Oh, dear. As you can see, the blog-a-day plan has lapsed. This holiday weekend I thought I’d catch up. This is always less than successful.


First, the Holiday: splendid, busy, social and exhausting in that good way that holidays can be.After Thursday I gave in to this lovely illusion that there was ‘lots of time.’ I did, however begin a very important project: cleaning my office.I began with the far wall, the lovely built-in library shelves, stacked with dusty books and papers, some since move-in, 7 years ago.

Not just cleaning, it turns out. Redoing the books affects the whole house! A friend helped me, and grew frustrated with my organization scheme. Poetry: living room; Art and how-to: studio; erotica, magic and literature: bedroom. etc. Makes sense to me! there are 2 other ‘departments’ around the house.

Then, there’s the give-aways. they have, over 3 days, fallen into 3 catagories. special stuff for special people, Library drop off, and Amazon marketplace.Not to mention the incredible heaps of recycled paper!

Well, by the third day, the office wall is done, and so much space is now available I am amazed.

What do I do with all this lovely space?

Music and Muse

I’m barely out of bed and I’m waving my arms about and grinning like the Cheshire cat, an uncommon occurrence before first coffee. Why? JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the Leopold Stakowski recording, is streaming from the tinny clock radio.

Odd behavior in multiple ways: it’s been of late a challenge to rouse myself in the morning ; my everyday musical fare is quirky alt- or art-rock & spacey electronica; and so housemate and cat are looking at me in the most peculiar way.

Toccata and Fugue, D Minor! the chords run rills up my spine as if I were a harpsichord. No, the grandest grand piano one could imagine! This is a memory thing, a flesh memory. I’m quite sure my first musical orgasm happened at age 10, when the organist at my best friend’s church invited us into the pipe organ chamber for his practise session.

We spent each Saturday playing at the church. I was raised without religion, so I was curious and went with friends to church, and Katy’s church was a wonder, built like a tiny cathedral with hidden passages and arches and galleries of carved stone. The organ chamber was behind the pulpit, a large square room behind a wall screened  with carved wood. The pipes stood in their ranks like tin and wood soldiers, and the whole room breathed with the sighs of all those reeds, waiting.

When he began to play, our eyes flew open in amazement and caught each other, and all our little body hairs rose to attention. The breath of the room intensified and the sound surrounded us. As the piece picked up volume and intensity I could feel it in my limbs, thrilling.

Today my 50-something body remembers that like it was yesterday, and I am alight with joy just for breathing.

Art has been distracting me from writing.

Art has been distracting me from writing. First, the birthday art museum visit. Next, I’m working hard on fanart  – a series of digital paintings for online exchanges. And yesterday, I took the camera on my walk and reacted to the photography show I saw Sunday. It was just delicious.

It was Art, and it was Nature. Gossage made me consider the role of human intervention in my landscape in a new way. The romantic in me has yearned to make landscapes with either no evidence of humans, or a pastoral kind of beloved land, ala John Constable, the charming rural life.

oil painting of Piscataway Bay, MD
It Ends Up in My River, original oil painting ©2009 Patrise Henkel

Last year I finally made a painting where there’s litter on the beach, and it felt like a transition, a finally telling the truth in my painting. But I couldn’t  bear to put ALL the ugliness in my painting. Only a few artfully placed tires and plastic bottles.

With the camera I am willing to be more of a truth teller; but always with the provision of beautiful image.  Gossage showed me a pond, a wasted place we’re not supposed to look at, or like looking at. Its neither “LOOK AT THIS TRAVESTY!” nor a beautifying of a tragically disrespected landscape.

So yesterday my shooting experience was looking for the small and ugly human signs, as if I were tracking prey. No, not prey, but exactly, but a mysterious tribe.  Who leaves beer cans in trees? Who deposits a computer monitor along side the road in a national park? Who left this odd collection consisting of paint can, Christmas tinsel ornament, basketball hoop, and an iron lamp base?

Overhang © 2010 Patrise Henkel

I saw things anew. There is a rusted roofed cement block building, size of a small barn, that I’d never noticed, hiding in the tangled swamp forest.  There are fences of various types, and gates, laden with vines. A rusted chain and lock hangs on one unseen, its patina is so perfectly at home with the rough vines around it. And old wood.

I cringed from shooting the dirty diaper. But not the goose’s wing. Still my old sensibilities betray me. The detritus of nature is beauty, the detritus of man is filth.

The fenced field, now allowed to sprout sturdy small trees, spreads out a golden plane, with a rich brush of woods at the far side. This makes  an appealing space for the mind to soar. The fence is broken through in so many places the field would hold no livestock now. It belongs to the deer and other locals. But my quarry has made this mark on the land, still readable even as it fades away, at the speed of tree growth.

I see different. I feel different. This is art. This is nature. It makes space for my spirit.

Raining. November.

This brings the leaves down is wet drifts, and it seems as if they all turn brown at once. My NaNoWriMo friends are gamely surging on above 20,000 words and I am lagging on a mere blog a day!  But its not gloom or despair that’s sidetracking me, it’s mostly joy.

I’m sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for  my appointment with the nutritionist, or Lifestyle Coach as she prefers to be called. I was worried about the scale, but not like I used to be. Not because I’ve been saintly or successful, but because I am doing better in incremental ways, and because I definitely FEEL better. I’m walking better, sleeping better, and more at peace with myself.

So, to be at peace with my blog, I’ll say this: stop trying to post deeply profound and useful essays. You cant really whip those off every day. But you can take the time to get quiet, think about what matters in the moment, and say a few words about  it that will reflect my blogs mission: to explore the  place where art, spirit and nature entwine.

More about entwining, tomorrow.

Visual not Verbal!

I celebrated birthday 55 yesterday, and had a glorious fun day enjoying life. To all who were a part of my beautiful day, thank you!!

We had what seems to be the last of a long series of perfect autumn days: blue skies, orange foliage, gentle temperatures just crisp enough to energize. The dogs and I have enjoyed splendid walks all the past 2 weeks.

Yesterday I really felt alive, and grateful for it.

I’ve been drinking in the visual world, walking, breathing and taking photos, but not feeling any movement to the writing Muse! My commitment to writing a blog a day is slipping, and I’m missing days. Ah, I have become an object lesson. Let me go back and read the post on prioritizing….

But, in the spirit of Visual not Verbal, I responded to a photography exhibit I saw yesterday by taking the camera on my walk. The show is The Pond, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. They are photographs by John Gossage of an insignificant pond he discovered along the highway on his commute between work and home. I was intrigued by the idea of waste landscapes of suburbia, but I didnt realize that these were 25 years old and the book was being reissued. Nor did I know about the tie-ins with Thoreau and other narrative landscape photographers.

It was so lovely to see real silver gelatin prints, black and white subtle clarity and silvery warmth. My mind infuses prints like that with colour. Gossage makes you look at the unremarkable, the ugly, the nowhere land. In fact he says he wanted to document “pastoral violence.” Some were puctuated with litter and debris, or a glimpse of a building in the distance. There is the familiar sandy ground, still water, and viney scrub of southern Maryland. But as I view the show, 52 photos in a particular order, I can see that the onslaught of algae and litter has become so much worse in the past 20 years.  There is duckweed on this pond, not the veils of radioactively green algae that chokes such watery places today.

I’ll post a link to my visual response soon.

Autumnal Dance of Life & Death

When we watch the leaves change colour and flutter to the ground, they seem to die, but the tree does not.

The colour change is the ‘death’ of chlorophyll, removing the living green that feeds us all, and revealing other colours that were there, at least chemically, all along.

I once had a colleague raised in Florida ask me if celebrating the autumn leaves wasn’t  rather morbid. After all, we hardly admire other forms of aging and decline.

But I’ve never seen the fall season as morbid or gloomy. Deciduous trees have such a clearly cyclical life. They define the seasons with their changes.

True, our autumn holy days are infused with remembrance, gratitude and atonement. It is wise to prepare for the season’s cycle, insure the stocking of food and fuel for the cold dark to come. Enjoy the harvest, but keep an eye on the big picture.

Today a flock of blackbirds at least 1,000 strong came down in the yard, and when startled, flew in streaming waves, not far off the ground, through the radiant yellow and rust and red leaves, mauve grey trunks, golden grasses and blue, blue sky. It was so dizzying, these moving waves of birds!

They are on the move, feeding and flocking as they move south to wintering grounds.

May we all roll with the changes.

Taking it to the Page

As a painter and visual artist, I have had many times in my life when I felt stuck and deeply dissatisfied with my work. If this creative malaise gets too entrenched, my internal critic gets the upper hand, and I create less and less, because, after all, “what’s the use?” I know many creatives who have experience with this kind of paralysis, and yesterday I  mentioned Morning Pages, a very effective practise of writing three pages first thing.

Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is a complete program. I highly reccomend you get the book and join or form a group to work through it all.  She applies a 12-step framework to the creative life: your higher power (pick your denomination or guiding principle) wants you to create. You are made in the image of the Creator, as in , you are a creator. It’s beautiful, and full of rejuvenating concepts and exercises.

Throughout the book you are urged to “take it to the page.” Whatever life is dishing up, work on it through your creative medium. If you are a pianist who is angry, play from your fury. As a self-critical painter I began to make images about my self-hatred and its effects, or just to warm up the painterly hand and eye by dumping out my frustration with mark-making. From Morning Pages (remember, completely uncensored!) I learned to bitch and complain and wibble until I had cleared that dreck out of my head. As I kept writing, other things would emerge.

Over time I found that stories would arise out of the mess, without apparent conscious intent. Or, a character I was writing would have insights, a crisis, healing about the issue that was moving through me.

I think the key there is moving through. As I was crafting that last sentance I started with ‘roiling inside’ and realized, no, that is what happens when I’m STUCK. When there is a flow, the issues, concerns, emotions flow through and change, and the art moves with them. You might even say it’s fueled by them.

So, for today, what’s bugging you? Start with a word-dump and just scribble or type without any editing whatever is top-of-mind, no matter how ridiculous. Keep it up for at least 300 words or 3 long-hand pages. Play with it: name the ‘character’ that’s speaking inside you. Write a scene where you tell [your boss, mother, congress…] exactly what you think of them. Let what wants to happen, happen.

And look for the breadcrumbs that will lead you somewhere new. I promise, they will appear!

Writer’s block: are you stuck or just re-prioritized?

Alas, I missed my posting yesterday. I allowed life to sweep me along, and although I started something, I didn’t like it and didn’t complete it.

So often, it’s distraction, demands of daily life that take me away from my creative life. But there’s another element. It requires a certain devotion, a willingness to put my creative work at the top of my queue, in order to have the backbone to stand against the forces of obligation and distraction that can, no WILL take me away from my work.

Sometimes it’s dramatic: “oh! I must rush to the emergency room!” (Take a notebook, whispers the Muse.) But more often it’s the way water wears away the stone. The phone rings, the dogs need a walk, you go grocery shopping and it takes longer, your job keeps your mind occupied, your kids need something, there’s something on tv, your neighbor asks you “did you hear about the appalling [whatever] that [whoever] did!?”, you decide its finally time to clean out the closet… shall I go on? Before you know it, it’s time to get to sleep.

The challenge then becomes protecting time and inspiration, hoping they will arrive together. Often, of course, they don’t! But if you’ve created the time, there are tricks, techniques, exercises that become habits which can carry you across those inspirational deserts. Protecting time for writing is a way of creating time. How can you declare the time more important than anything else?

One really effective method I’ve used Morning Pages, comes from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. I write my Morning Pages before anything else but coffee. It’s important for me not to ingest any words from outside sources, so I don’t read the papaer or watch the news or talk to anyone until I’ve done them. Cameron defines the practise (underscore mine):

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.

I use the computer to write mine – I just flow better that way. Choose your more comfortable medium. Morning Pages are a highly effective way to get in touch with your ‘voice.’

Tomorrow I’ll give you more ideas for defeating blocks and exercises to inspire you! In the meantime, what can you do to devote daily time to writing?

Let me know!!

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

I can’t believe I forgot November the 5th.

Have you ever had a story grab you in such a way that you couldn’t shake it? As if it touched something deep inside?

A few years ago I was seized by a powerful intrique with an image from an upcoming movie. Soon I fell under the spell of the film and its lead character.

Images, themes and lines from the film had deep resonance. The character became my muse, leading me into new creative places. I discovered an online fandom with new friends and the shared passions and ideas there. It changed my creative life in profound ways.

This year, I forgot to honor November the 5th! The immediacy of those themes of revolution have cooled as my creative work has moved into other areas. But V ignited a flame when he followed in Guy Fawkes footsteps, one that is still burning in my creative life.

Think about books, movies, TV, or even a new story or a friend’s tale. What is it that’s moving in you? What response is eager to arise?

Let me know!

thanks, Patrise