garden, proving that even the most seriously neglected plot of land will produce great beauty if left to its own devices.

More is coming.  Oh yes, more is coming.

Friday, October 03, 2014


It was a little over a year ago that I began a project as Artist in Residence with A Handmade Assembly.  If you remember, it was about the interconnectedness of my online and "real" life - were they two nets or one?  Which one was more real?  Where were the connections and overlaps?  And why was it so difficult to keep track of everything?

I kept the resulting installation up on my studio wall for a year.  As visitors came and went, they inevitably commented on it and studied it.  Perhaps they were looking for themselves.  Each time, I felt quite exposed, not entirely pleased to be revealing the entirety of my world to this one person within it.  It was funny and uncomfortable at the same time.  

Today, I decided it was time to take it down, knowing that it would be permanently destroyed in the process.  I didn't expect that I would relive many of those encounters that I documented with bits of paper, pins and string.  But there it was - even emails and text messages - all rolling back to me in full technicolor.  Call it "How I Spent October 2013" as expressed in symbol, yarn and thought. 

The piece was so delicate and ephemeral.  It literally fluttered to ground.  It was almost more beautiful in its disassembly than in its creation.  The totality of those bits of paper and string could fit in a small box or jar.  The memories, however, feel larger and more solid than all of Long Island City.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Priceless or Worthless?

Recently, I reconnected with a group of artists with whom I collaborated several years ago.  They are theatre artists/performers (mainly) and our collaboration involved writers, other performers as well as a handful of visual artists.  We had ongoing conversations over the course of several months via a yahoo group (that's how long ago it was - it seemed like cutting edge stuff then!).  Based on these conversations, each visual artist created an installation inside of an abandoned refrigerator.  The installation became the starting point for the writers and performers to create a piece using the fridge.  We called it FridgeFest and it was presented in Philadelphia as part of their FingeFest (get it?  Fridge?  Fringe?).

The time has come to revive FridgeFest and we are starting a new conversation, this time with a group of artists from Georgia.  No, not peach-loving peanut farmers but artists from the former Soviet state.  This time the conversation is happening on Facebook.  Well, some of the conversation is happening there.  Some of it is happening in Brooklyn too.

There we are!  Gaby bravely takes the forefront position.
It's heady stuff.  Nick (back row, third from left) and Gaby (front and center) love to dig into ideas and they are the driving force behind it all.  Although I have ideas that I am working with in my current projects, I don't have these kinds of conversations very often so it is quite fun and inspiring to be having them now.  

One of the ideas that we talked about and continue to play with is the notion of ownership and value with regard to art.  In the last collaboration some of the writers were less than happy when their work was manipulated and changed.  They were the author!  What right did a visual artist or performer have to mess with their words?  We also talked about the layers of value that get added to art as it goes from the artist's hands to a collector/new owner.  For lack of a better term (although I think it is a great term), we named that "love".  We talked about rotating the resulting artworks among the collaborators homes, adding stories to the piece with each new place.  Would that process increase the value of the work?  What actually was the value?  The stories/love?  The idea?  The materials?  

For some reason (and I am almost embarrassed to admit it), I thought about turning my fridge into a wardrobe and making a collection of clothes.  This is a little shocking to me because it feels like exactly the opposite direction that I am heading with my (other, non-collaborative) work.  Yet somehow this idea came to mind as we talked and I began liking it more and more.  Perhaps the word "clothes" is too confining to what describe what I have in mind, but we'll see.  The conversation is just beginning.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Mixed Message

A group of us left the Monastery early (my stay there ended with a three-day, silent retreat) to drive down to the city so we could attend the People's Climate March.  Was it a bit bizarre to go from silence and a monastic setting to the streets of New York, crowded with 400,000 other people?  I will just say that I may have had a moment where I collapsed on someone slightly saying, "why must Zen training be so hard?!"  Beyond that moment of doubt that I could enter the fray on so little sleep, I would suggest that it might actually be just the right way to do it.  It certainly helped with any overly ernest notions or ideals that I have had about the whole thing.  Because, let's face it, if you can't have a sense of humor after three days of listening only to your own thoughts rolling through your mind, over and over and over,'s a hard life, indeed.

My own attempts at smartphone photography were, as one of my fellow marchers put it, sucky.  So I am borrowing one from the Associate Press.

It was big.  It was peaceful (no arrests!).  It felt...good.  What will happen today and tomorrow and the next day?  I guess that remains up to us.  For me, it was a boost to not give up on a direction that often feels like a wearying swim against the tide.  Maybe the best message of the day was: you are not alone. People care.  Lots of people care, a lot.

Meanwhile, shifting gears (non-combustable gears, of course), I bought some stuff!

Yes, I am a proud subscriber.
Some week's ago, the wonderful Alabama Chanin was having a sample sale.  Her DIY kits are normally priced way out of my range (we won't even talk about her ready-to-wear), but she does have big sales now and then when the price creeps just barely into range.  I do love everything about Alabama Chanin - the goal of sustainability, the way she respects her workers' talents and skills, and the fact that she creates beautiful things and then shares how to make said beautiful things with anyone willing to take the time and energy to make them.  Ok, you have to have the time, energy and a little cash in your bank account, but like I said, she has good sales a couple of times/year.

My kit has arrived.  Now to muster up the time and energy part of the equation.

So there you have it - marching for the planet with a dash of consumerism.  It's a mixed up world we live in!

Monday, September 15, 2014


This space has been extra quiet because I am in residence at Zen Mountain Monastery for two weeks.  It isn't a special retreat or sesshin but just regular monastic life.  I am here specifically to sew two sets of cloths for the main altar.  They change them four times/year according to the season.  Last September, I came here and sewed the winter and spring altar cloths.  This year, I am making summer and fall.  Last year, it took me exactly the two weeks to make both sets.  This year, I am almost finished after one week.  I don't understand why it is going so much faster.  Maybe my sewing skills have improved? Maybe I am better after making the first two (this isn't quite convincing since I redesigned the pattern so it is new to me).  But whatever the case, they are lining up new sewing projects for me as quickly as you can say "My Precious Bernina".  I will not be idle during Week #2.

Here at the Monastery, there is no internet access during the weekly schedule, although I can take a quick look at email on the communal computer after supper if I hustle.  Remarkably, I realized that I can attend to any pressing emails in about ten minutes.  It begs the question of what I am doing exactly when I fritter away hours on the computer at home.  Oh, I do wish that I can make some real changes in this department.  There are, indeed, so many other things to do!

The exception to this no-internet rule is hosan - the off-schedule training period, as they call it here.  From Sunday afternoon to early Tuesday afternoon, there is no set schedule.  Sleep as late as you want!  Eat whenever and whatever you want!  Drive away and don't look back!  Until Tuesday, of course.  Last year, hosan loomed large.  Would I feel left-out and unloved as the other, long-term residents tottered off to various social events?  In response, I packed my time with visits and meals out, talking, talking, talking.  It was a mistake, as if I even have to say that out loud.  So, this year, I am being a little more cautious with my time.  A little visiting, a little laundry, a long yoga practice, reading, and some knitting in the lovely fall sunshine.

It's ok if no one loves me.  I feel like I am wanting for nothing.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Circles + Squares at bkbx

The new season has begun at bkbx!  Opening with a group exhibition of gallery artists, bkbx will kick off its new season and second year as project-in-residence at Proteus Gowanus.  You can see some images of the exhibition here.  I have three small pieces in it, which I am very pleased and honored to present along side the work of the other artists.  It is a short run - only up until September 26th, so hustle your wee self over there and see it!

That's me over there in the upper righthand corner...a piece that is still in progress and getting its first public viewing, Beaded Panties for a Lumberjack.  Someday I might even finish it.

The next exhibition will feature work by an artist new to bkbx, Jeremiah Dine.  It is sure to be excellent.  My show will happen in March and already I am pretty excited about it.  No rotating crochet in space but lots of surprises nonetheless.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Without Neglecting A Single Fragment

Practice Instructions: 
With Total Trust Roam and Play in Samadhi 
 Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157)

Empty and desireless, cold and thin, simple and genuine, this is how to strike down and fold up the remaining habits of many lives.  When the stains from old habits are exhausted, the original light appears, blazing through your skull, not admitting any other matters.  Vast and spacious, like sky and water merging during autumn, like snow and moon having the same color, this field is without boundary, beyond direction, magnificently one entity without edge or seam.   Further, when you turn within and drop off everything completely, realization occurs.  Right at the time of entirely dropping off, deliberation and discussion are one thousand or ten thousand miles away.  Still no principle is discernible, so what could there be to point to or explain? 

People with the bottom of the bucket fallen out immediately find total trust.  So we are told simply to realize mutual response and explore mutual response, then turn around and enter the world.  Roam and play in samadhi.  Every detail appears before you.  Sound and form, echo and shadow, happen instantly without leaving traces.  The outside and myself do not dominate each other, only because no perceiving of objects comes between us. Only this non-perceiving encloses the empty space of the dharma realm’s majestic ten thousand forms.  People with the original face should enact and fully investigate the field without neglecting a single fragment.