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Magic

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What if everything we make– Art– is because someone else, thousands of someones, placed their order??

What if nothing is made in a void,

what if nothing is birthed into the world without being called into the world by an audience,

by a tribe,

by its own family?

So literally every Thing we make exists in this world because it has a home in other people’s hearts already waiting for it?

Then artists are in the business of delivering answers to prayers.

The New Year Looks to Us

Oh, what does
the New Year
see in me?
I certainly see myself.
But from where
does it reckon
who I am?
I’ve always viewed resolutions not as decrees I will impose on the coming year (and my future self), but as the things that are already rising to the surface, the things I’m meant to serve, to follow, to join. This is similar to how I view naming someone, whether human or animal: it’s not a whim I get to indulge, it’s a perception I must hone, clues I must decipher, a puzzle to assemble so the whole is revealed.
But I’ve never thought of the New Year– or my future self– looking at me. Maybe it, too, is observing, deciphering, puzzling as we dance together.
Wishing you mystery, treasure, delight, reunion, and the ongoing joyful return to your home in yourself in 2020.

Images are Symbols

How to draw my cat, Per.

I just realized that for me, drawings are symbols / touchstones / hieroglyphs– they don’t tell all of the story, that’s what the words do.

Not only that, but they don’t have to show all of the story / information, either!

Here’s some insightful mirroring from my dear friend, Kelsi:

Don’t do realistic! Your gift is making the fantastical seem more real/relevant/truthful than Reality.

And a great example from Tom Gauld’s Instagram:

(He cartoons for the New Yorker, so clearly he’s not the only person who believes illustration doesn’t need to be photo-realistic to have value).

What I have always loved about oral storytelling is that I get to give suggestions of the characters, setting, lighting. The listener fills in the rest– which produces an experience better than any movie because it is collaborative, because the listener is making their own Magic.

This is my job. This expression is a touchstone and a doorway to someone else.

Why on earth would a picture book be any different? Leave space for the reader’s Magic. (And don’t sweat the details).

Lake Superior Selkies

Last winter I saw a photo of these two fabulous ladies swimming in Superior… in January. I said, “I need a wetsuit!,” and next thing you know, one showed up at my house!

This was a magical swim– an hour (an hour!!) in the big lake.

We hailed he passengers on the Hjørdis as she sailed into the East Bay.

We swam through a passage between the rocks.

We sat mermaid-like on the reef just beyond Artist’s Point.

It was magical to be at eye-level with the lake, especially on a day when the water was a glassy, platinum blue and the sky reached down like a bowl, as if the edge of the world we’re just Over There and if we were bold enough, we could swim to it, and beyond.

The True Self is 11 Years Old

I’ve been thinking about my 11-year-old self a lot lately.

As I planned my 37th birthday party, as she always does, 11-year-old Rose piped up, “No boys allowed! No way!” (Not even my husband or son get invited— they are expected to lavish me with attention earlier in the day, secure in the knowledge that I will save them each a slice of cake).

When a friend texted, “Hey, my birthday is just a few days after yours— some time we should have a joint party!,” 11-year-old Rose laughed out loud. Besides the fact that I insist on having the party on my actual birthday, I assured my well-intentioned friend that, practical though it may be, 11-year-old Rose would definitely not be willing to share. What day besides your birthday gets to be truly, guiltlessly, indulgently about You?

At the party itself, over peach pie, chocolate mousse, and whiskey, someone said “This is so fun! No one ever has birthday parties anymore.”

Why ever not?

I’m pretty sure I’ve thrown myself a party almost every year since I turned 21, when I reserved a couple lanes at the Bryant Lake Bowl and bought a taco bar— surely not a small expense compared to my rent-to-income ratio at the time— and totally worth it.

And just a month after we’d moved to India with a toddler, when I was still getting used to a new culture, checking my child’s shoes for scorpions, and living at 7,000 feet of elevation, I asked the most extroverted person I’d met to organize a ladies-only dinner party. I felt pretty shy, I had no idea who would come, and I had to borrow cash from a motherly near-stranger before going out for the night because my bank card hadn’t arrived yet. But I was turning 29 and that warranted a celebration.

I know I’ve missed a few here and there, but the standard is: It’s my birthday and I’m having a party. There will be delicious desserts (which I will bake) and probably some lake-lounging time, and all my favorite ladies. (And I can invite more than three people because we don’t all have to fit in my mom’s van!)

 

It’s sort of a surprising thing, more than 25 years later, to see how much of my attention and energy goes toward resolving and/or delighting preteen desires. But it also makes total sense: 11 is the age of the true self, a foot in both worlds.

11 is a big transition time. It was the year before 7th grade for me: the era of intense girlfriend drama, my first boyfriend, and, in our little town, the start of high school with 7-12 all in one building.

At 11 I was not yet a teenager or an adult, but I was no longer a little kid. (Though it took another year of pleading with my Mom, and finally an outright boycott at age 13, I was old enough to stay home by myself after school without a babysitter, and even be responsible for my younger sisters.)

I knew at 11 I wanted to be an actress and a writer; and that’s what I’ve done ever since, for fun and for money. I still stand by my fashion sense from 1993 (one distinctive sweater dress comes to mind, and for my birthday this year I wore an extravagantly beaded and sequined top; I also recently bought a 12 color eyeshadow palette, because, why not?).

11 was a quick window between little kid-hood and the angst of crushes and social hierarchies and adult expectations. It was the beginning of being fabulous, the start of choosing to become the person I am today; 11-year-old Rose is the goal, the true north, the notes all ringing clear and in harmony with each other.

 

I wonder what your 11-year-old self has to say to you. What she loves, fears, longs for. Because the upside of being an adult is that it’s all possible. And the fears aren’t as scary as they used to seem: I’m the kid and the mom— I have kept another human alive for 9 whole years, after all; a really nice, thoughtful, funny, clever human, no less, who can cook really good scrambled eggs! I have only rarely fed him cereal for supper. I have faked bravery and held his hand when he got stitches. I have helped him do what interests him even when it doesn’t interest me (Legos, Snap Circuits, Dungeons & Dragons). Without a doubt, I can do that for my younger self, too.

I don’t need anyone else’s permission or money— though I do wish for a windfall now and then, I have saved up and replaced a house’s worth of windows, I have gotten cars repaired, I have paid rent and mortgages, I have researched how to fix a leaky toilet: I can definitely buy a nyckelharpa / get braces/travel to beautiful places / learn to sew my own clothes / get a stray cat fixed / whatever.

I also don’t have to be a Grown-Up about it all. I don’t have to be a 1950’s clock-in-at-9-cocktail-at-5-wax-my-car-on-weekends sort of creature.

Now that my son is out of the I-have-no-skills-to-stay-alive-on-my-own stage, I get to return to my younger self, I get to be playful, I don’t have to focus on survival— my own, as a kid in a grown-ups’ world, or his.

When we move beyond survival, we can thrive, and it turns out I really like the ideas 11-year-old Rose had. She had no mobility, no money, no autonomy other than in her imagination; now I get to have all the resources of adulthood and her wise instincts and dreams.

I hope you do too— I hope all of us return to those younger, wiser, magical selves and bring all the grown-up skills and resources to not only be safe, but to live in delight.

 

Every year at my party I hand out index cards and instruct the guests to write my fortune for the coming year. No one ever writes “Your stocks will go up,” or “Your bathroom will be spotlessly clean.”

Every prediction, every magic wish is one of which 11-year-old Rose would heartily approve.

sparkly birthday selfie

Honeybee Magic

I’ve never liked “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” I hated that the fable was pro-hard-working, no-time-for-fun-or-art ant. I identified with the grasshopper, and it was pretty scary to see that not only did no one delight in (or even appreciate) his music in summer, no one wanted to take him in or give him food in winter. It seemed to me like the two options were: work hard and be safe, or do what you love and perish. (I have been known to be dramatic now and then).

I’ve been working in my flower gardens a lot this summer— some latent Gerdin gene has kicked in and I’m channeling my grandma. My husband said he really appreciates it, that it makes it nicer to live here. I told him I think I contribute the most in the “Thriving” category, and he’s really good at the “Surviving” category— and we’ve been in the latter for a long time.

Doesn’t anything bridge that enormous gap, the apparent chasm between Surviving and Thriving?

Yes. Honeybees.

Honeybees have the satisfaction of work— of taking something in and making something new that is not only nourishing but sweet and good. Honey is medicinal. It literally never goes bad— you could eat honey from a pharaoh’s tomb (if you weren’t worried about possible curses) or from a Viking cellar.

Honey is specific to plant and place: Tanzanian honey tastes different from Minnesota clover honey. It helps with allergies. It’s antiseptic. It can be made into mead.

And unlike ants who, to my eye, work at a frenzied, militant pace, honey bees dance to tell their hive where the good flowers are. They stitch a thread of connection from blossom to blossom over acres, over miles. If you could trace the line of their movement it would be, I imagine, a visual poem.

And they aren’t storing up fuel for decay, like ants; they are stuffing their furry, golden bodies into flowers, into the very center of colorful, feminine, temporal, perfumed chambers. The magic, the pollen, clings to them— they don’t cling to it, they don’t hoard it. And when they make honey— it’s just regurgitation. They are vessels, they transform nectar without doing anything particularly special or difficult.

What also appeals to me is that if one honeybee fails— if one is somehow flawed and simply can’t do its job for a day or a week or its whole life… well, it’s one of many. It is impossible for the failings of one bee to kill the world’s flowers, fruits, vegetables. It is impossible for just one bee to save them all, either. There’s no pressure, no blame, and no credit. But there is beauty. There is sweetness.

When I was very young, my parents kept bees. I can still remember my dad in the dust-colored suit, netting protecting his face as he moved slowly among the hives with his tiny bellows of soporific smoke: a sweet and comforting smell.

I like that the bees aren’t killed or driven out or even alarmed in order to harvest the honey— they are made drowsy and dozy. They sleep. Maybe they dream. Then they get back out there, following sweetness, and do what they do best.

We found a 5 gallon bucket of honey stored in the root cellar some years after my parents divorced. It was crystallized and thick, a deep golden amber. We scooped it out and heated it slowly. And it was still good.

What is Magic?

photo by John David Dela-Peri

What is Magic?

It is fierceness and generosity. It is one hundred children sitting cross-legged on the floor of the gym. It is six children in the corner of the library.

For me, Magic is Story. Or, Story is the vehicle I know how to navigate.

Magic is a feeling, an energy. There is mystery to it: I don’t know what will show up. Right now, I don’t know what I will say, though I feel many pressing, urgent things.

 

Magic is the sound of gold coins in a bowl, paying the fine for stealing a whiff of bread.

Magic is the cloak of the storyteller who clothes the naked truth so that the villagers can stand the sight of him and hear the wisdom he has to share.

Magic is a woven basket, the white necklace of the loon, the way pussy willows look like cat paws.

 

Magic is the connection, the unseeable, the divine. It is what makes us not feel we are alone. It is a lineage, an inheritance, an ancestry. It is the future, it is visions, it is dreams.

Where does it come from? Or, do we come from it? Are we the props, the puppets, the shadows on the wall as Magic tells itself a story about life?

 

I have always wanted to know what is Beyond. Where do children come from? Who are we before we exist and have mortal memories? Where is the doorway to Narnia? What must I learn to be able to speak the language of animals? How does cardamom raise the spirits of my long-dead relatives and transport me across oceans and centuries? How do plants grow?

 

Curiosity must be Magic’s lover, then. He would be a good one; attentive, delighted, asking questions that expand, unfold, reveal. I think this is my job, and I hope it is everyone’s job: to be the companion and lover to Magic. To ask the questions. To squint and sniff and listen for the answers, the clues, the hints, to go on that wild goose chase and in the process discover that not only can we fly but we are also swans.

That, yes, there are castles in the air, the stars can talk (and they do care about us), and all troubles and seemingly wasted journeys are, in fact, taking us home. Home to ourselves. Home to the Magic. Home to the beginning of everything, changed, sloughed smooth, worn by time, deepened, opened, made whole by being broken open.

 

This is my wish: to go where Magic calls me. To make my marks along the way so that others may take comfort, trust the compasses within their heart, and carry on.

I will see you there, on the journey, through the door, on the other side, back where it all begins again.

What Feeds the Soul

My own art, other people’s art– it’s all part of being an advocate for Joy.

When we all experience life as being Magical and Good, then we don’t have anything to be afraid of.

art feeds the soul 2

Ennis made some gorgeous watercolor art in school. I must be biased– how magical to see a person I “made” go on and make something– but irrespective of his parentage, I love the way he draws, the asymmetry and the way the paint bleeds.

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Don’t know if Per (pronounced “pear,” the Swedish way) is equally impressed, or what her personal philosophy on the Easter Bunny might be.

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Friends (and soon-to-be Grand Maraisans) were up over the weekend. Thank goodness their kitchen was out of commission and they came to our house to dye eggs– otherwise I would have missed it.

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More Ennis Art: “Monster and Tree Monster.” I’d like to screen print a t-shirt with the fellow on the left…

 

 

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I came across a new book! I’m typically anti-series; it so often feels like the story was drawn out for marketing reasons rather than to best tell the Story– but this was fun and I’ll read the rest of the trilogy. I love doorways and portals to other worlds!

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The fabulously talented Jeff Niesen came to my book performance at the library. I saw him sketching as I told stories from “The Marvelous Imagination of Katie Addams.” Lucky me– afterward he GAVE this to me! Here I am along with some of the characters from the stories.

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Sharing art, doing what’s easy for you and passing it on– that’s the best magic of all. I love that I told stories (pretty easy for me after 14 years), and Jeff just doodled this.

Wishing you much mutual inspiration and generosity!

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