Attempting to Spring

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Just checking in. I’m a little too busy. The current work is all tedious admin, so making a blog in small chunks is a nice break between stages. The deluge of paperwork is not due to the fact that I took on a 10th show with an attendant artist’s talk. It’s a local book-related group show, with a great independent place I want to continue to support, and it’s at a not-too-crowded time this fall, so I could not resist.

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Yesterday.

Though right now we’re sadly in the midst of a fat snowfall, we had one utterly glorious day in the low 70s last week: the first Windows Open day of the year, sweet breezes eradicating winter funk. It also melted all of the late-winter crusty grey snow, so at least today’s is a single layer. Even more important than the calendar or weather, the garden is confirming that spring is here, the hardy sprouting early plants making me smile.

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Today only one is still visible.

It was absolutely great to see Aimee when she was in residence at my alma mater (and also to finally see one of her excellent lectures) and to have a long dinner with her and Shawn afterwards; we closed the restaurant.

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Sadly, the walking that day nearly killed my back the next day, but physical therapy finally began a day later. For the next couple of months, I’m there twice a week, and doing changing sets of exercises and stretches twice a day, every day, at home. I got too eager and a (mere) mile and a half roundtrip to the grocery did me in yet again last week, so walking is still curtailed. But muscles are definitely being re-activated and re-educated and I’ve just reached a familiar but still strange stage of cracking and popping all over my skeleton as things loosen up, begin to shift.

Chance’s reaction to the home p/t is nice; all but two of the exercises occur on the floor.  After the first session of alternating exercise with “no,” he does some initial gentle snuffling, maybe a face lick or two, and then lies down quietly, often doing a stretch himself. Animals understand stretching; they are superb at it. Lupe will always look into my eyes and stretch a bit whenever I do; when I stay with my good Smith friends, their cat Mandy will lie down near me and purr loudly in approval of my stretches. Right now, all of us stretching while seeds germinate, plants and sap rise, feels a bit like connecting with the moving of the planet towards the new season. And, the first three of my variety of indoor-sewn seeds have begun to sprout: milkweed! Take that, post-equinox snow.

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Out in the world, all three summer classes are now open for registration, and the next two shows are imminent, all linked in the sidebar, and here’s a nice blog at Secreto de Papel that wasn’t solely about (S)Edition.

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Trusting, reading (and melting)

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Dividing line between spring and winter.

In addition to seeing Aimee at her Wednesday lecture, I’m truly looking forward to finally beginning physical therapy on Friday (the 13th, ha) for a problem that all but immobilized me eight weeks ago. I’m so grateful for having found such a wonderful massage therapy clinic nearby, or I would be even further behind than I am now. (I’m also pissed off because such effective care is not covered by our ‘health insurance’, but that’s another story.)

I’ve benefitted greatly from body work during much of my later adult life, but it had been seven years since I had had a massage of any kind. I still remember my very first session, a gift from a friend. For someone whose history contained physical abuse, it was a daunting, vulnerable moment. The therapist was great, though. At one point, she asked me to relax my legs. I didn’t know what she meant. She tried to show me how, by having me actively resist pressure on my arm, and then feel the difference when I let go. But I could not do it with my legs. She said, “This tells me you do not trust people. You are always ready to run.” That was spot-on, and rather profound for me.   A later therapist would say, “Let me drive!” Sometimes individual muscles would fight back, seemingly on their own. But I also had some incredible – not only physical – experiences during sessions over the years. But those, too, are another story. My point is that you have to collaborate with the therapist by giving your trust, surrendering to those skilled, knowledgeable hands. When you do, you can heal much more than you realize; it’s not just the muscles and knots that are being released, it’s what they hold.

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It’s not too huge a leap, in my opinion, to suggest that that type of trust might be employed when encountering artwork. A good dose of open-minded curiosity helps, too: where might this work take me if I let go and simply engage with it? I was truly, truly pleased to read this excellent review of Manifest, O by Heather Doyle-Maier, who did just that (and I am very grateful to Alicia Bailey at Abecedarian for inviting her to do so.)

Manifest, O has been out in the world for nearly ten years now; early on, I tried a few times to get funding to edition a version of it. The feedback from the juries was always a variation of the fact that it failed to ‘explain’ deafness. (On whose terms?) People suggested adding a colophon which included instructions on how to read. I couldn’t do that, so it’s remained a unique work. Reading this review, by someone who was willing to wholeheartedly experience the work and articulate her engagement, feels wonderful: not simply a vindication, but a confirmation of my faith in the reader / viewer. In nice a bit of serendipity, I read a post today by critic Jerry Saltz, who is calling for a moratorium limiting museum wall labels to three inches or less. He writes, “Long labels like these are a triumph of pedagogy over the object, a breaking of faith with art and its audiences.”  Amen.

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Plus: The sn*w is melting! The sn*w is melting! And Chance walked the entire block with me today for the very first time, and ignored two bicyclists. I’m so ready to trust myself to spring.

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Something green in the newly-revealed garden!

March-ing onward

Apologies for the 3 week disappearance, though I can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere waits with bated breath for these posts. I just needed a dose of hibernation and radio silence. Nothing untoward happened except for something midway between a mild bout of flu and a bad cold last week.  Nothing particularly great happened either, except a lovely, highly effective, out-of-pocket visit to a fantastic massage therapist who really, really helped the hip and back problems, and released a few other knots I didn’t even know I had. Slow progress was made on many different types of rather dull work, I now have nine shows scheduled for 2015, and out in the world a nice person I don’t know curated a page of my work on a social media platform I don’t participate in (thank you.)

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The only thing I seem to want to write about from the past three weeks is pup training. Since February 16, Chance and I have been Out On The Sidewalk (!) several times on short walks, with varying degrees of success, but no trauma and only a wee bit of drama. (The first thing that frightened him was ideal: a snowman. I was able to coax him over to sniff; it’s made from something he loves.) We’re taking it slowly, and have gotten up to about ⅔ of the block before SUVs or people or dogs go by and the big scary world starts to rattle him. Some days we just watch the world from the porch, only technically outdoors, where he gets big rewards for ignoring troubling things on cue. On too-cold or crap weather days we work on leash finesse indoors, and other things. We conquered one huge fear using the paper studio: Hose Horror. Last summer, the mere presence of the hose made him hysterical. I had to shut him indoors to water the garden. Now he lies down, intently but quietly watching while I spray water into buckets in front of him: papermaker’s pup etiquette. Chance loves his daily school session as long as we change it up, which keeps it good for me, too. On days when one of us feels impatient or cranky or has the flu, we do a review. Sometimes, like yesterday, Chance chooses the lesson. He repeatedly shied away from the harness, which is unusual. Instead he sat quietly, maintaining eye contact, asking “Please, can we do anything else?” I got out his travel crate and he instantly snapped to attention, tail wagging. He was delighted to show me how calm he could be lying inside while I zipped parts closed, moved it and myself around. He repeatedly entered and exited on cue, then voluntarily stayed inside for long periods while I wrote this. There were helicopters going by overhead and I think he welcomed an extra-safe enclosure, his collapsible cave. Works for me, and he was quite proud of himself, too.

AnneshowI’m about to enter a studio marathon phase and to start seeds for the spring garden, and tomorrow and all through the weekend, Chicago will actually have temperatures above freezing, hooray! All in good time to close out the end-of-winter-hibernation with a ritual hair-shearing. I’m looking forward to Anne Hughes’ Saturday opening at ZIA with Matthew Schofield, and especially Aimee’s excellent return to Chicago (and my alma mater) next week!  I’m really happy for Shawn Sheehy, whose trade version of the amazing Welcome to the Neighborwood is now available. Check out the video!

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Small February Steps

I took advantage of being forced to sit to work on some thought-provoking interview questions. After the usual initial word-struggle I’m making good progress on the answers, and doing that made me feel that I was making progress in general instead of being thwarted by whatever my skeleton was up to.

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Eventually, I couldn’t stand waiting for p/t, so I began cautiously stretching where it felt like I needed to stretch. After a few days, that began to help a bit. I was able to cart supplies to the warm upstairs studio to embark on the first small steps of the artwork I planned for this winter: testing new dyes. They have some silly names, but they are the hues I wanted. The next wee step will be combining them with colors I already have, mixing tones.

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Constructed / DeConstructed closed and I did the post-show work in careful increments: Monday, I drove down to Chicago Heights, de-installed, packed, loaded, drove home and that was the limit for my back. Tuesday, we unloaded while the weather was good. Paul kindly moved the work up to the second floor while I rested, leaving me enough back to pull out the crates, repack them, and move them back into the storage area.

My fearful pup has literally just stepped over a training threshold: he’s gone out the door onto the back porch while on leash on three separate days, not yet without some panic on his part. But he settles quite quickly and then when we do a walk around the tiny space he gets big rewards and praise, and we go back in to continue schooling in our safe-house. Like learning to accept the halter, he needs this stage done in baby steps, but he is making them. Yesterday, another small (but huge, for him) step, out onto the front porch, where scary cars, trucks, people and dogs often move past.

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I haz dog walk envy.

Getting a referral for p/t involved x-rays. I did not throw out my hip.  Arthritis has ‘significantly’ invaded my lower spine, as well as the knees, and is accompanied by scoliosis. There were daily steps through the health care maze before we succeeded in scheduling my initial p/t appointment; but the first available is a month from now. So, I’ve also been researching what else might be available to help me learn about and deal with this new challenge to mobility. I sincerely hope to be taking a whole lot of guided small steps to alleviate it, sooner than mid-March.

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Out in the world, I was pleased to finally see a blog mention that had nothing to do with (S)Edition, but I also compiled a partial list of sites that have featured it during its internet travels. I was very grateful to discover that I had a small presence at the gigantic Codex Foundation book fair that closed yesterday in Berkeley, thanks to Alicia Bailey at Abecedarian Gallery, who had Manifest, O on display, and Emily Martin’s Pantone Postcard Project.

And, if you are someone who has ideas for outdoor public artworks, installation and/ or video or performance based, you should be aware of this opportunity. The deadline is March 1st!  I’ll be participating with some installations while teaching at WSW at the same time.

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Not just yet, and farewell.

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We got just under 20″ of snow; the next day was beautiful, with dramatic blue sky, and bright sun on shapes honed by the windy storm…

An extra mid-week post: yeah, I write more blogs in winter.

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…including our temporarily-aerodynamic cars. One of them is back to its square-ish self now.

Those few seconds of viral-ity I wrote about in the post-before-the-last have now turned into two weeks; it’s slowed down some but hasn’t stopped. (S)Edition spores still spread. The e-mail has finally ebbed, but the deluge contained a few little gems of possibility; some nice things are under discussion. It’s been a fairly amazing experience.

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This exquisite pattern on the garage window didn’t last long in the light that showed it off.

I also took on a great summer project that comes with a small grant, and am working on an interesting set of interview questions. Those things weren’t connected to the internet activity; they sprang from other spores at a place I love. Just to keep things in perspective, I also was rejected from a fellowship I was invited to apply for.

The day after the internet dam broke, I threw out my hip somehow, resulting in lower back spasms that haven’t abated, limiting mobility. Last week I visited the medico / insurance conglomerate, which yesterday approved a new round of physical therapy, for which I am utterly grateful, and eager to begin.

All these things have cut a chunk into winter plans; something had to give, especially to make room for p/t. Farewell, house project.  I’ve lived with the awful wallpaper I’d planned to collage over for a long time now, so I guess I can ignore it till next winter.

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The led lights came down today but the green glass globe stays to capture the returning light.

Though I’m late, I want / need to note the recent passing of another wonderful, influential book arts person: Arthur Jaffe.  Though I never met him in person, he was an early supporter of my work, and we enjoyed some excellent e-mail exchanges. I was impressed by his his enthusiasm, expansive personality and wit, and I’ve always rather loved his description of why he collected the pieces of mine he did.  One of the many amazing stories about Arthur is what he did during WW2: he fired shells stuffed with leaflets into Nazi Germany. They exploded and papered the landscape with information on how to defect or surrender, which resulted in a steady stream of lives saved. Is it any wonder that he had a singular, expansive, and truly intelligent view of what a book can be, after experiencing such an example with all his senses? We’ll miss you, Arthur, and thank you. We need more like you.

Chance, Imbolc, Childhood, Snow.

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We are being welcomed into February with a lovely 36-hour snowstorm, which makes me feel happy, complacent and cozy. I’ve been thinking about today’s blog for awhile, and wrote it off and on all day, stopping to work in the upstairs studio, chat with Paul, fruitlessly shovel the back porch, do indoor and outdoor school sessions with Chance, and roast some potatoes because it’s so comforting to have the oven on. When we entered true blizzard status around 3pm (due to last till midnight), everyone on the street gave up trying to manage the snow. Or they went inside to watch the football game. Or both. No cars have braved the unplowed street for hours. I hung lights for Imbolc, calling back the sun.

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Last year, February 1st was Chance pup’s first full day with us. Life with him has been odd, definitely; so many times we’ve said aloud, “I’ve never known a dog like this!” His fears, which are many, can trigger him into a terror so complete that he is unreachable. Something happened to him as a tiny pup, and then he spent the most impressionable developmental period in a pup’s life in cages. Essentially, he suffers from a canine version of PTSD.

My childhood wasn’t so great, either. I knew those unreachable stages as a teen: I jumped and ran from a car in traffic, slammed my fist through windows, cut into my wrists, lived in garages and public restrooms, stole food. It was later that I was diagnosed with PTSD; when I was young, it was called being ‘emotionally disturbed’ and it was a legal reason to be jailed, with no inquiry into its causes. It’s been a lifetime of tempering, of learning, of conquering triggers. Now, it only shows up for me in nightmares. 2014 was the first year in which I did not once wake the house, yelling and flailing. Instead, Chance had occasional nightmares, something I didn’t know dogs did, though they all obviously, vividly dream.

Conventional training didn’t work for Chance at all; it didn’t work for me, either. Avoiding punishment is simply not a valid motivation for creatures who have endured worse.

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In October, we began a loosely outlined program that our vet estimated would take six months. Chance has been isolated in the house and yard, kept away from his fear triggers as much as we are able. We’ve been clicker training, which he responds to eagerly and happily. He became calmer almost instantly and has learned tons of things, most of which graduate into a reward of praise and petting with only occasional clicks and treats. But the first verbal cue he learned, to come touch his nose to my fist when I call ‘target!” always gets a click, treats, and praise. Beyond being a learning device, when he’s in the presence of something he fears, the click is a neutral sound that cuts through his emotional chaos to the amygdalia, the primal fight/ flight defensive part of his brain. It says ‘good things exist and some are coming now!’ and it’s a lifesaver to him. When he starts to spin off, we call ‘target!’ and he chooses the click. It’s wonderful.

Meanwhile, he’s learned to walk indoors with me wearing a head collar, harness and double ended leash. A pull on the leash tightens the padded harness before any pressure reaches the halter. I’m teaching him that when I tighten the leash, it’s not a ‘correction’ but a cue to look at me. At the same time, ‘target!’ is something we’ve just begun to practice every day outdoors as well as in. This week, he put it into effect, and stopped challenging a dog who was walking past, opting to ‘target’ instead. We’re on the brink of putting it all together and taking this process out into the world in small steps, overcoming his triggers one at a time. I’m ready to take him through it.

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My reward for the work isn’t only the dog he’s becoming, or watching him finally make friends of neighbors, or learning his language while he learns mine, though it is all those things. We’ve bonded in a way I never expected; we have a vocabulary of survival in common. Helping him past his fears is allowing me to conjure up things I have long felt I’d dealt with, but now can safely re-examine, realize lingering bits I did not know were there, and put them to rest. Chance and I are bringing peace to each other.

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This winter, joy comes too, through a return to what’s good in any childhood: snowballs. He LOVES them, and I love making them and sharing his huge, pure ecstacy. Yep, we’ve been waiting for this snowstorm.

(Things are happening out in the world but I can write about those later; a blizzard day is made for looking inward…after playing in the snow, of course.)

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Virally

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(S)Edition text pages napping at Ragdale years ago.

This week we humans were both a bit out of sorts, resulting in reduced energy and a couple of actual afternoon naps on my part. It’s probably a low-level virus.

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The first 27 copies coming together; I was so excited about finally being able to see them.

On Thursday, (S)Edition was featured by a visual culture site I have liked for a long time, This Is Colossal. It resulted in some nice (and some bizarre) e-mail, and re-posting at other sites I like, especially the ones who have written their own text, like npr books, make zine and culture designers. It also went round social media I don’t use (tumblr, twitter, instagram, etc.) and was ranked (at 18th when I saw it) on a global viral views site.  So here I am, quietly dealing with a virus, while enjoying a few minutes of being viral, and thinking how much like the spreading of spores internet sharing is. A great big thank you to all!

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(S)Edition’s very first viewer, reading.