Constellations

Δ Δ Δ | telescopic | original photo from @renan_ozturk

@triglyyy: Δ Δ Δ | telescopic | original photo from @renan_ozturk

I hope it’s okay to repost this photo– it’s from one of the users I follow on instagram, and I’ve tried to give proper citation and links back (and please– if someone knows @triglyyy or you stumble on this yourself and you’d like me to take this down, just let me know).

I have always had a distant love affair with stars– I think this is just part of the human condition.  At one point I tried to teach myself the stories of stars, but the only story and constellation combination I know is the story of Perseus saving Andromeda.  Some day I hope to know more, and I suspect that if I ever have children, the star-stories will be ones that I’ll selfishly try to tell so I can learn them as well. 

This summer I spent a lot of evenings beneath the stars, and I want to write about those evenings and how they stretched into morning, but I’m finding it difficult.  There was the night, in Squamish, that we stripped down and balanced out on logs to skinny dip in the warm lake under the Perseids. The night we saw the northern lights streaking across the Vantage sky.  The night we walked into the desert shortly after sunset, covered in dark, the blanket of stars our only light. The night at Smith where the moon rose so quickly it felt alive and breathing, reaching for the zenith. I need to reclaim these evenings into my body and make them my own.  I think it’s finally time to finish the tattoo on my right arm– finally commit to the constellation that marked so much.  I no longer talk to the man that was beside me on that hike, who spent high noon on the top of Half Dome with me and who, when I paused in fear, talked me through it.  I wonder, sometimes, if he thinks about that summer at all and all of the plans we had.  I think he is happier now, without me.  We always survive. 

I don’t see stars often, here in the city.  Sometimes pinpricks make it through, but often they are just the bright gems of Orion’s belt, or the sharp points of Cassiopeia’s crown. In the summer I make it out often enough to be star-satiated, but winter keeps me close to the city.  This is one of the reasons I’ve finally decided to take up skiing– I need to be beneath a larger sky.  I am so thankful for K, who sends me photos of his trips, but it isn’t the same as being out there.  I dislike the cold and I’m honestly a little terrified of skiing, but it’s time to stop living through other people. 

Petroglyphs and Faith

Petroglyph and Steggie in Maui

I’ve recently started to gravitate towards dinosaur humor.  I’m not entirely sure why—I was never that into dinosaurs as a child, any more than any kid is. Lately though I find them endlessly amusing. The blog T-Rex Trying makes my day, and we routinely make dinosaur jokes while climbing. I think it might have started a few years ago while watching endless episodes of Battlestar Galactica with my roommate.  Between episodes he would charge across my bed making noises like a baby brontosaurus to get to his ice cream/beer/whatever was on my desk.  I bought him a dinosaur planter, as one does, and then this past spring found a toy dinosaur on the beach while visiting him in Hawaii.   The toy dinosaur, of course, led to me finding petroglyphs in the guidebook and demanding a detour from surfing to stroll past some history.

Lately I’ve just embraced my love of dinosaurs—why not? So as I paged through my guidebook for El Potrero Chico one of the rest-day suggestions caught my eye: petroglyphs outside Mina!  H. hadn’t heard about them, despite living in the area for several months.  I’m not entirely sure if he’s humoring me or actually excited, but it’s now officially in our plan—climb some bad ass multi-pitches and then PETROGLYPHS! Sure, a hot spring too, and I’m sure it will be lovely and relaxing, but, did I mention petroglyphs?

There’s something about seeing tactile proof of people on rocks that blows my mind.  Talk about legacy—the person who made this was not so different from me, but so different.  It gives me a sense of vertigo and crashes timelines down into each other. I tried to explain the way I feel about timelines to H the other night, and I think I did a dismal job.  I blame wine and whiskey, but really—I think it’s just difficult to explain the overlapping sense I sometimes have.  A little bit inspired by string-theory, a little bit Buddhist, a little bit faith… I’m not sure where to source all of it.  I’ve lately met a lot of Christians-turned-Agnostic and talked with them about the transition away from a firm belief in God.  In a way I’m envious that they had that kind of faith at one point—perhaps that’s why I’m thinking about faith and what I actually feel and believe.  I think it’s impossible for me to describe without gesticulation—words fail.  And then you stand in front of something like an etching in rock that is potentially from 7600 BP, and there has to be something right? Or not. I don’t know.  What I do know— I’m excited to be here, in this time, with the people I know and adventure on the horizon. I’m excited that I have friends who send me pictures of dinosaurs and friends who say hell yes, let’s go see some cliff drawings in the desert.

Also– to update an earlier post: I hit one of my goals on Monday– I suppose my friends were right when they said I should pick something a little further out of my reach.  I really did think that climbing an 11+ clean was going to be a while coming, not a few sessions after setting the goal.  So, new goals are in play, because I didn’t give myself the time I wanted. Lead 10+. Climb 12-. Let’s see how long those take.

Doe Bay

 

Team Gorse BustersJake and Wally Doe Bay sunset Pile on Alice busting some gorse

What I expected to start as a purely relaxing work-weekend started with a lesson in letting go. I’m learning I’m not the best judge of character—I see something good and I want the rest of the picture to match.  It takes a lot for me to adjust my idea of someone, and it’s often a painful process.  Friday I found myself crying in the stairwell at work, completely shocked and devastated at just how wrong I’d been about love.  My friends picking me up for Doe Bay were nearly en-route, my bags packed with gardening gloves, wine bottles and groceries, my computer still glowing with the last tasks of the week.  My friend K- sat with me and listened until I was ready to walk back to my desk.  She came out to the elevator with me, hugged me as I left, and I got into the car in a blur of wrung-out-tension.

By the time we reached the ferry I was in a completely different state.  B and A are engaged now, and A is a relentless source of laughter, singing and joy—and one of the kindest people I’ve met.  We taught M how to play Rummikub on the boat and got into Doe Bay with enough time to hit the hot tubs and sauna.  Wine and games and laughter until 2 am—although it’s a work weekend, it barely feels like it.

Doe Bay is such a magical place, and I’m so lucky that I get to help make it more beautiful.  I ran into a woman in the sauna who asked what our group was doing—when I explained the Gorse Busting she told me that her best friend was married out at Gorse Point.  This wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. It’s a great feeling: I worked with people I love to make a place for two people, strangers to me, to acknowledge their own love.

It was wonderful to see my friends in such good spirits.  There are new relationships, new engagements, new marriages.  Last year I was heart-sick, using this space to heal.  This year I’m just excited—I am going to Mexico in a few short weeks, my best friend is moving home, I can use my apartment to host dinner parties and game nights, and I’m getting stronger. My cross country coach used to say “Water off a duck’s back” whenever we were caught up about bad races. I think it’s a good motto, and something I’m working towards. So let my misplaced love roll down my back and away. I have so much love to give and it just keeps growing.

Work in progress, started at Doe Bay.

Draft

Dinosaurs and Names

Last night I went to a RadioLab live show with my aunt, uncle, and H. The night started with mishap—apparently it’s the Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Festival, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at Maximillian’s website. Foiled plan, turned off cell-phones, freezing cold… I was cranky pants by the time we made it to our very loud but only solution bar. My whole plan of nice conversation with a glass of wine turned to shouting across at each other and only catching snippets that resulted in questions like Do you have any metal in your body and By kidnapping children, I mean she WANTED to kidnap a toddler

RadioLab had just about the coolest dinosaur puppets I’ve ever seen, and the comedian who opened the whole thing was pretty funny.  In general, I think the In The Dark show was a little better, but they didn’t fail to amaze with stories and facts and a little bit of Dino Dancing.  I love how absolutely dorky the whole thing is. I think my favorite part, though, was the way they ended the piece about the death of the dinosaurs.  Multiple screens, a live video collage and swelling orchestral rock music. It’s hard to replicate in words (as most music/experiential moments are), and I hope that’s part of the broadcast when they put up the podcast.  I remember walking out sort of dazed by the ending of the show last time, and I sort of wish the dinosaur piece had been last and we’d left to that emotion, rather than where it ended with Reggie Watts. C’est la vie.

As we walked out we started talking about names. I love how many people I know have given themselves their names, and it reminded me of an essay I wrote that never actually made it to the blog about my fascination with middle names. There has been a recent spate of nicknames at my office, but I don’t ever seem to get one (that I know about at least).  Am I too stuffy? I think I take myself far too seriously.  The only nickname I’ve sort of had was Watson, but it was only because my friend lived on Baker Street in London for a while, and my name was only in response to his.  Pet names don’t really stick either. Maybe some day.  Anyway, here’s the essay, for your enjoyment.

~*~*~

Maybe it started with the Broadway musical Cats.  I can’t tell you how many times my sister and I listened to the cassette, but it was enough.  If you aren’t familiar, there’s a song called “The Naming of Cats” in which the cats sing “But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,/And that is the name that you never will guess;/The name that no human research can discover–/But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess. “  There was power in this cat-name, and power in withholding it.  To name something was to know it—and as I think about it, I find this idea reoccurring in the stories that swirled around my childhood.  The NeverEnding Story ends in an act of naming. Malicious Rumplestiltskin is defeated when his name is called out and he stomps his way out of existence. The world is created as God names his creations. Mythology after mythology, names, and the knowing of names, is power.

My family has a duplicitous relationship with names.  My mother’s brother is Howard, David, Dave, and Doobie.  My cousin is Rami and Corrina.  My aunt is named Sharon but goes my Louise. Another aunt shifted from Ann to Anna, and was at some point something so complex I can’t remember it now.   In conversation names shifted while the subject remained the same. Corrina left the house and Rami boarded the train.  Howard was coming to Christmas late and Doobie walks in halfway through dinner.  One had to follow the subject, not the description.  There is also mimicry—both my father and brother are Michael, though my brother has a David between first and last to differentiate.  Strangely enough though, neither my sister nor I, nor my parents, had middle names.  It is as if, with the exhaustion of keeping everyone else straight, ours remained simple.  (My mother has since taken my stepfather’s last as her middle, and though she’s had it for years, it still hard for me to think of her as anything but her first and last name, written in her slanting script across the return address of envelopes.)

I used to feel envy towards the middle names that surrounded me.  I even gave one to myself for my eighth grade graduation, to match my best friend’s initials. The name didn’t stick – it wasn’t mine, and I knew it.  I can’t say when my envy shifted, but at some point my lack became an oddness that I am strangely proud of.  My (non) middle name will always be unknowable. It’s like the riddle that asks “What kind of gun do you use to kill a pink elephant” and answers “Have you ever seen a pink elephant?”

This riddle is a one way street. I get to ask a question I can never answer for myself.  Henry. Eric. Michael. William. Rene. Ryan. Robert. I learn middle names with a voracious appetite.  Each name is a thrill not unlike a first kiss, and, like my kisses, this attention is predominately focused on men.  I casually learn women’s names, but not with the same driven focus.  I drill myself on names and it’s utterly masculine. I list them to myself, first, middle, last.  Adam. Ian. I learn the stories of the middle name—what distant relative or folk hero his parents had in mind, how often the name is dusted off and worn.  Some middle names fit while others are more uncomfortable and clumsy on my tongue. Patrick. Richard. Andrew.  I try to remember them all, regardless.

I have yet to meet a man without three names, besides my father.  I wonder what I will do when confronted with an equal void. An unsolvable x. Will we create our own names? Maybe.  There’s something about an emptiness that asks to be filled.

~*~*~

I’m headed out to Orcas Island for the annual Gorse Busting Fest, with some of the coolest and kindest people I know. We’ll work together, sweat together, eat together, and play endless rounds of Dominion. See you soon guys!

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Let’s Be Friends

Grad school excursion to San Diego with the usual suspects.

Grad school excursion to San Diego with the usual suspects.

I met my friend D- at the gym last night for a little bit of lady climbing without the whole crew. She’s super bad ass and crushes like a champ, of course. I didn’t make the 11+ yet, but it’s almost there. (Lean in more, higher foot… I think I can remember next time…) We talked about a lot of things between routes, and one of the things she said struck me. “Seattle needs more people like you, to break everyone out of the Seattle Freeze.” (Paraphrased, of course.)  It’s true that in grad school my friends called me the cruise director– I ran the welcome-train for new students, hosted everyone and anyone at my apartment with J- and helped run the graduate literary magazine.  I even put together a package of information for folks moving from across the country with apartment suggestions, places to gather and grocery store locations.  I hadn’t realized that I’m back to my old habits here.  Am I social person? Friendly? I suppose so.

I had all of this running in the back of my head today as I headed in to yoga at lunch. I was a little early and I started chatting with Michelle, our instructor. I don’t think we’ve ever really chatted before, beyond just a friendly hello, but there I was, acting like an old friend.  How do you know if you’re friends with someone? I’m realizing that I’m finally in a place where I just act like a friend and, poof, there you go. I’m tired of waiting and dancing– if I like you, and you seem to like me, there you go. Friends. Let’s talk about art. Come to my climbing night. Come to my house for dinner. Let’s go see music. Let’s go on an adventure. 

Just the two of us, Klaus Pichler, 2013

And your daily dose of inspiration, in case you needed it: Just The Two of Us. Stumbled across this project yesterday. I think I need to get back to my masks.

 

 

Arbitrary Decisions and Fishbowls

Climbing in costume

I love starting my week at Stone Gardens with some of my best friends. (Full confession, the photo above is from The Seattle Bouldering Project, on Halloween, not tonight. But it’s a gym photo, so I thought it fit).  It was after one of our climbing nights that a friend described me one of the most accurate ways I’ve heard so far, saying that I live my life like a fish in a fishbowl, minus the glass.  I’ve tried, in the past, to keep this blog very Art Focused, but I think that’s also one of the reasons I stopped writing for so long.  I didn’t want my personal life to come into my Artist’s Persona– I wanted to keep an academic sense of distance.

Monday NightI’m just not that kind of person. I don’t keep distance, I don’t shy away from personal stories.  My Monday night crew knows this, perhaps better than anyone.  They hear my stories about bad dates and good dates, co-workers and  family.  My life is open to my friends, perhaps too much so. I’m not about to start using this space as a confessional, but I think that it’s okay to let some personal life blur in, especially if it means I’m writing more.  

This weekend I spent a lot of time by myself, and it’s something I need to do more of.  In that effort, I decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that I don’t get to date until I can climb a 5.11+ cleanly or make it to the top of a 5.12- at Stone Gardens.  It seemed a good stretch goal– I’m climbing 5.11-s clean these days, but it took me weeks to get to the top of a 5.11+ and I’ve never made any real progress on a 5.12.  There are, of course, men who are on a list of exceptions– there have to be loopholes. But for the most part, I want to focus on getting stronger without the distraction of does he like me, am I being too eager, do I like him, when will I see him next… Setting a climbing goal seemed like a good way to do it.  Becoming a stronger climber means more yoga and meditation, more mental focus, more complete body strength.

Except- new routes were set a few days ago that I hadn’t accounted for, including a really fun 5.11+.  My first try was a complete shut-down, as I expected.  And then, when I came back to it— it just made more sense. It wasn’t easy, but it made sense. I didn’t finish it clean, but it’s within my grasp.  So much for a stretch goal.  Does that mean I’m ready to date? I don’t think so– I think I need a better goal. Because the thing is– dating is great, but so is the space I’ve found recently. This space has given me back writing and art, in addition to a stronger body.  I’m going to get the 5.11+ clean, hopefully in the next few days.  And I’m going to find another goal, to keep my heart open. 

Women and Olive Branches

Last night I went to my friend R’s housewarming/decorating party. It was the first party I’ve been into with mostly women, and for a long while the only person I knew was the hostess.  I have a fair degree of social anxiety (as do most people, I think) and I felt, for a while, like I was bludgeoning around with laughter that was too loud and stories that were just a bit off.  Again, I think this is a normal fear and I doubt it came across as such.  Still, that largeness in a room is what keeps me to my common paths.

At the end of the night I left feeling completely different.  The women R knows are an incredible collection.  There was another writer, a woman who can sing the same songs I can from the 90s, a woman working in the same industry.  Not to mention, strong climbers, funny conversationalists and  just, Nice. I left saying, let’s connect and entirely meaning it.  When I got home I found my order from MIEL had arrived. Glorious night! 

Éireann Lorsung, one of the founders of MIEL, is a poet and artist that I’ve had a crush on for a long time.  I was given her book Music For Landing Planes By by Susan Straight and Éireann became someone I watched from afar.  She makes beautiful crafty things, has a lovely blog and now runs a press that puts out wonderful work. I highly suggest checking it out. One of the women I talked to last night said that a fiction instructor she had said that no poem is memorable. We both disagreed, even though she hasn’t read much poetry.  Éireann’s work sticks with me, and it was great to come home to a project of hers at my doorstep.

Perhaps because I was thinking about all of these things before sleep last night, I awoke with poetry in my head.  Specifically, Adrienne Rich’s poem The Eye (from her collection The School Among the Ruins).  It’s strange to shower and try to recall lines from one of my favorite pieces.  I could remember only snippets (I’ve never been great at memorization) but the tone was there.  I think this poem sticks with me because of the ordinariness– hope not as an extreme effort, but through remaining.  The Eye- Adrienne Rich

I am someone easily waylaid off of my course.  Ask me if I want to do something and my answer, in general, is YES! It’s partly social anxiety– the fear that if I say no, the request won’t come back.  It’s partly because yes, I honestly want to spend time with You (whoever you are).  So much of my summer was rocked around on whims. Do you want to go to Squamish? Yes. Do you want to go to Vantage? Yes. Do you want… Yes. I went on many adventures, I learned many things, but I think I lost some of what I wanted along the way.  I wanted a summer reconnecting with myself and my women friends.  I wanted Project Bad Ass.  I got distracted.  Men do that to me. Last night felt (like so much the past few weeks) as if I’m finally back on track. (Thank you, R!)  And in the middle of it– my phone flashing. An olive branch. Drinks? A month ago, I would have tapped back an answer.  And I might have woken up with a familiar skyline, away from my lovely apartment, away from my books and my poetry.  I doubt I would have woken up with a poem in my head.

Last night, I looked, I put my phone down, and I returned to the conversation at hand. And this morning I have coffee in a mug given to me by my best friend, books strewn around my living room, CocoRosie on the stereo, and a file open full of work to send D. so she has more poems to remember. I’m right where I need to be.

 

Audience Exposure

Untitled (3)

Untitled (2)

Untitled (1)

 

I have never had any qualms about nudes.  I grew up with coffee table books tracing human anatomy and nudes on the walls.  I’ve modeled for art classes and done my fair share of life drawing.  Bodies are bodies.  Yet for some reason I’ve never actually done self-portraits of my own body.  The bodies I painted in college had strips of clothing cutting into their forms, the sculptures were based on dresses or else skeletons, with flesh over bone perhaps but without any identifying features of an actual body.

I think, somewhere, I internalized the “be careful what you put out into the world– it can come back to you” lesson of sex tapes and boudoir photos surfacing and somehow applied that to my own life.  Though in truth, I am not concerned with black-mail, so much as audience.  I’m trying to erase the idea of audience, but it’s tricky.  I do not exist in a bubble, and art, while it exists outside of my self, can trace back to my Actual Life.  I do not want to make people who know me as one thing uncomfortable by being exposed to me in another light.  This is why some people have very careful and catered circles of associates. Co-workers. Athletes. Artists.  I’ve never been good at keeping my life in compartments– I crash family into friends and co-workers into adventure buddies.  But this means my art and my life cannot exist in isolation from each other.

About a year ago I watched the documentary The Woodmans and found the photographs of Francesca Woodman.  They are beautiful and haunting and often feature nude women. (She died tragically young, and the documentary is very sad, but that isn’t what this is about.)  While I don’t pretend to have the skill that she has, I remember thinking– I should try something like this.  I never got around to it.  And then a friend sent me a link to a photo series making the rounds across social media, Stone Nudes. And I just moved into a new apartment, with a white tiled shower, a window ledge, and a sink counter at about the right height to balance my phone. 

I took a series of self-portraits with a self timer and after a little bit of editing, threw the first image up onto Instagram. I included my full body, splayed against tile, though at the last minute decided to blur most of it out.  Even within the blur you could see the tan line from my bathing suit bottoms and it was very clear that there was nothing in the frame beside body and background.  This is a test I thought.  I took the photo down within hours.

Why did this image feel like too much? I am not ashamed of my body and I still think the picture has strong composition and can hold its own.  There was nothing overtly sexual about the image, nor was it intimate.  It was, I think, a matter of audience.  My co-workers follow my instagram account, as do friends and family.  I want to say that I don’t care– but when it comes down to it, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.  I’m realizing more and more, this is one of my largest artistic hurdles.  I don’t mind being uncomfortable myself– I often am.  But I don’t want to put other people in a place of discomfort.  The co-worker that brings me fruit snacks in the afternoon is probably not someone who wants to think of me unclothed.

The images I’ve included above are ones that you can find online, on my instagram account. I’m still unsure as to whether or not the complete portraits belong online. This is the part of art that scares me– I am still toeing the line of safety.  Do I have the nerve to create something and put it into the world, while ignoring the audience that receives it? I’m starting to do that with my (body) text. Maybe it’s time to jump all in, entirely, and let people sort out how they receive it.

Eva Hesse and Climbing as Performance Art

Eva Hesse Untitled Rope

Untitled (Rope Piece) – Eva Hesse

I’ve always loved Eva Hesse’s work. It’s luminous and beautiful—but deadly.  She died at 34, of a brain tumor, probably from the toxic materials she worked with. Her work is hard to preserve (minus the fiberglass) and there’s something about the almost momentary aspect of her work that I find incredibly romantic.  Sculptures are often very Permanent Structures.  There is beauty in permanence, of course, but I think I am drawn to things with a more temporary nature.  After college, I found myself with too many sculptures.  What exactly does one do with a 5’ 3” monstrosity of plaster, wire and wood? At the time I’d been watching a few documentaries on Andy Goldsworthy and casting my sculptures out into the elements seemed like a clear progression. 

Things break, things disappear.  (Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.) Eva Hesse died at 34, after only a decade of creating art.  I’m 5 years away from that mark, and I don’t know what sort of legacy I would leave. I re-read much of my old work and it feels tragic and sad—I want to leave a legacy of more laughter and joy.  I think of myself as someone quick to smile, easy to laugh. I take things seriously, sure. But I find so much beauty around me as well—so much to revel in.

I don’t know why I’m suddenly full to the brim with project ideas. I want to work on my masks, I want to work on my climbing-poem-sequence. But I also want to work on something ACTIVE.  I talked with my best friend about portraits— if he were here, he’d be taking them for me.  As he is still in Philadelphia and seems to refuse to move to Seattle simply because I want him to, I think I’ll do it on my own.

One of the things fueling me lately is an old piece from school.  While I was in college I was part of a performance art collective, and I did a very ridiculous piece one night, stripping down to almost nothing, forcing the audience to watch my body fail as I stood on my tip-toes on a stool, with my arms outstretched and heavy dictionaries in each palm while an audio collage of my voice, reading various definitions of Performance Art, played in the background.  At first, when I stripped down, the crowd cheered. And as I stood there, they grew uncomfortable. As my body flushed red and my muscles started to fail there was a switch—the audience wanted me to succeed, to keep going, even though there had to be an ending of sorts.  I was too strong for the piece—if I’d timed it properly my body would have forced me to the ground.  As it was, the recording ended, I dropped the books and let myself fall.  It feels very pretentious now, but I still like the idea of failure—of pushing myself to a limit and past that point. I realized last night, bouldering with a friend in a crowd of people I didn’t know, there’s a similar energy.  I sat back, watching men move from one hold to another, and caught my breath as they made a move that, earlier, had sent them crashing to the mats.  You can feel a collective breath release as someone moves past, and up.  Somehow, this has to translate into art again. I’m going to figure out how.

Update: I found old pictures from the initial performance. Turns out I was not as naked as I thought. Click the photo to see more from our collective, Peddle to the Meddle. performance art