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!

Clip-tastic

It was too early to head of down the road to Judah’s preschool, so he suggested a rowsing game of Crazy Eights. Yes, please.

Unfortunately, it is tricky for his four-year-old hands to hold all of those big, crazy cards. We set up a book as a shield- so I couldn’t cheat. But it kept falling over and it was hard to reach around.

Suddenly it dawned on me. I had the perfect solution! I hopped up and grabbed the Super Clip from a drawer in the kitchen and… viola! Problem solved.

Just had to share…

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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…

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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.

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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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Down and Derby

I am an aggressive girl. Ever since I was a child, I have tapped into an electrical current of bite and gnash. Imaginary games involved slaying Minotaurs with bows and arrows, rescuing drowning princes and frozen kings. Wild horses were tamed and ridden up into tree tops and through creek beds. My face violently slick with mud and ash, I was ready to take on any tribe, any army, any beast.

But time after time, I met my surprising ruin in encounters with other women.

My closest friends have consistently been boys, men, male. My closest, inconsistent companions have been girls, women. Why is it that the befriended women in my life have been so historically disappointing? Is it my own expectations of what friendship truly entails that have set me up for failure? Perhaps, it is the aggressive nature of my energy and action that keeps women from staying close. Maybe it is my own desire for intimate, honest relationships that frighten would-be sisters away like so many rabbits in a field.

I played roller derby for three years. My youngest son was 6 months old when I showed up for my first “fresh meat” practice. I picked up the skating skills quickly, likely because of my background in ice hockey, in-line college adventures in New York City, and late 80’s passion for quads. But I was also motivated to be a part of this community of outsiders.

At an early age, I experienced how rich life could be when surrounded by those who are different from you. As I grew into adulthood, the friendships that I sought pushed me outside of any perceived comfort zone into unfamiliar territory of sound, smell, taste and color. Some of my dearest friends to this day were met in places where I was so clearly either unwelcome or out of place that people stared, glared or did their best to ignore me.

My first roller derby practice was similar. Sure, a few ladies smiled. One seemed ecstatic about a potential new skater (I would later see this same woman brought to tears repeatedly throughout her time with the team). Mostly, I was met with silent sideways looks. It didn’t bother me. I spent four years at an all girls’ school during the charming and sweet years of seventh through tenth grade- I was familiar with the judging gaze of young women.

But derby seemed different than junior high. Of course these women were withdrawn, hesitant about a new-comer! They were used to being judged, used to occupying the fringe. A rainbow of hair color, storm clouds of tattoos covered bodies that seemed to testify to the true diversity of the game. That first display was splendid.

Then there was the game of derby: A beautiful symbiosis of violence and dance, of communal effort and individual skill. I jumped off of the cliff’s edge of motherhood, marriage, work, cultural normalcy back into the frigid waters of blissful subversion. Roller derby soaked my life, in what I thought was the best way. But like any time spent in the cold waters of snow melt: what was at first refreshing quickly becomes dangerous.

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Photo by Tyler Shaw

At my first bout, one of our star players seriously injured her shoulder. Over the course of the next several years, she would undergo two surgeries and rack up thousands in debt. She wasn’t the only one… Derby is unforgiving.

I became a coach in my second season with the team. I felt close to the source of empowerment that was at the heart of our organization’s mission. Eager to influence the expansion of our collective goal, I set out to lead under an inclusive banner. Even as I worked with my teammates to develop a greater sense of community, I witnessed strife upon strife. I began to hear the whispered talk, the swirling gossip, the criticism insensitively voiced. I spent hours in meetings building, forming, honing just to be met with late night calls and emails declaring isolation. Often I found myself in the center of the critique, in the intersection of clashing personalities. My kids were feeling my anger and hurt. My husband was witnessing the decay creeping into my hope for my place amongst these women. I resigned my leadership role.

I kept skating. I kept knocking girls down. My husband joined me in co-ed bouts that we had been invited to. I knocked boys down. It was awesome.

last bout- zooPhoto by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

My body was starting to show signs of wear. I spent a few months secretly wrapping my ankle before practices and bouts so that my teammates wouldn’t worry. I continued to be a voice of positivity and I didn’t want my own pain to distract. Bones and muscles often speak louder than any pep-talk, however. I spent some time trying to heal. I got better equipment. I rested. I felt like I was letting people down.

Meanwhile, ankles and arms were snapping like so many branches on a dead tree. Girls were getting hurt constantly. We focused on strength training to protect our bodies. We worked on evading those nasty hits meant to harm. And in the middle of all of the physical brutality, the apologies seemed to stop. The division that I had seen quietly and privately expressed was bleeding out onto the track.

Still, new skaters kept coming. The team kept winning. Our bouts were packed with fans. Friendships were forming and sticking. So much was right and good!

derby teamPhoto by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

But not with me. Many of my trusted compatriots left the team, pushed out feeling unappreciated and burnt out. Some stuck with the team even though it wasn’t fun or life-giving anymore. My own friendships had come undone. My best friend (and former derby wife) on the team stopped talking to me. Nine months later she finally told me why. My big “sister” and I had to go to mediation to resolve our differences. I miss those women and the friendships I hoped we would have long after our derby days were done.

And that’s the thing about derby- it ends. Your body can’t sustain that level of abuse for decades. Skating counter-clockwise day in and day out alone, will wreck havoc on your equilibrium. Throw in a couple cracked ribs, deep bruising and a misaligned spine every few weeks and you’ve got a recipe for suffering well past the season’s last bout.

Is derby worth the risk? For some the answer is a resounding yes! For the women who swear that derby saved their soul, there is no substitute. For the women who finally found their family among the misfits on the track, this is home. For the men and women who know that they are a part of something powerful, satisfying and rich, then of course they’ll take the injury along with the healing.

For me, I did take the risk and I made it through with minimal medical bills, an intact marriage and a lot of great stories. But when I think back on my time with my derby girls, I feel sorrow. The loss of mutually supportive friendship, the broken promise of an interdependent community and the dissolution of the idea of belonging leaves me melancholic.

When I finally informed the team of my departure after 3 years, only two people contacted me in the months following. There were over 80 people on the team when I left. I had served as coach, captain and teammate. Yet, when I run into my former teammates in this small town, we greet each other with genuine warmth. There is a shared experience that derby offers, even if the demonstration is fickle, non-committal and often reserved- just like a woman, just like me. Maybe that is the truth that underlies my high-hopes and bastard expectations: the nature of women is that we change, we are slippery and sharp, we will not be what is pre-supposed.

I am discovering a renewed hope in my relationships with women. Now that I have more time and emotional energy to invest, I am finding that I have had steadfast sisters all along.

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Photo courtesy of Anne T. Kibler

But the bruise that derby has left on my heart remains.

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Photo by Dan “Jugglenaut” Purdy

Color Me Badd

Best name for a tanning salon: Color Me Badd. In Detroit. In the nineties. When I went back to take a picture of this magical gift of culture and signage, it was nowhere to be found. I swear, it was real. (This was before the true coming-of-age of the interwebs, mind you.)

Today was a colorful day, and not always in the best sense. My son contributed some colorful behavior: slamming doors, yelling, crying, etc. And I offered some colorful language, out of earshot of aforementioned kid, barely. Once that was resolved and Thing 1 was off to kindergarten, I made rainbow popsicles with Thing 2.

We used orange juice, ’cause it’s what we had, added some Elderflower syrup, dropped in some food coloring, and poured it all in the amazing Zoku pop maker.

IMG_5737IMG_5745“The colors match my sweater!”

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It was a great lesson in color mixing and a decent lesson in patience. While we waited for each color layer to freeze, Judah and I played Chinese checkers for added flair (It was his idea that we each use two colors of marbles).

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Bright, fun and delicious.