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Little Book

The red book records the odd.

The black one, scars.

The green, intent

The blue, fancy

The yellow is a large sieve

to catch memory for story glue. but

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in a private, cathartic moment

They will all burn.

This is not a world

that is kind to things

sorted and filed in this way.

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In one it is recorded:

I do reject hope.

I hold passion away from my body,

measure trust like a miser,

like a miser, take great care

with my accountabilities.

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The little books know.

There is no family, no truth,

no gift freely given.

This is who we are.  Nevertheless

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I am not dead yet.

Through these Mean Times

I shall continue to search for,

find, and make art.

Little Book, Jan 26/April 11, 2017, studio (house)
KLM

A Note:  This poem was written at a dark time, in a long moment of self-observation.   I refer to this in a recent post called The Far Horizon – a time when I found myself sifting through the broken things – beloved house gone, beloved studio gone, beloved places now pawns in a power-play not of my choosing, family torn apart, living deep inside poverty with my financial resources withheld, lawyers who forgot critical information, mismanaged files, set their own agendas, people once dear to me now like bullies who pout their entitlement, present their victimhood to the world while they sucker punch the whipping boy or the concubine, kick the chained dog. Shock after shock after shock.

How does the human spirit survive catastrophe and rebuild?  Turn from toxic identification with the badness of life into a place of curiosity and ingenuity?  Choose to let go, heal up and move on?  Our history is full of fine examples – I suspect that this happens at least once every second on planet earth – it’s what we do.

For me it has always been the making of art and the writing of journals.  Get it out of me and onto a page, a canvas, and then let it go.  In January of last year I read through and pitched journals from 20 years – a cathartic burning, a profound release of attachment to old pains.  On the other side of that is genuine strength, genuine laughter.  It’s good to stand your ground.


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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’d run 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 soon after, but found my focus skyward instead and resentful of the candle’s glare, I’d pinched it out, lay 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.  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 raccoon’s busy-ness.  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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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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I feel change

It’s a mouth-taste, odd.  Also pit of my stomach when I notice I’ve casually ‘turned over a stone’ and uncovered memories from 13 years ago.  Remembering I ran away then, wondering at the grand plan that overrode those better instincts and pinned me like a specimen inside a story that wasn’t mine. For a decade.

Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Darbyshire.

Print of the Music Room at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire.

I understand I’m being triggered by recent events that have little to do with me.  It’s fascinating – I feel my pulse change as old traumas rise to the surface, still stinking like dead fish.

In three years I’ve healed enough to function well at a steady pace, to build new systems that will I hope benefit many, articulate plans well enough to go hunt them with proposals, maintain full-time work and a part-time Masters study.  But these rememberings are embedded deeper than surface function.

I’m shocked, ten years on, by the detail of my recall.

 

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This is happening now because I’m painting again, in preparation for the December 3 Studio Tour.  There is no way around it – the visual art work always takes me down and in.  The paintings are a by-product.

Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters

Nov 2 Bridge to CM Masters

Standing Rock #NoDAPL,which on facebook is getting twenty to thirty times the coverage of the US election, world-wide.  It’s not just the pit of my stomach that knows this is a game-changer.  Idle No More, indeed.

I seek to understand my own ancestors, and the ways and means I can forgive them – industrialists, colonials all – for the damage they wrought here.  I am part of that history – that long awful story of dominance, abuse and neglect.

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My belly is telling me change is here.  It’s time for a new story.


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Grand Plan

In the corner of my well-collected room there is a gilded chair, with cushions of soft cedar green.

I observe both chair and my pleasure in it, thinking how odd it is to have something right there in my room so finely made that the gilding is not ostentatious, but appropriate.

I do not sit in it.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch I do my reading in.

My room, looking away from the gilded chair, at the bay window couch where I’ve been reading anthropological studies of the Western Conservatory Music culture all day

Art Fundamentals 7th edition (Ocvirk/Stinson/Wigg/Bone/Cayton, 1994); Free to be Musical (Higgins/Campbell, 2010); The Tone of our Times (Dyson, 2014) – this week’s doors, waiting to be unlocked, to be passed through. Other doors I’ve left open behind me, each granting passage into a thought-provoking room, hallway, staircase.

view from reading couch

view from reading couch

Up, down, through, in.  Cognitive dungeon to library to kitchen to widow’s peak – each a different ‘ology’, each a story that links to all the others ever written, and those only now being conceived.

My mind is becoming vast like an ever-expanding castle, which, although timely and immensely satisfying, is not entirely comfortable.  Often it’s a tight squeeze.  I forget things like where the car is, what music I need to find, what day it is….

Union Station subway poem, Rush hour Oct 27

Union Station subway poem, rush hour Oct 27

Travel and roads.  I’ve spent a great deal of time not-home, in-between.  I don’t mind this 600+ km each week of highway through orange maple trees and purple skies, cropped fields and pumpkins on shelves by the roadside. Pumpkins like people, each one a different shape and size, some sideways, some flat, some enormous, others tiny, a couple of them smashed into pulp on the road.

In between I read through and into cognitive change.  I tune my cello/voice and play/sing for Tom Thomson, for Mary Sue Rankin, who are gone from here but also Not-Gone, ever.  I am honoured and humbled to be part of a circle teaching gift from three powerful indigenous women, and to be gifted an improvised-traditional calligraphic rendering of my friend and colleague’s Chinese name. As the kilometres go by and events sift down into understanding, I realize with growing certainty that the most valuable ones are those that cannot be purchased.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Home from Toronto Oct 29.

Oh yes.  Lawyers (an interesting and useful contrast), to collaboratively and fairly settle and resolve a marriage that ended three years ago. Muffler replacement on my hard-working honda.  These are purchased in the name of maintenance, a ‘taking care of’.  A garden full of beautiful perennials (rescued from the bad marriage), now being choked by goutweed – I will start digging it out tomorrow morning, also putting away the beautiful summer writing space on my back deck, now blanketed by yellow ash leaves.

Certainly, for things like these, for ‘taking care of’, it’s good to earn a decent living.

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My beautiful ash tree, three weeks ago, just after Thanksgiving. Now it’s mostly on the deck.

Remembrance day concert soon in the marvellously thriving community arts centre – this one a collaboration of elementary school musicians and the community concert choir, who both need cello, lucky me.

Things you can’t purchase, but have the greatest value.

Generosity.  Thanks-giving.  Remembrance.  Care.

 


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Once upon a tone…

I’m having trouble reading.  A smorgasboard of fascinating printed material, practically glowing inside beautifully designed covers – right in front of me, and I can’t find the anchor point, the stillness that gives permission to dive in and engage, without great effort.

It’s not glasses – I replaced my old foggy set with two exceptionally clear and useful pair, gone the headaches.  It’s not disinterest – I couldn’t be more passionate about the material this Masters course and my own inquiries offer me, or hungrier to understand more deeply.

Not schedule, not lack of sleep, not poor health, not an ability to interpret and articulate, focus or retain but still a trouble I am increasingly aware of.

It’s my patience, my attention span.  Somehow in the past four years, I’ve become hooked into distraction.

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Point-of-view alters understanding.

I need to consciously choose to dig into a new concept now. Decide, again and again to make a practise of reading each paragraph two times (necessary, to understand the irrationality of the Pythagorean comma and it’s resulting philosophical effect on the holy trinity, and hence contemporary governance).  I take mental and written notes, then move on only when I feel the bell of understanding resonate in my bones and blood.  The next time I sit down with the same book, I review, repeat, wait for the bell, then move on.

One hundred hundred chews per mouthful.  If I don’t do this I reach the end of a chapter and all I can think about is …. whether Donald Trump represents for our times the black hole that is Pythagoras’ comma.

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So.  Throw paint at something, and find the sanctuary of ‘Do.’, away from the beckoning screen, the humming pile of books.

Thank you, iPhone, thank you Macbook Pro.  This is the result of you and your entire ecosystem of marketed convenience.  Three years ago I did an art project called #selfie that required extensive online research into and active participation in social media that still has me connected to thousands of people I know only virtually. Two years ago I dived into the vast ocean of tweeters and texters by accepting a 4s into my life, and the result was the twisting of my thought processes, overloading of my senses with so much irrelevant data that my mind – my mind – needs remedial care, just so I can read.  A Book.

And yet, books are the better diet, I’m finding.  Lightly sprinkled with internet research, they are once more becoming the oatmeal of my day.  I have receptors for this information, still. Each time I insist, my attention span lengthens a little more.

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The Tone of Our Times (2014, MIT), by Frances Dyson – the main course of my reading at the moment.  Dyson is connected to a community of Scientists and Artists (ISAST) who have some simple goals:

  1. To advocate, document and make known the work of artists, researchers and scholars developing the new ways that contemporary arts interact with science, technology and society.
  2. To create a forum and meeting places where artists, scientists and engineers can meet, exchange ideas, and, where appropriate, collaborate.
  3. To contribute, through the interaction of the arts and sciences, to the creation of the new culture that will be needed to transition to a sustainable planetary society.

Important book.  Sassy, even, to my reading ear, and very dense.  I’m on page seven of the intro and already I’ve needed to dig into terms and references online, like monochord … cosmology; techno-gnosis; doxa…

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A hundred hundred chews, and not too much at once.  Here are the first two points of Ed Boyden’s (also MIT) advice about “Managing brain resources in an age of complexity” (November 13, 2007)

When I applied for my faculty job at the MIT Media Lab, I had to write a teaching statement. One of the things I proposed was to teach a class called “How to Think,” which would focus on how to be creative, thoughtful, and powerful in a world where problems are extremely complex, targets are continuously moving, and our brains often seem like nodes of enormous networks that constantly reconfigure. In the process of thinking about this, I composed 10 rules, which I sometimes share with students. I’ve listed them here, followed by some practical advice on implementation.

1. Synthesize new ideas constantly. Never read passively. Annotate, model, think, and synthesize while you read, even when you’re reading what you conceive to be introductory stuff. That way, you will always aim towards understanding things at a resolution fine enough for you to be creative.

2. Learn how to learn (rapidly). One of the most important talents for the 21st century is the ability to learn almost anything instantly, so cultivate this talent. Be able to rapidly prototype ideas. Know how your brain works. (I often need a 20-minute power nap after loading a lot into my brain, followed by half a cup of coffee. Knowing how my brain operates enables me to use it well.)

So I change it up, the reading, and I don’t gorge myself.  I also have dessert waiting for me – a beautiful little book titled Once Upon a Time; A Short history of fairy tale, by Marina Warner (Oxford, 2014).

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She begins, “Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections….”

Ah, how I love a good map.  But first, a little paint throwing, and then half a cup of coffee outside in the long autumn sunlight.


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Value

What an intense beginning to October it has been.  It feels like I’ve been birth canal-ed – squeezed into a ‘passage through’ from that September of structural change (schedule, mental, energetic) into this October of ‘Now, GROW’.  This is the first morning of stillness after a massive storm of People and Events and I find myself looking around in wonder, like a newborn.

bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier

Bridge on the way to my weekly class at Laurier.  Like a birth canal, save that I come back through it every week at midnight.  Always an odd sensation.

I played back-to-back gigs in three completely different genres from Friday until Sunday at 2pm – the fallout from those rehearsals is over there…

Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses...

Oh yes, and Friday was also my birthday. Why the roses…

I threw my old loveseat in a dumpster on Saturday too – the old pullout that didn’t pull out was my bed for the year after my marriage ended in 2013 and despite its’ size and brokenness, the ragged sides ravaged by cats and the seat pillows I never did finish reupholstering, I loved it dearly.  We pushed it over the edge and it opened one last time to say goodbye.  I whispered thank you for holding me before we drove away.  The tears that came then (and now, I’ll admit) are proof of my exhaustion.  Change.  Sigh.

Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet. hmmm.

Plaid. High back, which makes me feel short. Longer by two feet.

This new old couch has good pedigree (people very very dear to me have sat and slept here) and I have high hopes for it’s eventual ‘rightness’ in this space, though it still feels awkward. The studio cats have shunned it, so far.

I suspect it will grow in usefulness as I settle in to the habit of reading books, annotating books, blogging about books and commenting on the blogs of classmates.  This is how doing a Masters in Community Music translates into daily life. Ha – even as I write I know that’s not even the half of it.  This masters pervades all levels of now – how can it not, when books entitled Music and Mind in Daily Life (Clarke/Dibbin/Pitts, 2010) are on the week’s menu?  Every class from 7 until 10 pm) we talk about what is meaningful and authentic. How this changes when music becomes a commercialized product.  What does it feel like, to share musical space, to tell true musical stories that resonate and mix across personal and political cultures.  How music is so naturally inclusive, yet so easily distorted by projections of class, identity and politics.  How Music changes things, always.

Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina...

Books like food. Masters is like eating and eating when you know you are already full. An exercise in stamina…

I have not found ‘normal’ yet.  In the openness of this morning I look at my weeks and think, something has got to go.  There’s not enough room, currently, for the things I need to do, for the books I need to read.

And yet this is a stage in any valuable long-term project that I recognize, and relish – a good exercise in using emotional intelligence to understand what’s going to be supportive, gain me greater clarity, sharper focus.

And what is not.

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I’ve added things.  Cello lessons every other week (we are changing my right thumb position, working on my bowing, and fine-tuning my ears).  New cello students.  A string ensemble gathering every other week.  Learning lead vocals on two songs – one gaelic, one by Robbie Burns, for a mini-tour in Toronto in 2 weeks.  A drawing class for people who think they can’t in November, functional art making, and visual art making for a Studio Tour in December (this is how I will PAY for the masters – I have commissions and buyers, but so far no time to do the work).  Christmas mini-tour with my favourite musical collaborators.  Regular family visits.  Good, slow time with my dear and significant other.  Time spent listening and laughing with old and new friends.

It’s a lot, yes.  Doable if I practise smart self-care.  If I can find and work from a new lightness of being.

There is is.  I know what I need to let go of.  All the old heavy I carry that’s not mine.  Stories that are long over but still stuck in a run-on sentence.  Time to close those old books, and burn them.

Ah, that crazy beautiful bridge.

crazy beautiful bridge.