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I have come back to my blog several times since my last post in May.  Customarily, I try to blog a couple of times a month every month.  Over this strange summer, I haven’t found myself able to do so.  Each time I came here, I spent time with a mental butterfly net, trying to capture something of all that was floating around inside me, and failing.    

I have certainly not been idle in these intervening months.  I have been travelling.  I have been teaching.  I have been spending long, unaccustomed periods alone.  And I have been working.  Indeed, I have been working.  None of it has been the pretty, appealing work I would ordinarily share on my Facebook page, or blog about here.  It has had nothing to do with articles or acquisitions or teaching.  All of it has been deep.  All of it has been drenched in pain and clarity and blood.  And all of it has taken place between the covers of my very private journal.

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A transformation began on our trip back to England in February this year.  In March, I followed with a course that took me deep into the darkest places of my soul and what I needed to face in my life.  The effect of that course was momentous. As we neared the end of that course, I received a commission.  The commission was to write an editorial about the body of work I have created to face and deal with the loss of my children and my parenthood.  Working together with other forces in my life, this sequence of events acted as the catalyst for a great process of change and release.

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Each time I have returned here, I have wondered what to say.  Each time I have returned, my ability to stick to every-day subjects has failed me, my tongue stilled to all words but the truthful ones I needed to speak.  And so, as my life has slowly melted to liquid around me, I have distilled it all into the pages of my journal and remained silent here.  

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I can’t maintain that silence.  I have CREATE retreats fast approaching and deadlines to meet and connections to forge.  I must re-emerge into the world.  In emerging, I have carried my truth forward with me, and needed to find some way to speak about the truth-telling that had transformed my inner landscape.  Some way that honoured my truth but kept the personal details of it private for those who need and deserve my love, protection and circumspection.  A re-emergence.  I had to make a decision.  And so, over these few months, I have worked and thought and worked and considered.  Finally, today, I made up my mind.

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As a result, I am here.  I have decided to take a step I have never taken before in my entire life, since I started a private journal at 12 years old.  I have decided to share some of the rich, anguished, fearful, decided work I have poured into my most private of journals.  This time of my life has been and remains transformational.  To be able to move forward, I simply cannot permit it to hide in invisibility.  I am changed.  My life is changing.  I am leaving the personal landscape that has been my own for nearly thirty years.  I am emerging.  My future looks quite different from what I thought it would be a year ago.  One life is moving toward its ending, another life is evolving toward a beginning.  I am softly occupying the quiet no-man’s-land between them.  Honouring.  Recognising.  Allowing.  I am looking back with love and tenderness.  I am looking forward with eagerness.  But I am standing right here in my shoes, feeling grateful, feeling ready, feeling open.  Feeling the pain.  This is now, and it is full of power.  Thank you for welcoming me back.

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Roll on summer!  Hilarious, considering spring seems to be experiencing considerable difficulty getting underway.  Yet the year is galloping on ahead despite the lag in the weather, and we are mid-May already!  I have already started plans and preparations for my various teaching gigs this year, so I thought it was about time I shared some information with you!  All this and more detail will go up on my website shortly, but here’s a nice little taster.

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My very first teaching engagement away from home will be, unusually, teaching in my role as a library conservator.  I will be teaching introductory and intermediate book repair sessions at the Canadian Library Association Conference in Victoria, BC on May 28th.  A chance to spend some springtime in Victoria can only be a good thing!

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I am excited to have some different teaching opportunities this year.  I absolutely love teaching at CREATE, and I will be doing so again this year.  Only . . . in different venues!  I am so excited to tell you I will be teaching at CREATE in Dallas, Texas for the first time this year, at a fabulously creative looking place called the Night Hotel.  I am offering five workshops in Dallas, and you can see details here.

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I am not long back from Texas and I will be winging my excited way to Idyllworks in Maine for a long weekend steeped in connection and art making at the beautiful Grey  Havens Inn.  A much more intimate experience, a group of us will gather to create our own journals and then work on filling them while we fill our souls with walks and wonderful food and sea air and companionship.  Just look at the details here.  Won’t you please come?

After Maine, I have a very, very exciting thing shaping up which I will need to tell you more about once the details have been pinned down.  For now, I will just say, all of you in Australia who have been asking me to come may finally get your wish!

And then, toward the end of October, it’s back to CREATE, this time in Seattle, WA.  I so love the Seattle area and am excited to have the opportunity to teach in this more northerly west coast venue.  I’m really hoping to see some of the lovely people in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada that I’ve been hearing from for so long.  In Seattle, I have seven workshops on offer, and there is so much more deliciousness to choose from besides.  Do check it out!

I will put greater detail on my website shortly, and you can always view updates on the latest on either my Facebook page or my Google+ page any time.  I hope to see you at one of these great venues this year.

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I wrote last month about our impending return to England, ten years after we had left it to move to Canada.  I haven’t yet found words to express the range and depth of feeling that emerged from that time.  I can only visit in vignettes . . . powerful impressions and emotions and a great sense of homecoming.  Fresh in my heart today is a visit we made to a lovely old cottage hidden away in the pine forests surrounding Holkham Bay in north Norfolk.  It is a place that has always spoken to my heart’s dream and reminds me of an editorial piece I wrote about it many years ago . . . .

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From the Oxford English Dictionary

Elysium (ɪˈlɪzɪəm) n. 1. Also called Elysian Fields. Greek myth. the dwelling place of the blessed after death. 2. a state or place of perfect bliss [from Greek Elusion pedion, blessed fields].

What is your concept of paradise? To each one of us, it can be so different – a place, a person, a time, all of those things taken together to produce an idealised utopia. My own image of paradise may seem somewhat drab and bare by comparison to some, yet I can’t seem to let it go.

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You see, there is this little cottage. Only such a little thing. It stands on top of a high sand dune in the middle of a pine forest, its glass front facing bravely to the North Sea, it’s hand-clinked sandstone chimney turning the curve of its backbone to the sea’s gales.

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The clapboard exterior has been scoured silver by sand and salt-laden winds. Indeed, the whole cottage looks truly scrubbed within and without. Whenever I climb the steep steps to the little verandah, a little gypsy breeze greets me with its heady sweet pungence, all salt and sea-borne things, hot baked sand and marram grass, pollen and pine sap and cool green moss. Peeping through the wide windows, it is always empty. There is invariably a little pile of sand blown under the door, waiting for a loving hand to sweep it away. 

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It has all of three rooms. The little galley kitchen at the back is empty of all but a few candle stubs in jars. From the side window, you can just see into a narrow sleeping room of two bunks stacked on each other. Most of this scoured shell of a cottage is given over to the large front room facing out over the sea. Silvered floorboards are bare of furniture or rug. The room is empty but for the overwhelming glory of an enormous fireplace in the seaward corner. Above that fireplace, you see, is the mirror. Oh, such a mirror! So out of place it looks, as though it has been plucked from Neptune’s own palace and deposited to hang alone in that sand-scoured little cabin.

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Every inch of four feet high and as wide, the mirror is surrounded by a great, curving frame, deeply encrusted with seashells and barnacles. No, my friend, this is not of the souvenir-from-the-seaside variety. The shells have aged into the beauty of subtlest evening-sky hues, giving the thing an odd grace and grandeur. The enigma of that mirror intrigues me.

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This little cottage beckons me, speaks to me, belongs to me. And I belong to it. I long to sit with it on that dune. In my mind’s eye, I watch the sunset sea through the pines from its porch, return to its welcoming arms after a storm-tossed beach walk.

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I long to light a driftwood fire in the grate of that amazing fireplace. I would line those wide sills with treasures from the sea. I would sit and rock and watch the stars reflected in Neptune’s mirror. I would eat samphire from the shore cooked in that tiny kitchen. My soul and I could find each other there. I would paint and paint and paint, and when there was no colour left to the day, I would write, by the firelight, content and alone.

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 It will never, can never, be mine anywhere but in my heart. Yet we know we belong to each other, this little cottage and I. Maybe that is all the paradise I need.

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Bridgnorth, Shropshire, our former home.

When your past calls, don’t answer.  It has nothing new to say.

2014.  Ten years ago, we left the United Kingdom to make a new life in Canada, the land of my birth.  In this tenth anniversary year, my family and I will shortly make our first return visit to the land that I called home for 25 years of my life.  The impending trip has filled me with a longing for places left behind, filled me with memories of my years in England and Europe.  Today, my memories have wandered over my time working as a stewardess on a private yacht in the Mediterranean.  It was only a summer, but a summer that was long and filled with amazing experiences, travelling from city to city all along the Mediterranean coast, to Corsica and Sardinia, Elba and then across France, through Paris.  I had just finalised divorce from my first husband.  I had great prospects in the UK for school and love and a good life.  I took the job to get away, to be present and silent with my own thoughts, to decide what I wanted to do next.  My family were keen for me to return to the US, to take up the university direction that had been lost in the early marriage.  I had decisions to make.

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I am particularly remembering San Remo in northern Italy, not far over the Italian border from Monaco.  The ship spent awhile there undergoing some repairs. I had an opportunity to wander the city over several days.  I have three lasting memories from those days . . . the young men on every corner, each seeming more gorgeous than the last, who admired me openly, murmuring “Ciao, bella. . . .” in low bedroom voices; the strange absence of women – one or two beautiful, lively young women, and black-clad old women, with nothing visible in between; and the young man on the scooter who followed me everywhere, and who stationed himself by the end of the gangway for three full days, shouting “Bellissima, bellissima!” every time I appeared on deck.  🙂  But I am particularly remembering San Remo for a certain life turning-point, on a faint long-distance payphone call to tell my parents I was not returning to the US.   Sometimes, looking back, you can see those points so clearly, the moments of decision that change the course of your whole life.

I returned to the UK after my term in the Med was finished.  I enrolled in law school.  A year after my return from the Med, I remarried, to the man who remains my best friend and life partner today, 28 years after we met.  I went on to steep myself in the history and culture of Great Britain, made it my home, pushed my roots deep into that ancient soil.  Returned to visit the US for the first time ten years after I had moved to England. . . . Patterns repeating themselves . . . . As I recall feeling then, I have been feeling odd, mixed feelings about returning to the UK nearly ten years after we left.

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

College of Law, Guildford, Surrey

After law school, I pursued a successful legal career for 15 years, achieving considerable success as a litigator, writer and teacher.  These were the same years over which we continued to try for a family, and over which I repeatedly miscarried.  Not long after my daughter was finally born, I achieved Associate Partnership with a firm 200 miles from our home, and the transformation of our lives that would lead to this place began.   Another one of those turning points so visible in hindsight.

A decade ago, I walked out on that professional career. I haven’t talked alot about why I left, or how I felt at that time. The truth is that I felt I was the loser – that the male bastion legal profession had succeeded in driving me out. My strengths and gifts as a woman were meaningless. My parenthood was a burden to them. I was judged on whether I could be more than any man, and still that wasn’t enough. I did not see my child awake all week, but still that wasn’t enough.  And so, after 15 years, I walked away.  We took the decision to start over, to make a life in Canada where I might escape my qualifications and have a hope of making a new career.  We sought a strong creative community where we could pursue our creative goals for the future and raise our child in a strong environment close to nature.  cropped-header-homepage.jpg

I and my family have gained enormously from that decision and live a life far beyond the modest dreams we held ten years ago. And ten years later, I know I was in the wrong career, that there was constant friction between my true self and a role that grated against my values more with every passing year. Intellectual challenge isn’t everything.  I have also learned that I do not have to use all my skills and talents in one place.  Today, I enjoy a career fulfilling the passion of my heart, as a book artist, writer and teacher.  My work is held in collections around the world, I am privileged to travel and teach, to write, to share my passion with others.  I have many opportunities to use my legal training and skills in other areas.  There is a natural flow to my work, my career and my life.  I am not fighting upstream or compromising my values and my goals.  I look at these images of myself ten years later and I see my true self. I look younger.  Fully occupying my life and my spirit. I see what is in the eyes. I have found my place.

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I return to England a very changed person, fully occupying a flourishing arts career and loving the life I live and share with my family.  I realise now how much of my old life was lived in fear.   Fear of failure . . . . fear of somehow being ‘found out’ to be not quite as brilliant as they thought I was . . . fear of losing everything.   I have finally learned that the only cure for fear is to face it.  And in facing my worst fears and taking control to make the change on my terms, I have reaped joy and the life I was meant to live.   This return visit will have joys and sorrows and alot of mixed feelings, I know.  But it all looks different to me from this vantage point.  I realise I am the winner after all. 

Good Heavens!  Is it 2014 already?  I had such plans to blog about the amazing events of 2013, and then, before I knew it, the year was over.  I don’t make resolutions as such, but I do have aspirations for the coming year.  One of them is to get back to blogging on a more regular basis.  Starting now!524284_423843824323686_1004332719_n

When I last wrote, I shared with you the exciting acquisitions of my work that had taken place in 2013.  I remain a little bewildered and deeply grateful for those events, and hope things continue along those lines in the coming year.  “River Worn” has since appeared in an exhibition of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, University of Toronto, as part of the “A Death Greatly Exaggerated” exhibition.

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2013 was significant for me in other ways too, including travel to teach at CREATE in California and in New Jersey.  Those trips are always a great deal of fun, having the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones that share my passion for art and creativity.  In the summer, I travelled to both Los Angeles, California and New Jersey with my dear friend Tiffany Teske for a busy couple of weeks of solid teaching.

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As it turned out, as great as they were, these were not the most lasting memories 2013 brought.  For in 2013, I celebrated my 50th birthday.  The gift I chose was to make a solo road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway of California, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  On previous trips, I have travelled the PCH from near the Mexican border to LA, and from Seattle south to the border with California.  The Washington/Oregon trip had been transformative, a few short days that changed my inner landscape profoundly.  I hungered for another time at the wheel, experiencing this time and place in its fullness, through my own eyes and soul.  

The time was fully as transformative as expected, but not at all in the way I thought.  As part of this important time, I took the opportunity to share some of the time with an old, old friend I had not seen since high school more than thirty years before.  The time shared was powerful for both of us, dredging up deep and long-buried feelings of separation and loss, and the painful goodbyes and torn roots that characterised our military lives.  The connection in some ways completed a circle, and in others tore open old wounds that can’t ever really be resolved.  I met my young self on that trip, traversing that road for the first time since I was five years old, and looked some of my oldest hurts in the face in a way that released some things I have carried all my life.  In between the tears and the talks, there were many hours cruising the PCH, stopping at random times to photograph, laughing over the kitsch, experiencing the Monterey Bay Aquarium and rekindling a long-cherished and remembered friendship.  The circles continue to widen from that trip, an internal revolution.  Resolution.  Transformation indeed.  I am finding words inadequate to express the depth of impact, the quake that continues to resonate through my very being.

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Part of my plan to mark this auspicious 50th birthday year included a list.  At the start of the year, I embarked on fulfilling a list of 50 Things I’ve Never Done.  Although there are still five months until my next birthday, I’ve only a couple of things left to accomplish.  I started off with no plan, opportunistically and openly embracing new things as they arose and seeking them out as they occurred to me.  Fulfilling the list has been by times fun, liberating, profound, eye-opening, terrifying, thought-provoking and laughter-filled.  I won’t share the whole list, but the list has spanned everything from something as simple as cooking and eating new foods (e.g., vegetarian moussaka) and destinations (New York!) to reaching beyond my own inhibitions and fears into the places that scare me (like lighting a bonfire with gasoline on New Year’s Eve!).  The activities have often been shared or brought to me by dear friends and have provided some unexpected bonding moments over the year.  I might have to make a list of some sort part of my lexicon each year! 057 (2) (480x640)George Washington Bridge (480x640)

And then, before I’d had a chance to catch my breath, I was picked up and whirled into a trip of a lifetime to South Korea!  I was fortunate to have had a piece of work juried into the Alberta Craft Council exhibition “Pulp Paper Pages”.  A collaboration with the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, it was an opportunity to showcase the best of book and paper arts happening in Alberta at this time.  As part of an existing relationship, the Council applied for and was successful in obtaining grant funding to send a delegation of artists and the exhibition itself to South Korea.  I was so lucky to have been chosen as one of the artist delegates to accompany the exhibition to the Hanji Paper Festival in Wonju in the Gangwon Province of South Korea.  I have recently been commissioned to write an account of that trip for Bound and Lettered magazine, and so will wait to share the detail with you in that article.  From a personal perspective, the trip carried great gifts of new friendships and discovery, and included many items on my 50 Things I’ve Never Done list (like eating stingray and praying in a Buddhist mountain temple).  For the time being, let me share some of the images from this most wonderful trip.

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What a busy, fabulous year it has been.  There have been so many more events and participations I haven’t even mentioned.  I’ll leave you with a little clue to some of what has occurred this year.  Look out for lots more!  Wishing you and yours absolutely the best this year has to carry over your threshold.  Be well, be creative, be strong.  Happy New Year!1397961_617779771596756_516434779_o

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

011My customary summer break from my blog is at an end.  My feet are once again under my desk, and I have already begun on a series of new work and projects set for the winter months.   I have so very much to tell you about the events and travel of Summer 2013 that I will need to write a series of blogs over the next four weeks to cover it all.

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It is hard to know where to begin.  I guess the best place is to pick up where I left off, when I wrote about the devastating flooding that hit our dear mountain town just as I returned from my birthday trip to southern California.  Our dear mountain town and all those other communities so deeply impacted by the flooding slowly move toward healing in the deeper layers, well below the surface functioning that resumed within days.  The scars on our landscape remain despite the continual work on remediation.  The scars on our memories remain even deeper.

In all, despite those painful days and weeks, it was a lively and exciting summer, filled with events of amazing magnitude.  For this post, I will tell you that the summer saw two significant acquisitions of my work.  I haven’t got over a bit of jumping up and down excitement over these!

'River Worn' page detail

‘River Worn’ page detail

The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto acquired my concertina book “River Worn”.  This piece was a much-beloved concertina nearly 6 feet in length at full extent, illustrated with river-worn rock images taken on a visit to the Kootenay River in British Columbia, and containing the lyrics to an old camp song, “Peace, I ask of thee, O River”:

Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace
When I learn to live serenely
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage
Visions of the days to be
Strength to lead and faith to follow
All are given unto me
Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace.
~ Author Unknown, Camp song

The piece had previously passed through the hands of two California rare books dealers before finding its final place in the Thomas Fisher Library.  I am honoured  to have my work included in their special collection, and hope to get to Toronto to see it there myself one of these days.524284_423843824323686_1004332719_n

Over this same period, I had some work on display at the Abecedarian Gallery in Denver as part of their Artist’s Book Cornucopia IV. I had received email notification from them that one of the pieces had sold and would not be returning to me, but that was all the information provided.  When the package arrived in June with the returned work, I didn’t open it right away, knowing as I did that it was just my returning work.  A few days after its arrival, I finally opened the package.  In the top of the package was a letter from the gallery to advise that the piece had been purchased by Yale University.  I must admit with a blush that there was a certain rather shrieking and incoherent telephone call placed to my sister some three thousand miles and two time zones away (ergo, 1am her time . . .) before I recovered.  To her great credit, she advised me that shrieking phone calls at 1am from my home were generally welcome, as they usually meant good news!  A Sense of Place has now been catalogued and can be viewed in the Haas Arts Special Collection at Yale University Library.29304_393947807267_2001527_nWhen I next write, I will tell you about my adventures in California.  And then there is New Jersey . . . and New York . . . and South Korea.  As I said, it was quite a summer!