Intimacy

Intimacy
We were so fortunate to go on a ten day trip to the Northern Territory in August. We flew to Darwin and then toured by car to National parks, lagoons, waterfalls, through flat country dotted with termite castles and through a landscape of canyons which glowed red and orange in the early morning sun. It is expansive savannah country up there. Everything that grows has to be hardy to withstand long periods of dry and then deluges of rain and humidity—and heat all year round.

We saw rock art underneath stone ledges that was thousands of years old. I visited a cultural centre in Kakadu and read about the indigenous way of life in that area. We also had an indigenous guide on one tour, who told us of the traditional uses of some of the plants, trees and ways of the local people. What struck me was how intimate they were, and had been, with the land—and everything in it. They survived and flourished for at least 30,000 years. What seemed to me a harsh place on first sight was full of riches—food, lore and connection.

I am reading ‘Dying, a memoir’ by Cory Taylor. She writes with great clarity and intimacy about her dying. The memoir is her testament to her life and her loved ones. Every word is poignant and the writing is very graceful. She says, ‘You do reflect on your past when you’re dying. You look for patterns and turning points and wonder if any of it is significant.’

This is slender book with nothing extraneous in it, no unnecessary ballast. It has an indigo blue cover. The same dark blue hue that I’ve focused on for a year or more. The colour that became a vehicle for me to be more intimate with feelings of melancholy, sadness, grief and loss. I am now more at ease with these darker emotions, even treasure their softness and respite from the ever greedy lust for life, movement and colour. Blue also reminds me of resting and slowing— bywords for being intimate—it can’t be done in a hurry.

I don’t really know what reflections would arise in my time of dying. Cory writes about her slow decline, ’And so it goes the endless list of pleasures I can no longer enjoy. Pointless to miss them of course, as that won’t bring them back, but so much sweetness is bound to leave a terrible void when it’s gone. I’m only grateful I tasted so much of it when I had the chance. I have had a blessed life in that way, full of countless delights. When you’re dying, even your unhappiest memories can induce a sort of fondness, as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread.’

I have the last sentence weaving in and out of my mind and it shimmers as does Cory’s writing.

‘….as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread’.

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Winter Messenger

Winter Messenger

The birch tree is almost bare now. With the help of the wind I’ve swept up the golden leaves from the grey pavers.

I am sitting on the couch writing these words and looking out onto another winter messenger— the large azalea bush in the garden. It is flowering and the sight of it fills me with wonder and tenderness.

Hymn to the azalea bush

White azalea petals
floating in blue
what a vast world
we are in

The other night
a fine golden band hung in the sky
the rest of the moon
was softly lit above

Birth and death
so near breathing as one
intertwined
hush my child

I am here
I am here for you
and white azalea flowers
are a message for me

The white azalea flowers remind me of another time, 27 years ago, when my second child was born. I was a single mother with lots of uncertainties lying ahead. A white azalea bush flowered in the front yard of the rented house we lived in. The flowers lifted my spirit time and time again. They seemed such messengers of goodness, sweetness and beauty. I picked some and placed them next to my baby’s sleeping face. They so perfectly mirrored each other. They both came from vast space—vast life and lit up my fragile existence. They began ordering my life, making space and bringing light so that we could grow. They became the symbol, the link to an overwhelming love and commitment to another.

Life wants goodness and love, and every year the white azalea flowers are my winter messengers to remember.

Sombre Joy

Marita Blue 1

‘Melancholy is a twilight state; suffering melts into it and becomes a sombre joy. Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad’. Victor Hugo from ‘Toilers of the Sea’

What a month it has been. My partner had another health emergency— a frightening experience in the middle of the night. He is recovering and in need of calm, slow and quiet. We both need calm and slow. Maybe we could all do with more of that.

It is rather uncanny how my process with the colour blue, with its emergent themes and reflections, have prepared the ground for what is required now.

The main theme that ever so slowly emerged was melancholy and I’d like to sing its praises some more—in a low key melody. According to the ancients melancholy was associated with twilight and autumn and the planet Saturn. That distant planet who was also seen as the Lord of Time.

I’ve always resonated with autumn even as a child and young adult.  It felt like a threshold into something mysterious— with its slanting light, mists, the changing and dying leaves and the sun getting weak.

It is autumn now, here in the southern hemisphere. To enhance and heighten autumn here in the subtropics I added a few more deciduous trees to the resident liquid amber that the original owner had planted. It is a tall and glorious tree now. Each year it marks the cooler season with its yellow leaves. They drift gently and continuously to the ground, or sometimes fall in a flurry, depending on the wind. For the rest of the cooler season they cover the ground ankle deep.

At the other end of the garden grows a persimmon tree that I planted. It is struggling and never bears any fruit. But every autumn its leaves turn into orange flames. They are glowing right now. Another deciduous tree I planted, way too close to the house, is the ‘greedy’ tropical birch that sucks the moisture out of the ground and is already lifting the pavers. It is a folly really, but every year I wait for the leaves to turn golden. All this colour, this extravagance that nature brings forth before its wintery sleep. Autumn, falling leaves, bare limbs, they give me permission to feel sad and melancholy… about so many things. Just that bitter sweet feeling that soothes the tired heart and allows it to rest—in spaciousness. It is quite different to worry or feeling troubled.

My little persimmon tree reminds me of Japan, where ‘A Field to Melancholy’ by Jacky Bowring, tells me they have an expression called ‘mono no aware’ or the ‘the tears of things’ also translated as ‘an empathy toward things’. It is a term for the awareness of impermanence, the transience of things and a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness). It is related to another Japanese sensibility called Wabi Sabi, a sensibility that also amplifies the significance of time passing. It celebrates the beauty of the weathered, withered, the imperfect and well-worn. Both transmit serenity in the face of impermanence.

The Buddhist teacher Dzigar Kongtrül in his book ‘It’s up to you’ writes about melancholy, ’Some people feel a strong attraction to this unfamiliar feeling of melancholy—and others, a strong urge to run away. In either case, the important thing is to appreciate our underlying sadness. It is a hint of a deeper intelligence that is normally obscured by the distractions of daily life. In solitude, this natural faculty of our mind comes out of an almost dormant state.’

The other night I lit a fire and burned fallen twigs and branches in the back yard and stayed out with the twilight…and watched the darkening sky turning from deep blue to black. I felt a sombre joy with the darkening, the coming of winter, the shorter and more solitary days.

I called out to my partner to come and join me by the fire. He walked ever so slowly, poked the fire, both of us aware and appreciative that we have another autumn together.

Collecting Dew

Collecting DewI am still engaged with blue. It has taken me awhile to submerge and surrender to what is there in that space. At times I felt like above image— an earnest person trawling shallow water for ideas, for gold coins, for interesting debris that she could use. Or wandering with her empty vessel in tow —open for collection—for dew —for mana from heaven. Of course she was trailing a golden vessel because she wanted bright and likeable ideas.

Nothing bright showed up in my mind. Anything blue that I touched seemed sombre and dark, uncomfortably so…until I found a book in the local bookshop. I had gone there to buy ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown but came home with ‘A Field Guide To Melancholy’ by Jacky Bowring. When I noticed it on the book shelf it immediately leapt into my hand. I wanted to put it back. Who wants to be seen with a book on melancholy? Almost as bad as a book on sexual dysfunction, but it wouldn’t leave me alone. So I bought it and carried it home in a brown paper bag and with a sense of quiet excitement.

She talks about ‘the delicious elusiveness of melancholy’. Reading the ‘Field Guide’ reminded me that I didn’t need to move away from uncomfortable feelings. I have stopped looking for better emotions, thoughts or a better place to be in. I am more settled into the present as it is, often with a tinge of sadness but now wrapped in a soft, midnight blue blanket.

I want to go slow with plenty of pauses and time for reflection, even though going slow is against my conditioned energy. I often find myself working fast and in a hurried pace as if someone was standing behind me keeping time. To get the most jobs done in the shortest amount of time was the competition my sister and I had going when we helped our parents on the farm. We emulated our mother who hardly ever rested but hurried on. ‘So much to do’, was her mantra. Whereas our father was slow in his movements, took his time and rested often. There was a division of roles in my household—girls had to work speedily and boys could take their time. Men were responsible for some important jobs and the women for everything else.

Working so speedily I miss out on the pleasant sensations of calm and spaciousness that slowness, attention and absorption exude and foster. I’ve also been finding this advice from Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Master, who encourages us to walk slow: ’Instead of galloping about’ he says, ‘we walk slowly, like a cow or an elephant. If you walk slowly, without any idea of gain then you are already a good Zen student’— or a good student of life and art, I might add.

Now these blue colours remind me of the deep sea, vast space where barely anything moves, where time is of little consequence. Blue evokes calm, slow, immersive, quiet and timeless. I’ve promised myself to hang out in this blue space until my skin stains indigo.

Rocinante

RocinanteA while back I decided in my art making to immerse myself in one colour at a time and see what would happen. First was to be red, than blue, then yellow—the three primary colours. It was the briefest flicker of an idea and for a short moment a shimmering vision. It was enough to get me started though.

I had never forgotten the Anish Kapoor sculptures at the Queensland Art Gallery made from pure pigment and colour. They were absorbing, astonishing and transcendent. Something similar happened seeing a room dedicated to the Blue Monochromes by Yves Klein in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne many years ago.

Of course, I would explore in a free-wheeling style with more modest means and scale. So in my colour exploration, red turned into pink, and it eventually led to a very engaging and resonant process and some surprising creations called Lunar Tide.

After pink came blue. Like a satin bowerbird I was drawn to the colour and began collecting and acquiring blue things: plastic bottles, beads, buttons, material, ribbons, fishing line, glass…as long as it was blue and easy enough to carry into my den. It looks kind of pretty in there but art making is slow and treacle like. The colour of water and sky that could be infinite was turning up in tight patterns. What could/should be a fountain was just a trickle.

Is it the colour, I wonder or is it that inner awkwardness in the face of something new and unknown? A mixture of awkward, inner critic and high expectation?

How to be with this pupae stage— the ungainly teenager phase? It hadn’t really been okay to be so awkward, so insecure when I was younger… or even now. I notice the discomfort in others when I try to explain what I am feeling about my process. Usually I end up being given advice on what to do, advice I don’t want.

A few weeks ago when the above image coalesced and the face of the ‘tired horse’ came through in the white random lines I felt akin with it. That very ordinary horse was an apt metaphor for how I felt.

It reminded me of the old horse in the famous novel ‘Don Quixote’. ‘Rocinante is not only Don Quixote’s horse, but also his double: like him, he is awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities’ (Wikipedia).

Is this awkwardness that I am experiencing related to feeling vulnerable, I wonder? In ‘Daring Greatly’, author Brené Brown (p 34) defines ‘vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure….to put our art, our writing our photography, our ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation—that is also vulnerability’.

It seems that the willingness to be vulnerable is necessary to feel connected and wholehearted in just about everything in life. I might just be ready to let that in and let my little tired horse lead the way.

Available Light

Available Light

After the clatter of home-coming subsided, restlessness set in— itchy feet syndrome— where can I go next syndrome? Travelling to other places can relieve that condition temporarily, but another trip isn’t on the cards.  Restlessness was followed by the sadness of missing family and the deep familiarity of place. It’s a bodily longing all of it’s own. It’s home is in the bones.

I have a lot of time on my hands since I don’t have a ‘proper’ job or a career to take up my time and energy. There are lots of empty spaces in my diary and in the daily routines. This came about by good fortune, inclination and choice. On my return it was too much of a good thing. Instead of a charged ‘nothing’  it felt like a hole. The hardest trip to make seemed to be the one ‘back home’.

I had started a new art project before I left. But this work in progress has lost traction. Was it a simplistic idea?  A whim not worth pursuing? What for and to what end? Doubt easily takes hold and it floods my inner world and makes it mute and soggy. I didn’t give in completely but went to my workshop anyway. Needing to go some place… and besides it is my den. It is a space that holds suspense. As if we have a contract with each other— I’ll show up on a fairly regular basis and the space welcomes me and takes care of some form of creativity happening within.

This morning I read the following passage by the writer Dani Shapiro in her book, ‘Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life.’

‘I’ve learned to be wary of those times when I think I know what I am doing—I’ve discovered that my best work comes from the uncomfortable but fruitful feeling of not having a clue…….
Let go of every should and shouldn’t running through your mind when you start. Be willing to stand at the base of a new mountain, and with humility and grace, bow to it. Allow yourself to understand that it’s bigger than you, or anything you can possibly imagine. You’re not sure of the path. You’re not even sure where the next step will take you. When you begin, whisper to yourself: I don’t know.’ 

Yes, it is so uncomfortable not to know—so frustrating, anxiety producing but also adventurous and fruitful. In my retiring life there are more perils, adventures and misadventures than I could ever have imagined…and that is only travelling 20 metres away from home—to my workshop.

The image above is from my little travel journal. It was a response to a modern ballet by Lucinda Childs with the title ‘Available Light’.

Wishing for us all to receive the Available Light—to a creative, warm and heartfelt 2016.

Visual Diary from Germany

I recently spent three precious months with family in Germany. I arrived in summer and left in autumn—from green verdant meadows and swimming in lakes to forests aflame with red and yellow leaves. I left as the days became shorter, colder and often grey.

IMG_3781During my time I saw a lot of art in small and large galleries and museums. A delicious smorgasbord. It was exciting to be in cities that offered so much in visual art, dance, music and theatre.

When I travel I always carry a small A6 visual diary and some pencils, glue stick, charcoal, eraser and other bits and pieces. I have a need to verbally and visually document…it is engaging and gives me a sense of contentment. I make some marks, erase some and see what emerges and eventually constructs itself into an image. I have included some in this blog entry.

Most of the time I stayed with my sister in Berlin. I got to experience her favourite places—her favourite cafés, neighbourhoods, the friends in her life, the park next to the famous bridge (Agentenbrücke) where West and East Germany traded agents during the cold war.

My exhibition, ‘All that fits into a suitcase’,  worked well in the space provided. I did not use the artist statement that I put up on last blog. I was advised by my sisters to let the art works speak for themselves.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much time some viewers took, and by how carefully they examined and tried to understand the images, and by the sensitive feedback they offered in return.

All in all it was a pretty good fit.
A lot of work as well

IMG_3767Written in red on the little paper bags that came with the postcards I bought in art museums was a quote by Karl Valentin:

‘Kunst ist schön, aber macht viel Arbeit.’
‘Art is beautiful but makes for a lot of work.’

 

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Our short holiday to northern Italy, to beautiful Lake Como, was a highlight of my stay. Delighted children in an enchanting world.

 

 

 

IMG_3758August was sunny, even hot. Most people revelled in the heat. Trees and plants were under strain. The sandy soil around Berlin was drying up and the leaves were turning  prematurely yellow. They were crying out for rain.

 


1945
—Defeat. Liberation. New Beginning. Twelve European countries after the Second World War was an exhibition at the German Historical Museum. The German yoke of history is strong and one cannot escape its weight or scope when in Berlin. There are many attempts to inform, to take responsibility and to make amends as well. This is a changed attitude since I was a young adult and it is a great relief.

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IMG_37722015- Other Wars. Refugees from the middle East, mainly Syria, are leaving their homes and are crossing into Europe and arriving in Germany. The country mobilises for this huge humanitarian task. Many volunteers are giving freely of their time. Generally the mood is one of helpfulness and concern but there is also tension.

 

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Two Protestant churches in the neighbourhood. Their bells announce each hour of the day and vigorously toll at midday and at 6pm.

 

 

 

 

 

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I visited a friend in Switzerland. Everyday we went on excursions in this most pleasant country. On my last day we walked to a place in the mountains, called ‘End of the World’. It was a very lush and pleasing place with a restaurant.  We got lost on the numerous walking trails criss-crossing the country-side and arrived home just before dark.

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It all gets complicated sometimes. To prepare for the Finissage (closing celebration of exhibition) and providing food and drink for our many guests was quite a complex logistical undertaking. My sister and I didn’t always see eye to eye in the lead-up. But it all came together beautifully.

 

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My cup was overflowing on the night, first with fear, then with joy and warmth for all the family and friends who came to celebrate with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that fits into a suitcase

All that fits into a suitcaseThis is my artist statement and invitation for an upcoming exhibition in Berlin:

All that fits into a suitcase

Little Hans went alone
into the wide world.
Staff and hat suit him well.
He is in high spirits.
Mummy and daddy cry so much,
for they miss their little Hans.
The child considers this
and returns quickly home again.

I remember my parents singing this song to us when we were little (it rhymes in German and sounds much better). Going away from home and family was unthinkable for us. The world out there was unknown and could not be trusted—stay home was the message. When I was in my early twenties I did set off—with a ‘little Hermann’ who had grown tall. Staff and hat suited him well. We did not return, stayed in Australia instead—a very long way from home—a very long way from family and familiar connections. I missed them deeply. This was a wound that often ached. 

Recently, I read the line ‘the blessing is next to the wound’. When I began to expand my art practice from ceramics to works on paper and canvas those old wounds were troublesome again. They became the fuel for expression. Images emerged slowly. They needed time. They had their own cumbersome way of being born. They taught me about patience and process—about the nature of serendipity and surprise—to learn to stay open and let them emerge. These were some of the blessings that helped me feel more at home in myself and in my new home.

When I left Germany in my youth and started the journey into the unknown, my suitcase was  heavy—full of old things and an unknown future. This time, more than thirty years later, my suitcase is full of images of the inner journey. Still full but so much lighter at the same time.

This exhibition is being organised by my sister and it will be on for two months in an alternative health centre in Kreuzberg. I am glad to be able to take back this small harvest— fruits grown out of a sense of estrangement and separation. That wound was a blessing in the end—it made me go searching and not to take everything for granted.

I found a life here, one I could not have imagined. I found creative and artistic expression. I found friends and much kindness. I found Buddhist-based teachings —teachings of connection and interdependence that over time shift old patterns and views and are transformative.

I’ll be off soon—a bit apprehensive but curious about being immersed for three months ‘back home’.

Play 3

Play-3Early winter days. Treasured spacious days, some sunny, some overcast. I love the hours when I can sit propped up with laptop on knees and continue my writing project. I follow the threads and learn how they weave themselves, what shape they want to take. What shape they can take. Writing is intricate. There is so much to it— sentence structure, re-arranging or deleting, logic, flow, tension, repetition..… and that’s only the first draft.

It’s humbling to write. There is often a gap between the desire and longing for an unknown elusive quality and the actual outcome. But all in all it is flowing quite nicely and I like the solitary nature of it and the prospect of hours ahead with no distractions.

In the past when I sought the approval and appraisal of the writing from others tension set in. Their response might stop the flow—could even pull the plug on my writing project. So now I follow a teacher’s advice ‘to be an audience of one’.

‘Strong pressure to perform well inhibits creativity and learning by focusing attention strongly and narrowly on the goal, thereby reducing the ability to focus on means. In the pressured state, one tends to fall back on instinctive or well-learned ways of doing things.’
Peter Gray on his blog on play

A week ago I made the first winter fire in the back yard burning dry sticks and branches… and ten A 4 diaries from my stack of journals that I kept over the years. The stack is reducing….I am relieved. They were only relevant for that moment in time when they were written— and only for me.

But lately my mind has been a bit like a sieve with large gaps where chunks of information seem to fall through. I wondered about the lack of record I am left with now and wrote a poem this morning.

Golden leaves in autumn

I’ll make a list one day
of how the years were spent
their main features and scope
time passing

A small notebook of names
dates, lists, travels, highlights
people met and projects
planned and accomplished

I am starting to forget
entering oblivion
the good and the bad
puzzled and relieved

Will I remember the golden tree
outside my window—a tropical birch
today, June 13th 2015
the golden leaves are falling

Lying on the dark wet pavement
like a thousand suns
their inner light is glowing
just before it’s gone.

Play 2

Play-2I will continue with the thread of play—made from pink plastic, a little black bead and tendrils searching for the light.

I was writing this morning, sitting in bed, couldn’t wait to get going after a few days break. I am working on memoir pieces that I want to bring to completion this winter. Twenty two years ago I did a couple of creative writing courses, fiction and non-fiction. The few memoir pieces about my childhood in Germany I wrote back then have tugged at me and called out to me through the years. These stories were like sepia postcards, nostalgic and naive. Years later there came anguished soul searching pieces and ‘trying to be literary’ pieces. But I gave it up after a while. It all went into the too hard basket—my English language skills, unwieldy mind—too many expectations— too much a means to an end.

To what end do I want to complete them? I’ll see. Much to learn along this writing journey, I am sure. I am attached to the pieces written over the years and try to use them—knit around them and adding pieces. The whole thing could turn out like a really shapeless blanket. Maybe like the first shawl I knitted as a child. I lost stitches, the edges grew in and out, zigzagging out of control. Nonetheless I felt satisfaction, I had made a shawl. I loved knitting. Never complex patterns, I have to say.

My writing is just as ungainly and it will take time—hours and hours— but that’s okay. I am fulfilling a promise that I made to myself. It is is part of the cleaning, clearing, sorting, emptying process that is the privilege of these winter days.

Peter Gray on his blog on play says:

‘One reason why play is such an ideal state of mind for creativity and learning is because the mind is focused on means. Since the ends are understood as secondary, fear of failure is absent and players feel free to incorporate new sources of information and to experiment with new ways of doing things. And because the player’s attention is focused on process more than outcome, the player’s mind is not distracted by fear of failure.’

I only realise now that ‘play’ is my theme. It’s been my theme for the last ten years. To discover the conditions of play instead of following the rules of striving toward the goal.

A mind that is free to play is a revelation to me. Life is so much more mysterious and exciting that way and so much more inclusive and wide.

I have a friend, who is living in China. Her and her partner play…. with balls, rocks, hula hoops, acrobatics and much more. They are the ‘Wobbly Spoon’ and here is their website.

http://www.wobblyspoon.com/

To the wobble.