Monday, September 27, 2010

My Secrets Cry Aloud

I may be a lot of things but secretive isn’t one of them. In fact, I am so lacking in mystery and reticence I have often been accused of offering too much information! For my tastes, I have never been particularly attracted to or intrigued by people who are guarded, evasive or withholding – as if stinginess makes what they are keeping back increase in value! I like things right out in the open where I can experience and enjoy them or I will quickly lose patience and interest. 

This includes everything about the creative process. I have no problem telling and showing how I got where I did, and I love when other artists reveal the working and thought process behind their finished products, as many of you new blogfriends out there do, and for which I thank you.

I firmly believe that we do not somehow give away our power when we share these things, and are in fact all made stronger and better by the exchange.

Realistically speaking, there are definitely issues of copyright infringement that arise when sharing information and creative products with all of cyberspace. I do worry that my ideas and images might be lifted from such a public place, with me none the wiser. But the way I see it, you’d have to be pretty pathetic to resort to passing off someone else’s work as your own, and, like anyone who is falsifying who they are or what they’ve done, I do wonder who really gets cheated in the end, the folks who believe the deception, or the person who lives their life as a lie. Possibly they think it will lend them some sort of prestige (or get them laid?) to be considered a published poet or creator of works of art. They’ll find out soon enough how far that will get you in the world!  Fortunately nothing that can be stolen from me will generate great amounts of money or fame, so I guess I’m relatively safe!

I’m thinking a lot about process lately, and giving things away, so it seemed fitting to introduce here a new feature I’d like to call Guess the Artist. As you know, when I am not imitating brick walls, I derive much inspiration from painters when I design my scarves. So, for this post I’d like to begin a series of shots of a scarf in progress and see who can be the first to guess who the painter is! I’ll give you a new clue each time I make enough progress to post a new picture, and the first person to guess right will get a special giveaway! I haven’t decided what the freebie will be yet, but one of my mounted photos or note cards is possible, or my poetry book, Shadow of a Child, signed by the author! This past weekend of open markets was a bit slow for sales, so I find myself with plenty of inventory on hand!  

Please send your guesses to my personal email address ( so that you won’t influence other guessers! Today’s clue is: this painter is late 20th/early 21st century and not American. Good luck and have fun! Sorry for the relatively (for me!) short rushed post, but in spite of such poor sales, doing these weekly open markets in the South End, as I will be all through October, does take up a lot of time in terms of preparation, setup and ever-evolving strategies for  displaying my products in such a way that whoever my target audience is out there, they will want to give me money!  Not to mention the actual day of the market, which is a sun-up to sun-down workday from loading up the car at dawn, to carrying on animated conversations with passing strangers for 6 straight hours, to carrying everything back up the stairs to the studio at dusk!  And in the interest of full disclosure, I can tell you that this week I’ll be busy creating a whole new line of crocheted wrist warmers to bring with me next weekend and try out on the public, who, even at something known as more of an art than a craft market, located in the very heart of Boston’s most happening artist neighborhood, sometimes seems more impressed by cute fuzzy hats for babies, pet accessories and cool mousepads than fine art!  Bitter, moi?  

So, dear readers, stay tuned for the ongoing saga of my personal version of the age old struggle between soul-satisfyingly creative works and financially necessary marketable items, and how this one woman finds a compromise that puts food on the table, keeps me from ever having to occupy an office cubicle again, and does not require helping someone make their child resemble a pumpkin. Guess this turned out to be a longer post than I expected!

Here is the poem referred to at the top of my post, in its entirety, and now more apt than ever.

Open House by Theodore Roethke

 My secrets cry aloud.
I have no need for tongue.
My heart keeps open house,
My doors are widely swung.
An epic of the eyes
My love, with no disguise.

My truths are all foreknown,
This anguish self-revealed.
I’m naked to the bone,
With nakedness my shield.
Myself is what I wear:
I keep the spirit spare.

The anger will endure,
The deed will speak the truth
In language strict and pure.
I stop the lying mouth:
Rage warps my clearest cry
To witless agony.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Turning over a new leaf

In honor of this season of beautiful transition, I thought I’d include some images of autumn leaves in this post. Autumn is my favorite time of year, and here in New England offers not only the perfect weather – not too hot, not too cold – but some of the most spectacular views Nature can create. Already there are small pockets of fiery red appearing in some of the trees. Though the weather has been so unpredictable, extreme and erratic lately, I think it’s finally safe to put the air conditioner and summer clothes back into storage and start mentally preparing for a long cold winter! But first, there are several glorious weeks of crisp air and stunning colors to enjoy. 

Home is what you have to leave 
to know where you belong

Because I come from a family of professors and have spent most of my working life in scholarly libraries, for me, autumn is not just about the end of summer heat and outdoor activities, but also contains in it the excitement of new possibilities that come with the new school semester. As I continue to pick college towns to live in, the academic schedule still informs my sense of late September as a time of renewal and beginnings as a fresh group of bright young students starts to appear on the deserted heat-dazed streets of summer, just as the bold colors of fall foliage start to emerge!

 I've always looked up to happiness

As part of my preparation for the SoWa outdoor art markets Brian and I began participating in yesterday, I reviewed my files of images and selected what I thought were my most striking (and marketable!) photographs, for reproductions in medium sized and large mounts and as smaller hopefully more approachable and affordable note cards. It became clear that I am mainly a two season photographer – in winter I take mostly black and whites, and in autumn I break from my preferred medium and shoot color.   I’ve tried spring and summer, and they just don’t hold as much interest for me, in terms of colors or lighting or subject, or bring the same results. I think the only successful shots I’ve taken in early spring were after a freak late winter snowstorm – and as for summer, it was a rainy chilly gray day that tasted of early fall!

In the Conservatory, 
the bonsai are concise. 
It's their fidelity I like, 
a poem should be so true 
a hundred year old oak that casts 
the shadow of a child

All images in this post, and most of the ones I brought to market, were taken in New York City, my artistic wellspring and muse; the words are drawn from poems written about or in my hometown. The shots featured here were all from one October visit to quite possibly my favorite place on Earth, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It is a sanctuary in a city that can wear you down and out, and kept me sane while I still lived in Manhattan; any trip back home now includes a pilgrimage to this sacred spot.  It boasts all kinds of local and exotic plants, from the tiniest herbs to the largest trees, hundreds of flowers on a schedule arranged so that something is always in bloom year round, and presents itself in a variety of seasonal forms, plus meandering streams and pathways, and a small resident fish and bird population.

love the world within

In the autumn months, trees attract dozens of local and foreign photographers. I actually had to wait my turn for some of the more popular trees pictured here, finding my own unique angle and connection to the subject under the pressure of company and a time constraint! I have visited and photographed the BBG in every season, including during springtime when the blossoming cherry trees create a pink snowstorm of petals overhead and underfoot, but the images I love are from autumn. It’s my hope and belief that my passion and love for, and what I consider a longstanding intimate friendship with this place shows through in the images I’ve taken and will make them appealing to buyers as I display them every Sunday from now through November.

Autumn also means harvest, and storing things up for the hard season to come.  My own personal growing season has involved creating market inventory and enjoying all these new friendships on Blogger with likeminded creative souls.  Now I feel it’s time to reap the rewards of my labors. After much planning and hard work, yesterday Brian and I drove in to Boston. With me were close to 200 pieces all hand assembled and inscribed.  It proved to be a slow day for all vendors, and our sales were minimal. But many passing people were drawn into our tent and stopped to look and talk, and many who kept walking paused and had looks of pleasure on their faces as they surveyed our work. We were even interviewed on video for a local college newspaper!  Brian’s impressions and photos will appear in his regular Thursday posting, but from my side of the tent, I considered this a good strong beginning! It was a long day from loading up at 6am to unloading back at the studio at 6pm, and we will be doing it again next weekend for a two day event that includes one of the Boston area’s biggest Open Studios, during which some of the best local artists and galleries open their doors to the public. This happening, which generally attracts thousands of folks who are specifically looking for art and artists, not just out on a warm autumn day walking their dogs, should prove to be quite an experience for us!

On a float at water's edge
 I crouch a while content.
Within me and without, 
I'm mostly of this element, 
and love to listen to a lake's 
liquid soliloquy.

Once selling season is over I hope to focus exclusively on the more creative side of things, experiment and push myself a little, and as the first snow falls, hunker down indoors and with no distractions give myself the time and room for some of the ambitious projects I’ve been envisioning, in great part thanks to my exposure to and interactions with some of you followers out there! So, with all this inspiration, and a little less urgency to manufacture marketable goods, who knows what will burst forth next spring?

 this brief dark life suddenly awakening

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wool Gathering

Last week I visited my local crafts store to buy materials for the scarves I plan to sell this fall market season.  To anyone who has worked with fibers, fabrics, papers, beads, buttons and other oddments, from the casual crafter to the expert textile artist, stores like this are the equivalent of letting a mouse run free in a cheese shop!  Windsor Buttons in Boston has every yarn in every imaginable color, texture and animal of origin, including my favorite, alpaca. These creatures, whom I had the opportunity to care for and train as a volunteer on a working farm five years ago, have personalities as deep and rich as the fiber they produce!  Windsor Buttons not only has a huge selection of alpaca yarns, but also all the trimmings and equipment to make something marvelous out of them. There is no such thing as leaving there without a large sack full of the makings of things I didn’t even know I was going to be making! I try to be disciplined, but… 

Before I left to indulge my addiction, Brian asked me “is it like buying paint?” and I said “yes! exactly!” though up until that moment I hadn’t made the connection, not only that painters must experience this same kid-in-the-candystore feeling of endless possibility and ravenous hunger in an art supply shop, but also, that when it comes to selecting and using yarn, I’m like a painter choosing colors. It is always a combination of what I have in mind, plus what’s available, plus my surroundings feeding ideas subliminally into my thoughts, plus how the colors themselves eventually sit next to each other and tell me what goes with what.

Not surprisingly, I’m greatly influenced by painters when I conceive patterns for my scarves.  I have always been intrigued and inspired by masters like Mark Rothko above and Clyfford Still below who possessed such an amazing grasp of how colors behave alongside each other, how every pairing will be different, that just as it is with different people bringing out different qualities in each other, red with black is not the same as that same red next to white or maroon or yellow.

I didn’t realize until I’d finished this most recent scarf that it was a direct borrowing of Still’s primary palette of colors and vertical thrust. I now want to do a piece that will even more directly follow his jagged lines and shapes, or a Rothko tribute that blends the color transitions with more painterly smoothness. This won’t be easy using a traditional crochet stitch, but where’s the fun in doing something familiar, expected or easy? 

Half the yarns I bought last week were suggested by some gorgeous blue and purple beads I bought 5 years ago that were getting tired of waiting to be useful, so I selected colors that would help fulfill their long-delayed purpose.  Perhaps they will be the materials for the more subtle Rothko style I’m envisioning. The other half was thanks to a last minute suggestion made by some brickwork I passed on my way to the train -- the salmon pink, light terracotta, brown and beige mortar looked stunning in the full noontime sun!  And while I don’t usually work in such pale or earthy colors and had no plans for a piece that would employ this palette or design…how could I resist the command of such a lovely brick wall? So, here are the beginnings of possibly the first brick facade built entirely out of crocheted alpaca fiber!

And speaking of things that aren’t easy, in only four days, Brian and I will be participating in the SoWa Market in Boston for our first of 5 Sundays scheduled through the end of October. My next post will be a review of how it all went!  And more documentation of my progress as a fiber mason! Enjoy the rest of your week and weekend, all, and as ever, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine Eleven

 11am by Edward Hopper
Instead of the post I had planned for today, I decided to honor this date, which has so much significance for so many people, by sharing my own 9/11 story.  

Nine years ago this morning, I was sitting facing a whitewashed brick wall, in a one-room shoebox of an apartment on the bad side of 106th Street in Manhattan, drinking coffee and noisily writing a letter on my manual typewriter.  I was in my second year of a low residency graduate program for creative writing, and while I only had to appear on campus in Vermont twice a year, I had assignments and reports to mail to my advisor every month.  Of course, I had waited until the last minute and in order to meet deadline, I got up very early and had already been working for hours before the sun rose.

This writing program had shaken apart everything I believed about myself as a writer, and the pieces had yet to come back together. I was living alone, unhappy in a low level job at the library of the college I had attended 15 years earlier and barely escaped from both sane and alive, and the most reliable, healthy and satisfying relationships I had were with my two cats, Dante and Marlowe. 

I was trying to explain to my advisor, a tremulous beam of brilliance named Mary Ruefle, the barren state of my creative soul. I felt lost, I told her, as if I were walking around in a devastated city with all the landmarks gone. I had no idea that while I wrote these words, planes were headed towards the World Trade Center, and everything, everything would change.

Just as this tragedy was occurring miles away downtown, I walked my usual ten blocks along Broadway, north to campus and my job. I was late, depressed, distracted and exhausted , and didn’t register that people had already gathered on the street in front of whatever televisions were available, in the doorways of bars and restaurants, near radios at the counters of shops. In my sleep-deprived brain, I wondered if there were some important international sporting event happening in another time zone that people would be so keen on following news at such an hour. By the time I arrived at work, the mood was grim and anxious, and I learned what was really going on.

The rest of the day was a nightmare of witnessing and processing the unthinkable. Even miles away uptown, our phone and internet service in the library was lost in the communications chaos that ensued in the city that morning. Ironically, I became the main source of news through the radio of my old Sony Walkman.  “Pentagon hit too?”  “Second Tower down!” We were sent home early and given the next day off.  As I walked south, retracing my morning steps feeling utterly disoriented, already the smell of burning was traveling north up the Hudson River, unlike anything I have ever experienced, and hope never to experience again.

Lives were lost, stories were ending by the hundreds and thousands, but the next day, my story began, and my life was, in a way, saved.  As I lay in bed, windows firmly shut, but still sick to my stomach and sick at heart, I received a phone call from Boston, a job offer, and an invitation to an interview the following week. I had sent out an application the previous week, in a desperate attempt to affect some kind of change in my life, which I could see was heading in the wrong direction. I had forgotten completely about it and certainly didn’t expect a reply or have any real plan for how exactly to uproot and transplant my existence.  But here was the reply – and I said yes, still not knowing if I would even be able physically and psychologically to leave my apartment and descend into a crowded underground station to board a train. Something in me knew this was my future life calling to me, and I had better answer and figure out the details later.

The week that intervened was surreal. Everyone on the streets was nervous and scared not knowing what to expect next, if there would be more. There were two shootings on the street below my window, drug deals gone bad, with both criminals and police especially on edge. The sound of the shots sent me under the bedcovers with my hands over my ears, shaking uncontrollably. What next? What next?  One afternoon, I summoned my courage and went downtown to Ground Zero, wearing a scarf over my face to be able to breathe, and while they were not allowing anyone closer than a few blocks to the site, I saw exhausted dust-blackened firemen riding by on their trucks, like escapees from Hell. We all spontaneously and unanimously applauded as they passed. There was a strange stillness, and I could feel in the air, rushing right through me, that there was still human energy lingering in that place, and it was full of sorrow, fear, confusion and a little anger.

But slowly, everything calmed down, people got on with their lives, only there was a wound in the side of the city that would never heal, and never be forgotten.  And I got the job at the Fine Arts Library at Harvard, relocated and started a new life here which has brought me new struggles, but ultimately led me to a rare and cherished period of happiness, unlike any I have ever had the good fortune to know,  and for which I am, every single day, so, so grateful.

After I publish this post, I will again watch the television coverage broadcast from Ground Zero, as I have done every anniversary of this date, and as they ring the bell and stand silent at the exact moment the Towers fell, and read from the list of names of the dead, I will again cry for my city, for all it lost, for all it means to me, and wish I could be there.  For me, the losses of that day will always be inseparable from one of the great positive turning points of my life. But I will always be mindful of those less fortunate.

This post is dedicated to the lives of all the victims of 9/11, their surviving loved ones, and their stories. May they all rest in peace.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First we see the parts disconnected...

Woman Standing by the Sea (Pablo Picasso)
by Gabriella Mirollo

First we see the parts disconnected,
some sharp, some soft as stones
the sea deposits at our feet.
But while each feature interrupts
and contradicts another,
there is balance in the way she stands
on a small round raised mound of sand,
sandy-gray herself, before a blue sea
inseparable from blue sky,
save the thinnest wisp of horizon.

Her mood too is monotone.
She has holes the wind blows through,
yet arrests the eye
in her graceful abstraction,
lets us guess whether
that little sphere atop a pyramid
is her whole mind or just one notion,
those tiny cones
her breasts, ears or eyes,
that smudge bellybutton, nipple, bruise.

She knows it doesn’t matter.
The sea is calm, the sand cool.
Her legs stand their ground like obelisks.
Only one thing is unmistakable,
the arms she holds above her head.
One hand grips the other by the wrist, 
completes the circuit of herself,
the sum of her parts.
She keeps the sky caught in the crook of her arm.

After a few posts dealing with more abstract philosophical matters, I thought it might be good this week to write about my working process and share some of what I’ve been doing when I’m not composing posts and trying to keep up with all the other wonderful blogs out there! In compliance with a personal request I’ve begun with a whole poem of mine, instead of just the usual snippets. Choosing to offer this particular poem in its entirety seemed ironically appropriate for a post about putting pieces and parts together!

I could be
                             the slick black back
                     of  a sleepless street
                                                     smelling of rain and smoke
all is calm but in that calm
                     whatever it is finds a way
                        in shimmering puddles
      blind fingers reaching
                                         for the world

Speaking of which, before I go any further, I’d like to voice my gratitude to artist and new friend Patti Roberts-Pizzuto, whose excellent blog and shop you can find here and here.  Patti works in many media – collage, needlework, paper, painting. She also maintains a blog in which she shares a daily found poem assembled from bits of text she has collected over the years; thanks to her marvelous agility of mind and a sprinkling of pixie dust, these words and phrases always form themselves into beautiful little poems that speak large truths. She recently asked me to be a guest poet, which post you can find here. I’ve also included images of the results above. For lack of my own treasure trove of word scavengings, I cut up a few dozen of my poems, old and new, let them sit in my Tibetan singing bowl until they were ready to be sorted and selected, and strangely pulled together a poem that was a product both of conscious choice and unconscious happenstance and told me something about myself I didn’t know.

like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting

This got me thinking, how is this combination of a little intention and intuition plus a whole lot of happy accident any different from writing “original” poetry? Or any artwork for that matter. I don’t create any new words, I don’t sit down with a plan and execute it to perfection, I just wait until some urgent mood, metaphor, image or theme rises to the surface, locate and re-purpose the same old words from the very limited English language at my disposal, put them together in interesting ways and keep rearranging them until they all fit into some form, one I don’t know the exact size or shape of until it’s done! It’s really more improvisation than creation, and I don’t feel I’ve done a good job unless I’m a little bit surprised by the results, and a little bit guilty if someone praises me for my excellent control of composition! At which point the poem and I exchange sidelong glances because we know the real truth!

Yesterday's News (Brockton Station)

This is true of photography too. I am not so self-effacing that I will deny I have a good eye for something that will make a good photograph, but mostly I have good luck and a lot of patience and faith. I don’t really know how the resulting image of what first caught my eye will look until the negative is developed, or what it will mean until I’ve looked at it a few times. Sometimes naming it opens up a whole new world of meaning. Quite often there are things in it I didn’t even consciously register when I aimed my camera: perhaps I sensed them, but I didn’t look for or include them on purpose. And it takes a lot of shots to get that keeper. I save them all anyway, because sometimes a formerly dismissed shot suddenly looks better than I remembered, and it begins a new life outside the file box.
Self Storage

So then, it’s about receptivity, being open and surrendering to the act of creation, which requires setting your ego aside and letting something else take charge. At the same time, it requires great arrogance to involve yourself in the process of creation at all! There is a middle ground, where we must balance the pride and credit we have every right to take in and for the accomplishment of creating something beautiful and meaningful, with the humility we need to cultivate in order to let influences and ideas develop with their own momentum and direction and take us with them to a new place we never imagined before, giving us what Robert Frost called “the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.” Thanks for following, everyone, and enjoy a season full of happy surprises.

Friday, September 3, 2010

She is not her body, and nothing but her body

I sing the body electric  (Walt Whitman)

Not only do I have a wicked sense of humor when I’m not being soooo serious (see previous post), but it also turns out when I am not just words and images floating in my own mind or on a virtual page, I have a body. Frankly, I have never understood people with passionate throbbing intelligence, but for all they care for, use and enjoy them, bodies that might as well be a plexiglass container for their brain. (Okay, I’m a Star Trek geek too, but that’s another post entirely). Physical exercise is just as important to me as its mental counterpart and can be just as creative. I can’t live without it. Or at least until recently.
a whole woman is a heavy burden…

I am a marathoner. To date, I have completed the 26.2 mile distance 18 times and three 50K courses. I’m no born athlete. I come from, and have mostly associated with, armchair travelers and sedentary intellectuals, and my ridiculously sluggish metabolism has kept me overweight much of my life. I started late, and slow, but between 2005 and 2009 I dropped almost 2 hours from my first finish time, not to mention 15 or 20 pounds. That first photo was my personal best, in Baltimore, last October. By April of this year I had four races already behind me for 2010, 8 more on the calendar, and was setting my sights on longer, faster and stronger performances for 2011 and beyond. I was doing everything right in terms of fitness, nutrition and necessary rest and recovery. Then my knee gave out halfway through a trail race at the Navarino Nature Preserve in Shiocton, Wisconsin, which I finished anyway on sheer stubborn determination (see grim resolve on face in photo above). After that, I stopped exercising, gained weight, and my body and I stopped speaking to each other, except for the occasional tearful argument.

this is how it feels to be all promise…

I need a challenge. Not the kind you struggle with and complain about and get to feel nobly frustrated and imprisoned by, but a real hard specific undertaking I can work towards and watch myself get closer to. What drives me to question and go beyond established limits in my art also makes mere marathons not enough when there are 50 and 100 milers out there to make myself into that version of me who can conquer them. The process of carving that new me out of the old me always feels like the living equivalent of Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves statues. But unlike any other enterprise, including poetry and photography and many of my human engagements, training for marathons has always given me back exactly what I put into it. It doesn’t require any outside approval, acceptance, promotion or support, and the success you experience is equal to the effort you expend. Out on the roads and trails, it’s just me, one body, in motion. Animal. Pure. The prisoner released from the unformed stone. It feels so good it never even occurred to me that an injury could take away so quickly and completely what I relied upon to provide a natural high and also define who I am. Runners’ withdrawal is no myth; the associated depression is very real and can sneak up and swallow you whole if you let it.

one door opens another closes…

This is by way of thanking my traitorous bad knee – and job-related elbow tendonitis, and my new companion Sciatica (giving a whole new meaning to Whitman’s body electric), for the desperately dark and empty space that opened just in time to welcome this new challenge of going from a part-time dabbler and dreamer to a full-time working artist. There seems to be a great tradition of artists whose work benefitted from some sort of bodily crisis or obstacle that gave them no choice but to focus wholeheartedly on their artwork. There continues to be a fire in me to conceive a goal and apply myself to it, body and soul, and if that fire isn’t directed properly it consumes me from within. I believe this fire can one day be divided between the pursuits of an artist and those of an endurance athlete, but I have many months of physical therapy ahead before I can join those runners I envy when I see them passing by on the street, light and strong and free as gazelles, and then catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window as I roll myself up a hill like Sisyphus and his rock. For now, I have important work to do indoors, but I’ll be back out there soon. This week’s reading spotlight is a sample of some of the many running magazines I’ve let sit untouched all summer. I’m now especially looking for articles on how to re-motivate and come back from an injury, safely and stronger than ever. Stay tuned.

Where I'm going...