Why so blue?

One of the men asks, Why blue? People ask me this question often. I never know how to respond. We don’t get to choose what or whom we love, I want to say. We just don’t get to choose.
— Maggie Nelson, Bluets
All images © under the pyramids

All images © under the pyramids

The idea that "something blue" should be incorporated into a wedding is from 19th century Britain and was meant to ensure luck, prosperity, and fertility. "True blue," I suppose. I don't tend to associate those particular qualities with this color – do you? Still, there's still something so charming about the custom. And surely something sublime about blue, especially when it is hand-dyed in its most delicate and deep and varying shades.

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I've had an indigo vat for years now, and have tried dyeing every conceivable sort of object – clothes, curtains, and all manner of other linens, papers, unstained wood, bones, my hair. Once a poor lizard fell into the vat and went to his rest, all in blue. I've gazed into the blue pool and tried to scry. I've seen myself and much more than the moon's reflection. An indigo vat is fermented plant material. It's alive! In more obvious ways than most things.

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The first ceremonial cord was unplanned, but dyed a perfect shade, the palest wisp of indigo. My dear friend Mathyld adorned it with elements meaningful to her and used it as a handfasting cord in her own wedding! Then we decided to collaborate to create some for our customers, and we started, with, well, white! Another color laden with immense history and symbolism. White in wool is not the same as #ffffff – its shades are much richer, like milk or clotted cream. We also used other colors of wool from our sheep friends, who are not blue. I've been meaning to dye some blues since we started offering our cords, but a person with the most beautiful pale blue eyes came along and commanded all my attention for many moons.

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As you might've guessed, we finally have blue colorways for our Ceremonial Cords! After I spin and dye them, I send them to Mathyld in Paris. Upon order she adorns them with handcrafted sterling silver charms and glowing gemstones.

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Our cords are customized with your choice of runes, symbols and stones. They are entirely handcrafted, with the purest materials and intention. They are perfect for handfastings but have other uses too ... just ask! These cords are designed to be treasured as heirlooms and come tucked inside keepsake boxes with adorable, detailed booklets.

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You can find all the details in both our shops: Petit Bones and under the pyramids. There is also a listing for those who'd prefer the natural, undyed cords. We'd love to create a cord or cords with just the right symbolism and meaning for you.

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Read and see more of the background of this project!

 

Thank you Mathyld for making magic with me, and also for the lovely photos! All images © under the pyramids. 

Posted on January 21, 2018 and filed under craft.

Paperback Launch!!

I'm so glad this moment was captured (thanks, bro!) because there was nothing like seeing my book in print!!!  It's available on Amazon and can be ordered in bookstores now!  Soon I'll branch out to the other ebook sellers, and I'm planning on doing an audio version too.

There were some printing glitches with this proof copy ~ some strange squiggles in random places!  They were kind of cool looking (like little larvae) and I almost left them ... but, well, no.  Then the ink was inconsistent so about 1/3 of the pages were a good bit lighter than others.  As it turned out, the photo of myself I chose for the back cover was way too tiny and dark, so I chose a more normal-looking one.  Between the holidays and weather it's taking longer than seems reasonable to get a bunch of print books to send out review copies!  I've learned that everything takes time in this publishing process... if I've promised you a book, it's still coming! 

It seems fitting to go ahead and start sharing the beginning of my ethnography, where my story really begins, over hereThis is where I'm posting the first part of my book chronologically and with photos and extras to fill in some blanks.  How cool is it that I can publish an entry dated Jan. 14, 2005!?!

Posted on January 17, 2018 and filed under book.

Pet Tender

Hello, lovelies.  

Let me tell you about a dream I had years a few ago.

I found myself standing in the lush tall grass at my old homestead.  It was the first real home I made for myself.  It was just a little wooden farmhouse with a sharply pitched gable and a massive oak tree perilously close to the living room window.  Sometimes I thought the oak was going to swallow us up, or its roots unearth the house.  But it was covered in mistletoe.  It was my protector.  

This is the place where I grew into my own. I moved in with my donkey, dogs, and cats. Everything inside the house was crooked, from the doorways to the fireplaces to the wood slatted walls. I stained the living room a deep red, whitewashed my bedroom with sky blue, and replaced the pineapple wallpaper in the kitchen with a shocking shade of chartreuse and forest green beams. The woods were full of kudzu and morels, ditches full of glass, pasture overgrown with rusted farm equipment, all secrets to be discovered.

One day, I just stopped going to my law firm job. I got a roomie and we raised goats and had a fling. I went back to grad school in Women’s Studies. Got a tattoo of my dog. It was the rebellion that never happened in my teenage years. It's where I first met my beloved, my husband, who came to live with me there.

When we moved out fifteen years later, I left part of myself. My soul was lodged in that place. It felt as if that structure was my very skeleton. I wanted to live out my days and die an old woman there in that house on Rainbow Drive. But I didn’t.

But, now, the dream. I was back there, standing in the weeds, and an old woman walked out my front door with a bucket. Dogs and cats rushed around her, eager for feeding time. I realized they were my pets, my friends, the ones who died there. Her face was grizzled and surrounded by a bonnet of sorts, one with a frilly yellow flowered trim and a kerchief over it. She has on a black dress, also covered in tiny flowers, and an apron or maybe two. She wore sensible boots and all the pets gathered and anticipated her walk down to the barn. 

I see Figaro, and then Gideon and Gigi, my kitties. Then was old Duncan and devoted Pooka, dogs I “rescued.” Inky, the mysterious white cat left behind by the former owner. Goats and chickens. And my Idgie, the dog who forever marks my shoulder, but she didn’t seem to see me, just the old woman.

The woman saw me, and as if she knew what I was thinking, she said,

Well, me, I’m the pet-tender.

I was so taken in by this scene, but dumbfounded. Who was this woman taking care of my dead pets? She exclaimed,

It’s no matter that they’re dead. They still need to be cared for!

Well, of course, I thought. How could I have imagined otherwise?

She invited me inside my kitchen for tea. We sat, next to my old 70s woodstove. It all looked different, but the same. Her table was round and she had green dishes. She poured our cups and covered the pot with a tea cozy. We talked for a time, although I couldn’t tell you what we said. There was comfort to our conversation, but also a challenge.

After I woke, I thought she must have been an older me. But was she the me of a parallel universe, a previous incarnation, or me in a few decades? Or maybe just the dream-me. And it dawned on me, for the first time, that the rusty old bridge over the creek past the barn and down the hill, it was the Rainbow bridge, where the animals could cross over, and back again. 

Aunt Leaf

Needing one, I invented her – - -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves,
and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we’d travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker – - -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish – - – and all day we’d travel.

At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she’d hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
— Mary Oliver

Recently I went back to the old homeplace for the first time since we moved. The driveway was barely visible, but the old "No Trespassing" sign gave it away. The brambles were too thick to walk back to the house site, and I didn't want the little one getting scratched up.

So, I tossed flowers down onto the Rainbow bridge, along with blessings.

Posted on July 19, 2017 .

Strap me in

So, these overalls.  I stumbled into them, many pairs, and have been hoarding them like a dragon with precious treasure.  My own mother says she nearly fainted when she saw a pic of me in them.  She's very proper and elegant and always shudders at my little old man aesthetics. 

I see so much beauty in each and every pair, but it's just silly to keep them all.  Unless I want to wear them for the rest of my life - which isn't unthinkable.  They remind me so much of traditional and contemporary boro, and stitching classes I've taken with Jude Hill and Arlee Barr, techniques of layering and FrankenStitching (Arlee doesn't seem to want to have her work linked, but her class was amazing!), sashiko embroidery, and indigo dyeing (which I studied with Glennis Dolce).  It's even reminiscent of the crust punk style of layered patchwork, which adds in the grunge element.  And it's a tiny bit like my own make-do-and-mend, patchwork style of embroidery and appliqué.  But I can't take any credit for the immense work that went into these overalls.  Still, I can honor it, the work I think of many hands. 

It didn't occur to me until I looked at the photos that I should acknowledge the irony of wearing them around our place, and then even selling some.  Am I like a carpetbagger?  I don't have to wear them.  I don't have to work the land and mend my clothes.  I'm not dirt poor in that way (although one could argue that modern debt is a different kind of poverty).  I doubt the previous bodies in these clothes wore them as a fashion statement, so am I folking them over?  Maybe my assumption also comes out of privilege - they may have known how badass they looked.

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The work these clothes evidence is the beauty in them.  So much care was taken to preserve the wearing of these garments, the complete opposite of our culture of synthetic disposables, and a new wardrobe with every season.  So I saved them from the landfill, and I adore them.  They seem to encapsulate most things I love: the land, family, farming, mending, preserving, DIY, caregiving, even questions of class and gender (who wore and who mended?), and also all that is ragged, tattered, abandoned or forgotten, melancholic, spectral and storied, the Faulkner-esque gothic art made out of the backbreaking labor and the color line, ghosts of the South that are still not dead. 

P.S. Every single pair of overalls had many pockets that were full to the gills... what an archaeological adventure this has been...

Posted on June 7, 2017 .

Book Love: Deborah Bird Rose Lovefest

I've been meaning to read Wild Dog Dreaming for a long while, but when I first learned of it, it struck me as just so sad that I would have to wait... until that day, someday, if and when I could handle it.  It's hard being an animal lover and an empath, wouldn't you say?  Practically every type of work with animals, learning about animals, being-with and becoming-with animals is fraught with emotions I'm not capable of assimilating.  This is a problem, since I can't stay away from them!

Sleppy Cavern by Rayamira on DeviantArt

Sleppy Cavern by Rayamira on DeviantArt

My summer reading list ended up being heavily weighted toward work by Deborah Bird Rose.  And it includes Wild Dog Dreaming, and I am so grateful!  This book may have changed my life, at least I hope it does - I want it to stay with me forever!  There are parts - including some photos - I could only glance over because they were just far too upsetting - BUT most of the book was mindblowingly beautiful and profound.  I really hope you'll read it yourself, and so I'm going to hit some highlights to entice you!

Much of the book recounts Aboriginal Australian beliefs and (hi)stories that have to do with Dingo life and law - at one point she even calls this "Dogsology," an "earthly theology"!!  She also has a section called Silent Dogs!  It has to do with the silenced dogs in the biblical Book of Exodus, and how their silence was forced, but also served as its own testimony.  It's all very deep and synchronistic for me right now.

But just imagine that your belief system goes like this (if it doesn't already, I mean):

  • Dingos are the ancestors of all humans!!  That's right! 
  • Reincarnation cycles across species.  So when we look at Dingos and all other animal others, we are looking at our fathers, sisters, mothers, kin. 
  • This means that all families, all kin - are multispecies.
  • This totemic, animist universe is full of persons, only some of whom are human.
  • God can be anywhere, incarnated into any creature, at any time.  So we better be good to them!

Deborah Bird Rose is very clear though that most humans have lost our way - we've lost the scent.  We need to find our at-home-ness again and embed ourselves in the world.  The attempted eradication of Dingos has been the a result of shortsighted colonial power-over and humans who believe we are The exceptional critter on Earth. 

So what can be done?  Bird Rose doesn't leave us stranded here.  She tells us of the Aboriginal practice of singing the ancestors back home.  They need to be sung back, by the Dingo angels and also by us!  Old Tim, an Elder she studied with, gives us these laws: 

  1. Do not turn away from animal death.  (I need to work on this.)
  2. Turn death toward life. 

So we sing!  Sing so that death is not final.  Sing so that death and life are transformed.  Sing them back, and sing ourselves back.  Call us back to love, to ethics, to connection!!

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There's no way for me to really do justice to this complex work.  But I had to share!  I wonder what you think about facing our sad animal stories, about dogsology, and about turning toward life with our love ♥

Posted on June 5, 2017 .

Why should anyone be concerned about critters in times of great violence and upheaval?

Back in the day, when I was an idealistic young animal welfare activist, I was challenged with this question so often!  It was usually accompanied by a value judgment, and phrased as some version of:

"How can you spend your time with animals when there are so many injustices to people?"

I've spent years with this question, and if you're an animal lover, maybe you have too.  Of course, we have nothing to answer for, no need to defend.  We can just go on about doing our own thing.  But I like to have some good answers at the ready to help curious folks question their assumptions.

Now I've identified at least 5 ways of addressing this question (along with plenty of talking points!), no matter what's going on in the world.  Here's Gandhi's answer:

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~Mahatma Gandhi
  • In other words, in a just society, all beings would be respected.   Ethics are not only for persons or species in power.

  • When animals suffer, people do too.  Problems affecting animals and people intersect in ways more complex than we fully understand.  (I don’t like to make animal welfare all about us, but it’s persuasive to most people.)

Compassion knows no boundaries or hierarchies.

  • Caring about animals does not mean that we don’t care about election debacles, or racial profiling, or poverty, or rape culture.  But who gets to determine this supposed hierarchy of needs?  (Usually, those in power.)
  • If everyone devoted their attention to the cause célèbre, most social ills would go unattended.

  • To think that caring is finite is a scarcity mentality. Working for change is hard, but everyone can make a difference, even if that just means being kind to a critter.

  • Generosity and love ripple outward - infinitely.  

We are all individuals with unique affinities and talents.

  • We also have different knowledge and skills based on our lived experience.  It can be most effective to work with one’s own inclinations rather than conforming to someone else's dictates.

  • The same logic extends to the creatures and causes that call to our hearts.  How can someone else know who we have the passion and ability to help?

  • Telling others not to care is a form of power-over that does violence to individuals and communities.

  • One size (or answer) never, ever fits all.

To say that we should help humans to the exclusion of helping animals is based in speciesism and human exceptionalism.

  • Not everyone will agree with this, but a growing number of very smart people believe that for the good of the planet, we must shift how we think about humans in relation to the Earth’s ecology.  

  • We must finally let go of the idea that humans have dominion over nature, and that humans are the most (or only) important species on Earth.

And if all else fails, bring it back around to self-interest. 

  • We should care about animals because we are them.  There would be no us without them.  They have shaped humans, and are connected with human lives, in countless and inextricable ways.

  • The future of species is interdependent.  In a very real sense, if they go, we go.

These are pretty much my go-to responses if I decide to engage with someone who is critical of my choices or values.  Hope they help stir some inspiration!

Let's co-create helpful resources for other animal lovers!

Posted on May 17, 2017 .

A Failed Meditation on Silence

My latest piece on Rebelle Society, published August 22, 2016.

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Following a deafening trend among friends, I started a meditation practice. I decided to sit in silence, drink it in, and treat it as a friend.

As I began meditating in silence, my mind inevitably wandered. I tried again and again to come back to the present, to the silence. After greeting my usual litany of thoughts, I tried to let to go of thought, to go deeper. I ended up thinking about silence.

I thought about how silent it was sitting in my home. My thoughts drifted back to times when the power had gone off, when the lack of background noise was palpable. I remembered distinctly how the absence of the air conditioner or furnace, sounds which had accompanied most of my life, left me in awe. I thought I detected an even deeper silence, the absence of electricity, always humming away beneath my level of awareness.

It felt as though losing electricity created an opening in space-time.

As I tried to bring my thoughts back to the present, I indulged in reveries on silence. When my husband and I moved to the country in search of a simpler life, we decided not to install central heat or air in our old farmhouse. I even wanted try living off-grid, but he resisted. Whether or not to install a window unit air conditioner in our bedroom has long been a bone of contention because he has difficulty sleeping in the heat of summer.

Yet, the absence of an air conditioner did not guarantee silence. Instead, it created enough silence that I could hear the sounds of the night: grasshoppers, whippoorwills, rain on the metal roof. And contrary to popular belief, roosters crow all night, not just when the sun rises.

In the winter, we both enjoyed listening to the crackle of the wood stove. I kept an ear to it all night to listen for when it needed stoking or feeding, because if the fire were allowed to go out, getting out of bed could be almost unbearable.

In bringing myself back to the present, I thought (while trying not to think): Why did I find these sounds of ‘nature’, or even the expensive Norwegian wood stove, welcome and comforting, but other sounds unpleasant, even frightening?

No amount of noise will keep my husband awake, but the stifling heat of North Carolina summers has him up with the roosters. During an especially brutal summer, I relented and watched him install an overhead ceiling fan in our bedroom. Its slow tick with each rotation reminded me of a heartbeat, of the womb.

In subsequent sessions of not-thinking on silence, deeper memories surfaced of a time when my relationship with silence was more complicated. While attempting to remain in the present moment, I could not help but recall my childhood.

When I was growing up, my parents always had the television playing. They slept with it on in the bedroom, and there was one in my bedroom too. That’s just how it was. Eventually, I could not sleep without the background noise of the TV. When I went away to college, I had trouble sleeping in my dorm room (despite the antics in the bunk above me). My parents gave me a tiny TV that I could leave on a low volume right by my bed.

Years later, I finally jettisoned the nighttime TV. But for many more years, I continued leaving the TV on if I was home all day. I found that having this background soundtrack to life could be helpful in relieving feelings of loneliness, but it could also be insidious.

I curated this TV soundtrack so that I would never hear the news or anything that might encroach on my peace. There would still be the random commercial, perhaps a preview of daily horrors, that would catch me unawares and leave me shaking.

Although I had started to make friends with silence by sleeping with it, sometimes after a nightmare or anxiety attack, I would sneak The Little Mermaid into the DVD player and let it lull me back to sleep Under the Sea.

As I again brought my thoughts back to the present, and listened closely to the silence, I recalled the sounds of HGTV. When my husband insisted on keeping the TV, I had insisted that it remain on HGTV. While I was going about my day, an endless stream of House Hunters played in the background. These were the sounds of the homey comfort I craved, with no scary commercial interruptions.

After a few years of this, I started to notice the conformity that filtered through the programming. I became irritated half-listening to yet another young couple purchasing a $500,000 starter bungalow, or middle-age retirees purchasing a $1.3 million island. This background noise caused me to start seeing our 1920s farmhouse with new eyes; it shifted from shabby chic to decrepit dump.

Once this programming took hold of me, our farm no longer represented a way to maintain a simple life, a humane scale of existence and an escape from wage slavery. Did I actually want granite countertops and stainless steel appliances after all?

Envy had started to chip away at my carefully constructed sense of well-being. My chosen laugh track became a laugh-at-me track.

In trying to find my way back to the present, I remembered when I finally confronted my addiction to HGTV. I realized that it should not control my value system. I had intentionally chosen my home and lifestyle to get away from what I believed to be a materialist society that would have me chained to a desk in debtor’s prison.

Unwittingly, I had also chosen a soundtrack that infiltrated my subconscious and impeded the enjoyment of my home and the financial freedom it afforded. However, in the present, honest place of silence, I knew that even long after I turned off HGTV, I could not silence the words echoing in my memory when I thought of that place — words I would never say aloud.

I started to wonder if the silence I had longed for was not the equivalent of the Off button on the remote control, but merely a different station. Either way, it was an important button because it could shift my narrative and even my entire consciousness. But for every soundtrack I unearthed, I found yet another, earlier track.

Last year, we moved even farther into the country, and the sounds are completely different. While meditating in my new space, I remembered how at first I had railed against the popcorn ceilings in our new home. I perceived them to be outdated and aesthetically offensive. An HGTV decorator would immediately have ripped out both the ceiling and the laminate floors.

But in my attempt to reject trends in design (and in the interest of time and money), we left them. As it turns out, the acoustics of textured ceilings dramatically change the soundscape of a home.

As I tried to return again to the present, I rested in gratitude for the newfound quiet. I didn’t perceive any low-grade humming generated by electricity. I didn’t notice any noise from the appliances most of the time. Even with six dogs, the UPS man can come and go and leave a package on the porch without me even knowing. The only thing I heard as I was meditating was the sound of the cat purring next to me.

In my meditation practice, I truly did not want to think any more about silence, but to simply, finally, enjoy it. As I was trying to relax into silence, I heard the familiar sounds of the wind rustling in the pines, and the persistent rat-at-tat of the woodpecker in the Black Walnut tree outside the window. My alliance with silence is still uneasy. It is only welcome at times of my choosing. Ideally, it is also not silent.

Posted on September 4, 2016 .

Book Cover Draft!

Here's a draft of my book cover!! Now I guess I should set a launch date, or find a publisher.

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The illustration is so special. Titled "God Only Knows," it was hand drawn for me ages ago by Allyson Mellberg Taylor, an amazingly talented artist who knew something of my story. She used ink made from black walnuts for the critter I think of as Thrash, one of the noblest pit bulls I've ever known.

Posted on July 1, 2016 .

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

Sometimes I go back to thinking I should just let my dog memories be.  I can't live in them any more, not for very long.  Then the other day I saw a friend's comment about what she learned from doing shadow work:  to leave the dead in peace.  As I was mulling this over, and thinking how much easier that would be, I realized it was impossible - especially at this time of year!  I've been honoring the ancestors, and many critters among them. 

I'm also always inspired by the story of Persephone and Hades, and recently by the amazing book Life's Daughter, Death's Bride.  Despite Mr. Wonderful's butchering of this tale (and even her name!) on the Shark Tank the other night (there are a million versions, but his made no sense), Persephone grew into her role in the Underworld, and was able to bring comfort there too, not just endure it.

And then fortunately I heard this, from one of my sheroes...

It’s stupid to be safe. Because ultimately, ya know, usually whatever that is, wherever you don’t want to go, whatever that risk is, whatever the unsafe place is, that really is the gift that you have to give.
— Amanda Palmer
Posted on November 3, 2015 .

Breaking the Cycle

Many of my artsy friends are surprised to learn that for years, I studied the social practice of dogfighting. When I was in grad school at Emory, I spent years doing ethnographic research with "dogmen," as gamedog enthusiasts are known, and their dogs and families in the rural South. I learned that a significant number of dogmen were war veterans or had sustained childhood abuse, but my research focused instead on the workings of gender, race and class in that world, and the strange dynamics of the interspecies relationships.

I didn't recognize that my interest in dogfighting had to do with trauma until talking it over with a trusted friend. She pointed out that I had studied various subcultures for very specific reasons. At first, I replied "Well, that's just what anthropologists and cultural studies folks do." Thank Dog for community and dialogue, because my fragmentation had prevented me from recognizing my own motivations. My disciplinary training had obscured the heart of the matter.

I had to get into the trenches with violence in order to try to make sense of it. Throughout this "mesearch," I was continually ripping open my own sutures, and in the tenderest places since I spent years working in animal rescue, and dog love has always been a huge part of my life. Things got even more bizarre when I tried to make a difference by going to work at a high kill shelter. That's the thing about trauma: it breeds in dark places.

Being immersed in worlds so widely divergent as academia, dogfighting, and shelter work left me in culture shock. I could not find a holistic or humane framework to make sense of my complex experiences. Instead I attempted to leave the whole mess of it behind me, but it came out anyway, through art. And so it is. 

Posted on October 15, 2015 .