Category Archives: travel

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

Walk Through Walls is Marina Abramović’s extraordinary story. I mean, of course it’s extraordinary–it warranted a book. And it did. Abramović gives the account of her tumultuous and abusive (my word, not hers) upbringing, replete with political upheaval and familial strife–inexcusable even given the PTSD and OCD that pervades the family dynamic.

Image result for Abramović walk through walls

image from amazon.com

I continue to be interested in reading about powerful women, women who live lives that are very different than the ones they grew up in, women who were able to imagine and create a way for themselves with the degree of freedom and autonomy that their art requires.

Recently, in an interview, I heard Patti Smith say that the artists path is a spiritual path, that pursuing it and making art is a spiritual experience. In that the making of art puts me in a meditative state, which is a spiritual experience, I agree.

Abramović writes honestly, even self critically, about the spiritual and emotional experiences of her life, and the relationships in which she engaged, and even contributed analysis on her painful patterns and what they might suggest. It was all very honest and real and shed some light into my own painful patterns and what can be done about them (hint: probably not a lot).

So many of the artists I’ve been reading about have traveled extensively and have sought esoteric (at least to a Westerners view) spiritual rituals for self growth and healing, engaging in shamanic treatments in Brazil, learning telepathy from Aboriginals in Australia, and completing months-long meditations in India.

Lately, I’ve wanted to have more meaningful interactions in my work. Abramović’s work empowers me to do so. Her art is really weird, and many might view it as sensationalistic, existing only for the sake of shock and awe, but in reading the book, I was quickly and easily persuaded that performance art is very much art. It’s complex and provocative and does all of the important things that more traditional art does.

For as much as her most intimate relationships brought her pain and betrayal, Abramović heals these wounds for herself and others (her audience and her students), time and time again. Perhaps I can find ways to do more of the same in the work that I do. At least I can try.

After reading the book and being inspired by her story, I felt more emboldened to live my life in a way that was more fully authentic to who I am. So currently I am working hard to change a few things about my life, bringing it more into accord with my essential self, trying to set things up in ways that are more conducive to my well being, and wearing these big sunglasses that fully protect my eyes on the top bottom and the sides. (I wore them yesterday while browsing a plant nursery, and it felt great, and zeros effs were given.)

I thought I marked more passages (I know it did!), but in the end, this is all I could find:

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do” (182).

“If animals live a long time together, they start loving each other. But people start hating each other” (290).

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The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence

I read The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence because Rachel Cusk mentions it in The Last Supper, and I hadn’t read anything by D.H. Lawrence, or any  literature from the “old white male canon,” in a very long time.

Image result for Sea and Sardinia

image from amazon.com

If you were to go on an extended trip through a long country or several small ones, and if you were to keep a daily journal filled with every detail that reminds you of every exquisite thing you encountered, details that also functioned to take you to a time, a place, a feeling, a current obsession, the food you ate, the drink, and then if you published that book because the whole trip had been funded by a publisher who had been promised a book, I presume you would have The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.

I’ve made long trips, and kept detailed journals, and I recorded every exquisite thing I encountered that reminded me of a time, a place, a feeling, an obsession, the food I ate, the drink, and I cherish those journals. Rereading them, I can feel the sun on my skin and the free way of moving through the world, urgent to find food or hotel, but not to meet a work deadline. I can remember my interests, my obsessions, the ways other people live, the look of other places, how I was different then than I am now, and for the inevitable better.

I don’t think those journal entries probably have much merit beyond my own memories, just as the Sea and Sardinia is undoubtedly more important to Lawrence and the “q-b” than anyone else. The book is an early modern travel guide. It perfectly captures the difficulties, and the luggage handles cutting into your hands, and the filth of the public, the beauty, and the enduring, the transcending that occurs with travel. Of course it’s also artfully written. Not only does Lawrence have the decency to avoid boring us with a plot, but the reader must look no further than the first line for something lovely: “Comes over one an absolute necessity to move” (7). And on the “other,” he writes, “Their naturalness seems unnatural to us. Yet I am sure it is best” (21). There is more of this throughout, which is, of course, what sets him apart as one of the very best. I can say I read it.

2016: the year in review

My 2016 “best nine” according to IG.

2016 was a whirlwind year. I loved. I worried. My heart shattered. I got sick. I figured some things out. I remembered “authentic self” stuff that has helped me re-engage with my values and interests. And so I got better at being me. I worried some more. I got better. I loved.

Now, as with most December 31sts, I feel quieter, more restful, more peaceful than celebratory, or loud, or exciting. These are long, cold days. As a species I think we’re supposed to be lying low, eating root vegetables, and conserving energy to get through winter. Still, in a little while, I’ll probably pull on my giant fuzzy snow boots and be with the smiling, happy people.

In 2015 I traveled. I felt blocked creatively, and so to occupy myself, I tried to say yes to all of the people I loved, and even liked, and ended up making a few long road trips and even made a solo detour on a trip to visit my best friend and ended up seeing more of the Oregon coast than I’d ever seen before and felt small next to the tsunami warnings and did wheel pose in the warm sand with my mom, whom I love so much.

I felt like my urgent travel mode was coming to an end in 2016, but I still ended up traveling a lot. I flew to Louisiana. In February, I road tripped back to Utah through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado (in the snow!). Then I flew to Houston for a conference that ended up being a good bonding experience with my colleagues, even though I was also really emotionally raw during that trip. I made a quick trip home for my nephew’s birthday (a date I rarely get to make because of my work schedule). Later in the month, I attended another conference in Atlanta. The conference was great, but the trip felt a little solitary. When school finished up, I took off to the high mountains of Idaho, and then made my annual trip to Oregon, came back to Idaho, and then I did another quick trip to Utah.

Before school started, I road tripped to Phoenix by way of the Grand Canyon (a first for me!), Flagstaff and Sedona. In Phoenix I ate some of the best pizza of my life, drove on to the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson, where I had last been 15 years earlier on my way to a school trip to Mexico. That trip, and the saguaros, left an indelible mark on my psyche, and my return to them did not disappoint. After having my face melted off by a lovely little jazz quartet, I went on to Las Vegas, where I ate at the Peppermill because it’s iconic, and I had recently seen Jerry Seinfeld interview George Wallace there for his show.

After school started, I did a quick long weekend in Seattle to visit the loveliest of people, where I felt the humid, highly oxygenated air wash over me, and after that I went back to Las Vegas for a nice little conference that also felt quite solitary, and after that I went to San Diego for another conference, but this time I also got to walk along the warm California beach and see some of the city and just detoured (quite) a bit in general.

So, there was a lot of travel, and I was grateful for the good company I was able to keep, and I felt highly motivated at times, editing, grading, book reviewing, and proposing all manor of scholarly work. I also rested. I ate tomatoes and zucchini that I grew myself. I knitted, and I read, and I put seeds out for the birds. There’s more of course, but for now, this is probably all I need to say about 2016.

on flo mo and inspiration

A few weeks ago, I saw Florence + the Machine live at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Months earlier, I was saying “yes” to everything, and consequently got myself entangled in weekend plans for months on end. This show was one of the things I agreed to.

the harp from Florence + the Machine

the harp from the Florence + the Machine performance

Despite the fact that my experience was probably entirely cliche, I have to admit that I was very moved by Florence Welch’s show. I love seeing live music–performance in general. But this was probably the best show I’d ever seen, and it was in large part because of Welch’s generosity (the drummer’s cool too). 

The first most striking thing about the show was that her movements (for over two hours) were effortless, but profoundly beautiful. I read somewhere that she was diagnosed with dyspraxia as a child, but now her every movement is stunning.

She wears her hair long and wavy and messy. Her all-white costume was beautiful from a structural perspective, but not typically sexy. Her face is stark and sometimes harsh and absolutely stunning. She wears very little make up. She does nothing to soften her appearance or make herself more conventionally palatable.

In doing so, she is completely extraordinary and unusual, and none of us could take our eyes off of her for the entire two hours of the show. I can’t think of any other woman, at her level of fame, that allows her face to be raw and so vulnerable in public.

We left saying she deserves to be worshiped. We left saying we saw a panty line. We left saying I”ll bet she doesn’t shave. No, she’s too busy making art to do any one uncomfortable thing that serves only the viewing pleasure of others. No doubt she pleases herself, and in doing so, she is absolutely pleasing to others.

I left wanting to spend more time creating for the sole purpose of my own viewing pleasure. I left wanting to type the words that are bubbling out of me. I left wanting to bang on the piano in rhythm. I left wanting to let there be love. I left reminded of my own unique taste, reminded that it’s all I have–whether I am loved for it or not.

Meru directed by Jimmy Chin, et al

This year at Sundance, I had the opportunity to see Meru, a documentary film about Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk’s summit of Mount Meru, or the “Shark Fin” in the Himalayas. I was a little worried that I might spend most of my time averting my gaze from the vertigo-inducing shots of men hanging by a rope over 20,000 foot drops. While there were plenty of those shots, there are also a lot of beautiful scenes that did not invoke a need to cover my eyes. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful and unforgiving throughout.

image from Meru trailer

image from Meru trailer

At about the mid-point, viewers get a lot of backstory on these three climbers. Each of them overcomes absolutely unbelievable obstacles. (Well, maybe not so unbelievable given that they are elite climbers.) I went in worried that this would be one of these films when men (yes, men) do these insane things that make no sense and risk their lives and everyone’s lives, and for what? But I enjoyed and admired these men throughout the film.

They each brought such unique personalities to the screen. Conrad is the hardened old-timer with tons of experience. He’s got a remarkable record for safety, but he’s got a thin exterior might be pushing too hard at this point in his career. There is evidence that Jimmy is aggressive and unstoppable in his pursuit of success, but he’s so quiet and understated about it. Renan has a natural, physical ability, but he’s got a spooked look in his eyes—maybe it’s the fear of being a newcomer or maybe he’s haunted by what’s to come.

Watching the film, I was proud to be in the same species as these guys. It makes me think about the things we’re driven to do. The things we obsess over until we absolutely must do them. Some of us know what we have to do, and it usually means logging countless hours alone with one’s self. This is why, though I recognize my need for relationships, I trust solitude. Important things happen there, and etching out that time and being willing to spend that time alone is key. For some people, that great thing is having a child.

During this film, though it is very masculine, I was reminded of doula work. Like the men climbing Meru, women in labor are inexplicably driven, but they reach their breaking point, they’re brought to the brink, and then beyond to the place where their skin starts to break—just like the climbers. They continue on as the animal body takes over and the higher intelligence and the spirituality are all forced to work together. All three are required, which is one of the lessons, I think. I always say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or it weakens you badly.” However, in this film, what doesn’t kill them actually does make them stronger. Cliché as it may sound, the film reminded me of our greatness as human beings. I feel newly inspired to pursue the things I must do in this life, for more quiet focus to better understand what those things are, and a deeper commitment to the solitude they require.

on holiday shopping-inspired humiliations

I like to do my Christmas shopping before heading home for the holidays. The selection is pretty limited where I’m from, so I try to get things that are a little different than whatever the local Wal-Mart might have. I also really like to have everything wrapped and ready to go because I love seeing the excitement on my nephew’s face as we unload the presents and put them under the tree. I hope it’s at least a fraction of the thrill I felt each year when Grandma brought out her presents.

This year, I’m not decorating my own home for Christmas. I might just eat some of those Hershey’s candy cane kisses and call it a day. In general, I’m not much of a homemaker. I think that’s mostly because I’ve never had much of a home. In the past two years, I found that I really loved putting up Christmas lights, threading popcorn on a string, and decorating a little tree, but that was because I was sharing it with someone. As it turns out, ritual is better when you have someone to share it with.

Which brings me to my point, which is that for me, sharing rituals is the most intimate and humiliating part of relationships. Nothing feels better than reaching a point where participating in ritual with someone feels safe. But later, when the relationship is over, I always feel deep humiliation about the whole thing.

I think it’s because my rituals are sacred to me. My family home, and returning there throughout the year, is sacred to me. There is land and space and wonderful people who listen when you talk. There is peace and quiet to read books and have long conversations that last all morning. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time there, and it’s something I hold sacred and private. And, it’s all very humiliating when someone sees the ritual and experiences it for a little while, and then chooses something else. Oh, God. Nothing’s worse.

one year ago

one year ago

on letting go

I do a lot of long, epic car rides across several states, alone, a few times a year. It used to be the case that I would listen to books on tape. Those were good times. In recent years, I’ve moved to podcasts out of necessity. In the past I’ve written about this one podcast I love called “A Way to Garden.” It’s mostly people talking in really soothing voices about gardening, so yeah, sign me up.

I’ve also been a longtime listener of NPR, and This American Life is a favorite that I frequently miss. So, I always listen to those when I travel. During one of my recent trips, I listened to a show called “Show Me the Way,” which had a story about a boy who ran away from home and attempted to seek refuge with his favorite author, Piers Anthony.

A quote from Anthony toward the end struck me so much that I had to write it down, think more about it, and even share it with you. It was this:

One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all cost, or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.

Recently, a friend told Z that he wished Z could just learn to “let go.” Z liked the idea and tends to think of himself as too up tight. Though, I think it’s actually hard to know what’s normal stress, awkwardness, anxiety and what’s too much and needs to be “let go.” I’ve been both taken and troubled by the concept.

I’m sensitive to the idea because I tend to think Z might let go too much. I’m biased though because I’m one of the things he’s let go. But I’m not ready. But also I kind of am. And so I can’t help but think, what’s so great about letting go? Maybe holding on could be right sometimes too.

I’m familiar with holding on, following through. Probably too familiar. This is a fault when it comes to things like cleaning out closets or recycling moving boxes, but it is also a strength when it comes to things like finishing a college degree.

But, I’m also taken with the concept because I like the sort of hippy idea of being completely free of constraints–free for adventure, free of stress, obligation, just me and a fast car on a desert highway to Somewhere Else. However, if you’re me, you also quickly learn about balance. For example, I like having time to myself (everyone knows this), but I also like having familial and rewarding work obligations. For example, I might be caught up in a task and maybe I don’t necessarily feel like taking my nephew to the pool one day, but the connection I get from being close to him and going to the pool anyway is always rewarding. I don’t want to let go of those obligations that bring a lot of meaning and satisfaction to my life just because sometimes it is also an obligation.

The Piers Anthony quote shed new light on the idea entirely. Because, you know, I think we do hold on to certain things. Some of it might be inevitable or unavoidable and that’s probably okay and beautiful too. It might help those of us who are uptight in some way, or our friends who are not uptight, understand that it might not always be a choice, and even if it is, it might be a completely reasonable and effective coping mechanism.

on being replenished

I have a strong sense of home, which, I think, helps me face the world, move to new cities alone, earn degrees, travel, take (measured) risks, etc. The last few months have been emotionally grueling for me, but I am home now and finally feel like I can really take a deep breath. Suddenly, my priorities come into focus.

Photo: vetch

vetch growing wild in the hay fields

Here there is gathering eggs, checking the under ripe fruit, sitting in the yard under a shade tree reading a Laura Ingalls Wilder book I found, Ginger, Jackson, and the cat, the mock orange, wild roses and yellow and joseph’s coat homestead roses in bloom, the new kind of yellow bird that’s made a nest in the front yard, pelicans, baby cones at Little Bear (C-zers soon to follow), the Subaru loaded down with bailing twine, everyone going 5 miles per hour under the speed limit, long walks down gravel roads, long conversations that last all morning and then go late into the night, fresh lettuce out of the garden, eating raspberries off the bush, running to Food Town for junk food I wouldn’t normally eat, having real dirt come off my hands when I wash them, kiddie pools, popsicles, sheep grazing in pastures, one late calf bawling for its mother, gardens growing so fast you can almost see it, knitting up skeins and skeins of yarn, planning the next batch of soap with Mom, making raspberry jam, knowing everyone I see, trading stories of new babies, divorces, car wrecks, illness, and wedding engagements, people dusting off their saddles for rodeo, the linear pattern of cut hay, geometric bales, the breeze, the sun, the temperature—everything I know so well.

holiday report

The holidays were actually not bad. Sure, there were moments of stress and weirdness. But, mostly, they were good. I focused most of my energy on spending quality time with my nephew and that meant not really visiting other friends or family. Instead, my nephew and I snuggled, read books, colored together, went sledding, built a snowman, went sledding again, frosted sugar cookies, and basically had all of the compulsory Christmas vacation experiences. I was hoping to take my nephew on his first ski trip this year, but I got sick (again), and then Z got sick (again), and I lost one of my warm mittens for skiing, and we worried that the drive was too far, and so that basically just didn’t happen this year.

The view while enjoying a walk with my mom and her dog.

But, it was nice overall. In addition to trying to hug and kiss my nephew as much as possible, other highlights included baking in the kitchen with my mom, sitting around in the early morning and talking with her, and going for a long, brisk, incredibly clear morning walk on Christmas. Also, helping Dad feed cows and having a nice, long talk with him by the stove. And, going out to dinner with my brother. I also enjoyed spending time with my aunt and cousin and talking about the big things.

Now, I’m back in my own home, wandering around, putting away this Christmas gift and that. Missing my mom. Missing my nephew. Missing them all, and just generally thinking about the direction of my life.

5 Reasons Not to Get a Dog

 

I’ve thought off and on about getting a dog for several years now. Years ago, at the SLC Farmer’s Market, I came across a booth for retired greyhound adoption. There was a pen set up, with long, strange looking animals lounging on the sun-dappled grass. I stood and stared at them, drawn to their peaceful energy.

image from Jason Short 2008

At the time, I lived downtown, had big life changes ahead, and adopting a dog was not an option. Over the years, I have thought that I would like to get a dog. That’s usually followed by a period of gratitude that I don’t have a dog.

Here are 5 Reasons I Don’t Want to Get a Dog (spoiler: I might still get a dog anyway):

  1. Mornings. I am slow to wake up. The thought of waking up early to stand or walk in the cold morning air so that a dog can pee is not my idea of as good time. In fact, it sounds like a terrible way to start the day.
  2. Allergies. I am allergic to cats, but not dogs. But, I also haven’t lived in close quarters with a dog, so I haven’t really been able to test a possible allergy to dogs in years. The other weekend a chihuahua climbed all over me, desperate for attention. Sure enough, I left with the sniffles. I’m probably more allergic to some dogs than others, and I wish there was a way to test it out before committing.
  3. Travel. I like to travel. Beyond small trips that could accommodate a dog, I like to do a major trip a few times per decade. I don’t even know how that would work, but I think it would mean securing very costly pet sitting situation.
  4. Children. If I get a dog, I might never have children. I can’t quite explain this thinking–just that I suspect it could be true for me. And, whether or not to reproduce is not a decision I’m ready to make right now.
  5. Landlord. I am a renter, and I don’t have a fenced yard. That will mean daily walks and attention to regular potty breaks. Originally, my landlord told me that getting a dog would be okay, with a $300-$600 refundable pet deposit. Later, after I resigned the lease (grrrr), they said it would be a $600 refundable pet deposit plus an additional monthly fee tacked on to my rent. That might still be negotiable. Also, other pet friendly rentals are usually totally gross, so I don’t feel like I have a lot of options.

(Coming soon: 5 Reasons to Get a Dog.)