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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