Sunday, February 3, 2013

New haven, Connections

My project is titled New haven, Connections. I will find a different, new, haven, i.e. some kind of a refuge or safe spot for art, in public space, by which I mean, out of our house and off of our land, but it could be on or off campus, rural, urban or suburban. In this haven I will improvise a piece, whether a song, a dance, or an installation of some kind. I will document this by writing it up on my blog each day, and also by photographing or videoing where possible, either by asking an onlooker or doing it myself. I'll also post a link to my blog on Facebook.
I'm starting tomorrow, Feb 4, and continuing through late April at least.

The title needs some explanation. It is a dedication to my mother, who was born in New Haven, CT; on her marriage certificate with my Dad, which was issued by the tiny village in France where they married in 1947, her birthplace appears as "New Havey, Connections". We've heard about this since we were little, and recently I had to get a copy of the marriage certificate for government purposes and sure enough, there it is. She is now 88, we lost my Dad last year, and while she is not on her way out, yet, she is definitely getting ready for own exit. I have come to experience her death as akin to another birth. (See my previous post.)

I dreamed the title for the piece on the night after coming to class. There is a story to this too. After I left class I walked down towards the duckpond, and saw a fox, very large, red, and vigorous, which stopped and looked at me, turned and left, and then turned around and looked at me again. A little further down I could smell the fox which reminded me of living in England and Ireland. Then I found on the ground a big wasp's nest, blown down from a tree, which I picked up and took with me. I realized the wasp's nest smelled of fox, I was taking the scent with me: the fox must have marked it. (Both nest and scent being 'indexes'.) So my bedroom is now permeated with the scent of wild fox, as are my dreams.

An important part of what I want to do artistically has to do with expanding our reference or context beyond our own species. We have become more and more self-referent over the centuries, and other species, as aware beings with whom we share space and resources, are seen as separate and secondary. Perhaps Conceptual Art as a movement takes this to the final degree: we disappear up our own navels or assholes in order to make the conventions of art fall apart, a gain in consciousness that only a human brain could encompass. In another way I guess maybe the aim (of conceptual art) is to push us back into a more wholistic brain by pushing us all the way into the frontal cortex so as to show it for what it is. I am emboldened by your title, Art After Conceptual Art, to do something that gestures at least, no maybe it really moves, towards an art that is embedded in the rest of  nature. I'm thinking Andy Goldsworthy of course, though not exactly the same.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A treatise on grief

It seems it's time to write a treatise on grief. Only I don't understand much about it. What I can write is descriptive: how it ambushes. How I suddenly feel like complete shit. Why would anyone want to know about this? Why should anyone feel like this? The Buddhists say all suffering comes from attachment. Some New-Agers say it comes from our thoughts. I don't see it. I could maybe think or meditate my way out of this: think how death is really just a change of state. How Dad is still and always will be with me. I'm intellectually and practically used to the fact that he is no more, in an everyday, fleshly way. But all that makes no difference to these feelings.

Here I am and my main job is to love my mother. Why is that so important, at the end stage (or pre-end stages: she may live for years yet) of her life? I never had children of my own, so this is my lifetime experience of mothering: being mother to my mother. And I think she is maybe being loved more, in a day to day, affectionate way, than she has ever been in her life. I am giving her the love she needs in order to die properly: to be born into death, whatever death may prove to be. Somehow this also gives me the love that I need, to live the rest of my life more fully. Or that's a story about what I'm doing that rings somehow true to me. My mother is getting ready to be born. She is growing up into death. (Or growing down into death, a la James Hillman.)

Nursing Dad until he died: loving him as best I could, being with him as he held me at a distance, as he went deeply into his own experience of his body and mind crumbling away, undertook his fiercely private final journey to we know not where. Intellectually, spiritually, I can make some kind of sense of this. Emotionally I am still devastated. Is there a way I could have done this better? Better for me, better for him? Is there work I can still do, still have to do, on understanding death? On knowing death, before my own time comes?

Oh, the secrets that emerge with death, the new understandings only hinted at before, about a life. Dad's long long life, 90 years of earnest reflection, conscientious duty, rebellious risk-taking, uncompromising honesty intertwined with a devotion to privacy and discretion, with a scientist's fearless quest to know, with his deeply (deceptively) self-sacrificing politeness. Gradual and long-drawn-out loss of the mental and physical abilities that defined his personality; and through the intimate indignities of illness the revelation of what was left: stubbornness, denial, the strongest will in the world to remain in control of his own body, his own life; the impossibility and the reality of becoming helpless, dependent. The older secrets, too, the defects of his most sterling qualities showing their underbellies; and in the process revealing the hardest truths about my own life, my growing up, my adult struggles with relationship. I adored my Dad, and I kept falling in love with his opposite, his Dorian Grey, his Mr. Hyde.

So I sit here weeping into my laptop, trying to find words. I'm thinking grief is just a given: an axiom. A rock-bottom truth, an empirical fact, unexplainable, inescapable, existential. Religious comfort of whatever kind can be a way around-- well, who am I to say it's not a way through, except it doesn't do that for me? My Dad, an avowed atheist (thought he wrote in his journal about God when he was young) surprised himself and us by experiencing God near the end. I have nothing against God. Maybe I haven't undertaken sufficient study of Buddhist knowledge of death and the dying process to say it's not relevant. But I think I'm talking about the timeless bedrock experience of grief: it just is. Losing someone is like losing a tooth or a limb, we are wrenched and ripped, it's a trauma, unacceptable, inescapable.

How do we heal trauma? It's a process, of course. In a larger perspective, it's one of the big challenges of our generation, of our time. If I think of healing the earth, it's obvious the first necessity for healing is to stop inflicting the trauma. True for people of course too. And after that, some kind of witnessing, of attentive and loving observation. Listening, remembering. Forgetting, too, so that life can take over with its mundane and miraculous power of going on. Yes, life goes on. Maybe that's the main thing.

But maybe also (here I am, thinking my way out of it, out of the rawness of grief) there's a very focused need for insight, for learning what there is to be learned. I think of the reconciliation process in South Africa. A need for acknowledgement, for sharing, for confession; sometimes for amputation. Ultimately, for love. For allowing love to flow again, more fully, more consciously, more committedly. Letting love take us somewhere new. I guess maybe that is where God comes in, if we allow it. Pain comes from love, not from attachment. If we can accept the pain, then the love is what we have. Love which we can never wish to have been without. Love in all its thorniness. Its thorny and divine humanness. What we're part of.

Friday, April 22, 2011

on the other side now...

After a two year (!) gap, here I am with a new post! So much has changed, but here I am, still working with the edges of art and shamanism. Feeling ready to write again after a long pause, and still liking the blog as an outlet, the perfect publishing form... (Thank you Rachel for your inspiration!)

So I pick up the threads, on the other side of the water: back from Ireland, back from nearly 30 years overseas, living again with my parents in the house I grew up in, which I left over forty years ago, at age 17... seventeen, can I believe I was really once so young? So impatient to get away, still needing to learn everything about who I was.

Now I'm grateful for every single thing I've lived in the years since, all the gruelling relationship battles, all the stressful travels and delicious and horrible meals, all the music, all the landscapes, all the inner and outer journeys... bringing so much more consciousness to the fibers I'm made of: yeah, the fibers are conscious! Sinews and bones and synapses... Grateful for all the lakes, seas, rivers, pools I've swum in, all the groups I've played and danced in, every person I've kissed or hugged. All the beds I've slept in, and those I've slept with in them! All the gardens I've planted and tended and left behind... the friends I've laughed with. The cats I've fed and stroked and yelled at and sneezed because of.

Teachers all.

Now my mother is 86, and we laugh and sing together over breakfast. Some times she is accurate and lucid, humorous and wise, sometimes she can't remember what you already just told her six times in the last ten minutes. I love and appreciate her more than I ever have. My father is 89, and is just in the process of deciding he doesn't want any more treatment for his cancer which has already spread, certainly to his lungs and probably to his liver. He doesn't always let me close, but, as he seems to make more peace with his own condition, he opens up in little bits at a time. All I want is for him to let me help him: but have to respect his process even if he needs to reject my help. I try just to be there in the gentlest possible way.

Strangely, for being supposedly "retired" and a totally free agent, I am hugely busy and occupied with my own creative process, spraying in all directions like a hydrant opened up on a hot summer day!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

SHAMAN : ARTIST Performance and workshop

Back in Ireland... on Friday 22 May, in Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland, I will be sharing the new work I have been doing (with support from the Arts Council of Ireland), bringing together improvised sound and movement in a meditative, ritual space. The intention is to move together into a different state of awareness where we-- both myself and the auidence-- will be open to spirit and to our own intuitive mind.

The space where I work is an integral part of the process: it is An Sanctoir, a beautiful wooden-floored octagonal building whose atmosphere and acoustics give an incredible support to both sound and spirit. You can check it out on

Last year I began this project in cooperation with, and inspired by, dancer Tara Brandel, playing with and crossing the boundaries between music and dance. We were fortunate to receive a bursary award from the Arts Council to continue and deepen these explorations, already begun over ten years ago. Other boundaries have come into play, and into question, as well: between artist and shaman, between performance and ritual, between creation and meditation, between art and healing. Tara is not able to join me this spring, but her spirit is here and I am grateful for the opportunity to get clearer about what I am doing, on my own.

I have been working with improvisation in a very pure and unstructured form: allowing sound and movement to arise from the moment, where as soon as they begin they take on a life of their own. The structures create themselves, with influences of course from shamanism and from the musical traditions I've worked within.

I've always felt that music is the bearer of spirit and healing, and that any concert is a form of ritual, transporting its audience into an altered state, providing spiritual food of one kind or another, depending on its genre. The great sacred musical works of the past-- Bach's Passions, Mozart's Requiem, medieval and renaissance liturgical music-- continue to form an important part of our culture's spiritual life. So in creating my own new work, it has not been such a huge leap to look for an expression of my own spiritual life in the context of performance.

My performance will invite the audience to participate in a deep meditative space (small children might not be up for this!) On Saturday and Sunday there will be a workshop, in An Sanctoir's beautiful, resonant octagonal space, which will be an opportunity for anyone who wants to go further into this process, and will be a joint creation of all who take part.


Performance: donation € 10 - € 20, all proceeds to An Sanctoir (
Workshop: sliding scale of € 60 - € 120.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Picking up the threads

I just watched the DVD of Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides with both my parents. I had the idea when I saw it first, last week with friends in New Mexico, that I'd like to share it with my parents, so I went ahead and ordered it from Amazon even though it's not necessarily 'their kind of thing'; and one of the very reasons I wanted them to see it was also what made me a bit nervous about showing it to them, namely that one of its subjects is death, as part of the flow and river of life. Both Mother and Dad were spell-bound throughout; surprisingly Mother was more unqualified in her appreciation, while Dad found it 'strange' as well as beautiful and restful.

I just find it inspiring. Goldsworthy has such a gift of taking his work seriously with no trace of self-importance. Some of his work blends so seamlessly and beautifully into its natural surroundings; and some is startling, jarring, almost garish, even though all the materials originate right there, as part of those surroundings. The extreme temporariness of some pieces highlights the impermanence of everything, even stone. The movement of water, air, and more solid things under the influence of water and air, echos the movement going on inside my body, makes me feel I am dancing. Goldsworthy's presence as he is working or talking to the camera is also a thread or river of awareness, visible in his eyes and felt in the sometimes hesitant, slow flow of his words. The camera also being the thing that makes it all possible: the recording eye preserving fragile moments of beauty.

Mean while I've been improvising the slow flow of my life: washed up here again in Pennsylvania where spring is barely hinting its arrival: snowdrops blooming among grass still brown from frost; since Portland, and snow, and five weeks of intensity, group process, my own issues, acquiring a new family of friends while re-connecting with decades-old threads of my past, circling back twenty years and more even while breaking new ground; then visiting cousins, old lovers, old and new colleagues, new friends, including landscapes that have been in my dreams for thirty years, in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin County; then on to New Mexico, meeting old friends in a new place, greedy for the spiritual experience of the desert and the mountains, as the weather veered from dry and warm, to blizzards of snow.

Circling back here to the house where I grew up, and to a weekend of rare contact with my two sisters, the three of us sharing and exchanging experiences, memories, dynamics, feelings, late into the night and then out for a walk the next morning, re-balancing, sensing our three individual personalities, distinct, related.

So I am needing to land here a bit longer, to sort out my impressions and my ever-expanding luggage, focus on where I am going and what I am doing on the way... and adjust to the fact that all the things I thought I was doing in March and April--rehearsals, shamanic darkness retreat--
turn out not to be happening after all, so I am freer even than I thought, with the challenge of freedom within travel bookings, coping with luggage and instruments, conscious of how I keep constructing my own constraints, my own parameters, working to allow myself both to discover, and to do, what it is I most want and need to do. How much structure, how much movement, how much solitude, how much community, what are my responsibilities, what are my potentials. Where are my dreams pointing. What circles need completing, what possibilities are calling. Where does spirit lead.

Yes: what new adventures in dreamtime? What is the work that needs doing now?

More soon...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dreamtime in Portland

Time races on... I have crossed another continent, delayed by a day by snow in Philadelphia, so that I was in the air as Obama swore his oath and gave his speech and gave GW Bush a big hug before waving him off in his helicopter. After watching it all on CNN I could transfer my attention to the snow-covered view of the Rocky Mountains, then, as we descended to Portland (Oregon), three white conical volcanic peaks near the city. And now, snow in Portland. It's beautiful. I walk up and down the hills and get my circulation racing. Another western edge of a continent, like Ireland, and I expected the milder winter weather I've gotten used to, but no, it's frigid here as well.

Not in the Process Work Institute, though, where 32 people from almost as many different countries have gathered for a five week intensive course in Arnold Mindell's techniques and approach to Innerwork, and Group work, and Worldwork: ways of delving into conflicts, symptoms, the unknown, the unconscious, the dreamtime... to find the ways forward, the hidden gifts buried in the parts of our experience that most of the time we'd rather ignore or get rid of!

The central learning for me, or the central challenge: I love coming into the present moment, the delicious aliveness of all the sensations of right now; and this always energises me to such an extent, with waves of inspiration, and thrilling ambitious visions of what is possible, that I am quickly whisked out of the moment and a long way into dazzling future dreams, hijacked out of the moment again and into plans and schemes. How can this process become a continuously nourishing feedback loop, rather than a recipe for frustration, impatience, disappointment, exhaustion? Sometimes I think the answer, the integration, is only around the corner... And sometimes I realise it is right here now. I want to ride it! I want to share it! Come with me!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


In the beginning there was light everywhere, but one round hole full of darkness. The first creature to find his way out of a hole in the hole of darkness was Giraffe-- because of his long neck he found the hole to come out into a flat world of light. Second came Scorpion, with his eight legs like a spider and sting in the end of his tail, and quickly after Scorpion there was a human baby. There were no leaves for Giraffe to eat and no milk for the baby, so they journeyed for a long time over the flat world filled with light. There was one tree but it had no leaves on it, and near the tree was and old, old woman sitting by a fire. Scorpion asked the old woman about leaves for Giraffe, and food for the baby, and after some time she made a deep gash in the earth, so that darkness could come out into that never-ending brightness for the first time, and there was night.
After a time there came wind and rain in the night, and the rain was good. The one tree with no leaves began to grow leaves, so Giraffe could eat. And the baby turned its faceup to the rain and drank, and the woman put it on a rock near her fire so it could grow.
When day came again Giraffe and Scorpion conferred together, because they both felt something was still needed, and they decided to go separate ways. Giraffe went towards the mountains where a forest was beginning to grow, and with his long neck and his flexible lips and his strong teeth he found the berries that were growing high in the trees, and he brought them back for the baby to eat. Meanwhile Scorpion went in the opposite direction, into the bright, hot desert, where after a time he found an egg. The egg was large, large enough to fit many human babies inside, and its shell was luminous with rainbows of colour that encircled it from end to end. So Scorpion brought the egg back with him to where the old woman waited, and where the baby was eating berries and growing on a rock, and the rainbows on the egg glowed and sparkled and expanded and unfurled as the old woman prepared the egg for hatching. And when the egg hatched and opened what came out were words, all the words for all the things that yet existed, and for all the thoughts that had yet been thought.
And the baby laughed and began to play with all the words.