It’s Thanksgiving here in the US, and I feel like I’ve got more to be thankful for than ever. Our community here in South Lake Tahoe survived the Caldor Fire, although the destruction of Grizzly Flats nearby, vast swathes of forest, lost cabins with generations of family history, and the death of countless animals weighs heavy on all of us. It’s incredibly surreal, even now after being home for two months in our little strip of green between two steep valley slopes of burnt forest.
What to do? A fundraiser print, donate some money, and walk every day by the river that meanders a few hundred feet form our home, noticing things.
Curiosity has been my saving grace over the years, a practice I cultivated with more intention after being diagnosed with cancer almost 7 years ago now. As an artist, curiosity is a natural habit but can lead me to overthinking, which leads to stressful obsessing. It’s a fine balance.
I’m working on a series of oil paintings and drawings for my exhibition at Sierra Arts Foundation in Reno next March, and it’s going well. The groundwork of thinking and learning has evolved into feeling and allowing. When I’m working, that is. There are still feverishly scribbled notes on scraps of paper, a well worn notebook open pages down in the studio along with burnt sticks, lichen covered branches, bits of bark. I wake up in the morning with the residue of dreams, columns of light moving over water towards me.
After getting our 11 year old daughter ready for school, taking her to the bus stop at 6:40am, it’s all about preparing to work. Getting into the zone. I’ve been learning Tai Chi from a teacher called Master Gu, who lives in the Wudang Mountains of China. His online classes are created by George Thompson, a young British man from Bristol (where I went to University). I discovered George on Youtube at the beginning of the Pandemic when I thought I might lose my shit if I didn’t do some exercise and meditation at home. Like a lot of people, I freaked out about many things. One of them was the loss of solitude, silence and the privacy to be the weirdo I need to be to work. I love my family dearly, and they are extremely understanding and supportive of my eccentricities and art career, but I need space.
So. Early morning, everyone is asleep. Creep downstairs. Navigate by flame. Dark silence, eyes slowly adjusting. Long moonshadows. Stars twinkling colours. Coyote. Cool light slowly warming. Frosty pine needles, catching the first rays of sunlight as the valley begins to illuminate. Come to each of the senses, sight last. Move every part of the body in every direction. Begin the 33 form: Slowly memorized, internalized. Grace, Power, Flowing with breath. Yin / Yang. Establish boundaries – yes, you may/no, you may not.
Walk outside, notice things. No judgement, no agenda. Not even a sketchbook at this time of day. Aimless wandering. Childlike, awestruck. And then…what is light made of?
Come home, urgently. “Taylor! What is light made of?!!” *
Scientist husband, coffee in hand, concentration broken. He is also working from home. He smiles gently, hint of eyeroll. “That’s some Einstein shit right there,” he answers with his customary dry wit.
Later, the aforementioned 11 year old . “Mummy, did you know that the sun is a star?” Mind blown. No I did not. I go look it up and disappear down the rabbit hole.
Mind’s eye sees moon, and realise that moonlight is reflected sunlight. So why is moonlight cool?
Column of light, reflected in the river. Sun, space between trees. Feels architectural, ecclesiastical. Mixing oil paint, warm and cool colours. Complementary violet and yellow. Brushstrokes. Precisely loose. Measured and intuitive. Carefully placed and carelessly dropped, smeared and pushed.
Tai chi push. Martial move, done slowly. Pie in the face.
Kettle on. Niki calls. We take a break and talk about art and life. Laughter, warmth and deep diving. We’ve been friends since we were 11. We get each other in a way no-one else can. No subject is off limits, and no explanation needed. Artists in Arms, each other’s other other half. She sparkly, I’m earthy. We fit.
So much to be grateful for today, and every day.
*It’s photons. https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/eight-things-you-might-not-know-about-light