In the early evening when the water is like glass:
I went to the dentist this afternoon. It took an hour for the freezing to work and four minutes to fix the tooth. In the meantime we chatted about this and that. I’m a bit of a sissy with the pain of needles and drilling. Sensitive, my dentist says kindly. That led me to ask him if he had heard Richard Wassursug on the radio recently. He had. I told him my connection; I had taught with him, knew his family, and was very moved by his actions. And Dr. Haas was impressed as well. I heard another interview with Richard on Sounds Like Canada this morning. He was interviewed by Kelly Ryan, who had also known him in Halifax before he developed cancer. She asked him if he could (that is, if he had a choice), would he go back to being a man. Richard answered no, he really is enjoying his new body and emotions. It is fascinating to him as a scientist and in his daily life, experiencing a new relationship to himself. He is enjoying having greater sensitivity.
I had read a few months ago, in Organic Style Magazine, I think, that women who have had a mastectomy, whether they had reconstruction surgery or not, were (statistically, by an impressive amount) much happier, content with their bodies than women who haven’t.
What does it take for us to be happy with ourselves?
Went to see and hear Kenny Werner Trio Saturday night. Watched his fingers caress and challenge the keys! Although very different in its overall impact, being much faster, changing pace and mood frequently, often loud and exuberant, his playing reminded me of Thelonious Monk. The obvious absorption with the keyboard and the music, the percussive sound. I had the good fortune to see Monk a few times in the early 60’s, at the Blue Note at Third Avenue and St. Marks Place. I can still see him as if I was just there. The smoky dark room with Monk huddled over the piano, becoming one with his music. What both men expressed as they played is a deep love of their instrument, so that it becomes part of them.
Walking along the waterfront after the concert, I saw Richard Wassersug, a man I had co-taught with many years ago. He is a scientist, had taught the anatomy part of the class and I taught the drawing. We nodded to each other as we passed, were both with other people moving in opposite directions so the moment to talk was gone. But there is more to this story. I had heard him on the radio during the week. He is often on the Maritime Noon show, answering questions from listeners on science. This time, though, he was introduced as having advanced stage prostrate cancer. Due to the drugs he is taking, he has experienced a change in his sexuality. He still has his facial hair but has lost his body hair, developed breasts and put on flesh around the hips, and also become more emotional, is able to cry easily. He is being public about his condition, calling himself a eunuch, explaining the etiology of the term and the history of the condition. He’s developed “feminine characteristics” yet also lost his sexual desire and ability. His intent now is, as a scientist, to study his condition and also, as a compassionate human being, to help other men like himself so they won’t have to feel shame and embarrassment. On Saturday he marched in the Gay Pride Parade. I heard him again Sunday on the radio and also his daughter (who I have met several times) talking about the experience, the camaraderie, the real pride they felt by being with the Gay community. The daughter said she was proud of her father and she hoped the scientific community would accept him because that means a lot to him, is very important to him.
I feel deeply moved by his actions. His outspoken defense of eunuchs, to me, expresses so much about the beauty of human generosity. I had wanted to say more to him as we passed on the waterfront, to tell him how sad I am that he is ill yet how much I respect his decisions. There is so much dignity in what he is doing. A very brave man.
The other morning on Sounds Like Canada (CBC radio, of course), they played a rerun of an interview by Sheilagh Rogers with two (very outgoing, lively) writers. The topic was exuberance. On (yet another) grey morning, my first impulse was to turn it off. But I didn’t. And also didn’t find it as irritating as I had the first time I had heard it. And then the sun came out—and lasted all afternoon.
And along with the sun came an old friend I hadn’t seen in four years. And coincidentally a friend who is the most exuberant person I know. Sitting by the lake talking after a long swim, conversation turned to confidence. It surprised me to learn that such an exuberant person has some doubts, insecurities. Hers were more about her artwork. I have few doubts about my paintings. Even if I have some difficult periods, I know, always, that it will come together at some point. Usually it does. I can remember only one time when I thought I would quit painting. A friend had come into my studio and said it reminded him of his mother’s studio. I don’t know why, but it hit a chord that snapped and I said: “That’s it. I’m not painting any more.” But that didn’t last long. Two weeks later, I did start again, with a new way of working, and I haven’t taken a break (emotionally) since.
I’m not an outwardly exuberant person. But I do have intense passionate relationships with people and things that I love. My insecurities are about other things than my artwork. I’m working on that. It’s never too late! I do think that it is important to have confidence in what you do, especially as an artist. It would be too difficult without it. It’s what drives the engine.
Wednesday late afternoon Yoko and I went out in my paddle-boat to survey the landscape, including my pet rocks. From my house, these rocks have a powerful presence:
A couple of times some kids (in their twenties and thirties) have climbed this rock and jumped off. It terrifies me. The lake is filled with rocks left over from glaciers passing through. You never know what you might find beneath the surface:
As evening approached the water began to sparkle, little pieces of the sun had fallen on to the surface:
And Yoko took some pictures of the water lilies off the dock:
and I tried as well:
One of Tamarï¿½s cats died suddenly Sunday morning. Heart failure. He was a beautiful, stately eight year old man with long soft orange fur. It is always, for me, a hard time when a family pet dies, whether it be mine or one of my childrenï¿½s. After my last dog, Katie, died, I didnï¿½t think I could go through another doggie death. And maybe I canï¿½t. I am still dogless. The empty space the animalï¿½s absence makes is so big. I never quite stop grieving for my pets. It is strange that we keep getting moreï¿½dogs, catsï¿½knowing full well that they have a limited life span, will die, in the scheme of things, sooner usually than we will. But the joy of those few years, the intense companionship they give, must be worth it. We keep doing it over and over. I'm still thinking on it.
The Halifax Jazz Festival is in full swing (pun intended!). Sunday night I went to a performance by Keren Ann, the Parisian singer now living in New York. She has a beautiful, deep voice and her phrasing is exquisite. She kept the audience waiting for each word. And she used the microphone like an instrument. It was a mesmerizing performance. I bought her new recording, Nolita, the next day.
She seemed very young, in her manner, looks, presentation, and I thought she was probably twenty-one, no more than twenty-four, but I read today that she is thirty-one, which in that field is not too young. I had heard a Montreal musician saying (on the radio) that he prefers to listen to English songs over his native French ones because French music is about the poetry, with long involved lyrics. English songs, on the other hand, are about the music, the beat. Where else could you make a song that repeats one sentence over and over and over. (ï¿½She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeahï¿½) Keren Annï¿½s lyrics and style didnï¿½t have a lot of variety, but they did have a sensitivity that was enchanting. Iï¿½m looking forward to hearing what she does next.
is here, finally! After what feels like weeks of cool and rainy days, the warm sun is very welcome.
And the water's fine:
Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, (which was, incidentally, to me, one of the few books that was better as a movie than as a read) said in an interview on the radio (CBC of course), that honorable failures are important to creativity. He is not afraid of taking risks, making mistakes, and making them big.
I do understand this. One of the most important turning points in my life was when I had some work in a three-person show at St. Mary’s University here in Halifax. The other two artists were Wayne Boucher and Richard Mueller. The year was 1989, I think, and I had a part-time administrative job at the Buddhist center that took up a large part of my time. The other part of my time, what was left over, I painted. My artwork was fairly successful then, especially the work on paper. I had developed a system, a method, a procedure: organizing the chaotic first impulses, the first creative marks, by honing them down into triangular boundaries. It worked, I thought. But when I saw my paintings in the exhibit, next to Wayne's exhuberant large black and white canvases and Richard's experiments with materials and ideas, I saw my work as an “honorable failure,” one that looked awful, tight, limiting. Yet this public exposure forced me to realize that I was organizing my work into a corner and I had to break out of it.
After the exhibit, feeling totally irritated at my “system,” the triangles self-destructed and a whole new world, a more organic process opened up for me. And it keeps opening every time I dare myself to take a chance on something that challenges my preconceptions, preconceived ways of working. There is, it seems, no safe corner in this world.
Yesterday was not an easy day. It was hard to hear about the bombings in London, hard to think about what might happen as a result of those bombings. I had a hard time concentrating on my tasks. I had lots of memories of past shocking events.
This morning on the radio they were saying that London theatres were closed last night, a decision that was difficult for them to make because of their history of continuing performances during the War. When the air raid sirens went off, the cast and audience would go into the shelters, returning when the all-clear signal was heard. The spirit of respecting the creative life is strong there.
I remember vividly the day the World Trade Center crumbled. I was teaching that afternoon, had been at Pilates all morning and somehow had not turned on the radio (I’m a radio-fan so that is very strange indeed!). That afternoon was warm and sunny here and I took my students up to Citadel Hill to draw. One student went off and seemed upset but didn’t talk about it. Another student told me planes had flown into the Towers and the five cruise boats in the harbor were stranded. She wanted to go down to the Maritime Museum where she sold her beautiful drawings, a job that supported her art school education. It was only later when I picked up Aaron (who was visiting from Montreal, deciding whether to move back here, which he did, for a couple of years) that I realized what had happened. He immediately told me to turn on the car radio. Then I knew. Something I perhaps didn’t want to “know.”
I remember when President Kennedy was shot. I was working on a red painting, one that had some strong, almost violent black and yellow marks on it. A friend called to tell me the news. That night we went to an off-Broadway theatre production. I think there were about six people in the audience. But the show went on and it was good. Good to feel that life and creativity were important and must survive.
Aligned with the coincidence of meeting Elin through our deer connection, I find I am in the middle of reading a novel (Tales of Protection by the Norwegian author, Erik Fosnes Hansen) that focuses directly on coincidences, auspicious coincidences, the ones that effect your life, turn it in a new direction. The story talks about the power of human connections, about luck, chance and why.
Hansen tells us, in the voice of the old man Bolt: “Coincidences and destiny……..both are, in fact, simply words for something we don’t understand. Whether one calls it coincidence or fate is completely irrelevant, because the strange thing is that anything even occurs.……That anything (is or) happens when it could just as well not happen.”
But just don’t ask why. We might be able to understand how and what if we look hard enough. But the big question, “Why,” is ever elusive. So it is a strange coincidence that you are reading this now. That you might or might not find me on the winding road I have set up as a path to my existence.
It is interesting to me how we make choices that are aligned with who we are even if we think we are doing something, and even, possibly, something “differently.” Choices that sometimes underline things that we want to change. Choices that make these things harder to change.
I am not a hermit. I need time alone to work, but I enjoy the company of people when I am not working. Yet I have chosen to live in a secluded place, hidden in the woods, found only after traveling on winding roads through rural landscape. True, it is not far from Halifax, but still, it is hard to find. Without written directions, it would be impossible to know I was here. With all my desire to engage with the world, with my art, with my friends, have my artwork move into a bigger world, I still have chosen to live here. And believe me, I love it here. But again, I am not a hermit. The best answer to this dilemma is to have a small, environmentally friendly vehicle and travel outside my immediate home. Yet I need the cargo space for hauling paintings and supplies and the four-wheel- drive for safety on these (often) icy roads.
So—I am thankful for the modern conveniences that we take for granted—the phone and the internet that brings you into my quiet world. And I am going to put a sign with my name on the road so if, by chance, you are driving by, you know it is me tucked away here in the woods.