Here we go: 2016

Happy 2016!

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I’ll soon be beginning the year by trying something new that is also an old, familiar and favourite way of working. I’m teaching privately, here at home, doing a tutorial / advising intensive with a sharp thesis candidate from an excellent MFA program located in another state. We shaped this by e-mail, she applied for and received funding for it, visited me at Ragdale, and we’ve kept in touch. She’ll stay nearby and work in my tiny studios all day and some evenings.

I won’t violate privacy by writing about it any more than I would write about about a thesis advisee or class if I were in an academic situation. What I will (likely) make note of is the new, experimental component: how teaching works in my small, quirky studios, and how well it interfaces with our daily lives. I’ve been spending my non-puppy time clearing space, more diligently than I would do just for myself. That feels absolutely great, and I’m truly looking forward to this. We begin in a few days.

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The rest of 2016 will also be unprecedented: my hiatus. There will be no workshop / class teaching, no applications, one residency, and a very (very) scaled-back exhibition schedule. If I travel (I have no current plans to) it will be for myself. I have written a ‘base list’ of things I want to address. These are not ‘new year’s resolutions’ nor is the list (at all) deadline or production-driven; it’s more about broader concepts I feel I need to tackle at this point in my life. While I’m not going to publish the list, I’m sure I’ll be writing about it, item by item, as the hiatus progresses. (Once again, what I am aiming for does not coincide with much of what artists are taught to do, nor how they’re taught to think about their careers.) I do have some broad end goals, and am already seriously thinking of extending the term to two years. We shall see, and that is also a phrase that sums things up.

As the year closed out, (S)Edition made a ‘best of 2015” list at My Modern Met. I’m quite honored. (Ironically, though, it is a work that was completed in 2009 -2010, which touches on one of the items on my list; time for looking at that later.)

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Whatever else 2016 brings, it will also be the Year of Raising Ms. Vivi, which continues to be a joy. She slows me down, warms my lap (and heart), makes me laugh out loud every day, and I’m fascinated by watching her perceptions and personality grow. I wish for you all something or someone who brings those delicious factors into your life.

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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Turn and turn and turn again

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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.

Chance, Imbolc, Childhood, Snow.

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We are being welcomed into February with a lovely 36-hour snowstorm, which makes me feel happy, complacent and cozy. I’ve been thinking about today’s blog for awhile, and wrote it off and on all day, stopping to work in the upstairs studio, chat with Paul, fruitlessly shovel the back porch, do indoor and outdoor school sessions with Chance, and roast some potatoes because it’s so comforting to have the oven on. When we entered true blizzard status around 3pm (due to last till midnight), everyone on the street gave up trying to manage the snow. Or they went inside to watch the football game. Or both. No cars have braved the unplowed street for hours. I hung lights for Imbolc, calling back the sun.

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Last year, February 1st was Chance pup’s first full day with us. Life with him has been odd, definitely; so many times we’ve said aloud, “I’ve never known a dog like this!” His fears, which are many, can trigger him into a terror so complete that he is unreachable. Something happened to him as a tiny pup, and then he spent the most impressionable developmental period in a pup’s life in cages. Essentially, he suffers from a canine version of PTSD.

My childhood wasn’t so great, either. I knew those unreachable stages as a teen: I jumped and ran from a car in traffic, slammed my fist through windows, cut into my wrists, lived in garages and public restrooms, stole food. It was later that I was diagnosed with PTSD; when I was young, it was called being ‘emotionally disturbed’ and it was a legal reason to be jailed, with no inquiry into its causes. It’s been a lifetime of tempering, of learning, of conquering triggers. Now, it only shows up for me in nightmares. 2014 was the first year in which I did not once wake the house, yelling and flailing. Instead, Chance had occasional nightmares, something I didn’t know dogs did, though they all obviously, vividly dream.

Conventional training didn’t work for Chance at all; it didn’t work for me, either. Avoiding punishment is simply not a valid motivation for creatures who have endured worse.

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In October, we began a loosely outlined program that our vet estimated would take six months. Chance has been isolated in the house and yard, kept away from his fear triggers as much as we are able. We’ve been clicker training, which he responds to eagerly and happily. He became calmer almost instantly and has learned tons of things, most of which graduate into a reward of praise and petting with only occasional clicks and treats. But the first verbal cue he learned, to come touch his nose to my fist when I call ‘target!” always gets a click, treats, and praise. Beyond being a learning device, when he’s in the presence of something he fears, the click is a neutral sound that cuts through his emotional chaos to the amygdalia, the primal fight/ flight defensive part of his brain. It says ‘good things exist and some are coming now!’ and it’s a lifesaver to him. When he starts to spin off, we call ‘target!’ and he chooses the click. It’s wonderful.

Meanwhile, he’s learned to walk indoors with me wearing a head collar, harness and double ended leash. A pull on the leash tightens the padded harness before any pressure reaches the halter. I’m teaching him that when I tighten the leash, it’s not a ‘correction’ but a cue to look at me. At the same time, ‘target!’ is something we’ve just begun to practice every day outdoors as well as in. This week, he put it into effect, and stopped challenging a dog who was walking past, opting to ‘target’ instead. We’re on the brink of putting it all together and taking this process out into the world in small steps, overcoming his triggers one at a time. I’m ready to take him through it.

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My reward for the work isn’t only the dog he’s becoming, or watching him finally make friends of neighbors, or learning his language while he learns mine, though it is all those things. We’ve bonded in a way I never expected; we have a vocabulary of survival in common. Helping him past his fears is allowing me to conjure up things I have long felt I’d dealt with, but now can safely re-examine, realize lingering bits I did not know were there, and put them to rest. Chance and I are bringing peace to each other.

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This winter, joy comes too, through a return to what’s good in any childhood: snowballs. He LOVES them, and I love making them and sharing his huge, pure ecstacy. Yep, we’ve been waiting for this snowstorm.

(Things are happening out in the world but I can write about those later; a blizzard day is made for looking inward…after playing in the snow, of course.)

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Hello, 2015.

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Happy 2015, everyone!

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We were cooped up during this, but it was sunny. And very, very cold.  I would not have wanted to be a roofer, though I did have lunch-break hat envy.

We had a quiet, comfortable and yes: happy new year celebration and first two days of the year, with the operative word being: quiet!  Chance made huge strides on the 30th and 31st as our roof was noisily replaced with loud daylong thumps and bangs. He stayed in contact, looking at me when he heard something strange, and repeatedly made the choice to follow a verbal calming cue and get rewarded, instead of spiraling off into fear. He turned a huge, huge behavioral corner with the turning of the year, and when the fireworks (and guns) began at midnight, he again chose to seek my reassurance rather than to challenge the madly exploding world. He is thinking, not reacting. Hooray, pup!

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He wants to be a studio dog!  Past dogs have gotten mightily bored with me while I’m in there, and he might too, but for now I am making him a bed down there, complete with a juicy studio-only bone.

After naming 2014 the year of “productive balance” I was feeling quite cautious while pondering what I’d like to happen in 2015. While I was able to remain reasonably productive, the idea of balance ironically turned into 2014’s major challenge with our lives tilting to and fro. For 2015, three words are insisting on being uttered; they are: Positive, Transformation and Investigation.

Time and space definitely need to be left open for those last two things to occur, so once again, I’ve not applied for anything new, and have simply taken on some nice things that have come my way: six rather good shows and three classes planned (the first two are open for registration and are appearing in the sidebar), one or two residencies and at least one (fun) winter house project.

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The downed ear will spend the winter wedged into this notch.

Investigation may or may not change that tactic next year; regardless, I woke on the first feeling… wonderful, and that hasn’t abated. Now, off to a January with only two relatively easy deadlines and many, many lovely possibilities. Wishing you all a wonderful year of excellent choices!

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This wall may be transformed in spring; I am thinking of cutting off the main trunk of the Virginia creeper, but leaving its skeleton, a winter calligraphy I love.

unusual territory

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Giant mutant potatoes?

The residency’s a day past its midpoint, but I’ve only really been here a total of seven days (I went home for awhile last week. Chance cried piteously when I left again. I also needed to spend a day away and at the computer for outside work that didn’t get done before I came, some of which still needs to be done). I do love simply being here, and the company is good, and the level of physical comfort is as wonderful as always, but I said I would always write about the warts, too, so here it is: in the studio it is a genuine, uncomfortable struggle this time. So, I have few words; I’m not used to this, especially not here. All I can do (and am doing) is to keep trying, keep showing up.

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No, just this year’s Ragdale Ring coming down and being hauled away. 

A few good things did happen; I made new ear-fungi and know how I want to expand the installation (and the original ear survived a ferocious Halloween windstorm). And, I inadvertently made something I never realized was possible: high-shrinkage milkweed. It is incredibly tactile and tough and translucent. I’ll show up and make some sheets of that tomorrow, and hope that state of being that usually comes to me here will finally appear as well.

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Not high-shrinkage milkweed pulp, looking a bit like the interior of my brain just now.

Beginnings

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The final and toughest week of our six-month long situation is past; one last wee bit tomorrow, then it all begins to go uphill, till we rise past it. (HUGE sigh of relief).

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Chance is one year old today! He is definitely influenced by his retriever genes, though, and probably won’t entirely mature for another year or two. He’s still a (big) goofy pup who loves his toys and, wonderfully, his training. We now have a great foundation laid for getting him past his fears during the coming months.

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The processing of all the milkweed harvests is finished; it took exactly one month and one day from the first harvest, though for at least half, maybe more, of those days I was unable to address it at all. I have big single bags of black-spotted, clean green, and Cecile’s second harvest gift (which due to time constraints was just steamed, stripped and dried as it was), two gallon bags of stripped seed fluff, two big bags of intriguing seaweed-ish chiri, and best of all, a big bucket full of cleaned, scraped, pure fiber, more than I’ve ever had at one time before: riches.  (Plus, a generous gift of another bag of clean stripped seed fluff which will come my way later in November).

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Top: a little cooked hollyhock, left, plus a small gallon bag of chiri, black-spot, regular steamed & stripped, clean green below.

And the best part of all?  Though I will need to arrive a day or two late, the next time I write to you will be from Ragdale. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a residency more (and the milkweed is coming with me).

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Chiri (and the last of the pods).