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.