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If You Were Still Alive ...

by kate 6. December 2013 14:26

I'd have called you up in the interstices of yesterday afternoon's work and we'd have talked of everything. 

Like what you were thinking of cooking this weekend.  Like how the elephant roll of drawings I'm working on is going and what I'm finding out about the human figure now after three years of Wednesday night classes and I'd bitch about how bad last week's model was and threaten to start nude modeling myself just so that you and I would "know" that the world would have at least one good nude model in it.

And that would make you chuckle. 

And we'd talk about your garden and your dog and you'd give me the Nature Report about the snapping turtle or your resident red fox.  How Mr. Fox torments dear Ponty so, pacing the safe side of the electric fence, laughing in the Pint's face.  Which would prompt a list of all Ponty's nicknames and all the nicknames of all the dogs our tribe has ever had.  I'd add a few to the list on my phone. I'd email that list to my brother after we hung up. 

We touch on our letters. zipping back and forth to each other.  But mostly that's another plane of communication and we don't need to address it while we're on this one.  But you'd tell me you got my most recent letter and you might add some color to a question I've asked like Does anyone know what solitude even is anymore? 

And then I'd have to go, because you never did, seemingly, and I'd hang up and think of a thousand more things I needed to talk to you about.

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Tugging on my heart strings majorly

by kate 17. November 2013 00:04

Gonna be honest ... I don't remember how to embed video in this here blog of mine.  Truly JV, I know.

Doesn't matter because what I NEED to share with you tonight is this link:


Kate and Anna McGarrigle's "Talk to Me of Mendocino"


Click it and prepare to be blown away by one of the best songs ever written.

And tonight it is doing exactly what the title of this post says it is doing ...


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Do the Four A.M. Hustle

by kate 16. October 2013 10:37

I am up and doing the 4a.m. hustle this morning ... right now in fact ... and came across this little gem in one of my notebooks:


"I don't believe in total freedom for the artist.  Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all." -- Fredirico Fellini, c. 1950



So true.  Form is your friend, not your enemy.  Deadlines are where it's at.  Results matter.  What you create, produce, ship matters.  Finishing is a skill.  Exercise that skill.  Accept that everything is a draft and finish the draft. 


All of this talk reminds me of this other little gem I hold so near and dear: The Cult of Done Manifesto


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After 10 Days in the Backcountry ...

by kate 6. October 2013 00:34

You come home to a backlog of, well, everything.

I spent the last 10 days in the backcountry of Wyoming backpacking in the Wind River Range and in the Tetons.  The weather was extreme; the internal weather was extreme -- extremely thought-provoking, soul-stirring.  I could go on and on.  I will go on and on in future posts.

Of course, when I got out of the wild, my inbox is a total nightmare. 


I deal with it ruthlessly.  (Want to know my latest experiment in handling email? Listen to this.)


Forgive me if this has made the internet rounds (I was in the woods for 10 days or so) ... Here is one of the FEW THINGS that stood out in the midst of the flotsam and jetsam -- 40 maps that explain the world -- sent to me by my brother (sent to him by his 12 year old son, my nephew Jasper).  Check it.  I am scared, fascinated, curious, worried, and utterly enthralled by these maps. 


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Something I have been meaning to do ... death and dying

by kate 17. September 2013 00:18

On the heels of yesterday's post about suffering, I am doing something I have been meaning to do: start a public list of the books and articles I have read about death and dying that I found worthwhile, meaningful, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching.

Probably every book ever written can be said to be about death and dying ... but that is a different blog post.


To be more rigorous, what I mean to collect here are the books and articles I have read -- some on purpose, some by mistake -- that are about dying, about "the other" dying.  That "other" could be a partner, a mother, a brother, a parent, a grandparent.

I'm not saying these are the best books or articles I have ever read.  They are not.  I am also not saying this list is comprehensive of everything I have been reading on this topic.  These are writers that I think are worth mentioning; these are the books I remember enough of to mention.  From each piece, I took at least a sentence, sometimes three, sometimes five, words of wisdom that helped me on my own journey of dealing with disease, dying, and death over the last two years. 

I'm also not saying that this list is complete.  Ha!  As if.  I don't even want a complete list.  This is just a place to make a few marks on one side of the score card, the side marked "death."  Maybe, from time to time, I will update this list.  And, if there is something you think I should be reading, by all means ... assistant dot kateschutt at gmail dot com.


PS These are in NO particular order.  At all.

PPS I am indebted to the friends who gave me a few of these titles.  How brave they were! Thank you.  You know who you are.

PPPS I am also indebted to Fortuna, the goddess of chance, for putting others of these books directly in my path so that I had to trip over them.


Christopher Hitchens, Mortality

Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

Ed. Nell Casey, Uncertain Inheritance, Writers on Caring for Family

William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life

From the Atlantic: How Not to Die, by Jonathan Rauch

From the New Yorker: Letting Go, by Atul Gawande


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by kate 15. September 2013 18:56

A close friend sent me this article from last week's NYT: The Value of Suffering

Thank you.


What to say about suffering?  Really, nothing at all.  Watch.  Listen.  Observe.  Myself and others.

We all suffer. In so many ways.

Meditate on it.  Try to understand it.  Accept it.  Bear witness to it.

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Eulogy for my aunt Ellen ...

by kate 12. September 2013 10:29

Tuesday, August 20 at 11a.m.

Unionville, PA

Given by Kate Schutt at a memorial service for Ellen Draper Chadwick 11/11/1945 to 8/8/2013




My name is Kate Schutt and I am Puss and Chip’s daughter and Ellen’s niece.


Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, writer, and thinker had a famous saying.  He said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty YES to your adventure.”


Without hesitation, Ellen said a hearty YES to her adventure.  Every adventure.


She taught us to respond with a RESOUNDING and AN ENTHUSIASTIC YES to life – ALL of life, not only its sweet, serendipitous moments, but also its bittersweet offerings.


Her yes to life was a whole-hearted search for meaning, value, and joy in every activity. 


And there certainly were a lot of activities!


I’m only going to talk about a few of her passions – a scant few (there are – we all know and as have been mentioned this morning – so many more).  I would like to touch on her love of cooking, her love of looking at art, and her love of spending time in Nature.



Who can forget the experience of cooking with Ellen?


Even if you were just buzzing through the kitchen while she was cooking, it was an experience!  Who can forget eating one of her deliberately planned and expertly prepared meals?


Many a night was spent around the mint green, rectangular dinner table in Maine, enjoying a new Indian dish she was trying out for the first time. 


What an adventure it was to watch her tackle the egg curry from the new Madhur Jaffrey cookbook!  Who ever heard of an egg curry?  And who would ever think of cooking it?  Much less a double batch?  For dinner?  For twelve adults? But – let me tell you – it was a homerun! 


Or how about the tomato, eggplant and yogurt dish that was, quite simply, out of this world.  Do you remember how long it took to make? And how many people it took make it?  Hands down, that dish remains one of the top five best meals of my life. 


And then there was the infamous bag that held her crazy, esoteric collection of Indian spices – asafetida, kalonji, tamarind paste, black cardamom, Bolst’s curry power, etc, etc, etc. 


We lovingly referred to this pungent cotton sack as “Traveling Kafir-a-stan” because to open it up was to step into the ancient, mythic spice markets of some fabled Middle Eastern city of yore.



From cooking, allow me move on to the adventure and wonder of looking at art with Ellen.


What about going to a museum with Ellen?  What about PLANNING to go to a museum with Ellen? 


No matter what city you were in, she reveled in orchestrating the day’s art adventure.  In New York, it would start with a cab ride from one end of the island to the other – all the way from Lucy Smith’s apartment on the Upper East Side to Grand Street deep in the heart of Chinatown, for the sole purpose of starting the day with the legendary, the perfect vanilla bean glazed yeast donut from the famed Donut Plant.


Once sated, we’d speed back uptown to spend the morning at, say, the Whitney to see a culturally important show – the Gee’s Bend Quilts, or the Biennial. 


After you’d spent ample time at the Whitney wandering and wondering, she knew exactly what was needed next – something to bolster your mind and body for the long afternoon ahead.  Directly, she’d march us over to Sant Ambrose on Madison Avenue for one of her favorite espressos in the city.


Thus fortified, the afternoon might be spent seeing a drawing show at the Frick – the Frickin’ Frick as we jokingly called it.  The whole marathon of a day would end with a dinner at her favorite Indian restaurant on Curry Hill where she would take charge of ordering the whole meal – iddly, puri, dosas, and rava dosas for all.


Spend the day seeing art with her was a marathon of, well, everything: concentration, intellectual stimulation, conversation.  A marathon of seeing, eating, tasting, savoring, exploring, and adventuring.


And now, at the real risk waxing rhapsodic, of going on too long, I must turn to her love of Nature.  She always, always said a hearty YES to the adventure of time spent out of doors.


THINK of the all the walks we took with her over the years – in Chadds Ford, in Maine, in Kentucky, in Taos, and Spring Maid, and Ventura.  And in the places of her past, in Italy, in India, in South America, in Afghanistan.


She was always game.  She’d don her gay apparel – in later years that unforgettable, HUMONGOUS cowboy hat, a sun shirt, maybe a pair of boots – and off she’d go.  And off we’d go with her!


What a pleasure it was to walk round and round her beautiful house and field in Kentucky, admiring and discussing her trees, with her dog Ponty running ahead and lagging behind, with Bob working in one corner of the field or riding his mower, waving at us every time we came round again.

How many hikes have you taken with her in Maine?  Years and years of climbing the alluring, piney paths of the mountains of Acadia or, on a lobster picnic, hopping from rock to rock on the pink granite ledges of the outlying islands of Mt. Desert.


In the last ten years or so, I’d taken to memorizing poetry and Ellen and I would while away the walks by swapping our favorite stanzas, testing our memory, delighting ourselves, laughing at ourselves.  She’d return again and again, on walk after walk, to Shelley’s “Ozymandias” – a poem she memorized at Foxcroft and could still recite.  She’d begin: “I met a traveller from an antique land / Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert.’” 


For my part, I would work on one of my long poems.  One she loved and often asked for, once I had it down, was Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”  The experience of wonder and mystery that this strange and visionary poem inspired in her, in both of us, was the thing of it, the reason to learn it, to recite it, to share it: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree [continue to recite the poem until the line “and there were forests ancient as the hills enfolding sunny spots of greenery].”


I wish I could continue on, she’d have wanted me to.  But now is not the time.  On our next walk together, I will recite it for you, for her, for my own heart.


Every outdoor adventure with Ellen was a time of wonder and joy, a sense of being alive and truly present. 



In the depths of our suffering, she would want us to be present to, to chase after this sense of wonder.  She would want us to embrace the genuine and real gifts of being alive. 


What I mean is, in this dark moment, she would want us to get the feeling of, the experience of BEING ALIVE. 


She would remind us to look for and grab onto with both hands, what Joseph Campbell calls, “the rapture of living.”


All the experiences I mentioned above and all the memories and moments with her that my words conjure for you are examples of that wonderful quality she had of tapping into the EXPERIENCE of being alive. 


She knew what the genuine and real gifts of being alive where: laughter, art, companionship, correspondence, song, nature, family, travel, poetry, friendship, exploration, and curiosity.


Indeed, she was a seeker, an observer; she was ever-curious, ever a student of life; she was an adventurer. 


She was our first and best adventurer – as my Mother and many others here today have reminded us.  Her adventuring and her zest for life was mythic. 




Over the last week, I have tried to describe Ellen to many of my close friends who weren’t lucky enough to meet her.  Over and over again, I found myself saying this phrase: “She was my mythic aunt.”


What do I mean by this?  I don’t even know.  The phrase just came out one day and it seemed right.  I guess I mean that her life was the stuff of myth.


What is myth? What do I mean? What am I trying to get at?


My quick and dirty answer: myth is the story or stories that give us a sense of experiencing the awesome wonder of the world, the fascinating mystery of being alive. A myth is a series of events that cause you to wonder and to stand in awe of something – that something can be sublime, it can be baffling or beautiful, monstrous or miraculous. 


Ellen’s life was full of wonder and we are full of wonder at her life. 


We are in awe of her, in awe of Bob, in awe of the life she created for herself, in wonder at every mythic adventure she went on and told us about, and every lucky adventure with her we gamely signed-up for, every twist and turn in the road of her life. 


She will be sorely missed.  Sorely missed.


A mentor of mine imparted this bit of wisdom to me.  He said, “The world will look a lot smaller now that she is gone.  And it will look a lot smaller for quite a while.  Quite a while.  But one day, when you least expect it, it will suddenly, miraculously, look big again.”


To me, to all of us here, the world looks pretty small right now.  Without Ellen, life looks dark, empty.


But here we are, hunched together on this dark plain.  Here we are at the start of a new adventure. 


It is – no doubt – a bittersweet adventure, an adventure without our mythic aunt, without our soul mate, without our sister, without our dear friend. 


We have no choice but to say a hearty YES to this adventure.


We must embrace the mystery and wonder of being alive.


It is what she would do.


She’s waiting.


She’s listening for that resounding YES. 

From each of us.

I just know it.


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From a Mentor ...

by kate 10. September 2013 15:26

A mentor of mine reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, in the height of the depths of my Aunt's death, and sent this video to me.

His email was only three sentences long.  One sentence for the link.  One sentence to tell me he thought it would help.  And one sentence to ask me if I was (from the video) "making good art?"


I just got around to watching it.  Should've been watching it every day since he sent it.  Gonna watch it every day now that I know about it.  So thankful.


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No Pain, No ...

by kate 3. September 2013 14:53


Right and left got it today.



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The Day Gets in the Way

by kate 3. August 2013 02:20

That's why I need to watch this almost everyday ...


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