Above: Scrap pile. Accumulated while sewing in the attic, periodically interrupted by my 3 year old's slow-brewing irritability.
Below: Aggravated by the concrete, these tree roots edge their way up, mounding and fortifying themselves.
When I was in college, I remember looking around while walking to class and suddenly realizing that I had missed the turning of the leaves. Had I really not been paying attention to my surroundings at all? The leaves were gone and I’d have to wait a whole year. I felt disoriented and full of despair.
My 3 year old daughter has also felt this late, desperate awareness of the world moving on. We usually read three books as I put her to bed. The other night, after the second book, she realized that she hadn’t really been listening to the stories. She saw one book left and began to panic. She said "but I, I didn’t… I didn’t hear it!” She had a busy brain and was having trouble settling. She wanted to become engrossed, she remembered how good it felt, and was heartbroken to have missed it.
Every evening I have been thinking about this parallel experience I share with my daughter. In the morning, I can’t remember the specifics. I have only a vague memory that she and I have a shared experience, a shared longing.
I took this photograph just the other day, not long after I was able to recall my late night thoughts with enough clarity to record them. It is the latest addition to my repairs collection, which I started in 2004 in order to focus on and record how I take in my surroundings. These thoughtfully composed bricks are tough competition for most abstract painting and contemporary sculpture.
I’ve been in this particular building many times for a mindfulness meditation group over the past 5 years or so. I’m only now taking in this composition of bricks.
Over the past several months, I’ve begun to explore search engines as a medium. I make search ads, tempting curious internet searchers to click on these short text-based works. I see them as artworks themselves, and also as part of a larger ongoing project, building a network of touchpoints among people who are curious, and who may not be looking for art. The ad you see to the left is a screenshot of what my search ad looks like to someone who is navigating search results. I've linked this screenshot to the companion blog post, to roughly simulate the experience for you.
As both an artist and a librarian, I enjoy distraction, and the accidental nature of looking for one thing, and finding something else. I enjoy the openness that occurs in these moments, and the opportunity for connection and change.
I am building my audience-community in this serendipitous virtual space. I imagine my visitors first looking for a recipe, become tempted by my search ad, then stumbling on my photographs of a partially cleaned, flour-covered kitchen table, alongside my short prose on messes, reality, and baking oatcakes with my toddler. I want my audience to encounter my blog and leave feeling more curious, contemplative, and more likely to notice their surroundings.
I dearly miss the sky in these photographs, stretching nearly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It is home and road trips and anticipation, solitude and conversation. It's "Thriller" on the Fisher Price cassette player, carrot sticks and pretzels in little plastic baggies, winter hikes on Christmas Day, rubbing my mom's shoulders from the back seat on long car trips, and my brother's legs creeping over The Middle Line.
I grew up in this flat midwestern landscape, and now I live in South Western Pennsylvania, where hills seem to pile up on one another. It is a challenge to get a clear unobstructed view of a single tree in silhouette. The foliage is often dense and interrupted by the sloping, layered horizon.
In fact, nothing ever appears in its entirety in South Western Pennsylvania, as it does in my flat midwestern homeland pictured above. I do love the coziness of Western PA, though it can feel as though the small wedges of sky are the only way out. When my husband and I first moved here, we found ourselves climbing hill after hill, trying to get a better view of our house, our neighborhood, the rivers, anything to orient ourselves. We needed to ground our understanding of our terrain by climbing higher and higher in an attempt to step back and see the whole.
I took these photos while visiting my midwestern homeland, from behind a tinted car window while my dad drove my daughter and I to the O'Hare airport in December. We all ate pretzels from a plastic baggie on the way. As we passed rows of trees planted as a wind break along the side of the road, I realized that full tree silhouettes are something I long for.
Look past the row of trees in this photo -- there's a silhouette of a spruce tree. A perfectly serrated triangle.
My 2 year old daughter is interested in silhouettes right now. She has been asking questions about the "black trees" when we're out at dusk. My husband and I explain to her that anything can appear black when it's lit only from behind. At one point, she asked if she could have a flashlight. She wanted to experiment with what would happen if she shined it on something in silhouette. Did she come up with this or did one of us suggest this at one point? It's difficult to know for sure.
While reading together on the couch, she asks "Why is Elmo black?" when she notices his profile in shadow in Elmo's First Babysitter. Every time we have these discussions about Elmo being black, and we have them quite often, my thoughts go to Kara Walker, in part because her work has shaped so much of my understanding of the Victorian tradition of silhouettes, and also because "Why is Elmo black?" is a potentially puzzling and powerful question. It reminds me of what my high school teacher wrote on the chalkboard on the first day of world religion class: "God? She's Black!" He intended to challenge us, and to provide a space where we could observe our own assumptions.
Silhouettes exist in a similar space. We become aware of ourselves viewing something at a distance, whether it's Elmo and his babysitter, Walker's fantastical and horrific scenes, tree silhouettes along the side of the road, or the back-lit dancing monsters in Thriller.
I love a good muddy snow pile. This one has been taking up an entire parking space for weeks and has finally shrunk a bit, after a few days with temperatures in the 40's and 50's. My daughter asked, "is it spring?" I told her that it's not quite spring yet, and that we will probably get more snow. She requested some clean snow.
I've been thinking about tiny marshmallows lately. My daughter has come to neeeed tiny marshmallows as part of her painting projects. She leaves them to soak in water overnight, then uses them to "erase" her marker drawings in the morning. She asks for fresh new marshmallows, which she carefully paints one by one. They are marking tools, erasers, sculptural objects, shriveling and melting into the surface of the paper. I've always enjoyed how closely tangled erasing and marking are. Removing pigment from paper leaves streaked paths, recording the gesture of elbow grease.
My daughter has a lot of questions and strong opinions about what qualifies as an eraser, vehemently challenging conventional understanding. "This is my eraser" she states, as she holds her wafer-like, melted-amalgam-of-a-crayon in her hand. In this instance, she's less concerned with the job of the object, and more concerned with the shape, color, and material. She's come to understand that small, somewhat flat, colorful shapes are often erasers. I had quite a collection of these myself when I was a kid. (I still may have a few. It's a significantly reduced collection since my friend Sarah's smelly-eraser intervention of '95)
All this thinking about tiny marshmallows and erasers started when I was working on a guest post for Mutha Magazine. Their magazine has been a place of respite, challenge, and inspiration for me and I'm excited to be able to connect with their readers.
After several snowy drives out to Thornton Co., I decided on a new sewing machine. The women who work there are amazing. They can identify each brand of sewing machine by sound from the back room.
I lugged my new Pfaff out of the store, and felt the moment required a portrait.
The salt stains on the asphalt were particularly graphic. I realized it had been quite awhile since I'd ventured out of the city and been in such a large empty parking lot.
Scraping and smearing, squishing and stirring. This is what we do when my 2 year old daughter and I make muffins.
We make infinite variations on muffins - raspberry, blueberry, all the berries, really. Rhubarb, banana, zucchini, pumpkin, beets (cooked), and then mix n match combinations based on what is around.
For my daughter, the boundary between cooking and drawing is fluid.
This is evident as she smears muffin batter all over our kitchen table.
Yes, I let her smear muffin batter on the table. She loves making drawings in her impulsive but carefully prepared canvases of thick, grainy muffin batter. She pushes it around with her fingers, scraping in with her nails, then "erases" it by smoothing it back into a thin opaque layer covering our wooden tabletop. And then the drawing begins again. She could do this for hours if she didn't periodically get bothered by the gummy build-up on her hands.
I think of all the time I've spent working with paint, adding thickeners, thinners, and experimenting with brushes, ends of brushes, and palette knives, and how after all of that, what I still find most satisfying is making drawings where removal is the mechanism for mark-making.
What binds our experiences together is the impulse to play, to experiment, and to be immersed in sensation, our minds both focused and unfocused, our breathing slowing down just a bit.
The hinge between all these activities is "play" it's the hinge and the beating heart.
Erased DeKooning Drawing
Rauchenberg discusses his work
Recipe for Improvisational Muffins
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
grease muffin pans
mix dry ingredients together:
3 cups of white flour
1 cup of wheat bran or whole wheat flour (we often vary the ratio of white to wheat flour)
4 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of baking soda
lots of shakes of cinnamon (1-2 tsp)
fewer shakes of nutmeg (1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt
(we often add a couple of handfuls of rolled oats as well)
mix wet ingredients together:
2 eggs (for vegan version, mix 2 tbsp flax meal in 1/3 c. water, let sit, and stir periodically until gummy, then add additional wet ingredients)
3 mashed bananas
1/3 c. oil
a splash of vanilla (1 tsp)
If you choose to add berries or another fruit instead of bananas, you may want to add some applesauce or even part of a banana to add natural sweetness and moisture. Yogurt, milk, or soymilk work as well. It's a great recipe with which to improvise.
Mix wet and dry together just until combined.
Fill mini muffin baking pans, bake at 375 degrees F. for approx 12-14 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. This will yield roughly 4 dozen mini muffins.