There's a real mix in the holidays of light, joy, sad and dark. Have you noticed? Generations of regular people lose loved ones who immigrate, go off to war, simply leave, are taken somehow, or pass away. It makes sense that most if not all family systems are marked by some form of absence or loss in this season. Memories of holiday times past may, by default, carry a major imprint of sad.
Have you also noticed how the more cranberry sauce is piled on and the louder the carolling, the more that heavy imprint may be running the show? Sometimes it's me turning up the cheer. Some cope with a complete bah humbug attitude, others by just going off grid for several weeks, and others by going full boar into the traditions. It's maybe a little bit of all of this, mashed together - like one of my christmas cookies here - that makes us our human-suited holiday selves.
In my own life I can recount so many wonky holidays - when I couldn't show up though everyone around me seemed able to - when I was the only one getting her act together while everyone else was in revolt - break ups, break downs, silent treatments, arguments in front of the guests, hitting the sugar wall, the overlit box store, the disproportionate gift exchange.
While this may come across as a very wet blanket contemplation, perhaps its a way for to preemptively make room for the small grief cloud that curls in under the door, usually unnoticed and unwelcome. It visits kids without knowing what they're picking up from around them, and all of us who may carry the football of inherited grief in the form of pressure and tradition without knowing what is driving us to do so.
I am asking myself, why am I writing such a downer of a post. Reflecting like this may be a way to see the whole thing at work, and thereby to see the wider field of possibility, and the love it expresses. The missing of the ones we love, of simpler times, the things that were but aren't now, or aren't yet. Perhaps its just a tender hearted time of year: a big tender heart in a period of waiting, twinkly lights and humanness.
Holidays are nigh.
Generally the holidays are a clusterfuck of pressure and shrill ho hoing, or the kind of peace and freedom that comes from having abandoned all or of some of that. We still do presents in my extended family, though every year there's less of an understanding of why, except for shear momentum of tradition.
I like to make stuff and so that's my solace.
One thing I can offer you is 15% off everything in my shop for the next week. Happy holidays! This is for those among you who do buy gifts, or do like the inspiration of getting yourself a gift. Use THANKSALL at checkout through Dec 1 for being such a great reader of this blog!
My credo this year is going to be, do it if it sounds fun, but otherwise, don't. Let the chips fall where they may. If it isn't a hell yes to do, then don't or, if the pressure bearing down is so great that you have to say OK Fine, take a lot of bathroom breaks and short walks around the block, and swap ironic texts to your good friends that include the asteroid emoji and the poop emoji.
I also really liked hearing that instead of judging that family member who is doing something really unsavory, to be impressed by how incredibly well they play the role of themselves doing that really unsavory thing right on cue. Like you're in a movie with them and it's remarkable how well they know they're lines.
And if, as is sometimes inevitable on the seasonal table, there is a lot of grief, or depression or sad, see if you can take a little time to breath into that. Like a sad, half inflated rudolph lawn ornament, let it be there, but leave the specific story where it lies. Let it be a raw sensation moving through - in the bathroom, on the walk, or under some covers for a little while.
In a specific kind of meditation practice that's anything but a practice called Unprovoked Happiness, I encountered the suggestion to play with bubbles.
Unprovoked Happiness* is pretty cooky, and it's very simple. It's a non-practice of looking closely at anything, and getting absorbed in it. It's what kids are doing all the time. When they play with water, pick paint off a fence, or sing little ditties to themselves, they are actually having a pure conscious experience, which is one in which they aren't thinking, or aware at all, of themselves. Newborns do this too, or *are* this, as they stare at a fan or a light, or peer out at you, they are not separate, they are not registering a me and a you yet.
It's the same experience you can have at the beach or on a walk. You know those excellent vacations when time seems to go away, and a whole day goes by where no one is saying much of anything? Those are the moments in which the sense of self recedes, and no one is doing anything. This is in fancy terms zen mind: nobody there, everything functioning perfectly.
It's the very opposite of a world of becoming someone, which we all as kids in many respects have to go through, to learn to safely cross the street, communicate, be moderately clean. This kind of being is not a state of zoning out, but a state of being all there, out of the world of concepts, including time, personal identity, and self consciousness.
The recipe for a pure conscious experience is first of all, to be moderately relaxed. This can feel like a high bar at certain times. When there is a significant amount of stress, there's also a me that is stressed, a kind of basic contraction of a self under threat, and needing to do or undo something to feel safe.
Blowing a bubble is one easy avenue to invite enjoyment, a small dose of wonder, and a slowing the doer down a few notches. In the summer, it's fun to bring bubbles when I go out on a boat, watching them bounce on still water, wondering at how they do that.
You can also experience this kind of being when you do dishes or wash your hands, noticing the feel of the silky soap, the sound of the tiny relentless pops, how they all wash away just like that: a gleaming dish, wet hands, clinky sounds. Any sensory experience where there's a kind of basic delight, is this kind, and this is why it isn't a practice, because no one is there to do anything. When I say ‘ wow, I’m having a pure conscious experience’ that’s actually thought, and instead the next best thing.
The least real thing, when investigated, is thought, narrative, story, and the emotions that come with them. Thoughts and emotions will happen anyway, and only become painful when claimed as mine or my problem.
Anything you look closely at, even a pile of worms, an oil slick, a skittering empty beer can in the wind, a sock strewn just so across your floor, can be a doorway just like a bubble. Music you love, a strange sound, the taste and texture of foods, the sensory feel of motion, the way things pass by, the complexity of wood grain or water in basically any form or state, can all be regarded without the story, like a newborn sees them, before the world is chopped into labels and associations in reference to ‘me.'
Next time you're decluttering a closet and you encounter a bubble wand, stick it in your bag (tightly closed!) and bring it on a hike or to a gathering. Yes, you might look a little stupid, that is until you remember that you are much more than a self, and when you pause for a moment, it might just be delight that's there, with no one separate from it.
* check out this kooky website to get a good sense of it. I have not done exhaustiv searches, but if you're curious, this is a good starting point.
In August, I was sitting in a beautiful spot on the coast of Northern Maine with my partner Guy. It was a very foggy day. I had a tea and had brought down the bubble wand.
I blew some bubbles as one does. They floated left, some were very small. It was a pink, long bubble wand, the kind you can get at the dollar store. We kept talking, and noticed now and then that two bubbles were still there, having landed in a tuft of grass near my feet. I continued to drink tea, swatting at the occasional mosquito, and then noticed that lo - the two at my feet were still there. Next to me was a wild bay bush, and there I found a third, smaller bubble, about an inch and a half in diameter, that had also persisted from one of the two bubble puffs I had blown.
This was now at least five minutes since they’d appeared, and all three of them were still, swirling, reflecting the world upside-down and so crisply, iridescent, and rainbowy. Guy finished his coffee and went inside and got himself some breakfast. I decided to wait until the bubbles had burst before heading in. I heard the clinking of the spoon against the bowl, and still these three bubbles, now after about fifteen minutes, were there before me, continuing to swirl.
They began to change color. They started out rainbowy, but mostly bluish- a deep royal almost purple kind of blue. Slowly they became yellow, and after a few minutes, turned orange, and then pale. By this time my Guy had assembled his tackle to go fishing, which included affixing a jig to his rod, gathering a bucket etc. He walked down to the dock, about 25 minutes from when these three bubbles were still just where they'd landed. The largest one, after about 20 minutes I'm estimating, burst.
Just like that, it was not there anymore.
The smaller of the two in the grass, and the one next to me in the bay, stuck into a short and curved leaf, persisted. And then things got wild.
The colors faded to a very pale light blue, almost a white, and then they began to fade altogether. What remained very easy to see was the base of the bubble, where the extra soap pools. This became paler as well, while the upper part of each bubble began to completely disappear, to such a degree that all I could see was the swirling pool of stuff at the base of each one, about the form of a contact lense, confirming that there was still a bubble there at all.
There I was, no way of recording an image or the time, but sitting long enough that my husband was full on fishing, and the world was waking up. I was seeing just the base, which went from a kind of gasolinelike rainbow swirl to a monochrome pale whitish silver swirl, to just a few dots and trails of silver, moving, spinning, with no other visible evidence of the bubble above it, except for occasionally a tiny granule of that silver riding over the leaves, suggesting the dome.
The second bubble popped after about 25 minutes to 30 minutes. I have no way of knowing. It was the smaller one in the grass. Suddenly also gone!
The one in the bay, just to my left, continued. I noticed that I had so much excitement, that I wanted Guy to come back, and though I called for my nephew staying next door to come see, if he had, he would not have been able to see the bubble there at all, he may have even thought I was crazy. Also, as they were leaving that morning and in cleaning and packing mode, may have just wanted to know if I'd seen one of his sneakers or something. In other words, it appears, this bubble miracle was all for me, just my own. After about FORTY MINUTES the last of these three strange bubbles, did pop. There was a visible break of tension, tiny droplets in a corona and then just the bay bush as it was.
So, that's the story of the bubble miracle.
Good news!! The calendars are still available through November 4th.
I was so proud to be organized about getting calendar reservations squared away early this year, but then I got feedback that it was slightly bleeding edge early for some people, and so: Reprieve! I have extended the deadline for reservations until November 4th.
You can reserve your copies at hannahburr.bigcartel.com and the details are still as follows:
Go to https://hannahburr.bigcartel.com/product/especially-now-limited-edition-2022-wall-calendar for the immediate product page, and to hannahburr.bigcartel.com for all your other HBS products.
I will send these out in the first week of December (I said Dec 1 originally, but now it's going to be the end of the first week to accommodate this change). Please do contact me if you have questions or constraints, but want a calendar - I am happy to work with you.
I wrote previously about the magicky bubble miracle that lasted forty minutes. I would like to share now about some interesting thought patterns I noticed at the time.
Initially, I was engaged in social patter, drinking of tea, trading thoughts and words, slapping at mosquitos, with Guy. The bubbles were a footnote, a silly kid's toy that I find fun to engage at times.
When these bubbles stuck around for an uncharacteristically long time, enthusiasm and curiosity, and a deeper level of attention and engagement kicked in. When Guy went away and it was just me witnessing this, there was excitement, amazement, and a deep desire to show others what was happening. I noticed thoughts about writing about the phenomena, and several attempts through shouts and whistles, to get Guy to come back. As the strange phenomena continued, and more developments in color, visibility and duration occurred, I felt a stronger urge to enlist others, to share and show.
When the bubbles didn't immediately pop as I've seen thousands upon thousands of bubbles do (yes), I noticed some impatience, boredom, and a desire to get on with the day. Thoughts came in like 'I'd love a piece of toast', and 'How long is this going to take? I have plans and things to do.' I find this interesting because I was literally witnessing something I'd never seen before and that didn't seem possible, and toward the end, the closest experience of invisibility - the phenomena of something being present that is also invisible, like a ghost or an apparition, that I've ever seen. Bubbles are already like that, right? That's why they are such a fascination for kids and delightful for everyone. But here I was, wanting to engage my story, wanting to just get on with being Hannah in her day, doing what she does.
It felt like a test of endurance to keep witnessing, to hold that tiny, rainbow style vigil for the time it took to see the bubbles through. I was also aware that those around me were in their stories, their days of jobs to be done and things to do, and had someone come by, their likely response would have been even more distractable than mine.
By the time the last bubble, and the second to last one, popped, they were essentially invisible, except for the swirling silvery base of each. It was 100x wider than a dew drop, but would have been near impossible to see. Which makes me aware of just how limited our perception must be:
If we can overlook something like a bubble, something I had made myself, what else are we not ever seeing, that's immediately and truly right around us?
I am sure there is a simple explanation for what happened with these bubbles. Likely the very humid, windless morning and all of the fog, as well as the tensile strength of the material in the bubble wand, would explain it. The changing colors and the thinning surface was likely some kind of evaporation or reaction with the salty air. There can be many ways to explain things. But in my immediate experience, this was something never seen before, a 'normal' and simple object doing something very out of the ordinary, revealing itself over time in the way that never has happened because they are so predictably fleeting. A bit like a solar eclipse.
I then galloped around telling various family members about what happened, hollered down to my husband on the dock IT JUST POPPED, with a very large popping gesture in case he couldn't hear me, frantically writing down all of the details. There is a great desire to hold on to this miracle, to found some kind of new religion around it. Or to found the Bubble Blowers Association with the founding date being today. So there's the other way that humans do, to try and hold something, so fleeting as a bubble, and to make it into something solid.
Thoughts also flashed in about 'Records' world records, not to try and have one, but how funny it is that there is always a biggest pumpkin, a fattest blueberry, an oldest living human, and how these things must have started with an act of recording, of trying to make permanent, and then become this way of trying for fame, or of besting and winning. Oh, we people are crazeballs. So yes, I suppose I am too, but it's not because I stared at a hovering bubble for forty minutes, it's that it feels crazy to get so excited about it.
I recently was asked to say a few words on ‘art as meditation’ and meditation as art by my friend in the Pioneer Valley Abbie Wanamaker. Abbie was having a two person show and there was a forum that she asked me to speak at. I’ll share a few of the thoughts that came to mind as I considered her work and process, and the idea of art as meditation and meditation as art.
First, the word meditation in US culture has felt loaded with a sense of personal shortcoming and obligation for many, to the point that it may not be a useful word to use anymore. In a similar way, the idea of art practice has with it for many a sense of should, haven’t yet….maybe someday, soon.
Instead of meditation let’s talk about presence. That thing you were when you were born and still are, without any effort, prior to any self idea. That thing that sparks between you and a small woodland creature when you stumble upon one another and hold the other’s gaze. Presence is what we make room for in a process of deep play, prior to the part of our minds that narrate or decide the merit of what we are doing or what we might be making.
I enjoyed looking at Abbie’s paintings, their unapologetic, straightforward and vivid qualities. I think too about resonance, and I know that Abbie has resonated with my work and ideas for a while. I can see why: in the directness of her process, her statement and how she figures out what’s happening after the fact, letting the doing, the activity itself and the textures and qualities of the materials lead. This practice is presence too and similar to what happens in my studio when things roll naturally. I see in her work that Abbie values the doing over the thing that’s made, turning art practice into a form of attention.
Consider the difference between the governed idea of creative action and cultivating presence, and the direct experience of these things: what you already are: the situation, what’s happening inside and outside of this skin envelope we call a body: the temperature, the textures, sounds, tastes, motion, exchanges with people, animals, elements like sunlight and wind and sounds, intersection of elements that will never intersect quite the same way again. To me that’s deep play, creativity at its best, and contemplation all rolled up into one. It’s a sense of belonging, or inherent value, or naturalness, the way a dry leaf becomes the forest floor or a child is held in arms.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.