Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moon & Stars

Moon & Stars Scarf : closeup

I am one of those people who follows astrology, but only so far as it seems the best available or most amusing explanation for certain obvious patterns of personality or events that can neither be ignored nor accounted for in any other way.  I don’t let the position of the planets dictate my choices.  For instance, I do not cease all communications, avoid all electronics devices, and cancel all travel arrangements during Mercury retrograde periods. But you can be sure my computer is up to date on its backups, I leave plenty of extra time getting places, and am not at all surprised when important emails fail to reach their destinations or do so only to be completely misunderstood!  Likewise, I’ve never refused someone’s company because of their birth sign. Let’s just say that the older I get, the more it becomes evident that the people whose company has remained an essential and enjoyable part of my life seem to be clustered in a more than random manner around certain select signs, and that those people who share the same sign are quite reliably and entertainingly alike.

 Moon & Stars Scarf : the long view

I’ve always felt an especially strong connection to the activities of the moon.  No, I am not a Pisces. Or a Cancer! But as a woman, I suppose I have a predisposition to affinity for any entity that experiences dramatic cycles of light and dark, sometimes hiding behind clouds, sometimes illuminating entire landscapes, sometimes rising high, sometimes sinking low, one day a full circle, one day a mere sliver, and then, when seemingly nothing at all, in a phase known as “in the dark of the moon,” actually on the verge of being “new.”  I’m sure there are plenty of non-water sign, non-females out there who would also recognize themselves in that description.  The full moon makes lunatics of us all.  Just ask emergency medical personnel and police officers what happens to their statistics on nights when the moon is full!  So, when I resumed my seasonal crocheting work a week or so ago, it seemed not only fitting but undeniable that my first piece would be an all-black scarf with silver beads, a tribute to both the full and the new moon.

 Crane for the Sept 27th New Moon

No one talks much about the new moon. For many years now, on the day of the new moon, I’ve indulged in the monthly ritual of writing down a few positive intentions and expectations for the upcoming four weeks. I fold the sheet of paper into an origami crane (which basic creature has proven the limit of my ancient art of paper folding expertise) and then to the best of my ability remain both open to, and active in the making of, any opportunity to fulfill these wishes. At the end of the four weeks, right before the next new moon, I unfold the crane, review how much closer I got to realizing my hopes and dreams, think about what needs to change, and write up another list to be folded into a new crane. Sometimes I haven’t accomplished anything. Sometimes I’ve actually encountered losses and setbacks. But more often than not I find that the simple act of writing down what I wanted and needed, and dare I say deserved, helped focus my efforts towards making some kind of progress. It’s a beautiful exercise.

Three New Wrist Warmers

At the last new moon, one of my goals was to make a good start on new crocheting projects, looking ahead to the weather getting colder and the holidays getting closer. At the time of the new moon this morning, I had one scarf and three pairs of new wrist warmers completed. I’ll be adding all of these items to my etsy shop, which is the exclusive online seller of my handmade fiber creations. The new wrist warmers are a bit of a departure, as I have finally learned how to make horizontal stripes and still keep a shape that fits snug on the hand.  I am also using a new fiber, still 100% baby alpaca from Peru, but spun in a looser fuzzier style that gives texture variations to the piece.  I also decided to go for a “no-frills” look with no ruffled edges or decorative buttons for those customers who prefer their accessories unadorned.  I’ll be featuring  new pieces here as I complete them. As always, if you are interested in a custom color combination or design, please let me know and I will do what I can to accommodate you. 

 So Many Possibilities... 

It seems, even with repeated examination, life passes by too quickly. For me, taking time every four weeks to think about what lies ahead, and how I would like to emerge on the other side, slows time down for just a moment, and makes clear to the Universe that I understand perhaps every moment can’t be of great value in terms of one’s personal or professional progress, but I for one am going to treat every moment as if it had that potential. I will not be caught looking away when the smallest of moments decides to reveal the greatest of rewards. These postings also help in that regard, enabling me not just to record my weekly progress but to give myself a chance to recognize and make sense of it. To have such wonderful folks as yourselves following me and giving me even greater and often wiser perspective is a gift beyond measure. Many thanks to you all, and to all a Happy New Moon.  Don’t forget to make a wish.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marking Time

Farewell to Summer

Like many of you in this hemisphere, I’ve been wondering lately and complaining loudly about how fast this summer has come and gone. It may be that the weather was so erratic, and at times catastrophic, the best days for which this season is famous and cherished were few and far between. Or maybe I have just been too distracted by other things to enjoy summer activities. The fact that it took me five weeks to shoot my most recent roll of film seems evidence of the latter.

 Marking Time

But reviewing images spanning the last five weeks of summer has proven to be an interesting and informative exercise in perspective. For instance, I took the photograph above at an antique store in Ipswich last month, around the time I decided to do a post on the admirable art of bringing new life to salvaged materials. That post sat in a file unpublished and eventually appeared without this image because the film was still in my camera only half-shot at the time. As often happens, I was ahead of myself. As also often happens, having my initial intentions thwarted turned out to be a beneficial intervention by the Universe, whose plans are always far superior and more timely than my own. The Universe, after all, has been around a lot longer than I have, and hopefully accumulated some wisdom in the process, to which I defer and owe the happy circumstance that now I can present this image in its rightful spot, in the middle of a post about marking time.

 Half Off

This is another image from the same antique shop, at which every item was being sold at half price, a clever marketing strategy compelling you to purchase all sorts of things you have no use or desire for, but feel you cannot leave behind, even if the reduced price was probably still more than the item was worth. Our willpower was rewarded at the next shop we visited, where everything was fairly priced according to its true value, and we found two wonderful pieces whose possession was a done deal before the price tag was even revealed. There’s a lesson in here somewhere that goes beyond the etiquette of successful antiquing to greater applications in life. Quality is sometimes worth waiting, and working, and paying for.

 The White Feather of Surrender

One of the few times I managed to spend an afternoon at the beach, I brought my camera, which I almost never do, and took both the image that begins this post, and the one above, of a seagull feather in a tidal pool. The backstory of this image is that while my attention was turned away from my beach towel, the creature with which this feather is associated took his opportunity to assess my belongings and attempt to pillage whatever seemed most likely to contain snack food. A moment of serene focus, hovering closely over an impossibly white feather marooned on its island of sparkling sand, quickly became a scene of broad comedy as I chased the seabird away with loud noises and flailing arms. He was unimpressed. The lesson: don’t take yourself too seriously. No one else does.


All too soon it seems that recreational activities have moved indoors, and as is typical here in the Northeast, last week came the day that I went to sleep in one season and woke up in another. The sun is still warm and can heat up a room, especially in late afternoon, but outdoors, sweaters must be hastily pulled on if you simply cross the street to the shady side. We have already had our first overnight frost warnings, prompting urban gardeners to pull in their potted plants from balconies, decks and patios, as we will all begin to pull ourselves in and hunker down for winter, which will surely arrive just as we have let go of summer and begun enjoying the beautiful brevity of autumn. 

 Last Call  

The last images on my roll of film were taken on an evening out at a local Irish bar, another place I tend not to bring expensive and delicate photographic equipment. My intention was simply to shoot off the roll in my impatience to see finally those antiques and beach shots, and I didn’t much care at this point that the lighting was dim and the sharpness likely to be compromised both by slow shutter speed and the difficulties of focusing a lens manually with a few drained glasses of Shiraz already dulling my senses. I shot randomly, whimsically, and at times with uncensored melodrama, and I am very pleased, not only that my camera and I returned home safely, but that the percentage of good shots in this batch was just about equal to when I am shooting sober in the light of day and with all my faculties unimpaired! Not sure what the lesson is here. But it does prove that the benefits of red wine are endless.

The September equinox occurs at 09:04 (or 9:04am) Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on September 23, 2011. Wherever you may be, celebrate!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blurry Vision

 Blind Alley

One of the things lifelong wearers of corrective lenses learn early on is that good vision, like soft cheese, doesn’t last forever. Not only that, but corrected vision too has its expiration date and the cycle begins again from painfully sharp focus, to functional but transitory clearsightedness, to life literally going by in a blur.

 Dark Shadows

I got my first pair of eyeglasses at age 10, following a family tradition of nearsightedness often attributed to our noses always being in books, but probably due to some sort of past genetic commingling with bats, whose nocturnal ways and preference for black attire I also share. As a foursome in the 70s, we were unmistakably of the clan of dork, our eyeglasses the size and weight of snorkeling equipment. Over the years, styles changed and technological advancements allowed for lighter less obtrusive frames and eventually contact lenses that only fooled keen observers briefly. It’s not hard to recognize the strangely facially naked look of a former wearer of glasses; once bespectacled, always bespectacled. But throughout many changes of prescription strength and fashion statement, two dependable truths remained, as unalterable as the twin depressions on either side of the bridge of my nose – there’s nothing like a new pair of glasses to prove how much you’ve been needing them. And the day you get used to your new glasses, you are probably well on the way to needing new ones again. 


It seems to me that much the same can be said for less literal ways of perceiving the world. All of us at one time or another have moments of clarity that are in such stark opposition to the vagueness we’ve previously tolerated, our heads spin. We ask ourselves, not so much how we could have been so blind, but how we could have taken so long to correct it. And then with the passage of time, we once again become accustomed to what we see and how we see it, and think all is well, a sure sign that our vision needs some adjusting.  

Night Vision

In more ways than one, I’ve needed a prescription change for quite some time. In the literal sense, I know this because with more and more frequency, and fewer and fewer sputterings of exasperation, I seem to be taking my glasses OFF to see things. When the soft blur afforded by my naked eye is preferable to the view through the lens, the lens is obviously not doing its job. But on the more figurative side, if I, as an artist, am willing to put up with any kind of diminished capacity to sense and interpret the world around me, then I am probably not doing my job either.

Guiding Lights

My current glasses are of the perverse category known as “progressives” which is an optical phenomenon whereby someone who needs different glasses to see different distances can spend even more money on one pair of glasses with several focal points through which they can see all distances badly.  I’ve been tolerating this situation for years, but a few months ago I finally went to an eye doctor for a new prescription. And today I actually got around to ordering a new pair of glasses to fill this prescription. They are traditional bifocals, which means I will be given two choices for vision, near and far, and two choices of vantage point, bottom and top. I am greatly looking forward to not having to search around the entire undemarcated circle of the inside of my lenses, moving my head in the manner of a periscope, to find the one focal point that corresponds to the thing I am trying to look at. This sort of slowness once put entire species out of the evolutionary picture. For my part, I’d just like to be able to read a book and then look out the window without getting a migraine.

 Things are Looking Up

How odd that in an age where any image can be captured in or corrected into perfect focus, there is now a trend in photography towards the soft edges and distortions of toy cameras and cellphone captures. Certainly, the element of blurriness that would normally be considered a liability creates an interesting dreamlike effect in these images, intimate and unguarded, as if seen through the eyes of a nearsighted woman with her glasses off. As I wait for my new glasses to arrive, I remember every time I walked out of an optical shop seeing the world in almost unbearably sharp focus, my former all-embracing comfortable fuzziness replaced by stunning knife edge clarity, wondering both how I managed before without this crystal clear perspective and what I will now do with the responsibility of engaging a world I can no longer ignore. It is a moment of equal joy and sadness, and I can’t wait.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Second Lives

Sound Wave by Jean Shin

In the fall of 2008, when the Museum of Art and Design in NYC relocated from its former home across the street from and overshadowed both physically and psychologically by the Museum of Modern Art, and took up residence in a much more spacious and congenial building overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, they held an exhibit called “Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary.” 

After the Mona Lisa 7 by Devorah Sperber

The show featured works made from salvaged materials one would not usually associate with the creation of art, including sculptures made from discarded LPs, rubber tires and even a reproduction of the Mona Lisa made entirely of spools of colored thread. The collection was a true celebration of the powers of imagination, and in some cases, the extent of extraordinary patience. 

Destiny Unchanged by Chakaia Booker

We live in a culture of contradictory impulses, always questing for the next new thing while continuing to be lured by nostalgia for the past. We produce and discard things with increasing readiness and indifference, and then set up elaborate systems to process them back into usefulness. One need only toss a crumpled piece of 100% recycled paper into a dedicated bin made of 100 % recycled plastic to feel the full weight of the irony we stagger under as consumers. The certainty that nothing will be wasted has made wastefulness acceptable again.

 Tara Donovan
have a look at this awesome slideshow of her work and be amazed at the materials used! 

That irony certainly lurks behind the creations of artists like Tara Donovan, who fills gallery rooms with her elaborate constructions made from millions of paper cups and plates, straws, buttons and straight pins among others, materials that defy and transcend their own nature to become something completely other than they are, hard becoming soft, soft becoming rigid, inanimate coming to life. Her work is proof that nothing is as it seems and that anything, even the most mundane and uninspiring of items, can have a second life.

 The Strand

When I lived in NYC I would visit the Strand bookstore as often as my budget and shelf space allowed. The number of my purchases was further limited by the size and carrying power of one large reinforced canvas totebag and my own upper body strength. I miss my days indulging in the embarrassment of abandoned riches of that establishment, part bookstore, part graveyard, part junkyard, part cathedral. My mission, and the reason for my repeated visits, was not one of thrift, but salvage. I arrived with a list of recommended authors and titles, and rarely left with exactly what I was seeking, but always exactly what I required. The Strand did not hold onto its stock for long; I was one of millions passing regularly through their doors. When a book fell into my hands, it was clear that the meeting was destined.  There were times it also felt clandestine, with so much furtive running of fingers along spines in the dim and narrow recesses of a dusty aisle, like an act of recognition, kindness and faith, bringing home these books who had all led former lives, some of them longer than my own, and perhaps more full. It felt like a contract, an alliance, a promise: you tell me your secrets and I will tell you mine. I will not break you, I will not mark you, but feel free to do these things to me. But mostly it felt like a gesture to the Universe, witness of so many human and material abandonments, acknowledging that nothing is without purpose, everything deserves a second chance, and being found so often means first being lost.

 Raw Materials

I have vast respect for artists like the ones I’ve highlighted here, who use found or repurposed materials in their works. It seems to me an indication of the highest and purest form of intellect and imagination when someone sees what to most people would look like a heap of old tires and instead sees the beginnings of a beautiful artwork. There is cleverness in such an instinct, but there is also love: love of the overlooked, love of the potential in all things, and love of the gift we artists all share, the impulse and the facility to make things, sometimes out of nothing, but mostly out of other things with promise only we can perceive and bring to light.

There is a great tradition in New England of treasure hunting amongst the discards to be found in second hand stores and even left free for the taking on the sidewalks in front of residences. With the right eye and sensibilities, one can return home with great finds, some in need of only a little cleaning, repair or decorative touches to begin a new life. Some months ago, friends of ours presented Brian with a beautiful sidetable they rescued from the trash. After several weeks, this table was transformed and now occupies the perfect place in their home, looking as if it is what and where it was always meant to be. Beneath its fresh coat of paint, I am certain this piece retains all the memories of its past life, and the history of how it came to be left one morning to be picked up as garbage and lost forever, and then caught the attention of a certain wise and vigilant couple. 

A few weeks ago, Brian and I made the rounds of some antique shops north of Boston. And now, thanks to a successful visit to one particular shop in Essex, he has a new table in his studio awaiting the same happy results. Those of you who follow him regularly will be able to see its progress over the next several weeks. Bringing new life to rescued furniture represents a new direction in Brian’s work, but one I think is both timely and relevant to the next phase of our life as we make concrete plans and set a timetable for closing one chapter here in the Boston area and beginning another one in Vermont. We recently acquired the old but woefully underused family car from my parents, and this will be our mode of transport in our new location. Meantime, another car, which has served us well but was sold last week to new owners, is about to start its own new life without us, here in the town we will soon leave behind, the leaving of which will be partly subsidized by this sale. The cycle continues, someone’s loss is someone else’s gain, and even in moments of utmost abandonment, there is the potential for rescue, and a second chance.   


This post is dedicated to all good champions of the overlooked, the discarded and the abandoned. You know who you are. Although it was not originally intended as such, it is now also a celebration of all the folks out there who have been suffering from the damage caused by one bad weather event after another in recent months, and are in the process of cleaning up and rebuilding their lives from whatever materials are at hand, with a lot of help from something that can never be washed away: the human will to endure.