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.
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.
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.
The window has opened for Calendar Reservations!!!
A limited edition studio wall calendar has become a tradition since I moved to Michigan, as a way to share with you what I'm looking at and loving as I sort through drawings in my studio, even though you may be far away. Sometimes what ends up in the calendar is a sweet fragment of something from long ago, sometimes its something brand new that I'm not sure what to do with yet, but it looks great in January! This calendar has become a way to feel connected to you and sharing visual ideas with you, in the spirit of my love of multiples and affordable are mediums.
I have been sorting, selecting, googling international holidays, and fussing with moon phase graphics, and the new calendar is both dialed in and nigh!!
Like last year, I will be only printing what I get preorders for. I am accepting preorders through Saturday October 18, which is in just over two weeks.
For preordering, you get a well deserved discount, and here’s how you do it. The calendars are $55 this year, and for preordering, you get them for $50. That’s %10 off. This applies to as many copies as you would like to order.
Preorder it at Big Cartel and use the discount code CALFAN2022 at check out as a proud early bird! Thats a discount of 10% off by October 18 on as many copies as you like. Each copy will be hand editioned.
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 to you by Dec 1st this year, or before.
These images are the product in process, and so please forgive any low res oddness. I always proof with a hard copy to make sure it's all accurate, crisp color and nice sharp lines.
Please also tweet, pin and share from the shop, and send this email far and wide, so that no one is sad that they missed the window to order, which sometimes does happen. S please forward this email about, and thank you so much for your interest, patronage, time, attention and friendship.
To a new year of color and inspiration,
I’m fascinated by the trash cans in artist’s studios. They often have a rare level of truly disgusting filth in them, and usually some rotting yogurt or something too. Why, you might ask, is there a higher level of disgusting to many an artist’s trash can than others household or office trash cans? My theory is that artist’s use everything that could be used, scrap paper, things we’ve pulled out of other people’s trash (Hey! this is a perfectly good piece of foam/tupperware container/colorful piece of string!), sawdust, iron filings…and too, many of us are really tired at the end of a day, and so taking out the trash is generally not something I do very often unless its stinking or nothing more can be added to it due to being overfull. That last part is an exaggeration and I do know some extremely fastidious artists. Also, many studios have mice, or other small vermin and so some artist’s do not have the luxury of leaving their trash lying around. Also, about the yogurt, many artist studios don’t have sinks, and so there can be a pain in the butt factor to properly rinsing something out, that, at the end of your work day you can’t be bothered with.
Anyway, it’s often a unique kind of messy, the inside of an artist’s trashcan. Take a peek on your next studio visit occasion, or look at your own trash a little closer. Look in the trash of many households or offices, and you will see the commonplace items like dental floss, q tips, unwanted notes and packaging.
When there is a lot of one thing: plastic bread tags, rubberbands, tiny dots of hole punch litter, and other discards, both kids and artist’s take notice.
There’s a kind of abundance to something collecting, and it becomes a kind of texture or pattern that can capture the creative imagination. Likely, I’m overlaying my own worldview onto other artists when that’s probably not the case for many. And probably, I’m more of a lazy slob than most. Some people may only allow into their studio the highest quality materials and someone else takes out their trash. Others might only work with plants, or single objects, but this is my theory about artist’s trashcans.
As for me, there’s always been a desire to reuse what I already have, to make a new discovery in an unlikely place, and to work with what’s already around. I do this with the Death Books and my other handmade artist’s books, I did this when I made Help me [ ], do the thing. from bits of other art projects, when I collage, make most kinds of sculptures like the Three Variables series and Offering Shelf.
Back when I lived in the North East, I used to visit New York, and in New York, my friend David X Levine, in his mid town tiny studio, where I would flip through his lovely collection of black books containing his drawings. We did several trades, and I have a lovely collection of his drawings as a result.
I liked his system, and I learned a lot from his system of barter as well. Bartering is one of the true abundances of being an artist. If someone likes my work, which is certainly not a given but has often been the case, we can often trade services for artwork and it's a win win all around. If there's a mutual fan club going on with a fellow artist, we are often abundant in works to trade. Sometimes, people do not want to barter, and this is always important to fully accept before you even propose it.
When it is a Yes for you both, how to barter is not always clear. And for any kind of studio event, how to share your work on paper with people where it is unframed and keep it in good condition is a real concern.
From David I learned that the black books with plastic sleeves allows someone to really go through your work, and select their favorites, while keeping the works safe from oils and spills. I have grouped work by year or by series in these books. I love to know what work people love because I learn about them, about the work, and it gives me some good information for a time when they might get a gift from me. The worst thing is receiving a gift of artwork that you don't like! What a waste for everybody. So I like to be able to mark pages with sticky notes to help me remember who likes what (this sounds so organized, but then I throw out the notes and it all goes to shit, but I try).
Barter is also a delicate matter because you don't want to trade just anything, and if someone can just pick anything, it would be a disaster if you weren't ready to part with that particular piece, or it was of greater value to you than what you were getting in return. David's system was to have the person pick their five favorites out of whatever selection you were open to bartering for. Then you remove two that you'd rather keep from their selection of five. They then remove one of the three remaining as their least favorite of those three. Which leaves two. Usually, by this point, one of the pieces is crying out as the one: Pick me!! The one that is meant for this person. At this point, in other words, the work selects itself, or one of you makes the move. This way, we've learned a lot, played a little selection game, and gradually, come up with the win win barter choice. Everyone goes away smiling.
So the black books is a way to facilitate this exchange while keeping your work nice and clean. You can also use cellophane protection sleeves, or just a good pair of clean gloves.
One word of caution about the black books: if you buy them used, or reuse them, be sure that they didn't have charcoal or pastel works in them prior, because then you get that crap on your pristine works.
Recently, I decided to reconsider everything by emptying these books, the work in them has gotten a little mixed up and some of it needs to be considered afresh, and inventoried. So now the work is organized and these books stand ready to refill.
What's your system, barter story, question or thought? Please share in the comments, it's much more fun with your contributions.
My dear friend Ron passed away in early May of this year. He had a form of cancer. We had been walking weekly, getting coffee, and when I moved, talking every few weeks. He read a poem at my wedding. He came to my art events. He taught me how to ground myself in my legs, to listen with my whole body, and to lower my expectations about human marriages, how they roll and how they feel, especially the first few years. In other words Ron was a good friend.
When he died, I realized I only had his cell phone number, and it took a bit to get his wife Patty's contact information. I called her to check in, see how she was. I know Patty less, but have spent a number of new year's days at their house, and she too, drove three hours to be at my wedding in 2017. I care about Patty. She was doing OK. I asked her about Ron's papers. She was happy to part with some of them, because she was in a cleaning and clearing mode. She sent me a box which I opened two days ago, with a few books and some of Ron's papers, so that I could make a book with them, one of the series I've made starting 20 years ago with my earliest handmade books. In this series 'Death Books,' someone's papers, after they die, get folded every which way and bound, so that you can see their thinking, their marking and their reading and writing, but it's now sideways, folded, upside down, only partly legible. It is a relic of a life that is now over. It is the data and the trace of the life of that singular mind.
Opening that box was something. Tender. An honor. First there was a little fat, laughing buddha on top of all the bubble wrap. Then Ron's inflatable zafu, meditation pillow, on which he did many a three month and one month retreat. Inside were his many notes, and his paper's from the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. His letters of recommendation to join the retreat and have interviews with Joshu Suzuki Roshi, the stories about which I have heard many times. It's Ron in papers.
These books and the death of people, animals, chapters of life, or relationship, remind me that this art practice is just for fun, whether or not anybody else care's about it. It's just for a while. It's for while I'm breathing, inclined, and able to engage it. Doing something is more important, I feel, than doing it right, or looking good, or towing a line. I can turn a studio practice into those things for sure and I have, but engaging an art practice and making art, to me, is more important than most 'normal activities' in the following way.
Everything, every object in your world is a kind of icon. It's for doing something with. It prompts a certain kind of engagement. Like a file folder on your computer desktop is an icon. A bowl is to eat soup from. A file folder is to open to see files. A chair is to sit on. A book is to read. A dog is to pet. Icons.
An artwork is to...well what is it there for? What is it for? This line of reasoning kind of halts the automatic engagement, if one is really looking, and can loosen the automatic pilot of doing, responding, engaging. In fact anything. a chair, a book, or a dog, can similarly open things up, if one is really there with it. If one forgets it's name, or what it is associated with, or what you think about it. Somehow art is such a personal rendering with no obvious point, that it can be at times more ambiguous, and open things up. Other times, it's another symbol: of status, of fashion, of historic importance, or the kind I don't like. Art is to look at. Art is to buy. Art is to make. But as Anne Truitt said earlier:
...this process is mysterious. It's like not knowing where you're going but knowing how to get there. The fifteen years that David Smith thought it took to become an artist are spent partly in learning how to move ahead sure-footedly as if you did actually know where you are going. -Anne Truitt
Death Books is now also a service, which is described more fully on my art website: hannahburr.com/deathbooks. I will make one for you, from the papers of your beloved departed, if you like.
This small cylinder is a recent addition. I have had one in the bathroom at home for years, and I enjoy its shape, size and the texture of all of the small Q tip tips making a nubbly top surface. In the bathroom it is for the usual things, but in the studio it is a very specific tool for painting.
When painting in any medium, there is often a need to wipe away, either too wet pigments, or to pull away a lighter line, or a specific spot. I don't generally use it to daub pigment on, mainly because there's too much fuzz and it would likely absorb too much of the paint. But it is a great tool, the Q tip, or cotton swab if you prefer, for removing specific small areas of paint or overly wet paint from an artwork in any paint medium.
I also really do love having such a good use for such a cylindrical cup. I found a couple of these at a junk shop, and used them to drink coffee out of until I noticed a very strong soap smell emanating from my coffee. After repeated washings, there was no hope, but there is use always, for a small container of Q tips, and this is when it became a team player in the studio.
I am noticing a theme of thrift in my studio object register. Here is another thrifty item, originally a simple pack of wooden clothes pins. These first arrived as part of a project in Gloucester, in which I was 'installing' powder, rubber, plastic, twine, wood and rock in color coded arrangements throughout the park. It was one of the first such interventions I had done, and to my mind, it was one of the least successful. I had no sense of scale, and my plan was very under developed, so that when it came time to execute, a visitor could not see the work from any distance, and it could be confused with a mess left behind by a child. I suppose that could be said about several of my projects in fact! But this was an early example of such work. Anyway, I used yellow, green, white, pink and blue paint to dip the tips of these wooden pins in, and then used them to affix similar colored materials to various park furniture. You can see more of this project here.
When the project was over, these pins just became part of the mix in the studio. Some are in a bag of deinstalled projects, available for remakes and new projects. Several have been ready for use on my tool caddy, along with the ubiquitous black clips. And recently, they are seen on the working wall, holding new works on paper in place to be studied, glanced at, pulled down and worked into. I recently stapled a small box to the wall, for unused clips and another for nails and pins. While that's a separate tool, the boxes, they now house the clips, some dipped, some just wooden. The plain wood ones likely also came from inside the house, where they find occasional uses, but many more here in the studio.
I also use them to clip up things I dip in paint and hang to dry. This can be heavy papers, pieces of wood, and even the clips themselves. It's fun to dip stuff in paint, for me.
I bought these out of fascination at a big box store in Watertown, just down the way from the in-mall registry of motor vehicles where I was one million and one in line to get a license renewed. I strolled in and found these shoes, so ugly that I found them beautiful. They were a gray blue, the blue of crafting projects of New Hampshire, and they were a slip on clog as you can see. They had a molded pattern as if they were a sneaker, except that they were all plastic, and a clog. Do you see why I had to have them for $10? I hope so.
As it turned out, these shoes were unbelievably comfortable and I wore them everywhere, with most all ensembles. I could walk all over the city of Boston in these shoes! And I did. When I had a studio at Humphreys Street, the summers there were unbelievably hot. I sweltered. I would arrive to have a productive day and just wilt, and swoon. My clogs did not breath, and altogether, this situation was untenable. Did I buy an air conditioner? No. Not even a thermometer to get a read on how hot it actually was. But I did take a straight razor and not so straightly cut two wide strips out of the toe area as you see here. Not very well, but it did the job.
I no longer wear the shoes about town, but I do still use them in the studio. I have never seen anything like them before or since, and so I continue to value them. They remain a valuable studio tool and they magically do not smell.
In the theme of messes, I introduce the topic of the insurmountable problem.
An insurmountable problem is one for which there is no present solution, no clear way around, and nothing to do about nothing. Something that is insurmountable is something 'incapable of being overcome'.
I would call an insurmountable problem a mess, in that it is something that grinds to a halt, like, for example, a movie theatre during covid. It's a mess because one is powerless to change that fact.
A smaller example has come up for me in the past several weeks that to me has felt big. Yes it is a complete luxury problem, and still, it's in my face and has been blocking my work. I have a new wood stove in my art studio. It was going gangbusters, and then suddenly, two months in, began filling the room with smoke whenever I opened the door. And I mean even when I was lighting the fire.
I cleaned the baffle, the lower chimney pipe, I called the manufacturer, I consulted friends about the wood quality, I lit smokeless fires with no paper. I cleaned the ash pan and the firebox out completely, and even the stove glass window. Still, smoke pours into the room.
So this, right now, seems like an insurmountable problem to me, a mess!
For about five days, I avoided the studio. It had soot dust floating hither and thither, and it was cold, and it reminded me of my insurmountable problem.
When I was imagining the studio finished, when it was just a rough shell, I knew that this amazing new space would be incredible, but eventually, in the manner of Pavlov's Dog, would become either ordinary or overlooked, or worse, the source of a problem or headache, or lots.
This is how it goes. A boon is often accompanied by stress from new responsibilities and new things to attend to. And this studio was a major boon for me. So, the insurmountable problem in my tiny world is the stove.
For an insurmountable problem, my only answer, and my very very best move, is prayer.
What prayer does, is it allows me to put the insurmountable concern down. To stop the obsessive anxious brain spin. To not worry this like a bone, lose sleep, catastrophize, try and force solutions, freak out, break something while exhausted and forcing things, avoid showing up, and lose all perspective. When I surrender it, I actually can stop thinking about it and focus on other things. And I have found when I do so, things shift without my trying to shift them.
I wrote or said a prayer something like this:
[ ], I place this wood stove situation completely in your care. I hand it over, I surrender it completely to you. Thank you for taking care of it, and thank you for inspiring me and directing me toward any small action to assist you in so doing. I am deeply grateful that you are taking care of this and I thank you for this beautiful stove and studio.
Instead of avoiding the place, which was feeling like a set jaw, or like a stubborn latch I didn't want to open, I prayed or in other words, set an intention to find myself in there again, enjoying and appreciating the space, thriving creatively, engaged and happy, this week.
As prayer, this intention looks something like this:
[ ], I would love the inspiration, willingness and motivation to be in the studio again, happily at work, engaged and filled with gratitude for what a lovely space it is. Help me to be warm and at peace with things just as they are and, oh yeah, again, that stove? I leave it entirely with you.
So today is Monday, and after avoiding the studio all weekend and praying when it started to roost in my thinking, I felt inspired to step in there with my tea and journal this morning, put a blanket down on a seat so my butt wouldn't get cold, and blasted the milk house heater at my feet. There I did some writing.
The other form of prayer that I engaged in this morning was a form of gratitude, to 'want what I have' rather than only see things as a SNAFU (which stands for Situation all fucked up in case you didn't know).
I wrote a list of everything that I love about the studio:
It's location, the light, the views out the windows, the white walls, the closet, the table space, the organization, the wifi...
and everything that I've done in there since I moved back in
Inventorying, completing lots of work, starting a new series, photographing and filming, completing the space, writing a lot, having an occasional covid-safe studio visit...
Both of which helped me see things in a new light, and give me a feeling of inspiration and accomplishment and gratitude.
To be clear, this is now an automatic process, that began in times when I was super stuck for a long time, and it is a process that I use not to be 'good' or saccharin, but because it literally blasts out the shitty cobwebs that yield more shitty cobwebs when allowed to hang around for long.
When the list was done, I found myself trying one more fire - NOPE! no change, just a smokey, shitty mess. I then found myself sweeping, dusting, organizing, rearranging, making a list of what I'm doing with what project, and then came three actions, a minor plan of sorts, for further troubleshooting the stove. By showing some love to the space, I also got out the soot and cobwebs, and cleaned up the flow and possibility in there as well.
As I write this, I've asked for help, spoken with my husband's friend Lenny, troubleshooted with him, and asked our good friend Al to borrow his chimney cleaning brush.
The next step is a little unclear, but I am likely to be shown what it is when it's time. The goal is to inspect the upper section of the chimney as creosote has likely blocked the opening as I've only gotten to the lower half.
So the tools at work here for insurmountable problem situations are - (not necessarily in any order, or looking or feeling good in the process)
This metal box is a bit not the right container for the teas and tea paraphernalia that I use in the studio because it is a) too small b) meant for more serious things, and c) ugly. However, it is *the* tea box, and has been for years. It usually and currently contains some dish towels, boxes and individual packets of tea bags, and a few tea cups and mugs. It sits atop a bookshelf, and carries with it the friendly anticipation of a studio visit where one might serve tea. If I have snacks, the fact that the tea box is metal with a latch means that a mouse would be less drawn to the box. Happily there are no mice as of yet in this studio!
When it is just me, which is most of the time, the tea cups are stacked in a jumble and most of them have the dried dregs of my own tea or coffee drinkings. Which means that when someone is coming for a bonafide studio visit, I will wash these, or swap them out for other mugs from my kitchen that are dishwasher clean. Sometimes it's a bit like camping in the studio when it's just me.
I currently have mostly tisanes: or herbal teas, in the manner of ginger, ginger turmeric and mint. A few green teas lurk, and if one requests black tea, I can dig some up in the house.
The studio for many years has been the receptacle for things I have discarded from my home, but can be handy anyway. The Q tip jar for example, which was a failed coffee cup, extra fancy china that no one else in my home likes to use, and the beer steins that I once started compulsively collected but stopped after I had 5 of them. I have two left, and they are actually part of a Stand In sculpture, though at times have been used for tea during a visit. Other objects from home that have a rag tag second life in the studio include favorite cashmere sweaters with too many moth holes, corduroy jean shorts and heavy messed up pants for dirty paint projects, plastic molded clogs, and lots of yogurt containers at one point, though not currently.
In a sense, the studio can certainly be an excuse to never let anything go, in the tradition of the New Englander who can find a use for anything, and as a mixed media artist I mean anything.
But these days, though there is certainly a lot of serious stuff in the studio, it has been pared down to only the more essential junk, and whisked away into what I hope will stay an orderly closet.
Finally, here is an image from an art project from 2007 called Tangle, in which contents of my Tea Box were wrapped on my head. To see more of this project visit hannahburr.com/tangle.
Today is a special day. It is one of those days, like a graduation or a wedding, that has been emblazoned on my brain for about a year, because it is the day that the brand new 2021 edition of Contemporary Prayers to Whatever Works, is officially published!
Because this new title is not self published, the date is significant. With my self published earlier titles,* there wasn’t technically a launch date because I just received the shipment of books and then had to scratch my head about how to not ruin the suspension in my car or pull my back or ruin friendships with requests to help me move book boxes, storing them under my bed and using them as furniture in their own right, as well as how to let people know about them, and how to sell them. This is a lot for one person!
With Tiller Press, a division of Simon & Schuster however, I don’t receive the books, and I don’t sell them either. So what exactly happens today? On this the publication date, the book officially goes on sale, which also means more specifically that the book makes its way today through the distribution chain to those retailers that have ordered it.
Today is the day that my new book hits the shelves! I just held the first copy in my hands, and very relieved that the cover isn’t on upside down or something, and that everything is going as planned.
Also, because I was a one woman operation for so long, the fact that I have had a team of skilled professionals doing their sparkly magic in the background like sharing the title with a sales team, who then shares it with retailers, is all very abstract to me. But it’s darn exciting, because with my last books, there is like, no way to really get them into a distribution stream that isn’t very local and very painstaking to set up. There is a special dread to stopping into a shop to ‘let them know’ about my book.
So even though there is nothing particularly tangible going on over here right now, please celebrate with me! Better yet, please purchase a copy of the book, which you can do here. By so doing you help me be in good standing with the publisher and have the possibility of future dealings with them! All of this, truly is an amazing product of a community of people believing in an artist’s project and supporting it. My intention now is to be of service to anyone and everyone who needs some connection, direction and comfort, with a side of humor, some vibrant new imagery and no BS to tangle with.
Thanks again to all of you that have supported me getting to this moment, this is a celebration I share with you!!
much love, lots of gratitude,
*the original contemporary prayers in 2013, Help me [ ], do the thing. that followed in 2016 and the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere, 2019
Yesterday, I was looking at a giant amaryllis bulb, one that doesn’t require any water or soil as it grows. It’s very prehistoric looking. How, we wondered, can it grow like that? We decided that they are a little like a slow bomb, containing all but the sunlight and warmth needed to explode forth in imperceptible increments, until quietly, POW, a graceful explosion of softly unfurling petals, stamen: perfect. Itself.
Consider the many amazing threads to this phenomenon: Nature as unstoppable force, everything always changing, and your very own life’s trajectory, similarly carrying itself out, according to the seed codes etched in each of billions of cells, that somehow get nourished and replaced multiple times while you move about the day, over and over again until one day, you no longer do.
I am looking at that bulb now, and it’s at least an inch taller that yesterday.Yet it’s the same bulb, in the same container, on the same table, in the same room isn’t it? Also, it’s Mine, right? My bulb, my container, my room. The mind makes up these rules, partitions territories, ‘things’ everything. The mind tells me it’s all Mine (my cells!) all the same as yesterday, and that yesterday is a thing, a real thing too. That flower bomb however, this slomo life exploding, is part of a going off that’s been underway since the big bang (or before?). That bulb is just a tiny nano moment of a spark of that event, as are you, all of this, even the strands of Donald Trumps combover are a part of this unstoppable sparking then fizzling.
What does that change, to see this as just an extension of one explosion? Every word spoken, hand squeezed, pie baked from scratch, expletive uttered, held gaze with a squirrel, burst of giggle? What if all of these are simply bursts of firework light, one and then another, an another, relentless, unstoppable, glorious, ablaze?
At this moment thousands of processes in plant bulbs in Trader Joe’s across the land, mysteries deep underground and in thermal vents on the ocean floor, in our bodies, corroding car bodies, weather cycles high up, the inner core of trees, plastics, stars burning out, moisture seeping into basements…: All are a part of this relentless event unfolding.
And yet, my story, and yours, of being an agent, a doer, in comparison to other agents and doers, is so convincing. It says, this story, that you are separate, a symbol or icon, as if surrounded by a white screen or page in a story book, or an object up for auction on Ebay, to be chosen or chosen over, forgotten or thrown away.
There is no such thing as a separate you. The trees are your very lungs. The tone of another’s voice can change the trajectory of your blazing, and that bulb on the table is a part of this burning, as is the table, the room, holiday food digesting, and the sensations in your hands. You are not, my love, an object, but part of a great blazing. Blaze on!
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.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.