Creative People Say No

The following piece, from, written by Kevin Ashton is relevant to me as I work on creative projects. Time management is the hardest thing for me, right now, as I do my creative work. I have lot's of good ideas and work I want to do. Being a mom, working part-time out of the house and all the projects on the homestead take up most the time.

I struggle with saying no or yes to social commitments, community events, volunteering for this, that or the other thing. What is a creative person to do with big dreams and a few projects she'd like to accomplish on her plate?

I can just say....

Creative People Say No

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.”

Management writer Peter Drucker: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours — productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

Secretary to novelist Saul Bellow: “Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’”

Photographer Richard Avedon: “Sorry — too little time left.”

Secretary to composer George Ligeti: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the Fall.”

The professor contacted 275 creative people. A third of them said “no.” Their reason was lack of time. A third said nothing. We can assume their reason for not even saying “no” was also lack of time and possibly lack of a secretary.

Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.

Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.

People who create know this. They know the world is all strangers with candy. They know how to say “no” and they know how to suffer the consequences. Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”

“No” makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But “no” is the button that keeps us on.

A Call from the Ancestors: Picking up the threads

Hungarian Embroidery at Budapest's Folk Art Festival, August 2011
I'd like to write about threads, metaphorical threads, threads that one can pick up and follow. The threads individually come together and become part of a bigger pattern, a bigger piece. With these threads an embroidery piece is being sewn that tells a story.

I have been following personal threads of identity, authenticity, passion, connection and resonance. Sometimes I happen to find threads to follow. Other times I go searching for a colorful thread. I find it particularly magical when a thread finds me.  Another strand is sewn into my story, the work I am doing, the studies that I am pursuing and the life I am creating. This is a very personal journey and at the same time the embroidery involves bigger pieces of history, story and culture. It is the fabric of lives.

I found this quote about threads in a tapestry from a poem which describes my sentiments exactly:

"Every intention, interaction, motivation, every colour, every body, every action and reaction, every piece of physical reality and the thoughts that it engendered, every connection made, every nuanced moment of history and potentiality, every toothache and flagstone, every emotion and birth and banknote, every possible thing ever is woven into that limitless, sprawling web.

"It is without beginning or end. It is complex to a degree that humbles the mind. It is a work of such beauty that my soul wept...

"...I have danced with the spider. I have cut a caper with the dancing mad god.”
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station 

There was a time, in 2010 and 2011, when I worked with a mentor, Valerianna, who is an artist and friend at RavenWood Forest Studio of Mythic and Environmental Arts. I was looking to connect on a deeper level with my art practice. I needed perspective, a sounding board, someone I could talk with who understood what I was wrestling with. Questions about authenticity and identity in my art practice loomed large. The desire to create something meaningful and beautiful has been a driving force in my life. Creativity needs an outlet. A dialogue of meaning about authenticity, identity  and beauty is an important conversation that happens in my head as I begin new work. I think about these things and feel them out in order to bring forth something into the physical world. 


For a while, months and months, things were muddy, murky and not at all clear as I worked with my mentor, sketched and wrote in my journal. I was wondering if I was really making any progress? When will my vision for my arts practice become clearer? Will I ever be more confident in understanding the motivation for my creative work? Out of no where all of that changed.

Bobbie Sumberg's book, "Textiles", full of beautiful, intricate and colorful threaded embroidery was the catalyst pointing me towards the path I am on.  It stopped me in my tracks while perusing the shelves at the library in the winter of 2011. The book is full of textiles from all around the world. It contains photographs of some beautiful examples of Hungarian folk embroidery. As I briefly flipped through the photographs the Hungarian designs, colors and patterns struck me to the core. I knew I had to pay attention to this feeling so I took the book home with me.

The next morning I turned on the local college radio station. I began to look more closely at the intricate Hungarian embroidery work in the book. Unbeknownst to me, a polka show was on at that time. This got my attention. In between upbeat polkas, advertisements for local Polish businesses were played. I live in an area, the Pioneer Valley, with a large Polish-American population. After some time listening to the polka show and looking at the book I thought I'd look up Hungarian and Polish arts in western Massachusetts on Google. Low and behold a Polish art class was to begin at the Springfield Museum the next month. I signed up for it.

These seemingly small events lined up at about the same time and got my attention. The messages  coming to me were closely related to my heritage: the blood flowing through my veins. The hours spent alone in thought that winter morning, enjoying a book and listening to the radio woke me up. My Hungarian and Polish ancestors seemed to be gently shaking me, waking me up to what is there, what is here and what is in me. I was surrounded by eastern European stimulation that was sure to get my attention. Within 24 hours I awoke to a path. The path appears through a deeper connection with my heritage. The minor threads began an important journey that grow in different directions. I need to look forward, backward and be in the moment.

Lives are weaving together. My life with my ancestors, my living relatives, new friends and mentors. Threads of inspiration, love and longing drive me to read books, ask questions, look at images, learn the Polish language, create new art work, designs, paintings, paper-cuts and keep in touch with my relatives and the friends I met while traveling in Poland and Hungary. Stories and history are there to learn from and help me gain understanding. Places beckon me to return.

Perhaps, I've simply become aware of my place within a complex embroidery that has existed all along. The colorful threads continue to manifest, come together and take shape, weaving something I can recognize and see with some perspective. And yet a lot of work remains to be done. At times this is a wide and deep mystery. I'm left asking why.

I've always been attracted to strong colors and bold, graphic design, especially designs that connect with the natural world. For a while southwest and Mexican arts were a big inspiration to me but something was missing, a very personal connection.  I felt like a tourist. I didn't feel complete and my work didn't feel grounded. I needed to connect with something deeper.  Who am I? Why am I attracted to certain sounds, colors and patterns so strongly that I truly become awestruck? Why, musically, have I always been inspired by gypsy and eastern European music, violins, accordions, minor keys, edgy harmonies, singing and sounds of longing that pull on your heart strings? After looking deeply at the Hungarian embroidery in the textile book I realized what is going on. Aha!

The garments, like the man's mantle pictured below, wedding dress, bodices, hair pieces and many more items were sewn with such care, such love and such attention to detail. Flowers bloom in vibrant colors, patterns form a kind of rhythm of elements in the dress. The costumes exhibit such pride and joy for one's culture, one's life and one's connection with nature and the traditions of their region. The skill was passed on woman to woman, mother to daughter, grandmother to grand-daughter, generation to generation. These people lived such busy lives growing food and gardens, growing materials for their homespun linen cloth, making and mending clothing, doing household and farm chores, preserving food and the list of the hard work goes on. All this work was done everyday without the modern conveniences we have today. And it was still important to the women to spend time and attention doing intricately sewn handwork to make their lives reflect even more beauty. I so admire the skill and hard work that went into many traditional practices. I like the do-it-yourself resourcefulness that was a necessity in the past. I know I long to connect more to that kind of resourcefulness and I don't think I am alone. I believe my life is infused with more meaning when I can enjoy creating some of the things I use and need. The beautiful Hungarian and Polish embroidery I love to look at, the pieces my ancestors must have made and my drawer filled with doilies that my grandmother and great-grandmother made inspire me and reminds me of this.

My ancestors have been calling out to me. I've been looking for my own personal story, my history and the story of my ancestors. All along I wanted to deeply connect with my ancestor's traditions, lands, sounds, smells, foods, colors, plants, designs relating to the natural world. The Hungarian embroidery work woke me up to this reality. This is my quest. All along I was attracted to certain styles, music and aesthetic in relation to my personal heritage, my Eastern European roots. This led me to realize a vision, an adventure and a shift in my creative work.  I decided to take a trip of a lifetime to connect with my family and the land and villages in Poland and Hungary. All this has brought me much curiosity, depth and meaning to my creative practice and work. My experience continues to sustain and feed me.  I've created a line of gouache paintings and paper-cut designs which are available as blank greeting cards and archival prints. The graphic, bold designs and bright colors used in my work and inspired by eastern European folk embroidery feel right aesthetically and appeal to me. They are a wink and a nod to the beautiful embroidery designs that I find so lovely. So many more ideas and images swim around my head, waiting for when I have chunks of uninterrupted time in my studio and at my easel to explore, paint and cut paper. This is the rabbit hole I fell down two years ago and now there is no turning back. The journey is deep and vast. The more connections I make the more I want to know. One lifetime doesn't seem long enough to get to the bottom of my desire for understanding.

Hungarian Embroidery, Budapest's Folk Art Festival, 2011

A Call from the Ancestors: Roots, Family, the Land

My family's cottage in Korczyna, Poland

I'm working on a series of writings I am calling, A CALL FROM THE ANCESTORS.
With it I'll be addressing why I am inspired by the folk and peasant arts and traditions of Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Hungary. Why am I pulled to learn and experience more in relationship to my roots? Why does a place and a way of life inspire me so?

The following words came in a brainstorm as I think about this and begin writing.

- resonance
- longing
- roots
- family
- the land
- identity
- authenticity
- passion
- connection

RESONANCE: richness or significance especially in evoking an association or strong emotion

You know that feeling when something strikes you deep to the core? A feeling of recognition, attraction, intuition and knowing? There are moments in life when I've recognized this feeling.  I know when it happens and it is important for me to stop and pay attention. I do not know how this works exactly but I do have my thoughts on why it happens. Sometimes things add up and line up. Clear signs point you in a certain direction. I believe my ancestors have a hand in this, like they are beckoning to me, calling to me and I am following their lead.

LONGING: a yearning desire

My ancestor's blood runs through my veins. In my body there is genetic and a kind of energetic memory linking me back to the places where my people lived, loved, toiled and died. I am learning, teaching myself about the places and ways because so much was lost to me when my family became "American". It's a very common phenomenon isn't it? Immigrants come to the new world and and settle into new ways. They melt into the melting pot in order to work, raise families - survive. Yet our roots are left raw and exposed.  Some families work hard to stay connected to the old country, the heartland. And some families slowly assimilate to become more American. I long for a deeper connection with and understanding of the old ways.

My grandmother Stella left Poland for America in her early teens. She wrote letters to her family in Poland and even went back for a visit in the mid-80s. She spoke Polish but did not teach it to her children or grandchildren. She was always making and sharing Polish foods with the family: pierogi, golumbki, kielbasa, poppyseed roll. She tended her small garden and loved watching the flowers bloom.
My grandmom, Stella
My Hungarian great-grandfather George and my great-grandmom Angel were connected to their family in Hungary. George was born in America but went back to his ancestor's village to find his wife, Elizabeth. Much later he returned to visit his family a year or two before his death. When George and Elizabeth passed on there was no longer a strong connection between the families across the land and ocean.

No one is to blame. Times and circumstances change. I'm sure the politics of the time, WWII and then the cold war between capitalist America and communist Poland and Hungary, did not help to keep the ties strong for the next generations. However, one needs a place to grow, a place to settle and go deep, a place of understanding and connection with what came before. One needs to feel a connection with community, family, traditions, history, stories of their place and of their ancestors.

The writer, Wendell Berry writes about being a placed person. Perhaps the following words I found by Wallace Stegner can partly explain this feeling of longing I have. (This excerpt is taken from "The Sense of Place" by Wallace Stegner. Copyright 1992 by Wallace Stegner.)

"If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know who you are. Berry is a writer, one of our best, who after some circling has settled on the bank of the Kentucky River, where he grew up and where his family has lived for many generations. He conducts his literary explorations inward, toward the core of what supports him physically and spiritually. He belongs to an honorable tradition, one that even in America includes some great names: Thoreau, Burroughs, Frost, Faulkner, Steinbeck – lovers of known earth, known weathers, and known neighbors both human and nonhuman. He calls himself a “placed” person."

"... if every American is several people, and one of them is or would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward but outward. Adventurous, restless, seeking, asocial or antisocial, the displaced American persists by the million long after the frontier has vanished. He exists to some extent in all of us, the inevitable by-product of our history: the New World transient. "

"Back to Wendell Berry, and his belief that if you don’t know where you are you don’t know who you are. He is not talking about the kind of location that can be determined by looking at a map or a street sign. He is talking about the kind of knowing that involves the senses, the memory, the history of a family or a tribe. He is talking about the knowledge of place that comes from working in it in all weathers, making a living from it, suffering from its catastrophes, loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons, valuing it for the profound investment of labor and feeling that you, your parents and grandparents, your all-but-unknown ancestors have put into it. He is talking about the knowing that poets specialize in."

I long for this knowing and by following a path of longing and resonance I have begun to make connections to a deeper understanding of who I am and where I come from. My ancestors call to me on this journey. The quest simultaneously connects me to the heartlands of Poland and Hungary and roots me to my home in the hills of New England. As I move ahead and dig deep many things appear, unfold, resonate and become recognized. Connections are made. A path continues to unfold with every step I take.

My father's ancestors were Polish and Hungarian people of the land. They were from the small villages of Korczyna, Poland and Harskut Hungary. My great-grandfather Jan was born in the thatched roof, white washed cottage in Korczyna, Poland pictured above. My great-great grandmother and Cocia, Aniela and Aniela, are photographed wearing kierchiefs and aprons on their land in Korczyna.

My great-great grandmother Aniela surrounded by her daughters, my great grandmother and aunts in Poland
Ciocia Aniela, Korczyna, Poland
My dad can remembers his Babci Helena's gardens in Philadelphia, where she and Jan landed with their children, one of them being my grandmom Stella, after emigrating to America in the 1930s from Poland. Jan knew that true wealth was having land. So when he bought his small row home he bought the undeveloped lot next door. This lot became their orchard and garden. My dad helped with the garden chores and fondly remembers his grandmother's raspberry jam.

My great-grandfather Jan
My dad with Grandmom Angel Repas and Babci Helena
My dad went on to college then the Air Force to become an airline pilot. His work was in the sky. My parents are not avid gardeners. Some pretty flower beds are tended to and the lawn is always mowed. We did not raise or preserve our own food. The pulse of my heart moved me to pursue learning about and practicing gardening for the sake of beauty and food. I woke up to this fact in my early 20's after university when I spent a couple years working on a large fruit orchard in Solebury, PA. The desire to connect to the land and work it is running strong in my blood.

I used to wonder about my obsession with gardening? Where did it come from? One of the most satisfying things to me is working in the dirt with the plants, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. A quiet day spent alone outside with the sounds of the wind and songbirds as my company is heaven. The making of beds, planting of seeds and removal of weeds marks the time passing. My feet connect to the earth, I breathe fresh air, feel the warm sun or the cool mists. While sitting in on a sociology class in Poland the professor lectured that peasants love the land more than anything. They have a very strong sense of territory. How can we not love that which sustains us? The peasants were completely and utterly tied to working the land and the land itself. Their work, traditions, symbols, stories, rituals, costume reflect this in a profound way. They were not separate. Life was not easy. There is a fundamental truth to living in balance with the seasons, the crops, the weather, the dirt.

Nowadays so much can get in the way of this truth. I like how the Polish author Wieslaw Mysliwski writes about our fundamental tie to the land in his book, "Stone Upon Stone":

"When death is staring you in the face even a college graduate becomes a person again, so does an engineer. At those times everything falls off life like leaves dropping from a tree in the fall, and you're left like a bare trunk.  At those times you're not drawn to the outside world but back to the land where you were born and grew up, because that's your only place on this earth. In that land, even a tomb is like a home for you."

Certain places resonate strongly with an individual. Do we remember things on a cellular level? Are ties and memories passed on from generation to generation through blood, DNA, spirit?  It's interesting to me that there is such a similarity in climate and landscape between Korczyna, Poland and Harskut, Hungary, the rural landscape around the Philadelphia area and even in Cummington, MA where I make my home. Rolling hills, green hay fields, wooded forests, distinct seasonal changes. I feel so at home in these places. They are familiar.

Outside of Harskut, Hungary

Village home and land in Harskut, Hungary

On the road between Krakow and Korczyna, Poland
Korczyna, Poland
I fell in love with the landscape around Krakow, Korczyna, and Harskut. The orchards there were full of plums, apples, cherries, walnuts, peaches, pears, elderberry. Most homes seemed to have a large garden with cabbage, potatoes, dill, currants, raspberries, blueberries, carrots, beets. At long last I met family and connected with them in such a meaningful way. They were wonderful hosts, so caring and hospitable, and happy to share with me their lives and lifestyles. My cousins Anna and Karol had their own large gardens at their homes in and outside of Korczyna.  They proudly showed me their garden plots and fed us the goodies growing there.

Anna in her garden harvesting potatoes for dinner

Karol with his garden outside of his parish house
Times have changed for my relatives in Poland and Hungary yet I can still see how their deep ties to the land manifest. Cousin Paulina gave me honey from her mother's hives. Her grandfather Roman shared homemade fruit wine with me in his home during an afternoon visit. In Hungary, my cousin Anci and her husband Laszlo have a large parcel of land a short drive from their home in another village near Harskut. Their parcel is full of wine grapes and fruit trees. Hungary is wine country. We spent a memorable evening on this land under a grape arbor with Laszlo playing the accordian and all of us singing and sharing songs. Tears were shed that night. The moment was so meaningful.

Me, Laszlo and Bencsi under the grape arbor

Hungarian wine grapes

Laszlo's vineyard and orchard
Roots, family and the land take on a deeply meaningful role. There is nothing like sitting around with one's family on a beautiful day, outdoors, enjoying company and literally the fruits of big gardens and hard work. Since connecting with my living family overseas and the land of Poland and Hungary, I begin to understand my family and myself more. My questions about who I am and where I come from are slowly answered. Still, I have so many questions and such yearning for further connection. This longing pushes me ahead and my ancestors pull me forward on a journey. I'm taking steps on a path where resonance unlocks the answers to many a mystery. 

I will explore these themes more in future posts where I'll write about identity, authenticity, passion and connection and how these ideas play out in my art practice on A Call from the Ancestors.

My Grandmom with my Grandmom Angel holding me as a baby in her arms

Thoughts on "Folk Art" in the 21st Century

While in Krakow, I had the opportunity to have coffee a couple of times with a woman named Ewelina who works in the EthnoDesign department which is a part of The Ethnographic Museum.  The EthnoDesign Festival in Krakow is building bridges and making connections between the old peasant, ethnographic images, traditions especially from the Malopolska region (lower Poland) and current designs made by artists and designers who are working now, in the 21st century. The festival encourages dialogue and thoughts that provoke us to look at the past, to look at our interconnections, to look at the transference of images, story, traditions, does the past become the present? How are past design elements being threaded into our culture today? Truly this has been happening and is happening all of the time in all cultures. And, as you can imagine this is very exciting to me as I have begun to thread these inspirations into my new work. I think the festival that this department organizes and what this department is doing is brilliant. Unfortunately the festival did not happen this year because of changes in the it's funding situation. I hope this is just a hiccup and the festival can move ahead and celebrate creative traditions and connections for years to come.

Now, I'd like to talk about the tern "Folk Art" and how this term is used today, because there is a big difference between the mass produced and the authentic.Thoughts which have been on my mind regarding this term are making me feel edgy, like I need to express something. I'm not sure I have all the words yet but it's time to try to express these thoughts. Fortunately Ewelina and I had the time to talk about some of these things together and it was confirmation to me that people in the field are wrestling with the same questions.

Although it is not my intention, I feel like I've been in danger of idealizing the folk art, peasant art, ethnographic art that I've been seeing, experiencing and talking about on this blog. It seems that Folk Art isn't really even the appropriate term to use when addressing these aesthetics and traditions. A woman named Magdalena Zych had this to say in promotional materials for Krakow's EthnoDesign Festival in 2010.

Mythicising Folklore

"...there is no single Malopolska object nor is there a Maloposka pattern, similarly what is colloquially called "folk culture" is only a certain model, involving the general phenomena that make up the culture of the the 19th century countryside, captured at the point of impact with the industrialization of the last century. It is also a creation whose emanations you can see today at all kinds of folk events or in marketing. The popular vision of folk culture is based on its mythicised image referring to the idyllic "once upon a time."

Folk culture does not exist and probably never has, we can only talk about folk-type culture. It was the culture of the peasants, the rural population. As distinct from the culture of the nobility, the intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie, it aroused interest. What were it's features? First of all, a coherent vision of the world, extremely independent, precisely defining the place of mankind with permanent identity, where change, the inherent part of the social order, was closely governed by rites. Tradition was associated with oral transmission. Individual practices were poorly evaluated. The relation between the familiar and the strange formed an important axis of social organization, this was possible due to a precise definition of what it constituted. This model is also based on the belief that human life takes place simultaneously in two dimensions, which are closely bound together: the temporal dimension, and the timeless sacred world." 

During my trip to Poland and to Hungary I have begun what will need to be ongoing conversations. I've seen directly how  the term "Folk Art" can conjure up ideas of idealization and commercialization. This is especially true in heavy tourist locales where national identity and images that reflect this are mass produced by someone who may have no real knowledge of the crafts and the traditions. Perhaps the creators of these items may not even live in the country that the objects are trying to reflect.

"Folk Art" and traditions were shared, transferred and used to promote a sense of  identity in positive and not so positive ways especially in times around war or loss of national independence due to lands and people being under the rule of other countries or ideologies. The peasant art, it's transference and the traditions helped keep a peoples identity alive. Yet in some aspects the "folk art" was used to show and glorify an ideal that may not be entirely true.

I've heard that folk art was propagandized and idealized, used to show happy people performing folkloric traditions and  making their crafts in countries under communist rule like in Poland and Hungary from after WWII until the late 1980's. This was a form of propaganda with hopes to show the people of a nation and the world that there was a sense of individual national identity and an active alive culture. In reality, in everyday life, one's sense of individuality and people's expressions of their ideas and individualism were suppressed and constantly in danger being squashed

I see idealization and mass marketing happening now with the tourist markets, souvenir shops, and programs aimed to package an aesthetic, an ideal and sell it to a mass audience. With this kind of commercialization something is lost, the traditions become a show rather than something truly grounded and authentic. A great example of this phenomenon happened during my visit to Zakopane. After seeing such fabulous wood carving and architecture, which is the true passing on of  some of the the folk traditions in that region, I walked to the market street where I was bombarded with stands selling mass produced items mimicking or trying to capture the feel of the true thing. Ick. Who is making these millions of cloth beads and wooden carved boxes? I'm looking for the real thing. I'm looking for authenticity.

In Budapest I had the opportunity to spend two days at an annual Folk Festival which felt to be very authentic. Men and women who studied and learned the traditional methods and who carry on the traditions of the arts and crafts like embroidery, lace making, bone carving, pottery, woodcarving, blacksmithing, weaving, painting, clothing making, etc. had booths and were making their wares before your eyes. A young man invited me to sit at his carving bench where he taught me to carve a flower from a piece of soft, pulpy wood. A Latvian woman cut one of her paper cut designs as I stood and watched. We couldn't speak each others language but I still learned from her and we connected with each other. I bought her book, she gave me a paper cut and I learned about paper cut design. Her technique answered some questions I had about symmetrical and asymmetrical designs. I met the daughter of a master embroiderer who told me of a two year school in Hungary where one can go to study, and master a craft.

I'm heartened that in this contemporary world of mass consumption, one can still learn a "slow" trade and share their authentic wares and traditions with the public. One may have to do a little more searching, step further off the beaten tourist path and pay more money for these hand made objects. It is so worth it!

We now live in a fast paced world which is full of technologies that can both help and distract us with the ability to interconnect. My hopes are to promote the practice, study and creation of authentic traditions.  My intention is to slow down and build bridges, in my own personal and authentic way, using symbols, ideas, traditions found in the folk-type art. I want to bring inspirations from the past and combine them with who I am and where I am now, in the 21st century.

One of the things I've learned on this quest is that there are many connections with who I am and my roots here in Poland and Hungary. There have been so many meetings, ah-ha moments, when I've said to myself..."That explains why..." Places, the traditions, the lifestyle, the aesthetic which up until now were more or less unconsciously known to me are met with awareness, the beginning of understanding and a true connection. I plan to express these relationships in my own art work and to pursue these ideas in my studies. There is a lot to experiment with and a lot to learn and I am looking forward to the journey ahead.

I love this part of the quote from above:
"This model is also based on the belief that human life takes place simultaneously in two dimensions, which are closely bound together: the temporal dimension, and the timeless sacred world."  

I believe with my whole heart that this is life. We live in the temporal dimension and in the timeless sacred world in all our time. The awareness of and the bridging of these two places makes my heart beat fast. The peasants creating the beautiful work that I love so much were acknowledging this in both their everyday objects and their ritual objects...everything was infused with meaning. This idea makes me think of the concept, of the place and the moment where and when earth and sky meet and when the invisible becomes visible.

Images and the quote used in this post were taken at Krakow's Ethnographic museum and from materials generated by the museum.(copyright: The Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Krakow.)

I am struck with their designs which on one hand seem so fresh and contemporary. Geometrical straw wall hangings, hanging sculptural pieces made from wafer, paper flower hangings, are colorful symbols of ritual and tradition made around holidays and to express meaning, relationships to the seasons, to beliefs and festivity.

Six Senses Friday VII: Budapest

Castle Hill District Folk Art Festival

- row after row of artisan stands on Castle Hill where continuing and reinterpreted folk art traditions are shown and sold  by artisans at the Folk Art Festival
- bustling city streets
- green Buda hills studded with houses, castles and museums from across the Danube
- a Latvian woman make an intricate paper cut in front of my eyes
- a dramatic sunset outside my room last night from the balcony where I am staying in Budapest

- my housemate in Budapest rehearsing on his trumpet every morning and evening...instead of finding it intrusive or distracting I really enjoy the sounds
- airplanes flying low, taking off and landing over the neighborhood where I am staying
- an expressive and strong old woman folk singer's song
- Liszt's Piano concertos,  inspired to listen to his music after seeing an exhibit on him at Budapest's Ethnographic Museum

- my friend's homegrown, homemade plum preserves
- juicy watermelon and peaches as I enjoy eating fresh fruits of the summer season
- gulping down fresh squeezed lemon, lime, orange aid with mint...refreshing while spending the day out under the hot sun
- marzipan torte

Szechenyi Thermal Bath

- sulfur coming from the water of the thermal baths I visited this week
- funky city smells as I walk through metro stations and over street grates
- suntan lotion
- plum cake and fresh bread baking in my friend's oven

- antique embroidered table clothes and linens
- peeling blanched tomatoes as I make a tomato soup for my friend from the many tomatoes coming in from her garden
- hands in the dirt, weeding a garden

Danube and the Buda side of Budapest

- the sun beating down on my head mid-day as I walk around Budapest
- annoyance that I can't find the bus stop that would bring me really close to the house where I'm staying. Instead I take the tram which makes for a longer walk...but hey, a little more exercise won't kill me!
- speeding through tunnels underground on the Metro
- inspired by my young, trumpet playing housemate... he wakes up and practices for an hour and practices for an hour before going to sleep then plays a couple more hours at school. Makes me want to get back to my piano playing and regular vocal warm-ups.
- about ready to come home and get back to the drawing board...literally.

Great Market Hall, Budapest

Dahony Street Synagogue

Where I was. Where I am now. Where am I going? Part 1

"A horizon is something toward which we journey, but it is also something that journey's a long with us."
                                                        - Hans Georg Gadamer

"If you are striving to be equal to your destiny and worthy of the possibilities that sleep in the clay of your heart, then you should regularly be reaching new horizons."
                                                         - John O'Donohue

Above is a road curving towards a horizon. I like to use this as a metaphor in my paintings and photographs. We all travel the road of our life which is both created by us, our choices and desires, and created by the mystery that is beyond our human understanding or control. If I were to walk to the hills in the far distance of this photograph, I'd walk to the top of one of the hills and see that there is another horizon to reach in the distance. This is life.

I'm thinking about this experience I created for myself this summer. I'm reflecting on all I've learned and been inspired by... Where the inspiration to do this came from?  How I was able to do this? And now, what will come from this experience?  Some of my questions have been answered and more have come to the surface. I have gotten some perspective on a lot of things. I feel so full and inspired by all the sensory experiences and all of  the human exchanges.

At the same time, I see another horizon looming in the distance where I have the opportunity to create and learn from this quest and the lingering questions I have. I am sitting on a tip of an iceberg. Art, history, culture, stories, music and experiences lie beneath the surface to be revealed, studied, processed. These interests of mine...questions of authenticity, of identity and of culture can be a focus of a lifetime and I still will not understand it all. Where will these interests, this path, the questions lead?

About my journey...

Where I was.
The impetus... This winter I was deeply inspired by the folk art of Hungary and Poland to better understand my cultural identity and history. I saw and still see this as a doorway to inspire my own creative focus and also as a platform from which to launch into further study and a deeper understanding of the world and myself in the world. I'm going to be honest with you too, I believe that my ancestors have guided me here, to go on this quest, to be on the land where they lived, to connect with my living family and visit places where the dead rest. So many meaningful signs have appeared on my journey. In some ways, depending on how you look at it, it's been quite surreal. 

When I first had the realization that I may create an adventure for myself  last February/March I remember laying awake late one night thinking of being far across the ocean, far from home and all things familiar.  I thought about sleeping alone in a strange bed. These thoughts were both scary and alluring. Lucky for me, the alluring part of this imagining was far more captivating.

I am learning that fear is just fear. I should look at my fears, think about them and then make the best choices for myself with the intention of creating meaningful experience and beauty.

After facing my fear, I had to give myself permission to go on my quest. I had to figure out how I wanted to create the experience and how I was going to pay for the expenses of travel and education. Because of my supportive family (many thanks to Josh and my parents) I was able to see I can do this.  So, I bought my plane ticket, sent in my application to the summer school program in Krakow, got in touch with my family overseas while trusting that it would all work out and everything that needed to come together would come together. There is something freeing in letting go and trusting.

I also had to ask for help which was the reason I created the Indie GoGo campaign. This was very, very hard and very scary for me to do. Not only was I putting myself and my vision out in the world but I was asking for funding at a time when money is increasingly tight for many people as the economy continues to struggle. I was afraid to ask for help.

I had to ask myself, "Am I worth this?" The answer was yes. I have to be honest though, one of the hardest things about this trip was acknowledging this: I am worth it, I need help. ...and then asking for it.

Thanks to so many of you... your support with donations, kind words and wishes I was able to fit this experience into my budget and I was blessed with so much positive energy! Facing my fears, reaching out  and reaching my goal with fundraising at this stage of my quest was a huge boost and made me realize that I can do something bold and follow my heart. I am blessed to have so many positive relationships with family and friends. I hope you are starting to receive the postcards I've been sending out and I look forward to sending card sets, having a party, telling you stories, cooking eastern European foods and giving back to you all after I return home.

 We are not "islands" in this world. Although I've believed this for a long time I don't think I have experienced the intensity of this statement until now.  Positive relationships are one of the most important things in life. Often I have felt fiercely independent. Thoughts like, "I can do this myself. I don't want to bother anybody. I can be all alone. I don't need to or don't want to depend on anyone." have been a regular part of my internal dialog. I have spent a lot of time alone out of circumstances and choice. I even enjoy being alone ...sometimes. I need to be alone...sometimes. Maybe this comes from being an only child and being introverted? I've spent a considerable amount of time alone on this trip and have pretty much enjoyed it although there are definitely moments I am missing my family, friends, cats and even regular activities like singing at the lop of my lungs in the car.

I have also spent a lot time with family and new friends. I see that the magic of my experience here would not have happened if it weren't for my positive connections with others. Others like you who donated $10 or more to my quest,  who said "This is a great opportunity. You should go. What are you waiting for?",  who picked me up at the airport and the bus stations, who hosted me and cooked for me in your homes, who shared wine with me in city squares, who taught me about the art, the history, the architecture, who shared their culture, answered my questions, allowed me to study in the museum, met me and shared meaningful time and stories with me. I could have seen the sights and stayed in the cities and towns that interested me on my own but much of the magic was breathed into this experience because of meaningful connections with others.

For these connections I will be forever grateful. I also hope to continue this connectivity, to encourage others, to help others, host others and continue building the momentum of positive, meaningful connection.

How interesting is it...? The duality that we are all alone in this world. When we are born, the umbilical cord is cut and we are alone. We die alone. Yet we are all so connected. If you believe in the spiritual nature of life, are we ever truly alone? I don't think so.  There is endless space out there but with every step we take we are constantly held and supported by something and someone. For me this way of looking at things is very comforting and very special.

I got on the plane back in Boston on July 3rd alone with none of my friends or family. From that moment on I've stepped through hundreds of doorways: new experiences, people, places.  I am constantly met. Met by my own companionship, met by my family, met by a new acquaintance or friend, met by the sound of the world waking up in the morning and quieting down at night. Intentions coming to life. Doing and seeing what I was planning from far across the ocean this past spring.

So for all of you planning your own adventures and dreaming dreams remember that no matter where you are you are constantly and consistently being held. Everyday is an opportunity to try something new, hug a loved one, sing a song, rest, smile at a stranger, eat alone in a nice restaurant, contact long lost family and friends, make a new friend... Look at your fears, give them space in your company but don't let them stop you!

A Hungarian Song: Mindig az a perc a legszebb

My friend Laci has been teaching me this Hungarian song, Mindig az a perc a legszebb. It's a beautiful and melancholy melody about longing. Longing for the kiss and the beauty that escapes, that eludes, that one dreams of...

Fortunately the melody comes easily ...the lyrics not so easy. The Hungarian language is so difficult for me to just pronounce and even mimic with fourteen different vowel sounds and strange letter combinations like "gy" making a sound that doesn't seem at all familiar to my English speaking ear or to my mouth. Polish is a hard language but Hungarian makes Polish seem like it will be easier to learn in comparison. With Laci and with my cousin's husband, also Laci, I am learning a handful of songs I can practice and I can try to learn to pronounce the words.  All songs are in minor keys and heart wrenching... my favorite kind of song.

The singer here is Katalin Karady, a famous and very beautiful Hungarian actress and singer who appeared in 20 movies prior to WWII. Both tragic experiences and examples of human goodness are a part of her life during the war years. She was in prison for 3 months where she was beaten and tortured. She was rescued and was in bad shape for awhile. However she did remain strong and went on to rescue numerous families who were waiting to be shot by the Arrow Cross guards on the bank of the Danube. After WWII she became more and more disregarded as a star and moved abroad to various countries spending most of her later life in Brazil then later to New York where she died in 1990.

Six Senses Friday: Hungary VI

- The land of my ancestors. My Repas cousins and I walked through the small village of Harskut where our Great, Great Grandmother and Great, Great, Great Grandmother are buried. I know that other relations...Hutwagner's and Rausch's must be resting there beneath the ground as well.
- Rolling green hills, fields and forests of the Hungarian countryside surrounding Harskut, Vesprem and Vanyarc, the towns and villages where may family and friends live
- Rows and rows of grapevines with fruit maturing and ripening...Hungary has a rich wine culture.
- Tears of happiness shared between my cousins and me
- Connections and differences between these two countries, Poland and Hungary 
- Hungarian embroidery, costumes, pottery, jewelry, and other historical and cultural objects at the museum in Vesprem and the small museum in Harskut.

- Thunder crashing, dark sky, flashing lightening as the bus drives through a storm in mountainous Slovakia. It felt fitting to be in a storm like this in Slovakia...a dark, romantic, Gothic experience... if only I was on a stage coach.
- Dogs barking, the sound echoing between the hills and through the valley of my friend's village. It seems that everyone has a dog here. The sound of companionship.
- My cousin's husband playing the accordion for the family under his grape arbor in the evening in the countryside, the moon peaking out between clouds. He taught me some songs and we all sang together.
- My friend's partner sharing even more music with me this week...the songs are making an impression as I wake up humming some of them.

Vesprem, Hungary: a view from the medieval tower of the old town rooftops and streets

- Many Hungarian wines... White wine made from the grapes at my cousin's husbands vineyard. Wines from my other cousin's father's wine cellar. He sent me off with three bottles of good Hungarian wines to try!
- so many amazing home cooked foods in Vesprem made by my cousin's thing she made was Beigli a rolled sweet bread with poppy seeds and nuts...I grew up with another version my grandmother made called Kalach or what she called Lachen.
- fresh handmade noodles or dumplings...the best!
- A homemade meal prepared by a woman who lives in Osku near my cousins village who has an outdoor oven which was built by her husband. This couple runs a rustic bed and breakfast and cooks fabulous meals for quests.
- As seen in the picture bellow... a supper at my cousin's home. Home smoked ham and bacon served and eaten with a knife on wooden plates. Fresh bread, whole tomatoes, peppers and fruit and homemade white wine accompanied this treat.

- thyme growing in a garden
- duck roasting in the oven as I write this post
- different bouquets of Hungarian wines
- smoke in the valley in the village where I am staying
- red roses blooming outside the house in Budapest where I will be staying this week

Hungarian Folk dancers in costume during a performance I saw on Thursday night

- A sense of true friendship and connection with my Hungarian relatives after spending two and a half days with them earlier this week.
- Thankful for the beautiful hospitality of my relatives and friends.
- A sense of wonder that my time in Poland this summer is in the past yet I can still evoke the feeling of the place, the people and my experience there.
- Interested that Hungary has a whole different feeling which is just as meaningful as Poland's feel, just different.
- Love that I can remember a place by it's feeling, the whole of a place, it's soul perhaps?... this way of connecting with a place... an indescribable feeling that each place has it's own soul which is palpable.
- excited to see a live performance of authentic Hungarian folk dances performed by skilled dancers wearing beautiful costumes and bringing such exuberance to the stage with live musicians playing fiddles, accordions, and a hammered dulcimer like instrument, with such beautiful and discordant harmonies.

"Kevin" the kitten ...the new family member

- My cousins and I found a stray kitten crying out loudly for help in the bushes of Vesprem as we took a night walk. I picked it up and began petting it and kissing it's soft, furry head. As I carried it home to my cousin's flat it is warm and vibrating with purring. My cousin will give it a home as we all fell in love him quickly.
- warm, clean sheets and blankets covering me as I fall asleep very tired every night after long, full days
- the ground and gravestone of my great, great grandmothers in the village where my grandfather's family is from