LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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JOURNAL 2022

Moonbear museum

Index

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JOURNAL 2021

A peach of great price

Index

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JOURNAL 2020

Once upon a time

Index

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JOURNAL 2019

The golden thread

Index

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JOURNAL 2018

Mary & Co.

Index

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JOURNAL 2017

Secrets of the hidden garden

Index

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JOURNAL 2016

A call to wonder

Index

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JOURNAL 2015

1001 stories

Index

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JOURNAL 2014

The poetics of grace

Index

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JOURNAL 2013

A living myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2012

The seeds of wisdom

Index

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JOURNAL 2011

Life as myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2010

A vision quest

Index

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JOURNAL 2009

A feminine myth

Index

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JOURNAL 2008

Impressions at sunrise

Index

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JOURNAL 2007

Following a white hart

Index

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JOURNAL 2006

Scheherazade project

Index

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

Index

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JOURNAL 2022
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MOONBEAR MUSEUM

A winter walk in the Shorakapok Preserve in Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan. Maintained by the New York City Parks Department, the preserve holds some of the only natural forest and salt marsh in Manhattan. There are numerous hiking trails, featuring caves formed by natural rock overhangs and once used by Native Americans.

. . . My particular edition of Pilgrim’s Progress was an abbreviated one and featured whimsical stick figure illustrations. The sole feature that distinguished Pilgrim from the rest of the company was a simple egg-shaped loop on the back, representing a “great burden.

I thought about Pilgrim’s Progress throughout the winter of 2014, along with the great burden on my back, a burden I could not or would not abandon. I also thought about Pilgrim’s final companion, Hopeful, who did nothing to lighten Pilgrim’s burden on the way to the Celestial City. Rather, Hopeful simply made it possible to complete the journey.

 

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SPRING 2022
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I DO AS I CAN

A decade or more ago I began looking at the work of Jan Van Eyck [c. 1380? - 1441], a Flemish painter known as the "father of oil painting". Though the use of oil-based painting predates Van Eyck by several centuries, Jan and his brother, Hubert, were the earliest to use it for panel painting, creating extraordinary effects through the mastery of glazes, wet-on-wet and other painterly techniques. What I love most about his work, however, and what caught my eye many years ago is the cryptic visual code he used to create narrative within his work.  The Arnolfini Double Portrait is the first painting I studied and it's also a great example of how his codework creates stories within stories throughout a canvas (e.g. mirror). 

The earliest official record on Van Eyck is as court painter for John of Bavaria in 1422. His primary surviving work from this time is in The Turin-Milan Hours, an extravagantly illuminated manuscript containing not only a book of hours but a prayer-book and missal as well.

At the death of John, Van Eyck moved to the court of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy.  Duke Philip held Van Eyck in high regard, paying him a sizeable salary when he first entered his court. Within a short period of time that original salary doubled twice and Van Eyck also received special bonuses. His salary alone sets him apart from other painters of this period since most depended on commissions for their survival. Philip became godfather to one of Van Eyck's children, supported his wife when Van Eyck died, and provided the necessary financial assistance for one of his daughters to enter a convent.

Van Eyck died in 1441 and was buried in the Church of St. Donatian. Unlike his brother Hubert, a substantial amount of Jan Van Eyck's work survives him, including work in The Turin-Milan Hours, the Ghent Altarpiece and twenty other paintings.


eVocation, The story of e: cryptogram series. Usher, 2011-12. Visual sources for the piece included in the image. This and other related creative material originally found in the online project: The story of e (2012).

rIddleSPEAK (detail), The story of e: cryptogram series. Usher, 2011-12. Visual sources for the piece included in the first image. This and other related creative material originally found in the online project: The story of e (2012).

The Arnolfini Marriage. Jan Van Eyck. 1434. National Gallery, London. Also known as The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Double Portrait or the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.

 

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WINTER 2022
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BEING HUMAN

 

“As Usher’s drawing reminds us, opening to the moment is both a letting in and a letting go. It’s a simultaneous opening to the wonder of impermanence and to the pain of loss. It’s a rediscovery of who we are as humans…”

”Opening to the moment”, Brenna Fitzgerald. Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine (Spring 2021)

Healing, Wesley Usher. Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine (Spring 2020)

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JOURNAL 2021
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THE LESSONS IN THE PEACH

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AUTUMN 2021
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PROLOGUE AT YEAR END

Did you ever write a letter to yourself, one that you meant to revisit at a later time? I think the same idea is behind marking the interior frame of doors with your children's heights. If you look back at the series of scratches over time, you can see how much they have grown.

This post is a doorway of sorts, my doorway, made up of artwork from the past decade. It forms its own series of scratches, marking various milestones, moving from 2011 to 2017 to 2020 to the conclusion of 2021. It stirred up a lot of memories to re-visit this material. Artwork, after all, reflects the journey of the artist.

And so here is my end of the year post. Wishing you a happy new year in 2022 and one more beautiful scratch on the doorway of your journey.
 

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AUTUMN 2021
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ON PEACHES, SQUIRRELS AND THE LADY BUG WHO CAME TO STAY

Every year when my peach tree fruits I think about that lovely myth of the immortal peach.  This year was no different.  Then the squirrels crashed the birthday party.  But, in the end, there was a single peach, protected in the highest branches of the tree, and somehow that seems right.  Earlier this week I ate the immortal peach.  It was completely wonderful, the best fruit so far.  As for next year, I'll remember all the lessons the peach tree has taught me and I'll be buying squirrel nets.

 

A yearly update on me, the little peach tree and the neighborhood squirrels. Something very interesting happened in our relationship in the spring of 2021.

First. She produced hundreds of fruits this year. But now how to protect the crop from the neighborhood squirrels? Last year it was squirrel nets but this year she had outgrown them. If I had had a crane and some human ground support then maybe we could have wrapped her up against the furry felons. But she was left exposed. Her branches began to droop with fruit. I began culling the fruit, tossing the extras in the bushes. But I couldn't begin to do enough. There was that much fruit.

What should have worked but didn’t: squirrel nets and culling.

Next. The squirrels began their attack, taking bites of the young peaches and leaving the damaged goods behind. I tried to push back. I'd open the front door and shoo them (like that would help). Once I went right up to the tree to chase a squirrel away. When he didn't move I began shaking the branch. He remained, not moving one inch. This was the crossroads for me and his kind. I gave up. Maybe I'd given up a week or so earlier but it was official now: they had bested me. Again.

I felt bad for giving up, for making that choice. But then I realized something. I could beat the squirrels at their own game. There was so much fruit that it didn’t matter. The squirrels were now free to raid the tree without interference. The heavy branches soon began to lift and small weak twigs littered the ground around Little Peach tree. The squirrels were doing my work for me — culling and pruning, something I was unable to do.

Of course One must never be complacent about squirrels. I couldn't hope they would leave me a share of the peaches. So today I harvested 46 peaches. All that remained on the tree. They are vibrant, unblemished and quite small. They will ripen undisturbed on my window sills.

Squirrels, Little Peach tree and I now coexist. At least this year we do. Little Peach tree looks exhausted, having given birth to so much bounty. The squirrels have a few more damaged peaches to eat and then they will move on to their summer work: taunting my dogs in the back yard.

As for me. I’m musing on this year‘s teaching from the peach tree -- ideas about harmony and natural cycles and coexistence. About picking your battles, especially when dealing with squirrels.

Shown here is a commemorative video of the harvest of 2021, starring a ladybug who hitchhiked into the house in a basket of peaches. A ladybug who refused an offer to take her back outside and flew away into the recesses of a little home -- where she is most welcome.

 

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SUMMER 2021
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A PEACH OF GREAT PRICE

My spunky little peach tree, first blighted by a spring cold snap and then defoliated by a plague of ravenous bugs in 2017, keeps on keeping on. She bloomed her heart out this spring and now is studded with fruit. - - My peach tree (June 3, 2018)

This week I completed a yearlong daily writing project. My first entry was the one that began this post (June 3, 2018), a few sentences about a young peach tree in my front yard. There was a great peach harvest last year, with so many peaches that I made a big batch of peach chutney.  It was remarkable considering what had happened in 2017.  After an accident in mid-summer I was pretty badly hurt. During my recovery a swarm of hungry bugs attacked my beloved peach tree. First it looked like a flame thrower had scorched a few branches and then the whole tree slowly succumbed. Crippled by my accident, I watched helplessly from the living room window as every single leaf dropped off. To make matters worse, the Internet, conveyer of all wisdom, said bug infestations like that one can kill young vulnerable trees.

When I was strong enough, I hobbled into the yard and hammered some treated fertilizer pellets in the ground all around the skeletal tree. Then tree and I waited and hoped. Irma's rain helped the treatment dissolve and not long after the peach was covered in leaf buds and there were healthy green leaves erupting from the tips.

I decided to let my peach tree rest a little bit this year and didn't fertilize it in the fall.  As a result, the peach harvest was much smaller this spring -- but the peaches were gorgeous things, full of color and with the most delicious peachy smell.  (Probably because there wasn't so much competition draining the reserves of my young tree.)  But there's a twist to this story.  I went out to check on the peach tree late last week, and as I came down the front steps I noticed a peach at the foot of the staircase. It was nibbled halfway down and discarded.  More bad news to come.  The squirrels had stripped the peach tree clean, except for one lone peach at the top of a very high branch.  I picked it and brought it in the house to finish ripening near the kitchen window.

Now for the lesson in the peach.

There's a Chinese myth about peaches and the goddess Hsi Wang Mu who lives on the snowy peaks  of K'un-lun, the home of the Immortals. Every six thousand years Hsi Wang Mu has a birthday celebration which is called ‘the Feast of Peaches.’ The date for the festival exactly coincides with the ripening of the immortal peaches.

According to Taoist myth, the peach orchards of Hsi Wang Mu leaf out once every three thousand years but it is only after an additional three thousand years that the trees bear a season of fruit. The banquet to celebrate this event takes place on the shores of the Yao Ch’ih (Lake of Gems) and is attended by all of the Immortals. The feast includes such delicacies as dragon liver and phoenix marrow. However, the highlight of the banquet is the, rarest of rare, Immortal Peach, which has the magical property of bestowing immortality on all who taste it.

What's the lesson here -- besides a few fundamentals of peach tree maintenance?  The peach tree is not so remarkable if you consider all the troubles that come with keeping her healthy. And from year to year the challenge of bringing her to fruit can be daunting. Who needs that?  But I love her anyway.  She is a lesson in patience, as all things garden are.  She requires more care and more time that you think she should, as all things garden do.  But it's something more, it's the story we have shared together, the peach tree and me, since I came back to Georgia, a story measured in planting and budding and blooming and fruit.

Every year when my peach tree fruits I think about that lovely myth of The immortal peach.  This year was no different.  Then the squirrels crashed the birthday party.  But, in the end, there was a single peach, protected in the highest branches of the tree, and somehow that seems right.  Earlier this week I ate the immortal peach.  It was completely wonderful, the best fruit so far.  As for next year, I'll remember all the lessons the peach tree has taught me and I'll be buying squirrel nets.

 

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SPRING 2021
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THE PEACH TREE AND ME

 

Two stories about healing.

Story one.

During my recovery from all the broken parts a swarm of hungry bugs attacked neighborhood trees and shrubs. My beloved peach tree got hit hard. First it looked like a flame thrower had scorched it. Crippled by an accident in the summer, I watched helplessly from the living room window as every single leaf dropped off. To make matters worse, the Internet, conveyer of all wisdom, said bug infestations like this one can kill young vulnerable trees.

I love the tree. She gave me fruit the very first year. I want us to have a long fruitful relationship. So. When I was strong enough, I hobbled into the yard and hammered some treated fertilizer pellets in the ground all around the skeletal tree. And then tree and I waited and hoped. Irma's rain helped the treatment dissolve and now the peach is covered in leaf buds and there are healthy green leaves erupting from the tips.

Story two.

This week I went to the doctor and I'm adjusting to life sans Frankenstein boot. So I can drive again which is wonderful. Walking is a work in progress. Remember Bambi's first steps in the Disney movie? Yeah. Kind of like that. But one thing I told the doctor, true for me and the peach tree, is : "It feels like it's not going to get better but healing does happen."

The peach tree and me. We're doing ok.

 

[Update: My spunky little peach tree, first blighted by a spring cold snap and then defoliated by a plague of ravenous bugs in 2017, keeps on keeping on. She bloomed her heart out this spring and now is studded with tiny fruit.]

 

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SPRING 2021
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THE PEACH STATE AND ME

No experience has been too unimportant,
and the smallest event unfolds like a fate,
and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric
in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand
and laid alongside another thread
and is held and supported by a hundred others.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (April 23, 1903)

Over this past year or so, all the appliances in my kitchen broke. Disposal, stove, dishwasher, microwave. Everything, except the refrigerator. Contrary to the ancient wisdom that says don't leave things broken because that will attract more broken things into your world, I let them rest in peace in my kitchen and reverted to no-microwave, no-disposal, patch-and-mend-dishwasher and toaster-oven living.

Then last spring I had a conversation with the kitchen fairy. You see, the appliances weren't the only problem. The DIY kitchen cabinets featured doors made out of old windows and, consequently, wouldn't pass safety codes, much less an energetic bump from one of my mammoth dogs. And the giant concrete laundry basin that masqueraded as my kitchen sink never drained properly and was home to black mold (all the time).

To repair or not to repair? No easy answer. There's the possibility I might have to leave my home next year so why bother? But we decided, the kitchen fairy and I, that I should probably just take a step in faith and pull everything out. The house would probably sell for more, if it came to that, and I could actually cook in the meantime. In late June I began what was to be a four month process of redoing the kitchen.

There were losses along the way. One of the cabinet shelves collapsed due to flimsy shelf clips and heaved my mother's blue willow china on to the floor. Lost quite a few pieces to the clip debacle. Then one of the carpenters dropped a screw driver from a terrible height on a pile of pretty painted dishes. Seriously, how that sharp-shooting screwdriver managed to navigate through boards and cabinets to land squarely on a helpless little dish is nothing short of remarkable. I picked up the various broken bits and put them on the dining room table to toss out later.

Then one more break -- when I fell hauling construction debris to the street -- spraining one uninsured foot and breaking the equally uninsured other. I couldn't drive. I couldn't walk. I crawled around on my hands and knees. I slept on the sofa for weeks. I cooked frozen meals in a toaster oven on a trunk at the end of the sofa. Shortly after my fall, the carpenters disappeared after receiving their first paycheck. Life didn't stop for chaos but thanks to a whole lot of help from friends and family the groceries arrived, there was help with trips to the orthopedic clinic, etc. Even the remaining subcontractors found all kinds of ways to extend unexpected kindness. Hauling away debris. Buying me a pair of plumber's knees to cushion my crawling.

The girl with the peaches: portrait of Vera Mamontova. Valentin Serov. 1887. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

This brings me back to the lesson of the broken dish.

My son saw the ceramic remains, ready for the garbage heap, and asked why I didn't just repair it. Had I heard of kintsugi? Kintsugi means "golden joinery". Using a lacquqer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum, artisans repair broken objects in a way that highlights the damage. When an object breaks, that's just part of its story and a reason for celebration. How had I never heard of this?

Hearing my summer story a wise friend asked whether there was a lesson that Life might be offering me. Well, that's a complicated idea, I said, while crawling to the toaster oven. But maybe Life did want me to learn something new. If I can apply kintsugi principles to last summer, to all my summers, maybe I'll see my life with new eyes -- messy, unpredictable, sublimely beautiful at the broken places.

 

 

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WINTER 2021
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A FEAST OF PEACHES

Georgia peaches are a fixture at summer roadside stands and I've learned how to determine their ripeness when shopping -- a slight give to the fruit when gently squeezed and a rich peachy aroma. The same rules have worked for my homegrown ones this summer when picking them in the front yard.

So what to do to celebrate the ripening of the Dovekeep peaches? Peach chutney, of course. The five star recipe that has won my heart requires four pounds of Dovekeep peaches along with red pepper, cardamon and diced ginger. These are additions to a personal spice collection that, up to now, only contained peppercorns and kosher salt.

The process takes time and I've decided to enjoy it, photographing each step along the way. This image is one of my favorites. It's an early step -- the peaches have been scored at the bottom, put in a pot of simmering water for thirty seconds, then doused in ice water. This makes it easier to peel the peaches but it also makes their color more vibrant. Hours later from when I began. The chutney is simmering on the stove, leaving the house heavy with the smell of apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. In a few minutes I will return to the kitchen and finish, putting the chutney in mason jars.

It's hard to gauge how much chutney will result but I hope there will be enough for a few gifts -- along with a summer brunch for my family. There might not be any dragon liver or phoenix marrow to eat but there will be a feast of green salad and Mimosas and grilled cheddar sandwiches on sourdough with plenty of Dovekeep peach chutney.

 

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WINTER 2021
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EPILOGUE AT YEAR END

Another year around the sun begins. I wanted to share some wise words and, for some reason, Tolkien came to mind. He has great advice on meddling with wizards and live dragons (don’t do it). But this next one is extra-good.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after. J.R.R. Tolkien

The picture is a collection of some of the art I’ve created since the pandemic began. Not necessarily what I went looking for — but what I found this year. Or maybe it found me. And over the next year I’m going to explore that idea — about looking for something and finding something unexpected. Or as a friend once told me: We make plans. God laughs.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

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JOURNAL 2020
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ONCE UPON A TIME

I love illuminated manuscripts and they were an influence on this work but stained glass is probably a better metaphor for the project, as the piece narrates the transformation of color through the lens of one day. Consider. If you watch a stained glass window you will see it change. The window glass remains fixed but when combined with light, as it is meant to be, the glass transforms over time. It's more than the shifting of colors. If you watch carefully, it can also hold the flickering shadow of branches or a bird's wings. It can shift the light in the interior space, as a chapel brightens or dims or holds a puddle of rainbow light on floor and walls. [Let's] consider the fundamental truth of the stained glass: Time is at play in the world. - "Once upon a time" (2018)

Over Christmas dinner. One of my sons asks, What's your New Year's resolution?

I didn't have an answer. I mostly thought about the gift of Time.

Life has provided a reminder very recently that we're not immortal. Mine was -- I injured my spine this fall. It took longer to heal than expected but I'm finally on the road back. I’m also really grateful for the good people at the spine clinic that have helped me get here.

New Year's resolution. What to do with the gift of my time? When Mom died -- it was around last year this time -- someone asked which one of her children love to garden, too. And the answer from my sibs was "Wesley". Isn't it strange to hear things about yourself through others' eyes? I haven’t thought of myself as a “gardener” though I've been planning a garden ever since I moved back to Georgia. So maybe this is the year to figure out a way to push that dream garden further along.

New Year's resolution and what to do with the gift of my time?

There's one other thing about Mom. Her love of writing and her wish that she had given more of her time to it. She advocated for me to write all my adult life -- and that is knocking around in my head today as I reflect on how I might invest my precious gift of time. Not what to dabble in during the next year. But what to invest in. Since the spine injury I've made a few lifestyle changes that might be steps forward. One change is a standing desk in my little studio. Just waiting for me every morning -- to put pen to paper, paint to paper, hands to keyboard.

An explanation for the photo in this post. It’s a stained glass window from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, one of my favorite places - anywhere. Today is the feast day of St. John. Patron saint of love, loyalty, friendships, and all things writing. So I'm writing this morning and going over my old journals and thinking about the garden of my recent dreams. And feeling grateful for love and friendship and healing and Mom. And for the gift of time.

New Year’s resolution? Carpe diem, y’all.

 

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