Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sigh No More - Kait's Mix Tape

Mumford & Sons
'Sigh No More'

Sometimes a song I've listened to multiple times will suddenly stand out for me. Either it suddenly fits with how I feel or I appreciate the lyrics in a way I hadn't before. In the case of this song it was the latter. 

The beginning is rather slow and I actually often skip the track entirely. But about halfway through the song has a shift. The music picks up and these are the lines that are sung. 

And they are true. 

Someone once told me, "Love comes in so many different flavours." 

I believe that's true. There's the love I have for the colour blue or the love I have for what I do for a living or the love I have for my favourite pair of shoes. These are different flavours of love with varying intensity. 

But then there is genuine compassionate love. Also known as unconditional love. It's often described as the love a parent has for their children and I think it's too often believed that this is the sort of love that can only happen in a parent for their child. 

I definitely have absolute unconditional love for my darling little fur-baby. She may wake me up with her meowing at three am because she wants to go play outside and she may regularly bring home frogs that need rescuing and small furry creatures that require skill and patience to catch and release, but I never stop loving her. And it's an immeasurable kind of love. It doesn't come in degrees like my love of certain foods or for different shirts in my wardrobe. Like, I love onions and oranges but I love onions more or I love my pink shirt and my blue shirt but I love the blue one more. 

Genuine, true, compassionate love is something so much richer and deeper than that. It's not a clinging or grasping but a huge expansive opening of the heart - encompassing all of a person or animal no matter what. 

The 'no matter what' bit is what makes it so different. When we love someone no matter what it means we accept all of who they are. 

We love them when they're at their best and brightest and we love them when they're at their lowest. 

We love them when they are kind and we love them when they are cruel. 

We love them not despite the fact that they may have done something seemingly unforgivable but because we respect that they are just as confused, complicated and unknowable to themselves as we are to ourselves. 

We love them because we are open to the complexity of another because we see that same complexity in ourselves. 

And when you love like that - fully, utterly, completely - it's liberating. Because you don't have to like someone to love them that way. It doesn't excuse bad behaviour or poor choices but it recognizes the reasons behind it. It doesn't label a person as just one thing because of their actions but allows them to change. 

In short, to love this way is good for the heart because it shows us our heart is big enough for it all. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pixie King!

I have a Pixie King costume I made for Hallowe'en a few years back. I'm pretty happy with it and at the time I wore a latex mouth and put on pointy ears to give myself pixie features. I really wanted wings for the costume too but at the time I didn't really have a plan or the time to make them so I just went with a tail and painting stripes on my outfit. 

So recently I decided to finish off the pixie costume and because I wanted to play around with leather I thought I'd make a mask to go with it too - as an experiment. As you saw in my last blog post, I ended up doing a fox mask at the same time and in the end that was the first one I officially finished. 

I finished my pixie mask a few days later and it is definitely not the shining success that the fox was as I think I cut the entire thing a bit crookedly. But it it was still a really good first attempt and one that has prepared me for more ambitious leather masks including things like horns, ears or spikes. 

The initial sketch indented into the leather and ready for cutting. 

All cut out! Looking at it now I can see how I didn't get both sides even. 

Moulded around a plaster casting of my face, starting to dry. 

The fox and pixie, all dry and ready for the dye! 

All the videos I watched said to dye the leather masks
as the dye helps with hardening. I went with a tan dye and
didn't cover it evenly because I knew I'd be painting over it. 

Left the dye to set for a day and then painted it blue! 


In good time I'll have a shot of the entire costume with wings included.
My first attempt at wings has proven problematic because they were simply too big.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A new skill!

I've made costumes since the age of about six or seven. Hallowe'en is a really big deal in Canada and every year I started my Hallowe'en costume around August or September. As a teenager and young adult my family threw Mardi Gras parties and my annual costume making turned into a double-act as I worked to create one costume for Hallowe'en and one for Mardi Gras.

The list of costumes I've made is rather long and includes (off the top of my head) a wolf, Jack Skellington, Harriet the Spy, Hobbes, two different dragons, the night sky, a killer marshmallow, Gollum, a praying mantis, very gay Robin (as in Batman & Robin), a mardi gras cat, a zebra, a Brian Froud faery, a pixie king, a goblin and a fox.

The fox in my office, last Hallowe'en
When I made my fox costume I sculpted a plaster cast nose to go with it. Plaster cast is the material I've traditionally used for my mask making. It's a fun material to work with and hardens into a really solid mask. It does, of course, weigh quite a lot and isn't generally comfortable against the face, especially when you're wearing it for a long time.

The original nose didn't turn out how I wanted. It was too long and just looked beaky, so I hardly ever used it. No matter, my fox costume is rather cute regardless and I just go without.

So recently I wanted to finish my pixie king costume and I began looking up how to make wings. I found some great youtube videos for wings, which linked to other costume making videos, including leather mask making. I watched a few and found the entire process was shockingly simple so for the last six weeks I've been collecting supplies, researching techniques and testing things out.

Well, I've finished my first leather mask and it just happens to go with my fox costume.

I'm so chuffed with the end result and whilst it's not perfect by any means (I've learned a lot about the nature of leather dye and the initial pattern cutting) it's a damn good start. And leather mask making is probably one of the most fun creative endeavours I've had! Not only does it feed my love of costume making, it involves carving, sculpting AND painting, three things that really feed my soul.

In short, this is not one of those things I'm just dabbling in for a short while. I suspect that in a very short span of time I'm going to be building a stock of leather masks and taking orders because this was amazingly fun and something I want to do again and again.

The initial outline. To get this I drew a template
in pencil. Then I wet down the leather and traced over top the paper
template with a pen. This indents the leather and gives clear lines for cutting and tooling. 

After cutting out the mask from the larger piece of leather
I smooth the edges with my utility knife, just getting rid of any bumps or sharp parts. 

Cutting out the eye holes is probably the most challenging
thing in the entire process of making a leather mask.
I managed to knick the top of one of the holes but did an okay job fixing it so it's not really noticeable. 

I wet down the leather again and did the tooling,
which really just involves using various tools to crease and dent the leather
so the detail has ridges and texture. 

This is the coolest bit and what stunned me about how simple it is to make a leather mask.
The next bit involves immersing the leather into hot water mixed with a bit of white glue.
I did this for about a minute and then took the mask out and moulded it to the shape I wanted.
The heat of the water makes it very pliable and the glue helps with hardening it when it dries. 

I was working on my pixie mask at the same time. Here are both of them after they've dried.
The leather goes very pale, which is how you know they're dry - and it is really stiff. 

Next I rubbed both the masks down with dye. 

I learned rather quickly that the dye is incredibly potent and powerful stuff.
It absolutely destroyed the sponge I was using. The thing just start disintegrating.
I'll need to stock up on more solid sponges.

Once the dye had set I got out my acrylics to paint the final detail...

And voila! The finished product!

Such fun.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Every Teardrop - Kait's Mixtape

'Every Teardrop is a Waterfall'
Coldplay is a Marmite band. For those not living in the UK it means people seem to either love them or hate them - there is no in-between.

I used to hate Coldplay. I thought their music was depressing and to me it all sounded exactly the same. I don't know what changed but I think part of it was that I began to pay more attention to the lyrics. In fact, my taste in music shifted considerably when I started listening to lyrics more closely.

For a very long time this song in particular was one of my anthems - meaning it was a song on my OCD playlist that got played every single day and often four or five times in a row each time.

I think the appeal for me is this delightful take on life. The absolute unpredictability of it. Nothing definitive or solid, ever shifting and changing. In the past seven months I've really come to love the idea that there is no hidden meaning to life. There is no big reason for being here and therefore there are no rules about how a life should be lived. 

The universe was born of chaos and the very nature of existence is therefore chaotic and messy. This thrills me rather than terrifies me.

Rather than 'everything happens for a reason' I take the approach that 'everything happens'. Trying to find reason in chaos just causes pain and to be honest, telling someone who has experienced something really traumatic that 'everything happens for a reason' implies that their experience was reasonable.

But life is rather messy and fairness is a human construct, as is dualism and all the lovely 'rules' about what we should or shouldn't do to be 'successful'. 'Should-ing' things in general just causes a lot of trouble.

And that means that none of us is ever 'fixed' with one identity or role because life is not static. There is no pause button on life and it's all just one big circus where anything could happen and probably will. So look for the next hand hold but be just as comfortable holding on as you are flying through the air. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

No illusions - Kait's mixtape

David Guetta Ft. Sia
I love the song Titanium because it's not just some high-octane dance song. It's an anthem. And my favourite bit is this line - because when we cut down others in order to validate ourselves we harm ourselves.

And I'm under no illusions that I've not done this, because we all have. It's like some weird survival tactic. Rather than lifting ourselves up we find it easier to tear someone else down - to lay the blame at their feet or belittle them. It's toxic and damaging.

I'm also not under any illusions that everyone is capable of an incredible amount of love and care for others and that nothing lifts us up more than being there for others. That we're each of us as good and kind as we choose to be and we do have the choice.

I don't think of these lyrics as speaking to someone else. I think of them as a reminder and a way to catch myself if I'm ever about to say some disparaging remark.

In Buddhism it's called 'not pointing out other people's broken limbs'. Don't be harshly critical for the sake of feeding your own ego. It's far better to be kind than to be right.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Rhythms Dancing

WARNING! This post has a picture of a foot in it. For those of you who get really freaked out by feet, proceed with caution...

So recently I went to something called 5 Rhythms Dancing, which I would describe as Yoga but really fun. 

For those of you who don't know, the idea behind Yoga is about connecting body and mind and being present through the movements. Same with Tai Chi or Aikido and many other martial arts. These are all meditative techniques that use the movements as the focus for the mind, rather than the breath used in sitting meditation. 

As a big fan of meditation (obviously) I was rather thrilled and intrigued at the idea of 5 Rhythms Dancing when it was explained to me. Effectively it's about connecting with the music, with your body and mind, and just dancing. 

I love dancing. I love dancing so much I actually have to restrain myself from doing so sometimes - like on a really crowded train or when I'm walking down the street and my rucksack is really way to heavy for jigging. 

I would break out into dance pretty much anytime, anywhere given the opportunity.

So I went along for two ours of 'meditative' dance to see how I'd get on. 

And it was amazing. It was like a dream come true to be in a room with the lights down low and the rhythms pulsing in the air and fellow dancers twirling and whirling and stomping around me. And no one was drunk or high and it was a dance studio so the floor was polished wood and not sticky with spilled alcohol like a club would be. 

Mostly everyone was barefoot and I figured socks might be slippy and dangerous so I went barefoot as well. 

Oh how I danced! I don't think I've ever let myself be so free before - which is saying a lot considering my style. It was a really indescribable experience because by the end of it I was just so enthralled with music and the fact that I can dance. I was just in love with my body and movement and sound and every single person in the room with me. I could have hugged them all I was so full of joy. 

Despite the pain in my feet, which were sporting blisters on each big toe and the ball of each foot, I probably could have kept going if it had lasted longer. Putting my shoes on and taking the train back home was not the easiest of tasks. I had to stand awkwardly on the outside of my feet, putting the weight onto my heals. But I was so blissed out from all the dancing that I really didn't care. In fact I even felt grateful for the ability to feel pain. I mean, how cool is that as a mechanism? 
I will definitely be going to 5 Rhythms Dancing again and if you can find one around you I recommend it. It's a great way to be present and it's also a fantastic work out for the whole body. I felt incredibly strong the next day, as if all my muscles had been stretched and prodded out of sleep to join in the dance. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Dharma Series - Be Unapologetically Magnificent

I recently volunteered myself to paint the fence and deck in the garden of where I live. This resulted in a trip to a local building supplier where an account was officially set-up (Faunawolf Creations now counts as a 'builder' business) and supplies were purchased.

My first step was to paint the bit of stone wall as I figured this would be a quick job I could do on a Sunday morning. I was right, it was a very quick job. My brother is a professional painter/decorator and I think he would be very proud of the end result - which was largely thanks to his advice on the matter.

With the wall painted I began to clean up, but not before thinking it was a lovely blank canvas I'd just created. Evidently, my landlady thought the same thing as a moment later she said, "You know, a mural would look quite good on that." 

I laughed and told her I'd just been thinking the exact same thing and then I realised, she was quite serious. I could have cried with joy, to be perfectly honest, as I've got this thing about doing large scale paintings. 

I asked her what she might be interested in and she gave me a little guidance but was quite happy for me to come up with what I wanted. I considered the space and an idea immediately sprang to mind in line with my Dharma series. I love the shape and elegance of Japanese maple and knew my landlady was partial to the previous piece I did using them. 

The first thing I did was draw and cut out some templates. 

Then I did a quick sketch of the wall and worked out the shape of the branches I wanted to draw. I consulted with the client once more, making sure she was just as pleased as I was with the concept and design. She thought it was brilliant and told me to proceed. 

The branches...

Leaves at the end of the first day of painting

Finished the leaves, now to the text!

'Be Unapologetically Magnificent'
I thought this project would take me a week at least but I've found myself so enthralled with the space and that I've spent both Monday and Tuesday evening working on it, until it was quite suddenly complete! 
The finished piece!!! 

The text for this piece is less my own and more a quote from the recent retreat I attended. Jane Hope was talking about meditation being a way for us to connect with our magnificence - to allow ourselves to BE magnificent. 

This reminded me of a teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh that I'm rather fond of. He talks about being able to see the entire universe in a tree. When you look at a tree you can see the sun because without the sun, there is no tree. And you can see the clouds because without clouds there is no rain and then there is no tree. And you can see the air and the wind because without your breath and mine there is no tree. 

Trees are magnificent. 

The woman I painted this for is magnificent. 

You are magnificent. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Transported to another world - Book Review

A colleague brought this book in for me to borrow. She was fully aware of my ridiculous habit (This ended up being my 29th book of the year and I'm not around 34 or 35) and wanted to feed it.

I'm not always up for recommendations as some people tend to recommend books indiscriminately. I try my best to find out what genre someone likes before going on and on about a book which may  simply not of interest to someone. I do, however, talk about what I read quite a lot. And it's paid off as my colleague got it right - 100%!

This book is prose that reads like poetry. Within moments I was transported to Malay. I could feel the humidity, smell the tea bushes as they were being harvests and feel the coolness of the mist descending from the mountains.

It was also incredibly eye opening for me. Primarily set in Malay just following the end of World War II, this is the story of part of the world I honestly don't think I've ever had any historical reference for from the 1950s. I didn't really grasp the absolute brutality of the Japanese military and the fallout once the war had ended - which led to the country being what we now know as Malaysia.

Whilst my formal education was pretty damn good I'm still stunned at the gaps in my awareness of what happened in the world east of Europe. The stunningly described imagery in this book contrasted intensely with the pain and suffering of so many people at a time when the entire world was being torn apart by war.

I found myself reflecting on my visit to Hiroshima last year. While in Japan I went to the Peace Garden built around what was ground zero for the atomic bomb. I'd always been taught about it in such a way that the Americans were painted as these brutish bullies whilst the Japanese were poor innocents caught in an excessive retaliation.

While at Hiroshima I really appreciated that war is war is war and no one is excused or excusable for their behaviour. There is equal blame on all sides involved because we've decided to take sides and draw lines on a map on a globe where we all have to live together. The whole idea of countries is arbitrary and a bit ridiculous when Earth is viewed from space. To think that we can justify killing each other because someone crossed an imaginary line or wanted their imaginary line to go out further seems not only childish but like the definition of insanity.

Reading this book really reinforced the fact that there are no winners in something as brutal and mindless as war but it also was a reminder of how important it is to forgive, to grieve, and to appreciate what life offers.