Friday, April 23, 2010

Sing Your Last

The Harp Sessions: Caravaggioesque, originally uploaded by eugkyr.
My harp is living out its last days. I was startled to find this, but my friend who plays the harp professionally took one look at it and declared it to be true. Apparently harps have a lifespan of about a decade. The high tension of the strings puts so much pressure on the soundboard that it eventually cracks and sometimes pops right out. This cannot be fixed. There are no precautionary measure that will help. My soundboard is bowed outwards, straining against 700 pounds of pressure from the strings. The chest of this instrument heaves but because of this its voice is more beautiful now than it ever has been. The extra space created within the instrument due to the rounding of the soundboard makes the sound larger. I am deeply sad about the imminent demise of the harp. I thought that I was getting an instrument that I could play forever, but it turns out that harps don't have forever, rather a more finite lifespan. But I can't help bot notice the poetry of its end--the way it reaches its greatest potential in the moments directly preceding its death, the fine line between perfection and obliteration.

"You should just play it until it dies" said my friend. Which is what I intend to do. New harps are prohibitively expensive. It's very likely that when this one goes my budding harp career will succumb to fatal frost. It's hard to justify purchasing such an expensive instrument when your ability to play it is so small and you're uncertain about how much time you will be able to devote to it in the future. If I had known that it only had a few years left when I bought it perhaps I would have made more of the opportunity. But then again, maybe not. A looming end is not always enough to launch people into action and it is inevitable that some opportunities in life will be lost.

But for now, I have a harp. It sits in my living room kept company by my compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, a large music stand, a wall lined with CDs, and a metronome. Its presence is strong. If you play other instruments in the apartment its strings vibrate sympathetically. It is an instrument that speaks its mind. The one time I carried it outside on the way to a music store to see about getting new strings the wind played in the strings and my harp began humming...first quietly and then louder and louder until it was almost a scream. "That's incredible" said a man in his garden as I passed with the harp. "Yes," I said. And it really was--the sound it was creating was a roar. I didn't know a harp could sound like that.

Upon returning from the music store it promptly broke a C string. I get the impression that the harp is a bit of homebody and didn't much appreciate the trip into the world. I don't know how much time it has left. My only option now is to appreciate it as much as I can now. Learn all that I can now. And maybe one day I'll be able to get a new instrument. You just never know.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Polaroid Dreams with Harp Accompaniment

bird collage

Bird Speaks. Mixed Media Collage
Andrea. 2010

I do my own thing, and you do your thing,
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful
If not, it can't be helped. 

I have this flaw, or perhaps this strength depending on the situation, and it's that I tend to dive into absolutely anything that catches my attention--and my attention is not very exclusive. My interests are so varied that it's difficult to keep track of them and the list of things I have learned or have wanted to learn grows longer all the time. It also leads to some impulsive but frequently exciting purchases, the most recent being a Polaroid SX-70 OneStep camera from the 70s that I found on eBay after being incredibly inspired by Madelyn ,Vivienne, and
Suvarna who recently put together a display of their beautiful Polaroid images here in Vancouver. The camera is in the mail and there will no doubt be updates about my exploits with the finicky art of Polaroid photography. So you see how this happens--there I was enjoying the Polaroid display by these three lovely artists and my brain said in a very convincing voice: "It is imperative that you try this. Just think of the creative possibilities. This is a new chance to create something beautiful." So after deciding that purchasing a used camera and sourcing some film wouldn't be prohibitively expensive (albeit not exactly what one might call cheap) I dove in. Started looking at Polaroid images on Flickr. Started thinking about all the things I could photograph. Started writing essays in my head about the merits of Polaroid and film photography in an age of rampant digital images (I love digital photography, but that doesn't mean other ways of seeing aren't still valuable!). This whole process has happened multiple times. It's why I've tried polymer clay sculpting, it's why I've recently been working on mixed media collage (picture above is my first example), it's why I once acquired an old blender solely for the purpose of making my own paper, it's why I bought an Irish flute made out of PVC pipe while travelling in Ireland, and it's why I recently found myself waist deep in an attempt to learn to play the harp, which is really what I was trying to bring this blog post around to eventually.

My desire to play the harp emerged suddenly when I was about 16 and obsessed with everything that had to do with Ireland. My love for the Emerald Isle has never really left me, and due to a long string of serendipitous events I acquired a 29 string harp that has been a stunning piece of furniture for about three years but hasn't gotten much of my attention otherwise. More convergences occurred and I befriended a wonderful harp player and ended up enrolled in her six week group harp workshop for beginners. And so it is that I have spent the past five weeks trying to learn the harp.

And let me tell you this--It's HARD. No angelic glissandos or twinkling runs of light-filled notes for me. If I manage to play a few arpeggios without causing all the strings to buzz and twang it feels like a huge accomplishment. I don't feel one bit like an angel when I'm playing. The body position and hand positions are so unnatural to me that I feel pretty much like a twisted old troll when I play the harp, with my hands like claws and my shoulders burning with the effort of holding my arms just right. Thankfully my friend is a very patient teacher, and I think that despite my own impression I'm actually making progress--the slow, painful progress that every beginner makes when things are brand new and seem near to impossible. I tell myself that the challenge will make me a better person, will feed the part of my mind that is never satisfied unless I'm learning something completely different from anything I've tried before. I tell myself that it's okay if I'm never a master harp player. It's okay if the only thing I accomplish is the ability to let a few O'Carolan tunes spill out from under my fingertips, because in those few small tunes I can touch a whole musical tradition, participate just for a moment in an unknown culture and know myself better through my brush with the unfamiliar.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going Macro

I just recently found an old used Nikon 55mm f/3.5 Macro lens for a mere $150. Seeing as new macro lenses cost somewhere in the region of $850, I was pretty excited about this. There's a small catch though--the lens doesn't work in anything but full manual mode and the meter doesn't work at all with this lens on the camera so you have to guess at exposure. I figured that this annoyance was a fair trade off for getting a cheap, well made macro lens and after all with a digital camera its easy to take a few shots, review them, and change the exposure settings. While a 105 mm macro may have been a better choice (allows more distance between you and your subject which also means its easier to get your entire subject in focus) even used ones were nearly three times the price of the 55mm that I picked up. I've had some opportunity to try it out now and have been happy with my early results, especially considering that manual mode scares me more than Rita MacNeil singing Danny Boy.

Macro photography is like having a whole new set of eyes. It forces new perspective and a new appreciation of tiny details in the world around you. Predominantly I wanted this lens to photograph small needle felting and polymer clay projects--but its potential for opening up all sorts of artistic doors is huge. All of a sudden it's exciting to photograph previously boring objects that are just lying around my apartment. A macro lens makes even the most mundane things new and endlessly interesting and will probably provide hours of amusement for M. as he watches me crawling around our apartment myopically encountering our environment. That's not to say that I'm really any good at this. Photography is challenging. I have huge gaps in my knowledge base (particularly in the area of optics) and when you consider that these days you have to know about composition, camera mechanics, optics, AND digital processing the number of things to learn about can be seemingly endless. That said I'm very much enjoying my photographic explorations. Here are some early macro trials, more to come I'm sure:

Drawn to the Rhythm
Andrea. 2010

monochrome orchid 
Andrea. 2010

dried rose 2
Last Breath
Andrea. 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

All Felt All the Time

This is a post about felt. I know you're excited. But really, felt is more amazing than you can possibly imagine. My recent investigations into needle felting and machine felting have opened up a whole new world of craft possibilities. It blows my mind that a bit of wool combined with a bit of agitation can create such an incredibly versatile medium for sculpting and the creation of durable, warm fabrics.

After finishing the needle felted owl that I featured on this blog I thought I would give machine felting a go. I finally have pictures of my French Press Knits felted slippers and I have been wearing them all the time. There's something deeply comforting about wearing hand made felted slippers. It feels luxurious and homey all at the same time. I might have to knit about a dozen more pairs so I'll  have them in colours to match absolutely anything. Here are my completed slippers, made during the Knitting Olympics:

felted slippers
Felted Slippers. 2010
Image by Andrea

There's lots to be inspired by in the world of felting. I have been absolutely blown away by Dawn Schiller's recent needle felting excursions. She was already an accomplished polymer clay artist when she spontaneously started turning her signature sculpting style into wonderful needle felted pieces. Her most recent is a satyr (pictured here). Take a look at her other sculptures as well on her blog. She's quite amazing!
I'm currently working on a needle felted bird that I'm hoping to add some polymer clay elements to for some mixed media fun. The plan is to finish it this weekend so I may have pictures by Monday. I've also been inspired by various bloggers that I've been following lately to try some mixed media collage, and I completed one this week. So I'll have pictures of that soon as well. I seem to be brimming with creative energy. I think it's the influence of the spring. With so much life springing up around me it's nearly impossible to resist the urge to stretch my own creative abilities.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Graduation Day


Max Graduates. April 2009.
Original image by my father, edits by me

My dog, Max, just graduated from dog school. My parents took him because he has a few issues with heeling and chasing after other dogs that he's so desperate to play with. Also it's possible that they're suffering from a bit of empty nest syndrome. It seems that Max has become more and more the child of the family and I have no doubt that he loves it. His few flaws aside no one could say that he isn't a wonderful dog. He loves everyone with such loyalty and unwavering forgiveness. If you trip over him, or accidentally crush his tail under your chair he quickly forgets the pain and remembers only that you are the most wonderful thing in the world. As dogs go you really can't ask for better than that.

Mom reports that Max got an A+ in his dog class. But so did every other dog. When one man received his dog's diploma with the glowing grade on it he exclaimed--"oh! what a good dog. I thought you were going to have to go to remedial class!"

Max had a bit of trouble in his dog class with the "leave it" command. He was "leaving it" just fine when a treat was placed in front of him, but a number of times while he was steadfastly obeying the command a puppy snuck in and ate his treat right out from under his nose. Max is not a stupid dog. What he quickly learned was that "leave it" meant that some upstart pup was going to rush in and eat the delectable snack that he was moments away from getting the go-ahead to devour. So Max snapped. He dashed around the classroom and ate every other dog's treat and has not "left it" again. But apparently he made progress in other ways.

So congratulations Max on your graduation. But you're a good dog regardless.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Funeral for Birds

Birds, originally uploaded by Milla's Place.

Where do birds go when they die? I don't mean this in a metaphysical sense. I don't want to know if there's a bird heaven or if there is a strange feathered limbo somewhere on a different plane of existence, but it recently occurred to me that the only time you see dead birds or dead animals of any sort really is if they've been hit by a car and are left in an undignified heap on the side of the road. So where do birds go when they die of natural causes? I am wondering because as I was walking to the bus stop yesterday I saw a pigeon dead on the ground underneath a newly budding tree. It was lying with its eyes closed, without a mark on its body, a tree branch gently resting across its chest. It was distinctly funereal--the branch like a cross on its breast, the leaves like the pin-tuck satin of a coffin. I had those thoughts that you're supposed to have when you encounter the dead: "Oh, he looks so natural," "Oh, I believe he had a good long life. It was his time." And as I was contemplating the small animal body before me I realized that never before in my life had I seen a dead bird, or a dead squirrel, or any other sort of dead urban animal that hadn't been mercilessly squashed, broken, torn apart by predators, or otherwise sustained an injury that caused its death. So I have to ask, where do birds go when they die of old age? Why don't we ever see them? Why don't we see the aged birds who are having a bit of trouble flying, who are slowing down, turning grey, living out their final days pecking restlessly at the ground for the worms that used to satisfy them and now seem futile? Perhaps like us they are ashamed of their bodies that break down and can no longer soar with the freedom of fledglings. Perhaps like us they seek to hide the cumulative degradation of their physical selves. Perhaps like us they begin a process of moving back the other way--maybe they find an old abandoned nest and pull themselves into the circle of twigs, leaves, mud of ages, imagine themselves a chick safe in the brittle shell of a spotted egg, close their eyes and sleep eternally.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Screwing Up x 2

Painted Daisies

Painted Daisies
By Andrea
M. and I have been busy since the engagement. Really busy. And while almost everything that has happened in the last 8 months has been wonderful and exciting, juggling so many balls at once seems to have caught up to us both, proving that maybe not everything is completely under control. And so we have been forced to face our own fallibility, but thankfully have found ways to laugh (eventually) about our own missteps and startling screw ups. 

M. came face to face with a small disaster in the airport as we were about to leave for Australia. We were standing in line, eagerly anticipating our vacation and grumbling about a woman in front of us who had over packed her suitcase and was holding up the check-in line while she removed some items to meet the weight restrictions. When she opened her suitcase it sprung apart like a bomb had gone off. There were clothes everywhere and she was frantically trying to stuff everything back in with very little success. M. and I frowned and said things about how one should really be prepared to travel, and wasn't it annoying that the line was being held up. We judged her for being incapable of travelling light, and assumed that she was some sort of fashion obsessed prima donna. And then karma bit us in the ass as hard as it could without causing real bodily harm. When we finally reached the check in counter and handed over our passports M. received a blow in the form of four horrifying words:

"Your passport is expired" said the annoyed sounding attendant. Then, "You're not getting on this plane." Her voice suggested strongly that she absolutely did not care what our situation was. There was nothing she could do and she didn't even want to bother with a sympathetic attitude. It was clear from her harsh demeanor that begging wasn't going to help. I was certain that my bursting into tears wouldn't do a lick of good either, so I refrained from doing that. This was an issue of legality and M. could not legally board the plane regardless of how important it was that he do so. I felt the ground fall out from under me in that moment and I can only imagine that M. was experiencing a storm of epic proportions in his stomach. 

"But my sister's wedding is in a week. We're playing the music!" He said with mounting panic.

"Well you're not getting on the plane," the attendant said dismissively and we headed off in horror to another counter where we spent one hour trying to sort out what to do and soon became "those people" that were holding up the line behind us. M. was becoming more and more concerned that he might actually miss his sister's wedding. He was not at all certain that he would be forgiven for that or even that he would survive the delivery of the news that he wouldn't be there. I almost burst out into panic induced laughter as I contemplated what a totally awful situation we were in. At least the woman at the new counter was kind and sympathetic and helped us to get our lives sorted out. She told M. he could get a rush passport on Monday morning and then got a flight booked for Wednesday. M. sat on the airport floor, traumatized, and angry at himself. 

"How often does this happen?" he asked the kind woman behind the counter, no doubt hoping to be comforted by the fact that other people do this regularly.

"Not very often to be honest" came the reply. Oh. Damn. Apparently M. was unique in this particular type of error and I'm certain that didn't make him feel too good about himself. So I went to Australia by myself, but things worked out in the end. M. got on a Tuesday flight and made it in time for the wedding and I got to spend four days with his family where I had the opportunity to get to know them better. And our time apart reminded us why we like being together so much, so maybe there was a silver lining in it all. It also turns out that this has happened to a lot of other people. Stories started coming out in droves. Even the Yarn Harlot has a tale of similar woe. Oddly this seems to happen only to men, but that's not to say that women are exempt from making ridiculous mistakes. Just yesterday I discovered that while I thought I had my life under control, while I thought I had every detail hammered down, it turns out that I let a few things fall through the cracks...

I received an email from my cousin yesterday saying that he tried to call the number on the wedding invitation he received but it seemed to be wrong. Impossible! I thought. He must have dialed it incorrectly. But a nagging sense of dread took over my mind and I looked up the template I had made for my invitations. The template I had proof read a thousand times. The template a number of other people had proof read. The template that we printed 100 copies of and that I spent an entire evening gluing down to green card-stock, tying up with ribbons, stamping, and addressing. The template that I was absolutely sure was perfect. And what I discovered is that I screwed up my own phone number. There it was, just one number off and even after looking at a hundred copies of it multiple times my brain didn't register that it wasn't right. My heart sunk. I thought of how all of M's relatives would now think about how he's marrying a woman who doesn't know her own phone number. 

When I was a child my mother made up a song so I could remember our home number. It was a catchy, rhyming jingle. Clearly it would have been a good idea for me to make up such a song for my current number, because if I had I might have avoided this insane embarrassment. I promptly set to beating myself up about my mistake. It was then pointed out to me that I might want to call the erroneous phone number to apologize to the random person who has been receiving my wedding RSVPs, so I spent a terrible moment dialing the wrong number and thinking about what I would say to the person that I had accidentally spammed with my life. Thankfully it turned out to be a non-number and I simply got a message that said "this number cannot be completed as dialed." And since M. had forgotten to update his passport and my mother reminded me that she had forgotten to put at date on the invitations to our engagement party I began to realize that I'm in good company. M. and I might just be perfect for each other in our minor incompetences and there are lessons to be learned in all of this:

None of us are flawless. We are prone to mistakes, disasters, oversights, and plain oblivion. The key is to realize that screwing up doesn't make you a failure in life or a broken person. It just means that you're human. I didn't love M. any less for his mistake and he didn't love me any less for mine. We buoyed each other up when we felt like we might drown. We insisted upon each others' intrinsic value when we each felt like complete morons. And we were reminded that we have been rather spectacularly busy and that perhaps we need to take it easy--be gentler to ourselves than we have been. 

Anyway, if you have received a wedding invitation ignore the phone number. And check your passport. They have this strange tendency to expire while you're not looking.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wild Things

I finally got around to watching Where the Wild Things Are. I had the book when I was a child and I can clearly recall the stunning illustrations. I had low expectations of the movie since I assumed film could never capture the spare writing and intense images of the book. I expected to be disappointed, but what I didn't expect was that the movie would produce an uneasy feeling for days that was difficult to shake. If the point of the movie was to create a world that felt intensely uncomfortable and produced a lingering sense of depression, then it was successful, but I can't say that I actually enjoyed the movie. It got really good reviews and I think as a work of art it was successful. If the point of art is to make you feel something than this was extremely effective, but I was honestly creeped out by it in ways that are barely explicable. 

The Wild Things are not wild at all, but tortured creatures unable to deal with their fluctuating emotions and feelings of loss, loneliness, and sadness. They are representative of Max himself--a child who feels abandoned by his family, who can't understand the relationships going on around him--his sister's preference for her friends, his mother's relationship with a new boyfriend. He struggles with a world that is incomprehensible to him. He doesn't understand the world or his own emotional state that is volatile and uncomfortable. He is a depressed child who acts out in anger because he doesn't know how else to respond to the world. I have to give kudos to Spike Jonze for creating a movie that takes seriously the precarious emotions of a child and suggests that they  have reality and depth. However, I found that I couldn't much like Max, so it was hard to sympathize with his conflicted state. 
The Wild Things are all aspects of Max's psyche--they represent anger, fear, loneliness, bitterness, and a desire to escape. It's a good idea, but I found them to be hugely unsettling--sort of a mix between Barney and the terrifying rabbit from Donnie Darko. The dialogue was creepy and the monsters undeveloped. I never did understand what their relationships to each other were. They are apparently some sort of family but you are never told how they are related. They aren't easily loveable and they are gripped by a pervasive sadness that doesn't have any identifiable cause beyond a vague notion that their family unit is falling apart somehow. 
I appreciate the fact that the Hollywood notion of innocent and carefree childhood is turned on its head in this movie. It strikes out to show that childhood can be just as complicated and full of personal terror as any other stage in life, and perhaps adults are too quick to dismiss the emotional struggles of children as insignificant. But I spent much of the movie being alternately bored and disturbed by the story that didn't seem to go anywhere and the constant lack of any resolution or identifiable conflict. Max doesn't really succeed in fixing the monsters' sadness and even when he returns home after visiting their island there is no concrete reassurance that things are going to be okay. Max eats chocolate cake while his relieved mother watches him, but nothing is resolved. I am not left believing that Max has conquered the monsters within himself or that he has grown or that he will have a better understanding of the world in the future. This may be starkly realistic (the world doesn't always resolve itself the way we would like) but it was also hugely unsatisfying. There was nothing in the end to dispel the aura of darkness that the movie developed and I was left feeling dismal and empty. I can't quite figure out what so many people loved about it, but I'd be very interested to hear other opinions. 

In the meantime I can recommend reading the book, but unless you want to feel like wallowing in sadness for a few days I can't recommend the movie.