“So… what is your art about?”

Good question: What am I after, after all.

I wouldn’t do it if I thought no one was interested. Those artists who say they do it for themselves have forgotten that the reason they started doing art in the first place was because someone encouraged them.

So it starts with that: communication.

I want to engage you emotionally. I want to make an image that teases you, makes you refocus, gets you interested. If it’s a realist piece I will use composition, color, value to demand that interest. Those formal qualities should support, give heft to, whatever narrative content might present itself.I say “present itself” because I have learned that the story part usually starts out pretty basic (ie: I “like” the image) and only later gains depth and resonance upon reflection.

If the piece is abstract I use these same same formal qualities but it’s the story it tells will really be more about the internal mental and emotional processes I experienced while making it and about the actual event that occurred in handling the media as the image was made.

But common to both is emotional communication. As an artist, I have as my greatest desire the need to come across to you. I want to speak to you with this visual language. If casual everyday conversation were fully satisfying, if just talking was really consummately rewarding, we probably wouldn’t feel the need to try some other way to communicate. Visual artists are those people who notice that imagery can have a powerful life enhancing effect on us. A piece of visual art acts as this extra channel of communication, one that passes by verbal and even intellectual constructs of our world. We make art because art talks in ways we can’t.

Yet really, it is conversation that I am after. It’s just that with art, this conversation sometimes begins as in silence: a quiet conversation between you and the art. So what about actual verbal conversation? Well it should happen as well. While definitive explanations leave me cold (like explaining a joke) I also disagree that “nothing needs to be said.”

Visual art gives us something of immediate value that shifts our focus away from thinking that life can be explained. An excellent piece of artwork creates an immediate positive response, becoming a sort of talisman from another world, one that informs us that a different kind of information is available. Not explanatory or discursive, but suggestive, sensual, even voluptuous. It causes us to witness a powerful truth that lies in our senses and their ability to inform and communicate something beyond words. Though art has no literal meaning, it should convey value. Though art is about non-verbal communication, it should get us talking in new ways.

Art communicates by inference and suggestion, not by explanation. We don’t get answers here, at least not in a logical or conclusive sense. If we’re lucky, a successful piece of art will give us a well asked question. And questions can get us talking.

All That Mystery Demands

 Our annual trip to our home near San Miguel de Allende is always part getaway and part project. Since the house is up for rent all year we can count on some upkeep or build out project to accomplish. But there is also the priceless studio time to enjoy and we found ample time for that. For us the “getaway” means “get in the studio!”

This particular trip gave me a sense that we are engaged in a project with mystery, a mystery that makes requests; I would call it an exacting mystery. By that I mean to suggest a mystery that isn’t simply confounding, or enchanting. But instead one that provokes you and turns into action. A mystery that demands something from you.

Each time we return to San Miguel I find the place that I remember. The light on the warmly colored buildings, the charm of their antiquity, the tight sidewalks that force you into the street when others come your way. The familiar landmark buildings of colonial Mexico that send a charge into you just to see them again. The energy that seems to come from the architecture and from those snug little streets passes into us all. It has drawn us all here and now it performs an animation of our spirits. I can see that others feel the same way. I am in a crowd of elevated emotions. Just by being there.

The crowds are bigger now. This town seems to have been rediscovered by the Mexicans from Mexico City and elsewhere. The weekend numbers are now weekday numbers and the weekends draw more. I don’t object though. I am part of the throng.

One night in San Miguel we caught a great documentary on aging (“Still Here” at the lovely Angela Peralta Theater) for free as part of the Guanajuato International Film Festival. Afterwards it was on to the Jardin to join the evening crowd and grab some great street food (hamberguesa with fried ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, onion, pickled jalapeño) then finally making it to a terrazzo restaurant where we sipped tequila sangritas and ate pollo con cacajuate and sopa de azteca. There was a mezcal cart parked next to our table but we just admired the bottles without getting more involved then laughing at the worms. Not tonight my little gusanos!

The film festival was new for us. In the mix of so much engaging festivity that is the ongoing pageant of San Miguel, some elements change from novelty to become familiar friends revisited. But a surprise or two always seems to pop out at you from the night and the town.

So each time we return we find what we remember but we also find something new. Something that we will someday remember.

And this irresistible thing, this thing that draws us here, this mysterious force that emanates from the buildings and rises from the streets reanimates me. It doesn’t just enfold me in reverie. It demands something from me. It makes me spark. It is an exacting mystery.

My creative life is my response. If I can make something from it then the art that may result should provide another challenging mystery to others. My response must be to serve it well.

 

From There to Alcocer

The distance is only about three miles. A short drive down a very bumpy cobblestone road from San Miguel to Rancho Alcocer. Its a drive we’ve made repeatedly during the year and a half it took us to build this casita out here. But actually its a lot further.

The charms of San Miguel de Allende are by now legendary. With its delicious blend of old Mexico and contemporary vibrancy, it has all the elements for an exciting stay in Mexico. We discovered it to be an incomparable place to visit but seriously flawed as a place to actually live. Through a series of surprising happenstances, we ended up building our house in a small village just outside town. Did I mention “very fortunate” happenstances?

We thought of that distance on the drive back from San Miguel last night after visiting with friends there. A short distance to drive reveals a huge difference in kind.

It takes no time at all to remember the difference from there to Alcocer. The light pops off the hills here through the crisp air and jumps back to me in sharp delineation. The rains of July have turned the hills green and they rise up against white clouds and a too-blue sky. In the other direction, the old dam holds the lake above the valley that falls to the far plain, then draws my eye on away.

The silence is predominant, but not pure. It is punctuated by the coo of a dove, the crow of the rooster, the squeal of some delighted child in the distance. But it hovers and enfolds and embraces. Without it, the small rush of wind that ‘hoools‘ in the windows might not be heard. It provides the character to this pause.

The dogs that bark at night and the speaker trucks that occasionally blare through the village reel me back in from the idylic. But they are only some small bit of bother. The massive might of the peacefulness remains. Its strength becomes mine over time.

Blessing for a Duck

We’ve come a long way here in our country, and the same could probably be said of most of the developed world. It was only a generation ago that our families got most of their meat from the wild or from the domestic animals they raised. Even in my early childhood we raised a few chickens, and I have memories of my grandmother chopping off their heads in preparation of our Sunday dinner. I’m only one generation away from subsistence off the land, which includes butchering your own hogs and chickens for meat, along with shooting the occasional rabbit or squirrel for variety.

Aside from the chickens that were sacrificed in my childhood, I wasn’t raised that way. We went to the grocery, and I learned to buy meat by the way it was marbled and the expiration date on the cellophaned package. My meals arrived neatly, cleanly, magically from the store, and I didn’t have to think about how they got there.

Yes, we are mostly a different society today than what my mother grew up in.

We have new neighbors to our south who have a farm in Livingston County just to the east of here. Brandon loves the openness of their farm there and the wildlife it affords. Wild turkeys and deer spot his fields on a regular basis. He knows their habits and that of the wood ducks and other creatures that abound. He hunts, too. Something of a passion, as I understand it.

Tonight Dave was making dinner and decided to open a bottle of chardonnay to accompany our pork chops. For some reason the cork refused to budge with our little twist-and-pull corkscrew, even with his many attempts. Remembering that I’d loaned our corkscrew to our new neighbors a few weeks previously when they were still without one, having recently moved in, I thought I’d ask for a return favor to use theirs. So I trotted next door and rang the bell. Brandon and Kathleen were both there as was their trusty corkscrew, one of the more powerful types with arms that you press down once it’s inserted.

“Do you guys like duck?” Brandon wanted to know as he popped the cork from my wine bottle. Sure! I said. “Well, I’ve got an extra that I shot today. You can have it if you want.” Without thinking too much I said that would be just dandy, and he headed off out back to retrieve said duck. I kind of expected what he brought back, considering it was a fresh kill from earlier in the day. Upon return he held out an intact — that is, undressed, fully feathered — female mallard duck suspended from her limp neck. She was an adult of fair size and strangely present, is the only way I can describe it. A dangling dead duck seemed unreal, uncongruous from my experiences. Yet, here she was, being offered as an early Christmas gift, all because of my taste for duck.

I reached out and took her in hand. Her neck feathers were soft and luxurious, and her poor head drooped to one side, eyes closed in submission. Her body was cold but still pliant, evidence of her recent loss of life. And I considered her life and what she had given today. I stroked her head, “Poor little duck,” I said. “Thank you for your spirit and for your life.” Kathleen smiled and said she believed that too.

But what to do with her? I mean, I’d never dressed or gutted even a chicken, much less a wild duck. How do you begin? “You’ll have to tell me what to do here, Brandon. After I pluck her, how do I gut her?” All I could think of were her guts and my ineptitude sure to make a mess of things and contaminate the meat. He told me one possibility and then said that I could simply make an incision along the breastbone through her feathers, and then one cross ways at the base and peel back the skin, feathers and all. “Then you just fillet the breast and the tenderloins underneath,” Brandon explained.

To say the least, Dave was nonplussed to see that I’d not only gotten our wine uncorked but had been gifted with a dead wild mallard as well for my efforts. Not wanting to let time take its toll, or lose my resolve, I set to work in our kitchen sink on our little duck. Thinking of Brandon’s instructions, I felt along her breast and found the breastbone running vertically. There I made a cut, with another at its base. My fingers sunk deep into her feathers covering her breast, soft and downy to my touch. They felt more like fur than feathers. I couldn’t help but think how pelt-like they felt, how warm they must have kept her. The skin and feathers peeled away easily and I was able to isolate the breast meat and remove it, not unlike cutting up a whole chicken you buy from a grocery. The difference was that I still had a duck in my sink, and I couldn’t divorce that from the experience. I found my stomach more unruly than I’d have liked. I seemed to be observing what I was doing in a rather detached way. Most assuredly out of necessity.

I had hoped to save a couple of her irridescent teal wing feathers as a reminder and a tribute to her, but they proved too hard to extract. So, I wrapped what was left of her body in a bag and took her out to the trash. I think of my grandmother, my mother, and all my ancestors before who would have found this all an unforgettable part of their day, and more than likely, a reason for celebration of the bounty they were receiving. I haven’t been toughened by their experience, and so I’m left contemplating what I’ve been given and what it means.

It is a bounty still, but I can’t forget the blessing of her life.

A New Lens

Our trusty old SLR camera lens finally bit it this year. After too much accidental cranking on the focus ring while it was set to “Auto Focus” we stripped the thingamajiggy inside and created the next piece of space junk – temporarily?Ç terrestrial.

So, our lives required a new lens. Wouldn’t it be great if when it arrived our lives would become clear and focused and well composed? Of course, these thoughts never occurred to me quite in that way as I searched e-bay for a replacement but they seem pertinent now that I’m writing about it. Writing about something transparently mundane like this doesn’t happen for me unless I can whip up some kind of “concerto of meaning” to play in the process. Actually, more like a “jingle of meaning” in this case but you get the idea.

So I did the bid on e-bay. I lost the first lens at $150 in the e-bay countdown. During those minutes my brain entered into a tiny sliver of awareness where even house fires can not enter. A place where my need pushes and my sense of comparative valuation pulls. A place where life becomes simple and everything comes down to one question, “Will I get a deal?” In this case the answer was “No” because some greedy bastard wanted it more than me.?Ç

I lost the bid on the second lens a few days later. Same scenario; great buying strategy, fixed and final price point, absolute focus… all for naught. And this time the winning bid went up by twenty bucks.

I did my research. I went to the library and parked myself at the microfiche reader. (Just checking if you’re still following along here…)

What I really did… duh…Cha!!… is use Google like every other single person with a question on the known planet. Did you know that “Google” starts with the same two letters and has exactly twice as many as “God?” Yeah, Google is God squared. Actually God helped us to invent Google to handle all the questions like, “What’s the going price for a used Tamron AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di aspherical IF camera lens for Canon?” Turns out to be around 200 bucks. Google knew because God’s got other stuff going on.

So back to the biding war. I set my price point higher (at just under 200 bucks so I could claim a “GREAT DEAL!” And… I lost again in the classic final flourish of ascending bids and white knuckle brinksmanship.?Ç

Losing three bids on e-bay on the same item just makes you crazy. You want it so bad now you can taste it. The little things just don’t matter anymore.

After coming around to the idea that it is actually e-bay that makes my life worth living and not my wife or family or my well-reasoned philosophical stances or my even my deeply held convictions, I finally won a bid on a lens. I put $150 in as my top provisional bid, intending to finish it off in a blaze of glory. But I?Ç forgot about the bid’s “end time” (oooh… got to love the apocalyptic flavor of that one!) during dinner.

I got the news about the great deal I made after desert. “Hey honey, e-bay says ‘I won!'” Darn right I did, e-bay! Darn right. Even the absent minded occasionally have the winning strategy.

A Lesson in Church

I just spent the morning shoveling sand and drinking beer with my Mexican muchachos. It’s a community ritual known here as “corrado” (I think… don’t quote me) where the guys in town get together and work to pour a concrete slab. All by hand, no concrete pumper truck, just a gas powered concrete mixture and 30 beer fueled Mexicans with one likewise gringo. We did this little exercise ourselves three times for our house but it was fun to finally be a member of the crew. Of course the requisite huge “comida” feast followed where Stef and I gorged ourselves on pollo and frijoles charro. And did I mention more beer. All before 10am. On Easter. Ah, Mexico.

I realize this seems an odd choice for an activity on Easter Sunday morning. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for these fine Mexicans, who find more solid purpose in their religious imaginations with Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Easter here is very sedate festival day. Possibly a welcome relief and respite from a long week participating in the many festivities which culminates for them in the Good Friday procession.

I’ve had quite a week myself. We went to the Palm Sunday procession, then walked through the churches on Maunday Thursday with our good friend Charlotte and out-of-town guests Dot and Wes. Charlotte has become a real resource on Holy Week here in San Miguel (Semana Santa), even authoring a book on the subject. Of course she and Wes hit it off big time (he being a student as well as teacher of world religions).

I also had my wallet stolen that same night in a church courtyard. My own minor Maunday Thursday betrayal. I was foolish enough to forget all my lessons on how to take due precautions while traveling, leaving my wallet bulging provocatively from my back pocket. (“Mira chavo, el gringo esta estupido!”). The theft was executed very professionally using the old block and bump routine. And right in a church courtyard, in front of a Jesus praying in Gethsemene and a Judas hanging from a tree still holding his sack of coins. If the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemene while the disciples slept can be viewed as a story about vigilance then I was certainly the sleepy desciple. I’ll leave you to guess who played the part of Judas in my mind with his bag of coins.

Only for that moment though. The thief has my forgiveness by now and it comes to him with the hope that the $140 bought more groceries than Tequila.

One final piquaint irony. I discovered my wallet missing much later while Wes and I were walking with the group to the restaurant. We were talking about how people we both know who are physically challenged in one way or another manage daily to deal heroically with their adversity. Until that moment for me, the proposition remained strictly hypothetical.

The Paducah Forum

We are once again preparing for a trip to our home in Mexico. Our plan is to get down there twice a year if at all humanly possible. With the date fast approaching I am just now realizing that I haven’t yet posted anything about Paducah. That would put me in the position of writing a blog post from Mexico a week or so from now with never a mention that we’ve been doing in Paducah for all this time. It’s possible I could use the excuse that the life here seems less exotic, somehow less noteworthy. Or maybe the weblog has taken on a “Life in Mexico” flavor that I find hard to shake. Or it could be that I suffer from classic writer’s block. Actually all these things apply to some degree. Add in a healthy dose of being preoccupied with adjustments to home making in Paducah, taking on a full-time job, etc., and the elements for the long silence begin to add up. The truth is, I’ve started writing several times and always came up empty. The sparks never seemed to create the flame. This morning is a little chilly so I’m getting out my flint to try again.

Paducah is a wonderful place. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a town more friendly and gentle. The pace of life is a true antidote to the disease of urban frenzy and the mild weather in general is a balm. The members of the artist’s community have been all of the things we expected; stimulating, committed, fascinating and kind. We did arrive at a somewhat awkward moment here with the community undergoing some fractious upheaval. None of it is unexpected as part of the growing pains of this noble experiment as it emerges from it’s heady visionary days and aims towards solidifying and institutionalizing it’s gains. I say “noble experiment” because the concept of an artist’s relocation program contains just enough of that element of intentional community to supercharge the group dynamics. Since we are all in a sense stakeholders in this project, there is no avoiding the inevitable clash of opinion over the direction in which we move.

At this point I really hesitate to revisit the particulars of the period recently past. But I do feel the need to at least talk in general terms about some of the lessons we can draw on in retrospect. Much of the emotional hurt was unfortunate and avoidable. Some of it was inevitable since a large part of the community decided that it was necessary to create an alternative organizational structure for the artists of LowerTown. Some building blocks for that structure were inadvertently dropped on some people’s toes. The truly curious element in the whole tussle was (and is) the part that e-mail played in actually militating against communication. We have an e-mail group via Google Groups called “LowerTown Artists Forum.” It was established to provide for the dissemination and cross-fertilization of ideas. While it does serve those functions adequately as far as getting news and questions out to the group quickly, it suffers from two very significant shortcomings.

The first might be characterized as; “I didn’t know it worked like that!” This is the shock (and shockwave) that comes from realizing you’ve just sent a very personal and pointed opinion out to the entire group when you just meant to talk to one confidant. The e-mail forum concept was simply too new and unfamiliar to many and simple mistakes in addressing messages soon turned into major flaps. In an e-mail forum, the dreaded “reply” button turns into a broadcast medium, blanketing the entire forum. Private thoughts promptly become public knowledge simply because the sender neglected to check the address line carefully before sending. I want to emphasize that the mistake made here isn’t in having the sentiment. We all tend to air our most strident opinions only in safe (read: “private”) contexts. This context is crucial for us all to vet our opinions so that they may be brought to the larger stage based on feedback received in the private setting. The mistake arises only from a simple lack of knowledge about a very new media. I’m sure that in the early days of telephone usage people didn’t understand the function of a hand over the mouthpiece.

The other shortcoming of the e-mail method is the “Alternative to face time” dilemma. We use e-mail because it is convenient, free and has the nice quality of instantaneous reward. It’s truly amazing to think that we actually lived without it all these years. But a huge problem with e-mail is that we now use it as a substitute for face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. Time and again, a contentious issue would emerge in the forum and promptly degenerate into personal attack based on a misreading of tone and nuance. We rely on a whole variety of subtle cues to communicate nuance of meaning, most of them are visual and auditory. All of this can be lost in translation between the voice in our head when we write and the voice that is heard by the recipient of our e-mail. This is especially true when motives are in question or mutual trust begins to break down. The solution to a situation like this where intentions are misread is simple but takes some courage and a bit of generosity of spirit; pick up the phone and call. Just call. Begin with something like; “I thought we should just talk to each other because the last thing I intended was a personal attack on you.” The price we pay by not talking to each other is immense.

Since I’ve now jumped up on my soapbox to provide my “how to” guide to e-mail usage let me make another suggestion. Resist the urge to present yourself as cheerily constructive and positive in the open forum while flaming the person you contend with in the private e-mail channel. Don’t do it. The validity of your opinion rest squarely on personal integrity and the respect it engenders and by doing this little “one – two” you throw away any chance of being perceived as someone who sets aside personal issues in the interest of reasoned discussion. The public forum may be fooled, especially if the victim of this maneuver is sensible enough to not expose your duplicity in the public forum. The more important focus of your effort (the person you are in discussion with) is not. In the best-case scenario you’ll get a phone call and you can both talk it all over.

I think this may be my reason for my not writing about Paducah as of yet. I had to get this out of my system before I could move on. I realize that no one is asking for my advice and I that I don’t really know all the ins and outs of this situation. These humble suggestions are only offered in the spirit of fostering community health. But please remember that I need this advice as much as anyone. If my underlying thought in this post is; “we need to stop acting petty”, that’s plainly a projection of what I need to remind myself.

The community here is maturing. We arrived late to the effort but it seems the early “settlement” days are behind us. Ahead lies the challenge of developing the vision into a day-to-day reality. We will continue to disagree because much is at stake and we each have our unique perspective. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to let our lesser natures dominate. We are muddled people. We are also good people.

What of Silence

I can sneeze again. And finally blow my nose. I can pick up something heavier than a gallon of milk. Oh yes, and one more thing. Best of all I can also hear again. This last and best thing is thanks to the wonders of technology by way of a new cochlear implant. All the other things were just nuisances, my restrictions after the surgery. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve found you can wait out nuisances but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a lot harder to deal with obstacles that threaten your way of life.

I can now say that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve experienced hearing loss both gradually and all of a sudden. If I have a choice, quite frankly I prefer the former. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a whole lot more manageable in the long run, allowing you time to prepare and practice and think your way through coping with it. With the failure of my CI last month the loss came on like a gale force, and in fact sounded like one. A huge roaring, screaming wind that threatened to knock my head off if I dared to turn on my processor. There were no hints that something was up, at least not anything to make me believe that my miracle of hearing was about to come to an abrupt halt. I was simply going about my normal day when it suddenly sounded like a motor had been turned on which had no directional clues and kept on so unrelentingly that I silenced it by turning off my processor. When I turned it back on I knew that something was desperately wrong. The noise was no longer a motor but an unbearable screaming rage.

For approximately a week Dave and I mustered forces to deal with this new prospect in our lives. I found that if I weathered the screaming for a few minutes it toned down to a dull roar which I could withstand long enough for some conversation. I even managed to make a few phone calls to arrange an evaluation appointment with an audiologist in Dallas to see what the problem might be. For his part, Dave helped me stay positive with humor, patience and understanding. In the end we made our way to Chicago to meet with my doctor and audiologist as well as a representative from Med El, the manufacturer of my CI, to come to some conclusion about what was happening and what solutions might be available. All three agreed upon seeing me and hearing my descriptions of what was going on with my CI that it had failed and would need to be replaced.

I had always said years ago with my first CI that I would be fine no matter what happened with it. In my new reality of total deafness after receiving my replacement CI that resolution seemed a tad glib. While waiting for activation (that is, getting hooked up to your processor) during my first experience I still had the luxury of some hearing in my non-implanted ear and wore a hearing aid in it. So while my world seemed a little less clear, I still functioned pretty normally. I talked with people, went to work, stayed connected. This time I had no such assistance from my other ear. Its last vestiges of hearing gave way within a year of my first implant. I awaited my activation this time acutely aware of the difference and grieving the loss of my residual hearing as though deserted by a dear friend.

The silence in some ways seemed almost as unbearable as the screaming noise from the failed CI had been. Since Dave and his family, with whom we were staying during my recovery, know little sign language we were forced to communicate through lip reading and writing notes, neither of which prove very satisfactory in following a conversation. I also knew from living with my first CI that when it was turned off I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t speak very much. So during that week prior to activation I became not only deaf but also mute, speaking only when asked something or if I had a question. My world turned inward to a terrible degree. My disquiet at this sudden deafness was surprising given my earlier resolve. Evidently things weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t so neat and tidy after all. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one thing to say you are fine with deafness but finding your way when thrust into it of a sudden feels like being in a rudderless boat. You are adrift without direction, your connection to the greater world cut from beneath you.

A friend asked if there were something good about the silence. For me there is if the silence is chosen. At night with my processor off I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have to endure snoring or dogs barking or other disquieting distractions. In the morning it is nice to go about my routine thinking my own thoughts, free to ease gradually into the noisy world. My week of enforced silence was an endurance test, or perhaps more so, a test of my will. I marveled at my friends who have gone into this silence and accepted it as their life. Most became proficient at sign language, but all have come out the other end as productive, happy people, at peace with where they are. Given time, no doubt that would also be me if I would have to go that route. To get there would require a considerable period of adjustments not only on my part but also that of my family and friends.

Today I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m experiencing the wonders of sound again. The voice of my husband, friends, family. I talk on the phone and listen to the shrill whistle of a morning bird who frequents our yard. I hear the call and response of lambs and their mothers grazing along the creek just below our casita in Alcocer, the rhythms of jazz on a radio station streamed over our computer. I shop and run errands, managing my transactions in broken Spanish. Life goes back to normal, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s with a new perspective. That there are still new twists and turns in my journey of deafness which require adjustments and introspection as to my response to it. I value more the varied choices of my fellow travelers in surmounting the challenges of deafness that threaten to cut off the world. I realize more than ever that my reality is an existence split between silence and sound. And I know the price exacted to achieve a balance between the two. Peace is had not by mourning the loss but by embracing the life that is.

La Vida Dulce

The Instituto Art  Fair - a lively, colorful happening

The Instituto Art Fair – a lively, colorful happening

We’re far from novices anymore at doing art fairs both here in San Miguel and the states. They still take a lot of preparation and forethought in ramping up to the actual event, but we’ve become accustomed to the routine of applying and the inevitable check lists to make sure we have all the aspects of the events under control. There’s a heightened sense of anticipation going into them plus the usual anxiety, but it’s all familiar territory.

I had a different sense, though, in August as we set up our display panels the first day of the Instituto Art Fair. We were in the same spot as the July event so no worries about whether or not we were in the right place. I looked around as we pulled paintings out and began figuring out the best configuration for displaying them. Little by little other artisans began toting their work to their spaces and started the tedious process of getting all in place. The man with the handmade paper wall luminaries was back as our neighbor next to us in the corner along with his wife selling beaded jewelry and embroidered tapestries cattycornered across the aisle. Others, now familiar to us after so many Instituto art fairs, also began arriving – the short, energetic woman from Oaxaca with a single gray braid and crooked smile selling rugs, the two ever-serious young women selling Mexican trinkets, the German lady selling straw hats and Guatemalan scarves, the young man from Veracruz selling his handmade leather-bound notebooks.

The inner courtyard where the fair is held had a sleepy air about it, people quietly going about putting their displays and tables in order. Not a lot of chatter, just some street noise and birds making their morning twitterings as they flitted about looking for their first food of the day. As I made several trips back and forth from the car to fetch things for our set-up I felt the energy of my fellow artists and craftsmen. Less than two years ago I viewed all of these people as part of the exotica that I saw as San Miguel. But with several Instituto fairs under our belt, and becoming part of the routine, I suddenly felt a real connection to the artisan community. Moreover, I felt privileged to be offering my art alongside them.

While a good deal of what is offered by the artisans is produced for the tourist market, there is still real craft evident in much of it. Creativity is part of the fabric of Mexico in general, and so the hand-woven rugs, the beaded bracelets, the sweet, brightly colored paintings on small wooden panels all are reminders of the arts in everyday life here. Some of it is decidedly humble, but nonetheless it offers up the expressions of its people as a small celebration of their lives. Tourists are drawn to the color, the whimsy, the craftsmanship of the items perhaps not in small part because they are made locally by hand. Art of the people which touches us because it is just that, not high or lofty or cerebral. A celebration of the sweets of life.

Tuning the Immune

This pig and his friends are here for a reason

This pig and his friends are here for a reason.

Scientists have discovered that it pays to grow up in marginally unsanitary conditions in order to tune your immune system properly. Children in western countries who grow up coddled and sheltered from every pollen grain or cat hair are understandably hypersensitive to such minor irritants as adults. Somewhere in this observation about the source of our currently epidemic levels of allergic reaction is a hard fact: Those dirty little snot-nosed kids you always complained about are all healthy, happy, strapping adults now. Except, of course, for that bully in my grade school class. He’s in jail. His freedom was denied due to a minor legal quibble concerning a gang-related hit contract. Still free of allergies though no doubt.

Or, to put that life lesson in a slightly different way … as my apple pickin’ buddy out in Washington State used to say at the crack of dawn; "Time to get up and get amoungst ’em!".

It’s not just the immune system that needs to be taught how to discern minor irritants from the real deal. Getting out in that big old dirty world helps the mind differentiate whether other dangers are real or only perceived. When we prepared for our trip around the world last year some of our well meaning friends warned us about confessing our American citizenship to those we may meet. Turned out not to be a problem. We never dissembled on that fact and people always treated us with respect, like people everywhere should be treated; somewhere between friendly and indifferent. Never hostile. That’s only in the funny papers.

it's not just that they're cute

… it’s not just that they’re cute.

Now I know the statistics I read and you read in those same funny papers tell us that the general opinion of America is in the crapper. Due to many factors I suppose, one of which may be our current propensity to launch off and take care of military business wherever, whenever we so desire regardless of logic or other peoples opinions. So our American-ness may seem rude or dangerous to others due to some of these questionable decisions by our government. I just never saw that translate into personal animosity. Pity, maybe. And sometimes sympathy, like; "Yeah, I know … my President’s an idiot too…"

You see, pigs play in the mud.

You see, pigs play in the mud.

Speaking of which; rude is when a drunken guest belches in your face as he leaves the party. Dangerous is when he then demands his car keys so he can drive around the neighborhood. Right now the world sees us driving around out there with a full tank and a tall boy in the cup holder.

So perceptions of danger all relate to where we stand, and who’s looking dangerous. Many of our danger meters vibrated right off the dial a few years ago. But it’s important to re-calibrate them by testing them occasionally against the real world. Is the world a scary place? Yes, sometimes. Doesn’t mean we can’t approach it with subtlety and flexibility. Appropriate action (or reaction) depends on realigning our perception of danger to reality. Our danger meters busted years ago after the needle jammed all the way up there. Probably time to get it fixed and stop living our lives based on the same reading we get every day; "Life is Currently: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!!".

... and in the street...

… and in the street…

Maybe that’s one reason we did the trip around the world. Might even help explain what we’re doing down here in Mexico. Meter repair.

We face perceptions of danger every day. One of the most common for many people is their financial situation and we’re no different there. Not enough capital inflow to offset the drainage and the evaporation. A little like our reservoir out in Alcocer now that you mention it. That’s getting real low too these days. The lack of rain has caused the small lake to recede to a large puddle. But the rains will come. And we’ll keep making that art until it forms up into vast thunderheads that open up to bless the dry plains of financial desolation. It’s actually raining right now… real rain. Might be a sign but I don’t want to push it because I’ve already chased that image out and beat it with a stick. Just rain …okay?

... and their mother lets them.

… and their mother lets them.

Well then so what if we’re not yet making our fortunes with our art. We’re still far from broke. My immune system registers only a minor irritant. Nothing for my T-cells to get excited about. Good thing my mom let me play kick the can out in the alley as a kid. .