Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Operating speed: slow

From "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas."
It was Monday night before we got around to watching a long-time, joy-affirming holiday favorite.  I think we discovered "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas" when it was among the discs that came with the revolutionary RCA video disc player, available to employees at the NBC Family Store in the 1980s, exact year long forgotten.  The Jim Henson production would not, I fear, be funded by any current tv network.  Puppets, I hear people shriek.  Puppets, indeed, who can roll out pie dough, scrub clothes on a washboard, hammer a nail and row a boat.  Puppets telling a slightly scruffy human story, simple and kind.

My one speed, slow, allows for just so many activities, chores, thoughts and still pauses in any given day.  Because slow and gentle seem to prefer each others' company, I've chosen to leave behind some old ways of being and doing.  While on hold two days ago for my health care provider, returning a call that caused me anxiety since I had no idea what it was about, I realized the tension that overtook me used to be the norm.  Agitation was my common state and assuming that whatever was up for scrutiny or discussion, I'd done it wrong, was always my first quess.  For the few moments I hovered there in uncertainty, I could feel how wrong that place was.  I was aware of the cumulative damage that results from chronic anxiety.  What a gift to be a permanent resident there no longer.

We are intended, I believe, to be softer, more yielding, far more flexible and forgiving that most of us started out to be.  None of this, life, is a race or competition.  Between thoughts of "let it go" and "don't take it up in the first place," I've found peaceful states which I still regard with occasional suspicion.  What sorcery is this?

New Year's resolutions lost their luster some years ago.  A day is a day, each one an opportunity to begin again.  During those day, I am strengthened by hanging out with the likes of Emmet Otter and his Ma, their philosophical acceptance of unplanned outcomes making room for bright happenstance.  I am shored up against unfavorable winds by laughter and norty weasels, then quieted by applying color pencils to papers with a smooth finish and some silly stamped images. 

Sleep makes me happy, almost absurdly so, for it feels like such a luxury and costs nothing.  Can this be?  Remaining present takes focus and practice.  There will always be something shiny to distract me, something shiny or sinister and I am healthier, stronger, for ignoring its stage whispers.

I speak to myself, not in harsh terms, before I've taken too many steps into a matter which hasn't arrived yet, notice when I droop from regret or remorse for the unchangeable past.  Though I may refer to myself with some irony as "jittery," I am less prone to the whim-whams than I used to be.  On the cusp of 70, I feel alternately foolish as I imagine new ventures and heartened by the ability even to consider them.

Thank you for your visits and comments.  Let's have a group dance to celebrate our various triumphs.
 


Monday, December 29, 2014

Word of the Week - 43

Word of the Week:  ASPIRE

I find hope to be a sturdy, inspirational tool.  I believe that pretty much anything can happen, including impossible things, and what I may not be doing or creating today is no indicator of what I may be capable of tomorrow, or even later this afternoon.  What do they say?  It is never too late to become who you might have been.  I aspire to reach beyond this moment, in ways imagined as well as unimaginable, while simultaneously learning to be content with what is.  We are all contortionists in training, planted in the present, extending our vines toward the future. 

A unicycle rider on a tightrope is no less challenged by balance than any earthbound dreamer.  How do we savor contentment with now, full of gratitude, while still reaching for more.  We plot, sketch, envision, write lists, make wishes and, in my case, inch ahead with a new medium, an unfamiliar form of expression.  It may be age, it may be caution, it may be fatigue which causes me to proceed slowly, regardless of the heat generated by enthusiasm.  From here I can see where I'd like to be, see what the finished work looks like, yet how it feels is that in order to get there I first have to machete a path through the undergrowth, clear a campsite and then with a stilled mind set to the task.  Knowing that I am the thorny shrubs through which I must navigate does not make it any easier.  There is more peace-making to be done, more compassion required, certainly more patience.  I will always be the child who grows more stubborn when jerked by the arm. 

When observing or reading of others' forward sprints, it is a challenge not to compare, an act which invariably finds me finishing well out of the money.  We late bloomers, I hope one day to be their poster child, awaken, arise and advance in a fashion that often draws eye rolls and sighs of exasperation from those of swifter foot.  Hope and aspiration are companions for the long haul.  We are comfortable sitting in occasional silence, quietly cheering the sun across the sky, knowing the road goes on forever.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

How the weasels reinvented Christmas

The nativity, err, um nortivity, as enacted by weasels from Celestine and the Hare.
New rabbit, M. Kelly.
In the weeks leading to Christmas, I fell under the spell of a FB page called Celestine and the Hare.  Created by felting artist Karin of Monmouth, Wales, it is home to her felted creatures including a great many weasels and the stories and videos of their antics.  It seemed the antics reached a pinnacle during the holidays with an animated advent calendar and ongoing saga of the animals' attempt to stage a nativity pageant.  Karin added to my vocabulary with her words "norty" (translation: naughty), and "choklit" and "sekrits," of which there were many at this time of year.

Finding her page, looking forward each day to generously and frequently posted photos, videos and accounts of nortiness, I abandoned myself to the magic of play, of silliness and the delight of surprise as a child might experience it.  Celestine gave me a world in which I did not have to believe that Christmas wonder was solely a thing of the past.  I laughed out loud every morning and read comments from others who were doing the same.  With a lightened heart, I drew the softer rabbit (above) and began to experiment with a slightly altered illustration style.

There was emotion connected to this Christmas, welcome, warm feelings, that nearly undid me.  To take in the miracles, the magic, the quiet yet bursting gladness, demanded, still demands, stillness and sleep.  What is enormous cannot be digested quickly.  As the metaphors rage on, I have the sense of being a river reduced by drought to a narrow and turgid pretender, which suddenly gains volume and again races swiftly, reaching from bank to bank.

A dormant or possibly missing aspect of me-doing-Christmas was revived or restored, as though through elfin craftiness, by a combination of surprises and benevolence.  That renewed, low-key glee continues to require a soft tread, an avoidance of sudden, startling moves, not because I fear it will flee but to acknowledge its precious nature.  I continue to be a mystery to myself, as does the Christmas of a seriously mature adult.   So little, really, is what we once thought it to be.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Word of the Week - 42


Van Morrison sings "Caravan" from the Martin Scorsese documentary THE LAST WALTZ.  Van the Man.  Wholehearted.  Not a lukewarm performance to be found in the whole blessed movie. 

Word of the Week - ARDENT

It is the Solstice night as I write this, time of the new moon, beginning of the return of the light.  We have been reminded throughout the day about setting our minds to new ways of being, of doing.  If we remain or become ardent, how can we go wrong.  Ardent, fervent, passionate.  Aflame, unbounded, electric, aglow, burning.

Music and musicians, color and color and color.  Tepid is not the temperature we require to carry us across winter's dark expanse.  Caliente, all spice and tang, flavor and, again, color.  We cannot find our way by candles too dim.  What we need is emphatic, even extreme.  We will not melt our own frozen beliefs without turning up the heat.  Our rigid joints will not loosen without a glow that matches the sun.
If luggage can be ardent, here it is.
Yes, I covet this vintage English watercolor box.  I covet it ardently.
Oh, fortunate possessor.
Oaxaca pillows.
On the longest night of the year, even Los Angeles yearns for a hearth with warming flames.  Heat in its dazzling manifestations expands us, will not let us shrink nor be less than we are.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Reading Man remembers readings past

Dylan Thomas
As it was wont to do, Mr. Apotienne's mind had again run off with him.  Kidnapped, he thought, Robert Lewis Stephenson, spirited away  He wasn't aware of the abduction while it was in progress, only noticed after the fact, reacting like a chloroform victim just regaining his senses.  All it took was thinking about the fairy lights, how they would not-quite illuminate the dance site.  Summer fairy lights led him to memories of Christmas lights.  He weighed the image of tonight's warm, firefly-like glow against reflections on rain-puddled asphalt.
Photo by Hanna Gordon-Smith.
He had nearly lost heart for Dylan Thomas during his years of membership in one Unitarian Universalist Church.  Each summer before his sabbatical - and don't think there wasn't grumbling about a contract which gave an annual sabbatical - the minister, in costume, gave a reading from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  On Christmas eve, when he could have read them Dickens or the newspaper editor's essay which affirmed, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," or, perhaps, the Bible,  he read to them from "A Child's Christmas in Wales."  Eventually Mr. Apotienne stopped attending. 

Robert arrived at the church near the end of the previous minister's tenure, stayed based on a spirit of compassion and good works that he modeled.  And he continued when Dr. Harmon retired, determined to give the new man a chance. But as each Christmas began to shine on the horizon, Robert's spirits started to sink.  He wished for just a bit more of the absent fragrant greens, "God bless us every one," singing of the carols he'd learned in grade school and less of what came on him like frostbite, an extinguishing of his cheerful flame.  He nearly grew to loathe Thomas and the story.  He developed an aversion. 

His nostalgia was for Perry Como,  department store Santas, decorations from the five-and-dime and a mug of cocoa consumed at a formica-topped kitchen table.  Of course one couldn't blame Dylan Thomas for an emotionless, husk-dry recitation of a work that in the hands of another would be stirring, visually rich and could speak, child to child across the years.  Those nights when he wished for a semi-adult version of visions of sugarplums, even the strands of white lights woven through the parking lot oak tree seemed like part of  a Russian landscape seen from the night train to St. Petersburg.

Then Robert shook himself, or was it a shiver, and focused on where he was - now - and what awaited. He'd allowed himself a respite from thoughts about THE DANCE.  He identified with Jason Robard's speech as Ben Bradlee on the front lawn in his bathrobe in ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, telling Woodward and Bernstein that, "...there's nothing riding on this except, uh, the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country."  No wonder he needed to wander off for a while.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Word of the Week - 41

Word of the Week:  WOBBLE

From 1940 until 1966, Pasadena was home of the Winter Garden, a vast-seeming, free-standing ice rink that briefly served as location for a live weekly music-and-ice-skating tv show called Frosty Frolics.  That was around 1951.  I think it must have run a bit longer than the one year, for I remember it, and Your Hit Parade, as family viewing.  Frosty Frolics was likely the inspiration, however wrong-minded, for my one attempt at ice skating.  Weak ankles, my neighbor and friend Susie Miller declared.  That I went on, not too far into the future,  to dance en pointe never quite erased the sense of failure brought on by ankles that wobbled.  My very first time, yet my inability to achieve instant perfection kept me from trying again, even wanting to try again.  I also never learned to ride a bicycle.
I am grateful to have survived childhood without any bullying that I can remember.  I was capable of creating that sense of insufficiency unaided through harsh and unreasonable comparisons.  Susie and I were sidewalk roller skating pals and I did not wobble on four wheels.  I was solid and not accident prone.  I was also timid about activities that seemed - and sometimes were - dangerous and felt myself shrink in stature as others plunged into new adventures.  Unknown at that time was my future assignment as a contemplative.  The things I couldn't do well mattered more than talents I couldn't name or understand.  Had it not been for ballet, for dancing in general, for hopscotch, jump robe and being moderately okay at baseball, I would have been an elementary school dud.  Dodge ball was scary and playground equipment (probably now against the law) like the rings, and bars (the dreaded "skin the cat," in which I hated being upside down), and such gave me the heebie-jeebies.

There is, I swear, something about emotions that accompany the onset of Christmas that bring up memories, welcome or not.  For the moment I trust that these thoughts of, if not humiliation, then certainly not triumph have come to be acknowledged and released.  They've been taking up shelf space for far too long.  I still wobble, only now I wobble better.  I have become the definition of wobbling.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Covering buttons with image transfers

Some of my fabric covered buttons created with iron-on photo transfers.

Seeing the hand-embroidered buttons shared yesterday on FB by curator extraordinaire, Folt Bolt, reminded me that I used to dabble in buttonry.
A wealth of glorious embroidered buttons, not done by me.
The photo transfer samples shown at the top of the page were included in Lynne Perrella's rich volume, "Artists' Journals and Sketchbooks."  Following are the directions I gave.

Fabric-transfer-covered buttons

For this project you'll need forms for covered buttons in assorted sizes.  If you haven't covered buttons before, be sure to follow the instructions on the packages.  You can get starter packs, which contain the pattern size and the mold into which you press the fabric and button blank.  You'll need plain cotton fabric, such as muslin, and photos of faces.

1. Plan the look of your buttons by selecting images of faces and sizing them to fit.  Include enough of the image to fill the entire button, plus the margin that gets turned under to construct the covered button.  Make color copies of these images.

2. Cut out and paste these copies onto a master sheet of paper, allowing sufficient space between images for the diameter of the temple you'll use for each one.

3. Copy the master sheet of paper onto iron-on fabric transfer stock.  (In the old days, I had them copied at Kinko's.)

4. From the fabric transfer stock, cut each button-cover-to-be to size using the template from the kit, centering the face in the middle.  You can copy the paper template onto clear plastic or acetate to make placement easier.

5. To transfer, set a dry iron on the cotton setting, place the transfer stock image side down over your fabric, and iron with a blank sheet of paper or bit of fabric covering the transfer paper, moving the iron in a circular motion for about 20 seconds.  You can test an edge of the transfer to see that it has worked.

6. Peel the transfer stock away from the fabric to reveal your clear image.

7. Follow the directions provided in the button covering kit, cut the fabric to size, press in mold and, voila.   You can use images in addition to photos, such as your own illustrations.  Be mindful of copyright.

Lynne's book has a two-page spread about image transfers, text and samples of each technique.

In the years since Quarry published "Artists' Journals and Sketchbooks," there have been many fine volumes produced on the practice of journal-keeping.  Because of the vast diversity of styles and techniques shared, I think Lynne's book is timeless.  It presents the work of 40 artists and, in browsing through it this morning, I remembered how many projects I've yet to try.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Word of the Week - 40

All art today is the work of Australian Cate Edwards.  The link shows her work much larger than it can be displayed here.
Word of the Week:  TONIC

The art of Cate Edwards revives me, it puts back together parts that have gone asunder.  In her color, lines, shapes, patterns, figures, faces and wordless stories I regroup and find the world as I wish it to be.  There are precarious rides, curious submergings and what appears to be considerable wild abandon, in the best, most life-affirming sense.

In the world away from images that support my soul, I find these to be dark and troubling times.  It may be that times are always dark and troubling.  What I know is my energy and a version of sanity are better served by stepping back from public debate.  I choose not to express outrage through social media.  I prefer to bring light of a sort.  As a friend wisely wrote a day or so ago, art will not save us but it may cushion the fall.  Art gives us everything it has, whether we create it or observe.  Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  Right now, this is the way I can practice such advice.
I would love to be one of Cate Edwards' humans, to inhabit a flowered bowl, pose with my swimsuit-clad sisters near a pool or the sea, commune with other Earth creatures, continually surprised by the circumstance in which we find ourselves.  Her work proves to me the connection between eyes and heart for as I scan her leaves and flowers, ornaments, marks and groupings, I have a physiological response, a quickened pulse, accompanied by a sense of longing.  I want this to be our world.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Back to basics

They say there are things you never forget how to do no matter how long it's been.  I was beginning to wonder if I'd lost my drawing mojo, untapped for more than a year - or so it seemed - after nearly two decades of designing rubber stamps.  It had been that long since I'd drawn.  It was a fumbling, discouraging start for I stepped away from what had always worked best.  Instead of starting out with the Micron Pigma .005 and just going for it, I tried sketching in pencil.  I am a chronic over-sketcher and my heart began to sink.  Then I tried working with the pen on too-textured paper and color pencil and the results, in a word, stank.  High anxiety.  I found a different pad, a good heft to the paper but not too much texture on the back side.  Pulled out pencils in colors that had never been used - Albrecht Durer from Faber Castell in light cadmium red, among others - pure heaven.

It may be that I, or most of us humans, are chronic amnesiacs and need to return again and again as though for the first time to what grips us most passionately.  We need to fall in love anew, afresh, with what nourishes us at our very core.  Winter sun on the sharpened point of an Albrecht Durer light cobalt turquoise was as pleasing as cafe au lait sipped above a clear Mediterranean inlet.  I am not hard to please.

No matter what or who has been left too long on the shelf or in the rain, return.  Resume.  You will find your path.  What you need will be there.  A self-proclaimed fool in countless survivable ways, I truly believe it is never too late for anything that really matters.  Trust in mysterious ways.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Word of the Week - 39

Painting by Spanish artist, Dino Valls.
Word(s) of the Week: SEASONAL AMBIVALENCE

Even before Thanksgiving the fidgeting part of my brain started making trouble.  It decided the only thing that would feel like the Christmas it thought it needed was to have it be 1958 again.  I could be 13, my 8-year-old sister and I could ride the bus downtown to shop at the dime stores, then have cokes and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch at Woolworth's counter.  Even though I'd be past the age of actually, actually believing in Santa, I would still be years away from being able to sleep through the night on Christmas eve.
Not the Pasadena Woolworth's, this was downtown L.A., "longest lunch counter in the world."
It is the same fidgeting subdivision that started a feud with Christmas after my son was terribly ill in the hospital for most of December eight years ago.  The lights, the music on the radio, the sight of shoppers or diners through restaurant windows as I drove home to our empty apartment all those nights became intolerable.  I didn't want to be reminded of a fear so deep.  Christmas became the fall guy.  Which, as I was cluelessly unaware, made his first, second, etc., Christmas less than festive for my son who only wanted to celebrate as normally, joyfully, as possible after his ordeal.  He was thrilled to be here in fine fettle as each new December rolled around.  I wanted to sleep from October until April. 
Painting by Amanda Blake.
Time, meditation and coming to my senses have helped lift that soggy blanket from my shoulders.  While my energy and health, our fortunes, are not as they once were, our capacity for gladness seems robust.  Since love is one of my year-round antidotes for sinking spells, along with beauty and music, I am aware of an even stronger urge to fling it far and wide, a continually thrown bride's bouquet, as the year closes.

We all become confused at times, forgetting that nothing is ever really as much about what we receive as what we give.  Seeing familiar and difficult dates cycle back to us on the calendar does not mean they will batter us anew.   That I am not 13 is no impediment to glimpsing, sensing the magic I've always connected to these days when night falls early and the nostalgic glow of Christmas lights (I could never decide which was my favorite color) keeps warm the dreams in our child hearts.