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The scent of change

I’m drinking beer in the solarium of a pub my band used to play in 35 years ago.  More nachos than I can eat, hanging baskets full of boston-themed plastic plants, my old cello safe and warm beside me. A guy with humperdink-voice just started to play a three chord song – now I get why, when I asked if there was a table I could write at, they put me in here the quiet room.

Change, like a subtle draft of air.

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I’ve just finished the second of two intriguing community music classes, which came right after my excellent cello lesson with body-mapper and fine cellist Amber Ghent.  If any of those three experiences had happened separately they would have been the highlight of my month – but I get them all stacked into my Wednesday this week.  Workshop with Gary Diggins, who has used music as medicine all around the world and runs a very cool space in Guelph called Silence.  In the interdisciplinary arts Masters class my fellow students and I pull together dance, pottery, video, theatre, psychology, music education, history, anthropology and more to explore a more holistic approach to facilitation of music and arts gatherings.  Brave new world, this field, with humans such as these.

Change, like the lifting of one veil.

by way of contrast - this is my very real gardenia at home - blooming happily under the plant light, perfuming the room

by way of contrast – this is my very real gardenia at home – blooming happily under the plant light, perfuming the room

I’m home now, packed inside pillows and blankets on the couch, nursing flu.  Reading about Power versus Force; Leadership and storytelling (Howard Gardner); introversion (Susan Cain) who debunks the largely American myth that those with sparkling personalities are naturally also good at running businesses, countries, projects, programs; From Dictatorship to Democracy (Gene Sharp, 1993, 2012, many translations). This is information therapy, to address my bewilderment and anger at behaviours exhibited these past six months and more.  It’s working.

Change, like the practical, forward-pointed shape of canada geese.

Map for planned return from Ottawa. We ended up at the base of Algonquin Park. Much more beautiful than 401.

Map for planned return from Ottawa. We ended up at the base of Algonquin Park. Much more beautiful than 401.

Bow arm injury as a result of old rotator cuff damage I sustained nine years ago.  For the first time in many many years I need to not play cello, until I can get myself into the hands of a good physiotherapist next week (I read that as not play as much, since I can’t imagine not teaching, gigging or rehearsing with Cello Choir).  It’s the deep practises I miss – two or three hours of rotated 20-minute intense sessions – great incentive to dedicate myself to physio work.

Change. An involuntary lift of the eyebrows.

While in Ottawa we stayed in the Jail Hostel. In a cell one floor below the former skid row. I loved it there - sad to leave

While in Ottawa we stayed in a tiny cell one floor below the former skid row of the Ottawa Jail Hostel.  I was sad to leave my little bunk in the little cell with the iron-barred door.  Imprisoned then released, reluctant.

I did my taxes yesterday and three years worth of my daughter’s.  Every year for 23 years now I’ve taken my added-up receipts in to a gifted accountant and listened to his tales about life, human beings, and money.  He is a philosopher who is quite at home with his need to keep things clear and in proper order.  I left well-informed after he quietly and respectfully applied his philosophy to my particular situation and then to my daughter’s.  It’s quite a thing, to look forward thirty years with a wise and practical human and answer, as best you can, the question “Who will you be?”.

Change, like my body does.

death row.  Four cells - the prisoners moved one closer to the noose each time someone was executed.  Three men died this way officially, though when the jail was converted to a hostel they found the bodies of 150 more buried in a pit beside the building.

death row. Four cells – the prisoners moved one closer to the noose each time someone was executed. Three men died this way officially, though when the jail was converted to a hostel they found the bodies of 150 more buried in a pit beside the building.

In class this past week we were given fifteen minutes to write a memory (with a pen, onto paper), five minutes to edit, and another fifteen to trade written memories with a classmate.  The one read to me brought tears to my eyes.  Here’s my offering:

A snuffling in the trees wakes me – raccoon.  By the distance the moon has traveled it looks like two a.m.. I ran around to this side of the hit at sunset, just in time to catch the first star, then moonrise over the sighing filed.  I read myself towards sleep then, pausing between paragraphs to chart her course across the sky. Soon, resentful of the candle’s glare I pinched it out, laid back on the deck pillows to gaze up, and in.

Awoke without knowing I’d slipped into sleep.  I think the moon called from her new place in the sky, “look.  look…”.  I saw that the milky way had risen out of the northeast, an old road of ancient dust.  And there – Orion’s belt.  There Cassiopeia, there Mars, low and hot on the horizon.

Wonder took me back into dreaming until the now silent raccoon.  I look up; all has changed again. I’m dizzy with it.  In my belly I can feel the planet turn and spin, the moon dance around the earth, the earth around the sun, the galaxy through the dark along with millions of other galaxies…

This is the dizziness of knowing how small – how very small I am.

The Bar/breakfast canteen at the hostel, two floors below us.  Australians, brits, teenager groups, tweener school groups, loner types, a hijabbed moslem woman reading a book, poet-looking people.  Apparently it's hopping in the summer - and will be full up this year on Canada Day.  Great place to stay - and not expensive at all.

The Bar/breakfast canteen at the hostel, two floors below our cell. Australians; Brits; teenager groups; tweener school groups with frazzled-eager teachers; loner types; a moslem woman in hijab reading a book; poet-looking people sipping coffee; me comfortable in pyjamas and bare feet. 

We make effort in answer to things we value.  Go to watch the sunset; lean in to smell the flower; greet one another with positive news; wear smiles and show kindness whenever possible, as we hunt our future selves and befriend our demons.  Effort, my wise accountant might say, is a kind of currency which requires good investment.  The return is enrichment that equals the effort, or, if we’re savvy, far surpasses it.  If that’s not the return, then you’ve invested in the wrong place – working against your own efforts and so promoting injury (which is what my arm and shoulder muscles are doing, as it turns out).

Change, like the soft closing of a very good book, one long moment after you’ve finished the last sentence.


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Thank You.

There’s a perfect stillness in this house.  A resting of all the places that will later see activity, development, growth.  I need this calm like a desert wanderer needs shelter and green; somehow my little house knows and holds me like a mother would, gentle and strong.

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What to say?  Good lord and lady but there have been betrayals, haven’t there?  Personal and political. Family and State.  Driven by greed for money and dominance, a great overwheening, toxic need to be first, best, shiny-est: I watch as the old ship of my family breaks apart over money and the misuse of power, as ten muslim refugee families walk north into Manitoba, seeking refuge from the United States of America.

Honestly, and from the bottom of my breaking heart, I don’t get it.  We are not here for this.

I’ve been searching the dry desert for some answers for a long time, as a woman, artist, daughter-sister-mother.  I’ve found only questions in the sand – heavy ones that have become increasingly difficult to carry. I’m not going to be useful, I know, if I collect still more questions and carry them farther; I’ve got to figure out how to put them down.

relief from the desert on last week's walkabout.  These are water dragons.  Astonishing, tiny and shy.

Relief from the desert on last week’s walkabout. These are water dragons. Astonishing, tiny, shy.

We have daily choices to make now, each one of us.  Mine involve full acceptance of the cold bite of reality: not everyone has access to her own decency; many people are broken beyond repair.  I catch myself getting pulled into negativity, and delete the articulate, powerful paragraphs I just wrote.  I resist the impulse for retail therapy, for numbness fed by alcohol and thoughtlessness, though boy do I feel the pull.  I override the dullness I feel when I look at this painting in front of me, and wet my brush to make a change. I value the great beauty of small simple things, and get to work on building the strength and stamina I need to shelter and protect them.

The giant grouper fish who played with me through the aquarium glass !?!

The giant grouper fish who played with me through the aquarium glass !?!

I practise warm human resistance to abusive behaviour, and thank the universe for John Cleese, Meryl Streep, Saturday Night Live, The Netherlands, The brilliant people who made this site, Idle No More, my beautiful mother, my strong smart funny daughter, her courageous and determined director father, my wonderfully kind, generous, gifted companion and Love, all of my marvellously positive, music-hungry students.  I thank the heavens for our human ability to make music and art, and to make change.

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I read an old book about power versus force and realize that this place we’re in, this climate of despair and abuse is not new.  We’ve been here before, and we can stand our ground again.


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To stand in your power

In the face of such continuous and appalling lack of integrity, what are the choices?

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Deeper roots will hold us all steady in our ground.  Deeper roots will hold the ground steady.

Shall we grow roots together?

 


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old becomes new

Cold toes, bruised ribs from this wiry pull-out mattress, the roar and scrape of post-christmas industrial traffic three floors down.  I keep my eyes closed and read last night’s snowfall from the speed of the passing plough: maybe two inches.

A truck beeps itself backwards into the garage, shovels scrape pathways to retail:  Not a snowday then; We are open for business. I’m tired beyond measure from seasonal work, christmas effort, road trips, and navigating the annual ocean of paper, plastic, wrappings, cups and boxes; private aches, public belly laughs, snow bruises, exhilarations and odd behaviors.  I’d much prefer to be waking in my bed at home, where there’s a bath for slow entry into the day, a kitchen to make simple breakfast in.

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Nevertheless, I have deadlines to meet.  In answer to this, the dawn light pours in through eastern windows to spill on the floor: it’s beautiful here. I feel the call of possibility, and the rituals begin – fold up the bed, start the kettle for coffee, pad down the long hallway to fill the water jugs, come back to play with the cats while my coffee brews.

My studio, where I have worked and played for eight years, produced a hundred or more paintings, taught cello and art, designed, wrote blog, essay and books, rehearsed and performed music, read, edited, shared poetry, and built a rich and enduring collaboration with Knuckles the once-feral cat (who I will love ferociously and tenderly all my life long).

It’s late November 2016 and I’ve not yet decided to dismantle and reinstall it in the spare room at home.  It still feels like I’ll be here for a long time yet; content and safe in the art factory.

Everything is white again.

Everything is white again.

This six-windowed room is on the top floor of an old building that once housed a ladies hoisery factory, managed and operated by my maternal great-grandfather, Walter Keebler*. At one point he employed 200 women here – women who previously could only find work as maids or cooks because until then only men worked in factories.  I imagine that when they found themselves working together, they organized, and sorted things that needed sorting. Women tend to do that, given a little empowerment.

My other great-great grandfather was the CEO of Kennedy Foundry which made propellers for most of the merchant marine in the great lakes.  From the roof of the Circle Bar building I can see where the foundry was.

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When I moved in eight years ago I stripped and refinished the floors, filled the plaster holes with durabond, painted the walls, stripped half of the moulding around the windows (why?  sentiment, I think – it’s just cheap pine), and foam-insulated the ceiling cracks. I got my materials and equipment out of limbo and set up – the first time I’d had a working studio in four years – SUCH a relief to have a space for my soul again.  Since then it has always answered my soul’s need for sanctuary, art factory, practise and rehearsal space, writing space and woman’s shelter – all the more rich because of the family connection.  I feel as though I’ve got to know my ancestor Walter Keebler, somehow.  His slow steady, his endurance and care.

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This week I am packing it all up and removing myself from here, because it’s the right thing to do.  The initial decision was made in answer to the interminable delay in settlement from my marriage (which officially ended late summer 2013), but the choice resonated in my bones: yes, it’s time to move on.  Like the lobster whose shell has become too tight, I need to shed this place so I can grow.

As my mind and heart changes through the work of this masters degree, so is my painting shifting.  I still love working large, but I’m in search of more playfulness, new techniques, new experiments, new media – these will start small, because I have less time after music work and school are done.  Moving studio will help that, as well as insuring that I have enough money for gas and groceries.  (an aside – I just heard a statistic that sent me reeling: Video here, worth watching. I’ll paraphrase – the average annual income for professional writers, musicians and painters in Canada is $6,000.  Yep – I made $6,600. last year, working all the time.)

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Still, my heart breaks each time I fill a box and take it to my car, each time Knuckles the cat looks at me so full of trust and love, each time I look at the bare walls and empty windows.

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What a wonderful, rich eight years it’s been.  Thanks, Great-Grandpa, for the Circle Bar.

*Walter was the descendent of german refugees from the 100-years war, granted asylum by Queen Victoria. She in turn sent her 8000 refugees to the colonies, where William Penn, English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher and early Quaker presided over a flock of immigrants.  His great-uncle Frederick fought with the 50th regiment (for Lincoln) in the American Civil War – we are transcribing his letters home as a family project.

 


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Snowfall, December 2016.

A twenty degree angle, up from the east to the west.  After 36 hours of fierce but invisible wind, the snow has begun.  I’m relieved.

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ah, this year, this year.

As I would with child coming down from his destructive tantrum, I want to dose this year with a well-laced hot toddy and tuck it firmly into bed, so we may all have the chance for some self-care.  A break from the nonsensical, irrational, incessant howling we’ve endured to breathe in simple things.

Even for an hour, to be simple, straightforward.

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All of us are on a four-lane superhighway it seems, doing our best to be generous, to be kind, but oh so beleaguered, so worn out.

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The Chickadees sing in the slanting snow.

Despite the breathtaking antagonism, the astonishing indifference, the unrepentant mean-spiritedness witnessed and endured these past few months, they still sing, cheerful.  They have done this every winter, for as long as Chickadees have been chickadees.

Third-floor roof of the studio building.  Looking Southwest across the harbour

Third-floor roof of the studio building (2013). Looking Southwest across the harbour

It follows then, that if the Chickadees sing, so can we.

 


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In search of light-heartedness

The bells, the paint, the studio cats who complain at the rain.  The reflective work, the promotional, the inquiring work, the rehearsals, the gigs, the scheduling work, the self nourishment which since November 9 has increasingly been – hard work.

The grim manifestation of positive, hopeful, pro-active paintings, songs and video as I emerge slow and stiff from the flatline shock of the US election and its results.

I trudge.  Plod, sink.  Grind my teeth and trudge on.

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Never has the political felt more personal to me.  We grieve like Sisyphus watching the boulder he pushed up the mountain for one hundred thousand years slide from his grip to roll away and down. It’ll be back at the bottom in mere months, picking up momentum as it goes.  He knows he must go after it, push it up again…

The reality of that election, what it means personally and for the world I love has me on the edge of melt-down, all the time.  I grit my teeth and trudge, propelled by clean rage – the only engine still running.

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Never have I felt so urgent a need to think differently.  To find a clearer way to do my job – making/sharing art and music, being human.

Jack Dixon, American author, ‘The Pict’ (2007), The Barn:Memoir of a Family During the Nazi Occupation of Holland in 1940-1945′ (2014), and many more, wrote this:  

If you focus on results, you will never change.  If you focus on change, you will get results.

Toni Morrison, American Editor, Writer, Playwright, Literary Critic, ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Song of Solomon,’ ‘Beloved”,’A Mercy.’ (and many more), wrote this:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.  We speak, we write, we do language.  That’s how civilizations heal.

I know from experience that the rage engine, however clean, burns out and in the end costs me months or years of positive energy.  The joy engine, the hope and the laughter engines go farther with a far gentler toll. Kindness, love, generosity – these are the best engines of all, and I/we will need them in the months and years ahead.  So I search for the means to re-start them, to maintain and fuel them.

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I’m making gatherings, since this is a thing we do together, repair and maintenance of joy and friendship.

  1. Studio tour here (live music, art, functional art, books, honey and a beautiful retrospective show of my dad’s paintings).  10am to 4pm, Circle Bar Art Factory, 1190 2nd Avenue East.  Write to me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/205689303185216/), or at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.
  2. Random Act of Christmas Music with the Cello Choir, at Frog Pond Cafe, 11am – 12:30pm, Saturday December 10.  We will play and bring lyrics for those who want to sing.  Highly recommended.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/209666356146246/
  3. Get your Wassail On!, at Heartwood Hall, Solstice night, 7pm Wednesday December 21.  We’ll bring a string orchestra, lyrics and good cheer, others will bring poems, songs, stories, and good cheer, you can come and bring your voice …and good cheer, in celebration of human beings everywhere as well as here.  fb link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1721170268210795/

if you’re not on facebook, write to me at keirartworks@gmail.com for more information.  I would love to tell you more.

See you there, in person or in spirit.  All my love to you, truly.

Keira

 


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Approaching trust

Sideways.

With a wary eye, but kindly.

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It’s always a risk.  That’s the point, I think – risk.

The risk of generosity, of inclusion.

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If you choose to include rather than exclude, if you offer trust and generosity no matter what, you risk changing your idea, your world view, your mind and your self.  This is where we’re at, after that election: The choice to include and be generous, no matter what preconceptions we carry.

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So far, this is the best thing I’ve read in response to the political and cultural upheaval in the USA:

The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story

Posted on Nov 10, 2016 by Charles Eisenstein.
Thank you, Charles.  Yes.