Tuesday, November 4, 2014

pursuit of patterns

The human brain loves patterns. 

I read an interview once with author and educator Parker Palmer, who asserted that it's our brain's strongest function: creating and following patterns. "The brain is a patterning organ," he said, "it thrives on making connections."

It amused me that among the many intricate and boggling functions our brains perform, there would be one it did best -- liked best. 

How satisfying, then, to work on this assigment, which was to create my own patterned paper and incorporate it into a collage:

It's ironic, too, that I arrive at more dynamic and visually interesting pieces when I think less.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

piecing things together

When I was checking in my bags at the O'Hare airport on our way to England, I was told that I could not take any of my paints with me, because they are "unstable" at flying altitude. I considered arguing that I had successfully transported them both to and from Japan in my suitcase, but there was an official-looking sign at the counter indicating that oil paints are not allowed, and you and I both know exactly how far you get arguing with airport people. 

So, I am without paints until I can figure out where to go to start replacing my stock. Rather than wallow in righteous resentment, I've decided to keep my hands busy by taking an online workshop in collage, led by artist Randel Plowman, of the inspiring A Collage A Day blog. 

I like how collages can be quick studies of color and composition, and it's oddly freeing to work with just a limited range of materials. The results have been looser, less protected, less calculated.

Except for THIS assignment, which was to start with a concept, and create a collage to illustrate it. This is usually how I overwork and kill a painting -- by trying to make it conform to a pre-conceived idea -- but here I tried to be more vague in my definitions and allow for accidents. 

Home -- the colors and creatures of my beloved Lake Michigan:

Home -- apples in season, like a diorama in the Public Museum of my childhood:

Dream -- an convoluted explanation of a simple event, in shapes, shadows on the periphery:

Desire -- a thread connecting the object to my imagination, the gulf that separates me from what I want:

And then I felt impatient with myself for staying too much within the lines of what I always do, so I made these last two without any perimeters:

This one is my favorite:

Which one says what, do you think?


Thursday, September 25, 2014


So, whoa. We live in England now.

We are here and living out of suitcases and riding double-decker buses and discovering parks and museums and funny little alleyways. There is a hustle-and-bustle that is familiar from Kyoto, but a quaintness that suits the scale of the city of Oxford. 

In the City Centre, amidst the colleges of Oxford University, there is that hallowed historical feeling... worn stone steps, churches with thousand-year-old spires, everything uniformly sandstone-colored. Busts of saints and gargoyles peek out from odd corners. The streets are a wonderful jumble: sometimes crooked and cobbled and ancient, and then paved for bus lanes and bike lanes and students on smart phones who cross before they look.

There is an arched walkway between two university buildings called "The Bridge of Sighs." 

We will likely be having high tea with Harry Potter soon enough.

Everything is so quintessentially English, which is ridiculous to say, of course, but the brambly rose gardens growing up mottled cottage walls are straight out of story-books, and the people really do call you "love" in that lilting way, even though you're just in the check-out line at the grocery store.

Bread is good. Cheese is really good. Museums are free. We have bikes. 

So the adventure begins.


Monday, September 1, 2014

push, pull

We spent one last glorious weekend at the lake, and it also happened to be my birthday... a day that always means the end of summer, but was especially bittersweet this year. 

My heart aches to leave it, but our next adventure awaits.


Monday, August 25, 2014

what the paint will do

A few months ago I started working on a portrait of my friend's daughter, for fun. I had already done the ground in loose, wash-y strokes, and wanted to try to keep the same looseness in the face, too.

From the outset, though, I layed down some heavy, chalky colors that simply would not harmonize. Too much contrast; too dark, too purple... Next layer, I'll reconcile that, I told myself.

Next layer: I merely solved one set of problems and created another. I probably should have left well-enough alone but oh right ha ha ha I never do that. Still too purple. I can fix it.

So around and around I went, falling into the same traps, having the same struggle, session after session. Stubbornness is a sneaky beast, isn't it? I worked myself into such a lather, determined to render the effortless sweetness of this expression with MORE effort.

A painter friend suggested, despite my frustration and against my better judgment, to keep pushing.
Just to find out what the paint will do. Here's the evolution:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014


HI dreamed the other night that we were at Kyoto Station, and there was a huge crowd waiting to board a train. The kids and I were getting pizza across the street, and when we turned around again the crowd was gone. They had all boarded the last train, and we had missed it.

"Like you were stuck in Kyoto?" Jason asked when I told him about it.
"No, like all of Kyoto left me." I replied.


Back in January, Jason did this thing where he applied for a position at a university in Oxford, England. I knew he was on the look-out for job openings, but I naively assumed any possibilities would bring us closer to home, not around the world in the other direction. He applied almost as a warm-up for the slew of postings that come available in the fall of every academic year, so I put it out of my mind and forgot about it until he found out he'd been short-listed as a candidate, in early March.

A couple of months later, he had a phone interview. Because of a time-zone calculation error and further delays, the call ended up happening at 2 o'clock in the morning, in the freezing front foyer of our Kyoto machiya. The following morning he summed it up like this: "I bombed it."

I reminded him that he usually dramatically underestimates himself, and that he probably did better than he thought. He was adamant, though, and actually a little relieved to be free of the torturous post-interview wait.

We were both genuinely gobsmacked, then, when they called barely four days later to offer him the
position. I was too shocked to even muster an I-told-you-so about his middle of the night interviewing skills.

ENGLAND?! I wrote in my date-book. And then cried for two hours straight.


As our remaining months in Japan unspooled, I tried my best to keep an even keel. While we worked through the logistics of an international hop-scotch move, I mapped an inner topography for the emotional trade-off and energy needed for yet another beginning.

I couldn't imagine going back to Rhode Island, I couldn't imagine what life in the UK might be like, and I couldn't figure out how to enjoy the waking present moment in Kyoto. I felt unmoored and brutally homesick.

I just had to make it here, to this day, then. Things would become clearer.

"We don't have a home," Auden started telling people, "We just rent a house and then move to another country."


Jason left last night, the kids and I will join him in three weeks. Now is the limbo, the space between the things. After all the moving we've done, you would think I'd be all practiced and limber and enlightened about Living in the Now, but it is painful and graceless every time. 

No, not graceless: while we wait for our future to take shape, we are being housed and fed and entertained and shuttled about by my gracious and generous family, who ache just as we do in the bitter and the sweet of this move. And there is the lake.

But because all our moves seem to be pushing us to the ocean and to islands, I have taken to heart this line from Neko Case's "City Swans":

And it breaks my heart just like the day
I looked down and realized
I'd been sailing so long, I'd become the shore.


Sunday, August 10, 2014


When we're in Michigan, the first thing to do is go to the lake.

After a year of feeling perpetually uncomfortable and hungry, of reaching and trying and keeping myself aloft, I can rest and be filled up on this lake. 

Jason and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary; the kids are bingeing on cereal and TV. It is undeniably easy to be here... It's too easy. I feel guilty.

But the light on the water at eight o'clock is like something sinking into me, smoothing over what has been ragged and hyper and demanding, reflecting back something pure and unsayable.

Driving home at dusk last week, I watched fireflies light up the ditches by the side of the road -- astounded, in reverie, that there were so many. They lit up the edges of our way home, they kept flashing, pulsing, flickering... What is it? I thought. What is it like? It's so reassuring, how they are there they whole way, no matter which way we turn.