Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Secret Garden

Don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in the winter.
It’s quiet but the roots down there are riotous.
From “Form is Ecstatic”, Rumi, The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

We drove up a mountain towards an entrance to Shenandoah National Park, exploring, wondering what would happen if…

I saw a road named “Lake View Rd.” – it rang a bell.  You have to understand – we have spent the last week obsessively looking at houses for sale all over the country – OBX, Stanley, Stannardsville – anywhere that popped into our heads, so there are a lot of names of roads in my head.  I continued driving up the mountain.  I fell called and determined to follow the leading.  I stopped in the middle of the steep two lane road and did a three point turn to head back down the mountain.  

I turned left at the faded For Sale sign onto a road, a lane really, pocked with missing stones and ruts of mud washed out.  There, behind the overgrown bushes, I saw the house I’d seen online, half hidden.  I felt an immediate sense of wonder and curiosity.  A cabin.  A house.  A shed.  A workshop.  A pond.  A lovely yard.  No people.  The sun was sinking behind the mountain.  I felt compelled to explore.  I stopped the car in the middle of the lane, pretty sure no one would drive down there, only marginally concerned about the neighbor’s seeing and worrying.

I walked up the grass driveway, noted the chiminea, the carefully placed metal glider, indications of fond times spent in the yard.  I felt drawn toward the house.  My natural tendency to explore and my extreme curiosity overcame my awareness of the No Trespassing sign posted next to the cabin, and I chose to walk over to the house.  Chris stayed put next to the car, guarding us in case someone came up to complain.  I motioned for him to come on, but he stayed.  I wandered, unable to stop myself.  On tiptoe, I stealthily, in case someone was watching, approached the house, went behind it to see the lovely 3-season porch and the woods no 15 feet from the house.  The ground level deck screamed for a hot tub – cool night, woods dimming, cool coming, hot tub private and soothing after a wonderful day’s work.  I could feel it in my bones.

I followed a beckoning path, feeling enchanted.  The plants have become overgrown since the realty pictures were taken.  The stone steps lead past a half-buried Red Radio Flyer Wagon, companion to ours rusting here at home.

The stairs lead to a lovely expanse where the studio cabin and workshop await, broad lawn with beautiful plantings throughout.  I feel a sense of enchantment in this half-hidden place, child-like wonder and curiosity to know more.  The Secret Garden come to life.  I want to see inside the buildings.  I imagine living there, feeling alive in each moment, discovering what flowers the Spring will bring.  I imagine offering workshops as the seasons change, a chance to paint the beauty.  Never drawn to landscapes, I now want to capture the mauve purple as the sun pulls the curtain on the day, igniting the maple next to the white farmhouse set on the winding ribbon of road, dwarfed by and yet completely at home in the ring of mountains and streaked sky.  

Something I never knew was in me has awakened and wants to be at home here in this quiet place, high on a mountain, ringed by trees, protected and sacred and beautiful.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mindfulness and Play

The Most Alive Moment
by Rumi
The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each

Other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then.  To see your face

In a crowd of others, or alone on a
frightening street, I weep for that.

Our tears improve the earth.  The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,

your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul.  Seeing you is a

wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow

where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.

Rumi talks about the most alive moment being when we meet ourselves and there is no separation, no union, just one alone at the silent core.

I have been there – painting milkweed at Dayspring, sitting in the hot meadow, the sun beating down on me, evaporating the paint almost before it touches the page, leaving a lasting impression of a fleeting moment.  I see the picture months later and hear the insistent buzz of the bee, wish again I could capture the essence of the butterfly on her wing, wonder if this tight mauve popcorn ball of buds really transforms itself into white strands of silt which will waft through the wind to begin again.  The stages are as magical as a butterfly’s.

Playing with the Spirograph, I marvel at the engineering behind it, how someone determined the radii and curves the various holes and gears would make.  I marvel at the beauty and grace of the repetitive curves and loops, no angles, making shapes that truly fill me with glee.  

Joy unbounded because of patterns and swirls?   
Emphatically YES.  
It brings me joy to produce patterns that meet one another harmoniously and then glance off each other to mesh with another.  The rainbow colors blending seamlessly together.  I do not understand the compulsion nor the pleasure, but it feels healthy and whole and complete.  I can spend hours at play, pursuing patterns, learning how they work, asking “I wonder what would happen if…?”

Perhaps I am finally allowing myself a happy childhood.  Are Legos and Erector Sets next?  I could go into Dylan’s closet and pull out the Playmobil and Legos and build towns and cities and make up stories like Laura and Dylan used to do.  I could let my mind wader with joy over the mountains and valleys of my imagination.  Is there a joy greater than this?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Spirograph on steroids

A few weeks ago I saw Nancy Blum's artwork at Reynolds Gallery here in Richmond.  I am crazy about her work - it's huge scale pictures of gorgeously graphic flowers with patterns abounding!  It struck a chord in me, and I would have bought several if I'd had the necessary $45K each!  They're wonderful.  I was tickled to notice that she uses Spirograph images behind the work, just barely, tantalizingly noticeable.  I asked her about it and she confirmed that that is what she does.  It's her first step.

I have always loved Spirographs!  As a kid, it was one of my favorite toys.  I would sit for hours playing with it.  So I decided to get myself one!  I'd seen a set at Barnes and Noble one day but hadn't bought it then.  I went back and got it the day after the show.  Sadly, disappointingly, it just wasn't any good.  Darn!  There were too few gears, no pins, no pens, nada, nothin'!  I took it back.  I looked online to see what was up.  Apparently I'm not the only fan!  On eBay and I found lots of comments about various versions of Spirograph and found that only the original Spirograph is super-cool.  Eventually Kenner had to use magnets rather than pins to hold the wheels in place - so toddlers don't swallow the pins, I guess - and other modifications that took away from the super-cool factor.  I looked through what was available.  Sticker shock kicked in immediately.  $75 was a cheap one!  Yikes!  I didn't do anything for a couple of days then I decided it was worth it to me, so I held my breath and ordered one.  I figured it was about the cost of a really  nice dinner on the town with Chris, and I'd enjoy this for a lot longer!

And boy, have I!  I've already spent 10-12 hours playing!  There's an instruction booklet that comes with it to show different patterns a person can make.  As an adult I can appreciate the complexity of the mathematics involved in it.  I do not remember understanding anything about it as a kid.  I'm pretty sure I didn't look at the booklet - I think I just dove in and played.  What I'm learning is that there are ways to line up the wheels inside the larger wheels to make the patterns vary.  There are so many possibilities!  I decided to take a very nerdy approach to it and am going through everything systematically to figure out which wheels do what.  

Here are a couple of designs I did following the instructions in the booklet.  I went inside the wheel and outside the wheel and used several different gears on the left hand one.  The right hand one is using the elongated bar, believe it or not!, and turning it 45 degrees each time with each different color. 
fig 1.
fig 2.

fig 4
fig 3
 After going through all the ones in the booklet, I started my own studies to see if i could discern the math and logic behind the system.  The notations connote which wheel and gear I used and how I lined each up on the other.  I had a really good time changing colors and sizes and holes, etc., to see what effect it would have.  I still haven't finished going through all the different sized gears.  I'm about 1/2 way through.  
fig 5
fig 6
Figure 6 shows what happens when I pinned the smallest gear down and used larger gears to go around it.  Fig 7 is more of those.  They remind me of geodesic domes or Celtic knots somehow.  I have so much fun saying "I wonder what will happen if I..." then trying it out! 

fig 7
Sometimes I berate myself a tad bit and think I should be painting or doing something serious, but I am having so much fun and am so absorbed in what I'm doing that I can only figure it is leading somewhere interesting.  I want to incorporate these into my paintings and drawings.  This morning I dreamt very clearly of a drawing of a figure with a spirographed image over top of it.  I plan to work on doing it tomorrow in figure drawing session.  I'm very excited to see if I can capture what I saw in my dream.  It was very clear there.

Now I want to figure out how to make the designs larger.  I think I'm limited by how large the plastic wheels are.  I wonder if there are other things I can use for wheels to make these designs.  I can't think of anything, but I figure a trip to the hardware store is in order to see what they might have there.  You never know!

It's delightful giving myself permission to play like I have been lately.  It makes me feel so happy.  I feel like the luckiest woman on earth.  I get to do what a love for a living.  I get to teach people who are excited about learning to do what I love to do.  And I get to play all day, asking, "I wonder what would happen if I..." then find out!  What a life!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Domestic Violence Resource Center Annual Conference

I'll be the keynote speaker at this upcoming conference in Chester, VA (south of Richmond).  All are welcome to attend.  Please pre-register.  Info is at the bottom.   I'll be showing slides of my work and talking about how low self esteem, often related to body image issues, can contribute to domestic violence and how loving ones body and self can help end abusive situations.

Sept. 24, 2012

For immediate release

Domestic Violence Resource Center hosts annual conference

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, VA — The Domestic and Sexual Violence Resource Center, in partnership with Virginia State University and John Tyler Community College, will host its annual conference, Beyond Stereotypes: The Intrinsic Nature of Domestic Violence, on Friday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m., in the Nicholas Building at the Chester campus of John Tyler Community College.  
            During Susan Singer’s Beyond Barbie presentation and subsequent discussion group, service providers, educators, advocates and college students can learn how body image affects self-image, victimization and healing. Michelle Garcia, director, National Stalking Resource Center, will explain how the latest technology is used to monitor, stalk and intimidate victims.
            Three afternoon breakout sessions will be offered. Discover how children are impacted by or become victims of domestic violence during Caught in the Middle, presented by Sgt. Carol Adams, Richmond Police Department and Arlene Vassell-Richards, president, You Go Girl Enterprises. Learn how HIVs and STDs relate to domestic violence in As if STDs Were Not Enough!, presented by Ann Rogers, Chesterfield County Health Department. Or discover how gang violence relates to domestic and sexual abuse during Gang Violence: It's Deeper Than You Think!, presented by Mike Emmons, Virginia State Department of Juvenile Justice.
            Due to the sensitive nature of these topics, the conference is recommended for adults over the age of 18.
            The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for college students with valid ID. Only checks or money orders made payable to the Chesterfield County Treasurer will be accepted. Preregistration is recommended. For more information or to register, visit or call 318-8332.


Michelle Burchett
Public Affairs Specialist
Chesterfield County Department of Public Affairs