Small, Simple Things

I regret my news consumption these days – responding to alerts on my phone with curiosity, dread, and some wild hope that things will change – a frustrating activity. What if I captured those moments?

Carl Richards, in a recent New York Times article, suggests how to “turn wishes into reality” instead of regrets. This sentence stuck out: “Small, simple things done consistently over a long time produce meaningful results.”

It seems to hold so much hope and possibility. A concept good for practical things – saving money, exercise, pulling popweed in the garden, and truly magic for creative work – the 15-minute freewrite, a drawing a day, a few rows knitted!

Having a self-assignment helps – an ongoing series like drawing teacups, flowers, house moments – assuring a place to start and asserting good pressure once begun. Lately I’ve realized that even the rabbit hole of Internet research on a personal project has far more benefit than incessant news viewing. (But still I struggle to resist.)

So I am writing this as a reminder, an encouragement – and to chastise myself. A short time consistently carved from the day might increase skill and will fill a drawer, a sketchbook, or a computer file. Whether those endeavors result in “meaningful results” or not, at least they don’t exacerbate anxiety – and do offer moments of absorption. Some of the best moments life offers.

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Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

pears-bartlett-copy

 

 

“The Jealous Curator”

The Canadian Danielle Krysa describes herself as a curator “who is inspired (and just a tad jealous) of amazing contemporary art, every day.” Each day she presents a new artist on her website, and on Saturday Krysa records a podcast interview with an artist, “Art For Your Ear.”

I began listening to her podcast back when she first started it last year, and now she has a rich archive of interviews. Something calms and focuses me about her voice (often infused with a chuckle) and relaxed interview style. Often infectiously inspiring by their dedication, artists talk about their back stories, studios, and working methods. Alone at work I feel like I’m eavesdropping on an interesting conversation between people who share my proclivities.

Krysa becomes part of the narrative. She’s got a great sense of humor, and I’ve liked hearing about her own struggles (art school) and successes (books: “Creative Block,” “Collage,” and a new book, “Your Inner Critic Is A Big Jerk,” all published by Chronicle Books, and hilarious collages on Instagram with 96.1 K followers!) (https://www.instagram.com/thejealouscurator/?hl=en)

You can listen on iTunes or by this archive link where Krysa provides images of work by the artist. It’s a treat to see the work and listen:

http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/art-for-your-ear-podcast/

(If you are curious, here’s a fascinating one to start with, the English installation artist, Rebecca Louise Law: http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/2016/08/05/painting-with-flowers/)

I’m about to go to Alaska for the arrival of Baby Brother either as scheduled or in a lickety split hurry, so after this I’ll post a little series I’ve been working on (often while listening to “The Jealous Curator”).

Jealous Curator

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Mother’s Day

On NPR a story told how Mother’s Day began because a daughter sought to honor her mother. But as the holiday grew popular, and Madison Avenue got involved, the founder objected to the increasingly commercial aspects. A lot of marketing surrounds Mother’s Day, and it can be a complicated holiday, but I like to hear reports of how people spend the day presenting gifts of weeding, chores accomplished, cemetery visits, flowers, phone calls, festive meals, and even pipe cleaner butterfly mobiles.

Because my husband was out of town, and our beloved house sitter was hosting her mother on the bluff, I’d spent the night before with my old friend who lives on Bainbridge Island. On Mother’s Day I planned to go to Seattle with my niece (home to Bainbridge for a well-deserved break from medical school) to have brunch at a favorite place, Plum Bistro.

But early in the morning, in a fine drizzle, my old friend and I took a long walk on the road by Rockaway Beach. When I first visited, we used to leave the children with their fathers and run this route – a hilly road, skirting the water across from Seattle.

Now 40 years on, there are changes. One obnoxiously sized house obliterates the view for a patch, but at a spot called Hall’s Hill Lookout, the Portland artist and landscape architect, Jeffrey Bale, built (at the request of a local landowner) a stone mosaic labyrinth in a forest glade. His complicated and very beautiful paving forms a meditative path, and the stones chosen from Washington beaches vary in color in meaningful ways. I loved reading Bale’s blog about how he gathered beach cobbles without disturbing the tiny sea creatures sheltering below and hauled thousands of pounds of it in buckets to construct this treasure: (http://jeffreygardens.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-labyrinth-project-beginning.html).

In this quietly landscaped place and near the labyrinth, a bronze prayer wheel by the artist Tom Jay provides a chance to spin the wheel with something in mind – nine times round, the bell rings, and one’s thought goes out into the world.

And a little further along Rockaway stands a memorial to the terrible day in 1942 when the 246 Japanese-American residents of Bainbridge Island were taken from their homes by soldiers with rifles, brought to this harbor, loaded on a ferry, and sent to interment camps. A long and beautiful wall and walkway with terracotta friezes and tiles with family names memorialize their walk down the pier. It’s a sobering reminder of an awful and unconstitutional mistake – the motto of the memorial is Nidoto Nai Yoni, which translates as “Let It Not Happen Again.”

I’d always heard about this part of Bainbridge and American history – but never before knew the faces and stories of mothers and children, farmers and students, integral members of the Bainbridge community, two thirds of whom were U.S. citizens.

The website tells much more about this beautiful contemplative place:

http://www.bijac.org/index.php?p=MEMORIALIntroduction

We were cold and wet, moved but content at the end of our Rockaway tour. I’d be glad to make that walk and brunch a Mother’s Day tradition!

Flower burst 1

“Serious Noticing”

Now my birds hang in the gallery, along with the other birds, some of which are big but none bad, and in this time without travel I’ve been casting around for what’s next.

I’m reading “The Nearest Thing to Life,” a book that collects a series of lectures by the literary critic James Wood, and in it he devotes an entire section to describing how writers go about “seriously noticing the world.”

A phrase in Wood’s piece concerns what he calls a kind of death that novelists save us from, ”…the slow death that we deal to the world by the sleep of our attention. By congested habit, or through laziness, lack of curiosity, thin haste, we stop looking at things.”

Being a fan, Wood describes Karl Ove Knausgaard’s world as, “one in which the adventure of the ordinary – the inexhaustibility of the ordinary as a child once experienced it (‘the taste of salt that could fill your summer days to saturation’) is steadily retreating, in which things and objects and sensations are pacing toward meaninglessness.” And Wood says: “In such a world, the writer’s task is to rescue the adventure from this slow retreat: to bring meaning, color, and life back to the most ordinary things – to soccer boots and grass, to cranes and trees and airports, and even to Gibson guitars and Roland amplifiers and Old Spice and Ajax.”

Reading this helped me identify what Knausgaard’s books do for me. He reminds us to look for the meaning in the everyday, as novels often do. But his, with their piling up of the detail of ordinary life, operate like some magic elixir delivering the engaged liveliness I want to feel.

The concept of some inevitable “pacing toward meaningless” horrifies me. I want to retain the excitement that comes from paying attention, from engagement – the way I used to always feel about observing flowers, trying to capture their variety, their shapes and colors, an adventure that seemed endless. And in the interstices without an object or a flower to attend to, I always knew the way back was to begin with drawing – or writing – to try and bring “meaning, color, and life back to the most ordinary things.”

Every once in a while I need serious reminding about serious noticing, a reminder that paying attention is the secret. I used to thank Virginia Woolf most of all for this thought. I still do. And I’m grateful to the bottom of my heart to a thinker like James Wood, to novelists like Knausgaard and Woolf, Austen and Ferrante – for the great writing that, as Wood says, not only asks us to look more closely, but “asks us to participate in the transformation of the subject through metaphor and imagery.”

As time goes on, and life is ever more cluttered with possible distractions, and the spectre rises of the “sleep of our attention,” I want to stay awake, engaged with the ordinary!

Sweater beginning

I <3 My iPhone, But…

When it dawned on Manoush Zomorodi from “New Tech City” (WNYC’s technology show) that she had never been bored since getting a smart phone, she got curious.

To investigate what’s lost by banishing boredom, Zomorodi spoke to the U.K. psychologist Sandi Mann, who deliberately bores people in her experiments. Mann finds that after 20 minutes of true boredom, participants think up more imaginative solutions to a set task (what to do with two paper cups). Mann concludes that “idle minds lead to reflective, often creative thoughts.” She says, “minds need to wander to reach their full potential,” and encourages “embracing boredom” to allow the resultant dip into the subconscious we know as daydreaming.

The neuroscientist Jonathan Smallwood studies daydreaming, and told Zomorodi he defines it as the “ability to think independently of our surroundings,” a time “when the brain self-generates thoughts that do not arise from perception.” Other scientists call it “the default mental state of the human mind.”

Zomorodi also found this photo essay produced by The Atlantic with pictures of people from all over the world with their phones. I was teary and grateful for cell phones by the end, and somewhat unsettled. They’re everywhere and important.

And I’m a little leery of daydreaming because voices echo about “wasting time.” The scientists above would disagree, they encourage real daydreaming.

So I am curious about the challenge Zomrodi designed for us on Tech Nation: “Brilliant and Bored: The Lost Art of Spacing Out,” to run from the first of February to the sixth. She invites anyone to sign up to participate and receive daily inspiration for changing a relationship to technology (specifically the smart phone). Of course, a free app will measure phone usage.

I am curious about this. I always look for ways to encourage creativity, and although my numbers of views per day aren’t what Zomorodi talks about – hundreds for some people – I could rearrange my phone checking in the name of research. (Candy Crush doesn’t tempt me, but Instagram is a huge lure.)

For a week in February it will be fun to have company in this experiment – I’m signing up!

iPhone on perch