Can and can’t

I wish I’d managed to push back in the moment, but somehow I just couldn’t pull together something quickly enough that would have sunk into little self-doubting ears. It broke my heart though. She seems a little young for the “creativity slump,”* but there are late bloomers and early birds in all things.

Does an uncontested statement like this begin it?

Then again, I know so, so many grown-up artists who struggle with this very thing. People who are fabulously successful and established in the illustration world will walk away from a table full of not-quite-there-yet ideas and say over a midday coffee, “I can’t draw.” They’ll think it to themselves as they try to find something to send to the editor at the end of the day. They’ll think it when they see someone else’s masterful solutions. They’ll think it if they get a weird email from an art director.

But “can’t” is a dangerous word. For one thing, it’s inaccurate — the fact that you are drawing anything at all disproves it. “Can” and “can’t” refer to rudimentary ability.

What this little girl — and many grown-ups — mean when they say “can’t” is actually something very different. They mean, “I am not making GOOD drawings when I draw,” which is something equally dangerous, if not completely irrelevant.

It’s weird — just an hour before this happened I had taken a picture of something this girl had drawn and sent it to Anthony because I loved it so much. I wish I had remembered this in the moment, so I could talk to her about it. So I could say, yes I have seen your drawings! I think they are expressive and alive and really tell good stories!

I am thinking of writing a quick note to this gal to explain about can / can’t, and maybe mention Ben Shahn or some of Picasso’s drawings, and Who Gets To Decide What Is Good, and To Be Drawing Means You Are Doing Good Drawing.

This will all probably end up expanded into a feature, like the Fennel Story, but for now I wanted to make a point. It all starts with drawing.

*(Here’s a great resource to combat this slump, which I wish I had read before I heard her “can’t” — I will hereafter and commit it to memory.)

Charlottesville

I have been noticing with this thing, just as in the aftermath of the election, an uptick of posts along the lines of “if you disagree with me about [x], unfriend me!” or, “If you think [Tiki Klan] is okay, unfriend me!”

While I understand the emotion behind the sentiment, I am troubled in general by this ‘unfriend’ me idea re: you don’t think the way I do. It encourages tribe mentality, it encourages ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, it encourages the idea of certain people are throwaway people. Which is what got us here in the first place.

Because there aren’t throwaway people. There are definitely misguided people, there are frightened people, there angry violent people. But these traits are not inherent. And this is a crucial distinction, and one that means we need to keep the channels open between different kinds of people. Too many self-segregating white people is how we got where we are now — which is to say, how we stayed where we’ve always been, long before any of us were alive.

We are in the thick of the fight that is has been long in the process, years and years before any of us white people were noticing. We white people are long overdue to the hard work of dismantling paradigms and address the ways in which this country perpetuates and normalizes racism. And new people are noticing.

 

Those new people will feel upset and threatened by this. These new people are going to be struggling with white fragility long before they are able to soberly read an article explaining it. These people, newly removed from a self-image of goodness, are going to be desperately seeking belonging even as they fumble in major, obvious ways. (‘not all white people’, asking POC for education rather than educating themselves, etc.,)

We need those people to press on in their journey. And we need white supremacists to start recognizing these truths and begin their own journeys. It is hard uphill work. Especially during an administration that is actively inhibiting groups that work hard to deradicalize extremist individuals.

This hard work was not lost on the friend who posted this ‘unfriend me’ meme.
“I lack the emotional bandwidth to deal with folks in my social media sphere in addition to my professional life and personal life,” my friend told me.

And on the one hand, I get that. This guy is a leftist political radical, and does a lot of good work.

On the other hand, it reminded me of something a very different friend said to me once when I called them out on their racist joke, again via private message. I am too busy raising my family to get mixed up in all that.

And at the time, I didn’t know enough to point out that the ability to not have the conversation at all — the ability to just say ‘no thank you’ to those hard thoughts — was itself a shining example of the privilege they possessed and had all their life taken for granted.

I know now. And I try to bring that to the table now when I come knocking.

The burden of educating ignorant white people is on us white people, not POC.
POC are too busy trying to survive this.
POC aren’t going to be taken seriously by a doubting white person.
POC are too angry.
POC are the ones who truly lack the emotional bandwidth.
It’s spent and spent each and every day in every moment of living in what many call AmeriKKKa.

And.

As white people, to mirror the eugenic rhetoric of “THOSE PEOPLE are BAD” does not make the un-woke woke.
It only makes them more angry.
It only creates more factions.
It perpetuates the disease.
It perpetuates the myth that there’s only enough civil liberty for a limited group of people.

Do whatever you can, every single day.

I am not saying you personally have to radically de-radicalize the alt-right.

But what I am saying is that you need to push yourself to do your part, as a white person.
I am saying that it is your civic duty to use that privilege for good, not evil.

To ignore it entirely, to side-step the fight, to say “meh, if you don’t like what I’m saying just remove me from your precious racial-stress-free internet space,” … that is the opposite of helping.

Indifference feeds the oppressor, and oppresses the oppressed.

Her Own Wings

Not long ago I was approached by Andy MacMillian to be a part of a group show exploring Portlandia — the statue whose namesake television show is far more famous than the statue itself.

Despite the intentions of the people who commissioned the statue, she never took off as an icon of the city — she never became for us what the Statue of Liberty is for New York — in large part, it seems, because of Raymond Kaskey’s vigorous protection of his exclusive rights to the image. Arguably a wise art-business move, but in the end a misguided step in the stingy Northwest, where it was unlikely anybody was actually going to shell out the money to use her ubiquitously on mugs, t-shirts, etc., particularly after the large commission fee, funded in large part by the public.

So there she sits, atop the back of a strange building downtown, off my usual bus lines and therefore for me a completely forgettable thing despite being the second largest copper statue in the country. She is completely unrecognizable to most people, even to locals, if they haven’t managed to take a city tour or walk underneath her on fifth avenue.

Andy had been doing some research on this, and had been incensed that Portland essentially wasted a golden opportunity to personify the city with a strong female character. She is based off the woman on the city seal — itself a complicated and generally uninspiring thing because it is so cluttered up with symbols, to wit:

“… a female figure in the center thereof, representing commerce, and holding in her right hand a trident and pointing with her left to a sheaf of wheat and a forest, with a representation of Mount Hood in the background, and at her feet a cogwheel and hammer, and on her right a steamship coming into port.”

It may have been moving and thrilling in 1878, when this was written in the ordinance, but nowadays the seal just looks clunky. Tepid. All redesigns have faithfully adhered to the ordinance, but for some reason have also always been rendered like an etching, so never ends up looking modern or representative of the city in any way.

Andy wanted a fresh take on all this, so he put out a call to various artists — all women or female-identified — to take a crack at this concept and see what we could do with it.

I found it to be a weirdly difficult concept — encapsulate a whole city in a single, strong female figure. Portland has changed so much over the scant nine years I’ve lived here — and had changed a good deal long before I got here — that it’s a tricky story to speak to. After all, my Portland isn’t Chuck Palahniuk’s Portland, not by a long shot, and the Portland I found when I got here during the Great Recession is worlds away from the Little California it’s becoming now. A city that once revered its history is quickly being consumed by boxy, high-end condos, and many of my cornerstone locals have begun to seek their fortunes elsewhere. (And it so easily could have been us, lest we forget.)

So it’s not exactly a warm and gushing moment to be asked to personify your city. I think a lot more of us would have gone the route Cate Andrews went if we’d had the guts.

On the other hand, calls like this are rarely this meaty and specific. And it was stimulating to try and wrestle the concept into something visually satisfying.

In these angry and divisive times I find myself longing for redemption. For hope. And because I survived our eviction and managed to land within the city limits in a good situation, I am able to cling hard to the idea that Portland is still a good place for artists. Not absolutely everybody I know has moved to Cleveland or Detroit or Butte. There are still a lot of us here. And a robust handful of us were in this show, displaying our courage and hope.

 

 

The show is up until September 3rd at Land Gallery: 3925 N Mississippi.

If you happen to be out of town, no matter: you can still view the digital gallery and buy a print here.

Proceeds from this show go towards Call to Safety (formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line).

Of owls and podcasts

Oh hey — I’m an illustrator, remember? Sheesh, I scarcely have with all the STUFF that’s been going on. Thanks for listening. (Or ignoring, if that’s your jam. No worries.)

I’ve been working on a project with a friend of mine, who is making a thing that sorely needs to exist and I am super pumped that she is building it.

It’s hard to succinctly explain what it is, exactly, because the thing about new innovations is that the good ones fill a very specific need. And often they are so specific that explanations are clunky and fall short.

It is an aggregate for podcasts. Or rather, for the extra stuff that goes with a podcast.

By way of sideways explanation: there is a podcast, “the Hilarious World of Depression.” It was recommended to me by Meg Hunt while I was working on this project. It — the podcast — is amazing. I feel particularly “hooked” as a long time public radio fan, because the first guest is our heart’s own Peter Sagal.

I want to know everything about this show, about the things Sagal talks about in this episode, related blog entires. I want to know what else the people who are listening to this are listening to, and if news related to this podcast pops up I want to know that too.

I got hooked with Serial in the same way. I think a lot of folks did.

It’s like: I want the DVD extras to this podcast. And I’d like them all in one box. And even better if I could combine that all in one place, rather than jumping around between Stitcher, Audible, NPR1, and my (outdated, no longer actively updated) iTunes playlists (which means, for me, jumping between devices as well.) — which is the way I cobble together my podcast consumption.

…Because, if it were all in one place, then I could have a context for the thing I am about to tell you. I maybe wouldn’t even tell you, here, but rather I would just tell it to the in-app social thing, and then have that point back to my own blog entires that explain the events I refer to.

Instead I’m going through this elaborate backstory, otherwise it’s going to seem too vaguebook-y, too disconnected.

Pause.

THIS is the thing that my friend is building. A place where all of this can take place. Where all the STUFF that a podcast builds — tangental interest, blogs that reference the episode, as well as websites and such related to the podcast itself — can just flow into one big basket. Where you can talk to other users — not just an Amazon recommendation algorithm, but actual interaction with other human beings.

I am drawing some owls for it, it is going beta soon, and I hope it really takes off because I am tired of stumbling upon perfect audio illustrations of things that I feel and then having to build an entire world to explain it to someone.

In the meantime, take a breath.

This is the whole reason I am writing all this.

Here’s what struck me:

There is a moment in this episode where Sagal describes how going through a Major Awful Event dulls the other events in his life that seemed awful.

“…It also makes the other problems I’ve had seem really minor…I see all of the things that I used to obsess about and worry about — my place in hierarchies, the number of feathers I had accumulated in my cap from day to day — is utterly meaningless. Completely meaningless and not worth worrying about, because I’ve got something really serious I need to worry about.”

THIS.

THIS is something that I have felt firsthand since the 3 months of cancer, since my brother-in-law’s leg abscess, since my roommate’s heart attacks and subsequent quadruple bypass, since my no-cause eviction.

The truth of this is so real for me. It reminds me of the end of Tig Nataro’s monologue about having cancer. Because what is a bee joke to the (let’s face it) superlative nature of all this tragedy? It is so absurd that one can’t help but laugh — not because “or else we’d cry,” not because “the tears are all used up,” (there’s ALWAYS more,) but because it really is unreal. If I wrote a book right now about how things have lined up since last April an editor would send it back saying, “you are beating a dead horse, this is overkill. Try to pull it back. We’d like to see some subtly.”

I would have too.

And there certainly have been quieter, better things, and that’s what I’m spending a lot of my time doing — rooting around in the debris looking for those things, so that the narrative isn’t JUST overkill. So that the story I eventually tell is nuanced, so that it does have subtly, so that it doesn’t leave a metallic taste in your mouth like the one I’ve got. So you’d come to me for other stories. So people who go through stuff can find it and say, oh, you too? Sweet. Also, I like how that turned out for you. Or, I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through that, too. Or, I like how you managed to find meaning in all mess. Maybe I can too.

Or even just, I like that part where you just walk through the field of golden weeds and feel the wind in your hair.

Often right now when people talk to me my eyes glaze over. Or I seem like I’m on another planet. I am. It is the planet called I Have Something Serious I Need To Worry About, and I can’t be bothered by problems outside that sphere right now. Even big ones like The State Of Our Failing Nation.

Let me live on that planet. For one thing, if you pull me off too soon it isn’t going to go well for either of us. And also, finding lotuses in the manure is tricky business, and it’s something I do want to do. I’m not leaving this cesspool until I find the lotuses, damn it, because otherwise the whole experience will be filed in the THAT WAS TERRIBLE file of my brain, rather than the WOW ISN’T IT INTERESTING HOW ALL THIS LINED UP, or, GOSH I NEVER COULD HAVE IMAGINED THINGS WOULD HAVE TURNED OUT SO WELL files. I’d much rather the story live there.

Hell, I’d settle for: THAT WAS A CONSTRUCTIVE TIME IN OUR LIFE.

Anyway. 

The app is called Knolo, and I drew a bunch of owls for it. I will be hanging them up prettily in the galleries here soon, but she is currently, as of press time, best displayed on the Facebook page, which is also where you can sign up to be a beta tester.

Coffee

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I did not pop awake at 4am this morning, but instead sleepily emerged from a lovely, happy dream involving a big green field and nice friends. We were sleeping scattered about a large guest house in the dream, and in real life I was able to roll over and sleep again for several hours, which hitherto is an almost unheard of phenomenon.

There are many reasons this might be so, but I am attributing it to the very beginning of my break-up with coffee and overt caffeine, after over two decades of heavy usage.

I’ve always liked this phenomenon about myself, the strange DING that goes off in my mind and pops me awake and alert out of bed sharply in the small hours. I am a huge advocate of early morning — have been this way all my life, since way before the coffee days. I have read Ayurvedic articles that claim that the hours between 4am-6am are the best times to be awake, and I agree with them.

But. Is it also possible that this is an extension of the addiction? Because it happens even if I’ve only been asleep for a few hours, and once awake I am usually wide, wide awake and nothing can change it. On weekends I can’t lie in bed enjoying the early morning sun with my husband and cat all sprawled around me, even though just typing that makes a stern voice in me say THAT, MY DEAR, IS HEAVEN.

It is. But I can’t stay. I never stay. I get up and go downstairs to make coffee.

If I meet resistance I say if I don’t I’ll have a headache, and because caffeine is a socially encouraged substance this is agreed to and to the french press I go.

I think blood vessels are going to expand in my head, which is the thing I am groggily fixated on this morning. I will get more blood to my brain.

I am completely unremarkable in that I am a coffee-obsessed artist living in Portland, which really tells you all you need to know about me and coffee. My whole identity has been wrapped up in the bean, my friendships were formed over it. Anthony and I’s first “date” was at Martha’s, the indispensable coffee shop on our college campus, attached to one of the bookstores. Someone in high school once opined that my blood was brown, not red, for all the brown caffeine I drank at the time (both coffee and diet Dr. Pepper).

The latter I walked away from years and years ago, the former I hadn’t really ever seriously considered cutting out of my life, as caffeine is so socially sanctioned, is so a part of life, and anyway don’t you want me to get stuff done?

I have been really reevaluating that compulsion to get stuff done, though, at least at the pace modern life is going. I have already mentioned this, but it bears restating — while I pride myself in the ability to get a great deal done, I don’t know that being in constant frenetic motion is healthy. In fact, I know it isn’t. Because it wasn’t until I stopped doing that — and took a step back to asses what was happening — I found myself joylessly, mechanically going through my daily tasks — tasks heaped upon tasks — angry at every little thing, upset at every little roadblock, on edge about every single thing that wasn’t going “my” way, and isn’t my way the right way?

And I stopped because wow, that is not who I am.

And it is not who I want to turn into.

I don’t want to be the frazzled task master barking orders at people.

I want to calmly and tranquilly move forward and allow things to slot into place or fall away.

And it wasn’t until I started giving myself some space during the day that I started being able to emerge from the swampy blackness that had resulted in all the Things I’d been through.

This quiet pausing sounds a lot like meditation and someday I hope it turns into that. Right now though it’s much more structured (thinking wise). There’s a lot of mental reframing. A lot of inserting isolated incidents into larger goals. There’s draw-journaling and making triumphs out of task completion. It’s much more cluttered than a traditional sitting practice.

And a funny thing happened when I stopped drinking coffee the other day. I was headachy and listless and foggy, yes. But through the fog I also found that the ambient anxiety that more or less courses through my veins — that doubtless fuels all this joyless barking taskmaster stuff — was completely gone. At least for that day. And considering it was the day after we learned that we owe ([monthly income] x 2) on our taxes this year, whilst we are looking for a new home after our no-cause eviction, that is really saying something.

In place of the kettle shriek, the hysterical crowd chatter, instead there was just this…silence. This calm.

This was indeed my pragmatic motivation to walk away from coffee — as an anti-anxiety measure, and as a way to improve sleep. I struggle with both of those things and for many years have done almost everything everybody tells you to do to resolve those issues. Except give up coffee.

But something else happened too.

All the stress I’ve been living through accentuated a nasty sinus infection recently, and at week SIX of that madness I caved and went to the doctor for drugs. I was prescribed sudafed, and had a latte that same day on an empty stomach, and the resulting stomach cramping, shakes, nausea, metallic taste, light-headed dizziness, panic and awfulness that ensued for several hours after all this metabolized scared me off the coffee bean (and the sudafed) for a good many days. In fact, I haven’t had a cup of coffee since.

In the rosy self-affirming moments it feels all very doable. On mornings like this one however, still making coffee for my husband, dipping the scoop into the grounds, smelling the aroma I had based my entire identity on I had hoped it had been several weeks since I began this, and I check the calendar and realize it’s only been six days. March 3rd.

I tried to have one small cup of coffee last Saturday, at 7am, but one tiny sip brought back the creepy metallic taste in my mouth and that night I didn’t sleep a wink. Just now I tried to drink just the tiny bit from Anthony’s thermos and it has such a … drying effect on my pallet, and immediately sent my stomach into an outraged cramping and gurgling and left me nervously within a close radius of the bathroom, unsure where this was heading.

So it would seem I am off the stuff for good.

Moving

The man at the corner bodega called me by name yesterday, and I am a little heartbroken that it’s happened three months before we’re going to move out of this neighborhood.

I’ve lived on this corner about three years. That’s not a long time relatively speaking, but a lot happened during those years.

I was informed a week again that a long-dreaded / long-awaited renovation project will be happening to the house I live in, and it will come in the form of a no-fault eviction in June.
This is, sadly, the best of all possible scenarios, but it is still a cessation, an uprooting, and those are two things I was hoping wouldn’t meet me after last year. But as we have been waiting for a long time to learn the real mechanics of this project, in some ways it’s a relief. Now it’s tangible, actionable. We can finally make plans.
Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
I am trying not to be totally shattered by this. I’ve been remarkably resilient in the face of death, then a near-death leading to a more complicated grieving, and other heavy things. This though, this is something like my Achilles heal. As long as I have a safe, pleasant place to come back to I can endure great bleakness — and it seems we are not even to have that.
A strange tinge is added to this as this is the very same house that my friend who died lived in, the house he and I became friends in, the house where his daughter was born. (Literally. In the bathroom.) So many key pictures that get shared around our circle were taken in this house, on our porch, in our yard. A new one I’d never seen before went around minutes before I got the notice from our landlord.
I am doing that haggard thing of inventorying everything we own and weighing all options — because really so many options are on the table right now for us. But when I walk into the bathroom and see the shelves he put up and I go to pieces. Because HE put them up, and he’s dead. And soon we’ll walk away from this place and walk away some of the last things he touched, and that will be hard.
I find a voice inside me asking heartbreaking real questions.
Will his spirit be able to find us in a new house?
They are questions that don’t have answers.
I have so many questions that don’t have answers right now.

 I’m trying to shed a brighter light of some of these things. The corner bodega for instance. I get sad to think I will leave it behind — an independent business! Run by a first-generation Asian man whose name probably isn’t “John,” but who goes by that name, whose store we refer to as “John’s”. He carries the butter I like. He sells individual batteries and postage stamps. He thankfully carries Pepto Bismol, which is the thing I always think about when I walk back from there; remember that time when I ran over here and bought some Pepto so Travis could get home? We did a good job that day. 

We’ll be leaving John’s I sigh.

Then another part of me says: remember when he was robbed at gunpoint when your in-laws were in town?

And I think…yeah. I guess leaving that isn’t so bad.

Snippets of spring are coming and the house is shining with hope and potential like everything does to a gardener this time of year.

And I find myself wanting to spend as much time as possible in this house that I love and isn’t mine.

I find myself feeling as I did last year when we knew we had weeks, not years, left with this person. Whatever we got was special, sacred, worth while. I find myself thinking the same things I did that year: make the most of this. This may be all we have.

It was bracing and exhilarating then. Now as I shop for replacements on Craigslist, finding few in our budget, wondering seriously if that’s it for Portland, for us, for everything — it doesn’t feel exhilarating. It feels exhausting.

We find one out of thousands that works for the budget and it turns out they don’t allow cats. Or there’s one with a sunroom but no yard. Or there’s one that is perfect — so perfect that if I’d encountered it a year or two down the road, when we are a bit more above water, I would offer to buy it. And it is just too expensive. Not extreamely so, but just enough. Just enough for my fingers to brush up against it. Beyond my grasp.

I prick out seedlings and prep my starts because that’s what a gardner does this time of year, knowing full well that I have no where to put mature plants in April and May. That I may never have a place to put them, and may have to put my tools in storage somewhere, or sell them.

In better times it’s a mark of hope and resilience. Sometimes right now it feels like a kind of futility, like the band playing on the deck of the Titanic. Let there be beauty and light, even in the face of the swirling inevitable. Is it brave? Is it foolhardy? It depends on how much sleep you’ve had.
However. Isn’t it all inevitable, and isn’t it all just for a brief lark in the end? When I can get truly big picture about this I can regain my three months of cancer perspective and feel it is Correct and Right and Just to tend to my little seedlings, and give them every chance they’ve got.
Then I go to the grocery store and see a man walking around with mud spattered jeans and I am shattered. What will I be doing in April or May? What will happen to us?

Scenes from Winter (Tough Times Never Last)

It’s the part of winter that feels like it’s ALWAYS been winter,
She said.

reminding me of when someone else told me,

“I’m in the part of pregnancy that feels like I’ve always been pregnant.”

Endurance
and grinding toil
and holding out
and waiting
waiting waiting.

Even when we reach the destination it can seem too little too late.

Or too much.

It’s been hard, hard, hard for me. Since December.

I could attribute it to legitimate national causes, but actually it’s interpersonal.

A lot of things happened this winter. A lot of things have BEEN happening, of course. But since December a lot of other things happened. Things with close friends — friends who didn’t die and so I cannot freely tell the stories. Not directly anyway.

I will say that one was a brush with death. A major one. A narrow escape. On the tail end of a tragedy we very narrowly escaped another one.

This was actually the THIRD major medical crisis since April, the third time someone I am extremely close to could have died, or almost died. (Or did die, as with Travis.)

Three brushes with death in nine months is rather a lot for a person not living in an active war-zone.

There were other things, too.

These things didn’t happen to me, but came blasting through me. And a month later I washed up on shore, caught up with my external self, and was filled with wonder and sorrow and, for the first time, felt the sharp pang of despair.

I’ve found myself doing things I’d never, ever done before even in my darkest times — finding myself unable to get out of bed, succumbing to numerous strange bodily ailments, feeling no hunger whatsoever, and unable to draw anything, which for me is very, very strange indeed.

I find that I am so disconnected that I scarcely know what I think about the whole thing when I am at my best, and when I am at my worst I am merely blinded by anger, or sometimes sorrow, often fear, and am petrified with dread. (About what has already happened, what MIGHT have happened, and what MIGHT HAPPEN in the coming days.)

These feelings sync up so nicely with the political situation that I often don’t explain it, I just meet others’ bleak outlook with my own and we can carry on nicely.

Or at least, nicely enough.

Lately though ‘nicely enough’ hasn’t been enough. Because there are times when it becomes downright…heavy.

In despair, I talk to Anthony. Because what is a gentle soul supposed to do in times like this?

I am feeling left behind — like if I don’t muster up and do Something About This now I will be irrelevant — because living in such politically significant times yet NOT doing overtly political work is almost like treason. Like you don’t deserve to live where you already are. Like your existence is out of place.

The pace of life is increasing, and I am unwilling or unable to keep up at that speed. “Trying” leaves me exhausted and disconnected, more than I already am.

Anthony reminded me that to preserve the sense of calm in a state of chaos is no cowardly act. Could be considered revolutionary. To be “left behind” in this case might mean one remains unique, interesting, striking, worth hearing. To be different is still useful. Like a breath of fresh air.

At the very least, it means the things that truly interest me are not crowded. Chummy and comfortable is the line outside the Aladdin theatre in the light rain a few weeks ago, presenting my phone eTicket for the first time and for the first time entering this building. To see Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform for the first time with my own eyes.

The founder of the group, Joseph Shabalala, had a series of recurring dreams over a period of six months in 1964, featuring a choir singing in perfect harmony. It was a beautiful sound — very close to the traditional isicathamiya harmonies that he was already performing with his choir at the time — but it was somehow softer, filled with more love, more beauty. He restructured the choir, bringing in some relatives of his (family voices after all blend in ways that friends’ voices cannot.) He strove to teach his choir the harmonies he’d heard in his dream.

I first learned about them on Sesame Street. I have always loved their sound, have always found it soothing, and the recordings of theirs have been a great harbor of solace for me during all these days of turmoil.

We love them and clap so much.

Because they are so different.

Because they are so themselves.

The motions they do during their songs which seems so…right somehow. There is a great general showmanship to their motions onstage, which is a blend of vaudeville and something deeper. To say “childlike” is patronizing and colonial — and anyway it doesn’t capture it. It’s…deeper. Richer. It’s a cultural inheritance where movement and song were never sundered from one another, where people’s spirits were never subjugated to the extent that they internalized “what will people think of me?” as we have in the West.

At intermission everyone seems to be talking more with their hands.

There is a kind of warm-spirit awakened by this music. The family in my row shares handfulls of carmel corn with me.

There was something very moving about hearing dream-gentle sounds from a place that has seen apartheid.

It made me hope that perhaps there is still room for gentle wanderers after all.

This is the song I have had stuck in my head for the past few days, and I find it very soothing.

Tough times

never last

(but) strong

people do

Magnetic North

Back in mid-November I was invited by Meg Hunt — my friend and longtime secret illustrator crush — to move out of my undisclosed location in the warehouse district to Magnetic North. Leaving my artist’s hermitage was something this introvert slightly nervous about at first, but to say yes to this would meaning being in the company of delightful like-minded people, and having access to the building’s many perks, not least of which include a screen-printing apparatus (and, uh, people who know how to use that,) and possibly even a letterpress thing sometime next year.

Yes please.

The room was gunmetal grey when we signed the lease, but of course we are Meg Hunt and Maggie Wauklyn.

So that wouldn’t do.

I can’t remember when exactly we lost our delightful Hugh, succumbing as he did to a failure of both the clutch and the carborator, (lay off a little, would you, 2016?) but I know it was not long before Meg emailed me about this move. I didn’t *specifically* get a Toyota wagon because it would be ideal for moving, but that is indeed how it worked out. I moved everything in my studio in this car, in just about 3 trips. My desktop laid flat in the back, perfectly flat. It was something like a miracle.

This building will hopefully also be something like a miracle — it sure feels that way to me right now, bright and punchy as it is in a seemingly unpromising corner. It is so close to my first apartment in Portland that it is almost spooky.

North and South and East and West

Up until November 8th, I was preparing a historical piece on Sarah Josepha Hale — my latest historical figure crush, the woman who canvassed for years to secure the Thanksgiving holiday in our national pantheon.

To my (albeit limited) knowledge, she was not an advocate of the Henry Wordsworth Longfellow rubbish about Pilgrims and “Indians” — rather, her interest was in unification. To bring an injured, quarrelsome, partisan country back to the table of togetherness, after such divisive times as the Civil War.

If anything, her efforts are even more relevant now.

I made a point of not entering the fray this year — of paying no attention whatsoever to the lead up, dispute strong, strong urging to do so.

There were other more important things happening this year, and because my workload at the time was light, because my day job was simple and brainless, I was uniquely positioned to really sink in and focus on my sick friend, and I wanted to. So I did. To the utter exclusion of other concerns.

I live with political radicals, and I think they really looked down on me for taking this stance. I had several tense discussions with people in the months leading up to the elections: defending my decision to not put candidate-specific stickers on my car, and not participate in phone banks — things I wouldn’t do anyway in normal life. During the three months of cancer I even found myself indignant at their insistence that this larger issue was more important than my specific one — particularly as many of those people knew Travis a lot better than I did.

I’m trying to really remember this feeling — indigence that a larger issue being deemed “more important” than mine — as I suspect it is very similar to how a conservative voter has felt for the past eight years, and why we are where we are right now.

I project, though. Because I really haven’t had many substantive conversations — and it seems like nobody else has, either. And to walk into a screaming stalemate this late in the game is bewildering, particularly for someone like me that prefers to sit alone and draw. I find myself Googling things like “how to talk to people” , and wondering who to go to for a reading list. There is AMPLE material out there, but as I felt during the three months of cancer – time is of the essence. Is reading up on things and talking to people too little too late? Is that the world we are living in now?

I know deep in my heart of hearts that this will not do. That we must find a way to come together and discuss these issues with one another. I know deep in my heart of hearts that unity is more powerful for EVERYBODY in the long run than different factions at war. I truly believe that.

But it is hard to move towards that openly listening to the people I am listening to on my social media feeds. Hearing the stories of marginalization from the marginalized. The truly horrifying instances of major, blatant things that trigger a blue voter into a frothing rage, and the same event that is just completely under the radar of a red voter. And the anger on both sides, the easy dissemination of false or misleading information. What is real? What is true? How do we find out? How do we ensure justice is done? How do we serve the needs of the people who need it — both the refugee and the rural farmer? The black man and the white woman?

It’s a good thing Facebook wasn’t around in Hale’s day. We would have just gone on killing each other. I worry that’s where we’re headed.

Social media discourages the very thing that I feel is needed — conversations with people with whom we disagree. Not unfollowings, but respectful, earnest questions and uncomfortable silence. Not lectures, not arguments even. Just real conversations, getting a sense of where each side is coming from. Because the stalemate we have reached is too rigid and brittle.

I have been encouraging people to do this, to talk to people. To try it at least, to muster themselves up and get a little brave. To ask questions and listen. (I mean, really listen.) I myself have been doing it, little by little, at a time when I still find myself wandering from room to room, churning my hair around and sobbing. There has been so much to grieve this year and stress is high for everyone, for all kinds of reasons.

But we can’t wait until it feels easy.

I don’t think it will ever feel easy.

We just have to start somewhere.