Carnevale, or how Venice and Alaska are alike

Carnevale12When you arrive in Venice or Denali National Park in Alaska, it’s a “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore,” kind of a moment. Everything you know about being in the world shifts slightly. Granted, some of the dangers one encounters in Denali National Park are unlikely in Venice (i.e. being eaten by a grizzly bear) what is true to both though, especially during Carnevale, is how humans love to look at the “other.” Whether the other consists of caribou, grizzlies and wolves, or men and women in lavishly designed costumes, the impulse for the observer to photograph, stare, document and savor exists in both.

Mellie in the mirrorIn Denali National Park, the people transporting busses stop for significant animal sightings and all the humans snap pictures, comment, and go ooh and ahh.

In Venice, photographers of all levels cluster and shoot when costumed people appear. Early morning sunrise in San Marco brings out the more serious shooters, with their tripods, flood lights, flash umbrellas, and the like. These pictures are a mix of some that I took and some that my sister took. (She and my nieces where here during the first weekend of Carnevale. Look for the pictures of us making our own masks!)

The other similarity between Venice and Alaska is the relationship to wilderness. The more I think about Thoreau and his study of wilderness, and especially his phrase “In Wilderness is the preservation of the world”, the more I believe it is about cultivating a state of mind versus an experience in a particular place. When I was in Denali, Doug and I talked extensively about this, and decided that wilderness is about being present to the unpredictability of life, the knowledge that while we think we are in control, a grizzly bear could appear out of nowhere, just like a person decked out in 17th century finery in Venice emerges from around a corner. This ability to remain alert, to maintain a wilderness mindset, cultivating a welcome acceptance of the unexpected, good and bad, this is one of many “Lessons of Venice.”

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, which means Carnevale has been happening here in Venice for the past ten days, with all kinds of revelry and costumed people. I must admit, I will be grateful for Thursday when the crowds will have gone and the quiet of the Venice winter returns. But grateful for having had this experience of seeing the city transformed by revelry and little moments like what just happened–moments that are impossible to photography, but will remain with me long after I leave here. In both instances, the photographs don’t even begin to capture the magic of each moment. Hopefully my drawings tomorrow will…

  • …a groups of five LED lit white-clothed people just walked through my campo. They were like little snowballs of white light. Perfect. Glorious.
  • And another moment, today on my way to yoga there were three people, I think men, in lovely period costumes with elements of nature. A moss and flower covered staff and massive amounts of peacock feathers coming out of their masks. It was so pretty and they were moving gracefully through the crowd at the base of the Rialto while some string instruments serenade them.

Truly a magical moment. 

Navigating Venice

I have a really great sense of direction and an understanding of where I am in space. I often think about my location from an aerial perspective, especially when I am some place new. When I close my eyes, the map of my location appears in my mind’s eye, allowing me to settle into my new environment and find my way. I make all kinds of journeys this way, traversing up and down streets, mountainsides and pathways.

Venice challenges every fiber of the above statement. Typically if my instinct tells me to turn right (destra) or left (sinistra), in Venice, it’s likely the other way. Often what looks straight on a map is really a number of small turns to the left and right, so when zoomed out, appears to be a straight line. NavigatingVenice1 NavigatingVenice3 NavigatingVenice2There are all kinds of signs throughout the city, golden ochre signs with names of bridges, or landmarks or destinations to help the lost soul navigate. Venice is good for lost souls, it forces you to trust all kinds of things you would normally not trust or do. For example,

  • If your supreme map reading skills tell you to turn right at the third street, turn right, even if it looks like that street is a dead end alley.
  • If your every instinct tells you to turn left, but you see a sign that says you should go in the opposite direction, follow the sign. (Unless, of course, you want an adventure. )
  • Don’t be afraid when you find yourself alone, at night, in a dark alley. Every road is a dark alley. Trust it. Going through it might lead you to the most amazing view, path or destination. Venice is one of the safest cities around.
  • You know that feeling of mild panic when you realize you are lost? Let it become your friend, if you can be with it, it will open up all kinds of things for you.
  • When you become a certain age, keep an extra pair of reading glasses in your coat pocket. Reading a map of Venice is nearly impossible anyways, and at night, without glasses, you are doomed.
  • NavigatingVenice9If you see a bright light down a street you haven’t taken before, go towards it. You never know what you may find. And you will be surprised. Sometimes those “detours” actually are faster ways to get to your actual destination, or at the very least just as scenic.
  • There are many, many, many ways to get to the same destination. Some are direct, others are tranquil. Some avoid obstacles, like acqua alta when it happens or the evening rush hour. And others are well, just variety and keep your mind alert for new things.

NavigatingVenice6Many times signs for Scuola di San Rocco has helped me find my way back to one of the main thoroughfares when I am just wanting to get home from some place at night and not looking for a wander or an adventure.Every time that happens, I think of my friend Robin whose maiden name is Roch–and ever since I’ve started traveling I’ve gone to Roch and Rocco churches and have said a prayer for her. This trip there have been many of those…that sign saves me a couple of times a week! These ways of wandering in Venice spin around in my head and my sketchbook, with the hope of becoming something in the next few weeks. I’m nearly at my half-way point in Venice, and it’s time to get serious about what I want to accomplish here. More about that soon! NavigatingVenice7

waxing my third eye, Venice edition

waxing my third eye SG0As part of my residency at the Scuola, I am honored with a solo show in their gallery. I thought it would be towards the end of my residency, but I discovered five days after arrived, that it needed to happen, well, right away, to open today January 20th, with the install on the 18th. (I arrived on January 7…I’ll let you do the math.)

Thankfully I brought with me a few prints, an artist book, and an idea/vision. And then the past week I’ve been in the studio all day making little red “balls”, setting and printing type, stitching and constructing. And I finished last night! Here’s the statement:

Waxing My Third Eye presents experiments on paper and artist books involving pressure printing, painting and stitching on paper, and handset letterpress type by American artist Melanie Mowinski. In meditation, the third eye becomes the focus point between the two actual eyes. There are some people who believe that the third eye is a partially dormant pineal gland between the two hemispheres of the brain. Others look at it as the place of connection with the actual pineal gland that resides near the center of the brain tucked in a groove where the two halves of the thalamus join.  Regardless, when focusing on this point during meditation one can access what Descartes believed to be “the principal seat of the soul and place in which all our thoughts are formed.” Attention to this inner eye allows the meditator to connect to one’s internal and external world as witness with an eye to acceptance of the impermanence of life. The work in this exhibit evolved from explorations of using this focus point to alleviate pain and anxiety that Mowinski experienced as she muddled through a year of surgeries due to breast cancer. (If this is new to you, click on this link for a wee bit of back story.waxing my third eye SG3 waxing my third eye SG4 waxing my third eye SG5

My vision of the exhibit is that you start with I am Brave, which I began making to help prepare me for the mastectomy. Then you move through the red yarn and little red dots, which are often part of my work, and symbolize struggle, loss, and calm through meditation. As Kiki Smith says “I think there’s a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries.”waxing my third eye SG6 waxing my third eye SG7 waxing my third eye SG8


Next comes a series of small compositions, 5×5 inches, some with letterpress text, most with stitched additions like dots and pathways. waxing my third eye SG11 waxing my third eye SG12 waxing my third eye SG13 waxing my third eye SG14 waxing my third eye SG15 waxing my third eye SG16

This transitions abruptly to a different color palette, into the first work I created after the mastectomy while at Wells this summer. And finally, a new book made just this week which represents that it’s time to move forward.

waxing my third eye SG17 waxing my third eye SG18 waxing my third eye SG19

In gathering all of this together, sitting with it for the past two weeks, I feel like I can let it go and move forward. This will always be part of me, but will not define me.

In retrospect, the pressure became a gift. It forced me to make the work I’ve been struggling to make for the past six months and reminded me of Parkinson’s Law: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. I’m certain that had I not had this deadline thrown upon me, the work would have stretched over my entire time here in Venice. Now the exhibit is done, and I can get on with other ideas that are bubbling!

Big thank you to those who helped make this exhibit possible:

  • Matilda and Lorenzo at Scuola for inviting me to come for a residency for six-weeks.
  • Hyemi, Scuola resident coordinator for her help installing, and her vision. This young women made compositional connections with some of the smaller pieces as she installed it resulting in links I couldn’t see because I was so steeped in the making.
  • Deirdre Kelly, Scuola exhibition coordinator for her help installing and the insight for layout.
  • Nina Molin, who came up with the title during an hysterical conversation about hair removal a couple of weeks after the mastectomy
  • Doctor Lockhart, for pushing me to sort through the remaining emotional, spiritual and psychological residue from losing a breast.
  • And always, to Douglas Molin, who lights my life daily, whether we are near or far from each other. I am so grateful for your support and unending belief in and love for me.



I am in Venice.IMG_2018

I arrived yesterday, after spending a couple of great days with my sister, her husband and my favorite nieces and one of my favorite nephews in Munich.IMG_0243

I am here on a fellowship at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica. I came with the goal of using their letterpress equipment and all kinds of fun stories have come to me around the printing of Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark by Peter Koch at Scuola. Before I arrived an acquaintance of mine told me a bit about the story behind Koch’s printing of it, involving floating a Vandercook #4 down the Grand Canal to Scuola so he could print it there. Once I arrived, another resident told me about it again. This is the press I will be using. It feels like there is all kinds of good and crazy juju with this press, for the Watermark printing was quite an ordeal, or so I have heard. I am looking forward to seeing proofs of it…I’m hoping it’s in the Scuola archives. We shall see.  And I had an LOL moment. This is the typecase layout:IMG_0245

Whoa, that is NOT a California Job Case. Of course not, I’m in Italy!

Everyone I have met in the past 30 hours has cautioned me about the letterpress equipment. That it’s totally a mess. I was prepared for a real nightmare, imagining some of what I cleaned and what my incredible interns cleaned over the years. (Thank you Carrie, Adriana, Sarah, Marli.) I investigated and determined it needs some love and attention, but that they have what I need to do something.  Who knows what that means!

Scuola’s type faces are a bit “dirty,” to use a letterpress term, (meaning the cases are mixed up by size and font), not too terribly, and very little cuts/forms. But what they do have fits into an every constant challenge of mine: time. I can’t WAIT to use these cuts.

I spent today, my first day, culling through my writings and readings, reviewing what I underlined and garnering it together with the hope of finding connecting threads. (Thank you Holly Wren Spaulding for the perfect blog post about just this today!) So far the circle seems tie it all together. No surprise there.

This was of course after a nice little run through San Marco and out to the Giardini, then a walk to an art supply store and finally arrival at Scuola. On the way home from Scuola, (which is on Cannaregio and my apartment is on San Marco) I stopped at Chiesa di Santo Stefano. My friend Marianne (brilliant pop-up and animation artist) inspired me to do what she did when she spent time in Venice, to visit a different church every day. So far I’m two for two! Wish me luck.

I’m here through February 20th, provided I don’t get too homesick. If you happen to be coming through, do let me know. I would love to do a cicchetti crawl with someone!

Begin again

Ah, here it is, the start of a new year. I am grateful to say goodbye to 2015, and delighted to welcome the opportunities of 2016. One of my end-of-the-year rituals involves cutting the flowers from one of my house plants, which I think is a type of lily. (If you know the name, can you please tell me in the comments?!) Doug and I hike with them to our reservoir and toss them into the current, offering them to the earth along with various prayers of gratitude for the past year and hopes for the new (25)

During December 2015, I participated in a weekly reflective activity designed by Kate Matsudaira, a technology executive and startup founder, who has been on the quest for the perfect notebook for more than 10 years. The SPARK notebook and organizing system celebrates the fun and beauty of organization and reaching one’s goals thanks to that organization. This is my first year using it, as I too, am on the search for the perfect notebook. Kate’s has many many attributes that I like, and I look forward to reporting how it helps me stay organized this next year.

But what I have really enjoyed are the four weeks of reflection she provided on her blog to help one examine that past year, and anticipate the upcoming year. She organized them by

  • Week #1Starting the new year with a bang!
  • Week #2 The Key to your Future
  • Week #3 Picking your 2016 Theme
  • Week#4 Making your goals your reality

I completed all of these worksheets and am fine-tuning my goals. I already have a number of commitments, which makes achieving these goals easier. But then there are the back burner goals that I want to move to the front burner. I’m hoping this system will help me make some progress in that arena.

I also close out my calendar of the year and begin afresh with a stark, white grid, ready for the new year. 2015 won’t be posted until late February when I return from my travels abroad. Scanning attempts were thwarted by bizarre technical difficulties. But you can look at past calendars here.

Until then, I wish you the best as you begin anew, and that you find whatever system that works for you to help you reach your (26)


Advent Day 25: Merry Christmas

When I am able to celebrate Christmas with my parents, which I am this year, it also means I become an honorary member of their choir for the night. Thankfully I have many years of chorale practice under my belt, and can still sight read music. Put me next to a strong soprano and I can keep up remarkably well. We closed the service with the one of my favorite Christmas carols: Joy to the World. The line “Let every heart prepare him room,” speaks volumes to me, especially when considering Thomas Merton’s words that I shared yesterday. I know some of you who read this blog are not religious–but regardless of your creed, to me “him” is light and love. How do we prepare our hearts for light and love to come and then go out back into the world?

If you have been reading my Advent entries this year, you know that I have had a challenging year, and am still navigating my way through the health challenges presented to me. It strikes me that opening our hearts to light and love is not a prescription, or a one-size fits all kind of event. But an everyday practice. Today’s celebration is not about the conspicuous consumption of material goods, it’s “making room for light and love” in our hearts. It’s easy to hide those “dark nights of the soul.” Light makes them clearer, love helps let them go.

Today I wish you a very joyful, love-filled and healthy Christmas. May your hearts be filled with light and love today and everyday through this next year. One Size Does Not Fit All


Advent Day 24: Dream

Today’s words come from Thomas Merton’s essay, “The Time of No Room” from 1965. It’s included in his books Raids on the Unspeakable, as well as A Thomas Merton Reader.

In “The Time of No Room” Thomas Merton reflects: “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it—because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it—his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world.”

It’s a short essay, and still relevant and timely today. 1965/2015. So many parallels. My Christmas dream centers in on the work that we all must still do to create a world where everyone feels like they belong, regardless of race, creed, gender, class or other label.Advent Day 24

This is my Christmas Eve meditation as I drive the 521.4 miles from Cheshire, MA to Hudson, OH for Christmas. Where is my place in this world? How do I use my gifts to make it better? Let us dream together how we can make a home for everyone, including ourselves in this demented world of ours.

Advent Day 23: Revise or censor?

Today’s collage if examined closely, contains numerous layers: papers that initially created cohesiveness, but after further consideration really did not. When that happens, I whip out the gesso and mask the area in question, hoping that it might neutralize the composition and help establish clarity. And while the gesso is out, it’s hard to resist the impulse to make little dots.

But really, what’s at play here is censorship. For those of you who know my Calendar Project, you may know that I battle with self-censorship on a daily basis. Once I realized that other people would look at and sometimes pour over my calendars (which happened nearly immediately), I began to censor what I included and couched other things in my own symbolic language.

So what is this collage really about?

This collage began with an homage to my bionic breast. A year ago today I joined a club to which I never imagined I would access when it became clear that there was something suspicious going on in my right breast. (I am sure many of you have memberships like that of your own.) And I consciously decided not to write about it in this blog. I did not and do not want to be that artist who used her blog and her art to heal her journey through breast cancer. (Which was and is pretty crazy, the second part at least, because I know full well the healing power of art.)

Here I am, just shy of three months from getting my bionic breast and a little over six months from having a mastectomy, and I am far from healed. Physically, yes, as my sister-in-law said to me at the start of this “to cut is to cure.” And indeed that cutting did cure me.

But as my surgeon told me last week, for some people it takes the mind and the heart about six months to catch up to the cutting. So what I am experiencing right now is completely normal. And I have to move through the anger, the vulnerability, and the fact that I may never comfortably do a push-up again.

There are so many parts of my story that are good. My disease was not invasive. I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation. My Douglas and his sisters are doctors, one of them a breast surgeon and all three were by my side at every step of this. My mom came out twice to help me, and made countless batches of sugar cookies to help me eat something when I didn’t want to eat anything. My friends called, walked with me and visited. My colleagues on Main Street pitched in and helped make PRESS’s final summer on Main Street a success. My parents’ friends and members of their church sent me flowers, cards and a prayer quilt. One of my cousin’s made me the best playlist ever of church hymns written by Jesuits in the 1970′s. Other family members sent food gift cards, mowed my labyrinth, filled my email with encouragement and sent letters and holy cards.

I am blessed that I am on sabbatical this year without the pressure of my teaching and college politics. And I ran five miles this morning at a 9:22 pace. (Thank you Ellen.)

And really, I know now that if I can cut off my breast, I can do anything. (Including getting into cold water.)

Advent Day 22: Happiness comes in waves

Many years ago I made an artist book entitled Happiness Comes in Waves. It’s a fantastic little book that utilizes one of my favorite structures, the flagbook. It was featured in 500 Handmade Books Volume II. Here’s the text:

Happiness comes in waves, like corduroy lined up ready to hit the shore as clarity, togetherness, contentment, joy. I remember sitting on my board in the deep blue-green, watching the sets of waves lumbering towards me. I waited for the one with the right drop that would give me the ride of my life all the way across the bay.

Learning the difference between the waves that would send me in and the waves that would dump me onto the coral reef straight ahead took practice, courage and faith. The best waves often loomed high above and scared me as they came off their line in the set. To get a good ride, I had to kick hard at the right moment and commit to riding the wave, confident in my choice and ready for whatever it offered.

One particular wave dumped me hard; tossing me between rises, gasping for air, choking on salt and sea, clawing to the surface scared and suffering, only to be knocked under again. My mind knew that the torture of the sets beating me down would end, for only a certain number of waves are in a set. But it was easy to forget this in the midst of the whirling water.

Eventually, the pounding ceased, and I was able to kick back out to the breaking point to wait for the next round. I knew that the ride to the bay, alive with bumps and thrills, pure joy and ecstasy would come.

I’m thinking about this artist book, the day after the solstice, largely because of the words that happened to become part of today’s collage. I wanted to use yellow and the paper with “catch a wave” kept coming into my trial arrangements. The text for Happiness Comes in Waves was written during a time when I needed to remind myself that the “dump” (the technical term for getting tossed off your surf board) into the churning water is part of every joyous ride. You practice, you learn. You begin to master a skill. Yet sometimes, no matter how practiced, primed and prepared you are, something dumps you off your ride. And only you can decide if you are going to get back on that board and go in again. photo (21)

Last night I built a fire for the solstice and got it going in less than five minutes with only one match, and it was raining lightly. All I could think about was all the times when it took me what seemed like forever to get the fire going. And that’s when these two different metaphors came together for me. Just as I am the only one who can decide to get back on my board, I am also the only one who can light my fire within. I can choose to stay off the board and in the dark, or get on and get that fire going.

Advent Day Twenty-One: Into your groove

One of my favorite podcasts is Krista Tippett’s On Being. She broadcasts a new episode, or sometimes a popular previous episode, nearly every week. Last week she published her conversation with Martin Sheen which revealed a whole new side of this actor to me. A devout Catholic and activist, not just an actor, Martin Sheen was good friends with Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest, poet and activist, and often stood side-by-side with him at demonstrations and rallies for peace and justice. (I bet he also knew Corita Kent!) What surprised me the most is that he has been arrested over 60 times as part of his activism. It’s a good listen. I recommend the unedited version. It contains a few extra morsels of thought. photo (19)

This part of the conversation totally relates to what I wrote about yesterday:

I have another phrase I use so often when I’m faced with having to do something that I know I have to do and yet I want to put it off, procrastinate a bit. It’s, “We must accept the cup as offered, not altered.” And so, you know, we always want — “Could you pour some out, please? It’s too full,” or, “Could you put a little sugar in there, please?” “Maybe not today. Can I take some tomorrow?” No, no, afraid not. We have to accept it as it’s offered.

I feel quite blessed to have found these words today and the whole conversation between Krista Tippett and Martin Sheen. I hope you find the time to listen to it, especially on this day of looking to the light. So much of this is about getting to this day, moving through it and then beginning the great anticipation back to the summer solstice. We wait and we listen, and hopefully accept what is given, with as much gratitude as we can muster, when it is good and when it is bad. Happy Solstice. Look to the light.