Blahg, Bowdlerized

Far an taine ‘n abhainn, ‘s ann as mò a fuaim.

I have now entered into the Bermuda Triangle of Blog Thoughts, aka the highly corporate and deadly political realm of academic employment.  Right now, during all the semester prep,  there’s little life left to write of.  My goals are: detachment, a firm eye on the future, and relentlessly preventing the present from being consumed. 

Here’s a nice if slightly ludicrous thing from the World Outside of the two-hour-meeting to accomplish the five-minute-objective: a mention w/ lovely photo for The Leaf and The Page. (Even though, currently, I’m feeling that the ‘Antique’ is me).


(* Where the stream is most shallow, it is noisiest.)


…was late Thursday afternoon.  After a somewhat fruitless day of errands and appointments in the northern ‘burbs, I ended up at Ragdale for the annual Tone Road Ramblers concert.  It was great, and included a hilarious and excellent rap by all the guys (a capella, with amazing falsetto by Morgan Powell), written by percussionist Steve Butters and inspired by pharmaceutical television commercials, titled “On The Pharm”.  As I wrote last year, this is the only way I can really hear music.  And it’s always great music to hear, though you never know what to expect, which is why I love it.

I was actually there for a spot of thesis consultation with Amy, who won the annual school fellowship, which was also mightily enjoyable.  But I got the concert, got invited to dinner along with Audrey, who was also visiting (thanks, Linda!), had a surprise in that I knew three of the other residents as well, and got a personal tour of the almost-finished, totally fabulous new Meadow Studio. (Thanks, Jack). Finally, I went and hung out with the Ramblers for awhile and got home well after midnight.  So I got to have a sublime, if brief, August Ragdale fix, amid the craziness.

After a long e-mail morning dealing with a plethora of upcoming tasks, most of Friday afternoon was spent in Helmut Jahn’s huge State of Illinois building, installing 36 copies of (S)Edition in a lovely big space in the Illinois State Museum Gallery as part of The Leaf and The Page, which is an intriguing, excellent and huge show put together by Doug Stapleton.  It was great to finally see some of them up, with Doug’s expert lighting.

(S)Edition has a double debut this fall, split between The Leaf and The Page and Rock, Paper Scissors at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.  I can’t wait till I find a venue for all 99.


Yesterday, first corporeal re-entry into academe at the new grad student orientation, and a true re-entry into Chicago due to continued construction on the O’Hare el…it was a four-hour round trip augmented by jam-packed shuttle busses where the el line was closed (sigh).  Today, Chicago Hand Bookbinders, tomorrow, more meetings re: future possibilities, Tuesday, three faculty meetings, one interview…….and so it goes. I’m back in town.

Back; Buzzed

Just checking in: I’m back in Chicago and whacked out on Vicodin again.  I had to have two root canals done at once this morning.  I do not recommend this.  

I knew someone who once was addicted to Vicodin; she went to her job, went out on the town, got lots done, said it made her feel energized, “up”, productive.  For me, it’s pleasant enough, but it also renders me completely useless.  I’ll take another in a moment or two to still the throbbing so I can sleep, but am switching to ibuprofen in the morning. Enough.

There is a big, fat, wildly varied list of Stuff That Must Be Done before the semester starts in twelve days (and I head to Austin in fifteen). The car’s unloaded, but I’m not unpacked, and the next five days are so fully scheduled that I’ll still be living out of my suitcase till Monday. 

Chicago, after Wyoming and the wide-open west, seems very cramped and damp.

(I reloaded the photos in the last blog, and they’re not cut off now.  Not sure why that happened, except that wireless does strange things when traveling; must have been something strange at that motel, besides what they called “coffee”).

Travelog Photo Blog

A quick few shots o’ what I’ve been up to for the past few days…

A peak in the Big Horn mountains that helped explain their strange silhouettes.

It was gorgeous up there, and cold and windy.  Saw snow, lots o’ alpine wildflowers, moose, elk.

Looking down at rain in the Big Horn Basin, on the west side of the mountain range.

Looking down from the east, miles and miles later, at where I’m headed on the red road.

It rained all the way across Wyoming, but I went to Devil’s Tower anyways.  The rains cleared just as I got there, so I got to hike around it (and got this great shot above; the clouds are appropriate for the mysteriousness of this place).

In better light.

Red cliffs in Black Hills, redder after rain.

Pit stop

One of my favorite places on the planet, the Badlands of South Dakota. It was so good to see them again.  Especially because the two roads I wanted to take into the Dakota Black Hills were closed because of storms; rangers made me turn around.  So, I spent longer here and I was glad.

The part of the Badlands called, um, the Yellow Hills. With road & car for scale, tho the hills are on the small side here.  They go on for like 60-70 miles, into the Sioux res.

Rainbow and splattered windshield grasshoppers on the great plains.

Classroom made entirely of corn (a mural of The Teacher as an ‘Everyday Hero’ in appropriate medium, at the rather disappointing Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota).

My last Western sunset for awhile.

Moseyin’ on out

I think this was Sunday night. I will really, really miss these incredible sunsets.

Well, it’s over.  Tomorrow we leave Jentel.  The studio’s empty, except for me and my MacBook, the car is loaded (and how) and I’m about to go to The Last Supper, which the lovely Jentel folks are making for us.  Two of us are gone already; Andres left last Sunday before I awoke (he left me a great note; it’s so fine to know good poets) and Robin took off this morning.  When I went into the residence last night to have dinner with everyone, they laughed, “Wow!  Melissa came out of the studio!” and so I explained about my reaction to Marilyn’s passing.  It’s been a great time here, otherwise, and this was a very fine, fun, companionable and understanding group of folks to be with.  This part of Wyoming has grown on me and I will re-apply here.  But, alas, we have to wait a couple of years before we can.

Tomorrow, I’m heading about 80 miles further north and west, taking a ‘scenic byway’ to go to the Medicine Wheel, which is, as far as I know, America’s only stone circle (I’m not counting CarHenge, built of upended cadillacs, somewhere in Oklahoma, I think).  It seems essential to see the Wheel after the visiting the stones on Orkney and Lewis.  Nina and I are having dinner and sharing a motel room in Sheridan for the night, then she’ll fly home and I will wend my way east, stopping at Devil’s Tower, in the Black Hills, the Badlands, and anywhere else I feel like stopping. I think, just for the hell of it, I’ll visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  Somehow, that seems a perfect last stop before I return to the Day Job for a time.

This is what I got done.  Some of the sheets on the platform in front of the (S)Edition copies were still a little damp, so I spread them out there while I disassembled the drying rack.  Somehow it reminded me a bit of Joseph Beuys.  There are enough text sheets for a little over half the remaining copies of (S)Edition.  The bottom photo is as far as the new piece got, physically.  It won’t look anything like this when it’s done; it’s 6 1/2 feet wide (shot from the studio ladder).

A little while ago.  We’ve been dined and wined and gifted with Jentel “completion certificates” – old Wyoming license plates with a silhouette of a cowboy on a bucking bronc.  Mine is gold and nicely beat up.  Nice.  Jen, who has been here before, got a lariat which should prove useful on the Manhattan subways.  In 90 minutes, we’re going out to watch a meteor shower.  Very nice.

(Andres, we toasted you tonight).

With all that went on, I forgot to say that the Paper Show at Gallery Shoal Creek opened on Friday. If you know anyone in Austin, Texas, send them on over, please!  I’m told it looks great.  The very nice gallery director got my tickets today; I’ll be at the gallery Friday evening, September 5th, in Austin all weekend, then speaking at the University of Texas and heading back to Chicago on Monday, September 8th.

Endings are always Beginnings

Marilyn’s sunset, August 4, 2008

I’m wrapping things up here at Jentel now, using up the last of the ‘good’ pulp by making sheets for the final, final copies of (S)Edition, which will be finished in Chicago, as soon as I can get the cover pulp re-beaten and reworked. I made 22 here. There was significant progress on the new piece, prior to August 5th, but for now, I am leaving it alone; I haven’t been able to give it the focus it needs. 

It’s been a rough few days.  This is the second time someone very important to me has died while I was on a residency.  Masumi’s death, two years ago, was sudden, unexpected, horrible.  In July, I knew as I drove away from Chicago that I would never see Marilyn again, at least in this life, but I had gotten to visit her, to say goodbye.  So, I didn’t anticipate the depth of my grief, having gone through a great deal of it before I left.  On Friday, the day of her memorial, I made a private ritual for her here, as I had done for Masumi, but it didn’t seem to comfort me as much as it did then.  Marilyn was all about bringing people together, and I really, really needed to be with “us”, with the huge community she formed.  Then, Audrey sent me the utterly perfect, poignant eulogy she had written and read at the memorial, and that began to help.

I want to write about Marilyn, but I haven’t been able to.  My experience with her is so very closely tied to the place she built and allowed me to help build, in my own way.  When I try to write about her, I fall into the vast gulf between “then” and “now”.  When I can teach myself to write simply about the incredible “then” that changed my life, that I am forever grateful to have experienced, I will make my own memorial. I need to do it, and Marilyn deserves every reminiscence that each one of the multitudes of people she affected cares to share.

But for now, I will make paper, and go for my sunset walk, watch the huge herds of deer that appear in the early evening, and remember.

The beautiful solitary doe I encountered the morning of August 5th, walking slowly away.

Surreality; Sadness : Marilyn Sward and Jentel Presents

Note: If you have reached this page by searching for Marilyn Sward, you may also want to click the tab ‘Remembering Marilyn Sward’ at the top of the page.

On August 5th, we were scheduled to do Jentel Presents, a public series of presentations at a downtown Sheridan college.  In the early hours of that morning, friend and mentor Marilyn Sward lost her battle with cancer.  I’m writing about Marilyn, for later.  It’s too difficult right now.  But: she is the person who brought hand papermaking to Chicago, first founding and running the nonprofit Paper Press, then bringing that together with Artists’ Book Works, to create the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.  She served as its founding Director, taught in both the InterArts department at Columbia and at SAIC, and did thousands of other extremely worthy things as well.  She is the person who set me on the path I’ve taken for the past twelve years; she is responsible for my involvement with both the Center and the MFA program; she changed my life.  Marilyn Sward is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever been privileged to know.

At first I had absolutely no idea how I could possibly get through the evening.  But I thought of how much Marilyn loved what we do, how she had an enthusiastic lifelong mission to share the wonders, quirks, beauty and potential of this medium.  It was a good-sized crowd; the room was full.  And so, I talked; I talked about paper, and what I do with it, and why, and I talked with my heart, something Marilyn, with her enormous spirit, highly valued and completely understood.  It turned out to be, personally, the best thing I could have done, cathartic for myself, and to honor her; to carry it on, to keep sharing.

People came up afterwards to touch and handle the paper I’d brought; I was told that the talk was ‘excellent’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘passionate’.  I am nothing at all like Marilyn, but I will do whatever I can to continue to pass along everything she gave me, physically and in spirit, in my own odd way.

Jentel presents PR photo: Top: Ravi, Jen, me; bottom: Robin, Nina, Andres.

Amazingly Not Propaganda

I always thought ‘O purple mountain’s majesty’ was poetic license, perverted to propaganda.  OK, so there isn’t a fruited plain, but purple mountains were actually there tonight.  I saw red light streaming through the trees in the studio window, and knew we had A Sunset, so I grabbed the camera and went out, to find this.  The purple effect faded fast, but O it was gorgeous, yes?

I am working hard and agonizingly slow, on one of my, um, brilliant ideas that has essentially turned me into an art slave.  “If it works it’ll be great!” and “I can do that in a couple of hours!” are my own perversion of poetic license, or rather something I’ve never learned to recognize as personal propaganda from The Voice In My Head; I’ve been at it two full days, and I still won’t finish tonight.  And now, back to it.  It really should be worth it…if it works.

Great Balls O’ Fire

(Oh, ps: if Blahg’s format is different, I haven’t changed it.  The same thing happened on some friends’ WordPress blog a couple days ago, for a couple days.  On theirs, when I commented, the proper format returned, and it seems to have returned permanently after two days or so, too).


I actually DID finish last night, at 1 am!  Now another few days before I know if it works…

Two Steps Forward, One-and-a-Half Steps Back

I was hoping to be able to shout out the fact that I had finished making the final covers for (S)Edition.  I did indeed make them, and was planning to dye them today (though the pulp did seem a little strange, draining quickly).  This morning, I came in to find that they were unusable. The cover pulp, which was beaten for five hours, was comparable to abaca that had only been processed for perhaps an hour. The beater needs recalibrating, badly.  I also got this horoscope:

 “Problems with machines could have your nerves totally on edge.  Some of the problems you might be able to fix yourself, but at least one involves something that may have to be replaced. This might be the one you need the most right now! Think of it as a sign from the universe that you should do something else. That’s the only way to stay sane!”

Fortunately, I will have enough copies for the show; I brought previously made cover sheets for that (the ones I finished dyeing two days ago).  I just really want to finish the edition, so I planned to make as much of the paper for the final copies as I could while I was here. Foiled again.

My ‘something else’ was to cobble together a rack to dry out the remaining useless pulp, which I’ll recycle, along with the sheets.  I’m drying it so that I don’t have to keep it cool after I leave; I plan to take a few days of actual vacation. My nerves aren’t exactly on edge, but (S)Edition seems to be the canary in the coal mine for the beaters. I’ve lost a day of this residency, as well as two days at Ragdale, due to beater problems. Not good.

Of course, I should have tested the pulp before leaving. I’d have been a day later getting to Jentel, but I could have re-beat half of it in the Valley. Sigh. (Either way, it’s a day lost).

Six feet o’ underbeaten pulp.  Always remember: You Can Never Have Too Many Clamps.

Part Two: Kudos to Paul, now known as Saint Paul of the Rescues!

Chicago’s mainstream commercial galleries have never been very interested in my work.  But recently, I had work in a show in a fancy one; it got a nice wee review.  A few days after the opening, the gallery closed for good; somebody went bankrupt or some such thing.  Here in Wyoming, I got e-mail advising me to retrieve my work as soon as possible.  Great.  (Before the show, they had it picked up).  St. Paul, though still recovering from eye surgery, made a zillion phonecalls and arranged for a minivan cab, and brought my work home today.  Except for having to impose on him, and the fact that the gallery people are losing their jobs, this had its funny side, as in: I Go Mainstream; Mainstream Shuts Down.

What’s in your fridge?  Painting-in-progress by Jen M; Pulp (good and bad) by me, studio fridge.