Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July Already!

Bhakti Ziek preparing her Mirrix Loom
It's July already and I never got to post in June. So much for my intentions to be a regular blogger. But here I am today, preparing my Mirrix loom so I can take it to Penland with me. I leave on Sunday and have a full class of beginning weavers. Some people have expressed "sympathy" to me about teaching beginners but it is my choice. I could have proposed anything for my workshop but I want to work with new weavers. I hope to entice them to begin a journey that goes on for years.

Two tencel scarves woven by Bhakti Ziek in June 2015
I plan to start my students with 8/2 tencel and weave scarves (or table runners or just plain cloth). If someone wants to work with other yarn, that is fine--I see my role as explaining and demystifying the process of weaving on a floor loom. I wove the scarves above because I didn't know whether I prefered 24 epi or 30 epi for this yarn. Guess what--after washing and ironing I still don't know. At least the students will have physical examples to touch to help them make their choices.

Detail on top shows the two sides of scarf woven as a 1/3 twill (so reverse is a 3/1 twill)--there are changes of structure woven in stripes but always 1/3 tie-up; bottom shows the other scarf, woven as a 2/2 twill, with the weft color sequence forming a plaid (both sides of this scarf are the same); scarves woven by Bhakti Ziek, June 2015
Alpaca and silk scarf woven as a deflected double weave, by Bhakti Ziek
Here is an image of the second deflected double weave scarf I made using alpaca from Wild Hair Alpacas and silk from Henry's Attic. I was really pleased with the results and look forward to more exploration of this structure with those yarns. I sent this scarf and the other alpaca scarves out to Colorado to the store at Wild Hair Alpacas. They are having several open houses this summer and fall, so check their website for more information.

Third tapestry sampler woven by Bhakti Ziek for the online course taught by Rebecca Mezoff
I am continuing with Rebecca Mezoff's tapestry class online. This is my third sampler, which concludes the end of part two. There is another part to go--which makes me happy. I still have to finish the three studies--sew in the ends, that kind of thing. The instructions are in part three, along with learning to work with cartoons and weave shapes. I am going to do another study though of what we covered in parts one and two before proceeding with the rest. That's what I am doing in the first image--preparing the warp for another study that will probably be blocks and stripes, hatching and interlocks, demi-duites and floating bars. Rebecca has a video showing work by many artists using these processes and I am in awe of their skillfulness and creativity. Most of them are quite intricate narratives, which of course is a great tapestry tradition, but I am feeling very minimal these days and I think squares and color are going to be enough for me for now.

Demi-duites in top form are very neat on the face of the tapestry, but a mess on the back; detail of tapestry weaving by Bhakti Ziek, woven as a study in the online course taught by Rebecca Mezoff
Mark Goodwin preparing walls of Chandler Gallery, to hang Sisyphus, a seven panel weaving by Bhakti Ziek
There is another opportunity to see my seven panel weaving Sisyphus! The current show at Chandler Gallery in Randolph, curated by Rebbie Carleton, is called Creative Cosmos. It is up through September 7th. There will be a reception for the artists on August 8 from 6-8:30 pm and earlier that day, at 4:30 pm, the artists will talk about their work. My wonderful husband, Mark Goodwin, once again helped me hang my work. Okay--he did all the work and I watched.

Three panels from the seven panel weaving, Sisyphus, by Bhakti Ziek, 2015. Each panel is 28"w x 88.5"h, silk, cotton, metallic yarns, handwoven satin damask, hand woven on TC1 looms
Mark Goodwin's studio, June 2015
I will get home from Penland the night before Mark has an opening of new work at BigTown Gallery on July 18th. Perfect timing. His work and paintings by James McGarrell will be up from July 15-September 6, 2015. Meanwhile if you haven't seen the Viva Cuba! exhibit that is showing there now, it is not to be missed. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Branching Out to Chaos


I am very linear, which of course is a good attribute for a weaver. I like being involved in a big project, which gives me focus and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Long ago, when I owned and ran a restaurant in Panajachel, Guatemala, I understood that I liked knowing everyone and being friendly, but also that the responsibilities of the restaurant kept me too busy to do anything that wasn't involved with running the restaurant, and it kept me out of trouble. I suppose this is another way of saying boundaries can be helpful.

The keeping out of trouble refers to my own mind and my inclination to activities such as computer games and reading. Reading is okay, but that other thing..... Anyway, I don't have any big projects on my calendar right now and it is a perfect time to explore. Which if you have read my recent blog posts you know I am doing: card weaving, taqueté, tapestry, reading, and yes, that other unmentionable activity. So this story begins with my trip to Conway, MA to purchase a small Mirrix loom from Elisabeth (Lisa) Hill


Lisa Hill and some of her amazing fabrics
I walked into an old barn, with an amazing studio, and met the most wonderful enthusiastic woman who brought me across to her house filled with more looms and piles of incredible alive textiles. I wanted to touch everything, and if I had realized where I was going, I would have planned my day to have time with her. But I didn't, and had to rush away, loom in hand, determined to return as soon as possible.


Details of four scarves woven by Bhakti Ziek for Wild Hair Alpacas
One of the things I had to do was weave some scarves for Wild Hair Alpacas from yarn spun from the fleece of their animals. (Full disclosure: my brother and sister-in-law own Wild Hair Alpacas and have named most of their animals for someone in the family, so I never know if they are taking about a cousin or an alpaca when they say things like "Nancy isn't feeling well these days".) You would think that 45 years of weaving would make an assignment like this simple--but keeping track of my hours is almost the antithesis of making art. Also, the yarn I had on hand was limited, of different weights, and I knew probably not what they were having spun up for my use in the future. Still, it was a beginning and I do know that experience is my best teacher. So I wove five scarves, washed them, twisted the fringe and ironed them and decided to bring them to Lisa for some input.


Laurie Autio, Ute Bargmann and Lisa Hill--all three are master weavers with certificates from The Hill Institute
Lisa made arrangements for a power lunch with her, Laurie Autio, Ute Bargmann, and me. The three of them are Master Weavers with certificates from the Hill Institute. This is no small feat, and I was thrilled to be there with them. Ute's expertise includes card weaving and she brought a display of bands she had woven in conjunction with some historical research to be published. (You can purchase another book she contributed to on Amazon.)


Laurie showing some of her lace work (left and right); Ute in the center with her tablet woven bands, many of which are brocaded
Laurie Autio is a respected teacher of weaving who offers a study program for intermediate to master level weavers called Explorations in Advanced Weaving. This course goes on for years, and her students are devoted to her because of her kindness, clarity, and breadth of knowledge. She is about to start a new group this fall, so if interested (and you should be) contact her at <lkautio@comcast.net>. She also brought cloth with her and again time did not permit us to see everything--so there must be another luncheon soon. Laurie is going to be the newest TC-2 owner (maybe the loom has arrived by today) and I can't wait to see what she does with that loom.


Lisa Hill modelling alpaca scarves and a shawl woven by Bhakti Ziek
Even though we were at Lisa's house, we didn't have time to go to her studio and talk about what she is doing. Instead she modeled my scarves and an alpaca shawl that I made. They gave me good feedback, positive and helpful, and I felt encouraged. (Here is a plug for my work--it will only be available through Wild Hair Alpacas--which has an online store that includes felted alpaca products and children's books starring alpacas.)


Pilgrimage to Vävstuga Weaving School, next to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, MA and then to their offsite location where the drawloom class was in session
Lisa teaches at Vävstuga Weaving School in Shelburne Falls, MA. Since moving to Vermont I have meant to go there, even had it planned a couple of times but it never materialized. Becky Ashenden owns and runs the school (she's pictured in the two bottom pictures above) and she also has a fantastic store that will make you pull out your credit card (I know what I am talking about). So when Lisa made arrangements to take me there after lunch, and the drawloom class was in session that day, it felt like a pilgrimage. Which is sort of funny to me because I have actually gone to Shelburne Falls a couple of times to do ten day silent retreats at the Vipassana Meditation Center, Dhamma Dhara (that should have a line above the last a but I can't seem to make it happen here). If you can't make it to one of her classes there, she has many workshops scheduled around the country and maybe you can meet her there. 


First deflected double cloth woven by Bhakti Ziek, unwashed top left and washed, bottom right
As soon as I got home from that inspiring day, I set up my macomber with my first deflected double cloth. I am indebted to both Lisa Hill and Madelyn van der Hoogt for sharing information with me on this wonderful type of cloth. Madelyn, founder of The Weavers' School, editor of Handwoven, and author of many books, including The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers, which should be on every weaver's shelf, has been a hero of mine for years. I can pretend to be a beginner, and it wasn't hard while doing this scarf (I had no idea whether I was suppose to beat my weft loosely or hard), but the fact that I can send an email out to friends all over the country when i get in difficulty is a sign that I have been doing this for a long time. I will just say that all my scarves feel heavenly, and they probably will improve as I keep going, but the graphic quality of this scarf makes it really nice to wear.


Small sample of Bhakti Ziek's deflected double cloth but beaten tighter than the scarf
I want to keep good records of what I am doing but I barely had enough warp to do one scarf; yet somehow I did manage to get a small sample off the warp. I beat the weft much harder on the sampler and when I washed it the cloth came together in a way that I liked. Next scarf I should have enough warp to make it large enough to allow for shrinkage and a tighter beat.

Gilmore inkle loom--old style with weaving by Bhakti Ziek
Here's another branch to the confusion of my life. I wanted to follow up the card weaving study with an inkle loom band. I pulled out my old Gilmore inkle loom--can you see the faded ink label on the loom near the shuttle? I love that loom, maybe because it was the first one I purchased. It is so simple to use; a really smart tool. I looked online to try and find images of how to warp it because after all these years of disuse, I wasn't sure. I sort of knew but wasn't positive. I am surprised that I didn't find a good picture with the flap, which is for tensioning, and all the pegs. Finally I just bit the bullet and warped the loom, following draft one in Anne Dixon's book, The Weaver's Inkle Pattern Directory: 400 Warp-Faced Weaves. Guess who did the forward--Madelyn van der Hoogt! I started at one because I was thinking it would be nice to do all 400 bands. That was before I started. Now I think I will finish this and put the loom away. 

It's not that I don't think the process is perfectly wonderful. In fact, I am totally inspired by what Daryl Lancaster does with her inkle loom. She uses the bands for her incredible handwoven garments--it makes sense for her to make the cloth and the bands. And she has written a book on using the inkle loom that I plan to order (and when I was in doubt an email to her got an immediate response with a diagram of the old Gilmore loom like I have). But I feel fractured by all this exploring and long to return to my TC1 and the taqueté and samitum study that I have neglected (and to continue with the tapestry lessons). There are so many avenues one can go down as a weaver, but my birthday is next week, and I better start pruning myself so I am not just rambling around as I near the end of my 60s.


Dimity studies, above face and back of a study by Lisa Hill; below a study by Ute Bargmann
Oh, but I didn't mention the study of dimity that Ute Bargmann and Lisa Hill and others undertook, did I? It was Lisa's notebook of small swatches like the ones in the photo above that got me determined to return to her barn soon. These are three shaft weaves--or at least based on three shafts. Plain weave. Now three shafts and plain weave do not go together--so I am confused. Maybe it isn't three shafts? I really don't know. But I have to find out. So pruning some branches, but adding others. Weaving might be linear but it also is a mysterious web.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Studying Tapestry Weaving

Bread and Puppet 2015 Calendar
I know I said I would do a new post in a week, and that was three weeks ago, but really, three weeks is much better than a year--and I do say I am an "erratic blogger" right up there under my name. So here is my tale of how I came to my current study of tapestry weaving--a meandering story of course.


Taqueté study by Bhakti Ziek, 2015
Taqueté is a weft-faced structure using two warp systems and multiple wefts, and it is one of the structures I taught last summer at Belinda Rose's studio in Scotland using her Thread Controller loom. The basic structure of taqueté is always plain weave, like tapestry, but the wefts travel from edge to edge, unlike the discontinuous wefts of a tapestry. The wefts should completely cover the warp, and you can see in my study above, that my warp is definitely showing--especially at the bottom. So I began to think I could learn something from tapestry and tapestry weavers and contacted a few friends who are experts in tapestry.


Emergence II by Rebecca Mezoff, 40"h x 40"w, hand-dyed wool tapestry, in the permanent collection of Craig College, Craig, Colorado
It seemed like everyone kept pointing me to Rebecca Mezoff and her online tapestry courses. I wasn't really thinking to take a class, and as a former teacher of weaving (well, I still do teach sometimes but not full-time) I have taught tapestry--but Rebecca has posted some wonderful free videos on the internet and I began to watch everything that was available and realized I could learn alot from her. So I signed up for her Three-in-One Course. You can read all about her different courses and options HERE.



Front (left) and back (right) of Bhakti Ziek's Part 1 sampler from Rebecca Mezoff's online tapestry course.
What works for me, besides the fact that she has made professional videos that are in focus, clear to follow, and funny (so you enjoy watching the videos), is that these are self-directed courses. There is no meet-up time when all the students and Rebecca are online together--you work at your own speed, whenever you want, and you can ask as many questions as you want. Rebecca tries to answer everyone within 24 hours, but my experience is that she responds much quicker than that. I can watch her videos over and over--and I do. In fact, I watch so often that Mark and I think we have a roommate. You also can see what the other students have done in any section--after you post what you have done. That is a really nice feature because you get a sense of sharing without feeling competitive.

Tommye Scanlin's mirrix loom, on loan to Bhakti Ziek
Okay, here is the truth--I wanted a new loom. I saw people using the Mirrix loom in one of the workshops when I taught at the ANWG Conference in Bellingham, WA in 2013. I loved what everyone was doing, and I loved the looms. So for two years I have been wanting one of those looms, and I got it in my head that if I got one, I could work downstairs at the kitchen table by the woodstove at night, instead of going to bed and reading. And Rebecca demonstrates most of the steps so far on a mirrix loom--and that tap tap sound of her beating the weft into place is very enticing. You can hear that tap tap sound at about minute 2:30 of her splicing video.

Macomber loom set up for tapestry in Bhakti Ziek's studio
But I have this perfectly wonderful 24" 8-shaft Macomber loom in my studio and I haven't used it for a long time, and I knew it was a great loom for tapestry--so I couldn't legitimize buying a loom, especially if I didn't know if I was going to be serious about tapestry or not. So I started Rebecca's class and put seine twine cotton (I didn't know about this wonderful yarn before watching her videos) on my macomber.

Start of Part I of Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course being woven by Bhakti Ziek
What I was totally unprepared for was my reaction to doing tapestry. I was completely mesmerized and engaged and loved it. My friend Sandra Brownlee explained it perfectly: she said "my fingers were thirsty." (You can experience Sandra's wisdom in The Tactile Notebook workshop she is teaching at Longridge Farm this summer.) I am going to write more about this in a future blog because I think it is an interesting topic, about the differences I perceive between the jacquard work I have been doing and the hand manipulation of tapestry--but it is a big topic and I think I should leave it for a future discussion. Let's just leave it that my hands, which have done so much brocade in the past, and yes, I have done tapestry before, felt at home with the butterflies and moving of weft threads that is part of tapestry.

Tapestry rug woven by Bhakti Ziek about 45 years ago with holes carefully chewed by her beloved dog when she was a puppy--and now is gone but the holes remain
Of course, the same week that I set up the macomber for tapestry, my brother and sister-in-law who own Wild Hair Alpacas in Colorado Springs called to see if I could weave some alpaca scarves for them (that too will be another post). Suddenly my macomber loom was in high demand. And that is when my friend, Tommye Scanlin offered to lend me her Mirrix loom--so I could test the loom in person to see if I wanted one and also free up my macomber for the scarves. The mirrix is pictured above, and yes, I do want one.

Front (top) and back (bottom) of Part II sampler from Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course as woven by Bhakti Ziek
I had to finish the warp on the macomber before I could start the scarves, and you can see my work from Part II of Rebecca's course. We are weaving from the back and in Part III I will learn how to deal with all those tails hanging down, and then the back will be almost as clean as the front, and I will be sure to post it for you to see. 

Area of different ways to join wefts in a tapestry, part of the lessons in Part II of Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course, as woven by Bhakti Ziek
I am constantly amazed at how the smallest detail can change the effect of the weaving. I pulled out my Peter Collingwood The Techniques of Rug Weaving (the weaving books are all coming off the shelves these days and piling up by my bed for night time reading) and just couldn't understand how the difference between one weft going over the other versus the other going over the first could make a difference, but when I tested it at the loom I saw that he was completely right. That is another thing--tapestry is an ancient process and one that has been used by cultures all over the world--so there never is one way to do anything, and what is right for one group is wrong for another. I really like how even-handed Rebecca is about all the variations. She is quick to point out what others do, and often sends us to videos by other artists, and she is very clear about why she does something, and of course she is teaching us her way, but she always leaves it open for the student to decide what works best for them.

Sisyphus, a seven panel weaving by Bhakti Ziek, 2015; each panel is 88.5"h x 28"w, silk, cotton, metallic yarn, handwoven satin damask; woven on TC1 looms
I didn't have enough warp on my loom to finish all the exercises in Part II, so I will either finish them on Tommye's mirrix or--isn't it funny how things happen-- I met some friends at Brattleboro Art Museum last week so they could see my weaving Sisyphus (I will do a blog post soon about this piece), which is up until Sunday, May 3rd in their current exhibition. Of course I went on and on about studying tapestry, and one of my friends who is moving her studio soon offered to give me her tapestry loom, which she isn't using.

Nilus Leclerc Tissart loom now residing at the home of Bhakti Ziek
So yesterday Mark and I drove over to her place and got the loom. Although she had sent me a picture, I was rather surprised in person to see it is really a sturdy big loom. Luckily we had the topper off the truck, and it just fit perfectly. This loom makes me think I had better get serious. I actually don't have any idea of what I want to do in tapestry. Right now I just love the process of learning and understanding. At the moment I have the sense that despite all my years as a weaver, I know nothing, and there is so much to learn that I am never going to get "there." Of course, I also know there is no "there" and that one of my pleasures right now is that I do know something about weaving, and can grasp the nuances of the differences I am being taught--and this was not something I could have understood when I did tapestry in the past.

I have more to say--and obviously I have many more blog posts that I have to do, since I have promised them to you in this post--but I think I will end by saying, I could finish up Part II and do Part III on my Nilus Leclerc Tissart loom OR I could do it on my own mirrix--since I am buying one from another weaver next Monday. This story has a happy ending.

And thank you Rebecca Mezoff for being such a wonderful teacher and artist and a generous soul. Rebecca also blogs--so go here to see more. The color work she is doing for a new class is totally inspiring. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Card or Tablet Weaving

Burmese Bands, card/tablet woven
It is almost one year since I have written in this blog. A busy year, a good year--and now I hope to be more consistent and catch you up and stay with it. Is anyone out there reading anymore?


From left to right: inkle band by Bhakti Ziek circa 1969; tablet band by Bhakti Ziek, 2015; Burmese tablet band; double weave band by Bhakti Ziek circa 1992; Mexican pick-up band; Mexican pick-up band; Guatemalan double woven brocaded belt from Nebaj, made before 1960.
I have bands on my mind. The image above is just a small selection of the many bands in my collection. I never have used them. Well, that isn't exactly true. The inkle woven band on the left in the photo above is the first band I ever wove, and I did use it as a strap on a bag for many years, then removed it and put it with all the others--usually tucked away in boxes but sometimes hanging to be admired, or wrapped in circles, like the Burmese prayer bands above that reside in a cabinet with glass--so they are always on view. I find these strips of cloth very appealing--just as they are.

But that doesn't explain why I am thinking about bands, and making them. In January, on a wonderful trip to California, I presented a talk to the Santa Cruz Weavers Guild and met Don Betterley and Gudrun Polak. Gudrun is a well-known tablet weaver whose website, theloomybin, has wonderful information on this type of weaving (card weaving is what most Americans say, and tablet weaving is more common in the rest of the world, but they refer to the same process--I think I will use tablet weaving here) including a link to Don's new card weaving loom. 


All the ingredients used for making the band in this photo--Don Betterley's loom with the beautiful turquoise inlay on the front beam, cards, clamps, weft, a beater, weights, and the all important instructions--these are by Karen Henderson
I was intrigued (I love new tools for weaving) and got Don's loom. You can get his link from Gudrun's website or write directly: <betloom(at--use @ no spaces)gmail.com>. Don's loom allows for easy spacing of the warp at the back, and clamps to tables.


Books on tablet weaving, I used Linda Hendrickson's instructions for my new band
I pulled out all my books on tablet weaving, and ordered Peter Collingwood's The Techniques of Tablet Weaving, which had been out of print the last time I tried to buy it. The only disappointment when it arrived was that this edition is a black and white print from 2002, and it is very difficult to read the images without the color--but the information is all there, and I am busy reading it at night. The book I used to make my band was Linda Hendrickson's wonderful little pamphlet Tablet Weaving for Parents and Children.


My original set up with warp tied around front beam the way I would do on a floor loom (note Don Betterley's nice inlay design); the warp is weighted in six sections with knitting machine weights, and the warp is stretched out across the back beam (which proved to be too wide)
I set up the loom and started weaving. I am going to teach a beginning weaving summer class at Penland School of Crafts (July 5 through 17, 2015; it is full but you can contact the school to get on the waiting list because people do change their plans) and I realized that doing this tablet weaving project was perfect preparation for that class. My own awkwardness and confusion about what was going on (tablet weaving is twining, not weaving, so threads twist around each other and it took quite a long time before I could see the elements and understand what they are doing....not that I totally understand yet) is a reminder of how my summer students will feel confronted by the loom and the many steps involved with weaving before you actually throw the shuttle.


Many bands woven by Alice Schlein

Selection of bands woven by Belinda Rose
I am lucky because I have many expert weavers as friends. Both Alice Schlein and Belinda Rose have recently taught classes on tablet weaving, and if you contact them I am sure they will be doing more in the future. Click on their names for links to their websites. I immediately started a three-way email conversation and barraged them with questions. They patiently and carefully immediately sent me responses. Belinda said she might even do a video--so watch her website to see if she posts it (and if she does, I will mention it on this blog too--another reason to keep posting regularly).


Warp readjusted on back beam so the threads would stay warp-faced
I realized I had spread my warp out too far on the back beam and when I adjusted it, I was able to keep the threads tight and covering the weft.


New clamps with flat square clips that hold the band evenly
I also went to the hardware store and bought new clamps for the front--smaller ones and these have a square holding clamp that seem to hold the band more evenly. Anyway, like I said, I love to purchase new weaving tools.


Finished band and detail of some of the patterns
It took me much longer to weave than I expected, and of course the results are very wobbly and uneven--a true beginning experiment. I don't think I am going to add anything to the world of tablet weaving any time soon, but I am reading the Collingwood book and will try again soon. I realized that despite the hundreds of cones of yarns I have on my shelves, almost everything I have is much too thin for a novice tablet weaver like me to use. Luckily I have a trip to Webs planned for April 14 because I am giving a talk to the Pioneer Valley Weavers' Guild which meets at Webs. (That talk is free and open to the public if you want to attend.) So I will look for some heavier smooth yarn in colors that are more harmonious than the red and blue I used above.

Details of woven bands: two Mexican pickup weaves on left; Guatemalan brocaded band in center; inkle woven band on right by Bhakti Ziek, circa 1969.
Actually, this card weaving study made me remember how much I loved weaving inkle bands when I first started to weave. Maybe my Penland beginners won't be able to afford a floor loom but they certainly can afford cards and perhaps an inkle loom (or make one themselves). So I pulled out my sweet Gilmore inkle loom, and will look for appropriate yarn at Webs--probably the same yarn for both my next tablet project as well as the inkle loom. If I practice enough perhaps someday I can make bands as beautiful as the Burmese prayer bands below.

Various images of three Burmese tablet woven prayer bands, and one Bhakti Ziek feeble band.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stardust

Stardust by Bhakti Ziek, a permanent installation at Whitman College, Princeton University (photo by Ed Wendell)

I have been working on Stardust (a permanent installation at Whitman College, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ) since May 2013. It was installed March 19-20, 2014. There are six panels, each 16 feet high x 27.25 inches wide. They are handwoven weft-backed jacquards made out of silk, tencel, and metallic yarns.

It was an incredible year. One that called on me to use all the knowledge I have acquired over the years related to weaving and art, and still it pushed me to new territory and insights. I will write more about it soon (relatively soon) but for now you can see more images (photos by Ed Wendell) on my facebook page if you go to this link.


Princeton University commissioned a video on the making of Stardust. It was produced and edited by Michael Sacca. Click here to see.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Familiarity

New York City sky

I used to say that New York City is the only place where I know north, south, east and west. Just put me down somewhere in Manhattan and I can tell you where I am. I was born in Manhattan but raised on Long Island. My siblings and I knew that we didn’t belong there, and as we listened to our parents moan about life in that small town (whose edges blended seamlessly with all the other small towns on the south shore), we would encourage them to move back to the city. Maybe it was lack of courage, or maybe they really meant it when they said they had moved there for us—but it certainly didn’t make any sense since the schools were better in the city, the ease of attending cultural events couldn’t be argued, and the ability to have dim sum every day, or real Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern, or any ethnic food was an important point. I guess riding your bicycle in the street was a plus for Long Island, but by the time I reached junior high I was taking two buses, and a subway almost every weekend to the city to attend a Broadway play with another friend whose parents had excelled her on Long Island.

Guggenheim Museum, NYC 
We were raised to understand that school meant kindergarten through college, and then we could move back to Manhattan. That is almost exactly what I did—with a few months in Europe before moving to the City. Until I was 42, I moved in and out of the city—thriving and excited until I would reach the point where I was reading the New York Times on a Sunday, mentally attending all the week’s activities, and then doing nothing. The four walls of my apartment would become my boundaries, and I would know it was time to move. The last time I left the city (this time from Brooklyn, not Manhattan) I went to graduate school. In a way it marked a change in my life because it opened up the possibilities of jobs with responsibility and creative outlets. It helped that my first full-time job was only two hours from New York City. That first year or two we drove there almost every weekend. I distinctly remember the evening we were stopped in a traffic jam trying to enter one of the bridges, and pulled over, singled out because our car had out of state plates. That $200 fine really hurt, and our trips to the city dropped off as we began to investigate Philadelphia.

33 Years! 
There have been lots of moves in my 33 years with Mark (anniversary next week), and now we are trying to figure out the next one. Just last week a friend looked at me with an extremely severe, stern expression on her face and reminded me that I have a beautiful house with lots of room (meaning studio space). Yes, I know she is right. But I can’t help thinking that we are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, me and Mark, locked together and trying to find the surrounding puzzle where we fit. You know how you have a puzzle piece that looks like it should fit in a space, and you move it around in every possible position trying to get it in, and you sort of can even squeeze it in, but you know it isn’t right. When the piece fits, it eases into place with an audible sigh of relief. We are looking for that ease.

Mark Goodwin's studio in Vermont 
In the last few years, now that we are back on the East Coast, we have had the chance to return to New York and Philadelphia, and a few other places we have called home, and just this week I returned from a fabulous two weeks in New Mexico, the last place we called home. What I have learned is that my compass has expanded. New York, Santa Fe, Philadelphia—each of these places is familiar. Walking their streets is like an embrace by someone you love. There is a constant nodding of recognition, an internal ahhhhh, the yes of knowing where you are and what is around the corner. Of course there are changes—and despite the economic woes of these times—those changes feel vital and good.

Love my Friends!
Returning to these familiar places has also shown me what a people person I am. I love my friends. I love sitting with them (in that Chinese buffet where the food is not really very good but where we feel comfortable to sit for hours and talk; or in their kitchen which is a new place for me but still feels known because of all their possessions moved from the old house to the new) and catching up on their children, or siblings, or mutual friends, or themselves. Names of people I have never thought of since the last time I sat with them bubble up in my consciousness and I can ask how they are, what they are doing, where they are. It isn’t just gossip, or chatter, it is taking a reckoning of position, it is settling into home.

Folk Art Museum, Santa Fe, NM 
Maybe once we leave this place, we will return and find the same sense of the familiar. Five years have brought many shifts in my feelings. This spring/summer/fall were so beautiful that I couldn’t help seeing and acknowledging how gorgeous the world is in this area. But the cold has started, my arthritis is acting up, the days are too short. The litany of reasons to move doesn’t evaporate, despite the almost equal list of reasons to stay. Another place has become familiar but it still doesn’t feel like home. We have enough energy to believe that we could be happier somewhere else, enough energy to pack again and jump off the cliff. We just don’t know where we will land. I came home from Santa Fe with the same reaction I had to Philadelphia-- we can return. We just don’t know if we will return.

New Mexico Sky