In case you missed it, I have a new book to share: Field Guide to Ambiguity. It's a field guide and a book of art, philosophy and play, and a practical tool for when things don't go as planned.
I just found this piece of journal writing, the earliest document in the Field Guide file folder. It's a journal entry from August 2014, almost 9 years ago . It's part of how this whole thing began, and an illustration of an ambiguous thing in process:
Journal Entry August 2014:
"I was going to write a book about ambiguity. I was going to wake up every day and spent two hours with tea in a drape-y kimono style bathrobe, writing undisturbed. And then I saw that ten other people have written books that probably say something toothier and more meaningful then I was going to say. And I didn't pick it up again. I have the stuff here, the outline, the next steps to research. I recall sitting right over there across the room at the table, vigorously scribbling down my stark insights and connecting the dots. A whole outline came out of that. But now it seems passe and boring. Something tells me it's been done.
So again, I think about what is different about what I have to say. Well, I'm an artist, I'm visual, and my friend has been reminding me about journaling and drawing out ideas and experiences, beyond just writing them down. And I'm curious if I might share this experience of ambiguity in a new way.
I know I could make a pretty colorful and delightful object of a book. I'm an artist and a designer after all, I have done so before. I wrote a book about God that doesn't use the word. It's a book about calling out to something that you're not sure of, and more certain of in your bones than anything else. If that isn't a book about ambiguity then I don't know what is.
I know too, that a simple creative act is like a piece of tasty meat, a real nugget of real value, especially when it just arrives and we just feel like doing it. I know this because my brother in law Andrew asked me to listen to a simple song he developed, thinking about my dad. When my dad died, I was holding his hand, and Andrew was asleep on the couch right there in the room with us. We had sung the Doxology to him. A family hymn. We had sung with my sister in harmony, the way our family has done at easter dinner and christmas and thanksgiving for many years now. It's only four lines long. I sat on the porch in the sun and listened. My niece Max was talking to me and I was nodding to her, but I couldn't hear her, just this piece of beautiful music. Tears were coming down. I have never heard anything more beautiful or meaningful.
And it was just because he felt like it. He created a kind of nourishment. Something meaty and real.
I can do that too. By writing this. By spending time with expression and idea. By having patience and returning. Becoming intimate with something no one else cares about. If I care and I explore, the food will take form.
What I know is that I make work about what is ambiguous. About the in-betweens. About in some of my writing, the fear and trembling that comes when you start to see the maw of unknown. When certainty in who you are and what you are here for, falters or falls away, leaving you exposed and disoriented.
Right now my aunt jean is up the hill, several years into a cancer that is making it hard for her to walk, impossible for her to drive, with a wound that won't heal and a bony tumor actually coming out of that wound. She is dying, but she's also not dead. She's very much alive, talking about her woodpile and her grandson, thinking about when to initiate a fast which is how she wants to end things. Will she be here next summer? Will she be here in a week? What could 'be here' actually really mean in those phrases?
So I write about this precipice we are always on the edge of. I made a book meant to help navigate it with prayer. I make artwork that is about relating to and experiencing it. And I'd like to make another book that is simple, delightful, unusual, and another take on ambiguity. It doesn't have to be the best book in the world, it's just a book, like millions of others over the centuries. It's what we as humans do. But it feels good to offer this like a guide book.
Perhaps it's like a scientific guide book, a guide like the peterson's guide, to the ambiguous.
What are those books made of?
A definitive and clarifying title: Mine could be - A guide to ambiquity.
Some writings, as markers of chapters or other structural hallmarks to the book.
Some diagrams, some illustrations, some specimens laid out.
Some kind of format that repeats, like in a guide book, that helps to orient, educate and inform the reader, so that in the end, they have a reference book.
What are the units of a guidebook to ambiquity?
In the bird guide they are birds.
In the mineral book they are rocks and minerals.
In the mushroom book they are mushrooms....
"If I care and I explore, the food will take form."
To see what has slowly grown like moss over the nine years since I wrote this, please visit the project page and please reserve your copies to bring it into print. I made a feast y'all, and it's almost time to eat it together!
** The front image is of my studio rug, some of the ambiguous situations laid out 'Falling' and 'Opening' being examples, to work out taxonomy and pattern for the book. Those green things are from 2013, small handsewn first dummies of what might be in the book. The book started out kind of self-helpy and slowly has completely morphed into something I like much better, reflective, playful, wonder invoking is the idea...
The second image is of these ambiguous situation verbs having gotten soaked by spilled water after careful color coding, and artworks that pair with each one, throughout the book.
Please back and share the project to help the book come into print by the end of 2023. Thank you.
THIS IS HOME
May 27 - June 26
Gallery B in Castine, ME
A four woman exhibition opening Feb 3 2023 at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
Curated by Thea Eck.
Janice Charach Gallery
West Bloomfield MI
Jan 15-Mar 1 2023
Works of pure abstraction by 18 artists including five new puffies!
Make your own hand sewn book from the papers left by a loved one.
If you feel overwhelmed, confused or just plain excited by what's afoot in your life, and would like some excellent clarifying space and tools, try a session with Hannah! She's been a coach for 15 years. First 30 minutes is just to see what it's like...
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.