What Comes to Mind at the River

Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life.  Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.

My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting?  Why don’t you paint?”  and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself.  As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”

I will paint again.  But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego.  It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment.  It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together.  My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached.  I was terrified in front of blank canvases.  I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed.  I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.”  I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone.  She explained how those muscles work.  She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.

Now…did the painting really stop?  I argue, “No”.  I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape.  It just happened.  It happened at the reading of two poems, the first,  The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering.  I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio.  This is the painting…

Wolf

 

and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou.  I’m including her words, here.  I hope you will read them.

In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.

 Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.

 The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.

 The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.

 I know them as mountains.  I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs.  They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.

 This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash.  Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen.        Be mindful.

 The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it.  Make joyous noise if you want to be herd.  Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.

 She moves.  She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth.  The calf moves (as my son once did)  deep in the dreaming place.  The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her     moving.

 Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky :  clear as mountain water scythes the earth.

 Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form-    coming through the trees.

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

 Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs.  To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play.  To each, the necessary silence.

 Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate.  Allow a wild glimpse of self.

 When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.

 The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…

 …coming together is a song I cannot bear for long.  Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

 His brow is unfurrowed.  Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.

 Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

 He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.

 Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.

 If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?

 A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.

 Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into –  Amid bone, snow and stone –   caribou.  The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.

 Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below.  The words to the poem are written into the painting.  It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.

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So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter.  It might take a lifetime to make sense of it.  I don’t know.  But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK!  I write!

Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting,  has made for this wondrous life of mine.  It’s taken me out into the landscape.  It’s caused me to notice more.  It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer,  Jack Breakfast.

And this morning, I met Doug Newman.  It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man.  The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river.  There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone.  Max and I headed out.

This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.

I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.

From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…

Q: In the book there’s a list, the “Pantheon of Smallness,” in which you compare items such as blackbirds and Rembrandt’s etching. Equating the arts with nature was deliberate, no?

A: It was. It was also a bit playful. I wanted the readers to come in and fill in their own ideas. The Pantheon of Smallness was a way of thinking about smallness differently. Sometimes we make small things, sometimes there are small bird songs, but it can have an enormous impact. Sometimes you have to whisper to be heard. Our culture is very much one of “bigging it up,” always upping the noise level in order to produce a louder signal. What you see in the bird world is sometimes that the smallest tweet can actually pierce through the cacophony in a different way. That became a metaphor for thinking about art. Emily Dickinson did quite miniature work that had a very profound, almost epic, impact, culturally speaking.

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While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens.  I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs.  I saw him pan as geese took flight.  I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time.  Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.

It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds.  We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments.  It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day.  It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement.  He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Poems of Clea Roberts

The poetry of Clea Roberts has been a source of great inspiration since attending a Wordfest session, Into the Quiet, this year.  Every poem is an elegant string of words, sparse but potent.  I am left, after reading, with a sense of wonderment about this world of ours.

Because of the immediacy of social media, I have been able to access other people’s travel, adventure and world exploration over months and years…Nepal, Venice, Spain, Croatia, Haida Gwaii.  I get the sense of how vast our life experiences can be…to eat seafood in Japan, observe the art of the masters in far off galleries, stand at the top of the Empire State building.  I enjoy all of this very much.  It all comes into my home, while I sit in my pyjamas at the keyboard, with my cup of coffee on the desk, to my right.

However, nothing moves me more than these poems.  Because somewhere in these images, lies the remembrance of camping with my parents, the smell of woodfires burning, the soft conversations as neighbours drift off to sleep.  The childhood listening.

It was some years ago that I spent time observing this schematic, the scale of the universe.  I realized even before encountering this illustration that just as there are so many more places to explore beyond our own communities, there are a multitude of places to visit in our own intimate surroundings, and to go deeper still, there are internal landscapes to explore.  The universe offers so many compelling and endless possibilities for discovery that it is an easy thing to become fascinated with the world that lives even on the petals of a flower.

The poems of Clea Roberts take me to that beautiful intimate place of connection in a much smaller place, full of limitless possibilities.

In the meantime, for two weeks, I have been observing a single Horned Grebe on a pond, hoping to capture a just one focused photograph.  I have watched muskrats frantically building winter homes in the cattails on the north side of the fence while bulldozers plow and reshape former dwellings.  I see miracles every evening as the sun begins to set.

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One poem to share this morning…from Auguries by Clea Roberts

If Suddenly My Dreams Are Premonitions

There is music or
there is snow falling
on the white-tailed deer.

They strip the ash berries
with precise, needful tugs.

There is music or
there is the gliding silence
between their hoofbeats
as the wind changes.

An introduction is made.
A small part of me
goes with them.

 

Where I Live Now by Sharon Butala

It was 1996 when I received the gift of Perfection of the Morning from a friend.  Sharyn had grown to mean so much to me over the years, having taught my children and worked along side me for the strength of Fine Arts in Education.  Her gift was a blessing and I began to list Sharon Butala as one of my favourite authors.  I felt Butala’s work really move my life forward in positive and meaningful ways.  Interesting that yesterday, when I looked over my shoulder from the front of the crowded room at the Fish Creek CPL, I should see Sharyn sitting in the back row.

The book on the program for readings and discussion was Sharon Butala’s Where I Live Now.  I was flanked on either side by two dear friends, Pat on one side and Denise on the other.  I had never met the author and was beyond excited, packing up all of my books for Sharon’s generous signing before the session began.  Because Denise knows Sharon personally, it felt as though I was sitting down next to a friend when she sat in the front row, with my stack in front of her.

This short post is a snapshot of the afternoon, not so much a personal book review, although as I’ve written on this blog since 2005, there are posts along the way that were impacted by my readings of Butala’s books…one being Wild Stone Heart and Other Matters.

Art to Adore

The Globe and Mail review, written by Alix Hawley, eloquently expresses…

For all that, Where I Live Now isn’t a map of grief’s progress in the mode of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, to which it refers several times. Butala’s quiet and unusual book is an excavation of the Prairies, rural life and, above all, herself. She declares: “With this memoir, I hereby claim forever my portion of that country whose many layers … still resonate in my imagination.” She also claims an archeological knowledge of her own soul, now that she is in her mid-70s, and the right to take us through it. We’re lucky to go along.

And that is how I felt yesterday…blessed…enriched…treated to a very special moment on a Sunday afternoon.  Sharon’s eyes lit up as she enthusiastically described her experiences on the ranch, her memories, transitions and disappointments. In good humoured and delightful fashion, she talked about the prizes of writing and the surprises of writing. Vulnerable, she spoke of loneliness, identity, and hope.  The topics in discussion were ones that often cross my mind as a 62 year old woman, single in the world.

I think that one of my favourite moments, related to the book, was the recollection of the special day when Sharon edged the top of a ridge, to look down and see her husband, Peter, sleeping in the grass in one of the fields…I felt as though she had let us in to a very private and pivotal moment in her experience.  I felt very touched by that.

I enjoy the company of my friends and treasured conversations with Denise, Pat and Sharyn.  What a lovely way to spend Sunday afternoon.  Thanks again, CPL.

The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King

I still had 100 pages to read when I drove north to the Forest Lawn Branch of the Calgary Public Library to participate in a reading circle with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI.  These meetings are aptly titled, Chapters and Chat Meetings and the book up for discussion on my birthday was The Back of The Turtle by Thomas King.

I poured myself a hot cup of coffee and filled my plate with fresh vegetables, fruit and dip and made myself comfortable in a circle of, this month, ten people.  I was pleased to meet up with friend, Roberta, a writer I recently connected with at a Jazz event.

Michelle Robinson The Back of The Turtle

Photo Credit: Michelle Robinson (group leader and inspiration)

The meetings are always full of discussion and they ground themselves in truth and honesty.  Every person’s voice is heard respectfully and I find this process very powerful and helpful in my quest to understand and respect diversity in every aspect of life in contemporary society.  Some of the discussions that took place, this week, included science and the silencing of scientists, reconciliation and healing and the ‘Stereotypes in Toeshoes’, and a follow-up discussion about Joseph Boyden; his writing, self-identification and the CPL session of a couple of weeks ago.  A very interesting exchange of ideas.

Yesterday, I finished the book, The Back of the Turtle, and thought I’d write a brief comment.  In the end, I’ve decided that this is a beautiful novel…an easy read…nothing too complex and yet, lovely, for its setting and its contemporary challenges to the reader.  The book moves easily back and forth between Dorian’s struggles as they unfold in the role of CEO for a BIG corporation and Gabriel’s struggles as they unfold for a ‘guilt-filled’ scientist in a formerly-idyllic and Eden-like setting named Samaritan Bay.  Even the turtles have gone.

Thomas King writes a novel that offers the reader inroads to a mythological place through a combination of Christian and indigenous narratives.  He warms the heart with such rich characters as Soldier and Sonny.  He describes an intricate and symbolic beacon of hope, eventually constructed on the beach.  It is a story of optimism, in the face of utter destruction.

I loved the very heart-breaking description of the mother turtle, the empty aquarium, the empty houses…

I liked the story of The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.  Donna Rosenberg has recorded anthologies of myths from all over the world.  Very little is published about her biographically.  I wanted to link up to a version of this myth so that my readers might enjoy.

I liked the book.

For next month, we are reading The Inconvenient Indian by the same author.

The Back of the Turtle

It’s Been This Kind of Day

I have to thank my new birder-friend, Bob, for his share of the story of Mrs. Shoveler on the Bird’s Calgary site, today.

I began writing on-line in 2005. In writing to an ‘imagined’ public, I discovered a public voice.  I learned to write about events that took place in my rather simple life in a way that could be explored and shared with any reader. There was a line that I refused to cross, a line that delved into the realm of the very personal.  I’ve enjoyed learning to narrate my life, while reigning in my voice to a degree.  In my head, I always remarked, “Only write what you feel anyone could read.”  I suppose the closest I ever came to crossing that line was at the loss of my mother.

I was in my father’s office, at the computer desk, the summer of her passing.  It was so bloody humid.  Dad tried to keep me from opening the windows because we had to have air conditioning or we were going to melt!  Whenever I would sit to write at the computer, I would secretly slide the window open to the right of me…in the night time, there was such stillness…not a breeze.  I remember writing this.

A lot of bloggers get weary of the process of writing after a while, but for some reason, I find the flow of evening-writing,  a wonderfully relaxing practice.  My initial story of Mrs. Shoveler and my effort to retrieve her from a small piece of open water achieved over 400 hits in an hour after publication.  I know.  I know.  I don’t really have a swollen head over this.  It’s not what the on-line crowd would call ‘going viral’, but, I was deeply touched that so many readers care about wildlife enough and in this case, a hen Northern Shoveler, that they would peruse the events that took place in the bitterly cold days of last December.  The follow-up story, involving the re-appearance of this dear bird, sent the numbers soaring yet again.

Well, today, with gratitude to Birds Calgary, more readers have visited and I’ve really enjoyed comments and messages and reactions.  So, readers, thank you for all of that.

This was my day…while Max and I played in snow and I met Abir again, after so long, and I made and enjoyed such a beautiful stew…while every thing was happening in my life, this is what was going on in the hum of the background.

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Writing on the Studio Wall

I have a long history of writing on walls.  But, what a friend recently told me is that Sharpie fades and will only last so long on drywall. (this explains why my affirmations, written on my bathroom wall in metallic gold pen, have begun to disappear)  So, as I looked at my studio walls, I DID realize that many of the original song lyrics and early writings of friends have begun to disappear.  I have documented these so that as they fade, they can be remembered as they become a part of the history of place.

I’ll begin with the most recent signing…that of my furnace tech, having just cleaned out my furnace and vents for this year.

If you do not see your writing on my wall, it is time for a studio visit!  Scout…looking for your writing. ;0)

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I need to change my filter more often.

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Annie Lennox: The Saddest Song I’ve Got (yup…sometimes when you’re painting, you feel sad and I would have been playing this CD while I painted, likely after I saw her playing a concert with Sting.)

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My oldest Kananaskis Country map plastered on the studio wall. I think about the mountains whenever I’m not in them. When I thought to, I recorded the odd hike…just so that I could remember the circumstance. Most times I forgot.

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Oh my gosh…winter hot dog roast at Sandy McNabb…that was a long time ago! I DID DO RAE GLACIER again!

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I didn’t keep this up…but, I thought it would be cool to list the new CDs that came into the studio. Don’t know what the Martha Stewart Wedding memo was about.

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This boy has a big influence on me. He got over some addictions. He helped me recently.

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Alan put up some shelves in the studio when I first built it…now, that was a long time ago! It seems we reused wood. I painted it up and it looked great. I remember when the studio was empty.

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Pat, from the Ironwood, was out with another buddy. I was bugging him about the fact that when the move happened from the present day Blue’s Can, they took Mussels off the menu. We were drinking wine in the studio that evening. These things happen.

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My niece, Mandi, wrote beautiful words for me on the morning of my first born’s wedding…and it’s almost impossible to read them anymore. I treasure them and always will. I send her love, abundant love.

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Bee, my dancing partner, when there’s good Honky Tonk music playing, continuously shares hilarious bits of blah blah…usually, I write them down.

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Oh, good grief…weird stuff ends up hung on my studio wall, but, I am always prepared. Nothing’s worse than having to leave a painting, in order to floss your teeth…and times wasted looking for it.

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Oh my gosh…I was obsessed with getting large storage for my big canvases. Thank you to all my friends and family who had to listen to my musings on this subject and to the two men who eventually built them. I’ve been afraid that they are going to fall on me while I paint, ever since. lol

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Yes, I was this obsessed. To the right, a beautiful mosaic created by a Larche artist, a gift from Father Clair Watrin a zillion years ago.

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One view of the storage that I love so much.

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The other side…

 

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Chris and Clayton…former students. Every so often the kids come back to visit…they’re both grown up now. We don’t forget, though. Proud of both of these dudes.

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Broken hearted, I cut three travel journals up into little squares, when my trucker boyfriend dumped me over the telephone. (I may as well be honest). Chances are that if you’ve got one of my paintings since 2006, one of these squares is buried in your painting. I thought it would be good to send a bit of my heart out with each new piece…the nice thing to announce is that it barely hurts at all any more. This is what happens with broken heartedness.

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Awe…my cousin, Clayton, just before he headed out for a huge walk for the support the Kidney Foundation? Correct me, if I’m wrong, Clay. Karina and Clayton…a gift to share an evening with them.

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Jen Hall took the first and only ‘real’ portrait that I’ve had done of me…and Max…and she documented a few paintings for me. She’s awesome.

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I have a habit of picking up things in old frames, especially if they look like they were hung in some one’s kitchen for a zillion years…where mayhaps tea was served and ladies talked.

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I read stuff about our animal/bird/insect/plant species that are in trouble…I clip them here…I don’t want to forget. Some of these land in paintings…it all depends what I’m thinking about at the time.

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My son….he was my very young batman…he wanted to keep everyone safe and happy and calm. These are two of my favourite photos of him. The other one…well, you saw it earlier.  James and sister, Cayley, at Angel Glacier.

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Yeah…more journal squares…a piece from Ashleigh Bartlett’s workshop at Esker…more salvaged religious memorabilia from the second hand stores…a postcard of Tim Belliveau’s glass…my all time favourite glass artist.

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Book suggestions…words from my sister-in-law, Grace. Aaron, Angela and Wisdom visited me and took away my teaching table so that I would never, again, be tempted to teach in the studio, but instead, paint.

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Yes…my daughter’s wedding. Trying to remember neighbour’s names…

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Karina…beautiful. I wish more of my relations from Raymond and Lethbridge and Magrath would stop in for visits. Love them so much.

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Youngest person to visit my studio…Wisdom is growing up so fast. Love the Sponge Bob!

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Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman Read it! WHEN the true poet comes, how shall we know him— By what clear token,—manners, language, dress? Or shall a voice from Heaven speak and show him: Him the swift healer of the Earth’s distress!

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Bill used to move my art…I loved him so much.

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Bill Webb…still painting luminous landscapes of the Livingston Range and winter roads. New adventures are happening for my dear friend.

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James Blunt…during heart wrenching moments in the studio.

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Margy…oh my gosh…how many times did we watch the music video and sing along with this tune??

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Bob Nelson…drove all the way from Helena and we went down to Knox and listened to acapella music. High school friend and talks about life, the world and Kant. I’m catching waves.

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I didn’t see this note about the scissors until today. Cayley, sorry that I wasn’t helpful. lol The scissors are hanging in the scissor place over there!

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Beautiful lady, Angela. And, I guess some sort of recommendation from Dylan. Dylan and Kristan, former students, have visited. But…it’s been a while. Both are doing inspiring and exciting things. I still have a JH self portrait in a portfolio for Kristan to pick up. lol

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Oh dear…I can’t read this. Can you? Please let me know…something about meditation…I can read “Remain Radiant”

REMAIN ‘RADIANT,’AS JOYCE PUT IT, IN THE FILTH OF THE WORLD.

The goal of life is to be a vehicle
for something higher.Keep your eye up there
between the pairs of opposites
watching your play in the world.Let the world be as it is
and learn to rock with the waves.Remain ‘radiant,’
as Joyce put it,
in the filth of the world.”~ Joseph Campbell, Excerpt From: “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, iBooks

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This young man…an accomplished and published photographer/journalist out of Toronto. Look for his stuff on cars…and his road trips! Proud of you, Clayton.

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My brother, owner of Cliff’s Chinook Charters out of Comox, wrote about the plight of the salmon. I love my brother…he knows how much I think about him. I caught a big one out there, while sharing a trip with my daughter and father.

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Leslie Champ, former student and amazing man! Christmas visit 2013. The little piece matted in purple, a piece of art created by student Katie McGreevy for me when I taught at St. John’s Fine Arts School…again, a zillion years ago. A couple pieces of my paint-by-number collection.

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I cherish Leslie’s words.

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Jen…another artist extraordinaire. A part of a powerhouse teaching team at AGC when it was before the boss woman went down in flames.

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Middle Child, daughter Cayley, is one of my two daughters. Both have taught me about courage. I could not have learned the lessons of courage in life, without them.

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Thank you.

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Rita, I miss you. You opened up so much discourse. You supported me.

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First born. I can’t type anything about her without getting teary. Such a warm, funny, organized, loving human being! Brave! Pam and Larry, that was a fun night! Such fun!

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“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” ― Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

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lol You’re welcome, Larry.

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In two places.

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Jen, I miss you. A bit of a piece done with Asheigh Bartlett, as a response to work by Jack Bush.

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People leave me stones, shells and earth from places they have traveled…these came from Australia. Thank you, Bob.

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Natasha…former student studying art in Vancouver. Love you and so proud of you.

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Darwin stones.

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Prince Edward Island Sand…touch it every once and a while and my mother comes to mind.

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Shells and stones…Prince Edward Island. I get teary looking at these.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The summer of 2013, I was also staying with my father.  That is the summer that India swooped into my hands and I read her.  Grieving for my mother, I went deep into a couple of epic narratives, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  I immersed myself, much as I am this summer, in a lot of Al Purdy poetry and George Bowering poetry, as a way of dealing with loss and feelings that not only bubbled onto the surface, but became like open boils on my heart.  To go back further, to the summer of 2011,  I became captivated by Belleville and picked up everything I could that was written by Gerry Boyce, local historian (who happens to now live in my father’s building), and began stalking Susanna Moodie; visiting her house on Bridge Street west, visiting her resting place, even locating original marble at Campbell’s monuments and of course, read her writing and what others wrote about her and her sister, Catherine Parr Trail.  Summers with my father have proved to be interesting literary events, every time.

This summer, I brought along The Goldfinch by Donna Tarttt, a novel that every one was talking about, but one that I had not taken the time to read.  In retrospect, I regret that I did not previously read The Secret History.  In most reviews I find that there are comparisons being drawn between the two books and typically, The Secret History surpasses the other for its construction, originality and popularity.  It’s now on my ‘to do’ list.

So…my thoughts on a book that is likened, in part, to Rowling’s Harry Potter, Dickens and Breaking Bad?  I guess I can only review this one through my own eyes and that’s why literary reviews can be very interesting…they are so personal.  Dr. Joan Macleod’s words come to mind. “You notice what you know.”  Anything you do, see or understand is coming from a prior knowledge and experience, without any intention to do so.  While I may perceive some Goodreads reviews to be desperately arrogant where this novel is concerned, I can’t fault those authors because they may have been looking for something very different where a ‘good book’ is concerned.

I have no choice but to break this one down…

First and foremost, for me, is that ‘THE GOLDFINCH’ (the 1654 painting done by  Carel Pietersz. Fabritius ) was the element (yes, it became a character for me) that I would not lose sight of throughout the novel.  I fell in love with the painting at the first moment that Theo saw it through his mother’s eyes.  Once described by the author, I was captivated.  I would be concerned from that point forward until the end, about what was to happen to the painting, but also, what the painting had to say to me, the reader.

Now, not every one would be captivated by the painting and its symbolism.  I would propose that readers who have adored a piece of art in a dusty art textbook or on an art card or reproduction for years and then see it for the first time ‘in the flesh’, know what I’m talking about, here.  Edgar Degas’s sculpture, The Little Dancer, is that for me.  I saw the sculpture in so many forms, but until I saw it in three dimensions in the center of a room at the National Art Gallery, the first exhibit to be showcased in the new building the summer of 1988, I did not realize just how much a person can be left breathless by art.

I remembered weeping when I saw her. (but enough of that)

The point being that, while others are annoyed by the last fifteen pages of the novel, I was engrossed in them.  An examination of the subject of the painting and its treatment was crucial to me.  While many readers found the high keyed description annoying, excessive and boring, I lavished in it, likely because I’m that sort of writer. (this makes me laugh)  To be honest, though, there were sections in Las Vegas where I tuned out…also, places where I found myself skimming.  Did that happen for you?

Some critics describe the portion of the book set in Las Vegas to be the strongest portion, but this was the section I had the most difficulty with.  Not to draw comparisons, but it was the drug culture and experience in Shantaram that I found the least interesting.  I find that ‘druggies’ quickly become treated as stereotypical mono-faceted characters.  There isn’t anything that surprises me in the writing of their habits, their related bad choices or the consequences of those.  I really didn’t care ‘how many’ pills Boris or Theo were taking…or how much vodka they were drinking.  So, can you tell?  This section rubbed me the wrong way.  (Note that I’m trying not to ruin the story for others here, by being rather vague.)  I guess we needed Vegas because we needed to know Theo’s father.  Boris just rubbed me the wrong way…throughout.  I wasn’t all that taken by his character, the way he was written or the seamless way that he managed to undo his past mistake.  Oh my!  That was all too easy and a disappointment.  (no spoiler alert required…see!)  READ THE BOOK.

What I loved…apart from the Goldfinch…the painting…the symbolism there…Welty’s love for the painting, Theo’s mother…

I relished everything and anything to do with the old house, the writing of Hobie and his life in the downstairs wood shop.  Pour on the detail!  Would this engage every reader? No.  But, moi???  YES!  Antiques, wood, bric-a-brac, trades, recuperation, recreation and the interesting characters who came and went in Hobie’s life.  This was the ‘stuff’ of life and I think that Theo had stability in this setting.  It was a relief whenever and however he landed there.  Pippa was a beautiful maiden…a disappointment that the relationship didn’t feel resolved, but interesting none-the-less.

Andy and the Barbour family…another layer of story, a setting, somehow separate from the number of others.  The Barbour family becomes a microcosm, each character struggling in a unique way.  One can get wrapped up in their world, as well.  Written as a separate, but somehow connected, passage to the larger narrative, the ‘endings’ for each of these characters become concerning and the reader is left asking, “How does any of this impact Theo, after all?”

My readers, here, may have already wondered about the multiple settings and the long litany of characters…well, I suppose that this is where Tartt receives most of her criticism.  In the end, however, I view the book, in culmination, as a fanciful narrative about everything that is ‘us’…the traumas, the celebration, the consequences and the histories within one life.

I am staying in an apartment building that overlooks a very Victorian landscape, well manicured lawns and beautifully constructed, if not ornamental, homes.  I’ve met so many individuals who live here and each one comes with their own complex story.  This book is like that, oodles of tales within a single character’s life time.  They enter and they depart and at the end of it, we are left with the tale of a single image, an object of affection and the fact that it was something that remained, however ephemeral.

A Goldfinch bound by a small tether…for a lifetime…to its own life.

I recommend the book and will be looking for The Secret History.

I liked this review/analysis.  You might also.

 

goldfinch-donna-tarttMy Shantaram Review

 

 

 

 

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Apart from Moby Dick, this memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, hung me up more than any book I’ve ever read.  I received it as a gift from a dear friend of mine, Mary, for my 50th birthday.  Among other beautiful words, Mary wrote in the front pages, “This amazing book celebrates the power of literature and friendship and I chose it to symbolize our bond as friends and colleagues.”  Funny…but, the past couple of years, I’ve become very determined to make my way through all of the books on my shelves and this one, had been missed along the way.  I took breaks and read several other books at the very same time, but I slogged my way through these pages, mostly late at night.  Having made it to the finish line last night, I’ve got to say that I felt that I had been on a huge journey.  I was exhausted.  But, I was also extremely satisfied.

Now, I ask, “Why the slog?”

First…a short background, one that seems to be the description found on multiple sites, this one, Amazon.

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading.Reading Lolita in Tehran is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

Let’s be perfectly honest, I have never read Lolita ‘in Canada’.  Written by Vladimir Nabokov, this one really needs to move onto my ‘to do’ list now that I have read Reading Lolita in Tehran.  A classic, there are, what I feel to be, important, if not essential connections drawn between the women’s experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ruthless antagonist of Lolita.  Very early on, I felt ill prepared for the number of similar contextual references made, especially those from Henry James and Nabokov.  While there were several literary references to Jane Austen, at the very least, I had read Pride and Prejudice.  I remember that once I put that one down, I had said, out loud, “NEVER AGAIN.”  I’m glad that I relished the experience of reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald because I DO feel that those relationships are key to this book, Daisy’s lessons, creating an emotional connection for me, finally, beyond the half way point. That’s where, I think, I got my stick-to-it-ness.

Of fiction, in 17, Nafisi writes…and I become finally bound to the book,

“Modern fiction brings out the evil in domestic lives, ordinary relations, people like you and me – Reader! Bruder! as Humbert said.  Evil in Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to ‘see’ others, hence to empathize with them.  What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us (Eliza Bennet) as well as the worst (Humbert).  We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others.

Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual.  How does the soul survive?  is the essential question.  And the response is: through love and imagination.  Stalin emptied Russia of its soul by pouring on the old death.  Mandelstam and Sinyavsky restored that soul by reciting poetry to fellow convicts and by writing about it in their journals. “Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances, ” Bellow wrote, “is also to reach the heart of politics.  The human feelings, Human experiences, the human form and face, recover their proper place – the foreground.”

What I’m saying, here, (about the slog) is that I spent a lot of time, feeling guilty that in my studies I had missed or chosen not to read so many books, in order that I could read so many others.  I am not saying that reading a book ‘made me feel guilty’, rather, there was a feeling under the surface, of regret. If you are a reader, you will understand what I am saying.  There are just not enough hours.

Do I think that you need to have read all of the books that were used as references before picking up Reading Lolita in Tehran?  I don’t know the answer…I seem to have found my way without.

Once I accepted that the writer seemed to be making a broader connection between literature and its power to transcend hardship and turmoil, I felt engaged and determined.  For a while, I suppose, my ego got in the way.

Some other observations…

Physically, the book is produced in a font that is way way too small for this little lady’s eyes.  Nicola of Goodreads says it much better than I can…

If the book has a drawback, it’s that it’s too long, tending towards repetition. In my edition, the font size is almost painfully small, in order to give the illusion that this 150,000-word tome is closer to 100,000 words. Be aware: it’s a book you’ll need to commit to reading. It’s written in a slightly confusing, fragmentary style — each chapter is divided into ~2,000 word chunks, some of which follow on from each other, some of which stand alone. The style is close to a stream of consciousness. Ironically, the first part is the most fragmentary, after which it becomes more chronological. I think the book could have been improved by a good editor and a better structure, but nonetheless: stick with it, even if the first part bothers you.

I thought that through such a diabolical and tumultuous time in history, that relationship between women-friends centered around literature,  was precious.  I know how it feels to sit with my friends in the movie theaters when everyone else has left the theater and the credits are still rolling…and we are still chatting about the plot or the characters or the actors or the technical achievements.  I know how it is to open a gift bag and find a beautiful new book from a book store…something new that I can read and share with others over a glass of wine.  I treasure my woman-friends for the same reasons that Azar Nafisi treasures(ed) hers.  I get teary sometimes when I think of the strength of women.  I feel proud, not only about my accomplishments, but about the accomplishments of my friends.  This is the profound truth that I am taking from the ‘reading’ of Reading Lolita in Tehran.

Thank you, Mary…it took me almost 11 years, but I’ve now written my remarks on the inside jacket of this beautiful gift.  It well-serves to exemplify our bond of friendship and teaching.

Lolita

 

 

 

The Story of Susanna Moodie: Continued

As my friends will know, I have a huge interest in Canadian history and in that of the world, especially where it relates to my family history. It isn’t possible to know everything well in my lifetime but, what I can do, is become a connoisseur of my own life.  As a result, I am intrigued by stories of immigration coming out of the early colonization of both the Atlantic provinces and Ontario, specifically the Guelph, Elora, Fergus, Lindsay and Hamilton areas.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/Digital+Archives/Arts+and+Entertainment/Literature/ID/1865723787/

Sometimes, mingling with the writers, artists and performers who I call my friends, I hear less than positive remarks made about the genre of writing that came out of the early 1800s and that were championed by people like Susanna Moodie and her sister, Catherine Parr Trail. Some refer to their works of observation/reporting/narrating, where it relates to living ‘in the bush’ and making observations of wilderness surroundings, as sleepers.  Quite to the contrary, I find these pieces of writing, while absolutely short of drama and excitement, filled up with detail that creates a picture for me, of my own ancestors, what they must have seen and what they must have felt.

I also have always liked that, out of a world made, led and meant for the male gender, it is a wonderful thing to see women who have captured the interest of society at the time, as both writers and artists.

But…I digress…I really have the intention of sharing a wonderful story that sees its happy conclusion on the 8th of October..

I spent a summer visiting Mom and Dad in Belleville, Ontario and took a genuine interest in exploring the city for its literature, history and art.  I purchased several books ( Belleville: A Popular History by Gerry Boyce and Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill by Michael Peterman).  Here are a couple of the bits that I wrote during that summer and during the summer of 2013.

THE MORNING HOUR by Susanna Moodie

Like a maid on her bridal morn I rise,
With the smile on her lip and the tear in her eyes;
Whilst the breeze my crimson banner unfurls,
I wreathe my locks with the purest pearls;
Brighter diamonds never were seen
Encircling the neck of an Indian queen!
I traverse the east on my glittering wing,
And my smiles awake every living thing;
And the twilight hour like a pilgrim gray,
Follows the night on her weeping way.
I raise the veil from the saffron bed,
Where the young sun pillows his golden head;
He lifts from the ocean his burning eye,
And his glory lights up the earth and sky.

Ah, I am like that dewy prime,
Ere youth hath shaken hands with time;
Ere the fresh tide of life has wasted low,
And discovered the hidden rocks of woe:
When like the rosy beams of morn,
Joy and gladness and love were born,
Hope divine, of heavenly birth,
And pleasure that lightens the cares of earth!

And this…

A Champion for Susanna Moodie written on June 30, 2011

I wrote at length a few summers ago about Susanna Moodie.  Staying on east Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario, it only made sense then and because I have returned under sad circumstances, it also makes sense that I continue my exploration of her writing and her place in Canadian history.  Recently, it just so happened that I met author and historian, Gerry Boyce, as he was doing some yard work at the front of his house.  We engaged in a rich conversation about the surrounding area and the fact that he had, the day before, completed his index for another book.

When I explained to Mr. Boyce my interest in Susanna Moodie, he went on to share with me about the refurbishments made upon her monument over the last several years.  He also told me that the entire marble base had been replaced by the Campbell Monument Company and that he believed the original to be in their yard somewhere.

So, yes!  Of course I went to meet Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments and he and I walked out to the yard, together, to view the original monument base.  Now, the thing is, this beautiful reminder of an earlier day, can not continue to exist as a discard, but rather, needs to be displayed in a place of importance somewhere in the city…perhaps at the front of the library or in a public gathering space.  In whatever capacity, I hope to be a champion for this cause.  I was remarkably touched to meet Gerry Boyce.  He is generous in his sharing of history and I think that sort of generosity is to be admired.

June 2013 028 June 2013 024 June 2013 026 June 2013 027

Daughter, Cayley and I made certain that we visited 114 Bridge Street West on July 25, 2011, right before heading south on the Via Train. This was the former cottage of Susanna Moodie and is marked as a noted historical property in the city. It was a beautiful…calming…peaceful experience. History…family…and the tree’s witness came to mind.

moodie

July 25, 2011 044

Through all of this…and taking up the suggestion of Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments that what the monument required was a champion…I began to write letters. This is how the communications went, with the exclusion of my gushing gratitude and appreciation that, of course, wove in and out of the entire journey. I began by writing the mayor.

Mayor Ellis,

My name is Kathleen Moors and I am visiting Belleville for the summer. I have been an art and english educator for the past 34 years. As a visitor from Calgary, Alberta, I can not help but notice that a beautiful portion of marble, the base sections for the Susanna Moodie monument previously replaced, is being stored at the back of Campbell Monuments and NOT on display somewhere in the Quinte area, for all visitors to enjoy. I would like to, for my time in the area, to be a champion for this base and encourage someone to begin planning a place of importance for this piece. Please forward this request to a department related to the historical and parks development, as I was unable to find an e mail address connected to my inquiry. I would appreciate hearing back from you and have included some blog submissions that I have written over the past three years, beginning with the most current. Regards. Kathleen

Very soon after this, I received a note from the mayor.

Thank you for your email, Kathleen. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to Richard Hughes, President of the Hastings County Historical Society, in the hope that he can respond to your concerns. Neil R. Ellis, Mayor
And then…

Kathleen: I apologize for being slow to respond to you, but it is July and we have been away a fair bit. I have seen the monument and had a good talk with Gary Foster of Campbell’s Monuments. A very pleasant person!

I agree fully that this monument deserves a home in a public place. It is a big piece of our local history.

I am going to start talking around town with people who can help with this.

Bear with me a bit and I will keep you informed of the progress.

Richard Hughes
President
Hastings County Historical Society

And then…

Kathleen: Over this past week I have been discussing with the directors of the Historical Society which would be the best location for the monument, both for security, beauty of location and for people to actually see it. When we come to a conclusion, we will approach the relevant authority, the owner of the location or park, and see what we can work out.
You have started something….and now a lot of people are enthused. Well done!
Richard

and this…

Hello Kathleen: It must seem like a long time, but your initial proposal that the Moodie Monument find a suitable home in a Belleville park is alive and well. I have met with officials of Campbells and the City and we are now all working to come up with a method that will work. As the weather is now less favourable, we will work on the project together, over the winter with a view to installing the monument in a city park location in the Spring. I will keep you informed of the progress and, of course, the outcome.

Thanks for bringing this situation forward.

Richard Hughes
President
Hastings County Historical Society

AND FINALLY…TODAY…THIS!!

I’m so very excited!

Kathleen: On July 2, 2013 you sent an email to the mayor of Belleville, below, and he forwarded it to me “in the hope that he can respond” as the mayor put it. Well, it has been a long year but we have been – thanks to you – fabulously successful. The Moodie monument has now been completely refurbished and installed just yesterday in a beautiful site along the Belleville waterfront and it will be formally unveiled on Wednesday Oct 8th at 11am by the mayor. It is simply beautiful as you will see by the picture I am sending. This was taken during the installation.

You have done a wonderful service to our city and I congratulate and thank you.

Richard Hughes
President
Hastings County Historical Society

I am so happy for the front yard conversation I shared with historian, Gerry Boyce, while he leaned his rake against his hedge. I’ll always appreciate that Gary Foster came for a walk with me through his back lot when he really didn’t need to accommodate my unusual request on that particular day. It is such a generous gesture that Mayor Ellis should respond to my e mail personally and then pass my concern on to the Hastings County Historical Society. And finally, it has been a most treasured experience to have the project communicated to me from so far away and then to finally receive this news today from Richard Hughes. I am hoping that all of my Belleville friends will make their attendance. I know that Dad will be there.

Moodie Monument Oct 3, 2014.XViD-NiNJA-041-1

 

When One Does Not Keep Up

I suppose we all have something that we want to keep up.  It might be writing in a journal, doing a sketch each day or a painting each week.  For you, is it jogging? Yoga? Weeding the garden? Volunteering? Visiting your Gramma weekly?  ‘Keeping up’ with something/anything is an invented internal pressure; don’t you think? It’s a story we tell ourselves.  Does anyone else want us to keep up?

It’s possible that the concept of keeping up began with the coining of the term, Keeping Up With the Joneses, an idea that had more to do with a person trying to reach a different social status.  We’ve all heard of the t.v. series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians…something else, all together.  If a person scans the internet, they will find a huge number of references to ‘keeping up’ and so more and more I discover that children are over-scheduled during the school year, parents are over-committed, exercise programs lack variety, painting becomes work, diet programs become unhealthy and expensive and society, in general, loses focus on much of the magic that surrounds.

The wonder of minutia disappears because no one can see the ‘ordinary’ when life’s responsibilities get in the way.

What does one do when one does not keep up?

Most on my mind at this very moment is the idea of where to begin my writing after these months away.  I’ve been absent to my blog for the duration of my father’s visit.  It’s been a priority for me to soak up every minute of our time together and in doing so, there are many subjects that I hope, over the next long while, to write about.  Our visit has been a rich and important experience that I will always cherish.  So, where to begin?

Perhaps the idea is to simply begin to write, free of any/all expectations and not concerned with any particular order.  There is something about ‘ordering’ our thoughts, paintings, sketches and writings that makes ‘beginning again’ tricky. The next number of posts will be random explorations.  Each post will be a container, storing small pieces of memory. Why?  Hmmm…well, that’s another question.  I’ve tried to explain to family and friends the why-of-it, this obsession of mine, but with no luck.  For now, I am just following my bliss.

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