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the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: things i'm reading/learning

[ from a. addair who is listening to Empire of the Sun (Walking on a Dream) ]

The following is an excerpt from an entry I wrote about 6 weeks ago but never got around to posting:

“That’s the big news.  We’re tickled pink or blue.  I’m feeling so excited, happy, awestruck, grateful, full of love and totally unprepared with panicky moments sliding into every 100 breaths.  It feels similar to the way we fumbled through our engagement: really joyful but slightly disturbed because I knew we we’re walking into a dramatic reworking of life in utter idiocy and delight.

the apple of my eye (twas a good thing to get married even if it didn't make sense)

There are a zillion things to be afraid about and excited for.  My mind jumps straight to my future engorged body, then to wondering how I will paint, then to a pair of sweet little baby boots this embryo has already acquired;  then I  wonder how close the baby will be born to Christmas and  fret over folic acid intake.  In short, I can’t focus on anything.”

We are now at 11 weeks and our little embryo has graduated to a fetus.  The part where I can’t focus on anything remains though now it isn’t so much giddy fun for me.  Between the bouts of nausea and fatigue I’m pretty well missing my old energy.

Turns out being pregnant has taken me deeper into my let-it-go training.  I think I was making good progress before, but when your body tells you to stop, you really have to listen; it’s such a basic reminder that life is much bigger than my agenda.   I’ve had to slow way way down and be much more flexible and gentle with myself than I had ever imagined I could be.

the sort of things I've been working on (since painting makes me nauseous)

I recently started reading The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, in it he says that members of the creative class, “work at times when we are supposed to be off and play when we are supposed to be working.  This is because creativity cannot be switched on and off at predetermined times, and is itself an odd mixture of work and play.  Writing a book, producing a work of art or developing new software requires long periods of intense concentration, punctuated by the need to relax, incubate ideas and recharge.”  I love to read someone else’s articulate expression which has only been a misty idea-vapor in my own brain.  Seeing it there on a crisp, published page gives clarity and a sense of validation to the thought process I’ve been swimming in.  Florida’s statement gave me peace about departing from an imposed daily work structure.

baby banner for someone else's tiny human addition (detail)

I know that the life I’ve chosen doesn’t have tidy, defined compartments.  And I’m already beginning to understand that having a tiny human addition will make the lines between work, leisure, family and craft even blurrier.

tiny human addition


I don’t have a conclusion.  I’m still splashing around in murky waters but I can report growth:  both in girth and in spirit.  I don’t think its accurate to say that I’m swimming in this metaphorical ocean but I am learning to float on my back which is mostly about trust.



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[ from a. addair who is listening to Sondre Lerche (Faces Down) ]

Things I was thinking about as I made this painting:

celebration flag banners

“this is the beginning of a parade”

surrendering to the story

miracles and magic




simple delights and surprises


interlaced plum trees



hope and community

life and color

Many of the words on this list came from the wedding inspiration list which I thought was beautiful and delightfully imaginative.  It was so fun get creative with you.   Thank you for the opportunity.

I loved your vision for the ceremony, it allowed me to engage in thinking about marriage in some fresh ways.  Through the painting, I wanted to honor the unique particulars of your union and offer a perspective from our own married adventure as a hopefully useful and encouraging gift.  I think Alain de Botton communicates this best when he says, “We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failures to grow anything beautiful from them”.  Levon and I are incredibly grateful for our happy marriage,  but whenever I attend a wedding I can’t help but to remember the troublesome parts that arrived so quickly after the vows and shape so much of who we are.

The imagery is mostly taken from the setting of your ceremony: the backyard garden, Park Ridge, flags and lights draped from tents and trees and you both promising your love under interlaced plum branches decorated with fabric and family photographs.

These are the impressions I want to communicate through the painting, but I’ve kept the imagery loose and abstract because a mere depiction of the setting couldn’t capture the mysterious joy-sadness, family melding, and vastness in the atmosphere of sacred vows.

Circles are the basis for many of the elements in the painting.  The symbolism inherent in circles communicates the wholeness and cyclical nature of what a marriage can mean.   Many of the circular elements were made by painting on a plastic sheet.  Once dry, the paint circles were peeled off and either cut in half to form the flags on the banners or folded and clustered together to form flowers.  I think this process is appropriate for the ways that we function as elements made in one context and given meaning in another.  We are both parts and completed wholes as we live out our vows to not only our spouses but to our families and communities.

I find the symbolism in wedding traditions powerful because of the threads (think flag banners even) they weave over time and through generations and so I used some of those practices in the making of the painting.  For instance, I painted the white, tree cluster-cloud element as if it were icing on a wedding cake.  And I pinned the flowers onto the ground as a boutonniere to a jacket lapel.




“A real work, like a real love, takes not only passion but a certain daily, obsessive, tenacious, illogical form of insanity to keep it alive”      -David Whyte

This is my wish to you, Amelia and Josh.  Your wedding day was beautiful and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it and now may you insanely follow the love you declared under that 5.21 sunshine.

Blessings and thank you,


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I waited until I heard the birds to get up.  This is the part where I write out everything wrestling in my mind and then either hit publish or delete.  On the file cabinet across the room is a completed packet to give DHS and sign up for Tenn Care.  We’ve already met and are finely qualified.  I wish we weren’t.

So before taking the family’s next step on welfare, I’m asking a good question:  “If I turn this in, what am I doing?”

It’s a complicated argument and a morning’s blog entry won’t get everything right.  The DHS packet is already completed for a few reasons.  For one, my child has never decided that struggling for an ideal is something they’re interested in.  Secondly, health care is messed up and anyone trying to pay on their own can’t do it.  Society’s problem, and mine too.

Two weeks ago we sold our car for principled reasons.  If we didn’t do that “pre parent,” we never would try.  Now there is some cash in the asset column and we could use it.

The DHS question becomes one of ethics and strategy.  Options:

a. Take the welfare, invest the car money in business and work hard to get off the welfare.  One day pay it back.

b. Pay some medical expenses in cash and borrow the rest.  Remain independent from assistance.  Cover future health care with our continued artist incomes as they are.

c. Seek an employer that provides benefits.  Probably buy another car.

The options have complications, but lets not blog too far.  Instead, I give you possible responses to my  future child:

a. Honey, when we started out we needed some help.  But one day Daddy made a hit record and Mommy sold a painting to MoMA.  We started a trust fund for other starving artists who wanted families.

b. Well son, just as you came into this world, your mother and I decided to reduce our dependance on foreign oil with its dire toll on the environment, while at the same moment we proved that expensive social programs are unnecessary if everyone would take responsibility for themselves.    And health care, don’t get me started on health care.


We pause here because it started to rain. I looked up to see the umbrella and Ashley’s rain jacket lying by the door.  Hopping on my bike and sprinting for Belle Morris Elementary on this foggy, rainy morning, I was reminded that some choices, like being intentionally car-less, require a fresh assertion of values.

And suddenly I was hit by a Honda Civic.  It pulled out and didn’t see me.  My handlebars wadded up and the chain was knocked loose.  Otherwise, the front side panel is a bruise of a landing and not a bloody one.  The umbrella was in the right lane of N. Broadway and I was sure it would be my only casualty.  But I saved it.  The guy felt awful.  I told him I was trying to take my wife her umbrella where she was a crossing guard.  He was near tears.  I offered that he could drive me to the school and he’d be doing me a favor, we’d call it even.

“Are you sure?  What about your bike?”

I inspected my bike and chained it to the stop sign (just before the antique shop by Fellini Kroger).  I could fix it.  My knee was sore but not bleeding.  There was no need to play any cards this morning, I just needed the ride.

He had a car seat in the back and a Bible in the passenger seat.  We sat there until he could dart the car back onto Broadway.

He said, “You know I always try to be careful and considerate.  That’s what I get for being late… I just dropped off my kid and was rushing to work.  I didn’t even see you.”

The irony of everything I’ve just been thinking about: children, work, not having a car, Ashley’s part time job, people needing to catch a break.  An unfinished blog at home which I was supposed to finish so that I’d discover what to do.

I don’t know.

Another story about how dangerous it is for me that Ashley is a crossing guard…

Last Thursday I was walking with her to school in the afternoon when an elderly man was sitting on a porch and murmured to us about something. There are crazies around here and we didn’t understand a word he said. After walking on I asked myself, what was the hurry; he’d seemingly been on his own porch.  I told Ashley I’d meet her later, we both thought I should go back and check on him.  He mumbled that he couldn’t walk and that he needed his dog to be brought in.

A chihuahua was leashed to a chair in the lawn beside the house and I guessed it looked harmless.  As I reached for the leash, it bit me twice on the wrist.  Still, I brought the dog to the man and realized that my initial instinct had been correct.  He was probably 80, but he was pissed drunk.  Urine all over his jeans.  He said he’d broken a rib and had been lying on the porch all morning.  I breathed sadly, but knew I had to lift him, no matter how disgusting.  By the time I’d helped him into his dark, vomitous house and moved enough greasy paper plates with stale chicken so that he could fall on the couch, I headed for the door.  The chihuahua was still on the leash and I hung it from a pile of unmemorable junk sitting in my guess of what was a chair.

“He’s a mean little sucker.”

“Have a nice day.”

I’d forgotten about the biting until I walked out into the bright sun and it had already began to swell.  Instead of walking to the school, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on the provincial nearby corner.  I asked the pharmacist,

“What do you recommend for a dog bite?”

“Did you know the dog?”

“No, it was just over there.”

“Go to the doctor.  Now.”

“I don’t have health insurance.”

“I’m sorry, but dog mouths are filthy and he could have rabies.  Seriously, go to the doctor.”

I looked at the swelling and remembered the soiled house.  I thought about our upcoming medical bills.  Then I walked over to the antiseptic cream and she yelled after me that it wouldn’t do it any good.  It would make me feel better, like I’d done something.  Like give a guy a freakin’ break.

I was furious for the rest of the day.  I kept the bite clean and maybe it’s fine, that was last week.  Everybody gets a little jittery when they’re going to be parents.  Right now, I feel like I must have got hit by a car this morning.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to The Walkmen (You and Me) ]

hermit seasons are good for journaling. page excerpt 1

I’ve always been on the quiet side of the social butterfly spectrum, but 2011 has been firmly hermit-esque.

That I even want to follow this statement with reassurance that I’m not depressed says a bit  about my unease in naming this solitary spell; there’s a real stigma attached to being alone.  I know there is some validity to this and of course, there must be balance, but the sort of season I am in is not of the dangerous sort.

hermit seasons are good for journaling. page excerpt 2

I’m not gloomy, I just feel a peace in and yearning for long solo intermissions.  I’ve been following this need and its been good.  But every so often I get anxious about the consequences of being alone.  I think it’s because I let cheap advertising get in to my brain mix and I start to wonder if I’m missing out, if I’ll eventually deteriorate into a lonely old woman, or if I’m a social mutant.

hermit seasons are good for journaling. page excerpt 3

I have this tendency to view events and prescribe their aftermath in extreme terms.  But it’s probably more appropriate to understand that life cycles in seasons.

I guess what I’m trying to do is make myself understand that its okay to trust the seasons.  To live where you are in stillness and joy.  To understand that the nature of the universe works in terms of balance but not stability.  Just because I feel like spending a lot of time alone now doesn’t mean that I will feel like this forever.

hermit seasons are good for journaling. page excerpt 4

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because I’m finding that I have to keep writing/painting/thinking through the same concepts in order to absorb them.  To borrow from my last blog, I’m simply hanging a color on this little space of time-love.  And I guess my flags of late are all shades of neon mustard yellow.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Son of a Khrusty Musical (Son of a Khrusty Muscial) ]

hanging is only scary when you're small. acrylic on canvas. 36"x36"

Lately, my experiences have been ones that I can’t intellectualize; death of loved ones, the possibility and consequences of having children, and wondering how the best way to spend days that string together to form a lifetime.  I’ve come to the end of my reasoning and, for sanity’s sake, I’m just taking things a morning, afternoon, and evening at a time.  I’m trying to be quiet enough that I can hear the thing that I feel I should/want/could do and then without much angst just do the thing and trust that someone knows the bigger picture, even if it isn’t me.

Each moment in time is like a little space of line that I have the opportunity to drape color on.


I might be able to recall what the last few colors were, but I have no idea of the direction of the line and am unable to see the entirety of the composition made by the history and projection of the line.

In short (and inevitably incompletely), this painting is an abstraction of time.  It is (in part) a way for me to internalize, to get ideas into my body, and to relax into what is already there.  It is a thinking process that is teaching me to hang my colors boldly and with humility because that is really all I’m qualified to do.  Or, to step out of the metaphor, I’m learning to simply be kind, love recklessly, paint, take walks, and eat well; just do what humans do and let the drama of existence circulate.

Those were my thoughts as I set out to create the painting.  But what I love about making art is that through the making, I get surprised by realizing there is more there than I have the capacity to understand.

As I was painting this, I realized how apt it is that the half circle shaped “flags” are created by being painted on a sheet of plastic, and once dry, getting peeled off the plastic and glued to the canvas.  In essence, they we’re created in one context, and given meaning in another.


Just after application, these little half-circle-shaped flags looked discordant and unsettling until they went through the process of becoming a painting.  It was my job, as the creator, to make the jumble cohesive or somehow satisfying and meaningful through the layering and adjustment of color, texture and line.

In the end, the painting is a God’s-eye view.  A hopeful reassurance to myself that it is my simple objective to hang my momentary color flags with honesty and relish, but someone else’s to give it context and ultimate worth.


A step further into the metaphor (and a little joke the painting played on me) is that I painted the piece “upside down” from the way it is oriented here.  It wasn’t until the last moments of working on it that I realized it was meant to be viewed the way it is pictured.  Fitting.  Even when we think we know or are learning something, chances are, our view is distorted, foggy, or almost right, but still upside down.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow) ]

I was listening to NPR the other day and heard David Orr, author of Beautiful and Pointless : A Guide to Modern Poetry consider the role that poetry plays in the wider world.

Here’s an excerpt from the NPR article:

“The final chapter of Orr’s book asks what might be the most important question: Why bother? Why read poetry at all?

And Orr has a rather surprising answer: ‘I don’t know that people ought to bother. I think that poetry is one of those choices you make in life that’s … it’s not really susceptible to reasoning or arguments…I think a better way to approach the question ‘why bother?’ is not to answer it — but rather just to say that if you do bother, it can be worthwhile.'”

His answer first shocked me and then I began to fancy it as delightfully simple and refreshing…and applicable to painting.

In his book, Orr writes, “For decades now, one of the poetry world’s favorite activities has been bemoaning its lost audience, then bemoaning the bemoaning, then bemoaning that bemoaning, until finally everyone shrugs and applies for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.”

hanging is only scary when you're small

1. I heart David Orr, isn’t he funny?  2.This reminds me of myself, bemoaning on a few too many occasions.

Recently I lead a discussion on the role of arts in spirituality.  I think a large part of my motivation to participate in the class was because I wanted to help promote the gospel that says art (particularly visual art and even more narrowly painting) is vital to life.

Embarrassingly flimsy now that I think about it.

I’m not downright reversing the way I feel about art’s potential, but I am lightening up and laying off the zeal.

Probably, one can go through an entire lifetime without looking much or caring about painting and live a satisfying and whole existence.   Fair enough.  I can wear a black beret and not-too-tight-and-in-a-wad panties at the same time.

I think much of my intensity toward convincing others of  the value of art comes from a bruised starving-artist ego. It desperately seeks validation: I’m not wasting my time right?  Spending my whole day concerned about the quality of a line or how a shade of red responds to fuchsia is not frivolous right?  Somebody, please confirm me;  but if you won’t you just don’t get it. Snub. Snuffle. Bemoan.

hanging is only scary when you're small (detail)

Because the work of artists is often undermined, when we talk about the merit of what we do, it can get rather bristly.

I do believe it is incredibly essential for an artist to pursue the making of art because, at least for me, I delight in it and have come to depend upon it for processing and appreciating life.  And I think it has the capacity to do these things for/in the viewer as well.  Making and seeing art is important; it is a piece of the whole, but not supreme.

I’ve also been thinking about what Doug Banister from All Souls said about needing both structural and spiritual components for renewal.

So much of my recent journey has been about relaxing into what is already there and this moment is no exception.  It is such a relief to rest in the realization that I possess only a little piece of a great big whole.  There is more than one component for renewal and I can only give what I have, which is an important part, but not the every-part.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Keb’ Mo’ (Keb’ Mo’) ]

Some things I’ve been reading about :

“Many animals appear to have an instinctive aversion to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…a farmer named Bill Lashmet performed a feeding experiment with his cows.  He filled one trough with fifty pounds of genetically modified Bt corn (a corn that has been altered to make its own bacterial toxin)  and the other trough with natural shelled corn.  He watched as every single one of his cows sniffed the Bt corn, withdrew, and then moved on to the natural corn, which they devoured.”

“It is because of the known risks and all the uncertainty that some countries have banned the growing and selling of genetically engineered foods.  Many residents of these countries are highly suspicious of GMOs and are especially watching American children to see if there are any long-term effects.  The children of North America have now become the world’s lab animals on whom to study the long-term effects of eating GM products.”

“[Professor Michael Pollan] likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment.  We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects.  We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from  cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the sun warm their backs.”

“What you can do:  Demand Labeling…The United States is one of the only industrial nations in the world that doesn’t demand that genetically altered foods be labeled.”

“What you can do:  Focus on Grocers…Even if the government isn’t responsive to consumers’ demands, grocery stores have to be, since we can now take our business elsewhere.”

excerpts taken from Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading because 1. this is old news to many 2. its offensive to others.  But I decided to click “publish” because 1. reminders are helpful and 2. I’m interested in exploring why concepts in ecology are perceived as combative.


from Harvest for Hope. caption reads: "Topo, an adult male chimpanzee living at a sanctuary in Bend, Oregon, invariably selects organic vegetables and fruits when allowed to choose. Here he eats the organic lettuce and ignores the other.



I think this is a matter of political marketing.  We’re trained to camp at one of two ends of a spectrum, effectively making us inept problem-solvers.

The way I see it, eating should have nothing to do with whether you’re a democrat or republican.  Food is such a basic need that it seems we should at least agree to put our power plays away while we make certain we can feed our bodies with whole, healthy, toxin-free food, if only to be able to fight another day.

Controversy is okay, but we should talk about it with an understanding of where our human institutions fit into a much larger picture.  We made them up, they will not be around forever, and they aren’t worth defending to the point of cruelty and exploitation.

When it comes to the health of our environment (and consequently our health) the issues are just too basic to subject to our silly little games.

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