Books, where they live and the forest

It’s all I can do to resist spending hours searching for and buying books. I want to know more about everything. I want to understand how I and others tick, where we come from, what we can do with our lives. Sometimes, the book collecting becomes another form of hoarding, a form of searching for something outside, rather than living from the inside. And, when will I actually finish all these books? But, I’m not going to pursue that line of questioning – the quantity line, what I consider a fixed mindset (if I can borrow from Carol Dweck).

I wonder if physical books and where they live are maybe as important as the ideas themselves? I go to the big book shops sometimes, but I feel a bit sorry for the books there, shoved together with so many other marketed, rated, evaluated publishings. Like a school system, taking the role of harshly reviewing, judging and expecting performance.

What I want is the old Mistral in Paris, Shakespeare and Company. A place for artists, where the owner from about the 50s, George Whitman, lived in the shop, made soup for visitors and housed writers overnight. The books are stacked and wedged into handmade shelves in cavelike nooks and crannies. The whole place whispers “create with your own two hands. Do it now. Noone can exclude you. Your expression matters.”


What I want is the Zwart op Wit (Black on White) in Amsterdam, a place where books are a community in themselves – loved, carefully chosen to fill the small, simple shop. They leave wrapped in paper and sent with a wish for something to occur.


I want the library, my mom’s library, up in the Appalachian mountains. A library filled with photographs and textile art from her time in South America. I want that library, sans censorship. It was a high school library, part of a religious school. The flow of books had to be carefully strained through a colander, as if that could prevent a tsunami.  I want that library back, and the hours spent there searching for histories and possibilities, however distant. If I could, I would sneak in a few banned books, hoping something would reach deep down inside and rearrange the furniture. All in good time, it happened anyway.

So, returning to my present life, I sit in the Concerto, an Amsterdam institution for artists and musicians. A place where you can believe that art matters. Where I’m finally open to the furniture being rearranged.


The music shop has grown like a down the street, like a quiet, steady vine, acquiring storefronts, contradicting the fact that the world has gone digital. Each carefully curated shop window asks me to look back, to look around, to imagine, to believe in an invisible community which seems to have disappeared and left us alone. Inside, rows and rows of vinyl records, a cafe, books sprinkled around a cosy stage.

I drink my latte with oatmilk and dive into these worlds:

de berg By Manuel Marsol

A truck driver stops for a bathroom break in the forest. He gets lost and is distracted by the mysteries he finds there. He follows the mysteries and becomes a wild animal, rolling down hills and exploring the unknown beauties of the forest.

Dit is Voor Jou By Sanne te Loo

A little boy makes art with what he has – chalks and a sidewalk. An older artist befriends him. They create together. The older artist invites the boy into his atelier, where the boy sees a new world of possibilities. The older man needs to return to his island, where his family originated. The boy is left alone and returns to his chalks on the sidewalk. However, the new owners of the older man’s home invite the boy in. A surprise awaits him. Read to find out what it is!

The big stores want to sell all the stuff. Curation and some form of censorship takes place everywhere, I guess. But, what will I learn by noticing each venue and what it has to offer? What values are expressed there? What are the implications for me and how I live? I’m looking for real, organic and handmade lives that make sense across time and within an international community (which, to me, means diverse and inclusive, full stop). I’m interested in a path I didn’t see before. Not towards a sterile uniformity which is controlled by a few arbitrary gatekeepers, but through an unknown forest, scary sometimes, but open to all.



Questions in the Forest

Things always come up that make me ask questions. This week, it was pain and isolation felt within the knitting community over exclusive behaviours. So, I thought I’d write about it from my perspective, sort of:

From early childhood, attention was drawn to cleaning up the mess. Man’s inhumanity to man. Mistakes. Personal inadequacies. Bad behaviour. Spilt milk. Mine, theirs, ours.

Enormous energy was channelled, almost completely, into correction, alignment, achievement. At least that’s how it seems to me.

But, I had mostly questions.

“You must be very wrong,” I said to myself. For years and years and years. “You must be wrong.” And that’s it. And a brick wall.

A few things happened. A child or two. Free time. A bit of nature. Maybe a forest. A question. These things, especially in combination it turns out, have the power to break down the brick wall.

No matter the person, his history, her biology, when a question is asked in any environment, something will grow. Especially when asked in community. Just two or three. You and me.



A question creates. Unites, sometimes. Clarifies. It is a thing we can all identify with and use. It is a thing which can open up space and possibilities. The open-ended question. Sometimes, not the possibilities you want. Even the multiple choice question can show you something. Or the dreaded yes or no question. But, the open-ended question is a real thing of beauty.

So, rather than doing the habitual thing and turning away from mistakes, bad behaviour, even evil; Rather than shutting out life by shutting out death (which can’t be done anyway) and rather than believing there is a perfect side to join, a ideal club to belong to or a fixed way to do things, I choose to be here with you, in the forest, and to ask:

Who are we?

What’s going on here?

What are the perspectives?

Where do we come from?

Where are we going?

How will we get there?

These, and many more questions, in all sorts of scenarios.

There is also silence. And I think silence is most intriguing. Who is not able or willing to speak for themselves and why?

It’s not really possible to clean up a mess if you don’t know why it is there or where it came from. May I be slow to fix (“I need to fix that.” – what an audacious attitude, anyway!), quick to listen and always, always ask the questions.



Courage & Community


I veer,

towards lists,

towards black and white.

Towards making things right.

I make a straight line,

out of natural curves,

to try,

to fly

without wings.

But life

Requires something else,

A courage,

Stepping out,

Making friends with Death.

And don’t forget

the people,

the community of things

In disarray,

that came before,


along the way,

And still to come.

In other words


in all its shades

of grey.


and Community,

I say.

Gatekeeping or Making?

My computer sticker says


I want to be.

What does that mean,

in this machine?

Mo’s story,

in the library,

laid out in my notebook –

scratched down, cobbled together,

the only way I can do it.

Why write

so much?

Why knit

so much?


All the talking heads,

wherever they can be found,

in every




Have the answer.


and send funds.


But in making,

you craft yourself.

You dig your hand into that beautiful yarn basket.

And, you pull up a bright red Wensleydale.

You spin it.

Then, you knit it into your deep green sweater sleeve.


You write about the annoying mosquito,

buzzing around your head.

The one you can’t catch for anything.

The one that gets right next to your ear,

just as you are dozing off, and sends you

waving crazy around the room.


The self-appointed gatekeepers are confident that they know the destination. They are focused on it.

The makers want us to gain solace from accepting that we don’t.

To notice and grapple with what comes now, and now, and now.

I understand something about both opposing mindsets. I think they exist in all of us.

I’m choosing the makers now, and now, and now.

And so, I must make with the very things I want to ignore, the very things Iforestfeet wish were not there: the broken crayons, twigs, the aching knees, the wet newsprint, scraps of brown yarn. All of it.


This Morning

By Mary Oliver

This morning the red

birds’ eggs

have hatched and already

the chicks

are chirping for food.

They don’t

know where it’s coming

from, They

just keep shouting

“More! More!”

As to anything else, they


had a single thought.

Their eyes

haven’t yet opened, they

know nothing

about the sky that’s wait-

ing. Or

the thousands, the mil-

lions of trees.

They don’t even know

they have wings.

And just like that, like a


neighborhood event, a

miracle is

taking place.

Papers, Papers


I love paper: scratching down words and drawings, moaning onto the page, writing my bad poetry, recording wise/interesting ideas I come across, imagining possibilities and building stories. Managing the physical space to support  all of this paper is another thing. Going through it takes a big emotional effort. But, I get round to it once or twice a year. This is one of those times.

I have a little quote collection I frequently add to. Maybe you’ll appreciate some of the good ones I found today:

Originality does not consist in saying what noone has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself. -James Fitz, James Stephen

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life; in understanding as in creating.  -Rainer Maria Rilke

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  -Anais Nin

I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside oneself, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity – to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone. -Edith Wharton