Wednesday, May 28, 2008

owl pellets are cool

Actually, it may have been a hawk's pellet as well -- I found another one, as I was raking out under the pine tree in our front yard. I looked this up on Wikipedia, and read that in fact hawks and owls prefer to kack up their pellets under coniferous trees. What's up with that??! We have plenty of everything in our neighborhood -- hawks, owls, pines. Last winter, early on, I came out of the house one morning and found pieces of Cardinal all over the yard. That's a hawk; it hits the songbird on the dive, mid-air, and feathers fly. Cardinals are a very hopeful symbol for me, now, but I still thought that was pretty interesting. For me and the hawk, anyhow.

I won't attach a picture of my pellet. It looks like any other. Grey hair, tiny bones from probably mouse and bird together. It looks like something that went through the washer and dryer in a pocket, by mistake.
A voice says "Cry out!"
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
[Isaiah 40:6]

And that is it, in a nutshell. That's why I write, paint, draw, sew, blog, talk, and perform most of the other tasks essential to how I conduct my life. The thing that always drives me crazy, makes me worry, makes me wonder and sometimes feel ashamed, makes me stay up all night, that makes me love and obsess and avoid -- What shall I cry? -- That's the continuous, never-silent ever-present question.

It isn't a void of inspiration, not that; I feel inspired quite a lot, though not always with my own aim in mind or to the effect I'm hoping toward.

So I sew and sew and SEW on this damned piece, this "Desire" piece, and in this act feel sometimes as though God must truly exist if for no reason other than that mere rough beauty is labor enough to achieve -- consider the lilies of the field. What sort of artistic talent can create a lily, and then breathe life into it? Never mine.

I won't let it go, though.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


What an unpredisposing word, how utterly its consonants and vowels mislead when you don't speak a word of Greek. It sounds like a character from Pokemon, for pete's sake. And yet -- it refers to "desire" or "longing" -- neither good nor bad, neither lust nor greed, just the impulsion. Of course, this far (months far) into the "Desire" piece it makes sense. I'm still working on this, velvet and painting and beading and sewing, multiple fabrics -- I'm still feeling my way, and while the concept has solidified and the techniques have more or less settled, still, the piece itself is a mystery.

It's a self-portrait really, and a tension between equally powerful compulsions -- love and possession, courage and destruction, the fire of the spirit and the depths to which we'll dive to find the pearl at the bottom of the ocean. It would be better off, in short, as a piece of writing. But too late now! It is instead a kind of painting -- only there's not much paint involved, since the entire piece is layers of fabric.

Communicating the self-portrait aspect of it without plunking a face or a figure into the piece is HARD for me to do. In fact, because of the text that is and will be included, it is a written piece in a way-- like a sketchbook page or a journal. It's the story of intertwined obsessions, in a sense. I set myself a deadline of mid-June. I have to get this done.

Epiqumew, that's its title. What a silly-sounding word for such a powerful human force.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Up all night

Add to the list of recent natural disasters the tornado that destroyed a section of Hugo MN, killing one child (as of 7pm tonight) and seriously wounding dozens more people. Homes reduced to piles of kindling, pushed into nearby lakes, cars on their sides. We always monitor severe weather on TV, though the majority of it thankfully tends to push to the north or south of us, situated where we are near the Minneapolis downtown area. We looked on as brightly colored radar maps, blobs of data sectioned into cones and stripes by National Weather Service projections, showed the probable location of the Hugo tornado and its path. It was confirmed on the ground in Coon Rapids by professional spotters, only reported by locals in Hugo; but the latter took the brunt of it.

Today's sermon at church was titled "What, me worry?" and encapsulated the usual list of human anxieties, from bad weather to avian flu to losing a job or a home. The lesson and the gospel was "take no thought for tomorrow," for tomorrow brings its own troubles. Consider the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. No birds or lillies in Hugo, at least not around 195th Street, and my husband watching the news tonight grabbed my hand and said "See why I worry?" He's the designated worrier in our family, always anticipating with alarm the worst in ever scenario. I can only be grateful that his fears don't materialize. But we have to take care of each other -- those churches near Hugo, and perhaps ours down here, will need to pitch in now to provide for those harmed and homeless.

The story airing on NPR's "This American Life" tonight was about proms, and a portion of the program was spent on a tornado that interrupted one senior prom in a Kansas town. They cut in and out with local updates on the Hugo scene, from MPR. None of the reporters mentioned the irony.

I'm reading a book called "The Undertaking," by Thomas Lynch, a poet and long-time funeral director. It's fascinating and lyrical, and the sort of thing I gravitate toward these days -- insightful and spiritual but easy to read, easy to move in and out of as need be. And, yes, a little grim but that's life --- life, and death too. Death ritual and funerals have always had an attraction-repulsion power over me; normal folks mainly don't go in for funerals, and for years I lived in fear of the next one I'd have to attend, but since coming to faith I've found there is such a thing as a "good funeral" and I've had occasion to attend a couple of these. Sadly, yes, but upliftingly as well. It's a simple service to your neighbors, really, providing care and necessary arrangements during a time of grief and loss. Like chaplain work in some ways, which is another occupation that interests me -- not necessarily to perform, but certainly to understand.

Two of the clergy I'm familiar with were called to seminary at or in proximity to the death of loved ones, and the funerals. The subject of "calling" still gives me a little trouble, but I'm living in a different faith context than were these two -- my first "call" was a loud one, and more basic. The direction I'm being led in remains to be seen. It's not a mystery what I'm doing, only whether it's where I'm headed. I'm torn; I want a clear direction, but don't want to feel I'm settling in to do the same thing for the rest of my life. I'm still locating the big "purpose" or "vision" for my work.

I do a great deal with art and outreach through the church, and certainly the ministry of basic needs assistance requires no further justification -- the poor are always with us. But the arts activities cause me to doubt in light of the loss of a child, such that those victims in Hugo sustained. Hanging shows isn't like feeding people -- or at least, it requires more faith in the unseen to believe it so. The substance of something hoped for -- that beauty and aesthetic dialogue CAN uplift, significantly, transformatively and for the greater good. Maybe even in Hugo. How does this all relate?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Orphaned Works Act

Judy Coates Perez' blog has a link to a link, on a piece of impending legislation that looks problematic...intellectual property law and copyright laws add a layer of inscrutability that could adversely affect artists and writers. Check out the Orphaned Works legislation at the link above.

I bought a painting this weekend by Jonathan Hamilton, a friend and former co-worker.

Migration is the name of the piece; this picture doesn't do it justice (camera phone). And of course the pegboard doesn't help either, but you can see the clouds, birds flying (gum arabic print), the map, the cone of a volcano, other strata and images emergin's very much in sync with the news and my thoughts of late. Really so lovely and evocative.

And after buying the swiss cheese chair for my husband, I am officially DONE.

scenes from this weekend's Northeast Art-a-Whirl...

outside the Casket Arts Building on 15th NE.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

She's a suitor, all right. But the boys at Erik's had to manu-facture some parts in order to mount the fenders, and the rear fender is waaayy off center. So the tire rubs, which I suspect has confused the automatic derailer. It's a three-speed, purchased for me by my husband for Mothers' Day. Just what he thought I needed, and he's right -- I'm totally out of shape. But I'm not quite ready for iron man training, so we'll take her back to George the salesman this weekend, for a look-see.
Hmm. Back and forth between exhilaration and exhaustion - this is what it's like to be in love with your job. Except that now, with my new bike that takes me everywhere in a gear like climbing mountains without any gears at all, I'm also sore. (Yes, I'm taking it back into the shop to be "adjusted.") I'd like to post a picture of it, but may have to exit this post to do so, since the damned button isn't working again.

Friday, May 9, 2008

a good funeral

I've been neglecting my online life -- in favor of sleep, it must be said; perhaps also in the interest of listening better. Versus blabbing. And for reasons I haven't quite pinned down, I've needed some time sleeping and not thinking in order to allow a vague group of negative feelings to sort themselves out and subside. Anomie, C. called it; we were discussing the recent chaos in our lives (more chaos than usual that is) and our similar responses. Yes, perhaps a less clinical version of anomie. In my case it's like treading water in a dream -- dark, murky water, with a disturbing sense of things moving under the surface that can't be indentified. Negative feelings, impending anxieties; or just my own arms and legs? Hard to tell. Better to sleep than to dream, to paraphrase the famed prince.

Not tonight though -- after a busy evening of ups and downs, I'm up, though tomorrow too will be long and I shouldn't push it.

I was at a funeral yesterday morning, for the mother of a good friend, and somehow a good funeral is so uplifting. Sounds crazy to some, and selfish maybe; but D.'s mother lived a long, interesting and full existence, and she died quickly when the time came, and was even given some choices in the end about whether medical procedures to save her life were worth the increased risk of dying in a way she would not have wanted. She birthed five sons, all of whom were on hand, and the remembrances they offered were articulate and touching, making clear how strong and loving and alive she was. The church itself was quite lovely, an older Lutheran church in south Minneapolis, and the day was warm and sunny -- the only such day we've had all week. Made spring seem that much more real, in a season that has come to us only reluctantly.

One of her sons read from her journal, a recent entry that commented on her sense that time was short, and spoke of her concern for her family while acknowledging a sense that she had lived well and long. I was stilled myself by those words, and thought of how those few lines came to mean so much to her survivors. I don't journal much on paper anymore. How will I preserve what I've blogged? I've never come across a good means of downloading stored content. Certainly not all of what I've written is worth posterity (mostly not) but it's mine and I have a child. I do hope and pray that I live so long and well as Lannie did, and that I'm remembered by so many as those who felt adopted by her over the years. That I could do the same for those I'm touched by, more consistently. She left behind a treasure in memories.

Monday, May 5, 2008

taking a walk

One of the great things about my kid is that he can always be counted on to have a completely different set of concerns and theories from everyone else I know. I'm not entirely sure what he "should" be thinking about, at four and a half, but he often asks me to go for a walk and we always find ourselves on interesting and amusing ground as we amble and chat.

This afternoon, as we left the house and headed north up our street, he said "Let's go to China and visit Kai-Lan." He was referring to a show he watches at daycare, a very hip-looking cartoon that teaches kids a little Chinese language and culture as well as all the standard behavioral lessons. We talked about how far away China lays, and in a few minutes he said "We can go to Radiator Springs. That's far away too, though." This time a fictional town in the desert, from the movie "Cars;" though in fact it's the American West in this case and the kid and I have already spent some time with a map tracing Route 66 through the real countryside. As we discussed the relative proximity of real places and pretend places, he casually threw in that "we shouldn't go to North Minneapolis though. We can't go there."

This really stopped me in my tracks, since it's a sentiment he probably did not hear around the house -- at least not as a serious travel restriction, though my husband and I discuss the news periodically and I suppose it's possible the kid has discerned some opinions of his own from all that. If not, I wonder where he picked it up -- he didn't seem to have a ready source for the quote when I asked, nor a reason to avoid that part of town. Something to listen for down the road.

The rest of our walk concerned itself with the potential for finding earthworms, the puddles on the baseball field, the way fallen husks from tree blossoms look a little like stink bugs, and other manifestations of the natural world. The weather was mild, and the walk really enjoyable. I'm glad we have time to take these walks regularly -- his attention span has really caught up with his aptitude, and I enjoy letting him choose our path and our subject matter. It's a relief on many levels just to converse with him.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

all we like sheep

My pal Dean's mother died rather suddenly, early yesterday morning. She was 88, and an active, interesting woman. Not unexpectedly I think of my father, and of Dean's presence in my life at that time -- Dean's own father had just passed a year or two earlier, and he was able to send me the right sort of encouragement. At this point I am doing what I can to make sure Dean isn't worrying about any of the mutual business tasks that are in my control; I've written him and talked to him on the phone, I've told him I love him. As always I feel that helplessness in the face of someone else's grief -- he had plenty of good friends and family around him, I know, a community that really cares about him, and I'll have my chance at the funeral to hold him for a minute or bring him a glass of water, or whatever. Still, I wish I had more to offer. We're good enough friends that I know we'll talk some of this through eventually, so there's no hurry --

I think of his mother, what a gal she was -- she had taste in art, she had traveled the world, she stirred herself to many of Dean's events and was deeply involved in seeing him fulfill his dreams. I've done what I could to look out for two of her boys over the years, Dean and also Gary, and in this way hope to have pleased her a little. I hung some artwork in her home for her, once. It was a privilege to have known her.

It's been a wild week, in a string of strange ones; often there's been serious stress. I'm reminded again of the death of Chillon's family friend, which just happened Tuesday; he was just a college freshman. There have been family health concerns in C's life, I've been in and out of work with physical problems, my son has had a tough week, and of course while we know now that Ron's job is secure it's still apparently a period of tension to be recovering from. And then all the people I know who are struggling with various doubts and challenges. It's life of course; but it all seems peculiarly condensed somehow.

Never a dull moment.

And somehow, I'm afraid, there's no slowing down -- even if I had a month to linger on the beach somewhere, I'm not sure I'd find a still point. I hope the wheels aren't coming off the wagon.

Dean -- the month of April was too short. Tomorrow is already May 4, and that's 12 days until Art-a-Whirl, 20 days until Spirit opens. I spin so not to sink. Lanie Seal and William Jacobson will both be buried, and these days will tick onward.

"All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

church basement blues

I wish these meetings I attend could happen around tables on sidewalks, with wine and fun, rather than down in the un-fresh uninspiring monochrome church basement -- early Lutheran banal. Are all those pastors and servants of Christ really so earnest and disciplined? At least we had olives tonight, and artichoke spinach dip, and baguette -- the unremarked sensual pleasures of food, unobtrusively consumed but apparently enjoyed by most. Even beer is a big transgression, with some, and in a multi-faith crowd you can't be too careful I suppose. We are professionals after all.

In spite of all our works, our concern for the larger world, we don't have the street sense anymore, some of us. When there's laughter, it's sort of ironic -- we joke about having "too much fun" at a church picnic and annoying the neighbors with our noises. We rely on regional humor, Midwestern humor, food humor, kid humor. So safe.

Sure, Jesus was GOD on the earth. Jesus healed, he cast out demons, he turned men's souls (and women's souls.) But he drank wine at every meal, evidently. So at some point, being flesh, he must have relaxed. When I take that shot of wine at Sunday Communion, I'm reminded -- it's the blood of life, all right -- the fullness of ferment, the beauty of chemistry. We need a little more of this at our meetings, methinks.
It's a strange sort of calm that has descended, however temporarily, over the inner life these days. Like the suddenly blue skies (the flirting goddess of Springtime, leading us on) over the delicate haze of sprouting grass -- a reprieve, I suppose.

It's hard not to juxtapose the feeling with this morning's news. They found the body of that young man from St. Paul, missing in Ithaca, and it turns out he is the long-time family friend of one of my newer friends -- a classmate of her daughter's actually, and just a freshman himself. It's the sadly repetitive story -- a young person goes to a party, drinks, leaves alone late at night and never reaches home. They've turned up several students in the rivers around here in recent years, that way, and this young man was just today discovered in a pond on the campus at Ithaca. It's a terrible loss, of course -- loss is mostly terrible -- and this more senseless than violence, in a way.

Springtime, when people fall in love (or pretend to), when the long winter finally yields, though this year seems reluctant to advance in that way. We whine and complain, but I can recall several years ago -- maybe 4, and I have the photos to prove it -- when we had snowstorms with our green grass as late as May Day.