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
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