Archives for the month of: February, 2012

delivered sculpture
alabaster found its home
initiation
9.22.2011

I think the stone had always spoken to me. But I wasn’t always listening to it… That changed when I started working with my friend K.

K has a relationship with gemstones – healing gemstones in particular. At some point when we were living in the same town, K and I started spending a lot of time together. Her passion is healing gemstones and mine is stone sculpting, naturally, there was some overlap there. During one of our talks K mentioned that gemstones really like working with alabaster and we got to discussing the possibility of a sculpture that would work with the gemstones. I knew right away that I had the stone to work with K. I told her about it – a sizable piece of Colorado alabaster.

It was the first piece of stone I ever worked on. I hadn’t done much to it. I was new to sculpting and when my sculpting mentor suggested I secure a stainless steel peg in it using epoxy I followed his advice. As soon as I mentioned the stone to Karen, I remembered the steel post and in that same instant, I knew that the stone had been hurt physically and offended emotionally by the post. I’d never realized how the stone felt until I was sitting miles away from it in K’s living room. I told her about the peg and as I mentioned it I also knew that the stone wasn’t ready to be sculpted yet. It was still healing from the trauma of having been drilled for the steel post.

Ouch.
I was stunned by this new awareness I had – this communication with the stone. I had worked on three other sculptures and never had this experience. But once the insight came to me, of how that alabaster felt, I simply knew I was not making it up. It was a gut feeling. We’ve all had them, a moment where something that seems impossible to know is known with a certainty that is as absolute to us as our own name.

Another year and a half passed before I was able to get back into a studio and sculpt again. When I did, I knew the stone was ready to be worked. This time, however, instead of approaching it with a plan that was my own, I worked in an entirely different manner. While I sculpted I kept K, her gemstones, and the work they did in mind. I listened to the stone. I had no real plan, yet when I turned on my carving tool and set it to the alabaster, shapes would emerge.

I worked over several months. There were parts of the stone that wanted to be left raw and uncut, just as they had come out of the Colorado quarry. The piece was vertical and along what I felt was the backside of the piece was the “spine.” It too wanted to be left raw. Eventually, the overall shape was in place. Now it was time to start finishing it with rasps.

I started with one rasp and wasn’t happy with its usefulness. On a nudge, I pulled what I thought was a more aggressive rasp from my toolbox. I’d never used it before. With my first pass across the stone’s surface I was amazed. The rasp not only removed stone quickly and easily, but it also smoothed it at the same time. It was fantastic! I couldn’t believe that I’d had this tool in my toolbox for years and never used it. The waking dream of this was not lost on me – I knew, on many levels, I was discovering how to use a tool I’d always had.

I worked steadily with that rasp all day, completely lost in my work. When it came time to leave the studio I packed up my tools and the sculpture before heading in to use the restroom. As I was washing my hands I looked down to see they seemed to be covered in something bright, deep yellow with tinges of pale green. I rubbed them harder under the water thinking maybe the soap wasn’t washing off. It was then I realized the soap itself was pink and what I was seeing was… energy. That color was the energy that passed between the stone and myself as I worked. I had never before experienced this. I’d heard of people seeing colors in auras, but I’d never seen it myself, not really, and certainly not this obvious. I knew that it came from the interaction with the stone. It wasn’t entirely my own aura, but what had passed between us while I worked, or rather, we worked.

I left the studio uplifted and amazed, humbled and grateful for the enormous gift of what I’d just seen.

I finished the sculpture shortly thereafter. It came home and sat in our living room for another few months until I could deliver it to K who lived two states away. In the meantime, I worked over the phone with my dad, who was going to create a base for the piece out of juniper wood. My parents live in the same city as K, making it easy for me to unite the base and the sculpture. Once at their house, Dad and I worked together to figure out where to drill a hole in the base for the steel peg in the sculpture. Once seated on the base, the sculpture seemed to change a little. I attributed this to the same effect that happens when a painting or a photograph is matted and framed – it just seems more complete. I think that was part of it, but I also know that inwardly, energetically, the sculpture shifted.

Nervous about whether K would like the sculpture and base or not, I drove over to the new house she’d bought since I’d last visited her. After the full tour of her wonderful new home, K came out to my car to bring in the base while I carried the sculpture, swaddled in a cotton blanket. We weren’t completely sure where to seat it, casting about for a few minutes until a table by the big front window seemed to light up. K set down the base of naturally shaped juniper and exclaimed that it was heart-shaped.

“It is?!” I looked at it, “How did I not notice that before?!” Indeed, it was heart-shaped. I’d been so busy figuring out where and how to seat the sculpture on the base I had overlooked this obvious fact.

I unwrapped the sculpture and K helped me guide the post into the base and we stood back to look at it. Immediately, before my eyes, the sculpture transformed. It glowed in a way it never had while sitting in my house, or even when it was set on the base at my parents’ house. The energy shifted and fanned out, unfolding like petals on a rosebud. It was phenomenal. It was home.

I turned to K, “It’s unfolding!”

“I know!” she replied, smiling at me and looking back at the sculpture.

“It’s …home. That’s the word that keeps coming to me.” I replied.

“I think it knew I was moving into this house before I did.” K was astonished, as was I.

It continued to unfold for the remainder of the time I was there. When I went to give K a hug goodbye I felt a wave of unbelievable gratitude. It was the stone, thanking me. The patience with which it had waited, eons, for someone, for me, to help it take the next step in its spiritual unfoldment was astounding. This next step was its initiation. I was completely taken aback by the magnitude of the stone’s gratitude and started to cry. I laughed and cried with my own gratitude as I conveyed to K what was transpiring between the stone and myself. It was so excited, and happy, and filled with love to begin the work with K and her stones.

Patience. Purpose. Love. Gratitude. Desire to be of service. To give its gift in its own special way.

Aren’t these qualities that all of us desire? My experience with that stone, its beingness, has changed the way I approach stone and sculpting. The initiation was twofold. Mine was stepping into a new reality where stones are wise, patient beings waiting to work with us.

listening as art
leylak marble instructs me
stillness filled with sound

This past summer I acquired a new piece of stone, Leylak Marble from Turkey, a gorgeous purple stone with darker purple veins.  Shortly after getting it, not paying attention to anything but my own desire to explore the stone, I cut into it with the intent to carve a small piece off to sand and polish.

The moment my blade touched the stone it screamed at me, “Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!”

I pulled the blade, now three inches into the stone, out and apologizing profusely as I knocked a small, half inch by three inch piece off.  I hadn’t tuned in to the stone, who was not ready to be carved.  Stones are profoundly patient.  Imagine waiting the amount of time a stone waits to be worked.  Impatience in the grocery line has nothing on geological time.

I had made the assumption that it was mine to carve.  That stone now sits in our living room and will do so until its ready to be carved.  I apologized to it for several weeks right after the incident.  The small piece I took off was broken in two and both pieces have been polished.  It serves to remind me the stone is alive in a way that deserves my respect.

I am now waiting to hear from the stone, when it’s ready to transform, I’ll take heed and respect its request for help.

guarding my pleasures
curating my contentment
black morning coffee

 

I love coffee. It is the taste of my parent’s home in Scottsdale. It is Cribbage and Scrabble and time spent together. It is black and white German kitchens with accents of red. It is every café visited from Berlin to Brindisi; Assisi to Mont Saint-Michel; San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale. It is coffee shop dates with my husband, late night dancing, and every morning I sit, cross-legged, pen poised above my journal. Coffee is one of my greatest pleasures – and I guard it.

Lately, guarding my pleasures has started to feel like the ultimate experience in gratitude. I have only just become aware of this experience while drinking my cup of coffee in the morning. In that first sip, I am at once totally present and awash with memories that remind me of great love. It is so simple and brings me such joy. I wonder where else might I find such simple pleasures. And when I find them, I will guard them by being fully present and grateful for them.

Seeking out these little clues is one of the ways I’m learning to curate my own contentment, to take responsibility for my life and happiness in a way I don’t know that I often have – or perhaps ever have. But I do it with coffee – and I have for decades. Ask any one who has ever traveled with me, “What’s the first thing she does when exploring a new city?”

The answer will inevitably be, “Find the coffee.” They may argue it’s because I need it to wake up – and that is partially true. But only because it is with my pen, and journal, and coffee that I awaken my creativity, call forth a connection with Soul, and explore the links between my inner and outer lives every morning. I guard this pleasure.

I wonder too, by allowing something so small to take on such giant proportions of pleasure and contentment, will that intention and attention help to diminish those other, larger, more scary aspects of my life? I think it’s an experiment worth conducting.

As a museum professional, I have curated many different kinds of collections in my career. I know how to preserve them – guard them against the agents of deterioration. Being unemployed is offering me a new opportunity to find those agents at work deteriorating my own contentment, to cull my collection as it were, and guard those pleasures that bring me gratitude.

park reverse neutral
exploring a new pattern
to shift into gear
1.26.2012

I was 27 before I’d driven an automatic.   Yes.  You read that correctly.  Until I walked into a car rental place, I’d driven nothing but manual transmission automobiles; because growing up that is what my family had, that’s what I learned on, and I’ve never owned anything but five-speeds.  I’m sure I looked like an idiot going in to ask how to drive the automatic.

“I get what ‘R’, ‘P’ and ‘N’ are.  What are the numbers one and two for?  Do I just put it in ‘D’ and go?  When would I use one and two? Is there anything else I should know?”

What a chump, they must have thought.

I recently spent two weeks working at a car auction where I drove many different types of automobiles and I found myself writing a cheat sheet for the typical automatic since not every car showed where park, reverse, neutral and drive were.  I found that I’m more comfortable with a clutch than two pedals.  I felt a little lost and out of control with some of the slamin’, high-performance cars that had automatic transmissions.

A week after returning from the auction marathon, I was still dreaming of cars, old and new, mine and others.  As I threw away the Post-It note with “P-R-N-D” written on it that I’d had stuck to my credentials, I thought about my difficulty adapting a new pattern – how the known control of a clutch kept me from being comfortable with something that is, in theory, easier to master.  I mused, as the haiku came to me, about the other places I feel lost without a clutch and my illusory control.  Like the continued, now five month long, search for employment.  After my return though, I feel ready to shift into gear: park, reverse, neutral, drive.

recipe hunting
sugar but not saccharine
lemony balance
12.8.2011

I had a second grade teacher who never stopped smiling.  As a kid I thought this was kind of neat and it certainly beat the stern first grade teacher I had, who rarely smiled and didn’t think much of me in comparison to my older brother whom she adored.

My mother described my teacher’s propensity for prolonged grinning, by imitating her.  Through clenched teeth and a false smile Mom would joke, “She wouldn’t say the word ‘shit’ even if she had a mouthful of it.”

She also used the term “saccharine” to describe my teacher’s demeanor.  I inferred that it meant she was falsely sweet, because once my mom pointed it out, I realized my teacher really didn’t seem happy or nice.  It was a façade.

I was thinking of this grade-school teacher when I dusted off the term “saccharine” from among other musty memories of childhood.  Not realizing the word I sought had an ‘e’ on the end, I typed “saccharin” into my favorite online dictionary.  I was dismayed to find that saccharin is the name for the chemical concoction used as a fake sweetener.

How could my mom have used that term for my teacher?  I was sure it meant something else, I wondered.

Persistence and curiosity paid off when I typed in “saccharine” to find the definition I’d had in mind.  Both “cloyingly agreeable or ingratiating” and “exaggeratedly sweet or sentimental” matched what I was trying to convey.

What does this have to do with recipe hunting?  As it happens, I’m not terribly good at making lemonade, either figuratively or literally.  At least, that’s how I was feeling when I wrote the haiku.  I felt as if I were seeking the perfect recipe to turn my struggles, with the hill of lemons I felt I’d been shuffling through for months and years, into refreshing lemonade.  I wanted a way to bring the right amount of sugar, real, earthy cane sweetness, into my life to balance the sour citrus.  I wanted it to be genuine though.  Not cloying or sentimental or exaggerated, but the real sweetness that comes with true contentment.

The sweetness I’ve found comes from savoring the little things I love: A good cup of black coffee first thing in the morning, going for walks with my husband, watching the sun change the sky to crimson beauty from my kitchen window, my two cats sitting with me as I write in the mornings.  That’s the real sugar.

The lemons are still there.  My new recipe just calls for more sugar than I was previously using.

reassuring words
one poet to another
from Grandpa to me

 

In September the oldest daughter of my mom’s oldest sister, my cousin, visited my parents in Arizona.  She brought with her four, tome-like photo albums filled with family history.  Inside were treasures I spent hours pouring over with Mom when I was back visiting two weeks ago.  I saw pictures of my mom as a baby and a young girl, not much older than the niece, my cousin, who brought the massive albums.
 
In the hours I spent studying the images I felt I soul traveled to another time and place. . . The turn of the last century (19th to 20th) with my great-grandmother and her help in front of the North Carolina farm where my grandpa grew up, and where my grandma spent her first year of marriage when Grandpa was off driving ambulances in World War I.  My aunt’s college days during the 30s and her schoolmates.  Clippings of my grandpa’s poetry out of the Huntington, West Virginia newspaper.  Things I’d never seen, people I’d never known or barely met, were there in black and white snapshots.  My mother and her brother at Virginia Beach.  Wedding announcements in the Huntington newspaper for my other aunt’s wedding.  Even my own kindergarten through second grade school portraits.  Family history viewed through my aunt’s scrapbooking.
 
I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know my aunt a little bit, posthumously – she died when I was in second grade.  A story for another day.  Among the clippings, I came across two stanzas taken from Grandpa’s poetry that spoke to me across the ages.
 
The first stanza that captured my attention, is the last in a poem called “I Dreamed.”  I know he wrote it sometime after 1940 and before 1963 when he first published his poems as a book titled “Shadows and Sunshine.” (I remembered the title wrong in my 2007 haiku about his poetry.)  He must have written the poem after age 46, as he was born in 1894.  He states, in the intro to the book, that the poems are “a mirror that reflects life as I have viewed it from the western side of the hill.”
 
Closer to his “western side of the hill” age than I care to admit, I find myself looking to the wisdom in Grandpa’s poetry as I contemplate my own life, its challenges, and the changes I’m trying to make.
 
Every one’s a natural artist,
Each has something he can do
And if he can find his workshop
He will make his dreams come true.
 
These words struck a chord in my heart and urged me to continue chasing my dreams, no matter how illusive (and elusive) they may seem.  In re-reading the poem in its entirety, I realized Grandpa was talking about the eternal creator in all of us, Soul.
 
The final stanza from “The Man Who Bends Over the Lathe” also captured my attention when I saw it in the newspaper clipping.
 
No labor has ever been toilsome
To the man who can make it an art
For the hand never seems to grow weary
When the work is attuned to the heart.
 
It was written about a man who was a machinist and clearly loved what he did.  Grandpa admired that about him.  I’ve been around people like that – who love what they do.  And when you meet them, it’s electrifying and inspiring.  It doesn’t matter if their passion is about washing machines, flint knapping, or adding turbo power to Audi’s.  When you’re in the presence of that passion it is impossible not to glow just from being near one on fire.
 
And so as I set forth to write a new chapter in my life, though I am uncertain the outcome, I take direction from these two stanzas, certain that from one poet to another, my Grandpa would not lead me astray.