Monday, April 25, 2011

A Gathering

It's 9:45 p.m. on a Monday night.

It's been a week since I moved to Atlanta.

It has been, shall we say, a week that has ruffled me in multiple ways.

I say ruffled because it brings to mind many very precise ideas for me right now.
As a verb, ruffle means:

1. to destroy the smoothness or evenness of: The wind ruffled the sand.

2. To erect (the feathers), as a bird in anger.

3. To disturb, vex, or irritate.

4. To turn (the pages of a book) rapidly.

5. to pass (cards) through the fingers rapidly in shuffling.

6. To draw up (into a ruffle) by gathering along one edge.

This is a word I was less familiar with, but am now slightly enchanted by. I've already spoken about the pluses of moving.... the hindsight, the slowing of place and space to see visible what was perhaps once camouflaged. There is a thankfulness, an embracing of the unknown.

As with most things, there is another side to this. I would like to tell you I have stayed calm, have fallen right into a rhythm. I would like to say that this has been very easy, that it has been seamless.
But truth be told, I'm uncomfortable. And that is exactly where I should be right now. The first definition of ruffle is perhaps the most accurate. I even like the example. The sand, in all of it's smoothness and beauty, is constantly being moved around by the wind. It is what gives its form a formlessness. I am enthralled by this dance, when I am witness to it.
The second and third definitions are bit more quirky, but I can say that they have been the ones I have experienced most this week. For all of my wants of moving here, and the assuredness of what I was doing, I have been more frustrated with silly things than ever. LIKE ATLANTA TRAFFIC. Any curse words I had in me to describe art and the act of painting have been swallowed by my recent car rides. My feathers were quite ruffled, actually. A Mohawk would be a friendly way of describing the situation.

The fourth definition is one I am not necessarily proud that I do, but one that is inherent to my lack of patience. For all of my present-ness, I have more than once just wished to see the end of the book. Skip all the long paragraphs describing the beauty of the landscapes, the twinkle in their eyes.... did they fall in love OR NOT?? Did she learn her lesson, OR NOT??
The fifth definition is similar to the fourth. In shuffling rapidly, you miss the feel of the cards, how many have gone by, what part of the stack you were paying attention to, maybe even how you were going to scam your opponent.

Are you seeing a pattern here? hmm.

The sixth defintion, perhaps, is my favorite. It is one of poetry, if I may say. "to draw up into a ruffle by gathering along one edge". A ruffle, in tailor/seamstress-speak, is a long line of flat fabric, a cohesive story, if you will. The seamstress folds it, carefully, and pricks her needle through the overlapping parts. In and out the thread and needle go, carefully timed, perfectly placed so that the distances of this trip are all similar and even. When she comes to the end of the long line, she pulls the thread. Slowly, the flat sliver of fabric takes on a three dimensional quality, the folds undulating and repeating as they were fit. She continues to pull, to watch, to gather. At first she is unsure if she has ruined her beautiful ribbon by poking holes and thread throughout its calm texture. She wants to yank, to gather the ribbon into its final form. But she must pull slowly, delicately, carefully. And as the edges begin to make a renewed shape, some of the layers of this ribbon become unseen. They are only perceived, as a graceful and delicate brocade of story line.

This week I was making holes and pushing wire through my story. I was watching myself be gathered, sometimes painfully, by my own hand. Some of the slopes of my ribbon are steep, are disfigured for the time being. But like all that has happened to me before, I continue to gather, continue to pull, continue to try to steady my hand, continue to ruffle.

There is an owl that lives in the tree by my bedroom window. I picture him (or her) to have a ribbon, ever so delicate, tied to his mighty talon.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Miss Steir

Above are images of and by Pat Steir. Pat Steir is one of those artists I can't seem to get enough of. Call it a bizarre fascination for Chinese brush painting in a past life, but I feel a connection to this woman's work.
The theme of the past month or so, for me, has been experience. Experiencing where you are, who you are, what you do, those around you. Ok, so it's been way over a month of me writing about this( this whole damn blog is about that..), but the past month it has grown from something I write about, to something I feel like I am actually doing. It's about damn time, too.

I feel like saying damn a lot tonight.

So I look at her work, and I can't help but think that she is in that wonderful in-between space of knowing precisely what she is doing, and trusting the experimental/ freeform/ impromptu experience of the paint. I imagine this is incredibly difficult at times.
Personally, there are many times when I know I can paint something, then paint it again and again (and again and again.......) until it looks right. I mess with it until I kill it. This is also how I learn, sometimes.

This is a big debate for many painters, I think. On one hand, the refined execution of a painting, the labor and toil of it, the "suffering for beauty" if you will, is one that many, including myself, have tried to learn. At some point, though, I think a painter gets good enough (or goes crazy) to have to do this toiling less and less. Funny, when you think about it. You start off with a simple love for, say, paint. You strive through so much work and agony over how to paint, just to try to get to a place where you do less of it, but with more meaning. Ok, not a new idea, "sharpening the saw" was coined by Stephen Covey I think. But still. I'm always amazed when an artist can say what they want in just a few strokes. I feel like the word "choice" is part of this conversation, but I'm not fully sure how yet.
So maybe Pat Steir never spent her time agonizing over details of paint, of how to get it "just so". But I have no doubt in my mind she DID agonize over how to experience it all. Being in the present aint easy. In fact, it takes a long, long time to get there.

BUT, I can say, from the moments when I'm totally with it, it's actually harder NOT to be in the present.
So my question is this: Is there something in your life with which you have not allowed yourself that ninja move? Is there something that, with a little thought and consciousness, you could do in a few steps (i.e. strokes) that would get the job done just as powerfully? No, I'm not going into the ever-present American hustle of efficiency. I'm just putting out a question. Maybe there is someone you love whom you could show that love in something very simple that takes a minute, but has taken you years to learn? I mean, something that you have REALLY learned. Not just chocolates and flowers, folks. Maybe that is taking care of yourself in order to be there for them? Maybe you keep saying something is too hard, but you know in the back of your mind one simple step would get the ball rolling?? Maybe, just maybe, you have some rule blocking you?? Maybe you need to bust your ninja move out. (Ninja Move, for those of you who don't use this term (which you should) is the move that is swift, planned, and perfect, yet seems effortless... the one perfect kick that will get your enemy in .5 seconds, but took 50 years to learn. Yup... THAT move).

Meg says, on a monthly basis, "Erase the line that holds you back". Damn. Right again. Meg is such a ninja.

Ok, so enough for Inspirational Hour With Mia. I'm still a crank, I still drink too much coffee, I still choose to make things complicated, I still leave my wallet in horrible places, I still drool at night (did I just write that..), and I still have days where I want to slash a hole through my canvas. SO THERE.

But, sometimes knowing that being present is actually easier than the mess we otherwise choose makes it a little nicer to get going. or drooling. or whatever.

and.... just so I make it even more apparent that I am utterly un-Zen sometimes.....


Baby animal pic yet again. Lord have mercy I'm lame.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Frogs, ChooChoos and Other Southern Delicacies

It's friday night. I've been going back and forth between packing all week, doing taxes, being confused, being in the present moment, having moments of enlightenment, moments of sadness. I lost my wallet today, which was particularly annoying, given that I have to go back and forth from Atlanta all week. I could do without the extra work of standing in line at the dmv for a new drivers license and such. But it could be worse.

And tonight I had a wonderfully magical moment.

After a few hours of destroying my house in hopes of finding my wallet, I sat on my front steps and just kind of settled into the feelings I had been grappling with all day. It went like this: It's dark out and unusually warm. I'm in a sleeveless shirt and the breeze feels good on the hairs of my arms. I decide to stop sitting and start walking. I leave my house and walk up the block, one of my very favorite and frequent things to do. I walk up to Main street, then make a right at Market street. At this point, I can see the red lights up above of the ChooChoo sign.
For those of you who don't live in Chattanooga, the ChooChoo was once a central southeastern station for many trains. It was built in the time when we used good materials... brick, metal, the likes. The facade is a large, somewhat square shape with the worlds biggest free-standing brick arch as the entrance. It is my favorite building in Chattanooga. Once inside, it feels like you are walking into another time period (minus some rather awful 80's furnishings). The arches inside of the building are as spectacular as the one outside. They are made of metal that resembles the way the Eiffel Tower was constructed. In the corners of the building are fairly weird crests of some perhaps-imaginary donor. Today it is a thematic hotel. You can sleep in the train cars that are parked behind the station for a nominal fee of $150 per night.
So I walk through, taking in the slight mashed-potato smell of the kitchen. Behind the building is where the lines used to pull up. Here is where the infamous train cars live, now retired from their shift and made to be used as posh little hotel rooms. Between the rail lines are beautiful, manicured gardens, all done up like debutantes.

Tonight the ChooChoo gardens were particularly stunning. I don't know what event is passing through, but the hotel decided to light torches all along the paths. So you have these beautiful old metal train cars, then fire reflecting from every which way.... it was superb. The cherry blossoms are blooming here, and the trees have been decked out with little sparkling lights, so that you can still see the pink of the flowers at night. It was all very decadent.
In the middle of the garden is a little Coi pond. It has all sorts of strange stuff happening in it. There are lilly pads and irises growing, odd junk from the bottom coming up, and of course, plenty of orange, white, and black Coi fish bobbing their big mouths up at you.

But tonight there were frogs! As I walked up to the pond, I could barely hear myself think. They were so loud. As I tried to focus on the intricately leafy surface of the pond, I started to notice some of the plants moving. I sat on one of the benches, and just let my eyes relax at the water and mess of plants. One by one, I started seeing these little creatures, slimy skinned, bug-eyed, loud as can be. They were everywhere!! As I watched them, I could see they would take a big breath, then exhale into a flap of thin skin across their mouth and make a big bubble. The noise was somewhat annoying at first, but when I started to listen, I realized they were calling in groups. I'm pretty sure there was a certain amount of organization in their calling. Glossy bubbles everywhere, I started laughing out loud at the sight of it. Some of the frogs would jump on each others back (hmm..) and try to steal a ride into the water of their companion. They were so sloppy and funny to watch, and I have to admit, I saw a bit of myself in them. Sloppy at times, sometimes looking for shortcuts, calling out to the unknown in annoying ways, jumping out of the pond and getting lost. Unfortunately for yours truly, children don't seem to laugh at me the way they did these frogs.

I'm reading Annie Dillard right now. I'm reading her essay "Teaching a Stone to Talk". The essay starts off with her telling of a young man who is trying to teach a stone to talk.. She describes the stone as a wishing stone. She goes on to describe the lessons between the man and the stone. He is not trying to get it to say the secrets of the universe, but more to say "cup" or "uncle". She also says "I assume that like any other meaningful effort, the ritual involves sacrifice, the suppression of self-consciousness, and a certain precise tilt of the will, so that the will becomes transparent and hollow, a channel for the work".

My take on this is that art, life, love, or prayer could take the place of the word "stone".

She goes on to talk about nature's one remark as its silence. It is always saying and crying out to us "precisely nothing".
We, as humans, try our damnedest to make it speak. Our work, our love, our prayers, they are all to something that only speaks through silence. This is so hard for me to wrap my brain around, and yet I believe it is true. I have felt it when I look for answers. I am constantly finishing the sentences for the universe.

Tonight I listened to those awkward sounds of the frogs. I saw myself in them, and yet, they didn't give two hoots about me. They carried on whether I was there or not. And I liked this. I liked that I could watch the show unfold. I could be part of it, even if my only role was as observer.

About two years ago my friend Erica asked me what role I thought I played in the world. I was confused by the question. She told me that she thought of herself as a healer. It wasn't a role she picked, and yet it was obvious in her make-up. As she said this, I could see it in her, even though it was still unsaid. And the only word that came to my mouth was "mirror". I mirror the things around me sometimes, without speaking. The things around me are my mirror often. Both are obvious, both are intangible. I live to see and be seen with great precision and perfection, absolutely nothing. The pain comes when I expect an answer, usually.