a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A winter morning

The sun is not yet above the ridge of houses across the street from me, but the signs are there...pale pink streaks the white sky behind the complicated network of leafless trees, like the fractures of lead in Tudor stained glass.

The paleness of the morning is the season's signature, and shed of holiday clutter, we, too, feel pale.  Coming home yesterday afternoon from Angie and Jim's ebullient, warm Christmas brunch on the farm, that paleness had already begun to return to the sky from the blue of the morning, the day tiring early, I suppose.  It made the huge red poinsettia, a marvelous gift from the faraway Baers, seem to stand out further in the front window.

Right now, even the sun behind Taylor and Gina's tall oak (all the trees hereabouts are tall...oaks, maples, pines, tulip poplar--the giant behind my house--and sweet gum) hides a pallid face.  It will be a nice day, not quite chilly and mostly sun, I know from the weather forecast, but the squirrels and birds seem to have had other information and run around picking, pecking whatever they can find, preparing for something.  I wonder what they know.

We are alone today, my uncle and I, the holidays having diverted our caregivers.  He is still asleep after a whole night of breathing roughly, bouts of coughing, long periods of apnea.  Exhausted from thirty-three hours of being awake and jumpy inside the strange plane of his mind, he has hardly moved under his tweed and wool covers since 7 last night.  These are upside-down days of increasing dementia, so each day brings its own scenario. (In the photo above, dressed for Christmas, he tried to take apart his walker to figure out what it is.) Last night, I camped out near his room so that I could jump up before he tried to raise himself on his crumbling legs, but though I kept as awake as I could I heard nor saw any reason for me to rise, either.

I also wonder if winter enervates minds struggling with the mental and physical flips and slips aging brings.  Why not?  All nature goes underground, in its own ways, and we in cooler climates do the same.  Huddled into sweaters, coats, hats, we take on the skin of another self, sort of molting in reverse.  Born in winter, though in a tropical clime, I have never been much of a cold-weather person.  And yet winter, as I look from the inside out, has its charms.  That low-angle sun skirts the shrubs, topping them with white slight this time of day.  If there is frost, or fog, its glitter enlivens the ordinarily dull landscape.  The elianthus, not our favorite green, shows its prettiest white flower this season.  The hellebore has bloomed early but right on time to make us smile.  And the one flower, the anomaly of my yard, a winter-blooming azalea, braving dullness, stands down snow or sun.

And I?  The inside more than outside draws me.  I feel myself succumb to dullness, too, hunkering  like the roots underground for brighter inspiration. Sometime soon I will return to my dangling vine and gem project, but not today, though its crystals would certainly dance on the worktable in this winter light.  (I am having a technical problem with it, but one morning, I am sure, I will wake up from a dream, like Newton, and solve it.)

I look to other pursuits...a gift of lovely pears I poached with ginger, and some scarves Alexander asked me to knit for his cousins, aunt and other grandmother he was about to visit on a holiday trip...he wants to do it himself, but he hasn't quite got the hang of knitting; perhaps because I'm right -handed and he's a lefty, it's hard for us to figure out together.  White I knitted, though, he painted and made some pots from clay for them.  He's never at loss, inside or out, for something to do.

A new year to you all of peace, kindness, calm...winter's dream we wait hopeful to come true.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A new brain, or Is life a carousel?

My sister sends me a text the other morning, meaning to forward the video from my nephew's wedding, but instead when I open the link, there is an instagram post with a rather unlikely quote in caps from Gloria Steinem.  It's followed by a note from the instagrammer, whose moniker is "growingbolder":  Life won't always be easy but sometimes those tough times are what enable us to fully realize our true selves.  "I hope you can open the video," Ann adds.

"There's no video," I text my sister back.   Whoops! she writes back.  Let me try that again...

Eventually, the wedding pictures arrive, but it's too late...the real message has been driven home to me. I can't tell if the instagrammer is quoting someone else (if she is, she's also borrowing that cracked infinitive), but those words, tough times...enable us to fully realize our true selves, zaps my somewhat less than cheerful consciousness that moment, and my first thought is, Either times aren't tough enough, or my true self, if there is such a thing, is this ratty, weighted-down lump, kicking the hours around like tin cans on the street.

Okay, okay.  All that wallowing in life's complications is tantamount to fussing over a bad hair day (which it also was), I know that.  I need a new brain, not a new life. I like my life.  I just don't like the way I have dressed myself for it...hatless and in the wrong shoes.

But as if to give me a good shake, that evening along comes an email from Kathy Steinsberger, reminding me that I have signed up for her Carousel Book workshop at Blam! the next day.  Yes, I'm coming, I tap back, and race up to my workroom for supplies and tools.

I have to wade through a mess to find them;  I still haven't made the beds from my sister Ann's visit last week, and I've been cutting up paper and testing paints for holiday cards, which I am not entirely happy with, but which will have to do.  Plus a shelf holding 30 years of journal workshop stuff broke, and the papers are strewn about yet, while I waffle over what to do with them, or the shelf.  (Do I re-order them?  cull them?  toss them?)  But I digress.

I am sorry to say that my mood was still in wallow gear (are you enjoying all these mixed metaphors?) when I reached Kathy's studio the next morning, late as usual. I sat at my assigned place and tried to focus on her demonstrations.  At first, I seemed to trip over each direction, though they were straightforward enough.  Kathy, bless her, took me in stride.  But then something clicked.  I pulled papers together, cut and glued, changed direction and angle, and as I worked, things began to happen.  Art. 

When I left (early), I was still grumbling (for which I apologize profusely to all in hearing range), but I had seen the light and knew how to finish what I had started.

Later, Alexander came to dinner.  We made a house out of clay.  We lit candles. We changed our tune.

It worked.  Not only the carousel book, but an uplift in spirits I am still living out. You saved my life, I wrote back to Kathy. 

Interestingly enough, when Kathy's reminder came in that previous evening and I had jumped up to ready myself for it, my uncle's caregiver tried to puzzle out what the fuss was about.  I explained what a carousel book was, showing her some pictures from the book arts site, and how I'd need to think fast to create an idea for it before I got there.

Carousel book with floor and ceiling, Kathy Steinsberger

 She looked at me a minute, and then said, "Well, it's cute, but what do you do with it?"

Readers, I didn't really feel I could answer that.  I'd have to go back to forty centuries of art history, creative theory, a thesis on the left and right brain, a visit to the art museum, and then underscore it all with that line from King Lear, "Oh, reason not the need..."  I knew I would fail.  I went upstairs and packed my art bag.

Today, after I clean up that studio mess, I begin again.   Some of you, I hope, will see the results in a week or so.  Meanwhile, here is my Carousel Book, Pace (Peace), a re-framing of the poems I had written for my Set a place at the table for peace.

Pace, front cover

Pace, back cover
 As I used it say to my creative writing students, changing one's standpoint...that is, the point where you are standing (or sitting)...changes one's point of view. 

Pace (no floor or ceiling), star formation

Pace, open accordion

To wit:  though the poems on their own mean the same no matter what print you make of them, each art piece which encapsulates them defines them in a different way.  I like both my Peace pieces, and, frankly, like the art of the carousel better than the art of the table; although I still think of the table as the more dedicated one, Pace has the more interesting viewpoints. 

But I'm not about to try to explain that to our caregiver.

May art light your world this season, a little more each day.