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Art at the X

Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen, oil on linen, 16" x 24"

Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen, oil on linen, 16″ x 24″

I’ll be showing Spiral Bowl with Flat Screen at Xavier University Art Gallery’s “Art at the X” from Aug. 25 through Sept. 22. It’s been a number of years since I’ve shown there, and I’m happy to be joining the exhibition again.

Lemon Meringue

A section of deteriorating paint on a curb

Chestnut Leaves

Looking up from under a Chestnut Tree in Lithia Park, Ashland

The Wordbody Blog Turns Ten

Sunrise, Sunset:

Today also happens to be summer solstice—
a great reason to watch the sun set!
Ten years ago today, I started the Wordbody blog before flying off to a tiny island in Micronesia. To celebrate, I compiled an entirely random assortment of things I learned between then and now.  

1) Earplugging fear. Might as well start with the main event. Ten years ago, I flew to Saipan to teach public high school because I was afraid of public speaking. I decided it was time to face that ol’ fear. A wise man once said, “The dogs of doom bark at the door of your destiny. But when you step through the door, you usually find a Chihuahua with a megaphone.” Truth. Today, I teach locally and globally. And I do love it. It is part of my destiny. When those dogs start barking, plug your ears and keep walking.

2) Own compassion. We’ve all heard it before: we can only be as compassionate (or honoring, or respectful, etc.) to others as we are to ourselves. But it’s really, really true. We can’t give what we don’t have. Speaking of giving….

3) Give like a river. I read this somewhere, once upon a time. What you put in from where you stand on a river’s shore will likely be carried downstream. And what you receive may come to you from upriver—from an entirely unexpected, unseen source. As I continually learn this, I’m getting better at releasing the illusion of reciprocity (bonus: this is a great antidote to bitterness).

4) Some reflexes & assumptions can kill you: While driving over the Siskyou Pass in sub-zero winter behind mud-spraying semi trucks, don’t reflexively squirt the cleaner fluid on your windshield. (If you do, you have about two inches of visibility beneath the wiper line to see enough to pull over!) Assumption scenarios with fellow humans can be equally dangerous.

5) Happy day. Years ago, while traveling in Asia, I read Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. By that point, I had lived and worked on several continents, and all but North America knew to take more than two weeks of vacation a year. In Weiner’s search for what makes people happy in Thailand, he found that the Thai people are less likely to take big, long vacations. Instead, they have learned how to build breaks and rest into their everyday lives. I loved that idea. Since reading that, I’m constantly reminding myself to intersperse my freelance work day with hammock time, cups of tea, reading poetry, or just staring out the window. Happier (and more productive) me.

6) Metaphors for the “Big Lessons.As a writer, I love metaphors. As an artist, I also love visual ones. You know the adage about giving people a clean slate? I remind myself of that figurative clean slate by keeping a literal slate (aka a mini chalkboard) above my door. It’s clean—nothin’ on it. A nice reminder.

7) Low fat! Low carb! Paleo! No! While standing in a wedding buffet line in my early thirties, I picked up a piece of bread. One of the women across from me noticed and pointedly said to her friend how great she felt when she avoided bread. That comment felt like a slap on two levels: it felt shaming, and it showed me how my own “didactic diet” had likely annoyed or even hurt others. Sure, if a person has a serious disease or food intolerance, it’s wise to let people know. Otherwise, food trends come and go. Unless someone asks, it’s probably better to figure out what works for ourselves and eat it—not preach it.

8) We are spirit, mind, and body—in that order. I wrote about that in a 2011 post called “Bikini Season for the Spirit.” Reading it again was a good reminder. 

9) The best investment. As a poet/painter, I’m not exactly a Fortune-500-level investor. But a couple of years ago, I decided to give up financial insecurity for Lent. For 2-3 hours a day after work, I read books, watched instructional videos, and navigated websites to figure out how to build a nestegg. When friends asked me what I was up do, I would tell them, and we’d end up sharing our good and bad financial adventures. Over those 40 days, I realized something. The best investments are relationships. My Roth IRA may fluctuate, and the few stocks I bought certainly will, but investing in people—regardless of reciprocity (see #3)—is always savvy.


10) Mistakes are often creativity in disguise. When I first returned home from the island of Saipan, I missed the 180-degree views of sea and sky. I had watched most sunrises and sunsets. One afternoon back in Oregon, I wanted to paint with some leftover red wine. I made myself a cup of coffee but bumped into something as I went to set it down. I splashed just enough over the rim to leave a coffee ring on my paper. At first, I was annoyed. I wanted to use that sheet of watercolor paper to paint! But then, as I looked at the common “mistake” of the ring, I saw the beauty in it. I dipped the cup in wine, and voilà: a tribute to watching sunrise with one beverage and sunset with another. Here’s to seeing coffee rings and other mistakes with new eyes.
 

Arts and Politics in the Trump Era

View the #AFTACON session presentation on Arts and Politics in the Trump Era

Rosehip on Rockface

The Union of a broken rose hip branch with a nearby rock face

Federal Advocacy Update

Read the latest update on federal advocacy.

Art and consciousness

campbell

The past two years have been a desultory mix of so many obligations that it has been nearly impossible to hew to a daily painting discipline. Typically, I’ve enjoyed two months of fairly uninterrupted work and then faced a month when I might have only a few days available for painting–earning some money as a writer, putting in time as a caregiver for my parents, working on our house, visiting my kids in California. As of this June, though, I’ve been able to paint every day and should be able to stick with this schedule into the foreseeable future, with only some short breaks here and there. It’s put me in a much better mood, in general, though that’s tempered by the fact that I’ve reached a point where I’m more critical of the work I’m doing, as I do it. I keep wrestling with a specter of what I recognize as a hyper-sensitive discouragement about results, when the results are actually perfectly fine because what I’m doing and seeing in the work is part of the evolution, the path. Ironically, I feel as if I’m at a threshold where my methods and skills are such that I can reliably do certain things now that weren’t possible before, so I have to fight an impatience that arises when I’m not surprised by what I’m doing. (I’m still struggling as I go, facing uncertainties, but it’s more within a broader range of confidence, so my success at this or that doesn’t impress me as much.) I need to be patient and do what I know how to do for a while, consolidate what I’ve learned about how to paint, in order to build a body of work over the next couple years–which means I have to fight the impatient urge to push past this stage into something a little bolder. More on that later.

Meanwhile, in an email alert from Open Culture, I learned that I can listen to hours of Joseph Campbell lectures for free now on Spotify. Quelle pleasant surprise. I immediately started listening to his lectures at Cooper Union in the late 60s, and after only a few minutes Campbell got right to the heart of the matter and confirmed that I will have some pleasant hours ahead of me:

One of the problems man has to face is reconciling himself to the problem of his own existence, and this is the first function of mythology is that reconciliation of consciousness with the mystery of being, not criticizing it. Shakespeare and his definition of art where he says, art (or the art of acting,) holds the mirror up to nature. It is a perfect definition I would say of the first function of mythology. When you hold a mirror up to your self, your consciousness becomes aware of its support, what it is that is supporting it. You may be shocked with what you see; or you may be pleased that you become aware of yourself, your consciousness becomes aware of that darkness, that Being which came into being out of darkness and which is its own support. The first function then of a mythology is the reconciliation of consciousness to the foundations of being and the realization of their mystery as something that consciousness is not going to be able to criticize, not even going to be able to elucidate, not even going to be able to name. It is something beyond naming, beyond all definitions, and when that is lost one loses the sense of awe, which Goethe calls the best thing in man. One loses the sense of gratitude for one’s privilege of having a center of consciousness aware of these things.

Aged Iris

The essence of this iris seems to remain even as it transitions

Caution

A note of caution on the side of construction equipment