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July 2012

Up on the moor

Sheep on Dartmoor

“People talk about medium. What is your medium? My medium as a writer has been dirt, clay, sand -- what I could touch, hold, stand on, and stand for -- Earth. My medium has been Earth. Earth in correspondence with my mind.”   - Terry Tempest Williams (from Finding Beauty in a Broken World)


“I'm an Earth ecstatic, and my creed is simple: All life is sacred, life loves life, and we are capable of improving our behavior toward one another. As basic as that is, for me it's also tonic and deeply spiritual, glorifying the smallest life-form and embracing the most distant stars.”  - Diane Ackerman (from An Alchemy of Mind)


“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly, light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding. Finally, the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”  - Gretel Ehrlich (from The Solace of Open Spaces)


“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”  - Diane Ackerman (from A Natural History of the Senses)

DartmoorThe soundtrack for this post: "On a Dartmoor Day" by Chris Back

Tunes for a Monday Morning

The first song today is an atmospheric rendition of the English ballad "Reynardine," performed by the amazing Anglo-Indian singer Sheila Chandra. Chandra uses the drone sound to great effect in her music; you can read her thoughts about drones, crones, and the creative process here

The second song is "Faroe Island, My Mother," a tune rooted in the ancient Faroese ballad tradition, sung by Eivør Palsdottir, with Gustaf Ljunggren on guitar. You'll have to journey over to YouTube to hear it, however, because I'm unable to import the video.  You'll find it here.

Eivør is a singer/songwriter from Syðrugøta, one of the oldest settlements in the Faroese archipelago. She performs in Faroese, Danish, and English, with a repertoire ranging from Scandinavian folk to jazz, classical, and pop.


The art and joy of words

Meldon Hill and Kestor

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well, they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper." - Ursula K. Le Guin (from "A Few Words to a Young Writer")

Between Meldon and Nattadon Hills

“Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.”  - David Almond (from My Name is Mina)

Nattadon Hill

“If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. I believe I am loveable. How can something as fragile as a word build a whole world?” ― Franny Billingsley (from Chime)


"Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's the whole art and joy of words.” ― C.S. Lewis (from Till We Have Faces)


There are hundreds of ways...

Nattadon Hill, Devon

"As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth . . . the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”   - Gary Snyder

Nattadon Hill, Devon

"Along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world.”   - David Abram

Boundary marker, Nattadon Hill

“As symbol, or as the structuring of symbols, art can render intelligible -- or at least visible, at least discussible -- those wilderness regions which philosophy has abandoned and those hazardous terrains where science's tools do not fit. I mean the rim of knowledge where language falters; and I mean all those areas of human experience, feeling, and thought about which we care so much and know so little: the meaning of all we see before us, of our love for each other, and the forms of freedom in time, and power, and destiny, and all whereof we imagine: grace, perfection, beauty, and the passage of all materials to thoughts, and of all ideas to forms.”  - Annie Dillard


Meldon Hill, Devon

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ― Rumi

A soul hidden in everything

Green lane

“How it is that animals understand things I do not know, but it is certain that they do understand. Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul.”  - Frances Hodgson Burnett (from A Little Princess)

A green lane in Devon

My prayer this morning: Let me learn the language of trees, birds, dogs, grey stones, black beetles, green grass, and all living things. And when I'm fluent in those languages, let me translate them faithfully into stories and paintings.

Lean In, Part II

Studio bulletin board

"I think there is a certain age, for women, when you become fearless. It may be a different age for every woman, I don’t know. It’s not that you stop fearing things: I’m still afraid of heights, for example. Or rather, of falling — heights aren’t the problem. But you stop fearing life itself. It’s when you become fearless in that way that you decide to live.

"Perhaps it’s when you come to the realization that the point of life isn’t to be rich, or secure, or even to be loved — to be any of the things that people usually think is the point. The point of life is to live as deeply as possible, to experience fully. And that can be done in so many ways." 

- Theodora Goss (from her blog post "Fearless Women")

Georgia O'Keeffe

“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”  - Georgia O'Keeffe

Amelia Earhart

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life, and the procedure, the process is its own reward."   - Amelia Earhart

Anais Nin2

"For too many centuries women have been being muses to artists. I wanted to be the muse, I wanted to be the wife of the the artist, but I was really trying to avoid the final issue — that I had to do the job myself."  - Anaïs Nin

The School of Art Institute in Chicago, 1890

As Sheryl Sandberg is quoted as asking in "Lean In" (posted here almost exactly a year ago): "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

For women especially, but also for all creators who are Outsiders in one way or another, that's a powerful question.

Terri WindlingImages credits are in the photo captions.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

This week, two songs from Dry the River, a young English band from Stratford, East London. Their musical influences range from folk and bluegrass to hardcore punk -- but I personally prefer the accoustic end of their repetoire, where the group's vocal harmonies, Will Harvey's fiddle playing, and the beautiful lyrics penned by Peter Liddle (the group's lead singer and songwriter) come to the fore.

Above, the band performs their song "History Book" in Gospel Oak, London.

Below, a haunting, stripped-down version of their song "Bible Belt," performed in a park in Stratford. This one cuts close to the bone for me, which is precisely why I love it dearly.

Blue Collar Cinderella 8x9Sketch above: Blue-collar Cinderella

"The trick of it is, don't be afraid anymore...."  

Inspiration...and return

Patti Smith

“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It's the artist's responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.” - Patti Smith (from Just Kids, her excellent memoir about life and art in '70s-era New York)

Hans Christian Andersen illustration by Edmund Dulac

As Smith says, the flight through the incorporeal realm...

The Bumblehill Studio

...must be followed by the return to the material world...


...where we turn our visions into earthly form with the tools we find at hand.

In order to capture those all-too-fleeting visions during the potent time just after "the return," it's important, I think, that tools at hand be the ones that are truly best shaped for us...for the artists we actually are, as opposed to the artists we may have wanted to be, or felt some kind of outside pressure to be.

For some young artists, it can take a bit of time to discover which tools (which medium, or genre, or career pathway) will truly suit them best. For me, although many different art forms attract me, the tools that I find most natural and comfortable are language and oil paint; I've also learned that as someone with a limited number of spoons it's best to keep my toolbox clean and simple. My husband, by contrast, thrives with a toolbox absolutely crowded to bursting, working with language, voice, musical instruments, puppets, masks animated on a theater stage, computer and video imagery, and half a dozen other things besides, no one of these tools more important than the others, and all somehow working together. For other artists, the tools at hand might be needles and thread; or a jeweller's torch; or a rack of cooking spices; or the time to shape a young child's day....

To me, it's all art, inside the studio and out. At least it is if we approach our lives that way.

Art above: An illustration for Hans Christian Andersen's "The Garden of Paradise" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953).

When inspiration comes

Blackberry brambles and Tilly

“So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one's days," said novelist Graham Greene. "One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from the air: the situations that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse move forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.”

Or walked through the fields...

Dartmoor blackberry blossoms

...past the blackberry brambles...

Dartmoor Blackberries a thorn-torn skirt and muddy brown boots...

Chagford, Devon

...with a faithful little black companion...

Chagford, Devon

...leading the way.