REFINEMENTS

REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

for September 2010

(Shout out to the Henry-Kamp-Kamp-Henry-Camp)

The Best Parts of Summer 2010:

–  Jen Yasi’s moving-off-island-yard-sale in geodesic dome tent where we inherited a Furbi, records, ice skates, South American throw, a wood fired hot tub, and Scott & Helen Nearing’s Living The Good Life.

–  Listening to the Island Romance.

– Winter-i-zing up on Elizabeth St.

–  Community Garden visits.  More kale to come.

–  Riding bicycles in the dark.

–  Tent camping road trip to and from Asheville, NC with Cole Caswell.

–  Watching July’s full moon glisten on a 10p walk on the backshore.

– The bread and beer making talents of friend and Local188/Sunny’s bread baker, Chresten Sorensen.

–  Helping to make tintypes happen down front for Peaks Fest and up at the Union, ME Antiques Festival.

–  Sundowns on Centennial Beach.

– Re-playing A Band of Horses two latest albums and Meg Baird’s record, Dear Companion.

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REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Edited for the April 2010 issue of the Peaks Island newspaper, The Island Times.

Island Times Installment no. 4

(Shout out to the 10:15 and to N.R. Carleton)

Disrespecting others space initiates boundaries.  It is imperative to show manners, keep an appropriate distance before being invited in, and be reverent when allowed inside.  When we don’t take our shoes off and get mud everywhere, we can blame it on the season, or we can blame it on being thoughtless.  It is this thoughtlessness that invokes a lost future invitation as we have given the impression we are a lot of work and need to be picked up after.  Of course, in some spaces and situations, dirt doesn’t matter.  People are prepared to pick up or have the foresight to condition the space appropriately to allow seasons and thoughtlessness a warm cozy spot by the fire.

You can only change yourself when you feel something is not right and with something (historically considered negative) like the action of trespassing I would like to propose a resounding celebration of becoming a host! What are the reasons for you and another crossing paths?  What can you do to ensure safe and pleasant travels? What can you let go of?  What matters least? What can you put somewhere else?

It is in a re-conditioning of space, a re-evaluation of priorities and expectations, and the movement and order of one’s personal contents that allows for more things to become more fluid.  To talk about spaces as having conditions makes us consider them as functional pieces of equipment needing to be kept up that we use in our everyday lives.  Spaces contain, in their conditions, a certain state of (dis) order, and a constant need for repair.
In this way we can see that in having, defining and using space we enter a hardship, an unrelenting battle with what is outside our space.  Arguably, our spaces are worth struggling to keep up.  Neat, ordered hedgerows can accentuate secret gardens.  Stonewalls can delineate land to be plowed or grazed.  Fences can be built to keep in/out the more uncontrollable natures.

To warden off spaces is an act of resistance, an attempt at control, and a separation from what goes on outside.   Yes, walls are worth keeping up in order to let something else (greater) come about.  They become solid pieces in the structure of a complex life.  They are sufficiently and succinctly attended to in order to insure the well being of a larger context.  Necessary evils, but evils that are built, which means there is a time and place for them to be de-constructed.

In the beginning, middle or end, whenever you decide the “right time” is to remove limitations and break down walls, a whole new world emerges.   This world (I imagine in some cases and know in others) is a more pleasant place.  It is reached through a more cohesive integration rather than separation, rejecting or ignoring existence. It is a happy re-conditioning of space offering something it couldn’t offer when once bound – connectedness.

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REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Edited for the March 2010 issue of the Peaks Island newspaper, The Island Times.

Island Times Installment no. 3

(Shout out to the frozen Trout Pond)

It’s five past ten on a beautifully warm Wednesday morning in February and I am on foot, finishing errands in town. I have a 15-minute walk to the ferry and find I will miss the 10:15 a.m. boat back home to Peaks. Left with a free hour to meander through the city, I think I will search out something I’ve yet to notice in Portland.

I feel upbeat about my bad timing and start out for Congress Street, remembering an herbal teashop I had read about in the Portland Press Herald this very morning. I’d ripped out the article, “Herbal remedies may be just what the doctor ordered”, mainly for the accompanying list of herbs it prescribed for common winter ailments.

For Sinus Congestion (each ailment was written in bold) it recommends eucalyptus, echinacea, white willow and lavender. For Winter Blues, rose petals, rose hips, St. John’s wort, oat straw, lemon balm and lavender.

I get moving in the direction of Homegrown Herb & Tea on Munjoy Hill, but never make it. I am distracted passing Eli Phant, with its beautiful logo and clever name getting me in close enough to pull on the door, but it’s locked. Then I try the yarn store a couple of doors down, but lose interest as I peer in through the window.

Barely walking any further I hit Carlson & Turner Antiquarian Books. The shopkeepers sit behind a high countertop that showcases some chosen objects, deeply engaged in their own journals, notes, calendars and conversation – i assume they are strategizing how to keep themselves afloat.  This makes me feel free to search their wares for my own ways, for inspiration to keep myself afloat.

It reminds me of the first act of a dinner theatre project, Dual Site, that I was a part of last month at the Whitney Art Works. Inspired by the journals of The Goncourt’s, two brothers who recorded their experiences living in Paris in the 1850’s, Portland artist Leon Johnson wove their writings into a three-act play. Their dialogue is prescient.

The brothers worry over the changing times, see technology pervading the arts, and believe that having family and friends is something joyously and painfully worth holding onto, as opposed to having nothing.

Near the end of the first act, Jules (played by Dennis St.Pierre) describes a woman who is cold in all her womanly ways, a woman lacking sensuousness, who uses her sex as a tool, and who, he claims, may be a sign of the coming times. His brother (Peter Brown) looks up from his journal and retorts,

A sign of the times! No, a real sign of the times: There are no chairs in bookshops any longer! France was the last bookseller in whose shop one could sit down and waste a little time, between sales. Books are now bought standing – like sex; the customer asks for a book and is told the price—and that is all. This is what the all-devouring activity of trade has done to bookselling, a trade that was at one time a matter for loitering, loafing, and chatty and familiar browsing.

There are a few places to sit in Carlson & Turner’s, and I can attest that antiquated forms of sensual pleasure abide, for now, on Congress Street. I enjoy picking up some beautifully bound and covered, embossed and gilded small books displayed on the countertop. (Only after I leave do I find out that they offer bookbinding, conservation, box making, letterpress printing, and typecasting services).

There are a few I look at, one about ferns, and one I sit down and delve into, As We Were Saying, a collection of essays by Charles Dudley Warner published in 1891. The table of contents lists great titles with the prospect of humorous discussion on random subjects: “The loss in civilization”, “Chewing gum” , “Shall women propose?”, “Naturalization”, “Love of display”, “The burden of Christmas”, “The responsibility of writers”.

There are more – their randomness makes me laugh – however, one essay seriously catches my attention and won’t let go, “Does refinement kill individuality?”  It begins like this:

“Is it true that cultivation, what we call refinement, kills individuality? Or worse than that, that one loses his taste by over-cultivation? Those persons are uninteresting, certainly, who have gone so far in culture that they accept conventional standards supposed to be correct, to which they refer everything, and by which they measure everybody. Taste usually implies a sort of selection; the cultivated taste of which we speak is merely a comparison, no longer an individual preference of appreciation, but only a reference to the conventional and accepted standard. When a man or woman has reached this stage of propriety we are never curious any more concerning their opinions on any subject. We know that the opinions expressed will not be theirs, evolved out of their own feeling, but that they will be the cut-and-dried results of conventionality.”

He goes on to say, that people find comfort in knowing, in having a tried and true response to things.  Fitting in appeases their less heroic nature.  This following of rules and mindfulness of social order is maintained for fear of the pain of being an individual, it is maintained in “subordination to our personality.”

The point he is trying to make through warm descriptions of east coast beaches, islands, and mountains and west coast hot houses, vineyards and palms is if we value a charming sort of freedom we will remember to take a journey, to wander, to treat the “disease of conformity” He reminds that we are not machines to be brought into perfect uniformity, we are human,  our thoughts and actions are brought into rule at the loss of the art of conversation.

Today, real listening and talking are still being defeated and cannot be regained by molding spaces and allotting times to practice assigned topics determined prior.  This type of management is again too fitting.  Impulsive talking!  Peculiar feelings!  And devious individuals! are what must be refined in order to, perhaps painfully for some, define our character from our context and the conformity of what is outside ourselves.

Comfort that restricts is what Warner warns about in acquiring refinements (It seems impossible to label something comfortable that is restrictive so let’s think of this type of comfort as luxury). To this day it is the uncertainty in separating ourselves from luxury or privilege — the not knowing what will unravel — which keeps us from breaking away, from surprising ourselves, from feeling alive.  I would argue that today, the question of refinement’s effect on individuality depends on how one defines refinement.

Remembering that refinement itself is a process, a process of change, and that change always resides within a larger context lets us step away from the idea of it providing comfort and move closer to a place where we can see a context or framework that is continually being built and re-built.  It is in continually making and moving (within our invisibly given and unavoidable structures) that treatment can be found for uncertainty and less than luxurious conditions.  A good dose of looking, listening and interacting with other ways people make and move is also helpful to maintaining life within a place.

Glad to have missed the boat last week and walk aimlessly, I leave with my spotlight shining on the rest of the winter months.  Ambling through with tea and books, researching and writing, recollections and rejuvenating thoughts from the past that still apply today, and much consideration to the pages of As We Were Saying.



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REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Edited for the January 2010 issue of the Peaks Island newspaper, The Island Times.

Island Times Installment no. 2

(Shout out to the woman with the sometimes blue, sometimes white, circular clusters of lights in the trees on Little Diamond)

Tis the season to be listing, or it was last month anyway, or maybe it should always be, to be considering and celebrating what we value and what is in our pockets, and how we can exchange what’s in our pockets for something we value to give someone else.

What could that person live with? What would they like to live with? What would they love to live with? Have they expressed any desires? How can you come closest to gratifying these desires?

Thoughts like this were running rampant last month. Santa’s workshop is hard to access these days, with his technology seemingly so ancient, and I felt I had to make my best effort to help his wide spread cause; to evaluate and deliver appropriately deserved gifts.

To minimize costs one must be resourceful and very pointed about each gift to the people on one’s gift list. I try to be thoughtful on any gift-giving occasion, but in the middle of December thinking about surprising someone at the same time others are thinking about surprising that someone makes the pressure of performing equally – if not better than others – the mode of operation.

Now, this ideal performance means something different for every individual and family. Stellar performances could be the simple act of sending a letter, or it could be working overtime to pay the January mortgage and take the whole family for a weekend at Loon Mountain.

On any gift-giving occasion, I wonder if there is a difference between providing someone with an experience or with an object. Why can’t an object be a gift and, simultaneously, an experience? Wouldn’t there be a memorable occurrence – distinguishable from other memorable occurrences – by the object becoming ours?

An object has the agency to be a thing and simultaneously an experience.

In attempting to value art objects, I try to ignore the hierarchy of genres and just notice the difference in the things I like to live with. This leads me to reclassify ordinary objects in my house – trying to ignore their context and simply noting their content – as beautiful, functional, alive, historic, innovative, puzzling, and evocative.

These are subjective qualities, chosen to determine the significance of the objects I look at every day, whether I’ve created them or simply own them.

My aim is to forget that a cultural object, like a hammer, is widely considered less of an artwork than a painting, and allow that both could potentially exist in the same classification. I attempt to get away from analyzing medium-specific formalities, where, for instance, a painting is judged by a different list of criteria than a sculpture. Therefore, I return to my list: beautiful, functional, alive, historic, innovative, puzzling, and evocative.

I think determining monetary value is one of the hardest parts of being an artist, for it is here that I must install a hierarchy (and what kind of artist sits around saying “Why, yes, if I do this the price will increase five-fold!”?).

Personally, I am most attached to beautiful, historic and evocative objects. I might place the highest value on a tintype of anything, or a dress I had a fantastic time in, or a painting with remarkable color or a quick sketch of a sleeping child.

I think of a picture of Rita Hayworth. Untouchable herself, she allows her image to be photographed, an object in itself used to create the illusion of being with Rita Hayworth, however composed or delusional that experience might be.

If an object can also be an experience, can an experience also be an object? This is to say, a square is a rectangle but is a rectangle a square? I hesitate to say (I would like to have further discussion about this) but, it does not seem to be so.

Experience does not necessarily deliver an object. It retains evidence of having existed in a memory but another action needs to be taken, something else must happen to deliver the one-two punch of an object.

Experience – an event, an occurrence, an incident, a piece of knowledge – certainly creates the space for objects, but they are not inherently concrete within it. This makes experience quite a wondrous thing, as it allows anything to be produced or changed within it.

Certainly, I believe that experiences are predisposed to offering objects, objects that are not manipulated by human force like a rock, a plant, clay, etcetera. Man-made objects like rope, glass and pottery can be returned and re-presented to us by natural forces, offered by an experience walking on a beach.

These type of objects and the experiences that surround them are those I believe we all need more of, to be returned and re-used by us to create another form, or to build one we can use.

Here is all this to say, let us give and receive with an awareness of how meaningful and thoughtful the act of giving can be.

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REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Edited for the December 2009 issue of the Peaks Island newspaper, The Island Times.

Island Times Installment no. 1
(Shout out to the neighbors of Centennial Beach)

Some people desire refined qualities in the things they own. Some people seem to not notice, or else they choose to keep up processes of maintaining themselves that only apply to their everyday needs.

I like to think of refinement as more than a new couch for one’s porch overlooking the ocean or a gifted Japanese chopping knife. There is more to it than an exchange of money for goods, or old for new.

It is not necessarily found in something to be owned, but rather in something to be developed, something to come about through a course of action. In this way, the development and maintenance of refinements is something to work towards.
Yes, eventually this means it could be something purchased, but sophistication is also found in ingenuity – and ingenuity I find to be most inspired by survival, a desire for life.

This idea of refinement and these questions of ownership and desire are ones that outline the way I move to make something.

In reading Jose Saramago’s The Unknown Island, I was struck by the passage, “Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.” I think about this often as a lover, a renter, an artist, a woman.
Being in a relationship with a man, a landlord, the island landscape, a painting, friends, anything means I am refining my desires constantly.

These relationships are not things I own. They are things I like and love and choose to engage with because I like doing them. I like moving within the boundaries of each relationship as they grow and change and demand refinement. I think those who strictly maintain imperatives of possessing any of the things I listed (lovers, renters, paintings, friends, the land, etc.) actually erase their original desire for them, thus producing a less refined, more restrained disposition in all of them.
A painting is made in this spirit of liking. Even the terminology of creating a “likeness” is used in attempting to re-create something one saw. Seeing is enough to create a likeness. One does not need to possess the thing one wishes to liken oneself (or a painting) to.

Looking and listening and discerning what one has a fondness for allows exponential growth in re-telling, re-turning and re-membering. Photographs are strict. Recalling from memory means you have to interpret your thoughts, allowing for a greater difference from the actual experience than what is clearly defined in a photograph.

However, seeing is only the beginning. Through refinement, my desire is that the painted likeness becomes less like what it was and more like itself. This is the key to all refined processes: moving through stages, augmenting and eliminating likeable forms to produce something closer to the self.

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original form proposed to Island Times publisher and editor Kevin Attra read as follows:

REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

(Shout out to the neighbors of Centennial Beach)

Refinements –
The development and maintenance of such a desire in people and things –
The development and maintenance of such a quality –
Is desirable in people or the things one owns.
The idea of ownership – to own what one likes – is associated with desire.
Though I read somewhere that on The Unknown Island, written about by Jose Saramago,
“Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.”

So one might or might not say: refinement and ownership are desirable qualities for things, but let’s entertain a thought; what do those qualities say about the people or things that do possess them? Rather, maybe there is a question – What does this all say about desire?

Desire is desirable or not?

To own something is positive? Or to own something has its downsides too?
Can it have both qualities simultaneously?

Cole is making a picture
I am making a picture.
These things happen simultaneously.
I am one, he is an other / I am the other, he is one.
I find this to be a desirable situation with very little to want.

Everything has its ups and downs – waves, relationships, and people –
It’s almost unnatural for anything to be perfectly straight.
What is straight? Poles? A road? A letter? A tie?
The human touch makes it somewhat impossible, I think.
So in accepting that everything we interact with has its ups and downs,
One must accept that some thing – one thing – is up.
And that something – an other thing – is down.
Generally speaking, down has a negative connotation
And up things have a positive connotation.

Therefore, one must form an opinion on what is a positive thing to associate ones self with, and what the negative or opposing associates or opinions are given the chosen form.
It is hard to form an opinion.
To make decisions based in this opinion – is good grief –
forming opinions, deciding, defining sides, and giving yourself time to understand why you have chosen what you have chosen.
Then taking the time to take hold of all parts – up, down, and sideways – to construct a creative positive experience within it all.


REFINEMENTS

Thinking about where you are.

Island Times Installment no. 2
(Shout out to the woman who has the blue clusters of lights in the trees on Little Diamond)

Why we choose what we choose…
Finding an answer in the time spent trying to understand more.
In trying to understand more, one might start at the place where they are able to form an understanding that includes more than just their own angle.
Say, a larger view, a bigger picture, a place to see – an unknown – vista over there.

Things transpire. Light leaks in to define forms, time passes and graces us with an understanding of ourselves. Perhaps, we have even come to the point where one has gained the ability to understand another.

Then efforts will be made and conclusions might go as follows:
1. There is always opposition.
2. Your individual mission must be clear or else you will be overtaken.
3. The idea of being successfully autonomous is desirable.
4. Desire has its ups and downs.

Some things are positive. Some things are negative.
You must make a decision for yourself.
What is good for you!?

This is NOT a chose your own adventure book, but if it makes it easier to think about that way, it can be.

REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Island Times Installment no. 3
(Shout out to the painted lobster outside Covey’s lobster shack)

Definitions.
Defining: I. Refinement
II. Ownership
III. Desire
IV. Straight
V. Letters
VI. Opinion
VII. Definition
VIII. Grief
IX. Understanding
X. Autonomy

Which on of these things does not belong?

Refinement defn from OED:
1. The process of refining. 2. An improvement or clarification brought about by the making of small changes. 3. Cultured elegance or superior taste.

Process – improvement – clarification – making – chances – cultured – elegance – superior – taste.
p.s. small

Some one or thing can not be refined if they are small minded, in-active, confused, devoid of materials, stagnant, un-educated, real, uncontrolled. These listed words sound like the making of something ugly. I wonder, is there any way to retain refinement while also being any of these words? Is it possible to be un-educatedly experienced or sophisticatedly stagnant? All one would miss is walking the halls of an institution.

Anyway, no one can claim that they are thoroughly refined, unless they are acting. And who likes people who forget how to be themselves and are constantly acting? It would seem O.K. with me to simply accept our unrefinements. I mean it’s the least of our problems.

REFINEMENTS
Thinking about where you are.

Island Times Installment no. 4
(Shout out to all the bikes that don’t get locked up down front.)

Un-refined
Accepting un-refinement would allow a person to be oneself. In being themselves, they can begin to let other people be comfortable in being themselves as well.
Or at least set a good example.

I suppose this is all hinged on if authenticity is important.

Sometimes I think things are more authentic when there are no words spoken or written. The experience of the situation is the only evidence of it ever having happened. These words obviously don’t lend themselves to being that genuine then. They are didactic nonsensical sentences to entertain a large audience, however, silently. In the silence and sounds of written words, language arises full of meaning. I am typing in English, interpretations are literal and yet the arrangements conjured aim to weave their way into your disposition. This resonates with every person as a unique interpretation.

An abstract visual, a foreign language, an exotic accent stimulates our eyes and ears into filling in the unknown parts, imagining something true to us. We begin to understand for ourselves, given the space to be lost in translation.

There is no pun intended as I don’t mean it in the cinematic Bill Murray sense – I do need to watch that movie again so it could be closer than I think (and Cole looked like he could have been Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic for Halloween) – I only mean that words make beautiful pictures and I question whether they allow room for justice to be done to the relationships as there is a potential that can only be offered and formed when met with more unrecognizable, harder to define things. Although, what could be harder to define than words like eschatological?

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