April

April so far has been like its weather, swiftly moving from serious snowfalls to thunderstorms to fine 80-degree days. My current life largely continues in a state of self-health-absorption, keeping multiple daily records, and working to focus on the sunnier days, and to peacefully endure the storms.

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Early in the month, I saw a different doctor. I didn’t expect much, based on previous experiences within this system. Imagine my enormous relief when one of the first things she said was “We need to find out WHY this is happening.” She ordered tests, outlining the reason for each, and before prescribing (yet) another drug to try, she told me how it worked, why it might help, and offered me a choice of types, summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then she talked about the mind-body connection, at which point I blurted out, “I like you! You are absolutely my new doctor.” A professional who consults with me, at long last.

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So, though April is still another month, another drug, it comes with a big batch of hope for diagnosis and resolution after a year of simply having drugs thrown at a symptom. The new med has been odd, working some days, others not, with annoying but short-lived side effects in the mix. I spent a half-day at the hospital having almost all the tests done at once; the final one is later this week at a different clinic. We decided not to tackle arthritis treatment until the first problem is solved, so I am relying on external pain remedies like rubs and sticky patches. I got the green light to build back into real exercise and p/t again, and that feels so good.

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Maybe it’s the new hope, or maybe I just needed to gain control of something, or to put all this self-focus to further use, but I suddenly decided to try to end a thirty-year nicotine gum addiction. I tapered off for a few days, then went for it: have been nicotine-free for two weeks. Fingers crossed. So far, it’s looking bright.

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I’m not the only medically-interrupted entity in out household this month. Vivi had spay surgery two days ago, poor wee pup. She’s doing well, but even with mild sedatives, we quickly learned that the most difficult part will be keeping her relatively inactive for the next two weeks. When we picked her up at the vet’s, she whimpered a little in the office, in the car, and for awhile at home, then slept and slept. The next morning, boom, she was ready to run! climb! play! I got her a lovely little inflatable Elizabethan collar so she can use her paws and see, and am trying to keep her supplied with things to chew or puzzles to solve; she’s as active mentally as she is physically. Lupe too has arthritis meds, and Paul his daily routines, so we’re all in this healing space together.

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It all seems very far from art, so I’m glad I took on the portfolio project (and nothing else) to keep my hand and brain in, the wheels greased. My collaborator and I are meeting this week, which is exciting. I’m also making sure that I do step out of this little shell in other small ways, like popping out now and again just for fun. I went to work and learn and laugh with a good friend, and back to our old hood to lunch and catch up with another who was passing through town.

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And I’ve gotten the gardens cleared and ready for the planting / transplanting/ growing season. Best of all: the milkweed came back for a second year, even earlier than I was advised to expect it. Something about that connection to time, the continuity of planning / planting and the art that arises conceptually and materially from that stream is touching me profoundly just now; I hope you find something similar as the growing season moves on.

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Shifting into Here and Now

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It’s a new year for me, and I am back on the prairie (and in the beloved Meadow Studio, though without a functional toilet. Not to worry. I have strategies for that.) I am also attempting to come fully back into the present and this realm.

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Thursday, I couldn’t stand it anymore; I’d done the 72 hours of rest, ice, and elevation and I had had it with sitting, and with getting little done. So I wrapped up the knee and set out to see how far towards the Meadow studio I could get. Though slow, I made it there and back with only a little difficulty. I was thrilled. Friday, Jack and David hauled all my stuff and me out there in a single trip on the trailer behind the tractor. Chef Linda had that day off, so I stayed out there till late evening. I got the studio set up (including building this year’s ‘refrigerator’) and set some fiber soaking. A very young, lone deer came by and peered in, as if to welcome me. And even before setting up, just sitting with my leg raised, I saw a new piece – really, a series – that wanted to be made.

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Saturday was Halloween / Samhain, so before I went to the studio, I went in to Lake Forest and got what I needed for my annual ritual. I stayed out in the studio, working long peaceful hours on fiber prep, stretching and resting periodically, till about 10:30, then hobbled back to the (thankfully) deserted Barnhouse; the hearing residents had gathered in the Ragdale House earlier for games.

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At midnight, I had an unexpectedly, overwhelmingly joyous celebration. The membrane between the worlds has never, ever seemed so porous as it was this year. Perhaps that was due to the very recent crossing of a young four-legged one. If any of the other residents had glanced in, they’d have seen a ridiculously smiling old-ish deaf woman sitting in front of three tiny place settings, gesturing and making toasts to no one visible.

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Earlier in the week, it had become apparent to me that though he was now happy and free of his fears, Chance could not or would not leave me, this innocent creature who was so utterly attached to me while he was in this life. Perhaps he simply did not know how to go on. I needed to show him a way.

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Sunday, the Day of the Dead, was gorgeous. I ventured out onto the prairie for the first time since arriving, and walked much further than I intended. I was in search of a certain stone, and, I swear it, I was accompanied by a pack of boisterous, frolicking non-corporeal dogs: Chance, Face, all my dogs going back into childhood. I didn’t question it, just absolutely loved it, and reveled in the sense of them with me. I found the stone, we made our way slowly back to the studio, and I transformed it into Chance’s stone. Then dear (live) friend Linda met me, bearing gifts, and together we gave him to Ragdale, and Ragdale and the prairie to him, and set him free.

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Monday, I drove back into the city, to take down my work from Words Matter. It was lovely to see Eileen, Audrey and Shawn, who all were there at the same time, and to easily slip back into a different world of old friends for a bit; both fun and reassuring after the all the otherworldliness. Then home to admire the very fast progress on the new back porch / deck that had begun with the demolition and hauling away of the old one early that morning. I took a long walk with Lupe who seemed impatient with my slow gait and my still-fresh memories of spirit dogs, when -hey!- here she was, The Real Beastie herself. I made much of her. Then a long, sweet whirlpool bath to soothe the day’s sore ladder-climbing knee, and a lovely evening with Paul and Lupe, who stayed by my side all night.

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On Tuesday morning I packed more fiber and a few other forgotten items and returned to Ragdale, feeling oddly subdued and unfocused. It was a beautiful day, 70 degrees, so I gave up on the studio and went for a long prairie walk. I was definitely alone, no dogs of any kind. It made me a bit wistful. I walked too far and the knee began to throb so I stayed in after dinner, tried to write, gave up and had a restless night, reading until 3am.

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This morning, I went ahead and had a second helpful massage, and then a good studio day, in spite of the still-painful knee. I refrained from a prairie walk because of it, went to two residents’ open studios, ate another delicious dinner with incomprehensible voices swirling all about me, and then came upstairs to write this. This afternoon, the same solitary young deer visited again, walking slowly past the studio, peering into the windows, unafraid, maybe welcoming me back again.

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Hometown, Back Home

Cleveland was, as always, wonderful and way, way too short. (Trip recuperation has been way too short as well, as I’ve needed to jump right into things, most notably to hack back a huge amount of vegetation in order to be able to re-enter, at both the back gate and the front porch.)
A six hour drive from Owego, NY was a bit too much for me, especially with storms during the last third, so I was glad to be able to take two relatively slow days in Cleveland.

aneon The SmithSanctuary always is just that, easy, good good talk, beautiful healthy food, the light, air and comfort of the space high up at the top of an old Victorian, high ceilings, good people, approving amusing cat queen. Bee talk, homegrown hometown honey to eat and bring home. Crystals in the window to send morning light dancing, tighter twilight rainbow reflections onto the windows and calm Jeff Chiplis neon light for the night. Traffic goes by on two sides, a busy street and a freeway, making an amazing range of sound. After Kathy says, “I think of it as two rivers,” it’s impossible to think of the flowing sound in any other way, and it adds to the peacefulness. Aaahhh…indeed, and thank you.

adux I did something I’d never done before, which was a ‘private class’ that did not feel at all like a class and was mighty pleasant and it, too, was peaceful. Aimee came along to visit while it happened (and wrote about it) so we were four very compatible women on a quiet big brick porch, working and talking after good food on a most mild, most lovely day. And ducks! I’ve been loving watching the ducks each emerge online, and there they were. So fine to handle each, to look close, feel textures, and watch two grow.
The next day, the Morgan was peaceful too, though with a poignant air of unused potential. I was glad not to be teaching, yes, but it was hard not to think of the space as I usually experience it, a buzzing hive in that beautiful light. But it gave me some time to just wander a bit. And ducks, more ducks, including the head-explosion-in-reverse finish of this one:

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aRadhaAimee And these two, Radha and Aimee. With the quiet and time to talk, I came away aware of long lines of strong paper women, of Marilyn, of the odd but wonderful lives that paper leads us to.
Just as I was leaving the Morgan, Ana Fernandez, on her way home from my WSW class, pulled up for a visit.

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Hush…

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…a murmuration…

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…impressive and somehow in harmony with the unaccustomed hush in this big, beautiful space.

Then, after driving vaguely remembered streets, I spent the late afternoon with long, longtime friend Joanne, finally seeing her great place, near to the city but tucked up against a Metropark. We’ve known each other since the 70s, were late night RAT compadres: the camera went away, the old mail art and letters came out and so did a lot of laughter; nice. Back to Smiths’ for an equally nice night on into the neon, up and easy relaxing till out, and a no-drama six-hour drive that was still a bit too much, and now: lots to think about while I do the lots there is to do.

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March-ing onward

Apologies for the 3 week disappearance, though I can’t imagine that anyone, anywhere waits with bated breath for these posts. I just needed a dose of hibernation and radio silence. Nothing untoward happened except for something midway between a mild bout of flu and a bad cold last week.  Nothing particularly great happened either, except a lovely, highly effective, out-of-pocket visit to a fantastic massage therapist who really, really helped the hip and back problems, and released a few other knots I didn’t even know I had. Slow progress was made on many different types of rather dull work, I now have nine shows scheduled for 2015, and out in the world a nice person I don’t know curated a page of my work on a social media platform I don’t participate in (thank you.)

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The only thing I seem to want to write about from the past three weeks is pup training. Since February 16, Chance and I have been Out On The Sidewalk (!) several times on short walks, with varying degrees of success, but no trauma and only a wee bit of drama. (The first thing that frightened him was ideal: a snowman. I was able to coax him over to sniff; it’s made from something he loves.) We’re taking it slowly, and have gotten up to about ⅔ of the block before SUVs or people or dogs go by and the big scary world starts to rattle him. Some days we just watch the world from the porch, only technically outdoors, where he gets big rewards for ignoring troubling things on cue. On too-cold or crap weather days we work on leash finesse indoors, and other things. We conquered one huge fear using the paper studio: Hose Horror. Last summer, the mere presence of the hose made him hysterical. I had to shut him indoors to water the garden. Now he lies down, intently but quietly watching while I spray water into buckets in front of him: papermaker’s pup etiquette. Chance loves his daily school session as long as we change it up, which keeps it good for me, too. On days when one of us feels impatient or cranky or has the flu, we do a review. Sometimes, like yesterday, Chance chooses the lesson. He repeatedly shied away from the harness, which is unusual. Instead he sat quietly, maintaining eye contact, asking “Please, can we do anything else?” I got out his travel crate and he instantly snapped to attention, tail wagging. He was delighted to show me how calm he could be lying inside while I zipped parts closed, moved it and myself around. He repeatedly entered and exited on cue, then voluntarily stayed inside for long periods while I wrote this. There were helicopters going by overhead and I think he welcomed an extra-safe enclosure, his collapsible cave. Works for me, and he was quite proud of himself, too.

AnneshowI’m about to enter a studio marathon phase and to start seeds for the spring garden, and tomorrow and all through the weekend, Chicago will actually have temperatures above freezing, hooray! All in good time to close out the end-of-winter-hibernation with a ritual hair-shearing. I’m looking forward to Anne Hughes’ Saturday opening at ZIA with Matthew Schofield, and especially Aimee’s excellent return to Chicago (and my alma mater) next week!  I’m really happy for Shawn Sheehy, whose trade version of the amazing Welcome to the Neighborwood is now available. Check out the video!

SAIC lecture

Odder Still

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The papermaker / clicker trainers’ privacy screen.

A few days ago, we reached a point in our ongoing situation that makes our days even more unpredictable than before, and we will likely stay at that stage for the next couple of weeks. I am neither booking nor promising anything during this time, just staying home and available to quickly address what comes up, while working on my odd assortment of tasks in a jerky forward motion, bits here, bits there, in the office one day, upstairs the next, an hour or two in the studio or the garden, running out to fetch things, and caring for my pack.

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Training goes that way, too: short sessions, some at regular times, others random. I am learning as much or more than Chance. We need to limit exposure to his fear triggers for awhile, so I found a new use for abaca half-stuff, above: he can’t see the sidewalk where many of his imaginary monsters patrol, but we tall humans can see friends and FedEx arriving. If Chance jumps up and rips the panels, they’ll still make lovely pulp: win / win. It’s early days, but I can definitely say that Chance is already noticeably calmer. He and I are both enjoying this; Paul joins in today or tomorrow.

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Cecile harvested near some railroad tracks in her neighborhood, and this milkweed had some stories to tell, apparently.  Lupe found it immensely interesting, and thoroughly, methodically checked out every. single. stem. Chance stole a dried-out stem and tossed it around the yard.

Sunday, Cecile generously brought me another milkweed haul! She got a wee bag of frozen hollyhock blooms in a rather unequal exchange. I got the stems trimmed and steamed that day, and stripped the fiber yesterday. But there was more: a giant bag of seedpods. I’ve never processed those before; but two large pots full of them were steamed yesterday and are now waiting to be stripped of their fluff.  The fluff by itself makes a gorgeous, smooth, shiny pale gold-ish paper: beautiful, but not the qualities I need for my work, so I’m going to have fun pushing this around and combining it with other fibers to see what I can get that will suit what I do: another first.

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When the processing is finished, I’ll have *five* types of milkweed fiber.  One that I’m finding most intriguing is milkweed chiri:

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good labor days

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On Friday afternoon, not only did another big milkweed bonanza arrive, so did fall, dramatically.  Friend and plant paper maven extraordinaire Cecile Webster came to use the beater and brought me two big bags stuffed with milkweed stalks that her neighbors wanted to be rid of.  While Cecile beat a couple of loads of yellow flag iris (gorgeous pulp), I stripped away the milkweed leaves – lovely clear stems.

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After a good post-process talk, we went out to the garden to harvest some chilies, plus indigo leaves and late blooms (hollyhock, marigold, impatiens, nigella, and yellow and purple coneflower) for Cecile’s next eco-dye batch. While were running round the garden, huge billowing gusts of cold wind whipped down from the north, dropping the temperatures over twenty degrees.

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Allegedly there was even a little snow, but I didn’t see it. Saturday afternoon was dark, rainy, the heat on upstairs but not in the studio, where I spent several hours chopping, steaming in two batches, beginning the stripping and making some plans. Today, temperatures climbed back up a wee bit and I was outdoors for the short couple hours of early afternoon sun with Chance, then into the studio to finish all the stripping.

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I have never had this much milkweed all at once (about 12 ½ very full gallons) and it’s exciting.  A scraping session awaits, then in the next 20 days, my plans are to cook and make some tests with three of four types of fresh milkweed fiber, deal with some other neglected fibers, clean up the gardens, meet a writing deadline, start Chance on a new, radically different training program, see a couple of important shows, and cycle out the closets for winter. That’s a good, satisfying schedule. Hello, fall.

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Milkweed Month

MWMcolorOctober already! I have a second sweet harvest of milkweed bast, thanks to the lovely Kathleen Marie Garness, a social-media friend, and now one I’ve met in person. And that was grand. She raises milkweed in among her other thriving garden plants. Thanks to her work with various area forest preserves and open lands, she hand-raised forty monarch butterflies this year with her milkweed-leaf farm and caterpillar cafè.

MWharvestIt was inspiring to see how very much milkweed one can raise in a yard just the same size as mine, along with a large variety of other plants. It was easily half the Ragdale meadow harvest. The other thing: garden-raised milkweed is so fat, happy, clean and unblemished! I need a good quantity of the clearest white fiber for a planned bookwork; now I definitely have it.

MilkweedPornNot only all that, Kathleen also told me to take some seedpods and gave me expert instructions for growing. I’m turning over chunks of the gardens to milkweed. There’ll be a late fall planting, which will require a day of clearing of volunteer plants (there is an incipient, unwanted Rose-Of-Sharon forest beginning out there), and that – in addition to the processing – is why I’m calling this Milkweed Month.

MWpodzFor other planned works, I also have a replenished stock of an old staple, unbleached abaca (plus a bit of bleached flax half-stuff just to mess around with) thanks to a quick visit with Jen Thomas at Werkspace, and rumor has it that even more milkweed stalks may be arriving tomorrow. Abundance!

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