Monday, November 23, 2015

you become an atmosphere

“A picture must possess a real power to generate light and for a long time now I’ve been conscious of expressing myself through light or rather in light.”

- Henri Matisse

"A photograph is neither taken nor seized by force.
It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you.
One must not take photos."

- Henri Cartier-Bresson

"You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes."

- Ernst Haas

So this last week I was in search of light, at the time of year when the light is deep into its waning. The sky was more often than not grey on our morning walks. Very low now, the sun comes into my kitchen in bands, only a few times a day, blocked as it is by the huge house behind ours.

You don't so much seek or search for light as you wait for it.

Those days when I was not working at the library, I was at my desk working on a short writing project. I sipped tea, I stood up, walked around the house. Looked out the back kitchen window, noted the position of the sun. I wrote a bit more. I got up to make more tea. I waited for the writing, I waited for the light.

I come closest to bliss at these moments. When I move back and forth between writing that's going more or less okay, and photography, in immersing myself in light, in the play of light on an object or thing.

Chloe had placed her turquoise tea mug in the small window alcove behind the kitchen sink so that the light coming in and swirling around it had a blue glow to it. The nest in the stone bowl has been sitting on the desk that's also in our kitchen since spring when I found the nest on the sidewalk one morning. So I played with that for a bit, and then remembered the blue stone which has been rolling around in our junk drawer for ages. It seemed to gather more of the blue around it.

Near the end of the shoot, I asked Chloe to hold the nest, too. Nest of light.

Nest of quiet.


Can I Weave a Nest of Silence

by May Sarton

The phoebe sits on her nest
Hour after hour,
Day after day,
Waiting for life to burst out
From under her warmth.
Can I weave a nest of silence,
weave it of listening,
listening, listening,
Layer upon layer?
But one must first become small,
Nothing but a presence,
Attentive as a nesting bird,
Proffering no slightest wish
Toward anything
that might happen or be given,
Only the warm, faithful waiting,
contained in one’s smallness.
Beyond the question,
the silence.
Before the answer,
the silence.


"Heartache is very fertile ground for song-making but so is happiness, so is absolute bliss."

- K. D. Lang

And these days I think this is the proper stance for many of us: a silence yes, but also listening, listening, listening.

So I noticed the sliver of light in the backyard at about 3:20 in the afternoon. And who knows why, I ran to my desk, grabbed the rock that lives there, and the little piece of heart shaped shale that Chloe found for me at recess when she was in grade one. It seemed to be just what was needed. Light and love and a sweet memory.

He Attempts to Love His Neighbours

by Alden Nolan

My neighbours do not wish to be loved.
They have made it clear that they prefer to go peacefully
about their business and want me to do the same.
This ought not to surprise me as it does;
I ought to know by now that most people have a hundred things
they would rather do than have me love them.

There is television, for instance; the truth is that almost everybody,
given the choice between being loved and watching TV,
would choose the latter. Love interrupts dinner,
interferes with mowing the lawn, washing the car,
or walking the dog. Love is a telephone ringing or a doorbell
waking you moments after you've finally succeeded in getting to sleep.

So we must be careful, those of us who were born with
the wrong number of fingers or the gift
of loving; we must do our best to behave
like normal members of society and not make nuisances
of ourselves; otherwise it could go hard with us.
It is better to bite back your tears, swallow your laughter,
and learn to fake the mildly self-deprecating titter
favoured by the bourgeoisie
than to be left entirely alone, as you will be,
if your disconformity embarrasses
your neighbours; I wish I didn't keep forgetting that.


On one morning walk, there were flocks and flocks of geese going over.

And after that, it's become steadily colder.

The light is more difficult to find.

But it does come, it arrives. On the kitchen table it breaks out on what had previously been a grey day.


by Linda Pastan

We are waiting for snow
the way we might wait for a train
to arrive with its cold cargo—
it is late already, but surely
it will come.

We are waiting for snow
the way we might wait
for permission
to breathe again.

For only the snow
will release us, only the snow
will be a letting go, a blind falling
towards the body of earth
and towards each other.

And while we wait at this window
whose sheer transparency
is clouded already
with our mutual breath,

it is as if our whole lives depended
on the freezing color
of the sky, on the white
soon to be fractured
gaze of winter.

And of course, the snow did come, and seems here to stay.

It's easy to make peace with the snow as it falls on the neighbour's roses. (A silent thank you as I pass by on my walks that they didn't pluck them all in the fall).

It's easy to love your neighbour when they fill their front yard with roses.

I'll leave you there today as I'm feeling somewhat under the weather. (Rotten cold, nothing worse).

If you have time, check out my website to read Rumi and the Red Handbag updates and to check out the winner of my giveaway. So many amazing comments were left! Really worth reading and thanks to all who entered.

Wishing you a lovely and warm week, full of love and light, and sugar frosted roses.

Monday, November 16, 2015

let us attempt to spill light

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

- Arundhati Roy from The Cost of Living

It was difficult putting today's post together after all the horror of the last several days around the world.  I've gone around feeling in turns heartbroken and helpless and my body has joined in. At first I thought I was getting the flu or something - my body just aches - but I think it's just a reaction to all the deaths. And I want to be quiet, very quiet. A sort of bone deep need for it.

Well, this has been my reaction. As well, I have been turning to art, to music, to poetry. For solace, for sense.

My friend Susan posted this quotation on Facebook:

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." 
- Leonard Bernstein

I turned to the artists, not because I thought they held any particular answers, but because thinking about beauty, about making things, about inspiration held some meaning for me:

"I think our minds respond to things beyond this world. Take beauty: it’s a very mysterious thing, isn’t it? I think it’s a response in our minds to perfection. It’s too bad, people not realizing that their minds expand beyond this world."

"Happiness is being on the beam with life--to feel the pull of life.”

"Inspiration is there all the time. For everyone whose mind is not clouded over with thoughts whether they realize it or not."

"There are so many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know — exactly what you want. … Doing what you were born to do … That’s the way to be happy."

- all quotations above, Agnes Martin

Instinctively, I went to where the light is, I went toward love, toward hope.

What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?

I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.

- Meister Eckhart

“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

- Henri Nouwen

And this was being posted very often on Facebook the last two days (which is from this poem):

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered

- Warsan Shire

And this is who Warsan Shire is.

A Poem on Hope

by Wendell Berry

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,

For hope must not depend on feeling good
And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
Of the future, which surely will surprise us,
…And hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
Any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
In the trees in the silence of the fisherman
And the heron, and the trees that keep the land
They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
And how to be here with them. By this knowledge
Make the sense you need to make. By it stand
In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.
Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.

It bears repeating:

Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

I began taking books from my shelves and opening ones I've read often, though not for some time. A Chorus of Stones by Susan Griffin which is subtitled, The Private Life of War, and is largely about World War II. In it, she says,

"I have come to believe that every life bears in some way on every other. The motion of cause and effect is like the motion of a wave in water, continuous, within and not without the matrix of being, so that all consequences, whether we know them or not, are intimately embedded in our experience."

"Friend, whatever you are, you must not stand still:
One must from one light into the other spill"

- Angelus Silesius

If we can do nothing else, let us attempt to spill light into one another.

And let us be more plant than jewel, too.

I revisited a post on the always lovely Brainpickings where she quotes the philosopher Martha Nussbaum:

"To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility."

I've been listening to this while writing this post:

I've been thinking about flowers. About plants. About fragility.

I'm thinking about silence, too. About the silence we need to meditate on the world. And the silence we need to make art. I took out Balthus's memoir, Vanished Splendors, and read:

"Paint amid the trills of Cosi fan tutti, because genius roams there, paint while looking again and always at Courbet, Cezanne, Delacroix, and my beloved Italians. The painter exists only in this personal availability and humility. Let others try to interpret, understand, and analyze by any light they choose. The painter knows nothing of this. He paints, that's all. And does not seek to translate.

Silence is what he must try to attain by all means. That's why I find any verbal approach to painting derisory and superfluous. What word or words could capture the silent, secret, and dark spaces in which we try to find meaning, and bring back some traces of it?"

Admittedly, I have taken comfort where it's to be found. Tomato soup and grilled cheese.

In watching Chloe draw as she does every moment she can. Here she's drawing Ace.

One morning I was getting out the vitamins for the three of us (definitely the time of year for vitamin D), and the oranges quite suddenly began to glow.

Just Delicate Needles—

by Rolf Jacobsen (trans. Robert Hedin)

It's so delicate, the light.
And there's so little of it. The dark
is huge.
Just delicate needles, the light,
in an endless night.
And it has such a long way to go
through such desolate space.

So let's be gentle with it.
Cherish it.
So it will come again in the morning.
We hope.

I took some photos, I made some tea. I was gentle with the light. With myself.

The odd thing, as always, is that we just go on doing what we do, as we must. We read books, go to work, cook food, watch a movie on a Saturday night.

Rob has been painting a commission and we've hardly seen him for a couple of weeks. But he's also recently painted these which are in Banff for their JOY (group) exhibition for the holidays. It opens this coming Saturday. So weather permitting we'll be making a quick road trip to the mountains! Excited about that, even if it will be a whirlwind.

On Friday morning, before I'd heard the news, I posted a giveaway on my website for a tote bag and copy of Rumi and the Red Handbag. I've asked people to leave a comment and share something about a favourite handbag, what they carry, etc. Please enter! It should be quite easy to enter a comment, I promise. The draw will be made this coming Friday.

We watched a documentary titled, What Remains, about the photographer Sally Mann which was in turns inspiring, disturbing, thought provoking and visually stimulating. Her process is really amazing. As is she. You'll probably remember the controversy surrounding a couple of her exhibitions, and it seems all her work is at the moment framed by this. But if you just pick a photograph to look at and stay with it, you can see that the work transcends all the surrounding reactions.

Although I've once again lost my food photography mojo (partly because it's dark at dinner time these days), I've made one or two good things lately. The first is this eggplant gratin, which I just realized I improvised a bit on, or combined it with another recipe a little. I forgot, or shall we say, skipped out, the tomato sauce, and also put a little wholewheat panko on top. It was really incredible, I have to tell you. As well, Chloe found this recipe for chickpea naan tacos which we all loved.

And so I leave you all there, wishing you a calm week, much light, much love.

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