My mouth's a-clatter with stones this morning. Words don't want to take proper shape - neither on the tongue nor on the page. Not that I mind having a mouthful of stones. I'm particularly fond of them; love to hold them in both hand and mouth; love the way they come alive in water; the way they respond to touch and emanate warmth. I love their potential for music and their capacity for silence; the ways they invite you in and share their energy.
Have you noticed how there's no such thing as an ugly stone? If anything, weathering and fractures enhance them.
For some years now, I've worn a great chisel of pounamu against my skin; it's a source of strength and comfort. It was gifted to me by a friend at a time she could not have known my world was in a state of upheaval and imminent change. How much of our individual stories and realities do we conceal or carry in hidden spaces? The deep cracks. The foreign bits of grit and crazed (sometimes, astonishing) seams. The pounamu is a stone I wear to sleep and wake with every morning. It's sharpness reminds me of the importance of living and speaking kindly. It's smoothness tells me obstacles are surmountable and so-called solid things, malleable.
I think with tenderness of a dear friend I gave a heart-shaped healing amethyst to some four years ago. Healing is a mysterious process - it takes place in ways we do not always comprehend and with outcomes we cannot always anticipate.
Stones are not unlike us (or perhaps it's we who are not unlike them?) - tight, compact, concentrated forms and at the same time, wide open spaces. Sometimes - often when we least expect it - they offer up small miracles.
The exhibition that Kate and I have been working towards for some months opens in Wanaka this Friday, 20 November and will run till 11 December. If you're anywhere near Gallery 33 (33 Helwick Street) on the night of the opening, please join us for a celebration...
I'm away from home for the exhibition opening and a few days respite time. Late last night, I logged on to the local internet system to check my emails when, for some inexplicable reason, five year's worth of personal and professional correspondence went up in smoke. That's a fair bit of writing. I don't know how this happened. It was there one minute, gone the next. How ephemeral things are, I found myself thinking. And what a powerful statement and metaphor.
My Sent box is empty.
Where could those years and pages of letters and musings have gone to, I wonder? And why now when we're just weeks away from the year I'd chosen to take a 'sabbatical' from my usual commitments for the purpose of synthesis and consolidation - reflecting specifically on these five years of life and learning, work, inner process and travel adventures. How bizarre this is. I was all set!
This has certainly got me thinking. Is this yet another prompt to practice detachment? Hmm. I suspect so. Drat! (That said, I can't deny I'm more than a little intrigued by this little drama.)
Out of the ashes... ?
Well, what else can I do but shake my sooty little feathers and faithfully await the phoenix.
Three weeks ago, at the ArtScience symposium that was held down here, I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Trotman, Dunedin-based medical doctor and documentary filmmaker. I was one of many in the darkened auditorium who found themselves falling from the buzz of high-energy discussion into hushed silence as Paul shared with us a selection of carefully-chosen excerpts from his brave new film,Donated to Science.
This is by no means easy viewing. How could it be with reality and truth as its central characters? We are not so good at seeing things as they are. Not so good at traveling right into the heart of things - especially not when death and the human body are involved. Death is difficult even when we know it's part of life. Even when we believe it's a comma in a much longer sentence, rather than an abrupt full stop.
On the surface of it, Donated to Science is a documentary about human dissection. The idea alone is fraught, discomforting. In his introductory synopsis, Paul asks "What happens when someone donates their body to science? How does dissecting a real human body affect the medical students who do it? Why do people donate their bodies? What do their relatives think?"
This is tough stuff; sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat stuff. How could it not be? It is, however, many things besides. Donated to Science is a profoundly tender and life-affirming film; an expression of care, mystery and beauty, too. Life, Death and their complex, kindred processes are laid bare here. We are invited in as privileged witnesses to necessary and respectful processes of analysis for understanding's sake. As a documentary, the film lifts the cloak on medical method whilst emphasizing what essentially comes down to what I can only call 'right relationships'; those between loved ones, between medical student and donated body, teacher and scholar, death and life. It is a film about grief, compassion, fear and longing. And - in strange, unexpected ways - it is a celebration of Man's extraordinary capacity for generosity and courage.
Donated to Science premiers in New Zealand at 9.30PM on TV3 this Wednesday evening, 18 November.
To watch an introductory preview, visit Realscreen
Paul's PRN Films website also has a number of links to related articles and sites.
Quotes from Paul's website:
"That film has stayed with me since viewing. I am sure it was obvious to you that we were, at best, nervous about the film but in reality, pretty much against the whole thing. It was one of my life's great surprises and joys to come out of the viewing room completely turned around in my opinion. I am immensely proud that Dad was involved in this project and you should be very proud of what you have achieved." Tim, son of one of the donors in the film.
"... you don't really expect beauty to be your lingering impression of a film about cadaver dissection... It's interesting that one can have a deep and intimate relationship with a group of people after death. The students were marvelously articulate and open - love to have any one of them as my doctor." Mary Roach, author of Stiff
The #^*<>?~^* stadium's going up at a pace. Each time I pass the site on my way from home to town and back, I feel a sense of outrage and alarm. There's something deeply disconcerting about the defiance of this structure; the way it's brazenly taking shape despite so many folk's impassioned objection to it. Hardly a healthy template for trust and cooperation in community?
As a way of countering the blow of concrete and (disarmingly balletic) cranes, artwork is starting to appear on the kilometre or so of primed wall screen.
There's something reassuring, energizing and inevitable about this; painting stepping in as both poetry and protest.
"... a non-English word entered my unspoken vocab recently which has opened up my way of seeing. The word is 'va'. It is a Samoan word and isused commonly in the phrase 'le teu la va'. Its meaning: cherish the space. My gleanings and conversations inform me that this is not the space that separates people, (as in "I need my space!"), but rather... "
And now you'll want to visit new blogger PMM's site Cadence to read the rest of the story!
Lasting Conversations - charcoal & pastel on paper: CB 2009
The Environment Court has declined consent for the proposed $2-billion wind farm in Central Otago's Lammermoor Range.
This is thrilling news. All thanks to those zealous and faithful folk who have motivated, advocated, protested, pleaded on behalf of this majestic landscape. Noble custodians of the land you be.
For further reading, visit Kay McKenzie-Cooke's blog(where she's posted two marvelous poems that speak directly to this subject) and here are links to articles in today's ODT andNZ Herald.
fromNothing to do with you
by Kay McKenzie-Cooke
For a cup of coffee, you would strike the heart
with an axe, mine stone for its marrow.
Maim what rolls on into sky. Screw
metal poles into quiet land, warp and crush
its offer of light and air.
...and, from our ODT - "After weighing all the relevant matters . . . we judge that the Meridian project is inappropriate in the outstanding natural landscape of the Eastern Central Otago Upland Landscape, and does not achieve sustainable management of the Lammermoor's resources. That is principally because the nationally important positive factors of enabling economic and social welfare by providing a very large quantity of renewable energy are outweighed by the most important adverse consequences," the decision stated.
Kate - my jeweler friend and the artist with whom I've been collaborating these past months - has been down in Dunedin for eight days high-activity in the studio. We've put the finishing touches on various jewelry and installation pieces and completed a series of double-signature drawings (2D composites to which we've contributed in equal measure).
Our exhibition - titled Alchemy - explores transformative processes and promotes the idea that meaningful collaborative endeavour has little to do with ownership of ideas and ideally contains elements of gifting. It opens at Gallery 33 in Wanaka on Friday 20 November. (I'll post more about it, including links to our respective websites, closer to the time.)
While she was here, Kate commented on a small framed photograph on the bookcase in my hallway. It's a portrait of my late brother, Alan. The photograph was taken when he was a young man of twenty. Incredible to think that was thirty years ago. His abiding absence over the years has been a presence, too, in the way that those we have loved and lost are; sometimes it's palpable, welcome, companionable; sometimes we meet each other with wrestle, incredulity and outrage. Then, too, there are surprising moments of rich dialogue, sudden illumination, helpful instruction. However we look at it, are not all of our relationships ongoing?
Alan was a boy with a slender frame and tender shell; a boy who loved insects, snakes and the Milky Way, who shared his Easter eggs with his cat and his corgi, who understood flight and bees and had the patience and know-how required to splint an injured bird's wing or to build a fleet (I can't call it a 'squadron'; it's so not a word he'd have used) of balsa wood airplanes.
Kate's questions about him, together with the fact I've been experimenting with balsa wood as a ground for miniature oil paintings (the smallest are 25 x 39MM), prompted me to dig through the folder of poems I've written to him over the years.
Here's one of them, lovingly posted -
I came across your tent bag this evening,in the attic.
We were clearing space so we could see more clearly,
sort what we’d need for the long run.
It was empty - your bag. I unzipped the pockets,
slid my hands slowly into bone-brittle plastic, past old cold
then wet - it felt wet and dripping suddenly with mulberry juice
and dope for model airplanes.
It's twenty-five years since you were felled
on that brutal Transkei road. Twenty-five years since
I, away in London at the time, smelled it happen.
I carry the scent of crushed lemon verbena
on my fingers still slip into our perfumery
in the back garden. Often I climb our apricot tree,
watch flying ants drop their wings
onto steaming tarmac only to spin round
and round in dizzy circles,
nowhere to go but into night.
I’ve tried but cannot see you
as a middle-aged man. From where I stand,
you're perfectly at ease sitting cross-legged
on the rough cement stepsof childhood,
there in the dust-dry courtyard where we tasted
the nutty bitterness of deep-fried mopani worms,
sucked honey from the comb, laughed
from our bellies, drank summer in
through open pores.
And I was such a sucker for punishment!
Your freckle-faced little sister sitting in your shadow