Not just yet, and farewell.

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We got just under 20″ of snow; the next day was beautiful, with dramatic blue sky, and bright sun on shapes honed by the windy storm…

An extra mid-week post: yeah, I write more blogs in winter.

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…including our temporarily-aerodynamic cars. One of them is back to its square-ish self now.

Those few seconds of viral-ity I wrote about in the post-before-the-last have now turned into two weeks; it’s slowed down some but hasn’t stopped. (S)Edition spores still spread. The e-mail has finally ebbed, but the deluge contained a few little gems of possibility; some nice things are under discussion. It’s been a fairly amazing experience.

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This exquisite pattern on the garage window didn’t last long in the light that showed it off.

I also took on a great summer project that comes with a small grant, and am working on an interesting set of interview questions. Those things weren’t connected to the internet activity; they sprang from other spores at a place I love. Just to keep things in perspective, I also was rejected from a fellowship I was invited to apply for.

The day after the internet dam broke, I threw out my hip somehow, resulting in lower back spasms that haven’t abated, limiting mobility. Last week I visited the medico / insurance conglomerate, which yesterday approved a new round of physical therapy, for which I am utterly grateful, and eager to begin.

All these things have cut a chunk into winter plans; something had to give, especially to make room for p/t. Farewell, house project.  I’ve lived with the awful wallpaper I’d planned to collage over for a long time now, so I guess I can ignore it till next winter.

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The led lights came down today but the green glass globe stays to capture the returning light.

Though I’m late, I want / need to note the recent passing of another wonderful, influential book arts person: Arthur Jaffe.  Though I never met him in person, he was an early supporter of my work, and we enjoyed some excellent e-mail exchanges. I was impressed by his his enthusiasm, expansive personality and wit, and I’ve always rather loved his description of why he collected the pieces of mine he did.  One of the many amazing stories about Arthur is what he did during WW2: he fired shells stuffed with leaflets into Nazi Germany. They exploded and papered the landscape with information on how to defect or surrender, which resulted in a steady stream of lives saved. Is it any wonder that he had a singular, expansive, and truly intelligent view of what a book can be, after experiencing such an example with all his senses? We’ll miss you, Arthur, and thank you. We need more like you.

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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Unprecedented

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The next show was shipped without a glitch, outstanding admin was finished, and Friday night I had a lovely time attending the reception for ‘Constructed / DeConstructed’ where I ran into a couple of friendly former InterArts folks, met the college president, spoke to a drawing class, and had some fine conversations.

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Detail of ‘I heard you the first time’ by fellow Constructed / DeConstructed artist Shaila Christofferson.

Only a wee bit of prep and one more outside task remains (taxes, on time for once) and then: I have three full months, from late January to late April, with NO admin and, aside from a day retrieving the aforementioned show when it ends, only a single late-April deadline. Unprecedented! My self-appointed work will be to finish the series (and installation) made at Ragdale, make new work, begin an appealing house project, and get Chance ready to conquer his outdoor fears. Even though I deliberately set this up, I can still hardly believe it. Three months! It feels SO great.

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Out in the world, a nice blog mention. Thanks to Green Chair Press and to Velma for telling me.

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Awaiting transformation.

And, I was quite sad to learn that formidable former colleague Nana Shineflug has left us, but I know that she surely must be cocooned in the peace that comes from a life lived well and to the hilt. Here is a nice tribute, and here are some photos of her life and work.

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Nana taught awareness of the body like no other.  Right now, we’re above freezing for a few days, but if and when the deep freeze returns, I am ready to shelter mine with this, and to keep moving.

First Freeze

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As it began…

Getting that new roof was pricey, but the timing was most fortunate: the snow came and then the first polar freeze of the winter. It’s been five days; we ran out (with many other neighborhood folks) to stock up on provisions just as it began. The dogs don’t want to be out unless it’s necessary, not even Lupe with her spectacular winter coat..

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During last year’s barrage of polar vortexes, I shut the door on my cold cold office, moved the laptop out to the living room and stayed there, working and watching Chance being a baby-pup. This year, I was determined to keep it open, so in between easy bouts of teaching / show admin and a few site updates (including a new book page), I addressed that. I put up shrink wrap window insulation, got all the extra pink board from the basement studio and lined the lower wall next to my desk with it, then insulated with books, cramming the lower bookshelves on the outside walls full, and moving some boxes of stored paper things to fill in the gap between shelves. Books and paper rule in many different ways, and in this instance, they actually brought the temperature in here up from 48F to just a hair under 60F. Excellent (though admittedly not pretty.)

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Paperbacks in particular are superb insulation because they fit together so well.

(In keeping with my 2015 theme, it was even a Transformation of sorts, though by insulating the walls, further Investigation led me to discover how cold the floors are, located as they are over the only unheated room in the basement. There will hopefully be a Productive day or two insulating the basement ceiling.)

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Working to get Chance used to his new training halter is a part of each day, sometimes twice a day. It’s slow, slow going, but he wouldn’t have posed patiently at the beginning of the week. Hopefully by late winter we’ll be outdoors with it on; now is a good time for pursuits requiring patience, and he’s especially attentive because he wants something -anything! – to do. Moving books off the top shelf to use as insulation also allowed me to adapt to another aspect of winter with a bored young thief. It makes life easier.

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It’s going well, but of course I’m ready for the freeze to end, and hope we have awhile before the next. On Sunday, when it warms, I’ll pull crates out of the garage and pack and ship a show that will leave a pleasant empty area in my storage space till August. I always welcome more space in winter!

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Out in the world, I’m pleased once again to have a detail of my work as the cover for the current issue of Spoon River Poetry Review, Construction / DeConstruction opened at Prairie State’s Christopher Gallery, and Jim Croft and Melody Eckroth put up a new web site with tons of wonderful photos, in case you’re cold indoors, dreaming of book arts pursuits.

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.

Hectic, happy holiday season.

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After a couple of days to chill (and an afternoon acknowledging that this is actually the holiday season, plus two annual vet visits), I’ve been working full-tilt on three projects, portions of which I delayed during the residency; it’s all been inching forward and everything will be finally resolved and sent out this weekend.  Plus, I am getting ready for 2015’s first show…

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…unpacking the works from their crates so that they can all be stacked gently in a single load in my car in their bubble wrap, and tweaking a brand-new piece from this year’s Ragdale residency that will also be shown here. All of it will be delivered and installed on Monday. (And I’ve also been in e-mail conference about two new upcoming 2015 shows that appeared in my inbox this week.)

Meanwhile, ZIA Gallery’s annual winter group show has been going great for me, and in the past few weeks, several works have found new homes:

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Another grouping of these Exo Studies were purchased; I think only one or two remain at ZIA now.

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Two Years in Reverse was acquired by Oberlin College’s collection. 

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Up My Sleeve went to a lovely lady I met at Ragdale, a holiday gift to herself!

I saw her heading to the office on my last day there as I walked out to pack up the studio, and she told me she was the collector.

(Up My Sleeve is a favorite of mine so I am impressed by her choice.)

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And just this week, ‘Flow From’ went to new collectors at the gallery. Wonderful!

Our family celebration is Tuesday, Wednesday we’ll shop for a lovely meal I’ll happily cook, and then we’ll gratefully collapse for a quiet warm holiday at home: lots and lots to celebrate!

I wish you all peace, warmth and joy, whatever and however you celebrate, and, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Progressing

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Beautiful but quite cold; January temps.

I was lax with the camera last week; it was a time of being too personally engaged to think of framing it through a lens.  On Monday and Tuesday, I got out the dyes and finished a piece, while taking others further. I’m pleased with what’s been happening. Wednesday, I met the very lovely man who funded the Prairie fellowship. We had a fine visit (with Linda-prepared lunch!) for a couple of hours.  Thursday, I held an open studio, and all the residents who remained at that point came out, in spite of cold bitter winds; it was warm and fun inside. Friday, we all left, and I came home to a happy pack (and the literally termed ‘excellent’ conclusion to the situation we’ve been dealing with for most of this year: hooray!)

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As yet untitled above, in progress below, along with much more. 

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Saturday evening I attended one of the nicest opening receptions in a long time, the annual end-of-the-year group exhibition at ZIA. What made it special was the fact that though I was engaged in conversations from the time I walked in to the time I left, they were with no more than three people at a time, and I could actually participate in some meaningful (and fun) dialogue. Sunday, I had a sweet restorative quiet rainy day just being with my pack.

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He’s calmer when I come and go, but while I’m home, he wants to be aware of my every move. 

But I’ve saved the absolute best for last: yesterday I drove up in the snow that’s now blanketing everything and I’m back at Ragdale for another three weeks!

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Been waiting for this.

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Big bluestem after wind and snow.

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And still.

Chimera chuckles

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‘Sprinter’ is what some local wit called this season after last night’s latest dump of snow. Heavy, wet gigantic clumps were coming down thickly when Chance needed to go out at 4:30 am; I could feel them splat as they landed on me. In the (late) morning when I woke again, it was all quite pretty, and we had a sunny pack walk. But still: I did think, during the past week’s melt, that spring was really here, yet it’s getting appreciably colder this evening.

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In the work realm, I got a rather large shipment off to the next exhibition yesterday, and details for another publication squared away, but then there’s been more changes for other upcoming shows, and some of the other work I did may not have been necessary, now. I’m waiting for decisions to be made in order not to waste any more effort. Eventually, they’ll all be resolved, whether or not they are the exhibitions I had originally expected.

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Like the weather and the art world, with shelter dogs, it’s also a crapshoot.  When we adopted Lupe, she had been rejected and returned to the Chicago pound twice. She was nine months old, so we could see what she was going to look like as an adult. Her Belgian Tervuren blood was very evident, giving us clues about who she eventually became: a smart, gentle, calm, velcro-dog.

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When we adopted Chance, I agreed with the shelter’s best guess at his ancestry: Australian Shepherd / Retriever mix. His baby appearance strongly suggested that, but it’s not what he’s growing into.  During the past two weeks, he’s dropped his fuzzy Aussie-ish puppy coat; he will be a shorthair, with some longer feathering around the ears.  He has huge, very webbed feet, which originally supported the retriever notion. But at this point, judging from his evolving build and personality, I suspect what we have is a Catahoula Leopard Dog mix, and that’s where his blue eyes come from, not Aussie genes.

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 Catahoula Dog

Does that matter?  Not in terms of his future: he’s our pup. But I confess, I probably would not have deliberately chosen a Catahoula. They are highly intelligent, and beautiful, but they’re a whole lot of dog, particularly for a small city yard.  Chance is telling us that a strong pack leader is exactly what he needs and responds to. I can be that, but I’ve always preferred beasties I can relax that role with a bit.

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Smooth Collie

However, there’s something else in the mix; the shape of his head and the set of his ears might even be a hint of (smooth) Collie, though I’m not seeing their legendary gentleness. He’s got some aggression issues with other dogs in puppy class and on the street. We’re working towards cooling that as quickly as possible with training, and thinking of neutering him a bit early.

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Fortunately, as Paul keeps pointing out, Chance has definitely decided he’s my dog. He follows me everywhere, waits outside the door when I’m in a closed room, and his idea of bliss is to be invited onto my lap. ‘What’ he turns out to be isn’t as important as ‘who’. He’s listening; I can only keep patiently, firmly, gently teaching him about the dog I want him to become, and to temper my expectations to his capabilities and instincts as he reveals them.

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And some things about Chance are his alone…he holds his ears this way, often.

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It’s warm enough again for pack walks (it’s the kind of winter when 20F feels warm); we start with all four of us, do our block and an adjoining one, then Paul and Chance go in and I take Lupe for another round of a few more alley blocks. Those late winter dirty grey piles of snow have always been able to get to me, but if I begin to ‘feel too February’, all I have to do is look back at other ugly piles from five years ago to be thankful for how much more genuine life is now.  Who knew blogging would prove to be so useful?

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The mail brought this: I’m pleased to have had an image of a page spread from Manifest, O illustrate an article by Anneli Rufus in the current issue of Spirituality & Health magazine.  The author discusses the ways that reading fiction can increase our empathic qualities in our everyday lives.  When I was asked for permission for the image to be used (one of those things that gravitated into my inbox) I was not familiar with the magazine and didn’t know what the article would cover, but I did like its title.  As a lifelong fiction addict it was gratifying to have my work extended in context with ideas I agree with and can support (and to have the check that accompanied the two copies help support me as well; thanks to Art Director Sandra Salamony). In a few weeks, there will also be an online slideshow of all the artists’ works used in this issue.

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The mail also brought this sweet wee bit of dyed kozo from a Connecticut postmark, with no note.  I’m calling it a valentine, since it arrived today. Whoever you are, mystery mailer, thank you!

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Playwithme playwithme playwithme!

I laugh when I read more recent past blogs, about thinking this would be a quiet year.  Chance is now full-tilt into his hellion phase, and had a two-hour yowling tantrum in his crate last night; even with pack walks and playing in the yard and daily training sessions and a lot of fetch and tug of war, he spends time each day just tearing around the house at top speed, sometimes having his back legs overtake his front. He’s hilarious, and Paul, Lupe and I are laughing but really, really tired.

(In spite of it all, I’ve finally gotten the peskiest essay / statement finished for an important new page for the web site; tomorrow is lots of running around town rather than publishing, but that was a breakthrough!)