Byron Embracing Willendorf cover

I am absurdly pleased to have been asked by my friend Byron Ballard to write a blurb for her new book, Embracing Willendorf. It has arrived in my mailbox and said blurb is indeed included. I truly enjoyed reading this book, as it followed pretty closely my own journey with a new body shape, similarly motivated by a wake-up call to health. Eight years ago, my doctor said I could either start taking medication to get my blood sugar under control, or I could lose weight and modify my eating habits. Having just attended two funerals of dear friends who did not manage their health, I opted for the latter. After a year, all my numbers were back in range, I felt a bit like my younger self, although with plenty of creaks and aches to belie that, and was ready to sing the praises of better health. I never really did though, and now Bryon has done it so well and so entertainingly, there was no need for me to tread that way.

Byron book blurb“Byron Ballard’s Embracing Willendorf is a welcome return to the home of the body temple. As a priestess of the Great Goddess, she will introduce you to ‘your deep earth self.’ She teaches radical self-love, beginning with how to stop bullying yourself by choosing one thing to unreservedly love about your body. In her friendly conversational style, Byron offers a quick course in Pagan 101 (a little altar, a few affirmations, sitting quietly for a few minutes a day), then moves on to the idea of trusting your own body, served up with a side of self-love that might make you blush. She is uniquely qualified stand against our body-hostile culture, so permeated with a religion of guilt and mortification of the flesh. Non-dogmatic and with plenty about the pitfalls of losing weight (yes, you will miss your old shape), this may be the only ‘diet’ book with a recipe for Cherry Yum at the end, because loving yourself always means enjoying life.”

Byron’s other two books are pretty darn interesting too, full of lore and Appalachian magic. I met Bryon in the ethers and we became fast friends before actually meeting in person, which we have done for the last two years at Pantheacon in San Jose. It is absolutely charming to like someone as well in person as you do from their written persona online, but I believe that was the case for us. What a strange and wonderful thing is the internet for writers!

If you are interested in the book, it is available from her publisher Skye Bridge Publishing. Her other books are on her website, My Village Witch, along with her blog. She is a most prolific witch!

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The Flow and the Forge

In the beginning comes the flash of inspiration, the flicker of an idea, the flow of meaning.

This is the genesis of almost any creative work. We feel lucky when we experience it. And some of us conspire to make it happen more frequently and deliberately.

We use ancient language and the metaphors of the natural world to describe it. The word “inspire” literally means “in breath” (from the Latin verb spirare).  We hope for the magical breath (air), or spark (fire), or to draw from the well (water). This longed-for and mysterious state of mind goes by many names across cultures: awen, or imbas, or qi, or prana, or flowing spirit, or grace. It means something like life force, energy, higher vibration, or the web that connects everything. Artists might call it the Muse. We seek the feeling of being filled with ideas, words, thoughts, solutions, directions, the numinous. We feel connected to the world, in love with life, as if we are humming along as we are supposed to.

It is a state of receptivity, of being open, of being . . . soft. Listening. Letting be. Forgetting the self. I have learned that the “flow” aspect of creativity is best approached obliquely. Some things seem to feed it: day or night dreams, meditation, play. Even repetitive physical tasks like showering, or walking, can allow us to enter this quietude of the mind, when another part of ourselves stirs and listens. An unfettered mind is a creative mind.

Some artists describe “getting out of the way” to let it flow through and out onto the page, the canvas, the keyboard, the graph paper. “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children,” wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Much of my artistic life has been in the service of creating visual art around words, often on commission. Being in business as a jobbing scribe and illuminator for many years, often having to adhere to a schedule, means I can’t always wait for the blessed moments of inspiration to arrive before I begin.

Here is what I have learned: just showing up is valuable. Artists who have some kind of daily practice simply put themselves in the way of inspiration. It doesn’t always come when we ask. We might toil away day after day, refining our craft, wondering why we practice, why we enter a space and time when the goal or product is not important.  But it is a practice of being ready and open. When the exalted feeling appears, and we begin to sense the glorious connections, it is as if we have been invited to a party and we’re all dressed and ready to go, in our party dress and tiara.

My practice varies according to what I am seeking to make. For visual art, sometimes I will just begin with marks on the paper, or a color, or write the words I want to use many times, in different sizes and styles. The same goes for compositional writing. I will begin by just writing randomly on the subject. Whatever comes to mind, no matter how disjointed, is worth the “ink” of “getting it down.”

My preferred method of composition is to sit down with lined paper and a pen first thing in the morning, and handwrite. Perhaps it is the literal flow of ink onto paper that I like, my enduring love of the tools of my trade. It can be free writing, a journal entry, a letter to a friend, a blog post, a review— all keep the writing muscle exercised. Doing this in the morning often yields a connection to my deeper dreaming self. If I am lucky and move slowly and stay away from distractions, I will be able to recall and record a dream. I rarely use an actual dream in my writing, but images and sensations from dreams do find their way into the waking world and onto the page. While writing this post, I had a dream of describing this to someone, using words about fire.

So just getting it down begins the process. If I am working on commission, or deadline, the sooner I start the better off I will be. This allows me the cushion time of “walking away” which seems to be crucial to my creative process. Sooner or later I will feel frustrated with my attempts at “play” and feel I am bad at it. The germ of my first idea seems to be yielding nothing and I despair of the whole sorry mess. The more I strive and feel frustrated in the work, the better it will flow when I return to it later. It has gotten “under my skin” with the effort of the first attempt.

There is such a thing as “walking away” too soon, but doing something else for a while does seem to be key. Taking a walk, doing the dishes, a half hour of my qigong practice, or best of all, sleeping on it, performs a mysterious alchemy, and permits the work to go forward.

Often as not, when I return to the worktable, I will see with fresh eyes and find something to follow. “Letting it gel” is a sort of incubation process. I look at or read through the dreck and find something to follow, something that deserves polishing. This might happen over and over again before finishing the first draft.

flow and forge_anvil flame

If inspiration can described using metaphors of air, fire, and water, the other part of the craft can be seen as “earthing” the fertile gleanings.  Then the work of the forge begins. This part of the work is often described in building language: hammering, assembling, cutting, pasting, connecting, shaping, structuring, fitting together. This is when I do my editing, using my analytical mind to pick and parse my words, or to make design decisions. It is the “hands on” part of the process, the time of bringing the strands of wild brightness into a weaving, a form, a container.

Even the typing of my handwritten pages, which writers used to give to minions to do (and I used to be such a worker bee), is for me part of the creative cycle. In transcribing from written pages to digital form, I enter the role of being reader of my own work. That distance can give me the necessary critical eye to begin the slash/burn/refresh process of editing. The greatest gift to my editor self has been the cut and paste function on my computer. Very often I will rearrange entire paragraphs, putting a later paragraph that has more punch at the beginning and the more expository material later on. Much is deleted, but occasionally I’ll move sentences to the bottom of the document, just in case I want to revisit a forgotten jewel.

flow and forge_writing_1974It is a very rare thing for the work to emerge as whole cloth. Finding this very early handwritten manuscript from 1974 made me remember how in love I was with the act of writing, both the look and the sense of it. That was truly the white-hot heat of creativity, and I waited in vain for it to visit again for the rest of my college days. I knew nothing of the nuts and bolts of editing, but have learned it in the years since, and as a result have been much more productive.

The time in the forge is important. It requires a single minded focus, a discerning eye, and a measure of ruthlessness. The inspiration of poetry is best answered while it is fresh, to “strike while the iron is hot.” But then it must be hammered out on the anvil. Finishing is also part of the creative art; choices must be made. “Too many irons in the fire” is counterproductive.

Here is a discovery I have made after long years: it is just as possible to enter the “flow” while at the forge as at any other time. Working at anything that gives one pleasure and satisfaction, to the point where one forgets about oneself or the end result, is what flow is all about. It is not only the flash of inspiration, but being absorbed in work that one is good at and that offers a sense of fulfillment.

For this reason, any creative activity can be very healing. “I spent time writing my feelings,” writes Sue Monk Kidd. “I spoke them to my counselor. I prayed them. I dreamed them. I danced them. I drew them . . . Few of us seem to know the healing that can come from expressing our feelings through symbols.” This has been true for me all my life, and from an early age, I discovered that writing and making were salvation for a troubled spirit. In a poem called “For the Artist at the Start of the Day,” John O’Donahue, the poet, writes of that state when the “gift within you slips clear / Of the sticky web of the personal / With its hurt and its hauntings . . . to dwell uniquely / between the heart and the light / To surprise the hungry eye / By how deftly it fits / About its secret loss.” This is how pain becomes beauty, transfiguring wounds into form.

Beware the pressure that other people can cause by invoking the dreaded comparison monster. When I decided to major in creative writing in college, my family made much of the fact that I would write the next “Great American Novel.” Yes, it was said with the capital letters. I can’t express how irritating this was to me; it was not helpful. The work is what it is, and must stay that way for it to be completed. Dreaming of wild success is self-defeating to the work itself. It has taken me years to put words to this. It is why I often keep my projects under my hat, not telling anyone what I am working on.

Despite that urge toward isolation, I have also found that getting into community with other artists has been extraordinarily fruitful. Years ago, when I was a struggling scribe, I discovered my local calligraphy guild and the art world opened up for me. I began attending meetings and conferences and study groups, and was so inspired that my work took a quantum leap in quantity and quality. I have never forgotten that lesson, and have found various ways to keep alive my connection to other creative souls despite periods of deep introversion and limited physical ability to get out of the house. For this I confess that the internet, that time-stealer, has also been a lifeline. Because I can express myself pretty well in writing, I was an early adopter of using the forums and virtual communities of the web to connect. The internet is a mixed bag, but I have made some wonderful friendships through it.

One of these friends was the inspiration for this post. This past year I joined an online spiritual community which follows the wheel of the year with 30-day e-courses. Almost every morning a poem or musing with a beautiful image is delivered to my inbox, along with a prompt to write or take a picture on some theme of the season. This has been extraordinarily fertile for me, and has not only revived poetry writing but some fun with photography and drawing as well.

One of these prompts – how do you respond to the flowing spirit of Awen? – led to a discussion about the nature of creativity. A sister writer asked me, “Since I know you make your living as a creative, how does Awen work in your work life?” She said her beautiful poems arrived as “a happenstance thing” but confided that she was becoming a bit impatient with waiting and had been having some good experiences with deciding to be in “the flow.”

In February I sat down and wrote 1200 words in response to this question; then life intervened and I am just now getting around to finishing it. It turns out I had a lot to say and wanted to say it well, so it kept going on the back burner. I also found myself combing through saved quotations and reading and listening to books on the subject. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her audiobook The Creative Fire about why artists make art:

“Sometimes it’s simply a giving a pleasure to yourself or others. A pleasure to self, often, is something that we call numinosity, that means a feeling state, that unequivocally reminds the artist that all things live in relation to one another and that recognition or realization by the artist is accompanied usually by a feeling of ecstasy or bliss. So one might say that the reason many artists are driven to their work once they finally understand how to connect to it on a day to day basis, is that they’re actually driven by ecstasy, driven by the repetition over and over again of entering over the threshold into the unconscious where the spirit gives profound pleasure through the feeling of oneness with the creative self.”

Yes, this is the secret of the flowing, healing, incubating, hammering, connecting creative condition. Participating in the magic and surprise of the universe has been and will continue to be, one of the great pleasures of my life. May it be so for all of us!

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A Merry May Morn

Beltane Roses Hat and Song

Heel-and-Toe!
Jolly Rumble-O!
We were up,
Long before the day-o,

To welcome in the summer,
To welcome in the May-o,
For Summer is a-coming in,
And winter’s gone away-o!

This old folk song is on my lips every May Day morning, whether we roll out of bed at dark o’clock or not, to see up the sun with the Morris dancers at the Baylands. As it happens we did celebrate with the other crazies and shouted up El Sol! This getup is one of my standards, serving me well, many a May morn now, though the strips have been repurposed. And my garden is bounteous with roses after all our rain.

Today has been a blur of sleepiness so I didn’t join the estimated 10,000 people marching in the streets of San Jose for International Worker’s Day – the local rag put the name in quotation marks since it is not officially celebrated in this country, though it is everywhere else in the world. We heard the drums and the chanting, and the inevitable helicopters overhead.

Instead I spent a detailed hour on the phone with my lovely web designer who is helping me retool my website(s) for mobile. If you subscribe to this journal, you may have received a mysterious “test post” that mistakenly went out while we fine-tune the site before taking it live, which should be in a day or two.

I wish you all a merry Beltane, and a mighty May if you are in the streets agitating for justice. And many a sweet and bright morn.

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Coyote Creek Flood_Beauty and Terror

It is raining in California. And some of us are nervous about it. Only occasionally do we experience the river dance; this year the Coyote was a trickster.

The waters have receded from the great flood of late February 2017 here in San Jose, but respect for the power of water in flow will not fade from my memory. Living alongside this creek has been a blessing and a daily connection with Sacred Water. Coyote Creek flows through our lower back yard, but we cannot usually see it unless we go down the stairs to look down into the deep ravine where it usually flows. Very rarely is the water even visible from the house. In late February, our creek became the Mighty Coyote River. From our high ground, we watched Mother Nature in all her force and terror and wonder.

Our house is unique in being built on one of the highest spots in downtown San Jose. Despite living next to a creek that floods from time to time, there has never been flood water in the house. We regularly get phone calls from friends who check in on us when it rains a lot, despite us having explained this over and over again for years. Water will always seek the lowest point, and in the grand scheme of downtown San Jose, we are on relatively high ground. This takes on a whole new meaning during a flood event. And this year we wondered if high was going to be high enough.

Our river is more or less engineered, and floods far less often than it did before the two dams upstream, Anderson and Coyote, were built. The water district is always playing a guessing game between saving enough water for us to drink in the year ahead, and letting out enough water so that those of us who live downstream don’t get flooded out.

This year, the weather had a hand in things, delivering far more rain than we have had in years, with little to no intervals between storms. The weather forecasters call these “atmospheric rivers.”  We knew the water district managers were letting out water early on when the creek level rose, but nobody really knew how much rain would come the third week of February.

My first status update on social media, a comprehensive way to keep in touch with a lot of people, was as early as February 15, when I pictured my water altar and captioned it: “In the flow of the rainy season here in middle California. Love for the waterkeepers of the world.”

Coyote Creek Flood_Riverkeeper Altar

This was meant as much for my husband Pat as anyone else, a kind of late Valentine, for he is a longtime water expert, having served three decades as an elected Santa Clara Valley Water District board member and employee, and now in his “retirement” teaches water policy, water management, and water law at two universities. During heavy rains, he is usually to be found reading the district’s stream, reservoir, and precipitation gauges to find out what is happening in our creek.

Coyote Watershed 2017 thru 3-26

Anderson Dam began to spill on Saturday, February 18. Those of us who live by the creek, and presumably the water managers, knew then that if the rain kept coming, which it was forecast to do, we would have a flood. Pat moved our chickens up from the lower yard on Sunday, to their refuge under the deck. The lower yard began to fill.

Coyote Creek Flood_Rising

By Monday, February 20, I reported, “That river, she is RISING. . . and the rain is still pouring down. The dams upstream are full and spilling . . . Coyote Creek is true to her proper name of River now” – a river being defined as a stream that flows to the ocean; how our river became downgraded to a creek is a mystery.  The trees had started falling by then, and we could hear the sound of chainsaws even in the downpour. Offers of help began coming in from friends. The chicken coop began to slowly disappear under the rising water.

Coyote Creek Flood_Rising on the Coop

On Tuesday, February 21, Flood Day, we were up early. After the cloudy morning, the sun came out. The lower yard and the chicken coop were still filling with water. Upstream, in south county, the gullies and storm drains, the asphalt parking lots and saturated yards, the rivulets and flash floods on the freeways and all the drops of water that had fallen in the previous days made their way inexorably toward the river, flowing, flowing. I wrote at 8:34 a.m. “And still she rises, as the runoff from the upper watershed swells the flow. She’ll keep rising all day.”

Coyote Creek Flood__River Still Rising

The chicken coop was submerged by noon on the 21st, and still the water came higher.

Coyote Creek Flood_From the Upper Yard

Before long we could see the water from the house, and hear the rushing sound of it.

Coyote Creek Flood_Chickens

By mid afternoon, the water had risen almost to the underdeck refuge of the chickens, so they had to be evacuated to house level. Most of our neighbors were out on the street or down on the bridge, checking in with each other about the creek levels.

Coyote Creek Flood_from the bridge

William Street had filled with water and was closed.

Coyote Creek Flood_William Street floodplain

Everyone was trying to decide whether they should flee their houses, and in the absence of direction from officials, made their own choices. Many along our street seemed to have trust in Pat’s assurance that we wouldn’t flood and kept to their homes.

One of our householders enjoyed a drink from the swiftly moving water.

Coyote Creek Flood_Kitty Drinking

But the water was moving fast, and sure footing was necessary if venturing near.

Coyote Creek Flood_The Flow

A friend commented: Amazing that you got to be so close to that moving water and be safe.

Coyote Creek Flood_Pat

My water wizard was completely confident in his assessment that our house would be safe. He may have been smiling at that stage, but the water was still rising, and I was considering that I might pack a bag after all.

Coyote Creek Flood_Peak Flow

Just before the sun went down, the river was at peak flow. As dark fell, we could see the city lights reflected in it and hear its course as it thundered past.

The river stopped climbing the stairs as evening came. Just as Pat predicted, the river had overflowed its banks just upstream of us, near Highway 280, and flowed down the old railroad corridor and began flooding the old Olinder neighborhood east of us. We were more in danger of flooding from that direction now, but the water seemed to slow its advance sometime in the evening as it found its low point and sought further advance to the north of us. I walked the neighborhood nervously in the dark, accompanied by many doing the same thing, some out on the streets because their houses were inundated.

So, we stayed, essentially on an island of dry land between the roaring river to the west, and the slowly creeping water from the east. Our house is in the green circle on the map below.

Coyote Creek Flood_Map

Late that evening I wrote, “It’s been an exhausting, exhilarating, hysterical, euphoric day. The creek she rose higher than in anyone’s memory. We had visitors serenade us, help us re-rescue our chickens, and invite us to sleepovers. We and the river seem to holding steady now and we are still high and dry.” Calls and emails began coming in from all over the country and the world, as people saw on news reports that our house was right in the middle of the evacuation zone.

Ultimately, the water came to within a half block of us from the direction of the park, a block and a half from the other direction to the east and north, and about 20 feet from the back of the house to the west. After a fitful night of sleep, interspersed with more flashlight checks on the creek level, and ignoring the incoming buzzes on my phone of ongoing evacuation notices, finally in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as English, we woke to a sunny day.

My relieved status update late the following morning: “we are high and dry, and still in our home. The water is slowly receding, but there is still a mighty river in our back yard . . . we stayed, essentially on an island of dry land between the roaring river and the slowly creeping water from the other direction. I believe the singing, praying, candle lighting, spellworking, beseeching, berating, and offerings of sacred tobacco and whiskey all played a part in our deliverance, supported by my resident water guru’s deep and longstanding knowledge of the hydrology and engineered modifications of this watershed. Blessed be science! Blessed be faith!”

I did not mention my raw lower lip from my habit of chewing it during times of extreme anxiety.

The next morning, a walk around the neighborhood told the story. The giant eucalyptus in the chicken coop showed the high water mark.

Coyote Creek Flood_Morning After

About a block and a half from our house, the streets were quiet but still filled with water. Residents in these houses had been evacuated by boat in the wee hours of the morning.

Coyote Creek Flood_Brookwood Alley at 19th

In William Street Park, the flood flow had receded a bit, but the ducks were still happily swimming around in the park.

Coyote Creek Flood_William Street Park Ducks Morning After

And in the afternoon, when the terror had passed, I had a private moment in my back yard with the water and light and magic.

Coyote Creek Flood_Light Water Magic

Up to 14,000 people were flooded out of their homes, and many more had damage to their buildings, yards and cars. Evacuation centers were set up for people whose homes were later invaded by dangerous molds, and even now some people are still living there. Fortunately there was no loss of life.

Pat began being interviewed for news reports. Visitors and former neighbors from as long ago as 25 years dropped in to see us and the creek.

Coyote Creek Flood_Inspection Clearance

The yard finally emptied after a few days and the chickens were returned to their home.

Coyote Creek Flood_After

Everything had a scoured look, but soon the green sprouts began to cover this. We are still hearing chain saw aplenty from all the trees that were downed by their saturated roots.

Coyote Creek Flood_Scoured

Because we are an urban creek, we had plenty of debris. Now that the trees are leafing out this is less obvious, and we’ve dispatched most of the trash.

Coyote Creek Flood_Debris

Many news stories reported that this was the heaviest flooding in California in memory, but this is an old story in California. It is sobering to read this account of extreme flooding in the very early days of California, long before anyone had ever heard of climate change. “That winter was a very wet winter,” writes Joan Didion in Where I Was From, “raining night and day for weeks. It was always called the winter of the Flood as the levee broke on the east side of Sacramento and the city was a lake of water, boats running up and down the streets and small houses floating around like dry goods boxes. This was in 1861 and 1862.” As a descendant of these Californians, she has a deep respect for the water management in this state, and wrote rather lyrically of a visit to the Operations Center of the State Water Project in an essay fittingly titled “Holy Water,” in 1979 when the state was coming out of one of its cyclical droughts.

A flood can come fast or slow, a rush of water or a seeping, advancing tide, but when it comes, there is no stopping it. Sandbags help, levees might hold the water, but only just and only for a while. History is full of great floods. It is the way of water, to flood, or to not rain and bring drought. We have come to expect that the engineers can make any land habitable, can always make the right decisions and hold nature back.

There were many mistakes made during this flood: warnings and notifications of the coming waters could and should have been better coordinated and delivered to residents who were most in danger. In some cases, people received their first official alert after their homes were filled with water.

Surely climate change is having its say, and we will see more extreme weather events. At the same time, it has always been thus in California. The waters rise and recede and we who live alongside them, who might forget that great Nature is not so far away in our city jungle, are reminded when the water is at our doorstep.

So while I watched the merciless rush of water go by in our backyard, and listened to its rumbling voice from inside my house, I had that deep helpless feeling that every ancestor I ever had must have felt in the presence of flood, drought, fire, hurricane, earthquake. We live on this Earth at Her pleasure. Our clever builders plan and promise, but in the end, She will have her way with us.

It is raining in California. And some of us are right to be nervous about it.

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Life Springs Forth

Flowering Apple_Equinox

The mother pleads
Stay chaste
But chased the girl will be
by the course of her own bright blood
And dark desire
leads her away

A flowery meadow, a walled garden
are but a moment
For soon she is caught
in the net of time
Lured by the offered fruits
apple, pomegranate
the proferred crown, the throne
the forlorn dead

By herself
By all that is holy
She labors
she offers the fruits of her womb
Pleads to cheat the devil
This one time

The stories mix
but the end is the same
She joins the line
Her mother before her
And before her

She returns at springtime
but cannot stay
The dark workings of the body
ebb and flow
and fasten the blood
to the heedless wheel of time

Sweet life springs forth
Rolls around
in the grass, in the hay
New and not new

Fixed on a near star
the seasons come and go
Lift our hearts
Seduce us with every beauty

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Morning Prayer / Evening Prayer_Day Night Detail

Once again, I have visited and emerged brimming with ideas from the Codex Book Fair. This year I braved the concrete floor and many hours on my feet to see my newest creation, Morning Prayer/Evening Prayer, on display at the Vamp and Tramp table. What a pleasure it is for me to be represented at this show! Though my quiet bookwork about the meditative hours of dawn and dusk may be a bit overwhelmed by the cacophony, no matter. It is out in the world now, and will find its way. I promise to write more soon about this new work.

Of course there were many more reasons than this to visit the show. This year, I marked my fair program with the dozen artists and makers I most wanted to see. To do this meant putting on blinders while I passed other tables beckoning with so much creative candy I could hardly stand it. This biannual book arts event in Richmond, California is held in the old Ford Auto Plant in the enormous Craneway Pavilion. The show had 219 tables of handmade books, as well as specialty bookmaking tools, materials, leathers and papers. Each table could easily take an afternoon to absorb. Other years I have gone and let myself wander to see where my meandering takes me, and happy those times have been also.

The miracle was to feel so connected to a relatively few artists amid the chaos and crush of people. For a while I forgot to take pictures, so didn’t capture the enigmatic jungle-rich prints and books of Luz Marina Ruiz at Lapis Lazuli Editions. Thank goodness for websites that allow us to visit again the work we have loved seeing!

The rich shimmery pastepapers of Madeleine Durham captivated me and proved to be the only purchase I made. This painted piece is on a fine sheet of Kozo paper.

Codex_Madeleine Durham Pastepaper

I enjoyed a quick stop at Casey Gardner’s Set in Motion press to visit her immaculate and imaginative work, and was delighted with her enthusiasm.

Shanna Leino‘s handmade tools provoked deep admiration, particularly her tiny bone folders made from old-fashioned lady’s fans. I also had productive research visits to  Hiromi Paper, Washi Arts, and Cave Paper, all makers and purveyors of exceptionally fine papers.

A surprising window of quiet let me have a welcome visit with my dear friend and teacher Suzanne Moore and a visit with her luxuriant books. Her work is a treasure and I never tire of discovering it.

Codex_Suzanne Moore_Emily Dickinson Book

It was Suzanne who first taught me the wonders of translucent paper, and here she has utilized the effect in a most marvelous way, letting us see the poetry on recto and verso pages at the same time, while still maintaining the sequential experience. And her lavish colors just make my eyes happy.

Codex_Suzanne Moore_Lettering

Here is one of her delightful “Q’s” from her series of books on that letter. So much inventiveness from a single letter!

Codex_Suzanne Moore_Q

Her husband Don Glaister is making marvelous creations with aluminum pages, contrasted with the airy feeling of Walt Whitman’s verse on sheer vellum.

Codex_Don Glaister

Finally, at the end of the day, when I had such sensory overload I thought I could not absorb one more wonder, I made the altogether fortuitous decision to visit the table of an artist I did not know, Maro Vandorou. A friend, Georgia Angelopolous, did some Greek lettering for this book and told me about it. Once there I drifted through a portal into a very quiet place indeed, an enchantment of photographs, materials and story that was very moving. Persephone’s Chamber is a journey of transfiguation.

Codex_Maro Vandorou_Georgia Angeloupoulos

I have a deep connection to the Persephone story, as I think many of us do: her visit to the underworld, by choice or no, there to become something else, transforming from a girl into the Queen of the Dead, or perhaps simply mist and light. Everything about this book was soft and mysterious and oh so beautiful. After the pictures was this delicate text. The whole experience took my breath away, or rather caused to me let it out in a long, long sigh.

Codex_Maro Vandorou_Persephone

Finally, a visit to Jan Owen‘s table offered not only her intricate calligraphic books, many written on pages of gauzy Hollytex, but a bracing statement of one of our most important founding documents, the First Amendment.

Codex_Jan Owen_First Amendment

So many of the works I saw made use of translucent papers. These diaphanous pages let the light shine through, seeming insubstantial and yet strong, allowing deeper layers to be seen and to emerge slowly. To me this is the delight and the duty of art, to let us see the in-between spaces where nothing is quite what we thought it was, allowing discoveries about ourselves and other people. We are living in such black and white times that the ability to see nuances and layers is sweet, and rare.

Though the show was full of the physical exchange of objects, the deeper transactions were the opportunities to see one another and our creative work. Most artists work alone, and every artist I know has played the refrain “I’m not a real book artist” (or ______ fill in the blank). Sales might help this self-doubt, but most artists will tell you our deepest happiness comes when someone really “sees” our work. It is only by making our art, and then by sharing it with the world, that we can shine our light, and be illuminated in return. It is how we “ordain” each other.

At the end of the day, I was flush with inspiration, enlightened and grateful by the outpouring of beauty in that great room full of artists.

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Come in, Bride!

Brigid Eve Altar

Brigid Eve

Quickly now.
Sweep the hearth.
Dress the altar
with daffodils and flowering quince
from the wild verges.
Add small things.
A blue pitcher of holy Glastonbury water,
a jar of poppy seeds,
a quill for me, and a crystal inkwell.
Grandmother’s anvil,
and from my daughter
a tiny twin of the Newgrange spiral stone,
portal of dark tomb, ancestral womb.
Lastly, woven by my hands from western wheat,
Her sunwise cross.

Over the thousand miles and years
I keep to the old housewifery.
Light the candles.
Tie the muslin strip to the sacred tree.
My worktable is still,
and the teakettle is on.
For tonight She comes
to bless me,
and I have made ready.

Come in, Bride!
You are a thousand times welcome!

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Holy Water at Brigidtide

Creek Goddess

She Rises

I have news for you:
The creek swells, ducks dive, the dry time has gone.
Trees tremble in winter storms, deep green the land;
Shadows long, sweet the sun, warmth wanted.
The hawk sings in a sapphire sky.
On the ground, souls quicken, breathe clouds.
This is my news.

As we move into the early spring and toward Brigidtide, poetry again enchants me. This was written after the evocative ninth century Irish poem, which you can read here. The photo was taken on a chilly late afternoon walk after much rain. With the goddess Brigid on my mind, she seemed to appear in my image, her breasts, her belly, in the holy water. Yes, she rises.

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Blessing the Year Old and New

Blessing of the Hands

A Blessing of Hands

I warm my hands at the fire of my soul.
My hands that broke my fall last spring.
My hands that grasped the walker, clasped the brace,
all summer, all autumn.
My hands that wrote and rested.

Other hands cut me and healed me.
Other hands held me and fed me.
All hands reached out, to and from me.
Some hands gave, some hands took.

May my heart live in love at the hearth of my home.
May my spirit be kindled at the forge of my art.
May my words be steady and true
as my hand makes, as my voice speaks.

Deep in this winter night
my cold hands stir and sift my soul,
a trace of faint inklings
to flourish and nourish me in all the hours
of this new year.

– Cari Ferraro

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Endarkenment on the Longest Night

Longest Night Card Altar

When the longest night of year is here
Our friends and family gather near
To light a candle against the night
And warm our spirits in the wonder of light

The longest night of the northern year arrives tonight, and for a few moments, the world stills.

Since writing the verse illustrated in this card, the first I ever created for Yule, I have made a more serious study of embracing the shadow, polishing my skill with endarkenment. Since I was young I practiced this in the night, forgoing a light that I might find my way by my other senses. It is a way of playacting at blindness – what would it feel like to not see?

And yet, and yet . . . our need for light is primal and ancient. We may learn to be comfortable in the fertile dark, but it is in our nature to resist it by bringing light. At my age, I no longer walk in a dark house. It is safer for me to see my path. This year, many of us collectively feel a dangerous darkness drawing near; we will need all of our skills.

Tonight though, I will rejoice in the simple magic of sitting in a darkened circle with my dear ones. In this quiet dark we will light a sun candle, and then another for the Mother, and then my grown children will run! through the house and turn on every light! It is our oldest ritual, and one they still love. And thus will I warm my bewildered spirit.

Blessed Yule to all, as the holy Wheel turns again!

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