Sinking Somewhat Awkwardly into the Local

Small towns are not places I gravitate towards; my history with them does not look like a Disney film or a Hallmark card. It all started at age 4, when I was chased by a gang of kids, yelling “Dirty Little Kike” and throwing things at me. I didn’t know why this was happening, nor was I familiar with the k-word. I just knew I wasn’t safe, and that early trauma, compounded with other nasty experiences of exclusion & violence that accumulated over the years, have haunted me as I’ve moved around the country.

Many of us struggle to feel at home in the community in which we landed. Our current system can create a persistent sense of displacement. As suggested above, I suffer from this challenge, not only from my personal experience, but because I carry the ancestral legacy of being cast out, erased, and rejected. Despite the resonance of that trauma, I’ve felt lucky when I’ve found or made safe and welcoming spaces. Given the sea changes caused by the crazy and oppressive systems we live within, those places can be hard to find and hold onto.

Some of us have moved a lot, not necessarily because we wanted to, but because work opportunities, economic hardship, housing, environmental issues, and health needs required it. In those cases, it is not so much restlessness that contributed to our hyper-mobility, but rather the displacement phenomena that is so common in our modern world. Sometimes we feel claustrophobic living where we live, stuck in routines and obligations, and sometimes we feel simply alienated, not knowing our neighbors or much of the complex histories of the land and people, so we adapt poorly and incompletely to where we’ve landed. We can develop often unproductive habit of imagining a place where we can better thrive and feel a sense of belonging or we can get strangely nostalgic about past living situations, romanticizing them, and seeing them as somehow better than where we are now.

Many of us look to find a little pod of safety such as a political affiliation, a religious group, a sports club, or an online niche; and then we barely venture out for fear of the “others.” Those pods can easily become parochial, cliquey, and xenophobic because their membership has not become mindful of their own wounds and insecurities. Instead they claim an allegiance to something that is exclusionary. Not to the best to solution to a feeling of being displaced.

Given all of these complex issues, it may seem like an impossible task to deeply arrive where we are. We find excuses, seeing what’s wrong or what’s lacking, and are unable to stick our feet in the local mud and dance with what’s there. Or we may take the risk to do the latter and then discover that we are perceived as an enemy for naming the contradictions we see. That kind of backlash can be intense.

Being indigenous to a place is something I’ve never experienced, but it’s clear that it comes with its own extreme trauma if your ancestral lands have been colonized and exploited. If one is a descendant of multiple generations who have carved a sense of home that might be a comfort until you realize that your ancestors were settlers who stole the land from others. And I know that there are some people who are good at claiming space in a new location, despite being a new arrival, but that process can come with an assimilation price, forgetting who your ancestors were or perhaps being ashamed of them, and at the same time erasing those before your arrival. New arrivals can also be seen as cultural imperialists, arrogant invaders, or as the unwanted hordes (very visible in countries where climate and war refugees are arriving en masse). At best, new arrivals can be seen as bringing a fresh spice to the local stew, but that framing takes folks who are unthreatened and embracing, and that is rare in times of perceived or actual scarcity. So the dance of displacement is a complicated one, with many things to be mindful about and address if one wants to really arrive. It’s really a process of decolonization and there can be many missteps along the way.

In my quest to decolonize from my academic life (from 1984-2020 at many different institutions), I’ve been reflecting on the unhealthy practices of those institutions and their impact on communities. When I was hired as a tenure-track faculty member by the University of Washington, Tacoma in 2003, I understood that they brought me in as their imported, outside talent, their NYC artist. During my first day of classes at UWT which was significantly my 50th birthday (I smugly felt like I had outfoxed the ageism so rampant in academia), I learned that there had been, at least, one local contender, a beloved teacher and artist, who had been passed by in favor of my selection for the job. The committee had chosen to bring someone from elsewhere, which is often the case. The students were initially not happy about my presence or my approach to teaching art, and it took a little while to win them over.

This phenomena of bringing someone from afar, often someone who will garner the institution prestige is not unfamiliar to most of us in academia. This had happened to me once before, at CSU Long Beach. There, I had been told by a member of the search committee soon after my arrival that they had wanted a NYC artist with recognition, and the fact that my work had been written about in the NY Times and various art magazines had impressed them. Search committees often want to find find colleagues who will bring more esteem (and perhaps more funding and networks) to the institution, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee any benefit to the students.

First off, assuming that one’s “success” in the NYC art world brings something special to the institution reproduces false hierarchies of merit. Secondly, faculty who arrive with notable recognition may not have the same commitment to teaching and can feel somehow protected from collegial commitments by their status as scholars or artists. In other words, the benefits may be fewer than the search committees imagine.

This kind of hiring happens in academia frequently. While this may be appropriate for the values of neoliberalism, it is rarely a healthy strategy for the students or for a place-based, public institution that has a mission of building of breaking down the town/gown polarization.

As much as my interdisciplinary studio arts curriculum at UW Tacoma was about nurturing the values of social justice by helping students share their stories about their experiences of the environmental crisis, violence, body hate, consumer culture, the labor market, systemic oppression, and their dreams for the future, it was not sufficiently imbedded within the histories and controversies of local culture. Why? As an outsider, I arrived poorly educated about local struggles other than what I slowly learned from my students and a few colleagues. As someone on the tenure track, there was never time between my class prep, my parenting obligations, my career deadlines, and my other domestic responsibilities to get that particular education. Living on an island for the first eight years of my tenure, I had chosen a literal mote between my home and the school, so that I would not be consumed by institutional life. This choice was not good for developing a deeper understanding about the communities in which my students lived.

Each quarter, on the first day of class, students would tell us where they lived and I would hear the names of communities that were new to me. Very few of my students actually lived in Tacoma. I would sometimes ask them questions about the places where they lived, but I never had time to visit those places. What would it have been like if the university had invited new faculty to meet local leaders in the culture industry, in politics, in activist groups, etc? What if hiring practices alternated between choosing a new faculty member from the local context and the next hire from afar, and to have those new faculty members collaborate, one local and the other imported, to create healthier bridges? Neither provincial or exotic. Everyone would benefit from this.

These reflections may seem irrelevant and idealistic in this time of crisis, as academic life is more in chaos than I’ve ever seen it. The mess is complex, and stems from not only the poor decision to focus on profit rather than a rich educational environment for students, but the culture wars, with threats to free speech, censorship of faculty and students, the financial toll on students and their families, and the violence of this time. All of these assaults on institutions of “higher learning” are reaping a harvest of low morale and desperation. I’m grateful to have left it all behind, and am experiencing the world without its filter.

The Pandemic has taught me to sit with my unease about the local. I’ve had to really study this tendency to want leave the present and whatever discomfort it offers. Thinking that the cultural life and community energy is better somewhere else (whether it’s NYC, LA, Berlin, or Mexico City) makes it hard to arrive where you are. That mindset is all too common in our dislocated world and offers a definite recipe for suffering. You can never really sink into the beauty of the present. There’s always something wrong with its offerings, and, therefore, you can never really settle. Some of this anxiety has its roots in childhood trauma, and an inability to sit with difficult feelings can foster the desire to escape, but there’s a broader cultural meaning as well that I want to explore.

One could say that we arrived in Tacoma by default. First there was the job that grabbed me from the east coast and the tantalizing bait of being able to teach whatever I wanted in an interdisciplinary program. From my initial view of the Port of Tacoma with its refineries and pulp mill, I was certain that this industrial town, with my history of environmental illness caused by pollution and aerial spraying of pesticides, would not be suitable for our family. Instead, we found a place on Vashon Island, with an easy ferry commute to Tacoma.

At first, the island seemed idyllic, but by the time our son reached high school age, he had needs that required more resources, so we moved into Seattle. We rented there for five years, finding community in several warm pockets hidden within chilly “Seattle freeze” culture. Without the connections we made with local activists, the BIPOC artists salon, our POCAS (People of Color and their Allies) meditation group, and the ecstatic dance gatherings, we would have been very isolated. Also renting in communities filled with home owners makes one appear transient to your neighbors. We tried to buy a place in Seattle, but couldn’t afford the prices, so ultimately we landed in Tacoma (when it was still affordable), six years ago. Thankfully my health has not relapsed and despite my discomfort of having landed in a place that was not where I imagined I would end up, I have found ways to make it home.

Lucy R. Lippard once asked me about this in a gentle way, “when are you going to stay put where you are?” Of course, I had to explain that I wasn’t moving on a whim; that it was always financial, housing, or health reasons that motivated each move; that I never chose to make more chaos for myself, but her words have stuck with me, as I more fully enter this next chapter of my life.

Lucy has been one of my steady advocates over the years, by curating my work into exhibitions, sharing it in slides shows and writing about it. She’s also one of my role models for diving deep into the local. After leaving NYC, she made it her business to learn as much as possible about her new home in Galisteo, NM. https://www.stitcher.com/show/radio-free-galisteo/episode/lucy-lippard-discusses-her-life-in-galisteo-nm-and-how-the-village-and-she-have-changed-over-the-years-85549493 and soon started a newsletter for the community.

I’m going to digress for a bit here, but I want to pay homage to Lucy’s broader influence on my thinking. I have respected her writing since I first discovered her books on conceptual art (De-Materialization of the Art Object) and Ad Reinhardt’s work when I was in college. In grad school, her brand new book on feminist art, From the Center, shifted many of us in profound ways. Although in those early days, there was a fair amount of essentialism being promoted (if your work is feminist, it will look like this…), I was glad to have her writing as a pivot point or a portal into a new era for understanding how feminism and other social movements were impacting the making of art.

In 1980, after seeing my audio installation about the perils of unemployment, Apply Within, at the Franklin Furnace, she wanted to meet me and learn more about my work. As Lucy opened the door to her cavernous Prince Street loft in Soho, I tried to keep the trembling excitement of a 26-year old with imposter syndrome tamped down. I carried a few loose-leaf notebooks filled with photos and texts documenting three earlier installations. I didn’t feel at all confident that my work would merit her attention. She was a bit gruff and business-like, saying I will take a look at what you have here, but there’s no guarantee that I will write anything. I awkwardly thanked her and went on my way, feeling the strangeness of interacting with someone whose work I greatly admired, but who was just a person that I was projecting all sorts of images upon.

Not long after, a wonderful review of Apply Within appeared in ArtForum Magazine. https://www.artforum.com/print/reviews/198006/beverly-naidus-67080

As I got to know Lucy better over the years, I grew to deeply appreciate her direct manner, her healthy boundaries, and her sharp intelligence. Although I have not seen her in person for several years, I continue to be grateful for certain lessons she’s offered me, particularly ones about walking your talk as an activist, not spreading oneself too thinly, and looking closely at one’s sense of place.

Her 1997 book, The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multi-centered Society, examines cultures far from the NYC art world and how art can speak to a regional identity. It tears down the snobbery and provincialism that can plague the elite art world, and reminds us that many forms of beauty emerge in so many contexts; we just need to be open to receive these gifts. As Lucy has embraced both the cultural workers of Maine (her roots go deep there) and those of New Mexico, she looks carefully at the historical legacies of oppression and environmental degradation; I’m reminded that this focus has been part of my work, most recently in relation to the many local struggles in the Salish Sea region.

My project, “Extreme Makeover: Reimagining the Port of Tacoma Free of Fossil Fuels,” was provoked by the illegal development of an LNG refinery by the multi-national corporation, PSE (Puget Sound Energy). Through my work with 350 Tacoma, I realized that public and city officials were not responding sufficiently to the environmental activists’ campaign to stop the building of this refinery.
For over seven years, there have been many protests, arrests, well-researched reports, passionate speeches condemning the project, damning testimonials at City Council meetings, sit-ins at the State Capitol, a powerful film, Ancestral Waters (https://nativedailynetwork.org/ancestral-waters/) about the Puyallup Tribe’s stake and activism in the Port of Tacoma, and long walks facilitated by the Protectors of the Salish Sea: https://protectorsofthesalishsea.org/ to educate the public, and still PSE persists with its greenwashing and the public seems ignorant about this time bomb in their midst.

I recognized that much of the campaign focused on the dangers of LNG (liquified natural gas), its volatility as a gas, its potential to ignite and explode creating the devastation of several nuclear bombs, and the history of international accidents. There was also scientific research offered that this kind of fuel was unnecessary and definitely not green, but still the public and city officials seem unmoved. So I thought it might be a good idea to do public workshops to reimagine the port without fossil fuels, with remediated superfund sites, with a restored estuary, etc. Those workshops, mostly held at the local 350 storefront, attracted a good crowd, and over a 100 collaged and drawn images were submitted and digitized. We had a plan to project those images on walls in public places, and then the Pandemic arrived, and the project stalled. The LNG refinery is completed now, but there’s litigation in process to prevent it from going online. We still hope that this will be enough to shut it down forever, so that our community does not have to pay for this heinous misadventure and does not have to live in fear of a devastating explosion.

As the pandemic “lock down” started, I realized that my impressions of Tacoma as a corrupt, toxic, heavily industrialized, and militarized place had cut me off from seeing its wonders. The prejudices that surrounded the “aroma of Tacoma” had influenced me more than I wanted to admit, and there was some unease with being associated with a stinky place, given my own history. I became curious about how certain kinds of shame can created a barrier to being at home in a new place, and make us yearn for somewhere that appears to be more comfortable, exciting, or life-sustaining.

I’ve lived in many places that carry a bad reputation, mostly due to environmental toxins, economic class, racism, and other factors. As a young child, I spent two years in Sanford, Maine, a factory town where my dad worked in a plastics business. I can still remember the sickening odor that covered the town daily. We moved from there to New Jersey, to a town that had no overwhelming chemical smells, but to a state that has a reputation as stinky and being “less than” compared to New York. My two tenured teaching jobs took me to two places with intense smells: Long Beach, CA, with its abundance of refineries and other industries and now Tacoma with its aroma.

If we look closely at this time on the planet, we will find stenches everywhere, whether it’s the corruption of the local city government and their henchmen, the disgusting actions and foul residues created by extraction corporations, the despair that comes from war torn areas, the smoke from the increasing forest fires, the rotting, moldy mess after the floods, hate groups and the stench of their influence. The places that appear to have glamour and allure are like celebrities with clay feet. Every place is culpable in this time of societal collapse and climate emergency. So our desire to escape from the “stink” of where we are by seeking somewhere that seems to have more romance, more connections, and a more welcoming community can be a parachute with holes.

Of course, I do realize that some parts of the world and communities are truly dangerous for those of who have been marginalized and oppressed by dominant culture, and often there are no options for those people to escape other than through their imaginations or by grass roots organizing of some kind. And let’s hope for lots more of the latter, despite the risks to those involved.

Despite the many ecocidal and social justice challenges evident globally and locally, I have written this to remind those who are feeling stuck and discouraged that there are ways to be present with gratitude for being alive and in a body where ever you have landed. There’s so many ways to arrive.

The pandemic has given many of us some hard lessons about being present to what is. For those of us with the privileges of sufficient resources, meditation, and creative practices, our being less mobile has been a gift, even if it feels covered in thorns at times. Sitting calmly and quietly, being mindful of our breath, and noticing our connections to the air, the soil, the water, plant life, critters, minerals, mycelium, each other, and the cosmos, can give us an opportunity to be in relationship to this amazing planet and the local ecosystem, anchoring us to place, even places that may feel hostile at first.

Our Story Hive project www.tacomastoryhive.com , created in 2021-22, successfully hooked me into the local in ways I never would have expected. It started with some friendly conversations with our neighbor across the fence. I had told her about some of my projects to bring communities together via stories, including the project on Vashon Island, called Eden Reframed, http://faculty.washington.edu/bnaidus/Eden%20Reframed.html that featured a story hive for gardeners and farmers. She volunteered to offer a corner of her property, adjacent to the well-trafficked intersection, as a site for a local story hive. She and her wife also offered their front yard as a place to meet. I designed flyers to invite folks and left them on the front porches of about 50 homes in the surrounding area.

As the weather improved in late Spring 2021, we gathered and met every week to develop the project. Our meetings were informal: we did check-in’s before discussing practical issues. Our skill inventory of the 20 or so people who came was essential; we learned that we had a wide variety of skills in the group from gardening to wood working to website design. As we discussed our intentions for the project, I suggested that our project would give us more insight into how our neighborhood was navigating this difficult time of so many uncertainties and polarizing points of view. We focused on asking questions like, “what skills have you learned? what challenges are you facing? how can we offer mutual aid? what are your dreams for the world we can co-create now?”

My co-facilitator for this project, Bob Spivey, who has also been my partner for the past 34 years, was taking a year-long online training with the Upaya Zen Center in 2021. It focused on socially engaged Buddhist practice, and the training required a community practicum. As a long time practitioner of meditation, a healer, and a grass roots activist, his skills were essential for making our project successful. We both made sure that everyone felt respected and included in the brainstorming process, but Bob was always available for the real grunt work: like hauling the dirt and getting materials necessary to build the hive. We received many donations from neighbors who didn’t have the time to participate in our meetings, so without any external funding, we were able to scavenge the materials and talents to make the project successful. Many of our recently arrived neighbors had young children and were eager to get involved. We had a few meetings that involved some hilarious dancing in the mud & straw to make the cob for the hive structure https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cob_(material) and our conversations created deeper connections than a morning greeting on the way to work. Our celebratory form of collaboration was important medicine during a time of lockdown.

A joyful sense of place can be created with other kinds of community projects, many structured around mutual aid. Getting involved in any local activist group like Washington and Tacoma’s Food is Free https://foodisfreewashington.org/chapters/food-is-free-tacoma/ , 350.org, or housing organizations like https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/04/28/home-in-tacoma-for-all/ can help folks arrive where they are. Of course, wherever we live, there are ecosystem remediation projects that need to happen or are already happening that can use our input. https://www.350tacoma.org/campaigns/salt-marsh-restoration/ Starting a home meditation group is also very nourishing. Our Bad Buddhist sangha has been helping us and our fellow meditators navigate through the difficulties we are all facing with a sense of deep connection.

When we feel too overwhelmed to join in with other movements, it may be time to either get outside to enjoy the nature that is accessible to us. If available, forest bathing is highly recommended, as is time with the critters and plant life that are always present, even in microscopic forms. Finding a place with a vista looking out towards mountains or ocean, or a local tree that is lonely for a hug, can help us process stress and increase our mindfulness that we live in a web of interbeing, sharing air, water, & nourishment with the more than human. For those of us who feel displaced in any capacity, this practice can offer us one of the best places to sink into while humanity travels through this difficult chapter.

Fracturing the Narrative

Holding Space by Beverly Naidus, digital photocollage, size variable, 2022

I’ve been working on a book since I left my academic position in 2020. This project has been morphing from a long essay about the ways that creative energy and imagination can move us through this threshold time into a future where we all can thrive, to a hybrid memoir that includes pieces of fable or speculative fiction that create a braided rhythm within the narrative. The book will highlight stories from artists, activists, and collectives who are defying the backlash of this time by gestating the beneficial bacteria that will move us into the next chapter. Mostly the book is about how to process the traumas we carry with ancestral tools and creative magic to build something that we haven’t yet imagined.

Ever since Lucy R. Lippard published The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997), I’ve been fascinated by the ability to break genres apart in unexpected ways, and I’ve experimented with this inventive style in some of my published essays like “So You Want to Be an Eco-Artist: Lessons in Grief and Gratitude,” Elemental: An Arts and Ecology Reader, edited by James Brady, England, Gaia Project, 2016. https://www.academia.edu/12265018/So_You_Want_to_Be_an_Eco_artist_Lessons_in_Grief_and_Gratitude. I found that this way of writing, fracturing the narrative, was liberatory and I’ve been doing it ever since. Subverting the standard seems to be my way of moving in the world. It is more in alignment with my brain’s wiring. The latter can be flighty or scattered at times, as well as a bit greedy to absorb two or three things at once. I can imagine that there are more linear-minded folks who would find this kind of hybridity exasperating. I am not writing for them obviously.

I think of myself as an untrained writer, since I never took rhetoric & grammar in school (not that the study of the latter is necessarily useful to a writer). I have learned most of what I know about writing from practicing, reading of books that move me, and from helpful, better educated friends who have edited my less well-crafted efforts. Much of what I have learned about writing and art making is to get out my own way. Last week, I heard the author, Deena Metzger, say something similar on a zoom – she makes herself receptive to what is being transmitted to her. Similarly, my words come from intuitive messages I receive in the present moment, phrases that wake me up in the morning before I realize where I am, images that alert me in my dream time. I always create better when I am able to quiet my ego’s voice; the part of me that is so eager to make something profound or beautiful that I trip on my own intentions.

I want to encourage others to allow to find their voices using this particular kind of receptivity, stepping out of their own ways and to lean into the collective consciousness that can offer them unexpected treasures and necessary tools. To that end, my working title for this new book is “Rewilding Our Muses: Creative Strategies for Navigating the End of THIS World.”

Despite what I am carrying as the partner of someone in the midst of chemo treatment and the mother of someone trying to launch in the midst of his difficult journey with mental health, this writing is an essential part of my self care, so that the overwhelm that is a big part of this time in the world, can be narrowed down to “present moment, wonderful moment.” And, at the same time, the writing allows me to see a bigger picture of interlocking patterns and layers of deep time, something that seems to be the harvest of all my inner work. We will see. The discipline of sitting here and allowing the flow to take me wherever it needs to will eventually get the book done. I am grateful for this privilege.

The Years of Zoom Memorials

Zoom Portraits (2020-22) painted in ProCreate

As I sat at Jacki Apple’s zoom memorial, 8 days ago, I reflected on the ways that a life gets compacted into phrases and anecdotes, delivered with humor or tears, and what that says about one’s memories of the person. I didn’t get to speak (other than claiming some sentences in the chat) because I hadn’t thought to write to the organizers to claim space in the script. I had thought there would be an open mike. But there wasn’t. That meant that my grief and my memories had to be more contained, more invisible than I had planned. In retrospect, I understand why the producers of the event did not open things up to the guests. It could have been a zoom filled with endless, painful, and unbridled contributions, long monologues serving the speaker, and no one else.

We arrive at different stations within the deceased’s journey, some of us knowing of each other intimately and others who have never heard of each other. But somehow, there’s a desire to claim the turf you occupied with that person, as both an act of love, and an impulse to make your own life visible in the the thread of theirs.

So I’m going to use this morning’s blog to claim space for each of those who’ve become ancestors in the past few years. I don’t want to describe them as losses, even though I ache for more conversations with each of these folks. Each one of these people had an impact on my life that was truly significant, something that can’t be recaptured in a short monologue on Zoom, so I’m gratefully claiming space for what they offered me as well as some of what they offered the world.

Dear tender spirits, you shaped my life’s journey in profound ways. I will lean into my memories of you respectfully to recall the evidence of your impact.

Rachel Kahn-Hut (1938-2020)

Rachel was my cousin. The details of how we were related get confusing to me, so I will leave them be for now. Rachel was a fixture at family gatherings, usually one in the summer, and Thanksgiving, and she usually traveled long distances from California to be with us. She came solo, was never married and had no kids. For many years, she cared for her aging mother. As the first family member with a PhD and a college professor, she was admired greatly, especially by my parents, and the conversations had with her were rarely shallow. I have many stories about her, but I’m going to savor just a few here: while browsing in the journal section at my undergraduate college, I discovered an article that Rachel had written in a newly published feminist journal called SIGNS. It came out of Barnard or Columbia in NYC and I was startled to see her name there. I was a “baby feminist” coming to understand how patriarchal values had affected my place in the world, and I was beginning to express my rage with my peers. Rachel’s writing gave me a sense that I was not alone in my family, claiming space for the voices of women. Her writing buoyed my spirit and gave me courage, just when it was needed.

Rachel also took me, during one of my first visits to San Francisco, for my first dimsum feast in SF’s Chinatown. I will never forget those endless carts with difficult to pronounce dishes and how much I delighted in those flavors and textures. She also drove me to the Redwood forest in Marin, and as I gazed and smelled the fragrances of those mossy beings, I felt the enchantment of California graze my cheeks and settle in my bones. I knew I would be back someday, and so I was.

I was sad to learn, after I moved to the West Coast, and saw Rachel more frequently, staying at her home in Oakland, that writing no longer interested her, other than the postcards she faithfully sent to our son from her many travels, post-retirement. I tried to find out why she stopped writing for her field, and it seemed that she no longer had the energy for claiming space in that way. At her zoom memorial, I learned from her colleagues and friends that she had had an enormous impact on the field of women’s studies, as well as many students. I was grateful to hear those stories; they reframed my portrait of her in the best way.

https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/sfgate/name/rachel-kahn-hut-obituary?id=2043234

Franz Rudolf Knubel (4/24/1938 – 5/16/2020)

I met Rudolf and his family, Cornelia (Nele), his wife, and his two sons, Tobias and Simon, in 1986 in Long Beach, CA. Rudolf & family had come to CSU Long Beach as part of a faculty exchange. He was a professor of design and art from Essen, Germany. The fall of 1986 was my first semester as a tenure track faculty member at CSULB, and after we had a few rich conversations in his campus studio, I was invited home to Rudolf’s family for a meal, and then another, and before long we were doing many things together. Rudolf, Nele Bruninghaus-Knubel (an education curator at the Wilhelm Lembruck Museum in Duisberg, Germany) and I had long discussions about art and politics, and it was a real education for me who had had little contact with Germans before. It was only natural that we maintained a friendship long after he had returned to Germany.

In 1990, Bob and I visited them in their amazing historical home (a remodeled orphanage that was hundreds of years old) outside of Essen, in the village of Werden. I unexpectedly fell in love with Germany, and the work of so many to heal the wounds of the war. I loved walking through the cobblestone streets of their village and savoring the amazing breads. Rudolf would often say that Germany lost so much of its culture, particularly the arts and sciences, when their Jews were persecuted and murdered, and one of the only aspects of German culture that remained was the bread. I met several of Rudolf and Nele’s friends who were doing important cultural work with Turkish immigrants. During that visit, we had the amazing experience of witnessing the German weather report transition from being East & West to just Germany. Tobias and Simon, both teens at the time, were so excited when they heard that broadcast that their hopes for future were palpable.

For almost 3 decades, we visited with each other. Once when our son was 7 years-old (2002) we were able to offer him a taste of German hospitality. After a few days in their Werden home, we traveled with Rudolf and Nele to see the Documenta show in Kassel via fast train. I had never been to a major international art show and I was not disappointed. There was a ton of provocative work dealing with imperialism, racism, and colonialism. In 2004, Rudolf & Nele came to Tacoma, where Rudolf had an exhibition of his work at our campus gallery (that sadly closed soon after). In 2005, I had an exhibit of a new installation (AND NOW, Behind Curtain #2) in the show, Spielraume (Game Room), thanks to Nele’s curation, at the Lehmbruck Museum. In 2010, we met up in NYC in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, and I remember their assistance in purchasing an ultra modern watch that I ended up barely wearing. It was the second time I had purchased a rarely worn watch in their company (the first one was at an Yves Klein exhibit) and I wonder what that says about our relationship (LOL). I believe that the last time we saw them both was in 2011, in Berlin, where we celebrated our son’s 16th birthday. Getting a tour of Berlin with two people who had gone to university and art school there, when the Berlin Wall still divided the city, was a fascinating experience. Again we had many conversations about art & politics, especially when visiting the town of Potsdam and learning about its significance during the Nazi regime.

Rudolf once told me during one of the visits to his home that he was a carrying a story that was a burden to him. When we had first become friends at CSULB, some of the white male faculty had approached him and asked him, quite insistently, why he had chosen to be friends with “that NY Jewish Bitch.” He was horrified at the time and decided to keep that little gem to himself until I was long gone from CSULB. He and Nele had made it their business to befriend many Jewish people over the years. It seemed like a very noble and personal reparation quest since they both had been quite young during WWII, and had experienced the bombing close to home.

The truth is that Long Beach like many parts of AmeriKKKa contains the seeds of anti-Jewish racism, one of the building blocks of white supremacy. That a woman from NYC who was not raised with religion, but who looks like an “other,” would be perceived as dangerous to the locals, especially if she is teaching art for social change, is no surprise. Rudolf had naïvely believed that the U.S. was free of the hate and fear that had fueled the rise of Nazism. Perhaps he realized, after the rise of Trumpism, that our country was built on white supremacy, patriarchy, and Christian hegemony. I never got to ask him. I had hoped to visit him again after leaving my most recent academic position, but he died of the cancer that had caught him just as the pandemic was in full throttle.

I zoomed with Nele about a year ago, and that gave me some comfort. She is the third friend to become a widow in the past 2 years, and like my other friends, she is traversing that new territory with grace. https://www.pbs.org/video/wpt-documentaries-franz-rudolf-knubel/

Sylvia King (June 5, 1950 – January 13, 2022)

We met our dear friend, Sylvia, in 1993, at a training for activist artists in Ukiah, California. She and two colleagues from Jubilee Arts in the UK (The West Midlands in England) had been brought to CA to help teach community art practices & ethics to a group of us, with facilitation support from Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard. They used a community-based arts action research model that really spoke to us. Bob and I went on to lead workshops on “activist art in community” at the Institute for Social Ecology using some of the techniques offered in that intensive. Our work with Jubilee Arts also influenced my teaching at CSULB, Goddard College, and UW Tacoma. Major ingredients were: 1. being clear about the intention of a community-based arts project, 2. think about the context, 3. who is the audience, 4. make a skill inventory of the participants, 5. listen carefully and respectfully as we collect stories and brainstorm creative strategies, and 6. be transparent with and responsive to community members. It was really the Ethics of Community-based Arts Practices 101, although it was not named as such, and I’m forever indebted to that training. Sylvia invited me to be an artist in residence with Jubilee Arts in England in 1994, but the Dean at CSULB denied me a sabbatical that had been approved by the sabbatical committee and the department chair. The chair believed that the dean was punishing me for receiving tenure. As mentioned in Rudolf’s piece above, there were several white men on the faculty who were desperately and sadly scared of me, perhaps because my students asked challenging questions in their classes and several were furious that I’d actually received tenure for the right reasons like doing a good job, being a good teacher and excelling in my art career. The hostile climate at CSULB was one of the reasons I left my position soon after being denied sabbaticals two years in a row. Despite the huge disappointment of not getting that particular sabbatical, Sylvia invited me to give a public talk at Jubilee during the period when they were building a major community arts center, The Public. The tragic story of that cultural center’s rise and demise was devastating for Sylvia both on an emotional and physical level. Witnessing the impact that the collapse of her visionary project had on her health during our subsequent visits to England was really hard. Over the years, Sylvia became one of our dearest friends. She was incredibly supportive and kind in every way, and we felt blessed to know her. We’re grateful that she had such loving daughters and friends who saw her through her final decline. I last visited with her in 2018 right after my exhibition opened at ONCA in Brighton, and Bob saw her in 2019 right after meeting with his PhD advisors at the U of Roehampton. Sylvia, we feel your spirit and laughter close to us. While I did not get to attend a zoom of the memorial, the notes from her daughters and watching the recording helped me feel included in the celebration of her life.

To learn more about the legacy of The Public & Jubilee Arts visit https://www.thepublic.com/arts.html

Lauren Soth (1935 – 5/24/2022)

While I was not invited to his zoom memorial, I was able to write about Lauren on social media and on the Carleton College memorial page. Lauren was a significant “gate opener” in my life, particularly in relation to my academic path. He would often tease me that I had “sold out” by becoming a professor.

I wrote this message on his memorial page, https://www.carleton.edu/farewells/lauren-soth/: “Lauren launched my academic career when he offered me a visiting artist gig at Carleton College from 1984-86. It my first full-time teaching position. He had invited me to campus in the spring of 1983 to give talks on my work. He had been following my art career in NYC and thought it would be good for students to hear from me. Students loved my talks, and when the art department suddenly had to replace Deborah Brown who had taken an emergency leave, I was the first person they called. I am indebted to him for this – he truly believed in my work.

Lauren had a persona that bristled; he was not shy to give acidic retorts or wickedly probing questions. He was also unexpectedly kind and curious. Given that I and a fierce cohort of baby feminist artists did a sit-down strike in his office when he was chair of the art department when we were juniors (in 1974), and that he conceded that we were right and gave us a budget to bring in visiting women artists, brought in female art historians, and more, it was to his credit that 10 years later, he was able to offer me a teaching gig with all sorts of perks. He was on board with my retooling traditional art classes to make them socially engaged and interdisciplinary, and to my great delight, I saw that he had added a plentitude of women and artists of color to his art history lectures. We met up at the College Art Association for many years after my return to Carleton and he was never shy to tease me about my career, and I was always glad to hear his stories.”

One bonus story is that our dear friend, Danny Kolker, also a Carleton grad (’74), was transformed by Lauren’s freshman art history seminar, and has become one of the most well informed & passionate art lovers I know. He is a fixture in the Miami Beach art scene, and beloved by the arts community for his deep insight about the work he encounters. Another gift, courtesy of Lauren’s influence.

Suzi Gablik (1934-5/7/2022)

Although I had heard of Suzi Gablik in grad school, it wasn’t until she unexpectedly wrote about my work, that we connected and became friends. She was visiting NYC (from London where she then lived) to see and write about exhibitions for Art in America. In her 1984 review of the exhibition, “The End of the World: Artists Visions of the Apocalypse,” at New Museum of Contemporary Art, she highlighted my installation, THIS IS NOT A TEST. Her review was insightful and praising in such a profound way that I felt compelled to write to the magazine and thank her. They forwarded my letter to her, and she responded quickly. She was already back in London, but she invited me for lunch when she was next in NYC. We ended up eating, walking, and talking several times during her visit. We discovered that we shared a distaste for the commodified art world, and a passion for art for social change. About two months after we met, I was invited to be a visiting artist & professor at my alma mater, Carleton College. I was given a huge budget with which to invite visiting artists and scholars, and Suzi was among the many I invited.

The most profound aspects of our relationship emerged after we both moved to southern California. I was hired by the art department at CSU Long Beach and Suzi was a visiting scholar at UC Santa Barbara. Suzi learned that one of the people who inspired the revision of my audience-participatory installation at the New Museum, Joanna Macy, was going to be leading a workshop at the Ojai Foundation. She encouraged me to go and meet Joanna in person. Suzi and I made the journey to Ojai together and to say that the experience was life-changing is an understatement. Suzi introduced me to Joan Halifax, now Roshi Joan of the Upaya Zen Center, but back then, Joan was the director of the Ojai Foundation. Both Joanna’s work and the experience of being on that sacred land deepened my capacity to be present and alive to the creative work of social change. I felt truly anchored. A year later I was invited to a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh for activist artists. I was deeply honored to be there, and again it was life changing. It was an intimate retreat with less than 40 participants. I was about to marry an ordained lay monk in the Vietnamese Zen lineage, Bob Spivey, so having Thây’s introduction to sitting meditation helped to nurture the beginning of our marriage.

I credit Suzi for opening many doors: particularly that of my many layered, spiritual path, one that I had been avoiding, due to so much early conditioning from my family of origin. But with Suzi’s encouragement to meet my mentor, Joanna, an exquisite thread of my life’s journey was reinforced, and I am deeply indebted to her for that.

In return for that gift, while Suzi was brainstorming her new book, The Reenchantment of Art, I began to offer her the names of artists whose inspiring work needed to be included in her research. We spent many meals discussing who and what represented the new paradigm she was trying to put forward. I was grateful to be part of the birth of the book and was honored to have my work highlighted in it.

Suzi eventually decided to leave Santa Barbara, realizing that she could not afford housing there, even in exchange for the treasured Jasper John’s painting that she had been gifted. She moved to Virginia, bought a house in Blacksburg, and we kept in touch for some time. When she visited her aunt in Los Angeles, we would always meet for a meal. During one of those visits, I shared that I was pregnant. Suzi’s response was unexpectedly negative; she blurted out, “you’re throwing away your career.” Her conventional notion of the female artist, solitary, without children, startled me. I don’t think she realized that her role in opening the door to spiritual work begun at the Ojai Foundation was part of the reason that I became open to hearing the disembodied voice who became our son. I’m not going to share the details of that story here, but it’s important to offer that Suzi’s discouraging words actually goaded me to become more focused and determined to commit to my art practice from the beginning of our son’s life. I also wrote an essay about it: “You Might As Well Throw Away Your Career” that was delivered at the Women’s Caucus of the College Art Association in Chicago in 2014. Sadly, my correspondences with Suzi ended not long after our son’s birth in 1995. She sent a gift and a note and I’m sure I responded, but I felt estranged from her and disappointed that someone so committed to shifting paradigms had internalized such a deep stereotype about women artists.

During the memorial zoom for Suzi, I shared small tidbits of my journey with Suzi, but found myself feeling saddened that I had not maintained our relationship over the years. I was glad to know that so many artists had benefited from her support, some of whom I had met in different ways over the years. I felt a bit bereft that I had never really mended the wound.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzi_Gablik

THICH NHAT HANH (October 11, 1926- January 22, 2022)

I had never heard of Thich Nhat Hanh until the winter of 1989. I had just met the man who would become my husband in October of 1988, and I was slowly learning what it means to have a commitment to a meditation practice. Bob was not a proselytizer for Buddhism, by any means, but when he heard that I had been invited to an activist artist retreat with Thây, he encouraged me to go. I had never experienced a silent retreat, and the first three days of the week were in silence. There was something both soothing and strange about it, because for the first time I was able to see/hear the voices in my head making up all kinds of stories about the people around me. When people finally spoke to each other, I was astonished not only by the timbre of their voices, but the way they articulated their thoughts. It was so distinct from my own fantasies and assumptions that it gave me pause.

Bob and I chose to go to Plum Village a year later, and we loved the energy of this refuge in the south of France. I loved the tea ceremonies and the dharma talks (although I fell asleep in at least one of them, and remember Thây’s kind voice saying, it’s okay if you fall asleep because you’re still getting the message). My favorite memory is making potato knishes on Ancestor Day with two Vietnamese nuns, one who spoke Italian and the other spoke German. There was something deeply moving about all of us in different diasporas sharing the intimacy of my grandmother’s recipe (revised in my particular way – sour cream replaced by yogurt, and white flour replaced by whole wheat) together.

The most important lessons that I received from Thich Nhat Hanh happened at another retreat in Malibu, CA in 1991. It was retreat for Vietnam War veterans and peace activists and it was well attended. Maxine Hong Kingston led a writing workshop for the handful of vets who had the courage to attend. The experience of hearing the veterans stories of their trauma and shame on the last day of the retreat broke open all of our hearts. Witnessing how the system of war abuses everyone, taught me deep compassion that I was able to carry into my work as a teacher who works with vets and people who are part of the military or military families. It was deeply humbling. It was at this retreat that I learned the importance of a sangha for maintaining the practice and when we returned home, we formed one with lovely people who lived in the Venice, CA area. And when we moved to western Massachusetts, after I left my tenured position at CSU Long Beach, we found another lovely sangha who became a family of choice during our eight years in Shelburne Falls. And now, going through my husband’s cancer journey, we have created The Bad Buddhist Sangha to offer support and nourishment to our community and to our family as we navigate this time of uncertainty.

Our last retreat with Thây was in 2011 in Vancouver, BC. We had not been able to sit with him during our son’s early years, but at age 16, he was able to join us for part of the retreat. It thrilled me to see Sam do walking meditation next to Thây, and as someone with sensory issues, he really enjoyed the silent meals. During the five years we lived in Seattle, we belonged to Vipassana meditation groups that introduced me to many different and wonderful teachers, but we have always returned to Thich Nhat Hanh as our anchor.

I attended many online celebrations of his life after his passing and was very moved by the ceremonies held at his home temple in Hue, Vietnam where he’d been living for several years after his stroke in 2014. I feel Thây continuing inside me, so I have not grieved his passing. I recite his gathas (meditation poems) every night when I have insomnia which has been nightly these days. I listen to the podcast, The Way Out is In https://plumvillage.org/podcasts/the-way-out-is-in/ every week to strengthen my practice through the resources offered in their recordings. Our sangha is currently reading https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52575747-zen-and-the-art-of-saving-the-planet and our discussions have been rich.

I should mention that I was not raised with religion, but rather with strong ethical principles and the values of tikkun olam (although it was not named as such since my parents did not practice the Jewish religion). Tikkun Olam means to repair the world. I’m not a card-carrying Buddhist or even a Bu-Ju, or Ju-Bu, but I am someone who is deeply grateful for the teachings generously given by the honorable Thich Nhat Hanh, poet, activist, and monk. I would not be me without his deep insights guiding me daily.

Jacki Apple (December 11, 1941- June 8, 2022)

I started this blog post almost two weeks ago with Jacki’s memorial fresh in my mind. I met Jacki through my grad school studio mate, Bruce Barber. Bruce and I were both attending the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia and were in the middle of our first year of the MFA program when we traveled to NYC for winter break, 1977. Bruce, originally from New Zealand, had met Jacki and her ex-husband, the artist, Billy Apple, when they were traveling in NZ. Bruce remained friends with Jacki and wanted me to meet her when we visited the City. Jacki was then working at the Franklin Furnace, an alternative space that specialized in artist’s books, window installations, and performance art, and Jacki was the curator of the latter two offerings. In 1979, after I moved back to the City, Jacki offered me a slot in the window installation line up. I knew exactly what I was going to create there, a facsimile of an employment office. At that time, I had just left a full-time position with the NY State Arts Council as an administrative assistant in the Museum Aid Program. I was full of questions about what meaningful work might mean during the recession in NYC, and I wanted to engage with other underemployed folks to find out how they kept their spirits up during the job hunt. Jacki was excited about this project and gave me full license to play with the idea.

The storefront of the Franklin Furnace was disguised as an employment agency, with signs advertising various opportunities and perks. It was not at all obvious that it was a satire. People came in, with resumes underarm, looking for work. As someone without gainful employment myself, I was almost always there to invite people in, have them sit in the booth, where the chairs were rigged with an audio switch. As soon as someone sat down, the 5-minute audio loop would go on. The audio was full of questions, inner thoughts of a job hunter, and lots of humor. People quickly got hooked, and once the tape was over, they would remark, “I don’t know what that was, but I feel much better.” Behind the office booth, was a space with coffee and tea, books about creating your own job, and comfy seats in which we could sit and schmooze. Jacki sometimes joined us in conversation. The installation, “Apply Within,” attracted the attention of Lucy R. Lippard, who wrote about it in ArtForum Magazine. And thus, my art career was more firmly launched.

Soon after this, Jacki and Martha Wilson (founder and director of FF), hired me to be an artist’s assistant and publicist for the gallery. Both of my “bosses” were deeply committed to their work, intelligent, and eccentric, but it was Jacki who took me underwing. Through her invitations to events and my work at the FF, I was able to meet many local and international artists, many who expanded my sense of how art could function in the world.

This generosity continued after Jacki moved to Los Angeles. When I visited LA for the first time for a cousin’s wedding, she hosted me in her apartment, sharing her delight in her new home, taking me on a tour of favorite spots, like the local Trader Joe’s in Culver City (it was one of the first of that chain) and the beloved Rose Café in Venice.

A few years later, I joined Jacki in southern California. I had become a new faculty member in the art department at CSU Long Beach, their NYC artist. I felt very much like a fish out of water in Long Beach, so Jacki invited me to parties, events, exhibitions, and dinners to help me find my cohort.

Soon after moving to LA, at one of those parties, she introduced me to Sheila Pinkel, saying “you need to know Sheila; she’s one of your activist artist peers in town.” Sheila and I shared many interests in common; over the years, we shared meals, spaces in exhibitions, and on stages as speakers. I discovered, to my delight, that LA was filled with feminist artists, many of whom were very welcoming, without the pretensions and competitive energy that I found so off-putting in the NYC art world. I thought that Jacki fit in beautifully in LA where she curated shows, experimented with her own work, performed, wrote, was an inspired teacher with devoted students at the Pasadena Art Center, and ran her KPFK-fm radio show about sound & performance art. She was in her element and highly successful.

When my artist’s book, One Size DOES NOT Fit All (originally known as “The Fat Book”) was published in 1993, Jacki confessed to me that she was “fat-phobic,” a common prejudice in our current society, and that she found it difficult to even sit next to fat people in public. I was grateful to hear her speak so honestly about her struggle to see all bodies as deserving of love and respect.

We were able to share our growing interest in sitting meditation as a spiritual practice, and in the last year or so before I left Los Angeles, we sat together in Venice, CA, in a sweet, little sangha inspired by our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Jacki maintained a sitting practice, attending retreats, long after we left LA in 1995.

In subsequent years, I visited with Jacki every time we came to LA, whether it was for an exhibition that I was participating in, a conference I was speaking in, or for a family occasion. She was always a gracious host, sharing her passions for her current projects and her excitement about the work of others. I last saw her in person in 2018 when I was attending the College Art Association meeting. She shared some of the process of archiving her huge body of work, I was impressed by her incredible vitality and passion for leaving a legacy for future students and historians.

We only spoke a few times during the pandemic and her cancer journey, and I regret that my husband’s own cancer journey kept me from keeping better in touch with her. When I last spoke with her, she expressed deep compassion for what we were going through with our son’s mental health struggles, and shared her disappointment with what had happened to the once lively arts hub of LA once the internet and social media interrupted more in-person connection.

https://artillerymag.com/jacki-apple-1941-2022/

Some End Notes about Zooms and Mortality

Ultimately, the process of memorializing someone in the distant forum of zoom can be deeply unsatisfying, especially if you carry many layers of experiences and stories about a significant person in your life, and there is no open mike in which to share them. Even with the opportunity to say your piece, the lack of physical contact while mourning someone is challenging. How to manage this grief then? Well, this writing is the first step. I know that these losses will continue. It is that time in my life when more and more of those around me will become ancestors, and I need to prepare somehow for that inevitability. The hyper-mobility of my pre-pandemic life connected me with many people all over the world, so my losses with be many, and given the current chapter of climate emergency, increasing poverty, violence, and polarization, and pandemic, the work of grieving will occupy many of us more than ever. May we find the tools to navigate it all with generosity, kindness, and grace and inspire our communities to imagine a world where seven generations will thrive.

We all need sanghas now

For those who don’t know what a sangha is, think of it as a chosen community with whom you do sitting meditation or some kind of somatic, mindfulness practice where you quietly follow your breath. You may read sutras, writings of various Buddhist teachers, inspirational philosophy, the treatises of radical activists, or speculative fiction, and have discussions about what is read and how they relate to your life. You may plan and do acts of service in the community. If you are lucky enough, your sangha may become a family of choice and nourish you spiritually and through times of grief and illness. We brought together a sangha in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh (who we gratefully sat with quite a few times) to help guide us through my husband’s cancer journey. Since my husband is an ordained lay monk in the Vietnamese Zen tradition, this was a no brainer for him to co-facilitate. We love the people who show up and are working to make the space as collaborative and inclusive as possible.

So why do we all need one? Because our mental health as a species is as challenged as I’ve ever seen it in this lifetime, and this is one way to ground ourselves for the challenges of this time and the times to come. For the introverts and folks who are group-adverse or who have been traumatized by group dynamics who are reading this, please know that this is one way to ease into a collective conversation that is as respectful, safe, and generous as they come.

A sangha can start with two people who sit together, but ideally it can start with four. Then you build it slowly, at the speed of trust. Send me questions and comments if you have them.

The Ache of It All

I started writing this post yesterday, after seeing photos of dry river beds in many parts of the world: the Loire, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Yangtze, all rivers I once saw in person in a time that now seems long ago. My heart was frayed by these images, especially since I’m preparing work to be part of an exhibition about the climate emergency that will be on display in Chongqing, China (where the Yangtze barely flows now). With all the work I do to try and stay present to everyday joys, I found that my normal filters for this level of grief are now as cracked and dry as a river bed, and my typically reliable resilience has just vanished. As did the paragraphs that I labored over yesterday, in what seemed to be a flick of the trackpad or some other quirk, every word was gone and I was left with that sour feeling that often comes when realize that you didn’t click the “save draft” button.

Non-attachment is the way of the day. Non-attachment to daily routines because they will be upended by something unseen. Non-attachment to the moods of our son. Non-attachment to being able to see the future of my husband’s cancer journey or our son’s next chapter in Oregon. Being able to hold uncertainty in this particular life and in this particular moment in history seems to be the most desirable skill, and being able to remind oneself that nothing is permanent, whether it’s the abundance in our backyard food forest or the feelings of being stuck or root-bound, being involuntarily leashed to a place that often does not feel like home due to the obligation of family care. I do love my family and my neighbors, but I have such a yearning for touching the landscapes of my past, even things that repelled me as a child, like the smelly streets of NYC. I have to stop myself when I get too thick with that sort of nostalgia and remind myself that NYC is not what it was, that everyone with few exceptions has dispersed or died, and that my desire for home won’t be satisfied there. My desire for home needs to be satisfied now with the soil, the water, and the air, and when that seems too abstract, the flavor of a fresh tomato just picked.

And in that vein, what brings me back to a joyful present moment is the harvesting of golden cherry tomatoes, the ground cherries with their delicate outer shell like a Japanese lantern, and the plump scarlet runner beans that were happily pollinated by hummers and bees. The ache of this time doesn’t go away, but it becomes just another flavor in the mix, one that I can write through or breathe into. I might not have what one considers a glamorous life filled with adventures and travels at this moment, but it is a rich one, with textures and colors that I will continue to report on here, even as those previously mentioned filters become more cracked with the news of the day.

The summer when it seemed that everything was on hold

After viewing the film about the comedian, Tig Notaro, my husband likes to introduce himself in this way, “Hi, I’m Bob, I have cancer.” My husband has stage 4 melanoma. He was diagnosed with Stage 2 in January, but this is an aggressive strain of cancer. After no success with immunotherapy, he started a new protocol two weeks ago; chemo pills that he takes twice a day. He’s lost a lot of weight (cancer cells secrete appetite suppressants) and has days when he exhausted, nauseous, vomits, and can’t get out of bed. Our last road trip was almost two months ago to pick up our son in southern Oregon who needed our care and housing. Our son’s story is a long one that I’m not ready to share here quite yet, but let’s just say that at age 27, with High Functioning Autism, and many gifts that have yet to fully blossom, he requires a lot of support, particularly in relation to medication management. With both of them not able to fully be in the world, my trajectory into the life of summer pleasures has been quite limited, but I am grateful for my garden, our little food forest, and our new meditation sangha that meets in our renovated garage, B & B’s Bad Buddhist Temple. We meet every week and it has been immensely nourishing for all of us. I also get to write, walk, enjoy beautiful weather, friendly neighbors who are always offering support, cook up lots of tasty things to tantalize the family (even if they can’t eat them), paint in my iPad, listen to stimulating podcasts, do Physical therapy for my pseudo-sciatica, get massages every 2 weeks, and generally have a very good life. I can get wistful for a life of traveling, but I remind myself of the climate costs of such an indulgence. If I stay off of social media with everyone’s photos of their journeys, block the borderline personality disordered folks who I seem to be a magnet for, and remind myself that every day is a miracle, I will make it through this threshold somehow.

And, with the upcoming gathering in my studio, “Re-emerge and Reboot,” I get to brainstorm with locals who might be interested in figuring out new strategies for navigating this time, or as my book title says, “Rewilding Our Muses: Creative Strategies for Navigating the End of THIS World.” Perhaps with the help of folks who gather with me, I will sense that the only thing on hold might be my attitude.

Exploring the Quantum

I’m grateful that I created this blog, despite years of ignoring it. Now is the time that I can recommit to sharing thoughts and inspirations here. Hopefully I will be able to channel a flow of sprouting seeds for others to plant. The discipline of posting scraps of thoughts here can help me build the momentum for writing my book. My partner’s cancer diagnosis has made my concentration touch and go, but I recognize that this period is also one of relative stability, so it’s the time to get things moving.

In this vein, listening to an audio book (not my usual) about the quantum: The Quantum Revelation by Paul Levy, has been a fascinating accompaniment to my off & on meditation practice. I see how present moment is all I get to hold and release with each breath. In that same way, I get to hold and release words, allowing them to flow through me so I can learn from them.

Yesterday, my therapist who is also tuned into some psychic realms, said that there was about a year and a half to get the book out before things go to hell. I breathed that in all day and in my dream time. I understood from talking to her that this book will be like stone tablets to guide any survivors of the collapse. I need to take this work seriously. And given the messages I’m receiving via my screens, Inspiring others seems to be the deepest layer of my work now.

The threshold that we sit in as a species requires a complete reframing of time, space, and what we consider reality. Mystics and physicists are joining hands, and artists are essential part of the mix. DaVinci stated that art is the first science…and it’s fascinating to see how that insight has been distorted by capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and all the other oppressive systems. I am so grateful for this time of relative ease to untangle what is happening to us on the ground. My home office is cool and filled with the light of the day, a lush garden is outside my door, my partner is busy making his breakfast in the kitchen, and the sun is shining. The harshness visiting so many today is being kept a bay and I’m going to take advantage of this as long as I can.

Learning about COVID first-hand

Yesterday, I finally tested negative, after over a week of fatigue, then cold symptoms, and finally the loss of smell. At the end of April, I thought my intense fatigue was either caused by our two-week road trip down to southern Oregon and then on to the Bay Area or the doctor reducing my dosage of thyroxine, but it turned out to have another cause. For three days, the cold was accompanying by a somewhat comforting brain stupor (only remediated by binge-watching the last season of Frankie and Grace, followed by Inventing Anna). Once the symptoms dissipated I got tested, and went home to quarantine. My sense of smell only vanished during the last three days, but now the most pungent of my essential oils is clearly registering. What a relief.

People keep asking me if I know where I picked up the germ. It could have been anywhere. Our last restaurant meal during the road trip in Eugene or at an outdoor gathering, dancing in the woods. I spent most of the week before I came down with the illness alone in the studio or in the garden, but there were a few exceptions, and in recent months, I almost always walked unmasked in the hallways of my studio building. My masking indoors had become a bit sloppy…..sooooooo….this is how the virus arrives now. My husband is still testing positive, and he has hay fever and Stage 4 melanoma on top of everything, poor guy.

Now it’s time to get back in the studio after a long hiatus, and to welcome in the crowds this Saturday and 2 subsequent Saturdays as part of my farewell to the space.

MAY 15th

I had a great turnout and deep discussions with folks who joined me in the Merlino studio yesterday. I was exhausted afterwords, but grateful to share work and stories with those who came. I’ll be doing this again next Saturday, and the Saturday after that. In June I will pack up the studio and put much of it in storage in the basement. My new home studio in the renovated garage is complete (other than the floor surface), so I’ll be setting up there to begin a new chapter, slowly but surely this summer.

Marked Urgent: Making Art for Challenging Times

Well, it’s been five years since I posted anything in this blog. Guess that means it was a time where this kind of reflection was not a priority.

Now that I’m back to this realm, I want to use this space with more commitment to share thoughts, links, promote the work of others, and process what I’m working on, whether it be poems, essays, visual projects, performance works, or community art facilitations.