White Man

 

When I left the grid and headed up a steep and curving road into one of the folds of the Blue Ridge, the world was abuzz with tales of white male misconduct.  There was a headline case of white privilege used to mask acts of aggression against women. In social media, under the phrase “me too”, my friends, my community’s leaders, my former students, my colleagues— every woman I know— was using that phrase to make a political statement about abuse of power, intimidation and shame, and to stand strong in truth—usually long-buried truth.

The other bookend to my journey— on my descent from the Blue Ridge—was the opening of Bob Trotman’s exhibition at Davidson College, also about toxic white male privilege. It was no less pointed than Goya.  Bob is outraged. The work was beautifully and imaginatively crafted and full of bite. This show about white men in suits (as well as one suited woman), was  created by a white man who acknowledges the ironies of his position in the society his work is about— just as Goya was a courtier in the court he mocked. I don’t remember ever being present at any other gallery talk with an audience so full of powerful white men. I found that a little startling. May they be the change-agents .

In the days between these two political experiences, in the company of five best friends, I camped. We shared everything from the smallest twig to four story waterfalls, slept in the beginnings of winter’s cold, cooked over oak fires, ate, drank beer, and told stories. My phone had no signal. I slept beside the South Toe River so I could hear its music all night.

My friends all had interesting campers— one designed by the engineer who created the interior of the space shuttle, another custom-made to accommodate living and serious mountain biking, the third cozy and complete. I slept in my mid-sized tent, full of goose feathers that had escaped my sleeping bag, and ratty disorganized piles of clothing. I really must get organized I always tell myself. I take everything I need, and then can’t find it and have to borrow someone else’s. But, feathers aside, I found that the longer I stayed in that place, and walked those trails, the less wounded I felt, the less need I had for anything other than being. There was a first aid kit of bourbon I never felt the need to drink, and chocolates I never ate. I felt satisfied. I felt peace. I wasn’t trying to soothe some internal beast.

There were long soulful conversations with whomever you happened to be hiking beside. In the dark of clear night, beside the fire, a million stars overhead, deep wounds were talked about and as old and trusted friends, we brought what balm we could find to offer to those wounds. Among this group the predominant theme is always love and tolerance. Acceptance of exactly who you are at all times. If you are judged at all, you are judged to be worthy and wonderful. How I came to be blessed by such friendships I will never know. Some act of unfathomable grace. I believe I was soothed and loved back into living as much by these friendships as I was by the strident beauty around me and the eternal assurance that the earth we stand on is vast and powerful, intricate and interwoven, patterend, textured, and colored— the highest possible art form. And the “civilization” I’d left behind a silly, empty, mean-spirited joke.

Herb Jackson at the Gregg

On a breather from my studio, I set yesterday aside to see Herb Jackson’s latest exhibition, “A Door is not a Window”, curated by Lia Newman and Roger Manley, at the new Gregg Museum on the campus of NC State University.

Like countless artists, my life story pivots on an encounter with Herb Jackson who, 40 years ago, figuratively picked me up out of an art trashcan, dusted me off, gave me a brief list of pithy instructions, and set me on my life’s path. I cannot imagine my life without that pivotal moment and those instructions. So, to see this exhibition was to return to the well— to the Fatherland.

The paintings are, in any circumstance, as brilliantly colored as a bag of gemstones, with textures that evoke geodes, crystals, star dust. And the exhibition has been installed, famously, to make that inescapable. It hangs in a blackened gallery, with light projected directly onto the canvases— and only the canvases.

Herb Jackson is a stone cold master of construction. The interior bone structure— the architecture— of his paintings is always masterful because he has been deconstructing paintings since he was a child. Many of his pithy instructions to me revolved around pictorial architecture. It took me years to master it. I can remember, in my early 30’s, working on paper, so that after the work was complete I could crop it like a photograph to discover the hidden structural power.

I had the gallery all to myself. At first I was an astronaut, zooming through space, watching the cosmos spin by from the safety of my darkened space craft. Then the Rothko chapel came to mind, and I was meditating on these ideas, distilled and illuminated— the rest of the world held at bay.

Then I made up a game. I went from painting to painting, making sure to NOT read the titles, so my associations could run free, and for each painting I wrote in my little notebook a list of words they evoked. I saw landforms and geography. I saw the earth from space. I saw strife, human flesh, ciphers, moonlight, midnight, continents and fissures, the Milky Way, sunrise and sunset, jewels, comets, ether, hurtling stones.

I dropped in by parachute, or was grabbed by the hand, or sometimes by the scruff of the neck and taken into the painting through a route that had been carved out for me. That route was as inevitable as one day following another. I studied his incised lines that read like flesh wounds, each uncovering another buried world of nuance/pattern/color.

The work was, by turns, calm, violent, delicate, brutal. The viewer could get by on nothing but the diet of color that is dished up, without any other thoughts or associations, because there is in this work, the deepest possible understanding of color, manipulated with great originality. In a lifetime of looking at art I can’t say that I have ever seen anyone use color as knowingly. And I fully comprehend the gravity of that statement. That alone is worth the trek.

Our Angel

 

In my mind, bringing my second baby home from the hospital and meeting Ophelia for the first time have merged into the same event.  Thirty one years ago Mrs. Ophelia Alexander entered my life when I called her about helping me with my children.   But really,  I have the odd sense that she was sent to us by some act of divine intervention.   My son, the baby thirty one years ago, said it was as though “we won some cosmic lottery”.

Ophelia Lytle Alexander died this past week, on the same day that my baby granddaughter took her first step.  I was on vacation with my family on a sun struck beach when I got the message.  I cried from self-pity, knowing we’d shared our last laugh, our last story.  And I’d lost the best source I’d ever known of unconditional, unwavering love.  If Ophelia loved you, there was nothing you could do to make her un-love you. Every time my mind returned to her that day  my heart sank.  The sky was deeply blue and there were enormous white clouds like mountains.  I painted the clouds, telling myself Ophelia was there.

My tears were only for me, because Ophelia was a person of such deep and constant faith that she most likely had no fear or despair over leaving us.  Over the course of thirty one years I had watched her lose her husband, and then her son, and then her young grandson.  She had borne things that would have crushed my spirit to dust.  Through inexpressible grief she had kept her heart busy loving those of us who remained.

Ophelia had grown up in my then rural community.  She had distinguished ancestors who had accomplished much.  She had attended a Rosenwald school less than a mile from my house.  She was keenly intelligent, and graduated from Torrence Lytle High School in 1953.  She had shopped, as a young girl, in my grandpa’s general store, and she knew all the folk of our community, living and dead.  She had an easy way of talking about race, and told me many stories about the way life had been in the 40’s and 50’s.  I got to hear the histories of the African American families from Ophelia, to balance the stories I knew about the white families.  Somehow she was able to cut through the eternal awkwardness of our racial divide.

Because she was so completely disarming and also shrewd, she knew how to corral us into her church upon occasion.  In her mind I think we were always inadequately churched, so to save our souls she would have us join her at her favorite place.   I don’t remember the messages, but the music was always breathtaking.  Because of that, when I attended her funeral, her church was not an  unfamiliar place.

I am a grudging church goer.  Impatient, uneasy, going in and out of consciousness during the service.  But I went to Ophelia’s funeral as though I were climbing onto a life raft.  I didn’t want the service to end.  After a lifetime of avoiding open caskets I truly wanted to look at her face one more time.  I wanted to know how this saint’s passage would be acknowledged by her community, her family, her church.  I wanted to be in the company of others who loved her.  I felt orphaned and that sanctuary felt like a sanctuary.

The music was inspired.  There was piano and a subtle trumpet.  A  powerful singer sang a solo.  People moved in time with the music and I was so glad I could too.  The message was not about humanity, but about Ophelia’s communion with divinity.  The final song was “I’ll fly away” delivered with the power of a rock anthem.  I entered the church crying.  I left the church smiling, my heart having flown away with her.

A man sitting on the end of a pew reached out to me and handed me this picture he had made of Ophelia.  It was so perfect.  Ophelia and her strong mind, her huge heart, and her sassy ways, with the pair of wings that had always been invisible, suddenly visible.  And behind her those clouds– just like I figured.

 

Lost

What I remember most is the simple act of staring always at the rushing water.  This week we hiked the long tough hike to Lost Cove Creek.  That name describes it perfectly– it’s lost.  Lost from the clatter of now– where we all live. Lost in time.  So lost there are no other humans.  Lost to signal.  Tuned instead  into the frequencies of  the arteries and veins of creeks and the sons and daughters of creeks, the mothers and fathers of rivers.  I love how water seeks its own level.  Such an odd way to put into words the punch and recoil of water moving at last to  an uneasy equilibrium.

I pitched my tent on the same mossy spot overhanging the river where I’d camped before.  The sound, the buzz, that lives always in my ears grew quiet next to the loud thousand part water music all around me.

It was like being washed by way of  the eyes and washed by way of the ears right down to the bottom of the soul. How is that received in the soul?  Like being stunned, silenced, adored, suspended.

 

We tried to keep up with the Hear and See by tasting things–spinach and nuts and packaged stews, intense dried cantaloupe, freshly caught and grilled trout washed down with bourbon or creek water, or both.

We used any excuse to bathe in the river to drop into the Touch part of being there.   Smell was clean dirt and rain.

My firsts:   crudely casting a fly fishing line and feeling in my arm the connection to the line’s motion;  the almost invisible blossoms on a ginger root; learning the habits of the three kinds of trout in those waters.  I saw my first ever wild lady slipper.  And without really wanting to at all, we packed ourselves up and hiked away.

 

Reentry

I  just woke up in my own bed for the first time in a month . Yesterday morning, up at 3 a.m., I drove through the French countryside, village after village, on the slowest route I could find to the airport. The spectacular full moon hovered all the way.  I noticed a while back that if I drove in the country with my windows down I could hear cricket sounds the whole time.

This morning in North Carolina, I drove to the grocery near dawn so I could have milk for my coffee.  Over and over I have forgotten I’m not driving a manual transmission, romping the brake like it might be the clutch.  My Honda seems so doleful  after the fun of rolling over hills in a  peppy little rented five speed.  Leaving the grocery store, I  saw a clerk arriving for work. Without thinking, I lapsed into appropriate behavior for France, where one never encounters anyone in public without acknowledging them with a greeting.  “Good morning” I said.    She smiled, I think with a little touch of surprise, and said the same to me.

In the night I woke up  and the moonlight filtering through the trees cast patches of glow on the floor and walls, and half asleep, it registered on me as beautiful– as the moonlight I’d left.

The yard is green from the rains I missed.  The roses  are in full bloom from the fertilizer I said goodybye with.  Today there’s the gentle cloudy light that comes before a rain.

I walked over to Grier and Kim’s farm to say hello, and they gave me a dozen eggs from their hens, and sent me to pick all the fresh asparagus I wanted from their beds, just  like an early  morning trip to a French farmer’s market.

All morning there have been a brood of wild turkeys grazing in the pasture, right under my nose. And I set the fountains to bubbling next to the outdoor table.  It’s every bit as magical as the view I left behind.

 

Among the piles of bills and letters I came home to, there was a postcard from a dear friend.  It said “She dreams in perfect French”.  I do, sometimes, when I’m around it all day, but it is far from perfect.  Sometimes it’s just a voice speaking nonsense sounds that echo the intonations and rhythms of French speech.  Sometimes it is the odd word or phrase, for no particular reason, like an echo in my dreams, ringing over and over in a kind of random rhythm.

It was a rough ride home, hauling six new paintings, and all my tools and the treasures I found, down concourses, across parking lots, through long lines.  But the actual soul transition  from countryside paradise to countryside paradise is not so radical.  In both places there are thorns attached to every single rose.  In both places there’s  beauty enough to break your heart.

 

Spring Planting

A week from today I’ll be trapped in the airless confines of multiple airports and planes working my long slow way back home. I’m feeling the things one feels at the conclusion of a residency, the end of a journey. I noticed, at other less exotic residencies, how the artists bond, share their stories, thrash through opinions about art, and ideas about the making of it. As the door begins to close on that magic space, it seems one first withdraws emotionally, then physically. There’s a hole in the shape of that person when they are gone. It’s as painful for the people who stay behind as it is for the person leaving.

 

I’ve started the process of withdrawal early to protect my soul a little. I’m organizing my piles of receipts, cramming in a few last destinations, and spending 14 hour days in the studio. Finally the painting is flying. After a halting awkward beginning wrapped in jet lag and mental fog I’m deep in. I knew I didn’t want to paint Quaint France. France is so mellowed out and smoothed over with thousands of years of habitation, so developed in its way of being. I was looking for something wild— “sauvage”— underneath all the culture I so love to photograph and study. It’s finally coming clear to me. The last paintings are the best paintings. They revolve around botany— quirky juxtapositions nature allows for here, and maybe only here.

In college I signed up for Botany just because I was obsessed with botanical illustration. I nearly flunked Botany, but I got to stare at the illustrations for a whole semester. Part of what I loved was their dispassionate precision. Sometimes it’s enough to just tell the truth about a thing, truth being stranger than fiction.

 

These days there’s a certain amount of guilt in my thoughts— anxiety about the things I didn’t go see, the museums I skipped. Instead I find myself returning over and over to the supermarket, like a kind of tiny personal ritual. For me, it’s become a microcosm of middle class French daily life.

I like to see what the “specials” are, what is considered ordinary in the life of these people—la vie quotidienne.

I like to observe behaviors . Yesterday a woman insisted I go ahead of her in line at the checkout. It sparked a tiny conversation and a moment of goodwill that I treasured.

Often, after a long day of moving a paintbrush, I will travel many kilometers on the country roads above the village. It’s fun to drive my tiny car. There’s no traffic and I get to see the swell and sinking of the land, the perfection of the spring plowing, the tidiness of the farmhouses and the occasional astonishing ancient church or ruin.

And there is the botany. I have watched those fields first being plowed, then harrowed, and now they have begun to sprout.

A new friend stopped by for a studio visit yesterday. We were talking about how an artist’s work changes over time. How it’s hard to pin it down because it’s always in flux. He told me he’d gone to hear a famous jazz group from the 60’s perform in the 80’s. They’d played the same way and the same things they’d played 20 years before. It was just as he expected it to be. Then, he went to hear Miles Davis play. He said Miles stood with his back to the audience and launched into a barrage of audacious improvisation that was very difficult to take in. He told me how that was, to him, the perfect way to understand the mental wanderings and growth of an artist. I agreed, explaining that sometimes I am doing things I’m not sophisticated enough to understand, and it takes me a stretch of time to wrap my mind around my own ideas. The most uncomfortable, detested paintings are often the fields where the seeds of newness are just beginning to sprout.

Visiting the Deep Past

Finally, I have managed to shrug off the strangeness. I have found a level of ease with everything from starting a new painting to driving a different car. Yesterday I explored outside my circle of familiarity, traveling to a village about 10 km away to see a storied chapel, and really, to visit another time altogether. We drove on looping rhythmical roads over gentle hills, surrounded by nothing but agriculture.

Lachapelle was the destination, with only about 100 inhabitants. Its centerpiece is a thousand year old chateau Templar. Beside it sits a tiny Baroque chapel built in the 18th century, inspired by an Italian opera house. Its sponsor hired an ébaniste who spent many years creating the tiny church adorned with panels and pilasters, gilded and faux marbled.

There were large panels depicting scenes from the Bible and an enormous lecturn with carved eagles to hold the huge communal hymnal.

 

There was a guide who spoke only French, so I struggled to understand the complicated history of this jewel-like chapel. Women and children were seated on the ground floor in those days, and there were diminutive provincial rush-seat chairs that converted to kneelers for each of them. Some had initials from the original supplicants written with brass nail heads.

Men stood in the balcony. There was a stark difference between the high style of the chapel itself, and the beamed and rustic balconies in the rear.

Our visit was initiated by friends of Moulin à Nef, who live nearby. They are also friends of the current maître of the chateau.  He appeared in the church during our visit, and invited us to see the oldest part of his chateau.

The word “chateau” is French for “castle” and in most cases, in ancient times, that meant a fortified position on top of a hill where one could be protected from invasion. Vincent’s chateau surveys all the countryside for miles around. Because the land below is so valuable for agriculture, there are no intrusions from commerce or infrastructure. Just curving roads among hundreds of fields in cultivation, a few old trees, some tile roofed farm structures, and the sky. The one utility line is strung between weathered and knotted grey tree trunk poles with no particular attempt at uniformity.

It was a fine spring day and the village was spangled with blooming roses, irises and wisteria. The magic of it all was feeling as though we were having the same experience one might have had in that same place a thousand years ago.

The chateau’s owner, a retired pilot, explained to us that he’d persuaded his wife to allow him to chip away at an area of the wall in the entrance hall because he thought there might be something interesting in back of it. He, in fact, uncovered a thousand year old massive fireplace. He opened up another wall and discovered a kind of ancient sink where vegetables might have been washed— a stone basin that drained through a hole in the wall to the outside.

He showed us a favorite antique find— an elaborate turntable he’d found in Brittany, asking us what we thought it might have been intended for. Elaborate and polychromed, there was a group of cherubs carved into its ceiling. He explained that it had been installed in the outer wall of a convent, with a bell alongside it. If a woman gave birth to a child out of wedlock the penalty would have been death. It was designed so a woman might have rung the bell, placed the infant inside under the watchful eyes of the carved and painted cherubs, and then turned it, delivering her baby to the nuns within, the woman being neither seen nor recognized.

We ended our day on the terrace of our friends’ remodeled farmhouse. A large and rambling structure, their home was built long ago to fit its environment and serve practical purposes. It is now the warm place where they gather friends and family together. Besides the excellent company, amazing food, the view of miles and miles of farmland, and a stunning sunset, I was most captivated by the exposed ages-old beams and their irregular and quirky arrangement.

They were like large abstract sculptures coming out of the ceiling. When gaps developed, someone hundreds of years ago had created a patch to reconnect the beam to its load.

It reminded me, exactly, of the ways Charles had patched the beams in my own barn. It seems as though a carpenter’s practical wisdom is timeless and universal, passed in some mute fashion across continents, from century to century.

Wood Smoke and Roses

 

Twice today I had to climb the steep hill up into the village to the little grocery.  It was my night to cook supper.   At lunchtime I went up to finish my shopping, and then, when I poured my first glass of rosé at 5:00 and started cooking, I realized I had no butter, so I had to walk back.  The distance from our kitchen to the grocery store is the same as the distance from my kitchen back home to the backside of my farm.  Round trip, one mile.  The big difference is that hill.

 

On both trips I admired the flowers blooming everywhere.  There were parrot tulips in one garden, wisteria cascading over a doorway.  Another garden had flesh and fire colored roses. There was a shrub with thousands of bright blue blossoms, and a lilac bush in full glory.  On the five o’clock trip there was smoke rising from chimneys as the chill of evening descended.  All week the tiny airborne seeds of some plant have filled the afternoon air, lit by the slanting light.  They are everywhere.  At first I thought they were dandelion seeds, but on examination realized they were something fuzzier and more cotton-like.  When you look up at the sky, they are always there, like ethereal sprites flying around, looking for some new place to light.

 

At the grocery, the brothers who are cashiers speak impeccable idiomatic English, but I speak French to them, and ask them to correct me.  When I am corrected, I am more likely to learn the right expression.  My French teachers are so good– they know how to make it really clear.  They pantomime the meanings of words for me so they become unforgettable.  The woman at the art supply store demonstrated that the word  “terminé” as we used it, meant to be dead, not ” finished”, by showing her head being severed  by an imaginary knife.  Gesturing graphically at her body, she explained uses of the verb “to be”.  My grocery store teachers showed me,  pantomiming sleep, that I shouldn’t cook dinner in the “nuit”(night).  I needed to cook it in the “soir” (evening) instead.

The ingredients for dinner were amazing.  I roasted a gigantic yellow skinned hen, along with its innards, covering them all with fresh herbs.  From the jus I made a gravy like my grandmother used to make, with bits of hardboiled egg, celery, and the gizzard, heart and liver chopped fine.  The gravy went over whipped potatoes flavored with scallions and morels.  There was sauteed celeriac and a green salad.  For dessert I made an Alsatian bread pudding using apples and pears and my stale hazelnut bread.  And it all started with a duck paté and a rosé, and finished with several really fine bottles of Bordeaux.

Last Sunday I went to Easter mass at the Gothic cathedral in the nearest town.  All the text was printed in a program and because I knew the liturgy in English it was easy to understand the French.  Driving to mass, we passed a horde of Boy Scouts, returning from a campout, with backpacks and sleeping rolls on their backs.  By the time we got seated in church, they began to reappear as altar boys and congregants.  I loved the kind of gangly, familiar way they handled the candles and censers. A large group of them took seats all together beside us.  I’m not Catholic, so the chilly holy water being freely slung by the priest came as a tiny shock. Incense filled the air. I stood under the ancient vaults and absorbed it all as something intensely French, part of a long tradition of the spirit.

Moulin à Nef is on the Pilgrim Trail to Santiago de Compostela.  Every day pilgrims walk by our windows, or rest in the park between the studio and the river.  They walk, as those Boy Scouts walked, toward some spiritual destination.   They walk, as I walk up that long hard hill to the grocery, to learn some hitherto unknown thing, to fill in some missing piece, drinking in, along the way,  France, her roses and wood smoke.

 

Good Food

Thursday nights in this little French village, the old hotel that clings to a precipice overlooking everything else plays host to a tiny organic market in the lobby. A couple of farmers sell their home grown carrots, cauliflowers, mushrooms and homemade breads. It’s on the honor system and you do the math. Meanwhile, on the terrace the hotel conducts  tapas night with local wines.

We  picked a table on the end of the terrace, and turned our backs on the setting sun, after filling our bags with homegrown vegetables. We had the remarkable tapas and the lovely soft wines to go with them. I watched a troop of Boy Scouts walk down the street below—every one a beautiful child.

The sun had been hot at midday and it seemed the whole village, including me, had been out absorbing it. The Boy Scouts all had rosey cheeks to show for it. A little girl bounced up to our table, playing some game of chase and said her hellos to me— “bonjour madame”, with the flawless formality she’d been taught. When we turned around we were shocked to see the whole village behind us on the terrace enjoying all the same things. We ambled home through the old marketplace, slowly descending to the riverfront where our studios are.

 

 

The night after, I made a soup of the shiitakes I’d bought. Every time I’ve prepared something from the local market the taste of the soil trapped in the vegetables astounds me. The simplest carrot is like no other carrot. I made a roux and added the carrots and spring onions, saving the shiitakes for last. We cooked some sausages that had been beautifully crafted, and served them with some freshly dug potatoes mixed with creme fraîche, and put together a salad from the spring lettuces we found in the market. There was rosé to start, and a fine old Bordeaux to end. We sat outside in the ambivalent air— not sure if it wanted to be warm or cold. We let the wines warm us, and had the most remarkable night. It was one of those nights when your judgement is clouded by your consumption, but also one of those nights you want to remember forever.

Somewhere before dawn each day, my farmer genes wake me up with the local rooster. I love that the air is always full of two sounds— that rooster, and a mourning dove. There’s the chalk scrape rooster sound and the warm come-hither dove. In the sky, in the dark, there is a close-to-full waning moon and Jupiter. There’s a down comforter, and those great casement windows without screens that are wonderful to fling open in the middle of the night. Never one to sleep in, I find I could hang out under that comforter for a very long time, only lured out to drink some espresso.

 

This morning I barely made it out of bed in time to greet my luggage which finally arrived five days after I did. It was a race to do what was most important first— assemble a stretcher, and put together a canvas, gesso it, and set to work on the painting that had been hanging out in my brain for several days. I even ignored the costume change that was long overdue, and the luxurious shower with my actual toiletries, until I felt I had some work underway. Now it’s midnight and I can’t pry myself out of the studio. Here’s to dreaming up some time-stretchers to make this moment last.

Mining in France

 

 

Staring at a stucco wall struck by sunlight, covered in vines, I find myself beside a river, beneath a hill, in the agricultural belly of France. It’s a rare opportunity to briefly live and work in this warm light, surrounded by a thousand kinds of patina. For a month I have a residency at Moulin à Nef in Auvillar. It is the French outpost of the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. VCCA is one of the midwives who delivered me into my current state as an artist. The opportunity to live and work in their community for the first time was a watershed. I am hoping that Moulin à Nef rolls over me in as powerful a way.

 

My studio is tall and wide with 6 foot windows and mottled walls stained a pale jade. I have suffered all the vagaries of travel in the last five days with canceled flights, lost luggage and bad rental car contracts. The first thing I plugged into an outlet blew a fuse and then I turned around and slipped on a throw rug. Five days after leaving home, I’m still wearing the same outfit, and trying to figure out how to be an artist in the absence of my materials. Somewhere in Boston, or maybe Madrid, there is a hard shell golf case filled with stretcher bars and canvas, and every color of the rainbow. And I am here, disjointed as though missing my beloved. Aimless and lost.

 

My son challenged me, upon saying goodbye, to pretend I was on Mars— to loose all the familiar bonds, including, he said, the bond to the self I know. I’m beginning to think that there is some divine plan at work to divorce me from my supplies and plunge me into some deeper mining. Yesterday I prowled the Super Marché for kids’ art supplies and came out with some too pale, too tiny markers and pencils. I spent the afternoon by the river making marks, pushing the inadequate materials to speak. It was a challenging and stimulating exercise with a kind of odd, fresh success.

My first night here, we residents and the directors enjoyed a two hour dinner talking about our lives as artists. I said something about how handy it can be to be creative, and how, as a teacher in secondary school, I discovered there was no budget for supplies so I taught my students to paint using discarded house paint donated by Lowes, on pieces of packing cardboard. The directors were in the midst of installing Ikea cabinets in a pantry, and set the packing cardboard aside to be recycled. I asked if I might have it to work with.

In the early hours of the morning I had a vivid dream. Long and elaborate, and completely remembered, it bore powerful images of home. Someone from my past came for a visit and spent the night, sleeping bolt upright in an armchair. In the studio that dream is feeling very close to the bone, and is being expressed in cardboard.

 

My favorite line, in all the poetry I have ever read, may be the line from Mary Oliver, “You do not have to be good.” Oh, really? What a relief. Words to live by.

As the first born southern daughter of a first born southern daughter going back seven generations of first born daughters, I have some deeply embedded notions about how good I must always be. So today, I revolt and cut cardboard at random, allow that it does not have to be good. If I am lucky I can reach inside and pull forward the mysteries of that dream.