PROMISE OF THE SEASON OF LIGHT

WORDS & IMAGES: HANNAH WATSON

The feeling of ascension washes over. I have reached the top of the mountain. It is the edge of starkness, cold and damp. There may still be sleeping bears in these hills, nestled neath gnarled ash roots. Herein lies the secret to all delicate woes and worries. This very mountaintop. Sun blaring and angels singing through the tendrils of the wind cracking, her soft hair. I have fallen in love again — “Oh and springtime would know it— there’s nowhere that wouldn’t carry the sound of that annunciation. First those small, querying up-notes that a pure affirming day from afar hushes all around in mounting stillness. Then up steps, up call-steps, to the dreamed-of temple of the future—; and then the trill, fountain whose urgent jet bursts up through its own falling in this contest of promises . . . and soon to come, the summer.” Rilke.

I’ll give you all I have, summer. All the glistening salty oceandrops & teardrops that cull the deep knowing of contentedness. Here I come, summer. I live for you, summer. In all your warmth and fiddle tunes and bonfires and echoes of forrest laughter. These snapshots of life form moments that contribute to feelings of eras. I refuse to let the era of this confusing time taint my summer days. Because what else is left but to experience you in your most physically demanding yet serene trailways. I’ve known you for a long time, summer, and each time I sing your praises, joyously drenched in sweat at the end of a long evening of dancing. The early promises in March, the sweet sounds of June cicadas in your fullness, rushing creeks, quiet drips of perspiring beads in the dark hallways between bands playing. Salty kisses. If I were a witch (witch, I may be) I would concoct a medicine that would pull all the energies of the earth in summertime and infuse it into bottles of elderflower nectar and pass it out to all the sweet lovers out there who seek solace in this time of grieving, unraveling, deportations, and war. How can I better support you, summer? So that your endless days of light do not go unnoticed or passed by in the slightest sin of dullness. I’ll pledge to attune myself to your sensory delights, visions of bunnies hopping past an outdoor shower, groundhogs shuffling about atop windswept balds, and finally the magnificent graces of fireflies illuminating your mountain hollers. You cannot go back to ignorance, but you can fill the new space with joyous occasion, and you can let go of what has grown stale.

I’ll be there waiting for you, summer. Waiting for the Buddha toad that sits nostrils flaring under the porch steps in the twilight. I’ll come have a beer next to you, toad, and tell you of my worries. And you, summer toad, will so graciously possess the patience to listen into the unending hours of the night. Time stands still and waits for your heart to catch up, in the summer. Last summer all I had to do was build a house, listen to radio shows of Appalachian ballads, dunk my flushed face each night in the Laurel River, and walk the property barefoot next to the bespeckled pup of my dreams, my wildman. Tiny chairs of my cousin’s sweet babes sat in Bear Creek behind the new house being built with wood, clay, straw. It was this most recent summer that stirred in me something new yet familiar, from childhood perhaps, indicative of deeper troves that may lie dormant for the other three seasons, yet delight in being drawn out in lengthy chapters during the one true season of light. There is no sweeter time to be alive than summer. It is the time to love what you’ve got while you’ve got it.

Would you like to take a magic rabbit carpet ride with me, this summer?

DEATH OF A RABBIT

 

ART: HANNAH WATSON


Earth - sodium chloride + potassium aluminum sulphate + calcium hydroxide
Plant - indigo + banana + cotton
Air - oxygen
Water
Fire

Animal - white rabbit + human hands

Through the meditative motion of peeling back salty laters of fat tissue membrane, the only thing that plays in my mind is, “gotta go ⇌ gotta flow.” Working with a blunt knife on pristine white rabbit skin that friends from Appalachia had gifted under the philosophy “use all parts of the animal out of respect for the animal,” I am tuned into some quality of consciousness that exists in a harmony of mind / body. I used to come upon this feeling, the endangered species of pure radiant focus, so difficult to achieve in this age of shining screens, while hand sewing in the theater costume shop for hours during college. This feeling of flow is how I came to know my passion at an early age. So so fortunately.

Though I have never tanned a hide (in this life), I feel a return to a motion, a primal and intuitive impetus to separate layer from layer of animal body, working the skin with my hands. This process is how humans used to, and some still do, clothe themselves as a means for not only elemental protection but for cultural expression too. I became curious about this process when a vision to indigo dye white rabbit skins came to me last summer, and, less than a month later while visiting with some homesteader friends, they called out, “Come see the barn where we keep our meat rabbits!”

I work on the hides for hours, forgetting to eat and drink, working into the waning daylight, working by soft moonlight, working until the soreness in my upper back aches at me to take a break, and the voice chanting, “gotta go ⇌ gotta flow” grows ever so slight and eventually fades out. Our power flows not from us, but through us. When an idea visits, all you have to do is put your body to use.

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel lament and exalt the passing and coming of creativity in their 1970 song “Cecilia.” The mystical woman in the song, named after St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition, comes and she goes like a high-power lover, sometimes unlocking worlds of vulnerability you hadn’t yet known before, and sometimes hurting you so badly with her absence so that all prisms of hope leave the spirit. She is fleeting creativity. “Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia up in my bedroom / I got up to wash my face, when I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.” She always comes and she always goes.

Each step in the process of the rabbit hide project has been an exciting pathway to self discovery. And, I’m becoming convinced, connection to a greater human longing to wild. Wild animals. Wild mountains. Wild emotion. It is the relationship of respect to ancestor and animal and planet that continues to fuel my work. To process these rabbit furs is to take the softest white animal fur, the necessity of warmth and protection that it once provided the animal against cold mountain winters in the barn, and to turn it into pure gold after the bunny spirit has exited the body. This process brings me closer to the sometimes uncomfortable truth of eating omnivorously, and it brings me closer to death and to transformation, like the idea of starting a new chapter. I can feel some sort of dancing energy enter the newly formed textile as I make stitch after stitch through tough leathery skin and soft fur. I am bringing this material back to life in one way or another. Giving it new purpose. And it inexplicably all feels right. Like for this one project, everything is going to be alright. And that feeling is something to be revered in these strange times. The truth of it is, we must keep making our art, as it will carry us through to glimpses, and perhaps even sustained periods, of peace that radiate outwards.

MEET OUR FEBRUARY ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE: HANNAH WATSON

Hannah is a collector and creator of textiles from both around the world and from her family ancestral treasures. At a young age, she realized just how creatively activated she became from everyday sensual experiences with various material; however, cloth was the one that always seemed to stand out. Photo-documenting backpacking trips in North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Arizona, Maine, and finally Peru has provided her a plethora of visual inspiration of which to draw upon for her textile creations. Since her teenage years, she has worked developing her craft as a seamstress & patternmaker for theater departments in costume technology, small start-up fashion businesses creating homegrown clothes, a nonprofit in the Sacred Valley, Peru designing textile goods alongside Quechua weavers, and most recently delving into her own art & freelance practices while living in a yurt / studio in southern Appalachia. She received her B.S. in Cultural Anthropology from the College of Charleston in 2013 with a focus on weaving traditions and ethnobotany. Her explorations in the coming years involve furthering her knowledge of natural dye chemistry, complex weave structure on floor looms, and the mystic realm as it relates to weaving traditions. Her hope is to create a
collaborative & experimental textile company merging traditional processes with the starry notions of innovation.

Indigo Bloodmoon Story
In September of 2015, after just having moved into an 18 foot diameter yurt nestled in a holler of Madison County, North Carolina, I could feel a shift happening. I was becoming awakened to the inspiration that lay in the clear fall night skies that signified a closing chapter. The skies that month graced us with not only a super moon, but with a total lunar eclipse to boot. This super blood moon, I’m convinced, caused a brief period of insomnia that led to the creation of this woven piece. I buried a portion of my fears tied to being an artist in the wilderness the night I started to weave this piece. The wool warp was a gift from a friend I met while working in Peru designing textiles. Upon my return to the states, I learned the process of indigo dyeing from a woman running her own indigo design company in South Carolina. After acquiring and dyeing the wool, the prodding desire to learn to weave resulted in another woman offering me her cricket loom, or a 10” little table loom, to get started with the beginnings of weaving. All the bits and pieces of this project, including the gracious women helping me along to realize my vision & the required skill sets, came slow but steady over the course of two years. This woven only made sense as an homage to lady moon stirring and carrying our hearts into
unknown, yet emboldened territory.

PRESSURE

 

WORDS & IMAGE: AHDREAM SMITH

Blood flowing, heart pumping, shallow breathing


Bills piling up: mortgage, car note, credit cards


Working 80 hour weeks just to get by

Veins constricting, chest tightening

Nothing but bad news on TV

No one is safe anymore

Wife yelling at the kids

Heart pounding

Head swimming

Blurred vision

Breathe

Brea...



High blood pressure, often referred to as "pressure" in my family.

Family member:

"I shouldn't have eaten them ribs. Now my head is swimming. My pressure must be up."

"Y'all kids better sit down now, y'all running up my pressure."

"Let me tell you, them people at that job will have your pressure high."

Known in the outside world as the "silent killer."

PHASES OF DELUSION

WORDS & IMAGES: AHDREAM SMITH

ALLURE

Scents of fresh dough dance in my nostrils

Thoughts of the drizzled glaze slip covering her curves excite my imagination

Golden brown exterior

Soft and fluffy interior

Hot and fresh

GUILT

Doctor says she's not good for me

She's impacting my heart

Raising my blood pressure

I need to cut back

I try to explain that I don't indulge on purpose

I start with one

It melting on the tongue like a frozen ice cube on a hot summer day

Three seconds later, nine of the dozen are remaining

DENIAL

Doctor tells me if I keep messing with her I could lose my vision

Lose my limbs

Lose my life

Says I'm walking a thin line and a future of diabetes and medications are around the corner

Doc, I'm young, I don't smoke or drink

What's a little quality time here and there

Plus, we only meet when the RED LIGHT is on

 

In the “Diabetes Belt,” specifically in Memphis, TN, Krispy Kreme is King. Reaching young people early through promotional discounts throughout the school year: free doughnuts to students for every “A” that they get on their report card. Always go when the light was on. Your doughnuts were guaranteed to be HOT and FRESH. Being a pretty smart kid in school, report card time was always a time that I looked forward to.  

 

Fast forward, I now live in a place that has only one Krispy Kreme in the region and I have family and friends dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol due to their environment and being in a state of delusion regarding their health. To them, it’s just something else to deal with, but for me I feel like they are one step closer to death. Choosing the temporary satisfaction of the “red light” quick fix, that soothing cold cup of southern sweet tea, them sweet and tangy sodium filled short ribs over being here with me; creating memories and having experiences. 

CHOICES

WORDS & IMAGE: AHDREAM SMITH

I hate needles.
I hate blood.
Sterilizes finger.


Prick, stick, ouch!
Push, squeeze, almost.
Not enough, new finger.


Doesn’t that hurt?
Chile, I’ve been doing this for the last…18 years.
Every day, at least twice a day
Sterilizes finger.
Prick, stick, ouch!
Push, squeeze, got it.
(Glucose meter Reading) 102


Look, I’ve lived a good life.
I’ve only had to bury one of my nine children
I’ve gotten to see my grandchildren grow up and go off to college.
I have no complaints.


One of the toughest things to watch is the people in your life that you care about suffer and be in pain. As a child, I never really understood why my grandma was always sticking herself with needles. She was either pricking her finger or injecting some liquid into her stomach/leg.
Later I would learn that it's because she has Type 2 diabetes. It's a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar usually induced by poor nutritional choices.

What does choice truly mean when you are unaware that you have other options? 

Three weeks before the Christmas holiday, I called my grandma to learn more about her health. On that phone call I discovered that not only did she have diabetes, but that she was currently taking nine medications. How is this possible? Who are her doctors? Why is she taking so many drugs? It was in that moment that I realized that my grandma had been systematically set up and everything that she knew to do, that she thought was a choice, was really a pre-determined move to keep her sick enough to keep going to the doctor yet alive enough to keep her relying on her prescriptions. 

 

MEET OUR JANUARY ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE: AHDREAM SMITH

AhDream is a multi-faceted performing and visual artist. Her love for adventure and visual storytelling has taken her all over the globe. Interested in the intersections and overlays of ethnic identities that manifest through gender, socio-economics and culture; her work primarily focuses on the subtleties that exist in plain sight. In her most recent project, she takes a more introspective approach, exploring her experiences, memories and thoughts regarding family members that are dealing with curable and reversible diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes through creative writing and photography.

THE HOMES WE INHABIT: NEW YORK

WORDS: DJIBRIL SALL

IMAGE: BEKAH FLY

vi.

I woke up in the afternoon and sat up on the couch to find death sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping on a glass of rosé from the boxed wine besides the sink. The air tinged of a melancholy that comes with a sunny, Brooklyn Wednesday when you’re crashing on a friend’s couch, waiting for employment and only eat once a day.

I reached for my own glass of wine that I didn’t finish from last night and sip. It tasted a bit stale and made my lips pucker but it did the work. I looked at the space where death’s eyes should have been and saw myself turning into dust—their lips stretched over their grainy teeth remind me of sand rubbing blood out my skin. “Why are you here?” I ask.

“I heard you were thinking of me so I came to visit.”


vii.

I could be at five different clubs and I am dancing. Drunk, coked out, on adderall, and sniffing poppers. I will eye beautiful men and take them into the restrooms so we can be naked, suck dick and maybe fuck. Later I will sit on a rooftop with a crew of models and we will watch the sunrise while smoking cigarettes and snorting lines. I just hope I don’t overdose.


viii.

This is real.

My father taught me that being black, African and a man means being severe; here, we cut our teeth across heartstrings and sever our connections to emotions to stare survival into submission.

But look twenty-two years into the future and I am crying on the subway en route to meeting friends. The Orlando shooting reminds me of the taste of bad news on my newsfeed. Shook me lucid and breathed nightmares into my eyes. There they go, dripping down my cheek—salt mingling with the smell of tequila and kissing men in Lower East Side restrooms. 

A wonderful drink for late morning misery. A wonderful drink for waking up and pounding forgettings from the recesses of skulls.

The people who were holding on to the same pole as me let go and dispersed to opposite ends of the train when they sensed emotion building behind my eyelids. I get it, the wind should have blown away the dusty remains of my tear ducts a long time ago. I get it, masculinity should have desiccated feeling out of my blood and turned my body to salt and stone. I get it, my heartstrings are healing and some cluck doctor told you that being a man is a chronic illness so you can’t believe the miracle happening in front of you. I get it, seeing a man cry in public is shocking business. 

But I don't think I was that messy that I deserved to be abandoned without ceremony.

I look back at the men I’ve slept with. They’re taken aback when I say I prefer being bottom so I always add on the vers tag to my dating profiles to assure them I am capable of domination. Most of the times I'm met with stares on the street because people don't know where to place me on the spectrum—on the periphery of gay and straight, local and international. Living in the liminality of passing and non-passing. Too ambiguous for comfort, but I guess some people think that’s glamorous too.

On the train, this older man continually glanced at my black nails and bleached hair but tried his hardest to avoid my eyes. Even though he's a stranger, he reminds me of hiding to fake innocence and a father who didn't come to my graduation because disappointment can sometimes smother love.

My stop arrives, I gather myself from the pole. As I leave the train, I know there is nothing worse than the numbing because the shock of waking up could kill you. How mortal it feels to remember that I am a target for pain because I accept truth into my bones.


ix.

Partake in the distance. You are dripping low, slipping and slooping down to asphalt. Wheels grinding motion into steel wanderlust. Be the window shield, feel the specks of rain split you as you speed on a cloudy bridge in Baltimore. Split, splat—feel how the water bounces into smithereens and end up halfway between infinity and being born. Beauty, boredom, basic, nothing. Just blank, black canvas covering up the white of everything, the white of New York, the white noise, the imprisoned space. Maybe on to Austin and free space and buildings that aren’t more than three stories tall except in downtown. Except how could you forget the white, the white—dripping low, slipping and slooping all down on you? Remember the taste of the world, the genesis of experience, the need to go, wheels grinding motion into steel wanderlust.


x.

A sliver of moon winking closed at dusk. Silver eyelashes curling down a cityscape of glimmering lights, waving in-between existence out distant windows; a mirage of heavenly bodies earthbound within steel and concrete. A wail, celestial, ephemeral and unearthly, hums along with the radiators on top of the roof. Open event horizon and let her through. Let the lights blink and scatter throughout the universe.