I heat my studio by wood stove, and it's wonderful. It has taken a long time to figure out how to get the space up to temperature when it's only 10 degrees outside, but I have started to get the knack. This makes me very happy because it makes me very warm.
I have a bellows, which is like a handheld pair of lungs, so that I can breath more oxygen onto a fire and get the flames up and the whole thing ablaze better. When I use it however, I find that some ash and soot billows out of the stove, and these tiny, nearly weightless bits of soot float up and all about, and then can end up coming to rest on the surface of one of my works of art.
his is not so cool. It's one thing to have a mess on the floor. It's another to have it floating weightlessly in the air, more like an invisible enemy, like the fog monster in the TV series LOST.
So I share this minor mess with you. It's minor because if I blow on a surface, it removes the soot, and nothing has been permanently marred to date. But, it is a mess for sure, and one that I will develop workarounds for. Likely, from my days on A Street in downtown Boston during the giant dust cloud of the Big Dig in the late 90s, I will cover things with plastic sheeting and all will be well.
On an upnote, I have in recent years made ash based paint, from the ash created while burning about twenty of my old journals. From this I have made some experimental ash paintings like the one below. This might be an avenue I can explore further. For now, it's just soot floating in the air. And this is just how it is sometimes.
Among studio objects, my current studio floor I have a very special appreciation for, I appreciate it almost as much as my very first studio floor, which was a very large swathe of high gloss, light turquoise, painted, wooden floor, painted by someone else before I arrived, in a building which was previously some kind of mill. That floor was in the Fort Point Channel in Downtown Boston, where I had my first ever own living space out of college, which had that lovely floor, lots of sun, lots of space, and is now converted to luxury office space whereas before it was artist studio space, not zoned for residential use.
I loved that floor because the color was light enough and bright enough to be cheerful, and because the space was overheated with steam pipes which made it very warm, and the color was cool. I have many photographs from that period of my life with the background of that floor, held many open studios in the space, and made lots of art upon that floor.
Today, here in my personal studio space in a town that doesn't have any affordable studio space (shame on you Ann Arbor), I have a space in our garage that doesn't leak, doesn't risk my safety to get to late at night, is not a crazy commute (30 feet), and doesn't have a printing press operating below it, or a meth dealership, ghosts, peeping toms, walled off fire exits, slumlords, or homeless squatters next door. All of these examples come from 25 years of studio space shenanigans, and I could quietly die here in this space as a satisfied elderly gal, hopefully not for a long time, and I would be grateful.
This floor is a symbol for me of how I can learn things and improve upon things. It's the second studio floor I have 'built' myself. The first was about a mile away from here, in the Walter St. garage, where I put down some plastic sheeting, some thin foam insulation, and then used half tongue and groove flooring I found, and half gray gym flooring. The gym flooring was great, but after about 2 months, the tongue and groove flooring separated, and the whole thing creaked and pitched like an old seaworthy vessel.
This time, I did not make the same mistake. I chose a space with a level concrete floor to start, carefully researched options, and then got help from my friend Patrick to install first a subfloor with little rubber feet, and then I put in (by myself which was truly crazy and not smart but it went ok) a carpenter grade plywood floor, and painted it Alpaca. I hurt my knees and shoulder a bit, and did a few unsafe moves with the circular saw, but The two things a love about this floor are that it is level, screwed in place, has air circulating properly underneath it, and has a little bounce under your step like an interior floor. These are all successes. This is the subfloor, and part of the finished floor before painting.
I chose to paint the floor because I didn't want to feel like I had to treat the wood preciously. My studio floors get very grimey and very droplet covered and covered with pencil shavings, and now bits of ash and charcoal.
I chose this warm, earthy version of an off white/gray called Alpaca because I wanted the space to feel like a light box. It does! However, it really accentuates how much of a pigpen I am, and the fact that I have never tended well to floors.
So I try to sweep, I have a swiffer hack that allows me to mop up fairly easily, and I just hope when people pop in they look up at the walls and windows and me, and not down at the layers of floor grime. Eventually, I can repaint it. Once I run out of alpaca, I can try another hue.
Objects are all about you. They seem inert, but each has a special character, one that you may be fond of, may not ever think about, or one that inspires aversion or other negative qualities.
I am sitting in my studio right now, and all about me are many objects. There is nothing at all unusual about this situation, and yet perhaps turning attention towards objects is a little bit unusual. I would like to do this now. Similar to the cursory way that in goodnight moon, even the bowl of mush and the spoon whisper 'hush'.
There is nothing special or unusual about 99.9% of the objects in this studio, but I want to share about them with you for a couple of reasons. 1) Because noticing what is around me helps me to appreciate and see them more clearly, perhaps care for them better and to enjoy them more. 2) Because I wrote a book whose subtitle is A love letter to all things everywhere, a book about the Elements, which reveals in its pages the very direct way that we are made of the same set of 100 or so ingredients as the objects we live with. So, in a way sharing about the objects in my studio is a way of introducing you to your cousins. 3) Sometimes I notice that people are curious about the hashtag of studio life, and this is a way of sharing a little bit more intimately about what goes on in here.
I will begin with the pink tub.
The pink tub is very very bubblygum pink. It appears at one point to been a part of a child's playroom organizational system. I can't remember where it came from. I likely picked it up off some curb on a side street somewhere. I believe I have only had it since I moved to Michigan in 2017.
In October of that year, I began using a one car garage as my studio, which I insulated and drywalled and laid some rickety found flooring down on. It had no running water. At first I was bringing in my inky, painty brushes to our house on the same property, and running them under the water, but then I realized that this is bad for the watershed, because those chemicals end up in it, leeching down into the rivers and lakes that we so abuse. So, instead, for both that reason and because it was a lot easier, I began just dumping my dirty water into the pink tub.
How it works, is that when I want to paint with water soluble paints like acrylic, I pour water from gallon jugs into a little bowl, clean my brushes and water down my ink and paints with it, and when I'm done I rinse out the extra pigment from the brushes in that little bowl, dry off the brushes (or bring them inside if further cleaning is needed), and then wipe down the interior of the bowl with a paper towel.
Every time I do this, the tub water gets a new infusion of a dark, muddy, often bluish gray tone. Bluish because apparently, these days I'm using a lot of blues.
This tub is not a color I love, it feels very very much like a giant lozenge of bubble gum, and I don't love having this color popping out in the middle of the otherwise muted space. I like the artwork to be the color to which the eye is drawn. However, I have started using it, and perhaps due to inertia, it's what I'm working with for now.
While my current studio was in build out mode last summer (2020), pink tub was in the basement, empty but for a dried 'waterline' of murky gray bluish paint stain about 5 inches up the sides. For a while it held quart cans of stain. I suppose I could've gotten rid of it then, but now I'm back in the studio and have begun again to us it as described above. Eventually I may replace it with something less brazen, but there is also benefit of the bright color, in that it shouts caution at me, lest I kick it over or something, by being so very pink.
Drop the Props and Poses
There is no need to look or feel a certain way to engage meditation. You don't need an expensive pillow or to be flexible or to be able to sit on the floor. Take care of your body. Sometimes having low back support in a chair, or a little cushion to lift up you butt, helps the spine to naturally be relaxed and fairly upright, which allows a nice free flow of energy throughout your body. This helps parts of it not fall asleep and maybe helps you stay awake and be more comfortable.
Establishing a little space
By this I mean some internal space. Please don't try to get yourself to stop thinking. One way is to notice the breath, or perhaps notice sounds in the environment, that kind of a simple focus for a few minutes can help you establish a little internal ease and quiet. There are lots of ways to do this. Some people call it a concentration practice: just pick some version that feels easy and relatively natural for you, to establish this kind of quiet.
Widening the Field
After you establish a little steadiness as explained above, you can then set about to broaden your focus to include whatever happens to be coming up in your experience. This includes physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, sounds, tastes, temperature, areas of contraction, neutrality and density.
This isn't always easy, depending on what emotions might be present, but I strongly recommend looking at whatever comes up as human, natural and ultimately, just passing through, like a bird alighting on a branch outside your window. It might be a noisy flock of house sparrows or a huge coven of crows that hangs out for a while, or a buzzard looming, but it's just coming and going, and like a birdwatcher or even the welcoming backyard itself, recognize that it's not your doing, not your fault, and whatever kind of shitty bird alights, see it as just a visitor to be curious about and open to.
Drop the idea of practice or of yourself practicing
At some point, if and when things feel pretty peaceful, drop any kind of practice and just hang out. No one doing anything. Be the yard. Be the field. Without doing it.
Whatever happens, can you hang out with it? If not, can you hang out with what that's like?
When suffering, for example if the answer to the above two questions is No and Absolutely Not, see if you can sit with the one in pain, like a friend would, someone who loved you.
When, if you are sitting in formal meditation, the timer goes off or you finish the formal part, see if you can carry that same simple sense of observation with you into the day - no need again to look or feel a certain way, in fact better if you don't try to steer or manage that, just see what is happening now. And what about now? Who is here? What's present? those are a few questions you can play with to re acquaint yourself at intervals throughout the day.
Let it be a mess.
Rarely as humans are we all dialed in and buttoned up. Especially if we feel compelled to meditate, or are stopping to notice what's underneath all of the activity and motion, there are messy things to encounter. Unruly feelings, blotchy skin and stuffed up noses, runaway radio station brain activity, bodies that keep trying to get comfortable,or even songs that stick in the head and sabotage that nice mellow feeling we were after. That's to be expected. Please don't expect otherwise. Unless you are another form of life from human, there will be the smelly and the ungainly. Invite that in too.
A note about teachers
If you learn from someone else, please be sure they are not claiming perfection, please be sure to trust your own intuition if things feel off. Ultimately what you are doing when you meditate is paying attention to what is happening. Please let that be from the inside out, and not something someone else controls from outside. The best teachers give you their experience of how to unlock your own freedoms, your own insights, your own guidance. They should not at any point need you to do anything or respond any kind of way. Above all trust your own intuitive response.
We want a change of scenery, we are mostly not getting it. We'd like to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie, or sit with a good friend, seeing their whole face, carry on with traditions like any other year. We'd like to uncomplicatedly hug our parents or grandparents, or get away from them for just a little while. We'd like to have a "nice" christmas, holiday or break. We'd like to be with people who are sick when we can't be. Instead we're in these silos, acclimatized to this strange strange time to varying degrees on varying days, baking, zooming, miffing transitions, watching shows. Shopping and wondering if packages will arrive.
Things are weird.
There are two sides - at least - to every moment. The side our brains create, of feelings, events, time passing, things happening to us and our responses to those things.
And then there's the essence underneath that, in the way that the light hits something, the hum of the fridge, the sensations in your hands.
My neighbor has a big inflated snowman on his lawn. Sometimes the snowman is face down or beached on his side. Or in an S kind of contortion, like he's in the middle of the electric slide.
When the daytime comes, the snowman is sometimes flat, laying quietly on the lawn.
It's been such a shit year and so specifically a year of stuff coming to the surface - our fears, blindspots, addictions, interconnectedness, grief, and a bare simplicity too. I hope the next couple of weeks can be a zone of gentleness and allowing for you - allowing it all to be just the way it happens to be.
The wonky or sublime, or lopsided or dialed-in in way that the next few weeks unfold, can you allow for it, for the snowman to be on its side, or completely flat sometimes? For a broad margin? For a wide swathe of OK - this too, with a heart toward the even greater unknown of 2021?
I want to say helpful things - I'm not sure how. I'm planning on rolling with it all, the unexpected, the disappointing, the letting drop of any kind of force. Let's be gentle at the fulcrum of the year - enjoy its novelty and shed what isn't serving - not in a new year's resolution kind of *me* way, but like a sloughing of a skin you didn't even know was hanging off of you, or the opening of a hand. Let it drop. Let the sparkly underlayer come forward, just for you.
Whatever the particulars of your strange moment may look like, find a crisp edge or a brightness to something, in a sound or a shape, in what you've been so intimate with or wanted to avoid. Look into it, turn towards it, let it take you where you're headed - where you always are, into uncertain new light, basic aliveness, and the company of presence itself.
Lately, my lovely morning coffee has been tasting to me like an ashtray. It's funny in the peculiar sense, that I have this idea of 'loving' coffee, that it's so great, and I'm so pleased about my morning coffee. But the idea is not lately lining up with the experience. The idea has gone stale, and so has this coffee habit.
Years ago I stopped having caffeine. That was a good move for me, a highly sensitive individual with an enjoyment of extremes, and another and another cup of something caffeinated. I have been able to have just the one cup of coffee, decaffeinated, but nice and rich, americanos when I go out to a cafe, and it's been working.
But the experience and the story are not lining up these days. The experience involves a kind of a yucky after taste, a slight dull ache in the front of my head, and yes, a bit of an ashtray type of experience. Also a coated tongue. Like my tongue has a thin cashmere sweater on. Coffee breath. Even the nice hot temperature feels a little much, like it makes my eyes bulge a bit. Why do I think of this as good?
There's some fear of trusting my experience over the idea. What if I let go of a good thing and I'm wrong? Well there's not far to fall here, as I can always begin again, this coffee habit, and there is this kind of FOMO - what if I feel deprived of my treat? Initially there's a hurdle to letting something go when there's this kind of attachment - a little bit of withdrawal and perhaps a feeling of missing out - but then, I'm guessing, freedom. I can have a great day even if I am not slugging the brown stuff, and a lightness or freedom in knowing that I don't *have* to do a damn thing.
So, you're the first to know, I may be quitting even my decaf for a bit. Imagine! We shall see how it goes.
Is there a place where you have an idea of something being a 'good thing' or 'treat' where in fact it's kind of shitty feeling when you engage it? Just becoming aware of this, as this post has helped me do, creates a tiny opening to try or choose again, just to see what it's like.
Instead of the 'I have to XY or else' story, perhaps it's 'I can, but actually, I'm good, even without it.'
Look back, take stock, and celebrate.
While the first way: Stay in the Body is concrete and personal, the next two have a more contemplative and cerebral quality to them.
The question is then, how to do these things. There are a million ways. Right now what’s springing to mind is to suggest with a friend, or to set a date or two with yourself, to do these things intentionally. You might put on your calendar for a day of this weekend, or the one right before or after the bigger holiday events coming up, a two hour window at your favorite coffee shop or nook, to meet or factetime a copascetic friend or on your own, to come together write and share on the following.
A few guidelines:
Don’t force anyone to do this. Including yourself. No 14 year old kid is likely going to want to answer these questions. That’s ok.
If doing this in a group or with friends, let everyone be and respond as they want to. It’s not a time for advice giving or opining. This was everyone feels safe.
When I do this kind of thing with a friend, I find it helpful to share the questions and write on them, and then each person has time to share out loud what they wrote.
1. Stay in the body.
When manic holiday shopping or intensive socializing and activities are on constant offer, there is a tendency for my energy to go up and out. In the aisles of a store, the energy goes out through the eyes and the senses, or bores deeply into a list, and I can completely forget I have a body at all. At a holiday party or a tea with a friend in from out of town, I can feel a pull to match the bubbliness and superficiality that may be all anyone is capable of mustering as the weeks wear on. Another scenario that looks a little more like hibernation but also is a kind of disembodiment is binge-watching shows. Sometimes if holidays are lonelier, or there’s grief and loss as a part of this time of year, I can find myself wanting to manufacture good feelings by not one but a whole season of something, until I dream about the plot lines and characters, and my own life becomes of mash up of fiction and reality.
This is for most of us a norm at this time of year.
To stay in the body, here are some suggestions.
Happy belated Thanksgiving.
As the days get shorter and colder, I am now slowing down into this season of reflection, rest, and to the best of my ability, going inward. Someone recently pointed out to me that doing so poses a real challenge at this time of year because economic forces do not want us to do this, though for centuries it’s been a time for rest and falling fallow. At a grocery store three days before Thanksgiving, I felt and heard that constant jingle jingle jingle that spurs one to throw that extra holiday oddity into the cart, and just one more little gift. It’s fun sometimes, until it becomes a kind of manic autopilot. So, today, on the day after Thanksgiving, I’m going to start putting out some alternative points of focus to accompany all of that, or to do instead. I will do this in three parts.
We’ve got just over a month before the holidays are behind us. For myself, and for you if you choose, here are some ways to go slow and go in peace and stay healthier. I’ll outline these, and then go into more detail in the posts to follow.
1. Stay in the body.
3. Look forward.
Bring the insights of these practices to the more outward facing facets of this holiday time, and see how much richer an experience it can be!
[Originally posted in Spring of 2013]
A few weeks ago I was driving home at night through Brookline. In one of the town's many rotaries was a simple mound with many, many daffodils in bloom. It was raining and I noticed them on my left.
Normally, I'd cluck over their beauty with a heightened sense of goodwill. But in this instance, I was surprised by what I saw there instead. I had a similar sensation once while looking at stars in Maine. I saw depth in the night sky, where before I'd seen more of a blanket or curved plane of stars like in the planetarium. Seeing the flowers in the rotary gave me a similar feeling of vastness, or vertigo.
I saw while passing the flowers that the whole mess of them, the entire mound of hundreds, was actually one conscious presence or force, like a collective brain. Something far less diminutive or poetic than what I'd previously percieved. The green shoots, threading roots filtering the dirt, meet as a single mind under there.
Our lives are lived at times with the leaden feeling of no-one-gives-a-shit/sees me/understands. As a woman living alone turning 40 in a month, the daffodil revelation is important. The cars circling the rotary, people on a train platform, a group listening to a concert is the same. We get so caught in the mire of being individuals. The tangle of speculation, obligation, association, doubt and doom - Doing and aiming for a high perch on the hill, or we fear mediocrity and failure. I want to be a success, don't you?
When I can feel the ground underneath, or the weather as it mixes with the tiny hairs on my arm, use my senses to reconnect to the situation I find myself in at any given moment, just as it is and just as I am, recollected.
Those flowers don't have long. They get a few weeks if they're lucky to kappow in yellow. That depth and connection is also available to me and you, as is the profound beauty of our vulnerable, short lives.
6 Insights into Falling Back in love with your work, creative practice and life.
Every so often, I hear from an artist friend or in the pages of my studio journal, a sense that our work as artists is boring or repetitive, or not all that interesting. I’ve heard this from artists whose work delights and inspires me and many others. I’ve also seen and felt how these thoughts can feel paralyzing.
We may look at one body of work and think: I love this, but it was too easy to make, too much fun, too simple, doesn’t have consequence, doesn’t address an injustice, isn’t clever….
or similar stories.
It’s a little like how you might feel about your hair: It’s frizzy. It’s flat and lifeless! It’s oily as soon as I wash it! I don’t have any! It’s heavy, thick and weird! It’s graying, it’s thinning, it’s such a blah color.
Whatever you do with it, your hair is your hair. Even if you’re bald, it is what it is. It’s what you have. Art and Hair: not always in our control.
When a friend of mine expressed her relief at finally deciding to let her hair be: go grey, look like it does, it was uplifting and liberating to me too.
As for art: the fact is, I can’t make someone else’s work, and if I try, it’s not going to go well. I can learn from them, try out a technique, but if I’m being honest in the work, genuine and deeply engaging the work, it’s going to be singular. And what it is, is independent of me and whatever I think about it.
From this meandering thought trail, I pull a few insights:
1) I am not my artwork. I am not what people think of my work. I am powerless to change or even truly know what others think of it. Some people will like it, some people won’t, it is what it is, on any level of notoriety or obscurity.
2) I am the steward of my work, it’s foster parent say, and it’s my job to honor, to care for it, and to see it. To be curious about it and learn from it, to show up for it as best I can, which’ll be human, imperfect and OK.
3) Genuineness and your relationship to work comes through, so explore, discover, and pay attention to what you enjoy doing, what you love to do. It is also sometimes the case that you may simply need to see something through, or to break through to something else.
4) It’s not always fun or pleasant, nor does the work always come together - but the messes themselves have great things to reveal.
5) Want what you have. Practice this as a discipline to enjoy your life, work and creative practice more. Wanting what you have is a discipline that helps you feel lighter, clearer and more in love with what’s actually here in your life. Do this by becoming curious and playing with this line of inquiry. Ask yourself:
What’s happening here?
I wonder where this’ll go...
Hmmm. Now this is happening!
What do I appreciate and enjoy in my life?
(Nothing is the answer that will make you feel the worst so dig a little deeper and come up with something)
6) When you see something amazing in another's artwork, life or career, see it as something your heart is waking up to in your own life, something being remembered about who you are and your inherent worth and abundance, and say YES, THAT. That’s amazing. I choose THAT! from the catalogue of life experience. I am open to experiencing that in my own life.
Prior to this practice, it might feel somewhat like an impoverished, smouldering jealousy, comparison or rejection of that other. For an easier experience, see it as a mirror. This plane we live on is dynamic and collaborative. Your part is to know what sparks joy in your life, art and in others.
And further, even if it’s scary, practice the expression of appreciation and gratitude to others. You may find as you do your heart expanding, relating, connecting and serving, instead of - as was my case for much of my twenties, contracting, retreating, judging, comparing, hiding and becoming brittle in the comfort of familiar and inaccurate stories.
When you see something amazing in another's artwork, life or career, see it as something your heart is waking up to in your own life, something being remembered about who you are and your inherent worth and abundance, and say YES, THAT. That’s amazing. I choose THAT! from the catalogue of life experience. I am open to experiencing that in my own life.
With the normalized practice of awareness - not the zen-stylized kind with rice paper and bells, but simply: Oh, here I am seeing something. Here’s driving. Here’s noticing. Here’s irritation. Here’s tiredness. or, What do the hands feel like right now? or noticing, warm water, clinking dishes, bubbles.
The more that : awareness - becomes normal in my world and life, something entertaining starts to take place.
When say, at a family holiday gathering someone does or says some outrageous but predictable thing, flossing with a plucked hair or trying earnestly to set you up with your second cousin, or something less interesting like a stony silence from your child when you thought all was well…
When this type of ‘thing’ happens, for some reason the phrase that springs to mind recently is: And now This is happening!
This phrase has a surprisingly humorous and helpful effect: It has within it a sense of engagement, interest and also a kind of acceptance built into it.
Try it right now: And now This is happening!
Look around and see what ‘this’ is.
An empty room with a reasonably quiet refrigerator running within earshot.
And now This is happening.
The urge to pee or an ache somewhere.
This occasionally thought phrase is so easy, and it’d be easy to read about and consider but not try. Try it! Try it for 5 minutes and see if your life doesn’t take on even a quality of simple interest, dare I suggest even a playful, creative engagement.
It's also fun to do while working on a creative project: the paint spilled or the colors ran into each other. It dried funny, or something went not according to plan... And now This is happening...
The holidays are challenging.
1)There’s festivity pumped into everything like hormones into a purdue chicken.
2)There are genuine invitations to celebrate, give and receive, mixed in confusingly with the corporate branded version
3)There’s just a tremendous amount of PAIN - layers of painful memory, loss, violence, loneliness and disappointment circulating through the pepperminty air.
It’s a confusing time. A pressure cooker for many. A lot of socializing for some, when being alone is often preferred and needed, and not enough connection for many many others, accompanied by feelings of unlovability, resentment, hopelessness or grief.
Every year the holiday season has it’s own special flavor, according to the life events that befall us all in different ways, times and degrees.
I have found it useful as a general practice in my life, to first Lower my Expectations as much as I can. This heads off disappointment. But to lower my expectations while also Acting As If, things could go smoothly and well. I just won’t cross my arms expecting it to happen where it often has not.
A phrase or prayer if you like, that makes this more actionable is from Chogyam Trungpa and some ancient Tibetan slogans: May I be free from attachment and aversion while still continuing to care.
Another similar thing I can mutter to myself along the sloggy, jingly sidewalk on my way to that work party: May I act as if it could be fun and enjoyable, while having no expectation that it should or will be.
I have also found it useful as a general practice in my life for entirely selfish reasons, to notice the details of what is working, what I can feel grateful for: these boots are warm and dry, I am a woman and I get to live alone undisturbed and free, I get to vote, I get to drive as a woman. my socks match, I am holding a warm beverage, I heard from a friend today.
When I can ratchet up this practice a little further to include what really does not feel OK - to have gratitude for that, strangely, it opens up for me a whole new level of freedom.
I don’t find it easy to do this. When the hot water runs out, or there’s a cancelled flight, I have one friend who actually says Thank You to the ether in these moments. I’m not there myself. But I can ask:
How is this cancelled flight or cold shower the best thing that could be happening right now?
What if this is as good as it gets? What if this is the last week of my life? What if I never get that project done or find the right partner? And now this is happening!
When I apply this kind of twisted logic, I find it liberating and empowering.
I can also preface the situation with And now this is happening! to pipe in a little playful acceptance.
These lines of inquiry help me to actually consider that maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be, that all is well, that I’m unimaginably ok, not a hair out of place, even though I wouldn’t choose this and it’s not comfortable.
If you look back on your life to date, you may also discover this makes sense in retrospect.
Think of a shitty time in your life. How did it lead to what followed? How has it turned out ok? How was it the best thing that could’ve happened at the time?
The point isn’t to lie to yourself or to be fake. The value I find is in the reframe. The loosening of the calcified familiar story for something unknown, open and dynamic.
My life has been included times of extreme, big, scary, and sometimes all-at-once change.
Three times, I’ve lost a job, a relationship, and had to move within the span of a week. Can you relate? Certain things have been constants. Family nearby and an art practice I’ve always had. Last year I moved half way across the country, and now family is far away too: The world itself appears to be going through relentless unfolding processes, losses, big shifts in understanding, incredible challenges: big effin’ change.
This summer I’m taking some major action on things I’ve dreamed about for several years, chewed on, but never seen a way to make happen. In the last month I’ve begun learning how I might Scale Up by doing these 8 things:
I’m sharing this post with you because this is one on a long list of scary things I’m doing right now to get honest and stay accountable. I’m managing my time in a more specific way, working up the nerve to share things via video, re-alphabetizing a lot of index cards and solving strange problems. I’m also listening to people to whom I can’t relate very much, who share what they did to find their audience, and taking their suggestions. I’m showing up to practice what it feels like to be seen going through this, instead of only sharing the finished product as if it was seamless and delightful to pull together.
7 Reasons Why I’m Doing This
1. What I have to share is genuinely, practically useful, tested and delivered uniquely.
2. I’m here to share what I make. Why not master the sharing part?
3. I’m curious and interested to see what’s going to happen. I know what happens if I do things the way I’ve always done them. What if I go about it full boar instead of half-assedly?
4. I like learning, and man, is there a steep learning curve right now! Every day, I’ve got about 8 new major questions to answer. It’s a self imposed boot camp.
5. It says in some 12-step literature I value: I can’t transmit something I haven’t got. Anywhere I’m staying small and Eeyore-esque, is an area where I’m not able to be useful to others.
6. Freedom. Did I mention? I don’t do anyone any favors by staying small.
7. My success is your success, and your success is mine. Somehow, it really comes down to my relationship to you. I don’t understand why or how, but it’s clear to me that I’m not supposed to, and can’t do this without you. We are deeply, all of us, interconnected. I’m swashbuckling through new territory and so are you. You can steer me clear of the ditches as I share practical process, metaphor and creative work to support you right back.
By sharing this with you, I’m taking a risk, but I’m also hoping that you will keep me accountable, human, and honest throughout. Sometimes I may have to be honest about being full of shit. Or thinking something was a good idea that turned out not to be. But I won’t be alone. We’re like a field of daffodils, all opening under the same sun, interwoven and strong in a root system that is our collective.
As I do this, I’d love to hear from you, support your conversation with one another, and know what you value. I want to be responsive and in conversation with you.
What edge are you working right now? How uncomfortable is it? What/who is supporting you through this transformation? How are you caring for yourself? Why are you committed to this change?
Looking back on this ambitious list, I notice a few things. Several items on it didn't happen and several of them did. I took a lot of actions and kind of twisted myself up in knots in the process, but also, some of those things bore fruit, and some of them didn't. That's how it goes. I think growing up as an artist and a business person means risking failure, or unfinished stuff, without giving up or packing up.
This update is from March of 2021. The Elements book became a reality, and also had a publisher of sorts through the local imprint 5th Avenue Press. That wasn't my goal, but it was a great new experience, following the successful crowdfund.
I investigated sales reps, and I ended up in that invesitgation being offered a book deal from a major publisher for the 2021 Edition of Contemporary Prayers, which comes out this week!! I could not have planned that. So none of my own sales reps, but a publisher with their own fleet of them, is what turned up.
The online school was a bit of a u-turn. I spent a lot of time on it, but I also wasted some serious clams on the endeavor, and it wasn't the right time. Maybe in the future, maybe not!
And I continue to coach, and to love it. I have begun working with a new mentor of my own and this expands very much how I think of this kind of one on one work. I am happy with things as they are, never finished, always in process, and never really in any way, about me.
The other day Guy brought home water balloons. He sometimes does this: gets something plasticky and colorful at the dollar store that brings him an inordinate amount of delight. He wanted to play catch with them after filling them up with hose water, as one does.
As we stood there, barefoot on the lawn, I had a visceral memory of being 8 or 7 or 10 with my cousins up in Maine, standing around absorbed in a mission, out in the grass and heat.
I had had a crappy day working on some new business strategies and feeling a little bit like a fish out of water. What I excel at is coloring, drawing, zoning out and looking out at the leaves fluttering in a tree; less so the roll-up-your-sleeves and get-in-there and fall-down-and-get-up-again attitude of much of the business world. And yet I am a business owner, and lately have taken seriously the notion that it’s up to me to care for and run the business as professionally as I can.
The game was to toss the water balloon back and forth, and to take a step away from each other with each turn, like a colorful and wet version of Russian Roulette. At first I noticed that my teeth clenched every time I went to catch the balloon, as if in anticipation of something bad. Not only does that make my neck veins pop out and my face look like a scary, cornered, feral animal, the clenching is unpleasant and a waste of valuable life energy. The body automatically reacted this way, but it's the mind's faulty logic that imagines this kind of contraction to be in any way helpful. It's saying to the body: Brace yourself, this could be bad...
So I began to play around with consciously doing something else with this face and body of mine. With the full threat of balloon breakage upon me, and the body on edge, I tried bouncing a little side to side, lowering the shoulders and softening the face a little bit, and even putting a something between a smile and a slack jaw expression on my face instead to see how that felt.
As a kid I was always the sensitive one: running away and crying, easily hurt, even though I was pretty tom boyish. Of my cousins I was probably the least rugged, as well as the youngest. I found myself often sniffling in a corner, feeling lonely, after an outburst.
Consciously softening and lightening my face muscles while reaching up to receive this water balloon that might instantly explode was a great metaphor for how to ‘be’ with all these scary new things I’m trying professionally.
I’m not sure if it’s true but right now I seem to be getting the message that I need to move out of my comfort zone if I want things to change. That includes the real possibility of visibly falling on my face, skinning knees, bee stings, and having the next water balloon explode all over me. And even the possibility of having bystanders point and laugh.
Giggles, camaraderie, and expanded sense of possibility may accompany that next bursting balloon.
I just went and did a search on Metta Practice, or loving kindness practice. I wasn't overwhelmed by what was out there. There are a lot of pictures of a buddha statue and this sort of thing. So I'd like to offer this tool of Sending Love in a simpler, less obnoxiously Glossy-Mag-about-Yoga kind of way.
Here's the practice.
Take a break. Let your shoulders drop. Maybe close your eyes and give them a rest.
Bring to mind a moment of unbridled love. Not romantic love. Not sexy love. Just love. Maybe involving your favorite toddler, once upon a time, or a creature in its first month or so on the planet. The point is to start with bringing up the melty feeling of tenderness for someone uncomplicated. Once you're tapped in, bathe in that image and experience for a bit.
Next let others come to mind. If you were wanting to reach out and just share this feeling, who would you share it with? It doesn't really matter who, just somebody. Although again, this is low hanging fruit type people, with who its easy and uncomplicated to want to connect. What I do is not say a phrase (which you can do), but just flash on that person in their habitat, my stepdad on his porch so, in a moment of open, relaxed, peace. I picture him feeling lets say, satisfied, sitting in a little sun, belonging there. I don't imagine him to be the way I think he should be, or if he would just read this book then he'd *get it.* This is instead, a flashing on that alrightness that can take on the flavor of quite joy, and being right with the world for no reason. Your birthright.
Check in with your beloved ones far away or emotionally remote like this for a bit. Notice how good it can feel. Notice what this generates where you are, at no other time or place.
At some point, throw yourself into that mix. Send yourself love just like to all those other worthy beloveds.
If you find complicated or challenging feelings come up, send love to that feeling. It's like a kid grumpy in the afternoon. She just wants some space to be, and maybe a reassuring hand squeeze. Offer this type of wide pastureland to that feeling. Bathe it in that tenderness. It may be there for a while. Your honored guest. If aversion comes up to that honored guest, bathe that in your presence and welcome.
I find I rarely have to go searching out the next level of more challenging people or feelings to work with, they usually are fairly close at hand. But if you're still sitting there, into it, work now with some difficult people. Maybe don't start with Trump, but with the friend who didn't call you back. Again, notice if what's there is a bitchy griping self talk, and make some space and understanding for that one. And the friend, if there's time and space, imagine her limber and loose and giggling a little, or really loving the moment she's in for no reason. Breathe the feeling in and out.
The black diamond types then take it to Trump. Even just sending metta to the word Trump is a practice. Or to the suffering perpetrators of violence and destruction. Hold up a mirror there, see where those things live in yourself, open your heart there too, even if just a tiny crack open, some breathing, your willingness to stay open is profound in its transformative power.
And One Caveat: If you're fixating on somebody, be sure you're note just mentally stalking them! This means you stay in your experience, you don't go sniffing around in their airspace trying to feel connected to them. If it feels too entangled with someone, another approach is to offer this one up, to cut the kite string in a thoughtful, gentle way, but firmly resolving to return to more neutral people, and to drop that object/person/story, and instead to work directly with what is sparked within your own experience, tenderly and with presence.
Sometimes I will be full of shit. And that's why you're here. I can't know myself without you, and similarly, without the ones in your life, you are the tree that falls in the forest - Did you make a sound, or was that just the sound that doritos make in your own head as you eat them?
You will never know unless there's someone else there with you.
In other words: Community.
Leaving Boston last year made me pull up the carpet tacks on so many lovely groups of people that week in and week out, I'd see and see again. It didn't dawn on me til I was all the way over in Michigan that I can't have those people in my life, you, like I did, by just braving Boston traffic for 45 minutes in both directions, anymore. Those communities are going on in other forms, as I show up to forge new ones.
My first attempt at community in Michigan was to go to a knitting group on a Monday night at the local cafe/brewery in Ypslianti. All of my needles were in storage, and I only had two small cards of thin repair wool on hand. I wanted to make a cozy for my reusable coffee cup, but more importantly, I just needed to get the F out of the house. I shrugged, and decided two ballpoint pens with scotch tape on the tips would surely work fine for needles, if only I could remember how to cast on.
I arrived, sat down, and thought, yes, I can do this! I know how to knit, I'm just a hen among hens here. And then I pulled out my ballpoint pens from Eastern Bank, with tape on the ends, my repair wool, and set about in a group of complete strangers, trying to remember how to cast on. It was at that moment that I realized: Dorothy Honey? you're not in Kansas, Massachusetts any more. You are as good as completely insane to these women. I do have a tea cozy to show for that brave effort, as well as the tender experience of accepting help, the loan of some actual needles, and even a couple of phone numbers. A young lass with a hip uneven haircut even complimented me on the cup cozy a week later.
Community for us humans is essential, like vitamin B or the sun. We're like grass blades. We don't do very well on our own, regardless of how independent we might think we are.
I want to create community with you, for you, that uses the incredible free and easy technology of the airwaves to be all over the world, in each other's livingrooms, and also still in our pajamas, together. I'm figuring out the details now, but I want to invite you to join me in your livingroom, in recorded form, all to yourself, or live with a group of gorgeous grass blades like you and me, with their own magnificence to spark yours and vice versa. Please check keep your eyes out for a new Creative Pioneering Institute with Hannah Burr coming soon! and encounter opportunities to bond with, support and learn from other genius grass blades figuring out this earth plane and how to cast on, eat doritos, and thrive in embodied expression and creation together.
I’ve been in a temporary home for about a month here in Michigan. It’s a good serviceable place: it’s quiet and has a workspace for me and a nice kitchen. I’ve found that without a working art studio, which is waiting to be unpacked in a more permanent spot later in the fall, I’m not able to fuss about or work much with my hands, and I have meanwhile been working on two laptop-based, excel-based projects. The laptop screen is also where I see my Boston people during video conference visits, do my research, and connect with other virtual communities.
In my ‘productivity’ I have inadvertently taken myself out of active circulation. At the end of the last couple of days I’ve felt gross and stuck, my leg pinned underneath my body in a way that’s downright painful when I unfold it. It’s like I’m a little coagulating mass beginning to damn up an artery.
We all know that circulation is beneficial to the well being and health of any kind of system: a room, a body, a city. When I get fooled into the idea that my worth and value is in doing, and that the doing is somehow involved in being locked in a gaze with the glowing square orb of a computer or smartphone screen for more than half of my time, I am at that time starting to sink in the mire of stagnation. Stagance or stuckness happens in a variety of dimensions at the same time, and shows up in air flow, blood flow, traffic patterns, water flow, body movement, mental loops. When I'm stuck on the laptop, the legs tucked cozily under me may be getting insufficient blood flow, my breathing dulls, and the muscles in my back get weird and stiff. The space also gets a mucky vibe- it begins to get stuffy, cluttered and dead feeling.
Stangance can appear as clutter or sediment building in the eddy of a stream, carbon monoxide rising from miles of breezeless traffic, constipation, isolation, boredom, or repeating one path to and from the fridge, or fingernail to mouth, over and over again. Stagnance starts out sometimes as a needed break, and becomes the trance of one TV show after another, or one more excel spreadsheet to finalize.
My commitment to you, as a part of the larger earth body that we belong to, is to put myself back into circulation: walks, even in circles round the same four blocks, will be one way I circulate. Drives, turning down unfamiliar roads, biking around, bringing my lunch to a park bench, and getting up from this machine hourly, for a break for the eyes, the hands, wrists and body. Also I can circulate by stopping and looking out the window, checking in with eyes closed to sound, smell, taste, touch, and breath. Getting up to pick up some socks, tidying the eddies of objects that accumulate on surfaces, jumping into water, a lake, the tub, a shower. Wiping down the counters - picking something up, and placing it intentionally down somewhere else. All of these brief engagements arrive with a basic energy and aliveness.They remind me that this is what I actually am: basic energy and aliveness. The rest is just gathering on my surfaces.
Walking also leads to connections and discoveries. On my day 1 of circulation, I ran into a woman on the street I’d been playing phone tag with, and lo I had my calendar and we finally made a tea date. All because I set foot outside.
To circulate is to light up the thru ways of the brain, to clear them out and to trust and value yourself as an essential part of the wider world, this alive whole, without fanfare or specialness to gum up the gears.
The more you circulate and welcome circulation, the more the whole parade can simply flow.
Stagnation in the world:
unreturned library books, unpaid bills, piles of clothing or dishes, papers, mail, trash, appliances that don’t get used taking up counter space, unreturned phone calls and emails, the couch nest or the bed nest, sheets that need washing, a body or hair that’s past being clean. Eating the same foods over and over, sitting in one place, always spending time with one or two people, or alone.
Circulation in the world:
Standing up. Stretching, raising the gaze, moving the muscles of the face, shakin’ that behind, music, sound, walking, swinging the arms, slowly drinking a glass of water, taking a ride, walk or drive, showing up for someone else, attending something public, making something for no reason, getting out of bed, pulling up the shade, opening the windows and door.
In a museum, everyone loves the white, spareness and purity. Perfect angles, controlled temperatures. A frame is like a small travelling museum - a tiny, somewhat controlled environment for the preservation and display of a work of art. The idea of something 'lasting forever' or accruing value is all quite silly when you consider the decay happening in and on every surface on the planet - the constant swappage of molecules.
I do however, appreciate the great preoccupation with perfection, presentation and essentially control.
Many years ago, I saw how art does this for us. I went to see a Ballanchine Ballet called Jewels, during a painful and disorienting break up of a relationship and a home.
Every act of the ballet was in reverance to the emerald, the ruby, the sapphire and the diamond. Every high pointed toe, kick and arc of a hand was absolute precision. The backdrop was a solid, shimmering, gorgeous color, reflected in the costumes, the sparkle, and the choreography, one gem/color for each act.
There we were within a dissolving partnership, looking up at the stage. I was sitting next to my roommate, love and friend, and the sad, tired mess of our valiant attempts to do better, talk it through, and make it work. Crying silently, mucus running out of my nose and a hand damp from wiping away this issuance. Up on stage was an impossible perfection, a million miles from where I sat, incomprehensible, orchestrated, perfect. It was heaven. I was earth. A primoridal ooze.
Sometimes, this is what art is for.
You're in it. You may be cowering under the blanket, rooted to the nest of your bed, or couch. Your hair might need washing. Perhaps you're badly in need of a shower. People, people that love you and believe in you might feel like a fiction, a distant memory or a fluke. Lying through their teeth at the very least. Or maybe everything's pissing you off. The alarm clock, uncooperative coat button or bank clerk, the tepid tea.
So this is the little fire I'm building: A few sticks, maybe a little mossy, some crumpled pages of my own journal, and a lighter that's been in my glove compartment for four years at least. My fingers are brittle and cold. I'm blowing on this kindled thing, I believe in it. It's going to catch. When the wind finally dies down for a moment, it does! And then, in some minutes, is the plume of smoke that rises. It rises from this spot, on the side of an unfriendly road where the views aren't inspired. This is the spot where I stopped, would not go another mile. It will have to do.
The plume is going up, visible from over the ridge in a thin, messy, scraggly line rising straight up. This plume is just for you.
Would you like to know why I'm sending you such a plume? Because it's all working and I want you to know that. You are in the throes of transformation my friend and yes indeed, it is uncomfortable. It's not pretty either. And how do I know this with such certainty? Because so am I.
The experience of fear, doubt, insecurity, tossed in with some shame, and an ugliness we fear might be chronic, these are our old modes dislodging.
Sometimes what's foreign and new feels wrong and unsafe. Also, like it's our fault. In a way, it is our fault. We stopped, or if stopped, we chose to get up and take a first step toward that thing we wanted, toward the inkling of who it is we are crossing our fingers we can turn out to be. To really be!
People driving by, they're looking as they go past. Suddenly - it's come to this - what they think of me and my fire by the side of the road in the middle of an empty lot is truly and completely none of my business! It solves nothing at all. I have a fire to tend to. The fire is now brightly burning. My signal to you is now stronger. Look out your window, you'll see it. There's no mistaking it.
You are in it, you are exactly at the center of your life. You are alive and what you are stepping toward is stepping toward you. This is the tiding born by the rising smoke.
The fire that's now impressively burning? It's now strong enough that something else is also beginning. There is a stirring, very deep. A memory waking up, and recognition.
Your fire and my fire, they are the same. They are fanned and brightening with every breath in. My fire is strong in the company of yours. These fires, this fire, is the part of us that says Yes. The part that shows up, finds it funny - a little wierd - and shows up anyway. It's the same Yes everywhere. Courageous fire tenders tending.
You are squarely in the center of your life. You are welcome on this planet. Together, we illuminate the world.
This is what Thai Forest monks meditate on at some point, in part. How gross hair skin and nails are: always growing, always getting funky, needing care.
Today, having cared for my niece and nephew overnight, I was particularly aware of the hag-like aspect of myself, dry skin, nails needing cleaning, cutting, dry scalp and unruly hair, haglike, as I said.
Funny too, how much fuss is made about them all, red nails, long and sexy, clacking at a grocery store cash register, incongruously, hair straightened, dyed, layered, razor-cut, and a million insane, crazy ways to remove it, to walk around pretending we're not daily mowing ourselves, like suburban lawns, in fear of neighborly disdain or being unattractive.
I think they nailed it, those monks, by focusing on that fertile topic for reflection on how we really aren't in charge here, stuff on our own selves just keeps growing and getting weird by it's very nature, regardless of our wishes. Smelling, needing care, however many specialists you have on the job or advanced degrees or grooming tools and apparati.
The point of such a practice, as I understand it, isn't to just gross one out, but to wake up from the spell of being enamoured with our physical forms, but seeing their contstant change, as nature playing itself out right here, not an inch from your face but on your face, your face!
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.