Nature and Art Converge

22 05 2017

IMG_2748Nestled in the woods in eastern Connecticut lies a unique, eclectic, edgy – I don’t know what – artist colony, center, living installation? Located on about 450 acres adjacent to a state park, I-Park is an anomaly, a creative endeavor, a unique way of looking at landscape, nature, and its intersection with art. Brain child of co-founders Joanne Paradis (now Executive Director) and Ralph Crispino, it provides a safe haven for creativity to prosper.

With various studios scattered over the main blueprint of the property, this international artist-in-residency program is far from the madding crowd and provides a place of peace and restorative energy. Since 2001, more than 800 artists have created visual, auditory, and textual pieces both inside and on the landscape.

Recently, a ribbon cutting ceremony opened new studio space, and simultaneously welcomed twelve 2017 site responsive artists-in-residence from wide ranging locations (USA, China, Sweden, Japan, and the Netherlands). They will be provided with bird walks, history talks, and other presentations to provide a sense of their location, to be integrated into their work while on site.

IMG_2764Ceremony attendees were treated to a vocal performance by Raymond C. White, who sang O Sole Mio and other works in a bellowing voice as he was transported across a beautiful pond on a floating platform by its constructor Ted Efremoff.  The sun set behind them as they docked what was called the “Floating Living Room.” Minds that think of terms like that follow different neuron pathways than the common brain. Where do they get these ideas? The novelty, creativity, and uniqueness of their thoughts and visions manifest themselves across the I-Park landscape which provides the environment to “nurture artists and the creative process.”





Consume Mindfully

19 05 2017

Cow in india in road.Many religious groups have prohibitions about food and drink consumption. For example, certain Christian groups (Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, and Mormon), Buddhist, and Muslims are restricted from drinking alcoholic beverages. Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, while Jews additionally avoid shellfish and other bottom dwellers. Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhists, and other Indian groups refrain from eating animals completely.

Perhaps the main point of these religious restrictions is that consumption should be a thoughtful process, not to be taken for granted. Blessings before and/or after eating and drinking are common religious practices, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging our awareness and attention to what we are doing.

Original Title: Stop Smoking_3.jpgWe know that what we put into our bodies impacts our health, with clear examples such as cigarettes and some less obvious ones (artificial sweeteners, sugar, MSG, and so on). Exponential increases in diabetes and obesity highlight the importance of what we ingest.

Additionally, consumption choices can impact the world around us. In our First World way, we dedicate significant acreage for grazing instead of using it to grow food directly. And many of our products require large amounts of water; it takes 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, for example. Both water and land are becoming limited commodities and yet we are often unaware of that and how we impact them.

no tvJust as important as physical consumption is emotional exposure to healthy information and entertainment. When we allow ourselves to read or listen to certain news shows or violent material, our visceral responses cause hormonal reactions in our bodies. Our anxiety or fear rises. Instead we can choose what we read, watch, and use as “entertainment” and skip the adrenalin and cortisol rush. In addition, we can increase our exposure to trees, which produce a substance that actually improves our immune response. Our leisure time choices make a difference.

Likewise, we often find that certain relationships can be toxic. We can respectfully and thoughtfully wean ourselves of excessive exposure to these. It may require changes in jobs or friends (or even family), but it is worth our mental health to do so.

Consumption is multifaceted when looked at in this way. Being mindful of all that we bring into our environment, and how we impact the space around us by our choices is a broader way of thinking about what we ingest.





Listen Deeply, Speak Truthfully

12 05 2017

ramos-spring-201512 MAY 2017

We rarely listen to other people. Mostly we wait impatiently to reply without truly hearing what the other person has said. We use our discussion as a platform to voice our ideas and beliefs. Is this because we have so few opportunities to speak, so we jump at any opportunity? Or are we so self-absorbed that we really believe our words are so much more important than our associate’s? Are we afraid of silence in a conversation, the possibility of appearing less intelligent and having nothing to say? A combination of these, or none of the above? Regardless of the reason, I believe many of us have experienced feeling unheard or misunderstood, perhaps even invisible in a conversation.

Clearly, we can’t change our speaking partner, but we do have control over our part in the conversation. We can put aside our own stories and ideas to truly pay attention to the other. As we listen, we may be surprised to discover that the person is sharing something deeply meaningful. Perhaps it is not initially apparent, but if we can be empathetic and imagine being in the other person’s situation, we may find access to understanding at a deeper level. We can check in with the speaker, testing our ideas with open questions: how did you feel when that happened? What did you really wish someone had said? This is deep listening, hearing the other person, being present, without an agenda, judgment or preconceived ideas about the outcome of a conversation. It’s an effort to develop intimacy, a deep connection, with our speaking partner.

When we are successful in listening deeply, we find that all the clamoring voices in our head are quiet. It is at that point that we sometimes hear a message from our inner stillness that is relevant to our speaking partner and is important to share. This is not about appearing smart or wise or knowledgeable. It’s not an opportunity to tell the other something intended to hurt (even if it’s “true”). It’s allowing some inner wisdom to flow through you, using you as a vessel. It is then that useful words will arise. These words will be the truth relevant at that time.

hands-on-typewriter-1-1In fact, as I write this, I am trying to do exactly that. I am letting my fingers type my thoughts with the desire that something from my inner voice will come through and share itself with you. I dare hope that what I write will resonate with you, and there will be a small moment of “yes.”

Most religious doctrines include a prohibition about lying or perjury. The interpretation here takes the concept of being truthful to a different and deeper level. Being honest in itself is often difficult, but listening deeply and speaking truthfully takes even more focus and commitment. But I believe it’s a skill worth the time and effort, and the practice, to integrate into our lives.





People are Creative; Art is Subjective

8 05 2017

NB Art Show generalAPRIL 30, 2017

My friend invited me to see her art piece in the Nor’easter exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art. I was happy to oblige and attended the award presentation this past Sunday afternoon. Museum Director Min Jung Kim, describing this 47th annual juried show that highlights emerging artists in all media, noted that more than a thousand artists entered and eighty-eight were chosen. What competition! I am impressed by those accepted.

Sarah Fritchey, writer and full-time curator/gallery director at Artspace New Haven, was the juror who reviewed and selected those to participate. Her approach focused on seven common themes among the artists she chose: consumerism, violence against minorities, expression of time/discipline, power/oppression, reflections of major art works, craft works, and modernity.

Both Kim and Fritchey invited prize winners to the podium to be acknowledged and receive their award. The room was filled with artists, their family, and friends and we filtered upstairs, after enjoying some refreshments. I was excited to see the results.

NB Art Show CarolMy friend’s piece, United We Stand, was in the first room of the exhibit. She explained that fiber art has only recently been accepted in this type of show. Curator Fritchey had specifically commented earlier that she encouraged quilting and ceramics (both previously considered more hobbies than art). I realized there was much more politics to this than I had ever imagined.

NB Art Show visitors

I roamed the gallery, taking in a wide array of art forms and eavesdropping on conversations with artists. It was sweet to watch connections and reactions on people’s faces as they examined the works. Here are two of my summary ideas from the afternoon.

People are Creative

The variety of art forms and the ways they were used astounded me: an old tool box, filled with cloth replicas of tools; a stunning orb of color on opaque acrylic glass; a nostalgic and poignant video; a collage of small photo scraps; digital renderings; clothing mixed with poetry; Braille letters; an old student desk; bricks and arrows, just to name a few.

 Art is Subjective

Juror Fritchey included United We Stand as a testament to craft work, but to me it’s about addressing oppression (support of the union). The juror also categorized the third prize winner, Shoe Scribe, as consumerism. But, as I heard the poem written on the soles of the shoes in the work read aloud by another viewer, it sounded so poignantly focused on loss and endings.

NB Art Show MedussaMy favorite piece (no offense to my friend) was Medusa, a collage of snippets shaped into a stunning tree (probably why I was drawn to the piece initially). Only when I looked at the label did I realize how it was produced.

Which brings me to note how subjective art (and poetry) can be. Artists have an intention (sometimes) and understanding of their piece. What we, the viewers, get from it may be something so very different. I hope there is enough space for us to maintain our views and interpretations without offending the creator and not losing what is being offered.

Just a PS: I found it an interesting piece of strategy that one must be a member of the New Britain Museum in order to enter this exhibit. A sure-fire way to increase membership!





Be Generous

5 05 2017

bikesJudeo-Christian doctrine holds the position of “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” which referred to both a person’s body (as in kidnapping or slavery) and possessions. The Second Buddhist Precept advises “Take not that which was not given.” I would guess that all of us are pretty much in agreement about our willingness to not kidnap someone or take them into slavery. And probably the vast majority of us reading this will leave another’s property alone, maybe even when it’s not locked up. That is what I call passive alignment with the statement.

Then there is the gray area, which really isn’t gray at all, but we rationalize taking certain things. A candy bar or piece of fruit while we are at the supermarket. A pen or some paper from the office. Petty things. But not really ours to take. And this can escalate a bit, for example, by deducting all the cleaning staff expenses as a business expense when in actuality they clean your house one week and your office the next. Or padding your charitable contributions only enough to save you some tax dollars.

How many boxes 002

We can even step back to consider how we deprive others unnecessarily by our actions. When a storm is coming, we grab all the water or toilet paper, leaving an empty shelf, even though we know we won’t use all that we took. We deprive the earth of its resources when we waste water, don’t recycle, or turn undeveloped land into unnecessary impermeable surfaces.

What if we were to look at this concept in an even more proactive way?  What if we decide to Be Generous. Focus on what we can give of our time, energy, love, and resources to others.

When faced with a decision, I know that I feel tight and constricted when I am small and keep ideas or resources to myself instead of sharing them. I feel large and expansive when I’ve encountered a situation that silently asks me to be generous and I am. It’s not about pride or patting myself on the back. It’s a gentle heart opening I feel, a clear sense of doing the right thing, whether obviously or anonymously.

Tulips

Practice with the small things: when someone asks for directions or information, see it as an opportunity to share and be generous, instead of an imposition on your time. Let others with small loads go ahead of you in the supermarket if you have the time. Help those who are shorter reach things on the top shelves. And if you have financial resources, spread them to causes you can support or people with needs. Bring patience to those not as quick to understand situations or concepts.

In other words, Be Generous.





Hiking for Friendly’s: Naugatuck SF and Friendly’s

1 05 2017

20 April 2017

It is raining when Cherry and I leave Middletown but clear by the time we park in the west block of Naugatuck State Forest in Beacon Falls. That is partly because the storm is moving away from us, and partly because we need to check and recheck directions to find the entrance. But we arrive around 10AM and start out. We are drawn to this site because of the promise of magnificent waterfalls. However, the trail head doesn’t match the map I’d printed; there is a blue, orange, and unmarked trail and none are on the map! We take the orange.

We talk, as we go upslope. Under a bit of stress lately, Cherry says she divided everything she was doing into whether it fed or drained her. Fortunately for me, preparing a meal for me and my family on a day that my daughter has treatments is on her positive list! Being clear about what she can do has helped her redesign some of her volunteer work. I voice my similar discovery related to some political outreach I am doing.

The trail passes through hemlock forest and I note how wonderful it is to see healthy trees not infested with hemlock woolly adelgid. I speak too soon; we encounter young branches covered with the cottony pests as we head down an unmarked trail to the noisy falls we can almost see below us.

When we reach the bottom, Spruce Brook is a delight! Beautiful yellow violets, gurgling stream, and then waterfall after waterfall. Our recent rain has swollen the flow and it’s a beautiful series of cascades all the way back to our starting point. Near an adjacent parking lot, we find informational signs and discover this was a popular pic-nic area in the 1880s, with “romantic and weird-like scenery” that was reached by train from New Haven and Waterbury.

The Naugatuck Friendly’s isn’t far away and we are hungry. When we pull in, it’s 12:30PM and only one other car in the lot. We both want Friendly’s to succeed; we both have fond memories from our youth, and now this hiking focus. Inside, we are greeted by a smiling waitress, Jill, who escorts us to our booth. As we pass the hostess stand, I notice a coloring sheet. Jill assures me I can have one and, if it’s good, she’ll put it on the wall.

Brandy-new menus, we notice when we sit! Likely the prices have increased but these now include calories next to each item. Cherry is judicious and chooses a turkey BLT but I go for the Philly Cheesesteak on a brioche roll. We forget to change our French fries to something healthy and Jill doesn’t ask. We are both secretly pleased to see fries on our plates when they arrive. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed coloring my T-shirt that demonstrates the Good Life.

Jill is lovely, constantly smiling, cooing with a nearby baby, and calling us “girls.” Cherry comments that in her forties, she’d find that annoying. “But now,” she laughs as we relish our forbidden chocolate with hot fudge sundaes, “I love it!” Cherry pleads to let Jill in on our mission and I relent, as we are almost ready to leave. Jill thinks it’s awesome that we are hiking to Friendly’s and says she’ll look for the website. She asks how long we’ve been at this and how many we still need to visit.

We have to look it up. We started June 2015. Two years… wow! And it looks as though Naugatuck is our twelfth Friendly’s out of the twenty-two in Connecticut. I guess we will have our work cut out for us – eating more sundaes!