Every day things

I’ve been trying to start a daily habit – to get out the door first thing every morning and say hello to the lake.

The morning is my favourite time – the light is beautiful, the day just beginning, and there is hardly anyone around except the geese, the gulls, the ducks, and the diving cormorants

The few people who are out are doing inspiring things like yoga, or jogging, or even finishing up that report from a beautiful spot.

All in all, you would think this new habit would be a) easy enough, not overly ambitious, not going from sedentary to marathon in a week kind of thing and b) highly pleasurable – it is, as they suggest, a small enough habit to start with, and it is a blessing on my day every time I do it.

James Clear describes his atomic habits as:

…a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.

…the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.

~ James Clear

I’d started thinking hard about habits a couple of months ago, when, up in the night with insomnia, I did some deep bio reading about Manda Scott, whose workshop I went to last year, and whose fascinating and refreshingly optimistic podcast I’ve been following since back in January when she launched it.

On her About Manda page, written in a unique tense, she describes the period of her life when she wrote a seriously ambitious historical fiction series:

Six years of Boudica dreaming. Throw out the TV. Throw out the sound systems. Light the fire every night and let it teach me. By the end, have lost all touch with consensus reality.

~Manda Scott

The television bit and the fire every night bit I’d heard before, but the sound system??? She says: “recorded music is one of our strongest addictions”.

This is deeply radical. This blows my mind. I’d discovered the enormity of music in my life during one of my current habit experiments, which is to make the studio a wifi free zone. Not having a phone to reach for is the key piece – I have to deliberately leave my phone at home and walk over to the studio without anything that connects to the internet. The idea is that, distraction free, I will spend more time in deep thinking, or at least deep being, if there is nothing to plug into.

And the first thing I discovered was how much I missed playing music.

The phone and Facebook and whatever I can live without for a few hours, even for the day… but no music…??? I am deeply deeply hooked into music as a kind of mood designer.

So, thinking about just how deep one could conceivably go with lifestyle changes (can’t light a fire every night in downtown Toronto, but maybe there are other things…) I’ve tried to change up even the tiniest of habits, to experiment and try new things. You know, just those deeply engrained little things like brushing your teeth with the other hand.

Or, the other afternoon, on my way to a backyard BBQ with friends, rather than take the obvious bike route along King, across the bridge over the Don and along Queen East into Leslieville, I got out the map and explored some twisty bike lanes that take you over little hidden bridges and under underpasses and down onto the Lakeshore bike path. It’s still kind of unfamiliar territory for me, but shucks, there was dozens and dozens of folks out there with some serious looking biking habits.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger… The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

~ James Clear

Meanwhile, with some BC friends we’ve begun a daily drawing challenge – each evening one of us sends a prompt to the others, and the next day we each respond to that prompt with a drawing. Some days have produced some pretty terrible drawings, but by coming back to it (almost) each and every day, there are some drawings where I can really see my skills developing –

And my morning lake-visiting habit???

At the moment I’m averaging about every other day.

There are still days when, distracted by the inviting option of coffee on the balcony, watching the skies and scanning the construction site below, searching for the resident bunnies and foxes who can occasionally be spotted darting out from underneath sheds and pipes, I indulge in that strangely sweet uber-urban homey feeling.

So, for now, on those days I don’t make it to the lake first thing, I’ve been making sure to do it at some point during the day. This is not the ultimate goal but is a temporary compromise, and it has reminded me of how fun it is to see the same body of water at different times of day.

The glaring sun and choppy waters of a mid-day, can turn into a magical evening in exactly the same spot.

And in the evenings, turns out people are bringing boom boxes and coolers of beer and skateboards and portable disco balls, and setting up sweet mini parties and dancing underneath the trees by Sugar Beach. Small groups, as is proper during a pandemic, but such creative and romantic ways to enjoy our tiny sliver of city lake front.

Lens Artists – Everyday Objects

Troubles in sanctuary

Back in April, in the most lockedness of lockdown, I still had a roommate – a woman from Vancouver, stranded in Toronto – and she would stay in the apartment all day every day, while I would venture out to the grocery stores and on over to my studio, my sanctuary.

But in those still more wintery than spring days of April, I would arrive to this room full of giant 5 and 6 foot paintings of animals, look around and just burst into tears.

Something about the scale, the sense of power, the confidence and apex predatorness… I just could not relate to any of it. Who was the person who had begun painting these? There was so much still to do to finish each of them, but I could not summon or even fathom any of that kind of big energy.

After several afternoons of just sitting on the couch looking around, I realized I would have to try something different, for the moment at least. I remembered a suggestion from Eric Maisel (I think it’s in his Fearless Creating book) to just go to the studio and squeeze some paints onto the palette. Just that.

So I started there.

And then the next thing I did was put some colours on some cheap sheets of canvas paper and moved them around. No image. Nothing representational. Just moving the paint around.

The following week I started to bring fruit. Stopping in at the No Frills on my way over, I’d pick up a few shapes, a few colours. I set up a little spot with a light, and put out the fruit.

From years ago when I did still lives all the time, I still have the tiny little masonite boards ready to go, so I did a series of pretty terrible paintings of fruit. But it was something, it was still moving the paint around.

And in between there were days when even dealing with paint seemed like a lot, so I would just draw. Pull out a sketchpad, some charcoal, and just exercise that hand eye communication – the pleasure of close observation.

But the drawings on their own felt a little bald, so on the iPad I started adding a bit of colour after the fact.

By now weeks had passed, the roommate had gone home to Vancouver, and spring had fully sprung and the trees were leafy and green and full, and I would pass them as I did my rounds – my extended route along the lake front, then circling back along the wide park boulevard of Esplanade and over towards the studio – and I started to pluck a leaf here and there, relishing their smell, their aliveness.

Being a city kid through and through I can’t tell one kind of tree from the next, so I downloaded an app to find out what each one was. At night I listened to audiobooks of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and The Overstory by Richard Powers – both magical, wonderful books.

And then I started to draw the leaves I was picking on the iPad.

These, I like.

Here, finally, was something new emerging that felt like it might go somewhere.

My huge animal paintings are still waiting patiently to be finished, to have the final layers and touches completed, but in the meantime, there is a new seed of something beginning…

Lens Artist Challenge: Sanctuary

Sun’s up

Sun’s up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

It came on the radio a couple of days ago as I was puttering around the studio,
an old favourite from way way back in the day –

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren’t half as frightening as they were before
But I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I looked around and chuckled –

I’m surrounded by them these days, the lions.
And yes, they were there at the door, in a dream,
and not half as frightening…
In fact they were lolling on the landing,
rolling on their backs, showing their tummies,
as if asking for a belly rub.

The big cats have been frequent dream visitors for some years now, so I pay attention, I work with them.
Not in any fancy complicated way,
more just in a way of being with them, of staying with them,
hangin’ with them, feeling them, and drawing them…

Recently The Shift Network had a “Dreamwork Summit” and gathered a bunch of interesting contemporary thinkers on dreaming to each give a talk and present their methods.
A few of my faves who I’ve worked with were there – Robert Moss and Toko-pa Turner, Sandra Ingerman and Sergio Magaña and Charlie Morley –
but I found I was especially drawn to a couple of guys whose work I’ve only read in books –
Robert Bosnak and Rodger Kamenetz.
Both of them talked about the phenomenology of dreaming.

Bosnak elaborates in Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming,

The dream story is not the dream itself.
The dream itself is a texture woven of space and time inside which we find ourselves.
During the dream we believe we are awake, in the same way that we believe we are awake when we truly are…
This is one of the few laws of human experience that hold true the world over.
The ‘I’ in the dream lives inside the dreamworld with the unshakable conviction that the surrounding reality is, indeed, utterly real.
Each dream arouses within us the conviction that we are in our waking lives.
~Robert Bosnak

With this unshakable conviction,
believing utterly and truly that it was happening as it happened,
I had a dream a couple of months ago – a nightmare, really.
In the dream, I (an I that was not entirely me, but somewhat somehow)
had been designated contaminated, or contagious, or faulty in some way,
and was given a bomb to hold against my soft belly.
And I lay there waiting for it to explode,
praying only that death would be fast.

Not a fun dream to take to the studio.
Not a fun dream in any way.
But as I let myself live with it,
as I looked long and hard at my day-to-day life,
it proved very instructive.

Kamenetz writes in The History of Last Night’s Dream

The dream wants to show us inner space.
It shows our predicament, how we really live.
But you have to be willing to feel something about your predicament, because there’s no other way in…
The special language of dreams is forceful, poetic, metaphorical…
You have to learn what causes your predicament and overcome it.
~ Rodger Kamenetz

And so I began to make a few changes.
Obvious things – started removing some unhealthy habits and initiating healthier ones.
But with these subtle changes came a surprisingly enormous emotional shift,
an energy and optimism and buoyancy I thought had fled forever with the onset of middle age.
And then I came across a quote from Sergio

Often when we die in a dream
it denotes favourable changes in our life,
even if the death occurs in a violent manner
and our conditioning leads us to interpret the dream in a negative way.
~Sergio Magaña

This reminded me of the interpretations of the Death card in tarot decks,
a frightening card to see in a reading,
that is usually not entirely what it seems –

Death is necessary for new life.
Without the old growth dying and decomposing into the soil through fall and winter, the new buds could not sprout in the spring.
Without death, nothing could change.
~Rachel Pollack

Or even more radically –

Initiation rites always led up to a simulated death and rebirth.
The initiate is led to believe that he or she is actually about to die.
Everything is done to make this death as real as possible so that the ego will be tricked and in fact experience that dreaded dissolution.
Then, when the initiate is ‘reborn’ he or she experiences a new maturity and a new freedom of energy.
~Rachel Pollack

Now this thought I love –
That the dreams contain their own processes of rites of initiation,
their own shamanic rituals,
their own journeys to power animals.

And to leave you with some of that buoyancy and optimism I’ve been feelin’,
do yourself a favour and have a listen –

And in case you’re wanting some more of that – 

Happy 2019!!!

Female Fates

(This voyage happened a little while ago –
Got a bit too busy to complete and post it at the time, but here it is now…)

Montreal again.

Time for the Foire papier and I’ve signed up for a hooked-up tour to see all kinds of hot shows and behind-the-scenes tours with curators and fun stuff.

In the morning on my way to the train station, rushing late onto the commuter train platform, I see a familiar face amongst the crowd – my sister!

Such a treat, such a surprise, and a chance to chat about travel plans, kids, family this and that, our 2 bashful waspy selves happily delighted at the unexpected intimacy.

Some hours later, early evening in a crowded vernissage in Old Montreal, mind blown already by the totally rad exhibit by Bharti Kher, hinting at things deeply feminine, reproductive, migratory, a cross between exquisite sensuality and mass production…

We are milling around by the bar, people-watching the funked-out Montreal artists in psychedelic shades and storm trooper boots, when across the room again I see a familiar face…
My sister-out-of-law! Another most adored human!

Not quite officially related (she is my son’s aunt, but my ex and I never married), it is wonderful to see her after some years of missing each other in passing, and there is news of new cousins in the mix, and tell me, tell me, how are all the kids?

It feels awfully apropos to be surrounded by spermatazoid specks and female shapes on this day of family, tribe, migrations and reconnections.

* * *

Next day, another 12 or 14 exhibits, but my favourite is this one, yet another amazing female artist, Elly Strik – new to me, very drawing based –

This entire room is called the “dream room”, with a huge drawing on one wall of Freud’s couch, and many smaller drawings of more intimate details on the surrounding walls.

The major portion of the show is comprised of these massive mysterious female almost-portraits… beautiful yet unknowable, huge and yet tender.

And you, Gentle Reader?

Seen any good Art lately?

March wishes

Oh I wish, how I wish I were a flying fish.

Oh I wish I wish I were the spray from an ocean wave
the wind in the trees
the stretch of a cat
the sparkle of a star in the night sky
a floating colourful anemone in the warm Caribbean sea
a coasting bird, soaring, casual as I move through the clouds…

* * *

We are in my dad’s house in Philadelphia – he has recently inherited it from his parents.
It still has old lady wall paper and old fashioned furniture and such, but some areas, by the staircase for example, there are some bare brick walls and boards.
I know I’m going to inherit this house soon, very soon, and so I look around with eyes to renovation – imagine it with the old lady wallpaper gone, and clean modern lines…Oh, it is exciting, the possibilities ahead!
And I start to pull away more of the old boards at the bottom of the staircase thinking of opening up more space, but I discover curled under the stairs in the crawl space the corpse of a fox terrier.
This is rather disturbing.
Creepy, and there’s going to be a smell problem.
It’ll have to be cleaned up.
But suddenly it gets up, now it’s glowing a rich blue colour, and is a real fox fox, a wild fox.
Away it trots, glowing blue.
I am relieved that this corner of the house is now clean and clear, blessed by this magic glowing ghost-fox.
Outside I am driving, and I realize this is going to be whole new phase of my life – I will move back to the States, to this house in Philly, and I will finally be driving again!
My sister and I are by a kind of river, streaming over rocks, with many many people. But there is a bad man who is a problem.
We drown him, the two of us, holding him down in the river in the midst of the rush of people – visceral, his red throat, bulging veins and tongue – and then finally, the bad man is dead.

* * *

Last night I sat down in the studio for a wee break from painting the latest fox – lots of foxes these days – and the angle from the chair to the patiently waiting half-finished or half-started crow on the wall with the Dollarama flowers on the table in front made it look as though the wing of the crow was decorated, almost tattooed with a gorgeous string of pink flowers…

And I wished, how I wished I was THAT kind of artist.
An artist who makes pretty pink decorative things or beautiful tattoos or things you might want to use as wallpaper in your kid’s room…

Moments, just fleeting moments where the desire to be other, to be more, to be different, to be something else, to be someone else bubbles up.

It’s not so terrible in a way, as it’s all clustered into what has become a fairly conscious process of change I’ve been working on for some time now, deep thinking about the things that are not working, the things that need to be better, the places I need to step up, become a better human being…
But here’s the thing… change is HARD!!!!

Maybe you already knew that.

So one thing I always find myself doing in these moments, is reading.

Have a seat by the fireside and enjoy some Joseph Campbell:

The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization…
If the call is heeded…the individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. In myths, this is represented as moving out of the known sphere altogether into the great beyond. I call this crossing the threshold. This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many many many different images, depending on the cultural surrounds of the mythos. It may be a getting lost in a dark forest, it may be finding yourself in a strange city. It maybe be depicted as an ascent or as a descent or a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure – it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway or the cave or the clashing rocks…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish

Relax into colour

The desk is piled high with homework and projects past due.
Lists of Christmas gifts are scribbled on post-it notes around the computer.
The vacuum cleaner is plugged in and ready to go.
Recycling sits by the door ready to be taken out.
The chicken bubbles on the back burner. The rice is poured but unrinsed.
And yet, and yet…
The faint bling and winks of brilliant colour call…
abalone-hillscape

abalone-moonscape

abalone-rivuletAn abalone shell, sitting hidden for weeks in a scrunched up paper bag on a shelf, was rediscovered this morning.
And, oh, but what worlds it holds within…
abalone-nebula

abalone-kali

abalone-snout-and-hoofs

abalone-tunnel

Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax

Tiny Steps

tiny-clouds-can-flagIs it the dark of November, that flu I just couldn’t kick, or the malignant gloom of the American election?
There are days when it feels like nothing gets done.
Days when doing the laundry is a big accomplishment.
Days when I think it’s the perfect day, free of obligations, to go down to the studio and paint – smudging and scribbling and sharpening the image, listening to music for hours – and yet somehow I never get there.
Days when I get up with last night’s promise of a morning run ringing in my ears and I flop on the couch and flake out on facebook on my phone.
Days when I’ve told myself it’s really time to finally sit down at my little corner writing desk and enter the zone – the zone of happy struggles, of exploring interior worlds, scaling memories and imaginings and sensations and the secrets of the human heart, searching for all the right words… and instead I spend hours glumly in front of the computer catching up on email.

Do you know these kind of days?
Switch out the particulars for your own personal Important Goals list that never quite happens?

Well, I’ve been pushing against the dark slide of lethargy with some new tools…
Chief among them the concept of Tiny Steps.

kaizen-book

Tiny Steps comes from the Japanese tradition of Kaizen, elaborated on in this book by Robert Maurer: One Small Step Can Change Your Life.
He says,

Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constand demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.

The key is to start small.
The key is to make it SO small you can’t NOT do it.
Reading some of the bios and creative practices of the greats can be totally intimidating – they seem to be on their game ALL the time, productive all the time – so much so that it’s a world away, unreachable.
Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit describes her mornings –

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes…walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab.

Well, this is amazing, I love the sound of it, can just see the dark of the Manhattan morning and the surliness of the cab driver and the sweaty two hours at the gym, and gosh I sure wish that were my life too, but ummmmmmmm…
I can tell you right now I’m not gonna be doing that tomorrow morning. And not just cause I don’t live in Manhattan.
I mean even just thinking about how far all of that is from my life brings up all kinds of neurotic garbage and the harpies of self-flagellation begin to loom and the whole thing makes me feel like, well, if I can’t be like that, then I might as well just give up now.
But…
This is precisely where the small steps of Kaizen come in.
Maurer says –

Don’t let these common roadblocks to change make you feel so guilty or frustrated that you give up your attempts to improve.
Instead, use times of difficulty to remember that fear is the body’s gift, alerting us to a challenge. The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.
During the rough patches, understanding that fear is normal, and a natural sign of ambition, makes us more likely to hold onto hope and optimism – qualities that increase our willingness to take the kinds of small steps that slip right past the fear.

Did you get that last bit?
…small steps that slip right past the fear.
Okay! Now we’re talking!
A step that is so tiny it will neatly sidestep the harpies in my head. Perfect.
So, for me, a small step would be NOT to say I’m going to write a novel before the end of 2016, but to say I’m going to write for 10 minutes each morning.
10 minutes of sitting down to write is something small enough that it’s really really really easy to do.
(and if there’s a morning when even so, even though it’s a tiny step, if it doesn’t happen and I don’t show up, I’m going to remind myself that FEAR IS NORMAL, and try again the next morning)

Going back to Twyla Tharp’s story about the cab – the point that she’s making and the point that really speaks to me is the idea of creating a Ritual.
Creating a Ritual sounds to me partly like a way to make the whole thing more FUN.
But Twyla takes it even further –

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed…
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.

So for me, for my 10 minutes of writing, I’ve found this one piece of ritual I can bring in to the goal of sitting down at the little writing desk in the corner…
I light a candle.
The beautiful little glass candle holder makes me happy. The action of striking the match marks the beginning, the dancing of the flame keeps me company, and the whole thing signals to my brain that a hallowed space has been created to sit down and hold a tiny 10 minutes of writing.
corner-desk

And you, Dear Reader? Are there Rituals, Practices, Habits, Methods that have worked for you?

Please Note: All this comes from a training program I’m doing currently, called Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. You might want to check it out. 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge – Tiny

Looking back

I was in Ottawa visiting friends from back in the day, back in Montreal, and as if out of some random pocket of a time warp, my friend pulled out some tiny forgotten paintings I’d done on tiles – tiny still lives of the charming funky place we lived in together so many years ago…

bowl and hyacinth

And my gosh, it was a revelation to me – most of all, that I had more or less managed with, more or less made my way around oil paints a couple of decades ago.
I’ve been struggling with oil paints the last few months – torn between the more recent experience of a fast drying acrylic paint, the possibility of fast endless layers, and the faint memory of a rich buttery wet wet paint I was able to negotiate to some degree some decades ago…

kitchen telephone

Now, trapped in work deadlines, I am fetishizing the time ahead in the studio…how glorious it is sure to be with this new-found half-remembered confidence…

goose and duck

Happy happy summer all…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Looking Up

Honesty vs Admiration


The tourists are beginning to return to the city, and if I leave the studio door open to get a bit of a cross breeze with the window, occasionally a lost meandering tourist will make their way to the third floor of the building, and wander into the open door, curious…
There are a total of 5 of us in our large loft room – a fashion designer whose layout tables and sewing machines and bolts of fabric crowd one big corner; a landscape painter with small children who I have yet to cross paths with, but the changing toys suggest she makes appearances at odd hours; a figurative painter who has been in the space for the longest, some 6 years now, and his corner is packed full of the large portraits and expressive experiments of those years; and then Nancy and I in our tiny corner by the door.
It is more of an entranceway than studio, our little corner, but in a city like Toronto, it is what we can manage between the 2 of us, and we love it.
Yesterday I was there with the door open, and given our space, it means I am essentially in the doorway, working away – a point of interest for the 3 tourists who stumbled down the hallway.
They were not especially shy, and after a brief invitation in, went straight into the depths, shrugging by the landscape painter without much notice, and burrowing into the tightly packed corner of the figurative painter. He has some large paintings of famous people out and about – a David Bowie still in progress, Rihanna drying in a corner – and there were ooh’s and aah’s from the 2 ladies in the group.
Turning back, they passed by the bolts of fabric and noticed Nancy’s tiny corner within the corner, a few of her gorgeous pieces up on the wall. The man in their group was especially taken with Nancy’s work and the 3 of them stood there for a while pointing and discussing details.

Beltaine by Nancy Gardiner
Beltaine by Nancy Gardiner

Midsummer by Nancy Gardiner
Midsummer by Nancy Gardiner

Finally they turned towards where I was working away in my section around the door, and after interrogating me on how they might get in touch with the figurative painter, if there was a card or a website, they looked around at my various scattered sketches and experiments, and tried to find something nice to say.
IMG_20160504_195910-01
One of the women focused on the wall of sketches, and said, “well, they are certainly well drawn”, as if relieved she had found some point of concession – she could grant me that at least.
IMG_20160504_195858-01
The horse sketches are on terraskin paper, a treeless stone paper, so I told them about this, and then of course they wanted to touch it, and we focused on surfaces and textures for a while, as I showed them which ones were terraskin, which ones mylar.
The large bat that dominates one wall right now is oil on mylar, and one of the ladies said, “he looks like he… I don’t know, as though he has a purpose of some kind.”
Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMy eyes grew wide, as it occurred to me I HAD painted her with a purpose – she was a dream messenger, one of several bat dreams, and so given the repeated bat imagery, asking for attention, I’d been spending time drawing and painting the dream characters, honouring them, staying with them, listening to them as best I can.
What exactly the bat is about, what she wants to say, I still don’t know…
bat feet
But in there, in the intense focused silence of creating the images, of repeated bat drawings and paintings, I think about the strangeness of them – as if little tiny mice that one day got fed up and said, Dangit! I want to fly!
And did.
And maybe that thought is all she really needs to say…
bat fly down
And so this one comment from a stranger, not filled with flattery at all, but with a kind of faintly uncomfortable, honest relating to the image, totally made my day…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Admiration

50 happy things (almost)

In fact, this is more like 25 happily grateful thoughts, but apparently I’m very slow, as I spent a lovely hour making my list and was still at only 25 or so, and the exercise was supposed to take 10 minutes… please see below for the full explanation of the challenge, and I recommend the list-making, whether or not you are a blogger. It is a wonderful meditation on all that is good and even glorious in your life.

* * *

I am grateful for gentle rain on this quiet Monday of a solstice
I am grateful for the delicate chirps and warbles of birds in December
I am grateful for yoga in the mornings, the long deep stretching like a cat
I am grateful for flowers, endlessly fascinating colours and shapes

sunflower center askew

I am grateful for my smart sweet boy, snug as a bug sleeping upstairs

IMG_20151215_101212
I am grateful for our tiny home tucked away in a courtyard in a neighbourhood tucked away from the rest of the city – a small hamlet of a home
I am grateful for kind and friendly neighbours around us
I am grateful for the cheap thrill of glittery gold candles from Dollarama, adding light and sparkle to this dark restful day

glitter gold
I am grateful for new friends who have come so quickly to feel like family, like we are all right in the soup together, there for each other
I am grateful for old friends who after so many years and cities apart, show up as such wonderful human beings still and again, as interesting and supportive as ever
I am grateful for blogging friends who pull me into the fray, who make the big wide world of the internet feel like a sweet friendly village (including the wonderful and indefatigable Dawn, who invited me to do this)

pencil crayons
I am grateful for pens and paper, for pencil crayons and cameras, for paints and computers, all the delightful toys I have at my disposal to be creative almost all day every day

IMG_0590
I am grateful for the new studio, amazing precious fun-filled space that waits patiently when work overflows
I am grateful for the amazing job offers coming out of my ears right now, and for finding myself in love with my metier all over again
I am grateful for our new Prime Minister, the Paris Climate Change agreement, and for all the hints of optimism out in the political sphere
I am grateful to live in a country with universal health care

20140307-153439.jpg
I am grateful for 3 nephews and 1 niece full of sweetness and silliness and laughter
I am grateful for a family as interesting as it is kind, as unique as it is supportive
I am grateful for the bus along our street that comes almost every 5 minutes
I am grateful for the library just 2 blocks away, source of all kinds of amazing worlds inside of books
I am grateful for the park down the hill where I can spend hours lost in a world of turtles and ducks and geese and hawks and even the occasional muskrat

single turtle on log
duck in light
I am grateful for travel, each and every time
I am grateful for Netflix, and the huge amount of excellent TV shows that have sprung up, making a cozy evening at home a stimulating option
I am grateful for water – element that I sheepishly love the most – to swim, to soak, to drink, to dabble toes in
I am grateful for sage and sweetgrass smudge to clear the air, heart, and mind

smudge w abalone
I am grateful for coffee
I am grateful for spinach
I am grateful for fish
I am grateful for all the teachers I’ve had, for what feels like a huge resource base of knowledge so close, so accessible, so generous
I am grateful for this moment of quiet on a Monday morning to think about all these wonderful things in my life

* * *

Here’s how it works: set a timer for 10 minutes. Once you start the timer, start your list – the goal is to write 50 things that made you happy in 2015, or 50 thing that you feel grateful for. The idea is to not think too hard; write what comes to mind in the time allotted. When the timer’s done, stop writing. If you haven’t written 50 things, that’s ok. If you have more than 50 things and still have time, keep writing; you can’t feel too happy or too grateful! When I finished my list, I took a few extra minutes to add links and photos.

It’s about choosing to look at and appreciate the happy, choosing positive over negative things to focus on. In taking time to reflect on things that made me happy in 2015, I feel grateful. If I express gratitude, I find myself feeling happy. Either way, it’s a win/win. I guarantee, you that you will find yourself feeling good, smiling, feeling grateful and happy if you spend 10 minutes reflecting on positivity.

To join in: 1) Write your post and publish it (please copy and paste the instructions from this post, into yours) 2) Click on the blue frog at the very bottom of Tales From the Motherland’s post. 3) That will take you to another window, where you can past the URL to your post. 4) Follow the prompts, and your post will be added to the Blog Party List. Please note: the InLinkz will expire on January 15, 2015. After that date, no blogs can be added.

On and Off the Grid

Although we’d signed the lease early Tuesday morning, we couldn’t move in ’til Friday night – it was that kind of week, has been that kind of month.
We packed the car, dumped our stuff, breathed in and looked around and vowed to come back soon as we could.
Can you see our space, up there in the bright light on the third floor?IMG_20150918_203402-01-01Tuesday had been the final preparation of the large colour images for the dress rehearsal that night and then show opening Wednesday. Printing and mounting this combination of old photo resuscitation and photoshop art that I started to really love doing – Photoshop is growing on me.
Can you see those strange women, collaged and cloaked there in their layers of colours and textures and doodads?20150919_195216_HDR-01Wednesday was troubles hanging the dang pieces on the brick walls and printing black & white pictures for the charity show on Thursday.
Thursday was cutting the black and white prints and wrangling the little pieces of paper into the metal-grid-frame thingy I’d found that seemed like the perfect old-fashioned new-fangled gizmo for the subject.
Can you see all the different images, tucked under, beneath, and behind each other?imageFriday was packing, cleaning, preparation for Saturday’s art fair, and then by evening the dashed move into the new studio.
Then running late, Saturday morning, the damn grid walls that have haunted my summer at art fairs here and there – the absolute necessity of them, the awkward unwieldy height of them, whether they have enough space between the rows to actually hang the resin pieces on them.
Everyone’s fascinated by the resin – they love hearing about the process – the blowtorches, the drying time, the risk of dust and bubbles, the sanding afterwards.
Can you see the grid walls, there sustaining everything, underneath all the shiny, crooked art?wpid-wp-1442869447858.jpegThen finally Sunday, at long last I am on my bike and off in the direction of the new studio.
It is a gorgeous, sunny day, blue blue skies stretching everywhere as I pass kites and kids on the beach, along unknown bike trails at the bottom of the city, and onto long stretches of path beside abandoned train tracks.
It’s the old grid of the city, the old infrastructure, the remnants of how things used to run down here.wpid-wp-1442869985683.jpeg

The whole way there, in amongst the trees, the paths, along the beach and finally even along the roads, the train tracks, the crumbling highways, there is movement. Monarch butterflies flit everywhere. Every few feet is another flutter of wings, recklessly spiralling up up up into the sky.
Can you see this one, tiny in the blue, making his way up and over the grid supports of the motorway?wpid-wp-1442869994939.jpegMigration season. Everywhere they’re finding their way to the lakefront to launch themselves on their insane, remarkable, magical journey down to the mountains of Mexico.
The fragility. The resilience.
I push on.
Bridges crisscross the opaque brown river, and it feels like the stinking bowels, the underbelly of the city.
Men sit amongst the bushes with fishing lines outstretched into the filthy water. Very “off the grid” living.wpid-wp-1442869455143.jpegFinally I am IN the new studio, full of the sights of the ride here.
The sun pours in the windows.
I have the whole space to myself for now.wpid-20150920_142512_hdr-01.jpegWeekly Photo Challenge – Grid

Broken Rock Face

cormorant island
Friday afternoons are sketching class – the best day of the week.
Each week we go to a different location, a park somewhere close by, in the ‘hood, and set up to draw whatever presents itself.
This week was the Scarborough Bluffs.
tree leaning down cliff side
Such an amazing place – I’d never been this far east and south before, and wow, what a fascinating, strange place, almost like being at the ocean with the strong winds, the sound of waves on the beach, the gulls and kingfishers diving for fish –
kingfisher
A place to come back to when the sun is low on the horizon and the skies glow orange and magenta.
But it was interesting too how harsh and desolate the cliff faces looked in the bright afternoon light, the ravages of time and water on the shapes of the rocks –
overhang full size
edge, gull, treetop
My drawing companions tease me that no matter what I draw – a rock, a tree, an animal – it ends up looking vaguely like the human figure.
A drawing of a cliff face also seems to hold a variety of human faces, snouts and orifices –
hoodoos drawing
Another rock drawing suggest reclining figures, hairy crevices and the folds of flesh –
rock fountain drawing
A drawing of tree hints at perhaps a headless torso, arms, a belly-button –
tree torso drawing
Another tree could be an underarm, or a knee –
tree branch drawing
That is my hand, my mark, apparently.
Out in the sun and wind, facing these cliffs, blown away by the sheer force of the place, it’s hard to even put pencil to paper, the desire to simply soak in the splendour of the day is so overpowering.
Yes, this too is Toronto…
cliff lake vistaWeekly Photo Challenge – Broken

Flight Rewards

IMG_0597The door to my studio is always open, so people will stop in and make remarks – the reward of leaving the door open…
Yesterday it was one of my neighbours commenting on the photo of the bird in flight, blown up onto a canvas.
“Is that a marlin?”, he asked.
A man who knows his birds.
It is, in fact, a swallow, but we got to talking about birds and their behaviours – he’d done some time trapping and tagging marlins, and I’d spent lots of time photographing these swallows –swallow square right tiltSo I was telling him about how the swallows would come out and dart around in the sky, flipping and flitting around in arcs and circles.
This one day in particular there were so many of them out in the sky – a jubilant party – I’d taken hundreds of photographs.
“Eating bugs?”, he suggested – the most likely reason for swallows to be out and around – feeding.swallow square rightYou would think, I agreed, a distinct possibility.
But the things is, the winds were so high, a storm creeping in slowly from the west, the blasts of air bringing the clouds closer and closer so intense, that it actually wasn’t a buggy moment at all. All bugs had been swept away, so the birds were just out, riding the waves of wind, purely for pleasure, for play, sometimes even flying upside down – swallow square upside downPeople often ask me if this photo is the wrong way round, cause the shape of the bird appears to be belly-up, but that is what the bird was doing, circling around on gusts of air.
Similarly, I could see my marlin-tracking neighbour was skeptical that the birds would be out in numbers without a purpose, without clear, obvious reward.square b&w silhouette bird left slvrfxBut, seriously? Flying for pleasure?
Isn’t that reward enough?
I mean, look at this world they live in –
swallow square tiny in big cloudsIf you could fly way way up into the clouds, for the sheer joy of feeling the air beneath your wings, and the view as you soar up into the clouds…square towering clouds tiny bird
cloud channel slvrfx
cloud hill slvrfx
cloud edge of mountain slvrfxWouldn’t that be reward enough?cloud tower tiniest bird slvrfxWeekly Photo Challenge – Reward
More photos here.

Expressing

IMG_0598There was a mess.
The mess needed space.
A place to make mess.
A place to put messy things all over the floors and the walls and any surface I can reach stretching on tippy-toes on top of the chair.
IMG_0595All my socks are covered in paint and glue and fragments of unknown ancient dirt, remnants of previous tenants.
IMG_0587Some angles look deceptively tidy, but people stop at the doorway and say “Hi!” without coming in because the mess is wall to wall.
IMG_0597Some corners have recent experiments – here drawing a wolf large on synthetic, tree-free paper, a gliding delicious sensation.
2015/01/img_0596.jpgOther walls have the well-established themes…the Cats.
At a drawing group earlier in the week, someone said, “Animals are really your thing, huh?”.
And although I hadn’t noticed it happening – it snuck up on me through dreams and metaphors and the occasional crossing of paths – it appears to be true.
IMG_0590Weekly Photo Challenge – Express Yourself

Working on Art

hallway collagesFor a month or two I’ve been inviting friends over for dinner, wining and dining them into the night, and, when they’re relaxed and off-guard, I lure them up to my room, blinking and confused, and force them to sit on the edge of my bed and look at my art.
I’ve been so hungry for feedback, ravenous after many hours and days and weeks over the winter of experimenting with different forms, jamming around with the photos, the painting, the collages – I need need need to see what people respond to.living room collagesI’d invited a bunch of people over for a barbeque last night, a little seasonal fair, and as I was tidying and mopping and vacuuming in anticipation of their arrival, it occurred to me – I’d have them hostage for hours, could put art all over the house and see what people might say.photoIt must be some core piece of the need to make art is an element of communication – it’s like you’re looking for a way to talk about something.
And sometimes it may be a private correspondence with the Universe – like cave artists making shamanic magic on the walls, calling to the spirits of the animals to reveal themselves and where they can be found in abundance.
Or it may be a conversation you are having with a friend in your mind as you do it, a kind of running dialogue that informs what comes out. And then when you talk about this image that has sprung from somewhere, it’s part of how you connect as friends – you see more about who they are by what speaks to them.photoSo when Bea said she really loved the alligator – a drawing I’d hesitated to put up, cause it’s just a loose rough kind of sketch of a piece – it gave me some sense of a place in Bea that resonates with this not-pretty, not-girly kind of image.
But Tom kept remembering something I hadn’t put out, a picture I’d shown them several weeks before when I’d had them on my bed and forced them to look at things, an experiment with drawing and painting on a photo – photoThat one! said Tom. That one was his favourite.
Sometimes taste seems to cut along a shared medium, as in sometimes the painters like the paintings, responding with a visceral part of themselves to texture and colour – Maria, a month ago uttering a low hum when she saw the blues and drips and bumps in this piece – under the seaAnd showing no real interest in the experiments of drawing and painting on photos –
swallow expWhereas Nicky, a non-visual artist, an actor / dancer / director, was very drawn to these experiments, and felt the one of the magnolia was the most realized, the most successful integration of photo and paint – photoAnd while some people have a more textural inclination, others are more figurative, they don’t care for abstraction, they like to always recognize what the image is, to always see a familiar shape.
Sometimes when you’re kind of on that edge, a title can help, can indicate a figure to be found and known – so for example, if I were to say this is a butterfly –
flutterbyWould you believe me?
What’s your favourite, Dear Reader?
(Weekly Photo Challenge – Work of Art)