Saturday, November 27, 2010

Less concerned with place as residence (now that I live in a town that I love), place is becoming more of an inspiration; and not one that necessarily leads to a specific piece of art, but one that inspires me to keep looking.

Walker Percy wrote in The Moviegoer that "The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life. To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair."

I think I've gone beyond just being aware of the possibility of the search. Just three short years back, my search was about my place. But Percy's words make me consider something else. What does search really mean? Is it an exploration? A study? Travel? What do we search for? Truth? Peace? Knowledge? Purpose? Wisdom? Or do we search for all of those things? I want all those things. But inspiration is what I really search for, and it is one word that can cover the rest.

Any place can inspire. Micro and macro views can inspire. My tendency has been to lean down into the micro, but with frequent travel, I also see the macro. Water is an example. I engage with the patterns, such as those created by the ice and water in the image above. By the sky-colored reflections. How does this inspire me, though? It inspires me to keep looking, to really pay attention. And so I look up, out, and beyond.

It's back to water again. I'm in Maine right now, on a lake, and the lake inspires me every day to come stand at its shore. To look at the macro view. To absorb it. To make it mine, somehow. The first few days I failed. I stood by the lake, watching the wind change the water patterns, listening to the water rolling up on the shore. But I walked away those first few days thinking that I hadn't done enough. I wasn't sure what it was I should do, but the lake inspired me to keep paying attention. Today is the first day that I walked back to the cabin from the lake fulfilled. What did I do differently? I stood still much longer than usual. I closed my eyes and listened to the wind spread fog and snow onto the lake. I watched the weather change over the lake. I stared into the center of the lake.

I respected the lake as I would an elder. The lake asked nothing of me but that. I wanted to hug the lake, but I could do that better in the summer and splashing water within the lake. I wanted my spirit full of the lake. I stood still much longer than usual until I could feel that. And so I'm inspired to keep going back. And so I'm inspired to keep paying careful attention to the micro and macro. And so I'm searching for more inspirations of the same. I guess I've just stated that, for me, it's not just any place that can inspire; it's the natural places that do it best. However, I don't really want to ignore all places because that might mean my search wasn't real.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The place I live does affect my work. I could argue that I live a lot in my head and that most of my work comes from that place; however, while that is true, the physical place I live in must affect the imaginative one to quite a degree. In Missoula, there are three things going on. One is that my eyes have a great expanse of sky to retreat in. By retreat, I mean that my eyes spend an inordinate amount of time checking details. I'm an editor, I write, I read, and I draw. So the expanse I'm afforded here is a way for my eyes to retreat into space and away from the minutiae. This makes them rested and able for any work I do with text and any work I do with art.

The second aspect is that the colors are subdued and pale, somewhat dry and dusty. I can work with these colors or no color at all. I love all colors. Color is life. But color can be so distracting to me and should be viewed in short durations. Just like being in places that I love, love, love for short periods of time, if I view color that way, it won't overwhelm me. But if I use color in my art, I always make it muddy.

(I went to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia once at the end of the summer. The vibrant colors of the multitude of flowers screamed at me. Really screamed!! By the end of a several hour walk through the gardens, I was dizzy and could barely keep my eyes open. But it is the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen.)

And the final aspect (I'm sure there are more but I'm trying to keep it somewhat simple for myself.) is that once my eyes bounce back from their scan of the skies, of the mountains in the distance, they focus once again on that which is near. Besides what resides in my head, there is so much little stuff here that I like to examine - lichen, bugs, mushrooms, bark, stones, water.

Well, now. I've forgotten about aerial views. I guess they're not really of Missoula, so I can't say that they are an aspect of Missoula that influences my art. Or are they? I fly in and out of Missoula several times a year, over the Rockies. I always get a window seat. I look at the mountains, ridges, roads, and rivers. They become a small detail to examine, albeit from quite a far.

So this physical place in, around, and above me has yes, greatly influenced my art to this point. The question is how it might continue to do so without becoming stale or if place will matter less once the place has really sunk in.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

There are many places that I love. Some I love so much that I really couldn't live there. Those places are best kept perfect in my dreams and memories, places like the damp woods along the shores of Whidbey Island outside of Seattle, like the sheep green hills of the Isle of Arran in southern Scotland, like the misty mountain temples and shrines of Nikko, Japan, like the warm and hidden beaches of Kauai. I imagine moving to any one of those places, but I'm afraid there'd be a short honeymoon, and I'd start to see their flaws. I'd rather not know they had any.

I've lived in several places that I don't love, and I'm thankful not to be in them anymore. Those places are crowded, visibly polluted, strip malled and brick walled. They suffocate, unnaturally. There is no place to take a deep breath and feel the figurative roots digging into the underground. I've spent my life working my way out of them, sometimes more slowly than I would have liked.

So when I moved to Missoula, I still had the anxious thought of "where to next?" Surely, this place isn't going to be IT for me. Not yet. I want the place that would match me on one of those best-places-to-live quizzes on the Internet.

But I'm here two and a half years now, and suddenly I realize that I can't lift my feet freely off of the ground here because something is growing from them, downward.

I spent three months this winter in Beacon, New York, along the Hudson. Beacon is a comforting little town, once home to brick factories, now home to the largest contemporary art museum in the U.S. - the Dia:Beacon. It has a long, narrow, main street filled with interesting little shops, cafes, and art galleries, all working hard to stay alive. It has little houses, new and old, on little plots of land, each different, funky like the ones in Missoula. Nothing perfect but all about character. I like being in that place, even though I've only been in it when the weather is cold, and I don't even like cold weather.

While in Beacon, I thought about returning to Missoula and then thinking seriously about my next move, finding that next best place. Oregon? Washington? New Mexico? British Columbia? I made a wish list of the positive attributes of a new place. It was then that I began to see that the items on my wish list were mostly the positives of Missoula - small town with an active and historic center, small town that is not chained to another town in a long line of towns, small town surrounded by protective mountains, small town with water, small town with an arts community. How long would I have to search to find a place similar but better than Missoula?

Returning to Missoula from Beacon, "OMG" was my mantra, once again, as we flew over the mountains into the valley. I'll never tire of that fantastic return. And returning to Missoula, there were friends and other artists and artist friends that I wanted to catch up with. Yes, there are people here that I can catch up with. That's when I really felt the roots expanding (even though the ground was still winter frozen). Do I really want to pick up and move somewhere and find these people all over again? Can I really pick up and move somewhere and tap into an artist community so quickly as I did here?

I've had friends in all of the places I've lived. Good friends that are still in my life. So I'm not concluding that place is all about friends. But it is all about being someplace where I will let roots grow. And I'll let roots grow because I believe in the place: It's got a great deal of the natural. It's generally healthy in body and spirit. It loves its artists. I can work in it and be productive. I've seen its flaws and they don't scare me. I'm satisfied.

Maybe the key is just the word satisfied. Satisfied may sound like only one step up from depressed, but it is a good state of mind. You can do a lot with satisfied. You can stop reaching for the illusion of perfect and really focus on other things (like creative and personal evolution and development).

So I can save those places that I love, love, love for little respites. And I can plant myself in places like Beacon for short durations. I can fill my soul with different vistas. But I will watch them all fade as I fly over the mountains back into this valley. Just look what I'm working with here:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Four months later and it took a trip down the frozen Hudson to write, again, about place.

Notes on the train from Beacon to Grand Central:

The Hudson up here in Beacon (the train has just pulled out of the station) is white with great, gray blocks of ice jutting out in a haphazard textural pattern, the best kind. White sits on the hills across the river, a vellum layer. There is no color other than white, silver, and a whisper of dulled brown. It's a sepia-tinted photograph that scrolls on as we move along. Silver sifts on quiet.

At the next train stop, I imagine a balmy summer day and hear laughter and energy on the platform. This moment now, is a contrast, a winter day cathedral in which we all silently pass through.

Further down river, sun breaks through the vellum, round and haloed. It brings a subtle wash to the sky, a pale concoction on the steel gray canvas to the west. Where are we?

Coffee and cream, hot and steamy. Cashmere overcoats, layers of scarves, leather briefcases are all on their way to some office. I want a beautiful black turtleneck, I'm reminded. Classic.

We've moved away from the river to the back allies of auto repair, large equipment lots, scrap metal. Their rust, mud, decay, sadness obscured in white. Estuaries or tributaries interrupt the scene from time to time.

We're in Cortlandt, but where is that? DOT yards, construction yards, bright orange plastic netting as fences. The color is more obnoxious than when it isn't surrounded by the white.

Telephone wires. Fog! The river again. No blocks of ice this time. Trees here grow twisted and mangled, not the straight and stalwart ones up north. The photograph has erasures.

A train yard. Rows and rows of box cars, still, and graphite. Crumbling docks. Vacant boats. An un-trampled river walkway, waiting.

A larger train yard. Croton-Hudson, no, Croton-Harmon. Pay attention to the stops next time. No need to write this again. Where is Croton-Harmon? Where are the towns I know? Track 4. 8023. Royal blue stripes and yellow rubber pads. We've stopped here too long. Let's get going. I feel the energy coming. Next stop, 125th Street. "There we go! Sorry for the delay. We're having a problem with these doors."

Canadian geese float. Do they think? Why do they wait? The fog creates hills among the clouds, and snow clumps in little balls on the tips of the tall grasses along the banks. Bent slightly with weight, a wondrous curve of line.

Barbed wire curls along high brick walls. A prison. Sing Sing. If I were a prisoner, I don't know if I'd feel solace in the routine whistle of the train or the sorrow in my loss of travel. That's easy to answer.

Sky, river, trees. One mess of tepid gray. The magic and majesty of the northern end of my journey have gone. The Tappen Zee Bridge and an itty, bitty lighthouse. Hudson Harbor condos for sale. The bridge ends in a mist.

Was that a man and a woman standing on that deserted peninsula over there or just two charred stumps?

Ice again, in jaundiced circles. Cranes at work, moving stuff. Metal cranes, not live ones. I can barely see the other side. The hill tops are a faint pencil line undulating across the page. One lone American flag says there is no wind.

The first boat of the day. A tanker moving up river. The northern tip of Manhattan begins in earnest. Winter dead vines function together with power lines, one with the promise of energy in the spring, one with the expectation of energy now.

The pencil has now drawn discernible jagged edges. A red buoy. It, too, waits. Trees and grasses are blackened here from the City soot. Even the boulders are charred. The sun welcomes us to the East River as we approach the 125th Street station, or at least it attempts to clear the clouds for our day. The towers of the George Washington Bridge are to my right, perhaps five miles away. The clouds are more distinct now with varying colors and patterns. I'm glimpsing, really. Blue among the clouds. Wow. It's hot in here, especially with five layers against my chest.

Here comes the garbage, no longer hidden under the white. Always by the tracks, forgotten things or things to be forgotten. Crossing the East River to the Isle of Manhattan. We'll soon be underground to Grand Central.

Pigeons huddle, taxis wait. So much waiting. Writing is waiting. On to the next.