Last night we left our comfy pocket of country life and headed up to check out the last night of the Portland Winter Light Festival. This is an annual event where light artists present installations and personal performances on both sides of the Willamette River for the public to enjoy for free. The event is a family affair intentionally designed to take place when everyone is weary of the dark, rainy days and long nights of winter that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
You may walk across one of the bridges to see it all or take a boat that leaves on the half-hour. Another option is to dress up in your best-illuminated paraphernalia and participate in the Light Parade that walks from one side of the festival to the other.
There was not enough time for us to experience more than the west side. (Darn- I really wanted to see the neon Hoola hoopers) From what we saw, the fire dancer performance was the most impressive. Though I admired the installations, by far the most enjoyable part for us was seeing the children’s delight as they interacted with the light exhibits. Then, of course, was the “Keep Portland Wierd” factor. We spied a plethora of illuminated strollers, dogs, and individuals creatively lit up with all manner of LED bulbs. There was an awesome jellyfish gal that got away from me before I could take a picture…
If you happen to be in Portland in early February stop into the Winter Light Festival – a truly unique experience.
I just spent the last few days on an explore of Austin, Texas with family. Having never been there before I was curious about the culture of the city having heard it mimics Portland, Oregon, the area where I reside. Both cities sport “Keep Portland Weird” and Keep Austin Wierd” slogans. I think Portland gets the credit on that one. In the short time I was there I would say that Austin was like Portland with more torn edges and a cowboy overlay. Substitute evergreen trees for oaks. Portland is artsy but Austin exudes art to the extreme. Street art is everywhere from graffiti to spectacular murals.
The city library did not dissapoint with its edgy architecture, art installations and its current art exhibit “Testament Project” by Kris Graves.
Green space is in abundance as well. We had a chance to stop by Barton Springs, a popular swimming spot and the Zilker Botanical Garden. So many things to see, too little time. I will have to go back.
“It’s a FOMO thing”, my new 22-year-old teaching teammate responded. I had noticed her phone on top of the copy machine as she was running copies for the day and I asked why she had it always within arm’s reach. “FOMO?” I asked. Close to retirement, I was not literate to millennial buzz words. “Fear of missing out.” She responded, not missing a beat. I remembered that feeling in high school and college but now it meant in a social media sense as well. The whole posting, sharing, liking, commenting, and texting thing was sort of passing me by.
Since that time I have become a smartphone user. For a while, I dipped my big toe in the world of Instagram and Facebook and I text when needed. As an artist, the word is “document, share, share, share, like, like, like”. But being a person easily distracted and easily overstimulated I backed off the social media thing. As a maker who does not have to make a living from my art, now I keep it to a bare minimum. I am not ”branded” so to speak. The trade-off is enjoying being in the moment.
The FOMO thing came back to me in another incarnation two weeks ago when I was at Craiceann, the weeklong bodhran camp I attended in Ireland (see my previous post). After a full day of classes and activities, I was pretty wiped-out. Being an introvert and in my 60s, I need a lot of recharge time and a good night’s sleep. I knew if I went out to catch the great music at the pubs that started at 9 PM and join in I would be a mess for my classes the next morning. It was difficult knowing what fun I was missing out on, especially hearing about it the next day from my new friends. I decided to compromise, making a deal with myself to go out the last evening for some late night fun.
Herein lies the concept of “JOMO,” the joy of missing out (this word was coined some years after FOMO). When we are so involved with FOMO & social connections we miss out on ourselves. We have no time to reflect, breath, savor, & notice. Those nights I stayed in were so lovely. I wrote in my journal, read, took dreamy walks at sunset and went to bed at a decent hour. I have no regrets. The last night I did go out and had great fun out playing in a pub. I rolled into bed at 3 AM exhausted. That was a great memory too but I suffered for it during my two days of travel time back to Oregon and had horrible jet lag after.
I’m glad I respected myself with a JOMO mindset during my holiday, not missing out on my own well-being (with that one exception). Sometimes missing out can offer the greatest gifts.
You missed out on all the music
Yes, but did you see the patterns of clouds dancing overhead?
You missed out on all the fun
Yes, but did you see the swallows dart about in the evening sky?
The spotted horse grazing peacefully in the paddock?
Two years ago when I purchased a bodhran (an Irish drum pronounced “baren”) during
travels in Ireland, I was also told about Craiceann (pronounced “Cracken”) an annual summer camp for bodhran and aspiring bodhran players on Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. It sounded like an experience not to be missed. I swore to myself that in two years I would return as a participant. I did just that last week with a much better bodhran in my possession and enough online experience to qualify myself as an advanced beginner.
I arrived via ferry to join about 90 other souls coming together to celebrate this instrument which provides the percussion part of much of Irish music. The bodhran is a rapidly evolving instrument that began as a goatskin over a wood frame, beaten with the hand. Now it’s evolved to a more sophisticated, tuneable drum that is played with a tipper, or beater made from wood or bamboo. Currently, it is finding its way out of Irish traditional music into other genres. The better players perform solo as well as part with of a band.
Ireland is a land full of soul, spirit, rich history and culture. All of that comes out in its lively music often with some sort of combination of fiddle, guitar, mandolin, concertina, accordion, penny whistle, bodhran, singing and sometimes more. I wanted to play bodhran simply to be able to be involved in Irish music sessions, which are informal gatherings of musicians playing Irish music- usually in a pub. As I am not skilled enough on guitar I thought this percussive instrument would be a relatively quick avenue in. Well, yes and no. As with any simple looking thing, there is a myriad of complexities to be mastered not to be seen at first glance.
The week far exceeded my expectations. There were three-hour classes a day taught by some of the finest players in the world, plus special lectures and performances. I met students from all over the world including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and all over the US. Quite surprisingly there were a fair number of older women as myself coming solo. It was an easy place to make new friends. At night if you had the energy the three pubs on the island were full of musicians playing traditional Irish music and you were welcome to drum along. In Ireland music is not just a spectator sport. I saved my energy for the last night and rolled into bed at 3 AM exhausted and bleary-eyed for the last day of classes (as with everyone else).
The island of Inis Oirr was a delight in itself. It is only 4 miles in circumference and has about 200 permanent residents. Irish is the first language of many of the residents. Like the other two Aran Islands, it is made of limestone and is divided by a web of limestone “fences” that serve both as enclosures for livestock as well as places to deposit rocks when fields are being cleared. The weather was fine and sunny during the week giving the opportunity to take many scenic walks and explore ruins from pre-Christian to early Christian times. The wildflowers were blooming, some being only native to the islands like the pyramid Orchid. There was a lovely swimming beach and on the last morning, despite my late night, I went for a swim in the chilly, turquoise water of the North Atlantic – a spiritual end to my stay.
On my return, I am trying to digest the huge volume of information picked up from over 15 hours worth of lessons and presentations. This Tuesday night I will return to the Irish session I’ve attended at a local pub hopefully a better bodhran player. I will never be a great player but that’s not my intention. Learning and playing music with others is the goal. I traveled thousands of miles to become more proficient but also to be with people of like mind who appreciate this instrument and Irish music. It was magical.
Now being a part of the music at home and keeping the beat is enough for me.
P.S. To see videos of Craiceann performances go here
The town of Astoria, Oregon is located where the mighty Columbia River meets the sea. Lewis and Clark ended their famous journey near there and it has been for many decades since a center of trade and a fishing town. Today huge freighters from China and Japan navigate up the river to ports in Oregon and Washington. In recent years it has also become a haven for artists of all types, microbreweries, good eating, and great coffee.
On our recent three day prime number anniversary trip (19 years is a way more interesting number than 20), my husband and I celebrated right ON the river at the Cannery Pier Hotel, built on the site of an old salmon cannery when the fishery was in its heyday. Rather than do the usual touristy things like the museums and historical points, we were happy to sit and watch the boats go by our room,
watch the sea birds, walk or ride a cruiser bike (provided by the hotel) along the Astoria Riverwalk, a 6-mile path which was formerly an old railroad bed and explore some of the quirky shops in town.
A highlight was Vintage Hardware. I love old junk and was very happy exploring the many nooks and crannies of this shop.
I-phone out, I am always looking for interesting patterns to document….
Then don’t forget the great beer and the Buoy Brewery where you can get your favorite brew canned on the spot and watch sea lions through a plexiglass floor.
If you ever get to Oregon or live here as I do, don’t miss Astoria. It’s a gem.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
Don’t refuse to go on an occasional wild goose chase; that’s what wild geese are for. –Henry S. Haskins
I became a risk taker in late in my late teens. A depression had settled over me and thoughts of suicide sometimes crossed my mind. Then it occurred to me that rather than do something so unimaginative like throwing myself off a bridge, I might as well live my life with abandon if I was that disposable.
My inner compass did not consider this as a license to make stupid choices like getting addicted to drugs or criminal behavior. Rather I decided to take risks and see what life could offer me in the realm of adventure. My first step was to extract myself from my miserable high school experience. I graduated from high school early and started attending my local community college- a total liberating experience.
Travel… many write about their journeys to far flung places but what about the return? How does one re-enter gracefully after days from home and hours in transit? Last night I returned from a week in Alaska on the heels of a three-week trip to Ireland and tried to get my bearings.
When I opened the door
It was like revisiting a book I had set aside
Trying to remember the plot and the main character,
Myself, and my part in the story
Piles of unopened mail, weeds in the garden
A routine obscured by recent memories
How do I continue in my role?
Do I rewrite my destiny or carry on as it was written?
I lay down on the couch exhausted,
Wrapping my arms around the soft, safe fur of my dog
I traveled to the small village of Ballycastle, Ireland in early June to take a week-long printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation. The instructor, Ron Pokrasso is from Santa Fe, New Mexico. It would have been a cheaper option to take the class in “Beyond Monotype” at his home studio but I have been to Santa Fe numerous times and was looking forward to exploring new territory. Since I love Irish music & culture and loathe hot weather, Ireland seemed like an ideal location.
Travel for the sake of travel is not my thing (see my post “The Reluctant Traveler”). Wandering around looking at tourist attractions is tedious for me. If I have no other purpose to be there other than being just an observer, I am bored. Give me a sense of purpose and I am engaged. In the past, Spanish language immersions with homestays gave me the opportunity to experience Mexico & Central America on an intimate level.
Then about eight years ago, I realized if I was going to get serious about my art without domestic distractions, I was going to travel away from home and immerse myself in creativity for a good week. I was fortunate to discover Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico where I have returned most summers to get a creative & spiritual boost. Even though I plan to return there in the future, I am widening my options now to other locations.
It’s been my experience that when I travel with a purpose, not only do I learn more skills, I develop deeper social & cultural connections. There are so many options to chose from in this regard. During this trip, we ran into an enthusiastic group traveling with a knitting and spinning focus. There are trips and classes that are focused on gardening, photography, history, you name it. Next year I hope to go to an Irish music camp in North Carolina.
If you are a reluctant traveler, as I am, or an experienced traveler, consider traveling to creativity in the future. It will definitely add new dimensions to your skill set and give your travel more depth.