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.

Writing: The Meta Edition

It’s Sunday, not quite afternoon, and I have ideas- more than ideas- lists!- for post after post on this blog. If I know Amy, she does, too.  But then I think, I’ll go get a coffee first. Then I’ll start my novella. But instead, I spend 20 minutes in a Pinterest daze. I’ll make more lists. I might cross off a few things.

How do people balance life + writing? Life takes up a lot of time and energy, that’s for sure, leaving little room to process all the events, decisions, non-decisions, and loose ends. What I should do is process it all through the writing. As Amy said, just get it out there.

I have good intentions. I start things. I make lists and outlines. I subscribe to writing blogs and save articles about writing. I read books and blogs that I deem inspirational. But I end up comparing it all to me and getting frustrated. I end up with nothing to show for it.

Maybe I don’t even need all those tips and articles. My good intentions could simply be ways of procrastinating.

One of these days. A prolific stream will flow from brain to fingers, and it will not be stopped.

At least, that’s how I used to write. From ages seven (when I mastered basic spelling and sentence structure, sort of) until I was about 19 or 20, I just wrote. It defined me. I was a writer. I’m not saying a great writer, but if a writer is simply defined by someone who writes– well, that was me. I didn’t look back much, but by my senior year of high school I had developed enough discipline to sit down and edit a little. But for the most part, I just put pen to paper and kept on going. I filled up notebook after notebook. Some are journals, most are short stories or other fiction of the unfinished type.

Less than two weeks from now, I am making a journey to Madison for the specific task of boxing up and cleaning out what remains of my childhood bedroom. What remains, for the most part, are several heavy boxes-worth of all my writings. Perhaps some of these works will be scan- and blog-worthy, although I wouldn’t count on it. I hope that when I see all of this, I won’t get bogged down with reading- it won’t be great, I know that- precocious, yes, but not great. Instead, I just hope to be reminded of who I am. That is someone who has always written, but can no longer really call herself a writer if she doesn’t write much anymore. I’m not sure what happened- if life got in the way, especially all-consuming relationships, or if college snuffed the fun out of it, or if -more likely- the internet did (thank God I grew up without the internet!), but I am making a declaration here today that I want to call myself a writer again.

And when I’m in my hometown, maybe I’ll peruse this tiny library for inspiration. Photo by me, from the last time I visited Madison, back in June.

On Treading Water, and Knowing When to Start Swimming.

Let this serve as my attempt at a companion post to Amy’s thought-provoking recent discussion on the importance of participation, and the feelings of negativity that can prevent involvement. My story is similar, but different, in that it’s about knowing when to move on from something that just isn’t working. It’s about living in a place that you have attempted to connect with, but can’t, and how this lack of connection prevents participation. It’s about doing yourself a favor, because as Amy said, life is short, and feels shorter still when you’re not happy with your present situation.

San Antonio, my home for the last year, can be a solitary place for someone not from the area. In many ways, it is very much like a small town even though it’s vast and sprawling. It is an old city with old roots and everyone seems to know everyone else- that is, if you’re from here. I have nothing against small towns- I’ve always loved driving through them, even if it means taking the longer route. But I never wanted to live in one, or anything that felt like one. I wanted access to choice.

This city doesn’t provide a lot of choices. There is a sense of stagnancy, something that a handful of native San Antonians have even acknowledged while talking with me. It is a tourist town, but in very small pockets. The downtown is small and offers very little to locals. An example: there is not one single grocery store downtown, not for miles. And for a supposedly huge city, where are all the people downtown? Not an exaggeration, most of the time it looks like the zombie apocalypse just hit our neighborhood. Excluding the riverwalk, the downtown has almost as many empty storefronts as lively ones. The lack of development is, frankly, depressing. Outside the downtown (except for the very exclusive “09” zip code area), there are miles and miles of (often seedy) strip malls in every direction, the hot Texas sun beating down and slowing the pace to barely-moving. Not only is change slow, so are repairs to roads, neighborhoods, and most other visible social problems. A disproportionate number of neighborhoods are meccas of violence and gang culture. Like other major cities, there is extreme poverty and also extreme wealth, but the dichotomy seems more blatant and disconcerting than in other cities.

And there’s another thing I can’t quite get over: the whole lack of regulations (hello red state), especially with regard to the environment. When living in Madison or Seattle, I didn’t give much thought to being “green.” I was never one of those preachy environmentalists because it wasn’t necessary. Recycling was obvious and easy. I didn’t even have a car; I walked everywhere or took the bus. There were places to walk to. The transit was good. Here? Pretty much no one, including businesses, recycles. Most people don’t walk anywhere by choice. The public transit is severely lacking.  Owning a new vehicle, to the detriment of other life expenses, is a badge of honor. The bigger the gas-guzzling car, the better, in Texas.

The bottom line is, as native midwesterners, both my boyfriend Peter and I feel discouraged here. We get frustrated with the lack of energy, lack of creativity, lack of education (only 24% of SA residents have a college degree), low wages, the snail pace, and the weirdly defensive attitude. And we’re not the only ones. This article, and the comments, really hones in on what I’m trying to explain about the city. It’s a feeling we get here, an undercurrent of an odd sadness and, sorry, but a “lameness” that the city is strangely content with. And maybe most importantly, on friendship or even finding like-minded acquaintances? It’s been next to impossible for both of us.

I know I must sound whiny, and truly, I don’t mean to use this post to complain and badmouth a city. These are simply my musings on living somewhere that is different from what I am used to, and my personal reaction to it. This reaction, for the most part has been negative, but that’s okay. In a way, I think it’s been good for personal growth: it has opened my eyes to different parts of this huge country of ours: different ways to do the same thing, a different set of values. Living here has been the kind of challenge that my grandparents might have called “character-building.” I also don’t mean to make it sound like I hadn’t been provided with any opportunity: I am so glad I got involved with a local contemporary art center, especially working in education, with kids who don’t have a lot of those kinds of offerings in their schools. I am proud of my time here and feel that I’ve made a difference in some small way in the year I’ve been here.

And, of course, the city itself has plenty of positives; I would recommend to all my friends that they visit San Antonio at least once. The history here is OLD by American standards, almost reminiscent of European cities in certain areas of downtown. There is fantastic landscaping on the riverwalk, which we are lucky to live near. Now that the weather is cooling, my morning walks next to the river, in the heavily perfumed southern air, energize me for the rest of my day. At night, the riverwalk’s lights can be truly magical, and it was a lovely backdrop to many of my early dates with Peter. The winter, or lack-thereof, was a welcome respite from the snowy months I’m used to. And one of my favorite art museums of all-time is here: The McNay. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, their art collection, building and grounds are a must-see. The King William historic district, and really all of Southtown is a little pocket of the city I enjoy, both for walkability and the little strip of bars and restaurants.  Another San Antonio favorite? We go to the grocery store, Central Market, way too much, but it beats any store I’ve encountered anywhere else I lived. Oh, and the avocados (one of my very favorite foods ever) compared to the north? Not even a competition. Consistently amazing here. Another silly little perk that puts a smile on my face: the wild geckos in my neighborhood. They are my new favorite creature, with sensitive little faces and bodies that change color. Here’s one I met while having a drink outside! So yes. San Antonio is a great place to visit, and I don’t regret my time here at all.

I call you Ferdinand.

But the truth is– we know we don’t belong here. We didn’t move here here initially for work, although I am thankful I found an arts-related job here. No, we’re here for family- specifically, Peter’s father, who is ill. But circumstances changed, and his dad, who is now in a bit more stable health, senses our growing frustration. He wants us to start the rest of our lives in a place where we feel comfortable. Of course, we have reservations about leaving him here, but thorough arrangements are being made that puts his dad’s best interests and health care in mind. He’s living in a great place, and is taking steps to receive more home health care that will improve his quality of life. He is excited for us, and as a parent, wants nothing more than to see his son happy. So yes, we have put in motion our plans to move back to Seattle. This is a city that is perfectly “me.” Peter, in his few trips there with me, feels the same way. And luckily, with regards to the move, things seem to be falling into place.

View of the city from West Seattle. And clouds, of course. Clouds love Seattle almost as much as I do.

Of course, we know that moving isn’t an instant solution to all of life’s problems. But we also know that pursuing happiness, in this case, requires living somewhere with more opportunities. We know we don’t want to start career-track jobs in San Antonio, or buy a house here, or do any of the things here that we plan to do in the future. No, we’re not doing a great job at “blooming where we’re planted,” but we’ve given it a try and know that for us, the best thing is to move on. We’re not oblivious to the fact that we’re lucky enough to be able to move where we want. I know, on this earth, there is such a small percentage of people who can just pick a city and start over. We’re grateful, and so we want to take advantage of this opportunity. My hope is that this doesn’t come across as selfish, or entitled. I hope, instead, is that this storyline is viewed more about balancing the needs of others and the needs of yourself, and knowing when you have to do what’s right for you and your own future.

Vent session over. I will lighten the mood ASAP. But still, I wanted to use this early post of Train is Lost (version 2.0) to explain my recent past and my present situation, and also to provide the background for future posts. With that, I will sign off and leave on a positive note: with a stellar example of the Texas art scene I was lucky enough to be involved with. 

Really amazing found-object sculpture by Dallas-based artist George Tobolowsky.

In the Interest of Participation, Throwing Perfection Out the Window

There are certain things I look for in a blog. There are so many out there competing for my attention – life is too short, even for an autodidact who would like nothing better than a life spent ingesting information found online. Anyway, my personal high standards have kept me from publishing, or even writing anything for far too long. I read, I comment, I share the thoughts of others, but more and more there is a feeling that I’m missing out by not allowing myself to share my own thoughts and experiences. 

So here it goes. An experiment in just getting it OUT THERE. Hoping that people won’t judge me as harshly as I imagine they will. Here is my first sketch of a blog post.

As our intro post explains, I’m back in my home state, bouncing back and forth between Minneapolis and Saint Paul and slowly involving myself with the nonprofit world. The Twin Cities have an amazingly rich arts scene, the museums, music, art and culture offer so many opportunities. Every week there are so many concerts and shows and exhibitions and experiments. One that crossed my path is an arts ambassador program called Theoroi. It’s the brain child of The Schubert Club, an arts organization with a long tradition of nurturing musical performance in Saint Paul. The 2012 – 2013 season of Theoroi includes music, dance, and theater performances at some of the many excellent venues the Twin Cities house. The first event was a Delfeayo Marsalis show at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, and as soon as I make sense of my jumbled notes and distill my varied emotions, you can expect a post describing that experience.

Going back to participation, though I have always been glued to the internet, over the past year my interaction waned. Self consciousness and negativity held me back from interacting with all but my closest friends. Shutting myself off from the world makes little sense, especially when I think back to how isolated I felt in Baltimore. Isolation fed loneliness, fed feelings of insignificance, and a disgusting spiral of lameness kept me from reaching out. Back in Minnesota, surrounded by people who know me well and who call me on it when I start to retreat from society, I’ve decided to focus on the social. Step one was actually being SOCIAL on social media. Tweeting, conversing, commenting, putting good out and taking in the interesting, positive and fun.

Step two was involving myself with some local arts organizations and seeking mentors. I’ve connected with some wonderful, passionate, fun people. Building up a network of mentors and friends has been easier than I imagined, but my old friendships suffered, and now comes the difficult task of balancing old and new, professional and social, not neglecting and not taking on too many projects.

A few weeks ago I attended the Minnesota Association of Museums annual meeting and it was a revelation. Finding a place in the museum community has always felt like a insurmountable challenge, as I’m interested in all subjects and all areas – science, history, art, collections, education, technology. But I realized–talking with people, listening, attending sessions–that my dream to focus on visitors, community, education and technology is not as impossible as it seemed in 2008. This is hopefully a teaser to another post about the meeting and about this revelation.

I’m not a multitasker by nature, but focusing on one group of friends, one type of music, one genre of books, one city, one professional focus has never appealed to me. So it’s time to figure out how to balance it all and not exhaust myself with the effort. Letting go of perfection and pushing myself to participate will hopefully help me find balance and momentum.

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.

My Fault, I’m Female, or, Things Amy Thinks About

This week I discovered the My Fault, I’m Female blog and also caught a report on Current TV about mail order brides. The common thread, beyond men behaving badly/sexism, is that a lot more men than I realized are still idealizing the concept of the submissive women, expecting or wishing women would conform to this role. Me being me, my mind has been whirring, and my thoughts ended up going in two different directions. One, sexist humor (even the mild stuff that I find funny) is really not helping men (or women) and their concept of self in a modern world. I know that humor is funny, it’s fun, it’s not serious, that current thought is that as long as a comedian is making fun of his or her own culture or gender OR is attacking everyone and everything with equal zeal it is okay, but as with many other issues that are fodder for comedy, sexism and gender relations are still serious problems. Joking about it lets people acknowledge its presence and then move on without actually addressing the issue, and for people who take jokes at face value, it can be dangerous (because I know lots of comedians consider jokes as catalysts for thought on social issues, but let’s face it, lots of people in the audience just don’t think beyond the surface).

Two, I wonder if we focus too much on empowering women and teaching them how to be strong and smart in a modern way and not enough on helping men understand why a strong and smart woman is good for the world and for them (as men, as lovers, as fathers and as friends). I know this isn’t a new idea (pretty sure my gender studies textbook had a whole chapter on how feminism hurt the male concept of self/ego) but I’ve spent more time thinking about it (and feeling a bit bad for those misguided men). I could go on and on in either of these directions, but I’d really like to hear what others think about these ideas. That said, my encounters with men have been very positive lately, and I hope that continues. Let’s hear it for the very polite men who have boosted my ego with such passing compliments as “You look really nice!” and “I just had to tell you, your outfit really works!” and “Hello! Have a nice day!”