Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Colour of Water


(Yes, this is a fall picture, and it's not fall here anymore.)

Since the most recent mental logjam was removed, I've been thinking a lot about some of the art-related things I've been doing recently. At the simplest level, I'd been wondering where they fit in to what I've done in the past and where I think they might be leading me in the future.

Except there's so much more to them than that: it's one thing to try something new or revisit an old practice, but some of the emotions they have been provoking have been, well, not what I expected. That being said, it's meant that what I've been thinking about doing in the next while has shifted from being painted in just the six primary colours to millions of them.

Still night

The trigger for the bulk of this was a lovely class I took that was offered by the Esker Foundation with Brenda Draney, who was one of the artists featured in the Esker's most recent show: ostensibly, it was a watercolour session to explore memory, and I thought I was ready to deal with some of the ones I've been confronted with in the last few years.


Well, I guess that depends on how one defines ready. We were supposed to bring a photograph to work from: I brought my netbook and had chosen one of the pictures I had taken of where we had scattered the wee mannie. It's been years (plural) since I had hauled out my watercolour set, we were restricted to the small dobs of five colours squeezed onto our palettes, and I was very creaky (to be kind) with my technique.

Warm me up

The results -- and no, there will not be a picture here on the blog -- are pretty awful, by my standards: by the end of the afternoon, I completed three pieces, moving away from the rest of the class into the gallery for the last two. I planted myself in front of Wally Dion's I'm on the pursuit of happiness and I know: everything that shines ain't always going to be gold, which was my favourite piece in the show.

Coincidentally, one of the other evenings I had the opportunity to be part of was a lecture by David Mach, who was taken to the same show by Dick Averns, who wrote this wonderful account of David's discovery of the same piece. Loved seeing David's work, hearing his talk, and being invited to come along for a drink or two after, where I was able to chat more extensively with him. He does the most brilliant stuff that keeps turning over and over and over in my mind.

Tomorrow would have been our twelfth anniversary, and I'm heading up to the mountains to spend some quiet time without electronics for a well-deserved break.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Having an "ah-ha!" moment

As opposed to having an "a-ha" moment....

There are a few reasons why I've been missing-in-action here on the blog, although not, thankfully, in my handwritten journal: the last three weeks or so, I've been laid low with a really nasty cold that developed complications, as well as the reappearance of a chronic problem I thought was mostly beat, and something new I've added to my list of health issues.


But before my health turned down a side track, I found myself confronted, and then preoccupied (as is my way), with a frustrating emotional conundrum. I was unsure of know how to deal with it, but had the awful, horrible, gut-wrenching feeling that someone in my past reminded me of the person in the present, and that I needed to figure out who it was to trigger the memory of how I resolved the issue then so I could move on now.

Colour study

Well, I finally did that today, which shows the power of being able to get out and have some exercise as well: another vital element in my life that has been in short supply lately, with our blizzards and windchills of -40 (Fahrenheit and Celcius). As part -- and maybe most -- of me suspected, the answer had been staring me in the face for awhile: all I had to do was name the beast.

Time to cover up

Realizing this won't eliminate the pain of losing a relationship that might otherwise have some real potential in my future, but I'm hoping it means that the hurt won't immobilize me the way it has.


There's another emotional issue I'm still trying to deal with that's been weighing on my mind as well, and I'm hoping that having some time alone and away from Calgary over Christmas is going to help sort that issue too.

I haven't been shooting many pictures lately either, but I feel the urge to do more of it. And soon.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pointing in the right direction

Who goes there?

Found this lovely Vizla while having a walk yesterday: I think he spotted one of the many squirrels in the park. Fall really is my favourite season here, with the subtle (and not-so-subtle, in some cases) colours as the vegetation changes. On a bright sunny crisp days, it's hard to stay inside.


The bad news here is that I'm not working at the editing job as much as I thought I was going to be, but the good news is that I'm making more art: I'm of mixed emotions about this, but I must admit that I like doing art much much more. Most importantly, I was asked to create a large new installation piece for a show next month, and I have the time and energy, and especially the enthusiasm, to build it.

And it's going to be a challenge as well: I've never built an artwork that's twelve feet tall and lights up, but the more I gather together all the fibre I need for it, the more I'm excited about what it will look like when it's done.

I am curious (yellow)

Of all the vegetation that changes here, the larches are my personal favourite: their peak up in the mountains was three weeks ago, but the ones here in the city -- transplants, not native at the city's lower elevation -- are in full colour now. I think I spent a good twenty minutes shooting the ones I visited yesterday.

Going up?

Today is National Depression Screening Day, and for the first time since 2010, I passed with flying colours: it's one thing to feel less horrible, but now I've got some independent confirmation. And that makes me feel even better.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

And When September Goes

Trick Riding #1

The good news is that I'm busy. Between working (part-time, for the moment), a visit from friends from the U.S., and finding my voice again in the world of art, I've been lax in dealing with the blog. There's just so much that's been happening....

Mutton Busting #2

Mes amis des États-Unis wanted to see live rodeo, so we went out to Cochrane on Labour Day, where I took the first three pictures in this entry. There are the same events as the Stampede, but with young up-and-comers in the sport, as well as events like mutton-busting (above), trick riding (top), and girls roping calves.

As a spectator, you also get the opportunity to be much closer to the action, and it's really more fun, to be honest. We all had a great time, and I finally got to have a wonderfully hot bag of mini-donuts there -- and converted my friends to them as well.

Saddle Bronc

And then there's been the blossoming of the art side of my life: Wild at Heart, the piece that was part of Boxed In! earlier this year in Newfoundland, spent this weekend in Lethbridge, AB at the Galt Museum and Archives, as part of their 3D Sculpture show for Alberta Culture Days.

I've also developed an entire show proposal based on creating new work that expands on the concept of a universe-in-a-container concept, which was very exciting to write up. That's the first time in more that 30 months that I've done something like that which I've been pleased about. Fingers crossed.

Trees at Lake Louise #2

As well as the rodeo, I took them out to the mountains: first to Lake Louise, where we walked around the lakeshore path and cruised the lobby at the Chateau, then drove up to Moraine Lake and climbed to the top of the viewpoint. It's been a long time since I had been at either, and while some of the memories were difficult, they weren't horrible either.

Our Hero

And after they left, I went to see the last stage of the Tour of Alberta, a classic week-long, UCI-sanctioned stage race that finished here in Calgary.

We had stars -- Cadel Evans, last year's winner of le Tour de France; Peter Sagan, this year's winner of the points jersey in le Tour; and Ryder Hesjedal, a fine Canadian from Victoria, BC (above), last year's winner of the Giro d'Italia -- and the big mountain stage was washed out because of the flood in June, but it was still pretty darned exciting at the finish.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Another six-month check-up


It will be two-and-a-half years on Monday, and as I've found myself doing the last eighteen months, for the third time, I reflect back on the "progress" I've made in the preceding six-month span.

A year ago, when I started doing this internal check-up, I was in the midst of reading Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking and, more or less, sobbing hysterically as I did. It was, in retrospect, a good cathartic experience, although I didn't exactly think so at the time.

Read the manual

I'm pleased to note that there are days where the speed of the loss of insanity -- I refuse to call it a return to sanity quite yet -- leaves me utterly breathless, and in a very good way.

A little worse for wear

Apart from being back at work, doing something I love and that I'm reasonablly competent at (and perhaps most importantly, returning to financial independence), I find myself starting to think about what I want to do with the rest of my life. Of all the parts of my old self to return, this one has been one of the more surprising, and, in some ways, one of the more stunning, hallmarks of change.

I'm still working on the what and the how, but I quite like the idea of "a future" now. Most importantly, I know what, and who, I don't want, and where I do want to be, in my life, and that makes a monumentally huge difference in what happens next.


Reading my journal (the pen-and-paper one where all the thoughts that aren't for public consumption) for the last year has helped me a great deal in sizing up how far I've come -- even my handwriting is more legible -- and in working on a few projects that I look forward to creating before the end of the year.

An additional part of the return has been moving everything from one storage location to another, and being so excited to be able to see old friends in the form of my possessions again. There are some of them I'm not sure I want to keep any more, some I have missed dearly, and some I thought about getting rid of but now want to be reacquainted with.


Now, more than ever, I just want to carry them into my own home and unpack.

Four cabin walls would be just right for me....

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Quantum. Leap.

A light

If you were a fan of the classic late-80s/early 90s scifi show Quantum Leap, you'll remember how Scott Bakula kept time-travelling, showing up to unravel other people's lives. At a much smaller level, that's pretty much what I'm doing.

Afternoon idyll

As regular readers will recall from Shifting for myself, I mentioned that changes were coming.

The one I had great hopes for didn't, as things turned out -- it was a job I knew I could do, and do well -- but the day after I was given the bad news, a friend sent a job posting for a technical editor he had seen. I applied for it, had an interview within a week (with my references being checked the same day), and started last Wednesday. So I'm back doing a job very similar to the first one I got out of grad school in 2000, although for considerably more money.

It's on contract through the end of the year, with the possibility (and likelihood, I gather) of either being extended or me being hired permanently, and the fact that it's something so concrete and normal in my life that it has triggered other, less nomadic, thoughts about my future.


Coincidentally, I also have to move everything I currently have in storage: the building needs repairs. While I'm not ready to find and move into my own home quite yet, shifting things over will afford me the opportunity to do some sorting-out and paring-down in preparation for that step too.

Believe it or not, it's one I'm looking forward to, which expresses a concept that, eighteen months ago, I would have doubted ever being capable of conceiving.

Floating along

Photos in this post come from a walk I did last Sunday: one that we used to do when we lived in the neighbourhood. I've been cat-sitting for friends on a family emergency trip, not a five-minute walk from my last real home.

It is, indeed, déjà vu all over again....


Wednesday, 7 August 2013


As I've been moving about, house-sitting (mainly minding cats) for friends, I've been pulling out intriguing books from their shelves when I've had the opportunity. Frequently, this means that I've become engrossed, and writing my own words (both in this public blog and my private journal) gets left behind.

So I thought it was time to share those as well. As I have pointed out to others in the past, I go in phases: reading very little as fun for long stretches at a time, and then immersing myself in (usually) non-fiction tomes. The pictures, as usual, are selected from some of my recent adventures when my nose hasn't been stuck in a book....


In May, I found a copy of Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Faragó, which was the prime source for the original screenplay of the movie Patton, which is one of my personal favourites -- likely because I have a thing for bull terriers -- and this book told me everything I wanted to know, and more: watching the movie on DVD after finishing the book, was a real education. At 800+ dense pages, even reading this book at my regular speed (which is pretty quick) took ages.


I followed it up with Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, because it was recommended by two of my friends. Not being much of a fiction reader -- life, for me, truly is much more interesting than someone else's imagination -- I really enjoyed this book. Likely being familiar with typography and New York City gave me two good reasons why it held my interest until the end.

Final output

Next up was a fleshed-out version of Neil Turok's recent (2012) Massey Lectures for CBC Radio's Ideas, titled The Unknown World. This is not a book for the faint-of-heart, but it's pretty good if you enjoy books about the intersection of science and philosophy, and I quite liked his writing style. Coincidentally, CBC is rerunning the series of radio programs again this week.

Poppy Plaza #1

Then was Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which made me grateful I've been trying to eliminate as much preprocessed food as possible. It doesn't mean I'm perfect -- I still get cravings for junk food -- but compared to some of my friends, I do OK.


And now, to the smallest of these books, which will be my companion this evening: Art Lessons: Reflections From An Artist's Life, by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord. As an artist who is still struggling (although less so than even six months' ago) with finding my way back to a productively creative life, I'm looking forward to cracking it open. Susan has embarked on an unusual way of getting the book into the hands of readers by releasing 61 copies -- one to every state, plus the District of Columbia, in the United States, and one to every province in Canada: I am the lucky recipient of the copy initially sent to Alberta -- out into the wild, traced by Book Crossing.

Because I have been working in earnest on a similar print-on-demand book of my photographs from my year of travel, I'm curious to see how this practice works: not sure I will use this method of distribution, but I think it is an interesting way of both gaining publicity and obtaining distribution.

You might think that there's no common thread to any of these, or that I've been using reading as a stalling tactic for my own work: nothing could be further from the truth. All of these have provoked a fair bit of thought, and a lot of notes about possible projects, which qualifies as time well spent.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Shifting for myself

Boom! #2

Two summers ago, I used the automatic setting for fireworks on my camera, but this year for Stampede, I went the manual route: if I had a better vantage point, they would have been even more spectacular.

Every time I shift residence, I end up doing something I've either never done before, or haven't done for a long time. The challenge here has been driving a stick shift, and while I'm not going to run out and buy one, my confidence grows.

At least it does when I don't stall out, which I've been doing less and less.

Some people have hang-ups

I'm still relearning how to do it: a couple of weeks ago, I drove up to my storage locker to retrieve the important Stampede essentials of hat and cowboy boots, and decided to take the most direct route home. I pulled away from the curb, turned onto the main road, and happily set off.

Flood detrius

But five blocks later, I was confronted with a red light that I needed to stop for, and found myself on a rather steep upslope. Uh-oh, I thought, this has the potential to get really ugly. And it did: I kept stalling out. Sat there ignominiously through three cycles, and then hit upon a plan.

Rather than dissolve into tears or panic -- two things I've also done when the thing has stalled out on me lately -- I waited for a break in traffic, backed cautiously down the hill, got the car sideways, started, got into gear, and pulled a U-turn back down the rise. Thankfully, I know the neighbourhood well enough that I was able to take my usual route with much less traffic, and detour around such issues.


I was still a little shaky when I got home, thankfully trouble-free the rest of the way, but was also able to laugh about finding a way out of my predicament without getting hysterical: that's a real improvement over the last two years.

Plus my confidence grew enough from that episode that I managed to play tour guide with an out-of-town visitor yesterday and drove out on both the big highway and a two-laner, into Kananaskis Country. We had originally intended to go out to Elbow Falls, but the road was barricaded because of a washout from our recent flood. In this case, the bridge was fine, but the entire east end of the abutment was demolished.


My spinning for the Tour de France has dropped off a bit with volunteering for Stampede, but I'm looking forward to getting back to it. There's a perceptible shift in my life again: whether it's finding "the new normal" as one friend put it, or just refocusing my energy and talents to be more in-phase with others, but I actually went and looked at a rental apartment today.

Changes are afoot, and in a good way....

Monday, 24 June 2013

A River of Tears

Fort Calgary - Friday
Fort Calgary, and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, Friday morning

Last Thursday morning, the first wave of water barrelled down Cougar Creek in Canmore, and since then, life's been interesting here, to say the least. Many areas of Calgary were eventually evacuated (up to 100,000 people, or about 10% of our population), although I was lucky enough to find myself high and dry. Sadly, it appears that all of High River (about 45 minutes south of the city) is an entire write-off as well.

Fort Calgary - Saturday
Fort Calgary, and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, Saturday day morning

Following the instructions of our mayor, I've been happy enough to stay home, with the odd foray to the grocery store for necessities. Not crazy enough to try to take the car anywhere, because I was flanked east and west by emergency evacuations, closed roads/bridges, so getting anywhere was problematic at best.

Fort Calgary - Sunday
Fort Calgary, and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, Sunday morning

So I've made great strides reading my current book (Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago), and am almost finished it. If it sounds like dry reading, it isn't: this was one of the primary sources for the script for the movie Patton, and I've found it fascinating to see sections that were lifted straight from the book, some that were combined, and other incidents that were either gently or not-so-gently manipulated.

Fort Calgary - Monday
Fort Calgary, and the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, this morning

Apart from a neighbourhood gathering I had committed to go to last week, truth be told, I haven't been great company in the last few days, knowing that today would be another one of those difficult days, and it has been, although less so than the two previous birthdays. Unlike last year, when I was where we scattered the ashes, I've tried to make today the sort we would have together, and that's been a good thing.

Plus this year's mopey with moments of weepy is infinitely better than last year's hysterical shrieking.

Friday sunset

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Projects, and projecting

Homemade pizza

I wrote in Retracing and remembering on April 29 about waiting for the day I could make homemade pizza again, but I couldn't see that happening any time soon.

But even just writing that thought developed into a project, and as the picture above, taken June 5, shows, I actually made one. It wasn't without difficult moments, and not a few tears or sleepless nights (before and after), but done nevertheless.

(And it was delicious too, especially as leftovers for lunch.)

If there is anything good about sleepless nights, especially Saturday ones, it means that I get a chance to catch The Philosopher's Zone, one of my favourite programs on Radio Australia. When the originator (and host) died last year, they made a commitment to continue the show, although with fewer episodes.

For awhile, CBC Radio Overnight didn't carry it at all, and I had to resort to listening to it online, and sometimes, the topic would be a difficult one for me to deal with at the same time as I was trying to patch up my own life.

Today's episode, entitled Happiness is... is probably one I couldn't have listened to before now, as it explored C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed, which he wrote after the death of his wife. I haven't been much for grief books, but they certainly have helped start the psychological wheels in motion every time I've made the leap to a new level of recovery.


Something else that has helped has been returning to pleasurable projects I've worked on in the past that don't require the same amount of hard cognitive thought, and inevitably, that means knitting. Three years ago, I was asked to submit a piece to be auctioned off to support arts programs for two of the local homeless shelters, and the result was the piece above, entitled Wherever I Lay My Hat. I have been approached both years since, but haven't had the time or mental space to do another one.

This year, I was, and I decided to work with all naturally coloured yarns -- mostly wool, but with some mohair (from angora goats) and even a small skein of dog (the narrow tan stripe on the brim is handspun chow-chow) went into my interpretation of local geology, and a storage facility for what comes out of the ground.


There is another larger project I'm working on, after having so many people ask me what I was going to do with the photographs I took while spending the year on the road. The most frequent idea suggested was to do a small book, and for a change, I've decided to do it as a print-on-demand book.

Part of my time has been spent filling out the paperwork required to obtain an ISBN number (free, no less, with the deposit of the required number of volumes with Library and Archives Canada), and figure out the best way to generate the barcode to go on the back. I didn't have to do this, but I like the idea of it being a "real" book, even though it's a vanity project.

And the other part of that project means going back and revisiting photographs, blog entries, and especially journal entries from that time: it's not been easy, and I've discovered how much my brain has simply excised incidents that happened but that it couldn't -- or wouldn't -- deal with in self-defense. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it has been rather disconcerting sometimes, with stretches of days having mostly disappeared.

The good news is that since I returned to Calgary, that doesn't seem to be happening, at least in the sense of reading back through my journal now and going "I did what?" anymore, although there are still days when I definitely feel like the stranger.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Practice and Process

What May showers bring #2

In the art world, practice is "what you do" and process is "the examination of the impetus of how to do it." When I had my solo show down at EPCOR Centre two years ago, it was "process-driven" for example.

But they have somewhat different meanings as well, in and out of the art world: practice is usually "how you get -- or stay -- good" and process is more simply "how to do it." I've been working a lot on both lately.

I completed spinning the fluff I started at Fibre Arts Day out at Fish Creek Park Library on March 2: it was the first real skein of yarn I had spun on my wheel in nearly two years, and my spinning muscles were pretty creaky for the first couple of bobbins of singles. It's not exactly attractive yarn to my eyes, which is why there isn't a picture of it, although the non-spinners who have looked at it think it's just fine.

What May showers bring #5

Didn't help that the fibre I was spinning was old (from 1996, I think), given to me when I was still a relative beginner, and was a mixture (70/30, I seem to recall: there was nothing on the bag) of wool and cotton. I tried preparing it a few different ways to see if I could find a way to make a more attractive singles, and ended up splitting the thick roving into narrower and narrower strips to minimize the amount of drafting needed to get the size I wanted.

Doing that helped speed up the process as well: I really wanted to like this yarn, as the mix of wool and cotton held some wonderful potential for dyeing after, for a lot of complex reasons dealing with how protein fibres like wool, take up dyes differently than cotton and other cellulose fibres, but it never really became something I would ever want to keep around.

What May showers bring #6

Some fibres are like that: they don't tell you what they want to be and so you have to keep improvising to see what works. If "insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results," then I was being pretty savvy in finding different ways to make the fibre do something: too bad that doesn't necessarily work with people.

(And I never thought I'd ever find a use for this song, but right now, it's about dead on....)

Books for Sale

The shop is currently empty.