Category Archives: art

Feeling alive. Or, thank you Gwen Frostic and Mary Oliver (yet again).

I’ve been wanting to write about one of my favorite parts of summer, and since I just finished making my way through Mary Oliver‘s New and Selected Poems: Volume 1, I figured it was the perfect time. One of the conclusions I’ve come to about maintaining sanity while busy is how necessary it is to slow down and connect with the things that make us feel alive. I’ve written a lot about the stress of my last year (school-year time, not calendar) and the different ways my summer helped me crawl out of that anxiety-ridden time.

In the middle of August I drove some friends to northern Michigan to where one of them has spent time every summer since childhood. The five days of our trip were spent doing all the things I love: driving on country roads with good music, buying copious amounts of produce and cider donuts from road side stands, the sounds of the woods, starring at water, riding in a boat, cooking and drinking wine, and being amazed at nature.

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The Cottage Book Shop, Anna’s boat, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Cherry Republic

One of the highlights was going to the studio of local artist Gwen Frostic, who passed away in 2001, but whose studio has been kept up and running. She created woodblock prints inspired by the landscape around her, and their stunning simplicity was a perfect pairing for my love affair with the words of Mary Oliver; both are inspired by not just nature, but nature’s capacity for healing and reflection.

From “Morning Poem” 

each pond with its blazing lilies

is a prayer heard and answered

lavishly,

every morning,

whether or not

you have ever dared to be happy,

whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.

Two of the dozen Gwen Frostic woodblock prints I couldn't walk away without.

Two of the dozen Gwen Frostic woodblock prints I couldn’t walk away without.

From “Starfish”:

It never grew easy,

but at last I grew peaceful:

all summer

my fear diminished

as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks

of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.

A few weeks later, I drove upstate to Windflower Farm for their CSA campout with a dear friend and along the way we ate at my favorite restaurant of all time, dropped in on a show by the inspiring artist Lisa Congdon, and drank up the farmlands around the Hudson River Valley. We spent so much time talking about how it was worth it to go out of our way to see Lisa’s show, and to talk to Maggie at her cafe, and to be with Farmer Ted on his land: being around people who create inspires creation.

Maggie's Krooked Cafe, artist Lisa Congdon, Windflower Farm

Maggie’s Krooked Cafe, artist Lisa Congdon, Windflower Farm

Insert school and grad school starting right after the farm trip. Needless to say, I rareIy had time to slow down and create. I’m tired of this being my story of a school year. When I felt tired, I sat on the couch and tried to catch up on The Good Wife in the name of “relaxation”. Nothing against The Good Wife (you know I love my shows), but even though I was technically relaxing, my soul didn’t feel alive. Thankfully, Daniel and I went on a walk to Prospect Park this morning and talked almost the whole time about art (please look at his work) and cultivating a life that helps create it. I found myself snapping pictures of leaves and trees I wanted to draw. It’s amazing how if I do the things I truly love, my desire to create increases. And in turn, I feel more full. And relaxed. And alive.

So, my goal for this favorite season of my life is to choose to spend time walking to the park or to the river. To not let tiredness or busyness be an excuse for the kind of relaxation that doesn’t really relax in the end. I’ve been reading a lot about the art of attention: being present and noticing the beauty of life around me. Hopefully that will weave its way into it all, too.

The Best Kinds of Books.



Sometimes.

I find a book that is able to completely remove me from whatever my schedule dictates, whatever cursed month is prohibiting me from wearing flip flops, whatever lack of funds is restricting my travel and it transports me. Granted, I get lost in books a lot. I can’t help it. But there is something different about books that reawaken you to wonder and believe. Sigh. I just finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This book, like most others who fit into this category are led by adventurous, precocious, brave children. Hugo Cabret is an apprentice time keeper in a Paris train station in the 1930’s. Struck by tragedy, the book follows his earnest adventures to find answers and while doing so, uncovers a mystery and some beauty in the human experience.

The most wonderful aspect of this book is not only the words on the page and the escapades they pull you into, but the illustrations. Selznick is a renowned illustrator as well, and his pencil drawings magically capture key moments in the story and invite the reader to slow down. The drawings don’t just supplement the text, they replace large swathes of text and ask the reader to stop and look and imagine. I’m not sure if others get or understand this feeling, but I love it when various medias of art combine for a depth and beauty that is unable to be expressed in any other way? (I had the same feeling reading/looking at an installation at The Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo last weekend–a self proclaimed laboratory for creative thought: bookstore, gallery, boutique, performance space. Definitely worth a trip if you are in NYC and wanting to channel creative juices…the installation I saw goes through Sunday only, so hurry!)

I don’t think it’s a surprise that these “transportation” books often have children as the main characters. They are the ones who don’t forget to wonder and who aren’t afraid to wander and don’t get caught up in the worries of the adult world. If I were an 8-12 year old, Hugo and Isabelle, his parter in crime, would be my heroes. As a 28 year old, I kind of want to be them, still. Or else be an adult who encourages adventure and imagination. Sigh.

Read. This. Book.

too alive to stay.

The pipes are frozen.
No choice
but to sit
in my pajamas
and wait.

Somehow I feel more inspired by life right now than I have in a while. Well, inspired in a different way. All fall I just wanted to be outside and walking through leaves. Now the only place I want to be is inside as far away from the 2 degree weather. The one thing that winter is good for is justifying a day spent mostly on the couch.

In my internet reading and researching this morning, I came across a Brooklyn artist’s prints, which had titles that could have been poetry–and of course they made me want to write poetry off of them…attempting to say in words what she said in colors and scenes and figures. I found one that seemed to say more to me and about me than what I could ever do in words, though.

It is called “Too Alive to Stay” and seems to encapsulate the feeling that is just rooted within me that there is so much to be doing and excited about right now. I want to reign in this feeling and hope that that i don’t ever stay in a place–in all its literal and figurative connotations–because it feels safe or comfortable. The current aliveness includes: attempting to become fluent in Spanish, writing in general and with my students and figuring out to teach it well, reading books, planning summer travel, listening to good music and drinking wine with friends.

So. Happy Winter. Perhaps there’s some hope for these cold, cold months until spring.