Sunday, December 23, 2007


Moon and ocean are in love year round; proof is in the tides.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Winter Solstice, fabrics 12x33in

Winter Solstice: the lowest sun, the longest dark. The end: surrender.

In northern New England, we throw long shadows at noon this time of year. The sun arcs in the lower third or so of the sky, never overhead. The concept of lengthening days from here on out to June is utterly unconvincing in the face of current experience. For now, winter has moved in for its annual eternity. It's internal burrowed-down time again,
sacred and still, while the hectic buzz of holidaze froths on the surface.

I like to wave hello right across the big ball of the year to the improbability of Summer Solstice, six months ago, maybe six months ahead. The highest, outest sun, the brightest long lingering evenings, the bursting busyness of the intense growing season ...remember?

Summer Solstice, fabrics, 11x14in

I started the piece below, Solstice Invocation, right around Summer Solstice, while at a workshop led by the amazing teacher/artist Elizabeth Busch at Haystack Mountain School. Elizabeth's fabric painting methods blew my mind with a fresh wind, or maybe a gale, a small hurricane.

The piece is over 5 feet high. It's still a work in progress. It was inspired by a photo of my sweetheart, singer-songwriter Kathleen Hannan (see end of the post Looking ). She was leading a song up to a high note, at the Interfaith Celebration she'd organized the previous Winter Solstice. So the piece invokes both solstices at once--made in summer, picturing a peak winter moment.

I'd painted before, plenty. I'd occasionally sewed on a painting or set it in a frame made of fabrics (Still and Rapid). But I had never really found a satisfying fusion of painting and fabric art. For 25 years I had worked in fabric collage without ever altering any fabrics. I loved the hunt of finding a piece that worked, and it seemed like it would be almost cheating to paint or dye my own to suit. Not any more. Elizabeth had us painting on light canvas and on black cloth using different fabric mediums and pigments and paints and pastels, and soon my scissors were flying, on fire, cutting loose. Light paint on dark fabric, dark on light, singing wild harmony.

As I said, it's a work in progress. It needs more compositional tweaks, then hours of patient follow-through, sewing and tending to getting the edges square, and I just haven't gotten to it. It's folded up, not even on the top of the pile right now. That kind of breakthrough summery rush, flying into a heat of creativity, doesn't come around for me very often--it would be a burn-out if it did. But I notice there's a habit of mind that wants to identify with that high time of the cycle, saying, "Now that was some Creative Life! What's with this ho-hum fallow time?"

Trying to pin a pendulum to the up side of its swing never works, in art or life; (the image of pinning a pendulum up is from Adyashanti's Emptiness Dancing, where he speaks about addiction to seeking spiritual highs). Trying to stay up when it's time to go down just invites a frazzled, strung-out, hollow, faking-it state, like a kid jazzed on sugar and tv way past bedtime. That's no holiday, no real celebration.

Parenting educator Jean Illsley Clarke is currently working on the issue of over-indulgence, a timely holiday topic. I heard her speak many years ago, about developmental affirmations: age-specific gems to say to children, including inner children. One of them always stuck in my mind: "I love you when you are active and when you are quiet." Very sweet, compared to the "Get moving!" or "Settle down!" commands (or worse) that harried (inner) moms and dads often dish out.

I love you when you are creative and when you are not. I love you when you are introverted and when you are extroverted. I love you when you are working and when you are goofing off. I love you when you are cloudy and clear, winning and losing, faking-it and real, naughty and nice. I love You when You are dark and when You are light. Always: Now. Pass on a little of the ol' Unconditional, and call it good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ten Minutes


The Ten Minute Field Trip is a simple but surprisingly potent practice for clearing creative blocks, such as the belief, "I don't have enough time." You set a timer for 10 minutes (surprise!) and make something non-representational and purposeless–a doodle, a mess-around, a warm-up. That's basically it.

Why it works: ten minutes actually is enough time to enter The Zone, the eternal Now of creative flow, the Field out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing that Rumi speaks of, where creativity originates. 

And ten minutes is also a short enough period that GottaGotta Head, who always has SO MUCH TO DO, is not seriously threatened by it.

Plus, the number ten carries ritual significance: decade birthdays matter to us; ten is the highest number available in playing and tarot cards; ten is as high as we can count on our fingers. Ten means a lot, a full cycle. So ten minutes acts well as a bridge between mundane and timeless realities.

Once I gave my Creativity 101 class the assignment of spending ten minutes making a non-permanent work of art in a public place. I did the assignment too, of course. 

This was in Florida. I took a rake down to the beach and spent ten minutes (approximately--I didn't have a watch) smoothing a circle in the sand and making groove designs in it. Very satisfying. When I was almost finished, the rake snagged on a watch buried in the sand. The brand name was Eternity. It was ticking. Good sign! It's still my only watch.

For a few days, I've been feeling a familiar pattern gathering, like a headache or a thunderstorm. It's the story that I never get enough time to do "my own work"--meaning art just for me, that doesn't have to be "good"--art that isn't focused towards an outcome.

I have inquired into this before, and I can see that it is a bogus belief. It's just not true that anything I do is taking me away from something I'd rather be doing. If I weren't doing all that I in fact love doing and do willingly--working on a commission, meeting with clients, even laundry--I really can't be sure I'd be in any white heat of creativity anyway. I have had the experience of clearing calendar and studio table and then promptly shutting down into the blahs, with Ms. Oh-So-Creative out on strike and not negotiating.

Another little thing that's been bothering me, somehow related to these grumbles about not getting to "my-own" free work, is that I have been incapable of following through on the simple desire to clean my desk. I had taken drastic measures, including lugging a big heavy filing cabinet up the attic stairs, taking apart an elaborate wall of found-boards and milk crate shelves and all their dusty contents, and even compressed all the photos and slides into the bottom of the cabinet, before inspiration and energy utterly deserted the scene, for weeks.

Since then, I have earnestly endeavored to follow a straightforward suggestion from Marvelous Mentor Molly (Molly Gordon, Coach to Accidental Entrepreneurs) viz: take 30 minutes a day to clear and organize any random pest hole that is dragging on forward motion in business or life. But this has simply not happened. My desk, completely covered in bills and god-knows-what-all, sits undisturbed, as I pass by averting my eyes.

Late last night, after a long day, which included an inspiring speech to a client about the benefits of the Ten Minute Field Trip while assigning her Ten-for-Ten (doing the exercise for ten days running) I caught myself slumping towards bed, past the dread desk, with a discouraged internal snarl. I stopped. I looked at the clock. 11:40. I could take just ten minutes....

There were folded up strips of cardstock that I'd used as shims to even out those shelves, some snips of ribbon from wrapping presents, a blue tag cut off a tee shirt, earplugs in a busted baggie, paper trimmings, crumpled receipts, cellophane bits, a stamp book with two stamps left from three postage-rates back. Ten minutes, no, more like twenty minutes later, there was a dragonish junk sculpture guarding the mail, now all in one big, neat stack.

I slept well and woke cheerful. The mess on the desk was gone! It looks fine over there. I have a temporary new pet, and all is well.

Done any doodling lately?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Short Fiction

Something That Really Happened

A man in a red knit cap walking down a deserted street in Detroit in late fall early morning fell down an open manhole and was never recovered. "That's what we have man holes for," said the precinct captain George Maclevoy. "Sometimes a man just needs an out. This was a case like that, we're thinking." George Maclevoy declined to pursue the case, or to file the paperwork. His brother-in-law Jimmy Fernlevey in the Public Works Department is backing him up all the way. "If the cover is left off, " Jimmy says, swirling his Colt 45 beer to flatten it before the last lukewarm swallow, "If the the cover is left off, it's every man for himself. They've all got to know that. No one mentions it, but it's known."

About a Wish

Be careful what you wish for, well, I guess. I wished for rain and got sun. I wished for turnips and got a sudden insight into the lottery number, but a very boring stew. The lottery number paid off, sure. I wished for people to see me for myself and not my money, but I still had more old friends than a mob boss on vacation. I wished for a little peace and quiet, and bought a very fancy CD system. I gave it to my neighbor Shirl and wished she'd turn it down. Then I was satisfied.

About an Animal

An animal goes into a bar, says, "Just tomato juice." Guy next to him says, "What kind of animal are you?" Animal says, "Mind your own, buster," and drinks the tomato juice down in one fierce gulp, leaving a red dripping muzzle. Guy next to him is getting nervous, an old tic twitches, he hikes his pants. Animal clicks claws on out of there. There's no joke.

Dark Moon

Waning Moon with moonstone

We're almost to the dark of the moon, as we also near the time of longest night, Winter Solstice. So often we extol light, making it a metaphor for good, but rarely even acknowledge the Still, the Unknown, the Invisible, the Dark.

December Sun (fabrics) 6x10" (available) '01

Fear of the Dark is old and deep with many of us. But what a fertile moment is there, in the not-knowing, not being able to see, when dark is surrendered to. What a blessing to be able to let go, when we can, to let go and be done, complete. Byron Katie says, "You know what I love about the past? It's over."

Letting Go Altar Cloth, fabrics

"My face in the mirror looks like my face--it is the face I know best. The light rushes into the pupil of my eye, carrying with it the information that is within range of my vision, carrying with it the world, but what I see when I look at where the light goes in is blackness, deep and velvety. Light goes in and darkness looks back at me. " -- The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

Dark Moon Release, fabrics, '96?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

One Moment to the Next

Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning in midcoast Maine.

Still and Rapid: The Same River Twice oil paintings on linen, with fabric border, 15x24 '02 (available)

Same River Twice was two views of the Eno River in North Carolina, on the same day in winter, looking downstream and upstream. There are other pictures in the series From One Moment to the Next at the beginning of this post and at the end of this one.

Speaking of southern winters, this is a piece about just one moment of winter marsh grass in Florida:

Marsh, fabric paint and resist on black fabric, 22x33" '06 (available)

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Just looking, really looking, can make you rich in an instant. In first love, you gazed into your Beloved's eyes, seeing their beauty so clearly, seeing beyond their beauty to their Essence. After a time, maybe
you don't see them as freshly; you're not so undefended, so receptive and full of wonder--do you barely glance now, satisfied with familiarity, instead of a Mystery, the miracle that is still here this moment?

Often what we really see is our handy handle for people and things--their name, the words and concepts we attach to them, our stories and memories and associations about them--not the direct reality of things-in-themselves. It's a vital, creative skill of the mind, to label this way, to identify and name things: egg, house, friend, tiger--run! We attach these word-handles to things so we can pick them up and play with them and move them around, inside or outside of our minds, for our purposes, for our survival and comfort. And so we objectify them. They flatten and become uniform to us--an example of a category. We take them for granted. We don't look deeply.

When learning to draw, we run into this flattening, generalizing mind-habit as an obstacle to realism. When we're mostly drawing a concept, we create a lifeless stereotype. You have to see from just where you are, the unique view from here and now, and look in, to the vitality of the thing. If you labor to make it "look like" a representative specimen of its named kind, it dies on the page. In truth, it's never been seen or known before, completely new in this unique, already changing light, viewed from this exact perspective through your eyes. It was just born.

Left-brain says, "Flowers! got it, let's go! OK, ok, I know! azaleas--satisfied?" but right-brain, face to face with spotted flagrant pink open-mouthed reality, has to commune and worship. It's a different kind of attention.

You can look with that kind of in-love openness for an instant at anything, at everything--it doesn't have to be "pretty" like a flower. A bottle cap shining on the ground, the rich brown hieroglyphics and warm yellows of a rotting banana--it doesn't matter what, when you look past your label and your preferences and see, through to the wordless truth.

My Sweetie and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary on winter solstice. This is a rose (by any other name) I made for her the first week we were together. Well, maybe a rotting banana wouldn't have looked like it smelled quite so sweet....

Scorpio Rose, detail, fabrics, '97


This 12 inch mixed media Dancing Star is for a Penquis charity auction December 7 to raise money for heating fuel to warm Mainers this winter. Many different artists contributed wonderful decorated tin stars for the auction--you can see them here. You can even bid on them on-line before the auction.

A friend passed along this space weather site--great for star-gazers.

This piece was made when the Hale-Bot comet came traveling by. I hear current Comet Holmes is called "the oddball comet." A comet after my own heart.

Here are some other stars I've made:

Star in the East

Two Stars

Three Stars


Wednesday, November 28, 2007


detail from Imbolc (The Creative Spark) fabrics 12x15"? '94?

Here's some fiction: a couple more of the Trixie and Luanda stories. (See the post Wilda for one about their cat, Molly).


"You left the kettle boiling away again, Luanda! I wish you wouldn't, I just wish you wouldn't. If I hadn't come in when I did, we could be up in flames in a second, I hate to think. I saw that movie up at the home, you never saw it, but I did, the movie from the Chicago fire department. They know how to put the fear of fire in you, those big Chicago firemen in huge black slickers with the shiny yellow stripes and their nasty sooty axes rushing around to chop things up, all your beautiful things ruined in just seconds, Lu! People think they have time to save their valuables, time to find the photo album off the bookcase and the jewelry box out of the other room, but when it gets down to it, they can't see a thing for the smoke! It's pitch dark, darker than night ever is, the smoke rolls right in and shuts out all the light and you don't know the way out of your own home from down on the carpet where you are breathing the very last of the oxygen. You forget what every mouse and spider knows about your house and you just plain panic and maybe open a hot door, but you mustn't! because that will just feed the fire more! and it takes 3 minutes,10 at the very most 'til its all a pile of rubble and wet steaming charcoal with gloomy tatters of your placemats amazingly spared, and I hate those placemats anyway, I never told you but now's the time, why should I have to live one more day with those horrible, horrible placemats? You are not the only one with feelings, Luanda, you are not the only one with sensitivities!"

(Here Lu hazards the first semi-ironic eyebrow twitch in her not-laughing, contrite face, a look saying, I guess not!)

"....We could go at anytime, anytime at all!"

She's winding down. She's looking by degrees less tragical, roving the room-still-here with her eyes, the green chunky glasses not melted into nuggets tramped by big black rubber boots, and more's the pity, really, she hates those glasses too. The parallelogram of innocent winter sun on the counter, the faucet dripping--the water bill!! The photo album, where is it anyway? It should be near the door at all times. The tires need rotating! Rubber, rubber suits and axes.... Luanda is hugging her really, not a pat-pat hug, a real holding. A slow hand circle on the back, a gust of tears and hiccuping, a sheepish looking out through wet spiky eyelashes, a quirk of the mouth edges, and who knows who giggles first: it is all over in minutes.

"Want a cup of tea, Trix?" Luanda asks.


Now Trixie has Mother's black leather album down from the attic, its big heavy wings splayed across a third of the kitchen table. The clock clicks, slow and portentous, outside her hearing.

Molly comes padding in and about-face out in one smooth move, whiskers hectic, tiny nostrils flared, from the noxious nostalgia weighting the air.

Trixie is pouring over photos, pouring her devout attention all over anonymous bland-faced babies, dead handsome men in tuxes, impossibly tall and stately gowned women, long-waisted as another species, none giving up a single silent secret. Her swollen heart pumps its hardy two-step while the frozen couples waltz.

Another page turned like the closing of a great trap door. There was Christmas. Little Lu and Trix, over-exposed, looking shell-shocked as refugees amongst the plunder. Tiny tufts stood out at odd angles on Lu's head, her little hand tagging a picture book like home base in a dangerous game of hide and seek.

Little Trix sat very straight, demonstrating good posture, cradleing her new Sam-the-Bear as proudly as the mother of twins. It was obvious, her radiant intention to guide, nurture and protect that tender bear cub through thick and thin.

And where had that bear gotten to? And where had the afternoon gotten to for that matter? The light was pinkish, almost throbbing, and the room so warm, intensely warm, hot-flash warm and dripping moist. And no little bear to raise up. No more hope of a little one now, something so matter-of-fact to her mind, but here her body was pitching a storm, a minihell, a tantrum of heat.

The Change, the change was coming on, and Luanda coming in now from the library, unchanged from her child self, still cuddling books as safest.


Change (Altar Cloth) fabrics 21x23'? '92?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Here's a little fictional beginning; add to it in the comments if you'd like:

She kicked off one shoe and used her toe to scratch her shin. End of one itch, beginning of the next. She was itching to know what was in the letter in her hand. It was rare now to receive a physical letter. All the gestures of letter opening that previous generations knew had now returned to the non-habitual. Tearing just the corner of the top, enough to wiggle index finger into the hole and use the length of it to rip jaggedly upward, opening a toothy mouth of paper, the finger still tingling with sensation. The other shoe off without notice, a butterscotch crinkled open and clicking sweetly against back teeth, she sat by the window and tilted the pages to catch the light, as her grandmother must have done.


Three oil portraits I've done of other people's grandmothers over the years.


A friend was sitting with Young People. One said, "Remember in Elementary School when we had those weird floppy disks?" My friend told them that when she was in Grammar School, lunch sandwiches were wrapped in wax paper, not in plastic bags, not even in wax paper bags. Every mother had her own style of wrapping. The Young People looked at her silently for a moment, and then resumed their conversation.


Here are two portraits of my grandmother, made 27 years ago, both about the size of a bedsheet: In Her Garden, and Putting On Her Face.


The photo I worked from:


Here's a better photo of her from her younger days:

A cloth portrait of my grandfather made around the same time, 1980? from a photo of him on the boardwalk in Atlantic City sometime early in the last century:

And my best-friend-growing-up Claire's Gramma, with Claire's cat and dog, from a few years later, also bed-sheet sized: