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.