Daybreak, After a Storm. pastel life memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Daybreak, After a Storm,” pastel life/memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

 

The night my son drove me back to the coast after our family trip for Christmas in southern Idaho, we drove straight into the wind and rain coming in from the ocean. The closer we got, the more it came down. Once again I was grateful for my son’s skill at driving on wet surfaces, dark surfaces, icy surfaces. More than once he had literally steered our little band of humans and dogs safely away from disaster.

The storm continued for the next two days after I was driven got home. The huge trees were getting tossed around like wet mops. The ocean tossed piles of foam up our access steps. Our outings were brief in between dedicated downpours and not unlike when Pooh and Piglet get buffeted around on a “blustery” day. In fact, “blustery” would be a polite way to describe it.

So it was with relief on the third morning that day broke quiet and light poured out over the winter horizon. It was, curiously and beautifully, a white light, not a rosy or yellow dawn. But it was so beautiful I could not get it out of my head. I immediately prepared the paper with the background sky right after seeing it so I wouldn’t forget it. Then I took a few days to work through the sketch that you see at the top of this post.

About the same time, I had this idea that I would like to try making cornbread with crushed pineapple instead of applesauce or yogurt. This is because I wanted some cornbread, and I didn’t have any applesauce or plain non-dairy yogurt, which are the go-to fat replacement ingredients in Fat Free Vegan Kitchen’s Confetti Cornbread, a recipe template I have enjoyed adapting in the past with whatever I had on hand. I got quite carried away on the wings of  this idea; I thought that maybe, after all these months, I might actually have a recipe post, like in the olden days before I started drawing all the time.

In winter here at the coast the days are often dark and overcast. With the sun so low in the sky, the time I get to use natural light to see how my pastels are progressing is precious. And I realized then what I wanted to do most was finish this “Daybreak” pastel and start on a couple of others, not to make the cornbread. And this was okay with me. It’s important to be clear on what my priorities are.

After the drawing was complete and I had a couple more in progress, I  was satisfied enough that I decided I would, after all, try to make the cornbread, and perhaps write about it on the blog as an accompaniment to New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Peas.

Sometimes the desire to post a recipe feels like the reflex of a ghost limb. The cornbread did not come out in a way I could call photogenic, and the tastes I used were understated. There was nothing wrong with it; it just wasn’t blog worthy in the way I had day dreamed about. That was okay, too. I ate a couple of pieces, cut it all up, and put the squares in the freezer. I considered the whole thing an object lesson that demonstrated what drives me these days is making art, not recipes.

New Year’s Day came, and one of my neighbor’s invited me over for tea. I decided to surprise her with black-eyed peas, greens and my homemade spelt bread. I also brought along two of the slices of corn bread. We never got to it, so I left my neighbor one and brought the other one home. When I tasted it, the benefit of becoming more pronounced in flavor that time in the freezer often gives baked goods seemed to have kicked in. Still, I couldn’t think of any kind of word frame to provide this humble looking non-photogenic corn bread.

Then, as usual, my process of inspiration surprised me. I don’t like drawing food all that much, or at least I don’t like drawing what I’m going to eat, so my transition into making more art has not resulted in illustrating my blog posts with images I draw of my own recipes , despite my sincere admiration for The Vegan Stoner. But for some reason I could not get this little square of corn bread out of my mind until I drew it. So here is the very first memory sketch of a piece of bread I made myself.

 

"Pinseapple Corn Bread," pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Pineapple Corn Bread,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

This drawing does a good job of capturing the “spirit” of that cornbread: it didn’t rise a lot, it was that kind of somewhat strange yellow color, and if you look carefully you can see a bit of orange peel I used as “confetti” instead of the red and green peppers in Susan’s recipe. It fascinates me that while I could not bring myself to photograph or draw from life one of these humble little slices, the memory of eating it, prompted this sketch. The square of cornbread is placed on a glass plate I no longer own, one that was part of a set I used for 20 years on Asbury street.  So in a way the drawing is a nostalgic remembrance of that time, and the recipes I came up with to share here and photographs I took of them back when I lived in the blue house.

If you’d like to try and recreate this version of Confetti Cornbread, it’s easy enough to do: follow Susan’s recipe, using chopped orange peel and bits of pineapple for the confetti. If you don’t have applesauce or plain non-dairy yogurt, whir up some crushed pineapple in the food processor like I did and sub that in. It doesn’t have quite the same texture, and is not as pronounced a flavor as the applesauce or the yogurt, so I’d also recommend putting in at least one tablespoon of the optional sugar. I used white spelt flour and cornmeal, but I’ve made Confetti Cornbread before with gluten free flour too (2/3 gluten free flour, 1/3 cup gluten free tapioca or potato starch for the cup of flour, or one cup of gluten free baking mix).

Back in the fall of 2013, when I was first starting to paint again, I wrote this at the end of my post Listening To The Earth: “The mostly wordless realm of spatial relationships, interconnected lines, color, light and shadow has called me back into it this summer. That call is irresistible to me.  Although it’s very hard to find words for what that’s like, I’ll try to show more about my timeless time ‘there’ as I am able to.”

It seems to me my love of recipe making and relationship to food has translated itself into the “timeless time” I spend in art, which in turn has become as indispensable to my well-being as breathing. That’s what makes this humble little drawing of a humble little piece of cornbread feel like a talisman to me.

I’m not a big stickler for exactitude (in some things anyway), so if you missed your black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread on New Year’s Day, it’s still the first month in the year and in my opinion, not too late to indulge. Or if you don’t feel like cooking, at least look at some pictures of lucky food and see if it helps you feel extra lucky. I hear such pictures are worth a thousand words.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

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Loving The Blue Dot

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 20, 2017

"Blue Dot" chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Blue Dot” chalk pastel by Maria Theresa Maggi

Of late I’ve noticed a pattern in my memory sketches. They are increasingly focused on how small our man- made structures and objects look against the vastness of the sky and the ocean. And yet, as toy-like as they seem in the moments I’ve tried to capture them,  it’s the light from that vastness that bring them a gem-like sparkle, or, as Victorian Walter Pater once wrote “a gem-like flame.”

The whole of his exhortation goes like this:

“To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”

 

Alas, this ecstasy is fleeting, I would argue; it is not always available. It might not even be desirable, let alone possible. And yet, although I’d be hard pressed to say exactly how to cultivate it, to be able to notice when a door into it has opened, to stop and look and let myself be lifted out of whatever tangled train of thought I’ve derailed,  does indeed make me feel successful at being alive. To look, and then feel that ecstasy at what I’m seeing, that I am a part of it as the observer who honors, and then to go home and try to let that somehow come out of my hands into a drawing–it does really make me feel like I’ve earned my right to breathe that day. There’s nothing else quite like it for me, not even writing these words about it.

Here’s  a couple of the recent drawings I’m referring to:

“Driving By Sunset and Ocean with Christmas Lights,” chalk pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Last Saturday on the way to the grocery store for weekly shopping with the friends who take me, I was looking out at the sunset over the ocean through the car window from the back seat when this house with  lights suddenly came into view in the cove below. We were speeding along on the highway, so I only saw it for a few seconds before the trees swallowed it up, but it spontaneously lifted me into enchantment. I still marvel at how it can be that this is literally what it’s possible to see here on the way to the grocery store. To capture it is this memory sketch is like being able to hold it in my hands. I was happy to hear my friends say when they saw the drawing, even though they didn’t see the house from the front seat, that I got the colors of the ocean and sunset “just right.” I’m not really sending out Christmas cards this year, but if I was, this would probably be it.

A few days ago the dogs and I were on the beach in late afternoon at low tide, about a half mile or so north of our beach access. I was playing with Cotton and Romeo, and throwing a stuffed toy that Cotton absolutely loves to catch and shake and make squeak when I turned around after picking it up and hurling it into the air for him once again, to see this:

“Sunset in Beach House Windows,” pastel memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Up until this point the sunset had not promised to be anything spectacular. But the sight of it shining in these little windows with such amazing brightness and complexity literally took my breath away. I couldn’t stop looking at it. The windows were capturing a level of detail from an angle that wasn’t yet visible from where I stood looking at the horizon, but was nonetheless evidently there.

My receptivity to being positioned to notice such things, even if they only occur for a flash, seems to have bubbled over into the mundane activity of browsing Netflix; I like to think it’s why The Farthest: Voyager in Space caught my eye. Besides that, the images of Saturn from Voyager and I go way back. Some of them published in National Geographic in the early 80’s helped me finish what would become the title poem of my first book of poems, The Rings Around Saturn.  I can still see myself in the UCI library, pouring over the photographs and their descriptions, which sent me into that place where I heard what would become the voice of “The Scientist” in that poem. I’ve watched The Farthest twice now, enthralled with the narrative of discovery, and the amazing photographs of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. But most resonant for me are the descriptions  two women who were imaging scientists on the Voyager team gave about seeing the final “looking back” shots of the solar system before Voyager entered interstellar space, the “blue dot” photos that Carl Sagan would make famous.

One imaging scientist recalls that she was the first to see the images come through after they did the portrait of the planets. She was familiar at identifying blemishes on the images and she thought to herself “where’s the earth?”

“There were a lot of streaks of light in that image,” she goes on to say. “And then I realized, finally, that the earth was sitting in one of those rays of light. I just say there for a while, kind of realizing, wow, that’s the earth, that’s Voyager looking back at the earth.” Once she “recovered,” she said, she started calling people–the Project Manager, Carl Sagan (who had pushed for this portrait to take place, despite some scientists on the project who were against it, claming there was “absolutely zero science in it) and–my favorite–her Dad.

Another imaging scientist recalls she first thought “oh this didn’t turn out the way we thought it was going to turn out and my first impulse is to take my hand and wipe away the dust because there was some dust on it. Well, one of the pieces of dust that I wanted to wipe away was the Earth.”

The light that comes into the faces of these women as they remember what it was like to first identify the Earth in these photos reminds me of how I feel when I see something that surprises me with its beauty, usually predicated on its unexpected showcasing of jaw-dropping scale. In the serendipity of that moment of apprehension, the tiny becomes magnificent; the vast settles into the palm of my hand.

In honor of my affinity with this thrill of recognition and discovery, I decided to draw my own version of the famous “blue dot in a sunbeam” photograph of our Earth, taken as Voyager looks back on our solar system for the last time before heading out into interstellar space. As Winter Solstice approaches in the northern hemisphere, it’s meaningful to me to meditate on our world from this perspective. For me, even in trying times, if there is space allowed for epiphany, there is hope. We can look up in wonder, look back with love, and look forward with vision.

What and who is little or big is absolutely a matter of perspective. I love the seemingly little things,  and seemingly big things shown to be little, like these surfers I watched  in the swells from up above the beach:

“Surfers November High Tide memory sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Those little things that catch my eye, the little blue dot we spin on; they literally make a” world” of difference. This little blue dot of a planet needs all the love and care we can possibly give it, and all the fight we’ve got in us. The golden record we made of our breath-taking diverse beauty and humanity that went out into interstellar space with Voyager is a story about us, whether or not any potential aliens ever hear or see any of it. I’m going to honor that story, by apprehending beauty, by acting with as much compassion and courage I can muster, and by honoring this little blue dot in my art, for as many days as I am given the grace to do so.

Happy Solstice, Friends. May the force of a sunbeam lighting up the dark be with you all.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

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A Little Night Magic

December 8, 2017

  My parents were sticklers for honoring the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, which hardly anyone seems to recognize anymore. The traditional 12 days of Christmas  are bookended by Christmas Eve,  the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In between are days that have both pagan and Christian significance. In even earlier times the […]

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Finding Heart

November 10, 2017

More often than not, I am hard pressed to have my own imagination beat what happens in real life. This particular morning was an overcast drizzly one. The dogs and I hoofed it up a big hill and over to the community garden to dump kitchen compost and collect little leaves of kale and chard, […]

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A Few Words

November 3, 2017

For much of the last several weeks, the ocean had stolen the sand from the our beach access, leaving us only with rocks, practically right up to the bottom of our stairs. On calmer days at low tide, we could make our way over those rocks to sand farther north. Last Saturday morning, I was […]

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I Knew I Had To Go Deep

October 22, 2017

  One day last week on our drizzly walk to look at School House Creek emptying into the ocean at high tide, I thought a lot about the “me too” phenomenon prompted by the breaking stories of Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation. For some reason impressions from images of an ancient Egyptian city recently found […]

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On Resilience

October 8, 2017

    My love affair with the word “resilience” began with a little angel on a trampoline. Many years ago during my time in manual therapy, in addition to the main practicioner I saw, I sometimes would go to see her sister-in-law, who was a friend of mine, and was moving up the ranks in […]

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Woosh

September 23, 2017

This memory sketch is the view from above my neighborhood’s north beach access, late afternoon, Autumn Equinox. The actual equinox point was about 2 hours before we arrived, at about the same time the tide was at its highest point that day. The wild ocean of late has reclaimed a lot of the sand and […]

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. . .And Now I See. . . Part 2

September 12, 2017

  My Mom, a teacher, used to say that teachers had eyes in the back of their heads. If you’re a Mom, too, you might also have experienced what I used to call my “mom radar”–that moment where I would suddenly just “know,” without a phone call or any other five-senses cue, that it was […]

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. . .And Now I See. . .

August 23, 2017

The night before the eclipse, pockets of thick mist swirled under the street lamp as I ushered the dogs out to the yard for a final time. By the time we all piled onto the bed, it was raining softly. Once again, the coast had covered itself in mist and water, despite a forecast for […]

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