Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We had a bit of snow out here

A bit of a snow and ice storm came to town few weeks ago. I walked home and to work twice...over two miles in 15-degree weather, fully convincing myself that the reason I don't walk in regular weather is not the time involved, but the fact that the walk is boring.

In a snow-scape, there are delightful surprises everywhere. The structure of plants, buildings, roads, even sidewalks and other ugly and commonplace objects is changed. Of course, I'm saying nothing new...but isn't it funny how we notice it all differently with each first snow?

Before we got the main force of snow near my house (inconveniently, all on weekdays), I rambled out to the north side of our big lake to try and find some pictures. Out in the woods, there was plenty of our pacific green peeking through the snow still. 

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Monday, January 30, 2012

promises or reminders

I saw the brightest shooting star near my birthday this year. I tried to pretend it was a promise, but I think it was just a reminder.

Just a reminder of how fast life goes, blindingly. Does it go faster if you shine brighter? Slower if you dully waste your time?

I didn't think I needed the reminder of how fast time passes.

(it feels like the past 30 years went by faster than that star.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Night Snows

The snow that never drifts - 
The transient, fragrant snow
That comes a single time a Year
Is softly driving now -

A night snow is so gentle and ghostly, muffling every noise and every twig. I stayed up late, sitting blanketed on my front steps with sketchbook and snow music playing softly, getting up to snap pictures of the coated branches in the orange streetlights' glow. 

So thorough in the Tree
At night beneath the star
That it was Febuary's Foot
Experience would swear -


Like Winter as a Face
We stern and former knew
Repaired of all but Loneliness
By Nature's Alibi


Next day, the snow turned tapioca, as my grandma used to say.

Downtown from the fourth-floor office windows.

Were every Storm so spice
The Value could not be -
We buy with contrast - Pang is good
As near as memory - 

--Emily Dickinson

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thursday Lyric: The New Pornographers, Adventures in Solitude

Adventures In Solitude 
Artist: The New Pornographers 
Album: Challengers (2007)

Balancing on 
One wounded wing 
Circling the edge 
Of the neverending 
The best of the vanished marvels have gathered inside your door 

More than begin 
But less than forget 
But spirits born 
From the not happened yet 
Gathering there to pay off a debt brought back from the wars 

We thought we lost you 
We thought we lost you 
We thought we lost you 
Welcome back 

Sleeping for years 
Pick through what is left 
Through the pieces that fell and rose from the depth 
From the rainwater well 
Deep as a secret nobody knows 

Less than forget 
But more than begun 
These adventures in solitude never done 
To the names of our wounds 
We send the same blood back from the wars 

We thought we lost you 
We thought we lost you 
We thought we lost you 
It will all come back 

 I know you want to 
Work for 
Wait for 
Want more 
And that it's comin' at a bad time 
Some cold place 
Heartless ways 
For all we know 

I know you need to 
Breathe through 
Come back 
Come to 
But it's comin' at a bad time 
Some hard dark 
Tangled day 
For all we know 

I know you want to 
Work for 
Wait for 
Want more 
And that it's comin' at a bad time 
Some cold race 
Heartless ways
For all we know 

I know you want to 
Breathe through 
Come back 
Come too 
But it's comin' at a bad time 
Old scarred face 
Survivors guilt 
For all we know

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The other half

I love the need in me
the hungers of peace.
the appetites for hope, joy, rest, love (still, love. always, love.)
and cheese.

I love the things withheld, that make me dream
for more.

I love the broken spirit raging at injustice.
I love the restlessness, the looking for a home.
I love the need in me, the need I have, for 

I am not a slave to television, lazy evenings, 
naptimes, tee times, family time, long division, 
game nights, white nights, teething nights, christmas presents.

No, my schedule's open. 

Fill it with your emptinesses, 
your gaping holes, 
your needs, 
your messes. 

I am half; give me busyness;
fill me up. Let me carry your extra load, 
teach your children, 
tend your gardens. 

I am half of one; the other half you're taking.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My White Nights

When I wake, startled, from dreams of despair,
failures, fears, creditors, dictators, 
homelessness, broken bones,
and useless living
I have to remind myself 
that it's just a dream
If I can remember that much.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

A little more about hope

There are a few narrative ideas that thread through the perspectives of most artists. For me, as for many creators, hope is one of those threads. Maybe because creating in itself speaks to a form of hope. 

I'd had this idea in mind for a while, but it took news of my cousin Melodie's plan to create an annual holiday gala to raise funds for researching a cure SMA (Spinal-Muscular Atrophy), the genetic condition that affects her son and my second cousin Taysen to push me into actually creating the three-part set of small encaustic paintings.

The main idea centered on the chaotic circumstances and patterns, whether tragic or simply nonsensical, that don't seem to make sense from my small perspective. And I wanted to set that up together with some of the patterns we see in nature which reveal an amazing degree of pattern, logic, design...sometimes, it seems, to no real purpose.

I wanted the piece to read left to right, chaotic to peaceful. The black is all photo transfers layered with natural beeswax. They are small, 6x6 inch boards.

The first painting was still in progress when I took the picture, and I somehow missed getting a close up shot of the finished painting. I added several more layers of wax and photo transfers of  feathers, which always seem to me to be an element of hope, as well as being a natural pattern. Is it only thanks to Emily Dickinson?

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The second painting is layers of photo-transferred branches and imprints stamped into the top layer from the beautiful pattern at the bottom of a poppy seed pod.

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The heart of my idea rested as it often does in words. Here finally the patterns of nature are captured as designs, not photo-real elements, of layers of architectural drawings of trees in different seasons. and of course, some silver leaf.

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Somehow the tone changed while uploading the picture. In real life, I don't think they look quite this yellow, but with the natural beeswax there is definitely a golden tint. The left-hand one is particularly indistinguishable, but you can get an idea of the whole set from here. These pieces were donated as a silent auction item at the gala.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weather Channels

We live on clouds
Our continent-clouds, shifting
weather-patterns in a slower orbit
How many weather-generations live and die
in a single moment of our slow-crunching, rock-moving time?

Ice ages come and gone in a winter, 
Global warming forgotten in half a summer's time. 
Long darknesses, prophecies told by stars and moon 
foretold and come to pass in a day's worth of a kingdom's rise and rule and fall.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

{My} Top Albums of 2011

The unity of the collection of songs within an album and the themes explored is more important than my love for one track (or several), and this affects my ranking. I think this is why Fleet Foxes ends up higher on my list, and why Mat Kearney, The Civil Wars, and Laura Marling got bumped from the list even though I might have given them more listening time over the year. I liked many songs, but I didn't think their "collections" of songs felt as cohesive. Being able to listen all the way through an album and get a feeling for both the ideas and the music the artist is exploring will put it up higher on my list.

* attended a concert

1. Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender*
               Source: Direct (I pre-bought this album before they made it via the band's website)

Over the Rhine is whiskey music. You need to pay attention to them, and if you mix them up with a lot of other stuff, then you will never really get the value. They are breaking rules quietly and beautifully. Many people who prebought the album got it in November 2010, but the official release date is 2011, so I'm going with that. I can't say too much about the album, but if you choose not to bother with it, at least get the song 'All My Favorite People Are Broken', a song years in the writing and one that every person should listen to.

2. Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What
                Source: NPR’s First Listen

Comparisons with Graceland are unnecessary and unhelpful, but...it does sound a bit closer to Graceland than anything else, and that makes me smile. 

3. Gungor, Ghosts Upon the Earth
         Source: Just about everyone I know posted about this one on the day of its release.

"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."--C.S. Lewis. This album is the musical expression of that, a clear and gorgeous expression of a clear and gorgeous idea: the desire for God's love to be made known on earth. No kitsch and no obscuring. It doesn't scrimp on beauty, but it is never heavy-handed in a world where we are used to Christian musical expressions either oversimplifying or overglorifying everything at all times forever and ever and always, amen.

4. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues*
                Source: NPR’s First Listen 

     Never mind how put off I was at first by the dissonant horn cacaphony at the end of the 8-freakin' minute track "The Shrine/An Argument". They had me at the line: "If to borrow is to take and not return/I have borrowed all my lonesome life/ and I can't, no I can't get through/the borrower's debt is the only regret of my youth"(Bedouin Dress). I still don't understand most of it , and somehow I don't mind at all. It asks questions beautifully. 

5. The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart*
                Source: Local fans, AmazonMP3

 A pack of Seattle kids begin playing local venues, and have a lot of fun. Release an album, have more fun. Tour, more fun. I got to see them play from the edge of the stage at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom. If you have a chance, seem them live. Simple but thoughtful, and pre-eminently singable modern folk music.

6. Joe Henry, Reverie
               Source: NPR's First Listen

Joe Henry is the Seattle producer/collaborator of Over the Rhine's recent albums. I loved his previous album Death to the Storm, and this one is definitely no step back. Jazzy, smoky, classy tracks filled with fantastic instrumentation.

7. Sleeping at Last, Yearbook
          Source: Artist's website

The Chicago band released three songs each month in 2011, and then packed the 36 tracks onto a beautiful album. Though it's not an official release, it's one of my favorite things about 2011.

8. The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar
     Source: Relevant, Amazon MP3, The Peak radio play.

Over the top atmospheric sound and energy made their album a spring and summer hit, but it's become one of my favorites in rotation. 

9. Dan Mangan, Oh Fortune
     Source: Friend's recommendation, The Peak radio play.

I was introduced to Canadian Dan Mangan's song "Road Regrets" (2010, Nice, Nice, Very Nice) late this summer when the local Vancouver radio station was promoting Oh Fortune. It was just one of those road songs that makes it onto any road trip playlist...forever. Looking for more songs like that one, I bought the album based on the single of the same name and found an album full of heart and questions...an album full of road songs.

10. Aaron Strumpel, Birds
     Source: Artist

Aaron Strumpel started out with Enter the Worship Circle. His latest work, in collaboration with Todd and Angie Fadel of Portland band 'Agents of the Future', is eclectic, to say the least. Had I not heard them live first, I might have been put off by it. But as it is I love the uniqueness of the (admittedly bizarre and dissonant at times) juxtaposition of soundscape and Old Testament lyricism. This is "joyful noise". 

Honorable Mention:

Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys
     Source: NPR's first listen, Artist website

Nothing overly new here. A few lovely tracks, a few brilliant moments, a few rainy weeks distilled into music. Welcome to Bellingham...er, Seattle. Sorry, Ben.

Hannah and Maggie, Fine Being Here
               Source: I think this one was a facebook friend recommendation via Amazon MP3

I love and relate to lyrics throughout this album, and the simple singer/songwriter vibe doesn't try to be more than it is--sweet, thoughtful, and simply told stories.

Josh Garrels, Love & War & The Sea In Between
                Source: Relevant Podcast

There is just so much to recommend idea-wise, but the album overreaches...in too many directions. A little restraint (a la Gungor) might have put this album among the best of the year. 

The Decemberists, The King is Dead*
                Source: NPR’s First Listen

If I'd created this list in the first half of the year, this album was on the top half. I listened to it a lot, but it tarnished a bit with time. I find myself skipping a few tracks, although 'January Hymn' and 'June Hymn' are still transcendent.

The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
                Source: Relevant Podcast and Magazine

Everyone who talks about this band talks first about the "matching" voices of Joy Williams and John Paul White, and it's all true. I love this album on the right kind of day. 

Mat Kearney, Young Love
     Source: Artist

Mostly Because of two tracks, "She's Got the Honey" and "Hey, Mama", in spite of my love for Mat's previous work, (I used to go to tiny concerts in San Francisco before he released any albums) I just couldn't put it up there with my best of the year. Bless the oft-mentioned purple boots. My favorite songs ("Learning to Love Again", "Ships In The Night", "Down") on this album sounded like overflow from his 2008 album 'City of Black and White' or even 2005's 'Nothing Left to Lose'; catchy, romantic, and pop-ethereal. (If I could count "Nothing Left to Lose" again, I'd put it on my best-of list any day. I'm glad Nashville's been good for Mat, but I think he could use a little more Portland rain to add some edge!)

Givers, In Light
William Fitzsimmons, Gold in the Shadow
Laura Marling, A Creature I Don’t Know
Brianna Gaither, Love is Patient
Eddie Vedder, Ukelele Songs
The Cave Singers, No Witch


I forgot one of my favorite albums of the year! I completely forgot that Nick Flora's Hello Stranger was a 2011 release.  A very fun collection of songs full of wry humor and authentic heart, produced by Andy Osenga. Here's a live version of my favorite song from the album:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It's a rainy day in Bellingham...

and I have discovered Evernote and the Skitch app on my Kindle Fire. 

Today I got the stylus I ordered in. Much more effective for digital drawing than my index finger.