Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rainbow Stalking

Yes, yes, I know, posts have been brief of late...I've been distracted with holidays, other writing projects, and stalking rainbows. They are wily, colorful beasts that appear out of the rain. 

Rainbow quarry cornered heading
 toward I-95 in Miami, 12/11/11.
It turns out, the rainbow ends at a brick
apartment building in NE DC, or did today, 12/27/11. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wynwood Art Walk, Miami

On the 2nd Saturday of every month, the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami has an art walk.  Over 60 galleries open their doors.  
Wall of Art

All I can say is: go. You'll love it. The art ranges from massive murals on the walls of former factories to precise oils to metal dragonflywoman sculptures. Moonlight and warm Florida breezes carry eclectic music out into the street. Industrial buildings include an auto body shop that somehow adds to the urban art feel.  You can stop by a food truck and pick up something tasty if you're feeling peckish. Kids, families, hipsters, art-ers, tourists: it's a lively crowd where everyone is welcome.

And the art: amazing.     

Building-wide mural
She looks like a dragonfly to me.

Note the deer in front of the green hulk
(and to the left of Neil's butt)
Moon over Murals

Murals in Wynwood Walls area

The painting on the right is called "The Three Graces." As
with all these pieces, I neglected to write down
artist names. I particularly wish I had for that one -
gorgeous work.   
Wynwood Walls
Neil and his new friends
The Infamous

Saturday, December 10, 2011

See You Later, Alligator

Sign by lake
Not only did they feel it necessary to put up a sign, they also passed a law about it. Who doesn't know enough to stay away from an alligator? A lot of people, apparently.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roadtripping, Cat Lady Style

Leo, Hazel, and I hit the road on Wednesday, off on an excellent Florida adventure.  The beginning of the 2-day drive looked and sounded like this:

Leo and Hazel travel in style in a purple mesh pop-up carrier that takes up most of the backseat and includes all the modern conveniences (i.e., a little box). It gives them a little room to stretch, but keeps them from leaping out the window at toll booths. Over the 14 years that the kitties and I have been spending time together, they've logged many miles. They're not always happy about it, but they are surprisingly patient and flexible.

If nothing else, they enjoy that after a day of meditative sunshine driving, I perk up (yes, cats sense your mood). While they don't let me sing (like many others, they interpret it as yowling, and meow with alarm when I forget and start in) they do let me change radio stations to catch scary 80s classics (yes, "Abracadra" still gets air time. Want to have a 1982 tune stuck in your head?  Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QyoRzZrF00&feature=related). After a few hours of following the yellow lines, the endless winter gloom of DC gray fades into exploration and insights into other places, odd roadside moments and the peaceful zen of driving.

Day 1 of driving landed us at the Walterboro, SC Motel6.  Given that Motel6s are cheap and allow pets, we are brand loyal. This particular safe haven came with a bbq invite from the guys in orange reflective vests grilling dinner in the parking lot. They were in town to do electrical work in Ridgeland and were, safe to say, a little bored. Anyone who starts a conversation with "So you from out of town?" in a motel parking lot may be yearning for anything new (do lots of people in town stay at the Motel6?).

The kitties and I opted out of the parking lot festivities and instead hunkered down for a night of junk food and bad TV. I prefer to think that the bug Hazel found was not a baby roach, but some orphan insect of a less revolting tribe. 

The biggest excitement for me is that the Motel6 has a new, and possibly even more hideous bedspread pattern, this one with a Motel6 logo wound into yellows and oranges and blues.  The previous bedspread used, I can tell you, by most Motel6s across the country, flaunted blues and magenta, a stain-hiding combination that I've come to expect.

We hit the road early, anxious for more sun, more flashback music, and finally getting to the warmth. 

We first felt the shift to southern winter at a gas station stop in Georgia (at a nondescript Shell, not Mr. Pete's Pecans and Gas that we saw advertised in curly script on a billboard, as intrigued we were by that unlikely combination). Even though it was a chilly morning, it felt different...the sun was sharper, the sky bluer, and the birds sang with a tropical lilt. The wind coming inland from the the ocean still carried its salty smell. 

Hazel was probably thinking: lizards! 

When we lived in Miami, she was the mighty huntress, picking up, and dropping many lizards.  She didn't often kill them -- I imagine they don't taste all that yummy, although I don't intend to verify that. But she would chase them around and pick them up with zeal, at which point, they would drop their tails (a lizard stress reaction).  Many short-tailed lizards lived, anxiously, around our cottage.

The big excitement on Day 2 of driving (aside from arriving at our destination) all took place in the vicinity of Lawtey, FL. 

You can't say they don't give you
fair warning...
First: the Speed Trap billboard, 4.5 miles outside of town on 301. Yes, once in town, I saw a black unmarked car with a lawman sitting as promised in the 35 miles per hour zone there.  You have to figure, whoever pays for the billboard the town hero. 
Also in Lawtey, we made a brief stop to take a picture of not one, not two, but THREE giant metal chickens. 

Modern Styling.

Because one is not enough.

The reason for this can be found here: http://thebloggess.com/2011/06/and-thats-why-you-should-learn-to-pick-your-battles/.  Knock, knock is a running joke with a friend to whom I periodically send pictures of large metal chickens (or roosters - I'm flexible on these things).

Having finally arrived in our Florida destination,today, the cats and I are enjoying some down time on the porch. Leo had a tough morning with a visit to a local vet, as his back is hurting -- the prevailing theory is he twisted it on the stairs yesterday surveying his temporary kingdom, as he seemed surprisingly spry after the car ride. But by last evening, poor guy was hurting. Today, after a couple of shots, he's feeling better, and so is his nervous caretaker. 

In front of us on the porch, a palm tree is rustling in the wind. A few fluffy clouds are floating by.  I plan to go to the beach in a little while and stick my toes in the ocean. December in Florida, Santa hats and bathing suits, has much to recommend it. 

I hope Leo and Hazel agree.   

Hazel: "Lizards!"; Leo: "Cat treats!"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Them Apples

Green Apples
acrylic on canvas
10 x 8
As part of another attempt to de-clutter my apartment, I spent yesterday sorting through stacks of art supplies. Like coming across old snapshots, paintings take me back to the time and place where I painted them.

"Green Apples," an attempt at a classic still life with somewhat atraditional color choices, was painted on the balcony of a beach house rented for the Sisters Beach Trip 3.0 the week after Hurricane Irene.  My sister was working on a painting too, hers of shells. 

At the time, I wasn't much thrilled with my effort. Now I find I like it much better, perhaps because it returns me to a warm balcony with ocean air full of familial love, acceptance, and creative exploration. 

Those are some darn good apples in that context.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Evolution of a Naked Man

acrylic on canvas
36 x 30
This one I painted a few months ago, futzed with endlessly, and then put aside because it still didn't capture what I wanted. The frustration of seeing something in your mind that you can't create plagues most artists, I imagine, even those with more developed technical skills. 

Still, he looks a whole lot more like a person than the creepy monster he started out as. I am learning something. Various stages are displayed in the clip below. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Naked Lady

Yes, if you paint, eventually you end up trying to paint naked people. Let me tell you, it's a lot harder than it looks. You would think, gosh, a few nice long lines, and voila! a person. Not so. Or at least, not a person that isn't part of some surgery-gone-wrong exposé. 

acrylic on canvas
22 x 32

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Gratitude List 2011

I complain. And whine. And grumble. A lot. Too often I see the glass chipped and half-empty. To counteract that tendency, last year I drew up a list of 25 things for which I'm grateful.  Cataloging the many ways in which I am rich is becoming a yearly tradition, a welcome antidote to all the fretting about silly junk. 

Here is the list for this year. I tried not to peek at last year's until I finished this year's, but the similarities are striking. I'm still incredibly lucky. 

So without further ado, and in no particular order, Thanksgiving Gratitude List 2011.
  1. Model horses rock!
    photo credit: Thomas A Daffron, Jr. (my grandfather)
    My sister: She's my best friend, not because she is my sister, but because she is courageous and funny, smart, kind, and honest. She puts up with my endless rambling and whining and reliably responds with wit and a healthy dose of reality. And – bonus! – she makes really yummy cookies and chocolate zucchini bread among many other tasties.
  2. My parents: In very different ways, they are both remarkable people. I am clear in the love we have for each other. The older I get, the luckier I know I am.
  3. My cats: As oldsters, they're largely fluffy doorstops snoring in one chair or another, and they do nothing to decrease the cricket population in my apartment. But they purr when I pick them up, come when I call them (yes, even though they're cats), and never tire of the excitement of dinnertime. In the winter particularly, they cleave to me for warmth and affection, and viceversa. They still groove on catnip and playtime and their hedonistic lifestyle of dozing in the sunshine.
  4. Painting: Expert technique is still far, far out of reach. But what I do have is a corner of my living room set up for the right side of my brain to play. Five minutes or an hour of messing with color and shape calms me while letting me explore, a stellar combination.
  5. Writing: Since I started keeping character sketches of friends and family as a preteen, through the many years of journals, stories, poems, novels, essays, and blog posts, writing is how I organize my thoughts, express my hopes and fears, and clarify my values. It's where I find forgiveness for myself and others, where I play, and where I mourn.
  6. Running: Breathe in, breathe out. The steady beat of Vibrams Five Fingers (my running shoe of choice – ask me, and I'll tell you more than you ever wanted to know about how much I like them) on a quiet path. Running strengthens me while it relaxes me.
  7. Hiking: Sweating through summer haze or sloshing through fall rain, hiking makes me look around at how gorgeous and how simple and how awe-inspiring the natural world can be -- if I just pay attention.
  8. Leo hard at work on a craft project
    Driving: I know, it's not environmentally conscious to go for a Sunday drive. But the joy of windows down, radio up, and singing loud is hard to beat, as is the curiosity of seeing what's just up around that corner or on the other side of the country.  
  9. My Aunt Kathy: My aunt spent much of this year helping my mother during her treatment for cancer. She also dealt with my moments of panic and insanity the bubbled up through some of the tougher times. Kathy remained endlessly patient, gracious, practical, and efficient. She is one of the kindest people I know. And she likes a good bowl of popcorn and a road trip, so we have many common interests.
  10. Friends Old & New: It's been a bumpy year with family stress and financial bummers, but through that, I've had a steady stream of support from people I treasure. I've spoken unspeakable things to phenomenal people who have in turn shared their struggles and successes with me. I recognize that being close with the people I am over many years of friendship, being with people that bring out my best side, is a tremendous gift. I look forward to growing even closer and supporting those friendships to the best of my ability in the coming years. 
  11. My Freelance Writing/Virtual Assistant Business: My commute is about 10 feet to turn on my computer. I never set my alarm clock. I run errands in the middle of the afternoon. While it's true that my retirement is nil and health care nonexistent, I believe this business will, in time, provide me with a wee bit more financial security to go with the freedom and intellectual stimulation of doing what I want to do.
  12. St. Pete Beach, FL
    Time: Time trumps money, I concluded this summer when I turned down a (relatively-speaking) lucrative, but time- and soul-sucking job. To have opportunity to choose that was liberating however much I still panic when the rent comes due and still kick myself for not being a more normal, socially acceptable person. For me though, happiness requires enough quiet daydream time (preferably with a cat purring in the window) to relax into it, and I'm thrilled that I have the luxury to choose that life and still be able to eat.
  13. Letting Go: Sometimes you can care deeply for people and still find yourself arguing with venom over pointless crap, banging your head against one wall or another. There is value for everyone in letting go of anger and those connections that feed into unhealthy patterns and instead putting energy into more peaceful places of growth.      
  14. Free & Cheap & Fun & Creative Stuff: Necessity is the mother of invention, and because it would be unreasonably frivolous even for me to go out and buy endless electronic gizmos I don't need, I've become better at realizing what I do need (food, shelter), what I don't (a Ferrari), and creatively re-purposing what I've got to fill the gray zones in between the extremes. I found goodies at thrift stores that speak to my sense of humor, scanned free piles for ugly mobile parts, recycled canvases to create my new (sometimes lumpy) paintings, and removed a lot of waste from my consumer diet, from deleting pricier junk food to making better use of the library.
  15. Light: Given my increased focus on the visual arts, painting, photography, and crooked suncatchers, I'm more aware of the magic of light, the angles of highlight and shadow, the splintering by prisms, the benevolence bestowed by its alchemy.     
  16. Family: The more I see how family can go radically wrong, collapse in anger, neglect, fury, abandonment, despair, violence, the more amazed I am by the collective kindness, intelligence, loyalty, and humor of my immediate and extended family.
  17. Health: Having spent time pacing hospitals hallways this year, I hold an even higher value on the dumb luck of my own good health.
  18. Kids: No, you haven't missed anything exciting -- I don't have kids. But I enjoy spending time with my friends' kids and smile when I see happy crews running amok at playgrounds or parades or wherever.  I love the creativity and chaos and unbridled fun that kids generate by keeping the world wondrously new and immediate.   
  19. Radiator Heat, Indoor Plumbing, Electric Lights, Maintained Roads, Public Safety: All those bills and taxes go some place to keep a sprawling, radically complicated system chugging along. Sometimes it clunks more than purrs – vitriolic government rhetoric, the poor distribution of wealth, blackouts, shutdowns, riots, dishonesty, greed, natural and man-made disasters. But every day, most days, millions of cogs in the wheels turn smoothly without breaking the machinery, a consistency I take for granted.
  20. Possibility: Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in possibility,” and while she was talking more specifically about the life of a poet, for me, imagination and change provide great hope, vehicles for shifting to a new approach.
  21. Memory: Some moments and some people are, for good or bad, gone forever. There is much that I would choose to forget, but much, much more that I am so glad that I can remember, re-live, and enjoy again.
  22. Learning: Learning takes place in many environments, so while I have had lots of formal education (and that has given me a lot of tangible opportunities as a result), I'm mostly talking about the capacity to learn in any environment, be it an ivory tower or muddy cave.
  23. Aging: Am I happy about the gray hair frizzing over my head or the wrinkles by my eyes? No, not so much. But I'm grateful for the time accrued and perspective. As my father is fond of saying, getting old beats the alternative.
  24. Being Sentimental & Cheesy & Mushy: Sure, there is something just a little schmaltzy about gratitude. But I'm grateful for it nonetheless, as I bask here in my riches. So there.
  25. Food! Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade chocolate chip cookies, horribly bad for you French fries, popcorn, a perfectly done steak with horseradish sauce, spinach salad with walnuts and strong cheese, cheese, chocolate, did I mention cheese?, strawberry smoothies, pomegranates and, of course, ice cream. I've had lean financial moments, but I've never truly faced hunger and have enjoyed many a gourmet meal. That's not the case for millions of people around the world.  
So that's my list this year. I encourage you to make your own if you want to feel super rich.

On Thanksgiving morning, I'm running the So Others Might Eat Trot For Hunger 5K. If you feel like contributing to a good cause that serves the homeless and poor of the Washington, DC area, you may do so here:


Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Artful Roses

Some days, art lets you down.

Some days, you get up to gray skies and reread the brilliant story you were working on yesterday to find it flat, hackneyed, lifeless, riddled with structural flaws and bland language.

Some days, you examine the portrait that you'd spent hours tweaking the night before to find it looks like a misshapen cartoon with fang-like teeth and slightly crossed eyes. 

Some days, the critical voices swarm in and ask you, "What's the point?"and (with increasing energy as the due dates for bills approach) "Does this make you any money?"

Today is a day where I have to remind myself that art is a process and a craft.  Transforming a blank page or canvas takes time, work, and skill, with a more than happy dash of dumb luck or divine inspiration. 

Developing skill takes time, and the only way to nourish those nascent talents is to keep plugging away. The roses don't bloom the day after the seeds are planted. 

The reason I delve into the arts is because of what I learn along the way. Let me repeat that: explorations in art are about learning. 

Sure, ending up with a lovely product that people ooh and aah over and pay a trillion dollars to hang on their wall would be swell. I'd love to paint in the rose garden of my mansion by the pool. 

But I paint and write as a means to explore ideas, images, techniques, craft, beauty, memory, emotion, imagination, character, story, and all the other elements churned up in the process.
As a culture, we're encouraged to be humble, to only acknowledge our flaws, to highlight all that is wrong with the world, from one disaster to disaster. 

But as I'm busily criticizing everything that is radically off with my art (and life, for that matter), and being accountable for that, learning from those missteps, I try to also put some energy toward recognizing everything that I did right.

The choices, artistic and otherwise, that worked, shouldn't be the neglected good children. They deserve their gold stars as much as the failures deserve demerits, time wearing the dunce cap, and other corrective actions.  

Maybe the good was accidental -- the shaky brushstroke that made the eyes look real, the turn of phrase that evoked more than originally intended, the good decisions made for petty reasons. Celebrate the good anyway, and learn how to reproduce it deliberately. 

Bottom line, life and art are about showing up.  Keep squeezing paints onto the palette.  Keep getting lost in words.  Explore the process of art, rather than the product, and you won't be let down. You will instead be gifted with the perspective of the journey. 

The process allows you to learn more and more and make the choices that push you closer to being the person and artist you want to be. Plus, your artwork will get better because you will keep showing up at the blank page or the blank canvas and creating anew.

This might not net you the swimming pool, but the perfume of progress smells sweeter than chlorine. 

Up from the ashes grow the roses of success.

The Artful Mistakes theme song.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


acrylic on canvas
20 x 26

Friday, November 4, 2011

Touching Spiders

Today, I touched a spider. On purpose.

Specifically, I touched this spider:

Captain Daddy Long-Legs
He was a big Daddy, maybe 2-inches across with his impressive legs, lolling there on a sunny concrete ledge.

The reason I touched the spider is, in part, because of the ending of hysterical blog post over on Hyperbole and a Half.  Go ahead and read it right now.  I'll wait. 

[singing, humming, filing nails]

All done?  Great. 

So now you know that about the scariest thing she could think of to do was to touch a spider.

Solidarity, sister, I say.

Spiders have scared the snickers out of me since I was a little kid.  My mother spent a lot of time removing them from one corner of my room where they tended to lurk.  I took their presence personally, figuring that they knew they made me quiver, and so picked on me. Like dogs, they could sense my fear, and hunted me down. 

Bad Memory #1: After using a plastic bathroom cup to rinse my mouth out after brushing my teeth, I spit the foam out in the sink, and then saw a very large, hairy, wet, and downright angry looking spider trying to crawl back out of the sink. 

I still don't know if he got the dental swirl, but let's just say, I never used that cup again.  To this day, I cup my hands together to rinse my mouth when brushing my teeth.  There is no big cup in which big spiders may lounge about in in my bathroom.

Bad Memory #2: As a teenager, I remember waking up standing next to my light switch at the door to my room, the room ablaze, trying to piece together just how I got there.  Then it came to me, the image of spiders half a foot in diameter dangling down from the ceiling, webbing their way toward me. 

The only way I could talk myself back into sleeping was by realizing that, without my contact lenses, I couldn't see a spider that size that far away. 

I didn't find that comforting, since that didn't mean that gigantic spiders weren't up there, just that I couldn't see them.  I slept stifling myself with a spider-guard sheet tucked around my head.

Spiders, no matter how good they may be for your garden and removing other pests, freaked me out.  As a grownup, they still send me galloping off and announcing their presence in a high pitched voice when I encounter one. Spider! Spider! Spider!  That's usually followed by swatting at them with a shoe. 

However today, having just read about spiders and fear and invincibility, when I saw that big spider that appeared to be dead and possibly permanently affixed to the cement, well, I had to stop to take a picture at least. 

The first step to dealing with fear is to examine it closely. 

On observation, I noted that the radioactive mutant spider had 7 legs.  That meant that bad boy had a run in with something and lost a leg. 

Another uncomfortable childhood memory involves 2nd grade boys pulling the legs off daddy long legs until they could only push themselves around with one leg.  Then they pulled that last leg off and left the legless immobile body shaking there.

That's about when I realized human cruelty is real and arbitrary and starts very young. 

And I don't even like spiders.  But I digress.

Back to Big Daddy and his photo opportunity.  I took his picture and then figured, oh, what the heck.  Touch the spider. He's not even alive, so he's not, for instance, going to skitter up my arm and spit venom in my eye.

I tapped one leg.

And Big Daddy scampered right off on his lucky seven legs, not at all dead.

I scampered way off in the other direction down the path, totally grossed out and quietly thrilled. 

I touched a spider today.  On purpose.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Portrait Series

Tea & Sympathy
I've started working on a series of portraits.  This time, as opposed to painting people I know, I'm painting strangers, and in some ways, that's liberating. I don't feel any particular compunction to make them look like the real person (handy, since I haven't been terribly successful at realism anyway). 

The first painting, "Tea & Sympathy," ended up looking somewhat like my cousin. Perhaps we gravitate toward painting who we know whether we mean to or not.

I know I fall toward my fiction roots and spend time thinking about character, the made-up back story of subjects and how that changes as paintings evolve.

Bite Wounds

I have mixed feelings on the use of background words in "Bite Wounds." I may nix those. I wanted a contrast to the perky smile, some extension to the squint around her eyes, but I can't yet decide if the words add or subtract overall according to my own weird aesthetics. 

Obviously, I have a long way to go in terms of technical skill, among other things. What I envision in my mind is far from being represented on the canvas. 

But as always with Artful Mistakes, I focus on the process (the AM tag line: the process of arting).  And through that, I find that there are elements I like of both paintings, some currents of frailty and warmth mixing in with the paint.

Painting, creating something, learning more with each misstep -- these feel useful to me. 

Both paintings remain in process. I find more and more I understand why artists are often so at loathe to sign paintings. It's hard to sign something that you know you're going to keep tweaking, or possibly, completely renovate. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Skywriting Witches

Traffic on I-495
A pop-quiz for old timers in the DC area: Do you remember what the graffiti on the overpass right near the Connecticut Ave exit used to say?

Yes, that's right, Wizard of Oz fans. It said:

"Surrender Dorothy"

The Mormon Temple does looks a wee bit like the Emerald City.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Zombies! in Silver Spring

Zombies on the move.
Despite spending most of yesterday feeling like a zombie myself, sleeping and gargling with salt water, I mustered for the ardurous (5 minute) journey to witness the Silver Spring Zombie Walk

Complete with dry ice fog along the main route, creepy funny 80s synth retro music and traffic signs that warned, "Zombies Ahead," "This is NOT a drill!" and "Hide Your Brains," the zombie parade has grown every year since its inception four years ago. 
Zombies don't photograph as
themselves on camera phones.

Popular zombie costumes included flannel-wearing farmers, beauty queens, brides, and military personnel with faux water guns that undoubtedly made the large police presence there twitchy. More exotic garb such as Where's Waldo and Colonel Sanders made more indivdual zombie fashion statements. Always political, this year some zombies carried Occupy signs ("Occupy My Brain").  

Zombies are family-friendly. I passed the same zombie mother several times carrying her two or so year old kid (also zombified) and each time, she growled at me. Later I saw a crowd of zombies and babies stopping in at Starbucks for a java break (being undead can be wearing -- a little caffeine keeps your stagger perky and your groan ghoulish). 

At a stop light, several zombies knocked on the glass of a shiny Lexus, inspiring the nervous smile on the driver within. Drivers caught unaware of the event spent some time waiting for the undead to stumble by. Zombies mid brain snack are not to be rushed in their evening constitutional. 

Zombie pile by AFI

Many zombies ended the evening at the AFI theater for a showing of "Dead Snow," a Norwegian zombie movie featuring zombie Nazis.  I suspect some returned to the bars from whence they came, warming their rotting corpses before the walk.  A fair portion of zombies smelled more of beer and cigarettes than decaying flesh. 

The photos turned out less than fabulous (shaky hands in the dark), but they give you a flavor of this fine event.

Zombie having an idea. I'm pretty sure
I've danced with him before.
Zombies like huge fluffy white dogs

Hide your brains!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Giraffe Chat

Today, I woke up thinking about Chorkies, a breed Neil claims is a mix of bok choy and turkeys, but is actually a cross between Yorkies and Chihuahuas.

And now, let's eavesdrop on giraffes. 

Gigi: Mon Dieu. Girard, you've grown up.  We'll have to find you a tall girl, and soon.

Girard: I can see you're having some trouble reaching that leaf.  Let me get it for you, Gigi. [pulls a branch down and passes it to her] A pleasure to see you again. 

Gigi: [chewing] Very kind, Girard.

Girard:  May I say, your tongue is a lovely shade of black today?

Gigi:[stops chewing] Girard? [starts chewing again] Good heavens. I was a calf with your mother. 

Girard: [stretching his neck to reach the highest leaf] Just an observation. You know I've always remembered the way you looked that day you killed the lion, that power hoof to his chest. Fierce. 

Gigi: [ ... ]

Girard: Do you know that some humans thought we were a cross between camels and leopards?

Gigi: Ha! As if my spots were that tiny! Sasha would love that.  You should tell her that.

Girard: [chewing, looking away over the savanna] I'd rather tell you. 

Gigi: Oh Girard. You and your prehensile tongue. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Airy Airport Design: Washington National Airport

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport provides a fine example of art in public spaces.  Airy, inviting, and (useful for those with canceled connections) calming. The expansion of 1997 was designed by César Pelli. 

Fun fact gleaned from wikipedia: "Hoover Field, near the present site of the Pentagon, was the first major terminal to be developed in the Capital area, opening its doors in 1926. The facility's single runway was intersected by a local street; guards had to stop automobile traffic during takeoffs and landings."

Cathedral-esque ceiling

Window detail in main hallway, Terminal B/C

Window frames

Self portrait, moving walkway

Walkway to Terminal A
The old terminal, Terminal A, closed to gear up for a
private event (hence the balloons)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Art is Lunging Forward

"Art is lunging forward without certainty about where you are going or how to get there, being open to and dependent on what luck, the paint, the typo, the dissonance give you. Without art you're stuck with yourself as you are and life as you think life is."
-- Mark Vonnegut

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Last week, I learned that the friend of a friend had taken his own life. 

In the middle of rush hour traffic, he stopped his car on a bridge, and according to an eyewitness account, without hesitation, climbed the rail and jumped. 

The news traveled quickly from his city out west to me in the east. Without the secrecy and shame that so often imprisons the mere mention of suicide, his friends relayed news of his death honestly. As I checked in with people I knew cared for him to offer my condolences, I was told he was depressed to an extent that he vibrated with that agony. He was ill and it finally killed him.   

My direct connection to the man on the bridge was slim. I borrowed his couch for a few months when I lived in his city and when I left town, he reclaimed it. He was kind enough to donate and move furniture for a newcomer. Maybe I chatted with him at one gathering or another, but I don't have any specific memories of that. I remembered his name and his face enough to know I'd met him and napped on that pink couch.

I can't speak to the details of his life. The people that knew and loved him and are grieving his absence can speak to the enormity of his loss, and surely have been over this sad week.

I find that I continue to think about him on that bridge.

I keep imagining the one moment when he was sitting in his car on the bridge -- maybe having planned well in advance, maybe discovering the idea in that moment -- and when the idea flipped into motion. I think about his hand reaching for the car key and then the door handle of the car.

However many times he had contained the impulse for an ending, that day on the bridge, he acted on it.  He did not choose any of the multitude of other things that might, or might not, have eased his pain. In all likelihood, he could no longer see any of those options.  All the possibilities for him narrowed down to this one moment, this one space, this one action to take. 

I see the small steps when he could have changed his mind. He could have turned off the car -- and then restarted it and driven to safety on to the other side of the bridge. Two steps from the car, he could have turned around to get back in. He could have paused and looked down at the water, and then walking away, abandoning his car but his feet steady on pavement, walking away, and feeling the wind move his hair, listening to cars honk behind him.

None of those things happened.  He didn't hesitate, the witness said. 

I wish that I could tell him to wait.  I wish that he could have still been able to hear all the people on that bridge, in that city, out west and here out east, that would have said to him: wait. 

Easy for me to say, you say, you didn't live the way he had to, trapped in his own head, deafened by the roar of depression. 

True, I don't know what horrors played over in his mind. 

But I do know what have been in mine.

Anyone who has read through this blog has perhaps surmised by now that depression is something with which I have a more than passing familiarity.

That I am now, and have been for quite some time, in a good space, gives me the weird amnesia of wondering how it could ever have been otherwise. 

And yet, I know for a fact from hospital records from 24 years ago that I have made similar decisions to those of the man on the bridge.   

My luck, and continuing life, turned on choosing a less immediate method and strange happenchance.  I took pills and had I not spent the four days in the hospital that I did drinking a foul-tasting medicine, those pills would have left my liver irretrievably damaged.

But in my dorm that day, some anonymous, probably drunken soul, pulled the fire alarm, as had been happening off and on for weeks, much to the annoyance of the fire department who had to haul out to check for nonexistant fires. That blaring alarm roused me from my stupor, led to my discovery by a girl down the hall who wanted to borrow shoes, and set off a whole different course of events. 

I think about that man on the bridge, knowing as I do from his friends how terribly long he had felt, not just bad, not gosh,-a-rough-day bad, but a despair that hurt so much that it felt like a physical injury, a wound that constantly reopened to fresh pain.  I know that he was not an 18 year old, but decades older, and had been carrying the weight of his despair for much longer.

While we like to package up suicide as something to do with teen angst or with the physcial diminishment of old age, the statistics speak otherwise. Those age 40 to 59 are most likely kill themselves. Women are three times more likely than men to attempt.  Men, however, are four times as likely to be successful in those attempts. 

Nearly 1,000,000 people a year attempt suicide.  And yet we continue to speak of it in hushed tones, wrap it up in a package of shame. 

I don't know the life circumstances of the man on the bridge, but I can guarantee that he tried many ways to find a path out of his depression and as each approach floundered, his hope dimmed further.  I know it got harder for him to try, to believe anything could change for him.  I know about downward spirals that suck you in, turning you faster and faster in tighter and smaller circles.

I want to tell the man on the bridge, or anyone who feels as he did and I have, to wait. 

Something you haven't seen yet, something you haven't felt in a long time, may bring you back.

You may, for no reason at all, wake up and feel good one day.  Maybe there is a therapist or a drug or a religion or a book or a friend or an exercise or a trip or a lover or a dog or a clear glacial lake that will give you back that wonder, that awe, that lost, distant gratitude.

Maybe it won't last -- but then again, maybe it will.  Maybe it will start a spiral in the other direction, opening you out to the world.

Sylvia Plath, before her death by suicide, wrote in the poem "Black Rook in Rainy Weather":

A certain minor light may still/ Leap incandescent / Out of kitchen table or chair / As if a celestial burning took / Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then - / Thus hallowing an interval /Otherwise inconsequent / By bestowing largesse, honor / One might say love.

The man on the bridge could no longer wait for that incandescent light and now he is gone.  I hope he is enveloped in a peace he couldn't find here.

He leaves behind a crew of friends in shock, friends he once believed he could never do this to.  Obituaries use the term "survived by" and that seems apt; the living are still scrabbling, still finding hope and meaning and joy, still waiting for the good to come around, can still see the good when it arrives.

These friends have to deal with his death in the complicated aftermath of suicide, a tragedy that, even though the death is the culmination of a losing battle with illness, feels preventable in a way that cancer doesn't.

While the stigma of mental illness has lessened to some degree in the last twenty years, suicidal thoughts, gestures, attempts and deaths still tend to get hidden away, spoken of obliquely. Old uncle Alvin was "just cleaning his gun" when it went off.  Aunt Bessie had a case of the nerves and had to go away for a little while. Little Lacey tripped at the top of the mountaintop.

A decade ago, it took a friend of mine months to piece together that his friend in another country had actually killed himself and that his family chose instead to spin it as an accident, his pills magically morphing into a much more socially acceptable car accident.

I wonder about the wisdom of making my history public here. Suicide attempts give you a record, and so from a mental health perspective, I'm a felon, no matter how reformed I am, no matter how I paid my debt to society and myself, no matter the dumb luck that let me survive and flourish. I'm marked by my own statistical tattoo that having attempted, I am more likely than those who have not to eventually die by suicide. 

I think about the nature of secrecy though, and the more I do, the more I think that's what leads us, any of us, when our lives spin out of control, to be standing on a bridge, isolated by our thoughts. 

The man on the bridge is out of reach.  You can't undo death.

For me, and for anyone alive and reading this, all the possibilities are still out there. For this, I am immensely grateful.

I wish the man on the bridge could have experienced that.

Incandescent Light

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Very Big Bird

A very big bird or a very small fisherman?

Perspective is always tricky.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Great Falls, Virginia
As I sped along the beltway over the American Legion Bridge on Saturday morning, I drove through layers of fog rolling up from the water. The mist moved in waving columns like smoke, bringing with it a reminder that beneath city concrete, running waters and swirling temperatures create their own languid, chaotic beauty.

The watery fog burned off quickly enough, leaving a blue sky autumn day, perfect. I hiked through Scott's Run Nature Preserve with my friend. While she had appointments to keep with the smallest member of her family, I stretched the day out in the sun. I drove down the windy roads of Great Falls and parked by the Potomac at River Bend Park.  I found my way south on the trails there, wending my way into Great Falls Park.

As I walked by the river, the sun caught the angles of the water, flashed beams of light upwards through leaves turning them a spring-like green.  I relished this deception, the strength of light undermining a view of the true season.

Sunlit leaves
October is an in-between time, a transition. A week of rain can be followed by cloudless skies and skin-warming sun. Chilly, foggy mornings blossom to the blue sky of midday.

But we know what is coming.

Trees lack the bushy overload of leaves as some have already yellowed and fallen, crackle brown underfoot. While the shapes of those trees have not yet deflated to the bald skeletons of later season, the thinning exposes gaps of distance between the branches. We can see deeper into the woods where winter is waiting for us.

Our bodies feel the shift. Having rounded the fall equinox, the light disappears quickly now. We sleep more heavily for longer and eat heartily to prepare for the hibernation. For the last few weeks, I have looked up at my apartment windows in the evening and been surprised to find them already dark. In the mornings, I fire up my blue light box to trick testy circadian rhythms into believing the days haven't shrunk so short, a sleight of hand that gets them, and me, through the dark season. 

As a middle-aged woman walking by the river on a middle-aged day -- healthy, active still, blue sky, sunshine -- the chill and mist of the morning stuck to me. It's hard to know when a course correction is called for and when the seasons are simply changing as they must. It's hard not to wonder if I squandered spring, although pointless given my inability to change what has already passed.

I want to make the most of October, both the perfect days and those of endless drizzle. 

So I go to the river.

I grew up by the Potomac. I played in a creek by my childhood home that probably, through some circuitous route, drains into the same watershed.

Kennedy Center at dusk

In elementary school, I have a distinct memory of bouncing a super ball off the balcony of the Kennedy Center and watching it sail over a wall. I imagine it bobbing and floating down that river and out to sea, inadvertent toy pollution.

In high school, I sat with my legs dangling off walls, chain smoking cigarettes in Georgetown while looking out over that river at a time when the pollution level left it just shy of Cuyahoga levels of flammability.

A decade later, I trained for a marathon running on the C & O Canal towpath.

I've lived in ten other states, but many visits back here led me back to a walk by Riley's Lock. I always circle back to water. 

Why is that important?

I don't know.
Fog, Sugarloaf Mountain

The river feels like useful detail of some unclear larger story, and so I make note of it. 

Ruminations on fog and rivers, water in movement, hint at transforming and yet somehow staying, at core, essentially the same.

The fog still appears if the ingredients mix well, obscuring and illuminating the view with its caprice. Waters flow. Winter is coming, and when it does, I'll still delight in the caress of sunshine warming my skin.