"Rushing in the dark toward stillness."

I ran at night. Five miles. Just me. Everyone was shut in behind closed doors on this rainy night. No cars, no people. Just me.

It had been raining for 2 days straight, with little opportunity during the day to get out and run. I used to run freely in the dark, either before sunrise or after sunset, all the time. But since becoming a mother, whatever small risks I once took before I can no longer bring myself to take. My life is not my own anymore. I feel a deep, compelling need to care for myself in order to be here, fully healthy and present, for my son.

Back then I ran without fear, with a goal of miles ahead of me and a fierce determination propelling me forward.

I don't run toward the same things anymore.

Still. This rainy, cool, dark night, I really needed to run. My mind felt full of anxious clutter, a ribbon of sadness tying it all together rather than letting the clutter dissipate.

I wore bright, visible colors and headed out into the rain. I kept to well lit roads and marveled at how different it is to run at night.

I am invisible. I feel anonymous. I feel--at once--fearless and fearful. I cannot see where my steps will fall, nor can I see the vibrant colors I am attuned to during the day. Instead, I smell more, I hear more. The absence of light and color makes me more aware of sounds: trickling, dripping water everywhere; my breath, even and alive; my steps, the only human sound.

Running toward stillness.

I returned with a stilled mind and space to create.

My noticings:
I could not see the way I usually do, so I "saw" many different things that usually go unnoticed. Sensation of the air, strung together moments before my feet fall, in-between spaces floating in the air for moments between footfalls, seeing and not seeing, momentary reflections. I noticed countless pools of water, visible because of light reflecting upon them. They will be gone by morning.

I did not pick up anything, but I took home the memory of reflective pools of rain, strung together on every road and path. Illumination in the dark.

I ran toward stillness and brought some home with me.

"Buoyed up by things I cannot see..."

I've been thinking a lot lately about the notion of seeing. In life, in art, and in teaching, seeing is a critical skill, yet so often, I realize that the unseen, the invisible, and the intangibles in my everyday meanderings are far more compelling. The things that are felt rather than seen possess great power to guide action. And in that way, the intangible becomes, in big and small ways, visible.

When I notice and then collect a tangible object, I find that I am able, through that action, to carry with me a complex array of sensations. That physical thing grounds me to a single moment in time, and seeing it again brings back a vivid memory, not of the moment, but of the myriad sensations of that moment: the movement of the air, the quality of light, the sentiment of my heart, the noise in my mind, my physical weight of being. I can remember the things I felt more than I can recall the things I saw: the way the light felt, the smell of the air in that moment, the feeling of the objects in my hand. The pieces of what I remember change, and the characteristics of the object change, but the object itself--its physical existence and essence--remains the same. It is a portal back to that moment.

It's interesting how resonant objects, seemingly so mundate or unremarkable at first glance "vibrate" and compel me to pick them up. When I am with Jonah, his noticing eye often selects something too. The combination of our objects create a doorway into a shared memory.

I returned today, to my studio, with a single orange leaf and a small yellow one, already curling around the edges.

Sensations of wind, mental noise, struggles to be and stay present.

The color captured my attention. A distinct shade of orange. A day later, the color had deepened, and the leaf had curled up. But by then I had already captured the colors in gouache...

I think the resulting sensation looks a bit sad--yet it is true to how I felt in that moment.

While making this, I thought about resonances and dissonances in teaching lately. Teaching is such a paradox of things for me: enjoyable, rewarding, terrifying, nervous-making, unpredictable, adventurous, momentous, mundane, wonderful, powerful, surprising.

Teaching makes me feel vulnerable in a way I feel nowhere else. It requires honesty to teach with honesty. Authenticity, by nature, is not easy to achieve. Looking within requires carefuly scrutiny, including the areas where it is hard to look. I find that each semester, my students challenge me to stretch. I hope that sensation of stretching goes both ways. My students should feel (I hope) stretched in new directions as a result of engaging fully and honestly.

So often, I feel the daunting weight of so many choices I make daily, as a teacher preparing for and implementing a vision for a course, a class period, a dialog, a moment. Each moment, big or small, matters, as the collective experience of these moments have great power in determining what is learned, what is experienced, and what connections are made. What is framed, how it is articulated, and the connections made (or not made) all manifest in some way, resulting from an incredibly complex array of factors: the dynamics of the students overall, the shifting dynamics of any given day, my own internal sensations and perspective, the integrity of the content, my conviction in conveying it, and my (and the students') ability to pay attention, listen, and invest.

It feels like a dance. Each semester, even with the course being the same course, the students are what make the experience qualitatively different. The content shifts itself because of the worlds within my students. That is always a powerful experience for me, and one that I strive to acknowledge in meaningful ways.

Today, I thought much about the particular individuals in this class. I thought of what each brings to the class dynamic, and what--as a result--has grown from our association with one another. Quiet souls, all of us. Never have I had a class so calm and introspectively thoughtful. The thought processes I've been observing are methodical yet multi-layered. What I am seeing arise in reflections and writings has been such a delight to read.

"Find greatness in small things..."

"Find greatness in small things..."
30" x 40"
India ink, gouache, watercolor, rice paper

Lately I've gotten into the habit of running later in the day, when the sun slants and evening approaches. The quality of the light is warm, and I love the sensation of being out just before the colors fade. At that time of day, my body is looser and more limber, not stiff as I often feel these days in the mornings. Though I feel like the same exuberant, energetic soul inside, my body often reminds me that I am aging.

Today, I decided to begin my day with a run, thinking that (perhaps!!) some noticing along the way would ground my making once I stepped into my studio.

Starting my run, my mind was full of so much noise.

The events of the past few weeks (Paris, Beirut, Kenya) feel heavy, and the collective sadness, borne of tragedy near and far, feels palpable. I made a concerted effort to be present, at least for these small moments on the trail.

Whenever I meander through the world, whether purposefully going somewhere or out on a run, certain things vibrate, as if to say "Pick me up and take a closer look." I decided to pay attention.

I picked up three items. The smallest I tucked into my sleeve, and the largest I held in my hand. It flapped and waved for my remaining miles. The last item I picked up at the very end of my run.

I picked up the large yellow leaf because its stem was "just so"--an incredible shade of red-orange, contrasting with the paleness of the leaf.

I picked up the small yellow leaf because of the tiny greenish dot on its surface. It said, "here is a detail I want you to notice."

I picked up the oval green leaf because it looked worn, as if it had flown around a bit, maybe been stepped on, yet it retained its color. It was alone in an area full of leaves of a different sort.

Here is what I thought:

These small things I pick up are this way for just this moment in time. By tomorrow, they will be dry and easily cracked, not pliable and easily bendable like today. Tomorrow they will be a different color, not the vibrant colors that drew my eye today. I thought about the ephemeral moments that make up everyday living, and how attention to small things helps find greatness in life.

These sensations ran through my mind:

I am alive. I am listening to my breath and that shift in attention immediately draws me back to the earth. It stills the noise in my mind. When I am running, I am aware--fully--of the brilliance of life coursing through me. Today, I feel especially grateful.

I am alone. After so many years of intensely-paced work that allowed little time to pause or reflect, this semester I have moments of being alone. I had not realized how rarely that actually happens, and how terrifying it can be to face that in the studio.

I ran just enough. I ran 4 miles today. Short, but just enough. Enough to be warm and sweating, to hear the sounds of water (quiet, easy to miss if not listening) and register the smell of the air (smoky, cool, fresh).

With my three items held gently but tightly in my hand, and my three sensations about this moment held tightly in my heart and mind, I ran home.

My contemplative practice lately has been this: "Find greatness in small things." Practice noticing. And then consider how making can emerge from that sensation of awareness. Here is where the work I am doing in my classroom, emerging work in my studio, my current research as a graduate student myself, and my engagements in living all align. I am an artist-teacher-researcher. The threads of each layer are increasingly intertwined.

For the first time in a very long time, I stepped over the threshold of my studio with eagerness rather than fear.

"The beans on the propeller beans are larger than usual..."

19" x 25"
"The beans on the propeller beans are larger than usual..."
India ink, gouache, watercolor, paper

When I heard these words from Jonah today, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Those whirly, twirly, flying helicopter things that fall from the trees each fall. In that moment, I had three realizations:

  1. Our daily communications are such that I know--pretty much always--exactly what he is talking about, even when he strings together the most unlikely combination of words.
  2. His capacity to notice is keen and constant. He possesses a vigilant eye, insatiable curiousity, and a love of comparing and wondering.
  3. His ways of knowing, so different from mine as a grown-up who has (sadly) filtered out many of the things I used to see, never fail to help me see the world with fresh eyes.

In the absence of certain vocabulary words, I am delighted by how he strings together the words he does know--just so--to convey a subtle meaning. Other times, he simply manufactures his own descriptive words and phrases to name something, and these become part of his everyday vocabularly. I feel lucky indeed to witness how these words crop up in his wonderful daily wanderings through (and wonderings about) nature.

"Propeller beans." How perfect.

Curious about what they are actually called, I looked them up. Samaras. A beautiful word.

Every fall, when they are abundantly floating through the air and scattered on the ground, I am flooded with sensations and memories. They bring back the smell and feel of the air during this time of year, memories of childhood when throwing and watching them twirl through the air held a moment of wonder, and a sense of time passing as their appearance signals another fall season passing by.

Today we saved one propeller bean (unusually large bean noted and admired) and with one more noticing in our repertoire of beauties, marched into the rest of the day.

"Follow the red things...

I can hear my voice some months earlier, saying that sabbatical might be a (long-awaited) time to embrace the noticings and happenings in my own life, outside of being a mother. And yet, in the daily meanderings of my life, I have come to realize that extricating one part of my being (motherhood) from the rest is not possible.

I am not trying to find myself outside of being a mother; rather, I am seeking the new person I have become as a result of embracing this role.

Seems like such a common-sensical realization, but the process of arriving here, at this new place of knowing, was an interesting and difficult journey.

As an artist, my making process has been floundering. Each time I enter my studio, I face the same sensation of fear. Or rather, I feel fear, but the texture and complexity of it changes over time with each new instance of entering a creative space. In many ways, I feel as if I am starting anew every time I cross that threshold. It is work and effort and investment, yet I often emerge on the other side knowing less about what I want to do, and more about what I do not wish to pursue. Doorways closing rather than doorways opening. That, in itself, is a way of knowing too, but the culminating sensation is one of discouragement.

Today I decided to leave thoughts of the studio behind and go running instead.

It was a beautiful, breezy fall day. Though Jonah is now 7 years old and weighs 50 pounds, I am still--by sheer will power and desire--able to run with him in the running stroller. But the challenge of even the slightest inclines in the road makes me realize that our days of running together this way are coming to an end. That knowledge makes every instance of running together precious.

On those runs, we talk. We look. We notice. I feel the wind and breathe deeply. I listen.

He sits. He thinks. He asks questions. The wind blows his hair this way and that. He tells me countless things he notices. He notices the smallest beauties that might otherwise go unnoticed. He points them out to me and shifts the way I see the world. But he also tells me the things that are not visible--invisible creations of an imaginative mind. He asks existential questions about life, war, nature, death. And he ponders out loud the motivations behind people's actions, considering what he might do in similar situations and asking me what I would do.

Despite the compelling nature of his musings, there are still times when I struggle to stay present in these moments, as other obligations, due dates and responsibilities crowd my mind. It is a conscious, concerted effort to remain attentive. His noticings are a pull back--always--to the here and now.

On this run, in a landscape of yellows and greens and browns, of countless shifting colors in that in-between, ephemeral seasonal palette before winter, Jonah decided to notice red.

"Umma, let's follow all the red things..."

With that one statement, he shifted how I looked at the world, and off we went on a running journey toward the next red thing.

"There is red, and there is red, and there is red!"

Small noticings--a little red berry, a far-away stop-sign, a corner of a leaf turned red--became the beacon for which direction to go, and "the next red thing" determined which way to turn. Those moments, running unabashedly toward something red, sensation of wind blowing by, became--for me--a moment not to forget.

"Follow the red things..."

12"x 24"
India ink, colored ink, gouache, watercolor, and paper on wood panel.

Collections (Capturing memories one square inch at a time.)

What a phenomenal visual memory Jonah has! He is able to remember the most minute details, colors, shapes, and other visual attributes of things he saw weeks, months, years ago. As his capacity to express grows and he adds nuance to his visual and verbal vocabularly, I am amazed daily at how much more of his world I can "see."

Lately, letters and words are becoming more and more alive to him, and observing him grapple with their meanings and uses has been a fascinating window into how Jonah's mind works.

I wonder often what it must be like for him, to be poised at the cusp of reading, at a point in his development where he is aware that letters strung together make words, that words strung together make thoughts, and that his thoughts can be expressed.

At the same time, he is unable to decode even the simplest words, even if they are repeated over and over again in a book.

I can see his frustration.

For me, observing the vast disparity between his struggle to make sense of written words vs. the ease with which he retains and vocalizes (in correct context!) words--like manifest, vibrations, friction, mise en place, transformation, fragile, camouflage--has been both fascinating and bewildering.

I have found that connecting and associating a visual to a written word--first in memory, then in drawing--helps Jonah focus on letters while simultaneously growing his confidence in making marks. While making marks and drawing, he is growing his dexterity and ability to create letters. He is acutely aware of whether his letters look "right," which is both an asset and a frustrating burden, since letters that look "wrong" discourage him. Drawing has been the perfect pathway to writing better.

Together, we have been using visual memory, visual perception, and narrative to capture memories of a place, a time, an object.

Each memory is captured on a one-inch by one-inch square.

Jonah's selections vary, from actual objects in front of him, to things he experienced and wants to remember. For me, it is most fun to watch as he considers visual details from something he experienced (but can no longer see in front of him), then carefully selects the shapes and colors he needs to best convey what is in his mind. Many of these are a collaboration--a mark by me, a shape by Jonah, on and on...

These are our little pieces of memory...(so far!)

"In the moments of living, the details are what matter..."

I woke up the other morning feeling utterly defeated. There had simply been too many days of illness, vomit, fever, missed work days, missed school days, catching up, snow. Jonah had gotten so ill, and seeing the effects of illness on such a small being is anguish. I felt helpless. I wanted to magically make him feel better, and I couldn't. During these times, I feel like I live in crisis mode, taking care of only the most urgent things that demand my immediate attention, and having little time (or energy) to attend to anything else. Ironic, that. Living in the moment out of necessity, but not out of presence.

In this mode of living, I stop noticing. When I stop noticing, I'm not really living (but I don't notice even that!) The details blur, and somehow, at the same time that life hurtles along, living feels harder, slower, harsher. I languish. When I languish, there is a dissonance that permeates every arena of my life, and for a time, I am sorrowful and heavy.

I had written recently about how in the moments of living, the details are what matter. And yet, there are so many moments of living when the sheer magnitude of energy output required to keep going is all that I can sustain.

It took a horrible car accident to wake me up.

Not one that involved me, thank goodness. Rather, I witnessed a mangling, airbag-deploying, crushing spectacle of an accident, with car remnants scattered around and eventually, ambulances zooming away from the scene. It was the day after the most recent snow storm, with most schools delayed by 2 hours and rush-hour happening at 10am instead of 8am. I was driving on those same icy roads with precious cargo strapped into the booster seat. The sky was deceptively blue and bright, but it was cold and icy.

In that moment, I thought about Jonah's joyful, oblivious stream of morning babble, full of sparkling life, and I thought about how in an instant, lives can change irrevocably.

It brought me back to presence in a hurry.

That moment of sobering reality brought me back to a feeling of gratitude for LIFE. Gratitude brought me back to noticing. Noticing brought me back to living.

I am myself again.
(For now.)

Lately I've been thinking about how wonderful and easy it is to capture small but beautiful details and moments in photos, thanks to my handy smartphone. Just as smells can be so evocative and powerful in their ability to transport me back to places and experiences from memory, visual images help me remember vividly the contextual details I tend to forget otherwise. So many of these photos were taken at the request of Jonah (as in "Umma, will you take a picture of this please?") In bringing myself back to a joyful life, I meandered through the past. These images brought back vivid moments:

Random spill? I don't think I would have noticed, but of course, Jonah did. Here here is saying, "Umma, look!!! It's a lily pad!"

"Umma, I am a frog, and I am sitting on my lily pad! Can you take a picture please?"

Jonah calls this walk, near the Whole Foods on Falls Road, "the stinky water." The path meanders below an overpass and eventually to the Mt. Washington Light Rail Station. Our routine is to get honey-graham ice cream at Uncle Wiggly's, then walk along the path to the light rail to watch the trains go by (Jonah loves the flashing light and the ridiculous man-voice that repeats mindlessly, "Caauution! Caauution! Train is approaching!") The cement walls below the overpass are ever-changing. This time, however, someone had painted the STONES. Jonah was enthralled by the colored stones speckling the water, but I--of course--was chuckling at the funny comment above the water!

I am ready for warmer weather. The native North Dakotan in me doesn't at all mind the cold, but I miss the garden, the smell of growing things, the bursting vibrancy of nature UN-dormant. I am ready to start making collections again. This one (collected and arranged by Jonah) brings back a vivid memory of fall turning toward winter, when for a fleeting period, green leaves and seed pods and colored leaves exist at the same time, nature in all its abundance showing its tranformations concurrently...

I can't wait for more.