The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper - W.B. Yeats
November is my favorite time of year in New Mexico. More than any calendar date, the season is marked by the reappearance of sandhill cranes who come by the thousands from far far away, trilling and flapping as they make a winter home along the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, cottonwoods turn golden from the outside in and, at day’s end, their giant canopies become lanterns of enchantment. The crisp air is scented with woodsmoke and roasting chile. We string marigolds together, dress as skeletons, light candles, burn effigies and sing to the dead. It is a liminal time, between autumn and fall. It is a season of ritual and remembrance, mystery and magic. It is when the veil becomes thin.
With the light dying earlier each day, I try to balance my seasonal affectiveness disorder by becoming more curious about darkness. I make a habit of tracking shadows and the daily shift towards gloaming. I light candles when night has fully arrived. And sometimes, I wrap myself in scarves and hat to huddle around a backyard bonfire. Out in the night, my breath is visible as are the pin-pricks of ancient stars. Leaves patter to the ground. The dogs sleep. Warming myself in memories of summer and the fire’s dying embers, the quiet winter dark takes on a life of its own. I relish in these ethereal delights as my spirit drifts aloft to merge with something big.
We are all just walking each other home.
It was a Monday night late last summer when I went out searching. The weight of the world felt heavy and I needed a way, separate from work and art, to deal with it. I longed for meaningful camaraderie, a ritual that felt authentic to my spirituality, a way to relate more closely with death or dying. Following a random and serendipitous invitation, I fumbled my way into a stranger’s backyard and eventually found a circle of women gently singing. I was shown a chair and handed a song book and told to sing the melody for now. “You found us,” my neighbor whispered. “Welcome to Threshold Choir.”
Those first minutes with Threshold were almost eerie with easy welcome and instant belonging. Having sung in choirs from age 5 until 18, I realized that I remember how to read sheet music and was able to pick out the notes. Moving through the evening’s repertoire, I immediately loved the music — songs about love and rest and being held, songs to be sung acapella in three part harmony, nonreligious songs to be sung to people who are dying. I was struck by something else familiar, perhaps even ancestral — something to do with the fellowship of the gathering, a circle of women, the magic of finely balanced harmonies, the intense swell of careful singing, the quiet settling between songs. As our voices drifted together through the lengthening late summer shadows, I felt my voice blend and my heart lift; I knew I’d found a home.
News, Long Awaited
Sometimes news arrives slowly. Spring is an example of news happening at different timescales and at different volumes. Here in the desert, we already have daffodils and wisteria; the fruit trees have shed their blossoms in exchange for leaves. But my favorite, the cottonwood, is always slow to awaken from its winter slumber. Today (yes today!) the cottonwoods in my neighborhood are quietly unfurling their feathery buds. I have been watching and waiting to witness their return and now it seems that - finally! - the world can keep on turning.
My own news has also been slow to ripen. Months of planning and laboring and working behind the scenes are finally flowering into a few public events. What was postponed for COVID is now happening, years late. And after a lifetime of not noticing, I’m finally seeing parts of myself more clearly. It seems both audacious and anticlimactic to name some of these long-awaited moments but I suppose that newsletters are made for listing these sorts of things.
Making More Love
I hope that my art can comfort, uplift, and inspire. Admittedly, it is often me who is comforted and uplifted by the act of its making. Alone in the studio, far out in a desert canyon, or staring into the computer’s glow, I am often alone with my work. Such is true for many artists and it is a glorious thing. We come to recognize the muse and the way it beckons us to participate, not first for the benefit of an audience but simply to be in creative flow. If someone eventually encounters the work and feels something, all the better.
But there are other times in an artist’s life when the muse brings us out of the studio to demonstrate our art in public. In recent months, I have been blessed with opportunities to respond to music and movement, to find the muse in a special place and in people I love.
we are rock and wind and dust and cloud and light and love and right right now
The vaccine still throbbed in my left bicep as I pointed my van towards Green River, UT to finish the fellowship that I began on the other end of the pandemic. It was the first week of May and as leaves budded out, humans everywhere waxed poetic about a return to nightlife, to dining out, to hugging friends; everyone effervesced about our return to normal. Indeed, it seemed the virus was bested. We were immunized and triumphant....
I don't know what to say. I'm confused.
For me, confusion has been a primary response to this very bizarre year. I’ve felt confused about what to believe and confused about how to respond. The news has been so ever-changing and so full of vitriol that I’ve felt both drawn in and super-charged by the unfolding chaos. Confusions about the future are more real than ever; for some, this uncertainty is daily — how to stay safe, how to connect with loved ones, how much _________ is enough. For others, the confusion is different; it presents existential questions about how to be a good person, how to make reparations for the wrongdoings of our ancestors, how to create a future worth living. My confusion has spanned the spectrum.
Being real in unreal times
Mabel died two weeks ago. If you knew this dog, you knew she was a force of nature with eyes that pierced the soul, a body that endured hundreds of (mis)adventures, and a wild streak that was both endearing and a source of confounding consternation. She was my closest companion for the past eight years. Her passing has ripped me open, revealing so many existential questions about how to die, how to live, how to make sense of this new Mabel-shaped hole and the spirit that lingers.
I started writing this newsletter a week ago when the world seemed different.
It was Memorial Day weekend and I felt safe. Today is June 1 and clearly a war that has been raging for centuries has finally broken beyond the Facebook feeds of white Americans and slipped into our hearts. I want to share my thoughts of last week but not before acknowledging the mounting loss and bewilderment of these days. And before anything else, I want to add my voice to the chorus that Black Lives Matter. I offer the following thoughts with a renewed urgency and with hope that this can help....
I turned 41 last week in the middle of a whirlwind.
It's been a frenzied new year so far with more going on than I care to keep track of. I've felt maniacally busy, racing from morning til midnight, panting at the computer to get enough done, hurrying all the way to bed. I wonder to myself what happened to January? Heck, what happened to hibernation? I feel shocked by the slippage of time. Sometimes, I almost feel angry about how fast things are moving. I wish I could ride the torrent of time with as much exhilaration as one would ride a bike downhill. WEEEE! I want to shriek, as the hours fly by. I want to enjoy every minute of this wild life that I can.
Exhale. Exhale some more. Exhale until you are emptied of breath. And then hold, hold hold.
I was empty for months. It was not the feeling of being gutted so much as the sensation of holding an airless breath. There were dark nights of the soul. And there was the welcome, quiet stillness of deep winter. It was a long stretch of intermittent disappearances, invisibility, and retreat.
Hello. It’s me again. But I’m not the same person of my November newsletter. It’s been over 9 months -- long enough to give birth to something, long enough to finally catch my breath.
We build our homes where our hearts take root.
Weeks like these remind me why I make New Mexico my home. Every weekend is a festivity. The weather couldn’t be better. The cranes are flocking in. And our recent election gave power to a bunch of amazing women and people of color. I moved here (for the first time) 16 years ago and I have no thoughts of leaving. I love this place.
We live here together and it's complicated!
September arrives in New Mexico with a cluster of rainbows and rainstorms amidst a late summer heat wave. It's good to be back in the Land of Enchantment after a summer of near constant travel. In May, my sister Nina left for 5 months in Alaska and we rented our house to a sequence of artists. Various journeys that took me all over the West where, at the extreme ends of togetherness and solitude, I was blessed with a balance of work, creativity and adventure.
This newsletter is also an announcement: IT’S TIME TO GO OUTSIDE!
Like many of you, I love camping trips, hiking excursions, and star-gazing more than just about anything else. But these things don’t happen effortlessly. It's easy to make excuses and to stay indoors. The bills need paid, the deadlines seem never-ending, there is always an event that can’t be missed. I worry that my business will fall apart if I stop paying such close attention.
When the most natural thing doesn't happen naturally anymore, I wonder how do we get outside?
Summoning the courage for a terrible and necessary act: putting yourself out there.
We've all felt the warped validation of social media. You put something on-line -- a deep thought, an upcoming event, a picture of your latest drawing -- and it feels like you've broadcast something of yourself to the world. In fact, you have. And when the likes stack up, you feel good, validated, visible, important. When they don't, you might feel bewildered. This is a common experience in our world and it's changing the way that people experience intimacy, courage, and confidence.
What does it mean to really "put yourself out there?"
Do what you love and you'll love all you do.
This fortune cookie fortune has been taped to my laptop for ages. As you can see, the computer itself is ancient. I bought it sometime after graduate school and ate this particular fortune cookie around that time. I've used this laptop nearly everyday of my life for the last decade and even had it rebuilt twice. Like the beater cars I've always driven, this machine is a humble champ!
Hello from a new view.
As some of you know, my sister Nina has been building an artistic and deeply personal connection to Alaska. This summer I had the incredible privilege of meeting her for two weeks to travel the lands that have so captured her heart and mind.
If you've been, you know that Alaska is enormous. Its land mass is larger than that of Europe. Its peaks are so tall that most are only visible on the clearest days. The ice and snow are so abundant that when it melts, the entire state becomes saturated with rivers that wash out bridges, obscuring human passage, and shifting its own geology. To witness the infrastructure of mines, railroads, towns and ports built up in such extreme conditions is to behold the audacious might of 20th century humans. It is truly awesome, also, to recognize that -- outside of these man camps of capital -- Alaska has always been alive with a vibrant and enterprising ecology of indigenous people, plants and animals. It is a land of scraping, raw and paradoxical beauty that challenged the artist in me to make sense of it. How to draw the overwhelming scale? How to represent the nostalgic ache of lingering twilight? How to capture the sound of the stillness that echoes in a place where mechanization has never existed? I decided that to mimic this place is impossible; to comprehend it is a delusion.
LIFE IS TERRIBLY GOOD and other spring news
In my neighborhood, the fruit trees are blooming and the acequias are full. As I relish the sun on my skin and the packing away of winter coats, I'm alarmed by this early, warm spring. The change of seasons brings a tempest of emotions.
We've seen a massive change of season in the political landscape too; it seems to sprout new growth each day. The news is horrifying and exhilarating at the same time and, like many of you, I vacillate between feeling passionately activated and stunningly depressed. As we wait to see the effects of #45's proposed budget and its wrathful cuts, I feel my communities pulling closer, talking more, and skipping the BS.
Some good news amidst these dark times
Many of us are challenged by the darkening of days. This season has felt especially dark with our country's divisions becoming gravely evident. Like many of you, I've found solace in community, art, and activism. My usual desire to hibernate until the spring equinox has been altered by a call to action and an urgent desire to connect to what matters.
Waxing poetic about Gibbous and other artsy news
I’ve enjoyed a year more or less outside the public view but want to say a long overdue hello! It’s been a year of simple pleasures, travel, and self-definition. Since leaving CCA, I’ve been fortunate to consider what makes me happiest, who I want for my community, and what makes me heart pound the hardest. The answers to so many of my questions involves art and specifically artists. I feel grateful to be forging a new path in support of artists, even as I find that I might be one too!