Julia ferrari
in between
 
Julia Ferrari with her late partner Dan Carr has been making books for the past 35 years. She is a printmaker, painter, poet, letterpress printer, bookbinder, and typographer. As the co-founder of Golgonooza Letterfoundry and its presses, Trois Fontaines, and Four Zoas Night House Ltd, she has been working in the craft of fine bookmaking, creating limited edition books that are in major public and private collections throughout the world.

Her latest endeavor since losing her partner has been to continue the art of punchcutting letters in steel, in the ancient method of making and designing types. Taught by the renowned Nelly Gable, from the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris where this craft has been carried on for 500 years. She is carrying on the Foundry & Press, and plans to create an International School of Typography and Letters, to insure that the craft of fine design, lettering, and letterpress bookmaking continues for future generations. "Golgonooza" is from William Blake’s visionary poem the Four Zoas and is the city of Transformation through Art.

You can contact the author through her web blog:— golgonoozaletterfoundry.com/journal

Previous entries in this column are in the archive HERE

This work is copyright © 2013 © 2016 all rights reserved

 
 

FEAR

 

Recently I’ve been reminded of the power of fear—our collective and our individual fears: of moving forward, of the unknown, of change. Trauma in life hits us with such unexpected force, catching us unaware or unprepared and sometimes leaving us seemingly incapable of dealing with the after effects: the path ahead, the new normal. Are there ways we can steer ourselves ahead within a state of uncertainty, and still manage to steady ourselves (and others) without putting the brakes on and abandoning our reality? Can we take small steps forward and even watch our potent reactions and aversions to our circumstances?

 

Life keeps changing, nothing we relied on in the past can absolutely be relied on in the future, because everything in the universe moves, spins, unfurls, closes, disappears, reappears—without our control. Beloved trees are cut down, sources dry up, hopeful candidates lose, and people die, but just as importantly, new seedlings survive and grow, new sources of inspiration or substance appear, and new people or opportunities enrich our lives.

 

Life hits us, life hurts. … it can’t be avoided. Sometimes our physical selves just want to stop us from moving on. Armies within us who want to protect us cry out, we panic, we cry, we can’t breathe, we face what seems like the end of the world … we step on the brakes…

 

Even so, after repeated harsh blows in life we can choose to automatically put up walls to protect ourselves from pain, thus avoiding any chance of undergoing such discomfort again or stretch to step into the unknown without letting the fear stop us. It is our nature to protect ourselves from pain, yet by putting up walls in protection, do we not distance ourselves from who we truly are...sentient beings capable of feeling? When we allow something to get through, allow our deeper selves to be touched by circumstances (as we see in the innocence of children) we allow ourselves to experience the freshness and aliveness of our choice—to react or not, to become overwhelmed or not, to have compassion or not.

 

 

THE DUST

 

Facing the worry

Facing the wall

I pace back and forth

Back and forth

Worrying about the dust, the goddamned dust

Covering the unused places

That once grew life

 

It’s all in me

The reticence

The bewilderment

The procrastinating

The deeper fears

And I can’t quite see the reason for it

 

This body, my physical body

Has dug in its heels

Has said “enough”

“This is what I cannot do.”

 

Then lifting my head to the west I see the clouds over the river

Beginning to move over the land toward the light

Their colors like jewels in a hair clasp

All silver and topaz and gold,

Lifting, curling,

Telling me that it’s all on its way

Moving as it should

A part of the process

And my heart lifts with the light

Saying “enough,”

“This is what I cannot do

But maybe, just maybe,

this is what I can.”

 

   poem copyright  J. Ferrari, 2016




After a Fire Puja


 

 

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a Fire Puja, a Buddhist offering ceremony. It was on a quiet damp day and it made me think about the contrast of what we get mired in, in our lives and how that becomes on one level very real, yet how it is also illusion. Letting go of those patterns we hang onto is not easy. They in some way seem to hold us together, and make us what we are — but to see through all that stumbling around — to simply see that what surrounds us and challenges us is a gift (one that will be here for a short time) is a powerful way to approach life. One of those gifts are all the people we love in this life, and to all degrees — from our parents (which can be a love/hate relationship for some), to our friends, to our heart partners — whether they be companions, lovers or marriage partners… all those who we have been lucky enough to meet, and learn from … and to stretch a bit, that also includes the difficult people in our lives, (such as the mad, tree-cutting neighbor) i.e. those hardest to like, let alone love...kind of like a reverse kick, propelling us into a new perspective.

 

As to those other important gifts, the challenges we face…they are harder to embrace. Life offers us many choices, some where we are able to choose wisely and some where we make mistakes (and as we know, all choices can result in unplanned consequences). Yet again, at times some of life's biggest challenges do not come as a choice but are foisted on us against our will, and we are faced nonetheless with difficulties. I think it is very often that our most challenging circumstances are those that truly teach us, for what hurts us deeply we can potentially learn the most from. Those times where we suffer and hit bottom can sometimes be turning points in our lives towards something new and better, or at least towards growth. But it doesn’t happen easily nor without struggle. In fact I’d say in our easy world, where everything is softened and eased by the touch of a button, (where we no longer need to remember telephone numbers, or even how to spell, since our ipad or smart phone will simply do it for us), we’re not quite equipped nor at all adjusted to something that is just plain hard—to change ourselves… It takes effort, not Herculean effort perhaps, but a willingness to keep trying, to not give up, to put one step forward, and then another. We don’t have to push so hard against the flow that we’re swept away by it, but by walking the level path and keeping our efforts even, that may be all that's needed. Will we lose our balance? Of course; will we feel discouraged? Of course; will there be progress? ... Yes. With sustained small efforts we will progress. I speak from my own experience, and yet I am still working toward righting my path, still finding my equilibrium, my way after the storm — in my case a devastating loss…. Now it's up to me and it's been taking time. Yet, I’m not discouraged, I keep taking each day as it comes, asking for my habits to catch up to my vision, holding on to that inner peace, as that is what I do have. Yet things keep changing, the world keeps moving on … seasons change, things get taken away — it’s as if we are on a planet moving at high speed through space, looking out the window as the world flows by, totally in motion, nothing fixed, not even the ground we stand on. Life is a process of change, without it there is only death or stagnation. Over time we come to know what it is that we need to work on, to change in ourselves. We can begin to see our stagnation in specific parts of our life, for we have experienced the blockages and telltale problems in those places that hold us back from growth. That's not to say that we shouldn't hold a steadiness of purpose in things. Those things that are our foundation, our true essential unchanging self, will be recognized as part of an enduring momentum for good which pulls us through the tough times to continue to become our better self.


 

So how do we begin again? How do we let all the baggage drop and accept without fear what life is offering us?  Perhaps by watching for the small things … taking baby steps when we’re overwhelmed, not denying the joy in life, not clinging to things because “that’s just the way we’ve always done it,”...  just breathing in and starting over.

 

 

 

PS To Myself

 

Take the time to look,

As the wind rises

To blow your prayers away

In a swirl of grey-blue smoke

Curling over the land’s edges

Where all things begin again

 

Take the time to breathe

As the soft rain fills your senses

To dampen this empty field

And moisten your dry, parched heart

 

When do we see

That all this struggle is just

Our feet getting stuck in the sand

Instead of a choice—

To simply watch as the spirits and beasts

Their eyes closed gently,

Stand at the edge of the wood.




A QUIET RAIN FALLS


 

We finally got some cumulative rainfall in New England, a downpour, and the day before, a quiet rain overnight. This is needed here for the crops to grow … that slow penetration of water, to mingle and make available the soil nutrients, then sun to warm and energize. I think about how our lives are no different. The essential self is affected by our environment of growing up, just as the wind or drought will affect seedlings. I think that none of us come through childhood or life without those difficult events that begin to shape us. Whether we are presented with the deeply challenging circumstances of thoughtless or hurtful people, significant loss, or consistently unstable, undesirable events, environments or conditions, all these things take the developing self and place restrictions and encumbered shackles upon it. I have come to believe that since most of us go thru this (to differing degrees) that it is actually our opportunity for growth being laid out for our lifetime. I would even go so far as to say that it is perhaps our map (in a reverse way) to finding our way back to wholeness and happiness.

 

I’m beginning to think we come into this life being given the circumstances we need to be broken, then are given the means or circumstances to grow out of them, albeit sometimes very slowly, as it may take a lifetime. Oftentimes it takes recognizing that we can become set in our beliefs, habits, patterns, pain, or restrictions, which can hold us in unhappiness and limitation. But, this can eventually become our comfort zone, and we are hard pressed to change our minds, hard pressed to turn things around. It takes a conscious choice to stop making excuses… however sometime I glimpse that it’s as simple as letting go—letting go of the absolutes, of the mind cage, of the answer No.

 

Recently I’ve experienced this type of restricting mindset in my day-to-day life, as I have found myself impossibly behind, trying to catch up to a life that was on hold for the last few years, as I passed through the resolution of grief. I found myself in a repeating thought process: that I’d never get caught up, never get things done, never get everything back to a functioning whole, to a new normal… then one day recently I saw that if I did one thing a day, one thing at a time, that eventually things would get done… not quickly necessarily, not finished tomorrow, but projects begun, things in their proper places, un-needed items given away etc. I saw that it was my thoughts that were holding me back, keeping me stuck.

 

I have heard it said that we over estimate what we can get done in the short term (for instance, in one day) and that we under estimate what we can get done in the long term, (over a few months to a year or more). This idea has helped me to open my mind to pull away from the restrictions and fears that I carry around with me—some of which go all the way back to my youth.

 

As we all know, change is inevitable: we may not want it to happen, but it will happen in spite of us. In fact, if we freeze in the face of necessary change, the choices will be made for us, and they may not be what we could have chosen. It’s hard to change ourselves. Perhaps as we each struggle through our own path toward change, I’d encourage the letting go of the absolutes that hold us in place, allowing us to begin to see what happens as we allow the nourishing rain of new possibility into our hearts, to warm the soil of our future selves.

 

 

 

 

A BOX FULL


I found a box full

Of the possibilities I once was

The fettered and unformed youth,

Whose past held a future undiscovered

 

Are we the sum of our trinkets?

Empty picture frames & nail files

Marking moments of dawn to dusk

Before one moment that divides the rest

 

How the heart grows through sorrow

How each and every thing that gets piled up

Gets taken away

 

And so I sort thru boxes, photos, mementoes

Little things that seemed important

Lifetimes in substance

 

Yet all of this matters not

For now I carry all my treasures within

Gather up the life

And give it away.

 

© Julia Ferrari, 2016




One hundred and twenty six years




Feb 28, 2016

Tonight after a full day inside with a cold. I did manage to walk up to the covered bridge in town and a bit beyond, and as I came back in the darkness the lights on the bridge reminded me of the image of the nineteenth century photo I found of the covered bridge as seen from the road I was walking down, one hundred and twenty six years ago. It was that photo that I chose to use when I designed the poster for my envisioned International school of Typography & Letters, exactly 3 February’s ago, the winter after my partner, Dan Carr died. In the poster, the sky above the bridge is distributed with letters like stars, falling all around … an atmosphere of potential, and the few words on it propelled out of me with a propitious vision and hope. That winter I was more alone than I’d been in forty years, alone here in this place where all my surroundings reflected the life I’d previously lived, in happiness and sorrow, making a life of printing books by hand with my partner ... Taking me from a youth who, believing in the impossible, stepped out into an unlikely journey, to a full grown “living the impossible”—life. I was one with my life and work, living the dream.


All that winter I was alone but didn’t feel it, for all that I had done was still rich around me. I could just sit in the silence & allow myself to experience the stillness and the grief of loss, pouring the salt of my tears through me to cleanse my heart and accept it all.


What I didn’t have to do was to actually start over, not yet, as I was allowed the privilege of time that is sometimes allowed to those of us who have lost something great. It is only now, with a pang of urgency that I struggle with the movement of time and my task to resurrect my craft and work and my subsequent feelings of inability or lack of surety in my capability to take this “ship” ahead.  So my byword or ready phrase should be “steady as she goes” as I put one big toe out then another in each new unknowable endeavour. The big things that I know I have to do, that I’m having trouble with now, are twofold. It is bringing a intensive retreat style workshop here for an unknown, untested session that I’ve pictured and structured in some detail, revolving around the act of using the body in craft to set letterpress text combined with words and musical improvisation—and the eventual starting of a new book project. Since I wasn’t completely stubbed out back then, when one would have expected it, I am struggling now with a delayed effect —my belief in myself. Therefore, as the contemporary British composer, Anna Meredith said recently about her newest endeavors:—


        “I have to believe in it fully … moving the goalposts as you reach them … you always have to    feel as if there’s work to do or stuff to be done … (with commission work) there’s a deadline, players are going to be waiting, a concert’s been booked… and there’s an element of just going ‘ah, fuck it’. But with Varmints’, (her own new work) … I’ve done a bit less ‘fuck it’ than usual because this is my thing so I’m accountable — … for me doing a self starting thing to this scale is quite big in terms of the time and the commitment that you put towards something that nobody’s asked for and nobody’s paid for.…I’m putting myself under quite a lot of pressure, but I sort of have to: if I want to do it, this is the way you do it…, I could never have lived with myself if I hadn’t made it (Varmints) … Anyway, a bit of self-doubt can be quite healthy …”*


*Anna Meredith, Loud and Quiet 74 (Vol. 3) 2016


In terms of good fortune (which I feel I have never lost despite the deep trauma of loss) I have had several providential occurrences come to grace my door. Certainly Kwan Yin came pouring her vase of mercy onto my feet, growing her groves of willow trees here. My newfound friends from the grief world have never ceased to rally round me when I need an ear or a presence to cheer me. And my community of book arts people are regularly helpful when asked, open and understanding of me when I call to discuss a problem with the ink rollers, helping to make needed printing plates, discuss business ideas or recently, offering to come look over a manuscript and discuss the course of a new book. New friends have accepted me and made a place for me at their table. Providential too has been the startling discovery that my heart is not dead, even though it was crushed and pulverized. The opening to newness of getting to know another unique and intelligent person, who finds me interesting to talk to, letting me into their life even a little, is unexpected. I keep having to check my heart and pulse at the door, to see if I am still breathing. And even though I have found that the unexpected can be sometimes quite frightening, when I am frightened I can isolate and focus some of that fear down my arm into my hand, where I press my fingernails hard into my palms, waking me up, calming me down, as newness spills into newness, at an astonishing pace. For you see so much has changed in the world, and so much has not, and I am on that frontier again without wishing for it, steady as she goes.






“There comes a moment in life when the dead outnumber the living.”

—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

 

I recently watched as a charming old house was torn down in my village. Houses like lives, taken down, demolished— no more … so I began to think about what remains of the structure of a life that was built? Each path from birth thru life to death…what is built? and where does it accumulate, and to what end? This forging of the life-force within us is a part of the spiraling movement of our lives where we are given the choice to make from our circumstances (no matter how bleak) something that makes sense or strengthens us (and the invisible energy or force of light we carry) or to deviate away from what makes us whole. I wonder, is darkness the pervading state of existence into which we arrive and to which we exit? … the womb to the ground, with the in-between lit by our ability or lack of it to open our hearts to compassion and let go of the hard walls separating us from others. Those we love are here one day and literally, gone the next and what remains is what the heart contains, the moments when we succeeded or failed to be present to that person and those circumstances. Life appears to be everlasting but like a fragrance is here only while it is here and returns in memory, a brief glimpse of what was.

 

We can’t stop change. Every moment we breathe everything around us changes. This inevitably both takes things away from us and (if we can be open to it) brings new unexpected things into our lives. If we do get second chances, hopefully we can draw on what we learned from our past (both the mistakes and the successes) and act from a place of perspective. Surely, this is part of what a life accumulates, this rich tapestry of experience to guide our future choices and attitudes.

 

   It is hard to be present with the now—with what is current, yet as I write or speak these words about the past, I need to be careful not to miss the present. All the same opportunities are here again: to open my heart (to love and therefore its opposite, pain); to embrace the moments that I am being given—(as unique, wonderful and deep as what I’ve lost); and to allow myself to find life again, despite fear and uncertainty. The risk of being vulnerable to life, of exposing myself to hurt, rejection, or ultimate loss again, of the things I love, is piercingly frightful but filled with the other possibilities as well—the other side of chance—joy, acceptance, and the gathering in and experiencing of all that I thought was gone forever…

 

All the Doors of This Life Stand Open

 

All the doors of this life stand open

And I breathe in this comforting dark

Perceive glimmers of silver reflecting

Off polished floors in quiet hallways

Moving like music once heard & never forgotten

 

I trust whatever is mine will come

As I move beyond the two directions

Of past and future

Where all that I am is the stillness of now.

 

While the wind lifts its branches, scattering,

The light of the moon begins to surround the night

And my heart races to touch

The familiar corners of this luminous dusk.

 

Poem © Julia Ferrari

12/9/15-Jan 28, 2016