Sunday, August 6, 2017

Here be Dragons

Fears and doubts to overcome. Defenses and guards to drop, reach or break through. Outer armor and inner blocks to remove. Learning not to hold it all inside, take a chance, open up, let go, let them know, let them in. Sound familiar? It seems that most failed flawed or obstructed human interaction is attributed to humans acting more like well-constructed ancient citadels designed for repelling and withstanding attack than social creatures seeking loving company, compassion and connection. People are all like those maps of old, where the most determined adventurer eventually arrives at that place with no other information offered but the warning "here be dragons."

Which is why it’s so strange to find myself in middle age giving up on map reading and dragon befriending, opting instead to retreat to a remote location and build the kind of psychological fortress it takes most people their whole lives to dismantle. Because in the end my life’s greatest losses have not been due to the letters unsent, the words unsaid, the move unmade, the risk untaken, the heart unshared, the realization too late realized or acted upon, but quite the opposite. On principle I still believe in courageously putting oneself out there in full self-awareness and self-accessibility, as I have always done from the start, fearlessly, guilelessly, but admittedly, in practice, I’m not the best proof of this being any better than if I had stayed locked up inside myself where it would have been safer.

So here I am, halfway through my 6th decade, in the process of going back into my long discarded shell, raising (out of thin air) my guard and defenses, assembling a sturdy suit of emotional armor, and storing my deepest thoughts and feelings behind a barricade, while decorating the battlements with spiky suspicion and corrosive skepticism.  I’m even adding a moat of non-responsiveness and non-availability, a moat that doesn’t feel the need to apologize, make excuses or explanations for its extended unfathomable absences, inactions or silences, nor will it seek these gestures from other moats. It's what moats do.

Or I’m trying. Turns out, even as an occupant of my castle-in-progress, it just isn’t in my nature to defend against any approach or outreach – trustworthy or not. But I no longer throw the doors open to any and all guests, throw them a banquet, hand them the keys to the vaults, and pledge my resources to whatever cause or campaign they might need my support to undertake. And most importantly, I don't feel at all bad about what would have once struck me as unthinkable behavior. Welcome to Castle What the Fuck Ever.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I did today's self-portrait shoot. I wanted to capture the tension between my irrepressible urge towards unprotected self-disclosure and my new transactional view of any human interaction I engage in - wherein I give no more than I'm given, if that, and the only thing I trust, believe, or am interested in is what is right in front of me at that moment.  The New Isolationism. Yes, I can hear you thinking, good luck with that. 

Maybe there is a third option, a middle ground, in the decision of whether to withdraw completely from the world that has failed to reward my open door policy or walk through it utterly defenseless and continue to invite its betrayals. Maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way, as a choice between befriending or fleeing the dragon. Maybe I need to become the dragon.

Any resemblance to fictional characters currently appearing in popular HBO series and known for their connection to dragons is purely coincidental.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Multiple Exposure

It's now been, what, almost 11? weeks since my last post, way back in those distant spring days past, when I was being kept blog honest by the Daily Art Heart project. Just thought I’d pay a visit and leave some fresh content here, before I forget it altogether, and with it, that handful of faithful readers still unaccountably attentive to this space. 

Most of my daily photography, from casual to dead serious, lately lands on Instagram and Facebook, so feel free to seek me out in those locales. I like that social media, at least as I make use of them, don’t demand lengthy considered text accompaniments to the visuals – in fact, discourage such a time consuming, mind stretching practice. Sometimes, even for such a word freak as myself, there really is not much to say, or worth saying, or heck, I just don't feel like it. 

But yesterday I fulfilled a longtime intention left over from that other lapsed discipline, the Self Portrait Project, to experiment with multiple exposure – which function I only recently discovered my camera can perform. Understand, 7 years ago my new (and first) digital camera came with a 300 page owner's manual I still haven't read cover to cover. It might also be able to transport me to other times and dimensions, I'll get back (or forward) to you on that one. I do know it can’t do multiple exposures in a timer/tripod setting - maybe - so this particular experiment only went as far as arm’s length, literally, as I came as close to taking phone style selfies with a real camera as my fancy pants photography snobbery will allow. 

Still, it was fun, and illuminating, and speaking of timing, occurred on a day when I was in exactly the frame of mind whose resident thoughts only multiple frames could convey – all over the place and all over each other, inconsistently focused, recognizable only in bits and pieces, and ultimately not amounting to anything much, while also being difficult to look away from – which may explain why I haven’t written any blog posts lately. 

So have a look at these and enjoy, if only due to gratitude you are outside my head looking in, and not inside looking out. Happy Summer, all.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Daily Art Heart: Week Eight: the Final Five


Well, all too soon, and none too soon, here is the final group of daily art hearts. I began the week about as shattered as this glass, which fell from a cabinet on which I had one hand, while the glass I was trying to put away was in the other. I watched as it descended to the floor next to my cat’s food and water bowls, broke, then tumbled under a railing to break further on the carpeted stairs below, necessitating a particularly challenging cleanup, by a particularly challenged individual. The good news is I was already so depleted and depressed when this latest misfortune happened, I simply shrugged and started picking up the pieces. Metaphors haunt me, they do. 

It got better. It couldn’t not. On Day 51, I needed groceries to recover from this rotten virus that rendered me incapable of going out and getting groceries. It’s not that I am too stubborn to ask for help and prefer to play the victim when I am ill or injured. Okay, maybe a little stubborn. But truth is, all this stoic slogging through life comes from habit which came from necessity, not artifice. I have lived on my own more than not, and always had more acquaintances and colleagues than true friends. I am accustomed to doing whatever needs doing myself, and not actually having anyone else to call upon, much less depend upon to offer. And admittedly, over the years, pride has replaced self-pity over my self-reliant state. Other people may be surrounded by helpful supportive sympathetic significant others, goes the internal monologue, but surely they would fall apart if ever left alone to fend for themselves, whereas I…I can go grocery shopping with slightly less energy and clarity than the walking dead.  I get it done. It doesn’t hurt to have training in endurance athletics, whereby I have learned to push through pain and fatigue – and yes, feel plenty smug about it afterward, limping but smiling.  At any rate, this is the tree a few blocks from my home. I consider him an old friend, one as worse for wear as I am. And whenever I pass him, I am reaffirmed that I may be alone, but I am a strong singleminded woman living a life on foot and getting it done, sooner or later, in ways good, bad and ugly, but all mine.

I do know how to ask for and accept help, now that it seems I’ve arrived and belong in a community of persons who offer without my having to seek it out. I get rides a lot. When it’s raining ice, or 90 or minus 9 degrees. Or I’m so exhausted even my pride won’t quarrel with the comfort of being driven somewhere.  As these hearts have done all along, simply by being inspired by or drawn from what my days have actually been about, this last group tells a story, through symbols, metaphors, themes. The glass shattered and cleaned up. The tree falling apart but standing strong. It’s about the images I seek, but also the ones that seek me.  On Day 52, as I made my rounds at the market noticing that the offerings among our farmer vendors have become suddenly leafier and greener, it was the humble mushroom that’s been there all along and is not so much nurtured and cultivated as sought and gathered that proved most photogenic. Pause to draw your own conclusions.

On Day 53 I recovered from Day 52 and began to feel melancholy regarding the end of this project. Endings and beginnings are everywhere lately it seems, some of them familiar, others not so much. Spring is indeed here, as evidenced by the presence of fiddleheads, and I remember thinking the same thing a year ago, when I was already promising myself things could only get better, while poised on the precipice of them actually finding ways to get worse. Possibly the next time I feel a giddy rush of hope gazing upon the season’s first fiddleheads, I’ll finally be right.
And on Day 54, the first day of a new week and a new month, this crazy project comes to an end. It was strange reviewing the entire collection of images and reliving where and how and who I was on each day, as I hunted for hearts and found them everywhere, or they found me. I’m proud of myself for seeing things through to their conclusion, and wistful leaving them behind. Guess I’m just going to have to come up with another creative challenge!       

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Daily Art Heart: Week Seven

This was not a great week. Physically or creatively. I found myself searching figuratively ever further afield and literally ever closer to home for inspiration for these daily heart images. I fell behind by a day. I almost gave up altogether. On Day 43 I attended an Earth Day gathering. This little girl was no less thrilled with the baby chickens than I, but she got the shot because she had hearts on her dress.

On Day 44 this view of the ceiling was not only the best I could do for a heart, it was what I was mostly looking at as I lay on the couch down with a headcold that was about to become the story of the rest of the week.

For Day 45 I didn't really do much at all, just took the easy way out and aimed my phone - from a reclining position - at the other occupant of the general household indolence. 

The photo I posted for Day 46 was actually taken that day but not posted until later and was borrowed from my regular album of photos from Saturday markets. By this time I was feeling as if my cold was actually the flu in disguise, and not a very good disguise. But it was still lovely to see fresh new basil back among market offerings. Spring is here! Even if I'm not.

On Day 47, a Sunday, I started falling behind, in more ways than one. This was another late posting, and was once again locally sourced - as in, across from the couch - in my bookcase. I am not a religious person, but I do love all the relics, rituals, edifices and artifacts of religion, including this strangely beautiful embroidered bookmark with the bleeding heart. I can relate.

Seeing this group of photos collected, I can see the proof of my sense of a week in which my world got smaller and smaller, and why it felt so strange after a week in which I felt so much more expansive than I have in a long time. Expand, contract, repeat. As the weekend faded and a new week full of unavoidable obligations began, my heart and body were still decidedly in weekend mode, and I paid dearly for every hour I spent functioning in the world outside with large chunks of recovery time at home. Yes, this Day 48 image was also taken on the couch. I'm sure it has some sort of deep symbolic meaning. Other than: I love my couch.

And for Day 49, yesterday, that couch makes another background appearance. This charm was given to me by my mother, who is not Irish, and probably didn't even know the relevance of the claddagh. It's a lovely symbol, nevertheless, the offered heart, crowned. A happy child, a light cast on shadow, an indolent cat, a new leaf, a bloody bookmark, pink lace, an old charm. This week's hearts have a story to tell, of a world compelled to shrink down to its bare essentials, and by doing so, finding out what they are.

And I still have the flu.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Daily Art Heart: Week Six

Day 36: Morning view with morning hair.

Day 37: The closer I get to NYC the uglier it looks and the better I feel.

Day 38: Morning view, city style.

Day 39: Once a punk, always a punk.

Day 40: My grandmother's locket.

Day 41: Artwork rescued from the closet and passionate attention released from storage.

Day 42: Waking up with someone special by my side. This week's worth of images is a tale of two cities, of traveling between two homes, both of which I was sad to leave. But oh so grateful to rediscover. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Daily Art Heart: Week Five

Day 29

Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I set up at the Vermont Farmers Food Center as part of the Vermont Farmers Market, my one and only closest thing I have for a job. It’s been a physically challenging many months and a lonely many years and some of the time I am intensely grateful that I still have at least these bare minimum occasions I am required to appear in public and engage with human beings. Some of the time, even this light obligation proves an intolerable burden. This sparkly little paper heart is pinned to the balcony overlooking the vast space of the Center, sometimes filled to the brim with lively heartfelt social activity among neighbors, friends and colleagues, sometimes host to much smaller quieter gatherings, seeming that much emptier for the memory of what it’s like at full capacity. I can relate.

 Day 30

I told you Henry would be showing up more than once in this collection.  This week a new couch arrived, my first such purchase in a long time, and a sort of symbol to me of living like a functioning adult – at least in terms of home d├ęcor. I last bought a new couch in 2002, the last time I transitioned from a one room apartment to a grownup home. That couch stayed with me through many changes and was left behind when I once again landed in a living space more suited to an undergraduate student. Now I once again have the ability to invite guests to my home and not seat them on the bed or the floor. That said, the most likely occupants of Big Gray, as I have named my new couch, are me and Henry, seen here already claiming his territory.

 Day 31

On the second day of Big Gray joining my small collection of things I love – animate and inanimate – the tassles of the new throw I gave to my new couch proved that the feeling is mutual.

 Day 32

I got a new tattoo this past weekend – another thing I love. I took a train – which already makes it a great day - to and from a convention in Saratoga, where I was able to observe many of my tribe gathered in one place. In fact, the tattoo community is becoming so large and mainstream, with artists who are dedicated professionals and walking artworks who also lead responsible fulfilling lives, it’s hard to think of us as the misfit outcast rebel freaks we once were. We’re still far from normal, don’t get me wrong. Right after wrapping up the tattoo I did receive, I started browsing a wonderful book featuring images from turn of the century inkmasters who pretty much defined the American traditional aesthetic for tattoos, down on the Lower East Side of my home town before I was born. Because only a tattoo freak starts planning the next one before the ink is dry on the last one.

 Day 33

The day I went to Saratoga, it snowed. The next day, it – this. My love affair arrangement with my new couch allows for my other one true love, my deck, to share without resentment my attention and murmurings of sweet nothings. This photo of Henry and me enjoying the spring sunshine was taken without the use of my hands. With a cellphone that has no timer mechanism. I will not reveal how it was done.  Except, magic.

 Day 34

And sometimes you hold a cucumber slice up to the light and also - magic. There was other less happy magic on the day I took this photo, as temperatures soared to near 80 and my ambitions plummeted accordingly. Big Gray was happy to oblige as the setting for most of Monday. 

 Day 35

And now it’s Tuesday again. The moon was beautifully full last night and I was awake several times to check on its progress in a dark cloudless sky. This morning skies are hazy and the sun blindingly bright. I have a new tattoo of a tall ship on the high seas sailing and healing on my torso, and a new couch making my house a haven, retreat, and well, a home. It’s been a busy week, and a lazy week, at times feeling very nearly like my old self, or at least able to understudy that role and not have the disappointed audience storm out of the theater asking for their money back.  Today I will be out in the world, then tonight back in my own world. Both of these worlds seem to be less bleak and uncomfortable lately, but who knows? As I write this the clouds are already hovering in the distance. And the forecast calls for yet another abrupt major weather change.  But when it can be snowing and 30 one day, and 80 and sunny the next, there is no such thing as counting on anything. Good thing I’ve got that down.