In the garden…

I’ve seen the green shoots in the garden that no one wanted. The snow keeps smothering and then melting just to smother again- like the covering grief. We are not sure whether to welcome the newness of the transitory precipitation of sadness or whether to nestle in and pray for thaw. Still, the garden is growing. The promise of blooms keep us waiting despite the cold.

A few months ago, our community quaked with the loss of a young citizen, friend, and daughter. Charlotte was six years old when she was struck and killed by a truck on a quiet city street in the middle of the day. I didn’t get the news until the evening- a friend phoned while I was painting at my shop. Alone, my response was one of fury, of rage. I screamed. I roared into the absurd night. And then I gathered courage and sought out shared tears.

Charlotte was one of the children in our little “yurt school” cooperative. Full of fire and glitter, she burst into every space, romanced every flower, and choreographed the wind. She danced with abandon, shared with gusto, and stood her ground like an oak sapling.

How do you explain the death of a child to a child?

The next morning, with mussed hair and sloppy pajamas, we sat with our boys. I slowly and quietly explained to them that our friend Charlotte had been in an accident and that she was taken to the hospital and that she had died. I watched my five year-old’s eyes change as the words clicked into place, their meaning contracting and expanding the muscles in his small face. This was the most frightening moment: The realization that I would never fully know what mechanisms were at work, what cogs were turning and what internal parts of him had just transformed. Again, I was angry and fearful. What has changed in my son? Is there a stony crust formed somewhere deep in the recesses of his trusting heart? Has the muscle of his love for others grown stronger? Is the acid of this senseless loss bleeding into his veins? There was no way to know. The line of distinction between the person-hood of mother and child revealed its rich ink.

We raise our children to let them go. Each milestone becomes a landmark on a course of departure. But we all carry the hope, maybe even conviction, that the route circles back, that somehow our sons and daughters are on a ship riding the tide that ebbs, flows and returns.

So when our faith returns an empty ocean, a broken vessel, then what?

Our perceptions are always changing. Our gratitude, sustaining. And still we search for what is beyond our vision, beyond our understanding. We linger on the hopeful shore: mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters and brothers. And we fill the tides with our tears and change the course of ships with the moon of our love.

No one wanted to plant Charlotte’s Remembering Garden- we didn’t want to have to re-member, we wanted the moment to be alive in her presence. Over one thousand bulbs went into the cold earth on a rainy morning. Hands caked with mud massaged them into the soil. And now we wait for spring, trusting that the season will change and bring her joy to us again, again.

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If you would like to hear more about our experience of how we’ve walked with our children and community through this tragedy, please feel free to be in touch. Leave a comment or send me an email trouble.trace@gmail.com.

Zipper cussing Merge

There is a lot of road work going on and around this city of ours. Close to my shop is an ongoing cluster-cuss of construction that is projected to continue well into next summer. As a result, driving has become less than enjoyable. I mean, I learned to drive in Detroit when I was 17 so I can handle aggressive driving and such. What I can’t handle is the dumb, stupid-slow, blind u-turn, no indicator free-for-all that Charlottesville city streets have become. Quintessential Southern mentality and the gentile duplicity of well-meaning citizens, has led me to my current state of vehicular frustration…

Zipper Merge. It’s a thing. A good thing. Recently, I found myself driving in a lane that was slated to end in about a three quarters of a mile. Mind you, I was traveling at about 35 miles per hour when I saw the first sign. Traffic was pretty heavy but most of it was concentrated in the right lane (I was in the left). I continued on, slower, but still in my lane, when I had to put on the brakes and come to a complete stop because a single car was straddling the two lanes. I realized when I tried to move around the vehicle (and the driver subsequently moved further over to block my way), that he was policing the merge. All by himself, blesshisheart. It was all I could do to keep from unleashing the pent-up Detroit-borne teenage road rage on this guy. I stared hard at his Oakley’s in the side-view of his car. I watched the confused, elderly driver behind me, honking gently. And then I drove up onto the grassy, raised median and went around that brothertrucker.

“Zipper Merge, cusshead!” I wanted to yell, as I bumped and swerved past.

The Zipper Merge, also known as “late merge”, is a tested traffic flow directive that, as the name suggests, requires drivers to merge as late a possible to create a one-two, me-you, zipper-effect. This “zippering” keeps traffic moving at a consistent pace and greatly reduces accidents ahead of the merge point.

Here are some links if you want learn more:

They do it in Minnesota, doncha know.

Everybody loves a little wiki merge info.

Jon Stewart on the subject.

There’s even a video on youtube…

Share this concept with your loved ones. Tell your neighbor with the Oakley’s. ‘Cause next time, I’m not going around him- I’m going over him like a zipper over tighty-cussing-whities.

15 Ways “Orange Is the New Black” is roller derby

15 Ways Orange Is the New Black is roller derby:

1. It centers around the interactions of a large community of seemingly incongruous women.r-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-large570

2. Once you are no longer Fresh Meat, you get the real team uniform.

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3. Yelling at the refs can result in a major penalty.

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4. There is a healthy lesbian population. (Although, truth be told, some are just “gay for the stay”.)

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5. If the track gets shut down, some ladies go bananas. Some do whatever they can to work the system and get it open again.

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6. There are committees. And everyone has a job.

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7. Your family is tired of hearing you talk about the drama. But they’ll still tell complete strangers that you’re involved.

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8. Wives.

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9. Widows.

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10. Everyone’s got a nickname, even the refs.

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11. Sometimes it just feels good to hit a bitch.

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12. There’s a lot of foul language.

13. It doesn’t matter what size you are, how old you are or if you’re transgender- they’ll gladly take you in.

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14. It can be completely degrading and completely empowering. And if you apply yourself, you’ll come out stronger.

15. Ladies have mixed feelings about getting out. Some are scared to leave and others are relieved. Either way, it’s hard to adjust to the real world.

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*all pictures copyright netflix.com

For the Win

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#MileyCyrus.There, I’ve done it. I have added to the astronomically large tally of tags, hits, keywords and glommed on to the vocabulary of the moment.

Yes, I have seen the infamous VMA performance and the loaded Robin Thicke video. I have also watched the Auckland students’ (warning: explicit) parody video. And I have read some blog posts on what’s what when it comes to walking with your kids through the swamp of exploitation and scandal-hungry media hawkers. And it all has me thinking…

When my son was born I experienced a moment of alarm. Just what the world needs, I thought, another white man. The moment passed in a breath and what came next was the realization that my son was positioned, culturally, by his genetics and the strange circus of patriarchal Western culture, to be an advocate for the disenfranchised. If, by his gender and skin color and whatever other stamps and labels society wants to slap on him, he will give voice to the ones ignored. He will grow to be an oak of respect for women- a shelter from the hail of objectification of his sisters. He will honor sex not as a commodity but as a gift. This, I pray, is his birthright.

As parents we are in an arena where we are unwilling players. Chuck Klosterman (of The New York Times, The Ethicist column September 1, 2013) writes, in response to an inquiry about the morality of performance enhancing drugs, “There are no sound moral arguments against P.E.D.’s. There is, however, an ethical argument. Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create a framework for how a culture operates… Any game […] is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. […] The motive is to create a world- or at least the illusion of a world- where everyone is playing the same game in the same way. P.E.D.’s are forbidden because that’s what our fabricated rules currently dictate.” So what does this have to do with the explicit performances of Blurred Lines? Well, it seems to me that the force of American culture is fielding two teams. Is this a game about morality? And ethics? I believe yes and yes. And it is about sex and inequality and exploitation and fame. Above all, it is about greed: power and money, the Win.

When I watched Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, I have to say the feminist rage in me sat quietly- edgy and poised, but quiet. I think there is a part of me that understands the business of sex, the currency of desire. The women in that video are beautiful (Yes, in a westernized, light-skinned, emaciated sort of way. But still- gorgeous.). The song is dumb. It’s all about the hook (Pharrell Williams would be first to admit). There are moments that pissed me off, sure, where I was offended and disgusted. Times when it was clear that we are allowing corruption in the economy of relationship. But those (professional model)girls were amazing. And I have this love of nudity…

I don’t have this knee-jerk reaction to the naked body. There is the pervasive sentiment that the only logical course is to sexualize a person just because they are no longer clothed. In art school, we would get bored with nudity, there was such an abundance of it. One of my favorite models was this woman who must have weighed about 250 pounds. While my classmates groaned, I loaded up my palette ready to sculpt this beautiful woman with paint. I loved the folds of skins and abundant forms. I appreciate the bodies that I encounter. But I recognize that I am an outlier. And also not…

I judge myself in terms of the value of sexual currency that I hold. I examine my body and label the flaws. I catch myself playing the game.

In the parody of the New Zealand Blurred Lines video, I nodded along. I laughed out loud. I felt vindicated. These were my teammates.

But not really. I agreed with their message and the quality of production was great, but there was something off. Maybe it became too real; the whole Us vs Them encounter. Maybe part of it was an awareness of the complex (albeit twisted)industry behind the “other” video. I’m not sure…

The thing that I keep coming back to in all of this Miley Cyrus frenzy is that the performance was choreographed. That 19-year-old wasn’t alone out there. Yes, that was her tongue licking her own ears, smacking the booty of on of her “back-up bears”, but it would be naive to think that every appropriated step, every pelvic thrust, every foam finger rub wasn’t discussed and planned and rehearsed, repeatedly, by paid adults. It’s like football: you have a coaching staff whose numbers far outweigh that of the actual players. The only difference is that in this game we are reffing it ourselves. We are calling for the reviews and throwing the arbitrary flags and still trying to run the ball. I’m not trained to judge this game. I don’t know the rules. Do you?

Now, I am not saying that I enjoyed Cyrus’ performance. I thought it was awful and stupid. She looked like she was trying to bring Disney to the strip club. There was no sex in it, in my mind. But there was greed. She is playing the game. And she needs a better coach.

Lastly, I feel compelled to touch on the broader implications of this power hungry culture that we are navigating. Our kids might start believing that the game is real. That the MC rapping about ho’s and whatnot is some sort of icon or idol, or worse: a leader. He is expressing himself in all of his basic, unfiltered, insulated hurt, anger and longing. And beyond our measly borders, the images and lyrics – describing women as property, as sex toys, as pets- spread, gaining cultural momentum and picking up specks of truth that seem to give the global illusion that this is right and real and the way things are meant to be.

My hope, my prayer, for my sons and your daughters, is that we will know when to let the game-clock run out and we can make new rules and truly play. With joy and passion and acknowledgment of each others’ strengths and weaknesses: play. Because there is no Win.

(Have a laugh: Twerking explained…)

Life and Death(Star)

Today was my son, Pierce Trouble’s 6th birthday. He’s an awesome kid. This was his first ‘real’ birthday party and he is old enough to have some opinions on how it all shakes down.

So, one night a few weeks ago, we had a family brainstorming session to plan the upcoming festivities. The chalkboard wall in our kitchen/dining area was covered in drawings of X-Wings and a very elaborate Death Star.

We celebrated the Star Wars-themed event at a local park. We made spaceships out of cardboard boxes, pool noodles, duct tape, straws and streamers. We ate pizza and veggies. And then the young Jedis destroyed the Death Star pinata- with gusto. When finally the looming sphere broke apart, it ripped in half, the bottom dropping out. The kids pounced on the candy, tattoos and granola bars and then did an amazing job of sharing with each other so that everyone left smiling. Or maybe the smiling was just evidence of the sugar doing it’s thing… Any which way, it was a blast.

IMG_7293IMG_7289IMG_7291IMG_7273IMG_7296IMG_7285IMG_7295IMG_7302IMG_7305IMG_7309IMG_7326IMG_7338IMG_7347IMG_7344IMG_7351IMG_7355IMG_7370IMG_7375IMG_7380How to make a ginormous Death Star pinata:

1. Buy the Sunday New York Times. Read it and then save it- you will need every page. Perhaps, even the magazine…

2. Make papier mache by mixing 1 cup of rice flour with about as much water. Whisk out the lumps. Boil 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the flour mixture and boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Let it cool and get ready for the glop-mess.

3. Blow up your big-ass beach ball.

4. Put down a drop cloth, tarp or do this whole thing outside (especially if your doorways are narrow- you won’t be able to get the Death Star out of your house…)

5. Place the ball on an open box to keep it stable while you work.

6. Begin glop-mess. Spread rice goo on large pieces of newspaper, tear as needed. I used a chip brush and Aaron used a silicone basting brush when the goo was too hot to spread with our hands. By the way, it smells nice- like fresh sushi and Korean grandmothers. Ahhh, so lovely.

7. Build up no more than three to four layers then carefully rotate the whole thing and repeat across the whole ball.(Once it is dry you can add more layers if you have some weak spots.)

8. Wash your hands, take a shower- call it a night. Use a fan/heater/dehumidifier to help aid the drying time. Drying takes a looong time. Like, 24-48 hours. By the way, thick goo dries faster than runny goo.

9. Cut a circle for your Death Star concave-eye-thing. Find the valve of the beach ball (it may still be sticking out) and use that as the center of your circle. Deflate the beach ball so you don’t cut into it, if you want to save it. Carefully cut this out with a box cutter or x-acto. Deflate the ball some more and pull it out. The goo doesn’t stick to the vinyl- it should come out pretty easily.

10. “Fill” your pinata. I use “” because it is unrealistic to actually put that much stuff in a giant Death Star unless it is old t-shirts or marshmallows or balloons. We put goodies in individual paper bags, slit the backs and taped them to the interior walls to better distribute the weight. For extra effect, Aaron put some Dark-Side themed streamers inside, taped to the top. You can see from the pictures that when it was all smashed the streamers added some serious je ne sais quoi. Space jellyfish?

11. Once dry, paint that sucker. We used leftover primer in grey and white. The center band/equator is electrical tape. I looked at some pictures online but ended up just painting loosely geometric grids of grey and white rectangles. Then Aaron and I added some white lines and bright white dots/lights.

12. Seal her up. Flip that circle piece around and hot glue in place.

13. At some point attach a loop to the top. I missed this part because I was at work and Aaron was home with the boys apparently playing with blades and rope…

14. Figure out how to transport the thing to your party. Aaron walked it to the park- it wouldn’t fit in the car and we live only a few blocks away.

15. Bust it open! For our party, I gathered the rebel army and they each took turns beating it with their light sabers. Everyone got a turn (several whacks- no blindfold) and the birthday boy split it open. Then mayhem ensued- in a good way.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’d be happy to respond.

Cheers,

Christy

Moving with Grace

“Grace is achieved only through some sort of vulnerability. We’re human beings, and that means sometimes the body would rather remain complacent. In spite of that, we dare to have grace. Grace is about forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’re still not wounded by whatever injury. It’s a choice.”

-Robert Battle, Artistic Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

As told to Spencer Bailey of the New York Times Magazine, Aug. 25th, 2013

Alvin-Ailey.--Photo-by-Normand-Maxon_690x389_0Alvin Ailey (photo by Normand Maxon)

So often, in contemporary, mainstream, American culture we compartmentalize our spirits from our bodies. The concept of grace as something that invigorates the muscles is profound. Forgiveness strengthens not only our resolve in the race of restoration but also creates a humble flexibility in our words, minds and tendons. The reach for relationship is open-palmed. Thighs and abs flex with the position of lowering and raising the body to meet one another in brokenness and humility. Equality can only exist through moved lips, peaceful voice and attentive silence. Being, intertwined. Force and subtlety, pushing and pulling the space between us, to the music of the rotation of the earth.

Making, Outside (the Box)

Aaron and I had the complete joy of being invited to participate in the second annual Blue Ridge Swim Club Sculpture Competition earlier this month.

The rules were simple:

1. Artists have two days: Saturday and Sunday, to create a sculpture on the Blue Ridge Swim Club property.

2. All materials used must be found on the property.

3. No power tools (not even battery-operated ones).

4. Artists may work in teams of up to four people.

Blue Ridge Swim Club is an inspiring place. It is a true oasis in this modern age of motion and bustle. This spring-fed, man-made pool stretches for 100 yards and deepens from 3 feet to 10 feet. Nestled in the shade of surrounding trees and a bamboo grove, it is an all-natural salve to the soul. This year, the Swim Club turns 100 years old (but doesn’t look a day over 60).

0000Image courtesy of the Blue Ridge Swim Club

In mid-summer tadpoles we were joined in the greenish water by tiny, newly-legged tadpoles. Cicadas provided the soundtrack until someone began strumming a guitar by water’s edge. Lovely, breathable, a summer vacation available any day of the week.

So, we jumped at the chance to spend a few days exploring our new-found love for the Swim Club and our creative fervor. Aaron bravely teamed up with our two sons (Pierce, 5 and Judah, 4) and I eagerly ran off, solo.

The 3 boys chose a location by and in the creek. The collected rocks, leaves and clay. In the end, their piece told a story, a fantastical narrative about a family of moss slugs and stick snakes. They were gathering and journeying and adventuring.

I found a curvy path where vines hung from young trees. I began exploring the tension that I could create. I pulled and buried the ends of the rope-y vines, which in turn, arced the supple trees. Where the vines went down into the dirt, I mounded the earth up. Now it was unclear: Were the vines growing up from these mounds? Were they pulling the trees or sprouting from them?

I decided to take a break mid-day. Ross, the organizer of the event, brought everyone sandwiches. We ate. We swam. We got back to work.

And work it was. I was amazed, although not surprised, at the hard labor that was happening around me. Artists were shoveling and sawing and hammering and carting load upon load of mud and rocks- all for the sake of art. Absolutely all artists are ‘starving’ but that’s because they work so bloody hard! Folks were soaked with sweat and covered in grime and it was beautiful.

IMG_7148Fellow artist at work

I didn’t return back to my vine mound obstacle course right away. Instead, I turned my attention to a tree that had caught my eye early on. It had a buldge near the base that wrapped around the trunk just so. It seemed to be the start of something. Using the burl as my inspiration and anchor, I created a line of collected moss, spiraling around and up the tree. Using mud and raspberry thorns, I stuck the moss to the trunk. A lifeguard from the pool, offered a ladder and so I was able to continue up, up until I found natural conclusion to the line. And then I moved on…

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Next, I happened upon the fire pit, still smoking but with piles of black coals and white ash inside the ring of rocks. I picked up a handful of warm, black chunks and found another tree. High up, suspended from the branches hung a cucumber-thick, severed vine. The vine rested against the trunk- separate but affiliated. I started with the vine and drew a thick, expanding spiral around and down to the roots of the tree. Using my hands and hunks of burnt wood, I filled in the line, rubbing it into the smooth bark of the tree. Shadow of a shadow remained. And then I moved on…

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I went back to the mounds where I finished the first day.

The boys had arranged their rocks and gathered moss. Aaron had successfully redirected the flow of creek water through a collection of bamboo ‘pipes’. He was pretty confident that the piece was done, the story was complete.

The next morning, we headed back to the Swim Club. The boys played in the water and wandered around, looking for the other sculptors and their works. Despite some rain, the pieces were left intact, as we hoped. Aaron put the finishing touches on his and went off to make a bow and arrow out of bamboo, string and a feather that I had found the day prior.

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I, on the other hand, hauled sod and growing things to cover the mounds. At one point I turned the bend in the sun-dappled path to greet a black snake, about 4 feet in length, winding through the new, manipulated terrain. I went around to the other side of him and worked on that end until he had wandered off (I saw him a few more times throughout the day). Finally, my piece was completed. I felt excited about offering an experience to the people who would visit later for the evening judging and tour. Visitors would need to stoop, duck, side-step and wait. There would be no danger and no fear (unless the snake returned, perhaps). It would be an unexpected but pleasant meander through a piece of land that was familiar and odd all at once. Tension would be evident both physically and psychologically but not in an unsettling way, in a playful and absurd way. And true to my hopes, it was a joy to see the smiles on the faces of the children and adults alike as they navigated the brief piece in the afternoon light.

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The last piece that I made was in the ladies’ bathhouse. A simple block building, it seems the same as it may have been in the 1940’s. High up on one long wall there are 16 tiny alcoves, spaces for who-knows-what. It was in these alcoves I placed 16 tiny birds’ nests. Each nest had ‘treasures’ woven into it- bits of shiny foil, string, insect wings, orange fungus and so on. Perhaps one day the birds will find these simulacrums and will pull them apart, using the bits and pieces for their own purposes. Until then, I hope they serve as a subtle reminder that shelter is shared and making a home is a simple joy.

IMG_7193IMG_7197This piece was not made for pictures…

When it came time for the final judging, my son was confident. He had placed a final touch that he knew would win over the judge, a professor at the University of Virginia. “People will think it is funny. Because poop is funny.” Giggling, he had fashioned a little mud pile behind one of the mossy creatures, thus adding his signature to the sculpture in a way that only a 6 year-old boy (and perhaps conceptual artist, Manzoni) is able.

Sure enough, the boys came away with the official win: First Place!

As our gracious judge pointed out, “There is no best. Who can judge?” She proceeded to give out various “awards” and recognitions, including the Bamboo Award and to me, the Moss Award, and so on. I hope to compile some more photographs of works from the event. There were 6 additional pieces by very accomplished artists…

What a wonderful way to spend a weekend: making art, in community, in a tranquil setting. Glorious!