Shifting into Here and Now


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


New year, new adventures, new show.

Happy All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s, Dia De Los Muertos, or New Year.  I’ve been so busy that I never even got pumpkins to carve for last night’s celebration, so I went back in time to Orkney for today’s photo.  I spent yesterday finalizing a new association / adventure that I’ll tell you about soon.  That was supposed to happen last Friday, but I was hooked up to machines. Having it finally begin on October 31st seems appropriate: a new path for a new year. Now I am behind on only about three projects, and have the day ‘off’ to do some work on those, catch up on laundry, collect seeds from the garden, and get ready for this:

Below is Shawn’s excellent statement about the show.  We necessarily invited all local folks and we’ve been excitedly collecting the work this week. Installation begins tomorrow!

“In assembling work for an exhibition entitled “Natural Cycles: Sustainable Book and Paper Arts,” curators Melissa Jay Craig and Shawn Sheehy not only included artists who use sustainable materials, but also those who consider sustainable concepts and techniques. As a result, many of the artists in this show treated this theme by either limiting their use of new materials, avoiding use of toxic substances or fossil-fuel power, or considering the theme of sustainability in the content of the work.

The exhibition includes a number of pieces from Craig and Sheehy—for the most part sculptural artist books based on forms and creatures of the natural world, and made from handmade paper. Another notable work using handmade paper is Jen Thomas’s “Forced Sustainability.” Her outdoor installation piece, composed of 10 handmade-paper panels, tells the story in words and images of the loss of her car to the July hailstorm and her decision to move exclusively to bike riding for transportation. Cecile Webster’s handmade sheets demonstrate the papermaking potential of many local garden plants and weeds.

Many of the pieces in this show are created from re-used/recycled/reclaimed materials and boldly explore the concept of sustainability. Scott Wolniak creates gorgeous sculptural weeds from junk mail and trash. Leah Mayers, in a piece called “Constellation Prize,” uses reclaimed umbrellas pierced with star chart patterns to comment on light pollution and a longing for a more ‘natural’ world. For her series of sculptural books, Karen Hanmer pledged to use a minimum of electricity and new materials.

The curators thank Ryerson Woods for the opportunity to exhibit this work and they also thank the artists for their participation and inventive treatment of the theme.”

It’s been much fun, and the installation will be as well; the gallery is an unusual series of spaces in a graciously-proportioned historic home.  The work is wildly varied, and someday I would like to take this exploration even further. Below is a sneak peek at only one page spread from the lovely Cecile Webster’s sumptuous book of papers.  She is Chicago’s Own Queen of the Harvest:

Just when you think it can’t…

…get any weirder, it does.

Sunday’s final CBA class day went fabulously well. We ran out of the cotton base pulp at about 2pm, leaving a perfect amount of time for a thorough cleanup and a follow-up chat session with folks who were interested in paper sculpture.  Something that I meant to tell you about in the last post:  in keeping with the class’s ‘Portable’ title, I beat two pounds of cotton the night before leaving Chicago, drained it, double-bagged it, packed it in my suitcase, and paid to check my bag.  I knew it would re-hydrate easily; the experimental aspect  was whether or not it would get there. It made it through TSA just fine. Even though I forgot my usual “Dear TSA” note on a printout of the class listing, gallon freezer bags of drained cotton (thankfully) must not look very much like several pounds of plastic explosives or drugs.

The Drying, Sunday night. All this packs into the box at the right.

After a nice post-class evening eating even more lovely Indian food and honoring my personal tradition of intently browsing the Strand, my free Monday in New York was a total washout: subway derailment with delays and re-routes kept me from Wall street, shows and places I’d meant to see were closed, and I missed connections with several folks due in part to weird wireless.  To top it off, while trying to shoot a photo, I tripped, smacked my head into a light pole and then hit the ground, resulting in a skinned knee and a huge goose-egg on my forehead that is now flat again but is just beginning to turn a lovely chartreuse. And I didn’t get the photo. My shuttle was an hour late, but got me to LaGuardia in plenty of time for my flight, which was then delayed and delayed again; I got home about midnight.

Tuesday and Wednesday, unpacking and massive paperwork and skewed-by-crazy-traveling-wireless e-mail catch-up; Thursday, a 140-mile-roundtrip (S)Edition retrieval run. Thursday evening, I began to have some strange chest pains on the left side.  Paul took me to our provider hospital, juuuust to check. Tests came out fine, but they kept me for observation. I spent a bizarre 24 hours hooked up to all sorts of equipment, including a pair of rather lovely air-pump-sleeve things that massaged my legs. I wish I owned some. They sort-of made up for being woken all through the night for further tests; the care was quite thorough.  Finally, after a treadmill stress test that I actually enjoyed, yesterday evening I was allowed to eat, then go.  Verdict: unknown cause, but suspected deep muscle spasms, possibly a delayed reaction to lifting heavy tables during class prep  or the fall, or both. I am fine, released with no limitation on physical activity, except for the admonishment that I cannot expect to do what I did twenty years ago. I’m inclined to agree, though I am heading into another insanely busy week, made even more intense by the hospital delay.  Time to get better at delegating and high time to learn not to overbook, yes? I’m getting quite tired of writing about stuff like this, let alone dealing with it in the first place.

Here’s a fine review of The Book: A Contemporary View that’s closing next week in the Baltimore area, at Towson University, and another version with bigger photos and an extra view of (S)Edition. I really like the look of the show in this big space, and wish I could have seen it. And, here are CBA’s shots of the Portable Papermaking class.

If I don’t get round to blogging for another week: Happy Samhainn / Halloween! These are fancy-schmancy Union Square farmer’s market street pumpkins.  In place of the pulp on my return trip, I brought home some NY state Macoun apples bought here. Delicious, and we can’t get ’em…

Several Highs (and one big fat red low)

I’ll get the big fat low out of the way first: yesterday I woke up, went to the election results page for the Senate and then the House…and Illinois was red. Red! There was some small consolation when breaking the maps down to county level: I live in a tiny – but heavily populated – island of blue.  But I basically lost the entire day in a miserable funk that alarmed Paul a bit.

Since I can’t do one. damn. thing. about it except to continue to work for change, on to those lovely high points:

It’s been MJC Interview Week.  Not only did Deborah Kogan’s article come out in Ampersand, Steve Miller released his podcast interview (part of his series on Book Artists and Poets, which everyone says is excellent, but which I cannot hear) on Halloween (that delights me). And today, this incisive article by Stephanie Cristello came out in Chicago Art Magazine. (Links to all here).

It’s fun and odd to have these all appear at once, since the timespan of my involvement goes from eleven months to a few weeks ago.  It’s been surprising and enormously gratifying to have people actually ask me to share my perspective after a long period of experiencing quite the opposite…and this ain’t the end of it, either. I thank everyone involved, very much.

Linda Cunningham, aka my ‘mystery guest’ of a few blahgs ago, is on her way back home after a residency at Ragdale.  It was great to spend a day with her before she moved up to Lake Forest, and to see her several times during her stay, while I documented and de-installed my House, Dreaming piece.  I was gobsmacked (as she would put it) when she gave me this incredible piece of hers, a Shetland-style shawl titled Craobh/Tuinn (Tree/Wave). I can’t decide whether to hang it or to wear it…mostly, I’ve been petting it. It’s sooo soft and gorgeous. Thank you (& safe journey)!

Last but definitely not least: a big shout-out and congrats to Velma Bolyard, whose show opens tomorrow night in Potsdam, NY.  I wish I could be there!  And also to Pamela Paulsrud and the project she started years ago with Marilyn Sward, Treewhispers.  Pam recently went up to install at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where they shot this video … And also kudos and congrats to Susan Page Tillett who’s just written a new book about the Ragdale House, The Ragdale House Speaks, with photographs by Sarah Hadley; I really like this description of it.

Good Hauls before (a sort of) Long Haul

Chicago had fantastic skies earlier this week with incredible winds produced by the ‘Chiclone’; they were mesmerizing to watch as band after band after band of clouds swept by at an amazing speeds.  And I liked that wild wind, a lot: it made me feel like I was in Lewis or  the Orkneys.

One of Erin Cramer’s skeletal bird beasties in House, Dreaming’s haunted library.

It’s Halloween Friday night and I’m home, no parties. Paul now has the nasty cold I’m just barely finished with (though tonight my sinuses aren’t entirely convinced). I thought I’d do a quick blog now: tomorrow begins another flurry of activity that will continue on till I land at Ragdale in mid-November. It starts with both the House, Dreaming de-install and Samhain / Samhuinn / Halloween (and I still need to buy treats for the local tricksters). Then I zoom right on into combined deadlines and show prep (paperwork portions of which are also happening this weekend) to the show itself, with a class the day after the opening.

Shawn Decker’s sound installation room – I could hear it a bit, alone yesterday!

I went up to Ragdale yesterday after a slew of errands to visit friends who are in residence (saw one, missed another) and also to document the installation and to gather more milkweed stalks.  They’re pretty much dry and partially field-retted by now and a great deal of them had blown down during the windy days; but I got a good haul. I also got another great haul of black walnuts in the mail; two boxes full from Jo (thank you!).  I’m set for about a year or more of dye now, and more than enough fiber to make the third book in the series.  I wish my haul of photos from had been as good as those, but I made a web page of the installation anyways.

I also got an excellent haul of words.  The spring 2010 issue of Ampersand: The Journal of the Pacific Center for Book Arts has recently come out, and it includes an article about my work by Deborah Kogan. As any former student knows, I have a lot of regard for Ampersand, and I’m very pleased to be included.  I like the way Deb wove an extensive e-mail interview in and out of bits of things I’ve written on the site and in the blog. You can read it here (it takes awhile to load – it’s 9 pages long) or better yet, buy the issue (or subscribe) here.

A portion of Beth Reitmeyer’s installation, with words from Ragdale blue books.

Happy Samhain, Samhuinn, Halloween


It’s my new year’s eve.  Just getting dark here in Chicago, and a steady stream of kids (and one costumed Great Dane, who got a dog biscuit) have been coming to the door for awhile now. It’s cool and crisp, windy with scudding grey clouds and blowing brightly colored leaves: perfect.

I’m forgoing all parties, in preparation for tonight’s ceremony: many milestones to be marked, new souls to be invited to my table.  So very many endings, but even more (and much more profound) beginnings to celebrate tonight.

Earlier today, I was surprised by receiving a Samhain e-card.  I had no idea they existed!  I did a search and found a fair number; somehow this knowledge pleases me, even though they are as trite as any other, more universal holiday greetings. I decided to link to one for you all (because it wouldn’t embed).

Blessed be, and Happy Halloween.


October 31st is my New Year’s Eve, and fortunately not an on-campus work day; this was an exhausting week. I’m in a reflective mood, thinking of what a long strange time of extremes it’s been since I made a post of the same title. Though I’m still stuck in retrograde, still surrounded by the walls of ennui that have settled around me since September (making for some pretty dull blogs, I know), I’m quite pleased to find myself thinking almost exclusively of the high points.  I simply haven’t got the energy to go out to a couple of excellent Halloween parties, but tonight, when I have my annual ceremony, perhaps the negativity of The Year of the Weird can be put to rest, and I can take the richness of the high points into myself, and use that to walk through walls, toward the future.

Happy Halloween!


 Header: Some of the Calanais Stones, Isle of Lewis.  Carvings from gravestones in Inverness.