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I am “Lady of the Lake”

One of the few helpful aspects of social distancing and self-isolation during this horrible time of the COVID-19 has been taking the time, in solitude, to read, write, organize, create, sketch, and to revisit old favorite hobbies, and passions, like art. Back in March, when my university transitioned to online courses, and my state governor issued a Stay-at-Home order, I felt reasonably “ok” with that, since I felt it was a good time to focus on my graduate study, which requires a lot of reading and writing. Last fall, two of my faculty advisors asked me a difficult philosophical question about why researching the topics I’d proposed was important to me–personally--and my answers then seemed flaky, e.g. “I am Lady of the Lake!” So, I have been thinking about how to answer those questions. It seems like I should be prepared to answer thoughtfully.

In May, I received Honorable Mention for my poem, “My Glacial Erratic,” in the 2020 Fish Poetry Prize, judged and selected by former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. My poem will appear in the 2020 Fish Anthology, coming out later this summer. (That’s with Fish Publishing, which holds a number of writing contests each year, based in Ireland.) Since then, I’ve written new poetry, and started drawing images that go with my poetry, and some of it is inspired by recent coursework. Selkies, mermaids, the Irish merrow, bog-women, the Lady of the Lake, and other supernatural female figures in literature (Romanticism as well as other periods, particularly Gothic literature and Arthurian lit) have captured my imagination.

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“Irish Merrow” – one of my watercolors

Enter art journaling. To work through some of my ideas, I’ve started art journaling. It’s now summer, and I’m still self-isolating, and spending a great deal of time at home, on my own, creating. I’ve started working in a blank canvas art journal (Jane Davenport’s supplies).

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Painting on my deck. This piece is one of my mermaid characters from my “Blue Dog and the Sea Fan” series.

It never occurred to me to use my art (and poetry) to think critically about my proposed research, or to answer philosophical questions about my interdisciplinary research. I’d been approaching it methodically, seriously–with critical annotations, a working bibliography, term papers as building blocks, outlines. Now I’m approaching it differently, and I’ve got images of mermaids, selkies, bog-women, and memories of Ireland in my head.

Painting in my art journal– a scene from my trip to Co. Cork, Ireland in 2019

Part of that’s influenced by the research I did on Traditional Ecological Knowledge of seaweed harvesting in Ireland for a term paper. Part of it’s inspired by a Celtic Studies class I’m taking led by Dr. Sharon Blackie. I read her book, Foxfire, Wolfskin, and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women (September Publishing, 2019) which I loved.

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I loved this book by Sharon Blackie!

There’s something very liberating about making art. And it’s a good exercise to pick up a different tool–any tool–whether it’s a paint brush or fountain pen–but a physical tool, one that can be held in the hand to transmit ideas from the mind to the page. I love color. I’ve always responded emotionally to color. As a kid, the gift of a set of colored pens delighted me more than dolls or toys. I still love art supplies and colored pens. Recently, I’ve become quite smitten with art supplies by Jane Davenport, an Australian artist and designer, known as an “Artomologist,” a play on her nature photography, and particularly her love for ladybugs, and other insects. I’ve also really enjoyed her books, such as Marvelous Mermaids. Jane Davenport has a series of art tutorials on Youtube, and I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering my love for making art, partly inspired by her wonderful books, tutorials, and using some of her supplies. The “Mermaid Markers” are some of my favorite supplies, a water-reactive brush pen, like a watercolor alternative, that’s been fun to use. But my absolute favorite thing of hers is the fountain pen, an INKredible pen.

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Inkredible ink fountain pen by Jane Davenport and one of my journals

Twenty years ago, I took a watercolor painting class at College of the Atlantic. Prior to that, I was a writing-art double major (or English major, art minor) at St. Lawrence University. For at least ten years, from high school through college, at four different schools, I loved making art. I incorporated art visuals into my poetry projects and liked making books. Then, in 2004, while in grad school at COA, I was living in a small cottage with a 15-year-old water heater, which leaked badly, flooding my little home, and saturating all of my possessions. My draft master’s thesis, which I’d meticulously organized into piles and chapters, along with my notes and data on my living room floor, floated in ankle-deep water on a soggy shag carpet. Even my old Dell laptop was submerged. One of the fatal losses that really crushed me at the time, three full art portfolios containing all of my art from more than four years in studio art classes–drawings, paintings, photography, self-portraits, watercolors, some of which I’d planned to frame someday (when not working on my master’s thesis). All of my art disintegrated. It was so shocking and sad, I focused on other things, like completing my master’s degree, and moved forward with other projects, and left my ruined art and love for making art, in the past.

In recent years, I’ve rediscovered my love for Kettle Cove State Park (southern Maine), and I have been lucky enough to swim in that small cove over an eelgrass meadow, where I swam and toddled around as a baby more than thirty-five years ago.  Recently, I swam at high tide, in the wake of the New Moon Solar Eclipse in Cancer this June.

Kettle Cove State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Stetson photo

Every time I swim there, I am flooded with sensations, poems, ideas, and epiphanies. I’m rediscovering myself. I’m reinventing myself. Below is a weird “inner self-” portrait I painted, using watercolors and real Maine eelgrass, which coiled and wrapped around my neck and arms as I swam at Kettle Cove in June.

I collected a few blades of eelgrass, which was floating in the water, and coiled around my wrists as I swam to shore. It also washes ashore along with rockweed, so it’s easy to find there. I incorporated the eelgrass into my art journal.

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“Inner self-” portrait,  multimedia,  “Lass in the Eelgrass” LCS  June 2020

Now, twenty years after my watercolor class in spring 2000 at COA, I’ve picked up my paint brushes again. I’ve started making art again, almost on a daily basis, for the past month. At some point, during the process of social distancing, self-isolating at my home in the Lakes Region of Maine, I felt inspired to start sketching some drawings of symbols and seaweed as part of projects, like the one I did for Folklore and Environmental Policy class. Then, I started sketching ideas for other aspects (inspired by literary works by Romanticism-era writers like Ann Radcliffe and Mary Wollstonecraft) while I organized a strategy for doing my graduate research. That led to the idea of starting an art journal that’s connected to the research I’ve been doing as a student in the Interdisciplinary PhD program. I’m a poet and “ecoheroine,” researching the Eco-Gothic and Arthurian lit in a tenacious pursuit of deep Romantic ecology of wetlands.

All of these images and photos are mine. Please don’t share my images. My art is work-in-progress. Thank you!

Recently I discovered Ondine ~ a brand of pre-cooked lasagna pasta, named after the Ondine, a mythological mermaid (or group of mermaids), who dwelled along the rivers. Also spelled “Undine,” they were water spirits who showed up in European folklore. In one eerie version of the story, the Ondine had the ability to “gain a soul” by marrying a man and bearing his child. In a German version of the myth, called “the Ondine’s Curse,” the water spirit, or mermaid, casts magic on an unfaithful man so that he would stop breathing during sleep. Apparently this “curse” and mythology fed the early medical thinking on those who suffer from frequent hyperventilation. I’ve heard several variations of the diagnosis for my sudden and frequent lapses in breathing–but from now on, I am going to think of it as my Ondine’s curse. That’s a little easier to swallow than all of the other freakish-sounding medical explanations from doctors over the past 25 years. It’s my spiritual mermaid self just channeling ancient memories.

NymphsI was nine years old when I stopped breathing one day, while washing my hands in the bathroom sink. I had no way of calling to my mother for help, so I clapped my hands and banged against the counter. A sharp pinch in my lung prevented air from going out or coming in, so I couldn’t breathe in either direction. My mother called 911 and the first responders arrived, and examined me in the living room. I hadn’t been breathing for several minutes–but suddenly began to inhale and exhale tiny puffs, like sipping the steam off the top of hot cocoa. My chest burned. I gathered from the look on my brother’s face, I was turning funny colors, and freaking him out. One of the emergency responders told me I had a touch of pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes sharp intense pain in the chest (the lungs, specifically) and can be brought on by taking a deep breath, coughing, or even laughing. Over the years as I grew up, and to this day, I occasionally stop breathing. Sometimes I am engulfed with laughter with friends, or talking on the phone, and suddenly I go dead quiet. My closest friends and family know this about me, so they know to either wait it out, or my best friends will continue laughing–since frequent hyperventilation is inconvenient and embarrassing, and sometimes funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of funny, more of an obtuse Addams Family dinner way. Oh, she’s stopped breathing again. A part of me wants to think this is the basis for my constant need to speak fast and furious, and to interrupt others with enthusiastic bursts of creative thinking–because there is the likely scenario that I might stop breathing mid-sentence and lose the thought completely. This is a bit difficult to explain to people in the work place, and can sound melodramatic. When I taught writing classes in my usual exuberant and entertaining way, I sometimes clutched my chest and lost my breath. After this happened once in front of horrified students, who thought I looked young enough to be one of their classmates, I explained it away in my best impression of SNL “Coffee Talk,” and told them I was verklempt and for them to “talk amongst themselves.”

Now I find myself sipping raspberry zinger at my desk. The inside flap of the box has this description of the tea: “According to Roman legend, raspberries were originally white – but turned red when the Cretian nymph Ida scratched herself on a thorny raspberry bush.” (Celestial Seasonings) It’s too bad these descriptions don’t make it on the grocery store shelves like the hand-written recommendations of bottom-shelf wines: “Full-bodied and dishes it right back.” I think in another life, I’d like to be responsible for writing the descriptions of teas and under-sold wines. raspberries

Ondine Movie Pic“Ondine” is also a beautiful 2009 Irish romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda. This is one of my favorite movies from recent years. It makes me want to go to Ireland really really bad. (Plus, I’m Irish.) Check it out: http://www.ondinefilm.com/

Tonight I shall experiment with tomato Ondine lasagna with roasted root vegetables, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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