Today I'm posting Devon photographs by friends (with their kind permission). The first four pictures are by Helen Mason, showing Dartmoor in its beautiful winter guise. The standing stones, below, are part of the Scorhill stone circle, near the hamlet of Gidleigh, not far from here.
I posted a few pictures from Scorhill last winter, if you want to see more -- but my photos, taken on a sunless day from a dying camera, aren't a patch on Helen's, who is a proper photographer in addition to running her own design company, Escape. She lives in London, but has so many ties to our village that we consider Helen and her daughter Carmen (an animation student whose work I've posted previously) honorary Devonians too.
Rima Staines and Tom Hirons took the next three photographs -- of Tilly in the snow with their mythic hound, Macha, on the hill behind our house. I love these pictures of the two dog friends together. They are the personification of joy.
Author/editor/teacher Delia Sherman has a post up on her blog, The Grand Tour, full of excellent advice for writers who despair of ever finishing their novels or other projects.
"Whatever you do," Delia says, "get that shitty first draft done. You can't fix something that doesn't exist. You can't rewrite a faulty text that's still mostly in your head. You can't experience the thrill of making a recalcitrant scene or section work by changing a paragraph, cutting a sentence, adding the perfect line of dialogue if you haven't written the clunky version first. Do whatever it takes."
Today's first tune is "Elephant Gun" by Beirut, a band whose whimsical, wonderful video above (directed by Amal Har'el) proves that music videos are not entirely moribund as an art form -- at least not when you're having this much fun. Oh let me count the ways I love this video, from its quietly romantic opening notes to its gloriously silly end! (Many thanks to Howard for this recommendation; which he, in turn, got from a theatre colleague in Portugal. Beirut's music is clearly getting around. )
The band is the brainchild of Zachary Francis Condon, a young jazz trumpeter from Santa Fe, New Mexico, now based in New York City. Beirut's music mixes jazz, rock, folk, and world music ranging from Mexico to the Balkans. If you like iconoclastic folk-fusion bands like Mumford & Sons, Stornoway, and The Decemberists (with a pinch of Ojos de Brujo and Calexico thrown in for good measure), then I suspect you'll love Beirut (or already love Beirut) as much as we do.
Below, Zach and crew wander the streets of Paris looking for, and eventually finding, a cafe that will let them play. It's part of La Blogotheque's fabulous Takeaway Shows series, which I also recommend. The song performed is "The Penalty."
Damn Zach Condon, just when I'd gotten more-or-less comfortable with the age I am, he makes me want to be 20-something again -- wandering the world with an instrument in my hands this time, instead of a pen and paintbrush. . . .
We've had a magical autumn over the last couple of months, full of deep blue skies and crisp, clear nights and trees blazing with an intensity of color rarely seen on Dartmoor. Despite the amount of time I spend outdoors with Tilly, I somehow never managed to have my camera with me when the weather and the trees were in their prime -- but even now, at season's end, when most of the leaves have fallen and the sky is "a whiter shade of pearl," the woods and fields are still full of colors that I ache to translate into stories and paintings. In some ways perhaps I even prefer the muted palette of late November, its subtle tones turning all the land around me into a Rackham illustration.
Tilly's paw has healed (to everyone's relief) and she's allowed out on long walks once again. . . through wood and water, over stones and styles, into the hills and hedgerows that she loves so well.
As for Howard and me, we've been laid low by a touch of flu, so we're not straying far from home ourselves. Many thanks to Rima, Tom, and their dog Macha, for taking our girl out for a ramble this morning, which she absolutely loved. . . and needed!
Winter seems to be approaching fast. Yesterday we had our first snowfall of the season -- just a light little flurry that has dusted the surrounding hills like powdered sugar on a cake. Howard has got our old rayburn stove up and running, feeding it logs and coals to keep us all toasty warm. It's time to get my long wool coat out of the attic and finally admit that winter is here...and here to stay.
Today's recommendations all have to do with blogging and the creative process:
Stephanie Levy's Artists Who Blog features interviews with artists discussing their work and the process of blogging. Most of the artists here are women, and most come from the illustration and design fields -- such as Camilla Engman, whose charming drawing of bear women is above. (Camilla's own blog is here.) I find it quite interesting to read people's thoughts about why they blog...a question that I (a normally quiet/private person who nonetheless blogs) often ponder myself....
Jude Hill's Spirit Cloth: Quilting a Story is a blog that I know some of you follow already, but I wanted mention it for those who haven't yet come across it. My friend & colleague Midori Snyder (an excellent blogger herself) first lead me to Spirit Cloth -- and despite the fact that I'm not a quilter, and can barely sew well enough to stitch a button back on (unlike Midori), I find it engrossing, addictive, and a continual source of inspiration. Spirit Cloth is a meditation on the process of making art and of living an artist's life -- expressed sometimes through the medium of words, and sometimes by letting images, shapes, textures, colors, and qualities of sun- and moonlight tell the tale. This is a prime example of how blogging can be an art form in itself...and Jude makes it look effortless.
Another good blog that I'm sure most of you already know but which nonetheless deserves a mention in any discussion of "blogging as a fine art" is Rima Staines' The Hermitage. Rima's latest posts, for example, look at the art-making process behind her creation of a cover for a new story collection by Catherynne Valente, and for works recently published in Marvels and Tales, a prestigious U.S. journal of fairy tale scholarship (pictured below). Rima lives down the street here in my village, so I also appreciate her posts on life in Devon and the magic of the countryside, and the ways they influence her as an artist.
Enjoy that turkey and pumpkin pie for me, the latter of which is virtually unknown here in England. (As is Shoofly Pie, which I grew up with in a family that is Pennsylvania Dutch on my maternal grandmother's side.)
And since I've been recommending something every day this week, here are Thursday's recommendations:
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O'Neil Grace and Margaret Bruchac. Published by the National Geographic Society, this is a fascinating book for children which dispells many of the myths that have grown up around the holiday by exploring the actual history of the event. 'Sure wish I'd had this when I was a kid.
Giving Thanks by Chief Jake Swamp, with illustrations by Erwin Printup, Jr. This is a truly lovely children's book that draws on the Iroquois ceremonial tradition to remind us that giving thanks shouldn't be limited to a single day each year.
A British friend asked me recently if Thanksgiving was a religious holiday. "No," I said. "It's pretty much all about the food, and watching football, not going to church."
Then to whom, she asked, are we giving thanks?
I reckon that all of us Americans would give a different answer to that. Some would say "to God," some would say "to the land, for its bounty," some would say "to the family and friends gathered 'round the table, who sustain our lives as food sustains the body," and some would say, "who the hell cares, pass the turkey."
I'm in all these catagories, thankful to it all and for it all...although "god," to me, isn't Our Father sitting on high with a long white beard, it is the mystery of life that permeates all things. I don't seem to have a need for god/spirit/the mystery to be explained, or proved, or confined into one set of religious practices; the mystery of life just is, and for that I'm thankful today, every day, always. So my Thursday "listening" recommendation is Iris Dement performing her charming song "Let the Mystery Be."
"The It Gets Better project has been huge on the public media, the internet, everywhere as an attempt to save the lives of queer teens, or at least make their burden slightly more bearable. Speculative writer and all-around interesting guy Hal Duncan observed on Twitter that most of these videos would not have spoken to a teenage-him, and I personally agree. They are full of platitudes and well-meaning but unhelpful good cheer. They don’t connect, especially if you are or were a queer teen who was not just sad but angry. So, he made his own It Gets Better video, and it’s the best one I’ve seen."
Honest, obscenity-laced, wise, and even profound -- I admit it, Hal's video made me cry by its end. You can watch it here.
And while you're at it, check out Hal's novel too. They are wild, weird, and wonderful.
I'm still thinking about the use of shadows in the Miwa Matreyek video I posed here last week, which reminded me of the charming shadow art created by Allison Read Smith (above). "These pieces run across the floor and up the wall," says the artist, "so that when the viewer stands on the 'feet' of these pieces their shadow is cast. The shadows, cut from black felt are approximately 8-10 feet tall. They are looming and comical."
Shadows are such magical, fickle, tricksterish things...particularly to generations raised on J.M Barrie's Peter Pan:
"Mrs. Darling returned to the nursery, and found Nana with something in her mouth, which proved to be the boy's shadow. As he leapt at the window Nana had closed it quickly, too late to catch him, but his shadow had not had time to get out; slam went the window and snapped it off.
"You may be sure Mrs. Darling examined the shadow carefully, but it was quite the ordinary kind...."
On the darker side of the shadow realm, I'm also a fan of Kara Walker's shadow drawings/silhouettes, (pictured below), which are beautiful, disturbing, and utterly brilliant. "In Walker's work," wrote Hilton Als (in a New Yorker profile of the artist), "slavery is a nightmare from which no American has yet wakened: bondage, ownership, the selling of bodies for power and cash has made twisted figures of blacks and whites alike."
“Most pieces have to do with exchanges of power," says Walker, "attempts to steal power away from others.”
Please don't miss The Turquoise Ledge, a new memoir by the award-winning Tucson writer Leslie Marmon Silko. It's an unusual book: richly mythic and symbolic, engrossing, surprising, harrowing, and deeply moving. Lordy, can this woman write! I particularly love Silko's evocation of the desert flora and fauna of southern Arizona; I can practically smell that creosote-and-sage scented air. (Many thanks to Carolyn Dunn, no slouch of a writer herself, for the heads-up on Silko's latest.)
Reading (on the web)
Monique Poirier has written an interesting post on the Steampunk movement and Native American indentity over at the Beyond Victoriana blog (with thanks to Amal El-Mohtar for the link). "Part of the fun of Steampunk is the aspect of alternate history," she says, "of deliberate anachronism and the application of alternate timelines and technological developments and the ration of ‘Steam’ to ‘Punk’. It means having the chance to create alternate histories in which Native Americans maintain sociological primacy and control over the North and South American landmass, if we so choose. . . ." Read the whole post here.
My fairy-goddaughter, photographer Guarina Lopez-Davis, was awarded a 'Young Artist Grant' by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities this year to create "Modern Natives//Personal Regalia": a multimedia photographic project consisting of large format photographs (silver toned and hand printed), audio interviews and an accompanying website. The project is Guarina's creative response to the controversial Edward Curtis' photographs of Native Americans taken in the early years of the 20th century. "This is a project that I have been thinking about conceptually for almost 15 years" she says. "As a Native person, I am acutely aware of the historical misrepresentation of all Native tribes. I am also aware that the Native voice in the Contemporary Art world is almost non-existent on a grand scale. With this project my hope is to give a voice to Native peoples, so that our presence can be known as modern as well as traditional."
In the video below, shot at the Botanic Gardens in Tucson (one of my favorite places there), R. Carlos Nakai (Native American flute), William Eaton (harp guitar), and Will Clipman (percussion) perform "My Wild Heart Sings," from their CD A Distant Place (Canyon Records). I have the album on my CD player right now -- and it's a song that fills my own wild heart with desert rhythms on a mist-shrouded morning at the edge of Dartmoor.
Also: The poet & musician Joy Harjo has a lovely new CD out, Red Dreams: A Trail Beyond Tears. You can hear a bit of it here.
Jewelry maker Mia Nutick (at Chimera Fancies) has started her annual Holiday Sale. There are only a limited number of these one-of-a-kind pieces, so you have to be quick if you don't want to miss them! Mia calls them Wearable Fairy Tales: "Old story books and glitter, fragments of dreams and mysterious messages from the Universe. Adorn yourself with secrets and poetry."
I love them. I won one one of Mia's pendants in the IAF Auction last year, and I wear it often. Since the "photo booth" picture I just took of me with it on today (below) is too blurry to show the necklace clearly, this is what it says:
my dreams filled with fairy tales and the Black Dog forever