Tuesday, December 21, 2010

cooking with lightning

2010 has kept some tricks up its sleeve to lay on the table right before it heads out the door.

In October a single bolt of lightning struck the middle of a quiet New Haven intersection on a sunny day just dozens of feet from me and several others waiting to cross the street. A giant boom and a flash of brilliant white light, like an explosion, and then nothing else at all. No rain, nothing damaged, no further thunder, just car alarms set off all around, while everyone including myself froze in place trying to comprehend, except for one woman who laughed with unbound joy as she skipped down the street.

The next day, on the opposite side of the same block, I ran into a street prophet. He first asked for money to help him get a train to Maryland to see his son for the first time in 21 years. When I had none to offer, he hit on me. When that didn't work, he began telling me about Jesus, and told me to ask him any question I had about God. I thought hard, and then told him earnestly that though I have many questions about the world and about myself, I have no questions about God. He hesitated, and then for the first time in his lengthy monologue asked permission to tell me something, and I agreed. What followed was spoken in a different voice and tone, and something I can only consider to be a prophecy for my future, a good one, that I am keeping close at hand.

I've wondered since then about my having no questions about God. I didn't notice that before. I believe in God and I think about God and religion and spirituality a lot of the time. I ponder how I can best live my life in tune with God. I wonder why people care so much about the details of different religions that appear to them to be in conflict. But about God, himself, herself, itself, whatever- I don't wonder or worry, or try to understand with logical thinking. Should I be relieved about that, or does it mean I'm lazy or missing something if I don't have questions?

I contemplate this as I continue a long hermit interlude, slowly piecing my kitchen back together with all the details carefully considered. It is an overdue home improvement, but it's deeper then just that. With my new wheat allergy the need to learn how to cook has bullied itself into being a priority in my daily existence. Resistant to this at first as a life-long hater of cooking, putting so much love into the kitchen through my language of paint is changing my feelings about feeding myself for the better. And as I go, I learn even more about kitchens and food, and how they are so closely linked to God.

Photo above, the kitchen with its newly recovered wood floor, once under brown linoleum. Below, the floor before deep sanding and polyurethane.

Monday, December 06, 2010


A New Haven ally, Erika, has been leading gatherings of intentional doll making and blogging about it on Each Day is a Present (added to my links over there on the right.) We talked about dolls and discovered that one she made recently has come to serve the same purpose for her as my Bambola doll does for me. She had a lot of interesting things to say about this, so I'll let you read it yourself in her Dolls as Guides post, in which she included Bambola.

I made Bambola 16 years ago, out of discarded painters' canvas and found objects when I would sit nervously for hours in my studio trying to get up the courage to take on the wild streets of Rome. Carrying a horned faceless doll certainly helped keep the roving packs of girl-hunting Romans at bay. But more courage was gained from the hours and days of stitching with this need in mind. Making objects by hand is powerful meditation when there is a strong and specific intention. It is spell-casting.

I added some doll and Baba Yaga folk lore to Erika's post:

"A merchant had, by his first wife, a single daughter, who was known as Vasilisa the Beautiful. When she was eight years old, her mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilisa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little to eat and a little to drink if she were in need, and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died, Vasilisa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it comforted her. After a time, her father remarried to a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to her, but with the help of the doll, Vasilisa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her." More on "Vasilisa the Beautiful" at Wikipedia.

"An example is the fairy tale of 'Vasalisa with a Doll in Her Pocket' in Estes' chapter 'Nosing Out the Facts: Gathering Intuition as Initiation [Women Who Run With the Wolves].' Vasalisa loses her good mother early and is plagued with a wicked stepmother and stepsisters who make her a servant -- not an uncommon fairytale structure. Her true mother left her a magic doll to always keep in her pocket to guide her. When the step-women send her into the woods to the powerful witch Baba Yaga for fire, expecting Vasalisa will never return, the doll guides her way and saves her by helping her give the dangerous witch the right answers. When she escapes and returns with the witch's fire it consumes the bad women. Estes explains that the Vasalisa story illustrates intuition as a mother's gift to her daughter. Intuition is symbolized by the doll, teaching Vasalia to pay attention, hold onto (and trust) the doll, gather the facts. The story is a tale of the rite of 'the old female Goddess, Baba Yaga,' initiating the girl into adulthood and a dark world where she has the power within her to survive." -Linda Ashar. More here.

Bambola has been a lot of places with me, and taken a lot of ware and tear. I just noticed the little Amalfi coast sea shell necklace that was sort of like a rattle when Bambola shook broke off. I'm looking forward to the repair.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Jimmy Chin

(Me stalking Jimmy Chin in Trailblazer.)

It just so happens that Robin Hirsch, a draper I sometimes stitch for at the Yale School of Drama costume shop, is also a rock climber who has met all of the men in the Chiru book. It just so happened that one of our co-workers spotted a sign in town that one of those men, Jimmy Chin, would be giving a talk at the Yale Law School, 2 blocks from where we work. So Robin and I ventured forth a couple of weeks ago with some Chiru books in hand to go meet him at the reception at Trailblazer. I was so nervous I got too giddy to talk, but Robin pushed in and made the introduction. He had no idea a children's book had been made about the chiru journey. I gave him a copy, and we signed books for each other. He was the loveliest person. His slide talk was magnificent. He skied down Everest. Yes, I said he skied down Everest. I wish I'd seen the talk during the time I was painting that book.

He we are signing books, and a serious group photo followed by a silly group photo.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

fall north

My annual autumn ramble north. This time home to see my mum and the Puppets in the Green Mountains festival all around southern Vermont, with a stops to get my fiddle fixed, see great art and some very huge and inspiring braided rugs. Then camping at a fire performers retreat where the prayer ties on my camp site brought the wind in force, but my increasingly luxurious set up with cot and the blue jean rug kept my fine new tent grounded.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

a day's work

is not so much work when it's at a place like this. It was 3 days work this weekend that I chauffeured a wedding party at this seaside home, and was reunited with my beloved 15 passenger Festival van. The weather and the views were paradise. The people were really nice. The coffee breaks overlooking the regatta marvelous.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

case work details

More of my lame sonore case (especially for Natalia the Saw Lady, who I'm honored to have as an occasional visitor here. She rocks.) The jersey-covered chipboard bow box (above), the flap side (below), and the heavy black canvas interior (that will hopefully stand up against the saw teeth) with snaps!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

case work

Feeling serious about my saw, and worried about the safety of my exposed bow and the arms of passers-by as I lug sharp metal teeth down the street to rehearsal, I made a custom fit case, including pockets for bow and rosin and leather shoulder strap. Still waiting for snaps for the pockets, but it's a happy saw outfit now. It only looks a little like a rifle.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Muses come to the spirit, and the spirit is the crossroads of the mind and the body. Inspiration is felt in the hands as much as the head. The fingertips ache to push into clay while the mind can see a form as if it already exists. It swells in the belly and the chest, and not answering what wants to be born will cause trouble and physical pains. Fingers cramp, thoughts scatter. Best to follow what calls. I've got an absurd number of projects going on, but I'm a taut string that can't resist the vibration. Especially with this: playing the saw in a great little show called Vaudevillain, and trying out my fiddle again after finally getting its bridge fixed. The saw needed a heap of de-rusting, so do I.

Meanwhile the rug still wants to grow, a few stitches at a time, and the kitchen is looking like someplace you'd buy really good cheese, except for the bathtub in the middle.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

hipstamatic renovation

The fall has me burrowing down deep to re-feather my nest, and I obsessively take pictures of it with the Hipstamatic application on my new iPhone.

Friday, September 17, 2010

spirals and the practical hands of destiny

Fortunate I am to have lots of friends with worn out pants. I lost count of how many are in the rug now. I'll keep going until I can beg no more jeans, or the rug is too heavy to move. The stitching tires my hands, as does the tedious painting and re-making of my kitchen. But bit by bit the spiraling path seems a little less stormy.

The woman in this video is able to say what I think about hands and spinning things much better then me. Listen:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

had I three ears

Yet again I found myself stuck in bed with a non-serious but incapacitating illness, taking up a new occupation to distract myself. Heat rash had me laying on ice packs for several days. With my scissors and some discarded jeans nearby, I started making a braided rug.

In the many hours this task kept my hands away from scratching, I thought of the 3 Fates, or the 3 Norns, or the 3 Weird Sisters, triplet hags who spin and weave the fortunes of men. As I cut and braided and cut and braided I pondered my fate. How had I gotten here, with this rash, my ass kicked from a camp teaching job? Where will I go next, after this, my 60th or so job in a long line of eclectic temporary jobs? Am I getting too old for all these strange employments? Will I ever not be poor? Will my need to do only work that has "meaning" always be the curse I was once told it would be?

But as I keep spiraling and sewing this continuous stormy sea-colored braid outward, I think I must be on the right road, no matter how rocky and twisting it persists on being. I cannot live as a straight path walker. The rash I thought would never go away finally did. Some new unexpected prospects are poking up around the next bend. I'll soon have a very nice denim rug on which to rest my investigating feet.

This rug is easy to make. Cut up your old jeans into 2 inch strips (making turns at top and bottom for longer strips) then braid, joining new strips in by tucking them into the braid. Then spiral the braid around, stitching the sides of the braids together. Keep it flat when sewing, wet it down to flatten more now and then as you go along.

Photos below: strips are a joy to cut with good Gingher sicissors; the spinning Norns at the foot of the tree of the world; and my heat rashed back (sparing you the full hideousness by removing the color).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

roaming Roma

I've been spending the afternoon walking around my old Rome neighborhood via Google Street View. It is unbelievable that technology has made this possible. I can still find my way through the streets I used to take to go to school, and to buy bread, and have cappuccino, and eat gelato at the Pantheon 15 years ago.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Giant Chicken Puppet v.2

The second session of Common Ground summer camp brought a whole new chicken. It was important that the second be different then the first, based on the drawings of a new group of kids. Early in the session, though, my body rebelled with a terrible case of heat sickness including an intolerable rash from hiking with my backpack, and then a vomit-virus, and then a bad cold with a fever. I was half delirious when I was cutting the cardboard chicken parts each night, and somehow it came out far bigger and heavier then intended. By the third week it was still in pieces, and I had no idea how it was going to work.

With some last minute night-before building help from fellow camp teacher Jasmine, and councilor Ralston volunteering to take the inside position in the performance so I could assist with the massive head, and despite a drizzle of rain just before (which is no good for a tempera-painted paper chicken, let me tell you), it just barely came together just in time. And thank goodness, because these kids were so excited for this chicken. I would have done anything not to disappoint them.

Chicken version 2 featured googly eyes made of rotisserie chicken containers and foam balls (invented by one of the campers) and also a second puppet of a worm for the chicken to chase with its functioning tongue.

Friday, August 13, 2010

alone at last

Though in the Polly costume I constantly, compulsively pull groups together and seek crowds and noise, I am at heart a hermit. Silence and solitude are ingredients I need as much as air and water. Six weeks of being a camp councilor with 200 children with 200 million questions to be answered was a monumental challenge. Today, at last, it is done, and finally I am in my studio, alone, with just the sound of the breeze through the screen, and the distant voices of people who need nothing from me. I am grateful for the incredible experience I just had. I'll miss the staff and the kids a lot. I am sick as a dog and still fighting an impossible heat rash. But right now I am quietly full of bliss, and I feel just like this:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

giant monkey puppet!

It looks like I never posted the first big puppet I did, Giant Monkey Puppet, at ECA when I was co-teaching the circus class there with Jake Weinstein. So here are pictures. Just like Common Ground the students planned, built, and operated with me and Jake just guiding with tech support, over most of a semester. The great feature of this one was eyes that moved and popped out.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Giant Chicken Puppet!

And here it was on the campers' last day, during the family picnic. I had to choose these 4 to be the puppeteers, which was easy as they'd come to class after class. The rest were appeased by being given bubbles, streamers and rattles to accompany us with. I took the inside position as the puppet had gotten too intense for a small person. My head puppeteer was an amazing fellow who held up that heavy head for our whole 20 minute show. We danced, we pecked at things and ate the camp staff. Best of all we laid 2 eggs, which got cheers from the surprised crowd. And for me, being inside, getting to see a stampede of feet around me with cheers and shouts, and occasional faces popping in from underneath to discover the secrets of the giant chicken puppet, that made the 3 very challenging and exhausting weeks completely, utterly fulfilling.

All the credit goes to these kids. They came up with the all the design, from the sunglasses and ukulele props, to the extra long extending neck, to the laying of eggs and the tossing of gummy worms, and the cowboy boots (which, well, turned out to be go-go boots). And they did all the work other then the heavy interior construction. Plus by the end they had specific theatrical requirements, like that the puppet be hidden until just the right moment of the picnic.

And now, to start another one all over again on Monday! (thanks to LB Stein for the photos, and getting me the job!)