Beauty and Communion

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A work in progress inspired by Aimee Herman

I have been hard at work building an homage to memory and a physical space to examine emotion. It’s been perhaps more challenging and more of a heavy experience than I expected. Although, of course, I should have expected exactly that.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about life,” I tell my mom with a sigh. She says, “Of course you have. Your exhibit is called, ‘Life, Examined.’ What else would you be doing?”

I find a note from an ex-boyfriend. He wrote to me, “I wish I felt the same kind of attractions you feel. They seem overwhelming, like you have no control. I don’t think as strong as you feel things. You are a pretty powerful being. So be careful.”

It’s a delicate balance — being careful, but not living in fear, wanting to have passion, but not to be out of control with emotions. Not having a choice about being emotional, I at least want to be around people who can be open and loving and go on a courageous journey with me.

My friend Stan came to town to see the show and as usual we talked about the world’s problems and our proposed solutions. We spoke about art mostly.

One reason that I stepped back from the art scene was because of all the huge egos I kept encountering along the way. (And still encounter often). I don’t think that art should be about your ego, the self, your identity.Who you are, of course, gives you a unique perspective of the world — and if you live authentically, and openly, that will allow you to produce real and effective art. But I believe that art should be bigger than just an exploration of the self.

There was a great article about Chuck Close in the Sunday New York Times by Wil S. Hylton. The painter has also become a bit of a recluse lately.

Hylton has spent a lot of time trying to understand Close. In the article, he describes the art:

What you are seeing isn’t really there. You are no longer looking at the actual surface of the painting, but some apparition hovering above it, a numinous specter that arises in part from the engagement of your own imagination. Through the painting, Close has accessed the perceptual center of your mind, exploiting the way we process human identity: the gaps of knowledge and the unknown spaces we fill with our own presumptions, the expectations and delusions we layer upon everyone we meet.

By painting these portraits, Close is tapping into something bigger. He’s not just showing us who he is — he’s helping us understand who we are and why how we perceive and presume matters.

Hilton writes:

It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake, and to the extent that an artist’s work is frustrating or difficult or awful, you could say this allows greater opportunity to try to meet it. I am not saying there is no room for discriminating taste and judgment, just that there is also, I think, this other portal through which to experience creative work and to access a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion.

“Empathy for its own sake” and “a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion” are what I’m after too — exactly what I want to create.

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Chosen surrenders

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Yesterday evening, I decided to go sit by the ocean and write a letter to Aimee. I have been struggling to write lately — whether for work or pleasure or simple log-keeping. A couple of times, I posted up at a bar with a glass of bourbon, pledging to put pen to paper and nothing happened.

By the water, with the sun setting, I found myself writing, “I want to be open to love, open to emotion. I want to regain the energy to grow and change and not feel so worn out all the time.”

And as the words came out, I felt a queasy recognition. How long have I been saying the same thing? I think back on when I first started writing this blog, during the Art Farm days, and reread “So the reason I want to start this blog is to reconnect with my old feelings about art, to highlight the artists that I believe in and to document my life among the artists. I am the one having the identity crisis, I suppose, and I want to fix it somehow.”

Sometimes my roommate Rob and I talk about progress. We discuss what it’s like to know better — and yet still slip into the same patterns.

There was something in the air last summer that made me feel like I could make a fresh start. And here I am basically longing for the space (and the people) who could make me feel the same way.

Rebecca Solnit writes in “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” that “the things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?”

How do we grow into something that we have yet to discover? How do we become a new person, one we haven’t met yet — and what does that look and feel like?

“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark,” Solnit writes. “That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from and where you will go.”

She encourages tiptoeing across the borders of uncertainty.

“To be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery,” she writes.

The cadence of the sentence, for some reason, reminds me of lyrics to a Stevie Wonder song, “A seed’s a star/ A seed’s a star’s a seed/ A star’s a seed/ A star’s a seed’s a star.”

And as my friend, writer Carmella Guiol Naranjo reminded me on the phone yesterday, it’s a new moon and it’s spring time — it’s a good time to plant seeds, a good time for new beginnings and reaching out to stars.

 

preplungemeandaimeeAimee and I contemplate the stars, then we consider taking a plunge in the lake . . .

Lefts instead of right

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My new painting-in-progress “I Dream At Night of Going Home Someday”

The other day, a letter that I mailed quite some time ago to my friend and great inspiration, poet Aimee Herman, arrived back in my mailbox, undeliverable due to my ever-increasingly illegible handwriting.

It’s strange to re-read something you wrote about a month ago, in a completely different mindset. I realized that I was whining quite a bit in the letter about where I live, not feeling at home and not connecting to the people around me. I thought about not sending the letter and instead placing it in the recycling bin — but instead I more carefully addressed an envelope.

My friend Stan and I were talking the other day about how some people prefer to stick with their comfort zones — but that we both like to do things that push our limits. I seek out experiences that make me slightly uncomfortable. “One of the reasons I want to go on a long sailing trip, out way into the middle of the ocean, is because it partially terrifies me,” I told him, as we sat on the beach in Lincoln Park watching the ferry load up and head out to Vachon Island.

Stan, Joanna and I took sailing lessons a couple of years ago in Galveston Bay. I loved it for so many reasons, but mainly because everything was new and challenging. In our day-to-day lives, especially as we get older, our routines are filled with things we know how to do well. We become masters at work, masters at loading the dishwasher, wonderful at planning our routine days and experts at talking to our long-time friends.

On a sailboat, I realize, I don’t know how to read the sun to know what time it is or to determine which direction we’re heading. The captain asks me, “Which way is the wind blowing?” And I don’t know. At night, he shows us how to navigate by the stars, and I wish that I had studied constellations. There are whole glossaries of words to learn, lists of knots that I don’t know how to tie, rules of navigation that no one ever told me about, charts I have no idea now to read.

Today, I was reading an article in the New York Times by Kim Tingley about sailors in the Marshall Islands that navigate without instruments. She writes about how scientists were studying these sailors: “They wondered if watching him sail, in the context of growing concerns about the neurological effects of navigation-by-smartphone, would yield hints about how our orienteering skills influence our sense of place, our sense of home, even our sense of self.”

How connected place, home and sense of self seem to be — and how easily we can be disconnected from each.

Apparently, several articles have been written about how our reliance on smartphone GPS technology is changing the way we see the world.

“When we use GPS, the research indicates, we remember less about the places we go, and put less work into generating our own internal picture of the world,” Leon Neyfakh writes in an article on the subject for the Boston Globe.

It really comes as no surprise to me that Aimee would send me a challenge in the mail. She is good at sensing what subject I should dive into, whether reluctantly or not. She asks me to spend time this month exploring. She tells me to get lost. “Make lefts when you usually go right,” she wrote in her letter, along with many other suggestions.

When I texted her later this morning to thank her for setting me out on this journey, she replied, “I guess I really wanted to remind you ways to fall in love or like with a place. That map is in you. You are the map.”

 

 

Looking for a little inspiration

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Laura from Aurora, Nebraska

Sometimes the best place to go for a little inspiration is simply out of town. My friend, a brilliant illustrator, Annie Brule said, “Being out of your usual context is almost always good for you.” She was telling me a story over a glass of wine in West Seattle about a weekend trip that gave her clarity.

When I boarded a flight to New York a few days later, I had no goals of seeking anything out or looking for perspective or anything like that. I just wanted to go have fun and see a few friends. Instead, I got inspiration in spades.

There were late night conversations with Aimee about love, life, our past struggles and our future daydreams. There was the instant comfort of a conversation with Selina. There was chatting at the Museum of Modern Art with Raluca about her trip home to Romania and her progress on her novel.

My friend Laura stands out the most. It was her first trip to New York and she took it all in with an unusual finesse and zest, pointing out the smallest of details and asking questions galore as we walked around the city. We all met Laura on maybe our first day at the Art Farm in Nebraska. She popped into the house, explaining that she lived in the next town over and gave us her phone number in case we needed anything. She soon became a dear friend.

Laura is a real Renaissance woman. She works with cows all day in a research project for the university. She can tell you everything about antique tractors or the Nebraska prairie. She’s also an artist, crafter and musician, who writes her own songs and plays guitar.

Over the summer, she told me stories about her Native American roots, her great grandmother who wore long skirts, kept a gun at her hip and could roll a cigarette with one-hand. In New York, she sang a song in Aimee’s living room with such courage. When we complemented her voice and her poetry, she admitted to having sung opera in the past and playing saxophone.

Laura-from-Aurora is who convinced me to take the trip east — even though I was reluctant to make a break in my routine. While we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, I thanked her. I said that she is that rare type who follows through on daydream plans — and that’s the type of person who I like the most. She couldn’t imagine being any other way.

On my last night of the trip, I drank spiked apple cider from a nearby orchard in Connecticut with my friend Stan and my cousin Lauren in her new house. We sat on Lauren’s screened porch, watching the sun set and bearing witness to the changing temperatures of a cool fall night. I talked about the uncertainties of my life, my struggles finding enough work to keep myself afloat and my desires to see my art go somewhere one day — whatever that means.

Stan offered to help in whatever ways possible. Lauren encouraged me to open a gallery. We all told stories and laughed as it became dark, then moved inside. I am grateful for the people who have recently become part of my life, for knowing Aimee and Trae, Selina, Raluca and Annie, and Laura. I feel like it would be so easy to have never met them, to have never gone to Nebraska and just turned my car around. I am grateful as well for the people who I already know who continue to push me forward. I feel like it is easy to want more — and perhaps more difficult to recognize that what we want, we’ve had all along — courage, love, inspiration, wild hearts, sympathetic minds and phenomenal beings all around.

Always Reinventing

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Earlier this week, I interviewed Michael Remson, executive director of AFA, an organization with the mission statement: “enriching the lives of young people through music.”

At one point in the conversation, he said that students find out who they are and what matters to them when they make music. I replied that I feel like I do the same thing with art every day, even as an adult. I figure out who I am.

“This is a process, and this is what we do all the time,” Michael said. “We’re always reinventing ourselves and always challenging ourselves. That’s what life is all about.”

I feel like this desire to change, to improve and to discover is the essence of being an artist. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes an individual “an artist.” I believe it’s more about the quest, the exploration and the search than it is about the actual medium, subject matter and finished project.

I decided recently to move to a new house in a different neighborhood — and have been having anxiety about the change. I’m just starting to settle where I live now, just beginning to figure out my paths and routines, refuges and gathering places. But it’s important to move forward, to find new spots, to see new sights and process new experiences.

Aimee sent me a letter about being a hunter — and the thought has stuck with me. Artists are on the prowl, looking for kindling for creative fire — and also must be open to the transformation that comes with that blaze.

On Being Lost

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On Sunday, Aimee texted me randomly and asked me to do something. I was sitting on the couch reading the Sunday New York Times. It was one of those lonely mornings and just her hello brought tears to my eyes — simply because I needed it so.

She dared me to get lost, to really wander and to eventually ask someone for directions. I loved the thought, but I had all of these grown up things to do — make an outing to the bank, print up tax documents at Kinko’s, buy groceries at the farmer’s market, mail packages at the post office. And afterwards, I would go to the Seattle Art Fair — because, even though I usually hate going and find the fairs depressing, it seemed like the right thing to do.

When Aimee sent me her suggestion, it immediately made me think of junior high and my friend Elizabeth Osborne. We used to get massievly lost on purpose. It was our favorite game, before everyone had GPS devices in their pockets. We wanted the exhilaration of it, the joy of finally finding our way back, the relief.

One of the best memories I have is of being totally lost in Sam Houston National Forest. I was in the midst of a break-up so bad that I no longer knew myself. I forgot what I liked and what I didn’t. I forgot how to exist completely.

And my first love Matt and my dear friend Paul offered to take me on a hike and geocaching adventure. Both of the guys were former Boy Scouts. Paul actually taught a class on how to use GPS — and had one of the devices before they were part of our cell phones. He brought his GPS device along — but forgot to mark our point of entry.

We wandered for hours deep into the forest, and as it became almost dusk, we realized we had no idea where we were. The guys mentioned the almost inevitable possibility of sleeping in the forest, but we pushed on as night began to fall. Eventually, we found barbed wire and trampled fearfully — and gratefully — across a farmer’s pasture. We emerged way further up the road than we had parked.

Luckily, a quick call to my dad (who just celebrated his 71st birthday today) yielded a ride back to the truck. We were worn out and exhausted — but adrenaline rushed, thankful and for me, what was the best part of the experience, actually lost and saved. It completely mirrored how I felt — lost emotionally — and there I was physically and literally forgotten in time and space — and our ability to make it home gave me hope.

So on Sunday, when I finally headed to the Seattle Art Fair, I realized that I had mapped the location incorrectly — and I had no idea where I was. I wandered for quite a while, then found a nice couple and asked for directions. It made me smile to know that Aimee’s instructions were coming into play exactly as she had detailed.

I felt worn out, but I was accomplishing my assigned task. On my way home, I stopped for a glass of champagne at one of my favorite spots, Barnacle. This guy named Paolo sat next to me and confided that it was his first night in the city as a transplant to Seattle from Minneapolis. He seemed so exuberant, hopeful, full of energy and possibility. I think I was that way a year ago. I swallowed my bitterness, my reserve, my worries about my own decisions. And I said cheers, this is wonderful, this is an adventure — and I wished him all my best before heading home, telling someone exactly what I needed to hear, feeling lost still in so many ways and yet wanting to impart a feeling of hope.

On My Last Couple of Days at Art Farm Nebraska

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I wake up with a deep anxiety about leaving the farm and facing the real world — and this makes me realize strongly how much my life has changed lately.

My routine is drastically different. The first step of the day is drenching myself in deet to face not only the mosquitos that swarm outside the door but also those residing in the house — and to stop the ones who have been biting me in my sleep and followed me downstairs for further feasting on my flesh. I put away dishes my roommates have left drying; I wash a few left in the sink. I make coffee in the cracked yellow mug with a little blue bird on it that says “Alouette” — because it’s my favorite shaped mug in the house and because it’s the one Ben brought to me full of fresh coffee in my studio before he left. I boil a little extra water for Z before she stumbles downstairs. I find myself sentimental about the smallest things. The girls who I live with are the same way — we cry together over little things and we laugh so easily that the house shakes.

In my day-to-day existence, I have gotten adept at isolation. I’m a master at loneliness. I am used to taking myself out to solitary whiskeys and dinners alone and pretending that I don’t mind and that somehow getting used to being alone will make it easier to deal with the world. This is not the way I used to be, or the way obviously that I am in my heart, but it’s the way that I have become over the past few years. I add it to the list of things that I would like to change about myself. I don’t want to be afraid that people will hurt me anymore. People will hurt me. I accept that.

I keep thinking — what do I do when I leave this place? How do I stay in this cloud of art that I have created for myself on the farm? How do I keep art as my top priority? How do I stay present?

Aimee texted me, “You leave this place a different person.” I sure hope so.