Taking a Moment.

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It is nearly the summer solstice here in this northern city that I call home (again). The tilt of the earth feels just right tonight. Sometimes I think we were meant for certain places and times, months and days where our cells are healthier in our bodies and the air we breathe into our lungs is utilized to its full potential. Seattle, in June feels like that. I know I’ve found my place (again). Things are happening here, on a micro level that manifests itself within the bigger picture. Our lives are fuller here, even if they are momentarily spinning until we land in the right direction. It’s in the cards, it’s lining up. For now, I’m learning to be comfortable existing in the in-between time.

Tonight, I can finally catch a breath. We’ve been here seven weeks, the last of the boxes cleared out just today. He is asleep early, a well-deserved rest, and I watch the last dull light fade in the west, where the mountains are visible under clear skies. It’s been raining all day, but a good, satisfying rain that comes after days of abundant sunshine. Today, everyone is still happy in the rain. “I like this weather,” someone said to me today, and I do too, because it’s a contrast. It makes the stunning sunny days even more like paradise. Feeling the gentle spray on the street today was like slowly awakening from a dream.

I am in love here. With this place, with potential, with him. We know this unique slice of time won’t last. These days and their promise are all at once anxiety-producing and heavenly. “This was fantasy,” he said, “but now it’s reality.” Indeed, it is strange to accept this. For so long, things were much different. Before we dive into the next phase, of which we are teetering on the edge, we are taking a moment to appreciate our present.  We go to the beach often, where the temperature is miraculous. It’s so perfect, that while in its fold one does not even stop to ponder how it could be so. It just is. The sea, the sky, the air: it coexists and mixes here in ways not found elsewhere. Like sunny days after the rain, it’s appreciated.

Bittersweet 2012.

This pretty painting was in the office at work.

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Note: I did not intend to write (another) novella-length post. One of my New Year’s resolutions should be better editing control. But it’s not the new year yet, so..

It’s a cool, rainy New Year’s Eve in San Antonio. Because it stays green here, winter days like this remind me a bit of Seattle in the spring.

I am in a reflective mood these days for a lot of reasons. I know we won’t be in San Antonio much longer, and I already find myself getting a little pre-nostalgic. Having said that, we are so, so ready to move on. This past year has been one of the most challenging of my life, and one I’m sure I’ll look back on someday and remember with a mix of positive and negative emotions. 2012 was the first full year of my living here, and living with Peter. Over the years before we met, both of us had grown quite accustomed to doing everything on our own, so I guess it’s a testament to how much we love each other that we’ve been able to transition into this new domestic life pretty easily. Having a sense of humor, being each other’s best friend, knowing when to give space, but remembering that we are a team, I think, are the ingredients that helped get us through this most unusual time. As Peter said one day, in a poetic mood, that because of external circumstances, our relationship so far has been like “learning to drive in Wisconsin in the winter. It can only get easier from here.”

I share a lot on this blog, but I want to respect the fact that Peter is a private person. What he’s been dealing with, in a nutshell, is taking on the role as a full-time caregiver for his father here in San Antonio for more than two years. We recently learned that his dad does not have much time left, maybe only weeks. Someday, perhaps,  I can write about what a privilege it has been to spend this year getting to know his father, whose mind is sharper than just about anyone’s I know, but whose body is failing him in every possible way. For now, I just can’t. But to be able to support Peter during this time, and assist this family that’s been so good to me feels like it has been my calling, my role to play over the past 15 months. Even with the stress, and living here in a city that’s far from ideal for me, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Besides the situation with Peter’s father, the last few months have presented some other challenges, one after another, to the point where I was convinced the universe was trying to tell me something. For most of this year, my parents have been vacillating between staying together and not, between moving and not. As their only child, this indecision is particularly difficult to live with. Then recently, our Seattle condo rental fell through at the last minute, for bizarre reasons I won’t get into here. However, this is probably for the best, since we are unsure of our exact moving timeline. At this point, we are looking more at March than February.

Then, my aunt passed away in November, and two weeks later, so did a co-worker, of the exact same type of cancer. Both of them had been diagnosed only the month before. Life seemed more fragile to me than it ever had. But there are bright spots to focus on, lessons to take away. I think of this co-worker often: not her death, but her life. She radiated an inner peace and spirituality that I envied. She laughed a lot. She talked to everyone with a smile. She often seemed carefree, without being frivolous. Yes. Filed under “Things to Remember.” “Ways to Be.” And when attending my aunt’s funeral last month, I was reminded of this amazing extended family I have. People I should talk to more, cousins leading amazing lives all over the country. I was proud to introduce Peter to all of them, all of these fascinating people I am lucky enough to call my family.

And now, the year’s good things:

Visits!

On the State Capitol grounds in Madison, June.

On the State Capitol grounds in Madison.

Visits are the best, especially when they are to or from my mom. Sometimes it’s really hard to be away from her so much. In the future, we plan on making living closer a priority. She visited me in February and September, and I went back home to Madison in June and October. I love my hometown so much more when I’m there visiting. It’s a great place to be from, but I am quite sure I am done living there. The best parts? The people. Seeing my mom and dad, best friends from college, other relatives, and extreme happy hours with my beloved old co-workers.

Madison.

Madison in June.

Trips!

Peter surveying our land outside the Round Top B&B.

Peter surveying our land outside the Round Top B&B.

1. Texas road trips: Austin in April. Round Top in August. Both trips were pretty amazing. I find that once we get outside of San Antonio, I actually kind of like a lot of Texas.

Austin does good slush.

Austin does good slush.

1a.) Peter, his dad and I spent a weekend in Round Top for a classical piano concert and the art galleries. It is a truly amazing little place. And I mean LITTLE. Population 80. The sense of tranquility there was indescribable, like going back in time. I’ve never been a country girl, but I can see why people like it. When you get away from just about everything, you remember who you are, and you pay attention to what’s directly in front of you, even if it’s just a quiet breeze rustling through a 100-year-old oak tree. Texas, you have really, really nice trees.

Canoeing in Austin

Canoeing in Austin.

1b.) Austin, I have a not-so-secret crush on you. It’s not hard to see why: Austin reminds me of all of my favorite familiarities of my hometown: huge university, state capitol, tons to do outdoors, and oh, did I mention The Onion is available here? But it’s also different: things are huge in a proud Texas way: roads, shops, even the bars. The live music choices are endless, an Austin stereotype, but a well-founded one. We randomly ended up at the Continental Club one night, and we were treated to some of the best live (country-ish) music I’ve ever heard. Peter and I had a magical three-night stay at a guesthouse tucked away in the rolling hills just outside of downtown. The owner was a music producer/filmmaker with a big, gentle dog who visited us in our house quite often. We canoed in the serenely beautiful Lady Bird Lake (more of a river), disturbing about 500 snapping turtles sunning themselves on logs along the banks. We mini-golfed. (I won both the easy and hard courses. Hidden talent.) We ate at a pizza parlor. We enjoyed delicious, hipster-made slushies from a food cart. It was a real vacation. We probably would have visited more if it wasn’t for the horrendous traffic between San Antonio and Austin.

Feeling quite at home in Austin.

Feeling quite at home in Austin.

1c.) We swam in the ocean this year, two times, over the 4th of July weekend and in September, on Padre Island near Corpus Christi. Whenever I am in the ocean feeling childlike euphoria and buoyancy, and the perfect Gulf temperature, and salty wind, and Peter holding my hand as we jump through waves, I think, “why don’t we swim in the ocean more?” We, the collective we, as humans, should swim in the ocean more than we do. It is very, very good for the soul.

At the beach in Corpus Christi at the end of June.

At the beach in Corpus Christi at the end of June.

THESE PEOPLE.

THESE PEOPLE.

2. THREE trips to Seattle: one on the train from Los Angeles in January (highly recommended), one in July for Lindsae and Steve’s wedding (and seeing Amy! and Stephanie!), and one in October to start getting our move in order. To be continued…

In L.A. at Olvera Street.

In L.A. at Olvera Street.

Malibu from the train. The only problem is you can't get out and go play.

Malibu from the train. The only problem is you can’t get out and go play.

Arty Things!

For most of this year, I worked at a small contemporary art museum in San Antonio. I’ll be honest, this city intimidates me because it is just so different than what I’m used to, and so much about it is outside my comfort zone. So being able to creep into the arts scene here, even in a small way, was a big step for me. When I started, I didn’t think I’d be working in arts education, let alone developing programs (this is what happens when you have about five full-time staff members and one of them leaves), but it turned out that I kind of loved it. Another note to self, for future reference: “Just try it.”

At Mission San Jose in February.

At Mission San Jose in February.

Other arty things? Helping out Peter in his art studio. Going to galleries, museums, and missions. Outdoor festivals. Buying art. Taking photos. Pinning pretty Pinterest pictures. In some form, I like to keep art a daily part of my life.

Unexpected art in S.A.

Unexpected art in S.A.

Resolutions for 2013: I’m not stating any specific resolutions. The lists in my life do plenty to remind me of everything that should be done. But in 2013, this is what I will try to be mindful of: do more, think less, be less anxious, don’t plan excessively. You’d think after all this time and all these surprises you should know that over-preparing is a sometimes useless venture.

Pike Place deliciousness.

Pike Place deliciousness.

Once we get through this tough patch, there’s a lot of things I’m excited about that are coming up: a couple big trips in the works, hopefully starting a new job, and, of course, moving across the country (again). Seattle, see you soon (again).

Happy, happy New Year.

Paradiiiiise.

Paradiiiiise.

Instagram: the best part of my day (and a museum’s best friend).

You know that oft-quoted line from John Lennon, about how life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? These are wise words. I need to keep them in mind a lot more, or possibly even have a poster made of it (like, with a picture of cat playing with a ball of yarn and a thought bubble above his head showing a scratching post). You see, I have been planning for the future, pretty much daily, the entire time that I have been living in San Antonio. Some of this planning is necessary; especially in light of our upcoming move to Seattle. I like to think of this obsessive planning as doing my future self a favor. But what about my current self? I focus on everything but the present. I might even say I am uncomfortable with the present. I don’t know if it’s being born into a time and place with literally limitless options and endless distractions, but lately I tend to feel like there is always something more, or something different than whatever it is I am doing at that moment. First-world problems, right?  Why am I incapable of giving myself a break and letting myself enjoy this singular time and place? Being present, meditating, living in the moment: these are things I’ve never been good at. I want to change: to overcome the anxiety that comes with being comfortable with me, as I am today, whenever today is. 

As I said, I’m no good at meditation (restless, lack discipline, etc.), but there are other ways to achieve the same mindfulness of “now.” While I’m busy with any of these tasks, it is my goal to just focus on the one thing I am doing, and do it well.

1. Knitting. Getting off of the computer, and making something tangible, even if it’s just a bunch of scarves. The mind is still active, but pleasantly distracted. The hands are busy, so there’s not much else I feel like I could be doing. Who wants a scarf? I recently mastered stripes.

2. Walking, now that it’s not 100 degrees, is another good mind-clearing activity/exercise. But. I find myself feeling more and more like a local when I’m on the riverwalk: annoyed with slow-moving tourists and their strollers. Perhaps it’s a good exercise in patience, another virtue in which I lack.

3. Art projects are another way to focus my jumbled energies. I have been asking my boyfriend Peter to teach me some techniques. He pretty much says I can discover my own “visual language” through just making marks on the paper. I’ve never been drawn to the sketchpad like he has been, though. My right brain creativity is more connected with the verbal left brain. Which is why he and I have had, for years, the idea to do be a writer-illustrator team. We did try it a few times in the past, although I guess others have had the motivation to follow through before we did.

4. Photography. Not the “real” kind, that actual photographers do. Not the kind I used to do when I worked as a museum collections photographer in Madison. No, just me and my iPhone, out in the world. This device, that is always with me, has become the mode of documenting my life over the last year here in San Antonio. More than any activity, taking photos, by definition, puts me in the moment. I never really thought about what taking these photos means to me, until I read this last week on an inspiring blog I follow:

And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, “How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?” And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, “Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?” The wonder of it was, I told them that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something I hadn’t known was important will leap out and hover there in front of me, saying I am— I am the best moment of the day. I noticed two people were writing down what I was saying. Often, I went on, it’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking across a parking lot and admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed across the windshield. I thought, Ah, of course— I’d forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. “And that’s my secret, such as it is,” I said.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

This is from August, when we stayed at a farmhouse built in 1881. Being in the middle of nowhere was exactly what I needed. At this moment, the light in our room was cast from prisms, and that, combined with the quiet outside made me extremely happy.

Even though this excerpt is about poetry, it can really be about any creative pursuit: making art out of the inspiration that is received from an ordinary day. This makes sense to me: I do use these photos to capture something fleeting from my day; maybe what I choose to capture even is the best part of my day. Having a camera with me all the time now does allow for the creation of a legitimate photographic journal. But more than the journal, the poetry, whatever, the thing that holds me in the moment is the act of capturing the scene. What am I drawn to photograph? It could be a pretty vista, or someone who is with me, but often it is just something I see that I like and can’t explain it anymore than that. It’s the way the evening light hits an industrial building. The way a flowering plant looks extra beautiful against a gray wall. It’s the small things that often make up the best moment of the day; we all know this. As I sit here, always making plans for the future, this is what is happening is right now, whatever that happens to be.

And, the best part of having a documentary device always with me? Because the iPhone is actually a tiny computer, these photos can be shared through the magic of Instagram. The act of taking a photo, formalizing it as a portrait through the filters, and then sharing it: it’s a form of sharing visual poetry, isn’t it? We’re social. We want to share. I like Twitter, but sometimes the endless links and hashtags and words become too much to process. Instagram is the visual Twitter, a way to say “I was here” or to express a visual ideal.

Which brings me to this, because my brain is always jumping around: I have worked in several museums, and I can’t think of a better use of social media than Instagram for cultural institutions. First off, there are suddenly a LOT of people using it. The potential audience is huge. As museums become more and more social entities, there should be more of them on Instagram. And the museums who already use it could be using it even more creatively.

Museums are visual institutions and Instagram is a visual social resource: they are a natural fit. Using the app should be a main component of a good social media and marketing plan. Of course we know the photographic quality is not archival. That’s what museum photographers and archives are for. This is about social engagement and a moment in time. It should be a fun and irreverent way to engage visitors and followers and to start discussions.

The best ways for museums to use Instagram? Show off the collections. Give us behind-the-scenes shots. Use it to promote exhibits and events. Ask questions, start an artistic dialogue. Keep a consistent visual language, to use Peter’s phrase. Use it once or twice every day.

I took this photo during the first few minutes into the first education program I coordinated, back in June. I was nervous. I wanted it to be successful. These young teens were filling out a contemporary art guide I wrote, and just seeing young people engaging with art was a good feeling that morning.

Here’s a list of some creative arts organizations and artists to follow. Some of my personal favorite photographers that I follow? Yvette Inufio, Jasmine Fitzwilliam, Andy Spade, and Marie, in addition to lots of others. And, if you want to see some of my favorite daily moments, follow me. When we move from San Antonio, I am going to be really glad I have a visual record of this past year.

Is This My Life?

The title of this post could be run through as an exercise in inflection and every version would feel appropriate at a certain point of each day. Is this my life? Is this my life? And so on. At the moment, at this moment, I am torn between just living–being OK, handling it, accepting, dealing, BEING–and trying to figure out how to get somewhere, do something, BE someone more. More.
This time of year it’s so easy to let go of it all, grab something warm to drink, and avoid everything. Escape into endless naps and countless old movies, and big, thick, deliciously diverting books. It’s not healthy, really, but as far as it allows me to cope and not go crazy, well, then it’s a little bit healthy. It’s not practical, let’s just say that.

Mostly I’m a capable person. But Things Overwhelm Me. Easily. Often.
This blog somehow became one of those Things.

So here’s a little post to break that tension.

Last week I went to the history center with a very old friend. She’s a special person. I have never been a very steady friend for her. But luckily she was up for an outing.
The exhibition–which we were both looking forward to very much–was one of those that seems as if a text book exploded on the walls. There were few objects. The text pertaining to to the objects was vague, general, not specific, and often didn’t tell a specific story. The words were dense and formal. Luckily, my friend has a passion for the subject and and she had wonderful stories for each section of the exhibition. She would read a panel and say “Oh, they left off an interesting part,” and then she would recount the tale and I would exclaim, “WHY didn’t they lead with that tidbit?!”

I won’t rant about the shortfalls of the exhibition, but between the two of us we wondered aloud why the designers made the decisions they did. And I am curious. Why? Why walls of text? Why organize it in that fashion? Why leave the interactive elements to the very end? Why use such formal language? Why not use some of those engaging and interesting stories my friend remembered from her own research?

And finally – remind me why I’m not working at a museum?

Personal Objects, Personal Histories

The almost-empty studio. We are ensured a full security-deposit, yaaaay.

I don’t follow my horoscope, but if Fall 2012 for Leo were to be accurate, it would include something along the lines of: “A great change is in store” or, to be more specific: “You will pack up many old belongings. Including your high school mixtapes. And your eighth-grade graduation dress. And your My Little Ponies. In their stable. And you will also assist your boyfriend in cleaning out his art studio, which is not quite as much fun as it sounds.”

For the past few weeks, that has been my life. Coincidentally, my parents are moving at about the same time as Peter and me, so that means a lot of sorting, giving away, and packing the objects that make up different times of my life. As someone whose education and career path has dealt with objects as markers of history (art history and museums), looking through ones’ own personal belongings as a measure of personal history is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s the organizational, collection-manager in me- always having the desire to neatly record- that longs to use the collections at hand- our personal collections- to tell a story. I want to document it all, maybe if only virtually. Peter wants to do this, too, but as a painter, printmaker, “modifier of found objects (?)” and carpenter, his focus is on 3D, live-action display and exhibitions. In our world, the interpretation of our personal histories would be suspect, tongue-in-cheek, and embellished. Memory is filtered and flawed anyway, so why not exploit its very nature? The labels and text would be an art project, a creative writing experiment unto itself.

The idea is presumptuous; who cares about any of these things we have accumulated besides us? But yet, we are here, now. What is the point of saving all of this, of creating art, of creating anything? We all want to live forever. Maybe this is why we, as humans, hold onto things. We all want all this stuff of ours to live forever, and through it, us.

I found this. It reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie. I am quite sure I performed no special feats as a member of the school safety patrol, but that might not stop me from writing about the object as if I had.

But back to reality. Before any of these projects could ever happen, we are serving as our own collection managers: boxing all this up, we are saving it, for something. And oh, is it boxed up. For better or worse, Peter and I are professionally-trained museum professionals, so our packing standards are pretty high. I worked at a historical society, but he, you know, packed actual Calders and Picassos, when he worked for an art-handling company in Chicago, so he wins. He is a serious packer. It doesn’t mean our things are quite up to those standards, but let’s just say our (his) system would be approved by the Smithsonian.

In the meantime, I can rest assured that our collections are safe and dry and climate-controlled and ready for whatever the next step is. Probably, most of our things will just end up on bookshelves and closets, not photographed, or cataloged, or serving as the subject of half-true personal mythologies on wall text and brochures. But you never know.

My dad, a musician, collects records. Someday I actually, really and truly do want to inventory and catalog them, and also store them in a way that they are happy.

Our Band Name Would Be “Bars and Bar Culture”

No, we didn’t derail. Maybe we took some detours, laid down some fresh tracks and ended up here. Maybe when the conductor said, “all aboard,” we were buying candy bars or cold beer at the station. Maybe I should stop with the train metaphors. It’s just that this blog title took on new meaning, since I notice that now it’s September, 2012.

A & A were recently in the same place again for a few days, attending the wedding of our lovely friend Lindsae in Seattle. A couple weeks later, Amy sent me a text, essentially asking if I wanted to get the band back together. I say “band” because it sounds cooler than “blog.” Maybe this will be the reunion tour?

So yes, it’s been more than two years since our last post. Since then, I find myself living in Texas, a place that feels like a different country at times, but luckily I have my best friend and the love of my life, Peter, at my side now.  I’ve been working at a small contemporary art center, mostly on education programming.  After previously working in museum collections (aka basements), it’s been refreshing to see six-year-olds squeal with excitement over getting to make their own kinetic sculpture. Amy is dividing her time between nonprofits in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Minnesota takes the arts (and nonprofits) seriously, and there is never enough time to see and experience everything on offer. We are both doing are best to bloom where we are planted.

A lot has changed for both Amy and myself since 2010, but one thing hasn’t: we want to use this blog to keep in touch, for our musings and muse-ings (that’s museum-related posts- don’t worry, I don’t think we’ll actually call them “muse-ings”), photography, inspiration, storytelling, and capturing the “time-spirit” of our lives right now. I would use the word “zeitgeist,” but since I don’t speak German, I think the English translation is perfectly lovely. [Amy’s note: You DID just use the term “zeitgeist.” Right there.]

Amy really likes the Minnesota State Fair, MN music, craft beer, and hats.

San Antonio living: our patio. All of the non-succulents are not pictured because we failed to realize only cactus-types will survive if you go away for the weekend any time between April and November.