created nor destroyed…the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant. —Law of Conservation of Mass, discovered by Antoine Lavoisier in 1785
matter: the formless substratum of all things which exists only potentially and upon which form acts to produce realities —Merriam Webster
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of matter and how I spend my time, resources, and energy. I’m not a first responder, teacher, food producer, or any of the many admirable front line workers that kept us going during this remarkably challenging COVID19 year.
I’m an artist and making things and thinking about making things takes up a lot of my time…most actually. I think in potential constantly to produce other realities.
So, does making art in my basement studio matter in any way right now?
I just don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. I was unsettled the other day. I cleaned my studio. There was a lot of cardboard. I rescued it from the recycling. I created the work below. I felt much more settled.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
I recently picked up my great-great-uncle, Will Lillibridge’s book, Ben Blair and landed on a few passages that seemed to fit what i was pondering in the moment.
“Ten miles out on the prairies,—not lands plane as a table, as they are usually pictured, but rolling like the sea with waves of tremendous amplitude—stood a rough shack, called by courtesy a house.”
—Will Lillibridge—Ben Blair—Chapter II Desolation
Usually in January I make an annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Burke, South Dakota. This year, because of COVID19, I won’t be traveling. So, on this Winter Solstice 2020, I’m reflecting on the prairie, my ancestors and revisiting my photographs.
I’ve always assumed that my love of stark landscapes was simply due to where I grew up. However, as I age I’m increasingly aware that it’s far more complex than that alone. I’m drawn to spaciousness in any form. In paintings, film, photographs, literature it’s what’s NOT there that I love and am so drawn to. Oh, and when there’s a well-placed pause in a song—damn, I swoon.
There’s a duality of growing up in rural America that I understand now at fifty-four and having lived out east for thirty years. There’s on one hand, a fiercely independent streak born out of generations of hardscrabble pioneer and homestead life, but there’s also what’s in the negative space everywhere that I’m more curious about lately.
For that pioneer spirit to survive on such isolated terrain, there’s often a high need for conformity. To me there can be a false sense of security that comes from conformity. When we conform too much, we might be leaving some of the best parts of ourselves hidden in the negative space.
INDEPENDENCE + CONFORMITY = ?
While being around the like-minded often puts folks at ease, the opposite can be quite true as well. When people are different, or deemed outsiders, it might be natural to fear that they might upset the social order in some way. Is this really true,or does it just FEEL true?
The psychology of geography, interesting enough in the year of a world-wide pandemic, is rooted in outsiders potentially bringing disease to a region. Of course illness was greatly feared when folks were trying to populate a new territory…all lives certainly mattered back then just as they do now.
To honor that fierce independence it seems to me that different skills, ideas, and perspectives should be exceptionally valued, hell, even celebrated—now more than ever regardless of one’s geography.
We really need all types of thinkers and doers to face the world’s many challenges. Perhaps this first day of winter is well-timed for some quiet contemplation on what seems likely to be an isolated, and potentially sorrow-filled season before the light returns.
“To-night, for the first time, and with a wonder we all feel when the obvious but long unseen suddenly becomes apparent, the primary fact of human brotherhood, irrespective of caste, came home to him.”
—Will Lillibridge—Ben Blair, Chapter XXII Two Friends Have it Out
This morning my coffee-fueled internet meanderings landed me a famous mugshots site. They’re quite remarkable, raw, and they all seem to just dare you to learn more about the arrests. I’m a true crime junkie.
David Bowie was arrested in Rochester, NY for marijuana possession on March 21st, 1976. He was held for three hours and released on bail. He pleaded guilty and the grand jury later decided to pass on his case. Even his mugshot is classy, of course.
With some regret, I’ve never been arrested. So, with the help of my daughter, Willa Govoni’s photography and highly intuitive stylist skills I now have my very own menopausal mugshots. Perhaps a protest arrest is in my future? #2021goals #resist #goodtrouble
I thought about my characteristics that feel like crimes sometimes. They came to mind quite quickly…judgment, regret, and procrastination.
Willa, you’ve got a good eye kid. Let’s do lunch and discuss more projects.
It’s uniquely warm in northern Vermont today. In the predawn hour, I made coffee then sat out on my deck for a while listening to the honking of geese, early morning traffic sounds, and autumn leaves rustling. I felt a slight breeze on my face…so lovely.
All we have is here and now…
The lyrics from Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warner’s 1980s hit Up Where We Belong have been camping out in my psyche for the last few days. I thought I better explore them further…turns out they have a pretty good message.
Some hang on to used to be Live their lives looking behind All we have is here and now All our lives, out there to find
The road is long There are mountains in our way But we climb a step every day
I know my thoughts of the past(or the stories I attach to them anyway) sometimes make me feel like a victim of sorts. And when I’m feeling anxious (fearful) about the future, those jangly thoughts will gleefully swoop in with a dizzying amount of bullshit that can affect every aspect of my life. Presence makes me calmer. That calm makes me a better human, partner, parent, and friend.
All I have is here and now...
Up Where We Belong is the theme song to the 1982 film, An Officer and A Gentleman. I just had to share a short memory with you. When I was in high school, my newly married sister and I took our grandmother to see the matinee after a day of shopping in Sioux Falls. I had never seen a movie with my grandmother before, let alone one with sex scenes…good grief. My grandmother covered her eyes with a sneaky, slightly open hand during those scenes hoping we wouldn’t notice. 😃 After the movie, we had to stop for gas on the way home. Laurie got out to pump, my grandmother was flabbergasted, she turned and said, “Your grandfather would be so disappointed if he saw that his granddaughter pumping her own gas.”. Cheers to those memories that make us giggle.
Now that I’m fifty-four and finally growing up, I’m trying to make a daily, or hell hourly grand bargain with myself of more presence. I’m discovering that staying in the moment gives me some emotional agility that helps me better handle whatever’s thrown my way…grandma was really onto something while we watched An Officer and A Gentleman. She was a very anxious woman, but in that moment she chose presence with her granddaughters and it was just wonderful.
My memories will forever come and go, shifting in both context and intensity as the years roll by. I don’t want to live in a constant state of regret, longing, or fear. I want to live in the fullness of the present. I know I will often fail and let my mind race. My grand bargain to myself is to keep trying to stay more in the moment.
“Once the seduction of taming and conquering never seen western lands took root, homesteading men must’ve been often blinded by their brave proclamation. The planning of their upcoming adventure, I suspect left little room for dissent of any kind. Homesteading wives just had to get on board, regardless of any fears or sorrow they felt about leaving everything familiar behind. They did what determined women have always done throughout history, they relied on their ability to make something out of nothing
It seems likely to me, the descendants of homesteaders just might hold some ancestral unsettling, some vague restlessness of that migratory gamble. I know I feel some ancient unsettling myself, and I always have.”
Excerpt from Personal Homesteading—a work in progress
Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands has confirmed many feelings I’ve had about generational trauma make sense to me. I’ve often wondered how my ancestor’s emotional landscapes have affected me. I don’t want to be at the mercy of emotions that were never mine in the first place—and now have lost any appropriate context. Sorry prairie ancestors, it’s time to cut you loose.
“All of this suggests that one of the best things each of us can do—not only for ourselves, but also for our children and grandchildren—is to metabolize our pain and heal our trauma. When we heal and make more room for growth in our nervous systems, we have a better chance of spreading our emotional health to our descendants, via healthy DNA expression. In contrast, when we don’t address our trauma, we may pass it on to future generations, along with some of our fear, constriction, and dirty pain.”
We all possess some generational trauma to varying degrees. Right now our collective unhealed traumas could be part of what’s tearing families, communities, and our nation apart. I believe we can heal by learning ways to let trauma move through our bodies (metabolize it) and not keep us in a perpetually hypervigilant, anxious (fearful), and distrustful state of being. I’m an optimist AND a realist. I believe we can heal AND it’s gonna take a lot of heart, humility, and hard work.
I live in Vermont. We’ve been mostly compliant with what our leadership has recommended for our health. We’ve felt a strong sense of being in this very difficult and unusual time together.
NOTE: Vermont has a republican governor and I doubt Vermonters will shift course this November either. Governor Scott’s messaging about the pandemic has been consistent and based on science, not ideology.
Covid cases are surging all over the world. Our children and young adults are going to school online in front of computers all day long, every parent’s nightmare. We’ve lost 222,157 Americans as of this morning, COVID19 cases and hospitalization rates are rising in many states.
Unnecessarily millions of people are out of work, evicted or about to be evicted. Businesses have shuttered. Our first responders are exhausted, have held phones for families to say goodbye to loved ones and lost their lives too. Scientists are vilified. Family and friends are divided and fighting over a highly contagious virus that has affected everyone in the world in some way or another…and yet, even our health is highly political.
Why? What’s been gained? Lost?
This documentary is available for streaming—watch the short trailer here:
“Lies don’t end relationships the truth does.” ―Shannon L. Alder
I’m a bit shaky as I write this and I know it might upset many people. I’m posting the link to Totally Under Control because I think it’s the right thing to do right now. My own family hasn’t been immune to division & separation during this administration, and it’s all quite heartbreaking. This isn’t politics as usual. I hope we can at least agree on that.