Every time I fly back into Seattle, I hope to catch a glimpse of Mount Ranier from the plane. I know to sit on the left side and I always want a window seat. If I’m lucky, it begins to loom on the horizon after crossing over the Cascades, and shows up as the plane is descending into Seattle. Sometimes, it is invisible, shrouded in fog and clouds. Every once in a while, it is huge and shining and the air all around it is clear and sweet. For me, it means that I am almost home. And seeing this glorious mountain reminds me of the power and sanctity of nature.
On Monday, I was flying back from Chicago and there it was. This time, the clouds did not surround it completely, but only allowed its shape to emerge ever so slightly through the window of the plane. I decided to take a few pictures anyway, thinking that maybe they’d be better than I thought. The pictures looked fuzzy and Ranier was barely visible. But even though the mountain didn’t look like much in the camera, I downloaded the pictures anyway. Then I started to play around, cropping a little, playing with contrast, saturation, light and dark. Left a little tilt to the photo, so the idea that it was taken from a plane is obvious. Finally, I made the image black-and-white. The horizontal chain of mountain and clouds is still merging into one another, but Ranier can hold its own.
Just a fun exercise. To get a grand view of a grand mountain, well worth the effort.
I have been making baskets for about five years, and I still think of myself as a beginner. It’s not that I haven’t made some nice baskets or that I lack the basic skills. I take a lot of basket making workshops, and for the most part, I am pleased with the results (with a few disastrous exceptions). It’s just that I lack confidence as a basket maker. Each time I start a new basket, I feel challenged. I wonder if I can really do it, let alone do it well. This is part of my basic nature in starting new things. I’m always wanting to try new things, but then all my insecurities and fears keep cropping up.
And then there is the issue of creativity. I so want to be a creative basket maker, not just a technician. To bring the element of art into it. I keep feeling that I am close to doing something unique, but then it eludes me. It doesn’t come out right or it’s just not good enough.
So when I sat down yesterday afternoon to try to figure out a project to teach at the San Juan County Fair this year, I was not feeling very sure of myself. So imagine my surprise when this cute little basket emerged. There is nothing really difficult about it. It is designed to be taught in an hour to someone who has never made a basket before. But I made up the pattern. I decided how many spokes to use, to twine the base and use white fiber rush for it, to add a spoke so that the sides could be a continuous weave, and to make a stripe halfway up the side.
It is a cute little basket. Art it is not. But it feels like my basket. It was a nice moment. And it feels like a step in the right direction.
I’ve been reading the June/July issue of Art in America (my only contact with the art world when I am at home on Orcas), and it has provoked me, shaken me up a bit, and confused me about the art I choose to make. The theme of the issue is “Resistance” and it not about my style of resisting, meaning something that I don’t want to do or to look at in my own life. No, it centers on artists who are making strong socio-political statements with their art. Many of the artists live in countries with repressive governments and are making these sometimes very public statements at great personal risk. They are truly heroes, making difficult yet relevant art.
There have always been artists doing this kind of strong, issue-oriented work, and it never bothered me. My art has always been so personal to me, arising from my own inner need to create and exorcise my own demons. I study contemporary art and am passionate about knowing what is current, but have known and felt comfortable with the idea that my own work was not so cutting edge. Challenging in its own way. But not political. More spiritual than anything else in a kind of abstract, contemporary way. Not necessarily classically beautiful, but not unpleasant to look at either.
And I have kept at it for well over forty years which is an achievement in itself. But these are strange and significant times we are living through, and reading about some of this work is stirring something deep within me. Making me feel obsolete and a little guilty, causing me to feel that there is something else I could be doing other than signing endless petitions over the internet and donating a little money to several different environmental and human rights causes over the year.
But what would it be? It’s not that I want to be famous! I need to remember that my form of activism is done on a different scale. As a healer and a Reiki teacher, I can influence one person at a time, helping them to realize their own potential to become calmer and maybe a bit happier. My paintings can introduce people to other worlds, to my inner life, and perhaps to give them a glimpse into their own. My mandala art, with its one-word titles, is designed for meditation and contemplation because that’s what I need as I am making them. The one pictured below is titled Hope.
So I’ll keep reading and learning. My challenge is to care about humanity and the future of the world in my own way. To keep caring and to keep making the art I love to make because it’s how I keep myself sane and healthy. I do know that somehow it makes a difference, even if it’s only to create me as a better person.
I spend a large part of my day looking.
In the morning, I look at the screen on my computer.
In the afternoon, I spend time outside. I look at the minute details of my garden, checking each flower and each vegetable for signs of growth, or slug damage, or readiness to be picked, pruned or harvested. I look at the whole vegetable garden (I regret that I got such a late start this year, and I trust that there will be more to eat very soon). I look at each flower bed, and try to manage the weeds that all this rain is bringing. I look at the sky and the water and the mountains in the distance. I see the sun gleaming or the clouds moving or the rain glistening. I notice the other houses near where I live. I take in the trees swaying in the breeze. I love it all. I breathe.
Then it’s time to go into the studio. I take the time to look at what I’ve been working on before going on to the next step, the next stroke the next layer. Then I paint and I look while I’m painting. And I look again, and paint again.
But all the looking is a prelude for feeling. If I am painting an abstract composition, I need to explore what is moving me in the moment, knowing that painting it will change the feeling or the emotion into something else. If I am creating a mandala, I take the word that I am associating with it and feel deeply into what it means for me. If I am prompted to paint my version of a landscape, I am not representing anything actual. I am feeling into everything I have seen, everything I have been looking at, and making a semblance of the real world as it has been filtered through my mind and heart.
The three small paintings on paper which are pictured above are those kind of landscapes.
I got back home from Northeast PA on Wednesday, the longest day of the year. Beautiful light in the sky. Amazing view of Ranier while flying into Seattle. From the ferry, there were serene and clear views of other islands and the Olympics. This is home. The land, the sky, the air all feed my spirit and heal my soul. Though there are sweet friendships to enjoy, I can be quiet here. I need very little. A good day is moving from the house to the garden to the studio, never leaving home. Painting, cooking, planting seeds, cutting flowers.
When I’m in Pennsylvania, it’s all about being busy. Seeing clients, teaching Reiki, seeing friends, listening to music, doing an occasional craft show. Talking to lots of different and wonderful people in one day. Soaking in that East Coast energy from so many sources. And connecting to my long history in PA.
And I seem to need and love both lives. They seem to flow more and more effortlessly into and out of each other. Both are wonderful. Neither is perfect. The split between East and West is not wide or huge. It couldn’t possibly be a whole continent apart. After eight years (amazing!), I’m starting to become the same person no matter where I am.