I’m now slowly becoming adjusted to being home, and there are some surprises. Yeah, I’m currently still working on my upcoming deadlines (though I am also battling a strong evening tendency to want to watch too many movies since we discovered several channels we didn’t know we had access to on Paul’s cable, all but two of which run films 24/7). Still pursuing a number of ideas and lines of inquiry, and still making plans I don’t want to blahg about till they’re done deals.

But, I’m finding that not being immersed in the grind also makes me want to go out more, and, lo and behold, I am able to do that without compromising what I’m working on or cutting into the time I have to sleep.  I’ve been to a few openings, shows, visits, and dinners, and I Am Not Behind. Amazing! And I’ve done things like decide to take an afternoon to finish Audrey’s new novel, and I had the time. Today, just for the hell of it, I skipped out for a few hours and went down to the Pilsen Artwalk (an event I participated in for years when I lived there, but have never actually been able to see), and I discovered something else: even traveling around by el has an entirely different ambiance when l am going to or coming from someplace pleasant.

I can only vaguely remember such stress-free daily life, and I am, I repeat, amazed.  The city hasn’t changed, but my personal environment has.

(Unfortunately for the blahg, I’ve been operating in such a relaxed manner that I haven’t even been shooting photos, or I could have showed you some very fine things from today.  I didn’t think about the camera till I was waiting in the Grand & Milwaukee el station, but that will change now that I’m aware of it).

Ignition at any speed


With very little effort on my part, a number of short teaching and/or guest artist speaking engagements have found me. Two or three drifted in over the summer, and then several new ones suddenly popped in in the past two days. (I should say: with very little overt effort on my part as far as attempts to obtain them; I understand and appreciate that they’ve appeared because of my past efforts).

This suits me superbly at the moment; it keeps my hand in, yields some cash, and provides me with a lovely loose structure while I intentionally allow myself to drift a bit, to continue to heal, to dream, experiment and build towards the next phase.


Today’s photos were taken in and around a high school (!) or, rather, a private prep school, half boarding school and half ‘day students’. I had no idea such places existed in the area, but this one’s over 150 years old, and looks exactly like a movie set for one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Basil or Josephine stories. (Many, many years ago, during my last ‘independent artist / educator’ phase, I gave a couple of classes to art students from this Academy, but they were held at a studio location in the city; I had no clue about the students’ usual surroundings).  I gave two talks there yesterday, in an arts building equal to or surpassing the facilities of many colleges I’ve visited.  The students were not appreciably different from high school students anywhere, except for a certain high level of politeness and the fact that it was ‘pajama day’, so I talked with 45 young people mostly dressed in tartan flannel.

I brought artists’ books and objects from my own collection, showed my work, and talked about the wide range of engagement artists choose to have with The Book.  After one class, a few people hung back to talk a bit more, and one young woman waited till everyone else was gone, clutching a particular piece by a former grad student, to say: “I really, really like this.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I didn’t know people could do this!”


Shortly after I got my MFA, many many years ago, I had a day’s work sitting in the Art Institute of Chicago, doing a book demonstration and feeling rather ridiculous as museum-goers drifted by, a few stopping to watch for a few minutes, even fewer occasionally asking the same tired questions. Then, a thirteen year old girl stopped, her eyes lit up and she became thoroughly mesmerized. She stayed while her family went on to the rest of the huge museum, and didn’t take her eyes off my hands for a single second.  She also said, “I’ve never seen anything like this! I didn’t know people could do this!” Her mom came back and we talked about where she might be able to take a class.

Over the years, I came to recognize and rejoice when that particular look came over a student, whether it was in the first class or the fiftieth.  It’s The Spark.

This is what good teachers work for: to ignite and to sustain.

During my recent past, I was told, repeatedly, by people who truly, truly, truly ought to know differently, that if you are a teacher who is popular with students, it is simply because of a personal character flaw. Specifically: “You just want to be looooved” (inflection: a whiny sneer).

That premise is so ridiculous that I won’t even go into the rest of the platitudes that accompanied it, and apart from a feeling of utter disgust each time I heard it, I ignored it. I write about it today because somehow, these two incidents, bookending the years of teaching between them, made me think about The Spark.

Frankly, it’s great when students ‘love’ me. (For one thing, it makes classes rather pleasant).  But whether they ‘love’ me personally or not is absolutely beside the point. What I want, what I strive for whenever and however I teach, is for students to love…the…work, and above all else: to love themselves involved in the work. That is the spark, whether it comes at the moment of recognition that this is something they want to be involved in, or after years of struggle with that involvement, or anywhere in between. And if you can provide that, yes: the people you help to recognize it in themselves will probably ‘love’ you. (But then I always feel it’s respect for your efforts, not ‘love’).

In any case, it’s good to know that I can travel around with my flint.



Hitting Home

Bon Voyage

The last week of Ragdale was sublime and busy, and I drank in every nuance.

Back in Chicago, now…with a day of stunned re-acclimating behind me, and this morning’s realization that there is a staggering amount of work to accomplish by the end of the month (twelve days!), not the least of which is making this place remotely habitable to begin with.  Monday, I will be a guest artist in two classes at an affluent high school; it’s been 15 years since I dealt with people of that age, but I’m just giving two talks, not actively teaching.  There is a piece to be finished and delivered (I got a special dispensation to delay its delivery till after Ragdale), PR for an upcoming show, three quite serious meetings, and deadlines for a number of applications for several different things. Then, hopefully, retrieving the beater after making room for it. So I’d best get at it all.

I think I could easily have kept up the round of residencies for, oh, a year or two. I’m grateful to have had these, though: each was perfect, and their sequence was vital to me at this time in my life.  I felt absolutely supported by each, and finishing at Ragdale was beyond perfection. Ragdale is my touchstone place, renewing me in essential ways, even when I don’t know what it is that I need to renew; it has consistently revealed precisely what I need to see, supporting me in ways that I cannot ever fully describe.

And I did keep a residency-ending consolation prize for myself: Audrey’s new novel.  The British version arrived at Ragdale on my birthday (with a lovely inscription, too). Though it was extremely difficult to do, I succeeded in not beginning to read it till last night.  It will be my nightly reward for slogging through the chaos with its underlying layers of dog fur and dust, and the to-do list for a bit.

(L’shanah tova, y’all!)

The Bow


Prairie, Mist, Captioning


The papermaking marathon is finished!  I only have 20-40 increasingly tiny sheets to make tomorrow (exact number will be determined by how long the rest of the pulp lasts). I’ve spent the last three days (and evenings) working working working on the porch, watching the prairie.  I see a lot of birds, so very many different kinds, but can’t stop to photograph or identify them with the interesting Stokes Field Guide To Birds (Eastern Region) that lives in the studio.  However, perusing the Guide has inspired me to provide Prairie Captioning, as a public service.  This should be seasonally correct:

“cow cow cow cow cow” “kek kek” “cuk cuk cuk” “pumper-lunk” “kok-kok-kok” “uh-uh-uh-oo-oo-oo-ooah” “frahnk” “rok-rok” “wha-wah-wah” “aarh” “rick-rack” “skow”  “raah” “quok” “scaup” “hunk, hunk, hunk” “ahonk” “hink” “oo-eek” “rhaeb, rhaeb” “quegegege” “tsee” “took-a” “gak” “sigeeee” “tseeeaarr”  “klooeeek” “chwirk” “klee klee klee” “skwagok” “kia-kia” “toilick” “koilee” “bob-white”  “chit chit chit, chit, chit – chit – chit” “kit kidit kidit kidit kidit” “kikikikeeer” “puweee, puweee” “kill-deah” “weet weet weet” “peetaweet peetaweet” “pulip. pulip” “peeent” “k’t’coo”  “oorook’tookoo” “ooahoo oo oo oo” “cucucu, cucucucu”  “kukukukakaka kalp kalp kalp” “pity pit pit” “whip poorwill” “chitter-chitter-chitter” “kweeer” “teek” “wickiwicki – wicki” “kekekekeke” “woika – woikawoika” “peeahwee peeoh” “pizza”  “fitzbew” “wit” “chibeck” “feebee” “wheep” “prreet” “kitterkitterkitter” “kt’zee kt’zee” “zeer” “chak chak” “chick – adooweeoo – chick”  “tweeoo, toowee, turway” “eeyay, oolee, eeyup” “nyaah” “tjjjj” “jaay, jaay” “toolool” “caaaw” “ca” “tsee-titi” “zeet” “cher cher” “cheedeep” “brrrt” “tchrrt tchrrt” “churr” “nyew” “werwerwerwer” “ip” “ank ank” “chek” “zeeeee” “cheer cheerful charmer” “turwee” “bupbup eeohlay, bupbup aholee” “bweebeebeeb” “cheeryup cheerily”  “teeek” “tuk tuk tuk” “tseeep” “meeow”  “kwut” “chjjj” “chewk” “smack” “blue-winged” “zee bee bee” “chip” “sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet” “zray zray zray zree”  “wee-see wee-see wee-see” “zweet” “tink” “teacher teacher teacher” “chink” “chuck” “chur-ree, chur-ree, chur-ree” “witchity, witchity, witchity” “your money, your money, your money” “tchat, tchat” “wee-ta, weeta, wee-tee-yo” “chack” “zureet zeeyeer zeeroo” “chip-burr” “whoit whoit whoit, cheer cheer cheer” “tsee tsee tew tew teer teer” “spit” “dick dick dickzizzel” “zzzt” “drink your teeee” “chewink” “chweee” “tsit tsit tsit zeee zaaay” “tsetselik” “tchurrp” “pink” “okaleee” “ch’ch’ch’chee chee chee” “seeoo seeyeer” “dzeert” “grideleeek” “chaaack” “chaaah” “blublucomseee” “ch’ch’ch’ch” “sweeyeet” “beerbeer” “perichoree” “chirrup chireep chirrup” “chilup” “tchump”


Tonight there was a mist almost like the Mist Of The Full Moon; the prairie exhaled early while there was still light to shoot with.  Now, imagine being in the middle of it, having it lit by bright moonlight.  Ahhh.





Presumably, after this point, I would hear: “hoohoohoo hoohoo hoo” “hoo – cooks – foryou”  “haw haw ha ha ha” “hoohoohoohoohoo” “hooooooooooooooo”.


Oh Nine Oh Nine Oh Nine


So: my birthday today is 09/09/09.  (As Smith says: the full number of the inverted beast.  Other years, I am  only two-thirds the number of the inverted beast).  Plans: fellow nine-niner Jamie is coming up for lunch; Paul is coming for a prairie walk and dinner; evening in the studio (that, I must have).  Above is the beautiful view from the cupola that greeted me when I woke and climbed up there with my coffee.

First thing this morning, I got an offer for a free birthday tarot reading. Why not? Considering that this is also the beginning of the school year (and that I intentionally set up my residency schedule to be at Ragdale at this time, knowing that I would be definitely be missing my classes, though nothing else), the text that accompanied this card I drew is rather interesting:

“Sometimes catastrophe  is actually the end of an impossible situation; this may be one of those times. Consider the possibility that binding obligations to an old situation are now ended. You are now free to choose your own direction, to explore and grow beyond circumstances that used to hold you in. The very fact that this is happening indicates your readiness to make this transition. Beneath any loss is a reserve of strength that has been building for this kind of opportunity. Point yourself toward healing, release from bondage, and freedom. Focus on the positive: your visions and ideas that will help you rise.”

And, to follow up, the next card:

“The long term potential is that you have a real opportunity in some endeavor or relationship to achieve security and success that’s great enough to be passed on to future generations. You and yours stand to be well taken care of.

Ask yourself what you will do with the energy you no longer squander in fear, worry or stress? What new kind of power does it bring you to have a feeling of security? Share with others how you are doing it. Express your passion in an abundant way.”

It’s silliness, of course – but a fun way to start an auspicious day. And I must say: those last few questions are good ones, no matter their source. So: I’m sharing with you how I’m doing it.  Slainte mhor!

In the Process


Starting small – first few sheets on the porch yesterday.

As you may have guessed from lack o’ Blahg: The PaperMaking Has Begun.  Actually, it only began yesterday; there were excellent events and sad goodbyes and curious welcomes and during all that, prolonged mighty wrestlings with the final form this piece will take, which had to be thoroughly, minutely plotted out before seeing or building anything, a mode of operation that’s necessary for this work, and that I’m (just barely, apparently) capable of, but is not at all my preferred way to go about doing anything.  The two maquettes were very informative, but each only provided a starting point, as well as confirming that yes, I did want to handle this concept in this form.


Then there were forgotten items (I brought the entire drying rack, even remembered the little box of hardware to assemble it with…but..forgot..its… feet! I dug through the musty, buggy scrap lumber pile under one of the Ragdale House porches and cobbled some together.) There were borrowed things ( I am now in love with “conference pads” – big easel-sized sheets with a one-inch grid like blown-up graph paper; I only wanted a few larger sheets to work on, but the graph proved to be extremely useful).  There was running out twice to search for unforeseen needed items to hopefully make things go faster. (Did you know that they still make carbon paper? You can find it in the old Lake Forest stationery store).  After the plotting was finally, finally resolved, there was a great deal of physical prep.  (Oh, and I also moved house twice; first to the tiny Sewing Room, where my knees won’t fit under the desk, and this morning, to the Playroom.  There was a resident scheduled for the Beech room who suddenly couldn’t come; the person who was in here preferred the Beech, and here I am, comfortably blogging and able to stretch without hitting a wall).




Only in Lake Forest…yes, it’s an actual street sign.

So: yesterday was the Moment of Truth: all of this activity up till then was speculation, and if you told any papermakier in the land how I was going to attempt to do this, they would almost certainly assure you of my idiocy.  But: it worked!

It will, alas, work slower than I thought (have I ever written that before?) and I can only dry 30 of the larger sheets at a time, so I don’t know if I’ll leave with a finished piece. This week brings my birthday (09/09/09!) and Paul and two other folks and a third group of folks will be visiting that day, and before and after.  I’m shooting for getting all the paper made and temporarily installed, so I can make a pattern for the substrate. (That will be best made at home anyways, with Paul’s scroll saw). Hopefully, I might also get the dyeing done, and the auction piece finished.  But, regardless: it’s absolutely glorious to be sloshing pulp around on the Meadow Studio porch again.  The entire studio is a dream (and believe me, it is now totally filled with my work).


This is just the regular mist beginning, right before sunset.

On the night of the (huge, bright, rotund) full moon, there was a fantastic thick mist out on the prairie. There is most every night; the land exhales and what looks like a  vast reflective lake forms as soon as the sun goes down, but this was…lush. Seven of us went for a flashlight-less walk, enveloped in swirling silver, the moon so bright it cast dark, distinct shadows onto the mist.  We danced on the swing bridge and, of course, howled a bit. And then I went back to the studio.


Happy Not-Laboring day to Yanks with jobs!