Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Life The Road Not Taken


Every road before you means there is one behind….. It is fear and regret that keep us rooted to one spot and we miss much of life standing there watching the world pass by.

The passage above i excerpted from a mediocre  freebie coming of age fantasy enovel which should remain nameless. It is perhaps the only gem in the 170 or so pages. I bring this all up because of a conversation Mungo and i had with a young man who is the most recent intern at my old art coop. We were in town the other day to collect our mail and drop things off to our storage unit and get things. (see Floating Empire the Sequel) Anyhow…. As we were describing our adventures and lives to date intern X made a statement that went like this:  "Maybe i should just skip the career segment….."

Although skipping the career segment of your life would not in the past been a path i would advocate i currently see some glimmer of wisdom in doing so.

We (human society) appear to have a blind date with greed and her big brother environmental disaster. I am not the first person to recognize our infatuation with the dance of death that comes to us robed in the back tie elegance of unrestrained corporate, capitalist greed.

Stepping off the edge of the cliff - like the Fool of the major arcana - takes a great  deal of courage; courage that we in this society to not recognize or approve of. Our culture starts our conditioning at a very early age. We are taught to not take chances (at least where it is important) …taught to conform, taught to want the 3000 square foot McMansion and all of its inherent cultural goodies and obligations. We are taught to upgrade to the next, newest, best and brightest car, phone, TV, and a myriad of other semi-disposable consumer goods. And what do we get? Debt, spread out between a variety of international, offshore financial institutions. We voluntarily enslave ourselves through the medium of financial instruments. We spend years servicing a debt load that appears to have no end in sight. Every time we hold out that credit card, sign on the dotted line  we sell a little more of our souls. Most of us start this cycle with our education debt. We become the property of our corporate masters. We are not living well.

The Fool is not unaware as he steps off the cliff. He is not taking a blind leap of faith. At least not always. The Fool starting out on his journey with only what he can carry easily, accompanied by his faithful companion is starting a new journey, making up a new lifestyle, learning as he goes how to live. Learning how to live well without all the trappings he's been led to believe he needs and wants. Live simply, live well. Well maybe intern X should skip the….

More later,


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The view from my bedroom window


Changes with the time of day, weather, and direction of the wind. I seem to always be cropping and framing a new image. It is a creative bonanza. I can feel whole series of work developing; photographs, water color, line drawings, paint.Plenty to keep me engaged.  How could i possibly be bored with this richness all around me?

Drawing or painting in ‘plein air’ is always a challenge. Particularly capturing the essence of light. I remember spending hours as a teenager, sitting on the front porch of the house i grew up in. I was attempting to capture that particular shade of black-green-black that i saw in the surrounding trees just after sunset. i was never satisfied with the the results.

I haven’t gotten my water colors out yet, still playing with line drawings, blocking and composition. Perspective, along with careful line drawings of a moving boat is an exercise designed to drive the meticulous artist crazy. As the boat shifts with the wind or waves so does your perspective. All of a sudden there is a plane, an angle you didn’t see before. Erase and re-draw? No, its futile, rather capture the moment, capture the movement. Hmm, maybe this is where we see the beginning of cubism?

As boats go the Floating Empire is remarkably stable. In still air and water there is almost no perception of movement. Than the wind shifts and you are looking at the boat in the slip across from you from a different perspective.

I know that Mungo has addressed the idea of having enough time in a recent post, i have talked about it as well. Having time to do what you really desire to do, or to do nothing at all is one of the gifts of living simply. In some ways retirement reminds me of life before the JOB. Once again, thinking about the halcyon and horrible days of my teenage years; i would spend hours perched on a favorite rock in or next to the river, simply watching the water, the wind, the light. Sometimes with my sketchbook in hand, often without. A “responsible” adult would wonder what i was doing, occasionally mutter something about get a job….Once again i am blessed with the time to simply sit and be present in the moment; watching the water, the light, the wind. 

Just before dinner yesterday we were on the dock. About three feet from the stern of the boat an osprey dove into the water, coming up with a sunfish.

more later,


Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Steady as she goes: Being present in the moment

Mungo asked me the other day if i thought making art was different here on the Empire than in my land based studio. i am quite sure he had in mind the number of sharp things i regularly use and the number of Oops, or oh… he had heard emanating from me over the years. A piece isn’t really finished until you bleed on it, right?

I think that i may have surprised him with my answer, which was no, not really. After a few moments of thought i did have to concede one pretty major difference(which really shouldn’t be one at all), the need to be very present in the moment. If it doesn’t sound absurd in the context of living on a boat, being grounded.

Book making, like baking requires very careful measurement, like all food prep, requires control of a sharp (very) sharp blade - be it an Xacto  knife, pair of scissors or your handy chef’s knife. You must have your sea legs and hands. You must be aware of the wind and the tide. You must hear the incoming/outgoing boat traffic, the creak of the spring lines. Be able to hold yourself, your knife, your brush, your needle still as your home on the water sways, swings, stops and sways again. You need to be present in the moment. What a great way to live!

More later,


Saturday, July 12, 2014



I actually started making art on the Empire last week. My studio space is still very sketchy and cluttered with things that i will eventually find a home for but for now i am for the most part working out of boxes.

In the ‘real world”, my version, i get cranky, irritable, and what i would call ‘spiritually constipated’ if i don’t make stuff on a real regular basis. It feels as if it has been forever since i have been able to sit down in the studio and let the creative juices flow. Mind you, this is not to say that the construction of the Empire was not a creative project. Oh no, not at all.

98% of my studio is in boxes in storage about an hour from here. Toward the end of the tedious process of clearing out our apartment i started to panic about how much stuff (weight) i was contemplating relocating to the boat. So, what i have with me is a very bare bones set of tools and materials. I have my ‘portable studio’ which consists of a reusable grocery store bag full of goodies. The PS was a constant companion whenever i was teaching (as an adjunct professor i shared ‘my’ office with seven others) there being no room for storage of tools or materials in the classroom or office. It also went with me whenever i sat at the gallery. I was a founding partner of a very cool and groovy gallery, OFF TRACK ART, located inside of Carousel Glass, 21 Liberty st., Westminster, Md.  OTA is a very fab gallery and if you are ever in Westminster you should check it out! So, i have all my basic bookmaking tools with me, glues, brushes (it took a week to find the box of brushes), paint, pretty much everything from the top of my drawing table (an interesting and diverse selection of prime ‘stuff’), two sketch books and one lonely folder of collage material.

When asked i usually describe myself as a sculptor. When people ask me, wood, stone, metal? My response is well, no, i use non-traditional fiber related materials. When i get the confused Weimereiner look, i take pity on them and say, mostly i use paper, although i have been known to use pig gut. I use paper in a variety of ways, from large scale abstract figurative sculpture, altered books, handmade books, both blank (need any cool gifts?) and personal narrative picture books. I also cut a mean collage. Luckily for me, Mungo and livable space on the boat i am happy making books and collages. I have been exploring this very rich medium since 2005, and believe me when i lament that the one folder of uncut, unsorted material from Horizon magazine is lonely, it is. There are four five drawer plastic storage towers stuffed to the max with material, text and image in my storage space waiting to be used. But for now i will be disciplined and use what i have.

Here is an image of the first collage, “Fullerene Summer” created here on the Floating Empire. Befitting the smaller studio space i am working  with a relatively smaller format, 9 x 12” in this case. I’ve also stopped matting my collages, choosing instead to work all the way out to the edge of the picture plane (sometimes even beyond), presenting the collages in clear acrylic boxes. I like the idea of no frame or matt to distract or confine the work. This is a definite change for me.

If  you’ve been following the Floating Empire blog you will already know that i have been designing stencils and painting the front walls with protective images from a variety of cultures and traditions. Can’t be too safe you know.

We’ve been using an old oatmeal box (one of the cool Quaker Oats (well actually Giant round ones) to hold our composting material for the toilet. Mungo asked me the other day to decorate it. Why settle for the prosaic and mundane when you could have the colorful and funky? Besides you always need reading material….. right?

more later


Friday, July 11, 2014


It strikes me that i should early on address the three elements i have chosen for this conversation. So here’s a few thoughts about life on the water - living on the Floating Empire.

We have been living on the Empire for just over a month. The first two weeks we were at Baltimore Boating Center and scrambling every day to readdress our propulsion system, get in place (get it working), finish cleaning/clearing out our life on the land. downsizing with a capital D! There was no rest for the wicked (or for anyone else for that matter). No time to develop a new routine, no time to relax, no time to make a home. I did however l lose more than ten pounds.

After two weeks at BBC on an incredibly still Saturday morning we rose before dawn and bravely (and slowly) motored off on a very carefully chosen calm morning. (check out Mungo’s comments). Six hours later we were finally here at Middle River Landing, moored safely at our new home.

I just looked up the official definitions of retire, which run an interesting gamut, from leaving your job at a certain age, to going to bed to go to sleep, to withdrawing or retreat. So, here goes. In the classical sense of retire, well yes i am. I no longer work for someone else (according to the Supreme Court corporations are now not only people “someone “ but have religious rights as well - i so do not want to go there). I am living my life for myself (and of course with and for my partner Mungo). When it became general knowledge that i was “retiring” i was the recipient of much unsolicited  advice and commentary. Half of which went like ......’you’ll be bored, you won’t have anything to do, you’ll be back.” Always delivered in a rather contemptuous, condescending tone. The other half....’oh, i am so green with envy, what a great thing to do...... but i could never, because......’

As a member of a retail management team (AKA retail slave) i really didn’t have a life. Why? Because i didn’t have a schedule. Well, yes, i was scheduled to work each week, but the old 9 to 5 it wasn’t. Suffice to say i could be scheduled to be in the store as early as four in the morning, as late as midnight, any variation in between, or even overnight. Did i mention that of the four of us on the management team my schedule was the most regular as i also taught two mornings a week at the local community college?
 a view of the new cat shrine in the front loft

Enough. For the first time in more years than i care to count i am able to live by my own natural cycle. I am not setting an alarm clock. There is not a clock on the wall. If it matters i can turn on my cell phone to check the time. I am not so busy multitasking that i feel the need to “time” whatever it is i am doing. Whether that is how long it took me to finish the project in my studio or whatever is on the stove. Don’t need the timer. Rather i am present in the moment, watching whatever is happening.

The unbinding of time is perhaps the greatest gift of retirement. It allows the body to adapt to its natural circadian rhythm, leisure for long conversations, creative time for the both of us, space and time to rebuild important routines of meditation and yoga that were shelved because we were to busy. Hours to read or write or walk or simply watch the water. I am not bored. The days fly by, but there is always time enough for love. (thank you Robert Heinlein)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

watching the weather

Watching the weather on the water

We’ve been on the water for three weeks. Our journey started on June 13th - yes that was Friday the 13th. We weathered our first severe thunderstorm while we were still on the hard. We have experienced a few bad storms since (including one that blew up out of nowhere last night) with a not at all close brush with the first hurricane of the season, Arthur. Living in a light weight structure like the Floating Empire involves us in a much more intimate relationship with the weather than most of us experience in our every day lives.

I grew up in the Midwest, smack in the middle of tornado alley. I have clear memories of being hustled into the basement by my parents as the sky in the southwest turned that particularly turgid shade of gray, green black, clouds swirling ominously about. Yes, this did make a major impression on me, to this day i am a geek about storms, and yes, as a child we had three tornadoes do major damage to a town just a few short miles from mine, with the damage erroneously reported as being centered in my home town.

We have a soft roof structure that stretches over horizontal supports that run the length of the boat with lightweight “barrel staves” that support the arch of roof. The roof material floats on the top of this structure so it flexes and floats with the wind and rain. We haven’t finished the ceiling yet. It will be insulated with a semi-rigid foam insulation wrapped in fabric (think major gypsy wagon here).  Yes, a chance to finally use all that fabric that has moved across country with me three times now. (see my previous entry on downsizing). The upshot of all this rambling is the roof breathes, it feels like a living, dynamic being. If you have ever been camping in any weather less than a perfect sunny June day you will know what i am talking about. It is a weird sort of rush to be in the meditation loft with the wind lifting the roof in time with my breath. Aum, breath in, breath out.

Living on the water you are by necessity much closer to the elements than you are in a house on the land. A daily check of Accuweather is de-riquer, sometimes on a more frequent basis depending on the predictions. Middle River Landing, where we are moored has a great website and we do look at it regularly for wind and tide information.

Is this paranoia? Hell no! Do i check the weather more often than i did on land? Not really, well just a little bit more...... My father was a bit of geek about bad weather so certainly a part of it is inherited. Also, in my former life (on land) i was a gardener. Another excellent reason to watch the weather. Today is a gray, rainy sort of day, no need to check the weather station for that prediction. Hot and humid, followed by hot and humid with a chance of storms in the afternoon. Life on the water.



Friday, July 4, 2014



The art of getting rid of stuff you didn’t even know you had.

Moving to a smaller space, regardless of how comfortable and well organized(really) it is can be a painful experience. With the right mind-set it can also be an exhilarating, liberating one.

I started in my studio in March, before we even started building the Floating Empire, knowing intuitively that it would be the most difficult part of our lives to downsize. After all i had most of a bookcase and a closet full of books i had barely looked at, much less, cut into. Not to mention ......no, i’m not sure on first meeting that you really want to know what else my inner pack rat had squirreled away in the almost ten years that we had been in this particular space. I felt somewhat like the Red Queen dispensing summary justice - “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS”, while simultaneously  moaning.....Is there no pasteboard knight willing to save me....?

I’ve downsized my/our life before. Some things are easy to get rid of. Take the 120# of raw, clay that sat in my basement for ten years with out me ever sinking my fingers into its cool, wet, sensuous depths. Not a problem. Yes, i really did keep it wet. The three plus bookcases full of books, most of which had already traveled across the country twice, definitely an issue. Okay, we did get rid of some of the trade paperbacks when we left Illinois, we also sold a whole bunch of them when we owned our bookstore, but there were still way more than a rational human would want to cart around with them.

I have never had to put things into storage before. I know that this is a common issue within the tiny house movement. We all accumulate stuff that we don’t want to get rid of, but know intellectually that there really won’t be room for that ...(insert favorite piece of stuff here). I should have known that it wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed when i devised this oh so clever two tier  packing system, which boiled down to STORAGE and TO THE BOAT, with of course endless sub-classification which determined each boxes’ position in the hierarchy of storage.
I knew that i was i trouble when in the course of moving things to their appropriate new home, boat or storage  i came across a box labeled, BOAT, seldom used baking and seasonal linens. Does this sound like a woman truly committed to downsizing?

more later