Saturday, March 27, 2010

Perhaps I can explain...

Friends and readers who are not battling the riptide of mixed-media obsession may not understand how I feel about paper. It started with end-rolls of newsprint and what we used to call "shirt" cardboard, the shape-giving pieces that Royal Laundry included with every clean shirt they delivered.

I didn't just draw on the stuff, I shaped it into Valentines, dimensional Easter cards, faux fireworks, paper bag puppets, holiday place cards and flowers. Following my mother's example, I learned to save scraps and cut images from magazines. I spent my allowance on rolls of giftwrap.

Taking inspiration recently from the Liberty of London products created for Target stores, I started looking for floral scrapbook paper that would simulate their multi-colored, random flower prints, without (yet) finding any. It becomes a fox-and-hounds world when the scent of new paper is in the air and as my tracking failed to expose anything that matched my vision, I thought I would try to design my own. It has been years since I worked on glossy cardstock, having developed a style that suits me with non-glossy surfaces and Prismacolor pencils. Into the boxes and drawers I ventured to see what remained of once-plentiful white glossy stock that could be turned into photocopy-able marker-colored sheets of pattern and image.

Once upon a time, the Kelly Paper store in Pasadena (and elsewhere, I think) allowed the taking of free samples and I retained a supply of those, along with purchased cardstock which had begun to yellow around the edges. Deep and vivid Pantone shades would hide that, I thought. What I did not remember, or factor in, was the fact that permanent drawing pens may be permanent with water-based mediums but run with alcohol-based markers. The result is first samples with a bit of smudge darkening, but I can live with that. My elderly Tria pens have stayed miraculously juicy. They have been standing in their wooden storage boxes for well more than 10 years and, with a couple exceptions, did everything I needed them to do.

I discovered brand new fun with supplies I kept on hand because (a) who in this line of work (I use the term loosely) can throw away paper? and (b) the allure of drawing and coloring in the shapes will never diminish. So far I have not reproduced anything close to the Liberty look that started this and it doesn't matter. I have a cramp at the base of my thumb that, for a few minutes after I've put the pen down, runs part-way up my arm AND I have vivid, edge-to-edge filled sheets that, as color copies, will become backgrounds, envelopes, gifts and reminders that what some might call hoarding - I call it saving - has unimagined payoffs.

My good fortune is no one close by to scowl and ask (surely the answer is evident), "do you really need ALL that paper?" Yes, today I need all that paper and a bit more, which would fill in the gaps of weight, texture, size, color, pattern and purpose. Appearances to the contrary, a containerized life wherein rest font catalogs, deconstructed cereal boxes and origami squares (whether crumpled, dog-eared, faded or fresh) is not the second or third sign of mental apocalypse, it is a benchmark of foresight and thrift. It is what I know and what I do. It is me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


(stained glass created by Sharon Ruxton, based on a sketch by M. Kelly)

Today we are not the people we were yesterday. Even if we live as hermits - a choice not widely available - natural forces surround us. Change on a grand or barely discernable level is continuous and inescapable.

The human experience has a lot in common with attending a major league baseball game, sitting in the bleachers past third base, hands occupied with a hot dog and soda, and seeing that mad foul ball coming right at you. To this day, I have some uber-sized knuckles from finger sprains acquired in right field at Longfellow Elementary. You will not hear me rejoicing as a maiming projectile hurtles toward me.

Among the elements working around the clock is gravity, source of physical changes which over time resemble - at least to my eyes - the melting of a Nazi face in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. We are held to this planet by invisible power and I swear some days the pull is stronger than others. Everything entering our sphere has an effect - wise or witless, kind or critical, even something in perfect balance leaves a trace and, whether added to or subtracted from, we become variants of our previous selves.

As we evolve or morph or transform, our thoughts are not static. The good news is we are free to change our minds; the less good news is that we may be seen as flighty or worse, conflicted. I will survive being misunderstood, as will you.

I find life to be a process and as any process, it has stages. There will be moments - or days, months - when the dough is rising, other periods when it gets punched back down, then, if we were actual loaves, the eventual baking...but that is not for us. We will go on being dough. At least in this incarnation, we are works-in-progress, not intended to become finished products.

Our process is enhanced by the souls with whom we choose to make this journey. Though I would keep writing if no one else ever read these words, I am lifted by comments that tell me I have come near the mark. I have the luxury of time during the day to converse or correspond with others and exchange ideas. There are places where I can turn if the waters are troubled and I turn to them as well when tidings are glad. We come, I know, to a state of reliance upon this core of support. Few of us will likely be in this exact configuration indefinitely; it is comforting to assume that people who matter will not waiver or drift, yet they do.

On Friday my cousin Sharon - Sheri - died. Her kindness, encouragement, generosity, unconditional love and unambiguous passion concerning all things, whether for or against, enriched our lives and, I assume, the world at large for such energy expands in a widening circle. We and our lives were different Thursday night than they are today. I will not say that she is gone, for the power and expanse of her nature are too great to cease. That I don't expect we will speak again, finding our way through personal as well as political challenges, may simply be my own too-small expectation. I don't know where death leaves us, whether we are the departed or those who remain behind. I choose to find something eternal in strong connections. A blessing bestowed is not revoked by time or absence. It is ours to keep forever.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To sleep

Daylight Savings Time drops me into the back country for which I have no map. I am unable to explain why the rearranging of time to be off by an hour becomes the source of havoc. My first guess is that our cells are way smarter than we are, they know to question authority. There is a natural rhythm to life which legislation cannot override.

We adjust without upset to the tilt of the planet, the angle of light, length of night and day, waxing and waning. Here we are in the fifth day of DST and I slept three hours past my normal wake-up time. During the previous days I required additional sleep, also know as a nap, to feel anything like myself and semi-competent. I have no plans to see if there is a grassroots movement afoot to stop the government from telling us it is 7:00 a.m. when it is really 6:00, but if there is, they have my support in spirit.

Sleep in sufficient amounts is necessary for me to hold onto whatever wits I possess. There were years when states of health or of mind made too much sleep desirable. Our bodies, or so I believe, never lie to us. They tell us what they, what we, require to function at optimum levels. Mine makes its demands so clear that I sometimes feel narcoleptic. "Go to sleep NOW."

A nap can resemble a state of grace, a peaceful withdrawal from worldly matters in which we restore ourselves to be of greater service. After decades of full-time jobs, and a frequently too-full life in which there was simply never enough sleep, the gift of napping is a rich reward. Things may not be accomplished because the body has called for time out, yet when the game resumes, the ability to be entirely present seems a fair exchange.

Napping may be genetic. During my childhood, my father came home for lunch every day and part of his lunch break included a nap. It made vacations hellish for us children as we learned to be quiet, to be solitary, to be self-contained; a sort of survival training. The most enduring gift we all took from those silent hours was a love of reading.

There is also a defense mechanism about sleep, again the body speaking emphatically when it has had enough. I was once married to a man who wrote music reviews, focused primarily on rock and roll. We saw bands at clubs, at outdoor festivals, in concert venues. I looked forward to some more than others though I don't remember any that caused me to think I'd rather stay home. But the body knows what it knows and I became a person of questionable worth and taste by falling asleep seeing the Allman Brothers. When it happened again - these were not conscious choices on my part - at AC/DC my outcast status was confirmed. A rebel at heart, I took pride in a vessel that knew we needed to shut down when the volume reached ear-bleed levels. I liken it to a person with nut allergies being given a dish which they swear has no nuts anywhere, yet when his throat closes or vomiting begins...someone has some explaining to do. There are places our minds do not recognize as unsafe; luckily other aspects of the whole are more wise.

As DST approached, I tried to convince myself that it would not disorient me. Positive thinking applied to universal forces - it could work. Yes, and let me stand on the beach and think the tide into submission. We could say I transition slowly, which is not untrue. What is untrue is that my response to this seemingly small upheaval is anything but organic. What I know is this: with three additional hours of sleep, today felt more creative, more joy-based and I, walking through it, felt more centered and capable. I will not think yet of autumn and doing this all over again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

You did WHAT?

Scolding ought to be, at the very least, a misdemeanor. What a wretched way for people to treat each other. It has not happened to me recently, although there was that borderline, that wasn't a scolding. When you've had one, there is no room for uncertainty.

Worse yet is when I feel one coming over me and remind myself fiercely that, whatever it is about, it is not my job, not my business. Are we born to berate? No, I don't think so. It has to be a behavior that springs from our own sense of lack in some fashion, lack masquerading as superiority.

It comes from, as I feel it or as I've experienced its sting, the belief that we are all walking the same path at the same pace toward the same destination. Amazing that we haven't been issued uniforms, another aid in keeping us in line and doing everything properly. The more years I add to my resume, the more I understand that each of us is unique. Never before, never again will there be one identical in every sense. The old phrase, rugged individual, just lodged in my brain. Yet that is who and what we are, a party of one in every case.

If we are fortunate, if we pay attention and have a notion of who we are, we may find others of our tribe. We will not match one another in every category but we will recognize parts of ourselves in them, even if it is through acknowledging our separateness. Whether we allow it to show or not, in our way each of us is an outsider. And therein we find the source of great discomfort within our human family. If I'm doing it right and you're doing it some other curious and questionable way, how could both styles be acceptable? She served the chips in a basket and not a bowl...get over it.

Please excuse me if I'm repeating myself, but being right is not all we've been led to think it is. As a trait of which I fervently want to rid myself, the desire, the need to be right is a form of delusion. I recognize it as next-of-kin to control, the strong-arming of another to one's mind set, the bullying of an independent spirit into admitting - gasp - a mistake. It comforts me to assume that we each do the best we can at any given moment; if we could do it differently, we would. And it also gives me peace to accept that none of us is here to play the part of (to quote Homer Simpson) prank monkey to anyone else.

Scolding is abuse. I feel remorse for any I have inflicted and can only become more conscious, more aware of how shaming and inappropriate it is. Toward those who have scolded me, I never feel quite the same. It is not about holding onto resentment; it is about not being seen or valued as myself in the glory of my wide-screen me-ness. We do not want to feel small. We wish to be comfortable in our skin and in our choices. Scolding comes from judging and that is not one of the rights we've been given, however often it is practiced.

I realize I am here to learn, not to correct, not to instruct, never to condemn. There is no doubt that I will falter in those aspirations, yet awareness of shortcomings is a step toward change. It is the mind that looks at others and sets them apart. My intention is to live by my heart's guidance, letting go of any wish to be the smartest, neatest, thriftiest, sanest, most punctual, sensitive and wonderful person in the room. We can be one-of-a-kinds together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Simply happy or happily simple

Mobility is something of an issue for me. I spent many reclusive months last year letting the steep and plentiful stairs from my apartment to the carport intimidate me. Perhaps it was time to stay in and reflect. Could have been a passing phobia. The good news is that it did pass and I now experience excitement at the thought of going out. Of the two, I'll take that over dread every time.

Yesterday was a going-out-for-n0-reason adventure. That brings us back to definitions, for your idea of an adventure and mine may be different. Remember, I have been too long in exile so anything that is elsewhere is...enough.

If things happen for a reason and I assume they do, then being cast as the shut-in gave me a sense of fondness for things that might have escaped notice. Think of George Bailey, running from one familiar and run-down location to another, bursting with delight, reveling in his previously under-appreciated life. I think it is a phrase we get to use until it is so threadbare we need some of that duct tape to hold it together: it is a wonderful life.

Being, most of the time, familiar with where my mind has been and how it works, I know I equated the notion of a wonderful life with a perfect one. Nothing with sharp and terrifying teeth at my elbow, no fabled swords dangling above my head, everything, including me, tidy and ordered, predictable and successful in all the traditional interpretations.

How relieved I am that I wasn't holding my breath waiting for THAT wonderful life to appear, though I recall disappointment when it didn't seem to be drawing any closer. Frank Capra left us a blueprint for reconstructing happiness out of the materials at hand.

Yesterday, I woke up in Southern California, which may have earthquakes but never blizzards. I left home without having to wear anything waterproof, slid back the seldom-enjoyed sunroof and felt that I was the luckiest woman in the world. My son came along for the ride and I drove on streets I haven't seen since last summer. Condos rose from the site of the open-late coffee shop where newsmen on the night shift could find breakfast after work. The reconfigured convention center reflected the city's substantial history so much better than the previous incarnation. The once-sagging upper story of what had been my grandparents' house was standing without supporting beams. Progress, in most cases, abounded.

The owner of our town's only - and independent - drive-through coffee stand greeted us like shipwreck survivors. A mocha-to-go on any day, let alone the edge of spring, is as fine a treat as I can imagine. While my son did an errand, I sat in the noon sun, feeling cells fill with natural Vitamin D. To use a favorite old family word, I basked. From the poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat," my parents liked to quote, "...and did nothing but basking until they were saved."

A utility worker called across a quiet street and offered to buy my car on the spot. No thank you, but I took warmth from the offer. We brought home provisions from our old neighborhood for dining nostalgia. I got into bed thinking what a fine day it had been; I woke at 3:30 and could feel the blessings running through me, mind and body.

I recognize that being happy is a choice, that it is an interior process which can flourish regardless of the outside atmosphere. The amount of universal truth remaining for me to learn cannot be calculated. That I feel almost fluent in happiness is farther along than I ever dreamed I would be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Outside the lines

In the foothills above Pasadena, hiking trails either slope or climb quickly, delivering adventurers to nature's version of quiet - songbirds, raptors, running streams. A reverie, not quite a dream, during the night took me to a long-ago afternoon in the headland of the Arroyo Seco; it must have been spring for the water ran clear and fast from bank to bank. We crossed it on rocks as we found them for it was too deep to wade.

The picture I retrieved was of a moment when the stream paused, fallen limbs created a pool before the run-off picked up speed once more. On the grainy bottom, amid pebbles and spotty plant life, a coral-colored salamander or newt lay in the shade. It was bright and warm of hue, an element of fire that shone its small light upward through the dimness. I remember surprise at discovering the amphibian; that land spends most of the year with few options for a water-lover to dampen its skin.

Soon that memory shifted to another, yet the day had been returned to me, filling my cells with the information they absorbed, afoot for a only and hour or so with my father and brother, just out of view of neighborhoods, roads and outward signs of civilization. It did not feel random, the gift of moments from a much earlier time. Was there a message and, if so, would I be able to decode it?

As I considered the pieces, collectively or sequestered as their separate parts, I made the hasty leap to a dismissive attitude I often have regarding dreams: it was an entertainment, an amusement, just an anonymous offering my brain decided to bring forth. Yet as I also find with dreams, the awareness of journey was strong. When your senses tell you that you've gone to a place other than where you began your sleep, believe them.

Operating on the assumption that our first sincere take is the true one, I found myself thinking of hidden jewels: the half-dream, the salamander on that day, all the clips from all the years that hold blessings unacknowledged. I had asked for inspiration and illumination yesterday and here was a story, breathed in my direction like a dandelion wish. A barrier had fallen, a path had been cleared. Having lived more of my life than not with a mind that selectively offered grim and discouraging thoughts or images, what a reversal of fortune to be shown the peaceful and lovely.

I will pay attention today to the ghosts that stop by, willing myself to embrace scenes from the shadowbox past. I will welcome the unexplained and know it is here for a reason. The gleam on the creek bed may be fool's gold, yet if what matters is the glow it casts and not its worth at the assay office, I'd say the effort has been rewarded.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Later the next day...

Reporting that writing, cooking AND box folding all happened yesterday.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Is this really about boxes?

The number of monophasics who dwell among us may be shockingly underestimated. I am one, a creature who - before the grating "multi-tasking" insinuated itself into the vocabulary - could do it all, or at least most of it. Family, paying job, volunteer work, study, social life, creativity - previously I could think several thoughts simultaneously. No longer. I cannot actively listen to anything and write at the same time. And when writing started calling to me, insistently and often, around the end of last year, I chose to pay attention.

As a result, chores remain undone and one of the chores is dealing with all the boxes that have come indoors since before Christmas.

Our apartment building has one dumpster, emptied three times a week, serving 22 units which have a tenant turnover that is not frequent but results in a lot of discards. It is wise to throw things away as soon as the empty bin is returned from the street. ( I will mention that the trash area is down two flights of stairs, through half the carport and around a corner, in case that helps explain why things weren't dealt with as soon as they arrived.) So we have reasoned over the years that flattening cardboard cartons is the neighborly thing to do; empty boxes needlessly usurp valuable disposal space. Which brings us to this rainy Saturday, a fresh roll of duct tape and lots of brown, corrugated cardboard.

I have found that in any box assortment I will be able to salvage sides that lend themselves to artwork. So the first step is deconstruction. After removing the choicer cuts, what remains is folded and flattened and restrained into as small a depth as possible, hence the duct tape. You might think the hunt for usable art material would encourage addressing this business in what they call a timely fashion. In most other people that would probably be true. What I did not reveal was that, in addition to being able to do only one thing at a time, I also tend to procrastinate. When they hold the Frittering Olympics, I hope my mind and calendar will be clear.

So collapsing and compacting boxes is what awaits me today, yet here I am writing. There is no thunder at the moment - carpe diem - and I wanted to see what I could accomplish before it returns. An electrical storm is no danger in box compressing, as it can be in using a computer, or so I rationalize. The door to the studio is blocked by these interlopers for which we have no space. I can barely reach the copier without shifting the discards, then putting them back when I'm done. What they say is true: we can be our own worst enemies.

In a world of tsunamis, famine, war, disease and, at minimum, hundreds of thousands of things that matter, could I have chosen a more trivial topic? Yes. This really isn't about the boxes; it is about how we give our energy and intention to what matters most, or we do if we want to move forward along what I can only call our path. There will always be tasks that need doing and they will be addressed. But when intuition or a higher wisdom speaks in nearly audible tones, we ignore that direction at our peril. By doing just one thing at a time, I take just one step at a time, never knowing where it will lead. I believe we each have a destiny, we are parts of a greater plan, and when we are fortunate enough to have even a shard of information about what our place in it may be, I know what action I will choose.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


During our pre-school years my cousin Sharon and I each lived for periods of time with our grandparents. Their home was a sun-filled, stucco California airplane bungalow with a wide wrap-around porch, deep lot, hydrangeas, dining room with built-in everything including a drop-front desk, a Gingham Dog and Calico Cat cream-and-sugar set in the breakfast room, monitor-top refrigerator and an basement where the washing machine was kept.
It had been at least 20 years since Sharon and I had seen each other or been in touch at all when we met again at a small family reunion our Aunt Nancy held to celebrate a visit from her last sibling, Mary Ellen. Sharon and I began to e-mail each other and discovered we shared a sense of humor, political leaning and life-long adoration of our grandparents.

Factual history and folklore combined in the roots of our grandparents' stories. Gertrude, our grandmother, was from Boston, from a lineage that reached back to the revolution. We grew up hearing that her mother had donated all the heirlooms in her possession to a museum in Massachusetts in exchange for having a portion of the building named for her. Charles, or Charlie, was our grandfather and we knew he had been a hero in World War I and two different scenarios explained his extreme sensitivity to the sun. The first was that it resulted from being mustard gassed in France (which did leave him with tuberculosis for which he was treated throughout his life). The second, the popularly-held explanation, was that he had been severely sunburned (he was Finnish, very fair-skinned to start with) when riding with General Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa. The two had met on a troop ship to the front in Europe, our grandmother a recent graduate of nursing school in Boston. Both stayed active as members of the American Legion throughout their lives and are buried in a San Diego veterans' cemetery, a choice piece of ocean-view real estate they would have enjoyed.
One night five or six years ago, I woke up having fallen asleep with the tv on. Letterman was on, his last - musical - guest having just started his song. I came in on the words "Pancho Villa," then "Black Jack Pershing" and I thought, "Grandpa." Having, at that time, the ability to record and replay, when the song ended I took it back to the beginning. Yes, that was Paul on the accordion and yes, Tom Russell's song was a tale from our genetic history. It was also, in my later interpretation, a sort of Cormac McCarthy novel set to music.
I did not call Sharon in the middle of the night, shrieking the names of Villa and Pershing and our grandfather. I waited until the next morning. She had recorded the show and could play back the song and we squealed and laughed together in recognition. We learned that Tom Russell would be appearing soon in concert in my area and she treated us to tickets. The night of the performance, as he autographed CDs during intermission, Mr. Russell was very polite as we "oh my Godded" our family tale, how his music, something which appeals to me in its own right, told a piece of our collective story. During the intervening years, Sharon had a chance to play the song for our aunt and one of her daughters. As they drove to Solvang, she started the CD and there was Grandpa, unnamed rider in a musical adventure. I imagine the volume up, maybe the windows open. It IS that kind of song, whether one of your relatives was among the horsemen or not.
Sharon resides in my mind and heart today having just come through a setback in her cancer treatment, from which I believe she will rally. Nancy has been gone for several years, Grandma and Grandpa for decades. Bless Tom Russell, a fine singer/musician/songwriter and his lively, serendipitous performance for the delight he has given all in the family who have heard him, for keeping our legends alive. We come from remarkable bravery, Sharon and I, resilience is our legacy. We have rides that await us. I'll keep the horses watered until then.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Let the sun shine

Sunny Monday. Additional mail art sent to the Postmarked 2010 exhibit and auction. Thanks for the comments about finally posting an image. Think about old dogs and new tricks.

For friends in Cleveland - and points east - my wish for electricity that stays on, the warmth of sunshine on your face and a glorious, early spring.