learning to see

Its time I posted these thoughts.

I started writing this in June – and for some reason wasn’t sure about sharing. But its time now…

In the last few weeks of last year I went to a short series of art classes, deliberately choosing the option that would challenge me the most, drawing and painting.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never felt capable. Part of the problem is that I’d never learnt how. I’ve had a shocking tendency to think that if I can’t just naturally know how to do something straight away, then I’ll dismiss it by saying its not for me. (I know that this must be some form of self protection – but let’s not go there now…). And even when I have discovered something I’m good at, I haven’t kept working at it. Persevering hasn’t been a strength. Writing is probably the only thing I’ve really stuck at.

So – these art classes, about seven sessions – following the guidance of the tutor, his techniques, his encouragement, and sometimes, his direct acts of correction and teaching – it was a revelation.

I discovered I could draw – from a photo at least. I’m still working up to drawing from life.

So – the first session began with the instruction to try to draw the person sitting opposite. This is what I thought was a reasonable effort:

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What was I thinking?

Then later that session, following the guidance of the tutor, and working from a photograph, I managed this:

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And then the following weekend I did this drawing at home: (from a photo of Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen).

I was learning to look – learning to see.

During the next few sessions we explored different media and techniques, mixing colours, and I discovered the joy of painting with oil.

My elderly cat Frida died towards the end of the sessions. A week or so later, I went to the next class, and tried to engage with a couple of the photos provided as prompts for painting, but it felt as if it was forced, almost as if there was a rhythm I could sense but not connect with. So I restarted using my own photo of my girl – and if there is a “flow” then I fell deeply into it.

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I didn’t quite realise what I was doing until I heard a couple of “ooh”s and “aah”s from behind me. I stepped away and walked across the room – turning back – it was as if Frida was shining through the darkness. “Ghostly” was a word one or two others used.

I remember feeling quite spooked, quite stunned that I’d come close to her likeness, and that it had such an eerie quality. I was happy – but also in quite a strange state of mind – floating. To be honest, not really in a very focused state to start the 40 minute drive home. A near miss at a round-about shocked me into paying attention, and made me realise what a strange state I was in.

Can animals come through to us?

Can we channel their energy?

Was the thin veil still open, so I was in tune with her essence?

Did she come through to me, gifting me with an ability to see and create that I longed for but hadn’t known til now?

That’s how it felt. As if she had been present – and it wasn’t a “cat” presence. It was an energy, a pressure, a transference. As if there was more to her than I had realised when she was in cat form. And I haven’t stopped, I’ve kept working.

We got another cat. A sweet, nervy, anxious creature. I painted him that summer.

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This year, I started a painting of my friend’s dog. I wasn’t happy with the background, so I started another.

Just a few weeks ago I gave them both to her. And it felt good to release them into the world.

So – this is why there hasn’t been so much writing on here lately. This new passion has taken hold. And it feels like something I will persevere with. I know I’ll have days when I’ll feel as if its all rubbish and I should give up. But I’ve seen enough to know that this is something I can do – and I love it.

My goal – to keep learning – and to find a way to combine words and images – perhaps to have text as part of a painting.

Its going to keep me busy for a long time…

Winter’s Voice

Winter speaks in many voices
the languages of stars, of birds
of wind and rain
and the small dark hollows under trees

she writes her prayers with clouds
she spells the names of dark nights
with the rare bare branches
of this evergreen land
a vegetal alphabet
on her tongue

thunder her drum
lightning her torch
she curses her way across the sky

Winter speaks in many voices

~

today she is sleeping
and all I hear is her slow rhythm
breathing in, breathing out

the canopies of trees swell gently
heads pressing softly together
and Winter rests
cradled in their arms
her cool lips brush
across the tips of leaves

~

today she is weeping
all day her tears have fallen
who does she cry for
what love is lost
how can I hold her
when she slips away
her song riding on the wings of birds

~

today she smiles
and sighs
the day is bright
the sun low, and reaching
deep between branches
Winter whispers to the leaves
naming each one
child, beloved

~

she weeps
tears freeze
her eyelashes brittle and snap in the wind
arms, hair, fists flail across the sky
fury unleashed, and undirected
great gobs of spittle cast against windows

~

she weeps
but these tears cleanse
rinsing dust and dirt and spit
from every branch and leaf
until the world
shines

~

she weeps
she thrashes in her sleep
ripping bedsheet and blanket

she roars
throws dishes across the kitchen
blocks the sink and floods the floor
she breaks the windows and runs barefoot
and bleeding into the night

~

today is fine
still and sunny
quiet

she has brushed her hair
and dressed for lunch
in blue and yellow
she sits with one elbow on the table
wrist arched back
as she might if a cigarette was held between her fingers
she is quiet
reading and tracing the pattern on the tablecloth
with one hand

~

today is fine
blue sky, high clouds
she is silent

~

tonight
she sings
as her daughter
drops her head
slips the cloak of darkness
across her shoulders
and makes her escape

and in the morning
she sings up the sun
whispers into the ears of snails
her voice circling in the spiral hallway
whispering into the quiet spaces between petals
her warm words lifting the feathers
of sleepy birds

~

and today

her breath settles low on the hills
letting the morning wake slowly
she speaks quietly
as the green rises
and the birds wake
and the barefoot creatures
step into the light

©clairegriffin2018

 

August

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after the long winter

when the shadows linger

we begin to see movement

 

Earlier this month I was distracted by a whale in the harbour, planets in alignment and the lunar eclipse – so distracted that I wasn’t aware of the turning of the month, calendar time was lost on me.

So now we’re in August – the days are still short with dark mornings and dark nights – but the plants know spring is coming. New shoots are forming, some plants already flowering, and birds are back in the garden.

There’s a restlessness in me after so much time spent inside. I find myself moving outside – even in the dark – in the rain – my lungs are opening to the freshness in the air.

Inspiration Map

My first attempt at an “Inspiration Map”.

I first saw one of these created by @shewhois on instagram and thought it was a great idea 🙂

From top left:

  • creative souls, David Bowie
  • the wild green world
  • strong women, Frida Kahlo
  • myths/archetypes, Jean Shinoda Bolen
  • colour
  • memories, dreams
  • symbolism, fauvism, Marc Chagall
  • spiritual thinkers, John O’Donohue, Anam Cara
  • details and patterns.

And just today I learned of the sad loss of Marion Woodman – she belongs in more than one of my nine squares.

July

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we seek the heat

we seek the light

reminding ourselves we are alive

 

During these cold days and nights our senses come awake in different ways to the days of summer – we are drawn to comfort, to warmth and light.

But remember to welcome the tingle of icy finger-tips, the mist of warm breath when you step outside, the thin winter light that subdues the colours around us.

Our senses give us feedback from the physical world – keep us awake and attentive.

Hibernation is not an option.

June

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in the dark of winter

the pulse slows and quietens

the heart glows

Here at the end of May, the temperatures are dropping, and I know the cold of winter isn’t far away. I feel as though winter is the time when I need to fold in to myself, weave threads of slow, dark energy around my shoulders, sheltering, comforting. Sitting quietly, warm and still, feeling, hearing my own heartbeat. Its time to be quiet, to read, and cook.

I don’t want to fight the winter, I need to find a way to work with it, to continue the routines of work that don’t make any allowances for the change in seasons. And I’ve found it difficult some years – the struggle of getting up in the dark, coming home in the dark, day after day. The cold early morning and reluctant to get get out of bed.

This year – I want to hold this image in mind – a candle burning quietly in the darkness. I want to welcome winter, and adjust to the demands it makes on me.

I want to be patient and gentle with myself, taking time to snuggle inside, making soup, and using my big blue casserole dish to create one-dish dinners.

There never seems to be enough bright daylight, and so I want to commit to making the most of what little there is by walking outside whenever I can. This means making time at work – making sure I take a lunchtime!

And the glow? I’ll keep it fed with little twigs of friendship, conversation, pets, art, books, food. I’ll keep this inner warmth alive, hold my hands around my heart-flame, and be ready to breathe it in to life when spring comes.

just discovered this post wasn’t published in June –
so better now than never –
then I’ll be ready to add September 🙂 

untitled – Tuesday 19 December 2017

The sky is pale and grey, not heavy, but flat and low.
The world is shallow, horizontal, with little space to breathe,
except in spaces cleared by flurries of warm wind.

Sparrows visit, fearless, curious thieves,
crumbs disappearing at the speed of flight.
A magpie swoops in, a botanic priest to correct the masses.

The roses are every colour from cream to peach, cerise to ruby,
some freshly opened, some over-blown.
Stopping at the climbing roses,
and drawing a branch close to breathe in the scent,
voices approach, a conversation full of soft “-sh-sh-“
the sounds of the breeze and these dark, blood-red blooms.

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The gates are open, the path reaches on ahead
and down the hill to the city.
Purposeful runners make short work of the distance.

Tourists walk past, looking straight ahead, keeping to the trail,
“you’ll see a lot of them here – this is tattoo country”
but looking down, this forearm is bare, unadorned,
the design resting in imagination,
as does the house of possible ancestors.

The outline sketched in brick, visible across the grass,
sliced in half by the path these people walk on,
oblivious to the souls that made a life here,
the commitments made,
the children born,
the woman who refused to leave
after the death of the man she loved.

***********************************************************

Children cluster on the edge of the hillside,
where the ground falls away through the trees.
They look out over the city,
people they will never meet, lives they will never live.
Names and dates and ages
carved into their homes of stone.
Angels hold the space, but offer little comfort,
wings broken, eyes blind.

***********************************************************

Isabella draws her hand from the water, and stands to leave the pond. The memory of goldfish kisses tingle across the ends of her fingers. She walks past the rose garden, and up and across the brow of the hill, until she reaches the stone door her parents had placed above her small narrow home, the home that was gone now. All she has is the door. From here she steps in and out of the world, watching until sleep calls and she slips through stone into memory, held in the sacred space of love and loss.

She watches the woman. She watches her trace the outline of the cottage with her steps, sees her break a kawakawa branch and place it on the plaque, sees her step back in silence. Sees that the woman feels the disturbance in the soil, feels the loss. And she feels the years collapse around her until they are two women standing on a hillside, two women lost in time.

As the woman turns to leave, Isabella sends a butterfly to brush past her head, and a fat bee to land on the white rose that grows wild nearby. Roses whose work is done, their centres turning brown, dropping their petals to rot untouched into the earth. All is beauty and desolation for the girl who watches, silence for the woman who listens.

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And as this woman turns to leave, she is deep in the silence
these hours without speaking have taken form
and wrapped around her a cloak of pale, thick air
a fog of silence become substance

And as she walks back down the hill to the car
Isabella walks behind her
bees and butterflies in her hair
and on her shoulders
and white rose petals
falling from her hands

©clairegriffin2018

Well, this has taken a long time to resolve!
From first notes made on the day (19 December 2017) until now, this very evening.
I’d tried prose, and being much more literal, then more poetic forms,
until I just stopped looking at it at all a couple of months ago.
Finally (and rather suddenly) tonight, I settled on this.

I’m interested in your impressions – what meanings you take from reading this.
I like the sense of mystery but I wonder if its too obscure. To aide understanding – this is based on notes made during an afternoon at the Wellington Botanic Gardens and the neighbouring Bolton Street Cemetery (see: https://boltoncemetery.org.nz/history/).
Any ideas for a title would be welcomed too 🙂