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.
Beginning a year ago in January, I declared 2020 to be the year of the body. There was no evidence in my world of a pandemic, and this theme had no virus or really health related aspect to it. For me, it was a desire to learn to hear what my body was telling me more clearly, how to do a better job of caring for it.
In January 2019, I was starting to get the loud message from eye strain headaches and weird shoulder and neck stuff that I was kind of overdoing it, and essentially ignoring the innate intelligence of my body. So I declared this past year, Year of the Body, and set about a new set of drawings, writing, and thinking about this theme.
I have for a long time understood that for me, a highly sensitive person, grounding in the body was the best way to be in balance. This is a long standing theme in my writing therefore, and there are many related posts listed below, if this sounds useful to you as well. I have found that being able to feel my legs and feet while having a social conversation or an argument was always helpful, and that a walk or a lie on the floor has always beens a fantastic way to clear the head.
Another reason for the body theme is that for years, figures have been lurking in my otherwise abstract artwork, and I've always wanted to push this away. It didn't fit my idea about the kind of art that I make, and so I didn't want to deal with that. So for 2020, I met this head on, and both went through older drawings, and then began a new series that was meant to explore the feeling of being embodied in the day to day. Here are some examples of drawings of mine over the years that clearly have some kind of a figure in them.
TANGLE PROJECT 2009
Toward the end of this year, I shared this whole project with my artist's group, and introduced it with several older projects that also have this body theme, as a connect the dots kind of presentation. So I share this again with you:
In 2009, I did Tangle - a performance and documentation which I showed in 2010 in Lancaster PA in a solo show there called Placeholders at the Ganser Gallery. I took eddies of my stuff, like the contents of a junk drawer or office closet bin, and wrapped these items around my head with twine. I photographed myself like this, and then filmed the process removing each item one at a time, and all of the leftover twine. It was a way of making visible and palpable the feeling of having tension or lots of thoughts in the head, and then clearing the head, using the objects that collect around me as metaphor.
I did this with about thirty piles of my stuff from various parts of my life, exhibiting the films and photographs.
BODY JOURNAL 2010
In 2010 I embarked on a Body Journal Series that has not been exhibited, which was another in this theme of chronic pain and tracking the energy flowing in the body.
In 2007 I had created Three Variables, a series of wrapped wall sculptures that is essentially a version of Tangle but with a bit more remove from the body. This was exhibited at Judy Goldman Fine Art on Newbury Street in Boston and versions have been in group shows since.
CONGLOMERATES / GEODES 2014
In 2014, I made several sculptural projects for a solo exhibition at the 555 Gallery in South Boston. These two were about considering the body as a collection of conditions, or patterns or tendencies, and considering these in a playful physical form.
These are the precursors to the drawings I made this year. I notice a theme of wrapping, lines of tension, and playful variety of things that make up a body. In my humble and non-objective opinion, these projects continue the theme of describing energy, in interaction that's fleeting, in how a body feels from the inside out, in emotion and experience without words. A translation into matter, color line and form of all the objects, the bodies that we appear to be and interact with, their funny jumble of parts and pieces, the ways that they are hard to keep together, have densities, expressions and characters each their own. And in some ways, the way that we are somewhat arbitrary and silly, when in fact it appears we are serious, permanent and somehow fixed.
Next, I'm going to show you the new drawings, as a little series. That blog post is called, Year of the Body 2: The new works on paper.
Last night I started organizing my closet, and before I knew it, I was trying on everything, and having a fashion show for one. Partly, this was inspired by the tiktok meme which had been running through my head for a couple of days: Love it, couldn't wear it.
And partly, by discovering that the pair of pants I'd thought I'd lost were carefully tucked away in an opaque drycleaner bag in the basement! This wide, high waisted pair of pants that i've had for over 20 years, both fit me like a glove and Lo, have come back into fashion!!
So, understandably, for the first time since I moved here, I began reevaluating the whole pants inventory, and the shirts, and the sweaters...in light of well, not even needing to get dressed at all for the amount of people I see.
But it was fun for the aesthete that I must admit to being, the one that loves a clean line and just the right color shades and contrasts. It's a lot like cooking, and it's a basic fun - the grown up version of dressing dolls, or, heck, even playing with army men. It's fun to try on these expressions, to swagger about, and to find a spot for the things that may eventually one day, have a role in my life again.
It reminded me that just caring for what's right here is the best I can be doing right now. That in the words of my friend Kristen, things are in the midst of change but not the kind we can really make plans around, and this may be a time for simply waiting and trusting.
If I get that much energy going again, in this case fueled by a two and a half hour nap earlier in the day, I may just start photographing the ensembles, but that seems like a lot of work! so for now, instead of the usual brazen planning and visioning for the new year, I am going to count the blessings, and the matching pairs of socks and pretty scarves, and care for what's here already.
Without any true plan to, I created a calendar for 2021. It has felt this year as if planning was somewhat of an impossibility. Where my 2019 calendar had trips, events, gatherings, and deadlines scribbled into it, my 2020 calendar was more of a crickets type affair. It was not a year for making big plans. So I didn't even plan to do a calendar. After a couple of lovely people went out of their way to request one however, I went for it and lo, they are here! And mostly sold, but I still have one or two available!
The calendar is my way of sharing my favorite works on paper, not all from the same year, but all considered as a whole, and made available as a suit of prints that I fuss over til the color and line and paper tone is all working for me. It's actually kind of fun. And because I have been burned by my smartphone calendar, I personally value a place I can physically write and see what's on for the day.
The calendar this year is the same shape and size as last year, but has a perpetual birthday calendar at the back, moon phases, and a quiet little quote at the bottom of each month to give you something to ponder, often about time, or the presence that you are, before time.
The Elements book of 2019 is the first place where I had fun sharing quotes on the theme of not being separate from anything, and this second foray is similar in tone, but more for the daily run around moments, which is usually when I'm looking at my calendar.
Anyway, I'm glad I rallied and you can take a look here. I love that it won't be 2020 anymore soon, though there were some beautiful moments and gifts in this wild year, and it was at points an entertaining ride.
* If you are interested in being notified when it's time to reserve a calendar for the coming year, or you'd simply like to let me know to count you in for next year's calendar to ensure you get one, contact me here.
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.'
Now that I have this gorgeous space, I notice that - just as always - perhaps even more so, it's challenging to prioritize just *being* in there, just showing up to explore like a kid.
Now that there's this beautiful cathedral like space for valuing art practice and creative engagement, my job is to do just that. But as with so many people I've worked with as a coach, and so many other instances in my own life, it is not easy to actually do that apparently simple thing.
What stands in the way is the shoulds from inside, about the outside and the others: Replying to emails, wiping down the counter, calling my mom back, folding the laundry, all of those things, plus paying bills or getting out that tax form, all loom with a seriousness and a subtle whiff of fear - what will they think of me? will they come after me? reject me? - those stories can loom so familiarly, that something as liminal and ethereal as 'studio time' gets shunted off to Later. Then there's that other should of 'you should be in the studio'.
Underneath all of this is a kind of unrelenting brain voice that is never satisfied with whatever choice is made, whatever effort is made. Underneath that voice is just what's always here, always available, when there's space to open to it.
I won't bore you with the details of my dream last night but the punchline is that I got this message: None of that outer stuff matters. None of it has any real substance: what people think, if someone noticed..., if they care. It has no real substance. Love matters. Love is attention. Love and attention, and intuition need some open space to reveal themselves, like a shy friend that can't be pressured to share efficiently. What matters is to be present for the present situation, to be in relationship to it, to be engaged with whatever and whomever is asking for attention, including parts of oneself, and that creative presence that is just waiting for the opportunity to take you on an adventure. Also that making space is not wasting time. It's living from the inside out with wide, forgiving margins.
In other words love is 'being with' not doing. Not 'knowing how' and not 'looking good' or getting it right. Somehow, in the middle of covid-19 times, there is an opportunity to explore this.
If I want something from outside, and it's not coming, how am I treating what's already here?
If you want something that's not yet here, and it feels like it should be, how are *you* treating what's already here?
In yet other words, everything is ok, even when it feels like it's all wrong or not good enough. That's what 'studio time' is a form of: studio time is no time. Out of time. You before time.
Before January is completely out, here are some highlights from Hannah Burr Studio in 2019, followed by what’s coming down the pike in 2020.
2019 was my second full year in Ann Arbor. It had a ‘getting the sea legs’ quality to it. We were snuggly situated in our Walter Drive rental home, in our second full year of marriage, and learned some great ways to share space as two adults who like their independence. The good news is that we’re honing our interdependent chops and married life is smoothing out nicely!
The petite garage studio that last winter got shut down due to freezing temps, is happily still functioning and in solid use at the end of 2019. The remedy of a heated blanket under a tented table keeps the most delicate things from freezing, and the rest I heat up as I use. It’s working!
This year my third book the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere came out! It’s a beautiful print, and the first book where I used an editor and worked with a publishing team. Like the other two books that came before, the printing was paid for through crowdfunding. The first half of the year through June was focused on many many hours, weeks, and months of image file correction, editorial passes, alignment, style adjustments, and proofs sent from our overseas printer.
The second half of the year involved sharing the Elements book first with the beloved crowdfund backers, the Fifth Avenue Press community here in Ann Arbor, and all of my lovely Boston friends and budding Ann Arbor community. We went to the Detroit and North Hampton Art Book Fairs, and the Boston Art Book Fair as well. The book is currently for sale at the Wexner Center for the Arts shop in Ohio, the LACMA Art Shops in LA, the Ann Arbor Art Center, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, as well as in the collection of the University of Michigan’s Library, Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts Library, and the Ann Arbor District Library. So, we’re starting to share it beyond the known realms and really fascinated to see where it gets taken on!
We created three large posters and a couple of smaller posters for all three of the books, as well as smaller prints and postcards of each book’s pages - this is a new experiment. The three large posters are now part of library art print circulation at the Ann Arbor District Library, and for sale at our big cartel shop! This involves shipping riddles and storage quandries, but we’re having fun and working it out!
The Time is Color 2 Calendar was printed as round three of this celebration of my favorite ephemeral drawings and art for everybody. This year’s calendar was I think the most fetching so far and I might have two or three kicking around in the edition of 50 if you still want one (ps. they’re on sale at Big Cartel).
I had a solo show called ‘Temporary Arrangements’ at the Ann Arbor Art Center this summer, which included new painting and drawing, and was the first time I’ve shown overt abstract landscape and pure abstraction in direct relationship to each other. The show featured 23 works altogether and has spurred new work currently in development.
In March of 2019, three conceptual projects were curated into an exhibit at the Sorenson Arts Center of Babson College called ‘Reflecting on the Sacred.’ The exhibit was a collaboration of curator Danielle Krcmar and the Interfaith Chapel of Babson. The works included were conceptual and interactive, titled You Are Legend, Salt Project and Send Love, Let Go. I was invited to run a workshop at the Chapel and it was truly a pleasure to work again with Danielle who added lovely new blocks to our collective block project installation built during the workshop. I don’t yet have all of these projects on my site but will soon enough!!
I shared two new pieces as part of group show Kindred, at TrustArt Gallery here in A2. This was a very sweet tribute to the artist’s group I am priveledged to be a part of, and I was really pleased with Barbara Hohmann’s installation of the work. It was a beautiful, spare and complimentary exhibition.
This fall I also led a meditation for curator Laura Earle’s project Unravelling Racism, based on the podcast Seeing White. This was an interesting and mind expanding process for me, and instead of making work for the show, I decided to guide participants in a prior-to-the-body meditation similar to the guided meditation I shared as part of Reflecting on the Sacred. These guided meditations are a new development in the year and one I hope will continue to expand in and outside of exhibition settings.
I got to coach some extremely talented individuals this year, as well as a fine group of public artists this year for Now + There, Boston’s incredible powerhouse initiative/public art incubator led by the incredible Kate Gilbert. These events brought extra trips to Boston to check on the beanpole growth of my niece and nephew, plus visits with sister, parents and friends.
This year also concluded with two other big boons, unexpected and quite amazing. I will wait for a couple of weeks before sharing my 2020 news, and thank you for tuning in!
Walt Whitman's writing arises itself from a very unified understanding of being, objects and the world.
On the eve of sharing my third book with all of you this September, I share this part of his epic poem Song of Myself.
17. Song of the Broad-Axe
The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets,
Shapes of two-threaded tracks of railroads,
Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake and canal craft, river craft,
Ship-yards and dry-rocks along the Eastern and Western seas, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the hackmatack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaffolds, the workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little auger, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead-plane...
I love about it that it's a list of things, that it's about the mundane, observing what's here, and just letting it awe one. The full title of the upcoming book is Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere. As you can see here, this poem is clearly a love letter to all things everywhere. And it is a song of Walt Whitman's Self. In this new book you will find lists of objects, arranged around each of the 118 known chemical elements that make all the stuff, all the shapes arising.
This part of Whitman's poem is not in the upcoming book, but there are other words of his included:
Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I was intrigued by Whitman's use of the word 'atom' because the atom as we understand it today in scientific terms, was not actually discovered during Whitman's time. It turns out that the word 'atom' is an ancient greek word meaning 'indivisible.' The smallest unit possible. Now for us, an atom is made up of smaller parts: protons, neutrons and electrons, and smaller particles including quarks. And we keep discovering that an 'indivisible' thing is made of other things, defying/expanding our understanding again and again. The concept and word 'atom' is ancient, and used by Whitman in his writing and poems, in sum.
An element, by the way, is a uniquely structured atom, with a set number of protons, and electrons, and its own atomic weight (based on these). There are 118 known such elements, or unique atoms, that bind and react (steam, smoke, fire, farts, fireworks, rust, yogurt and so on) and make all the things we are, eat, have, and see. The lightest one has one proton and electron and the atomic weight of 1 (Hydrogen H). The heaviest has 118 protons and electrons, and the atomic weight of 118 (Oganesson Og -recently discovered and named if you haven't heard of it).
Here are a couple of other Walt Whitman snippets that I considered including in the book because they hit upon these themes of awe, union, and inseparability that inspired my book:
15. To be in any form, what is that?…
I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop,
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.
14. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same…
18. Songs of the Open Road
The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
I can't wait to share this book with you. Thanks for tuning in.
UPDATE! The Elements book is now for sale here.
There are three things in this post: A celebration, an outline of my ten learnings from Elements so far, and some actual dates for celebrating with me and getting your books in Ann Arbor and Boston. Read on!
This early June, the peonies are taking their luxurious time to open here in Michigan.
Yesterday, I finally communicated to the printer of the Elements book, the following phrase:
I approve this book for printing.
This is a big moment in printing a book.
It means that the book is complete: edited, proofread, spellchecked, gone through page by page probably 200 times, updated, and then sent off for proofing again. There’s the proof where you’re checking that no pages are upside-down or out of order, that no headers went mysteriously missing, and that the layout is as expected. That’s called the indigo or ozalid proof. The color looks like crap and there are weird inconsistencies in the ink, but you are supposed to ignore that.
For this project, I approved a wet proof as well. This one roll of paper, about the size of six posters, cost $800. The printer has to set the entire press up with the actual paper and actual ink and final settings, so you can see if the cover is the right tone, the text is dark enough, and how the ink sits/absorbs on the uncoated creamy paper stock I chose.
That in itself could be another round of proofing, but I decided I couldn’t front another $800 to see what a slight modification in the cyan would look like. Most projects don’t wet proof unless like this one, you’re using different paper and have a lot of color artwork in the book.
This book is 428 pages. Early in the process, I had to play about a week’s worth of tetrus to figure out how to consolidate down by about 12 pages. This process involved looking at other books, playing mental scenarios out, and drawing lots of page grids and sketches.
My last two books were 125 pages each, with a single line or two of text on most of the pages. To be honest, back in 2012 when I started working with my first overseas printer, I had no idea what I was doing, and was yes, using a lot of prayer to sleep ok at night and trust that it was all going to work out. I didn’t think much about the paper, I had no idea what exactly I was supposed to be looking at with the proofs that arrived, and I was too intimidated to ask many questions.
Comparatively and in hindsight, I now see that ignorance is bliss, and that a shorter book takes a lot less time to prepare!
On this project I had a book designer Amanda Szot from AADL offering guidance, ideas, and a lovely Periodic Table of Elements.Working with Amanda and learning some of her process made me aware of my very real learning curve with InDesign. I think back to Leila Simon Hayes working on the layout and cover design of the last two books, and how challenging it must have been that I was so fly-by-night and chaotic in my approach. Alas. But I am also fairly detail oriented and scrappy, which is how I probably got it to the printer at all. I’ve learned a lot from the people and process that become woven into the making of these books.
I asked for a lot more help on this project than I had before, and help arrived in very cool forms.
a) I met Patrick Barber, a book designer, at the Detroit Art Book Fair last fall, where he was admiring my paintings. He recommended the overseas printer I ended up working with using his recommended contact. We through books his publishing company had printed with this printer in his Detroit living room, as I scribbled notes and asked all the questions I could think of.
Later in the process, I proposed we barter: His expertise and consulting for artwork. Since then he’s been helping me decipher complex emails, strategize approaches in response, understand the focus and motivation of the printing team, and understand rich black versus straight black, the invoices and purchase orders, exports to PDF, and how to approach each round of proofing. All with enthusiasm, which makes me feel so glad I have work to barter!
Nicco Pandolfi took on an early round of editing, and was paired with me by Sara Wedell, the overseer of my publishing team at the Ann Arbor District Library. This was my frist experience with an editor or a publishing team (of which designer Amanda Szot is also a part), and it both raised the level of support, the bar for the finished product, and my awareness that my one month timeframe to get this book to press was wAAAAy unrealistic.
So, it’s been a LOT more of my life and time than I thought possible to bring this book to the point of printing (one month became five).
I have learned ten things. I have learned to
-ask for help (1)
-set up an ergonomic workstation (2)
-take care of my eyes and body with breaks and limits to my screen time (3)
-slow way down, take the time needed (4)
-consider that I may not know how to spell all words (5)
-put lots of mental emotional padding between me and emails that might otherwise raise up the hackles.(6) For example, the email where I thought the book was going to cost 2000 more than the highest quote (beyond all raised funds), because of a misunderstanding about the number of color pages.
-be curious and open where I might before have been a compact singularity of stress (7)
-tell the truth and extend a deadline which, up until this project I’d prided myself on never having done (8)
-handle things gently and with love, first and foremost myself, and everyone else from there (9)
-navigate around lots of technical stuff in Lightroom, InDesign and and way more about the business of printing in general (10)
...and maybe on the next project, make the book a tiny bit shorter!
In other words, I have changed in significant ways because of this project.
The peony next to my monitor went from deep hot pink to soft light pink like a fading curtain over the last few days. The petals have mostly dropped onto the table. And, there are more adventures ahead with this project.
One more proof, the F&Gs, are my opportunity to remedy tiny smudges or printing anomalies of the final, already printed book before binding, and then it gets delivered.
To be safe, we’re saying the delivery date is September. I plan to have a pick up party in Boston on September 7th, and another in Michigan on September 13th. I rest well in the knowledge I’ve done my best while taking good care of this project and myself, and I trust everyone who has invested their time, interest, money and expertise, as well as emotional support, to get us to these words:
I approve this book for printing.
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.
Last night, I hauled and dragged a christmas tree four blocks to my house. When I got there, I kicked the halloween pumpkin, which had been disemboweled by a single-minded, grapefruit-shaped squirrel, off the stoop into a bush. Time for new seasonal holiday flora.
The tree is now up, wrapped in lights and covered in the sparkly sentiment of ornaments. I keep looking at it surprised, like: How did that get there, all decorated? I do remember one-pointedly deciding to go for it, get a tree and decorate it last night, and being in motion for a couple of hours, but somehow it still surprises me that at some times, a thing is not there, then it is. And even more surprising, I’m the one that brought it there and set it up.
Everything is kind of like this: a fluid action of things arising and passing away. Last summer, after leaving the 2017 tree to dry out back, I limbed and fast-burned its crackly remains in our fire pit. Now its ash beneath ash 10 inches or so down, currently being covered with snow - freed gases long gone. All the summer fires: where are they now? .....
The way things change form, burning in fire, dissolving in water, being eaten, decomposing, ending, beginning, growing is relentless and unstoppable. The way we charge about on energetic days, doing things, moving ourselves and our stuff, preparing and presenting, exploring and changing, all of this - where *is* it? Perhaps it’s in our records: memories, photographs, websites, objects, other people’s memories. Is that the semi-satisfying gesture of social media, sharing and looking, witnessing this relentless stream of event, view, moment? On this particularly quiet snowy day, I just feel like asking.
In your life, what’s now here that a day or so was not? Make a list. I’ll do it too.
the food in our fridge
the tree, decorated!
an interesting email from a local artist I hadn’t heard about til today
the sounds coming from the other room
the particular arrangement of objects on my couch
a current list of things to do
memories of the weekend
What’s gone that was here a week ago?
a mostly in-tact pumpkin
a mild fall climate
herbs in the garden
all the food we’ve eaten
everything that has gone down a drain
concern over last week’s upcoming events
anticipation and preparation for thanksgiving
an open space in the livingroom where the tree now is
After making these lists, what do you notice?
1. My third book about the Elements of the Periodic Table, similarly explores the constant in and out flow of states and forms. Check it out here. and Purchase the book here.
2. A related art project is called You Are Legend, and you can see it here.
I am knee deep in this book project on the Elements. It’s the third book, it is currently being crowdfunded, and I’m going to share in a little more detail with you about what’ll be inside and where I’m at with it.
I have completed all of the artwork for the book. There are two sets of drawings, one completely monochrome, silent and abstract, and the other vibrant and descriptive of each element. The monochrome works on paper are in the Element Index section. The vibrant, colorful, descriptive drawings are in the Element Sketch section. .....
Other visual design in the book includes a comprehensive overview graphic of how the Elements are made in star and space explosions and collisions, and which elements are made how. It was satisfying to pull this together because the information is public, but shared in fragments and super inconsistent graphics and charts across the internet. It was fun to put the big picture together for my own understanding, and I’m excited to share it with you too!
The Overview Section includes this element origins spread as described, as well as two other spreads on the relative abundance of elements across five or six areas including oceans, the human body, the earth’s crust, the atmosphere, and our solar system. Also in the overview section, you will see what elements are in the objects immediately around you as you read, so you can see how not separate you are from stuff.
There will be some quotations in the book that range from scientific to mystical, and essentially say similar things from recent and ancient and moderately older sources: Einstein, Rumi, Buddha, Walt Whitman...
The Element Index section takes what’s shared playfully in the Element Sketches sectoin and presents a more comprehensive list of every single place I could find where this element *is* in our world. Originally the book was just going to be the abstract Index image paired with this list, but it turned out to be a little too a) austere and b) dense for many of my early readers to get into. Hence the new Sketch section.
There is also a Legend in the book, that pairs with each Element Sketch. This legend shares other information that the sketch paper and its treatment yields about each element. For example, if there’s a fold in the paper, the element is magnetic. If there’s an orange stripe along the bottom, it’s radioactive. If there’s an odd shaped hole-punch, it’s used in technology. I hope this is both fun and illuminating as the reader explores and discovers.
I look forward to learning your questions and sharing more as we embark on this book-making, book-realizing adventure together! Back the project here, or share it using the share buttons!
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.
'This summer is different. I don’t recognize the people, places and things that have been a part of my summers since I was about twenty. I thought christmas time was when I’d be missing home, and yes, it was. But this Michigan thing in summer is just plain different. Here there is a lot of water. And subsequently a lot of green. And birds, and a lot fewer traffic jams and cars. And black raspberries littering the sides of parks that no one cares if you pick. But the rituals of summer are nothing like what I’m used to. There’s no ocean here. Lake michigan is 3 hours drive away. Everyone is fishing, and doing lake sports. The boats are different. People aren’t inwardly tortured like Bostonians, more pleasant and open, but yet also still in their struggles like anywhere on this planet.
What I most miss is the friend stopping by, or meeting up in Harvard Square for a stroll, sitting and having an iced tea and swapping stories of the last few months: processing it all, as we do. So in other words, I miss you. Seeing you at BBQs, stopping by my mom's to lecture her about something that’s none of my business, and forgetting to pick up the ice before I show up. I also even miss my old smoking neighbor John, and his war to insist on assigned parking spots when there were none. It’s all filed away somewhere, but no longer right here.
So here’s another love letter, to let you know that what’s right around you, and me, right now, won’t stay this way. No matter how boring and forever-seeming it feels. It’s over in a minute.
Look around you like you were just born, forget the names of the objects and the people, like a newborn. I’ll do the same. That way, we’ll be together in that open field, no longer under the story and sway of small, alone, separate selves.
When birding with others, everyone looks together. Each of us sees different things, and the quality is open, observant, quiet, and quite sociable at the same time. It’s one of the only kinds of crowds I enjoy. Birders help each other hear, see and learn birds. They describe in extreme detail where: up the tree and at 4 o’clock, and next to that dead branch and then over six feet , then look straight through where those two leaves are. Do you see him? Or listen: do you hear that? That’s a warbling vireo! Information travels from one birder to another like a warbler from branch to branch.
Some of us are strong spotters and others know the songs and calls. Some have failing eyesight but know the markings of a species, or the flight behavior of a particular bird.
In birding, the senses open up and alertness mingles with connection: to people and to the larger stream of wind and temperature and conditions that bring in birds, and the bird nerds walking beside me. During spring migration, at times, the wind blows the birds down, or the heat swells from the south and a cloud of new birds float in. It’s extraordinary.
A birding posse is like one organism with many pairs of eyes, many ears and a wealth and history of knowledge, all pooled together in a slow moving, disorganized cloud. If you’re not a birder, it can be extremely irritating: everyone stops for 5 to 30 minutes about every 20 feet. Yet it’s a very unusual way to spend time with other beings: both the birds and people. Everyone loses a track of time and the world beyond the immediate senses.
When I go to certain parks on my own, I will inevitably encounter someone with a pair of binoculars, or a few people, and we share our sightings and what we’ve heard. The park becomes lit up with shared experience and community, all in reverence to the incredible variety of birds that land and move and dive and jump as the light and conditions prompt them.
Yesterday I saw over thirty blue jays in migration overhead. I usually think of the Blue Jay as a showy, loud and slightly manic backyard bird. As a community however, in a shared pursuit, I felt a new respect. My neck certainly hurts from craning up so much toward the tree tops (a condition called warbler neck), but I’m ok with that. I am more than just me when I bird with others, connecting with the more than just one bird, part of the phenomena of spring migration.
Greetings from Snowy Michigan!
The first thing on my mind is to let you know that I’m missing you. I have been in Ann Arbor Michigan, with a pit stop in Ypsilanti, and increasing forays into Detroit, for just over six months. I notice that the drivers are friendlier here, but the highway trucks and majority rust belters drive much more aggressively on the highways. Ann Arbor is a friendly place, welcoming and approachable. You can’t swing a cat without hitting some kind of festival or community event here. My favorites so far have been weekly motorcycle and car enthusiast meet ups in Ypsilanti, and families camping on the green of the local nature center for a night in August. The all-Tuba Christmas concert was also great.
But what isn’t here, is the easy opportunity to see you, at my studio, a Farmer’s Market, my sister’s house, for a cup of tea or a purposeful gathering. I loved those gatherings and chance encounters, part of my weekly, monthly or daily routines. Suddenly, without meaning to, you are just not there! not OK! So now that I’ve got my sea legs under me in a new marriage, a new town, new home, new studio, and fledgling communities, I bid you Happy Chinese New Year and invite myself back into your life.
It’s been very important for me to shake loose of Boston-brain, having been there my whole life, to experience easier race-relations, a DIY culture that involves reupholstering your vintage BMW or welding the best part of two cars into one super unique one.
I also find a familiar university culture with academic neurosis floating about here in Ann Arbor, similar to Cambridge.
I have been a little flummoxed about my blog. While this has always been true, it’s even more so now. Who reads it? Who am I writing for? Who cares? What am I writing about? Well, I still have no idea. However, I know more than ever that being in your life and you being in mine in whatever way is possible and sustainable is important.
One way I’ve kept in touch is through Instagram. It’s easier to post a picture than words. I follow artists and art institutions mostly, because it allows me to feel connected to everyone’s studio process and successes, and to feel like I’m at that opening or stopping in to ask a weird technical question to my studio neighbors. I also love sharing artist’s work and venues and studios here, pictures of my studio being built and small moments as this expanding neural/geographic orientation establishes itself.
It’s very cool that from here I can be in Canada in an hour, Ohio in an hour, Indiana in a few more, Illinois in about 3. Did you know that if you drive West on i90, you’ll reach me in just about 12 hours? It’s basically a straight shot.
When I do talk with people in Boston, I love to play the weather game. It’s often the same weather/temp in Ann Arbor two or so days prior to whatever’s happens in Boston. The only difference I’ve found is the snow in Boston seems heavier and slushier, and the weather altogether more dramatic: windy and petulant.
So, how can we stay in better touch? Here are some ideas:
1. I’ll keep you posted through this newsletter/blog situation.
2. I love the technology Zoom, much like skype or google hangout, but it makes it easier to share screens and to have as many people as you want in one place. I used to have focus group type gatherings in person…perhaps we can do it online?
[update: Note that this is a pre-pandemic post!!I am surely ahead of my time...]
3. Many of you I met through coaching. I’m still coaching! I work on the phone, so the experience is the same as it’s ever been. It’s an exceptional kind of sacred creative space for stepping into the unknown with intention, clarity, support and confidence. To see what it’s like, I offer a 30 minute session so you can try before you buy. Just lemme know.
4. Artists! I am excited for more and more kinds of cross cultural exchange. Come explore the amazing and otherworldly Detroit art scene! It only costs about $140 for a roundtrip airfare y’know…It’s a whole new world out here.
4. My favorite way of connecting is not through technology, but through that airwavy, no-separation space of bringing you to mind and sending you love (new post on this!). I’m doing so right now. If you think of me, that’s what I’m doing, one way or another.
Also check out the rest of the Goodbonfire blog. I’ve got a recent What’s Cookin’ newflash section for art stuff, and a few other posts you might enjoy.
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.
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 tons of daffodils. I think it was raining and I noticed them on my left.
I'll cut right to it: those flowers are one brain: one consciousness in full force - complete. For some reason I saw it this was for the first time. Not a 'look at those pretty daffodils! Spring is...' kind of thought. It was something revealed.
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 few months, the daffodil revelation is important. The cars circling the rotary, people on a train platform, a group of people listening to a story or 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, fearing mediocrity or failure.
When I can feel the ground underneath. the weather as it mixes with the tiny hairs on my arm, sounds and the situation I find myself in at any given moment, just as it is and just as I am, I begin to remember my home is just about noticing and presence.
Those flowers don't have long. They get a few weeks if they're lucky to kappow in yellow. The green shoots, threading roots filtering the dirt, meet as a single mind under there. That depth and connection is also available to me and you, as is the profound beauty of our vulnerability and delicate bloom.
And a few more things about Daffodils.
They won't all bloom at once, and not to the same extent. Some get pissed on, others blown off their stems and trampled, and others never quite bloom at all. They all get papery, spring passes. One or two, to a given eye - the dark eye of a crow or mine glancing from a car, catch an incredible moment of light and are seen. Some are cut. Is this better? It's not really up to the flower and it's incidental in the short scheme of things.
Grass, stands of trees, coils of thornvine and little trees in home depot parking lots, they all too share a brain I believe. When I send love to my friend across the world or stick around when I feel like leaving myself or another who is not at their best I too tap into that collective system.
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.
I heard Chas DiCapua talking at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center saying We are part of a universe becoming conscious of itself.
Also, that the process is unfolding on many levels, including on a sciency, material level.
One aspect of this we've heard about for a long time: That there are elemental particles in our bodies found in ancient star explosions, the Red Giants and Planetary Nebula. Woa. Now let me go watch King of the Hill to clear my head.
Just listening to and thinking about such a discovery is in fact you, a part of the universe in contemplation, becoming conscious of itself.
On my 40th birthday, I watched 40 shooting stars burning into the atmosphere during the Persiad meteor shower up in Northern coastal Maine while lying on a dock. I was also demonstrating this same idea - the universe becoming conscious of itself.
What I can put to use in this is that nothing is more central to an understanding than noticing. Noticing is waking up to the non-verbal direct truth of things, and to myself as part of something greater. In waking up to such an infinite identity of noting and being at the same time, life is essentially lifing, it's not personal, and I have nothing really to lose or to to attain.
Update from 2020: In reading through this it's interesting to note just the very beginnings of the Elements research project in motion. Last year, I published the Elements: a love letter to all things everywhere. which is a compendium of where one finds each element, in color blotchy sketches and handwritten notes, in lists of objects, parts of our body, world and universe, and what they are tangibly like. It's very much about not being separate, and this theme above.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.