Winged Creature on Trike by Ana Consuelo Matiella

This is the way the story goes…
You can’t sleep anymore this morning.  You can’t tell the difference between the dog snores and the snores of the guy next to you.  You are in Portland and the feeble January sun has not even made an attempt to rise.  You sit up in bed and look up at the purple streetlight and through the sheer curtain, it looks like a winged creature has perched itself there.  And you look again. You tell yourself it is just the glare of the light through the fabric of the transparent curtain combined with your blurred early morning vision. 
This is your vision now, at your age, before coffee. 
And all the time you stare at the streetlight you think of your life, not here in Portland where you are now, but in your other home, in Santa Fe, where by this time you could hear the coyotes howling and the wind whispering through the cottonwood’s dry leaves, the ones that stubbornly hold on and never fall to the ground. You now imagine how the Sangres would look if you got up and looked north from the kitchen window as you wait for your coffee to make that sound it makes when it’s ready, or how the Ortiz mountains would look if you looked south from the den.
Like in a fast dream you realize that only seconds have passed since you have been staring at the streetlight, and you see the winged creature glide down. 
As you get out of bed, you know it’s not your bad vision. Now you know there really was some winged creature thing sitting on top of the light pole like a bored angel.  And when you rush to the window to move the curtain and get a better look at where the thing landed, you see an old Asian lady rummaging through your recycling can.  She is wearing a Coolie hat over her knit cap and baggy, oversized gloves.  She looks up holding an empty diet Coke can and she shakes it at you like a rattle. 
You wave back, embarrassed as if you have her caught her doing something private.  She hurries down your driveway, mounts her giant tricycle and peddles away. 
Now the purple dawn turns into a wet silver morning, and you see her canvas coat flapping in the wind as she rides down the shiny street.
And you tell yourself, “What is a phantasm, anyway, if not a figment of your imagination?”
But you are not convinced.

Miriam Sagan on Nancy Holt

The great land artist Nancy Holt died earlier this month. Coincidentally, I’d been writing about her for a rather eccentric memoir piece I’ve been working on. Working title–“Geographic” as in the mental health slang phrase “pull a geographic.” (i.e. “Those junkies should have gone into rehab but instead they just pulled a geographic and left Brooklyn for Vermont, hoping it would work.”) The memoir is about my relationship to time and space.
So here, in honor of Nancy Holt:

I identified with Nancy Holt because she and I were both married to men named Robert who died young.
However, her husband was Robert Smithson.
Her work fascinated me because so much of it was about location.
We lived in the same town, knew people in common, but when I heard her lecture I sat in the back and was overcome with unaccustomed shyness as she signed a copy of her book.
I published poems about her but was too embarrassed to send them to her.
She seemed “real” in some kind of luminous way, although rationally I assumed she was quite ordinary in her daily life.
She was a tie to a mythic age of heroic artistic endeavor, but more than that, her art shocked me. I did not know that anyone could think like that (although it was a way I was perilously close to myself).
I walked in her piece Dark Star Park in suburbs outside of Washington. D.C. Although the site is about location in time, it also seemed to be about grief.
Each year we unwittingly pass the day of our deaths. And when young, passed dates we couldn’t yet see–anniversaries both ecstatic and abysmal.
I have never seen Holt’s iconic work, Sun Tunnels, although I was close. I was living in a tiny trailer out on the salt flats in Utah, in the abandoned Wendover air force base. Easy to say, but not that easy to do–scary, windy, desolate.
I shared this residency with the Center for Land Use Interpretation with a young photographer from East Berlin, call her “Vi.” We were glad of the company at night, both of us nervous.
A rainy day, creatively dry, east Nevada blacked-out for electrical work. We thought about heading to Sun Tunnels but somehow daunted ended up exploring mining roads and a redneck bar that Vi, no American, assumed would be fine. Which it surprisingly was. We drank cold coffee and when the lights came back on treated ourselves to a steak dinner in a casino.
A year later, we crossed paths for a minute–Vi, car packed, was leaving the residence as I arrived for a second stint.
I spent a week alone in the rattling wind. All fear had left me. I was calm and happy, in a direct confrontation with this world as it was. I looked at the sun too long and burned a retinal after image–a tiny image of the sun that projected itself everywhere I looked for over an hour.
Vi was headed for Sun Tunnels on her way back to Salt Lake, and home.

Not Built by Aliens: On Google Maps

To some viewers, it looks like a landing strip for extraterrestrial spacecraft — or perhaps the portal to a parallel universe, if not an ancient monument to a benevolent deity who had a keen eye for design and symmetry.

But what people are actually seeing in the desolate reaches of the Egyptian desert, just a short distance from the shores of the Red Sea, is in fact an environmental art installation. And it’s been baffling tourists and armchair travelers since it was constructed in March 1997.


Interview with Kate McCahill on Teaching

1. What kind of teaching are you doing?
2. Do you find that teaching helps your own creativity, hinders it, or affects it in some way? Apart from the issue of energy–teaching may take time away from writing etc.–how do you find teaching and writing interface?
3. If you could communicate one central thing to your students, what would it be?

1.)    I am teaching a range of courses- Advanced ESL, for English Language Learners, is one of my favorite classes to teach, because I get students of all ages and from all walks of life. This semester I have students from Asia, Africa, and Central America, and their stories, values, and languages are fascinating to hear about. Plus, I know what it’s like to try and learn a language as an adult, because I spent one year backpacking around Latin America, and so I like to think that my background as a learner helps me to be a better teacher.  I’m also fortunate enough to be teaching English 120- Exploring Creative Writing- and so far, the course is a great success. We’re reading ‘On Writing,’ by Stephen King, and it’s given us much to talk about.
Also, I teach Travel Writing in Continuing Education. This is my second time teaching that course, and it’s truly been wonderful. The students are traveled and have such interesting lives, and so it’s wonderful to come here on Saturdays and talk about writing with people who, well, love to talk about it, too. When we’re talking and writing, or talking, or writing, I think to myself, “I have my dream job.”
2.)    When I come home from school, I feel exhausted and exhilarated both. My mind is racing, poring over the events and conversations of the day. So I sit down at my desk, put my hands on the keyboard, and unload. I made it my New Year’s Resolution to write every day for at least ten minutes, and my classes have helped me to accomplish that. I freewrite with my students in each class, and on most mornings I’m up at five to write. I’m trying to finish a book, and I want to get it done by the time I turn thirty…which is coming up soon. This is how it was for me in graduate school, as well; I worked full-time and completed my assignments in the darkness of morning and evening. And it worked. Sometimes, when I have too much time on my hands, I don’t get any work done, and so, although I don’t sleep enough, I manage to write every day, at least a little. Plus, many of my colleagues at the community college are writers, too, and so I feel like I’m surrounded by writing all day, from morning until night. Writing is what I love, and so here, I feel blessed.
3.)    I always tell my students that each of our lives could be made into a book. Our lives are important, the details we surround ourselves with are important, our triumphs and traumas and disappointments are important. What we write is important, and so is what we read. We all have something to give to the world, some lesson we’ve learned, some advice we’ve come across, some experience we have endured, and when we write those things down, we’re giving ourselves a gift. Even if no one else ever reads what we put down on the page, we have done important work.  Our voices are distinctive, our work is necessary, and every day matters.

I AM an installation artist I am an installation artist I Am I Am I Am

An artist I admire told me that when he was starting out he did a kind of self hypnosis, telling himself he could paint in the manner of those he admired. He suggested a similar meditation.
I took to sitting quietly, telling myself–I am the Christo and Jean-Claude of words…I wrap the world in text…
Two weekends ago I tried another approach. We were in Albuquerque. I indulged in that pseudo New Age affirmation thing–live the life you want as if you already had it…
If I was an installation artist, what would I do? Go the flea market, of course! It was a huge amount of fun. Rich wanted an egg beater but bought a keyboard. I debated gumball machines. This sure could use a giant installation, I thought.
Then realized: This IS a giant installation.




A British student following in the tradition of Andy Goldsworthy…

Bethany Hyde

Since moving to Bath in October 2013, I began to create art work using leaves. Why? Because they were EVERYWHERE – they were the most beautiful, cheapest (which is important to a student) and most easily found material to use.

Furthermore, I love the temporary quality of autumn leaves: they are the markers of a season, they show the passing of time, the changing of the weather and the life cycle of nature.

‘River of leaves’ was a curving line of leaves I created by pinning flat leaves together with long pointed, pin-shaped leaves I found in Victoria Park.

_DSC0016_2_2 Detail of the leaves pinned together

I began by collecting the fallen leaves from a particular tree in the University grounds, bringing them into the studio and arranging them in order of colour, which took AGES!

The whole process was very delicate, time consuming and repetitive – qualities that are not often…

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Wish Upon a Fallen Leave 落葉許願

Came across this and it has a haunting lovely quality–reminds me of the abandoned Russian schoolhouse installation in Marfa, Texas and St. Catherine’s Indian School here in Santa Fe.

meow meow meow

Alky-8 Alky-5 Alky-13 Alky-18 The Work is made for an abandon village school – Ping Yang Primary School in the North-East New Territories of Hong Kong . The school has been emptied for over ten years. and leaves cover the site. I gather them around a teacher desk, and invite the community to write/paint on them, as a gesture to pray for the re-birth of the place

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The Mama Chronicles by Devon Miller-Duggan

The Mama Chronicles.4
Last night, Christmas evening, my husband overheard my mother on the phone with her sister saying that she’d “worked very hard” to get us to bring her home from the nursing home.
She lasted 2 months. I wish I could tell you that it was 2 months of relative peace for her and/or us. Nope. It was 2 months of an unrelenting assault involving every manipulative tactic at her disposable (a rather more considerable arsenal than I had realized she had, and I knew she had one). Some of what went on is probably attributable to her increasing dementia, but one of the un-joys of dementia is that it’s really hard to untangle what’s purely physical/chemical brain stuff from what’s been uncovered by the disintegration of walls, and in the case of someone whose dementia is patchwork, what’s being used as a weapon by what’s left of the highly intelligent Southern Princess my beloved Mama has always sort of been. And, heaven knows women of her generation and class (or, probably more to the point, my grandfather’s daughters) were trained to not have negative feelings, or not speak them aloud, so she has quite a backlog to work with.
She hated her roommate (but you should have seen them crying in each other’s arms when we were leaving). She hated having a roommate. She hated the other inhabitants (except for the friends she made very quickly). She didn’t trust the staff (I found them consistently trustworthy). She Hated everything. Mostly she hated me. She saw to it that my life was significantly more miserable with her out of my house than with her here.
I’ve talked about some of the complexities of my relationship to my mother before. I discovered a number of new ones, mostly having to do with the depth and power of my programming where she’s concerned. Not pretty.
Mostly, she managed to not display any of the worst behaviors when my daughters were around, but, toward the end, as she became more eaten with rage, they both saw it come at me. They’d known and seen the stress I was experiencing, but hadn’t fully understood. Both were pretty gobsmacked.
All of that would eventually have settled, in some sense. But it became increasingly clear that our almost-4-year old grandson was suffering because of all the ambient stress/distress. He and his great-grandmother have a kind of Vulcan-mind-meld thing that has been one of the radiant points in both their lives since the first moment they saw each other. And he was clearly suffering.
So we did a sort of math that went this way: Mother in Newark Manor = all of us miserable. Mother home = 2 of us not miserable. We brought her home the Monday after Thanksgiving—as soon as I was able to arrange for 7 hours (in 3 intervals a day), seven days a week of aides from Home Instead to come take care of nearly all her needs.
There is a universe out there in which one does not say mean things about 80-year old disabled ladies who happen to be one’s mother. I could go on at some length about how sanctifying the elderly de-humanizes and infantilizes them, but we’ll skip the lengthy philosophical discussion. My mother gutted me with a grapefruit spoon every time I walked into her room—sometimes unintentionally, but mostly it was the “work” she spoke to her sister about (my daughters, who love their grandmother lots and lots—and for good reasons—are inclined to think I’m cutting her too much slack). It’s not good that I heard that.
I’m nearly 60 years old and I feel like a battered child. Yippee skippy. This is mildly embarrassing for someone with a lot of good therapy under her belt.
In order to have her here I have made a bunch of really pretty unattractive contracts with the universe about what happens or doesn’t happen with my mother downstairs in her apartment when her aides aren’t here. I can’t get her one of those I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up necklaces because she’d take it off and never learn to push the button in the first place. She hasn’t learned where the volume button is on her phone in the 5 years she’s had it and not infrequently tries to answer the tv remote. I’m petrified that this “if she falls, she falls—I can only control for so much” attitude/peace-pact I’ve made with her being back here is a function of my own rage/sense of betrayal. But it’s the pact I’ve got going, so it’s the one I’m living with, even if I have learned that she believes she can make toast in the microwave and nearly burnt the house down recently trying to do so (we now unplug it). The toaster’s been on a shelf she can’t reach for months.
And my grandson’s back to being his lovely, lit-from-within self. Which is, frankly, worth pretty much anything.
I’m left, in the meantime with the interesting work of learning a new kind of love. I love my mother, but these days it is expressed almost entirely in things like making sure all her Christmas decorations were up before she came home and that her supply of Hagen Daz doesn’t get too low, taking her with us on our annual family trip to Longwood Gardens Christmas display, and being pretty nice to her in front of her aides. In doing. I am taken aback considerably by the extent to which I do not want to be in the same room with her, ever. I am taken aback by the depth and power of my own anger and hurt, even as I am aware that it was clearly matched by the depth and power of hers, even though she, several times, and in clearly lucid hours, consented to being moved. But the emotional tornado/hurricane/nor’easter of the past year in which she broke a rib, had septic pneumonia, c-dif, plain old pneumonia, and then made it non-viable for me to have her in some place where I could be clear that she was safe all the time has left me almost neurasthenic. I’ve felt, pretty strongly, that she survived much of this by virtue of a sort of psychic vampirism—a situation that I’ve realized has been going on pretty much my whole life. I am absolutely certain that this is unintentional—that she’d never have wished us to be linked this complexly, un-untangle-ably. That she’d never have chosen to hard-wire me this way. I know enough about her upbringing to know that she was profoundly un-equipped to deal with marriage to my father. And I had a front row seat for the drama of their two massive insecurities banging against each other. All of which is by way of saying that I get it, in so far as one human can “get” the mysteries of another. I get it and do not feel like my life has been bent or crippled by all of it. But right now, I am having a great deal of trouble locating anything that feels like affection for my mother, and this pretty much stinks. Including the fact that I resent the hell out of how all the mama-drama impeded my ability to completely feel the joy of the birth of my granddaughter (in between the septic pneumonia and the c-dif).
My entirely remarkable red-headed baby-woman granddaughter has, I swear, understood all this on some cellular level and not infrequently leans into me especially hard, as if to offer comfort. This is not just grandmotherly excess here—she really is the most weirdly communicative baby person I (or her pediatrician) have ever seen.
I know life doesn’t happen the way we plan it. Duh. But I do think it’s maybe a trifle unusual to have this sort of brute destruction of a relationship at this stage. Or maybe it’s not. One probably good thing that has come out of this all is that I have located some new pockets of humility.
All things considered, though, I’d rather locate some new pockets of love.

Interview with Steve Gutherz, pianist for Soul Custody

1. Steve–we’ve known each other for many decades–so I want to ask about your artistic process. You’ve played jazz piano as long as I’ve known you–but when did you start? Did you play piano as a kid? What has helped you develop as a musician?

I started playing piano when I was about as tall as a spinit. I was a short kid. I have been playing pretty continuously since such time, such that I am now taller than an upright.
Without knowing it at the time, I think playing piano was something that allowed me to express myself, something that I believe I was not encouraged at home. As a result, I developed a good feel for the sound before I even developed the more complicated and never ending process of learning about chords, harmonies and associated melodies.

    My development as a musician is ongoing and is endless which is the great enjoyment and humbling challenge as I have heard over the years that as a jazz musician, you should play what you know while at the same time always working on developing the craft and not getting stuck on playing the same riffs that sound good, are always safely stored in your left pocket (or right), but should not be always duplicated.

    Beyond that, practicing every day with focus and attempted relaxation and breathing and playing as much as possible with other musicians, especially musicians who are better than I am whenever possible, constantly learning new music, playing gigs as much as possible, and maybe most importantly, enjoying the music and letting the music carry you with it. Tempering one’s ego is not a bad idea either as jazz and music in general can be one of the greatest testaments to the true democratic spirit.

2. After many years as a musician, you are now composing. In fact,  the group you play with, Soul Custody, has a dynamic new CD out and yours is the title track, “Night Time.” What inspired you to start writing music? Was it scary, difficult, or just natural?

This is our second CD of all original compositions. Our website is The new and old CD can be found on CD baby, Amazon and I-Tunes.

    The leader of the band who writes most of the compositions is our drummer, Paul Davis. The band was formed about four years ago and after some time, Paul encouraged all of the members to compose. As I fancied myself as a player for many years and not a composer, I decided that if I had to make a pack with the devil, I would write some music. As it turned out, I think the pact was with an angel, though who knows. As I like to go kayaking on the great Sudbury River which flows into the Concord River which then flows into the Merrimack River; (See Thoreau, traveling down the Concord and Merrimack Rivers), and I am a believer in letting the mind go as much as one allows oneself to while floating on the river which I believe releases alpha waves in the mind as the river is as flat as a frying pan, I think I made a pact with an angel as one day floating on the river, I heard a bird call, and suddenly an entire melody and an overlaid chord structure came to me. I was afraid I would lose it, so I sang it into my cell phone, but when I got home, I had it all in my head and laid it out on the piano and the page. I named the song Birdcall which is on our first CD and can be heard on our website as a live link,

    This was definitely beginner’s luck as that immediate creative presentation has not happened since, but it still seems to me that sitting down at the piano, relaxing, and listening to some sounds has led me to new compositions, some of which are on the new CD, but have taken more work, fine tuning, and adding and subtracting than the first musical message which I received on the river.

3. Among all the people I’ve known, you’ve been unusually successful at combining careers. How have you kept music alive while working as a busy lawyer and family guy? Have you felt conflict, or do these streams feed each other?

     Luckily, I work for myself so I have a nice boss. In addition, I think working for yourself allows you to be very efficient, because if I am not working, I am out of there, though of course, work takes a lot of time as the last time I checked, you need to have money to live in America and most other places I believe. Nonetheless, there is always time to practice and play if you are determined and disciplined, though not the four hours a day I once did when I was supposedly in school.

4. Just on a note of my own personal curiosity–I’ve never quite understood what “cool” jazz was as opposed to hot! Can you say? And which do you play?

    As in any art form, the critics try to define the music. I assume that the same goes for poetry. I believe that “hot jazz” started with New Orleans jazz styles when players like Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong played their asses off and played in a fiery way, thus “hot”. “Cool jazz”, I believe was a term that compared the West Coast jazz stylings with the East Coast in the 1950’s after the bebop era (late 40’s). The “cool jazz” style was epitomized supposedly by the Stan Kenton big band in California and could be characterized by more laid back with lush orchestrations.

Miles Davis “Birth of the Cool” album is a start, recorded just before “Kind of Blue.” The modal sound most well known with Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album (“So What”, for example) is an extension of Stan Kenton, though of course, Miles was in N.Y.C. at this time. A comparison with the “cool jazz” sound, though I have never heard it called “hot” could be the post bop players like Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, (maybe even Horace Silver and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the 50’s and beyond, playing a more hard driving, “tougher” sound. Of course, hopefully the music itself is about true expression and feelings and breaks all of the definitions.

    Soul Custody’s sound is hopefully somewhat unique, can be called Rhythm and Jazz if a name is needed, and is reminiscent of Joe Sample and the Crusaders, a band popular in the 70’s and 80’s which has an electric, funkier sound with an amalgam of jazz, gospel, latin, blues and funk. I was raised on the blues for some reason or other even when I was a teenager as was jazz and have made an effort to develop the sound further.