Saturday, December 26, 2015

To Be Ordinary Is Very Special

We are all special.
A few days before Christmas, I had an attack of TMJ.  I forget what those letters stand for (look it up, if you must) but what it means is that I slept with my jaw clenched and woke up in severe pain on the right side of my face.  My usual techniques for dealing with pain (something that I don't often experience) didn't work.  Instead of scurrying about my business, I wanted to curl up and weep with the hopelessness of it all.  And I would have except that my face hurt too much.

I think it was the fact that I sent an angry text to my son from bed at 3 AM reading, "You MUST do ALL the dishes and clean up the kitchen!!!" that put me over the edge.  Since returning from Italy, he has taken to making himself pasta in the small hours of the morning and leaving the kitchen a mess, which I then discover only a couple of hours later.  This does not make me happy.  In fact, it causes me to send angry texts from bed and then clench my jaw so tightly that I spend the next week downing ibuprofen like they are peanuts.

But the good news is that my jaw is softening up.  The pain is under control and lessening each day.  I should be able to enter Rohatsu sesshin without the added thrill of severe facial pain in the mix.  But the whole experience was a bit of a wake-up call.  I didn't even know that I had reached my stressed out tipping point.  When I finally did some accounting for myself, the list of things that were worthy of jaw clenching was actually pretty high.  As someone who spends a ton of time bearing witness to my thoughts and actions, it is almost embarrassing that I was so unaware of what was really going on.  But there you go! wish and hope for you - and for myself - in the coming new year is that you - and me - allow ourselves enough space and time to really know what is enough.  And then allow it to Be Enough.  Because we are enough!


Monday, December 14, 2015

For One Thing:

Sparkly alpaca.
...and for another thing:

The Raspberry couch.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Road Not Taken

Not going to Italy, what did we do?

Part of my deal to myself was to use my time not in Italy as wisely as I could.  This means that I have been working steadily on my Staycation DIY Project - Living Room Update.

The couch is currently being re-upholstered so we are sitting on pillows on the floor (the cats love it!).

Where's the couch to?

The curtains are finished and up, which is glorious.

I think I bought this fabric more than 15 years ago.  I guess some projects have a longer incubation period than others (ahem).

I painted the walls a new, more mature and sophisticated colour that matches these new and sophisticated curtains.  I am very excited for the return of the couch, which also will be a new and sophisticated colour.  Or maybe not.  I chose "Raspberry" cotton velvet for the couch.  Oh yes I did!  No pictures yet as we are still waiting for its return.

Next up, a new rug for the floor.

Not raspberry
Also made a couple of batches of soap that will go into gift bags for people who come to the Zen Mountain Monastery Dana Dinner  (December 18th) - a community holiday dinner for people who live around Mt. Tremper, NY, and who might not otherwise have the means for a big holiday spread.  If this describes you, then please go!  A nicer group of eager elves, you will not find.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

And Then, What Really Happened

Buon Giorno!  Or, as we like to say in Sunnyside, hello!

Wait?  What?

The week before leaving for Rome, I was up at the Monastery in a week-long, silent meditation intensive retreat.  It is a wonderful thing and I highly recommend it to all but it did add a certain level of stress in terms of being ready to leave for nine days in Italy about 24 hours after getting back home.  Indeed, as I sat in silence for those many hours, my mind would turn towards this trip and it would say "No."  While my fears around flying came into the picture, the No wasn't totally about being afraid.  It was more a longing to stay put (for once).

I am pretty sure that when the idea of wandering around Rome seems like a burden and chore, then it might be a sign that the timing is off.  I mean, it feels almost like a crime against humanity to say that you don't want to spend nine days in Italy.  Who says that?

Apparently I do.  Each day, I would do a little check-in with myself:  how does it feel to imagine going?  How does it feel to imagine not going?  Then, when I got home, I checked in with Lucy, who said, "I knew I didn't need to pack!"  Old Mom is very obvious, I guess.  I checked in with Finn, who just said that he needed more money if I wasn't going to be around to pay for everything.  Ever practical, that guy.

Finn will be coming home for a spell very soon, so I will be seeing his long and lanky self in, well, about nine days time.  Now, I can actually be ready!  And finish the living room curtains.  And paint the walls.  And get the couch re-upholstered.  Also: grocery shopping.  And get the two art projects that returned from their various locations organized and put away instead of filling the above-mentioned living room.

I know that all that I just mentioned could have waited for nine days with no dire consequences but it occurred to me, as I sat in my stillness and silence, that my body was giving my a very clear message about what it needs.  Usually, I might notice that message and overrule it.  I mean, we gotta do stuff, right?  That's how we prove our worthiness to occupy this little patch of real estate that we currently occupy on the planet.  Right?  I had the very radical thought that I might be worthy of occupying my little patch of real estate under my feet without running my body into the ground and even without making everyone around me happy or impressed or anything at all.  What if I just listened instead and  did the thing that was alternately easier and more difficult and stayed home?

Finn plans to return to Italy after getting a job and saving up some money so he can mix up WWOOFing with other travel.  So, we considered this a postponement not a cancellation.  Of course, who knows what will happen in the meantime - he is in a pivotal time of his life - but I trust that Rome will be there.  It is the Eternal City, after all.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Holding onto the Bars

Yesterday, I went to see an exhibition of paintings, drawings and etching by Giorgio Morandi at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea.  It was so beautiful that I actually got a little teary-eyed.  The paintings just shimmer with their subtle colour changes and simplicity.  They are both confident and humble.  Pure joy, really.

As a bonus (as if we needed one!), we discovered that there were two other shows at David Zwirner (the guys owns almost a city block of gallery space): one of paintings and drawings by Bridget Riley and one of sculpture by Donald Judd.  Three home runs, if you will excuse the sports metaphor on an artist blog.

I went to see these shows with my art school pal, Patrick Glover, who is, himself, an amazing painter and someone who it is great fun to talk about art with, although we were pretty silent in the Morandi show.  It is beyond words - you just have to feel it.

Patrick had arrived on the block where the Zwirner real estate empire resides before me and had looked into a gallery across the street.  He didn't have a very high opinion of the work on view there - photoshopped landscapes that were manipulated, enlarged and then painted over - but he invited me to go look just in case he had missed something or sold them short.  To be honest, I already knew what I thought even before we got inside - the paintings visible through the window from the street told me all I needed to know.  But, we went in and looked more closely.

In a good story about redemption, we would have looked more closely and discovered their hidden beauty and realized how our short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction was causing us to miss out on so much of the nuances and beauty available to us in life.  But it didn't happen that way.  The more I looked, the snarkier I became, first in my mind and then, out loud.  I became irritated by what I perceived to be the fatuous attitude of the work - sickly sweet colours, the worst kind of cleverness in the technique, and meaningless content.  I began to imagine this guy at parties, surrounded by glad-handers and being praised for his talent.  And him smugly accepting this praise as his due.  Indeed, I had a full picture of him, his life, even his clothes and the inevitable beard.

It must be nice to know so much from so little, right?

This is what struck me as I hissed sarcastic comments to Patrick and we sniggered in our own version of smug superiority - a feeling that was so familiar that it actually felt physically warm.  And it felt old and worn out.  I realized that I had not had this kind of snarky conversation in a long time, where I ripped apart someone's art with my words and my superior attitude.  While it felt so, so comfortable - oh yes, I know this place so well! - it also felt kinda yucky.  I thought about how reluctant we (I) are (am) to let go of the bars of the jail cell of our own making.  I might be working very hard and very deliberately to let go of the many ways that I confine myself and make myself smaller, not to mention hurt people and cause suffering, but...can I just keep a bar or two of my cage?  You know, for comfort's sake?

That's what it felt like - like I was carrying around one of my old bars of my jail cell.  Pretty heavy and totally useless.  Maybe I can loosen my grip on them now.  And may I wish that guy - beard or no beard - my congratulations on his exhibition in that gallery across the street from David Zwirner.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Prima di Roma

You know how you can be thinking something and thinking that something for a long time and it gets all fixed in your head and you start to believe your idea of this particular reality and you believe it so thoroughly that it seems impossible that anyone else would not also believe it and then you actually say that thing out loud and almost instantaneously everything changes so that your very fixed idea about this thing is so woefully out of date that it is remarkable that anyone, let alone yourself, ever believed such a thing?  You know?

Well, that's sort of what happened when I wrote that post about losing my fire around making art.  Whatever process that happened around writing about what I had been thinking for months opened things up and - wait?  Was that a spark of something creative that I felt burning inside?  I went to my studio and sorted through the work I made at the Saltonstall Foundation residency and, you know, it didn't totally suck.  In fact, there are some solid ideas there worth pursuing.  Note to self: go to studio more often.

The thing that signaled most clearly that a shift was happening in my entrenched "I am the worst artist ever" energy is that I was noodling around on Newfoundland real estate websites (hey - some people collect stamps, ok?) and I found a listing for a former high school in a wee town way up at the tip of the Northern Peninsula, St. Lunaire-Griget.  And I wanted to buy it and make something BIG.  The back story about this is that, fourteen years ago when we were looking to buy a house in Newfoundland, we came across a former school building in a wee town on White Bay.  Like this one, it is available for a crazy low price.  At that point, I was married to someone who thinks very, very practically and he entertained me and my fantasy for a brief - very brief - period of time before listing off all the ways that buying a huge building in a tiny, remote community was a bad idea.  So we ended up with our (now, my) lovely house in Gillams instead.

Clearly, it was a wise decision....and yet.  The "what ifs" have haunted me ever since.

So, what would you do with a 25,000 sq.ft. building in a town of 600 where it snows in June on a regular basis?

Maybe going to Rome later this month will actually help to dampen the fire!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ecco Roma

For a couple of weeks, I have had the thought that I need to post something here.  And then I would check in on myself and realize that I have nothing to say.  It is not that nothing is happening in my life - I feel quite stretched to the maxium actually - but really, what is there to say about that?

Although I applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship (hey - you gotta be in it to win it!) to expand on my To Stand in the Centre project, I am still feeling my way with this new energy around artmaking.  Where, oh where did my aggressive, competitive attitude about making art go?  I don't know but it is gone, sister.  Like, big time.  What's left?  This is the question that I am working with.  I glance through various art journals and websites and it is all really boring to me.  I just don't care about the questions most artists are taking up.  The questions that get me charged up are related to how we make our way in this crazy, messed up world.  Art holds some answers to these particular questions but, for the moment, it is not really how I want to work with them.

Maintaining the sense that I need to keep some kind of professional momentum going with my art career takes a lot of energy.  There is the doing of art business stuff - applying for things, keeping up networks/contacts, doing paperwork.  There is the guilt about not doing that stuff.  There is going to galleries and other shows to stay on top of what is what in the art world today.  There is other stuff too and it all takes time and energy.  And I am just so not interested in it.  When I can release a little of that feeling like I need to keep all those balls in the air, it is such a huge relief.  I feel both energized and profoundly tired.

Making things with my hands is what I do - this is not in question.  But somewhere in between the deadlines and hustling and the self-promotion, I lost the connection, or some connection of some kind to what made the whole thing make sense.  For now, I am giving myself permission to not make anything unless I really feel the need.  It feels a little like waking up from a deep sleep - where am I?

At the end of November, Lucy and I will visit Finnian in Rome.  It was in Rome, in 1985, that I had a profound experience of coming into my own with colour and painting and really feeling like the work I was making was truly my own.  Perhaps beautiful Roma will work its magic again, 30 years later!

Monday, October 05, 2015

A Bit of a Bender

Maybe it was some pushback after my big (and yet unfinished) Konmari clean-out.  Or maybe it was just because I haven't actually bought yarn in about three years.  But whatever the case, I have been on a bit of a yarn buying bender.

Michele Wang, knitwear designer and owner of Gauge + Tension, the yarn store in Greenpoint where I have been lucky enough to teach spinning a few times, has developed her own line of yarn from Cormo sheep.  She is working with an indie dyer to make a series of gorgeous colors.  The result is yarn that is bouncy and soft and beautiful.  When I taught the intermediate spindling class, I asked for payment in yarn.

Let it be known that teaching at yarn stores is a dangerous thing!

On the plus side, I have the pattern picked out already.

Then, it so happened that Lucy spent ten days at Not Back to School camp up in Vermont.  I drove up to pick her up on Saturday, which was rather grueling - 12 hours in all.  Such a demanding trip required at least one reward (I mean, beyond having my daughter back).  

It so happened that the route to Vermont goes right past...

Yes, the Mecca of yarn stores - WEBS.  It is all that.

There is so much yarn there that it is hard to make decisions.  I found myself over near the Lopi section, thinking about how I have long wanted to recreate a sweater that my mom made me about 30 years ago that has entered the unwearable stage after so many years of service.

Enter nine skeins of lopi.  Not exactly the same colors but I think they will be gorgeous together (the dark grey will be the main color).

Now to seek out that missing element in this big adventure:  time.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Of a Tuesday Morning

For the past three weeks, I have been teaching yoga at the Manhattan Detention Complex (yes, the same one that used to be called the Bernard Kerik Complex). Every Tuesday morning, I meet up with my fellow teacher, Jaime, and we go up to the 7th floor together, after a good bit of complicated security measures are taken. We teach an hour-long class to the women in the transgender unit.

I have this privilege through a group that I have mentioned before, Liberation Prison Yoga. LPY advocates for teaching yoga in prison in a way is "trauma-informed". We don't teach with commands. For example, we wouldn't say, "put your foot forward and bend your knee." We might say instead, "For this posture, we step our foot forward and bend our knee." It's all about offering the students a choice, even in subtle or simple ways.

This past Tuesday, everyone seemed agitated and distracted. We practice in the communal space so there are televisions on and people wandering around in the best of circumstances. This week there seemed to be an extra number of guards and inmates coming in and out, extra noise and extra tension in the air. I was leading the practice and it was a challenge to keep the class together between the background noises, side conversations, giggling about farting, the freezing cold cement floors, and a host of other internal and external disruptions. My inner school marm was wanting to call everyone to order, to sit at their desks with their hands folded. 
Fortunately, I resisted that approach.  I used two other things: the experience of our breath and a bhavana or visualization/direction for our minds about the full moon , drawing inspiration from the beautiful moon that happened on Sunday night.  At the end of class, I read this poem by the 14th Century Persian poet Hafiz.
Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear? 
I wish I could say that it settled everyone down and we finally were able to relax into our bodies and experience a moment of calmness, but it didn't.  They did seem a bit shocked that I had read something so openly vulnerable in what it revealed and what it asks of the reader.  Then, one new woman in the unit asked me if I knew about Buddhism since she was interested in that.  And another woman sat with me and Jaime and told us more of her story - even going so far as to tell us that she was starting to ask why she let herself go back to drugs whenever she was out of prison even when she knew it would end badly.  We didn't really have answers for her but we listened to what she had to say.

Make no mistake.  These women are tough.  They have had hard lives and they know how to survive.  A couple of yoga classes isn't going to suddenly make them soft and tender-hearted - although I see moments of softness and tenderness in there, alongside the toughness...and the strength and the brilliance.  I see a lot of brilliance.  I am not fooling myself that a few hours of deep breathing will make up for the years of whatever horror they have witnessed and experienced, and who knows, maybe even inflicted on others.  I don't think that is why we are there.

I do think, however, that showing up, caring, making mistakes and then having a laugh about it, moving around a bit, sitting still a bit, reading a poem, taking a deep breath, sharing a story - being there with a full moon in each eye - is a worthwhile way to spend an hour each Tuesday morning.

What is yoga practice?  It's in there somewhere.

Friday, September 25, 2015

In Sum

She longed to travel. She longed to go back and live in a convent. She wanted to die. And she wanted to live in Paris. 
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trusting Trust

My camera cable has arrived but, as is usually the state of things, I don't really feel like talking about the show in Nova Scotia right now.  Maybe I will tomorrow.  What I want to write about is trust.

Someone asked me yesterday what I trust.  He meant it in a Big Picture kind of way.  In a "Do you believe in God" kind of way.  I don't think a lot about God as he/she/it is thought about monotheistic traditions.  So I told him that I believe there is a perfection to the Universe.  I trust that.  I also trust my practice.  And when I said that, I realized that I must trust myself on some level because...who else is practicing?

This came up because I have been thinking about my piece, To Stand in the Center and See All Around.  The piece that I fondly also call Bitch Slapping Richard Serra.  That title is not so politically correct, even to me who made it up, so I don't use it.  Except sometimes.

I made the piece with a pretty specific idea in mind, which was to create a wall of black wool that would absorb light and create a presence that could not be ignored.  I didn't really know what else it might create but that was my starting point.  I bought pounds and pounds of black Shetland wool and I spun it into a thick, single ply yarn.  I knit it up in stockinette stitch with some purl stitches here and there so that it would come out like a rectangle, not a parallelogram (it's a spinning thing).  I took it with me everywhere - to Nashville, to my friend's chemo appointments, everywhere.  And, as a result, it absorbed all that energy and started to have an unexpected presence and power, even as it sat on the needles.

But I didn't trust it.

For my BKBX exhibition, I added mirrors and sound and special lighting effects and even inflatable bladders.  I pretty much created a three-ring circus around it so that the piece itself was totally lost.  Truly, you couldn't even see it in the installation.  Not surprisingly, I was less than happy with how that all turned out.  Not exactly feeling crushed by failure but it has been more of a nagging sense that it just didn't do what I wanted it to do.

The good news is that I used the mirrored cloth in my installation for Starting from Scratch at Ithaca College and it looks great.  Totally works.  The knit piece, however, sat on my living room floor and became little more than a very large, luxurious cat bed for a few months.  I tossed it in the car when I left for Cape Breton, not convinced that I would even have the nerve to try to pass it off as art.

Then, it happened that there was a wall in the gallery that fit it perfectly.  A nook, even.  So I hung it up.

To Stand in the Center and See All Around, 2015.  Handspun, handknit wool.  Installed at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts, Inverness, NS.
Minus the three-ring circus, the piece is powerful.  In fact, it actually does exactly what I hoped it would do and more.  No one is more surprised than myself!  I didn't trust.  I didn't trust the process or the materials.  I didn't trust trust.

I paired this piece with my SpinCycle performance and I spun (with help from various people pedaling and storytelling) the same black Shetland wool that is in the piece.  I think the two go together quite well.  The strength of this piece is that it is full of all the stories and energy that it collected over the months in which it was made.  It is the antithesis of minimalism while still being very minimal.  So, I like that the SpinCycle piece is a kind of companion to it.  In fact, suddenly I saw my recent work in a new perspective and I could see a fresh direction for it.  It feels true, somehow.

If you were a literary type, you might see this as a metaphor for how one lives one's life.  Not trusting, we add all sorts of layers - call it a three-ring circus - around what it already simple and complete and powerful.  Trusting, we can let it just be what it is, which is always more than we can imagine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Location, Location, Location

When I wrote that I had sorted through my books in my last post, I was not being 100% honest.  I hadn't sorted through my knitting/sewing/craft books, which I kept on a bookshelf in the basement.  It was more daunting than the other books (or so it seemed) so I left them for last.  But sort, I did, just after writing that post.

I weeded out about 2/3 of them - passed them on to other knitters - and those that remained were put on the bookshelf in the living room, which now had a lot more space because I had already removed all the non-joy producing books.

Could you call it double joy?  As I was putting my various knitting-related books on the shelves in the living room, I had a new wave of happiness sweep over me.  These books that have helped me with many an art project and many a domestic project didn't deserve to be sitting in the basement. They are important books!  They are all about what I love!  They should be upstairs, enjoying a privileged position on the shelves, not sitting in darkness underground.

Hint: the answer is Yes.  

Sometimes my teacher talks about "not having an inch of ground to stand on" in talking about practice.  This is not to be confused with not deserving to take up an inch of ground.  I get those two confused sometimes.  In fact, I think I have spent a lot of my life feeling like I don't deserve to take up an inch of space so I guess it isn't surprising that I would misunderstand that notion.

Such a simple thing - putting books on a shelf.  And yet it wasn't just books on a shelf.  It was me finally filling out the ground I stand on.  Finally giving credit and respect to one of the things that has been most important to me.  Down in the basement with the kitty litter and washing machine and cans of leftover paint?

I think not.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I'm Doing It

While waiting for my camera cable to arrive, I have not been idle.  Yes, teaching yoga (two new classes in Williamsburg starting at the end of the month!) (And teaching transgender prisoners at the Manhattan Detention Center starting tomorrow!).  Yes, teaching spinning (intermediate drop spindle in Greenpoint this Saturday!).  But also this:

Some friends were talking about it and it sounded so...liberating.  Own less stuff.  Not only that, but only own the stuff that brings you joy.  Who doesn't want to be surrounded by joy?  

I began last week and, as the author suggests, I started with my clothes.  I took all the clothes that weren't in the laundry and piled them in the middle of the living room floor.  One by one, I held each item and asked myself, "Does it bring me joy?"  Really, it was quite easy to decide after that.  I bagged up half of my wardrobe and sent it off to experience a new life with someone for whom I hope it does bring joy.  Then I re-folded the remaining items according to Marie Kondo's instructions and found that I have an entirely empty drawer in my bureau now.  The lightness of that feels lovely.  In fact, it is this lightness that I think is the goal of the whole undertaking.  Without knowing it, all that extra stuff (that doesn't bring joy) brings heaviness into our lives.  We carry it without even realizing it.  Only after it leaves do you notice the weight that you have been bearing.

Next up:  books.  This was more difficult because I have books that I would not describe as bringing me joy exactly but feel important.  So I just went with that feeling.  I eliminated an entire bookcase.  I gave the children's books to the local PTA and I set the rest outside on the sidewalk.  All but about ten were taken before it started to rain.  Again with the lightness!  It feels wonderful.

Marie says to slowly progress towards those categories that are more difficult because our attachment to those items is strongest.  Kitchen items are probably next but I am also looking at my yarn/wool stash.  I know there is a lot of dead weight there.

I think it is a very good system of decluttering but it is not for the feint of heart.  And it is not for the short of time.  I have had to set aside a day for each category.  There is a lot of work involved with gathering everything into one place, going through it, getting rid of the the rejects in a responsible way (the author says "throw it out" a lot but I hope she doesn't really mean that!).  Then there is reorganizing the remaining items.  It all takes time and energy.  

She claims that no one goes back to their old ways once they do this.  I can see why.  It feels good to live with your favorite things.  It also helps me to better understand what I actually need so I can buy or make new things that I will really use.  It is as if by having fewer things to care for, I can actually care for the things that I have.  And that brings me joy.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Still waiting on my camera cable so I can download the photographs of the installation in Inverness.  Meanwhile, The Ithacan, the student newspaper for Ithaca College wrote a nice piece about Starting From Scratch, in which they dubbed my piece "The Thinking Hut".  Love it!

And they used this great photograph of two people inside The Thinking Hut.

You Wanna Be There!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Interlacing Conversations

 The exhibition is installed and open.  I have many pictures but they need to be downloaded and made pretty.  Meanwhile, here are some of the contemporary artist projects that are part of it.  I will post more later when I am less totally spaced out from all the travel.

Cast Offs, 2015.  Collaborative project created by Mackenzie Keey-Frere.  Knit pieces and rebar installed at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts.

Artsy shot of Cast Offs at sunset.

Patriarchy Has No Gender, 2015.  Embroidered apron by Barb Hunt (one of nine installed).

To Stand in the Centre and See All Around (revised), 2015.  Handspun and hand knit wool (my project in a new form).

While I was in Inverness, I stayed at the art centre director's house, which is one of the houses built for the coal miners (coal mining was the reason for the town).  She bought it from the family of a man who was born and died and in the house.  It still had many of his decorating touches and I found them deeply fascinating.  I took lots and lots of pictures in an attempt to capture what was so amazing about it.  Here are but two:

Many Lamps.  Inverness, Cape Breton.

Salt Air, Inverness, Cape Breton.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

More Strangers, More Kindness, More Coming Home to Roost

The Odyssey of Getting To Nova Scotia did not end at the Brooklyn Tow Pound, alas.

Aside:  I tried three ways to get the document I needed from the DMV in Newfoundland to Brooklyn - in person, email and voice mail message - and in the end, they all worked.  They received three copies of my registration.  The system works!  And extra bonus:  the woman who faxed it from the voice mail message followed up with me the next day to make sure I was ok.  Does it get any nicer than that?  Score one for Newfoundland.

Anyway, I ended up stopped at the border for three hours while my immigration status was worked out.  It was scary and I had to do some quick work to find the place where I could accept whatever happens, including losing my status as a Permanent Resident.  Once I found that place, I could feel the shift all around.  Never underestimate the power of subtle energy!  If you think that is all woo-woo and new age-y, I am telling you that you are missing out on a lot of life.  Anyway, they let me in with my status intact on "humanitarian and compassionate" grounds.  Yet again, people I didn't know were going the extra mile on my behalf.  May I live up to their kindnesses and generosity!

And may I look closely at why all this happened all at once at this moment in time.

The installation at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts is about half completed.  I think the exhibition is going to be beautiful and provocative in the best way.  Local people are getting excited about it and, I think, it is doing what we hoped it would do, which is spur a conversation about the value of handwork on many levels.

More on that soon!

Meanwhile, this...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coming Home to Roost (or The Kindness of Strangers)

Sometimes one can ignore one's faults and glide, swan-like, through life.  And sometimes those faults accumulate and come home to roost in a big way.  Friday afternoon was like that.

On the plus side, I was teaching yoga at a new place, which I am very happy to be teaching at - Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn.  More about that another time.  For this story, all you need to know is that I was teaching there on Friday in the late afternoon.  When I left the studio I discovered that my car had been towed.  Many times I have parked near the studio without problem so I didn't look too hard at the signs, which were right next to my car.  Fault #1 - thinking I know what's what.  In fact, there is no parking from 4 - 7 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Normally, this might result in a ticket (and it did last Friday as well), but the city has days when it likes to collect extra revenue so it sends out armies of tow trucks to take away cars that otherwise would just be ticketed.  Last Friday was one of those days.

Ok.  Having your car towed is a fact of life here, so I didn't get too upset and went to the tow pound to get my car.  My Canadian makes a difference.  Going through the bureaucratic hoops, I got my registration and insurance out of the car and used the ATM machine to get cash to pay for the fees, which are substantial.  But no!  The registration was out of date.  Huh?  I knew that I had renewed it so I searched my document folder.  Not there.  More bureaucratic hoops to go back to the car and look again...still no registration.  Fault #2 - disorganized.

Explaining my situation did not move the clerk very far, so no car for me.  The city charges $20/day to keep the car in their lot overnight.  I won't bore you with further details but suffice to say that other faults, such as procrastination and failing to respond to friend's communications also came into play.  Indeed, just about all my faults coalesced in this one moment.  It came home to me hard as I was frantically texting with Lucy, who is in Newfoundland now, about searching the house there and asking our friend to help out and she wrote back, "I am really not comfortable with this."  i.e.. doing my dirty work, and I couldn't deny that this is exactly what was going on.


Nonetheless, the car was still in the lot and I was planning to head to Cape Breton on Monday (that would be today).  These two things do not go well together.

On the plus side, years of Zen and yoga practice (not to mention parenting two teenagers) has given me a fairly good dose of patience and I mostly was able to stay cool and keep things friendly with the various people behind the counter in Brooklyn and Newfoundland in my attempt to get a copy of my current registration faxed to the tow pound.

This morning, I was not on the road to Cape Breton.  Instead, I spent four hours making numerous phone calls, texts and emails to people on both coasts of Newfoundland and Brooklyn.  At last, the deed was done.  But not without the assistance of four people who were willing to take time out of their busy day not just to respond to my various communications but to actually GO to the DMV in Corner Brook, wait in line, and deal with the bureaucracy there to get it faxed.

So many life lessons here but the one that really brings tears to my eyes is this one: We are not in this alone., it is real.

A huge thank you to Lucy, Olive, Hannah, Lisa and Phillip from the Corner Brook DMV for all their help!  I haven't actually gotten the car keep your fingers crossed that there isn't some new thing that has to be done.

Truly, never will I be so happy to pay the City hundreds of dollars as I will be today.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Starting From Scratch


August 24–September 25, 2015
Handwerker Gallery, Ithaca College
Ithaca, NY
Curated by Mara Baldwin and Eleanore Kohorn ('16)
 The plot of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novel, Herland (1915), follows the travails of three male explorers as they stumble upon and are hosted by an enlightened and geographically isolated nation of women.  Utopian literature gained popularity by writers and readers alike over the course of the post-Enlightenment era, a trend reflecting cultural exposure of increased travel and trade to other social systems, causing many to compare, evaluate, and criticize previously-accepted standards of living.  Female authors in the genre almost exclusively write about more perfect worlds that are female-exclusive or devoid of gender altogether.  These novels, Gilman’s Herland included, are bereft with unapologetic severity, self-aware absurdity, unexpected humor, and bountiful ingenuity in the clairvoyant revisioning of a more perfect society. The artists in this exhibition share this radical impulse, of throwing everything out and starting over in pursuit of a new social order built on equanimity and a preemptive resourcefulness, rewriting history to include the lost stories, artifacts, and initiatives of invented feminist societies. 
Featuring work by Elisheva Biernoff; Angela Ellsworth; Robyn Love; Tara Mateik; Sophie Mörner; Rebecca Purcell, J. Morgan Puett, & Jeffrey Jenkins of Mildred’s Lane; and Amanda Wojick.
A little preview of my piece, Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All, 2015.  Hand knit and crochet yarn, fabric, mirrors, paper and tent frame.
The yellow stripe (formerly known as The Knitted Mile) runs through the entire gallery, eventually leading visitors to this alcove where they are invited to look in each envelope and pick a card.

There are six cards in total, each with a question or phrase designed to provoke.

The stripe leads into the tent, where there are cushions for sitting on.  And lots of mirrors.

A visitor contemplates his card...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's Gonna Be Great

Are we there yet?

My project for the exhibition at Ithaca College is titled Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All and it is questioning the whole notion of utopia - how do we know we aren't in utopia right now?  Why is utopia always over there and never right here?  It is part of an exhibition that is centered around the book, Herland, a novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman written in the early 20th Century.  The book describes an all-female utopian society that is over 1000 years old (they reproduce asexually).  It is an ideal social order: free of war, conflict, and domination.  My piece is kind of the Doubting Thomas in the show.  Or maybe the Doubting Thomasina.  It asks all sorts of questions and then leaves the visitor to sort out the answers for themselves.

As per usual, creating the piece involves a lot of handwork.  As I still have work to be done on my piece for the exhibition at the Inverness Arts Centre up in Cape Breton, I am getting anxious to finish this piece.  Yet I keep coming up with ways to make it better (read: more complicated and intricate).  Today, as I am finishing up the last crochet stitches for the outside of the tent, I found myself totally immersed in how it will be when I am finished and on to the next step.  The stitches that I am doing right now?  Huh?  Am I making stitches?  But, man, when I am's gonna be great.

So, umm....why is utopia always over there and never right here? 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Agni and All About It

Agni is a Sanskrit word for fire.  We talked about it a lot when we were learning about Ayurveda in relationship to someone's digestion at yoga therapy training in Nashville.  If your digestive agni is diminished or goes out, trouble will follow.  We have all met someone like this (or maybe been someone like this) - no appetite, low energy, generally not very engaged or excited by life.  They need their agni sparked up again.  The good news its that it isn't hard to do if you catch it before it becomes something more serious.  There were a couple of people who were experiencing low agni and, after making some simple dietary changes, they were perkier and happier and feeling much better by the end of the training.

But what about other kinds of agni?  I have been wondering if it is ok to let some fires go out.  Readers of this blog may have noticed that I tend towards doing a lot of things.  My motto usually is "Go big or go home" or, as George Carlin once said, "If you are going to play…PLAY!"  No half measures for me.  This has certainly been true with my art making.  Ambition has never been a problem for me.

Or has it?  For the past year or so, I have been reluctant to admit to myself that I just don't have that same burning fire of ambition about my art making that I once had.  This fire fueled many of my projects, allowing me to work long, hard hours to get things done.  It also fueled some less attractive aspects of myself - a competitiveness and jealousy about other artists' successes.  It doesn't make me happy to admit it because these are very small-minded places to live out of but, if I am honest, I see how they are inevitable partners with that kind of ambition.  The ambition that I am talking about is the difference between saying, "I want to be an artist" and "I want to be a famous artist."  For most of my adult life, I have leaned heavily towards the latter.

As I have been working to finish the pieces for the two shows opening at the end of August, I have been somewhat alarmed to find that I can not conjure up that kind of fire.  I love my ideas and I think the work will be interesting and provocative but that all-consuming, obsessive energy around it is just…gone.  I keep looking and looking but honey, that fire has up and left.  The ashes are cold.

When I mentioned this to Elizabeth, the Ayurvedic practitioner who was leading our training, she immediately said, "oh good!"  I was puzzled.  Is it good?  It certainly makes meeting deadlines a lot harder for me!  Later I realized that, when you take away the "famous" part of famous artist, then you are left with just the artist part.  In other words, without the striving for attention and accolades, you are left with the work; you are left with (dare I say it?), the Art.

It feels a little like walking around in new shoes.  There are places where this rubs me the wrong way and I am getting blisters that hurt.  I think it is a positive thing but it is a big change after so many decades and that makes it feel uncertain and a little painful.  What I think will happen (is happening) is that all that agni that was fueling my ambition for my career and my art world status is now free to fuel the actual art.  You would think that this would feel so refreshing and wonderful that it would be a glorious thing.  But I am not finding it to be quite like that.  It isn't that simple.  I had a lot of my identity caught up in that striving, ambitious part of me and that makes it a little hard to let go.  Our faults, even when we know they are faults, can be very comforting on occasion.

All of this is has been dancing around in my head as I fill my living room with yet another huge crocheted piece.  At least that part hasn't changed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hot Stuff

Last week, I was upstate at the Monastery for sesshin - my first ever summer sesshin.  What's the big deal?  This is the big deal: student robes are made from 70/30 poly-cotton and they cover you from neck to ankles to wrists.  It was a giant sweatiest.

See?  Robe after sweaty robe...
When you are given a practice for your meditation, whether it is the beginning instruction to count your breaths to ten and then start over again or a koan or shikantaza, it is easy to think that anytime not spent doing this is time spent not practicing.  It is especially easy to fall into that thinking during sesshin where the whole environment and schedule has been arranged to be perfectly suited to doing your practice all day long.  What I have been learning - ever so slowly - is that those practices are designed as a means of noticing our minds and so we can begin to learn about ourselves and our habits and patterns.  The goal isn't actually to count to ten and then start over.  I think the goal (if there even is one) is to notice what comes up when we try to do that.  We live in a goal-oriented society and I am certainly a card-carrying member of it so the frustration of getting lost from my practice is usually interpreted as failure in my mind.  I suspect that I am not alone in that.

For reasons that I don't understand, when it was the hottest and most humid, I also experienced an almost non-stop series of hot flashes for the first 24-hours of sesshin.  I was cooking from the outside in and the inside out.  Truly, it was a special version of hell.  I wanted to run away.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to float in a cool lake and never step foot back in that zendo and I definitely wanted to toss that stupid polyester robe in the trash can.  And so like that, hour after hour.

Good times.

Finally on Tuesday evening, drenched and exhausted, I had a thought that maybe, just maybe, the practice I needed to do was not to fight what was happening quite so much.  Added to the physical discomfort and feelings of being trapped in a hefty bag were the feelings of failure that I was "not doing my practice" and frustration that I was so pathetic at this thing that I have now devoted myself to for years.  It's like a little extra special pain on top of the regular pain - a kind that I invented just for myself.  So, I thought maybe I could skip that extra pain that I invented just for myself and look at the regular pain, which in this case, was the heat coming at me from all sides, including inside.  I tried to be curious about what exactly was going on during a hot flash - they are quite curious things after all.  I noticed that they start in my arms and back simultaneously and, after one passes, there is a kind of beautiful moment of peace.  I am evenly coated in sweat but now it is cooling and the strange sensations are over.  It is a quiet moment of calm.  I am not sure it is worth the price one has just paid but it was nice knowing that it would appear at the end if I could just stay with what was happening and not go down the road of opinions and ideas about what was happening.

Oddly enough, or perhaps predictably enough, after that, things settled down.  The hot flashes were fewer and less intense.  On Thursday night, the heat broke and the rest of the week was warm but pleasant enough, even in our hefty bag robes.  On Sunday, a new monk was ordained and it was a time for celebration.  I still found ways of inventing new extra pains to add to any regular pains but - and here is the beauty of sesshin - I had the time and space to notice them before heading off into crazyland.  And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Knot fer Nuthin'

I knew it would happen one day.  It was a day that was always in the future.  But then the future came to my doorstep.  It was the day when I would have to untangle The Knitted Mile.  

After its brilliant premiere on the streets of Dallas, TX, the piece has mostly been stuffed into two, large garbage bags.  It was an almost-but-not-quite mile-long knot.  Once I took it out and showed it as a giant pile, along with the photographs of the knitters who helped me make it.  But mostly it has sat in my studio in its very undignified form, almost anonymous given the humble, if practical, covering.  This piece, which has gotten into books and has gained me invitations to exhibitions and other projects, has not been fully appreciated in the intervening years, I am sad to admit.

And then the day - THAT day - came.  It was time to untangle.

A friend helped me carry it home from the studio where it is too dirty for this kind of work.  I gingerly unveiled it.  Was it as bad as I remembered?

Yes.  Yes, it was.  (Sorry about the poor photographs - it was a dark and humid and, did I mention hot?, day.)

I found one end and began the process of laying it in a box like a fire hose.  It is the same way I laid it the back of the car when I installed it in Dallas.

Query:  Is it unethical to do something in front of someone with the knowledge that they will get so irritated by the way you are doing it (which is to say, the wrong way) that they will push you aside so that they can do it (which is to say, the right way)?

There might have been a little Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer fence painting kind of thing going on but, as some might have predicted were they of the nature to make those kinds of predictions, certain others could not bear to watch my incompetent untangling method.  Just as she was beginning to say things like, "shouldn't I be paid for this?", a friend texted her and she found an escape hatch.  But I could tell that she was a little disappointed too.  This is the kind of thing that really excites her.

Then it was just me and knitting and the humidity.

Confession:  I might have cried once or twice.

In the end, the box was filled and I was left with two balls.

Two rather large balls.

This is fine.  It will work for my piece for Ithaca College, which I have titled, Heaven is the Most Dangerous Place of All.

And so it is.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Respect the Meconium

One topic that came up during the Nashville training (in addition to Ayurveda) was transference and counter transference in the student/teacher relationship.  We were mainly discussing it in relation to our roles as teachers - many of us also will begin mentoring other yoga teachers trained in this tradition as well.  Our training is preparing us/has prepared us to work with people one-on-one, which creates a much more intimate relationship than in a typical 1.5 hr. group yoga class.

People come to yoga looking for something - usually they are seeking moment of calm in their stormy lives or they want to do a headstand.  One of those two.  (I'm kidding!!)  A teacher worth their salt is embodying the practice and discipline that she teaches, so it isn't difficult to see how one could fill in the blanks in a way that skews reality one way or another.  People need their teacher to be better than they are, else why have that person as a teacher?  Yet, there is not a direct relationship between knowledge, understanding and realization and being a good person.  In fact, one can have a stunning depth of understanding and realization and still be a total asshole.  It is hard to reconcile this fact because if you "get it", indeed, not just "get it" but have a penetrating insight into the true nature of things, why would you go around harming people?  It doesn't make sense!  And yet, it happens.

I think delusion is like that first poop that babies produce after they are born - the meconium.  It is dark green and made up of the waste of everything the then fetus ingested while still in the womb.  Just as  you might look at the teacher who has done something so harmful, so painful, to others that you simply can not believe it, you look at your beautiful, little baby and experience a kind of shock and awe that this tiny, perfect being has managed to produce such a horrific substance.  The sheer volume alone is alarming but mainly it is the way it defies being cleaned-up: its tenacity as it clings to everything that comes within a foot of it.  You have to tip your hat to it, man.  It is not fooling around.

And so with delusion.  Composed of everything we ingested before we even knew we were ingesting things, it clings to everything.  That's its nature.  Sometimes we are not covered in it.  For some of us, even a lot of the time we are clean.  But. if we think we have cleaned it up completely, you can be sure that you will find a big, old schemer down the front of your shirt the next time you look down.

One of my projects over these past several years has been to learn to respect my delusions.  First, however, I need to get to know them.  Of course, I can't know them all but I have noticed that they have patterns and tend to run along thematic lines.  Occasionally when I get a glimpse of just how deep seeded they are, it is a moment of breathtaking humility.  Perhaps this is what a good teacher needs above all - breathtaking humility in the face of their own delusions.  This isn't a false modesty - it is ok to know things and even be good at certain things.  It is more like what Donald Rumsfeld said about the known knowns and the unknown knowns.  Know that the unknown knowns run deep.  And are very sticky and difficult to clean up.

It is a good place to start.

Friday, July 03, 2015

There Is No Such Thing As Summer Vacation

Since returning from Nashville, it has been something of whirlwind.  Getting back into my schedule, birthday celebrations, Canada Day celebrations (are they two or one thing?), and general socializing with loved ones has meant all that profound Ayurvedic information has gone out the window, for me personally anyway.  Yesterday my main food group was ice cream.  Can you say vāta aggravation?

In true vāta style, there is no time to linger on that - I have places to go and things to do!  At the end of August, I will be in two exhibitions, one of which I am co-curating.  There is work to be done for both of them.

The first exhibition is titled Interlacing Converations, which will be presented at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts in Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  Interlacing Conversations explores intersections of traditional and experimental fibre arts. The exhibition celebrates projects made possible through collaboration and exchange across geographical and cultural distances.  I am co-curating this show with Elizabeth Whalley, who is the new director of the ICCA.  I think it will be very exciting because we will be presenting the work of some amazing artists such as Mackenzie Kelly-Frere, Barb Hunt and Janet Morton, among others, along side the work of local craftspeople from Cape Breton, without distinction between what is art and what is craft.  By this I mean that everything will get equal billing.  And yes, I realize that I have listed most of the fine artists by name and just lumped together the craftspeople but that is only because Elizabeth has been handling that end of things and I don't yet have their names.

Mackenzie is creating a site-specific piece in collaboration with local knitters that furthers one of his previous projects Air Over Land.  The new project, Cast-Offs, is a series of 50+ hand knit wind socks/flags that will simultaneously fly over Inverness, Nova Scotia, and Calgary, Alberta (or just outside of Calgary).  He created a Ravelry group for the project if you want more information or if you want to participate.  Check it out here (Ravelry link).  

There will be much other beautiful work and I will show images as it progresses.  For myself, I will be performing my SpinCycle piece (and I am very excited to have my Canadian premiere of that piece!) and re-installing To Stand in the Centre and See All Around in a new way.  I won't say too much more except that I am back at the black Shetland.

Interlacing Conversations opens on August 30th.

The other exhibition came about during my time up at The Saltonstall Foundation.  I had a studio visit with Mara Baldwin and Vin Manta of Ithaca College.  Vin wrote up a blog post about it here.  Mara, who is the curator of the Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College, then invited me to participate in their season opening show, Starting From Scratch.  Starting From Scratch uses Charlotte Perkins Gilmans novel, Herland, as a jumping off point to think about utopia, gender, isolation, exclusion, and community.   I will be re-purposing The Knitted Mile and creating a new Utopia Tent for this exhibition.  I am hoping to do an artist talk/performance while the exhibition is up in September.  More on that later!

Starting from Scratch opens August 24th.

Busy times!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Go to the Gunas!

Photo courtesy of YATNA/Yoga as Therapy North America
Barely had I returned from Ithaca when I had to leave for Nashville and module #3 of my yoga therapy training.  This time around, we spent most of the nine days learning about Ayurveda, a sister science/art to yoga.  The teaching was led by Elizabeth Cunningham-Bossart, who managed to make this highly complex topic accessible to us - offering us just the right amount of information so that we can use some Ayurvedic tools to help us in our yoga therapy practice.

Some aspects of the Ayurvedic model seem to be counter-intuitive and go against commonly held beliefs about health.  For example, in Ayurveda, most people should not ever do a juice cleanse and many of us should not be eating salads, raw veggies or fish everyday.  But when you look closely, as we did, statements like that make a lot more sense.  We have two doctors and two other Western medically-trained people in our course.  They repeatedly confirmed that the Western model of medicine was just beginning to notice and confirm many of the things that have been known and studied by Ayurvedic doctors for millennia.

It felt a little disjointed to go from intensive art making to intensive yoga therapy training but I have faith that everything will fall into place as it should.  Meanwhile, it was wonderful to spend all that time with such a lovely group of caring people.  My love and gratitude to them all!

Friday, June 19, 2015

We Have to Own It

It is not unusual for me to spend these long road trips in total silence.  If the kids are with me, we usually listen to books on tape for part of the time but, if it is just me, then I prefer silence.  I enjoy my thoughts and occasionally try to do "driving zazen".  Somehow, the time passes swiftly by.  Yesterday, however, I decided to see what was on the radio in Virginia.  Finding the local public radio station, which I was shocked even existed in rural Virginia (biased Yankee that I am), I heard the horrible news about the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.  And I listened to the story as it unfolded the rest of the day.

On one call-in show, I heard with my own ears this thing that I had only read about - white people (who would identify themselves as such) calling to say that this young man was a lone-wolf, mentally ill person who should not be held up as representing all white people.  One guy even said, "I have a lot of black friends!"  This response is part of the problem.  I don't care if your best friend is black.  You, me, we**, have to own this thing - 100%.

My relatives were living, dirt poor, in Ireland and in Newfoundland at the time of slavery in the United States, so there is part of me that wants to say, "But it's not me or my people!"  Or "But I have black friends!"  The question remains - is there blood on my hands?  Sorry my fellow lily-white people, the answer is yes.

Having spent some time looking deep inside (and not just on long, silent road trips), I have felt -viscerally - the pain of being female in this patriarchal culture.  Not just my personal story with the large and small, gross and subtle, ways that I have been silenced, put down, objectified and negated, but the experiences of every, single woman on the face of this Earth throughout history.  Believe me or don't believe me, but I know that I have touched this pain.  And when I remember that feeling, which is not so hard to do because it is not so far beneath the surface, I think about how there must be a very similar pain experienced by every black and brown person on the face of this Earth.  I don't know this particular pain but I am guessing that the accompanying feeling of sadness at the foolish waste of human potential, the senseless waste of beautiful human life, and the anger that we do this to each other, is similar.

When men say things like, "not all men…" in response to sexism, it is very similar to a white person saying, "but I have black friends!".  Men - yes ALL men - have to own their privilege and their responsibility for the history of oppression of women.  Nothing will change until every single man admits his role.  Likewise, every single white person - myself included - has to own this terrible history of racism that the United States was built upon, even if their relatives were dirt poor and living in Ireland at the time of slavery.  And if men who do take responsibly often fall into the trap of then mansplaining how to make things better, I think, likewise, white people need to take responsibility and then shut up and listen.  The way to make things better is not to whitesplain what to do.   It is time to listen with humility and a desire to atone for this violent, grotesque history that we continue to benefit from everyday of our lives.

What can well-intentioned white people with black friends do in the aftermath of this horrible hate crime?  Step #1: Take responsibility. Then, be quiet and just listen, even when it is hard to hear what is being said, even if it feels unfair (it's not), even when it hurts.  This is part of atonement - taking responsibility and really hearing the pain of those who you have injured (yes, YOU).   My suggestion for how to do that is to begin by just saying it to yourself - say some words out loud to yourself that make sense to you but are real, honest and do not sugarcoat things.  And maybe apologize while you are at it.  Say these words one time each day.  Very simple, very do-able and, I suspect, very powerful.   No need to shout it from the rooftops.  Saying it to yourself is enough - for now.   I have faith that what to do next will make itself clear if we can just get to Step #1.

And I suggest we get right on it.

** By "we" I mean you, Whitey