Thursday, January 28, 2021

Signs and synchronicities





I have always been fascinated by so-called coincidences and signs that seem to arrive at just the right time. Of course, when something is on our mind a lot, we are bound to notice it more when it seems to pop up randomly everywhere. But I firmly believe that the energy of our thoughts has the ability to attract similar energies - see quantum physics (though I am wary of some of the rather arrogant Law of Attraction claims - that we can manifest anything and if we don’t, it’s our own fault).

Ever since I started Joe Dispenza’s meditations, I have been acutely aware of signs and synchronicities and attuned to their presence; he talks about it a lot, and some of his meditations include actively choosing an object or animal or symbol and waiting to see whether it appears in your life shortly after (there are some incredible testimonials on Youtube about this). And too much has happened in my own life than can be explained away rationally. Here are just four examples that hold special meaning for me:

Kaleidoscopes // At the end of 2019 I had been doing Joe Dispenza’s kaleidoscope meditations, including a live stream. They required you to keep your eyes open and gaze into kaleidoscopic patterns in order to get into a trance.

Then, when I travelled to Germany for Christmas, my aunt told me that the museum she volunteers in had an exhibition of… kaleidoscopes! I had never seen the elaborate machines before and had only been familiar with the handheld ones we had as kids. So kaleidoscopes had not really featured in my life, and suddenly I found myself in a museum in my hometown surrounded by them, in the wake of doing kaleidoscope meditations.

The lost diamond // Another thing happened around the time I returned to work following my cancer treatment: I lost the middle diamond on my engagement ring on one of the first days I was out and about in the world again. I had been in work and passed through a lot of places on campus; I had run several errands, so would have visited shops, walked around town, etc.; I had been pottering around the house and out in the garden. So when I looked down at the dashboard while driving home and spotted the empty part of the ring on my hand, I knew there were numerous places I could have lost it.

A couple of days later I was teaching my Saturday class. At one point I told one of the women about the lost diamond. After my students had left, I tidied and locked up, but then I suddenly remembered that the cleaners would be in before Monday and felt I should at least spend some time searching the room. A tiny diamond in the art room was akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack – the room and store room were far from tidy (a lot of the groups that use the room leave out their stuff). That week there must have been crafts activities, as the dirt on the paint-splattered floor included glitter and, of all things, the odd plastic diamond! So when, after seconds of scanning the floor, my eyes fell on a shiny diamond in the spot where I had been standing telling my story to that woman, I thought it was one of the fake diamonds. But closer inspection revealed that it had the exact right shape, and it sparkled in a way that the plastic ones didn’t. I couldn’t believe it.

I took it to the jeweller’s John had bought it from, and he showed me that a tiny chunk had broken off – something that can happen when you knock the ring against a hard surface. Because it was the part of the diamond that was set into the ring, he was able to put it back in securely, and the damage is not visible.

John had chosen the ring because he liked the idea of the three stones symbolising the three sisters, in addition to the other meanings. I am the middle sister, so when he found out about the broken middle diamond, he said it was me with part of my lung removed, but still here and stronger than before.


Dog’s nose // In February 2020 I had another respiratory infection (a souvenir from the cancer treatment - I had had several bouts of those, sitting up at night coughing, but this was one of the hardest ones to shake) and was feeling low; it was one of those times when the weight of my diagnosis hit me. We were dogsitting for our neighbours that week. A few days before that I had found a postcard on the floor of the car with a black dog’s nose and a dragonfly on it. It must have fallen out of the bag of images that I usually keep in the art room but had taken home for another class – a mixture of cuttings from magazines, cards, calendar photos, etc. for inspiration. Now  I found myself crying in the kitchen, and the dog came up to me and put her head on my lap. The rest of her was hidden by the table, so looking down I could only see her nose, and it looked exactly like the dog’s nose on the card that had been in the car.


Ladybirds // My talisman has always been the ladybird. After my diagnosis, my younger sister started sending me ladybird-themed things, including a book she created with contributions from friends and family in Germany that she had glued a wooden ladybird on. Because of those gestures of hers, I had been thinking of ladybirds and willing them to appear when we watched an episode of ‘The Good Place’ - and lo and behold, in that episode giant ladybirds were falling from the sky in the afterlife. It was like the Universe was giving me an unmistakeable sign.

And they continued to show up in unexpected ways, both here and in my sister's world. And it extended further - one day I had coffee with a friend and told her about the ladybirds, and later that day she sent me a photo: she had got home and found a ladybird earring at the bottom of her handbag that she had no recollection of putting in there.

[About a year ago I submitted a much shorter version of this to Agradecida y Poderosa (a young woman who had stage IV cancer and posts about healing and her lifestyle – I found her through our shared interests in complementary therapies) for her series ‘Tu poderosa historia’ on Instagram. There are a lot of similar stories by other patients (all in Spanish).]


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Around here



Matcha tea ceremony

Some fiction highlights from last year

Sideboard still life

Work-in-progress: John and Cillian

"She walks back, more slowly, the way she came. How odd it feels, to move along the same streets, the route in reverse, like inking over old words, her feet the quill, going back over work, rewriting, erasing. Partings are strange." O'Farrell, Maggie: Hamnet, Tinder Press, London 2020, p.214


|  I like to knit all year round, but often abandon it during the summer months. At the end of the year, while on an unplanned break from work due to a health complication (neither cancer-related nor COVID), I picked up my knitting needles again and have been knitting every day since. It can be addictive, and even though I am a morning person, I can see how my sister is able to stay up past midnight while working on a project. You don't notice the time going by, and the movement of your hands keeps you alert, albeit in a lulled, relaxed way.

|  I had been drinking matcha tea for years and John never showed any interest, until one of his favourite podcasts dedicated an episode to it, which prompted him to order a matcha tea set and introduce a weekly ritual.

|  Books are my weakness when it comes to acquiring things (outside of lockdowns I also use the library a lot) - even though there must be dozens of books in the house that I haven't read yet, I keep getting more. I always have several books on the go and make sure at least one of them is fiction, and I exchange books with friends and family and often pass on novels when I am finished with them.

|  Apart from the books that are scattered everywhere, I lean towards minimalism and try to limit clutter (of course everyone has a different interpretation of what constitutes clutter, and the definitions of minimalism are equally varied), but I do get aesthetic satisfaction from the objects surrounding us, including the jars of fermenting kale that are currently fizzing away on the sideboard (not pictured). The Irish Times recently featured Kopper Kreation, a Dublin brand that makes homeware out of reclaimed and recycled materials, and John bought a copper pipe candelabra. It has been brightening up our dinners.

|  A couple of weeks ago, when my energy had returned, I gave my little studio some TLC and am now back in there for hours every day, preparing videos for my art classes, finishing commissions, working on illustrations, and getting started on a new series of personal paintings on wooden boards - as much as I love the texture of canvas, I want to experiment with smooth surfaces.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Two kinds of light



"...[T]he light behind the figures seems almost the subject of the painting, rather than the figures themselves, and there's quite a melancholy feeling about that, that the light will actually outlast the figures." (Celia Paul on Goya, from "A Conversation with Celia Paul" by The Huntington on Youtube)

“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever.” May Sarton


// Light emerging //

The print of Francisco Goya's Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga (1787-88), also known as the "Red Boy", has been on our bathroom wall for the past year or so, and I love seeing it every day. It provokes a feeling similar to the visceral reaction I have to the figures in  Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas, and Celia Paul's words come close to describing it. The little boy died a few years after this portrait was painted, at the age of eight. 

Although this portrait was a commission, it reveals a tender touch and humanity that Goya's other sitters of nobility would not necessarily have been conferred with. There are various interpretations of the symbolism Goya employed and the influence of both Enlightenment and Romanticism that can be found in his work from this phase. Some argue that the portrait contrasts the innocence of childhood with the evils of the world - the latter represented by the animals in their slightly disturbing configuration: the magpie on a leash; the expression on the cats' faces; the caged finches. However, the animals may also simply have been included as the boy's beloved pets, and perhaps as a supporting cast to the ephemeral nature of youth captured in Manuel's features.

Above all, it is the spectral light that keeps haunting me (also one of the reasons I love Celia Paul's work so much). And although nobody could have foreseen the child's fate, the portrait seems strangely prescient: the lost look on his face set against the opulence of his clothing is poignant, and he appears almost as a ghost, his family's nobility and wealth no guarantee against an early demise.


// Wandering light //

The low winter sun has been throwing unexpected patches of light on the surfaces of the rooms, triggering glints on gold frames and other shiny objects, and one morning I caught a moment when its brightness highlighted the diffuse light I had painted on the horizon of a seascape. When I photographed the Red Boy, the window beside the print caused dots of light to appear around it. Observing the movement of light has become a meditation in itself and a starting point for extended daydreaming.


Monday, January 4, 2021

Books: Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton




“Whatever peace I know rests in the natural world, in feeling myself a part of it, even in a small way.”   (Sarton, May: Journal of a Solitude, W.W Norton & Company, New York 1992, p.16)

"There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour - put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me. [...] And here in my study the sunlight is that autumn white, so clear, it calls for an inward act to match it... clarify, clarify." (ibid., p.33)

Best known for her poetry, this is one of the journals May Sarton published, of a year in her life in the early 1970s when she was approaching sixty and living on her own in New Hampshire. It is a beautifully written account of life in solitude, her inner world, her connection to nature, the changing seasons, her love of gardening and animals, her writing process, ageing, depression and the meaning of home.

Sarton is honest about her flaws, such as anger and being difficult, but her self-criticism is tempered by compassion and serenity. She writes movingly about the redemption (and the restrictions) of  friendship and love, and her journal includes reflections on politics, race, feminism and literature and extracts of her correspondence and from other writers’ works.

I love her descriptions of simple pleasures and how she imbues everything with a sense of wonder. I am obsessed with observing the changing light around the house and the pattern it forms and was delighted to see Sarton detail this play of light and shadow in a lot of her entries. She also creates a vivid picture of the various ways she brings nature into her home - each of those still lifes is seen through her poet eyes. 

As I mentioned here before, the theme of home has been a big one over the past year, and so many of the books I read in 2020 happened to have the houses we live in and the homes we leave or lose as well as those we create for ourselves as a central theme, or perhaps I was more attuned to it in the year my childhood home was transformed and I wasn't able to visit my family. And of course I have spent most of the past ten months at home, and the fabric of the house (with all its issues!) has become interwoven with nearly everything I do.

Journal of a Solitude is the perfect read for level 5 restrictions / stormy weather / any time, especially for introverts. I read this over a stormy couple of days during one of the lockdowns and wanted to re-read it straight away – it is one of those books that you want to revisit and that reveals more layers each time.