Am I Blue?

I saw a cluster of bluebonnets in a yard on (yes) Bluebonnet Street today. I am convinced that my upbeat mood is in part the result of being surprised by the vivid shock of blue of these resilient and remarkable Texas blooms, which to me officially announce the arrival of Spring. I had just walked away from the front of Zilker Elementary School, which was cluttered with Obama and Hillary signs, and teeming with a gaggle of campaign supporters–and a reporter from a local news station trolling among them for something newsworthy.

Blue was on my mind as I continued to walk towards my house. I thought: What an odd turn of events it is that the Blue among us–the liberal democrats–would be so pitted against each other in the primary election. Who knew that we would have two brilliant and able candidates (more, actually, because John Edwards was certainly worthy) to choose from. Who knew how difficult it would be to make a decision to vote for one and not the other?

Ah, shades of blue, I thought, as I arrived at my door.

I made my choice of Blue last week. Alas, choosing one worthy candidate for president over another equally worthy one seems to come down to instinct, to gut feeling, to what or who inspires hope; it comes down to what my vision is and who I think can best support that vision for the GREATER GOOD.

I am not feeling blue, I am BLUE and upbeat. I am not into polarization, one side pitted against the other,; I choose all shades of blue. I am caucusing tonight for the candidate who I believe will ignite our electorate to get involved in our democracy, to help our country heal from gaping and profound wounds (spiritual, environmental, emotional, economic). I am at peace with my choice and excited about it.

When I go back to the caucus tonight I will see those lovely flowers in the yard on Bluebonnet street-first of the season–and I will think of the beauty of shades of blue (bluebonnets have a sprinkling of red, too!). I will hug both Obama and Hillary supporters, and I will be proud to be among them all.

I am excited to be part of a great awakening in our country.

Blue is such a lovely color.

In Between Time

I blink and it is next year.
My body, mind and spirit have been out to lunch these past few months, and I have flitted away many an hour looking at People magazine, obsessing about what I am not doing, feeling flat, vacant, checked out. The inspiration which has guided me and determined my direction in art eludes me now, and I plod along with lack of clarity and purpose.

Ah, the doldrums. Is this middle age? Middle ground? Flatland? Wasteland?

Maybe it is simply February on the cusp of Spring, mired in the memory of long flu days in Winter.

I have long believed that our lives are lived in cycles rather than one long linear march towards the grand finale. Like walking a labyrinth, our Way is sometimes convoluted and sometimes clear, but always involves walking in circles. Having spent the last ten years of my own personal labyrinthian “Way”devoted to the study and practice of calligraphy, I have arrived at a plateau. More like the perimeter of the labyrinth rather than the center, it feels like a wait-station, a liminal “in-between” space, a place, in the words of the Talking Heads, “Where nothing ever really happens.”

By no means have I mastered anything in my calligraphic quest, I have simply become more skilled, more confidant. I have explored and experimented and created things which surprise, fascinate and sometimes even scare me. Most certainly I could spend another ten years tweaking my skills, mastering this hand or that, but at present, this prospect does not make my heart sing.

No doubt this disenchanted liminal space I am experiencing is a predictable (and necessary?) stage in one’s Way as an artist. One can tolerate only so much intensity and frenzied activity before needing rest and contemplative space. Indeed, after a very fruitful creative period, it seems important to take time to reflect on what one has done, to clear things away to create space for something new to emerge. When I view my experience from the perspective of “letting the fields lie fallow” for a while, it feels more positive.

I of all people should know to trust the wisdom of one’s psyche.

So I wait and move more slowly. I don’t rush through Central Market, but take time to sip the French Roast samples and smell the fresh mint I have rubbed on my fingers. I pause to breathe more deeply the scent of all the herbs, the coffees, the baked goods. I don’t deny a taste of freshly baked bread, exquisite in smell and taste after dipping it into a small vat of extra virgin olive oil.

When one is waiting, one has time to observe. One’s senses are heightened and one notices the details that are lost when one is moving too hastily.

My cat just stretched herself against my studio door in a perfect (and ironically named) “downward facing dog” position. She lazes in the sun in the backyard, and it seems like the next right thing to do to go join her.

Off the Grid

I just spent two weeks in the backwoods of Northern California “Cleaning out my closets”, to quote Eminem. Actually, it was my Mothers’ closets–my attempt to help her clean out 40 years of accumulated living. Having just returned from Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, it was nice to return to the climate I love: hot and dry days, cool mornings and nights.

When I walk out of my Mothers’ front door I usually pause to deeply inhale the scent of dry pine and wind. Continuing on the rough gravel driveway to the road, I am met by a doe and her two fawns, “the twins” I call them, who casually glance my way, and then continue munching on the melon rind my Mother has recently deposited under a small oak tree. I look up and see blue–intense blue—the outline of tall Ponderosa Pines swaying against the clear sky ocean unmarred by smog or clouds, and think, “I love this, my former home.” Who was the poet who said, “You can never go home?” I think I understand what he means. On mornings like this, when the sky is just beyond my reach, so exquisite and blue, and the deer are like familiar pets, and the smell is so clean and dry, I feel a keen sense of sadness. I want to take the experience–that particular moment–bundle it up and bring it back to Austin with me. But I can’t. I can experience it, and then the moment is gone…and I am back in Texas, home to most of my moments, only remembering the other life I left when I went off to USC in 1978.
As I sit here remembering, I am struck by how powerful and compelling the landscape of our childhood is, how it seems to live in us. Sometimes I actually physically crave it: I want to taste it, touch it. At these times, I have the urge to hug the ground, to feel the rough pine bark, to listen to the wind through the tall pine trees.

I turn to art at these times, to express what I am unable to experience in the flesh, to re-orient myself to that ineffeble place, and to remember in images, words, marks and colors what moves me about HOME.

Home in Texas I face the typical studio clutter of half-finished projects, papers strewn about, art supplies lying on top of piles of handouts from summer classes. It has been a busy summer filled with travels, teaching and studying. A bit wistful about Summers’ ending, I walk outside and am startled into a smile by a racoon brazenly strutting about our deck in broad daylight. The smell is thick, my skin feels sticky. I don’t hear the wind, but rather a bunch of chattering squirrels. A Jet flies overhead, and I glance at the clock to see that it is time to pick up Maeve. Home. In Austin, Texas. Where long ago I staked my claim, where I am happily bound to a life of my choosing; and where Hayfork breathes through my blood in my daily remembering.

Blood Remembering

I sit in my studio flooded with myriad particular images, impressions and feelings, my response to the calligraphy conference on Vancouver Island from which I have just returned. The site of the conference was so stunning and breath-taking, it was almost a distraction from the task at hand–to lead students into making “a book of ours”. A week of a labyrinthian journey seemed to connect my students to themselves, to their own vision of who they are as calligraphers and art makers. Their books were what I had hoped they would be: Their own, unique, beautiful, honest and true to a commitment to a personal process of discovery.

I came away exhausted yes, but renewed in my commitment to dedicate this year to art-making, to developing my writing–text and calligraphy–and to write my book. It is oddly comforting to know that I can, to quote T. S. Eliot, “begin where I started and know the place for the first time.”

Indeed, it has been ten years since I fully committed to my calligraphic journey. When I began, I wanted to know it all, be it all. Of course now I am content to realize I know so very little– that what I want to express is still beyond me, and that learning and discovery are a lifelong commitment. Rilke’s humbling words about “Blood Remembering”ring true for me, and best sum up my attitude and expectations about my own art-making:

“For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men and things, one must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents whom one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it; to childhood illnesses that so strangely begin with such a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars–and it is not yet enough if one may think of all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still is is not yet enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer can be distinquished from ourselves–not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.” ( p. 94, R. M. Rilke, On Love and Other Difficulties)

Creation

I pick up a stick and hit it against a metal pole. CLANG. I then scratch something in the dirt–a mark, nothing intelligible. I hit the stick against something else: thud. I keep walking, thinking of the power the first humans must have felt when they learned they could create something, a sound, a mark that was not there before. I feel the same energy and I don’t want to stop: click, click, click, thud, clang, and I write my name in the dirt. I am loving the feeling of making something new, something my own. Whether on the beach in the sand, or on the rock cluttered trail on the hike up to the Mesa at Ghost ranch, I can’t resist drawing in the dirt. Drumming, dancing, writing, drawing–Clark and I reflect on these ancient human practises as we walk around the lake, sweating in the thick summer morning heat. We talk of the power we feel again, having participated in another full moon drum circle last night .

The power of drum, dance, mark-making became the focus of an idea Clark presented as we neared Lamar Bridge. He proposed a collaboration between drummers, visual artists and dancers which would be simple, powerful and organic. Specifically, he envisions putting up a large screen/canvas at one of the full moon drum circles, behind and around which dancers dance, casting their shadows, moving to the full throttle rhythm of the drummers while visual artists make marks–drawing, painting, calligraphy–on the screen. The experience would be improvisational, the mark-makers responding to the moving shadows on the screen as well as the drummers’ beat or vise versa.

To connect drumming, dance and writing and drawing in a moving, flowing event, would be most powerful and interesting, and the idea is compelling enough for us to make a plan to try it out soon.

Meanwhile, I will keep the idea alive in my class I am teaching in Red Deer, Alberta next week: The Joy of Calligraphy. I plan to invite participants to explore rhythm and writing–finding a beat, syncopation (altering the beat). We will have the opportunity to experience the thrill of mark-making, of making interesting lines with alternative writing tools, exploring writing kiniesthetically (I don’t know how to spell this word!) as movement as well as breath, and as an expression of who we are.

I take up my stick and put it in the sumi on my table in the studio. There is no fear of the blank paper before me because I know the joy, the excitement of what happens next, when I put stick to page. The mark will be original; it will express the breath I take and the movement of my body. It may be followed by more marks, or stand alone. I may like it or not. It won’t matter because in this simple act, I will experience the thrill of something ancient and intrinsically human: I have the power to create.