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This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend an event held as part of the current exhibition of broadsides and book art pieces from the Al Mutanabbi Street Project, currently on display at the Collins Memorial Library on the campus of the University of Puget Sound. The initiator of this amazing ongoing and growing event, Beau Beausolei - and two artists who have pieces in this exhibition, Bonnie Thompson Norman and Laura Russell - spoke of their involvement in the project and the impact it has had on their work. If you have the opportunity, go and see this exhibition. Read the anthology. Visit the website, Al Mutanabbi Starts Here - and see what power the word, and art, can have. It is not an easy place to witness -- for war and its aftermath is never something that rests easy in our souls. But it is a sobering reminder that war sends millions of people to their death, when peace might have given them the opportunity to live and contribute to the goodness of our lives here on Earth. And then, go and visit Malala's website, read her book, take heart, and hope for a better future for us all . . .
I still have not processed that Elspeth is gone from here. Although I must say that upon reflection, she left in the same efficient and capable and understated way that I will always remember her. She was a quietly remarkable woman. I also find that I balk at trying to explain here, in my poor words, how much she changed my life -- and for the better, I think. Or, maybe, it would be better to say that wanting to change my life, I found Elspeth . . . and she was the "agent of change" that helped facilitate my growth as an artist and as a person. She gave with complete generosity of spirit - gave me the knowledge of letterpress printing, the community of book artists, the craft of indexing, the joy of knowing her, and sharing her thoughts and ideas and hopes and dreams for Hypatia-in-the-Woods. She gave me the gift of connection to Hypatia Trust, and Melissa Hardie Budden, and Cornwall. I won't repeat all that has been said of her . . . there will doubtless be more as time passes and people's sense of bereavement lessens. For now, please visit these quiet tributes, and share our thoughts about a truely inspirational life.
Fine philosopher was She, of divine eloquence,
with angel-knitted smile
teacher and sage-queen from ages of yore
Unfettered by Her wit, emancipation is Her own...
- from “Hypatia” by Steve Trimmer
Vita brevis: Ars longa
Homage to a Quiet Artist
Elaine N. Szedlak
9.28.1946 – 1.19.2013
Elaine was a person of many talents: she graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown College; received her MSW from The University of Cincinnati; she was a psychiatric social worker; she was one of the founders of the first Lesbian crisis hotline in Cincinnati, Ohio; she was an astrologer; she was a bird-watcher; she was a lifelong reader; she was a photographer; she was a dry cleaning attendant; she was a bookseller; she was a student of flying; she was a rambler; she was a lover of lighthouses, and of the Sea; she was astonished by weather, an enthusiastic member of the Cloud Admiration Society; she was a Friend of the Felidæ (Sloopy, Gillian, Jessie and Gabi); she was a student of all things non-physical; she was a Library page and then circulation assistant; she was a lover of music…she wished with all her heart, someday to be free . . .
And in her quiet self, she was also a true artist – although she would never call herself so.
Until she could no longer put brush, pencil and pen to paper, she let her artful self take her on journeys of discovery. This, her last work-in-progress, was to execute 100 portraits. She completed these 23.
I have created a book to hold 20 of the portraits -- the other three are the paintings mounted on the triptych display. Elaine was my partner, soul mate and friend for 31 years. Although we had to follow separate paths for the last six years, the fact of our relationship was not altered or diminished. We shared our lives. She has gone home. I am staying here awhile longer. . .
I had the distinct pleasure a few months back to go and hear Jeannette Winterson read from her autobiography Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - for anyone familiar with her work, you will understand that this was what Mrs. Winterson said to her, upon finding out that Jeannette preferred the love of a good woman . . . Anyway, in the car pool I was in to drive up from Olympia to Seattle Public for the reading, we discussed what we thought of her as a writer. I said that I willingly go with Jeannette, wherever she takes me as a reader, because she is always trying to understand life - and that is a courageous thing to do. Not everything she writes is polished, or perfect, or successful, or even feeds the voracious appetite of many modern readers for entertainment and a happy ending - but she is ALWAYS saying something that asks me to pay attention -- and I do. And it goes quickly and often to that place where the Soul (capital S) resides. And reminds me of what is important to remember. So I am sharing this link with you -- for an interview on the radio show Book worm she did a while back, when the book first came out. I think you will see what I mean. And if it leads you to more, I hope your journey is as full of wonder as mine has been. She is one of the few writers that have accompanied me throughout my adult reading life, and her books have given me hope and courage on my own path.
Aside from that, my own life has been full of family and change (as in my last posting), and that arc continues. The most difficult part of this is seeing the shock and the fear in my parents when they realize something they have forgotten, have the momentary lucidity to understand, and are stricken with the loss. Fortunately, I guess, they drift away from that clarity again, and thus receive respite for a while. We who watch and serve, don't have that relief. I have many contemporaries who are on this journey, now, with their parents, and we all have stories to tell. Be patient with us. We need release - and you, too, will understand, when your time comes. In the mean time, cherish the lucid, lively, and precious relationships you do have - nurture them, and never take them for granted.
Somebody has surely said (or should have said) that doing art can be good for your mental health. I have been testing that out, over the last five months, as the drama of ageing parents unfolds in the parallel universe that is family. My family is far-flung -- siblings are in Idaho, California, and Texas -- and so most of our adult life we have communicated in erratic ways, occasional reunions and visits to each others' homes, and to the parental homestead from which we all roamed, as we grew. Now we are struggling to help our parents find their way to a safe and secure end-game setting. As many Boomers are discovering, this is a fraught process for many, as our parents (we are discovering) are often suffering from their own flight from the homesteads they left when they went off to WWII -- having established themselves in their own homes, without extended families close-by, and consequently isolated in their old age. They got the American Dream - their own castle in which to raise their families and retire to - but they are living a lot longer than they expected, and they were not schooled to put in place the plans that would have come to their aid when they entered their 80's and 90's. So many of us adult children are now finding out how to be caregivers, advocates, social workers and guardians for our parents. And it is a powerful thing to go through.
Doing my book arts during all of this drama has been at times impossible, when working through all the attendant emotions and hours of phone calls and emails . . . but when I do get back to it, I am so thankful that I have this way of "feeding" my own soul, and nurturing my sad self, and focusing on the positive act of artisitc creation. It also gives me a place and space (internal) to sort through all the thoughts about their lives, their situation, my life, and my future as an elder (which is not all that far off, now). Mortality can loom large, in the quiet spaces -- but I am mindful that all I can really do is live one day at a time -- and a day with book arts in it is a good day.
I have a continuing daydream (when I can find those few precious uninterrupted moments during my days), where I imagine a small quiet space (I think it might be my studio - but might just as easily be anywhere I happen to be), where I can go inside myself with a new idea, and do some serious MULLING.
This is a very important word - have you thought about this word, lately? Or ever? Think about it, thus:
This state of grace is for inner travelers -an exercise in mental ambling. Hurry doesn't exist, here. Sound can divert you from the way in . . . quiet is your optimum traveling companion. Time does not dictate the duration of your journey - for it stays behind. The only requirement - that you go with an open mind, and a willing heart. The idea will come to greet you, and welcome you home. It wants you to stay awhile. It will willingly follow you back, bringing with it all you need to make it Real.
There is no better place to be. There is no better place from which to return - refreshed, recharged, and full of the what and the how of the creative process.
Overheard in some virtual local WalMart line . . . " Okay, Elizabeth II is a celebrity - although she is getting up there in years, and we'd be much more inclined to obsess if it were Kate and Wills, now . . . but for all that, we DO enjoy spectacle as much as the next person . . . and who can figure a cricket match? Clueless . . . BUT we are enraptured by the latest Sherlock Holmes - and we sure glommed onto Strictly Come Dancing . . . and how come Adele sounds so normal when she's singing and so strange when she opens her mouth to talk . . . they have such funny accents - can't understand a word they're saying!" So we must have some things in common, after all - right???
I have had a wild longing full of grief and fierce joy whenever I encounter anything British for all my sentient life. So I'm not the best person to wax lyrical on the joys and benefits and perks of American-hood. Lately, it strikes me as decidedly a handicap, living here - - and the longing for home - the place where my spirit and my heart reside grows more powerful inside me every day. So tell me I'm disloyal and ungrateful for what I've been afforded. I say, I would have had as good a life in the UK - and maybe even better - as I have had here. And might just have come to a place of contentment, of concern for my fellow citizens, and a strong belief that we look out for one another in life -- rather than the Cowboy, testosterone-saturated ideal of right makes might, might makes right, and money makes the world go round -- if you've got enough of it, that is . . . and to hell with everyone else but my own self - ethic that is tearing this country apart.
So I say, Shine On, Queenie! May your reign be a blessed one - and may Albion, writhing in the throes of unfettered emigration from Europe's chaotic shores, not sink just yet . . . at least, not until one weary American of not quite soon enough British descent finds a way to come home.
Check out this amazing TED talk about the acquisition, detection, and recovery of one of the lost texts of Archimedes . . . a fantastic adventure in book preservation and conservation.
And for a more traditional perusal of the subject, check out the website where you will find the full documentation.
It has been some time since my last blog entry. I am at the age where I am learning how to navigate the inevitable changes that the passage of time brings - to all of us. In the interval since March, I celebrate and mourn the passing of two seminal inspirations in my life: Adrienne Rich, and Maurice Sendak. I have also begun traveling down the path - along with my siblings - of the changes facing my parents, as they approach the destination of their life-arcs. The journey is packed tight with emotion, memory, challenge, need for collaboration and cooperation, time allowed for the processing of feelings and fears, desires and vulnerabilities. As humans, significant elders in our lives whom we cherish and respect, may provide us with an object-lesson in their journey. If we are lucky, we learn from them, so that we in turn may navigate our own paths, when our time comes to a closing. With any luck, we will have learned what is good and what is hard - and can effect a worthy end for ourselves. So I salute them, for their courage and their frailty, their good works and their honesty, and above all, for their wonderful works - verbal and visual - that they have left behind, for all posterity. Visit them, and see for yourselves.
What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lovest well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
- Ezra Pound, the Pisan Cantos, LXXXI
Book artist, bibliophile, Anglophile, wordsmith and library worker - I hope you enjoy my ramblings and my discoveries that I love to share . . .