A Rose in Winter

I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.”

T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems

I am sitting here drinking a cup of coffee and holding a letter in my hand. It arrived on Valentine’s Day – addressed to me – in my own handwriting. I still haven’t opened it.Image

At the end of the 2013 Northfield Conference, we wrote a letter to ourselves: A Rose in WInter. It was less of a letter and more of a reflection – and a reminder.  We were encouraged to imagine what path we would follow throughout the year. To consider what changes would we make in how we live our lives. http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/laying-fallow/

I am hesitant to open the letter. I am afraid of disappointing myself and disappointing others. I am still exhausted from working on the Liber sculpture. I am still recovering from moving my mom to assisted living and dismantling her home. And this winter seems endless…I can’t seem to move forward…I am ambivalent about continuing on the stone path …I seem unable to take the first step.

So, I pick up a book….

…Once Upon A Time…

Garrison Keeler, in a Prairie Home Companion monologue, lamented the end of the ground baloney and miracle whip on white bread sandwich at funerals. As members of the “ground baloney” generation pass on, we lose, not only our connection to these foods, but knowledge of their preparation. We lose the sense of community that comes from interacting with each other as we share a communal experience. We lose another cultural memory.

We’ve all used books to prop up a table leg. Or placed phonebooks on chairs for young guests to sit on at Thanksgiving dinner. I think sharing books is another path to building a sense of community. There is even a movement to leave books in public places and then track their itineraries. Wikipedia describes BookCrossing (also: BC, BCing or BXing) as “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” The term is derived from http://www.bookcrossing.com, a free on-line book club.

The ‘crossing’ or exchanging of books may take any of a number of forms, including ‘wild releasing’ books in public, direct swaps with other members of the websites, or “book rings” in which books travel in a set order to participants who want to read a certain book.

The library saved my life. As a child, I spent every afternoon and many weekends in the library running my hands along the spines of books  – waiting to find that day’s adventure. There was a sense of  “preciousness” in their handling. There was no folding down of pages, or eating while reading or underlining a passage. I found knowledge, escape, solace, and possibility in the pages of books – as I still do.

Books can transport us to another time and place or introduce us to a different way of seeing or thinking. The imminent demise of the book has been a topic of discussion since the arrival of electronic readers. Within my book club, how we read is changing: some of us hold an actual book, another reads on a Kindle, while another listens to a CD. We are still able to share our opinions, ideas and questions. However, the containers from which they arise are as different as we are.

Last summer, Amazon sold more e-books than hard cover. Even the Library of Congress (LOC) has problems deciding which books to retain or discard and in what format. Nicholas Baker (Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper) describes schemes used to determine whether a book was still fit to retain. Various ill-fated ideas befell the disposal of tomes leading up to Baker’s dumpster diving at the LOC. Using his retirement fund, he built warehouses for books and early American newspapers and magazines once destined for destruction.

At the annual Peaks Island Library Book Sale sponsored by the Friends of the Library, it was rumored that more books were donated to the sale than were purchased. The unsold books seemed destined for the landfill.

ImageHowever, the Friends of the Peaks Island Library sought a creative way to use the unsold books. They sponsored an Altered Book workshop. Artists have long created Artist Books. Some use books as the starting point of their work. Others start from scratch and construct a book-like work. The finished pieces are more like sculptures than traditional books. There are whole conferences and collections dedicated to the exhibition and collection of these one-of-a kind or limited edition books. http://www.centerforbookarts.org/.

There were tables of altered books from the Portland Public Library book art collection. We could look and touch without white gloves (a rare opportunity.)  Then Book Artist, Anastasia Weigle, http:www.anastasiaweigle.com gave an overview of the process she uses to create Artist Books.

Image

Attendees then chose a book from the pile of discards on the porch of the library. (Flashback to Filene’s basement.) I grab a book – not for the cover – but for the title: The Family Orchard by Nomi Eve. I quickly thumb through the pages. Throughout the book were images of family trees.  At the end of each chapter, the names of members accrued through marriage and birth were added.

Born in New England, I always wished to be one of those people whose family tree goes back for generations…that you know where everyone came from and where they ended up. My family immigrated from Europe under duress – and left the family history behind.Image

Since I had no intention of reading the book per se, I began to tear out the narrative pages. I left intact the genealogy charts and pages with images of branches, fruits, trees. The floor around me was littered with the discards – like fallen foliage.

A few hundred ‘leaves’ later, I arrived at the final page of the book – a completed family tree. The genealogy chart had started in 1820 with just two names and now filled two pages. Mothers became grandmothers and great grandmothers…and so on and so forth.

In 1935, Leah Levinsky married David Lily and bore 2 children: Jacob and Betty.

My grandmother’s maiden name was Levinsky. Her birth name was Betty. She was an immigrant who anglicized her name to Elizabeth and never spoke Yiddish. Her brother’s name was Jacob (aka Uncle Jack.)  His business began with a wagon and horse and evolved into Levinsky’s Army Navy Surplus Store, Portland, Maine.

I frantically collect up all the loose and crumpled pages from the floor and cobble the book back together.

First, I read the book.

The Family Orchard “ is a rich tapestry of Jewish life and humor and yearning, woven from timeless themes: the evolution of family, the setting down of roots, the sorrow of immigrants and the joy of pioneers, the secrets that bind families together and the legends that sustain them. http://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm/book_number/666/the-family-orchard

Then, I called Nomi Eve’s agent.

I explained how I came upon the book. About the Levinsky name.  About my artwork. By the end of the conversation, the agent’s assistant (somewhat assured I was not a stalker nor that I was looking for an book agent) agreed to forward an email with my story. Within a day, I was corresponding with Nomi Eve.

And they lived happily ever after….

If this were a fairy tale, Nomi would have been a long lost relative and I would have stumbled across another branch of my family tree. Maybe I would even have figured out my next step along the stone path.

We corresponded about how I discovered her book and the workshop on the island. She had visited Maine and had fond memories of her trip. Finally, I asked her about the Levinskys in her family tree. She responded:

There had been a soda shop in Philadelphia where she grew up called: Levinsky’s. She substituted the Levinsky name for the real names of family members to protect their privacy. There was no connection between us. It was just a story.

Afterword:

I finish my coffee. As I turn the envelope over, I read the words written on the flap:

                           Today, while the blossoms still cling to the vine

                           I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine

                           A million tomorrows shall all pass away

                           ‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine, Today

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Today-lyrics-John-Denver/459497E755B

Image

For Today, maybe it’s okay to just drink another cup of coffee.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to just smell the roses.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to be unsure of my next step on the stone path.

For Today, maybe it’s okay to spend the day reading a book.*

**In 1947 Jimmy Durante sang:

There’s one day that I recall, though it was years ago.

All my life I will remember it, I know.

I’ll never forget the day I read a book.

It was contagious, seventy pages.

There were pictures here and there,

So it wasn’t hard to bear,

The day I read a book.

It’s a shame I don’t recall the name of the book.

It wasn’t a history. I know because it had no plot.

It wasn’t a mystery, because nobody there got shot.

The day I read a book? I can’t remember when,

But one o’ these days, I’m gonna do it again.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlsQIEIEeKA

Moving Forward

Endemic:

characteristic of a particular place, or among a particular group

Sharing:

We are now a world community. We can share with the entire planet – even those in space – 24/7 – with just a  “click” or “tap” or our voice.  First, we shared documents then music files and then our thoughts on any number of subjects. Now we post photos and videos and intimate details of our daily lives – sometimes to our own detriment.

But, to some, this shared world is not new – it is a way of life born from necessity and continued as a cultural norm. For some, sharing is endemic to the geography of their lives. Islanders have always lived in a sharing community .

If you live on Peaks Island, Maine, you learn to share from the time you learn to walk. When you are trudging through snow or carrying groceries, running to make the boat, someone will offer you a ride. You can call a friend to check on the dog if you are unexpectedly delayed. Don’t have the tool you need, ask at the Peaks Café.

There is an island listserve that announces art openings, school events, thanks you’s, lost dogs, found glasses, rides needed or offered or the start of a cancer support group. Recently, a friend needed a high chair for a visiting niece and within 15 minutes received 14 responses – including delivery and a story of the chair’s history.

During the past year, I was a recipient of the islanders culture of sharing, as we continued the search for a place for my mom. When I needed information about various nursing homes and assisted living facilities, islanders shared their experiences, penned reviews, supplied contact names and emotional support. When I needed home care providers, high school friends offered names of caretakers they had used or even offered to come themselves.

When I needed a car – everyday for a week – to visit the rehab center in the morning and nursing homes and assisted living places in the afternoons, people I knew (and some I didn’t) entrusted me with their vehicle. No one asked about my driving record or insurance. Each person trusted that should anything untoward occur – I would behave as a member of the sharing community and act responsibly.

However, I did have to learn the island system for locating a car in the parking garage. You have to denote whether it is parked  “Inside/outside” – the specific entrance on a numbered level – and whether you can see the whale wall or the restaurant.

 Sharing My Home:

 Respite:

Time out, break, recess, pause, hiatus, suspension, rest period, relief,

Many of my friends are caring for a parent or relative or spouse.

  • One is providing hospice care to her mom as she approaches the end of life:
  • Another is monitoring the care of her aunt and dad located in another state:
  • Another is alternating with her other siblings the home care of her parent.

Many of us do not live next door to our parents or even in the same state. We do not have lives that allow us to stay home to care for another. The Portland Press Herald paper ran a series called: Challenge of our Age. A woman was featured in an article about a woman who left her job and became the full time caretaker of her mother who had been diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. She acted out of love; she had no regrets; but she was exhausted – depleted.

http://specialprojects.pressherald.com/aging/part-2-liz-havu/

What caregivers have in common is the need for respite.

Throughout the past few years, I have left my home and studio for longer and longer periods of time to help care for my mom. While in Maine, friends provide housing and support. They give me a key and keep the porch light on. They make up the bed and leave dinner. There are no expectations (Well, sometimes the dog wants petting or letting out …)

I now provide respite care for my friends traveling up and down the coast. I leave the key, clean sheets on the bed, soup in the fridge, and if I am there, emotional sustenance.

I have even developed a ritual with one friend who returns often.

We eat a healthy, home cooked dinner. We then head to the local restaurant to procure 2 pieces of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting and carrot with cream cheese frosting. We go so often that the waitress points us to the cooler and lets us select our own pieces. We take our cake home and return the empty plate on the next visit.

Sharing the Fear:

My mom watches the news religiously. Monsoons in the Phillipines, tornadoes in the Midwest, floods in Colorado – 1000’s are left homeless. Even with all the assurances from our family to the contrary, she is afraid of becoming homeless. Her anxiety prevents her from sleeping.

Each time I visit, she asks:

  • What is going to happen to me?
  • Where will I live?

Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, in an interview many years ago when asked her greatest fear, she replied:

  • I am afraid of becoming a bag lady.

She echoes the refrain I hear from friends as we grow older. Many of us are single or have no children. The fear of being homeless resides deep in the recesses of my own mind.

I never realized how brave my mom is. She learned to use a walker after recovering from her broken hip. She agreed to in-home assistance with cooking, cleaning and meds after her broken pelvis. She endured weeks of rehab after her broken arm. After months on waiting lists, she will be moving to an assisted living facility that is 23 minutes and 18.1 miles from her home. It was a difficult decision made easier by the fact that there was only one bed in one facility that was available.

I am uniquely qualified to help with the transition. I have been a professional clutter buster and personal organizer for 20 years. (Actually, according to my mom, I started young. I was bounced out of nursery school for rearranging the cots during recess. In my defense, they probably needed it.) http://jotheclutterbuster.com/modules/publisher/item.php?itemid=53

Mom taught us to share with others – no matter how little we had.

She will decide what she wants to take with her to the assisted living place. She will offer items to friends and family who have made specific requests.Tchotkes

We will go through her apartment and identify items to be given to homeless shelters. We found an organization that accepts furniture to give to families that were previously homeless.Truck full

I will store the photographs until a later time when we can sort and label. Then I will scan them and make disks for everyone.

I am in awe of her willingness to focus on the sharing and not the loss.

 

Sharing the Heart:

I will arrive in Maine on the Solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.” In the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice days are the days with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year.

winter-solstice_10792_990x742

During the darkest months, I stay in bed later in the morning. On Sunday mornings, before going to Quaker Meeting, I listen to “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. (In my opinion she runs neck and neck with Terry Gross as an insightful interviewer.) During her program entitled: Contemplating Mortality Tippett interviewed Ira Byock MD, a palliative care specialist. In his book: Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life,  he distinguishes between the concept of the good death and actually dying “well”  - whole. www.onbeing.org/program/transcript/4655

He offers 11 words that he feels are important to maintaining or repairing relationships to use during any transition:

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

My siblings and I have worked hard to coordinate the process. The last time we had to work on something together was my father’s funeral – 25 years ago. The process has been exhausting – for everyone. Completing applications, copying and scanning documents, submitting paper work and re-submitting the same paperwork, researching and visiting facilities, filling out more forms, waiting lists, telephone calls, doctor visits and interviews. Amidst communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, text messages, emails, phone calls – we attempt to preserve relationships and find a way to care for my mother.

In an interview, Jane Gross author of Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents –and Ourselves and the blog: The New Old Age, talked about her state of being “between guilt an exhaustion” as she and her brother made decisions about the care of their mom. She emphasized the need for “family repair” as a result of the process. http://www.amazon.com/Bittersweet-Season-Caring-Parents-Ourselves-ebook/dp/B004DEPII8

I am hoping, after my mom is settled in her new “home”, that we can share these 11 words with each other.

Sharing the Future:

With the current technology, we are so used to being able to predict: weather, traffic, up-coming events. We are always looking towards the future. We are under a delusion that predicting means knowing the outcome.

Almost a year ago to the day, I was starting a public art work: creating a legacy – occupying a permanent space. http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/next-steps-on-the-stone-path/

Once the piece was installed, I realized how in between my mom and I were in our lives:

The Space Between *:

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

 

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

 

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

 

We are no longer in the space between. We are now moving forward.

* http://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/the-space-between/

The Space Between

I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. – TS Eliot. J Afred Proofrock

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20220#sthash.tEnOctkT.dpuf

 I am in the space between.

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

My mother has never lived more than a mile from where she lives now. She has been part of the lives of her compatriots and their children and their children’s children. She has witnessed the transformation of our lower middle class neighborhood of immigrants to the most sought after housing in the city of Portland, Maine.   http://www.pressherald.com/news/looking-up-on-the-hill_2013-02-25.html?pagenum=full

For every house we walk by, she can recall the names of former owners and those of their children who darted in and out of our house when we were young. It was a time when you shared news while hanging out the laundry. Shared troubles over a cup of tea. Doors were left unlocked so you could borrow an egg, the proverbial cup of sugar and even an article of clothing.

My mom loves to tell the story of finding a young woman she had never seen rooting through my closet. She was looking for a skirt to borrow for a concert. She became one of my closest friends. And another daughter to my mom.

For the past several years, my mom has needed increasing levels of help. Her daily walks to the coffee shop have stopped. She learns news only from television and depends on others to fill her days. At 84, after a series of falls and a broken pelvis, hip replacement and now a broken arm – my Mom’s ability to care for herself is being questioned.

I am visiting assisted living facilities and nursing homes and talking with friends who have faced this same conundrum – how to preserve the dignity and independence of someone and insure their safety at the same time.

The conversation has begun in earnest. She is at a rehab facility now.

She is in the space between:

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

I Can’t Keep From Singing (sometimes)

I’ve decided to learn to read music. I sang in my junior high school choir and in a really bad rock band in high school. While sculpting my dad’s memorial on Peaks Island 7 years ago, I sang with the Peaks Island Chorale directed by Faith York.

My PI Chorale audition consisted of singing Happy Birthday while waiting in line for the ferry. Trust me – it wasn’t very professional or pretty and certainly, not on key. Faith York maintains it was not an audition, but “a recruiting effort.” Because I could not read music, Faith made audiotapes of my parts so I could memorize them.

For me, when I sing that first note, all current cares fall away. I let go of family responsibilities, financial worries, medical concerns, war weariness and political differences. More importantly, when you take the first breath, you are completely in the moment. You listen with an intensity usually reserved for intimate conversations. Your voice blends with the voices emanating from those on either side of you. We act as one entity – trying to bring to life a phrase, an experience or feeling contained within the piece.

While at the Northfield Conference (Read blog entry: Lying Fallow), I participated in a workshop let by Kate Munger: Intro to Threshold Singing. Kate, like her east coast dopple ganger Faith, embodies music. She sings, plays a variety of instruments, composes music, and conducts chorale groups. She is able to take a disparate group of people of varying skill levels and create community through music.

Kate writes:

The seed for the Threshold Choir was planted in June of 1990 when I sang for my friend Larry as he lay in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS. I did housework all morning and was terrified when the time came to sit by his bedside.  I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage.  I sang it for 2 ½ hours.  It comforted me, which comforted him.  The contrast between the morning and the afternoon was profound. I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him. I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.  http://www.thresholdchoir.org/

Two to four singers are invited to sing at the bedside of a person who is dying. Many of the songs are composed by members of the choir and are “ to communicate ease, comfort, and presence.” It was a remarkable workshop because the simplicity of the notes and words released emotions I did not realize I was holding. http://www.studio360.org/2007/may/11/threshold-choir/

There is a threshold choir starting in Maryland. Because the songs are sung a cappella, I need to learn to read music. My first lesson is about the “family relationships” within music. The spaces between white keys and black keys; the space between Bass clef and Treble clef.

Faith asks:

What do you know about music?

My response:

What I recall from Fourth grade music class is the following mnemonic:

Staff

EGBDF  (lines on the staff) – Every Good Boy Deserves Fun – seemed sexist in the 4th grade and still does , oh well-

 

FACE – (spaces on the staff)

 

A friend’s music teacher explained that this notation system originated from European monks. With no formal way to share music sung at one monastery with another, they designed a system based on the hand.  Fingers represented the EGBDF notes and the spaces between fingers signified the FACE notes. Using a hand like a recording device, they memorized the music and taught others using their hands (There are many theories about the beginnings of musical notation that have been thoroughly researched http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_notation.  I can’t verify the monk theory – but it is a great explanation.)

Growing Old is Not for Sissies (Paul Newman)

Everyone dies.

Most everyone I talk with is not afraid of death. They are afraid of the space between – losing the ability to care for themselves, losing their memory, losing connections to others, losing who they were.

Everyone wants to die with dignity.

When I visit the nursing home, I am acutely aware of how we are all in The Space Between:

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

I am hoping during this space between that I will be able to read and sing the music that accompanies these words:

Walking Each Other Home: Lyrics Ram Dass

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

 

 

Lying Fallow

lie fallow  Lit. [for farmland] to exist unplanted for a period of time.

I am the empty cup.

While attending a workshop on Creating One’s Own Sabbath Experience with Tom Bassarear and Yvette Yeager, I was asked to select from a table of items the object that represented myself – in that moment. I chose the empty cup.

http://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-Finding-Renewal-Delight-Lives/dp/0553380117/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378156657&sr=1-1&keywords=muller+sabbath

Long-term projects – raising children or maintaining a house or recovering from an illness or caring for a parent or making public art – consume personal, physical and spiritual resources. Juggling 2 or more of those activities at the same time can deplete us.

 I am the empty cup.

 Nature Abhors a Vacuum

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

 I am the empty cup.

At my core, I am a maker: I make sculpture. I make movies. I make food. I make time for others. I make plans. I make decisions. In this moment, I want to make time to ” fill my cup” with whatever comes along.

What if that involves picking up a friend at the airport and then taking a 10-hour drive? What if that is living with 100+ people I have never met? What if that is honest and authentic sharing – with strangers. And what if that is a week of really good food someone else has prepared?

Indra’s Net in Massachusetts

I was invited to be a Conference Speaker at the 2013 Northfield Conference. The Northfield Conference is an annual week-long event that has taken place in western Massachusetts since 1893. http://northfieldconference.org/history/

It’s difficult to explain a place that is an intentional multi-generational community for individuals and families. It takes place on a small private school campus along the Connecticut River. The conference is all-volunteer.  The program originates from the participants and throughout the year planning meetings take place.  I was invited to speak about my art work – specifically the Invisible Legacy Series

The theme was Indra’s Net  – a metaphor that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra’s_ net. Indra’s net is conceived as a net, or web.

•     at each juncture there lies a jewel;

•     each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix;

•     every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness;

•     each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;

•     thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

My friends think of me as a consummate networker. Whenever they need to find specific help, borrow something, know something, or find someone, they come to me. I am often less than 6 degrees of separation from anyone I meet – no matter where I am. I am the Kevin Bacon of my circle of friends and associates. http://oracleofbacon.org/

I decided to “disconnect” for the week- no cell phones or internet. I wanted to be fully present at the event.  (My friends took bets on how long I could stay unplugged. I lasted the week but the first 3 days of withdrawal were tough.)

We now have the ability to be connected and interconnected with friends, family, even strangers. We believe that we have more intimacy in our lives. We believe that being accessible 24/7 make us less lonely. There is a Toyota car commercial featuring a young woman sitting behind a computer worried that her parents only have 19 “friends.” Her parents are shown going off on a bicycle adventure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUGmcb3mhLMhave She is depicted sitting alone, inside, accompanied by her laptop.

In his article: Is Facebook Making Us Lonely, Stephen Marche writes:

Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits     of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/

Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.

For an hour each morning at the Northfield Conference, a conference attendee is invited to give a scheduled talk that pertains to the theme. The talk is intensely personal and allows listeners a glimpse into the lives of others. Sometimes speakers reveal secrets; sometimes a life- altering event; sometimes a struggle in the moment.

Whatever is shared during this special hour is held in deep respect and provides the topic for small group discussions following the presentation.  Invisible Legacy examined the lives of my great grandmother and grandmother who lived most of their lives in the Augusta Mental Health Institute in Maine. (AMHI)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI never had a conversation or a connection with either. I learned about their lives in the papers of the AMHI archives. I learned my grandmother was an entrepreneur, consummate salesperson and seamstress. My great grandmother was self-reliant. She raised 9 children while her husband sold surplus goods from a wagon.  I learned about how their lives were reflected in mine in ways I could not have predicted.

pcfront Invisible Legacy is an installation of antique furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, interviews, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women I never knew are printed. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but the lives of others like them. http://www.joisraelson.com/Sculpture_Invisible%20Legacy.html

The invisible legacy continues even in death. It is estimated that there are 300,000 unmarked graves on the grounds of former and even current psychiatric hospitals throughout the US. http://www.pressherald.com/news/forgotten_2012-05-27.html?pagenum=full

In shutting down an upstate New York institution thousands of empty suitcases from patients were discovered in the attic. Each suitcase was a testament to a life restrained – disconnected.

For several days after my talk, many Northfield participants would talk to me about a mother – a father – a sibling – who suffered from mental illness. More often, they would reveal their personal struggles with this ‘invisible’ disease.

These were conversations about anger and sadness – loss and change – hope and survival. Each conversation was a reflection of another. “A change in one gem creates a change in another…”  I was changed – by the depth of interactions – and the forging of new connections.

Indra’s Net in Maine

I walk across the island to the ferry, take the 20-minute boat ride across Casco Bay and then walk the mile+ to my mom’s apartment on Munjoy Hill.

There have been many changes along the street that leads to the ‘Hill.’ Dark bars have given way to upscale coffee shops and organic bakeries; used furniture stores to high end yarn shops and strip dives to a pizza place with so many topping options it makes decision making almost impossible. http://www.ottoportland.com/

At the corner of North and Congress – in the window of a former bakery – hangs a very large stained glass mosaic made of jewels and silver wire. It is a physical manifestation of an Indra’s Net.

I opened the door to the shop and felt genuinely welcomed from the moment I entered. Laura Fuller has been working with glass for seventeen years. She began putting three-dimensional objects in her stained glass panels while still in school. Although discouraged by her instructors from pursuing this innovative technique, she continued to incorporate found objects into her complex glass reliefs.DSC_0005

There is a pixie-like gentleness combined with a deep intensity that emanates from Laura when you are in conversation. That combination of lightness and strength belies, or maybe reflects, the loss of her child to a rare disease. http://laurafullerglass.blogspot.com/

Each unique piece expresses not only her story, but also that of the objects incorporated within. For Laura, each object is a reflection of the complex narrative of life — past, present and future:

Objects are our representatives. ‘Living’ solid, fruitful, domestic, useful lives: independently functional. These objects, having given 2 to 200 years of faithful service, became hidden. In drawers, closets, dumps, underground, and in the ocean – waiting.

I will send Laura objects to use in a piece that will reflect my interconnectedness with others and myself. I am the empty cup that is now being filled with intimate and heartfelt conversations with strangers.

I am part of Indra’s Net.

Next Steps on the Stone Path

To Be An Artist is to Trust

When it is time to share the work, I must trust in the viewer. I must believe that he or she will approach my work with respect and curiosity. I must realize that viewers bring their life experiences to the work. They arrive with knowledge and emotions. They take whatever time they require to discern meaning. They take from the piece what they are able to and what they need. I have no influence or power. And then, I rest. www.joisraelson.com

libersidejk LiberfrontJKDSC08425-S

 

Liber is not my first public artwork for a library. I was 9 years old when the Marada Adams School was built across the street from my house. The elementary school was a 2-story brick structure. A public library was housed on the first floor. You had to be 6 years old to obtain a card. Even though I had been reading for a year, I was only 5 and a rule is a rule. I then petitioned for special dispensation and won. I selected books by trailing my fingers along the spines until a title caught my interest. For most of my childhood, I spent my free time taking out and returning books.

My 3rd grade class was asked to create images for a concrete frieze that would be installed on the face of the new school. It would be approximately 42 feet long and 8 feet high. Everyone created a paper cut-out that depicted an outdoor activity. My ‘girl jumping rope’ image was chosen for replication in the mural.  (You ask:  How do I recall which of the images was mine? I am still upset that I removed her braids when cutting out the image.) See page 5. http://issuu.com/munjoyhill/docs/aug2011munjoyhillobserver

After 53 years as an icon and gathering place in the neighborhood, the school/library was raised to make way for affordable housing and a small park. As a result of a “save the mural” campaign, the frieze was de-installed and a committee of architects, developers, current and former neighborhood residents and one sculptor  (me) met to determine its fate. The only decision we could agree upon was to retain and store the mural. No other plans were finalized. My jump rope girl awaits a new home – hopefully in the old ‘hood.

Oh the Places You’ll Go

June is graduation time. The current 9-month calendar was established when 85% of Americans were involved in agriculture and when schools were not air-conditioned. But the 180-day rule still applies in most states – agrarian or not. The creation of Liber took 9 months  – from the selection of the stone in Indiana to its installation at the library.

The school bus stops in front of my studio and the screeching of brakes serves as my alarm clock. The often ill-clad and frequently half-asleep students clamber aboard each morning.

My countdown week for the installation coincided with final exams and graduation. While they prepared for tests, I prepared for the installation and dedication of Liber. I am not sure who was more anxious.

Graduation

I always send 2 books to the graduates in my life:   Oh, the Places You’ll Go    and    What Now?

What Now

Dr. Seuss
In 1993, upon leaving my ‘real’ job in training, group facilitation and curriculum development to   become a sculptor, I received Dr. Seuss’s book as a parting gift along with a chisel and hammer. In his inimitable way, Dr. Seuss outlines the ups and downs of life – making choices, losing one’s way, flying high, falling down, following paths, changing direction…waiting for the way to open. He ends his tome with these stanzas:
                   
You’ll get mixed up, of course,

As you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with

many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

And remember that

Life’s a Great Balancing Act…

 

And will you succeed?

Yes, you will indeed.

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid you’ll move mountains!

 

So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way.

What Now? 
Liber was barely installed and the dedication complete, when the questions started:

How do you feel now that it’s done?

What would you do differently?

How much does it weigh now? (Answer: 9000 lbs.)

What are you going to work on next?

What now?

Based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, Patchett tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question, What now?

“From student to line cook to teacher to waitress and eventually to award-winning author, Patchett’s own life has taken many twists and turns that make her exploration genuine and resonant. As Patchett writes, “‘What now?’ represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life.”

I write thank you notes. I post my last blog entry. I clear out the temporary studio. I clean my long neglected house.  I detail the truck. I pay bills. I go to the hair stylist and acupuncturist (in that order.)  I sell off electric tools in hopes of recouping some of the out-of-pocket monies. I donate my 25 year-old pneumatic and hand tools to the Vermont Carving Studio.

Before I start a project, I get my house in order. And when I complete a project, I do the same. As a clutter buster, I reassure my clients:

“If you discard what is no longer useful to make room for what is really important, the ‘empty’ space will fill with exactly what you need. Just trust.”

In What Now? Padgett highlights the possibilities the unknown offers and reminds us that there is as much joy in the journey as there is in reaching the destination.

Everything is gestation and birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of feeling come to completion entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is what it means to live as an artist in understanding as in creation.

Rainer Maria Rilke

To see a slide show of the entire installation process photographed by Dan Stack, click here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97203147@N05/

Additional photos provided by Joseph Knights

During the making of Liber, many people walked along the stone path with me. Each one contributed to the success of the journey.

If you don’t see your name on the list and feel it should be, I apologize for the oversight. Please know I appreciated your support.

  • Lynn Wheeler, Scott Rinehart and staff at Carroll County Public Library and members of the Sculpture Committee
  • Sandy Oxx and Susan Williamson, Carroll County Arts Council
  • Tom Rio, Bruce Lockard and all the crew at the Carroll County Roads Operations and Public Works
  • Public works cleaning crew who didn’t give me a hard time when I trailed dust (like Pig Pen in the comics) throughout the building
  • Independent Limestone
  • Stonebelt Transport
  • Digging and Rigging
  • Mathias Monuments
  • Welding Contractors LLC, Kyle Palumbo
  • Starbucks staff at Safeway (Jen, Gabby and Diane)
  • Dan Stack, Photographer and Joseph McKnight, Photography
  • Friends who provided physical, emotional, spiritual sustenance (Maggie, Eileen, Barb)
  • My Book Club (Elizabeth, Judy, Linda)
  • Members of the Pipe Creek Meeting
  • Homer Yost and Becky Laughlin for artistic feedback
  • Those who took care of my body – Dawn, Alison, staff at the YMCA
  • Mary L. Dewey Family

Bird’s Eye View

You are invited:

Dedication of Liber will take place on June 6, 2013 at 6 p.m. at the Carroll County Public Library, Westminster MD. The event is free and open to the public. Video of the installation and photographs of the completed work will be posted at www.thestonepath.wordpress.com following the dedication.

Bird’s Eye View

It is spring. Birds are nesting in the eaves of the studio. Their songs greet me as I arrive each morning. It can be, however, somewhat cacophonous. They flit in and out carrying twigs, bits of straw, announcing their presence. There are starlings, doves, pigeons, crows and ravens.

Ravens and crows are relatives. Both are from the genus corvus. Both are black. Both are smart. Both are nosy and noisy. You can learn to tell the difference between the two from their calls. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2501

A raven* stops by each morning and evening to check on my progress.  The crew at the Maintenance Yard told me there is a nest in the rafters of the county’s salt dome.Salt dome

Peering into the darkness, I can barely discern the nest. Difficult to see – or photograph – is a baby raven.  To protect their fledgling, the ravens lure me out of the dome. I follow them into the yard. They call out warnings. They fly close to me then soar away – their blackness outlined against the blue sky. Perching in the nearby trees, they remained vigilant until I depart.

The Raven has a role in the mythologies of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and the cultural hero of the Alaskan Athabaskan tribes. He is a revered and benevolent transformer god who helps the People and shapes their world for them.

In one raven tale, Raven originally lived in the land of spirits that existed before the world of humans. One day, the Raven became so bored with living in ‘bird land ‘ that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When the Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the land that humans now occupy.

Bird’s Eye View: Space

Sculpture both occupies space and defines space. When looking at a painting, we stand in one place and let our eyes travel throughout the surface of the piece. Looking at a sculpture requires us to move our bodies to look at the entire work. As you walk around the sculpture, each step changes your viewing experience.

Stone rootsThe mass of the piece interrupts the space. The negative or empty space around and within the sculpture also holds your attention.  Other sculptures, buildings, even the presence of humans, contribute to the perception of the work. When installed, Liber will sit between trees and among plants. It will be integrated into the landscape.

Sculptors need to continuously look at their sculpture to know how to proceed. To prevent the brain from imposing a pre-conceived vision, artists use mirrors to “see’. By looking at the work in a mirror, a visual reality is reflected back. An artist sees what must still be reworked to be resolved. They also see the errors that must remain.

Bird’s Eye View: Form

I always wanted to make art. But I grew up at a time when practicality took precedence over dreams. While serving on a ship during WW2, my dad completed the matchbook cover drawing test. He wanted to attend art school when the war was over. But war changes everything. Dreams are set aside.

MatchbookWhen he was dying, he encouraged me to take care of myself  – spiritually and physically. His legacy to my siblings and me was to follow our dreams. After his death, I decided to make art. I quit my job, enrolled in art school and created the Firehouse Studio.

(I also bought L.L. Bean flannel shirts in a variety of colors. The shirts kept me warm this winter while sculpting outside. At the end of the day, I hang them like Tibetan peace flags along with my dust infused jeans.)

ClotheslineTwenty-five years later, I am standing on scaffolding to work on the top half of Liber. I have a Bird’s Eye View of the sculpture. From where I am standing, it’s obvious I need to make changes in the angle of the back. There is a section that should be smaller so the proportions are not so distorted. All sculptors seek the highest point wherever they are. We always want to see the big picture.

Close-up #5

When I travel, I always visit the tallest building, climb the stairs of bell towers, or just hike up a hill. It’s probably why I like hot air ballooning.

For most of us, our first experience with reading is sitting on the lap of a parent – helping to turn the pages of a favorite book or being read to as we cuddle in bed before drifting off to sleep. From these chair-like forms, we branch out to sprawling on floors, leaning against trees, reading wherever we can find a comfortable space.

The basic form of Liber  (pronounced with a LONG i) suggests a chair.  The root of the word “library” is from the Latin ‘liber’ meaning peel. Bark was the basis of paper – and eventually the pages of books.  The seat is sculpted in such a way to suggest pages. The surface of the trunk-like back of the sculpture references bark, lichen, tree limbs, roots. From this ‘solid’ foundation, pages ‘grow.’

Bird’s Eye View: Surface

The experience of a sculpture is not only by sight. The tactile quality of sculpture is surely as important as the visual to cause thought.

Isamu Noguchi

Moss

Stone mossA sculptor uses the interplay of shadow and light to create the work. Specific tools are used to create surface texture – rough, smooth, polished, raw. A tooth chisel makes multiple parallel lines that dig into the stone. A bush hammer makes dimples by stippling. A flat removes extraneous marks and leaves a smooth surface. NOT making tool marks on the stone creates a different texture. These varied surfaces capture or reflect light – defining the image.

Surface imagery

stone branch

Jun ichiro Tanizaki in his book, In Praise of Shadows, wrote:…

In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house…and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.

 Shadows create dimension in a sculpture. The shapes arise from the darkness. As I finish the piece, I pay particular attention to the crevices. I work hard to clean them out in order to provide a place for the darkness to dwell. Working along each section of Liber, I realize that without the shadow, the rest of the sculpture does not exist.

As of late, I am conscious of the darkness in the world: some man made and some natural. Boston – Oklahoma – Syria and the list goes on and on. Making art seems frivolous when faced with the daily litany of events that cast a shadow over the lives of so many.

‘In another myth, the Raven was responsible for bringing light to the darkness of the world. At the beginning of the story, the world lies in darkness and Raven, who of course existed at that time because he had always existed and always would, was somewhat less satisfied with this state of affairs. It led to much blundering around and bumping into things. One day, he hears a man singing about how he keeps the light in a small box, inside another box, inside another, and so on and so forth. There are an enormous number of boxes.  Raven uses all of his considerable wiles and eventually worms his way inside the man’s house and steals the light from the man, with which he brightens the world.’

http://world-bird-sanctuary.blogspot.com/2011/12/myths-legends-and-tales-raven.html

The ancient library of Alexandria was comprised of gardens, walkways, area for shared dining, reading rooms, lecture halls and meeting spaces and of course, a collection of papyrus scrolls gathered from around the world. Legend has it that carved into the wall above the shelves was an inscription that read: The place of the cure of the soul.

Taking time to look at art – sculpture – takes us to another place.

Thich Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He offers workshops on walking meditation. He provides solace through walking meditation.  The Pebble for Your Pocket Meditation encourages us to live in the moment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXJs9bdcnXw.

To create change in ourselves, we meditate.Stone roots

To create more light in the world , we must drop our pebbles.

We must be like a Raven.

 

 

NOTE:

For you literature fans, Edgar Allan Poe is a Baltimore native and author of the House of Usher – the poem featuring the phrase: Spoke the Raven, NEVERMORE.

For you football fans, the Baltimore Ravens are the home team.

Is Good Good Enough?

“…the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your  current piece.”                                                                                                                                                                       Art and Fear

Lavora, Lavora

Sixty work days have passed since the stone arrived from Indiana. During that time, I have worked in a variety of elements. There was a hurricane, a flood and a snow storm in which I was so mesmerized by the beautiful, big flakes I did not pay attention to  the accumulation. It took 2 hours to drive the 16 miles home.

snow

IMG_0540

From November to mid February, temperatures hovered around freezing. As the humidity drops,   the metal head on the sculpture hammer loosens on its wooden handle. To re-tighten the head, you soak the hammer in water so the wood will swell. One night, I left my hammer soaking in the bucket. The next morning, it was embedded in ice.

The rumble of thunder has also been a daily occurrence. The metal roof under which I work reverberates in the wind. The Beaufort Scale relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land.  It describes near gale force winds as –“ Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind. Cars veer off road “… and blows limestone dust – everywhere (my note).

Fare una passeggiata

Everyday, I walk around the work space trying to get reception on my radio. If the clouds are heavy, I listen to Country Music. It’s Oldies if the wind is coming from the west. On clear days, it’s NPR. Because I never understood the magic of radio waves (nor how planes stay in the sky), I fare una passagiata using my radio like a divining rod, dowsing for a radio station.

Diane Rehm’s guest this week was Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead outlines issues that need to be addressed for women to be leaders. http://www.amazon.com/Lean-In-Women-Work-Will/dp/0385349947

In between intermittent grinding and hammering noises, I listen to their conversation. While describing her leadership style, Sandberg said:  Done is better than Perfect.

Paura

“Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.” Art and Fear

The image of Liber has emerged but there are still more layers of stone to peel back. Every time I think I am done, another unresolved section appears. And that process spirals around itself – like the proverbial onion – until the deadline arrives.

 Self

My art journey began when someone asked me during a workshop icebreaker: Who are you? I responded: a woman, a daughter, a sister, a sculptor. But I had never sculpted. So I started.

For the past 20 years, my identity has been determined by what I create. After years of questioning my talent, doubting my commitment, and feeling like a pretender, I still have a hard time answering – ‘an artist’ – when asked who am I.

My license plate reads: Isculpt. The plate is like wearing a very big nametag. My truck registration is up for renewal. The cost of a vanity plate has increased. And I wonder: if I don’t renew the plate, will I still answer – a sculptor – when asked who I am?

Others

Artists are their own worst critics. The voices  we carry from our past – from our families, our community and our experiences – color our current perceptions. The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle. Acceptance means having the artwork seen as “real art.”; approval means having people like it.

Once installed, Liber will be on view for at least 100 years. It will be my legacy. I want both approval and acceptance.  I want it to be perfect.

Abbastanza buono?

I am learning to kayak. In preparation for this summer’s adventure, I decided to make my own Greenland Paddle. A Greenland paddle is a paddle in the style of those traditionally used by the Inuit of Greenland. It is made from wood and its form is more like a stick than a conventional looking paddle. I sculpt. It didn’t seem that it would be that difficult to ‘sculpt’ a paddle.  http://www.bealepaddles.com/paddles.html

I signed up for an 8-hour workshop with the Hudson River Greenland Paddlers after which (as promised in the brochure) I’d have a custom paddle by the end of the day.

Using a straight edge, measuring tape, a draw knife, a plane, and some elbow grease, I proceeded to create my custom paddle from a 7 foot x 4 inch piece of Oregon cedar.

Just as I completed “carving” the loom, the draw knife slipped. There was now a gouge in my heretofore “perfect” paddle. I wanted to stop. The instructor told us he had made more than 600 paddles – each one an improvement on the previous. My beautiful paddle – with one small imperfection – was no longer good enough to me.

Why isn’t Good – Good Enough?

Advertizing is based on the notion that good isn’t good enough. There is always a new and improved version of something that currently works fine as it is. But we are all susceptible to the lure of the better version of a product, our homes, our relationships and ourselves.

Schools, in an attempt to make children feel better about report cards, changed the A – E system (C being good) to one that required teacher comments. Overtime a ‘C’ was always followed by the comment: Needs Improvement. C became unacceptable and equivalent to a failing grade. Good wasn’t good enough.

Culture of Discontent

We apply this same principle to our relationships. Most of the habits or traits that my friends complain about in their partners are the same characteristics that initially attracted them.

  • Free spirited becomes irresponsible
  • Steadfast becomes boring
  • Self assured becomes close minded

There is even a book titled: Loving an Imperfect Man (Woman). Perfectionism seems to be deeply rooted in the expectations we have of, not only others, but of ourselves. Amazon lists 106 paperback books with the word ‘Perfectionism’ in the title. There is even one entitled: The Gifts of Imperfection. There are no books entitled: Good is Good Enough.

Ben Fatto

I finished carving the paddle, filled the small gouge with a little epoxy, and applied linseed oil liberally. My paddle is now a topic of conversation. And I have bragging rights. It works just fine (actually it works great; I need more practice.) The ‘mistake’ is a reminder of my journey – learning that ‘good’ is good enough. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weavers of Oriental carpets create intentional imperfections as do Navaho rug makers. Each culture believes perfection can only be achieved by the Great Creator. It is hubris for an artist to believe they can create a perfect work.

The “Done is better than perfect” interview between Diane Rehm and Sandberg continued. The author then added:  “At Facebook, we put products up and we try to learn and do better….we have a very iterative style …the process of not trying to do things til they are absolutely perfect but putting them out there and getting feedback, has served us well.” http://www.thedianerehmshow.org/shows

I have 20 more work days before Liber is to be installed. The members of the CCPL Sculpture Garden committee are coming to review the progress and provide input for changes.  It is a challenge to be both an innovator and an interpreter and create a vision for the community -  but that is my work.

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes, without emotional expectations.  Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen…

Art and Fear