Friday, February 27, 2009

outgoing tides

Lately I've been starting each project with a few moments of tidal breathing and visualization. I close my eyes, and take deep, slow breaths. I visualize the air, moving in and out of my body, my chest rising and falling, like waves flowing on and off the sand. All the excess thoughts rush away from me, the way the thin rivulets of water race away from the shore, chasing a retreating wave. With each breath, the distractions of the job hunt and schoolwork and all the other projects I am thinking about flow away from me. After a few moments, I can open my eyes to the one idea in front of me and give it my undivided attention. Like the tides, I know the chaos will be back again, but for those few moments, I am present...

Inspiration: John Bisbee

Slack, by John Bisbee 1 ton of welded 12 inch spikes

About a year ago, I went to an exhibition of sculptures by Maine artist John Bisbee at the Portland Museum of Art. Bisbee uses metal, often 12 inch railroad spikes, to create delicate naturalistic forms. I love his works, particularly the ones that resemble bird nests. His work is gigantic in scope- I can only imagine how long it takes to dismantle and re-install some of these incredibly heavy pieces every time he moves to a new exhibit space. His figures seem to fly and crawl up the walls; it is never exactly clear, however, if the forms are birds, or if they are some unknown creature born from the metal itself. I look at some of his works and imagine that he is creating on a macro scale something that mimics the microscopic.

Plume, by John Bisbee

There's a great article on John Bisbee and his creative process in the Bowdoin Magazine.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Poetic Interlude: "The Lilt o' the Year"

"A melancholy mantle rests
Upon the land; the sea.
The wind in tristful cadence moans
A mournful threnody.
There flits no gleeful insect,
No blithesome bee nor bird;
0'er all the vast of Nature
No joyful sound is heard.
In garments sere and somber
Each, vine and tree is clad:
It's dreary-hearted winter,
And all the earth is sad."

- Hazel Dell Crandall, The Lilt o' the Year

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I’ve had an interest in folk music ever since I was in high school, when I stole all of my mother’s records from the sixties and sat for hours up in my room, guitar in hand, trying to pick up Pete Seeger’s banjo rhythms, or learning old Childe Ballads from Joan Baez. My romance with the guitar has been hot and cold—I can play a passable finger style tune, played with an impromptu bluegrass band called Rabid Rooster for a while, and even spent some time studying musicology during my first grad-school foray into anthropology. But like so many other things, that music got lost somewhere down in between the cracks of my life.

A few years ago, however, I found my way back. My father had started learning to play the bagpipe in his 50s, and watching his joy at learning a new instrument inspired me to follow something that had always been a dream of my own: Scottish and Cape Breton style fiddling. I bought a cheap fiddle, took a few lessons, practiced like crazy, and spent a lot of time listening to old fiddle tunes, trying to absorb the feel of the music into my spirit. Some days, it feels like the fiddle is an extension of my body. I play the music without thinking, and it just flows from me like I am an unconscious conduit. Some days, not so much. But every time I listen to a recording of some old-timer playing the tunes in a pub somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, I get chills.

So I can understand the drive the members of The Field Recorder Collective, a network of folk music collectors, many of whom have spent years combing the backwoods of America, looking for the hidden gems of traditional music, much of which is derived from the old Celtic tunes. I’m so glad there is a movement to save these recordings and bring this music back out into the public domain, before it is forgotten.

Check out their recording of ‘The Highlander’s Farewell’, from The Renegades here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

blue period

I keep painting versions of this wintry scene, some large, some small, and I even did one with spruce for our Xmas card this year. Sometimes I find that I just have to work through an idea before I can move on to bigger and better things. I've been in a mood to be monochromatic for a while...but lately I've been thinking about layers, and find myself drawn to artists who are producing collages, and layered journals and other multi-media pieces. If I wanted to get all deep and philosophical about it, I would say that this probably represents how my life has become so chaotic and multi-layered, and that naturally those life-characteristics would be reflected in my creative work. Who knows. It could just be that I'm yearning for colors and textures after the empty white pages of winter. I won't really have a big chunk of time to break things out until the weekend, but I'm thinking of doing some paper and fabric work, maybe layered with paints and wax...hmmm...and maybe some bookmaking...

Monday, February 23, 2009

snow, again

One of the hard truths about living in New England is that Spring never comes in soft and steady. Just yesterday I was rejoicing at the sight of little snowdrops peeking through the soil; today, we are smothered in snow. But, I have a snow day from school, and some unexpected free there is the silver (icy) lining.

shrimpin' season

Photo by SFD

Lately my creativity has taken interesting forms. We’ve been renovating the bathroom, and everything from bathroom (including the sink and toilet) has been mashed into my study. I couldn’t get to my paints right now if I tried. Instead, I’ve been rubbing grout into tiles, and smoothing the ragged edges of the old 1810 boards that form our walls. I’ve been approaching the monotony of renovation with an attitude of calm- grouting has turned out to be very meditative in that respect.

Today we finally put the toilet back in, and have reached a point where we can focus on other things besides finishing key stages of construction. PK went down to the beach and bought 50 pounds of native shrimp from a local fisherman. We just finished our last bag of shrimp last week, so the timing of the new harvest is impeccable. PK is cleaning and prepping them for the freezer, and I’m cooking the shells and heads into a shrimp stock that I’ll use for bouillabaisse and chowders over the next few weeks. I’m winging it with the recipe, and right now the air is thick with the smells of simmering shrimp, garlic and wine. Soon both broth and shrimp will be safely tucked into the freezer, and we’ll settle in to a quiet evening of listening to the frozen rain beat against the windows.

Photo by SFD

PK stopped by the beach with the pup before picking up the shrimp...he took these photos before the rain started...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spring is icumen in

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the first signs of spring have appeared in the form of little snowdrop shoots! Even though I had to run out and take this picture as the snow and freezing rain were starting to fall, I'm optimistic that garden season is not too far off...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

impressions, wind

The wind was blowing hard and jostling my camera when I tried to take a picture of this abandoned light-keeper's house. Somehow, the blurred lines of the bushes and the edges of the building give it a ghostly feel, one that is compounded by the empty black holes where the windows should be. This building does have some vague ghost stories attached to it- footsteps heard in the upper stairway, ghostly drafts of cold air whistling down the hall, but nothing particularly well-defined in local legend. It's easy to imagine it, even on a warm, sunny springish day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

In Search of...Manabu and Kinue Kamioka

About ten years ago I was wandering around Japan when I saw some postcards of these driftwood figures in a shop down a narrow street in a suburb of Tokyo. I couldn't resist picking up a few, and since then I've tried to find more information about the artists, with little sucess. On the back of the postcard there is a poem in Japanese, and the object/poem are credited to Kamioka Manabu, with the photo credit given to Kamioka Kinue. From what little I've found, they are a husband and wife team, and also appear to have published a children's book.

But that's all. No more information, except in Japanese, which unfortunately I don't speak. Except to say things like "Hello, it is humid," which isn't really helpful to my search. But there is something in these driftwood sculptures that moves me, something that keeps making me pull my album off the shelf every now and then and wonder a little more about the stories behind them. I am forced to make up my own poems and stories, since I can't read the originals. For some of the figures, the stories are sad, and I can hear the plaintive sounds of a whispery japanese flute playing in the background of my mind when I look at them. For some, the stories sing like small birds as they beat their wings, fluttering my heart.

I have managed to find a few museums with online displays of their work, but none with English translations of the poetry; one gallery can be found here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuvan Throat Singing

I love stumbling across field recordings like this--I worry sometimes about how quickly cultures and traditions are disappearing from the world, and love spending time poking through the archives, making a performance live again for a few moments. This throat singing is providing a nice backdrop to my cold New England morning today...

A Walk Along the Shore

Since it's vacation and the last warm day before winter starts its comeback tour, my mother and I went for a walk along the shore. The sun was bright, the water blue, and if I squinted hard enough to blot out the details, I could imagine that the bank of snow was fine white sand, and there was just enough time for a quick swim before the burgers were done cooking on the grill.

The distant land beckoned to me, and I started dreaming of kayak trips, and waking up in the clear morning light of the islands. A few more months and I'll be able to dip paddle into surf, and push off into blue water. I do some of my best thinking both on and about the islands...this year I'm hoping to make more time for lazy days spent lying on the sand drawing pictures of shells and thinking about the big questions of the universe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

faces in stone

In certain parts of the woods, PK and I always find faces in the stones. Like when we watch clouds form shapes in the sky, we see boulder frogs, gnome-like rocks clustered beside mossy tree stumps, and cliff faces covered with natural murals. Whole scenes play out in the way the light hits the folds of rocks crumpled by glaciers many thousands of years ago. I'm really interested in why the human brain needs to create logical shapes from natural chaos-whole monuments, like the Old Man on the Mountain in NH, are revered because of a slight familiarity in form. When they crumble and lose that shape, we mourn. I wonder if this comes from some ancient evolutionary need to find predators in the bushes, to look for the lion hiding in the trees just beyond the ring of firelight.

However it came about, it's a wonderful thing to use that imaginative drive and turn it to story. Sometimes PK and I will stop and imagine the tale behind a certain rock-figure. We'll whisper the spell used to turn a troll to stone, or talk of the creatures coming alive as soon as we pass, following us on our journey, always changing back to rock as soon as we turn towards them. Or we'll wonder how long a giant has lain there, unable to move, waiting for the world to become magical again. Sometimes, we can almost hear him sighing in his sleep.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It's been just warm enough the last week or so that the frozen blood in my veins has started to thaw out and flow again. I'm itching for spring and flowers and sunshine, but the forecast says snow for the next few days. Cruel winter, you still have us in your grasp...

Friday, February 13, 2009

feet felts

Feet Felts , Dartmoor England by Yuli Somme
After being inspired by her own walking experiences and the folklore of felting, British fabric artist Yuli Somme wrapped the feet of forty volunteers in wool and sent them for a walk. When they returned from their journeys, the wool had felted, resulting in these foot-shaped forms. Yuri staked the feet felts to the ground in order to let this natural installation disintegrate back into the earth as a statement about sustainable action.
Sometimes I find these kinds of artistic performances a little confusing and not always something I am able to take seriously. But in this case, there is something spooky and strangely moving about this line of feet felts slowly sinking back into the earth, and I can appreciate both her actions and her message. I really like her other felts as well, which can be seen here in her gallery

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

thinking at high frequencies

This is one of those weeks where everything seems to be moving a bit too fast...I feel as though I am in one of those films where the speed has been accelerated and life passes in one jerky millisecond after another. One moment I'm at school, then home, then it's dark, then everything begins again. Last night I had that dream where I am at work and it's just a normal day that passes in normal time (though the fact PK was in my classroom trying to get me to sneak out to a golf course, should have been a pretty obvious dream-message, even though I hate golfing), and woke up feeling as though I had just finished a busy day of teaching.

I stop every now and then and try to center myself, but my focus doesn't hold, and even my skin feels like it is vibrating with urgency. There has been no time for anything but work, and numerous deadlines that are approaching quickly. I know that things will calm down by the weekend, when I can take the time to relax and refocus, but in the meantime I am moving even when I am sitting still, and desperately trying to grasp onto a single moment of peace and clarity.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This is not from yesterday's eclipse, which occurred during the morning, but from a few years ago. I love to watch eclipses, both lunar and solar, and remember one particularly amazing morning I spent on a grassy hill near my college, waiting as the sun gradually diminished. The light was incredibly eerie; not the gray light of evening, or the flatness of a cloudy day, but strange and beautiful, with depth to it. It seemed as though the air itself was buzzing. As the eclipse neared totality, a groundhog came out from a nearby hole and ran frantically around me. I have always wondered what that groundhog thought at that moment when the sun seemed to disappear.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Yoga and Creativity

Upala Yoga Balanced Stone Sculpture by Shane Hart

I'm becoming more and more interested in the links between my yoga practice and my creative energies. I'm finding that taking the time to do a short meditation, or beginning my day with a series of sun salutations helps me achieve greater focus, which in turn helps me to clarify my thoughts about projects for both work and play. In a few weeks I'll begin working on a yoga teacher certification program that will allow me to teach yoga for children, and so far I'm excited at the emphasis that the class readings place on stimulating creative thought with kids.

I want to write some more about these links in the next few weeks, and have stumbled across a number of resources devoted to the bridges between mindfulness and creativity. For now, I want to draw attention to the stone sculptures of Shane Hart, a west coast artist who developed Upala Yoga from his combination of meditation and stone sculpture. He creates these ephemeral sculptures from the stones along the shores of Washington State, and often spends many hours meditating and building his works, only to dismantle them at the end of the process. The sculptures developed from his practice of spending as many as twelve hours at a time focused on the concept of balance, and meditating on the physical presence of the stones. That the art developed as a result of these meditations fascinates me, and though it might not fit the mainstream definition of art, I find his devotion to his craft incredibly appealing. More of his work can be found here.

Upala Yoga Balanced Stone Sculpture by Shane Hart

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Literacy and The Commonplace Book

Last year I took a really interesting class in literacy instruction that focused on alternative ways kids can enter and experience literature. During the class, we each explored how to use a commonplace book as a method for gaining a deeper understanding of a novel. Commonplace books have long been used as a way for a person to gather information and thoughts about a single topic. Thomas Jefferson kept many such books as a way to organize his study of everything from archaeology to politics and finances. In a literacy commonplace book, students make connections between what happens in the novel and the real world. They gather evidence that helps them identify patterns, and link the novel to deeper concepts. Sometimes a commonplace book holds artistic responses to the work, and helps students create a relationship between what they have read and how they feel about it.

I worked with Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, a quiet novel about life in WWII Norway. I didn't like the book at first. It is a very meditative and contemplative book, and I like a little more action to drive a storyline. However, as I explored the novel through free-associative art projects, I learned to recognize and understand the tensions caused by the secrecy and need that underlie the plot.

I started by creating a collage of things I associated with Norway. I was drawn to ancient Viking images, and felt compelled to contrast the war-like Vikings of old with the soldiers who fought the Nazis. I layered tissue-paper soaked with glue over the ancient images as a way of conveying how they were images from the past, seen through a veil.

I brought together Old Germanic epic poetry about fathers and sons, and linked it to the father-son relationships in the book. Disappointment, secrecy, lies-these were the patterns that emerged.

I played with quick watercolor reactions to the story. Everything was shrouded in mist, in secrecy. Even the mountains of Norway weren't able to emerge from the thickening fogs.

I made a soundtrack of haunting, lyrical music that was written in the concentration camps. In a presentation for the class, I blended it with images of travel posters for Norway--the country itself was trying to hide the tragedy of the war from the rest of the world. Secrets layered on secrets. As my reflection below states, I ended up in a very different place then when I started reading the book, and an appreciation for the quiet strength of a novel that I might earlier have placed back on the shelf without thinking about it again.

These are only a few pages from the work I did that semester; the rest are other side explorations. The experience of immersing myself in the investigation of a novel was powerful. This year, I am doing a group commonplace book with my students as we read The Crucible and study the way that drama is used to interpret historical events according to a certain bias. I'm curious to see what memories and connections they build as they participate in this kind of subtle and sometimes subconscious exploration.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


You will know it is winter/ by the way your dreams /tremble like stones /when the wind comes/ through

-Lance Henson, Cheyenne

Photos by PK

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Turtle Interlude

A few years ago I attended a conservation event in a dusty school auditorium, and found myself face to face with MacArthur Grant winner David Carroll. He was dressed in faded khaki, a headband tied about his brow, looking like he had just stumbled in from the fields. This was pre-genius award, but despite the lack of official sanction, it was clear from his presentation that David Carroll is a man possessed by his work. His impassioned speech for saving turtle environments was intensely moving, and his flair for storytelling created a magical environment inside that old school. I love his illustrations, like the above image of a painted turtle from his notebooks, and was excited when a friend gave me one a few holidays ago. I particularly like to look at my spotted salamander drawing and think of him in early spring, when he wanders the backwoods and bogs of New Hampshire, watching for the first turtle to peek its nose out into the warming air.

More of his work can be found here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Goals, Part One

I love to make lists of goals. In fact, sometimes I'm better at making lists of things that I should be doing then actually doing them. As anyone who has seen my study knows, I am not a naturally organized person. I have to really work to transform the chaos that crowds around me into some sort of workable state. But I have a pretty good track record of meeting goals when I put them into lists. I usually start with what I'm doing, and then work into what I want to do, like what follows. Each of those things has its own goals list, but I'll spare you that and focus on the creative stuff.

What I'm doing now:

1) Full time teaching internship
2)Part-time tutoring job
3)2 graduate classes (w/ lots of homework!)
4)Working on research for my M.Ed. Thesis (library research and field interviews)
5)Trying to get certified to teach yoga to kids
6)Job hunting for teaching positions for summer and next school year

As you can imagine, there isn't a whole of free time in there. Some days I get up at 5am and leave the house, only to return at 10:30pm, and the only time I wasn't working was when I was driving from point A to point B. So I'm trying to figure out how to fit my creative aspirations into the little spare time that I have.

I am fortunate that many of the above activities are creative in themselves, and allow me the chance to appreciate the world around me. Example: when my students write in their journals, I join them. Some days I have 2 or three chances to give my brain a little break in the day and a chance to roam free for 15 or 20 minutes-fun!

A lot of my creative goals have a delayed start date of May, since at that point my workload will (hopefully) decrease a little and give me some wiggle room in my schedule. The rest of the work on my goals will be squeezed into stolen moments during weekends and breaks, or focus on transforming my activities 'within' my crazy days. Here's part one of my list, with more to follow in the next few days:

1) Keep blogging- I've had some really exciting conversations with folks as a result of some posts-please feel free to join in! I also have a re-design in mind, and hopefully will get a chance to work on it in the next few months.

2) Unplugged Art Night- Despite it's rocky beginnings, this is still on the plate. PK and I would like to take it outside when things thaw out and have some more evenings on the coast with our paints. We managed to do this with photos a few times last year, and it was a nicely productive exercise.

3)Submit some pieces to a local art show that benefits local conservation work (and is an appropriate venue for my stuff). Fortunately the deadline for the show I have in mind is in September, so I have some time to work on new pieces. I'm hoping PK joins in on this with some of his photos--I only post seconds of his work on this site since he has his own etsy shop, but his photos are coming along nicely and would be a great addition to the show.

More goals to come...

Monday, February 2, 2009


I once told myself that I would get a tattoo if I could choose a design and remain as in love with it after one year as when I first selected it. I had a vague idea of something combining Sanskrit and Celtic knot work, and I even had the tattoo guy picked out- a friend of mine with a remarkably steady hand, and whose art I would have been honored to showcase on my body. I almost made it, but even after I thought I had a design that represented who I was, I couldn’t figure out where it should go. After a while, a funny thing happened; I started to change, and my design ideas changed along with me. I never made it past the one-year mark, that magical length of time that seemed to symbolize permanence to me. And so my skin is still naked, marked only by years.

I still acknowledge milestones. Five years with P.K. Two years in the house. One year left of school. As I garden more, I find myself aligning my behaviors and my diet with the seasons, tapping in to the annual cycles around us. However, permanence means something different to me now. It’s not so much an unchanging expression, like a tattoo, but the idea that I now identify with beliefs that have room to grow along with me. A year is a measure of a different kind-not a static milepost, but something much more malleable. Winter returns each year, but every winter is changed from the one before.

And so I met one of my hopes for this blog—I managed to maintain (mostly) regular posting for a whole year. Hooray! And instead of slowing down and losing interest, I’ve begun to get excited about new ways to keep things going over here at aestheticflow. It's becoming something that grows with me, instead of a static conversation. I started blogging as a way to talk out loud to myself about my attempts to become a more creative, mindful person, and to start putting those thoughts out into the universe. But now the universe is starting to talk back, and I’m hoping to expand the conversation and see where it takes me…

In fairy tales the time of testing is always a year and a day. Today is that extra day, the 366th, in which the test is won, and the heroine revels in success, at least for the moment. Tomorrow I’m planning to post some creative goals for the next year; today, I’m just living it.