#21 decembrance 2019

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** June, 2020 - Rough Ideas HAS MOVED to: catherinewhite.com/roughideas] **
Zoe and Mike arrived today to be with us for the week. We went for a sunset dog walk, lit a fire and had a delicious hot drink to celebrate the night. After dinner our conversation turned to therapy and how we change our perceptions of memory and experience. I told Mike that sometimes writing can change my perspective, but as we spoke I couldn't think of an example.

Half an hour later as I write I remember how I used to think of the shortest day of the year as being a really depressing moment in time. But through writing these posts I have been able to focus on the solstice as being the marker for a return to light and longer days.

In yoga we learn to pay attention to our breath. I have learned to notice the moment of stillness when we have fully exhaled before we take our next breath. It is much like this moment--these long nights when we can pause, reflect, count, focus and breath. I light the fire in the fireplace or outside in the fire-pit  to extend my moments of reflection, a dream that our actions can persuade the light to return.

21 winter 2019.jpgSolstice
We laugh to think the Romans lit great fires in December
to persuade the sun to come back. To persuade the sun!

--Elizabeth Arnold (2006)

#20 decembrance 2019

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My ten minutes of drawing today focused upon a dracaena plant in the window. It is a plant that I took from my father's loft after he died so the image of it in south-facing winter light takes me swimming back through the rivers of Christmases we spent in New York City on Sullivan Street. So then I looked back through my photos to make a drawing of the inflatable Santa my Dad  set out in the loft for the last decade of his life. Filled with air it stood almost touching the ten foot high ceiling.

In my photograph one of his house plants leans crooked in the background by the window with a few of my pots on the window sill. I disliked that noisy Santa but it makes me laugh when I now think back on it. Zoë told me that today she made a list of things she had done, places she had traveled and people she met over this last decade. I look at the pots on my father's window sill and remember making them and the insights they held in my progression as a potter. There is a river of variations on cups I have made and we have filled. Here's to thinking about all the ones I hope to fill in the next decade.

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"Nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone."
--Wendell Berry

#19 decembrance 2019

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Curled up with pillows, quilt, books, pens and the cat at my feet I felt as if I was nesting in the December sunlight. I remember when Zoë was little and energy was low making a nest out of couch cushions and quilts, then feathering it with books, markers, snacks and music was a favorite thing to do. As the afternoon wore on I listened to a podcast and drew the tree branches thinking about line, pattern and views. I then noticed a nest high in the maple tree. Earlier in the day I had read a short essay about bird nests in the back of a magazine. The essay talked about the idea of nesting in modern culture which means outfitting our permanent homes and making them comfortable and cozy. But if you look at bird nests we realize they are more about living on the planet lightly. Bird nests demonstrate ingenious balance in their use of materials and the architecture of space for the inhabitants.

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--By Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,  
an unseen nest
where a mountain  
would be.

#18 decembrance 2019

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Before sunset Warren and I went out on the pond in the rowboat. We were both bundled up with gloves and hats. The pond has been very high and the overflow clogged with pond weed and other debris.  It was so starkly beautiful. The sun was low, the winter landscape bare, and it felt brutally cold in the wet wind. All seemed unstable as the boat was blown by the breeze, my oars got clogged in pond weed and ice all while Warren pushed, pulled, and scraped the muck with a copper pole. These are the times when I need to have a panoramic view that acknowledges both the beauty and the struggle. How grateful I am for this pond and the hard stuff of maintenance. This is when I turn to poetry for the vocabulary of thanks that can include the  obvious light and a memory of the futility of waving in the dark.

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with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

"Thanks" by W.S. Merwin, from MIGRATION by W.S. Merwin, copyright © 2005 Copper Canyon Press. 

#17 decembrance 2019

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If I were ever to win an award for gardening it would be for the rogue squash I let ramble in the garden. The seedlings come up randomly from my compost and I can't bear to pull all the varieties of form. So I let a handful of them flourish. I enjoy their tendrils and exuberant growth. I love the fragile sculptural blossoms. Then at a certain point in July I get fed up with how much space they occupy.  I pick them and balance them like trophies in pots in our basement gallery where a few of the hardiest ones survive until December when they serve as reminders of the ingenious varieties of summer growth.

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"There are a hundred thousand species of love, separately invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things."

― Richard Powers, The Overstory

# 16 decembrance 2019

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Over the weekend we opened our doors and invited the public in to see our work and our life. I got over-tired, over-exposed, and over-stimulated. I wonder how did I get here and how do I keep going? How does change happen? How do I regroup and then entice more people in and do it over again?

My mother hated entertaining. She hated the pressure of opening her doors. Yet she was so generous and such a good listener. But she had me who wanted to invite too many people into her home. She used to say to me,  "You are such a natural teacher you should find a good school to work at."  One summer I tried to teach my brothers how to make artist books. After describing how to follow certain systems, they bared their teeth with great resistance and made up their own rules. They worked on my projects upside down and backwards. They dubbed me the "arts and crafts director" which I thought was a slight. Yet the following summer when we got together they asked "What is the project this year?  What do you want to teach us this time around?  It was so fun last year."  Really!  You could have fooled me.

My family had the habits of telling stories and making up theories. My father preferred good stories over the truth. The kids also had the history of not listening. This lingering legacy clings to my skin. I try to change, making sure I tell the truth. People want to hear the story of how and why I make what I make. How did I come to live in Virginia after being born in New York City? I accept the conditions of my birth, third child in a household of athletic, loud boys; growing up with the children of other artists. As much as I try to make my own path in the world my family stories always linger. I am still the sister. My calm may begin to buckle at times but I will continue to embrace change. I will keep trying to learn how to meditate. I will keep trying to tell my story with new meaning.
16 winter 2019.jpg

I ripped my mother being born

             and I am the only.

                           The oldest ripped my grandmother

                                       and still came more.

We have a family history

             of losing our heads,

                          of no one listening,

                                       of telling someone before.

We are raucous and willful,

              loud as thunder

.                             No one can forget us,

                                            we bear our teeth.

We pass through bodies             

                  like summer heat. We eat

                             and thicken, worry men.

                                            They plead and suffer, come again.

I entered the world

              a turning storm,

                             but no one stopped me

                                            though they'd been warned.

"Interrogation Suite: Where did you come from / how did you arrive?" by

Remica Bingham-Risher.

#15 decembrance 2019

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This morning when I woke it was just light but the sun had not come above the trees. I looked out and there was an owl sitting on one of my garden posts. The owl was so still and obvious in its feathered presence and yet so immobile it was like an extension of the post. I looked away to find my camera and when I looked back it was gone and I wondered did I imagine it.

When I went out with the dog there was the owl perched on a broken tree branch as if staring at a mouse in the grass. I walked up the driveway and the moon was so tranquil and reflective above the single tree in the pasture. A flock of geese flew overhead. My pot that I had put out at the end of the driveway stood silent and weighty like a cross between the moon and the owl. My small view of the world was at rest--barely a hint of a breeze and the winter light clear, highlighting all the details of the landscape. On my walk back to the house I noticed where the squirrels have been eating walnuts and where a deer had been sleeping at night leaving a patch of pressed down grass.

It was as if the owl had given me the gift of vision. I remember a former student saying when she began making pots it was as if looking at clay from a maker's point of view she opened the door to a secret world with a whole new language she had never imagined.

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You have given me a thing I could never have imagined, before I knew you. It's like I had the word "book," and you put one in my hands. I had the word "game," and you taught me how to play. I had the word "life," and then you came along and said, "Oh! You mean this."
― Richard Powers, The Overstory

#14 decembrance 2019

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We had a lovely parade of visitors to the gallery today. By writing these posts it's as if I have broken the ice with so many friends that we go past friendly chitchat to the things it is impossible to say under normal circumstances. So thanks to all who read and come to say Hi.

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"Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone."
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

#13 decembrance 2019

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No moon viewing for us tonight. We are socked in fog so Warren's bowl will have to stand in for a moon rise and a sign of hope.

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"Doing and making are acts of hope, and as that hope grows, we stop feeling overwhelmed by the troubles of the world."
- Sister Corita Kent

#12 decembrance 2019

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The sky held the faintest glow of pink and orange and the bare trees were green darkness against the sky. When I am out walking at dusk I stay off the roads behind a fence where I often get a good view of cows on the neighboring hillside. Their hulking angular mass silhouetted against the glowing sky makes me wonder what would Rembrandt make of these dark forms. Back home--email done and phone calls answered--I stepped out on the porch to get the moon view and remembered an old drawing I made of Zoe as a toddler cupped in my hand stepping out across the pond and into the rising moon. The memory of the view before the trees grew is stuck like glue on my soul, the childhood images of my daughter struggling to pull free are tied to that drawing and the moon is my window into another time.

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It is said, the past
sticks to the present

like glue,
that we are flies

struggling to pull free
It is said, someone

cannot change
the clothes

in which
their soul

was born.
I, however,

would not
go so far

Nor am I Rembrandt,
master of the black

and green darkness,
the hawk's plumes

as it shrieks
down from the sky

Russian Letter
by John Yau in Borrowed Love Poems

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