The Yes of Jillian’s Typewriter

IMG_4167A woman came to my recent collage workshop with a small stack of old National Geographics tucked under arm. Yes, I noticed those rare items. We began choosing, cutting, arranging, layering, reconsidering, and, eventually, pasting—creating art. Walking around to see just what everyone was up to, I encountered a group of inspired makers at work.

At Jillian’s place beside her beginning collage was a photo she’d cut out of a small old-fashioned typewriter. Yes, from one of her copies of National Geographic, circa 1900. She saw me eye it though I’d tried to keep my coveting from her.

Without hesitation, Jillian reached for the image and handed it to me. “Are you sure?” I asked (tongue hanging). “Yes, really,” she replied.

My mother was a secretary all her working life. When she decided it was time for me to learn to type, it was before her IBM Selectric that I was seated. She could type 183 words per minute with nearly a single mistake. I was unhappy that summer she insisted I spend a couple hours a day learning the keyboard, picking up speed, but I’m been grateful to her for that (and lots more).

Jillian’s typewriter was all I needed, that and the word “yes” which I’d already cut out, and the mysterious dark-haired woman who’d gotten my attention quite sometime ago and had been waiting patiently in my collection of images.

When working at a keyboard, I often stare off into the middle distance and watch my thoughts come forward and slip out of my fingers, falling onto the “page.” Making a collage is a similar process though I do carefully watch the scissor blades’ direction.

“Yes!” Could there be a better word? I love how nature says yes all the time. There is little that stops the yes of ever-adaptable, determined nature. (The drought sure is making it tough though, and man, of course, over and over again.) Still nature does her best to find a way. And you?

How lucky that today I can take my less-than-adaptable-nature out onto the earth and grow my yeses. Here’s wishing you a bouquet of yeses, a whole meadow, entire forests full.

 

(Thank you to Jillian Pinney for the typewriter, Denese Sanders of Open Ground Studios for hosting the workshop mentioned above, and Sarojani Rohan for the timely email.)

The Verb To Father: Trouble And Searching For Solace

2014_04_05Slough_properties 89-Edit-Edit-2Before heading out to nature, my solace, a morning workshop I’m leading at Elkhorn Slough, I consider the concept of father. At dictionary.com, I read the word can be confused with further and farther. Might that be part of the problem, that fathering and mothering, on a large countrywide scale have gotten farther, further?

There’s no cloistering myself. I may go out beside the slough this morning and enjoy the lift of fog the warmth of sun’s arrival and the workshop participants and the movement of my body through open space, but I’m going walking and teaching with a sense of loss and absence and overwhelming confusion over the hate crimes, the murders in Charleston.

On this day before Father’s Day, my first without a father, though without a father who died a fair and appropriate death at 93, I feel the loss of the verb to father on a large scale, a societal, cultural one. Unable to make sense of the killings and unwilling to consider these unnatural deaths out of the context the recent many murders of black men, I am looking for understanding.

The verb to father: “to beget,” “to assume as one’s own; take responsibility of.” There is what I find lacking, “the taking responsibility of.” I’m not a writer with answers but one with questions though I am certain a light needs to be held on the causes of poverty and gun control and racism, the lack of justice and fairness in our country, the unequal access to opportunity. I want to shoulder some responsibility here but I’m unsure how, “to act as a father toward” our country’s plight, “to take charge of begetting.” That’s the question I pose for art-making, for conversation, for action.

 

 

 

Weaving Grief, Nature, and Art-Making

IMG_4108In his poem The Peace of Wild Things, William Stafford wrote about going into nature at night when he felt despair. “I come into the presence of still water,” he wrote, and that calmed him down, gave a sense of perspective. I don’t so much go into the woods at night but yesterday morning I took my despair for an uphill hike. The walk did both me and my sorrow good.

Shortly after beginning the climb a red-shafted flicker shot through the air, landed on a Monterey pine and went up the trunk using not only his feet but his strong, pointed beak. (Flickers are a kind of woodpecker.) I felt privileged to witness this because the flickers are incredibly shy and usually get away from people as quickly as possible.

Father’s Day approaches, and it’s nearly four months since my father died. My favorite aunt died yesterday. Some days my grief defines me. This sorrow is like a heavy stone I pull behind me or I try to slip it on my tongue—big as it is—and swallow. Grief is not a bad thing, just a sad one. It slows me down no matter where I carry it.

Odd how sometimes memories approach of their own volition. Often after a visit my father would walk me out and stand on the sidewalk as I drove away. I’d roll down the window and wave or toot my horn. Many times I said to myself, “Is this the last time?”

My father was a complicated man. Our relationship was not easy. He could be and often was unkind to me. But we loved each other fiercely and shared a reverence for art.

In the evenings when that stone of despair sinks inside me, I go to the table where I make things with my hands, arranging images; I cut, layer, and glue colored paper. Last night I wove these pieces together in an effort to weave myself together. This evening, were you here, likely that’s where you’d find me.

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A Stitched and Wing-ed World

Margaret sewing collageAlmost once a week my friend Margaret and I walk together which means walking while talking and talking while walking. We frequently have to rest in places where were we not talking so much we’d not need to catch our breath, but that’s okay; it’s nice to stop and see her face.

The other day we walked up the trail to the water tank. The steep trail that heads up (and up) from the road, ending at Jacks Peak’s Lower Ridge Road, where Margaret and turned right, happy to be able to walk on a wide, flat road. There she told me about making the collage (pictured here) in a workshop she’d taken with me several years ago.

“Did making it lead me to what I’m doing now?” Margaret wondered. “Or is what I felt called to embark on what got me to make it?”

“A premonition picture?” I asked. Just like dreams—daydreams and night dreams—can lead us, can be indicative of what’s to come, so can the art we make wake us to new, previously unconsidered possibilities.

In Margaret’s collage we see a wing-ed woman sewing, focused on her work. Below her a horizontal row of stitches leads to a window. The woman appears held, elevated, above the fray. In the bright sky, sun-like, is a stitched circle inside a circle. Above that, the Roman Coliseum floats at a tilt—ancient culture is suspended, right above her, easily accessible to the woman’s mind. And there to the right an old, rusted skeleton key, ready to unlock what needs opening.

In the intervening years between when Margaret made this picture and now, her life has changed a lot. Just as happily married and just as happily raising her three daughters, she’s hardly above the fray, but she is sewing and studying the art and craft of it. Readying herself for a new career, Margaret is stitching her way into her future. A fine teacher—I’ve taken hand-stitching classes from Margaret that have greatly influenced and enhanced the art I make.

When we enter into the world of art-making, we allow our deeper selves, our subconscious, to hold the reigns for a while, to make choices, instead of being entirely reliant on our rational, conscious minds. We then make ourselves available to our greater knowing that is numinous and luminous, magical and surprising.

Those of us who make art are made richer and more whole by engaging in it. The ballast of our lives strengthens. You never know what door your imagination key will open onto—ah, such vistas and turning points and new-found truths.

The Approach of Summer

IMG_4003 What is the approach of summer if not the beginning of a journey into heat and languor and unhurried long days?

No matter how hard I’m working, when it’s summer (or almost summer) that work has a lighter feel to it, more air gets in, more light does. (I don’t care if it’s an illusion, it’s an illusion I love.)

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In 1980 my best friend Gina (who in 2015 is still my best friend) and I drove cross-country in my little blue bug. We traveled from spring into almost summer. She was 24 and I was 23. Young. But then every summer I’m young and as the poet Anne Sexton wrote, “We wore our bare feet bare.” Still do.

In the photo album I made of that trip, there are my early attempts at poetry. One is comprised of road signs: “Do not straddle lanes” is what the sign said. What I added was “Do not get out and dance on them either.” I was learning my way and pushing against what needed pushing against. Still am.

IMG_3997My best memories of that trip are pulling off the highway because I saw a rushing river below and insisted I had to get in. I think Gina paced along the shore waiting for her crazy friend who’d stripped at water’s edge.

Driving in Queens, New York, at a stop sign a man got out of his car and walked up to me and began screaming, “Whose a your father? I’ma gonna kill your father!” What had I done?

IMG_4008We bicycled from my grandmother’s Astoria home, crossing the Queensborough Bridge into Manhattan, and we were free and we were best friends. We laughed together and drove together and flipped most every “no” on its head.

Here’s to dancing on the lines and between them. Here’s to summer and warm air on your face and breeze and to having best friends.

“Deliriously Lost in a Secret Ravine”

IMG_3975Monterey poet, Laura Bayless, signed up for my summer workshop and to confirm her attendance sent not only a check but the poem below. Undoubtedly better than money.  Look what she does! Notice how Laura celebrates the details of the common world with such uncommon language. I love “tangle of supple willow spurs” and “purple-white pagodas.” Then there’s just the word “greensward” alone! How can you stay inside once you read this poem? Tie your laces and get outside to celebrate your miraculous common world. Take that notebook and joy down the beautiful details surrounding you! Thank you Laura Bayless!

IMG_3891When I’m Ready To Go

take me to the greensward, the woodland dale
beyond the tangle of supple willow spurs

where a footbridge crosses the river
that mirrors a few bleached yarn clouds.

Tag along to where tiny purple-white
pagodas crop up among late spring grasses.

Let me get deliriously lost in a secret ravine
where fiesta flowers cling to my legs,

so I can gather woodmint for tea,
let the hairy fringe pod keep its secrets.

I want to tread trails deer forge through
underbrush that crowds the oak forest

and talk with the fractured scarecrow
husk of an old pine stump.

Allow me time to linger beside owls clover
and lime-green tresses of maidenhair fern,

admire saffron sunkissed lichen on a fallen log,
follow a wandering cabbage white butterfly.

Then plant me where the buckeye torches
circulate their vanilla scent in May, and

cast off their chestnut-colored spheres in fall
onto the backyard fringe of a sunlit meadow.

Laura Bayless
©2015
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In Hand

2015-01-22 10.51.04The saying goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” and were I living on the land and hungry I’m sure I’d feel that way. Because of the life I have I’m grateful for the birds in the bush. Only a few times have I held a bird in my hands, when one has gotten caught in the sunroom of my home unable to distinguish window from open door and I was slow enough and still enough to cup my hands around the heart-throbbing frightened bird and carry her outside to feel the force of her life push away and up and up.

Yesterday I volunteered as I do upon occasion for The Gathering Place, an organization that serves lunch to Monterey’s homeless women every Tuesday. About 100 women were gathered yesterday. After lunch we found a quiet place to write together. Ruthie, a tall, short-haired, bare-armed woman said, “A hawk dropped a rabbit right next to me at my camp the other night. I felt honored by the gift and carried the still-warm soft rabbit to the trail. Next morning it was gone.”

There are many small parts of nature I like to have in hand, to feel the nubbiness, or smoothness or edges. If you pick something up from beside the trail and hold it the relationship to that part of the earth and to nature overall shifts. You bring it close. Anything we hold in hand we become personal with. The abstraction disappears. This feather, this flower, this stone, this pine cone. Save the poison oak, I pick up most anything to feel its weight, to bring it close, to shorten the distances between the earth and me.

pinecone in hand