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Start Where You Are: writing at the Powder Keg Sessions

Fire Road spider web

I rose early to watch the sun color the trees on the ridge.
Brilliant green and new yellows appear, with one patch of gorgeous orange, like a singular hat in a crowd, stands out.
As I wrote a cool mist entered this room making my left elbow, nearer the window cold. The trees were veiled for a while. Morning took a left turn, a scenic turnout in to softness for a few minutes.

Now we are back to bright.

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I am preparing for my Powder Keg Sunday Sessions. Today, seven women will gather to write. We will follow Natalie Goldberg’s advice to,

“Start where we are.”

This is how I begin my daily writing.
Where am I?
What just happened?
What dreams do I recall?
What ideas are taking shape, like the trees on the ridge in early light?

We will do this and so much more today.
But if this were all we did, that would be enough, too.

I wrote the following piece from this prompt earlier this week. I started where I was, and where I was was Housatonic. Since then, I have been up to North Adams for the opening of the paper dress show. I will write more about that this week, but for now, you can go here for a few photos.

And, if you haven’t written yet today or wonder where you could even start, let
Natalie’s prompt light a spark under your pen. I’d love to hear where this takes you.

xo S

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The Two Photogenic Corners of Housatonic

I sit at the corner of Van Deusenville Road and Main Street in Housatonic.  Grilled cheesy air buffets the pink whatchamacallits, passing trucks add to the hubbub, the blooms dancing with diesel fumes.  I sit looking towards one of the two photogenic corners of this town, the water tower gloating over the rambling brick buildings.  Shades of rust, brick and marble make this neck of the Berkshires a place you could nearly dine in secret.  Not as posh as Lenox or as touched by Brooklyn as Great Barrington, so artisan slow local and flannel.  Rather, Housatonic is its own version of a working man’s town, formerly very Polish, Irish, Italian and very Catholic.   The headstones of St. Bridget’s Cemetery on Front Street read like a passenger arrival list from a ship that ported in New York Harbor, letting out its tired and hungry masses at Ellis Island.   The houses in this town are historic.  But not having earned any auspicious markers of this history, the trucks rumble through, shaking bricks loose.   Poets and potters live here among the lace shawled old ladies.  It is an excellent place to hunker down and write, eat a bowl of fresh delicious.  I watch women push strollers past.  Kids wave out open school bus windows.  A small blonde girl dives for her art project from her backpack under the bus seat.  She dangles a sparkly blue something out the window.  I am glad she doesn’t drop it.

I am here waiting for my slender German daughter to waft over from her ballet class.  I wait, writing and working, drinking a rare cup of coffee. They don’t serve brewed tea here in this café.  Just the common tea from a box hung on a rack on the wall, which any person with electricity could pass hot water over.  I am a snob about hot drinks.  I consider this convenience style tea one for thermos’ and not for cafes.
Is this too deep a description of an afternoon where I cannot pry my way off of worry and overwhelm?  Does tea really merit a complaint?  Does Housatonic and this rowdy corner where a nine-year old boy runs past at least four times, each pass with something different in his hands-a ball, a bike tire, a small box, and lastly, a bottle of soda I hope he doesn’t drop, does Housatonic really deserve this writing?  This is a small town, old town, rusty brick town along a golden river where slow motion drafts of scent lollygag on a September afternoon.

September 27, 2014

What are you going to do with your power? Social Good Summit wants to know.

SGS 2014 Share Graphic 3

I am at the Social Good Summit at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City.

The conversation about “social good is for all of us” whirls around me, talking about water, conflict-free campuses, stories that live in the now, digital tools, newborns and childbirth, people working with children in war zones, gender equality, our climate, the future, the now, families and the ways that forgiveness lives in communities divided by war.

To say this Summit is overwhelming would be a true thing.

Manhattan is an “island of action”. Yesterday, the People’s Climate Change march was over 400,000 people strong. They all took a long walk on the West Side to show solidarity with our planet.

I have been bobbing along, meeting people, listening, taking notes and photographs and cheering organizations like World Pulse, HeforShe and Beyond Right and Wrong.

In the closing Sunday session, Alicia Keys said,

“Its not about me, it’s about we.”

I wonder what that might mean for you?
What does having your voice mean?
How do you engage with your inner life and what tools do you use to bring that forward?
Do you feel that you have personal power?
Are you using that power in a way that is soul-satisfying?
Does any of this have meaning for you?

I think women, the world over, are stymied by a silent desperation that keeps them quiet. Their life conditions may vary wildly, but the silence is common. There may be practical issues of survival that keep women from using their voices beyond tending the lives in their care. But a common thread is a societal underestimation of the value of motherhood and of women’s lives in general.

I am about to head for home, but wanted to share a few thoughts with you as I digest this massive dose of intentional social entrepreneurship, leadership and community building.

I read this quote from my One Spirit Daily email. It captures why I am here today, and it captures the way I live, and I believe it is why you show up here at Laundry Line Divine. We all aspire to live soulfully. What that looks like in each of us is vastly different. And that difference is a good thing.

“What is leadership? In a word, service…People are starving for models of how to live soulfully. Anyone who is about the task of discovering a spiritual, authentic way to live serves humankind by example. This kind of leadership, by men and women of all walks of life, is what the world needs most. By letting out true selves shine like the morning sun into our families, our communities, and the world, we awaken the best in others.”

~Kevin Anderson, Divinity in Disguise

Next year, I hope to have at least one of my children with me at the Social Good Summit. The goal of this gathering is to see real change by 2030. Change that comes from empowering each other, from the poorest, silenced. I believe that this kind of change, of care and compassion for our neighbors, and ourselves takes shape in small ways that build.

My favorite quote of the day is by Jensine Larsen of World Pulse.

Jensine Larsen Quote Social Good 2014

You, and your pen, or your laptop, are more powerful than a man with a gun.
However you apply yourself, the act of picking up the pen alone is the most important. Finding your voice and using it in your life gives you a tool to connect your inner life with your outer life, it builds bridges and connections to the people and world around you, and gives your soul’s yearning wings. Be willing today, to listen to what calls you.

“One girl with courage is a revolution.” Girl Rising

Here are views of the Summit from Mashable and the UN Foundation. Please enjoy.

Paper Dresses

A laundry line of paper dresses by SBB.
A laundry line of paper dresses by SBB.

I am part of an art exhibit at PRESS: Letterpress as Public Art in North Adams. The show is called Paper Dresses.

It opens in North Adams, MA on September 25 and runs through November 30.
You can read all about it here.

Today, I am keeping my fingers warm while writing my artist statements and sewing.
A poem by Sharon Olds is running around my head. I do not have permission to publish here so you must,
if you are in the mood for a poem, go here to read it.

The last phrase is why.



Inhaling Ursula

Neon Shoes over Brooklyn by Suzi Banks Baum

When guests leave, I have a difficult time cleaning up after them. I like the presence of guests, at least most guests, to linger. My mother used to stop me from putting all the mess of toys in order before we would leave her house. She said the mess allowed her to see my kids playing on her floors, on the couches or in front of the fireplace long after we’d jetted off the Upper Peninsula towards the East Coast.

I know how she feels now.
Our beloved German family, a family we sprouted five years ago when the eldest son of this family of six children came to live with us, just spent a long set of sweet September days with us. They left the fourth child to live with us until December.

We spent warm days swimming at the river.
Cool days we toured MASS MoCA and Brooklyn.
We hiked and walked and strolled and went to yoga together.
We made many meals, much zucchini and melon employed.
And the mother, my dear Ursula, and I made art around the edges and for one and a half days, we worked plumb in the center of this swirl of teens and plums and a chard eating woodchuck.

This morning, I walked in to the room where she slept and without knowing what was happening, I was engulfed in the simple perfume of her presence. Like when you hug your partner’s neck after swimming and only the soft animal scent of skin fills your senses, an eager poetic soliloquy of scent surrounded me. The smell recalled her to me so fully I was sure she was near. But, only a pile of linens and the paper she’d wedged in to a rattling window frame on a windy Berkshire night were present.

We are both mothers. She has three times my children and just as much appetite to make things while in the midst of mothering. We first met in the airport in Florence, Italy near where her family vacationed in the summer. They’d invited us (inwhited, if you are a German speaking English, which is all I can hear in my head as I write. I recall her voice skipping over Vs when she was tired and letting them be Ws) to spend time with them there, before depositing our son with them for a semester at the Schaubing Waldorf High School.

We fell in step with each others mothering styles quickly. We found ease in each others presence through the affection our children spread and before long we were sketching together on a long table overlooking the valley towards Cortona. Ursula is a landscape architect with amazing drawing skills, so the vistas jump off the pages with just a few strokes of her pencil. That first summer of knowing one another had all the makings of a symphony with many parts yet to come, but each new phrase captivating.


Ursula's doodling
Ursula’s doodling

Since that first visit, we have traveled together, spent time in each others homes, sat talking for long evenings and early mornings, picked blueberries, celebrated Full Moons, eaten meals prepared with the other in mind, sent gifts and notes and letters and many many hand made mail art postcards. We have fallen completely in love with each others children and included their friends in the circle of our care. Our husbands are equally eager and engaged and this symphony feels like it will be playing for many years to come.

SBB to Ursula

So when I inhaled Ursula, the longing I felt for her real presence, her laughter, the way she orders a coffee, the endearments she uses for her children, the tone of her voice as she asks a question, her enthusiasm for leaping in to cold rivers or trying new art techniques mellowed from an ache to an exercised response. I have spent many hours with her painting and making books and drifting exotic neighborhoods, photographing laundry or hanging it, laughing over the singleton socks we each collect and seasonally seek to pair. Something about making art together has sewn our friendship, our sisterhood, our shared parenting in to a many-layered blanket that offers comfort beyond what I ever imagined. Now that I know that comfort, her scent, I require it.


Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Italian laundry by Ursula Kern
Ursula sewing a book 2014
Sewing signatures


There are many tales to tell about Ursula. We have made art with our combined children now for five summers. As we travel, we create. We formed the Darling Hill International Artist’s Club four years ago and have had four art showings since then, in Vermont, on Cape Cod, here in the Berkshires and at a cafe in Monte San Savino, Italy. We have weathered a hurricane, an earthquake, a car accident, and foreign borne illnesses of our children. We have earned ribbons for our skillet tossing. Our dumpster dive at a bookbinders last year in Munich is an oft repeated tale these days. This past week, while waiting for her daughter at dance class, we sketched the skyline of Housatonic with the iconic water tower on to up-cycled file folders. We cut the drawings in to stencils, and then transferred the images on to vintage book covers given to us by the boyfriend of another of her daughters. We built Coptic Stitch book covers together, filled the signatures with found, painted and plain papers then sewed them up smartly on a sunny September morning. We make books in the same way we make everything we do, in the midst of making breakfast and lunch and planning dinner, picking figs or berries or apples, and delivering kids to and fro, brushing off all but the most urgent pleas for help so that we can focus together for a few hours.


Ursula's stencil 2014
Prints by Ursula of the Housatonic Water tower 2014



The porch art table by Ursula Kern
The porch art table by Ursula Kern


My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern
My new Coptic Stitch Journal visits Brooklyn By Ursula Kern


What we give each other is permission to want what we want.
What we give each other is permission to answer our soul’s calling in the midst of parenting.
What we give each other is the courage to stop waiting to do what calls us and to engage our families with our fullest selves, the selves that snort when laughing, that pick up random scraps of paper on the sidewalks and often bursts in to song.

What has happened is that our children, from 21 to 10, now, all know that this making art is what makes us happy and they too, in their own ways, have inhaled this brand of bravery in to their own lives, making choices that are much nearer to joy than to duty. They know that familial responsibility includes honoring what the other loves.

Processed with VSCOcam with s6 preset

Ursula left this stone circled heart filled with acorns and a marigold for us on Saturday. The squirrels thanked her for it and ate most of the acorns, so I refreshed her heart and filled it with a rose and nasturtiums and more marigolds. We pass our mothering back and forth like this, pass our time together and apart with these young people in our arms, needing rides, needing counsel, needing lunch and together, we make it happen with room to doodle, to discover and to know each other deeply.

So I see you Ursula, across the table from me, I see your hands chopping tomatoes or parsley, I see you holding the nearest child’s cheeks in your hands and loving with that big heart of yours. I am so happy to know there is a spot for me there.

Who knew our hearts could grow this big?

I am blessed beyond measure.
xo S

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