I recently came across a bizarre show on netflix called 'Old Enough.' It's a Japanese reality TV show where a toddler is given an errand to run, usually with one or two stops picking something up or dropping something off at a shop or with a family friend. It's an interesting look at rural Japan and working class Japan and just how different Japanese and American culture are in many respects. It's in moments very sweet and also disturbing. The other night in the middle of the night it occurred to me why it was compelling to me: All of us are toddlers on an errand.
Doesn't it just make sense?
When we're up at night trying to get sleep but finding that the mind won't turn off, it really does strike me that we're toddler sized in a big world, in the middle of a crowded fish market trying to remember which stall mom gets the sea bream at. Or trying to understand how to pull a cabbage out of the ground that is connected by this incredibly thick root system and it's getting dark and we have to walk home in the dark. Isn't that really just what life is like?
When worry is happening, when stress and anxiety are there in the middle of the night, usually somebody or some situation looms incredibly big in our thinking. In this way too we are like toddlers on an errand because as a little three-year-old tries to negotiate a grocery store counter or shop stall or people's big bodies while moving through a crowded space, it's overwhelming, and so can life be. In the morning when we wake up, what worries us is often right-sized again.
I don't know that I have more to say here but as you're going through your day, think of it: Toddlers on an errand. Everyone around you and you yourself. In the middle of the night, think of it: We are toddlers on an errand.
PS. In about the fourth episode, I decided the show itself is kind of dark. The kids, these two and three year olds, somehow know this isn't normal and that there's something off about the whole situation. This speaks to their purity and the way things just often are twisted around and you see innocence being lost in some episodes which feels sad. But yet, perhaps it's riveting because that is how it is for every one of us, in some way, and we have at our core that same clarity, that same innocence.
I want to share about a long ago dream turned actual: a functional, bondafide studio closet. In my nomadic years, between 2007 and 2010 when I moved my studio four times, I had a lot of opportunities to think about what did and didn’t work in a studio situation. **
One of them was tripping over my chop saw which lived on the floor, and covered everything with sawdust when I used it, and storing all my boxes, finished materials and supplies in plain sight. It worked well eough, and I loved the place I worked more than anywhere in the world, but dared I to dream, the first thing was a closet: a discreet place with a modicum of order, good shelving that I couldn’t see and didn’t have to drape sheets over when I opened my studio.
My friend Tracey Easthope here in Ann Arbor, with her husband John DeHoog, came over and advised on the design. They helped us figure out exactly how this might work in the raw space we turned into my studio in the summer and fall of 2020. Their idea was a partial wall, blocking off one window with no formal door.
At first it looked like this.
And then like this.
And then like this when my friend Patrick and I put in the flooring.
Here's the cieling. PS Guy wired the whole place for electricity. The closet has its own electric and light.
Finally, and momentarily, it was this gorgeous potential space. I made some shelf brackets with our friend Thom’s borrowed jig, and then put up wood we’d brought with us that was sitting out in the weather in the yard of our last rental, for the shelves.
And here’s what it looks like full! Actually, its way messier than this, but this was what it first looked like, all organized and full, a year ago. Now of course, I can barely step into it, but at least I can't see it without rounding a corner!
Yes. All things tend toward entropy, especially if a) I am involved, b) it’s an art studio and you make stuff in more than one medium and more than two dimensions.
There’s another critical few features to this closet.
**Some examples of bad studio situations include:
-finding a bag of meth on the side of the shared bathroom sink...hmmm
-a stairwell that was blocked off and blacked out sucking energy into the black hole that it created around the corner from where I was working
-a leaking roof
-nowhere to park
For you today, I have a brief talk I gave back in the fall of 2018 called 'Art Among the Elements.' at a local night club as a part of Nerd Nite - a story corp style gathering hosted by the illustrious Ann Arbor District Library. I talked for 22 minutes about the third book which was in process at the time: The Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere.
I share in this talk about why I make books, how I came to make this one on such a different subject than the two prior books (on prayer), and the distilled learnings and takeaways from the process to date.
I am sharing it with you here. It’s not the live talk, so you can’t hear the wild and untameable audience participation, but the sound quality is pretty good and there are some pretty slides. A note too that I have a few scientific facts *almost* right in this talk, corrected when I actually did complete and publish the book in 2019.* Please enjoy and thank you for helping make this book a reality!
All I had at the time of the talk was a prototype with a slightly different name. I was still working out layout and layering of the meaning and content of the book. Looking back, it’s amazing to see how many things needed tremendous time and patience to come into focus. I didn’t learn how to give them either until I was in the very end stages. In essence, this book taught me to slow the F down, care for my body, and to tolerate uncertainty better than I had ever been able to before.
To see the book in its finished form, you can visit its official web page, or find it for sale in digital or physical form at my shop. You will also find a grid poster, a set of prints and a set of postcards, as well as a curriculum to walk children and adults through the book scavenger-hunt and interdisciplinary-style, which is my teaching and making way.
Speaking of uncertainty, that’s a topic I am currently exploring in another decade-long book project that is underway in earnest today! I will share more about that soon.
*The primary factoid to correct is that Hydrogren formed not immediately after the big bang, but as things cooled down in the time that followed when atoms could in fact pull together at all.
Share with me your thoughts! What is sparked in the electric being that you are by this topic and this story?
These drawings are new as of spring 2021, although I have been sketching these out for about six years. I brought the materials to begin them from Boston when I moved in 2017, when I was thinking about innovative displays, and then there was so much moving around and upheaval that it didn't come back up to work with until I was back in a permanent studio and able to relax a little.
The peg drawings are occurring in tandem with the Puffies, and with the Stand In project, another sculptural variation. I was really delighted when I first discovered that the paintings and these sculptural wall pieces worked so delightfully in tandem. In other words they really talk to each other!
The peg drawing series is one kind of work that feature things with holes in them, a theme in my creative process that I recently wrote about. These Peg pieces consist of a wooden peg or pegs affixed securely to the wall, and then reinforced two dimensional-ish forms that hang from them, including materials such as card stock, book board, cardboard, painted, dipped in plaster and paint, found and sometimes folded. Some of these objects are single, beautiful fragments that I have loved and held on to for years, a patterned discarded paper scrap then dipped in a thick paint, or paper that's been dyed, dipped, scored. These are arranged in a specific compositions, and simply hang in small divots on the horizontal peg in a given order. When you purchase a peg drawing you get instructions on how and where to best install the work, the hardware and the peg. The work can be presented as this simple ephemera, or you can have the work framed in a deeper box if you have a very windy or high traffic kind of spot in mind for the piece.
Making this kind of work is all about textures, color therapy in its own right, problem solving, constant pairing, stepping back to asses, and composition.
My favorite part in problem solving was finding as many things with holes in them, and as many ways to make a hole, as I could, trying out all the processes, then refining and refining until I was clear on what I was delighted with, interested in, and what made a piece shine.
So far I have exhibited the pegs as part of the 'Incomplete' exhibition at the Scarab Club in Detroit MI, and again at the 'Art for Right Now' exhibition at B Gallery in Castine ME. An exhibition at TrustArt will also include several peg drawings later in 2022. I'll keep you posted! Here's are some more examples.
I welcome any questions, thoughts or comments and respond as soon as I see them. It adds whole new dimension to my work to share it and to hear how it bounces off others!
When I set up my studio, I put two chairs, both trash finds, and a cheap rug, right in the middle of everything. This is because I love a studio visit. I also have the kettle and cups, and a pile of books. This is so that it's easy to have someone over to visit me in the studio, to see what I'm doing and to share what they're working on, or what they are interested in in my work.
I think this is my very favorite thing - aside from being alone and making art - about art making, is that it has led to so many lovely visits, friendships, interesting insights and perspectives and collaborations. In other words, yes, relationships! So I wanted to just let you know that if you'd like to come handle a handmade End Papers book, peer around the edge of the puffy paintings, or share a cup of tea,* drop me a line! I would love to have you over and learn what drew you to connect. You are welcome.
If you came to the studio, what would you like to see, ask, or talk about?
If you used to come to my studio in Boston, what do you most remember about it? What did you most enjoy?
Please share below in the comments, both so that others can learn, and so that I can too!
* Just be clear, you could have your own cup of tea...I would provide it, but we would each get our own.
** Here's a blog post about End Papers, which used to be called Death Books.
One of my favorite types of studio related errands is looking for something specific to go into a sculpture or installation, that is generally used for another purpose. It might be in a hardware store, a junk shop, a speciality store or even a drug store. What I enjoy about such an errand is that it demands a very different kind of engagement than the usual go and get some shoelaces kind of errand. Instead, it requires me to 'go wide', to stay open and to look freshly at things I see all the time.
I recently went to a junk shop with the mission to find 'things with holes in them' for a new series of sculptures I'm working on. This found me digging through napkin rings, tupperware, dishware, jewelry, small appliances, gardening stuff, kids toys, general antiques and even lengths of hose. There's a book I've never read, but that my sister has always recommended I read. I like the title, and I think it does enough for me right there, The title is 'Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees' by Lawrence Weschler.
Essentially that's what these errands are about.
At other times, this kind of searching happens online and that's not half as fun. Also, it's generally difficult to have someone in a store, especially a big box type of hardware store, help me on these errands. The conversation goes like this: Can I help you find something? Yes, I'm looking for things with holes in them. Can I ask what you're using them for? It never goes well. A new project like this gets me looking everywhere and in all situations for things with holes in them, how one can make holes of different sizes, and in what kinds of material. It's like a rabbit with her ears up and pivoting about, taking in all of the sound data around her. The ears are up and pivoting!
Other projects have found me looking for wrap-able colorful things, forms of glow in the dark material, patterns for sewing orbs, materials that float and disintegrate in water, all variants of tape and specialty adhesives, colored powders with particular properties, types of smooth absorbent cottons, modular fake plants, granular materials for flocking and other people's half finished craft projects. It's rare that I actually go into an art and craft store for anything!
Anyway, the last junk shop run yielded quite a haul, and I've been having fun digging through and altering my wares: pulling apart necklaces and using a step drill bit. I look forward to sharing the results! Here's a peek at some work in development.
What strange errands have you been on that perhaps have altered your perspective in some way?
After literally eight years of bumping into walls, I finally have ebooks for my first two books up and ready to share! This may seem like a straightforward thing to create now, but back in 2014, creating a fixed spread ebook was at least to me, more complicated than making the actual books, or fixing a space vehicle. This is what being a sole proprietor can be like: you just can't figure it out sometimes, and other things are needing attention.
Thanks to finally getting new software and new hardware in November (replacing my ten year old macbook pro which went completely deaf, and my fifteen year old adobe suite of software), I was able to finally do the deed and bring forth the first ever digital copies of Help me [ ], do the thing. and the original Contemporary Prayers to * [whatever works] !
This means that you can
You can get the book via my shop hannahburr.bigcartel.com like all the other products. They are $9.99 each!
Satisfyingly, now all of my four books now exist as e-books. Three of them: the aforementioned
Contemporary Prayers to * [whatever works] 2013
Help me [ ], do the thing. 2016
as well as
The Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere 2019 (16.99 for the ebook).
...can all be purchased through my shop.
The fourth e-book, the new Contemporary Prayers to Whatever Works 2021, is for sale through all the places Simon & Schuster sells their books, including amazon. Here's a portal for purchasing that ebook. That one is also $9.99
Thanks for tuning in and celebrating crossing this ancient to do item off of the to do list scribed indelibly-until now- on the back of my brain!
This ongoing series of paintings began in 2005 when I put together an exhibition for Judy Goldman on Newbury Street in Boston. It was the second show I'd had with her, she represented me for as long as her gallery was open, and it was the first time I'd made this type of painting. The exhibition had painting, drawing and small sculpture, and the palette was black, deep blue, red and green. This was the second round of pour drawings, another trope that continues in my work today.
I essentially upholster the wooden supports, and then cover the surface with various types of acrylic, and in some cases, oil paint. Occasionally pencil or chalk or another type of mark. I am amazed to find that these paintings, provided they are correctly stored away from sharp corners, are incredibly durable and stable.
When I first made these paintings, I tended to work in black and white, or monotone with shades of blue. Now, I often start with a white or other color like ochre, and do not tend to make paint strokes on the surface, but work with what's happening in the pour. Occasionally, I've made a very involved and busy type of puffy painting, one that has equal parts disturbed and delighted me. This one was such a one, it was delightful and at the time so different than what I was going for that it alarmed me. I remember that a friend was coming to the studio and I hid it, because I thought it was so ugly, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it. This fear of ugly is an interesting a fertile territory for me.
I kept trying to 'finish' this one, until I felt I had ruined it. This happens sometimes and can be how my comfort zone gets stretched. So I essentially took it apart and then, over the weeks that followed, regretted doing so. It was a forerunner of sorts, and I have kept pieces of it, sort of like a pelt.
Here is me working on some of the newer ones, which are branching out in the base colors, patterns and fabrics beyond gray or white. Please share with me your impressions, thoughts and questions in the comments! I am always interested in which pieces speak to someone - or what kind of response is inspired. I learn so much from what happens in your worlds in relation to what is happening in mine.
I am taking a moment out of the deeper posts here, on subjects ranging from Death to No BS approaches to meditation, to a survey and narrative history of objects in my studio, to share with you that there are a few copies remaining of the calendar Especially Now - a year in 12 artworks by Hannah Burr (that's me!) AND that it is A GENEROUS SALE ON REMAINING COPIES while there are a few left! The remaining copies 4 or 5? Are $22 off, with adjusted postage to reflect the normal cost, post holiday.*
So for 2022, keep your $22, and get one of these limited edition calendars for only $33 as a gift for your new year self: color, form and inspiration changing every month plus an ever-ready answer to the question 'what day is it again?' while you're quarantining from a covid scare or just emerging into the strange light of another new year.
Also, congratulate yourself for biding your time, keeping a careful eye on your budget, or plain forgetting to order your copies until now! It is your lucky day.
To snag your copies, go to hannahburr.bigcartel.com and put the discount code NEWYEARNOW in at check out.
While you're there at the shop, you may notice a couple of other exciting developments which I will be announcing shortly as well!
*the USPS raised their holiday rates quite a bit this year and so for the holiday, rates needing bumping in the shop as well. They are now back to "normal".
Enjoy and happy new year. Especially now.
PS. I give 10% of my gross profits to charities through Effective Altruism, excellent organizations like WakeUp! and one tree is planted for every individual product I sell through a $1 contribution to EdenReforestation (Thank you Leila Simon Hayes for this excellent idea!)
I want to put in a plug for the awkward - especially as it relates to our relationships. Awkwardness gets a bad rap in our modern culture of the smooth and the glib, but to me it's a refreshing kind of honesty. What is awkward?
Please share your versions of awkward below.
Even the word itself is an awkward spelling. What other word has to Ws flanking a K?
The most awkward moments in my life are the moments when I was being honest. When I didn't look good, but was being true.
What has been awkward lately in your life? Can you see the humanness in it? What do you love that is awkward? Or what do you not love?
This is an image of the seam in a handmade book of mine, that included a castoff process xerox from artist Juliann Cydylo who was my studio mate at the time. This was a chance layout that I particularly enjoy. It has a lot of white space around it, and some mystery, much like the beginnings and endings of a year, which can also feel kind of like an upside-down time.
Below is a bit of a year in review for us both. Before I share how things unfolded to me, I'd like to invite you to pull out a journal and pen, make a cup of tea and settle in to reflect on your own year. I have included a list of simple reflection prompts at the end of this post, and I have spent many a new year's day with friends or somewhere in the week before Jan 1, considering what's gone on in our lives for the past 365 days or so.
What did you lose in 2021?
What came into your life in 2021?
What is different from a year ago?
What are you loving in your life right now?
What is not working right now, and what does that tell you about what might work better for you?
Three + favorite moments from your year:
Three things you can place on the altar and release from 2021.
What surprises you most about this past year of your life?
What is a constant in your life through this past year and beyond?
What qualities of experience do you want to invite in moving forward?
Please use the comments below to suggest other prompts as you are inspired to share them, and any insights into your year you'd like to share.
I started to write my year in review in a period of great striving. Since then, the duracell bunny in me has kind of run out of batteries for the season. There was a little sadness and concern about this at first, but then I started to feel the telltale signs of freedom and inspiration that come with any form of surrender.
I could just tell you how great it all was, and wish for you that your life was equally as great, with a wink and a smile. But I will not do that.
Here's how my year went, as I reflect on it now.
A book came out in March. It was confusing because it's the same title as my first book, but its a different book. It's a lovely little book, which you will really enjoy if you like my two other prayer books. I spent about six months contorting myself into pretzels to be ready for the launch, and then just felt a little lost and confused about why and what for.
My art studio is a complete bright spot, and now too a warm spot, as I finally figured out how to work the wood stove. I have the right wood and the right fire building technique. There is less soot settling on my drawings, and when I leave at night, I do a little bow because I can't believe that this space is mine to use every day.
I was very intent on doing a whole bunch of art book fairs and pop ups, really laser focused on this. And somehow with all of my striving, I have ended up participating in only one of the seven I had wanted to participate in, which comes up in early December. It's a wonderful little day-long pop up event and now I am happy that this is what I'm doing.
I set up a few talks online with bookstores and libraries, and saw how hard people work to facilitate and share these - staying at work into the dark hours, dealing with zoom, following up. Everybody works so hard. It's also very cool to see how these things always have the flavor of the group that ends up attending, whether there are fifty of us, or three.
I did a deep dive to figure out how to 'connect with my audience' and 'get my stuff into circulation' more, and have concluded that what is involved in this is a huge huge amount of lifelong, ongoing work that does not spark joy in my heart. I put all of it down, surrender that project, and await with curiosity to see what happens next.
I have begun to archive the work of Janet Gallup, a printmaker and the deceased wife of our friend Al Gallup here in Ann Arbor, who has all of it in a shed he bought for it, after he and his kids dispersed as much of it as possible. I don't know exactly what is compelling me here, but I am very interested in what happens to a body of work when the artist's body is gone, and Janet's is here to attend to - and it's a beautiful collection. I will share more on this soon.
I have made a few death books and will make three more soon, and made formalized this project in 2021.
So in this year where I feel more alive than I have ever felt, there is a lot of a theme of death, surrender and stopping. These are not new themes, but they are newly applied in ways that surprise and interest me, and lead to freer experiences of the life that's here to be lived. I have absolutely no idea what is to come in 2022, but I wish you a balance to whatever has felt like too much or too little, some quiet time in the wee hours of January, and a creative spark of joy in your heart.
To counter the Dark Side of December post, here is a lighter angle on the holiday season we are in. First off, Happy Winter solstice! As of the 21st, we have officially lived through the darkest, shortest day of the year. Go us! Go planet earth and all of the sun worshipping creatures alive today!
There is also a lot of twinkly light and color at the holiday. Things that smell nice, and usually a little break. Sometimes one is completely alone. Sometimes there is no family. Sometimes the invitation to share the holiday was declined, devastatingly. But still, opportunities are there for listening in the silence, in the dark, in the big hush and pause of the whole thing.
For a while in my life, my holiday was piggybacking on someone else's holiday. For a while it was lots and lots of pie making, and then pie giving away. There were the drunken years, living to join friends at the bar after the family meal, and the breakup at holiday time, which is a brutal no fun experience.
In the end, there is a kind of Christ light coming into the world that I sense at this time of year. Interpret that however you like, in the lense of whatever your beliefs. Some seed beginning to germinate that really hasn't broken the frozen ground. The miracle of all of the animals that somehow survive the cold and bare outside for the whole year. A chickadee for example: how does a ping pong ball size bird manage to stay alive, let alone fly and sing, in the northern part of the US, all winter long? Also, there are the little twinkles and the tiny bells, magicking out the dark.
How do you personally, sense the quiet light of this time of year? What brings it clearest into focus for you? I find that with every year, what I love gets easier to identify and then to bring forward as a way of relating to and being in this time. What is it for you? Let's pool ideas.
I love this stool. In my studio now, it is serving as a dedicated second egress route, much like a ladder might in a second story space, so that if things are burning and the door is blocked, I can just climb out one of the two wide-swinging windows. It's got two steps, and a handle in the top step for easy carrying. I love especially how sturdy it is, and sometimes I stand on it just to get a better view out my windows. It works as a chair or a table, it sometimes comes with me to a table-based event, and could even be used for display. I like this stool because it's so versatile and sturdy, which makes it reliable, like a good friend. When we were building the space, I was constantly up and down on this stool, hanging windows, nail-gunning stuff, working in the hard to reach corners. It used to be in my kitchen.
It's never going to collapse under me or become rickety, or break a seat. So thank you stool.
I have noticed that when meditation comes up in conversation, I often hear the phrase 'I should...' followed by some description of how someone is failing to live up to some ideal way of doing it. After meditating in a group of people where there's some kind of check-in afterward, I commonly hear descriptions of either a difficult/disappointing experience, or a lovely, special state type experience. When you're learning to do something like say, skateboard, and you go out there and try your hand at it, and come back either having wiped out, dusting yourself off, or successfully land without wiping out - what a rush! A positive, confidence building experience. I always wanted to be that guy having the rush, not the one who became increasingly aware of the intense kink in her shoulder over the course of the sit.
Meditation however, is not a performance. It's worth exploring this because otherwise, it's another thing to make us miserable. Some kinds probably are performative. But presence isn't something that you do, and this term meditation is simply about presence when all is said and done, or "This" : whatever's happening right now.
Instead, it's what is never not there. You aren't doing being presence, or doing being. Like the sky, or say, noticing you have socks on, the presence of socks is not about you, they're just, well, on your feet. The sky is never not there, whatever your level of interest in, focus on, or idea about the sky may be.
The other day I heard great table metaphor that may illustrate this. There's a table covered with books. Lots of books. That's you - the table - with all kinds of interesting books on it. The books are the identifiers we have - the things that when we're gone and everyone who knew us is also gone, go as well, because they are a shared thought. This includes your history, your plans, your opinions, your life story, your nationality, your preferences, how you vote, your personality, your style, your body, your chronic pains, your psychology, your turns of phrase, your reflection in the mirror, what you love and don't love about your body, your closest kin, your habits, your address, your drivers license number, your social security number, your CV and resume, your skill sets, pedigrees, your successes, your failures, your traumas, what you overcome. Your memories, others' memories of you, your reputation, your good deeds, your misdeeds, your credit score, your best moments, your bank account balance, your possessions, what you've made, what you failed to make, finish, accomplish or complete. Also, time, objects and space can go there too but that may be another conversation.
When the 'books' are removed, like when you're tidying up in the living room, you find there's a table underneath them. It's always been there. It's never not been there. It's familiar to you, as it's what you have used to access and read these books, and to refer to your 'self' in the form of each of these books, these programs or information packets about yourself. You may put your feet on it or put your dinner plate on the table too. Meditation is just awareness of This, or you could say, awareness of what is the ground of experience. The big attainment is actually just - the table is here, where it's always been. How spiritual!
The idea of meditation as a performance is just another book or glossy yoga type magazine on the table, with a picture of yourself perhaps, doing whatever idea of your meditation performance is. It's pretty funny and incredibly amazing how thought co opts even just This - what's happening right now. The flow of one thing after another, a live stream of you.
To take the table metaphor a little further, it's not even 'your' table - with a style, with a level of wear, perfectly reflecting all the books that were on it. It turns out that everybody's books are on one table, one gigantic table, again, just a metaphor this table, but it's not actually an object, and nobody owns it, or dusts it, or made it. It's not a thing like a galaxy is a thing, or a pebble. It's just that we are built to see and talk about and interact with objects, so that's as good a metaphor as any: table.
This big wide foundation or ground on which all the objects form a fleeting impression of the story of you and your life, is always here, always offering up the next thing, and is in fact, you, and me, and this word, and the sound you're hearing, and the plans for the next hour, and the irritations and concerns, and the gratitudes and questions, and the dog and the cat, the wad of tissue that didn't make it into the trash can lying on the floor, and the tree shimmering out the window.
Nothing, no book, no passing object of experience, and the presence underneath, is not you.
Here's a suggested way to let this sink in a little further.
Cue up a song or two, get a glass of something, maybe a snack. Sit in a chair and look out the window. Five minutes we're talking. Maybe set a timer. Let the flavor of your food and drink mix with the sound of the music or the kids fighting, mix with the sight out the window, the movement, inside/outside blending, and constantly changing, coming and going.
OR When you get really annoyed, overheated, or suddenly tired and notice this, plunk yourself down with that - sensations, the litany of thought, sounds, the taste in your mouth, how your body is, the temperature. Nothing needs to change and no one needs to do. Like a piece of cardboard lying on the side of the road, just being.( In this case, an agitated or overheated piece of cardboard.)
When you are in conversation with someone, notice what that's like, what the body feels like, the sounds, the gestures, emotions, distractions, how space and arrangement of bodies and body language is. No need to put ideas to anything, just become curious without getting involved in thoughts about it.
That to me, is what they call - meditation - or even better - it's you - the one talking, the one listening, the one reading, the one writing, the weather outside, the weather inside, the flavors and the smells, the ungainly and the very compelling. The pull and the push away.
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.