b e a u t i f u l g i r l s

While I work this morning I am listening to the new album by Mali artist Rokia TraoreBeautiful Africa.  It is gorgeous and good company as I mix and card wools alone in my studio.  The dark color and texture of these wools + the African music led me to think about dreadlocks and a new cousin that was born to our family two weeks ago.  She is the daughter of my 1st cousin’s adopted daughter.  My cousin and her husband adopted this daughter and her brother many years ago from Africa.

They are dark skinned and my cousin and her husband are not.  Neither, of course, are their other two children who came to them through her own pregnancies. My cousin has blue eyes and blondish hair that she can sit on.  I remember when my cousin’s adopted daughter got to the states. One of the first things she wanted to do was get extensions.  This beautiful girl wanted to change something significant about her appearance the moment she got here.  Perhaps she had always wanted extensions, but I cannot imagine there were many children or grown ups wearing them in the orphanage she lived in.  I could be wrong.

Anyway, I’m thinking a lot about this second generation American girl.  This tiny cinnamon girl with lots of dark, curly hair.  I think about her a lot because she’s got a few health issues, she’s brand new and family and I might get to meet her next summer – but I am also thinking about her because of a recent thing I experienced.

I dressed up last weekend to be a fortune teller at my youngest daughter’s school.  I must have looked a bit intimidating as

La Catrina (aka Death).  I was unrecognizable as myself.  I had full face makeup and the kids were a bit hesitant to come up to me until I smiled and offered to tell their fortune and give them a treat.   I invited kids to ask me a question about their future.  Now, kids, especially young ones, don’t think much about their future outside of what they might want to “be” when they grow up (it’s strange and unfortunate that we ask children this all the time – but that’s for a different post).  Anyway, when the kids stared at me blankly, I asked them to give me their palms so I could read them.  All of my answers were positive and sometimes cheeky, especially if I knew the child.  Then one little girl came to me and without any hesitation asked me if she was going to be beautiful when she grew up.  This question surprised me.  Threw me off.  It upset me.  I didn’t show my feelings.  I took her hand, looked at her palm and consulted my crystal ball.

 I closed my eyes for a moment then opened them and said, “Well, the crystal ball is telling me what I already know – that you are beautiful now so of course you’ll continue to be beautiful.  You are also destined to have great adventures …..”  She smiled brightly, took a gumball eyeball and left.  I read many more palms and then I got another girl who asked, “Will I be beautiful when I am eighteen?”  This girl was probably 8.  She was gorgeous.  Her eyes were bright and shiny and she asked with such earnest concern it broke my heart.  I essentially repeated what I’d told the other little girl and she, too, gave me a smile and left.  Some time passed and a third girl came to me with this same question, I looked around to see if she was with the other two girls I’d given fortunes to.  No.  She came alone just as the other two had.  This time I felt angry.  Furious and devastated.  I gave this young girl an honest appraisal of her lovliness and told her she was going to love college.  She blinked behind her glasses and took off with her treat.

For the record, all three of these girls have dark skin.  Gorgeous brown skin.  Two of them wear glasses.  Not one of the white children asked me anything about how they would look when they grow up and no boys asked me.  My daughters have never asked whether they are beautiful or not.  There will come a day, I’m sure, however, when they will wonder if they are pretty in comparison to other girls/women.

It’s a universal currency – beauty – especially for women.  A friend spent his time in the Peace Corps in Cameroon.  He is American and caucasian.  He said that Cameroonian mothers regularly came to him to give him their daughters to take back to the US.  These daughters were not “pretty” and would have a difficult time marrying.  The pretty girls married very early, evidently, and had children early and never left their villages.  These “other” girls were not valued in the same way.  However, they would sometimes get out of their village/s and pursue education.

So my thinking is not about race, really. I’m white and cannot speak to what it’s like to be black.  My thoughts/question is about our perception of beauty and can we turn that around, or, can we love our girls enough and in such a way that they won’t compare themselves and come up short?  I don’t think we can do the inside work for our girls, but I do believe it is up to us to devalue the beauty currency.   We could start by talking about our bodies with reverence. We could show ourselves to each other and our children (figuratively and literally) – scars and sagging and crooked teeth and pocked skin and whatever else – and tell the stories they hold.   What if we really began to believe that we really are beautiful, too?   What if we remember that it’s just ridiculous dumb luck we got to the planet at all and that we have this amazing body to direct and use and the packaging is interesting, but packaging nonetheless.  The contents are the good stuff.

I am challenging myself to live more consciously and in love.  On slow days I am more in love.  The beauty of everything is more obvious to me.  I can linger in moments and really see.  I want to redefine beauty so that it’s described in terms of behaviors.  I want to cheer you on while you fall in love with and live your beautiful life, too – whatever your definition.  Also, we could be genuinely curious and concerned about each other and therefore clearly see the beauty in one another.  I think that would help.

Thanks for stopping by.

birthday note to A

My dearest A –

Most lovely A,

You are eleven today.

E L E V E N

11

 You know that eleven is my favorite number.  And Daddy’s.  Why?  For my part I can’t say.  I honestly have no idea.  Maybe it’s the look of it – the symmetry.  The ones stand so straight and tall.  Neither one is ever alone.  The ones echo each other. They are ever parallel – together but apart.  Each one is essential to the other in order to create the whole – the Eleven.

It’s also the first time you will have to jump off both hands to find the amount.  It’s mysterious that way – your eye doesn’t recognize and quickly name eleven the way you do with ten or twelve.  It’s subtle.  You find eleven in the in-between places.  Like in city grates that let the water pass from here to the dark there.  In pairs of legs that carry you – the shape gets broken along the way but ultimately it holds you erect and sure.  Eleven is a pair of freeways, seen from great heights, running side by side but finally leading to very different destinations.

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I am excited for you, A, my lovey dove.  Actually, honestly, I am excited for me.  I am excited for me and the other people that adore you.  We get to watch you navigate new territory.  We who have taken care of you and made the majority of decisions for you will let out the string a little more and watch you fly higher and higher into places we cannot reach.  To places where we are not.  Turning eleven, going off to middle school, you knowing things I don’t understand – this is where you are now.  It’s one of those times where you try out the wings you’ve been growing into for so long.  This year you will make significant choices in what you study, in the music you will play and write and about the people you will befriend and love.  You will read some amazing things and write even more amazing things.  You have more say-so about these things (and everything!) than you’ve ever had before.  Thrilling!  Also – maybe – heavy?

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As you well know, this new autonomy comes at a cost.  With freedom comes responsibility, right?  You have the continuing responsibility to be your best and to live by the integrity that defines your solid character.  New and difficult temptations and other strong feelings are going to tug at you and force you to look at yourself and what you value.  Dark thoughts, anxious thoughts, doubts.  I only know that you will experience these things because we all do.  It’s part of the price of being a whole human being.

 These will not be easy times.

The fact that you are so good with your resources – your money, your time and your energy – and that you have cultivated such excellent management and coping skills (“worse for first, best for last”) makes me know that you will continue to make good choices for yourself.  Please have faith that your wonderful sense of humor and tremendous creativity will carry you through those rough patches.

I have always known and accepted that you do not belong to me.  I am just a lucky, lucky soul who gets to see and be with you day after day – for a little while anyway.  I have loved every single second.  Knowing that I will no longer be the person you bring all your heartache and celebrations to feels devastating but right.  It’s the natural order of things.  It’s the cost of being a mother – of having the privilege of knowing and loving a growing child.

That said, please don’t ever forget that Daddy and I are on the other end of that string.  We will always be here and love you no matter what.  We are connected forever.  I love you A.  I love you and I could not be more proud of you.

Happy, happy eleventh birthday.

-Mommy

h e l s i n k i

Here I am in this lovely city – Day 6.  I have found Helsinki enchanting and Finns IMG_0045very helpful, quiet and beautiful.

I understand that I have enjoyed fluke weather as it was clear, sunny and quite warm for several days.  I expected chilly and wet – the same weather I left in Seattle.  It’s been cold and cloudy both yesterday and today, however.  I am grateful for the cloudy chill as it’s perfect museum weather.

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k a m p p i c h a p e l

I hoped to be taking an Admissions Course to a University here this week.  I was not selected, however, and therefore have 12 days to explore.  I was disappointed not to receive an invitation but am somehow comforted by the fact that no Americans were chosen.  So it goes.  Twelve days to wander in a city that loves art and design is a generous consolation prize.

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u n S U P E R v i s e d

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p o c k e t p a r k

I am moved by the amount of green space, public art and parks in Helsinki.  Children are deeply valued and considered here.  I immediately trust a place that so obviously treasures people, especially children.  Learning about the remarkable Finnish public school system was the spark that started this whole adventure.  Now that I am here, I see evidence of many other ways that Finns cherish their youngest citizens; from the quiet way they are addressed, even when they’re falling apart on the tram, to how they are treated by strangers when riding public transport alone (from very early on).  More proof in how Finns value their people (politics aside) is in the outstanding air and water quality and how they use their public space.  From the flat where I am staying (amazing host & flat found through Air BnB), I can see three playground-type parks,  a fabulously red maze sculpture and several great stretches of green for running, field hockey, soccer and just lying around.  This is typical throughout the entire city.

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h i d e & s e e k

I am staying a few minute’s walk from the Vaanta River where there is an arterial system of groomed trails filled with bikers, hikers and walkers.  Men of every age sit and stand along the river’s edge and fish, mostly silently.  They are catching then releasing largish speckled fish (trout, I think).  Actually I did see one girl.  If my daughters were here, they would definitely fish there.

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m a z e (detail)

I haven’t worked as much as I thought I would.  I only wanted to explore the first four days I was here and I’ve been to the museums and galleries yesterday and today.  I brought roving, yarn, muslin and hand-made felt – all my favorite materials.  They call to me from the kitchen table and I say, “Later.  Later.”  If it’s still wet and cold tomorrow, I may stay in and work.  Or not.

Thank you for visiting.  Kiitos.

f i n l a n d

aurora borealis

northern finland

Yesterday I boxed up and shipped out 5 pieces to Finland.  I sent them off with hopes of landing an invitation to take the Admissions Course at the University of the Arts Helsinki this May.  Ultimately, of course, I hope to receive a fat letter from them that begins, “Congratulations.”  Living abroad and going to art/graduate school are two lifelong dreams.  To do it with my children, my family, well – fingers crossed.

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Of course everyone asks, “Finland?  You have family there?  What’s your connection?”  This all began last year when I started hearing about the Finnish public education system.  As a parent and a teacher my ears pricked up when I learned that their children don’t start school until they are 7-years-old, they experience  shorter school days, a shorter school year, little to no homework and receive no testing until about 15 years of age.  At high school age, the children get to choose an academic path or a high tech path.  If they get into the work and feel they’ve made a mistake  they can change their mind.  All of this and they are consistently ranked in the top three (#1 in 2006) of world leaders in academic achievement. (See PISA rankings).  Yeah – that got my attention.

Anyway – I started chasing a rabbit.  Through the bendy, winding path I learned about an art school program that feels alice-in-front-of-rabbit-holecustom designed for me and that was it – I was off – which brings me here, to today, in love with Finland – Helsinki in particular – and filled with hope and anticipation that my family and I might get to experience first-hand the magic of full immersion in this Nordic wonderland.  I find out on May 13 if I made the first cut.

The things I loved about the application were 1.  Its simplicity and brevity – two  pages; and  2.  They only accept original works (up to five pieces).  They do not want to see websites or emailed portfolios – only the real deal.   I felt challenged and excited by this.  Here was an opportunity to dive into the Finnish culture, root around and get inspired.  Kalevala_cover_Oct6thIt didn’t take long for me to run across The Kalevala – Finland’s Odyssey/Creation mythology.  The stories are rich and colorful and magical and vicious.  The roster of characters and their doings is enough fodder for years of work.  I picked out a few of my favorites and got busy.

I started with some parameters:  my work needed to be small so I could afford to send it.  It needed to represent the kind of work that I hope to enlarge on at school (their guideline).  It needed to be made from materials that would clear customs with no hiccups.  The work needed to be really good.  I cannot say how many things I have made and re-made, trashed and abandoned only to return to after making several alternatives.  I have wrestled with reinterpretation, process, materials and my ugly and unrelenting perfectionism.  I have not wanted to show the work to anyone.  When you share work, when I share work, oftentimes people feel it is an invitation or expectation to make judgments or corrections or some other exclamation.  I did not want that this time.  This work is small and quiet and meticulous and fragile.  I was these things in making it.  Now that the box is sealed and shipped, I can quit holding my breath.  I trust that it will get where it’s supposed to go and do its job.

I will be happy to share the work and news of my adventures in Finland when I go and return in May.  It was so incredibly expensive to send the work (almost as much as a ticket) and a friend suggested I go whether I get to do the Admissions Course or not, so I thought, why not?!  I cannot wait.

Thanks for dropping by.

g r r r r r r

I read in the news this morning about 16-year-old Taylor Townsend.  Townsend

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is a rising tennis star who is being compared to Serena Williams, not because of her talent, perseverance, courage and devotion to her sport, but because of her color,  stature and “baby fat.”  I am not surprised that her age is news (wow!), but why is the color and shape of her remarkably (fantastically!) strong and healthy adolescent body news?  Really?  Aargh!  Ms. Townsend is not an automobile.  She is not an airplane.  She is not a horse.  She is not a wrestler trying to make weight for classification.  She is a young, very young, girl who, by the way, is a kick ass, winning athlete.

Being a feminist (an equalitist!), a teacher and a mother of two girls, this kind of news, of course, makes me crazy.  In educating my 6- and 10-year-old daughters about their bodies, about sex and about equality as reflected in our current cultural values, it’s this last one – our cultural values – that is the most difficult.

I do not intend this rant to be anything other than that – a rant.  I don’t have anything particularly fresh or enlightening to contribute to the equality dialog except to stay to the haters and ill-informed:  Knock it Off.  Stop talking about how girls look.  In particular, stop commenting to girls directly.  Please stop telling my amazing daughter, “Gosh – you’re soooo big!  You must be the biggest kid in kindergarten!  And your feet –  Wow!  They’re huge!”  My girls (and yours) don’t need to be told they’re big, tall, blonde, brown, beautiful or even smart.  Please don’t tell them anything about themselves.  They’re figuring that out on their own.  They will define themselves by themselves.  Ha!  That’s just a mother’s wishful thinking.

If you’re really curious and want to connect with them, how about you ask them a few questions about something other than their size or hair or outfit?  Questions like, “What are you reading right now?  What kind of music are you into?   Seen any good movies lately?  Snowboarder or skier? or even Do you have any pets?”  Questions like this will get you some real information about these girls.  If you’re not really interested, no sweat – there’s no need to say anything.

Of course, dear visitor, if you’re reading this, this rant is not for you.  That’s the real problem with people who don’t think they have equality/racist/or judgment issues – they would never read something like this. Or care.

Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.

And thanks for visiting.

-Wyly

d r a w

So, I decided to take part in the Art House Coop’s Sketchbook Project 2013.  I have been following the project for years now but have never participated.  If you don’t already know about the Sketchbook Project, co-founder Steven Peterman describes it like this:  “[The Sketchbook Project is] an interactive, world-wide traveling exhibition with artists’ sketchbooks.”  To participate, you simply register on their website then wait for the sketchbook to show up in your mailbox.  You fill it in, in anyway you see fit (with some clearly stated constraints), make certain it’s dry then send it back to them.

“Them” is Art House Co-op the parent group who offers the Sketchbook Project (SP).  Art House and the SP are housed in the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg and manage the more than 22,000 sketchbooks they have collected annually since the Project’s start in 2006.

Once the sketchbooks are received they go on tour.  Events are held in cities across the US (there was a stop in London this year, too) where folks can come “check out” the books – hold them in their hands and see what artists from all over the world have contributed.

I am using this project as a morning “start” for sketches and musings on a bigger project about place, migration, shifting and dirt.

Thanks for visiting.

-Wyly

w a x i n g

I first experienced encaustic up close several years ago at a Bell Town gallery called i Capolovori.  I was magnetically drawn to an 8′ tall black and white photo covered in milky wax.  The impulse to feel the surface was nearly impossible to contain.   I wanted to lick it.

p a i n t p o t s

I am sad that I cannot remember the artist’s name and i Capolovori is no longer there, but I think about that piece often.  What was the magic all about?   The photograph was a young, tall man in a black trench coat.  Or maybe not – that’s how I remember it – but I do remember that it was the glossy near opacity that made the figure really intriguing.  It gave him a story.  I felt like he could be observing me from his side of some frosted membrane.  Kinda Matrix.

Ever since that first encounter so many years ago, I’ve paid special attention to encaustic work.   Seattle artists, Nichole Dement and Stephanie Hargrave, are two of my favorites to see.  Last week I finally had the chance to play with encaustic myself.  My friend, artist Kevin Piepel, invited me and another artist friend, Terra Holcomb, to his studio for an afternoon of exploration.  I took several small boards covered in fabric and other items to play with.

wax shellac cloth & beads

I could go on and on about the materials themselves – wax, damar, shellac, pigments – but the application was downright thrilling.  I covered, encased, colored, engraved, flamed, joined and was joyfully lost in the process for hours.

I am spending this week covering more boards so I can take them to Kevin’s studio next week.  I will use these in a piece I am making as part of a show about the Dust Bowl, migration, Okies, place and dirt.

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If you are in the Seattle area and would like to play with encaustic yourself, Kevin offers one-on-one and group workshops.  He is incredibly knowledgeable, affordable and generous.  You may contact him directly at kpiepel@comcast.net.

Thank you for visiting.