This morning feels familiar. A dog on the little rug near my feet. The coffee machine grinding in the other room. The delicious click-click of this cheap keyboard that is beginning to look like a mysterious, archaic tool.

This isolation.

The light is streaming in through the window already, but next week we move the clock backs and I will be writing in the dark again. I rather like that phrase: writing in the dark.

Yesterday I was thinking again about a drawing exercise I did so very long ago, but that has stuck with me. Mr. Shannon told me to draw my hand in detail. Every detail. But I had a kind of table over my paper that prevented me from seeing it. I wish I had that paper still. I remember being fascinated by the quality of the lines. The fragmentary nature of our sight. Of ourselves. I’ve been working on this again these days. Playing with pencils and lines. Simultaneously going at it “blindly” and yet seeing more than one normally does.

There was a time when I kicked myself for not being able to pull it all together – all the pieces – all the sensitive lines – to make a whole that was representational, recognizable. But I’m fine with it now. The sensitive lines convey just as much truth as the representational image. Something is always lost when you zoom out.

Everything is a metaphor.

I gravitated toward what I was told I was good at. Always relying on what I was told I was good at. I think it’s funny that my poetry has always been as fragmented as my drawings. These days I think it is all one. I’m reconsidering what poetry is. Reconsidering what kind of verification I need and don’t need from others.

To be honest: what kind of verification I don’t want to need from others.

My son tells me I have beautiful handwriting. He can’t read it though and calls it a secret language. This is the same kid who has zero interest in poetry. I have no idea if those things are related.

I have students who refuse to write anything by hand. None of them have ever learned cursive writing. I know there are a lot of theories about learning and handwriting, but I am just thinking: what a flat world without it.

Do children still finger paint in kindergarten?

Now I want to finger paint.

Maybe the drive to be more childlike as we age is less about reverting to innocence, than a call to engage again with the physical world while we can?

a rock fits nicely
in your palm – and you scratch
a white scar into
the wall of the bluff shelter
your will will shape the world after

Yesterday I went to the arts and crafts supply store. It has been a long time since I’ve splurged on anything but books. I like the word splurge. The onomatopoeia of it. The bursting and slashing out of an outdoor spigot that hasn’t been used in a while. There is something inherently summer-y about it in my mind’s little associative tangle.

Still, it is a big step from purchasing to actual use. Sometimes I get stuck at the sensuous aspects of a freshly sharpened pencil. I want to write the word “poised”, but doing so would ruin the perfect tip, would dull the bright, jagged lines along the tapering wood.

I know this is absolutely related to the more general tendency of clinging in my life. To a moment, to a potential, to the concept of some imminent — amazing — self.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing, but wonder if this isn’t something women experience more keenly than men through a great deal of our lifetimes? I’m thinking of words like nubile and events like childbirth. The inevitable destruction of life for life. Of beauty for beauty.

It seems to me that embracing dulled pencil-tips, finding beauty in what is worn and smudged and dulled is necessary for me. And not in a “shabby chic” way, aestheticized with filters — physical or conceptual. Not in juxtaposition with the new and slick, setting oneself up for some kind of self-congratulatory appreciation of the “other” that is past. It’s probably not a coincidence that shabby chic became popular about the same time as “ruin photography”. Or even more telling a nomenclature, “ruin porn”.

Adam Alston writes about immersive theater and talks about the difference between an aesthetic experience and an aestheticized experience, where the former is an experience brought on by observing an aestheticized object/event/bit of language, and the latter is the personal, individual experience reflexively acknowledged as the artwork itself. The object/theater performance/poem is only the conduit for the viewer-audience to create art.

The thing is, while aestheticized experience as an art form would democratize art in the extreme, it would (true to Oscar Wilde) simultaneously create a ruthless hierarchy of the inherent worthiness of each individual’s inner life. The artist would no longer be serving a tradition, or mastering a discipline, or channeling a genius (in the Greek daemon sense). They themselves are the genius, and their private un-sharable experience un-manifested in the world is the work of “art”.

In our world obsessed as we are with commodities, this is perplexing.

But beyond that, if the artwork is inherently “un-sharable” then how can we know it is legitimate in terms of expressing the “human” experience. And if all of it is legitimate as art, then art needs to be viewed as entirely subject and therefore any talk of theory, or commodification is absurd.

But is there a culture anywhere really — has there ever been — that doesn’t designate a few members of the community as “artists”? Who are these people? I know I am circling around what other people have spent entire careers questioning. I acknowledge that. And I acknowledge that there is still value in my layman questions and considerations.

Back to Ashton’s distinction of an aestheticized experience. With all due respect to the expert: I have been to see Punch Drunk’s production of Drowned Man several times. I bought a book of photographs of the installations. What I took away from it was an aesthetic experience of the exquisite craftsmanship, the illusions created by the dancers and actors and set designers. The fact that I was immersed in these illusions doesn’t change the fact that it was an aesthetic experience of an objective nature. Yes, theatre often provides the story, but paintings don’t, pottery doesn’t. We always inject our subjective narratives onto artworks. And we can never know if they match the artist’s own.

To be honest, I am not sure where my mind is going with this. What need I’m exploring. What fear.

Look here: this perfectly beautiful sharpened pencil. How can I possibly create something worthy of wearing that point? Of dulling that wood?

Isn’t that the fear? The pressure of aesthetics? A misunderstanding of aesthetics? Is the appreciation of kintsugi just a form of Orientalism on my part? Or is it an authentic longing for something?

And why in the hell is that even a question I am asking myself?

in my coffee mug
a thin layer of tiny
air bubbles floating
on the surface broken
by void-embryos morphing

It is strange to be working on a manuscript right now, while I am trying to get back on my feet. Which is a strange way of putting it actually: getting back on my feet, when the whole process right now is passive. As a former mentor put it: waiting for the season to shift. Waiting is not doing. I’ve written about this before in terms of acting. Who are we when we are not doing? There’s no such thing as a hold button in terms of the way we interact with the world. Time flows.

I don’t know. Maybe holding our ground while it does, is doing enough? For now.

“I feel the earth move under my feet/I feel the sky come tumbling down”.

Didn’t Camus say that one way to attempt to deal with the absurdity of life was to create artwork?

I am writing. I keep second-guessing words like fecund. Perfect, but too rarefied. Like the word rarefied itself.

Who am I writing for? I am struggling now with editing. Which, in my case, is always a matter of addition not subtraction. Working from the essence to tease out just enough story for it to convey more than just an atmosphere to anyone who might read it.

I have something to say. And lack the courage too often to say it.

One of the poets I am mentoring now asks me what is too mundane a subject for poetry. Nothing, I say. It’s all about perspective. What I didn’t confess was my own fear that people will judge my perspective to be mundane. Or derivative. (What about human experience is not derivative?)

They will, you know: judge. And that is okay. I shrug sometimes, too, at things that touch other people deeply. Our experiences meet randomly through art – every poem is a crap-shoot at an over-crowded table.

This poet I mentioned had a little epiphany reading Mary Oliver. And Patricia Fargnoli. And what is more mundane than cancer, really? Mental illness? Death? Sex? And the fact is if the subject of the poem is truly original then what human would understand it? Human experience is the subject matter of all art, isn’t it? (Even when intellectual activity is the experience being addressed).

I’m pretty sure trees create poetry. Mushrooms, absolutely. And maybe someday I will see it for what it is. We all will. Maybe every network of roots that run along the forest floor tells a story in carefully metered verse. Internal rhymes, intertextuality with lines that will reach right into our coffins.

I’ve given up on originality. It seems someone somewhere has always done something similar before. I remind myself that while Darwin – his structured biography, these specific letters on documents: D.A.R.W.I.N. – are remembered in history as history, Wallace also “discovered” natural selection. No one makes history. History makes stories.

Yesterday I nearly dumped my entire project, remembered suddenly that someone somewhere did something vaguely similar – but not at all the same. But I remembered, raising the bar is nothing more than self-sabotage.

I am a middle-aged white woman who is not going to shatter the cultural narrative in any way. History will not shape my artifacts into legend.

When did we all set the bar so damned high? Camus also said that “Creating or not creating changes nothing.”

Even Camus now is a legend of interpreted scripture. A morphing biography and quotes/misquotes like merit badges worn proudly by college graduates.

Camus is dead.

and what if the most
exquisite book of poems
those that would shift
the world from its course were
dumped overboard in a funk

*Said by you, though, George?

The year we moved into this huge house, I decided to take full advantage of the room we christened “the atelier”. I had every intention of picking up expressive practices that I’d abandoned over the years – for oh-so-many-reasons.

But I stopped attending the local croquis group after only a few months. All of the models were thin, 20-something women in “pretty” poses. Straight lines, and little movement.

It was both boring and demoralising.

I packed away my sketchbooks.

As an undergrad I studied studio art for a couple of years before switching majors. I remember one model from life drawing class who was tall, slim and in her twenties. She posed with a great deal of confidence. And though she was nude, her poses were always discreet.

During breaks, she would slip on her robe and make a round talking specifically to the young men in the class. She inspected the work on their easels to see how how they interpreted her body in charcoal. Sometimes she would put her hand on their shoulders and lean in, breathing in their ears. Her little ritual made many of them visibly uncomfortable.

It made me feel uncomfortable for – what I must presume were – entirely different reasons.

The power-play of subject/object is much more complex than we tend to consider. I suppose in part because our culture is quick to conflate beauty with sex appeal, and sex appeal with power.

Thinking now: Maybe it was fortunate that I was accustomed early to being invisible among the tall, slim beauties in the room. I never considered myself the subject, nor the object (or ornament) – but an observer. It makes aging that much easier.

However, as an observer I have not always been kind in my interpretations.

And I’ve often shamed myself into the corners of the world – for oh-so-many-reasons.

I remember another model who also posed for us in that life drawing class. She would would always wear a floppy sun hat, and she’d wink at us. Sometimes, she’d stand on her head during the 2-minute sketches. She was – I’m thinking now – probably in her 50s. Thinking then? She was “an old lady”.

And truth be told, her unabashed comfort with her own body made the majority of us visibly uncomfortable. Her poses were in no way discreet. Sometimes I would move my easel to another spot just to avoid having to confront her sex full-on.

Now? How I wish I’d asked her out for coffee.

It is a beautiful thought: lessons can be learned long after the teacher has left our lives.

The artistry in any medium lies in the work’s ability to evoke synesthesia. Each work is dependent upon each viewer’s subjective experiences – and the meanings we assign to them – for its claim as a work of art. We are each ultimately responsible for giving it life from our own lives.

And if – at any point in time – we think we see an objective reflection of the world as it is: a true work of art? Well, … there is no such thing as the world-as-it-is. There is no such thing as a point-in-time, because time exists in memory, so neither travels in a straight line. The world curves back on itself, folding over and over – always indiscreet in exposing the accumulation of what has come before – coming closer and closer to the wholeness of life, to Beauty.

Life Drawing

Ornamentation is not substance.
And the world will always shake off ornamentation.
It will distort the straight lines we work so hard to impose on it.

There is power in rejecting the consensual idea of beauty.
Rejecting it unabashedly.
Because that is acknowledging the substance of one’s own experience.

This is my ars poetica.

I used to have a bag of clay in the corner of my atelier here at the house. Which didn’t make much sense since the room was set up for bookbinding. For a year maybe -as a form of meditation – I made tiny begging bowls that I would return to the bag of clay each day.

The bag of clay dried out before long.

wp-1467116767648.jpgI haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

img_20161007_095640Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.


Last year I asked E. to give me Play Doh for Christmas. Now I have a small plastic box on my desk. It smells like my childhood: plastic.


I suppose my experience is more associative than it is synaesthetic.

I hold the Play doh. I squeeze it like a stress ball.

I make ephemeral, unnaturally green begging bowls.

Truth be told: I am still too timid to leave a begging bowl – of any kind – in the world.