a piece of panettone.
all of the people are gone
and i am finally left alone
with my book.
i feel like i could sleep for days and days.
but the book is too good
so i read instead.
into the depths of winter on the coast of newfoundland i go.
make sure you bring your mittens.
the book is finished.
aside from a few minor changes. and i am starting to feel as if i am being released from it’s grasp. winded. stretched. needing some time to just be. there is much to tell about it later, it was written two years ago this january, rejected six times until it found the right publisher. then two of my manuscripts were accepted basically in the same month. I revised them both over the summer, and since september I have done over 400 illustrations (on top of moving accross the country and not moving into a home for two months). i can’t believe it myself.
the wolf and i go for a walk this morning and it is almost as if i am feeling the wind on my skin for the first time in months. we traipse through the neighborhood and the grounds at the castle, picking up pine boughs that broke off during a recent storm. the first breath of christmas enters my lungs, and i throw the branches over my shoulder. they bounce behind us as we make the journey home. the wolf being a work dog keeps looking up at me and the branches to make sure everything is in line, it is his job to oversee any work that occurs. and i feel like we are a team. partners in harvesting the christmas spirit, in the form of ‘found’ decorations.
i have become accustomed to having this white being at my side on my travels. we are alone for the weekend and I plan for the two of us to decorate the house, listen to x-mas music (lucky for the wolf that he is deaf so he won’t have to hear me sing along at the top of my lungs), read some good books, and bake a little.
we place the boughs on the porch and go inside to warm up some lunch. i have been listening to CBC Newfoundland lately broadcast on the internet. today is a phone in show about people reminiscing about the x-mas wishbook (catalogues), in canada it was the Simpsons/Sears catalogue whose three inch thick x-mas edition was coveted and fought over by children nationwide. while listening to the thick newfie accent of some of the callers, I am overcome with such a strong feeling of missing my mom and nana at this time of year. the tears fall uncontrollably. they were always busy knitting, sewing and baking. x-mas was always homemade for us and had little to do with stores and shopping.
i cannot recall a x-mas as a child that I wasn’t surrounded by fabric scraps and wool for months before. i’ve written before about the handmade socks in the stocking, and slippers and the thick flannel p.j.’s. and the food. all cooked on a big black woodstove. a steamed carrot pudding with a white rum sauce. just thinking about it makes me teary.
no matter how much i try, i cannot get into a christmas that is about going to stores and having to buy things that people don’t really want or need. just give me my crochet hook and some paper scraps.
this project was created for some friends and I thought I would make it available to you. it’s completely free! (or if you wish you can make a donation to the Stephen Lewis Foundation via a donation page I set up through Canada Helps.) See an excerpt of him speaking here, (he’s truly amazing.) Donations not necessary, but it feels good.
oh yes, and don’t forget the portable tree, from the archives. or the ever popular instant snow, (for those in warm climates. Penelope, this is for you).
today i would rather be submersing myself in the poems of mary oliver, wandering with her through the woods and wetlands. noticing the subtle palette of colors at this time of year, all shades of browns and faded rust with some yellow thrown in. the absence of green.
but instead I work on final art for a book. often not feeling like I know what i am doing. but i suppose that is par for the course. i always feel like this with every big project. it’s a lot harder though when you know this thing will be in print for several years and you will have to live with whatever mistakes there are for the duration. still i am in love with the work, even through these rough patches. the kettle seems to be going all day in this house. i measure my days with cups of tea.
and dog bones.
my life has been hijacked recently by a deaf australian shepherd named alex. i call him my white wolf. for many big reasons he has come into my life (our lives), most of which we are learning as we go. i am learning mostly about myself, (that I can be rather selfish and protective of my time/space, and learning to relinquish this was a bit of a shock to the system). it may seem strange to some, but this is one of the hardest things i have ever done. i have a new found respect for every parent and every dog owner on the planet, (now humbled and awed by you all.) and yet for all the ups and downs, i find myself drawn to several images of white wolves i find out in the world, a sign that this creature has forever wormed his way into my heart and body despite the daily challenges. more and more i am craving the feeling of rubbing my face into his incredibly soft white ears. and that wonderful nightly occurence we have dubbed, “sleepy puppy”, dozy loving eyes. i am adjusting to being woken up by a warm tongue on my face. and i am learning that some of his acting out comes from the fact that he is scared.
just like a lot of humans i know.
research: in native Haida culture the wolf represents intelligence, leadership and a strong sense of family.
p.s. this photo was the best i could get. he does not like the lights on the camera at all, and runs away terrified.
Reading in the bathtub is close to a form of praying for me.
Most times I am guilty of thinking too much, wanting to control the outcome of my days, wanting to be productive, wanting to finish the list, wanting to be “that” person who is doing all the things that I want to do with my life.
But “that” person is as human as I am. “That” person struggles too with all of the same things, mood swings and fears and sweat and messy mind and the feeling of not doing “enough”.
Today I made a new list:
-feel the warm socks on my feet after they come out of the dryer
-eat something that is decadent
-read a book in the bathtub
-spend some time lying on the floor looking at the ceiling
-smell the wet earth even though you are grumpy because it is still raining.
-look at the sky a minimum of ten times, and really study it, like it was a painting
-leave the clean laundry in the baskets
when the bath is full I slip into it book in hand. sometimes I stay there reading for hours, pausing every now and then to do a “warm up” by adding new hot water, (often several times). I like it to be hot enough that you can see the steam coming off the top, windows covered and dripping with moisture. I don’t like to get my book wet so I try to dry my fingers on a towel before I turn the pages (I don’t know why I do this but it seems a part of the ritual). On a couple of occasions I have dropped the whole book in the bath, (my copy of “Alias Grace” is forever swelled and stiff after a nights reading a few years ago).
In the bathtub I have only a couple of tasks. To read until my fingers are prunes, and to scrub my body, freeing the millions of dead skin cells as if they are all of my controlling thoughts. I rub them off with the facecloth and they float on the surface of the water having lost all of their weight. I then wipe the sides of the tub, watching as my cells rapidly circle the drain before exiting permanently.
While in the tub I find the words that want to come out of my body, which have been lost for many days now. But when I sit down to write, they don’t come out as directly as I had hoped.
What I wanted to tell you about was that feeling of being warmed by the bathwater, of cheeks that are red and overheated. I wanted to mention the quality of light that comes in from the window, and tell you how it makes patterns on the wall which i would like to trace with a pencil. And also what it feels like to rub dead skin off of that piece of skin just under your ankle while you read a story about a man who has traveled to the sea in search of his past.
I wanted to mention that sometimes the little things that make you feel most alive may not be all that pretty. Many times they involve mud, dead skin, cold air, things that are broken, things that are lost or missing, things that are scarred, things that are covered in layers of dust, things that are buried, things that you are trying to hide from others.
Especially that last one.
“The idea is to turn even familiar actions into everyday celebrations, to make vivid the common, to separate every moment from the next, as experimental films do, so that spontaneity is allowed to break the dead hand of habit.” ~Samuel A. Eisenstein
i got a candle in a beautiful blue box which i couldn’t bear to throw away.
so i made these birds.
wanting to write more but the words are sitting in my belly not wanting to come out.
“Artists, whatever their medium, make selections from the abounding materials of life, and organize these selections into works that are under the control of the artist…. In relation to the inclusiveness and literally endless intricacy of life, art is arbitrary, symbolic and abstracted. That is its value and the source of its own kind of order and coherence.” –Jane Jacobs (source: The Death and Life of Great American Cities)
a recent article for HOW Magazine
“Draw Your own Conclusion -five tips for kick-starting your own freelance illustration career” (August 2006, pdf 1.6 mg)
“The thing about art that delights and confounds us is that it never happens again. This delights us if we have learned how to look because the esthetic experience allows all of our human faculties to be absorbed in the environment of the present and for a while to be fully alive without reflecting, without turning back or looking ahead. Uniqueness confounds us because there are no rules for guides. There can be no science of the particular. In a sense this confounding is a delight because it puts us in touch with that aspect of reality which is described as uniqueness–the fact that nothing ever happens twice in the same way in every respect.” ~corita kent
i am still getting to know my neighborhood, i am learning it’s language, and exploring its cracks and hiding places. my favourite parts are the ones that are not so obvious, an old sidewalk overgrown with grass, a littering of seed pods on a hill, an ancient window lit up at night on the top floor of a house.
our house is old and creaky, but stands solid on a slight hill. i have never lived on a hill before. if i look out of the front windows i am at eyelevel with a church steeple off in the distance. it gives one the feeling of being a lookout of some kind, standing at attention while peering out over the neigborhood. i wonder if i see the sun a few seconds earlier in the morning. or maybe i just like thinking about that.
i live next to a castle. going for walks is like going back two hundred years. (I often like to pretend that I have.) there are turrets, and vaulted ceilings and arches, and gargoyles. hundreds of gargoyles. they look down on me with their sneaky looks to let me know that I am being watched. I don’t trust them one bit. sometimes, if you are lucky, you can hear a concert pianist practicing in the great halls, the sound wafting out into the trees through an open stained glass window.
There is a network of pathways through the woods behind the castle. already i have started to form a relationship with the woods, the trees, and the animals that live there, (deer, stray dogs, squirrels, hundreds of rabbits, and birds.) there is an old moss covered foundation that is buried in the heart of the place, which we have dubbed ‘the stone cottage’. the fallen walls are like green benches inviting you to sit, maybe have tea or write for a time. I often wonder what it used to be, a barn, or a house of some kind. the animals own it now, and there is a large tree on the east side with a large hole, perfect for an owl, or for hiding notes which I am apt to do.
This week I am forced to slow down due to a cold. while I resist the lack of activity at first I acknowledge that it could not come at a better time. work has slowed at least for a few days. and I allow myself the gift of being sucked into a good novel, one of those where the characters become a part of your life for the time being. you think about them while going about your day and wonder what crazy things they will be upto when you see them next.
I am wandering through the world of Ignatius P. Reilly, and it causes me to uncontrollably laugh out loud and lose a bit of my grasp on reality. (those of you who have read the book will know what i mean.) what crazy hero is this, with his tendency to preach about the ills of modern society to everyone he encounters, while taking no responsibility for the miserably, pitious state of his life? he must be one of the most annoying, insulting, obnoxious characters ever written. yet i can’t help but like him somehow.
i can’t put it down.
don’t you love when that happens?
(and to T.Tucker who recently found me by doing a google search on the subject of “book sniffing”, I have on two occasions taken a whiff of this current volume, and find it brings me back to sitting on the floor in Bogey’s bookstore in Davis California, under the literature section.)