Sunday, July 05, 2015

The peaceable kingdom

There's a thing about Norcia that is wonderful but hidden, and something you won't realise until you've been here a little while and thought about it. Any town where there's a lot of people with Down's, working at jobs in shops, strolling in the evening with family, going to Mass, shopping and just being regular folks, is a town you want to live in.

It means they don't kill people here who the world thinks don't measure up. It means they cherish and love their children, and don't hold up a genetic measuring stick.

It's also a pretty good indication that it's also place where you're allowed to be a little less perfect than the world's idea of perfect.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

A world forgotten...

When I was a kid, my mother and I were surrounded by quite a wonderful collection of oddballs. Only a few of them were horrible hippie/feminists bent on world domination (sadly, these had a rather disproportionate influence). Quite a lot of them, it being Victoria, were highly educated older English people of the first half of the 20th century, who themselves were influenced by William Morris's Arts and Crafts movement and were great lovers of history and art. I was educated in large part by my mere proximity to these intelligent and cultured people, who showered me constantly with books. (Books that are today, I see from Amazon and Ebay, quite valuable collectors objects themselves...Oh well...)

A few days ago, I tried out my new calligraphy pen and to my surprise could still cut a halfway decent letter. I noted on FB that I was surprised both that I could do this, and that I had somehow forgotten that I could. Not only had I all but forgotten that I knew how to do this, but I had obviously completely forgotten where I picked up the skill.

Last night, in my digging around the innernets for stuff about medieval manuscripts, I discovered a heretofore forgotten book that has been made available in its entirety online by the good offices of the Kelly Library at the University of Toronto. As I flicked delightedly through, I realised instantly that I recognised every page of it. This was one of the books that I had been given by my mother's older friends as a child, and it all came flooding back to me.

Once I showed an interest, they also gave me materials, and I now remember hours and hours sitting at the dining room table on hot afternoons just like this one, poring carefully over the illustrations and meticulously copying the letters and forms.

Writing Illuminating and Lettering, by William Johnston, who is known today in the circles as the "father" of modern calligraphy, who almost single-handedly revived the art, and contributed enormously to the early 20th century revival of interest in all things medieval that was to strongly influence Tolkien. The book was first published in 1906, and I'm fairly certain that I had one of the early editions. 

It was a strange experience flipping through the pages electronically, and seeing again the images that had been completely dug into my synapses before I was ten. It transported me back to a time when I was very certain about who I was, and who God was,  before my teenage apostasy and the near-ruination of my life, the derailment from which I am only now recovering.

It's a strange thing to realise that you were more right about the universe, more authentically yourself and more in line with the genuine ordering of All Things, when you were ten than when you were 35.  And equally strange to start going back to those original mental conditions in middle age. But it's a strange world we've created, and it confuses the young. 

The other day I was chatting with Fr. Cassian on the steps of the Basilica after Mass, and we fell to lamenting the terrible effects of the anti-culture on young people. I said that I felt terribly sorry for them, and that I mostly wrote with a mind to helping them avoid the great fallacies and Fantasies of our time. He said, "Oh yes! I remember being young, and it was awful." We both agreed that it was much better over as soon as possible, so one could return to the sensible and straightforward things we first learned. 


Practice, practice, practice...
I had, of course, forgotten the sublime pleasure of spending hours practicing calligraphy. I'm working on developing a style to use with my Saint Paintings, that is turning out to be a combination of half uncials and mid-Gothic.  I'm finding the "d"s quite tricky. 

Of course, as with everything else in our times, if you want to learn something, there's a YouTube video to help:

Art and Fear
I told a new friend here in Norcia about the plans for the Saint Paintings and said I was feeling rather intimidated by the whole thing. The notion of actually making a living as a painter is ... well... it seems a little fantastic. She gave me an excellent suggestion, saying that I should think of it as "doing crafts". It's a perfect solution. I know how to "do crafts"! We all do, right? We did it in kindergarten. It's easy and fun. 

Sometimes you just have to learn how to trick your brain. 

I'm revisiting a book one of you all sent me a few years ago called Art and Fear, a little slim volume that addresses that stuff your brain does to you when you want to make art but are so afraid of failure you don't try. It's been translated int an astonishing array of languages and has had 12 printings, so it seems it's not just me.

Technical stuff...

I'm also having quite a wonderful time mucking about with a new medium. I'd taken a little weekend workshop in illuminating when I was about 11, and I remember for many years practising with Windsor and Newton drawing inks. The instructor said that the best medium available in modern art suppliers, the one that most closely approximated what the medieval scribes used (and wasn't too expensive) was gouache, but I never tried it at the time. 

But when I started this project, I saw that the local stationer's here in town had a good supply of gouache tubes, and that it wasn't very expensive, so a few weeks ago, I dug them out of the art cupboard, and I'm finding that they're fantastic. Exactly suited to this project. Easy to use, opaque colour that you can use like oil paints or dilute and use more like watercolours. When they dry on the palette you can reconstitute them with a drop of water, and they dry in minutes so there's no long waits between painting sessions. You can paint over mistakes quite easily, and do exactly the same techniques of colour mixing as with oils. 

For glazes and washes they're not so good, because once you dilute it too much, all you really get is the chalky medium and very little pigment, which turns out just sort of a ghostly, chalky pallor. I've figured out how to deal with this, however, and will finish the main parts in gouache, do a coating of fissativo to set the gouache, and then use pure watercolour as a light glaze over top to deepen the colours.

The dull matte finish of gouache doesn't really appeal to me much, having been trained to paint with oils, and because they stay "active" more or less forever, you normally have to put gouache paintings under glass; a single drop of water on them can ruin the painting even years after it's finished. I don't want to bother with framing under glass, and don't think the ceramic tiles would do well in such contraptions anyway. But I've solved both of these problems with the simple application of an acrylic varnish that brings out the beautiful jewel-like colours that it had when wet, and gives it a nice low-gloss finish and protects them. 

But in general, these little drawbacks are nothing compared to the ease of gouache as a medium, and it's affordability. A 20 ml tube of artists' gouache goes for 4 to 10 Euros, compared to comparable oils that can be as high as 50 E a tube, and sometimes more.

Here's a nice American chap who has taught himself to paint and did most of his landscape work in gouache...

And here's someone else who mainly does gouache and watercolour, plein-air, which I've not yet worked up the nerve to try.

You can see that the medium's very "dry" appearance lends itself brilliantly to the style of the 19th century realists. It's very Sargent-y.


Also, I wonder if someone couldn't perhaps see their way to making me one of these.

Or this one would do, 

These, apparently, are miniatures, but I could do with one full size. 



Friday, July 03, 2015

Ok, oh-KAY already!

Morning snoozy time on the lap while I have my coffee and Office

I use my old wheelchair as a desk chair, and they like to sleep on my feet on the footrest. This is two of them.

I foresee quite a bit of this.

I'm trying to work... 

They like to use the padded cat-carrier as a play house and a place to snooze.

What would you do?

How do you deal with this problem: you have an old friend who wants to re-connect. You really care very much for this person. He has enormously good qualities and is loyal and decent, but he suffers from such ferocious anxiety and other emotional disorders - mainly caused by "family of origin issues" - that it makes him manipulative and in some ways actually kind of dangerous to know. A long time ago, you were pushed to making the drastic measure of cutting off all contact because of it all. It was very painful because for a while you'd been fairly close.

He isn't aware of the motives for most of his more difficult behaviour, and spends a lot of time fairly confused about why he can't keep his friends and relationships better. He suffers a lot because of the awful lies his evil brain tells him all the time.

When he's relaxed and not feeling threatened he is smart, fun, interested in the same kinds of things and a genuinely warm and good soul. On the side of the angels, and all that.

He's also very lonely because of his brain-troubles and has reached out to you on FB.

What would you do?


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Why chant?

Fr. Cassian Folsom, Prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, on why this particular form of music is ideal for the spiritual life:

Why do we sing? St. Augustine says: Cantare amantis est: a good paraphrase might be: "only the lover sings." Our singing is the expression of our love-longing for God. Now the texts we sing are primarily Scriptural, and the melodies are very ancient, some of them technically demanding. The result is that there is plenty of material both for the intellect and the heart. We pray with our lips, with our bodies, with our emotions and with our minds...

The music is sacred music, which means it doesn't resemble secular musical forms. So worshipers encounter a kind of music -- with its specific melodies, rhythms and tonalities -- that removes them from the ordinary and places them in the realm of the holy. Our monastery has chosen the classical repertoire of Gregorian chant because of its extraordinary beauty and its capacity to draw the listener into prayer.

And on religious life:

What do you think it is about your monastery that attracts Young Monks?

I think it's always been the case that young people tend to be idealistic, enthusiastic, generous, critical of the status-quo, and eager to change the world. Our way of life offers a concrete proposal: "Do you want to give your life to God in a radical way? Here's a great way to do it." Ours is a young community (the average age is 33) and like attracts like.

For those that do not understand the life of a Monk can you give some
insight into your world?

The Gospel of John interprets the actions of Jesus by referring to a saying of Jeremiah the prophet: "Zeal for thy house consumes me!" (Jn 2:17). That's what motivates the monk: zeal for God, desire for God, love-longing you might say. All the tools of monastic prayer and asceticism flow from this passion for God. The monastic charism of hospitality inspires us to share this zeal with others. People flock to the monastery from far and wide. They're not looking for us monks, they're looking for God. So our task is to become transparent, so that our own weakness and sins don't get in the way of God's powerful action in the world.


What photoshop should always be used for


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bits and pieces

I'm a mermaid! There, I've said it. Whew! What a relief to come out of the closet at last.

I just wrote a piece for the Remnant all about it, and someone did the photo for that.



"I feel like I'm in science class but I'm getting dumber!"


Watch Fringe.


Since not having internet at home, I find I'm actually starting to revert to reading books and writing things in a notebook with a pen!


Nature notes:

Fireflies! In the garden every evening. They started a few days ago.

There actually seem to be two kinds. There's the actual fireflies that fly around and flash white, and there's a terrestrial kind, (I've just looked it up, it's Lampris noctiluca) that glows steady and yellow and that looks a bit like a dragonfly larva, with a long segmented abdomen and a few claw-like legs near the head-end. But there's lots of them every night, especially when it's warm, which it is today.

Many of the streets in Norcia, including mine, are lined with Tilia oliveri trees, called "Chinese white lime" which are in full bloom right now and are making the whole town smell like heaven. I keep my studio window open while I'm working and the scent of flowers wafts in on the warm breeze.

The bees love them too, and the other day while the kitties and I were making the long walk up the hill to see Dr. B (just a check-up) I sat on a handy bench under one of them to take a breather, and the air was alive with buzzing.

There's lots of nature in the house too. I've let the harvestmen set up shop in the corners of the ceilings in the hopes that they might deal with the flies which are generated with grim abundance by the cow farm across the way. Their webs just get bigger and bigger, and I see with interest that they develop into a big dome shape, with the harvestman sitting inside. They're also very tidy about their housekeeping. There's never a body hanging about, but a little pile of mostly fruit flies develops on the floor underneath.


The elderflower champagne was a huge success. I've opened the smaller bottle and it was lovely, sparkly and light, and scented with the flowers. I've got seven bottles left. Next up, mead!


I remember when I was younger being concerned that the adults of my time, the "boomers," were going to make really awful old folks. When I was a child, the Little Old Ladies were of that generation born before WWI, and, no kidding, many of them still wore white gloves and flowered hats. My grandmother's generation (b. 1903) were still raised and trained to be civilized people.

But they're all gone now and the creatures of the "me generation" have indeed turned out horrible. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw an old woman wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow and the slogan, "Love with pride."


Friday, June 26, 2015

First painting

Look what happens when I don't renew my home internet connection

I'm having to teach myself how to use water colour medium. Guache and acrylics, how they go together, and how they don't. I picked a pretty difficult subject, but I figure do the hardest thing first and learn the fastest.

Next one will be less messy.

And yes, that's Winnie, looking down from cat-heaven.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

New Kittens!

A friend of mine in town posted some pics on FB of his nine kittens, and I cracked. "I'll take two females, please." I figured two of them could keep each other company. After a wait of a few weeks for them to be old enough, Emanuele calls me and says, "Come pick them up, we're in the shop." But he's a smart wiley Italian. I got down there and he holds up a box of irresistible cuties and says, "You said three, right?" Sigh... Yeah, I guess I said three.

They seem to be settling in well. To get the used to their new environment, I'm keeping them in one room for a bit, the little spare room I've kitted out as a painting and drawing studio. For the first day, they found a corner and huddled there looking at me very suspiciously whenever I came in and mewing rather pathetically, obviously wondering where their mum was.

Their hidey-corner is just the space between my old wheelchair and the wall that I made into a little cave by making a fourth wall with the big spare bag of kitty litter. I laid down a sheet of that really big bubble wrap to make it soft and put a big towel on top. I introduced them to Winnie's big airline-friendly cat carrier that has a blanket folded up inside and they've discovered the smaller, soft, padded cat carrier which they seem to like to use as a playhouse.

At first they obviously saw me as a giant enemy, with the biggest one adorably and valiantly hissing at me when I came near. They're so tiny I can pick all three up in one hand, but she obviously felt equal to the task of slaying me.

I let them alone for the most part so they could feel free to explore, then I came in for an hour at a time and just sat on the floor and watched them. After a while they seemed to figure that I was at least not going to eat them, and that I was bringing them food, and they discovered that I make a highly satisfactory jungle-gym. They have slowly started to relax and are, as I type, busily alternating between chasing each other around the room and attacking my feet. A few times, I've petted them and been rewarded with that outboard motor kitten purr.

I'd forgotten how funny and distracting a clutch of kittens could be. We're off to visit our friend Dr. B this afternoon. One of them seems to have a deformed paw and another has a mild case of kitty conjunctivitis (not uncommon) that I've been treating with a chamomile infusion. Other than that, they're rambunctiously healthy little furry blobs.

I still miss Winnie, my alter-ego, ferociously and thus far, the kitties are still just kitties and we're just getting to know each other. But it is nice to have someone to look after again.

Pics to come.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Higher up and farther in

Hey all, my innernet allotment is just about spent for the month. Can't re-charge until the 25th so I'll be mainly off until July or so.

I woke up this morning at five thirty, and knew that the time for fooling around is up. I've been given a sort of reprieve, from cancer, from the consequences of my sins etc. and I have been instructed that I am not to waste it.

Sang Laudes this morning and toddled off to Mass. I had a sort of a ... thing ... this morning at Mass. First time I've been to a weekday Mass in ages. I just can't keep kidding myself that wasting time on the net is anything other than a vice, plainly put. I'll pop in now and then, but things are mainly slowing down for the time being.

I leave you with this: a psalm that seems to encapsulate a whole programme of life

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.
They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah.
Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.

In other words, you can't get to Aslan's Country by staying on this side of the door.