The Pie and I

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ON THE OCCASION OF GOING VISITING ON THANKSGIVING DAY

As the years go by

I

Become more fond of pie.

(Apple, pumpkin, cherry,

Rhubarb, or blueberry,

Strawberry…

Even gooseberry…)

The fruity sweetness.

The crusty crispness.

(Well…

maybe a scoop of BlueBell.)

Would it be so wrong

If the pie I promised

Had one piece gone?

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What the Birds Say

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“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” -Maya Angelou

When I go for walks, my favorite soundtrack is the sound of birds, and I have been noticing how the soundtrack changes through the course of the year, through the hours of the day. In summer, I was always accompanied by the cooing of mourning doves and the calls of cardinals. More recently, the mockingbirds have been taking center stage. Evenings are always filled with the raucous cries of grackles. With all due respect to Dr. Angelou, not all birds sing – but they all have something to say and it is always worth hearing. The sketch above was done at the monastery I visit in Nepal, where I became convinced that the swallows outside my window, were reciting mantras about the vastness of the sky…

Waking Up

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Navigating that space between sleeping and being fully awake is often a very personal thing. I admire those who go immediately to the meditation cushion or head out to the running trail. I smiled this morning when my writer friend posted on her blog about the important role coffee plays in her own routine. I’m like that myself, even to the point of sometimes hurrying off to bed in anticipation of that wonderful cup of lavender-flavored coffee sweetened with honey that will greet me the next morning! Dr. Meg Fitzellen, the main character in my current novel-in-progress (THE FOURTH TIME), shares this predilection. In the passage below, she is waking up on her first morning back at her archaeology field site in Belize.

“Blending with the steady beat of rain on the tin roof, Meg could discern the rhythmic sounds of Indra going through her yoga practice just the other side of the paper thin wall that separated their rooms… Meg envied Indra the gentle discipline of yoga, but had never been able to commit to it herself, tending to get over enthusiastic and pull muscles anytime she tried it. Meg’s wakeup routine centered on coffee. That was what was on her mind as she rolled out of bed and pulled on her field pants and work shirt. She pushed her boots to one side, pulled the rubber flip-flops from under the bed and rolled up her pants legs in anticipation of wading to the kitchen where she hoped Elodia would have coffee ready.”

A Question of Balance

 

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During the first weekend of EAST Austin Studio Tour, 2014 edition, I had some wonderful, insightful conversations with my guests about my paintings and about art in general. It was a very rewarding experience except for one minor detail: Nobody bought anything. I had good sales during the 2013 tour, so I guess I had expectations for 2014 as well.

A young high school student sat down with me late Sunday afternoon in the waning hours of the first weekend’s tour to interview me for a class assignment. “What is the point of making art?” he wanted to know. I rambled on about the importance of the viewer as well as the artist in completing a work of art. “The goal of art is to engage the viewer, to get them to stop for a moment and engage with something more than daily life.”

With that as a goal, my first weekend of EAST was clearly a success. Numerous visitors were engaged enough to hang around and talk about my pieces. Some took the time to read the accompanying poems posted with several of the paintings, poems from my fellow writers at Austin Zen Center’s Tuesday night writing group.

Maybe this weekend someone will feel engaged enough with one of my paintings to want to take it home with them. We are open at 702 Shady Lane from 11-6 both Saturday and Sunday.

(The painting above is entitled, “A Question of Balance.” It is available.)

Obliterated

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Artists sometimes do odd things.

One of my favorite sites on my visit to Prague in winter of 2003 was the John Lennon Wall, where countless fans and tourists had posted layer after layer of tributes and expressions of devotion. It was beautiful and inspiring.

Today I read the news that a group of art students had taken it upon themselves to white out the entire wall! This was supposed to represent the beginning of a new era in honor of the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” and the inscription “Wall Is Over” was intended to be “an allusion to the subtitle of Lennon’s song ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’.” However, the act of overpainting the wall inevitably evoked as well the Communist era in Czechoslovakia; during the 1980s, the Lennon wall was repeatedly painted over by Communist authorities in Prague.

The very notion of “starting over” is misguided. We always work with what already exists, for better or worse. All these art students have succeeded in doing is in imposing their own idea of a massive blank canvas over hundreds and thousands of other ideas and messages, layered into a public space that was allowed to belong to everyone. The students acted in an authoritarian way that I find flies in the face of the legacy of the Velvet Revolution they sought to honor.

(Read the article from HyperAllergic here.)

Images Have Power

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Art is not just stuff. Art is a physical manifestation of the heart, an expression of the human spirit, a bridge linking minds across languages, transcending ideas. Images have power. Art is subversive.

This little video emerged on my Facebook newsfeed this morning, only days after the announcement that a wealthy Chinese businessman had bought a painting by French Impressionist Edouard Manet for a record (for this artist) $65.1 million. China is producing some of the most voracious and deep-pocketed art collectors in the contemporary world, as well as some of the wealthiest artists. China has also produced Ai Weiwei.

I have no need to hang a Manet in my own home. I prefer Ai Weiwei and yellow origami umbrellas.

Different Kinds of Vultures

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Last night I was privileged to attend a screening of Russell O. Bush’s award-winning documentary, “Vultures of Tibet,” a beautiful little movie about sacred rituals and secular appetites. The film is about the Tibetan tradition of “sky burial,” in which the bodies left behind by deceased persons are taken to high holy places and offered to the vultures. Where we say “dust to dust”, I guess they might say “flesh to flesh.” The film was also about the intrusion of tourists – mostly Chinese, but westerners as well – into this sacred tradition and thus about people feeding their ignorance and macabre emotions with misunderstood images and actions. Bush was treading on dangerous and ambiguous ground, calling attention to these rituals in order to argue that the people who practice them ought to be left alone. He succeeded remarkably well, intimately filming hands instead of faces and even having expatriate Tibetans re-record the voices in order to fully protect the identities of the people who worked with him in Tibet. As an anthropologist, I congratulate him on his cultural sensitivity. As a Buddhist, I thank him for his sincere efforts to understand a tradition that westerners too often discount as merely bizarre. If this film comes your way, don’t miss it!

http://vulturesoftibet.com/russellobush

Day of the Dead

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My novel, Way of the Serpent, includes a scene in which my youthful 111-year-old heroine spends the Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, where she is enjoying her ninth ten-year sabbatical. It is the year 2125… I thought it would be fun to share this passage with you today! 

Jenda awoke the next morning with a sense of dread. Did she really want to get into all of this? Luis anticipated such a state of mind. He put his arm across Jenda’s body and pulled her closer. “Let’s not work today,” he said. “Let’s just close the gallery and go for a walk and let you recover some more. It’s a good day for a walk – it’s a holiday in some of the old neighborhoods and we can enjoy the fun.”

Jenda was relieved. “What holiday? What day is today anyway?” She had lost track.

“It’s the first of November – el Dia de los Muertos!” Luis announced.

“Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun. Dead people day?” Jenda pulled the covers back up around her chin and stared at Luis, who was laughing. She glared at him.

“Sorry, mi amor. I guess it’s not a very important holiday in your culture.” He shrugged. “Not even very important in mine anymore, but some of the people still enjoy it.” And he explained that it was a day when people honored their ancestors – the deceased ones. Of course, not so long ago, almost all of one’s ancestors were deceased.

“Not like today, when you can just go visit your grandparents at their apartment instead of at the cemetery. Even your great-great-grandparents if you happen to be Gen4! Much nicer today,” Jenda said. She was still scowling. “Nobody goes to cemeteries anymore.”

“Well, some of these people do,” Luis explained. “Most of them don’t, though. For most people it has just become a day to get together with family and friends and enjoy music and dancing and good food and sweet cakes shaped like little skulls.”

“Ewww!” Jenda hid her face in the pillow. “You’re just trying to make me sick again!”

“No, no! I promise you, querida! They are delicious cakes and the skulls don’t look realistic at all. They look more like… like little clown faces.”

“Luis!! You know I hate clowns!” Jenda moaned.

Luis was laughing again. He knew. “Oh, come on. Just get over yourself and come along and see if you can have some fun doing some of the crazy things your crazy boyfriend’s crazy people do!”

He got up and held out his hand. His smile was that warm, engaging, big-as-the-world smile that had attracted Jenda to him from the outset. Jenda playfully held back for a moment, then grasped his hand firmly, raised herself slowly from the bed and, in her best deadpan voice, said, “Okay then. Let’s go play with your crazy dead people!”