And then she asked why all serious gardeners, the ones who push beyond a basic marigold border, aren’t considered eco-artists. She pointed out that gardeners have a singular understanding of the climate crisis because they take note of subtle and dramatic changes in the weather, wildlife patterns, and soil.Read More
In the early seventies, my father accepted a post in the Nixon administration to represent the United States as its ambassador to El Salvador, and my siblings and I moved to a new country and a bilingual school. Half the day was in Spanish, the other in English. My father insisted that I would be fluent in Spanish in no time. Instead, I got a crash course in bullying.Read More
Day in and day out I hear how busy everyone is. It’s our national compulsion -- we pack our schedules to the tipping point and then share JUST how insane our lives are, if we have time to do so. Despite all of our invocations to be present, to be mindful, to pursue self-care, to spark joy, our busyness is as pervasive as fake news and addictive as the devices that broadcast it. A few years ago I watched some poor soul drop into torpor as I explained how busy I was. I was not only boring the poor woman to death, but was also self-important in the process. I am quick to identify self absorption in others and was mortified by my hypocrisy. I knew better.
Decades earlier, I was regaling my sister with my schedule over the phone. I had to simultaneously move my studio and apartment; I was preparing for a group show; I had so so many unshakeable engagements; I had an energy suck of a boyfriend. The list went on. I probably implied that I was BUSIER than she was. She waited for me to finish and said: “Until you have your own children you have all the time in the world.” She had three young children and I got the message, but only understood it when I had my own children and was up all hours of the night with a sick child or whiling away hours playing chutes and ladders, or wondering if it should take an hour to get out the door. I never stopped apologizing to her for my impertinence.
It’s a hard habit to break. There is cultural validation in being busy and we have conflated human significance with the intensity of our calendar schedule. From an evolutionary standpoint busyness is not going to grow our brains, or safeguard our health. A packed schedule is not going to amplify our stardust. My busyness is not going to single-handedly save the planet. Do I really care if I’m regarded as a flaneur just because I’m not showcasing my path?
Social media reinforces all this agitation around doing and being. It is easy for all of us — producer and consumer —to be seduced by the filtered images and the airbrushed personas. And many users are driven to achieve goals just to have a viable post on Instagram — setting up a sinister feedback loop. Like most creatives, I use Instagram as a professional enhancement to showcase my studio, to reinforce that I am a working artist. But I also use it to suggest that I’m an interesting and nuanced person and attach many ancillary identities beyond my professional one simply to broaden my appeal. I tell myself that it is all part of the process of the reveal, but that could be a justification for garden variety narcissism.
Marie Kondo’s success as the good fairy of leaner living is no coincidence — the antidote to this first world problem of clutter is simplification. Material possessions are easier to purge than a to-do list but last month I decided to stop riding shotgun down the avalanche. I turned off my phone or programmed it so only my family can reach me when I’m working. I restored my written calendar and put a book back in my purse.I got up earlier. I eliminated social media apps to tackle my addiction to Instagram. I return emails once a day, not all day. I sliced my device time in half. The to do list remains daunting and the email pile grew —I still have to maintain the quotidian. I did realize how much of this “labor” is of my own manufacture, and of my own choosing, and that I need a much better “net for catching days.”
My mother was conflicted about the holidays. She was a spiritual soul and quiet Christian and was attached to the rhythms of the Christian calendar. She attended church if the architecture compelled her, or if it boasted a great choir, but was never drawn to the built in community of a congregation. My sister and I pressed her on this once and she swiftly replied: “Well, it’s a good place to be a fraud.” That vexed my dedicated church going sister (who embodied humility and reverence) to no end. Mother loved the pageantry of Christmas but loathed the commercialism around the rest. And she always succumbed in the end and fell into the shopping frenzy like the rest of us. And then she fell into the same despair year after year.
I had fallen into a similar groove; Christmas was making me grumpy. This year I wanted to avoid the slump and made as many presents as I could. There are many movements invoking a simpler, handmade Christmas, so I am hardly a pilgrim here, I did worry that this whole experiment would take time I didn’t have. I potted amaryllises in recycled old vases from thrift stores and made preserves from our apple orchard. It did take more time than moving around a mouse on a screen, but not as much as I had anticipated. I dedicated a day to pulling it all together. I always force bulbs and put up cans, so making extra wasn’t a big deal. I think this was the key — just expand what you already do and you won’t be overwhelmed. And for those in the tightest circle — my family — I am giving what they really need and a few books. There will be no last minute rush to even everyone’s gift tally.
I received a dividend I did not anticipate — an extra spot of joy. I loved seeing the flowers grow, loved the response when I distributed them, and even enjoyed slapping labels onto the cans. And canning jars and bulbs can be used again. Works for me.
Over a foot of snow fell at our house these past few days, and there was enough moisture in the valley to shut down the remains of the Lake Christine Fire. Winter has been inaugurated and there has been a collective sigh of relief after a summer of fires, drought and record high temperatures. Fall is when the elk start moving down from the high country to dodge hunters and to dig for vegetation in easier terrain. Years ago the poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips was the Aspen Words writer in residence here in Woody Creek, and he became mesmerized by our local resident elk herd, particlarly with its magnificent patriarch who roamed our small corner of the valley. This poem, “Measure for Measure”, appeared in the New Yorker:
Alone in Woody Creek, Colorado,
I fell asleep reading “Measure for Measure,”
Right at the part where the Duke delivers
His Old Testament decision of haste
Paying for haste, and leisure answering
Leisure, like quitting like, and (wait for it)
Measure for measure. I saw it performed
Once, in Stratford; I was maybe twenty.
I only remembered the “measure still
For measure” part, until now. It stuck
With me. But the rest of it was wiped clean
From my memory, all of Stratford, too.
Still, the way the actor leaned on that half
Line, “measure still for measure,” as though it
Were the measure of his self, measure still
For measure, all these years, I remembered
Being the heart of the play, its great gist;
But I forgot it was a death sentence.
Whether Angelo deserved such a fate,
Or Isabella’s ability to
Rise above the mire doesn’t matter:
Death, not beauty, woke me.
My neck aches.
All of Shakespeare feels like lead on my chest,
Not for death, let’s face it, death awaits us,
Usually with less prescient language,
But death measures us with a noun’s contempt
For our imagination, being death
But not dying, making do, like when I
Turn from the Bard, look outside and behold
A herd of a hundred elk, surviving
The snow as they know how––being elk.
An hour ago they were in the hills,
But now they graze a mere five feet away,
Their world othered by these austere windows;
The massive seven-pointer, chin held high
To prevent his thick neck from crashing down,
Hoofs the snow and starts toward me, but then turns
To compass the valley between his horns.
To learn more about the Aspen Words writer in residence program: http://www.aspenwords.org/programs/writers-in-residence/current-residents/
These weeks have not been the nation’s finest. There have been millions of words written about the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings, and there will be many more now that he is confirmed. But I need to add my own voice to the choir.
I was traveling with my son the day of the hearing and waited until he fell asleep to watch the circus alone in my hotel room. I personally do not know Kavanaugh, but I recognized him. We are the same vintage and we went to adjacent fancy prep schools. Our parents were successful but lived in very different social strata. A great deal of my past came sweeping back —- I was rarely at these parties and never conventionally popular as a quirky, brace-faced teenager ( I had braces FOREVER), but I did observe these DC/MD/VA boys when we did intersect. I never felt at ease with the entitlement that we all had, never felt like I belonged in this kind of world, though I pretended otherwise until I knew better. As I watched Kavanaugh blow up, I recognized the cholera, the ingrained pride over the access to elite schools and country clubs, the implication that all of this was his due before he embarked on his spectacular career. And that white hot anger was also familiar when Kavanaugh challenged Senator Klobuchar and her right to ask a fair question. Instead of answering her question and awarding her the courtesy of her station while honoring the process, he parroted her like a teenager and was utterly contemptuous. He was claiming territory, even though she outranked him. He would not pull that punch with a man but would and could with her. It’s a stance, a chest gorilla thumping, that many entitled men take— I AM MORE than you. And the incredulous look on Klobuchar's face —I recognized that too — will they ever quit?
I have seen the I AM MORE my entire life. When I was younger this kind of man would try to use his self-importance as leverage over me, so I would know my place. There is little curiosity about others, particularly women, just assertion of superiority. Today I am less compelling to that particular brand of male, and I'm old enough to offer a challenge to this kind of authority. These men will recede, as will I, but the undercurrent of “I AM MORE” persists.
Last summer I was invited to a party by a new, younger friend. He was keen for me to meet his boss and maneuvered me through the cocktail party filled with swells and introduced me to his superior. His boss is a former scion of Wall Street, and it soon became clear it was up to me to make polite conversation. I asked about a mutual acquaintance of ours with whom he sits on a board. He was not interested in that connection, but did proceed to tell me just how much he does as a volunteer, all the while tossing around household names like confetti and asserting how busy he is. As he scanned the room without so much as a sideways word of inquiry, I was found wanting. My friend fidgeted next to me. Another alpha male approached and though I introduced myself to him, my friend and I were closed out as the two men hyucked about some insider bro financier stuff. My friend did not give up and mentioned that I was an artist and a writer with a big show on the horizon. The two regarded us as if we were heads of iceberg lettuce and returned to their conversation. I excused myself from the conversation and then the party.
My friend later apologized, as nice men often do for the bad behavior of other men, and then lost his diplomacy and said: “What the fuck is wrong with these guys?” I told him I appreciated his efforts but I’m used to it. I am also complicit because I put up with it. I am well groomed — I know how to socialize and place the right questions to keep the conversation flowing. I know how to nod to the male ego. I know how to pretend to listen to a bore while calculating my to-do list or while collecting inspiration for another essay or another painting. I also know how easy it is to uncover that rage that so many men have towards women. I have tolerated this kind of I AM MORE narcissism on boards, at parties and in my own family, but I don’t want to anymore. It has made me cautious with my time and the company I keep. I know I cannot inspire someone to move from entitlement to enlightenment, that I cannot compel genuine curiosity, but I can push back by raising a son who knows that his inheritance, his privilege is due to a stroke of chance, that his welfare is tied to others, and that he is part of a system that we need to change. I am teaching him how to listen and how to engage. And one day when I listen to a man talk about himself for an hour and a half without bothering to get my name straight, I will say I AM AS MUCH AS YOU.
I believe in portals. The kinds that don’t require passwords, only presence. There are famous portals like the ones in the Narnia Chronicles or the Harry Potter series. I have portals of my own: my garden is one and Independence Pass is another.Read More
I fit one artist stereotype quite well — I was never a math star. Far from it. I stumbled through pre-calculus and closed the door and assumed I would always bellyflop when it came to mathematics. When I took my place in the world of practical numbers -one fleshed out in spreadsheets, budgets, and investment data - I realized I liked looking for patterns within the numbers and that…Read More
We rely on maps to navigate earthly and celestial terrain, and I feel grounded, in control somehow, when I am pulled into a fabulous map. Oh here I am! There I will go! And then there are maps for our internal landscapes and methods we call on to steer through spiritual terrain. Mine help preserve sanity and joy—and trek through heartbreak and confusion. But they were falling short of guiding me through my own brand of American angst.Read More
This year I wrote our kids a New Year’s Eve letter and gave them two framed We the People posters designed by Shepard Fairey...Read More
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the birthdays of two out of three of my favorite men fall in its wake. One belongs to our son, Duncan, the other to my late father, Henry. I think of Henry and his footprint in our era of belligerence and deliberate ignorance where men like him are scarce. My son reminds me of him --Read More
I joined the movement and hashtagged #metoo on social media but did not share any particulars. I still struggle with my old WASP reflexes -- do not share, do not assume that your story is of any interest to anyone else, and by all means maintain appearances -- whatever that means. But as an artist, I know better and try to override this indoctrination to plunk down my own narrative. I want a very different story for my own daughter and all the young women in my life and decided to link in with the collective for their sake and mine. I was deeply moved by all the testimonials on social media and the courage it took to expose the raw stories, the anger and pain. And I think this movement will have positive consequences for future legislation and make the world a little better for our daughters, even with a sexual predator currently in the Oval Office.
I was seven when an employee of my parents' began touching me, and this inaugurated a long passage of harassment that at times escalated into incidents of assault. Even in the post-Gloria Steinheim era, there was still a prevailing attitude that our vulnerability as women was part of the female inheritance. I heard men, and some women, say dismissive things like: “She is asking for it when she dresses (or drinks) like that.” “She should know better. ”Girls exaggerate the extent of the problem because it serves their vanity.” “Is it really that bad?” “Shouldn’t you be flattered?” “Boys will be boys.” When I shared one harrowing incident to a friend who I thought might be sympathetic the reply was: "At least you're not a supermodel, can you imagine the attention they get?" I second guessed myself. Maybe I was the one who was too sensitive or was inflating the problem. It felt indulgent to mention this part of my life, so I shut up and repressed my outrage--and a great deal of the memories.
Age has granted me ease of passage in a man's world, at least physically, but the cascade of #metoo stories jolted me back to a different era, and I have been telling my stunned husband about all the transgressions I thought I'd forgotten. I mourn for all women, for all the energy it takes to maintain vigilance over our own safety, from ignoring catcalls, to the constant requests to smile, to fretting about poorly lit and spooky public spaces, to the steady intrusion from strange or familiar men, to dodging workplace harassment and insinuation, to surviving sexual assault. I think of all the squandered time we expend navigating these climates and of all that noise that distracts us from doing something else, like finding a little peace.
And I remembered a story of kindness. I lived in New York for many years and always in gay neighborhoods. This was a deliberate choice-- I felt safe, there was a solidarity that I loved, and I preferred a community that was not dead at night. One evening I was headed home around midnight from a concert uptown. I did not take a cab because I was spooked by an aggressive cabbie the previous week. He kept asking me out on the long ride home and though I bailed out from the ride when I could, I was not keen on being trapped in a car again. So I descended the stairs to the an empty subway platfrom save two pairs of men, each on opposite ends. I centered myself between them and hoped for the best. It was the dead of winter, and I wore a hat, a voluminous scarf, a long overcoat and boots. One pair moved closer and began to comment on my appearance, wondering what I would look like without all my layers. I moved toward the other pair. My aggressors followed. As I grew closer, the other men broke off their own conversation and hustled toward me. I recognized them as men from my neighborhood. Both were strapping, and though I did not know their names, we frequented the same coffee shop and exchanged pleasantries. As they approached, the other men retreated. We boarded the train and they walked me home, even though it wasn’t their stop. When they delivered me safely, they gave me a hug and the name of a car service and waited until they saw the light on in my apartment. Here is a thank you to all the decent men, and there are many, who have kept us out of harm’s way and pushed back with us. I was lucky enough to marry one such man and am lucky enough to be raising one.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. ”
— Gustave Flaubert
I am currently in Colombia with my family cramming as much in as we possibly can between Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Traveling tilts you off axis, which to my mind, is a very good thing. Our family becomes more intimate as we push into close quarters, and reliant on each other for company.Read More
"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them." -Maria PopovaRead More
I do regret the energy I spent trying to prove that I had something to offer. It made me vulnerable to sabotage - either through my own anxiety, or by crazymakers. I didn’t listen nearly enough to instinct...Read More