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Books! Art! Pee-Chee folders! Witchy things!
It’s currently autumn for all living on the same side of the hemisphere as I am. It is spring for so many others. A lot of people aren’t even able to consider the changing seasons, as there are things more important to focus on, or deal with or mourn. I’m fortunate in that I can take some time. I’m fortunate for the safety, warmth and feeling of comfort I have. It’s a gift to have a few morning moments with my laptop and coffee in a quiet kitchen. It’s a gift I work hard for, but one I acknowledge. My state of mind and the parts that make up my life could very well not be in the places they are right now, so I’m grateful.
Mabon, which happened over a month ago, the sabbat I was acknowledging at the start of this writing, is a name sometimes given to the autumnal equinox on the Wheel of the Year. The name itself was adopted in the 1970s but the celebration of this time is much older. It’s Celtic and I honor this wheel of time but I really don’t know very much about my own heritage, aside from being half Chilean, half American with a twist of Canada and Spain. The name Lay has European roots so I could have Celtic ties- England or Scotland or even Germany. My witchy roots, as far as I know, reside only in the shallow and landfill-like soil of pop-culture. Thankfully everything created has its own origins and histories through its makers, so there are chunks of “more” and “true things” I’ve been able to latch onto and grow from, like neurons and mycelium. Books account for a lot in my life, and those so often reach and share something deeper and older. One of these days I might do one of those internet ancestor things-
In any case, Mabon is the second harvest festival and the fruit harvest, while the previous sabbat, Lughnasadh, is more about the harvesting of grain. I’ve read that the “original American” Thanksgiving was celebrated around this time, October 3rd, which makes sense when considering the harvest and the days soon growing shorter and colder. Mabon happens on the first day of autumn.
Like many folks, I see this time as the true new year. As it happens, Samhain (Halloween) is the witch's new year. Because of the connection I have to the start of the school year, both as a student for so much of my life and now as a teacher for more than twelve years, it’s a time of doing things like getting a new school wardrobe ready and maybe even a time to adopt and try out a slightly changed identity, expressed not only through clothing but perhaps a new hairstyle and expression of new interests- an acknowledgement of how time changes who we are. It’s not the most important ritual in the scheme of things, but it’s important to me. For instance, I used to collage my high school paper-bag book covers in such strategic ways, with specially selected photos from music, art, and fashion magazines, revealing not only my new interests through the cutout photos and words, but how I arranged them. My main school binder mattered too. The paper folders I purchased from the back-to-school section of K-mart or wherever to hold my homework were emblazoned with imagery that often made my heart flutter. I’m not exaggerating. In elementary school: pictures of mystical pegasi. In middle school: musicians and bands. Then I went classic teen with the Pee-Chee in high school and in college I went the way of kittens, puppies and an occasional trippy op-art piece, one of which I still have and use. I can still feel how important those visual choices and elements were to me, which is a totally silly thing to admit but it’s the truth.
The sabbats allow, in my opinion, a way to work on important personal change, and since they are connected to seasons it can feel as though planetary forces are there, working alongside you. Something bigger than us that connects us, like what all spiritual beliefs offer, in their own ways. Samhain is a wonderful time of solidifying the stages and rituals of harvest with ancestors and spirits (the time when the veil is thin between worlds) which help us move into a different set of rules and earthly chores. The previous Litha, Lughnasadh and Mabon broke it into parts. The cross-quarter and quarter festivals that make up the wheel are not just about personal identity, of course. The way I perceive it, each occasion is a signal to slow down a little bit, if we are able to, and notice nature, and how we are nature.
Speaking of witchy things, I wanted to share the recent book release from my friend, Raquel Vaquez Gilliland called Witch of the Wild Things, which I cannot wait to dive into. (Note from the future: I’ve since started and am more than halfway through) This past spring I read her YA novel, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe and absolutely loved following the journey of Moon. Her latest book is a witchy romance novel written for an adult audience.
Raquel and I had some wonderful and magical times in art college, along with a few other super-talented young witches. It was our Foundation Year, which means we were freshmen. One night we all sat in a circle in the dirt, tangled in rose bushes- watching wild bunnies skitter around us as we passed around a bottle of red wine to sip, ceremoniously, under a fool moon. Thanking the bunny spirits. We howled like wolves and laughed so hard we cried. (Another note from the future: two days ago, weeks after having written the past few sentences, I was listening to Witch of the Wild Things while driving home through a forest in the mountains and heard the narrator of the audiobook describe this moment, as a part of the protagonist’s past. I had to rewind and re-listen and could not stop smiling. I’ve also written about this experience, back in grad school. It’s a part of an unpublished fictionalized memoir I sort of left hanging called, The Unmet Man. It’s really something to find our shared experience made its way into her beautiful new written work that’s much more than a simple romance novel. When I mentioned to her about hearing her include this in her novel, she said she wants to write more about this time in our lives in a non-fiction work, in the future. I love it.)
Raquel moved onto other college and life experiences after that year and we kept in touch a bit but time and life led us in different directions. What a thrill it is to look up from all that I’ve been in the midst of and see her with a body of work that is growing and evolving and reaching a large audience. She’s sharing and inspiring/empowering people AND I get to read and listen to her stories. How gorgeous.
THE OCCULT! CONSPIRACIES! FACTS! HIPPIES!
Speaking of the occult and adding conspiracies and some facts, I recently finished the book Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & the Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream, by David McGowan. After completing Roberto Boleňo’s 2666, I felt like letting my mind take a romp through the Hollywood hills I once idealized in order to learn (more) weird things about rock stars and actors.
I learned about the book by overhearing an interview on the internet that my partner had running on Youtube while he cooked. I had never heard of the person who mentioned the book, but the topic seemed like a “juicy” sort of thing to read and I was in the mood for some pop-culture stuff.
It was interesting to learn more about the connections between our music legends of that time and place- how many of them knew each other as children in different areas of the continent and how they have deep roots in the United States, as well as family involvement in global power/money and covert military things, especially as these folks came to symbolize a vision of our existence in time so opposite of that. But the author gets, in my opinion, a bit snarky and judgemental in moments throughout the book, which pushed me outside of his investigation. For instance, he clearly doesn’t like David Crosby and makes quite a few super-sarcastic remarks about him. I really don’t have an opinion on Crosby but the energy of those interjections made me distrust the author’s intent in other areas of the book.
What is interesting about it all though, for someone like myself who started learning more about the musical artists of this era when I was in high school by way of Pamela Des Barres’ memoir, I’m with the Band, is how he presents evidence that rock and roll was not as mystical or spontaneous as the famous stories, interviews, articles, memoirs and song lyrics might lead us to believe.
Learning how terrible most of the acts like The Doors were live, compared to their recorded albums, makes sense, especially if you watch the documentary, The Wrecking Crew, about the very talented studio musicians who actually made the music we fell in love with on the radio.
Also learning more about Vito Paulekas and his band of dancers called, “The Freaks” was good too. I first learned about them in Des Barres’ book. She was a part of that community, as well as a groupie (if those two worlds were even different). I also learned things about them when I watched a Frank Zappa documentary.
In Weird Scenes, the author states that the dancers were such an important part of not only the shows, but also the creation of hippy culture, as we now know it. This was because they would flail around in front of the stage at places like the Whisky a-GoGo, in ways people had not yet seen before. They consisted mainly of far-too-young girls in strange and revealing clothes. Of course there is also the fact that at least some concert tickets sold on the Sunset Strip at that time literally came with tabs of acid included.
*A friend of mine who was there back then once showed me one or more tickets she saved (it was a long time ago when I saw them and details are now a bit fuzzy) for shows featuring such “new acts” as Jefferson Airplane, The Doors and The Grateful Dead. I seem to remember seeing something that said, “lick here” or perhaps she told me that’s what you did at a spot on the paper and that’s how I learned about the way that particular hallucinogen was ingested.
McGowan cites interviews with musicians who share how undeveloped the bands were, or how they could not play their instruments, but the audience was so distracted by The Freaks in front of the stage, that none of it mattered. Legends and legendary moments were made.
In my own (past) world of dancing and supporting performers and artists as both a fan and a friend, I’ve grown to understand how an audience’s perception of a performance can be controlled and altered by not only people on a stage but also by people in the crowd who are meant to shift energies in different directions. Especially when alcohol and controlled substances are involved. It’s really very interesting.
One band that did know how to play their instruments was Love, who I grew up knowing very little about, aside from their hit song, Alone Again, Or, that was released just a few years before my birth, and I fell deeply in love with their song, Always See Your Face after hearing it in the 2000 film, High Fidelity. I appreciate how Weird Scenes tells us more about Arthur Lee and Johnny Echols and how they were met with such racism and how unbalanced the attention and appreciation was for them due to the fact that they were a racially diverse band. It was so sad to hear about Lee’s evolution into drugs and crime and poverty. Such influential and beautiful music-
It seems to me, the thesis of Weird Scenes inside the Canyon has to do with military power, excess and privilege, historical ties to celebrity, mind-control and the occult, but I began to question the author’s motivation. In the end it felt as though the whole thing had become unraveled and I was trying to tie it all together myself but by that time I had lost interest in making such an effort.
I listened to this audiobook on my commute (I rarely have time to sit with actual pages in my hand). In the evenings, while in the midst of the “reading,” I watched an easy to consume, two-part series on Laurel Canyon and that era of music. It helped me connect some things.
After completing the book, I started to think about my parents’ generation. My mom recently wanted me to get her a Ritchie Valens CD and as we listened to the music together, she told stories about her being a teenager in the 1950’s. This made me remember things I’ve heard about how her generation became the first to engage in “teen culture.”
When I consider how the wars in the past caused artists and people to live life differently and prioritize certain ideals/ideas- when I consider the music and products connected to teens like my mom, and how they were allowed to be younger for a longer amount of time, I can comprehend a creative evolution that could have led to the culture in Laurel Canyon that doesn’t necessarily have to be as calculated and sinister as the author of Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon leads his readers to believe. Not that dark shit isn’t involved. It always is, right? For instance, my mom shares stories of being able to dance with other teens in Chile, in the afternoons, for “free” as long as you consumed multiple bottles of Coca-Cola during your time twirling around in your poodle skirt at the venues newly set up with a jukebox and space for dancing. About fifteen years later my mom would have a mouth full of rotten teeth removed and replaced with dentures, and to this day she is addicted to sweet things. Perhaps she’s a victim of the sort of mind-control McGowan writes about, albeit the idea of sugar seems on the surface far less troublesome than the kind of mind-control he suggests is connected to the entertainment industry. Or is it? That said, I’m sure the author has something to say about circumstances leading to Valens’ untimely death. It’s all such a deep rabbit hole to fall into.
ENOUGH CONSPIRACY, BACK TO FICTION!
It was during a hike around a bunch of oaks and manzanita trees with my pal Melissa who is also known as The Art Ranger (and has a great podcast called The Department of Homeland Inspiration you should check out) when she reminded me about her earlier suggestion to check out this book. It’s about trees and is told from the point of view of like nine characters. My favorites are the scientist, Patricia and the artist, Nicholas; two characters that I think never actually connect “in person,” in the story. I’m still processing the whole thing, and it’s made me reconsider or just consider a lot about trees. It’s a good audiobook to listen to while driving through roads surrounded by forests, which is something I thankfully do a lot of now.
The book taught me a lot. I never knew a thing about the chestnut tree aside from the time my partner and I made the mistake of gathering a ton of inedible horse chestnuts from a park and nearly poisoning ourselves and friends by way of a Thanksgiving stuffing that called for that particular fruit (a recipe that was thankfully never made). The story starts with a chestnut tree and the author does such a good job of ensuring that we continue to reflect back on it, without really pressing on it too much. Masterful stuff.
(Above is an old tree, just down the street from the school I teach at, in a little park. I can’t tell if the plaque says 1923 or 1928. I love that it was a gift of the History Club.)
When I was in my early-thirties, actually about the time when I was hanging out in the middle of rose bushes with young witches that would become writers, I sat at my childhood friend’s kitchen table. She was preparing her daughter’s dinner and I was staying the night. I was probably on summer break from art school. Her toddler daughter looked me in the eye, over her tiny plastic set of dinnerware and asked me when I was going to be a tree. As her mom filled her daughter’s plate she said, “What are you asking Linda? That doesn’t even make sense.” Her daughter looked me in the eye again, half-smiled and said, “Linda knows what it means.” Then she turned her gaze to her plate and focused on trying to poke her dinner with her plastic-handled mini fork.
That moment hit me like a hammer and I still think about it. I’ve written about it before.
The Overstory asks that very same question, and gives us data to go along with it. Science, but also mystery; like the feeling when you believe a child is perhaps channeling something cosmic and you’re lucky enough to be on the receiving end.
OKAY NOW ART!
The whole point of this newsletter was supposed to be to share updates on my art-life, and I’ve been doing that, but I’m a wandering writer and allowed it to evolve into something that connects to my spiritual life, which is increasingly important to me as I age.
It’s been a long time since I’ve journaled in a traditional sense. I’ve done enough of that in my life, and I believe in the value of private free-writing, but now I feel it’s more important to use the time I have to share, as well as wander, when I write. I do a lot of re-reading and editing of my posts here in this newsletter. It’s one of my many anchors that keep me linked to my art-life in its many forms, while floating around in the murky waters of distraction and responsibility. Focus has always been an issue, but I like that about myself. If only my life would allow the gift of more time to lose more focus- to follow more hunches and make discoveries in that way. But if I had it, would I even take advantage of it?
Anyway, I have artwork on display in Monterey, California at Compact Disco. It’s a bar, so you have to be twenty-one to enter and see them. The space is lovely and decorated in a marvelous way. It features five of my fiber works that were done during lockdown and they are hung in a semi-permanent manner, as they help with sound absorption. They are up high, so festive folks don’t finger them. They seem to call out for touch, like woven blankets or tapestries but the fact that they are on elaborate frames should communicate otherwise.
The other day they finally installed special lighting for the art and I love it. I’m planning on organizing another showing of the works now that the lights are correct. I need to schedule some studio visits, as well. Both to my home studio and at the public space. I have so much more that goes along with these pieces and I hope to find a good set of walls, and perhaps a good organization to help more people experience what I have made.
Another aspect of my art-sharing has been some tiny works that I make, mostly in my classroom while students are focusing on their own art-making. They are original works that are affordable- all portraits of my beloved “monsters.” I sell them in my Big Cartel shop and let folks know about them by posting online and making up stories about the characters' lives. I usually fix the art in tiny frames that I may or may not decorate. The owners of the works are free to use the frames or not.
I am ready, as well, to move onto some more fiber works. I have supplies and ideas that involve more abstraction and I’m going to soon visit the L.A. County Museum of Art to see an exhibit on textiles and modern abstraction, so I’m looking forward to absorbing myself in that and seeing how it affects what I do next.
As well, another one of my art school mates is a part of this year’s biennial Made in L.A. show at the Hammer Museum, one of my favorites to attend. Her name is Erica Mahinay and she’s just such a pro. Her works are abstract and rich and emotional. Ever since our foundation year of art school, I’ve seen her put 100% of herself into art and what it means to live as a professional artist. She’s the real deal. I so admire her for that.
When I was in grad school in Los Angeles for creative writing, she and our mutual friend from the Kansas City Art Institute, the artist Sarah Gail Luther, came to visit me. It was before she attended the Cranbrook graduate program and Sarah was already in the midst of her public-art practice in Milwaukee. We attended some art shows together on that visit and the way the two of them experienced the art we saw was so over my head. Truly. They were in that world in a way I wasn’t and maybe never will be.
But then again, at that time I was surrounded by writers, working on the aforementioned novel, and the graduate writing program I was in (it no longer exists) was asking me to think a lot about detective novels and the corruption of the city we were all living in; the idea of fame and the industry of Hollywood; what it means to write or make art as a person who roots themselves in that. (I guess that might be at least part of the reason I spent so much time writing about that Laurel Canyon book here in this newsletter post.)
Looking back I feel like the magical little writing department and the people I met at that time were preparing me to take a hard look at illusions I held so tightly onto, for so long. Until that happened, perhaps I couldn’t dive into art in the way my friends had. I don’t really know.
Anyway, I have so many works in progress and I get to whatever I can while doing other things and also checking things off of my bonkers to-do list or “life list” as I call it. I like taking time to absorb moments. I need that. I really need that. It’s not worth it to me to just get things done. I get to be alive here, like winning some kind of lottery, and I need to not only serve and do my work, but I’ve got to sit still and take note, and feel everything there is here for me.
I hope you have a good day or night. Thanks for reading.