Now, where did I leave that?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


I'm so touched by the support my existential angst stirred up; it's good to know I'm not alone. Reading some of the comments, I came to one possible conclusion (well, a question leading to a possible conclusion): does the naming of a thing make it so? When Bambi called the skunk 'Flower', it didn't make the air any fresher, but both Bambi and skunk were comfortable in that truth. Then again, Shakespeare's rose is a rose no matter what it's called; call it skunk if you will but it's still a flower with all that entails, and there's little correlation between the odiferous mammal and the perfumed blossom. So we're back to square one....

Thirteen years ago, I changed my name. In the early days of my newly recognized spiritual path, I relentlessly sought out a magickal name, one for rituals and spiritual writing and such. For awhile, Rainwalker served the purpose, but it started to feel....awkward, a tool like an athame or wand, something I donned for the occasion like a ritual dress, separate from my soul. A random conversation in which I discovered that not one, but two of my adult friends, had changed their names years before got me thinking. If my spiritual path was part of me, if it defined who I was/am at my core, why have a name I trotted out only for special occasions? There was no question the name my parents had given me, while a fine one, was as poor a fit for me as Yeti the Australian sheepdog/collie mix sleeping on the cat bed. And the adult me was already so very different than who I'd been (and that metamorphosis was just beginning...).

So the search began for a name that would reflect my soul, remind me always of the Goddess-worshipping spiritual path I'd chosen. I considered then tossed in a  pile dozens of names until I found the one. The name was Aisling (which I spell phonetically). Aisling is the Irish word for dream/vision, and also refers to a form of poetry that personifies the land as a womon. Yeah, an internet search now brings up numerous variations of what constitutes an aisling poem, but in 1999, that definition was the most prevalent and spoke to my soul. And so, I became Ashling, devotee of the Goddess, especially in Her aspect as Brigid. It was a growing up, a commitment and initiation on a life path.

I named myself, and it became my truth, my reality. My truth.

You see where I'm going with this, yes?

So to Pat and Tammy, to those who question what right we have to name ourselves as writers or artists, let's do it anyway! Let's own who we are--or aspire to become. Let us revel in the freedom of doing rather than worrying the bars of self-made cages debating our worthiness to be in the company of those who share the name.

Hi! My name is Ashling, and I'm a writer and novice fiber artist.  Who are you?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Is An Artist?

A writer....writes. Is it really that simple--the act of writing defines a writer? Is a writer someone who is published? If so, published in what, the school newspaper, a blog, the NY Times, best-selling novels? Is the person who is published in Time magazine more of a writer than the one who appears in Sagewoman? Does readership define writer?  How 'good' must  a writer be to be a writer, and who defines that level of quality? Am I a writer because I write a blog, write the occasional poem or essay, or because I've had the occasional piece published in places like Sagewoman, or because I say I am? If a writer is simply one who writes, how often does one need to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to be a writer? This existential angst has been part of my psyche since I was about--seriously--eight years old. 40+ years later I still wrestle with it. 

And of late, I find the question arising again, as I look at my pretentious blog profile in which I not only call myself a writer, but also a 'novice fiber artist', a thing written as much to state intention as would-be reality. We've established I'm a remedial spinner and knitter (I do make a great farrow rib scarf, though), but I've been working with felt, wet and dry, for over a year. I've created scarves and altar cloths, vases, snow people, etc. and am in love with the almost-alchemy of felting. I'm happy with some of what I've made, disappointed with others, or rather, keenly aware of the flaws...the many flaws. 

This past October, Linda & I went to the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival. I posted about the scarf I made in a class for a dear friend here. The day Linda & I went was somewhat rushed; we had to do the same event we spent two days at the previous year in a mere four hours because we needed to get home to feed her foster kittens. It was a mad dash through, but on our way out of the last building, I pulled Linda down the book aisle. The previous year I'd encountered Sheepish on the book table, and loved every page (and a few weeks later bought Hit By a Farm by the same author), so I wasn't about to miss any treasures this time. At the far end, we were both caught and mesmerized by a piece of woolly art on display; it was there with the artist Lyn Slade, and her book, Creative Needle Felting: Wool Art With a Painterly Style. I couldn't plunk down my money fast enough! It's taken me awhile to finally start working with the book, but what follows are the photos of my first project, following her directions:

And the final photo, the finished....product? piece of art? 

I didn't create the original design. I worked from a photo and followed directions. This isn't my original work,  but as a non-crafty person, I have to admit to feeling mighty proud (and dare I say that while I see every one of my numerous flaws, I think my red-winged blackbird might be even a smidgen better than the one in the  book?). This took me so far out of my believed abilities and is so different than anything I've ever done. Do I think doing this piece makes me an artist? No. I didn't create the image or devise the technique; while it's not paint-by-number, it's at best a flawed copy of Lyn's exquisite piece. And yet....I'm proud of it. And doing it has changed me a bit. I recently watched a Winter sunset and found myself thinking about how to capture that moment in wool. I'm going to work on another of her projects beginning tomorrow, because that piece will teach me blending (one of my glaring issues with the sky in the piece above), and how to create the illusion of reflection. And when I finish that piece, the one to follow will be my own design. Already that worries me: who am I to design a piece of art? I can't draw a straight line (literally, even with a ruler; it's sad & scary to watch!). I'm not an artist, am I? At what point might I call myself a fiber artist (novice or not) and not feel like a pretentious fraud? I still feel that way when I refer to myself as a writer, but I don't see another 40+ years ahead to get over the qualms of naming myself 'artist'....and perhps I have no business doing so, now or ever.

So what makes an artist, or a writer? At what point does one earn the right to define one's self as either of those? Are you a writer and/or artist, and how comfortable are you with those words? What differentiates crafter from artist, or are they one and the same? What do you think? I really, really do want to know.

As for my rendition of Golden Meadow, it's going in my office at work, to remind me that my job is what I do, not who I am, and to make me smile at both the scene and the accomplishment.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Day After

Well, I know there are areas that got blasted. My son in Boston says he has two feet of the stuff. However, here the storm lacked the much-touted drama and impact, and basically was just a normal snow storm, the kind that was matter-of-fact when I was a kid. Today the wind is blowing the mercifully light stuff about, wraiths racing up the hill and across the road, white tornadoes dancing in the yard and vanishing in a blink. We've shoveled and snow-blown, swept off cars, cleared a little open pen space so the chickens can sun themselves tomorrow when it's a bit warmer. We've vaselined their combs because tonight is supposed to be really, really cold, and Linda has cleared off the entrances to the hives. Hot chocolate has been sipped and it's time for PBS' Victory Garden, followed by afternoon chores. 

How did all of you who were affected by the storm make out?  

Thursday, February 7, 2013


It's tangible, the energy of the approaching storm. It's hard not to be a little excited, even while dreading the aching back to follow. At work, the storm was the star of every conversation. I must have checked the weather websites three dozen times.  TWC excels at what someone recently dubbed storm porn, shapely maps with voluptuous numbers and colors spilling over state lines, seductive headlines, and teasing ambiguities. Here in the Northeast, we've been mighty snow-deprived the last few years, and now the promise of an activity-stopping snow is just hours away.

The chickens are tucked in to wait out the snow, the coop bedecked with fresh mounds of pine shavings, food and water topped off and able to last for several more days than will be needed, and a new scratching block has been nestled in to keep them occupied while snow swirls outside. If it isn't snowing hard yet come morning, they'll get a bowl of oatmeal and chopped kale. I suspect TuTu, Olivia & Julia are far more interested in that hot breakfast than in the forecast.

Provisions have been laid in for the chicken caretakers, too. Can one actually have a 10+" snowfall without hot chocolate, Pringles, and tomato-macaroni-and-cheese? And if I actually get a snow day, we'll be pulling out the seed and plant catalogs, spreading them out on the coffee table with post-it notes and lists, the fire dancing and coffee steaming nearby, dogs and cats vying with us for the couch. 

The world feels like it's taking a big deep breath......there's a hush.....and we wait....

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


This weekend I caught the tail end of a favorite movie of mine, Serendipity. I've found myself thinking about the word serendipity ever since. According to Oxford, the word was first used in 1754, and was based on a location in a fairy tale. The definition is "the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way". But for the first time, I realized the movie kind of tangles serendipity with destiny, and confuses itself. Serendipity by definition is an accident; destiny is pretty much the opposite: "the events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future; the hidden power believed to control future events; fate". So is life pre-destined, or rather a series of happy accidents?

In another post I talked about Linda and I getting together. If the thunderstorm hadn't begun at the exact moment I was walking past Linda's cabin, if her door had been closed, if someone else had been there visiting with her....we wouldn't be living at the feet of the Catskill mountains with 4 cats, 2 dogs, 3 chickens and a bunch of fish. Or would we? Was it pre-ordained that one day we would come together to create the zoo that is our family?

If Pip had been bigger and stronger, if Linda hadn't gotten that particular litter to foster, if Pip wasn't fond of riding about on Linda's shoulder, she wouldn't have joined the menagerie, and that would have been a loss to all of us.

If back in July of 2010, my boss hadn't been showing me the website photo of the dog she was adopting from the shelter, I wouldn't have seen Yeti's photo. And without Yeti, we probably never would have gotten Lola.

Or, given their quirks, were we the people most meant to adopt and love them?

About 31 and a half years ago, I made a split second decision that resulted in my now almost-32 year old son. I had known from childhood I wasn't going to let the sins of my mother visit upon the heads of any future children I had, so I never planned to have kids. I was so afraid of being like my parents I swore I'd never have children and face that risk. Was my split-second decision, a yes instead of a no, destiny or accident? Was it happy accident, mere chance that my doctor was a kind, gentle man who came to my just-turned-20 self in the hospital room the day after the baby was born and said to me "Everyone is telling you to do what's best for the baby. But what is best for you?", a question whose answer shocked me and whose end result has given me so much joy and pride every time I look at my 31 year old's face. And that moment of serendipity--or destiny?--changed everything for me, changed my direction. Seven years later his brother was born. I was twice-blessed; was that destiny or serendipity?

I've lived in the Hudson Valley my whole life, always following the river farther north. The mountains change, from the Hudson Highlands, to the Shawangunks, to the Catskills that have won my heart like no others, but the river has remained constant, always caressing the land, a silky snake leaving an indelible trail. When I went to high school, I crossed the river twice a day. Thirty-some years later, I cross it twice a day for work. Did you know that the Hudson River is actually a tidal estuary? It has two currents. This can create great difficulties for divers, I've been told, but it's the nature of this river; it's who she is, coming and going. This morning on my way to work, it suddenly seemed to me that serendipity and destiny are like those two currents. There isn't either accident or fate; both exist simultaneously. We can flow north or south, and we make that decision, and within either flow is the serenity that invites serendipity and embraces destiny. Perhaps those happy accidents are our destiny. Maybe those accidents change destiny's direction.

We all know about Robert Frost's wandering in the woods and where it led him.....but did he choose that road, or did it choose him? Did an errant wind blow down a trail marker, or did destiny bathe that road in a hallowed light, blinding him to all other possibilities? 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

What do you think?