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

Miley-Cyrus-Foam-Handphoto necolebitchie.com

#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…)

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.

Super Creatures!

The past two Saturdays there have been heaps of community-wide, artistically-minded and strange events happening in Charlottesville. In fact, the entire weekend of April 11-14th was overflowing with creative energy. The Tom Tom Founders Festival brought hundreds of musical performances and innovative thinkers to local microphones and parks. We spent a good portion of Friday hanging out at the McGuffey Art Center for the, now annual, block party. Kids were going nuts (think: dancing, big foam cubes, snow cones, climb-able sculptures…) while the adults felt a sort-of hipsterbia, indie art camaraderie. The next day of the TomTom, there was a big family-friendly picnic celebration at Lee Park but we decided to stay home and just be.

Ever since our dating, college days, Aaron and I have kept a day set apart from the rigors of the other six. Call it a Sabbath or day of rest or just Wednesday- it has been an anchor for our relationship and a respite from the pressures of maintaining a certain pace of living. Over the years our day of rest has changed from week-end to mid-week and back. Currently, Saturdays are our “family day”. We don’t commit to activities (even really, really fun ones), as a rule. Instead, we go with the flow as the day unfolds. So, on TomTom Saturday we stayed home and played games, made food, and I painted everyone’s faces like the Avengers. See if you can guess who is who…

dylan avengerpierce avengerjudah avengerboys avengersdaddy avengermama avenger

This weekend, Aaron was really pumped about going to the Stan Winston Arts Festival of the Moving Creature at UVa (uh, who wouldn’t be pumped?!). A friend, who is one of the instructors in the course on creature making, invited us to participate in the parade. We didn’t commit but an hour before the parade was to begin, we decided it was a go. I scuttled up into our attic/crawl space and dragged out bits and pieces from the stuffed animal costumes that I made in college. The boys put on slippers and wigs and masks and tails, in addition to the stuffed animal accessories. Then we all squeezed into the car and headed over to The University (as it’s called in these parts).

Later, Aaron and I talked about how amazing the experience was; how this town offers so much wonder for our kids. They were right there when a giant alien ant-thing battled a huge, blobby, leopard octopus and then went on to attack the Alderman Library.

551274_592899150722239_1924240954_nPhoto by Scholars’ Lab DIY Aerial Photography

From beyond that mayhem, a mechanical elephant approached, luring the children closer to its whirring gears with bubbles (and apparently by pooping candy). Hundreds of people blocked traffic, taking to the streets, surrounded by creatures overhead and amongst the crowd. There were balloons. There were lion-dancers. And that silly ant even attacked a Prius on its way to the field of moving trees. Awesome.

sw elephantsw treessw blobsw aaron

Everyone went to bed early that night- I’m sure the dreams were intense.

The next day we biked a few miles from our home to Charlottesville Mennonite Church. Afterwards, we stayed for an impromptu potluck lunch and then we pedaled off to the Annual Children’s Bike Rodeo sponsored by Community Bikes. (Check out our cameo on the news.) Judah’s preschool teacher, Shelly Stern, was one of the organizers of this fun and informative event. Shell asked me to help with the design of the flyer and t-shirts this year- so fun!

bike rodeo flyer4The boys had a blast and we all learned some great things about biking in this town: the boys learned how to signal when turning and I learned how to properly load a bike onto a city bus. Exhausted, we cycled on home.

Such a rich and full few days of adventure!

I can’t wait to see what pops up next weekend…

Busy Business

Lately, it seems that my wall clocks are spiraling out of control, spinning their faces off, coils and numbers shooting all over the place like bottle-rockets gone wrong. Time is off the chain and barking at the neighbors.

I am starting a business.

Melding my art background with my training and passion for design, I have begun building a creative division connected with Piedmont Paint & Finish– my good friend’s painting company.

Pigment will specialize in color, as the name suggests. We will offer color consultation (hourly and by the project).

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In our showroom/shop, you will find samples of custom paint techniques, re-fabbed painted furniture and hand-made furnishings from local designers. Because of our on-going relationship with major, national paint suppliers, we can offer personalized service enhanced by exceptional products.

There are still many loose ends that are being attentively woven into the pattern of this new and exciting business. But each day brings me and my partner closer to inviting you into an original and vital experience with color.

I’ll let you know when we put the clocks back up on the freshly painted walls and the doors are ready to open.sign no border

Sneak peek…

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