Ragdale, bit by care-full bit


I am very, very slowly settling in at Ragdale, in increments. I am not sure exactly what happened, but Sunday night, while coming downstairs after just finishing the packing, there was a sudden sharp stab of pain in my left knee, then another as I descended to the next step. So, I led with the right foot, brought the left foot down to the same stair, repeat, repeat. Monday morning, it was still that way, a nuisance but not a real problem. Paul kindly carried everything to the car while I loaded. Just as I was ready to leave, simply standing there, the knee completely gave out, felt like it wanted to bend the wrong way, swelled, and would not support my weight.


After a little while and a little testing, I knew it was a sprain; I’ve had too many of them, and know what they feel like and what to do. So I contacted Ragdale to ask which room I was sleeping in; having had an ankle sprain here, I knew I didn’t want to spend the next couple of days stuck in bed in the tiny Sewing room. Yep. It was. So I stayed home Monday, leg elevated and iced and arnica-slathered, while e-mails flew back and forth, and the Ragdale folks (Amy and Jeff) came up with a lovely solution. The Beech room and the little Barnhouse studio (just a few steps away from the house itself) were open for the first week; I could have them, and then move to the Sewing room and out to my beloved Meadow when I am able.


So I came up yesterday afternoon, hobbling and wearing two knee braces (one atop the other), and here I am. Since I have wireless and room to elevate the leg and (later) stretch in the Barnhouse studio, I moved into the Sewing room so as not to make extra work for housekeeper Martha, who I really like. Cheerful new resident liaison, Eddie, moved my stuff upstairs for me, and a single box of paper, small book-hulls and binding supplies into the studio; the rest is still in my car, waiting till I heal more. I brought hanji too; sitting and keeping the knee elevated seems like a good opportunity to do some joomchi. I had a great, sweet visit from my homie Chef Linda (who loves animals like I do, and loved Chance too.) So far I’ve done little but R.I.C.E., re-think, and today, I treated myself to an hour with Bonny, the excellent, strong-and-sensitive-handed massage therapist who visits when there are a group of residents who need her. It was wonderful, and she helped the knee and oh, all those other arthritic locations immensely. I’m very, very, very glad to be here and so grateful to Ragdale for always, always, always making it work, whatever happens…I’m sinking into its benevolence like you sink into a good pillow after a hard day, and I’ll truly be home when I’m out on the prairie. Soon!


The HUGE ice pack that Linda found in the freezer. She tucked that pillow under my leg yesterday (and suggested renting a golf cart if it doesn’t heal quickly!)

Interim (and out)

It is of course a strange time. I can appear to have crawled out from under the initial impact of Chance’s death: I get things done, but I am definitely not completely present yet. Some of the grief is still raw. Most is simply missing him, a constant ache. It is the same for Paul and Lupe as we slowly begin to mend our pack, tentatively creating the new pattern.


I will miss this lovely old weathered wood.

Movement seems to be what we all need. It’s good. Lupe wants to walk and walk and walk when we go out. I’m immersed in a new round of p/t. Indoors, we carry on with heavy cleaning, and outdoors we’ve cleared the way for builders; the back deck and front stairs have gotten too rickety and are being replaced, so we’ve radically chopped two tall, dense thickets of dogwood and moved everything that’s stored under the deck. We got the house plants in and the last of the garden harvested before an early freeze. I got winter clothes out, summer clothes put away, and so on. Tiring physical work that leaves the mind relatively free to wander where it needs to go: that’s good.

During the darkest time, I completed these…


…and sent them off. They’re collectively titled Liminal (Stage One) and they’ll be on view in Exceptional, which opens tomorrow.

Mostly I’m writing to say that Words | Matter is excellent, excellent, excellent. I got to see the completed library for the first time on the 6th, when there was a surprisingly large turnout for the Caxton Club event. On the 14th, I spent the afternoon looking and reading and touching, and then having light fun conversation with a few nice folks who were there, forgetting to even take out the camera. It was the best possible way to ease into the evening, when I got my fervent wish and had a lovely small talk with just seven people. It was like the ‘artist’s talk’ version of this past summer’s porch class: intimate, calm, good. I brought haptic-language book things and we read with our hands. As it was the day was perfect, surrounded by books to see and touch, pulling me gently and quietly into the infinite ways that books can cloak you in themselves. At the same time it was reminiscent of long lovely afternoons in the library as a child, with a comfortable dose of neighborhood coffee shop. If you are in town, it can do all that for you, too. Go!

Braithewaite Gallery / Southern Utah Museum of Art has published a video of the entire ABC exhibition here.


My Ragdale residency begins on Monday, so we’re steadily, quietly getting our tasks to a stopping point while I’m prepping materials and packing. I’m so looking forward to stepping out of time, onto the prairie, into the studio, and into the boundless embrace of that touchstone place.


Warning: this won’t be an easy read if you love dogs; you may just want to wait for the next post. On the other hand, if you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “It’s just a dog” – please go away. (And if you are a trainer, please don’t tell me what ‘should’ have happened. It’s done. I still trust our vet / animal behaviorist / trainer implicitly and I am very grateful to her.)


My beautiful boy Chance is dead. His life lasted just two weeks under two years. On Saturday morning, I nodded my head, crying too hard to say the words, and he died. I have to live with that.
I’ve written before that I’ve never known a dog like him. Terms we heard from different trainers and vets were reactive and fear-aggressive. When you look those terms up, they’re most often used to describe a single behavior: leash reactivity, dog on dog aggression, etcetera. Chance was that way about everything: food, other dogs, all humans besides Paul and me, large vehicles, me leaving, anything that moved suddenly, flashlight beams and reflected light. Even as a tiny pup, the sheer extremes of his reactive states were astounding; he’d fling himself through the air, shrieking, impervious to pain, to voices, to anything but his fear.
We loved him anyways, me all the more because I believed I could teach him that the world was not frightening. I believed in him. We joked a lot about him, called him our special needs boy (he was) and Paul, from early on, affectionally called him ‘broken.’
Clicker / positive reinforcement training was miraculous. It gave me a way to connect with him, to (often) distract him from fear. It ended his food aggression and let him calm most of his indoor fears. He loved it. It let him show us his happy, goofy, mischievous self, though I could only share my joy in that part of him through social media. In person, he barked and barked at people to make them go away. Last spring, he had a period of regression, and our vet recommended a calming drug. That also really seemed to help him. Just a month ago, he and I were enjoying perfect, calm short walks. He could watch people from a distance without reacting, and I truly believed he was nearing recovery.

aafall1 Then something happened. Not a single incident, but a spiraling. First, there was a sort of limbo period when he could’t seem to learn anything new, though he was still eager for ‘school.’ Then, he began to refuse to leave the yard, then to refuse all training. Then, he attacked a friend who was visiting my studio: he burst through a door that was not quite closed and went straight for her. I got between them and was bitten (not the first time, not the worst bite, and not something I couldn’t deal with, except for the fact that the bite was undeniably meant for her.) After that, though there were still lucid periods, it got worse and worse. He obsessively clung to me more than ever, stopped going outside unless I was there, wouldn’t let Lupe or Paul near me, and tried to attack every human he saw, not just barking anymore, but with teeth bared. Our vet said there were only two options remaining at this point: to put him on heavy drugs and keep him indoors, or euthanasia.

aafall3 Even though I truly respect her, even though every trainer I’d spoken with from the beginning warned me that what was happening was indeed a possible outcome, I just could not accept it.
So, as a last resort, I contacted the excellent no-kill shelter he was adopted from, prepared to surrender him. I told myself they would rehabilitate him; he would go on to a good life with someone who was a much better trainer than me. The shelter referred us to their trainer, who specializes in reactive dogs. We took him in. I won’t describe the horrible scene. The sweet goofy boy I knew doesn’t deserve to be remembered that way. The trainer gently but firmly told us what I refused to hear before: his behavior was not simply due to some early bad experience. It was a mental issue, something in his brain. He would never be able to be fully rehabilitated, he would always be a danger. She said she had helped hundreds of dogs and that this was only the third time she’d had to say it, but she couldn’t even recommend the drugs as an option. He was broken. I nodded my head, and he was killed at the no-kill shelter.

aafall4 I grew up with stories about noble collies who went mad, whose owners had to shoot their beloved beasties themselves, with Old Yeller, with romantic sad tales that tug at the heart, elicit poignant tears. There is not one redeeming shred in the reality. It is shattering. It is impossible to reconcile the sweet being who once slept on your lap, who joyfully, playfully woke you every morning, who gazed lovingly into your eyes, with the raging, mouth-foaming, unreachable embodiment of pain you see before you. Underneath the horror and denial beats the dull, inescapable voice of the law: dogs cannot harm people. Dogs cannot harm people. You nod your head. Then you break too.


Now showing…

Out in the world are shows and shows and shows…first, here are some views of my part of Embarrassment of Riches at the NIU Art Museum:



And some shots of this innovative installation of a single copy of (S)Edition (OK, a bookshroom) installed at Structures and Stories in the Bucks County Community College (Pennsylvania) Artmobile. I usually don’t like my work to be in cases, but of course this show literally moves, on wheels. I kind of love that the case itself is floating above the empty pedestal. It’s difficult to believe that this pristine space is the inside of a trailer.

aaMJC_mobileaaMJC_mobile1The Guenzel Gallery at Peninsula School of Art in Wisconsin hasn’t sent images, but they’ve published a wee slideshow of Unusually Natural on this page. The Braithewaite Gallery at the Southern Utah Museum of Art has not updated its website, but here’s what I am exhibiting in that show; and info about this upcoming exhibition in Minneapolis will soon be available.

(Bookshrooms are of the proletariat, the 99%; they don’t care about no stinkin’ air conditioners or cords when they gather for their subversive conversations.)

And above is a sneak preview of my installation, which was the first to go up at Words | Matter, which opens tomorrow! It is in a lovely warm shared studio space; the library will take up a number of its many rooms. I loved the idea as soon as I was asked about it; I also truly love (and miss) “neighborhood” spaces. Huge, huge kudos to Eileen Madden (whose excellent printshop is located in the space) for her vision and hard work in bringing this together. Here she is, surrounded by just a small portion of book deliveries.  Aside from viewing works on the walls, you’ll be able to sit in the comfortable space and have any of the over 80 books brought to you, to handle, to read, to interact with: marvelous! I can’t wait.