Hogmanay Reflection


While I’ve been productive on the un-namable projects, the last few days of the calendar year have also been ones of  quiet introspection, of remembering essential personal truths.  One of those truths is that I absolutely need to be outdoors regularly, no matter the season, in places that at least give me the illusion of not being man-made.  It’s one of the reasons I go on residencies so frequently; the rural environments they’re attached to are just as important to me as the concentrated studio time and the people I meet there.


I can’t even say exactly what it is that this does for me, but it is indispensable. Even when a landscape is bleak and fallow, I am absorbed, fascinated, wholly in time. I may not consciously be thinking of a problem to be solved, but I will either return with answers, or with my problems diminished to their proper perspectives.  Things I observe make their way into my work, and my surroundings make their way into me, a calming, healing influence.



Since I’m not on a winter break residency for the first time in a long time, I’ve returned to the Forest Preserve.  It follows the north branch of the Chicago River, widening here and there into park land, golf courses and public areas, wide fields, picnic areas and the like.  It contains a paved bike path that can take you all the way to the botanic gardens in the northern ‘burbs, 25 miles or so.  Sometimes along the bike path, it narrows to just a tiny insulating strip of trees, but in other places it widens to a half-mile or so (in the city), where the woods are allowed to run free.


I spent a lot of time in this section of the preserve during my divorce in the 90s, off in the wooded portions so I could let Face, my departed border collie, off her leash; she (quickly) learned that I did not want her to chase the deer.  That difficult time in my life had a great many similarities with my present.  Then, the preserve was quite a drive up from my Pilsen neighborhood; now, it’s  so close and so, well, mundane compared to the places I’ve been that I had forgotten it.  I had a dream in which Face was waiting expectantly by the car, and the next day, we had a thaw and I went to the woods.  I’ve gone there every day since.


Chicago has had floods since the thaw (and a lot of rain that accompanied the melting snow) and the park is no exception; the Chicago river is about twelve times its width in places, drowning parts of the woods and parkland (but making the 300 or so mallard ducks I saw yesterday very, very happy).  So, until it gets cold enough again for the muck to freeze, I’ve been sticking fairly close to the bike path, and making friends with individual deer.


This young doe was really curious.  She slowly came right to me as I stood and talked to her (then a jogger and his dog scared her). I call her Deerette.


This is good; I’m fulfilling that need in myself, and remembering that I do get past hard times in this manner, and wondering once again why, if this need for nature is so strong in me, I have almost always lived in cities. I know the answer is economic, but now, perhaps, it’s time to question that answer.

I’m wishing you all a grand New Year / Hogmanay! 

I plan to spend the first day of 2009 1. In the woods and 2. making paper.

doesTwo sweet-faced Ladies; below: Wee One-Prong, the Veteran, and the Stud. 




They’re There


The struggle to find things to write continues; this blogging is truly a strange phenomenon.  I’m busy, busy, busy, preoccupied physically and mentally with things I’d love to share with my friends but can’t, due to the public nature of this sort of communication, and the entrapment of my current affiliation with a highly corporate entity.  I’m not good with small talk and the Big Things are too fragile at the moment to be exposed.  So, is this communication at all?  Can I even maintain the Blahg ? 

I’m also dealing with some issues revealed by a recent health screening, manifestations of the physical effects of a prolonged exposure to a stressful, inhospitable environment. While I endeavor to educate myself on ways to heal the situation physically, psychically and intellectually (yes, in that order), I feel a certain empathy with the Illinois landscape I observed on our trip to the far northwestern ‘burbs on December 25th.






barn2 All that said, I’m feeling much better than this reads or looks.  Truly. 



Tomorrow, December 21, is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

At that time, the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in Orkney, and as it sets, it will beam between the mountains in the isle of Hoy, strike the Barnhouse stone in the Mainland isle, and travel up the low stone entry passage of the neolithic Maeshowe tomb, illuminating the chamber in its back wall.

You can watch it on the webcams here…provided there is a sunset.  Rain is forecast in Orkney till Wednesday.  But, the webcams will remain operational through early February; currently, sunset is at 15:15, which is 9:15 am in Chicago. 

I’m wishing you all a fine fine solstice, and peace and fulfillment as the days begin to grow again…till they look as beautiful as this:


Maeshowe, May, 2008

Almost Ahhhhh (with snow)


Snow in theory, Snow in practice #1; #2 below.

I’m finally relatively human again.  This illness was really poorly timed, and it’s costing me the rest of my first week of break; I’ve got to go in to work tomorrow to begin taking care of everything I can that I missed, including long hours of packing up the office, a meeting, loading and moving the stuff that’s to come home, a massive stuff-from-the-office giveaway, trashing of the rest of it, and finally: beating fiber so I can finish the final copies of (S)Edition before I go back and have my life eaten again until May.

I set foot outside my door for the first time in six days today, and as soon as I did, a massive snowstorm began.  I only walked to Walgreens, but I had a perfect two-inch pile of snow on top of my head by the time I returned.  Paul had left to do some holiday shopping with a friend; they drove to the far northwest suburbs to escape the Cook County taxes.  They finished shopping at 3:30 and by that time the snow was so bad that it took over five hours for them to get home.  I had intended to actually cook dinner, an extremely rare occurrence, to thank him for actions above and beyond the call of duty while I was sick; he did the legwork for a couple of important applications that I’d have missed the deadlines for otherwise.  So, he gets a snow check.

None of that is news or even interesting, I realize, but I’m just feeling so glad not to be sick that I had to write something. I can’t wait to have this horrid moving stuff all done and to be home with my buckets o’ pulp for five weeks.  Then: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Oh, at last, Something Good.

I am still sick and weak, though the fever broke last night.  But today, Paul listened to a static-y phone message for me and reported that, yes! the funding went through! I will be spending several weeks in the very sweet Studio Residency at Women’s Studio Workshop.

I was awarded the residency last June*, but it is a two-step process; first comes the artist selection, then the funding has to be approved.  In this case, it was the NEA, so I’ve been watching the economic chaos and the government bailouts with a rueful but entirely selfish eye.

This will be just grand; it will be the first time ever that I’ve had a residency with papermaking equipment, other than my own hand built Swiss-army guerilla stuff.  Imagine, beaters and a press right there!  O, bliss.

This news came in just the nick of time.  It’s been a crushing, grueling, completely discouraging time since I returned in September, and with this current illness, I had just scraped rock bottom.  Finally, I have something concrete to look forward to. And as a result, you will be able to read much more interesting blogs, I hope.


a wee bit o’ heaven

* I was on my residency in Catskill, looked up WSW and found that they were only 45 minutes away.  I e-mailed to see if I could come visit, and got a reply saying, “It’s incredible that you’re coming to visit, I was just getting ready to contact you. Congratulations!” 



Sorry for the lack of blogs; but by the time you finish this one you might wish I’d kept my keyboard shut.  I have been (and still am) mightily sick with some kind o’ flu, and, for the first time in 18 years of teaching, have had to miss two final classes.  In one, we were essentially finished with our business, so it would have been just a wrap-up event, and I was able to do what that class needed by e-mail (in only about five times the amount of time it usually would have taken).  The other class was team-taught by three of us, and so I’ve had to rely on the other two instructors to wind it up.  I’m sorriest about that one, and not only because it will take six hours of individual meetings next semester to see the final projects.

I’ve been out since Wednesday, trying to work by e-mail in between the crashes my body imposes on me when I’m sick; it just shuts the rest of me down, presumably so my brain doesn’t interfere with the body’s business of healing itself.  But e-mail has been going crazy for some reason; stuff is disappearing, both sent and received, causing massive misunderstandings. So I’m not only bodily sick, I’m just utterly freakin’ sick of it all.

I’m going back to bed.


3am Monday before the flu hit.  I still haven’t cleaned the mirrors…

it just is…


Arrrgh.  WHAT a week.  That’s all I can say, of course, except that I wish I had cheerful. light or even interesting things to write about for you.  But, as Smith so wisely says, “This is the it it is.”  

On the plus side, an unexpected windfall of time let me get about halfway (at least I hope it’s halfway) through the office sorting yesterday, to get many of the things I’ll need for next semester moved out into the semi-public storage we’re stuck with (though that made me feel very uneasy), and to get four boxes packed to come home (almost all books, of my own making and reference books). The strata goes back further in time from my occupation of this space; bits and pieces are there from my old office, back to the very beginning of the Center.  I’m compiling a small box to contribute to its archives, however little its history is currently valued.  And, I’m finding little personal gems: photos, many many many notes from students and former colleagues, including notes and cards from Marilyn (each accompanied by a sharp little pang)…things that help my current feeling-bludgeoned state by reminding me that no, I truly have not wasted the last fifteen years.

Tomorrow, the Ragdale party.  That will also help, as it always does, by reconnecting me to my much larger, vibrant, open and warm Real Life;  Paul’s been doing that too.  And, in one more week, plus some fiber-beating and the actual loading and moving out, I will have six weeks of my own It.


another 3am window…