Writer's Blog.com
October 20, 2001

I had such a wonderful dream this morning. Out of a cold fog - I had to get an extra blanket in the night, I have been given such a marvelous gift!  I feel as if I have wiped out the lesson I came to learn in this life from choosing the mother I did.

I was having major repairs done to my house. Workmen were sawing and hammering in nearly every room. At first I tried to be there, to mix in, to maintain the normal flow of my day by staying in just one part of the house but I soon saw that the work was so massive that I would need to leave this job in their hands. It was also painful to watch some of the things that were destroyed. One workman knocked over some paintings stacked on the floor, leaning on the wall. I was very sad picking them back up and seeing the splintered glass in the frames. I seem to have no time to clean the glass out of the frames or to sweep up the shards so I pushed the frames under a counter hoping the exposed paintings would sustain no more damage.

I walked through the house shoving my stuff out of the way, covering it up with sheets and stuffing stuff in closets. I went outdoors and looked at the back of the house. It was huge – about a block long and four or five stories high. The windows were small and prison like and I rejoiced in the thought that the workmen would be putting larger new ones. The building seemed to be made of stucco or cement and was painted a sickly light green, which I also wanted to be redone with a more bluish cast to the color. As I looked at the back door, to the left side, I was amazed that the door looked like this! There were columns – two on each side which were much too ceremonious and pretentious for a back door, I thought. I got the idea of asking the workmen to enlarge this idea (I meant to type area), put it in the center of the house and make this the front of the house! Then these features would be right. It was right to have them. The problem was I had them in the wrong place.

As I began to visualize how many changes my house needed and how much disruption it would take to accomplish this, I became more determined to spend the days somewhere else and only come back here when the workmen were gone. So I gathered up the few things I needed for my day and was preparing to leave. As I walked through the rooms, the mess, the noise and the materials lying around I noticed many young children running about. They were treating the place like a playground. I asked several of the workmen what the kids were doing here, but no one answered me. At first I thought maybe one of the workmen had to bring his kids with him and I thought, "well then he would be responsible for them". As I was leaving I noticed so many kids around the place that I felt this many could not be here with the workmen. I asked a woman who was standing nearby why the kids were here and she said, "It is your mother’s job to care for your house and see that nothing gets hurt." This answer did not really satisfy me because I felt the kids were in danger of getting hurt. But I was also unhappy because they were tracking mud all over the place and besides, a lot of my stuff was still here and needed someone to keep an eye on it. But if this was my mother’s job to oversee this part of the work, I would leave it up to her to do her job.

I put my stuff in a car and started to drive away. But before I got off the property I realized that I was not happy with the way my mother was handling the situation and that I needed to let her know this. I turned the car around and went back. In the house I kept asking where my mother was. People would point in various directions and I waded through bunches of screaming, running children who were playing tag, drawing with crayon on the walls and simply acting out of control. When I saw a kid peeing on the wall I got furious. I began to run through the house looking for my mother. I found her in a sunny room sitting with a large picture window behind her. Grouped around her was a television crew who were interviewing her. I was slightly impressed that she was being interviewed but I was very angry that she had arranged to have her interview while she was supposed to be taking care of my house! As my anger welled up in me I realized that it was proper for me to acknowledge this feeling, that I was doing the right thing to feel anger with her, to feel she should be protecting my house, and that it was proper and necessary to let her know this. Without another thought about my actions perhaps being filmed, or the crew wondering what was going on, I walked into the group around her, took her by the arm and pulled her out of the admiring circle. There I held her as I told her she was not doing her job that was expected of her and that I was demanding she get busy and get these destructive kids out of the place.


October 19, 2001

Am working on writing up the AFTER WORDS Tanka Splendor so will let you see the gist of the article as it stands today:

This was the second time the Tanka Splendor Awards have been judged by the persons entering the contest and not by an outside, single judge. Conducting the contest on-line (for the most part - entries sent by post were added in) meant that entries could be confirmed and that the poems could be presented to all for judging without names, as well as a chance to let the judges see the results of the voting for all the poems. Several persons noted in comments with their votes, what a learning process it is to judge the tanka. And it is true that one reads over the collection very differently, with a great deal more discernment, when trying to decide which one is ‘better’ than the other one.

Judges were asked to pick 6 individual tanka and two sequences and to rank each of their choices in a row of A, B, C, D, or E. Thus, each poem picked to be one of the finalists, was given either 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 points. The range of points was from 55 points for Amelia Fielden’s tanka "from Europe" to 9 (which was a tie among five persons - giving us two 'extra' winners to the thirty-one). This year, instead of listing the winning poems according to the alphabet of the winner’s names, they are shown by descending order of points received.

Some statistics on this contest. There were 147 single entries (up from 113 last year) from 64 contestants (up from 49 last year). Of these, 30 were female and 34 were male so the gender mix is again fairly even. Sixteen women had winning entries and eleven men were winners. There were 22 female judges and 21 male judges plus two names of which I am not sure, to make 45 judges. Those sending their entries by post were unable to participate in the judging. There were three email addresses which were invalid and undeliverable.

Only three individual tanka entries per person were accepted and this year there was only one winner who had all three entries picked as winners – Margaret Chula, who has consistently been a winner in this contest. (By the way, she has a new book, Always Filling, Always Full, available for those of you who wish to study more of her tanka. You can get the details and read a book review.) Eight persons, however, had two of their entries in the winning circle. They are: Claudia R. Coutu, Amelia Fielden, Michael Ketchek, Angela Leuck, Laura Maffei, Thelma Mariano, Carol Purington, and Grant Savage. In last year’s contest, Thelma Mariano and Carol Purington were also multiple winners. So you can see we have a mix of experienced writer winning and new comers also doing outstanding work. In evaluating the selection of tanka, I was glad to see less of the very short (meaning only one or two concrete images) which read like elongated haiku. A few persons are counting syllables and one voter regretted that a few of his favorites "lacked a syllable" and therefore lost his points.

A participant could only submit one sequence and this year we had only ten entries. Two of the sequences had such a majority of the points (34 and 31) and the third entry had only 17 points so only these two sequences are in Tanka Splendor 2001. Again the combo of Cherie Hunter-Day and David Rice was represented with a collaborative work and this year it was given the most points.

Several persons, in returning their votes made comments about the quality of the sequences. Thelma Mariano wrote: " For the sequences, I did not feel any of them were true tanka, but on the basis of poetry, I would choose . . .". One person only voted for one sequence because she found the others "were quite weak. The one I did vote for I felt was outstanding." One person refused to vote at all for sequences consciously as protest against their quality as tanka.

I feel there is something to be studied here. Why we can so easily find outstanding individual tanka (several judges wished they could have cited more choices) and why sequences are so difficult? I think (in my never humble opinion) one of problems for a tanka sequence is the effort of getting a ‘leap’ between stanzas as well as a leap within the individual tanka. I suspect the reason "A Kindle of Green" was so appreciated was the almost automatic leaps created by two individuals writing on one poem. This pair – Cherie Hunter Day and David Rice have written enough together that their work is coming ever closer together (i.e. the leaps are not as wide and evident as they might be). I think we must appreciate and exercise the ability for leaping within tanka (in general) and especially in sequences. There is also the question of how to relate the leaps in combined stanzas.

Day & Rice and marianne bluger worked with the title-down method in which all the stanza are linked to the title or theme of the group. Both had outstanding titles which added greatly to the strength of the poems. I would hope in the future that we can see tanka sequences linked the multiple possibilities we have learned from renga in addition to this method. It is far too easy, when writing a tanka sequence to treat it like a ‘normal’ free verse poem in which various aspects of one subject are portrayed or to make a narrative or chronological sequence. Though we can surely write in this manner, it seems to me that the voters found these methods less than exciting for tanka. Tanka is a special form and I hope our sequences will reflect this more in the future.

Last year 22 out of 113 (or roughly 1/5) of the single tanka and 2 tanka sequences received no votes, and this year 48 out of 147 (almost 1/3) of the individual tanka appealed to no one. So the comment that more of the tanka were seen as "weaker" by some judges is confirmed. All of the sequences this year received votes but two of them only garnered one vote. There was definitely a ‘clumping’ of points around the two winners.

By doing the judging this way, the contest was not only the awarding of excellence for the poets, it was also a lesson in deciding what was admired (or not) by their peers in judging as well as in tanka writing. There is as much to be learned in judging a contest as in being an entrant/writer and it seems this system aids both positions. I hope those of you who judged (it seems to me the contest is worth entering for this experience and for the opportunity of evaluating one’s own taste) will look at your choices to compare them to the final winners to see where you agreed and did not. This is why the judges receive the list showing how many votes each of the entries received. The exercise can be enlightening to see how you relate to the majority of other tanka writers and can, at an inner level, change your goals for your own writing.

So, again the poems in Tanka Splendor show the best of what is being written in the tanka genre at this time. They show were hearts are, where the poetry is coming from, what techniques are being used and the varied shapes of the poems. And this time, the results of the contest show what the participants think of each other's work in a truly democratic process. It seems this is the best ever view of what is being written and admired as tanka and tanka sequences.

For those of you who didn't win, I sincerely hope you will study the winners to try to understand why their work was picked over yours. This is the way a poetry form evolves. Painful yes, but each of these winners have had to go through the same process in past years and look where they are now! Take heart from this work and continue finding your own way. If you didn't enter this contest, do consider letting these new methods of determining excellence encourage you to share your poems and your expertise next year.

Again, at this time of harvest, we can see what good things this year has brought forth for those who understand that their work is truly founding a new genre - English tanka. Thank you! each and everyone and Blessed Be!

October 18, 2001

Must work on Tanka Splendor. But I can tell you who the winning authors are:

Tanka Splendor 2001 Winners

Pamela Babusci   
marianne bluger
Jeanne M. Breden
Marjorie A Buettner

Margaret Chula x 3
Claudia Rosemary Coutu x 2
Cherie Hunter Day & David Rice
Dennis H. Dutton
Amelia Fielden 2
Suzanne Finnegan
David Gloss
kirsty karkow
Doris Kasson
Michael Ketchek x 3
David Kirkland
Angela Leuck x 2
Thelma Mariano x 2
Laura Maffei x 2
Matt Morden
Carol Purington x 2
Bruce Ross
Grant Savage x 2
John Sheirer
Rodney Lee Thompson
Michael Dylan Welch



October 17, 2001

The spirit ship has gone.

The other morning, while listening to the roar of the high tide combine with an autumn on-shore flow, I had written:

the prayer has flown
to a new level

Then tonight with a very deep low tide just at sunset, we went to Mote Creek. The hillside seems higher because the tall weeds and grasses are all laid low. Two rabbits guarded the path but the ringing of my bell was my password for access to the beach.

After adjusting my orientation to the far shore, I looked for the mound of stones containing the boat. The beach was swept bare of sea weeds except for tag-end remnants up behind the driftwood logs. Most of the newly exposed beach was covered with the small stones of Mote Creek beach. But in one place, where the boat had been, the stones too were scraped away down to the sand leaving only a couple boulders bigger than the sand was deep. It was fascinating to see the whole beach evenly covered with only stones except for this one area that was lower and covered with grave sand. I walked along the beach looking to see if the boat had disintegrated or was still together but in another area. At the south end of the beach someone had built a shelter and leaning against the wall, like a homemade fishing pole was two of the willow branches still tied together. But that was all I found from the whole boat.

Other evenings when I brought flowers, it had seemed cruel to cut them and just leave them in the hostile environment of the beach, so tonight I had put the flowers into one of my ‘people pots’ which had just come back from being fired. In the center of the area where the boat had been was a low white stone that seemed to shine out so I used it for my altar. I added the cornmeal and did my prayers just as the sun sank into a far fog bank. The sun is now so south that it no longer sets behind the cliff but sends its last rays from the water straight onto the beach. The evening air was very cold and my fingers felt like claws on the flute.

While I played the snowy egrets dining on the tidal flats would flap their wings and stretch their long necks as if catching my song to carry it off farther with their flight. With no wind the flute played clear and loud and rang from the dry hollow of the sea. The whole song is played with all my fingers covering all the holes. I just blow in my heart beat and the song is created for me. The rocks seemed to know what they would resound with.

As I was putting my flute back into it bag, my eye caught the sight of a scrap of blue fabric. Was this one of the parts of the boat? With my cane I tugged on the tiny scrap and I saw that this was the roof yet of my shrine! Even some of the willow twigs were still tangled in it. As I uncovered more I saw the jade beads I had tied to it the last time I had found the roof in the boat mound. That of all the scraps of the boat still on the beach, I found this bit of myself. So the spirits wanted me to know that I was still connected to this spot of earth even though the boat was gone. And I knew my prayers and songs tonight had been received.

October 16, 2001

Just worked on the Tanka Splendor contest tabulations all day. No blog, but I did rewrite parts of the clay story.

October 15, 2001

Having given up the thing of which it was most proud – its form – clay never wants to forget the enormity of its sacrifice. Its whole existence is its desire to return to firm form. Too easily it remembers the insecurity of being molten lava. How even as it flowed down the inside of the crater, it was happiest when it cooled into the clinker form of a-a. Yet this form was too fragile and the weight of its own self, piled on itself, would crumble into sandy dust-dirt that fell back into the throat of the volcano. The fluid magna that pushed upward from the center of the earth would easily melt the powdered rock into the shape of its flowing to redeposit it as easily as a dancer shakes out a ruffled skirt. Again and again the material would shine with a silvery blackness, smooth and shaped only to crumble back into the hole in the earth from which it came.

Each time the lava returned to its beginning it would carry back bits of chemicals known as memory. Sometimes these were enough to hold together against the rush of meltedness and the heat of being re-ignited into a glowing radiance. And finally, the tube, the throat from the inner earth would age and lose its ability to carry off the lava from the inner fire. Now the sides of the steepness of the caldron would encourage the hardened lava to slip and slide back into the throat blocking it with the clinkers, the dust, the course black sand. For years it would seem this mass in the quiet volcano had a new shape – that of inverted pyramid. Rain would trickle down into it, small earthquakes would shake it into an every more compact shape and the clay-to-be would feel a degree of happiness – of having come home at last. Peace and quiet and a positive shape. It was almost as good as being the center of the earth.

And then, over a period of time without time, subtle vibrations from below would fill the new form with unease and the clay-to-be could feel changes coming upward toward it. Unable to flee and unwilling to become anything else, it could only wait until the moment when a new upwelling of lava pushed against the stony plug lying in its path. Aided by the gases underneath, the hot lava accompanied its force with the expansion of steam so that its rising upward pressed against the plug of almost solidified rock. With deep regret the rocks were helpless against the rush as they became airborne when they were flung upward and outward. For an earth being this was the most scary thing that could and would every happen to it. It was bad enough to have to flow like a fluid, but to now fly through the air was beyond all belief of cruelty.

As quickly as possible, most of the clay-to-be hurried back to earth as rocks. The finer, more evolved bits of it, however, rather enjoyed this new experience of flying. Almost without practice, these fine particles learned to float on the wind as easily as it had once floated on magna. Joined together in the shape of a cloud, this kind of the clay-to-be tried to find its old security as it drifted above the earth. But all too soon it again had to listen to the call of the earth, the cold of the rain, and it again fell toward the round ball of itself underneath.

As dust, the clay truly felt scattered and fragmented. Its whole intent was focused on finding a stable form once more. At first just lying as a depth of itself seemed to be an acceptable form, but with the first drops of the next rain, it found out that its form was extremely fragile and temporary. Two, three raindrops together on a slope could induce it to run again with their cold as easily as magma had once convinced it to travel with its heat. Once a few grains saw their fellow grains flowing with water, others quickly fell in until large river-shaped sections took up the game of erosion.

The clay-to-be, having little choice, and probably even enjoying being given the shape of the flowing water, swam along with the song of change, newness and possibility. As their shoulders touched fellow earth, they nudged their sleeping particles to awake to the stream of moving to new places, doing new things and being unformed and uninformed. Even the earth on the banks of the stream fell into the movement often with the shout of a huge splash. More and more earth entered the water until a point was reached where the water began to fall down with its weight. As the water on one end drained back into the sea, the water in the river lowered in response and the flowing brown sludge happily became heavier and heavier. With a sigh of thanksgiving it sank back against a swirl of the sandy bottom. There was rejoicing on the river bank when the water receded, when the sun shone hot and the fine particles solidified into the almost rock it had once been. Ah, this was paradise, the paradise the clay remembered in the breast of the earth, that togetherness, that solidarity. In joy, reaching out from particle to particle the clay hardened into the shape of a crack in the earth. The next time the river rose up to its height, their belief in their togetherness held them together as they watched other particles sailing by. The river seemed to be able to sort out the various sizes and compositions of the mud slurry. Some kinds were put here and others stored there as a good housewife separates the fruits of autumn. Thus, the wisdom of the place where the main part of the clay-to-be had settled spoke out to like-minded particles. Thus, the bed grew over flood years added to by new floods. Always welcoming the newcomers, always taking them in and adding to their numbers, a sense of community formed. As the older members of the clay bed were given bits of animal and plant matter, they became more sticky so that they more easily could hold on to the sized grains of which they were composed. Somewhat proud of their fineness and ability for shape the clay bed established its domain. Now when the floods came their mass could resist the call of the water. Instead of being carried away by its passion of flowing, the clay called out to the finest particles floating by to come join in its stability. The coarseness of grains of sand was rejected by this elite group. Only the finest were allowed to settle, to be accepted into the community of clay.

Sometimes this ability to stick together took the clay to new depths. As the courser grains of sand and even rocks settled down to cover the clay in which they were not accepted, their weight pressed down on it. The clay, remembered being within the volcano and gladly accepted this change like a return to the joys of childhood. Pressed together by oppression, the stickiness of the clay gave it the shape it had been seeking for so long. If there had been ears around, one could have heard a sigh of happiness and relief of the mass to be in this state. In some places this happiness was pressed upon, even heated until the clay finally attained the state which it wished to have – be a rock again. Marl we call it. And it is sad and uncomfortable to know how easily marl gives up its rockiness.

If you find this idea sad, think how much more uneasy it is for the clay that never reached the marl-stage. When the earth cracks open, or is ripped open with a tool, the ancient community of clay is exposed to light and air again. Here, where it felt so secure for so long is now threatened by the two elements in which it had its most frightening experiences – air and water. Sensitive fingers can feel the fear within the earth that harbors the desires in the heart of clay. Surely it was with a hand aware of the feelings of the clay that took it up for the first time. Those hands listened to the desire of the clay to be together, to given a form. The clay even gave in to the pinch of thumb against finger as it encouraged these hands to help it to take on a shape. Speaking from heart of the clay to the muscles of a hand, the clay taught the eye and mind of another state of being what it wanted to be. Patient as the long journey from which it came, the clay taught the hands what it knew. Yet the next drenching rain would seduce the clay back into being a stream or a river and the lesson would have began again.

Remember minerals? They are the memory of the earth. In some ways the deposits of clay become the brain pans capable of remembering the elemental essence of the plants or animals or even people who have lain asleep in the feathery dust of clay. As one compares clays from different areas, it is often surprising that something so seemingly simple can be so different. The colors vary from a pure white through creamy whites to yellow, buff to gray, and reds melting into dark browns and often the veins of clay will be found in the same area. Growing is a way of collecting earth. Each plant species is a willful gathering of certain minerals. And in seasons or sun years, the plants leave their collages of elements to the earth. When many plants or animals add together the gifts of their lives to one place the faintest inheritances add up to discernable deposit.

Though some may wish to disagree, there is the concept that certain clays also have a memory of form – that they wish, when taking on a form again, to manifest the original bone, the first stem, the blooming flower which finally came to rest in this place. It seems our earth forgets nothing and sometimes the tiniest fish, small snail or even a footprint made on a rainy day, when covered with the heated ash, preserves the finest line. If the animal or plant lands in the moist clay and is covered with additional moistness so that the form collapses, some feeling for a being will in its etheric form remain when all else has disintegrated. Thus, the sensitive potter will say, "This is what the clay wanted to become. I only lent my hands to it."

Having again arrived in a form, at some point in rebellion against another lesson of the weakness flowing as water, the clay remembered the fire of the volcano. How it conveyed this memory to the being with the hands we will never know. But we do know that the being with the pinching fingers listened to what the clay asked for and the clay shape was set among the coals of a fire. And now the clay, with the help of the hands that embraced it with outstretched fingers, could be the rock it dreamed of being.

Completely malleable, as if it had no will at all, yet the clay either sits stubbornly daring anyone to change its firmness or turns to thick sludge threatening to escape. For anyone who challenges this dare, the clay pretends to give in completely. It will take on any shape the fingers push into it – even a fingerprint of a stranger. All too soon the fingers, and the mind attached to them, find the hidden will of the clay. The water that allows it to bend without breaking also gives it its revenge. Within a second, the clay can twist, slump, or fall into the welcomed arms of gravity for its form. Some minds found that one can prop it up with forms or molds. Sometimes, certain clays seem to welcome this help and will actually give themselves to this method of shaping. Too easily though, the scars are visible and tell the sad story of forced domination. The ingenuity of the fingers has learned about scraping and sanding to hide these wounds that the clay shows with a vengeance. From the shoulders come the will and the hours to make the clay forget how it came to this shape. When this method works, the delighted mind draws pictures of victory upon the clay. Sometimes the clay recognizes that this drawing is its own dream and the pot fires successfully.

All too often in these days, the clay is ripped from its matrix without prayers, without being asked if it is ready for its next step. Trussed in plastic, a slimy cover that smells terrible and feels like a sin against the softness, the clay is packaged and sold. Hands that do not know its home, slice it with strings that do not know its magnetic orientation. Eyes cannot read its history, and ears do not even remember its songs take over. Helpless in the hands of strangers the clay struggles to find its dream of being a rock again.


October 14, 2001 - Happy Birthday, Julia!

Yesterday, just after posting my blog on ‘what is an artist’ I got an email from Ed which seemed he was already answering my question. I was not surprised. Ed does this. He has the ability to stay in touch without machines.


Friday evening, after an eventful or non-eventful day of a series of near catastrophes in the framing trade, traded and framed in Toronto. However I take it, I still can't convince myself I'm a framer (or a poet, even). I'm an artist dammit and I don't often paint, just to make sure I make it count when I do. A few ideas around this, which may be obvious; don't know, but seem like they might. 

One thing going the rounds from decades ago, "A happy framer is a lousy framer." Well, why? All I can say is when
I'm too laid back, disasters can be expected. Every time. But when I'm truly concentrated, I have the temperament of an executive chef, not brooking fools too gladly. This is of course a choice, as are all attitudes, and all matters. So, at my best, I'm not a framer, nor was meant to be. So I can frame to stay alive to fight another day to a draw, or drawing. It happens. In a book called the WAY OF THE BRUSH (by? I forget), the artist (who paints with a huge oriental brush the size of a mop) is challenged by his Zen teacher who tells him that he would be a better artist if he retires from being an artist. The artist retorts that perhaps the teacher would be a better Buddhist if he retires from being a Buddhist. The Zen teacher laughs and says the he already has retired.

This is quite true in my experience. I can write poetry because I do not think of myself as a poet. I have yet to succeed as an artist because I still like to think I'm an artist. 

After having a wedding called off by an X-sweetheart, I was asked if I'd like to cook for their (Her and her new significant's) wedding. Since I'm not a professional cook, I of course said yes. Except that  the reception (and ceremony) was to be held in a Zen monastery, and I'd be allowed exactly 2 hours to prepare, I thought it wasn't a challenge. 125 guests, 12 courses 1 dessert; and two of the bride's sisters helped me out with cleaning and running deliveries and errands. It was a concentrated day, for me. When I was cleaning up at the end of the 2 hours, the Zen "Master" wandered into the kitchen with a dozen of his cadres, to offer me a "joint" (grass). (Besides being allergic to the stuff, and just not liking what it does to you, I was also in a chef's trance.)  As gently as I could manage (while scrubbing six woks) I refused. He smiled and said "If it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter!"

Without hesitating I turned (hands dripping) and replied "It matters if I make it matter."  His students looked quite worried and a touch angry, as he hesitated, and asked his #1 student for a clearer translation of what I'd said in case he misunderstood. Pausing a second he cracked a broad smile, slapped me on the back, and walked off laughing to himself. His students relaxed, and followed him out the door.

That was my gig as chef. "It matters if you make it matter." the extension is that the only thing you have to do in this life is die, and some say that is up for debate. All else is choice, even not to choose. The corollary to that is that We Must Have Freewill, WE HAVE NO CHOICE. There are of course consequences, there are trade offs, and prices to pay. Ignorance can be as much of a choice as enlightenment. Gurdjieff said the very last thing many would give-up is suffering. There's just too much familiarity too much pay-off to relinquish being taken care of. Being painless demands real independence. Do I live up to these things? Probably not. But they don't let me escape what I paid for them. Edward "

As I scraped down one of the rescued pots in the shade of a warm afternoon I continued to ask myself the ‘what is an artist’ question. Then I remembered my oldest definition: "One who has visions and follows them." – but somehow that is not enough. In the evening I skipped around reading in Robert Henri’s The Spirit of Art but nothing fell into my eye. And then just now while flipping through the poems Emily Dickinson and I worked on early in the summer I find:

I cannot dance upon my toes
if blame be on my side forfeit me
I would not paint a picture
I learned at least what home could be
the products of my farm are these


October 13, 2001

Yesterday I looked out the window I saw a bird flying toward me and I thought, "oh great, a dove comes toward me" but as it got closer I saw it was a young sea gull still in its gray tarn colors. I wanted it to be a dove, a peace dove and not the squawking sea gull I feel I am today.

Later when I opened my email I found a message stating "Right now I am most concerned about the struggle to find my way as an artist... determined not to fall back into the old patterns of workaholism for a university where I am little appreciated and underpaid. it is more important to pour that time and energy into making art, into developing the strength of my voice, in communicating something to the world. I am an artist, and that means I have chosen to live a certain lifestyle that involves great sacrifice. It is not easy. It has come with a cost... a price that I have paid. and continue to pay...  I am still single. Relationships in my family are a bit strained as a result of following my bliss... I live a long distance from my closest friends and family. Not sure why this life has chosen me. Just know that I am not a very happy person when I am not creating..."

And this letter has set me to thinking once again, "what is an artist?" or rather what is art?’ The question almost seems too elementary, too basic and yet I seem to keep coming back to it. Last winter we stopped in the local art gallery in Point Arena "CityArt" to see Bill Elmore’s newest oil paintings. He has been working in oil for several years now and has found a rather unique ‘voice’ in his work. As I looked at his paintings, I could not help to think about the stamp carvings I was working on. Why did oil paint make his efforts ‘art’ and my knife and ink ‘craft’? And yet when I look at the carvings by Julie Bloch and Jauneth Skinner I am very sure they are truly ‘art’?

Does work become art when someone else appreciates it and calls it art? Then why did receiving the acceptance of some of my work for the magazine The Sommerset Studio the other day not make me feel what I had done was art?

Does being able to sell one’s work make it art? What about all the things labeled as ‘crafts’ which are sold – especially now approaching Christmas? What is the difference between a ceramic piece called art and one called ‘craft’? Is the art piece perfect – the result of long practice, experimentation, skill and the desire to create something individual? But to make a well-crafted piece one usually has to make the same (nearly the same) thing over and over to develop the form or the idea. Are the practice pieces ‘craft’ and one final piece ‘art’. Can the craftsman produce art? At least occasionally?

All these questions come up, also due to the fact that the book The Faces of Mata Ortiz arrived yesterday giving me a brief overview of the various persons working in clay in that area. Are some of those persons artists and others ‘only’ craftspersons? How could one divide them up? Yes, the work of some of the persons appealed to me more than the work of others, but if I called the work I liked ‘art’ would someone else find it only craft? If many people are willing to pay money for the production product, does that make it art? True, I loved the $3,000. pots but there were also some for $200. - $300. which I also liked very much.

In the book Spencer MacCullen, the man who discovered Juan and worked so hard to popularize his work, speaks of an encounter with one pot that gave him the feeling as if he had levitated while in its presence. Does art ‘elevate us’ or levitate us while craft merely entertains us?

Can one do each day just what one feels is the right thing to do with one’s own life and be an artist? Or must there be an extra something done or given or made to be a ‘real’ artist? If so, what is it?

In the email I received, this woman seemed also concerned with the need to live the artist’s life of sacrifice and dedication. Yet how many people have lived the life of an artist (the bohemian) and yet failed to produce art? Yet how almost ‘cheated’ people will feel to find someone, whose art they have admired, to be living a very ‘normal’ life. Or can one not live a ‘normal’ life and truly be an artist? I remember in the sixties it was popular to say that our lives were our art and the goal was to live a life as if making a work of art. Thanks to this philosophy some pretty interesting experiments in homes, clothing, interpersonal relationships and even drugs were tried. Did dying mean their artist lives failed? I don’t think so, but I seem to be the one with all the doubts and questions today. If anyone has any answers to share with me, please let me know if I can quote you here.

a spring of thought
no one saw awe in any house
till an age goes
the soul selects her own society
sure as time’s insidious wrinkle

October 11, 2001

Yesterday’s slow got even slower in the afternoon. On Saturday I had gotten the three coil pots up over their shoulders and planned to throw their necks on Monday at the studio. I even congratulated myself for taking a day off, leaving the pots have a day of rest (because I decided due to the US bombing I really needed to go to the drumming circle). I had had trouble with pots staying too wet too long so I just put plastic in the openings, thinking that this would allow the bases to firm up just right. I checked them on Monday and found them drying faster than I thought, so I totally covered them and thought this would even buy me an extra day at the studio. By the time I got to the pots yesterday all three were stone hard. One was far enough along I thought I could save it by scraping it and remaking the opening. So I sat in the sun scraping it while the other two lay wrapped in heavy plastic with cold damp clothes on their tops as if they were patients.

In the fifties, when I learned to do clay, we never scraped the dry pots (as I remember). I think that in the meantime we have learned a lot from Indian potters and thus scraping has become something we do also. I must say it is a very comforting activity to do. The repetitive movement is much like churning butter, spinning or carding wool or even drumming and does my inner someone so much good. The warmth of the autumn sun and the north wind was perfectly balanced to my own temperature. The sound of the metal tool being dragged over the firm hard clay sets up a ringing in the pot and myself that smoothed out the rough places in my soul. And I needed that!

I have one acquaintance with whom I try to relate but each encounter seems full of pricks and snips. What she says is very much who she is, and is not terrible, but I take her and her words and coil on distorted thoughts and anger (I admit it) until I am as lop-sided and malformed as my today’s pots. Usually when I answer a message, I am able to forget it and let it go. It took me a long time to stop wondering how she would answer to my latest attempt to set things straight between us. When I was finally able to move my focus and energy from her to the clay, it felt so good that I worked straight through until almost five o’clock. I did stop long enough to call Dorje to wish him a Happy Birthday! but I did not clean up enough to do my prayers at none. In the evening I was so tired from three full clay afternoons in a row that vespers and compline eased off my horizon as if they were not there.

In the night, the low slung cradle of a moon woke me as it rose through the pines behind a thin mist. I could barely see its crescent shape as the light spread out a radiance in the fog. As I became more awake I came up against the thought: "Muslims pray five times a day. And you?" I realized the past four days I had let my prayer schedule go awry. I thought about the Muslims and how good it is that they so deeply ingrain in their followers the five-times a day prayer schedule. And how hard it is for me to keep to my seven.

On the news I had heard one of Bin Laden’s followers say: "we are keen on death, and the West is keen on life." I wondered how it was to pray five times a day for death. Isn’t life good? Isn’t it ‘good’ to foster life, living and loving? But this group, or groups, believe just as strongly as I do that planning and carrying out death and destruction is the thing to do. And then I thought of President Bush laying his hand on the Bible to take his oath of office and how it is his instruction to others to drop bombs in Afghanistan.

These thoughts brought me back to a conversation I am having with Marjorie about taking negative energy and moving it into positive action. Recently I had written to her: "But I know the amount of energy it takes to persevere over this continual dragging downward. I have learned, as has this other woman (we support each other) to take this negative/restrictive energy given out the need to control, to transform it into our own creative 'juice'. Thus, instead of stopping us, their anger and resentment and fear of what we will do actually feeds our bodies with energy to do work, with new ideas and great leaps of joy and happiness. We cannot let ourselves be contained. Our lives must be a constant bursting outward - even when we feel alone and scared."

And yesterday Marjorie had sent me this amazing story from her life: "I remember an experience I had when I was 26 or so.  I was walking down the street and a car turned right into me as I was walking across the street.  I was not hurt but I could have been.  I think the image that saved me was the idea of walking up to this car to meet it...otherwise I would have been run over.  Both the negative and positive forces were together and I used the negative force to push me into safety.  It worked physically, but there was a psychological occurrence that saved me, too.  I understood on an intuitive level that this is what I must do to survive,  too.  It is funny how I have forgotten this until now.  You are so right about saving ourselves and using that negative energy for our own creative juices. "

the service of hope
with the soul’s distinct connection
we lose when we win
when we see we know our bodies
as we pass houses musing slow


And now this morning I find in my devotions before I go to check my email:


Psalm 124


If the Divine Presence is on our side,

why do thing go awry and away?


What is this part of me that refuses to speak?

What is this part of me that refuses to listen?


How to change the patterns of my guts

to see anew the ways of the Divine?


Why are good intentions swallowed up alive;

and fierce anger swings over toward me?


Why have waters overwhelmed me

and the torrents gone over me with raging?


Give me the insight to see how I hobble myself;

how my ideas of the way the world works are amiss.


Let me see myself in abundance and happiness;

good health and work for my daily hands.


My help comes from the Divine Presence;

the Maker of heaven and earth.

Continue reading at:

October 1 - 10, 2001
September 21 - 30, 2001

September 11 - 20, 2001

September 1 - 10, 2001

August 22 - 31, 2001

August 11 - 21, 2001

August 9 - 1, 2001

July 31 - 26, 2001

July 25 - 18, 2001

July 17 - 11, 2001
July 10 - 4, 2001