Sunday, December 25, 2016

Night Vision

In the earliest hours of morning our thoughts connect 
 two worlds.  Dreams open doors into a fluid world. In daylight the thick shell of the world hides from 
us from the truth we seek. 
We forget the stars are still there. 

This is my story of remembering.  It is one of many, for when we are not forgetting, we are remembering.  And each story tries to remember, but in the telling it falls short.  So the Storyteller is born again.

In the middle of November I was not sleeping well.  One particularly windy night I lay in bed, staring into the darkness and listening to the forest howl outside my window.  As I drifted between waking and sleeping a vision began to form, one I did not welcome.  I saw a darkness surround all beings, enveloping the earth.  It was thick, a cloud of deep thick charcoal fog.  I entered into it and saw with my heart its fullness.  Suffering.  So much suffering.  It was not just suffering to come, it was suffering that had been and it was suffering that is.  It was all existing in one place and one time.  I saw it with my entire being and I lay in bed weeping.

It was 3 in the morning and I was sobbing, trying not to wake Dale.  I lay there for an hour.  All beings, humans, animals, trees and the earth itself all wept with me.

Untitled Work in Progress

This was a pretty dark place, even for me.

After an hour I knew I had to get out of bed and go into the woods. I woke Dale.  He was concerned when he saw that I was crying. I told him. He said, “Take a flashlight.”

At first I didn’t turn on the flashlight.  I wasn’t in a hurry, so I thought I could just step slowly and carefully, letting my vision adjust to this very dark night.  It was a Wisconsin November.  So there were dry brittle leaves everywhere, and, on a windy night like this, they tend to pile up.  So, my first fright came when I stepped into a pile of leaves that wasn’t there the night before.  My foot lifted the leaves, taken up by the wind, farther than I would have imagined. I was surrounded by the sound of rustling leaves and my pounding heart.  In the blackness I stood frozen, hearing movement all around, and I decided I wasn’t so opposed to the flashlight after all.

The Wind

At that point it occurred to me that I would rather see a creature of the night before stepping into its space, so the light stayed on as I carefully made my way to a special spot in the forest of pines.  It is a place where a large tree has lain fallen for years, so much so that younger trees grow through it.  Animals take shelter in it.  Moss grows on it.  I have always loved this spot.  When I got there it took me awhile to find a comfortable seat.  The woods feel ominous at night. I chose to have my back against a young tree, something to lean on, and it gave me a small sense of protection. 

The wind was still blowing fitfully, shaking the trees and loosening their dead.  Before turing off my flashlight I scanned my perimeter for potential Widow Makers, or in this case Widower Makers.  Then, with a touch of my thumb, total darkness.

House of the Woods

Oh how hard it was to keep that light off.  A breaking branch a few feet from me was enough to make me freeze.  For what seemed like hours, but was more likely 30 minutes, I sat frozen.  My eyes were wide open, but, at first, I saw nothing.  Slowly I began to see.  There seemed to be a substance to the air, as if every single molecule was coming out of hiding.  The air, the trees, the leaves and I were all tiny dots vibrating in and out of my sight.  Looking up I saw a falling star.  In this light the trees are the negative space, and the distant stars are the positive space.  For a moment I was neither light nor dark, I was only perception, as everything around me changed from one to the other.


For an hour at least my thoughts bounced back and forth between wonder and terror.  Of course I could calmly remind myself the biggest danger that night was a coyote.  But a noisy rustle in the black space around me made me imagine more.  Believe it or not, this was the first moment I recognized a connection between my choice to sit in the woods and the story of Siddhartha.  As the account of his becoming the Buddha is told, Siddhartha despaired at the suffering in the world.  His search for an answer led him to sit under a Bodhi tree, meditating outdoors for seven days and seven nights.  My 2 hours in the cold on a fallen tree paled in comparison to his 168 hours. I laughed at all the times I sat on a comfortable cushion in my heated home to meditate.  Nature is essential to awakening us to this life, and we humans so often hide from it.  In a terrible separation from the earth I had forgotten the lessons it has to teach me.  In my darkest moment, I remembered, and I stepped outside.  To be inside of our deepest consciousness we have to be outside in the Natural World, not inside of the Manmade World.  To the degree to which we the Modern Humans have violently torn ourselves from our connection to nature, we have suffered.

I swear I remember there being a moment in the story of enlightenment where a giant cat approaches Siddhartha.  So, I thought, maybe I needn’t be quite so fearful.  A lion or tiger would be bad. Back to fear. Forgetting.

Deep Sleeper - Intermediary

Of course the point wasn’t Lions and Tigers and Bears.  We do have occasional bears and wolves and even the rare cougar sighting in this part of the State. I knew there was a reason I was out there in the cold and it wasn’t to try to guess which wild beast would eat me for dinner.  I could fear the wind, the animals, even the possibility of a human in the woods, probably most dangerous of all.  I had to let it all go. The most frightening part of being alone in the darkness in the woods was also the most awakening.  Remembering. 

I began to look each fear squarely in its face and release it.  I soon found myself remembering them all, from paralyzing terrors to the less obvious ones. The ones that linger for days, muted and pale but persistent in their nagging.  People who had frightened me, I saw their fear.  People that had hurt me, I saw their pain.  People I had frightened and people I had hurt, I saw my blindness.  I saw fear and pain passed on from parent to child, from master to slave, from teacher to student.  Acts of violence replacing the wisdom of old with inherited pain and terror.  Victim becomes perpetrator and the lamb becomes the hungry beast at the door. There was no bad, no good, no dark, no light. Only attaching and letting go.  With each passing fear I felt an infinite lightness that cannot be expressed with words, although LOVE is a good one to try.  This was a special kind of night vision.  Seeing through the dark.    

Artic Spirits

It was at this point I realized the woods were becoming more and more visible in the earliest light of the day.  As I had passed through the darkest hour of the morning I had seen through at least some of my blindness.  As the trees became solid, once again I could connect each sound with its source.  I looked up at the sky.  Not a single star in my sight.  I would have to go on memory.  Remembering.  I got up, a little stiff, and walked toward the house.  I would put on some coffee and try to talk about this.  The things the darkness commands us to know. Fears are only passing moments, but we give them strength when we try to suppress them.  In their suppression they are squeezed and wiggled into our souls and the passing darkness takes a solid heavy form.  This heavy load is so light in its release.  Walking back to my warm house I knew I would struggle to find the words to tell this story. And in the telling they would fall short. And the storyteller is born again.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Manifesto of a Solitary Artist in the Age of Unenlightenment

A Confession, a Conclusion, a Manifesto….
Otherwise titled, Five Years in the Journey of a Artist in the Age of Unenlightenment
Otherwise titled… Onward!

Five years ago I sat a table with a small group of friends and revealed to them my decision to step away from the world.  I don’t think I said “drop out” because I knew I had to remain attached enough to put food on my table and pay the rent.  And I wanted to try, for once, to put 100% of my effort into surviving financially as an artist.  But, I explained, I don’t believe in it anymore… the BIG LIE, that I have to make my money this way (at the time I operated a successful tourist shop in Fish Creek, WI)  and all the little lies that I swallow in order to make that happen.  I moved out of the city and into this little doublewide in the woods and started making my exit…

Within a year my “step away” was a giant leap into the unknown and uncertainty of the path less traveled.  I closed my shop, and I sold or gave away most everything that remained.  I kept what I needed to work from home as a eco-conscious artist, working with repurposed materials and selling in a few local galleries and online.   It was a dramatic change of lifestyle and work and income.   

It didn’t take long before the little savings I had was gone.  The simple choice of whether to drive to town depended as much on gas money as the environmental consequences.  I had cornered myself into a life of quiet solitary work (which I wanted) and financial precariousness (much more than I expected)  and the stress of trying to succeed at something in these circumstances.  

I am not writing this to tell you about reducing trips to the dump and the pump.  There are plenty of resources on the internet if you want to learn about that.  I’m sure there are people doing a better job than I am.  What I want to share is the psychological impact this leap had on me and my life, my relationships and, in the end, my definition of self.  What i didn’t realize, while revealing my decision at that table five years ago, was dropping out of the system would mean emptying my life of the activity and thought that filled every work day.  And it would be scary to be that empty.

We are all born into a culture and we are a part of that culture.  And that culture is a part of us.  As many people already realize, in a racist culture, the members, even when they are abhorrent to the IDEA of racism, still have elements of it in them.  That is true for every distinguishing feature of the culture you exist in.  As we are in the universe and the universe is in us, WE ARE IN THE CULTURE AND THE CULTURE IS IN US.  And this culture we live in, this American Dream, it is a state of heightened consumerism.  Everything we do is somehow measured and compared, every breath, every step is broken apart into quantitative measurements.  We lay prostrate to the system waiting for the final numbers of our worth.   When you’re not productive in the system, you are invisible.  You are certainly not a success.  

That was the hard part… 

We not only consume products of the system, we are the products and the consumers and the means of production.  Even if all you are producing is another version of the lie.  Stepping away means unraveling oneself from these roles, and refusing to lie to yourself.  When you start to really separate yourself from the culture you live in there is a dangerous thing that happens, you lose your sense of self.  This is evident when you are a solitary and, for the most part, unrecognized artist.  Being a solitary and unrecognized artist had always made it possible for me to be true to myself.  I have always been free of the pressures of academia and fashion and trends, whether intellectual or aesthetic. But here I was taking a leap of faith that I could survive financially as an artist and still retain my artistic freedom. I had no idea what a psychologically dangerous pit I was falling into.  

I didn’t expect the loss of my connection to this world I was raised in and lived in to be so difficult.  I thought I had already let it go.  I had rejected Capitalism and Consumer Culture and I had embraced Simple Living.  At first I was elated to be free and told friends how great it felt.  Fairly soon after the initial elation I had a health crisis that was nearly debilitating.  My entire body was covered in a rash, a terribly itchy uncomfortable rash that lasted almost two years.  During this time I buried myself in work and distanced myself from friends.  I established strong boundaries, many of which were healthy and necessary, but for awhile I built a wall around myself.  I spent hours in solitude and lived a quasi hermit’s life and had a love/hate relationship with my own existence.  (I need to add I did this with a caring partner on a similar path)  Without the distractions of the world and work I had once buried myself in, I found new distractions, everything from Netflix series about aliens to the strange new world of social media marketing.   I was painfully aware of the emptiness of these new distractions.  The biggest distraction was still so firmly rooted in me I didn’t see it for another couple of years, the addiction to work, productiveness and the dream of success.  But, despite how hard I worked, I was not all that successful, just scraping by.

I started feeling frustrated and lost.  I felt a range of emotions from hopelessness to jealousy.  As much as my rational brain told me otherwise, my feelings told me I was a victim.  I experienced mild depression and that was new for me, and scary.  I mentally chastised myself for every missed opportunity in life, leading me to a place of emptiness.  I felt like a failure and still, at this point, did not realize the emptiness I felt was just the temporary emptiness that results when you empty your life of the things that no longer fulfill you.  
That depression grew into discontent and longing.  I literally drove and walked all over Door County (and the state of Wisconsin) wishing I had a different life.  Every house, farm or commercial building that was for sale could take me on an imaginary journey into some dream existence… sometimes lasting days or weeks.  

Sometimes, while driving around and looking at old farms and shops for sale, I saw myself through the watcher’s gaze and I saw the desperation in this search.  I have no money in the bank.  I knew this search would have to stop.  I could see it for what it was, another attempt to validate myself.  In the sheer transparency of my desperation I finally saw it, what I was beating myself up about, what i was perceiving as failure, what I was desperately trying to fill.  The Void. 

And then came the real grieving.  The tears.  That process that may look like the worst to someone looking in, but is really the best.  The new me that emerged from all this pain of letting go reconnected with my deeper self.  All the parts of me that had never fit into this culture flooded back into my consciousness, orphans from unfinished chapters in the life of a outsider.  I was successfully making it through my difficult journey.  The tears, which now I see to be the true release, freed me from the guilt of perceived failure and the fear of a perceived lack of belonging and the longing for something that I didn’t need.

I had learned what I needed most to learn, that the simple concept of consumption isn’t just about buying and selling; those are simply the forms that dominate our economy. They overshadow the way in which the mentality of consumption destroys our spirit and our humanity.  I think it was a dramatic lesson for me only because as a solitary artist and social outsider my life had been kidnapped by the concept of my art as a product and my purpose as a producer.  In this new cottage industry economy it is easy to fall into that trap.  I confused my artistic journey with the journey of the many “makers” in this new economy, but that is not who I am.   Just as I had to come to terms with the realization that i do not fit into the world of academia, nor into the commercial art world, I am not a “maker” in this new economy, one which pushes artists to be slickly marketed production machines.  (Note there are many people who fulfill the role of "maker' and remain true to their artisan values and I am not referring to them.  Being a new field, it is pursued with passion by many but is also manipulated by larger forces.)  What I finally awakened to is the realization that my journey as an artist has to be absolutely authentic and tireless, and like no other journey that has ever come before me.  Success, whether measured by money, production, or social acceptance, should have no role in the motivation of the artist.  The only success is to be alive and to continue to create something for the world that reflects ones true existence in the world.  There are no models or templates or guidebooks, only hard work and intuition.  I have no intention to stop working.  But my work no longer depends on the narrow definitions of “productivity” and worldly success.  I am working even harder, because I have come to realize it is my soul’s work.  

I have something new to bring with me for the steps and leaps ahead.  A sense of peace like none I’ve ever experienced cropped up in the emptiness left my my “dropping out.”  The only thing I feel I need to fill the space with is love and the work of love, which is different for every person.  We are all here fulfilling an individual path that can’t be separated from the whole of the paths, the movement of the world and its beings.  All each of us needs to do is answer that for ourselves, not letting any one person or system or culture tell us what that is.  What an energizing truth.  It fills us with the energy we need to do the work that must be done.  We need to be in service to bring forth love rather than drain love from the world.  Because this is where the REAL WORK begins.

I will try hard to never forget how awful the rashes, the anger and angst and depression felt each time I am tempted by distractions, lulled into sleep or seduced by false dreams of “success”.  Because I am in the culture and cannot drop out.  That is the lesson.  I have been in it all along and now I feel whole enough to be in it without being seduced or sickened.  I envision myself walking through it with my head held up and my back straight and my eyes wide open, in a direction that I have never headed before.  As the true artist I have always been.  

That is my Manifesto.  An artist in the Age of Unenlightenment.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dreams and Visions - paintings in their raw states

I have made two decisions this month.
One is to leave paintings in their raw state.
The Other is to share all of my visions, even the ones I have been quiet about.

I don't turn on a lightbulb. I see in the darkness and find my way through it.
What i see in the dark, i can't see in the light. Not yet. Go deep, wake up. One day you will do both. 

We are in Kali time. I am Usha. My time is not here yet, but I am preparing for it.

In Kali time the darkness makes the others remember. We are not smaller than the one controlling the story. We control our story. We heal and are unafraid of the darkness.

The governments of the world call it post-colonial. We ARE living in a Neo-colonial world

My ancestors came to me in a dream. They were refugees from a war with no winners. 
They were seeking shelter in my cellar.
I asked the smaller man in front of the group, 
"How did you get in?"
he said,
"We always find a way in."
I was afraid I could not care for them and I left them.
They left me.  For many years they were hidden in darkness and unknown to me.

I promised to stop hiding from the darkness of the world, 
as I promised to not let my grief for the world blind me.
I promised to walk out into the darkness and face every fear.
They are coming back to me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Holes in the Fabric of Forgetting

Ancestry Cloth is an esoteric act, a symbolic act, a metaphor for the immigrant, for the nomad, for the wanderer.  It is a daily meditation, weaving together a forgetful monochromatic present with the colors and patterns just beyond memory.

When I'm cutting and stitching, I often think about Indigenous peoples around the world, who were ripped from their homes and taught to forget.  When I listen to elders who are still connected to the sentience of the universe, I know what was almost lost, a wisdom for the present that we need for our survival.  Despite the suffering, the abuse and the losses along the way,  Indigenous cultures, by some miraculous triumph of the human spirit, have endured.  Their memories are not meant to be appropriated into the Colonial Culture.  Their memories teach us how to regain our own.  Those of us Enculturated into Colonial Culture have forgotten so much.  Yet, we have the memories of Ancestors in our bodies, calling to us.  We are also survivors, waking up to those quiet voices waiting to be heard, when we slow down and listen.
The survivors of this world, those who remember, create a strong and beautiful mosaic of memories from the fragments that remain.

I think of the dream I had as a child, everyone around me turned to skeletons as I hid to save my skin.  I can't get this dream out of my mind, my childhood nightmare haunts my waking hours. It is no wonder I sew.  I sew this cloth, made of layers and layers of past and present.  I am creating a new skin.  It often looks like the hide of a animal.  Sometimes I see earth and the fire within, and sometimes it is a topography of the soul.  Other times I see rhythms of a distant dance, ebbing and flowing through the holes in the fabric of forgetting.. 

I am making a new skin for the skeletons: connective tissue for myself and my human family.  I am making a cloth to cover our bones and to make us remember.  They are the Time Traveling Champion Capes for defending the spirit.  They are the Memory Headdresses for channeling what we have always known.

They are dresses of Armor, to warm us in the cold and steel our nerves when we cannot see through the darkness our forgetfulness has left us.  They are the ceremonial attire for the dancer who spins to the music that brings collective memories back to the surface.

They are the wardrobe for the Nomad on her long Journey Home.

Special thanks to photographer Kara Counard

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Tiger and the Swan

Authors note: I wrote and illustrated this story over 15 years ago. I never really did anything with it except to send it to one publisher and read it to the Quaker Friends Sunday School, and to my elementary students in Washburn, WI.  Some recent events made me decide to share this story.  It was written by my younger self, but I still like the lessons.   Enjoy and share if you want to, print it if you like.  It is a gift to you if it is a story that speaks to you. 

 Every year, in the special place where land and water meet, mother ducks wait patiently on their nests, while the earth springs to life all around.

   One lucky mother duck was the proud parent of three handsome yellow ducklings.  But there was one egg left in her nest that didn’t stir at all.  Mother Ducks are loyal, like mothers should be, so she continued to wait, and wait, and wait, for the big egg that sat perfectly still. 
     One morning, mother duck felt the earth rumbling beneath her.  Up she jumped!  Lo and behold, the big egg was bobbing and twisting and crackling and crumbling.  Out came the most horrendous looking duckling she had ever seen.

   “Looks aren’t everything,” she mumbled as she pushed the big duckling out of the nest and into the farmyard.  Every creature, big and small, two and four legged, feathered and furred, laughed and laughed.
     “Well, you are rather unusual,” she took a critical look at the strange creature that had hatched in her very own nest.  “Could it be that you are not a duckling after all?”  
     A big tear rolled down the duckling’s face.  It didn’t make him look any more attractive.  But if mother duck could have seen his heart breaking, she never would have said such words.  

 Sometimes people, and animals, don’t understand just how much words can hurt.  The words the duckling heard that day caused so much pain inside he ran and ran.  He felt that if he could run fast and far enough he would run away from the pain.  When he was too exhausted to move another inch, he collapsed at the bank of a deep and dark lake.  Too tired to keep his eyes open, he dreamt a strange and beautiful dream of big white birds breaking through the black sky of night.

 That deep dark lake seemed to call to the Ugly Duckling, so he stayed there for days.  And the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months.  All the while he spent his time hiding from wild dogs and raccoons and searching for little bits of food here and there.  When a young bird is all alone in the world, life is a hard thing to hold on to.  Still, something made this brave duckling hold on, even as the days grew shorter and the north wind snuck up behind him.

     It was one of these cold dark afternoons when the duckling saw a flock of big white birds fly overhead.  Their calls pulled at something deep inside of him.  As they flapped their powerful wings, he swam out further and further into the deep dark cold water.  As the birds disappeared over the trees, he noticed he was much further out than he had ever been before.  Paralyzed with fear, he floated in the icy water as it slowly froze around him.  That night he dreamt he was being called away to a warmer place.  He was so tired of fighting to stay alive, so tired of being cold and lonely and hungry. 

   You can imagine the duckling’s surprise when he woke the next morning and was still alive!  Standing over him was the strangest looking creature.  It was bigger than any dog he had ever seen, and its thick coat of fur was covered with flames of orange and yellow.
     “I should run away from this fierce beast,” he whispered, but the warmth from the strange creature melted him right out of the ice, and he was no longer afraid.

 And that was the beginning of a most unexpected friendship.  Who would have ever thought that a tiger and a duckling would enjoy each other’s company?  Perhaps when a duckling does not realize that he’s not a duckling, and a tiger does not realize that she’s not a tiger, perhaps then they don’t know any better than to like each other.  The rest of the winter did not seem cold at all, as they traveled and played together.  Every night they would snuggle together for warmth and dream.  

When it seemed as if spring would never arrive, the warm sun melted the last icicles from the roof tops and crocus bulbs poked their little heads out of the muddy ground.  Duckling and tiger danced and spun and rolled on the soft earth laughing.  The friendship these two shared had caused them to forget the hardships and fears that brought them together.  And, it seems, they had also forgotten what they were running from in the first place. 

  That is why the young girl under the tiger skin felt brave enough to peel away the heavy fur that had covered her all winter.  Duckling gasped as his furry friend slowly transformed into a young lady.  She sat him down, and began to tell the duckling an amazing tale.  

  “One day,” she began, “there was a beautiful woman in a big house with a handsome husband.  She thought her life was perfect, as she filled it with all the things she felt she was missing.  Then one day she discovered she was going to have a baby.  This, she believed, would make her life even better.  One night the woman had a dream.  She dreamt of big red birds, breaking through the black sky of night.  The next day her baby was born.

 “Everything went well for the mother and her child.  She was a very proud mother and she loved to show off her baby to anyone who would look.  Even as her child grew older, she took her into town to make sure everyone could see with their own eyes that she was even more lovely than the day before.  That is, until something very strange happened.  One morning when the mother was helping to dress her child she noticed long red marks on her back.  She could not understand how they got there or even how long they had been there.  She was sure the people would be shocked, so she insisted that her daughter keep her back completely covered at all times.  The young girl soon learned to be ashamed.”

  “Shame kept that girl hidden inside her parents house for days.  And the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months.  She longed for the fresh air and sunlight.  Afraid to be recognized, she covered herself with the biggest heaviest thing she could find, the fur of  the Great Bengal Tiger, that her grandfather had hunted in India.   First she wore the fur out into the yard.  Then she wore it down the street.  When she finally went into town, the people stepped aside exclaiming, “Let the Great Tiger pass.”  She herself began to forget who was underneath the heavy fur.”
    “But your friendship has helped me to remember,” she whispered, as she pulled the fur off of her head and felt the cool breeze soothe her neck.

   Duckling looked at his dear friend without her tiger fur.  All he could recognize of her was the soothing sound of her familiar voice.  She seemed so small and pale, and yet strong and beautiful.
     “You’re no tiger!” his voice came out squeaky and strange.
     “And you’re no duckling.”
     In the warm reflection of his friend’s eyes he saw himself for the first time.  He was a beautiful white swan.  Only in his dreams had he ever imagined a bird so lovely.

  The young swan felt nervous and the young woman rose from the riverbank, leaving her fur at a bundle at her feet.  
     “Where are you going?” he pleaded.
     “I am going home,” she replied.  “And you have somewhere to go too.”  She gestured to the sky, where a flock of swans were returning to the lake.
     “But how will I live without you?” he was beginning to cry. 
     “You will fly through the sky and swim over the water.  With me you would always be stuck on the shore.  I will come back every spring to see how you’ve grown.  Promise you will look for me.”

    The two friends made a promise.  And every year, in the special place where land and water meet, they keep their word. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Visionary Painting

Visionary Painting is a very broad term that many people claim.  In my opinion they are all valid but they are all not the same.
I am not borrowing other's philosophies that speak to me and making illustrative collages with known images in order to communicate my cause.  This is fine, it is a form of communication and it can spread ideas. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not what I do.
I am not envisioning an ideal world and painting it.  This is a valid process and can stimulate awareness and even change, but... not what I do.
I am not looking at the world outside of me and painting my vision of it, art like this can be very beautiful and stirring, but it's not what I do.

What I do is something different.  I am not the only one, but I think we're not very mass-market popular.  We are not commerce driven because this work isn't pretty and it's a hard sell.  We are not academic because we rely on our intuition and mysterious processes much more than our intellect.   We sometimes don't mirror the accepted academic stance on issues, we sometimes do. Sometimes I have no idea where we fit, but I know it when I see it.  We do our work in private, making sense of the world by listening to the muse of the spirit world giving us messages that are difficult to decipher. We "put them out there" when we deem them ready.  I have had to remind myself over and over again not to comprimise this, even if I never get recognition, attention or money for what I paint.  When I remember that, I am rewarded greatly by the process itself.   

So, why share it at all?  I guess I just get pretty excited about it.  I feel like a consciousness talks to me when I'm painting and I get very enthusiastic about that.   It feels like a wider and more expansive consciousness that I have in other areas of life.  So it's sometimes hard to understand completely, especially when I first hear it.  It's a bit like dreaming while awake.  I want others to look and maybe see it, maybe not.  At this point 90% or more  of you may be dismissing me as delusional, flaky or both.  But I'm ok, I function as well as most.  I am not convinced my thoughts are always clear or realistic, but they are not any more delusional that anyone elses belief systems.  (in my humble opinion)
I actually feel these "conversations" help me function better.  But only when I keep them balanced wth the rest of my existence.

When I was a very young child I dreamt I was on a boat, heading to a big destination with my family.    I think we were moving our residence.  During the trip a psychotic doctor was turning everyone into skeletons.  I hid and was able to escape, but I was terrified.  The rest of my family were skeletons.  I was torn between trying to save them and staying hidden.  I had no idea how to save them.   I didn't want to be a skeleton.  I woke up with the dilemma unresolved, a fearful wakening in the middle of the night.  I will never forget it.  

This symbolism is the subject of this painting and of a solo show I have scheduled for a year from now.  (The show is at UW-Fox Valley in Menasha, WI)  I have decided to name the show "Usha" after my imaginary alter-ego I developed when I learned my Hindi name.  
Usha is a character who resolves issues for me through stories.  They are stories I have never shared publicly, but they mean a great deal to me.  Literary World-wise they are not ready, well-written or completely resolved enough to publish, in my opinion.  But they really help me think...

This particular painting finds water and oil interacting.  The skeleton is from my dream, and my skeleton drips oils from all it's limbs.  I don't yet know where Usha fits into this, but I know she will.  She is coming out of the many layers, like the dresses I make.  She is hiding behind the ancestors, she is flowing in the water.  She wants to save the skeletons but she is afraid.  It just takes time.  For now there is water and it runs through the skeletons mouth, trying to bring it back to life, but it seeps through and waters the wheels of a great and powerful machinery.  The thing is that the water never stops flowing, even after the machines have stopped.

The ancestors keep watch.  They are witnesses to it all, but they cannot be heard by most.  What is it they want to say?  Can we listen?

I believe Usha will appear and she will help me once again understand my role.  It might be in a dream.  It might be a story that comes to me.  It might be the next time I am painting this.  I hope I have the answer soon, because I feel helpless and afraid sometimes, not knowing how to act and not react to the times and events we are all living through. 

I feel that I know more than I knew before I had the vision, but I certainly don't have any answers.  Just feelings, images and more questions.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ancestors - India

To speak of Ancestors of to speak of the past in its human form.   
Dad leaving India
An Ancestor Cape I finished this week

All my life I’ve thought about India.  Before I was born my father left on a ship.  It set his life on a course that took him further and further away from his birthplace.  And all my life, even before I knew it, I have been drawing and painting, and crafting a path back.  

Miniature Painting: The Victory of Ali Quli Khan on the river Gomti-Akbarnama 
When I was a very small child I drew meticulous miniature drawings, with battle scenes and leafy trees, looking like something out of the Mughal Empire, without the skilled hand of a Court Painter.  It was like that all through my childhood, sometimes just a shape or a pattern of curves, or a color palette, would bring a little India back into my present day life.  When I began to recognize this it seemed a bit like magic, as if the voices of the past were whispering in my ear.  Very possibly the books about India that were scattered throughout the house, as well as a family trip right after my tenth birthday had more to do with these visual tendencies; either way my interest in Ancestors was sparked.  By the time I was a graduate student in the arts I focused a great deal of study on Indian history and art, even taking a Hindi summer course with UWMadison’s own Virendra Ji, where I flailed through the intensive study of a language that felt surprisingly foreign to me. 

I find it ironic now, reflecting on my personal quest in the nineties, when I was so focused on India Past.  Simultaneously millions of young Indians were pursuing new careers, moving to cities like Chennai and Mumbai, and looking towards a American ideal of the self made man as a new way of seeing themselves and their futures.  While they were casting away Old India I was catching it in my net and spreading it out on notebooks and canvases, creating a visual incantation of a past I had so little connection to, apart from the blood in my veins.  What we were all doing was putting holes in the walls that blocked out the light of our imaginations.  For me the light filtered bits of a past where I imagined I belonged, and for the millions of young Indians at the end of the 20th century,  a yet to be imagined future.  I wonder now if we had torn down the wall completely would we have found each other standing hesitantly on the other side?

My painting: Mughal's Climb 1996 

At the time, focused on All Things Indian, I was forging a path back through the terrain of weeds and heavy brush that had grown in my father’s footsteps.  He had left it all behind a generation earlier and my idealistic quest for cultural belonging both amused and annoyed him.  I was poking holes in the veneer of Being an American - something he had worked so hard and long to afford us.  But right under the surface of the veneer was a richer history that my restless fingers picked away at.  Of course the holes I created were small and only offered a tiny glimpse of the full picture.  They were almost harmless, like tiny moth holes in a wool sweater.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t unravel the mystery of my own past enough to understand my place in the present.  In Virendra’s Hindi class I realized I had less in common with the Indian kids than the Caucasians.  But the reality, that I belonged to neither gnawed at me enough to make me continue picking and poking, until my whole world looked like Swiss Cheese.

Layered Print, one of many I made in the 90's

With all those holes in my psyche it was time to start the process of REPAIR.  And so began a lifetime cycle of tear and repair , that has revealed to me who I am as much as it has made me.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Layers, Labyrinths and Ancestors

Mughals Dream  1996

I've been so busy sewing cloth lately I can't find time to write, but I have thoughts floating through my mind that threaten to leave me if I don't give them my full attention.  Thoughts can be fickle and needy that way.  But perhaps they are just realistic, most anything ignored fails to thrive.  
I have a photo shoot scheduled and I want lots of new pieces of Ancestry Cloth.  The photos will be taken in the woods where my father's ashes were spread.  For me this is a gesture of respect and honor, was well as a beckoning for energy from Dad, who now exists in the Ancestor realm. 

Innocent and Kind  1994
Ancestry Cloth 2016
As I sew I think about layers.  I have painted in layers for years.  These layers represent time and memory and the limits of both.  How we view things from the present changes the image of the past. It is impossible to see everything at once, so we pick and choose the details to focus on and those to cover with new experience.  Which brings me to patterns, because it is our patterns, of thought, of language, of noticing, that determine the final image.
While I'm sewing and cutting Ancestry Cloth I realize I am doing the very same thing, but (at the moment) in abstractions.  Because I am creating these patterns and layers of abstract shapes my mind is free to take them to places unrestricted by a storyline.  They are simply layers and patterns, the ancestors talking to me and me talking back.

Ancestry Cloth, back view 2016

I have also been noticing my stitches spiraling into labyrinths.  So I think about labyrinths. There's the trap of the labyrinth in the story of the Minotaur.  But there's also those in the Buddhist Stupas, a spiral walk intended to center your mind.  These are the labyrinths that intrigue me most.  This stitching centers my mind in a way that makes me think at times I can almost articulate the emotion of this work.  
This emotion feels a lot like caring, and it is possible that it is love.

Adinkra  2014

"Love is the only Engine of Survival"  L. Cohen  (from "The Future")

Ancestor Dress 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Brief Introduction to Ancestry Cloth

I made a promise to myself that I would start to write about art again when I felt like I had something to say, something worth putting out into the world.  That’s a heavy proposition.  Who has something relevant to say?  With all the voices on the internet, in the news and on the street I have been leaning towards silence lately… silently making clothing and art and not saying much.
Now, after much silence I feel that I have a few things to say.  I don’t think it will change the world or anyone’s vote in the next election.  Nonetheless I have had some revelations in the studio and at the sewing machine and in the shop.  Now that the days are getting shorter, the leaves are just starting to fall, the reflection sets in. So, here I go.


We all have them.  Mine are often a mystery to me but at the same time I am very aware of them.  They are always with me.  Without embarking upon any religious or magical worldview, I can say with all certainty that I know my ancestors walk with me AND I do not know exactly what that means.  Could it be that being in a family that has crossed oceans away from the PLACE of their ancestors makes it more difficult to know?  Or could it make it more poignant and pressing, a connection fused from a stronger longing than any native could know?  I don't resist the areas of “not knowing” because I love the mystery; in fact I love it so much more than the certainty.  While certainty provides some comfort, the mystery is alive, ongoing and always changing.  Without an acceptance of unknowing, all becomes stagnant and dead.   So everything I create must in fact express that belief more than any other.  If I have any religious belief at all it is that 
change is the only constant, and mystery is the only certainty.  
And I have a mysterious certainty that my ancestors walk through this life with me, changing me as I change them.  

Out of this belief of mine a fabric took form, and I call it Ancestry Cloth.  This cloth is formed from days of destruction and rebuilding.  I accidentally discovered the process, which makes it even more special to me, because I don’t really believe in accidents.  Sometimes “accidents” happen because we are not present, and missing the signs we misstep.  But sometimes “accidents happen because we are very present, acting on intuition and listening to the silence and seeing the unseen. 

Many of us call this serendipity.
One sunny day this summer I “accidentally” distressed  (it was actually falling apart!) some very expensive fabric in the process of drawing with bleach.  The creative and somewhat desperate solutions I came up with to bring it back led to some telling discoveries, about fabric and clothing as well as about myself.  

Because I make the Ancestor Cloth it is specifically a story of my ancestors, and I hope to be able to articulately tell that story in words and pictures in the coming months.  But it is often in the most personal stories that the most universal truths are told, so I can only hope that my paths of destruction and repair are metaphors that many can understand, whether or not they have walked the immigrants path.  After all, we are a country of immigrants, with the exception of the the original Americans, the native tribes of this land.  (And perhaps Native Americans have had to repair the most destruction of all, as it is still happening.)

The final stage in the Ancestry Cloth is the “wearing” and that is, I believe, when the magic occurs.  

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