Saturday, December 31, 2011

This year


"Leroy says, ah, keep on rockin', girl. Yeah, keep on rockin'."

This year I remembered...I have faerie folk in my lineage.

Previously, poetry grabbed me by "the sharp lapels of my checkered coat" and this year a teacher/friend/mentor/poet/angel appeared who reminds me that I can know with my heart and need not care so much about gaps in my formal education, yet steadily, subversively, affectionately, addresses them as well.

Those who would be called angels are abundant in my life, shoring up the still-skeletal hull of this vessel I decided to build in my second-floor living room. I have their unspoken promises to help me launch it. For today, we are not required to know how. It seems I have what I need to do my work. This year delivered my two assignments: show up and get out of the way.

It is a job of paring, paring, discarding and evaluating, finding how to keep the good from being siphoned off for no purpose. This year I have begun to see options where before there appeared to be none. I make my best choice and reserve the right to change my mind.

This year, as do all my years and other measures of time, evaporated. I am less and less inclined to count or quantify, growing closer to allowing events to unfold as they do. Unfolding is not a process to be hurried. Trusting it is no job for the impatient. At times the fluid quality of my days hisses at me about idleness. It may be true but I now have just the one speed and am learning not to call it by unloving names.

There have been miracles this year, as there have in years past, whether I recognized them in the moment or needed distance to clear my vision. Either I've relaxed my earlier definition of the miraculous or, as I suspect, it is ever more plentiful. What more could be asked of any year?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

More questions: I blame Jack

Jack Skellington, the purse.

No longer one to look back on the year behind and find its faults, I am also no longer one to set impossible goals because the calendar says January 1. I do, however, have a specific question: am I, a genuine senior citizen, able to carry, happily and unapologetically, my new Jack Skellington purse to the cardiologist, etc., or do I want to keep trying for invisibility?

Jack's round face fronts a roomy bandbox-style bag with a cross-body length strap. There are four little metal feet on the bottom to keep it up out of the sludge - or germs.

In her Artist Success newsletter, Lesley Riley reminds us that life is one long continuum. She suggests that the New Year is not necessarily more auspicious as the opportunity for a fresh start than any other day, and offers three questions to act as compasses. The middle one, the one that spoke most vehemently to me, was, "...which ideas, which dreams hold the most meaning for me?" Regardless of our age, do we want to dribble away our time and creative energy on things about which we feel lukewarm? Also regardless of age, there are only so many things we can do well, so much focus to give to one or two projects. It matters that we make our time here count, however we define that.

Which brings me back to Mr. Skellington and who we believe ourselves to be, how old thought patterns and stored misinformation undermine authenticity, how to get over our own damn selves.

Having felt odd ("other") my whole life, I have also spent way too much of this fleeting existence trying to pass for regular. The gift of Jack's big, decidedly "other" head is an opportunity to meet truths about myself and my comfort levels. I do not have the answer today and I have begun to lay the diplomatic groundwork for whatever I decide. I often say, when I ask a favor of my son, knowing it may not fit with his plans but that he may squirm his way into doing it so as to be agreeable, "There is no wrong choice." We need to leave clearly marked, safe exits for us, for those around us. Choice allows dignity, being backed into a corner does not.

Whether Jack becomes a studio companion - and has already started nagging for other Nightmare Before Christmas gear to keep him company - or an age-defying fashion statement is really not the issue, though following an old pattern, I tried to turn it into one. I am at my best when I am comfortable in my otherness, without wearing the sandwich board that proclaims it. As soon as I begin to speak, a cloud of odd otherness starts seeping into the room. It can't be helped. The Jack purse was, obviously, chosen with much thought. We have a lot in common.

(Lesley Riley requests that, when sharing newsletter information, bloggers include the following, which I do with gratitude for her continuing, generous sharing of inspiration: Lesley Riley, The Artist Success Expert, is the creative founder of Artist Success, Solutions for the Struggling Artist. To receive her bi-weekly articles on creating your own success as an artist, visit ; www.ArtistSuccess.com.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why the USPS rocks



(Oh, I wish I'd been able to post the Mad Dogs and Englishmen version of this with Leon Russell, being decidedly 'elsewhere' on keyboard. Vocally, however, this is better, if not such a 1970s artifact.)

I have a story, greatly shortened to prevent boredom, about the postal service, Christmas and why the word "service" is not misplaced. There was confusion on my part and that of our letter carrier on Dec. 21 about a Priority box for which I had requested front-door pick-up, while, at the same time, putting a Priority envelope downstairs in the out-going mail. A call to the national help line, an assigned "case" number, a call (once the number was shared like a secret handshake) to our local P.O., a bit more confusion, then our regular carrier at the door around 5 p.m. to take away my package so that it could reach its destination by the 25th, with kindness and an explanation of where things had gone awry. Having learned, on Saturday, that the box arrived on the East Coast, I was surprised to receive another call from the local P.O. after 6 p.m. (Christmas eve) to be sure that the problem had at least been addressed, if not resolved. I assured them all involved had done everything to see that the mail got through in a most professional manner. It would be nice not to have good customer service in the real world come as a surprise, but it does. Thank goodness we do experience it, and I am so grateful when I do.

My next post, after I do a bit more reading, will also be about letters or postcards and more mail art. I worried that by calling I had created a problem for our carrier in uncertain times. I love snail mail, sending and receiving. I love our colorful postage stamps, that I can print out Priority labels on line and mail, from my home, packages that weigh more than 13 ounces. If you didn't send cards for any December holidays, why not send some New Year's greetings or belated Solstice wishes? Please send snail mail. Send lots. Decorate it and make it fun for all those who handle it. I can't bear to think of the USPS riding into the sunset.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

For You

From the late (and, at our house, much lamented) STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP, "The Christmas Episode" segment with New Orleans musicians, post-Katrina, playing "Oh, Holy Night." The perfect show to watch tonight. Merry Christmas, merry and peaceful December 25 and the days that surround it. Joy, love and light.

Monday, December 19, 2011

To the doodlers, the daydreamers, the lost

Copyright M. Kelly

Some words to ponder from Henry David Thoreau:

"Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves."

In my land of curious synaptical leaps, this, of course, connects to doodling. I believe unshakably that our best focus comes down to the point of a pen or pencil. There are others who share and support this notion. One of them presents her thoughts here.

Between staring out the window, my splendid view being of treetops and the sky, and doodling, I am never more than inches from a pen and paper, I could easily be chosen Least Certain to Pay Attention in any group. I maintain it is more likely that our very best ideas and interpretations come from inner-generated concepts rather than from those forced upon us by the outside world.

Doodling, or sky gazing, connect me to a fluid mental state where the obsessive and compulsive no longer exist. I am afloat on a vast Jules Verne-esque subterranean sea of imaginative no-thought. With no credentials whatsoever, I propose that we are the better, the saner, the more tranquil for time spent outside the company of conscious, purpose-filled thought. There are no lists in doodling, no clocks. The notion of here is in a state of flux, for we are free-wheelingly transported by a mind no longer under the influence of nine forward gears. (We seemed to get along very well with four, maybe five speeds, four plus overdrive in a 1956 Austin Healey 100-4. More has never meant the same as better.)

We may become lost through denial, avoidance, illness, forgetfulness, apathy, indifference and life being life. We get thrown off the bus, drummed out of the corps, abandoned, rejected, ignored, shunned and snubbed. We can also choose to be lost inside our daydreams or within the lines and shapes of doodles. Once removed from our thinking, ordinary-reality selves, we have time and space to encounter spirit. It is my theory that spirit always seeks to connect with us, to reach us beyond all that is busy and distracting, and will use whatever means are necessary. In my experience, spirit finds us through health-crises, through seismic shifts, through reversals of fortune if our attention can't be caught any other way. Or we can volunteer as doodlers and wool-gatherers and see what happens.

In her TED talk, Sunni Brown explains how doodling assists in retaining information, demonstrating how it is not a wasteful activity. Beyond that, I believe it aids us in uncovering information, allowing us access to collective knowledge or our own greater, undiscovered wisdom. By wandering away from ourselves, we are returned but at another level. Lost does not equate with emptiness. Lost is how we begin to fill.

Monday, December 12, 2011

This is NOT my studio

Photo from apartmenttherapy.com

However, in MY studio, in a drawer of quite fine papers, envelopes, valuable resource materials, I found what follows, the beginning of something. Does that happen in an orderly space, where the location of everything is known, the treasure hunt is over, there are no discoveries to be made? I think not.

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David was smiling the foolish, open-mouthed, lip-twitching smile that reminded Gloria of a dog sticking his head out a car window. She imagined she could hear him panting, the rapid, shallow breathing making his heart beat faster. David even blinked, as though the rushing air caught him by surprise.

When he smiled like that, she usually started picking on him about something, like forgetting to bring health insurance forms home from work or leaving the butter out all day. It didn't seem to her appropriate to scream, "I hate it when you smile like that." If she had, he would just blink more rapidly, shake his head and ask, "What are you talking about?"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Solid matter

While it is not what I intend, my mind has the habit of seeing things as connected. In most circumstances, I find this beneficial, even enlightening. There are moments, however, that deserve to have no ties to anything that came before. One such settled upon me this week as I opened and gazed into a box of the 50-some ready-to-stamp images (thank you Debra of Rubbermoon for the work of affixing rubber to wood), my new collection. Detaching this experience - or myself- from other debuts/releases, I was aware of how extraordinary it is to trace the process of imaginative spark becoming solid matter. Hardly an event to compare with, say, the first flight of the Space Shuttle, it is an emotion that may not stop to measure world impact. No matter what idea takes us on this journey, the transformation of electrical impulse to physical form, whether it is the work of one or many that bring it into being, ignites a sense of wonder. And appreciation.

It has taken me a long time to recognize, then own, that I have a problem with consistency. Because of that, evidence of borderline-reliable, possibly grown-up behavior takes on greater meaning. The least significant event turns me to examination of a bigger picture; if I had to write my life story today, the two key phrases that I see pulsing just above the horizon are "slippery fish" and "the bigger picture."

Life is peanut brittle before it hardens, the thick yet vaguely fluid substance peppered with bumps which it eventually wraps and includes. It flows at its own rate. It is not the fast-dispensing, watery ketchup, yet the time it takes to move from one level to another allows so much else to unfold.

The photo is shadowed, crowded, highly informal. The forensics lab would probably be very critical, yet it is evidence enough for me. I become even less focused by things that feel like a tentatively approaching cold, especially when accompanied by a cold sore that may be visible from space. We each have our unique milestones, dragons slain, peaks scaled. It matters that we acknowledge to ourselves and, as a friend calls them, enlightened witnesses that which moves us. Life is too short to take the meaningful for granted.

Copyright M. Kelly for Rubbermoon

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Visitors

(I begin with the acknowledgement that other people's dreams are probably pretty boring. If we just pretended they were fiction, fleshed them out, they might be passable. What follows are as many bits as could be gathered from a dream, held as a blog draft, never quite gotten back to. I assume there is a reason that I searched my drafts today and found this. Possibly because I had another visitation dream this week, a different friend of whose death more than 10 years ago I just learned. Are others visited in dreams by the departed, knowing in the dream that they are no longer with us here, yet awakening with the sense of having been given just a little more time in their company?)

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There is no door at the street level to keep anyone from drifting up the stairs. Our rooms are singles; we live where we work, bringing whatever aid, comfort and strength we can summon to children who wash their own tattered socks and underwear, then hang them to dry on the rusted handlebars of wheel-less bicycles at the end of the corridor.

I have another home somewhere but this seems to be where I can be found. I answer a knock on the door to my room and one of the children tells me there is someone looking for me, says he didn't want to startle me by just showing up. It is Jack and even in the dream I know that he died more than 9 years ago. And here he is in workingman clothes with smooth skin and kindness.

He has been looking for me, I know without being told. We half hug and even kiss about 80 per cent, edges of lips touching; it was never like that. Both my dream and dreaming selves feel a deep wonder, heart-stabbing, breath-stopping joy. Is he thinner, is it someone else who just reminds me, in some ways yet not others, of the man, smart and lost, whose Impala was named Magnolia, his dogs Morgan and Bodie?
Reasonable facsimile Impala, thanks to oldparkedcars.com.
His car is downstairs, he tells me, and says let's go eat. Since leaving reporting to work as a city planner, he has been the first to know about new businesses - restaurants - and become friends with the owners. He parks on the dream version of Colorado Boulevard outside a sandwich shop with a frontage no wider than two bodies. They know him, greet him, show us to a table - the inside not much more spacious than the entry suggested - and he orders for us...pork sandwiches, Cuban, Mexican, I'm not sure, but spicy, on fresh-baked, thick bread. In moments of the dream he is more Jack; as I work to remember it, he becomes more slight, quavering almost, yet his essence true.

As we drive from the restaurant, I ask him what writers I have to read before my days run out; who is essential. I say I've never read Joyce, never read Faulkner. He answers but in a voice so soft that I have to lean closer and ask him to say it again. He talks about who were his favorites; says something about Joyce that makes me laugh. Then we are walking on streets near City Hall where he once worked. He tells me he has found free parking, since the meters are now so expensive. What he had done is bury his car in the plantings along the north side of the abandoned YWCA building. I never learn what I must read.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Borrowed delight and birthday wishes

As it is now Dec. 8 in West Australia, I can wish my brother Mike a Happy Birthday. And I have just the new acquaintances to help launch his celebrations.

Penelope at Rosa Mira Books has obtained the assistance of Ratty as the whole of her Sales Department. In words and engaging illustrations, we learn that Ratty and his exotic Lily, a Pink Fairy Armadillo, have increased the customer roster and shared adventures.


Images, characters by Penelope/Rosa Mira Books.

The warmth and whimsey of Penelope's inventions have the capacity to charm, as a friend of mine says, the ginger out of a gingersnap. That they help promote her publishing endeavor as it nears its first birthday makes them all the more inspired. Please visit Lily, Ratty and Penelope at her blog, discover her titles and authors, leave comments and bookmark the site for return visits. As we in America are clubbed senseless by uninspired advertising, offering new automobiles as the Christmas gift of greatest choice, an entirely different approach has been minted in the southern hemisphere.

And to my brother, who will find kindred spirits, I know, as each new chapter of Ratty's and Lily's story unfolds, the best of all years. From our Los Angeles childhoods, here is Sheriff John with a portion of his unforgettable birthday song. May you sing and play the day away.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Discord and harmony



There are 1,551 words about Robbie Robertson's song, The Weight in the Wikipedia entry. Robertson has a fan site that details the beginnings of The Band, origin of this classic.

Beyond having loved this song for years, hearing it performed by this group causes me to think more of the word harmony, and, by association, discord. The following fact will reveal me as the para-amnesiac I am. I forget to listen to music.

There is a history behind this which is complicated and of very little interest. Though I do sing when my tasks don't require all of my attention, I've grown away from a habit of intentionally brightening my life with music. I am working on doing that differently.

A friend's mention of Gillian Welsh led me to YouTube just before sleep last night, and I found the blended voices created a sense that was soothing, stilling, like a laying-on-of-hands. So much of what simply comes at us without our consent results in an effect so contradictory it seems almost too simple that, under the right conditions, with proper input, we can feel some of our overload drain away.

Doing Christmas, for that is how it feels, in a fashion that comes close to matching what is in my heart and not that toadstool-sprouting part of my mind, is a process of ignoring, avoiding and dismissing all that gives me the December whim-whams. It is a process of pruning, selecting, identifying and savoring, not getting caught up in what could set my hair on fire or reduce me to tears. The fact that the NBA lockout is over and Christmas day will include BASKETBALL is no small joy.

That this is no longer the 1950s, that I don't have, really, such things as Christmas wishes that involve gifts, that many pieces of the coming few weeks are very different than they once were do not grieve me any more. I have almost come to tolerate my indecision and pokiness about the gifts I make which are often delivered late. Christmas waits on the other side of a narrow plank that I cross with great care; care enhanced by harmony, by willfully remembering about music (not Christmas music), by taking suggestions from trusted friends as to what are reliable sources of peace, lowerers of blood pressure, raisers of spirits.

Discord can be measured by how far we tilt away from what is nourishing and mistake the mediocre - or worse - for a prevailing norm. We are intended, I absolutely believe, to be as unjangled as possible in each moment. The firm, gentle banishment of frenzy is to be sought not only in the midst of other people's aggressive jitterbug competitions, but daily, year 'round. It is a word upon which to ponder: harmony. Like any old friend, we will know it at once, no matter how long we've been apart.