Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Traditions, Family, and For Goodness Sakes Salad | Phoenix Post-Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Phoenix (Winter 2019)

On traditions
“But it’s just a candle,” said rabbit.
“Is it?” replied crow, “Is it really *just* a candle?”

Thoughts while making
Years ago, I paid my sister 5 bucks to eat it. She only took one bite. I think she gagged. But she took the money anyway. It was Christmas Eve.

The following Christmas, I offered her $10. She refused. And she hasn’t eaten it since.

My dad, on the other hand, loves it. He could eat an entire vat of it. Probably has. And will again. But he likes slimy things—like flan and persimmons, but not runny eggs.

I ate it. But, since I don’t do dairy or animals, it’s a memory now. One I cherish.


Start with one small box of lemon Jello and one lime. Use 1 cup of water in each instead of 2.

My grandma Camas, my dad’s mom, Lillian Pedrazzi, was born in 1913, and married a fourth generation Californian. They lived in a grand house in St. Francis Wood in San Francisco. She was the first to make it for my dad, and his 4 siblings. Her tailless Siamese cat, Saymiew, watching on skeptically.

1 cup cottage cheese

I broke my arm in that house. I was 3. My Uncle Bruce, a long-haired studio musician for folks like the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, was chasing me. I tried to climb a garden hose up a fence to get away. I almost made it.

1 cup crushed pineapple

For my entire life, every fall, every winter, this one dish makes us laugh. Each new generation of Learys baptized by it, watching it jiggle and glow.

1 cup mayonnaise

A few years ago, I made it for a holiday party. One of my neighbors was there. A former marine, proud, yet quiet. When he saw it on the counter, he started to cry.

1 cup evaporated milk

His mom, it turns out, made the same recipe every Christmas. Like ours, it was a family joke and treasure. She had passed the week before.

2 T horseradish

His mom called it “Green Fog.” My grandma called it “For Goodness Sakes.” There are many variations of the recipe. And a quick web search turns up many references to “one of the oddest dishes my grandmother made.”

Traditions are wick and flame, past made present, and whatever you want them to be. What’s one family tradition that comes out each holiday?

Magic, Trainsets, and Kentucky Fried Chicken | Red Rover Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Red Rover, custom colors

On beginning
“But where am I supposed to start?” asked line.
“Your where,” replied circle, “is less important than your when.”

Thoughts while making
I fell asleep last night listening to the sound of trains along I84. Remembering the many places I’ve fallen asleep to the same; from Virginia to Arizona, Encinitas to Oakland. And that’s when I thought about “them.”

For most of the year, they lived alone in our attic. Itchy from insulation. Hot from the summer’s sun. We never heard them, and often even forgot they were there. But they were. Quiet and in the dark, they waited.

Around the holidays, we’d pull down those creaky attic stairs, hinges squealing loudly. Would they hear our little feet coming? Could they hear our excitement?

Moving one box. Then another. And another. Revealing a thousand miles spread out before us, nailed to a sheet of plywood. Hills becoming mountains, animals running wild, barns and houses and gas stations. And even a Kentucky Fried Chicken with its red and white striped roof.

Our family trainset was something to behold. HO (1/87 scale). A powerful black locomotive. Sleek and heavy. Coaches and caboose. Freight cars and tankers.

There were plastic trees and truss bridges and intersecting metal tracks. Street lights and wooden fences and tiny figures.

It was these – the tiny little people – that I wondered most about. That is, when I wasn’t trying to ram the engine through wooden block barricades set up by the enemy.

What were they thinking as the trains rolled on by, round and round in an endless oval? Were they happy? How did they spend their time when I wasn’t watching?

These thoughts made me smile this morning, with many of the colors in this mobile sparked by those childhood memories.

What’s one treasured item that came (or still comes) out to make magic in your holidays?

Ripples, Bluegill, and Hendrick's Pond | Modern Hanging Art Mobiles by Mark Leary

On action

“How many ripples will I make?” asked pebble.
“The only way to find out,” said water, “is to dive in.”

Thoughts while making
What comes to mind when you hear the word “ripple”?

For me, it’s a 7-year-old boy with straw hair, bare feet, dirty hands. It’s Hendrick’s Pond in the Scripps Ranch of my childhood. Eucalyptus with slender leaves and branches that creaked as the sun traveled a day.

What comes to mind is a makeshift fishing pole, tiny bread balls formed between small fingers, carefully smushed around a barbed hook. It’s the sound of green black ducks deep in the cattails; the feel of clay and rock and algae between my crooked toes. And that [[[plunk]]] when the line hit the water.

When I hear the word “ripple,” I see a thousand concentric (((circles ))) radiating out from where that hook splashed down; in all directions, one after the other and another; from water to shore, shore to land, land to sky, and back to me.

What comes to mind is the feeling I felt when I saw that flash of a bluegill’s scales, a million cosmic mirrors, an impossible rainbow; the surface of a murky, backwater pond pierced for just a moment by a flash of diamonds, before she returned to the depth: unfooled by my bread balls and hope.

These days, when I hear the word “ripple,” I think of metal. Did you know metal moves when you cut it? You can feel it shrink and swell with the shearers; energy, atoms, a silent vibration between your fingers.

These days when I hear that word, I think of connection, those 1000s of concentric circles, one by one, connecting my hands, my thoughts, to this, to that, and to you, and you to yours, and theirs to theirs, and on and on, and once again back to me.

When I hear the word “ripple,” I think about this field of which we are. And whether water or metal, breath or word, how instant the impact of our actions, our intent, are as they ripple outwardly, inwardly. And this thought fills me with such care, such love, such compassion.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “ripple”?

Laughter, Magic, and Goldgreen Missings | Pinwheel Midcentury Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile:
Pinwheel (83.8cm x 53cm, spining in London)

On missing
“How can I miss something,” asked crow, “that I’ve only seen in my dreams?”
“The better question,” replied fox, “is how couldn’t you?”

Thoughts while making
I heard her laughter first. Softened as it echoed through fall leaves. Piles of decaying reds and orangebrowns, yellows and goldgreens sweetening the air.

I heard his laughter next. From deep in his chest, I could feel the light spark in his eyes, even though I couldn’t see him. His the sound of one experiencing joy for the first time, again and again.

Hers was last. Sweet and careful, comprehensive in how it filled the empty street. Her laughter a warm coat wrapping the treasured moment she tucked away in that tender, safe place mothers do.

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Laughter.

The plastic yellow bat was oversized, almost comical; the little girl’s hands barely able to wrap around. The pure white ball, arcing slowly, from dad to daughter, dropping to the ground, scooped up by mom and back to dad again. Repeat.

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Laughter.

He’d hold the big ball at her eye level, making sure she could see it before ever-so-gently pitching it the three to four feet between them. With curly blond hair in her eyes, the bat danced in the air – a wild swing – and a miss. And laughter.

I didn’t hear a single “ah, you almost got it.” I didn’t hear any hint of disappointment as she swung and missed. Nor did I hear any “you’ll get it next time.” Each seemed wholly present to - and satisfied with - what was.

And so I heard laughter. I saw smiles. I saw a small human and two adults creating magic together amongst piles of fall leaves on a Portland afternoon. And it was beautiful.

What magic will you (choose to) see today?

Self-Belief, Butterflies, and Lemon Pancakes? A New Modern Wood Art Mobiles by Mark Leary

 
Mobiles: Wisteria y Glicina, 44” wide x 21” tall each

On self-belief
“Are you blind?” asked caterpillar. “I clearly don’t have any wings!”
“Are you sure?” replied beetle. “Sometimes you must believe before you can see.”

Thoughts while making
Her name was Butterfly. She had blue eyes like cornflower and rolled her Rs and could do handstands. She smiled at birds and said hello to trees. Even the small ones.

Her name was Love. She liked pancakes with lemon and sugar and preferred writing in cursive on lined paper and would skip wherever she went. Even when people were watching.

Her name was Truth. She had small hands that moved quietly when she talked. She once said she could feel smells and taste sounds, laughing at the thought of it. And she believed her cat was the wisest person she knew. Even when he growled at her.

Her name was Hope. She knotted hair between fingers when nervous and spoke with a lisp and took exactly two and a half deep breaths before saying something important. And I often heard her clap when the sun rose and thank it when it set. Even on rainy days.

Her name was Beauty. She rarely wore clothes and never kept secrets and called the wind “her friend.” When they once told her her heart was too big, she thanked them for the compliment, feeling it expand in her little chest. Even as she feared they may be right.

Her/His/Their name was You. And your love like truth can spark hope in its beauty. Like a butterfly, let your imagination flit and fly, tell your stories, dancing like magic on currents of water and air.

What quality would you like to manifest and embrace this week? Love, truth, hope, beauty, or ______?

These two matching mobiles are heading to a grand hacienda in Hermosillo in Sonora, Mexico, where they’ll spin above a 17-foot-long wooden dining room table that looks out to a courtyard guarded by an ageless fountain, bubbling. I can only imagine the tales that will be told under them as they catch the desert breeze.

 

Pema, Kamala, Bathtubs, and the Full Moon | A Modern Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Moon’s Moon (45” x 30”)

On hope
“She told me I am the sky,” said fox. “And that everything else is just weather. Is she right?”
Crow smiled, thinking for a moment, “You are this, my dear, and much more, much more.”

Thoughts while making
It was a smallish window. Roughly rectangular. Maybe a foot wide by 3 feet tall.

Awkwardly placed, it sat above the old iron clawfoot bathtub in my Oakland apartment.

From where I lay in that tub, I could barely see a slice of sky, framed out by stained red brick and edged by the rusted steps of a fire escape wedged between the narrow walls of my building + the next.

I love taking baths, but this is the only tub I’ve hung out in fully clothed and without water.

On cold fall nights such as these, I’d bring a blanket in there, bundle up, lights off, candles casting shadows, to listen, to watch, to learn.

To this day, I’m convinced that that window, an odd-shaped, ill-placed window that never fully closed, sash and casing misaligned over the years, was magic.

Dirty and broken, it invited the world to work its way through the cracks, as wind, as laughter, as the smell of dinners being cooked, as the soft call of birds, as passersby on the street below, as dreams drifted, as friend, as comfort, and as hopes found.

I would lay there for hours and – when I timed it just right – I could see the moon, sometimes even a star or two. It would always make me smile, the room aglow in creams and soft whites.

As Pema Chödrön says, “You are the sky. Everything else, it’s just the weather.” And she is right.

We’ve weathered much over these past years. And yet, your magic still lives, under the moon, between the buildings, through the cracks. It is there within you. My friends, you are the sky, and I am glad you’re here to light the way.

What is one hope you have as we walk into the light of a new day?

Hope, Bird Chatter, and Standing on the Edge | The Classic Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Classic in Linda’s Sunset, Vermilion, and Pigeon Blue

On hope
“No,” explained bear, “hope isn’t just a dream. It’s how you make your dreams come true.”

Thoughts while making
today, I will,
with heart and determination,
with soul and passion,
I will.

today, I will,
to the best of my ability,
no matter what comes,
I will.

today, I will,
because I can,
I’m fortunate to,
and that’s why I will.

The sound of rain on magnolia leaves, ash trees turning yellow, Buddy curled up into a tighter curl than his summer sprawl. Fall is definitely here.

I can hear the birds chirping from one tree to the next about it.

“Headed south?”

“Got enough makings for your nest?”

“Anything I can do to help?”

They know it’s a time to reflect, regroup, and plan.

A time to hope, to work, and to imagine.

Okay, maybe they don’t know all that stuff, but I’d like to think they do.

And, as we stand on the edge, hopes tied to blue, a changing of the seasons, it’s time for the real work to begin.

Take heart, breathe deeply, then roll up your sleeves. Because we’ve got a job to do before spring is sprung and hope sprouts again as truth.

What’s one daily comfort you take or ritual you make as we move deeper into fall? For me, it’s afternoon tea and incense on gray mornings.

Signs, Billboards, and Bold Moves | Pride Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile:
Pride, headed to Minneapolis

On signs
“I keep asking for a sign,” said fox, “but the universe remains quiet.”
“When you’re ready,” replied crow, “when you’re ready.”

Thoughts while making
Funny thing about signs: Even when they seem ridiculously clear – telling you EXACTLY what you must do – they can still be downright confusing, can’t they?

Place and time, willingness and ability.

These things matter.

In fact, they appear to make all the difference - determining how we see and interpret pretty much everything.

A little over 5 years ago, I saw a billboard as such a sign. It was inspiration *and* confirmation. It was up on Sandy Boulevard near NE 55th.

At the time, I was visiting from Bend and my world felt upside down. My head and heart confused. Wrestling with whether I should stay or move. And there it was.

It read “A SINGLE BOLD MOVE CAN CHANGE EVERYTHING.”

(And, yes, it *was* in all caps).

Talk about thumping me over the head. It was an ad for a local community college with some cheesy hipster getting his pose on.

Yet for me, it was an invitation.

Why?

Because life had brought me to a place where I was ready to see it.

To hear it.

And to act upon it.

As a result, my world transformed.

What signs are showing up in your world of late? Are you ready to look for and act upon those that conspire in your favor, inspire you to more, and require you to embrace the invitation?

Henry, Fall Leaves, and Radical Acceptance | The Wham Modern Mobile & My Conversation with Thoreau

Mobile: The Wham with Green (40” W x 22” T)

On acceptance
“But if I let go,” asked leaf, “won’t I fall?”
“It depends,” replied tree, “what you call falling, others call flying.”


Thoughts while making
I saw the dance of shadow and light first, an orgy of flame licking sky.

Then smoke. Walnut, cedar, hickory, and pine kissing a cold fall night.

The lantern hung above the cabin door lit the final feet of trail. And there he was, stirring the fire, embers sparking, his signature beard just as I’d imagined.

He nodded to a log, inviting me to sit, and before I could speak, he began:

“October is the month of painted leaves,” he said softly. “Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October is its sunset sky.”

Shuffling his feet, he continued,
“It is pleasant to walk over the beds
of these fresh, crisp, and rustling leaves.

How beautifully they go to their graves! How gently lay themselves down and turn to mould!”

His name was Henry. Ken had told me about him, about his Maine Woods.

“They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return to dust again, and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die.”

“Or,” I asked, “Do they teach us how to live?’

Henry smiled, pausing long enough for me to realize these were but the same, smoke connecting earth and star.

Leaning in closer, he explained in a near whisper, “All this you surely will see, and much more, if you are prepared to see it,—if you look for it....”

“Objects are concealed from our view, not so much because they are out of the course of our visual ray as because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them; for there is no power to see in the eye itself, any more than in any other jelly.”

Looking at me now, he shared, “There is just as much beauty
visible to us as we are prepared to appreciate—not a grain more.”

What beauty do you wish to open your eyes to this fall?

Quotes from Henry David Thoreau and his essay “Autumnal Tints, The Atlantic)

Mathing, Sanskrit, and the Alcohol-Free Experiment | Pinwheel Midcentury Modern Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobiles:
Pinwheel, Evergreen


On math
“Is it possible to be left with more after you subtract?” crow asked.
“Of course,” replied fox. “It all depends on what you remove.”

Thoughts while making
As a kid, zero confused me. I didn’t understand how nothing could add up to something and more nothings could add up to much more somethings.

Add a zero to a 1 and it becomes 10 more than nothing. Add two zeros and it becomes 100 times more.

Mathing has never been my strong suit. I took Math for Liberal Arts Students in college. We drew a lot of pictures. And used our words more than calculators.

1001 days ago, I decided to try to understand zero differently. The experiment: what would happen if I subtracted alcohol from my equation? I was curious whether the subtraction would add up to something more.

One of the first words I learned while studying Sanskrit at Berkeley years ago was Śūnyatā. It’s commonly translated as zero. Butandalso as nothing, empty, or void.

Fascinating thing about Sanskrit is that if you add an “a” to any word it becomes its opposite. Sort of. For example, if you add an “a” (aśūnyatā), nothing not only becomes non-emptiness, but completion.

In the thousand days since, I’ve come to realize the same is true in my experiment. But instead of adding an “a” to the zero, I added a “me” and learned that *I* am – as you are – the common denominator of any equation that matters. And that no matter how many zeros you add or take away, you are always enough exactly as you are.

What’s one thing you’d like to see multiplied in yourself or zeroed out in the world right now?

TV Dinners, Compartments, and Cranberry Cake | Red Rover Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Red Rover, headed to St. Petersburg 

On dessert
“You don’t have to add sugar?” asked bear.
“Not with this kind of treat,” replied rabbit, as she hugged him even tighter.

Thoughts while making
Apple cobbler with corn kernels. Brownies with mashed potatoes. Cranberry cake with peas. All the joys of the classic 1970’s TV dinner. In 1953, Swanson and Sons sold 5,000 of them. A year later, 10 million.

Ushering in the space age, the TV dinner was a rare – but welcome – treat in the Leary household growing up.

Those aluminum trays. A pocket of brightly-colored, same-sized vegetables. A pocket of meat. And that holy of all holies: a pocket of dessert.

But that was the funny thing about those TV dinners, wasn’t it? The food was all separated into compartments, but they almost always spilled over: tan-brown gravy on your brownie or perfectly-square carrot nuggets in your cobbler or peach slices all up in your meaty bits. And it was all part of the experience.

It’s like life. Hard, perhaps impossible, to compartmentalize; to keep one thing from spilling into the next. And yet we try, don’t we? Now more than ever. Even at a time when much of our aluminum wherewithal has been crumpled by the year.

We commit to our compartments. To keep out. To keep in. Lost in our own bias of what is and is not supposed to be, of what is right and what is wrong.

I wonder what lesson a TV dinner could teach us? Where the compartments seem so well defined and rigid, yet where we welcome the mixing and combining of this and that, recognizing that together they form a greater whole, one that feeds and nourishes.

What was your favorite frozen dinner from childhood?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

On Perspective, Ashes, and Stealing Stars | Rainbow Bubblicious Modern Mobile by Mark Leary

 

Mobile: Rainbow Bubblicious

On perspective
“Is a rainbow really just light and water?” asked bear.
“And magic,” replied fox. “Always magic.”

Thoughts while making
They say she stole them. Picked them right out of a September sky. Tucking stars like secrets under her pillow.

They say she hid them. Locked in a metal box, stashing smoke + fire like memories beneath her bed.

They say, but I knew better. Because I was there when thunder split her heart open, tears like raindrops puddling at her feet. I was there when the last ounce of hope drained, leaving her hollow of reason or of why.

And yet, she persisted, rising to remember that one thing. Slipping rainbows into her pockets, fireflies in her coat. Catching lightning between fingers, meteors like change jingling in a cluttered purse.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, they say. But she always knew there was something more.

“I am of stardust, as are my mothers and my mothers’ mothers. Of matter, dark and deep, am I. A billion suns blazing, a gravity beyond my control.”

“I am the moon, and the sky. I am the sun, and the earth. And this is why I will always rise. I will always rise.”

And she did. She always does. Just as you always will. To meet the new day. Again and again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’re made of lately, literally and figuratively. Other than the basics of oxygen and carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and calcium, and phosphorus, what’s one element you’d like add to your humanity? Mine is more awe, in every cell.