Friday, February 25, 2011

Transition


Atelier Gabriella

As it seems to be the week for blogging artists such as Caio and Brian to invite you into their studios, I thought I would begin my post with some views of what will be my private atelier for the next four months.  As some of you know, since last summer, Brian and I have been sharing a large space that we were subletting from an established local artist who needed some time away from her work to refresh her creativity. There was always an understanding that we would be turning the room back over to her in the summer of 2011, and while we kept a watchful eye over her tools and works in storage, representing a long and full career in multiple media, there was always a limit to how far we could claim the space as our own.  So, last month when a new rental opened up down the hall in the same building, we jumped on it, even though the lease began in March, a little sooner than we needed it.

 Blank canvas

The added expense of paying for two studios for the next four months will certainly be far outweighed by the chance for each of us to expand into our own rooms and both create and exhibit our works separately during the big Open Studios event at Vernon Street on April 30th and May 1st. Brian has already shown the happy results of his new occupancy in his last post. The other side of that story is that the wall you have seen for many months in Brian’s posts as the background to his paintings in progress is now completely empty – and completely mine.

Floorspace
 
I must say there is both excitement and anxiety in facing the large white expanse I will be filling with my own creations over the next several weeks. With Brian’s worktable and supplies gone, there is a large central area available to me now that will be perfect for some ambitious photo shoots, as well as allowing me to set up a display environment more like an official gallery. In many ways it is time to put away little things, like the box of scarves and wristies that I will not be making or selling again until late in the year, and rise to a whole new level of professionalism as a photographer.

 Ready for storage

I will miss the quiet pleasures of gathering yarns and putting color combinations together to complete in a predictable number of hours an affordable and attractive item that requires little promotion to make a sale and see it go out into the world to be enjoyed. One of my last pieces on the fiber side of my creative activities was a scarf my mother requested after she saw what a beautiful scarf I made for my Dad recently. In the interest of fairness, and keeping their 58 year long marriage going, not to mention ensuring that my father actually gets to wear the scarf I made for him, I created a new scarf to my mother’s taste. She is as big a lover of black and white studies in contrast as I am, and you can see the proof below in the creation I mailed to her yesterday. This piece is the perfect transition to the black and white images I will be focusing on in my photographic works. It was very hard not to keep it for myself!




But now I must turn my attention to photography, a slower, more difficult, uncertain and demanding process, in creation and in promotion. Technically, I have a lot to learn, and personally, a lot to discover about myself. As I sat in the studio the first night that Brian’s things were all gone and I was alone for the first time in that beautiful empty space, beginning to feel myself rise to the occasion of being its one and only resident creative force, I sensed that everything that will be done and enjoyed in this realm of possibility over the next intense few months was already there with me, like friendly ghosts of the future I can’t wait to meet, and that is just as eager to meet me.

Shadow of a Future Self

Until then, I imagine there will be much traffic up and down the hall over the next few weeks as Brian and I visit each other. He has everything he needs in his new space to keep busy, inspired and entertained, including a nice big refrigerator for snacks and adult beverages! But the larger space of which I’ll be guardian still has the more comfortable lounging section for whenever we or our fellow decadent artists need to meet, relax, and unwind after a hard day at work, under a string of blue lights.

 After the end and before the beginning 

Like the seasons about to turn, I am in that moment after the end and before the beginning, when everything  and everything is possible. All the best to each and every one of you as we wait for what promises to be an amazing spring!


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Big Picture and the Art of Focus


 Study in Contrast

I’ve written in this space about perspective, how it seems that as the years go by, and the good and bad experiences accumulate, I have become better able to put them into context, see patterns, predict trends, like a scientist conducting a longterm study in which no real conclusions can be drawn until all the evidence is in, and therefore all results are valid, be they positive or negative.  Most of all I’ve learned that whatever the variables, the one true constant is my own attempt to gather and examine the data, my own desire to learn, understand, and through that understanding, continue to grow. This is perhaps a Westerner’s best approximation of the Eastern philosophy of seeing life as all one, a continuum, in which there is no good or bad, beginning or end, only what is, and that there is always something greater than whatever or whoever it is you are struggling with at the moment. To struggle is good. To struggle means you are aware and alive. But one particular struggle should never be allowed to become so large that it overshadows the general vitality and meaning of who you are and what you are here to accomplish.

Openings

It was not always so. I think back on my melodramatic youth, in which the end of the world was imminent in repeated awful circumstances that I seemed to attract like bees to honey. I did then and do now feel things deeply. I was born without the capacity for denial or avoidance or restraint, a condition that should have diminished with each misfortune I survived, but instead only seemed to increase. As a child, I was always attuned to every vibration around me, for good and bad, and even sometimes felt other people’s joy and grief more than they did, it seemed, wondering how they could throw up walls against, filter or create compartments for the overwhelming things that roamed freely and wildly within me, even at secondhand. I was told I would grow numb with age and experience. But once I began to encounter my own endless series of thrills and ills in the world, often considering my heightened sensitivity the sooner the better extinguished, I found that instead, it thrived.

 Crossed Wires

For a long time I didn’t want to be me. Not only because I didn’t fit in, but because even if I removed myself from the world and stayed alone, it was still difficult and exhausting living life on what seemed a more intense frequency of awareness, high and low. This is not a post about manic depression. With all due respect to the bipolar, I wish it were that simple a diagnosis. They haven’t invented a name yet for what ails me.  My mind is hopelessly open and tangled. I am always available to and overrun by every possible intellectual vantage point of a situation and every unique psychological landscape of the people I engage with.  And yet I have somehow become able to cope with the chaos, the way anyone who works with fiber learns early on that large heaps of yarn or thread will always get themselves into knots, in spite of your best efforts to keep them straight, so you had better learn how to disentangle them.  To continue the metaphor, the way to do this is to examine the tangle, identify the smaller tangles of which it is comprised, and slowly work through each one, until you have one long continuous line without having to cut or throw away one inch of it. You have to be able to hold in your mind, or hands, both the parts and the whole at the same time.

the little picture
 
This post is about the blessings of focus. I follow blogs here, some of which are all words, some of which are all images, some a combination of both. It always intrigues me how we choose to present ourselves, what it is we decide to offer publicly or privately. The question is not always whether or not to be honest, but which thing to be honest about, and how.  Much can be revealed not only in what one says, but how one says it, what subjects get highlighted and examined, visually or verbally. Even then, a year’s worth of extraordinarily forthright posts might not make up even a corner of the mosaic of one complex person’s inner world.  And I know that those things I don’t see represented, don’t cease to exist because they are not on view. I would hope that the most conscientious of us try to engage a similar focus every day of our lives, in all we do, not out of shame or deception, but a conscious choice to invest energy in and pay attention to our most positive aspects and pursuits. There is of course a negative side to this selection process, when the little picture presented, however accurate in and of itself, is part of a bigger contradictory picture that, if revealed, could cause harm to anyone who might be relying upon the former as the whole and only truth. I think many of us have had occasion to be on either or both the giving and receiving end of such a shock and found our relationship with Truth never the same again.

 The Whole Truth

For my part, in life, I would always rather see the big picture, the whole picture, however daunting or difficult. There is nothing more frightening to me than incomplete information.  If I have all the facts, I can decide what sense to make of them, where to place my focus, whereas if I am given only a select portion, there is always the chance of some other information coming to light that will render my conclusions meaningless.  As a photographer and a poet, to me there is no conflict in my mind between these two ways of seeing, wide and narrow.  I am all about taking a lot of compelling and often painful available material and stimuli and finding a way to distill it all down to a few small precise things that somehow convey the dizzying whole. This is not just a creative strategy, but a personal necessity.

 The Big Picture

I have always admired novelists and filmmakers their scope and range. The world they offer is the one I am living in always, in the world and in my mind, vast, complex and untidy. But there are times, even if I have examined and preserved and in a way absorbed into me all the messy heaps of original material, when I need to select and edit. Dozens of pages in a journal become a sonnet.  Photographs get cropped down to the one detail that makes sense or serves a specific purpose.  Focus can make a large thing small, or a small thing large. I have learned that one can see and feel everything, give it its full due, and then choose to make that cut that will bring something to light, and set something else aside, out of frame, or perhaps only saved to a file for later review.

The Art of Focus
 
For anyone who lives life fully and freely, it is always, and should be always TOO MUCH. Young and old, we all suffer from an impractical and dangerous ideal of simplicity and ease, and an unnecessary burden of guilt should we find being human or living life not to be a simple or easy thing. Ambiguities and ambivalences, moral, emotional, intellectual and behavioral, abound, along with incompatibilities, inconsistencies and outright contradictions. Life is not about absolutes of good or bad, right or wrong. It seems I will never be too old or wise to face another challenge to my already highly flexible and tentative grasp of where I and those I know and love fall on those or any other spectra. I read many confessions lately of loss of balance and direction, falling behind, not being able to do this or be that, and coming to terms with various public and private failings. I would offer that it is better to be a person beset by so much possibility they feel lost, fall short or screw up, than one without a doubt or care in the world, with nothing to do but kill time. So I would urge everyone out there feeling a little overwhelmed lately to embrace the big picture, however chaotic, and also practice the art of focus where necessary, wisely, and well.

Love your Vortex!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two

So many of my photographs feature 
solitary figures or empty landscapes, 
for a change, and in honor of Valentine's Day, 
I'm sharing some images of duos.


 Waiting


  
Water Water 

 
 Flowers


Touch of Autumn


 Paths Crossing

 
 Heat Exhaust


Winter Kiss


This post is dedicated to Brian, with gratitude and love.



Sunday, February 6, 2011

Late Bloom


 

At the time of my last post I was still battling a bad stomach virus, my second prolonged illness in the past few months. I seem to get sick a lot more often now that I am no longer a marathoner.  Let me rephrase that – I am still a marathoner, I just happen not to have run one in 9 months and not be in training for any future events, just as I still and will always consider myself a poet even if I haven’t written a new poem in a few years and have none in progress, and a photographer even if I just opened this post with an image taken months ago because I haven’t got any good new photos to share today. These things are who I am, even if I am not doing them at the moment.  When I was doing marathons, I had a perfect record of not dropping out of a single one of my 21 races, even though there were many that reduced me to deep fatigue, various pains and stupid tears of frustration somewhere along the way. Whatever happened in those middle miles, by the last few, I was running strong and overtaking people who had passed me and asked if I needed help hours before. Call me the Comeback Kid.


I will never know what it is in me that can be so weak and pathetic one second, a quitter, a loser, and so strong and motivated and indomitable the next.  The one thing I do know is that I need to write my way through such mysteries in order to try to understand them.  Last week, while still quite ill, for example, I ventured out into the heaps of snow to run some errands that were necessary, but face it, the world would not have ended if they had waited another day. I wanted to take a walk. I needed to take a walk, after too many days housebound with no exercise. I knew I probably wasn’t capable of this walk, but I did it anyway.  In my marathoning days, the only time I ever failed to finish a scheduled race was by not starting it at all if I was clearly too injured or untrained to complete it with any kind of satisfaction. But once I lined up at the starting line, there was no option but to finish, and so was the case with my walk.

  

I walked over a mile with rubber legs shaking the whole way, a spinning head, and a vigilant eye for  a railing to lean on, and the most convenient and secluded snowbank in which to vomit if need be. It never occurred to me to turn back. I was committed and I was going to finish this silly test of my strength. I made it to my destination and back, maybe 2 or 3 miles total. And for the first time at the end of that day, I slept well and was able to get up the next morning rested enough to get through a short workout, after which I felt dizzy but invigorated and with a clearer head and more stable emotions than I’d felt in a week. As often happens when I’m pedaling my indoor bike or out on a long walk, ideas were popping up in my head here and there, themes to explore, things to create. It was as if the bad toxins were being pushed out and the good chemistry was coming back into balance.


Do I secretly enjoy fighting back from the brink? Or am I just at the brink so often I have learned how to fight back from it?  Is it that I’ve never been “allowed” to be weak? And by whom? Those around me, or myself, trying to be as strong as I could for their sake? Or to live up to some standard too far removed now ever to figure out who exactly imposed it?  Or is it that I’m never taken seriously when I’m weak because I rally and cover my weakness like a wounded animal and then wonder why no one thinks I’m as bad off as I am? Surely my protestations of being at the mercy of a virus lost their credibility as I walked a brisk 3 miles over snow-packed sidewalks. I suppose we all want to be strong on the one hand and respected as such, and weak on the other hand and taken care of as such. Is this conflict exclusive to women? I do wonder if men just always tough it out regardless, because overt weakness is not an alternative under any conditions. At any rate, in spite of being worried I had fallen hopelessly behind by taking a week off to be sick, this past week I managed to have some very productive days, including completing the scarf for my father who received it in the mail yesterday. He and my mother love this scarf so much, I may have to make one for my mother too, to make sure the one meant for my Dad doesn’t end up in her closet!


But back to the notion of late blooming. The tulip whose image you see above is called the Queen of Night and it is my favorite flower. It’s the blackest one I’ve ever seen, but has a deep purple hue that comes to life in the afternoon sun. It is a late blooming variety, in its full glory when all the others are on the decline. In so many ways, in terms of my accomplishments in life, I am a late bloomer, hitting all the major milestones later than one is supposed to or the people around me seem to be managing. And yet, when I look at what I’ve accomplished so far I think I still haven’t hit full bloom yet! But I am also a late bloomer in the natural cycles of my energies and enthusiasms. I struggle for a long time it seems, after a slow unremarakble start. Things can get very very bad for a long time and reach the point of collapse, like a flower sleeping underground. And down under that ground I can hear all the other flowers out in the sun enjoying life, being admired, while I push and push against the hard darkness. Then something gives way, just when I am at my weakest, and I find that last shred of inner strength to push through. And there I am – Queen of the Night whose blackness turns to purple in the full sun.


I end this post by revealing a mystery. The Woolblade has arrived at its final destination, the arm of Monica Croese, a marvelous painter whose work inspired the design, and whose blog you can find here.  This post is dedicated to her, another lovely Dutch flower who knows how to break through the hard darkness into the light.