February, February, February

Just checking in with non-news: February days slide into one another, often simply differentiated by light or the lack of it:


Wan and weak but welcome,


Hard and sharply bright and cold cold cold,


Varying shades of grey.

We have had a short late winter time. Temperatures and humidity or the lack of either mark the days as well, bestowing different shades of arthritic nuisance. The past two days were sweetly spring-like, getting a bit colder now.

The current drug test will finally be assessed in a few days . There was a rough, discouraging start and though I mostly seem to tolerate it now, I am thinking this probably isn’t it. So March could be another month, another drug. There’s a possibility I’ll be hooked up up to portable equipment, too.


Making kale chips = still processing plant fiber. Here is THE best recipe I’ve ever found.

I’ve been living completely in the present in an odd and new way, monitoring my body, keeping records. It requires an almost uncomfortable level of self-absorption that can, at the same time, bring bits of satisfaction: a tiny knot releases, the stairs become a little easier, here and there a day without an incident. I cook food more than I have done in many long years, and hour or more a day is spent keeping joints moving, warming them, stretching them.


This new thing rolls out into larger space and unfolds, almost daily. It can’t yet be used for cardio, but it works the knee and hip joints gently, smoothly.


I also have new eyes, my second-ever pair of prescription glasses. I still find the process enormously interesting and wish that all other medical procedures echoed its speed and accuracy.


The glasses do this. There’s a short period of adjustment when I come back indoors on a bright day, but they are fine – very fine – in the studio.

It’s grand to be able to be with Vivi, to be so present for her growing. Pup school has its ups and downs but reveals how she learns. The first task was ‘climb’ – to go up onto a raised surface and stay there. Initially, I thought of it as a cute trick, learning for the sake of learning. But the trainer’s two great teacher-dogs stay loose on a low wooden platform until they’re called to help. They watch us intently, move around and interact with any canine or human who comes to them, but stay on the platform. Vivi rather loves ‘climb’ and neatly pops up onto a hassock for collar changes and leash attachment, for grooming or just petting, which is quite nice for tall arthritic humans. It’s also useful to quiet her down after rowdy play, and to bring on the naps she still needs.


“Now what are we doing?”

Watching her personality develop, watching her inclinations begin to reveal themselves, is fascinating. She’s teething now. Wondrously, she only chews what we give her, even though she’s been our floor patrol officer since the day she arrived.  She finds every tiny thing that reaches our floor, but once she’s discovered the piece of cellophane wrapper, the bit of dried leaf, the tissue, the sock, she proudly parades with her find, making sure she gets our attention with a very particular high-headed prance. I calmly remove wet gooey things from her mouth at least four times daily (which says things about our housekeeping but also actually helps it.) Other quick, rhythmic, daily pauses are spent shaping old, wet cotton dishcloths, and freezing them. They provide soothing chewing for about 45 minutes, then they’re thawed, rinsed, re-shaped and re-frozen, loose chewed areas turned inside. I have two to three hardening in the freezer at any given moment.


And that’s it. This February equals quasi-hibernation with my gentle, funny pack, caring for each other. There are many ventures out, all simply practical. It’s not much to write about.


I did take a glance into the future or at least inside, and agreed to an upcoming collaborative project. It’s something I should be able to physically do in brief increments, medical tests or not. So hopefully, I can once again begin adding some small, delicious periods of escape, losing myself in the timelessness of process and thinking.


Up in the studio, the nipping press is the best way to keep this piece while I rebuild its temporary base. Although I might need the press TO build the base.

Turn and turn and turn again


Last week, I turned down requests to teach two 2016 classes at new-for-me, interesting venues. Even though I knew I was going to say no, I didn’t expect the little flurry of emotion. The e-mails sat in my inbox for an unusually long time before I replied, and there was a tiny physical frisson when I finally hit send. The replies I received were gracious (and I’m on deck for 2017 if I decide to resume.). Once I got them, there was an almost audible ‘click.’

Suddenly I put the fiber aside and turned inward and domestic, which coincided with a review of our budget. We’ve been turning out the house, accomplishing long, long overdue heavy cleaning, and getting rid of broken or no longer useful things, large and small. It feels so good; we’re finally turning the building away from its role as a ‘sick house’ in the past years, turning towards the future as we do. We even replaced furniture: two new comfortable chairs, a footstool, end tables, dog rugs. I’ve turned the studio over to staining and finishing the new tables (and refinishing an old one.) We work well together. This refurbishing will be ongoing, sandwiched in with everything else, but it should turn out to be a much, much more comfortable winter this year; that is a joy.


I’ve also turned back to another stint of bodily repair. One of my goals for the year off is to find solutions for (and eventually stabilize) ongoing health challenges. Before I left for this year’s road trip, I settled on a med that produced the desired result, but caused a sudden ballooning weight gain (which thankfully  stopped awhile ago) and uncomfortable swelling of feet and ankles. The search for better versions of meds has begun, making now quite a strange time: I’m completely unfamiliar with my own body as filtered through ingested chemicals. There are two new docs to consult in the next couple of weeks, and two new meds, one begun and the other starting in two days. Such is the work of aging (as will be learning to interface with Social Security.) On the 9th, my odometer turned over once again; it was a nice, quiet, albeit medically foggy day, the first of a new age, the first of a new drug (not to mention Chance’s first encounter with delivered helium balloons.)


Two tables (ok, nightstands that we will use as end tables) after the pre-stain and sanding.

Yesterday, the second day, the drug-fog was lessened, but was still too much for me to make the trip out to the reception for the Embarrassment of Riches exhibition at NIU. Today, it’s even less foggy, and I can put thoughts together to make this dull blog, but I’m staying close to home (and out of the driver’s seat) until I’ve completely acclimated.

I have not turned my back on the world, though: along with the domesticity and drugs, I resolved two tricky upcoming late exhibition requests. I initially thought I’d have to turn one of them down, but managed to salvage it with a quick turnover of work from a current show to the next.


And out in the world,  ABC opened in Utah, and though the website has not been updated beyond the original press release, a catalog is on its way.  Very soon, a single bookshroom will become mobile, traveling around for quite some time.  Words | Matter was quickly funded (congratulations!) but they can still use contributions for the unexpected expenses that always turn up, and there are still a few days to submit work; it’s going to be a good one!


I still have my Purdys from my set-painting days; good to have the right tools for the job at hand. I did half the staining today.

Pavlov’s Dogs, Private Life


I’ve had nothing to say. On Wednesday, we reached the watershed beginning of the active phase of our combined current situation. It will continue for at least the next two months. In most ways, I’m very glad that we’ve agreed to keep what’s going on private, sharing only with those we love, trust and can rely upon. In another way, I’m experiencing a small, unexpected internal struggle, attempting to disengage from and / or construct the necessary walls here on the blog and in the few types of other social media – largely Facebook – that I regularly participate in.


Shows go out; shows return.

This is a bit of a surprise to me. It’s not as if I haven’t needed to temper my words, or obliquely / cryptically refer to events before; far from it.  In most of those instances, though, I was dealing with adversarial situations, even overt persecution. To be able to focus on my artwork (and its attendant realms like the garden and teaching) was a lifeline and an affirmation. I’m sure writing about those parts of my life will feel that way again, maybe even soon, but at the moment, they seem lackluster; even the upcoming shows are like old repetitive tasks to be completed, not all that much different than doing the laundry. I’ve done it all hundreds of times; what’s to write about?


Plants grow and are cut down; these have already returned.

Likewise, social media, once another type of lifeline (an end-run around deafness), holds little interest just now, possibly because it feels quite false to so severely compartmentalize. Yet, I vaguely miss the bit of daily interaction even as I shun it.


Pre-social-media, pre-deafness, this was never a problem; I simply ‘disappeared’ as often as I needed to, for as long as I needed to, whether it was to get some artwork done without distraction, or to deal with personal situations akin to the one we’re currently undergoing, or just to have some quiet space. In the less-deafened, pre-caller ID, pre-answering-machine days, I can remember a room-mate watching, amused, every time I fiercely stared down the ringing telephone, refusing to answer, “to be one of Pavlov’s dogs!” I don’t know why that simultaneous need for privacy and to question our conditioned responses disappeared for me in terms of technology and particularly the internet, but I do know that, like the woman in this moving tribute, deafness was the impetus. Now that artists are routinely conditioned to live out loud, attempting to withdraw is, well: something I had to write about, if only to share inconclusive thoughts on not sharing so much.



Checking in from underground




I took a day to do whatever I felt like when I woke up, and shopping for, resurfacing and caulking the decrepit counter next to the studio sink was what happened. 

Working away quietly as September speeds on. Mostly I’m in the studios, where I’m getting increasingly jazzed, solving problems, doing the extensive prep for a new project. There were wee bits of basement studio improvement that occupied the early part of the week, while everything was still cleared up from the press arrival. Project concentration, drawing and odd armature building took place in the second floor studio.  Now, everything’s moved back downstairs and the pulps are ready.  As always, there has been computer related work interspersed with the rest, for upcoming events happening in quick succession. I am waiting for some final info on the new project before going full-steam ahead, hopefully tomorrow.  While in the digital realm, I’ve been far too often captive to the Spinning Color Wheel.  Thanks to the summer’s work and sales, I’m ready for a much-needed MacBook replacement, but want to hold off till I settle in for the winter, to make the transition in a free-time frame.  (It will be only my third laptop ever).  The weather has turned cool and appropriately September-like, bringing with it my turn for pesky seasonal allergies, which in turns brings the need for extra sleep.  But daily, I am wholly in the studio body and mind, and that’s what counts.


A snazzy new stove for fall harvests.  The old hotplate I’d had for years died in the middle of the last cook, and I had to finish in the kitchen. There was an Amazon gift card left from last Christmas… 




Processing is a process



…and it is in progress. Currently it consists of building several blog-page things at once, shifting through notes and harvesting so very many photos. I began a couple of days ago during a nice storm, and have continued when I’ve been indoors, not in the studio and not answering e-mail.  That hasn’t been a lot; I’m enjoying being home. We’ve had beautiful, mild weather and I put in three solid and a few partial days in the garden; that’s relaxing to me, and it’s looking lush.  In the evenings, it’s been studio processing, moving through things I brought back and putting them in place for the next classes, and laying out the work to be done before I leave.  We’ve got almost a week of rain ahead, and that should be conducive to more indoor work while the garden works on itself. Mostly, I’m just stopping by today to say hello, and have a good weekend.




Celebrating Everyday

In the past weeks, I’ve knocked out quite a number of un-blog-worthy tasks, and am feeling good / relieved.  One of the (important) six-months at home projects I haven’t written about was to address my health.  It’s been a long, sometimes discouraging struggle, but I am just now starting to feel good physically, as well.  And, interspersed with flooding rains, we’ve even had a couple of sunny, springlike days.  Those, I’ve dedicated to the gardens, clearing out, making way for growth.


A  fraction of winter-retted tritoma, reserved for the beater.  It’s tough, abundant fiber, the last to die off, not till midwinter.  If it makes good paper, I have a farm started from a single pack of seeds.

There are deadlines coming up, of course, but pleasant ones; and, quickly, my summer journeys. Right now I’m acutely aware that I’m in the final few weeks of this lovely home hiatus, and am thinking about the simple, quiet rituals I will miss.

One is the daily walk with Lupe dog, something I happily take charge of when I’m here.  She’s a sweet beastie who has never forgotten her training; as a city dog, she must be leashed (which is sad) and on the streets, she trots easily and gently at heel, politely sits whenever I stop.  But she owns the alleys; there, thanks to a  long retractable leash that gives her at least some freedom, she leads the way.


Chicago has 1900 miles of alleys. Most round here are, well: boring, unremarkable extensions of gridded, rigidly fenced-in midwestern city life.


We prefer these types.


And any evidence of individualism, like bamboo to hide the ubiquitous chain link,


or little inventions (this wheel makes someone’s back gate glide),


and places where the vegetation wins


or adapts.

Some days, we walk as the Pack: Paul, Lupe, me. Whenever I’m enjoying some lovely mountain, coast or prairie path, I always wish they were sharing it with me, and Lupe running free.

Holding pattern


Buds on the back-window maple!

March did not come in like a lion for me; more like a sloth. I finished – or thought I had finished – the text-based work, spent a day on beater maintenance (sharpening, greasing) and then was hit with a fast-onset flu, and slept for nearly four entire days. While I was knocked out, I learned that the most time-intensive text file needs to be completely re-done from scratch, and three new text-based projects with fast deadlines came in as well (one is a good one, but still: more sitting, writing). On the literal bright side: today there is bright beautiful sunlight and I am going to attempt a short walk.  Hello, March. Bring on your light, warmth and growth.

Cheese Balls


I like where this Vermont experiment is going now but there’s more to be done.

I’m not sure how well blogging is going to go during this six months.  My loose plans were to spend a week on one of our much-needed house projects, and then a week in the studio, then another house project, studio, etc.  I’m keeping in mind another quote from Annie Dillard: “There are all kinds of ways to live. You can take your choice. You can keep a tidy house, and when St. Peter asks you what you did with your life, you can say, ‘I kept a tidy house, I made my own cheese balls.”


To the paper studio as well as my current house project; the lower stairs are functional but the upper ones go nowhere, have no outlet on either floor.

I’m not so much going for tidiness for its own sake, but I do (badly) need to increase this building’s functionality and efficiency as a live-work space.  Our place is a wee bit over 100 years old and contains many structural oddities, like this stairway to nowhere from a previous owner’s interior re-build.  I’m into my first improvement project (one which will facilitate all the others) for which I budgeted three days, thinking that was a generous time frame.  Nope. That’s something I should’ve been able to predict from the considerable amount we already have done; there’s always something ridiculous hidden behind wallpaper or tile.  Then it becomes necessary to either rip out and rebuild, or figure out how to work around the existing cheese ball construction.  House projects are always well worth it when they’re done, but are not blog-worthy, just time-consuming.  Poignantly, this particular effort is taking place right next to my paper studio, where dogbane, abaca and a slew of exploratory-things-in-progress are waiting for me.  But I’m off to buy shims, brackets and bolts, and hoping when I get back and put them to use, I won’t uncover something else, at least not till the next project!  If the blog occasionally goes silent from now till July, you’ll know I’ve probably run across another cheese ball.

Yammering Seagulls (out with the old)


My favorite spot-view from the upstairs studio for snow-watching… 

A small amount of snow came to Chicago. Winter!  And today, some lovely sun as well, though it’s making the snow leave. Our family holiday changed again and took place on Wednesday, not Friday, and it was lovely. There has been (as always) Too Much To Eat.  For instance, college friend (and potter) Michelle might have sent some preserved Citron all the way from Columbia (SC).


…and the detail of the back porch tortured but beloved evergreen and little grey house bird sanctuary.

In between festivities, I’ve been working away at cleaning dogbane in small increments. I never did harvest any this past fall; the stems I’m stripping are left over from what I collected way back in February. Resting all that time seems to make the (dry) bark removal a tad easier. I’m fascinated with this native fiber. Next fall, I’ll try an adaptation of Lillian Bell’s processing method, but for now, I plan to usher in 2013 with a batch of winter dogbane and a couple of other fibers. I’m beginning a period of simply, freely experimenting, with no expectations or end goals: just me, the studios and all that they have to offer. (And Paul has volunteered to cook our dinner!)

I am so looking forward to 2013. 2012 was absolutely excellent and exciting in many ways, but just a tad too eventful. Or, I’m glad I did everything (but medically-related stuff), but wish it had all been more evenly paced. Looking back, one thing I haven’t written much about is that my second Saturn return ended this year, finally: now I supposedly am able to become a crone, an elder.


Something else I haven’t written much about: back in the spring, I let go of something that I had been enmeshed in for over two years. Letting go was my decision alone; it was pointed out that I had the right (and reasons) to continue on, but the unmitigated negativity the situation exposed me to and its dulling drag on my energy* made me want to free myself. Doing so quickly proved to be an excellent choice. However, a specious online article was published within days of my decision. I’ve struggled, off and on, with a desire to address that article ‘for the record’ since I became aware of it.  It was / is intentionally deceptive, of course: a personal narrative (likely published as a favor) rather than a remotely accurate report, and a prime example of the rancorous energy I dealt with for far too long; something like it was to be expected. So, other than finally acknowledging that yes, I am aware of the article (so please: don’t send any more links!), I choose to continue to rise above it, and to trust that people (at least anyone I would want to interact with) are perceptive enough to form their own opinions.


One stem’s worth of fiber and an accurate self-portrait.

And that is that: old, sad business out! I continue to look forward in so many ways: the immidiate future begins in the studio with the new year, in a spirit of unbridled experimentation, of – yes, I’ll say it – play. Which seems to me to be the ideal path to take towards acquiring the wisdom of elder-hood.


*today’s blog title is a phrase I was repeatedly -and literally!- accused of writing during that situation; time to finally do so.