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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Finally forward, into February

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I’m glad to see the end of the second half of January. For me, a large part of it has passed in a literal haze due to more medical, um, stuff. The drug I finally was able to tolerate towards the end of 2015 did what it was supposed to do, but then brought about a problem as troubling as the one it prevented. So I’ve been back on the not-so-merry-go-round, testing new big pharm concoctions, experiencing a slew of old and new side effects. This makes me cranky (and dizzy and lethargic and adds a few scary things, too.) Primary care guy says, “there are hundreds of meds to treat this, we’ll find one!” Right. Each trial is time that I’ll never get back.

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So it’s been difficult to make commitments. There are two lovely projects on hold, waiting for evidence that I’ll be able to handle them (I want to.) Somewhere in there, I turned down an exhibition and agreed to two; neither involve creating new things beyond the tweaking that hasn’t yet happened on my Ragdale work, unless I want to add new work and can. That is also sad (though the old works still continue to bounce around here and there; thanks.) The recent bloglessness is another side effect.

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This one broke, the other is intact. Amazingly, there were no small bits of disconnected fiber.

Today, I am apparently, hopefully, acclimated enough to feel relatively normal. I even managed to finish carefully removing the invisible-when-wet milkweed fiber (that I had poured seven weeks ago on my last evening at Ragdale) from its fine mesh backing. It’s a delicate process I’d begun before all this started. I am still loving the gorgeous crude tangle of fibers.

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Something tells me this year’s harvests will be interesting.

Vivi continues to be a wee bright spot. We’ve been to puppy school twice now; Paul’s been the driver (and takes over if I get wobbly.) She’s the youngest beastie in the class and she’s doing well. She still makes me laugh daily, and both she and Lupe are sweet and warm and snuggly when I’m woozy; so is Paul. The past weeks have mostly been no fun, but my lovely warm pack has my back.

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Small, growing sparks

Sorry for the radio silence here; it’s been an intense two weeks.

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I went home between sessions, but unexpectedly missed the ZIA Gallery opening. We had a record snowfall for a first snow, about a foot where we live, much more in the western suburbs, much less just a few neighborhoods to the east. But out running errands the afternoon of the opening, a van spun out in front of me and just missed hitting me; I said aloud, “OK, that’s enough.” and stayed home. I did get this little grouping, collectively titled ‘Liminal (Phase Two)’ to the gallery and got to see most of the show a few days before. These were all done at Ragdale while I still had to prop up my knee and limit movement.

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The return to Ragdale for the second session was beautiful with all the snow; it melted a couple of days later. I had completed a piece that I just didn’t like much before the final  days of the previous session. But, I  really liked parts of it; as a combined whole, they just weren’t speaking to me, not even in the way I had originally envisioned the piece doing. I gutted it the first week, struggling, trying different things. Then came all the shootings and all the vitriol on social media; I kept my exposure limited, but still tried to keep informed about what was actually happening, and to read any good suggestions for solutions, while keeping to the studio. The piece began to take on some of my angst and some of my emotion over the uselessness, and I let it; that was the spark the work needed, not to look away from those things, but to allow them to speak. It’s become a small installation. A couple more works are in various stages; my goal is to complete them all before I leave, to take home finished work. Somewhere in there it snowed again and melted again.

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I worked long, long hours, especially last weekend, because I knew I would miss a good bit or all of this one; I went home Friday and just arrived back here a few hours ago. Tomorrow is the big Ragdale holiday party, and afterwards, we grow from a small group of residents to a full house for the final week.

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This was my ‘torso’ for Printwors’ Return of the Exquisite corpse, done before I left for Peters valley last summer. Milkweed on the brain even then…

Friday was the opening of this show at Printworks, with its attendant sadness. I had planned (since last spring!) to go, but had an important appointment beforehand. The timing of that was pushed back, the process took quite awhile, so I also (sadly) missed that opening. But I will make a visit after the residency, and also attend the memorial. Sid was a very nice person.

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Just waking from a nap. She has a pale blue swirl in each eye…

But the reason I missed the reception was compelling: meet Miz Vivi! She is eight weeks old, an Aussie mix, adopted from the same shelter as Chance, but she’s only spent three days there; she was born and raised in foster care. We decided to adopt her while I was home between sessions; we fell for her, hard, even though the timing was not ideal. Paul volunteered to be a single-pup-caregiver during this week to make it happen.  No, she is not a ‘replacement for Chance.’ That is utterly impossible. But she is her own spark, and will grow to become the cure for the dog-shaped rent in the fabric of our lives. And she is so sweet! When the shelter aide brought her to me, sitting on the floor of an enclosure, she came into my lap with tail wagging madly, crawled up immediately to lick my face, and fell asleep in my lap on the drive home. I’ve just spent a delicious, joyful, and funny 24 hours with the whole new pack, and for once, it was a wee bit difficult to leave to come here.

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Extending

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Not much to say, except: things are moving along so beautifully out there in the beloved Meadow Studio, the knee still has its quirks but is better, and: I am staying at Ragdale for another three weeks, through December 11. Yes!

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That was written last Thursday; I meant to post it Friday evening. Then, at dinner: the news of Paris and then the disturbing realization of the lack of coverage on the similar killings in Beirut. And then of course, the ridiculous anti-immigrant, pro-gun backlash, some from people I expected it from, some from others who deeply disappointed me.

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I kept away from the social media screen as best I could, took refuge in the studio, worked well with swirling, streaming thoughts that offered no resolution coursing through my head. I thought of how I don’t really like us as a species. We are far, far from being the superior organisms on the planet that we believe ourselves to be. I thought about how many times I have been certain that we are on the brink of self-immolation in the 60+ years I have been alive. I thought about a great artists’ book I saw once, listing all the wars for each year in recorded in human history, and the terribly tiny amount of time when there weren’t any. I thought about how climate change, which contributed to the Syrian crisis, might actually, finally do it, allow us the annihilation we appear to crave. I thought about nature, going on about its business in spite of us, going through its cycles, its seasons of regeneration, fruition and decay that comprise its language. Plant researchers have revealed that not only do trees communicate with each other, they offer warnings freely to their species, regardless of type; a pine will help an oak. I thought about how I did my ‘duty’ to humans and allowed a young dog to be destroyed because he feared us, and in fearing us, was judged to be a threat. Was he not correct in his fear? I thought of so many things.

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I made and installed new ears, thinking about them listening for just the slightest bit of sense from our species, for the recognition that we are not apart from the planet nor each other. On most of the projects I have going, I’m working with both raw and refined fiber in renewed, beautifully crude ways, taking it down to its essence. A tangled, complicated web, appearing so fragile, so ephemeral, yet tough and resilient in nature, because of its interlocking, its involvement: each strand dependent on the others.

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That was written on Monday. And now, we’ve had the readings and the open studios and a “supper club” dinner with several interesting architects, and a fun group thrift store visit. People are beginning to trickle away as of tonight and early tomorrow. This was a lovely good solid group of women here. I’m looking forward to the next group too, even knowing that I’ll need to confront my deafness yet again as I (slowly) get to know them. I’ll go home this weekend, to exchange comfort with my small pack, to refresh.

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I’ll be out in the world Saturday, when ZIA Gallery’s annual group show opens. It’s supposed to snow. I’m spending Thanksgiving here. On December 4, The Return of the Exquisite Corpse – the last exhibition of the year and for awhile – opens at Printworks in Chicago; and on December 6, I will be in residence for Ragdale’s holiday party, when some of the world comes here.

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Goodbye June

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We have no grass because we have Chance of the Giant Feet. It’s hard to document, but the bulk of the Milkweed Farm is all along this side of the garden behind the existing plants, from the young kozo at the right to the alley. There’s a bit in the opposite bed and scattered around in a few other locations as well. A friend came earlier in the month and took away lots and lots of plants for her new yard; I dug out last year’s hollyhocks and moved them to the other side of the house where they can duke it out with the equally persistent orange day lilies.

Just checking in, so I can feel like I’ve kept up by posting something before June is over. I don’t feel like writing about the health issues, but though I’ve finally discovered a drug I can take for one of them, suffice it to say: they are continuing. aaaaseedlings2

The packed upper-center rectangle shows the milkweed seedlings before thinning for transplant: hundreds. I’ve unsuccessfully tried to plant milkweed before, so did not at all expect these seeds to be so viable.

I DO feel like writing about the momentous 10 days the country just went through, from our worst to our best. It was a time of important revelation for me in a macro and micro sense, but right now there is no time to give that the justice it deserves because of my agonizingly slow writing process. I am into the flurry-of-deadlines-I-am-not-prepared-for stage as I get ready for (and worry about) this summer’s teaching road trip and the exhibition shipping dates that precede it. aaaaseedlings3

How it had to be accomplished. Looks easy and comfortable, no? It wasn’t…but it will be worth it!

One thing I did accomplish: the bulk of what I hope will become the Milkweed Farm is in place; just a few more transplants into available nooks and crannies and with a bit of luck, next year there should be a fine home harvest. It was so ridiculously physically difficult to do that I made a decision: next year will be a year off to focus on rebuilding health. (With ‘off’ meaning: taking on nothing beyond a day’s drive away.) aaaaseedlings4

Mostly milkweed, mixed in with some annuals culled from around the yard: they appear to be thriving. (Yeah, they’re probably way too close together, but that’s how I roll…)

Out in the world, the Summer 2015 issue of Hand Papermaking arrived and looks great.