I have been away in Canada for the last few weeks, wow do I have a lot of catching up to do. You can see a short snippet about my installation in Copenhagen above. It is understandably short as it is hard to film something that is a unique exploration for each person. It is so wonderful to see the rest of the show though, including my Rebar friends! There are some new photos of the exhibit here.
We had a wonderful time in my home country, visiting friends and living offline near the woods. Many days spent in the garden playing and exploring. To top it off, Wreck this Journal landed on the bestseller list while I was there! It was posted in the Globe and Mail, which was a wonderful treat for me. I felt like it was my birthday for the whole week!
As many of you know we have been on a quest to find a place to live for many years now. I wrote a post about it a couple of years ago which outlined all the things we have been looking for and the big push for a more sustainable lifestyle. I can honestly it has been a lot of work, we looked at all of the possibilities (from building our own structure, east coast, west coast, Canada, US, etc.) We have literally been all over the map looking for something that would satisfy the whole family’s needs and give us a low overhead (something I have always needed given that you never know how your career will be doing a year from now). I learned that I am not at my core “a renter”, preferring to own a space that I can change and alter whenever I wish. The west coast proved much too expensive for our wish of a low overhead. And truth be told we had a hard time with “the rain” in the Pacific Northwest, (though I’m told you do adapt to it if you stay for a few years, and I do know people who are totally fine with it). Our friends and family have been amazed and dumbfounded at the moving around that we have done in the last seven years, and our almost neurotic quest to find “the place” where we finally settle.
And so I am happy to announce that we have indeed bought a house in (drumroll please)…Northampton MA!
It is an interesting story, which I will save the long version for later, but suffice to say this house found us/came to us. The current owner has a radio show and wrote me years ago to do an interview. We wrote back and forth trying to arrange a time, but I was in the midst of going to teach in Vancouver and it never worked out until last year when we went for a visit. We fell in love with the Pioneer Valley and eventually bought his house!
I believe it will satisfy all of our current lifestyle needs. If you look at our list for the Plan for Change.
1. Northampton is extremely bicycle friendly with a large network of bikepaths that take you everywhere you need to go. This will allow us to phase out the car use over time. The town is so bike happy they even collect garbage on bicycles!
2. There is a huge locavore infrastructure, in a variety of areas.
3. We are going to try to eliminate as much packaging as possible.
4. (Eat and buy local). See point number two.
5. (Phase out car use). See point number one.
6. The house is fairly small if you count that it includes two work spaces for both me and my husband. And it allows us to have a low overhead!
7. No need to buy land, we have enough space to put in a couple of raised beds. I read a quote once that said, “The greenest house is one that is already built.” This one is dated around 1900.
8. I am saving up for one of these grow domes which will allow us to grow all year, (and also satisfy my Buckminster Fuller obsession.)
9. We will be composting as much as possible.
10. We are installing some rainwater barrels at the new house.
11. As soon as finances allow we are going to be looking into solar panels, which a lot of people in the area are already using.
We have come to understand that there is no perfect place, every place we looked at had positive and negative aspects, and we learned there are always negatives, from cost of real estate, to toxic waste, harsh weather, access to big cities (or lack of), political problems, and cost of living. The main thing became finding a balance of what we wanted and what was affordable. Northampton has some air quality issues as we learned, though they are working on making it better. But we are very excited and feel confident that it is a good place for us (everyone we have talked to really loves living there!)
Now we are wanting one of these to get us around town, except we spent all of our money on the down payment for the house (sigh). I am devising a plan to turn it into an art piece so that I can justify raising funds for it. Coming soon to a town near you, the Society for Exploratory Research’s Mobile Unit.
I was nominated to be a New Revolutionist (by Sally East), a portrait project featuring women in America who are making their marks in their corners of America (created by the talented Laura Burhenn). This is a very cool project, you can read more about it here.
p.s. Wreck this Journal hit a national bestseller list in Canada! I have waited a long time to be recognized in my own country so it is a momentous day. I am also proud to be listed in the Quill & Quire, which I used to sell when I worked at W.H.Smith.
I don’t think there is a way for those who work in service to the earth — for environmentalists, ecologists — to really woo our culture back into a reciprocal or sustainable relation with the land until we draw folds back to our senses, because our sensing bodies are our direct contact with the rest of the natural world. It is not by being abstract intellects that we are going to fall in love again with the rest of nature. It’s by beginning to honor and value our direct sensory experience: the tastes and smells in the air, the feel of the wind as it caresses the skin, the feel of the ground under our feet as we walk upon it. And how much easier it is to feel that ground if you allow yourself to sense that the ground itself is feeling your steps as you walk upon it.
-David Abram, fr. The Spell of the Sensuous
These words greatly impacted my work when I read them several years ago.
Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trimtab.
It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trimtab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.
So I said, call me Trimtab.
The Society for Exploratory Research has a new temporary location in Køge Denmark! You can read about the show that is currently being installed here. Opening May 4th, 2012. I am very excited about it (and proud), and thrilled to be in the roster with a list of incredible artists! I am actually friends with a member of the Rebar Group, the talented Matthew Passmore, (so it was a treat to see their name on the list of artists), whose stuff is so playful and good. I’m sure you’ve heard of Parking Day? Yes? they started that, now a worldwide event every year.
This is my first entrance into the world of public installation work and I feel like it is only the beginning of something big. I would like to tell you more about my piece but I don’t want to spoil it for the visitors who will see it in person. So I will have to wait on that front. But I am currently looking for places to have it installed on this side of the pond, so that more people will have a chance to experience it. I am hoping to make it into a traveling show. I’ll keep you posted!
Yes this response is for you (and the hundreds of others who write me and I have not had time to respond to of late). I apologize for writing you back in this manner but it occurs to me that there may be others who might want to read it too. All too often I think that the blog medium has lost it’s value, and I question why I continue to do it even after I feel the medium as a whole has been devalued for a plethora of reasons (blog ads being one of them). But then I receive an email like yours telling me that the fact that I have shared some of my process as a human and an artist has really helped in some way, and I think “yes, there is merit in it after all.” Though I should probably post this tonight, before I have a chance to second guess it.
So what did I want to say to you? I suppose as I write this I think of the fact that I could be writing to my younger self, and what would I say to her? I confess that I don’t often like to give advice to people as I find advice a bit too dogmatic and personal, what works well for one might not for another. And who am I to say what is best for you? I also find that people who write me asking for advice probably are looking to hear something very specific, more like a quick fix, of which there are none. (Plus I am a rebellious human being by nature and tend to do the opposite of what people ask me.) But you didn’t write me for advice did you? Good. That is why I am writing you here.
So here is what I want to tell you. If we were sitting in the same room I would sit next to you, take your hand in mine, and look straight into your eyes and say, “I know that pressure you speak of very well. The “focus on self-promotion, competitiveness, networking and always attempting to be edgier and smarter than others at all costs”. I have felt that pressure too, still do on occasion. But here is what I know now, that I didn’t know before when I started out…
Creating work out of that pressure, doing all of the things that you have been taught by others, and listening to that voice in your head that tells you you need to be better is not what will create that success you are craving. The true work, (meaning the work you are here to do), comes from a completely different place than this. This energy of pressure actually does very little to move you ahead and into the place where you desire to go, and in some cases can even lead you in the complete opposite direction. I know your head is telling you you need to do it but really that is just dogma you have been taught by other people who are scared of going to their own true place (doing the work that they are really meant to do), so they go on repeating what they were told by other fearful people, and so on and so on.
There is a part of me that says, “it is silly to be telling someone these things because they have to figure it out on their own.” Which is quite true, I cannot save you from some of the hard learning, but at the very least I will give you “a lead”, something to hold onto and think about, (because if you have learned anything at all about me from reading my stuff, it should be that I like to make people think.)
So what I really want to share with you is this…the energy that you feel when you are creating is very important and will tell you if you are on the right path. Not that there is only one path, there are many, but I am referring to doing work that fulfills you and brings you “success”, and when I say success I really mean “work that is meaningful to you”, work that is aligned with your ideals. What do I mean by “energy” you might be asking? How do you feel when you are working, when you take on certain jobs? How does your body feel? I will refrain here from using words like “good” and “bad” as there are inherently judgmental, instead preferring “open” and “closed”.
Open energy: light, energized, ecstatic, inquisitive, curious, want to stay up all night, go for a run, feel like you can conquer the universe, tuned in, radiating, etc.
Closed energy: tired, small, sick to your stomach, tight, passive, unengaged, unmotivated, discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated, fearful, uninspired, etc.
The difference might also be illustrated by thinking of how you would feel after having lunch with someone who you love to spend time with, someone who makes you feel excited and energized, contrasted with how you might feel if you watched TV for 12 hours straight while eating junk food. So the goal is to try to do as much work as you can that has the open energy attached to it. This is the source for all your best work.
Now I know you might be saying, “but it is hard to find paying work that has that kind of energy”. Yes, that may be true, AT FIRST. So you must try to make some time to do that kind of work on your own, (the kind that makes you want to stay up all night). The more of that you can do and share with the world, the sooner the world will see your brilliance and enlist you (and even pay you) to put more of it out there. It CAN happen.
Now I’m not saying that you won’t have many bad days where you feel incompetent and like you are flailing like a crazy person. As Kurt Vonnegut put it so perfectly, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” But at times you will also feel like you are able to leap over tall buildings with great ease if you go directly into that place you spent a lot of time when you were a kid, experimenting and making messes, and playing on the floor.
And before I go there are a couple of other things I want to tell you (while I still have your hand in mine), you are beautiful, and talented and you have something to say (I borrowed that one from Brenda Ueland). It doesn’t matter one iota if you are unsure of what it is that you want to say just yet. The more you try to trust the process, the more you will figure it out piece by piece. But I will give you one more clue, focus your energy equally on things that get you really excited and things that get you really riled up (angry). I believe that the purpose of this wild and crazy ride of ours is to become fully open and experience the full range of emotions that make us human, (not close them off). This seems like it would be easy, but it is actually quite hard to remain open, and requires us to constantly question our own behaviours and assumptions. But it makes for a much more interesting ride doesn’t it?
I hope I have not painted the picture that I have got it all figured out, because that is hardly the case. I am flailing right along with everyone else. But I now do it with as much open energy as I can muster, and I am much better at recognizing what is filling me up and what is sapping me.
I will close by saying Thank You so very much for your words. I value them greatly, and yes, I do read every letter I receive! Please hold fast to the honesty and directness with which you wrote to me, these qualities will help you immensely along the way!
Very sincerely yours,
One of my husband’s good friends (and mine too) is Mike Bullock (a genius artist and experimental musician). He has done a series of Speaker Drawings. The results are beautiful. He explains the process:
In “Speaking Drawing,” a series of watercolor paper cards and 2″x3″ art boards are placed in a large loudspeaker lying on its back on the floor. A very low, slowly changing tone is played through the speaker, causing the objects to bounce and shimmy around inside. I then drip India ink on the papers and blocks and attempt to draw on them as they quiver uncontrollably.
[filed under "why didn't i think of that?"]
[colorless leaf, found in yard, march 23, 2012. Moist, not dry. Not exposed to light?]
“Meaning, according to my friend, arises from meeting, from the felt contact between oneself and what is not oneself. From the encounter between oneself and another person, or a river, or the surging wind. From, ultimately, the ongoing interaction and intercourse between oneself and the rest of the earthly cosmos.” -David Abram
Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…
Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety…
You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!…
Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be…
I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.
excerpted from a letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse
(i believe i have already posted this years ago but it bears repeating. again and again.)