One of my favorite bits by comedian Louis C.K. is:
….Here’s the thing, people say there are delays on flights. Delays, really? New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years. And a bunch of you would die on the way there. And have a baby. You’d be a whole different group of people by the time you got there. Now you watch a movie and you take a $#@! and you’re home.
Now I know that we’ve only been on the road 11 weeks, but I feel like a completely different person than when I started. Last week I talked about how we saw 5 different terrains in just one 3-hour hike. After 11 weeks and all of the adventures we have had, I am truly grateful, influenced and different from all of the terrains we have seen from coast to coast and where our travels have led us.
Perhaps I’m having an existential crisis. Or maybe just not reading and watching the news and being not influenced by the media has allowed me to have a different experience. Or perhaps I’m learning to live with technology and still finding flow.
My Life is like a Bee Swarm
I didn’t realize it until Louise and Richard came to check out the swarm of bees that I found. When they shared their knowledge about the bees and how they swarm, what they are looking for, and after witnessing their everchanging hive behavior hour by hour I then realized…my life is like a bee swarm. But isn’t everyone’s—in a way?
The idea of a swarm moving from place to place, like from tree to tree or from eaves to other eaves makes me think about how when we are with Flo, we go from place to place in search of the right spot to land. Thinking back about what it was like to sit on the beautiful white leather couch in the 15th floor in DC just dreaming about this trip, it’s strange to think that now my biggest hope that the next place we stop has hot water and electricity.
Constantly on the move and adapting to the environment, we are exposed to the elements, bound by fleeting light and road conditions, inspired by the landscape, dealing with FOMO of all the places we miss along the way, not knowing where we will sleep, then waking up in a 4′ x 6.5′ metal cocoon wondering what will greet us when we open the door.
And when we step out on the dew-covered ground, it’s obvious that we will have a much different adventure than when we would ride an elevator down 15 floors and jumping on the metro to head into the city for the day.
No, I’m not having an existential crisis. I’m just preparing to leave this wonderful place and head to a region of the country I have never been, back into the unknown, without a plan or a clue as to where we will land after this next leg of the trip.
A Sneak Peak of this Week’s Backstory—That I Hope to Share Next Week
Christina Merkley (shift-it-coach.com)was kind enough to interview me about my lettering. I also taught a virtual lettering meetup for NOVA Scribes, broadcasted live on Periscope, presented my work to Hermineh’s calligraphy class (where I studied in Alexandria, VA) and finally recorded over 12 videos that will be part of a new lettering website that I will launch in the coming weeks. Phew! I’m still too close to really write about it. So there’s the synopsis. Upon completion and reflection, I will launch the project and share more of the backstory here.
Thanks for following our journey. It’s about to take another turn.
I had envisioned two truths about nature and the weather before coming on this trip. We will see spring develop before us and we are landing in the Redwoods at the exact right time.
When we got to the rainy Northwest, we thought the rain would never end. There have been a few half-day breaks over the past few weeks and this week we enjoyed a full day of sun. That meant checking on Flo to ensure she was dry. SUCCESS! (Thanks to yards of gaffer’s tape). And taking a hike in the woods. The local outdoor club wrote a book so we headed out on what was supposed to be a low-level, 3-hour hike. Thinking “we’re Coloradoans so this will be a cinch!” Two peaks with a 250m rise proved itself to be a bit challenging for these two geezers who forgot that they have been living at sea level for the past three years. Funny how 20 minutes of complaining switches to pure elation when arriving at the summit.
In just 3 hours we experienced 5 different terrains: rocky, two distinctly different coniferous forests—one with black tree lichen—grasslands, and an impressive cedar forest with an old growth larch side trail. The views and discoveries were breathtaking as well.
All of this came after a major struggle with technology. I had planned the week prior to broadcast all kinds of lettering tips and tricks live and even promoted it across all of the social media platforms. Unfortunately I received a text from my cell provider that all of my “fast” data is used up, which means no more streaming. And the wi-fi here at the centre was down. With two virtual classes planned: one in Germany and one in DC and a recorded online interview with one of my mentors, the fate of those opportunities to share my lettering knowledge is held hostage by technology.
Since my internet connection is spotty and unpredictable, sometimes reliable in my studio but then will cut out and when I run back to the house for wi-fi, it may or may not be good their either. The plan is to attempt the NOVA Scribes live webinar meetup on Thursday, May 18 only because we have incredible tech support on all ends. Anyone is welcome to join (see the link above to sign up). While I will be covering Neuland tips and the letteirng styles that go with them, this is the opportunity to ask me questions live as we make letters together.
The recordings I’m doing in studio—I will upload when I can—will have to carry me for awhile since once we leave here and head into the deep woods, I have no idea when I will see my lettering friends again! I will sneak on Periscope and post still photos when I can, but once we hit the road we have no idea where we will end up. Except our time in the Redwood Forest. And who wants to be online while there?
That’s at least another 6 weeks of eventful and unpredictable travels with a landing fate that is still a mystery to us. Not to worry, I’ll have my sketchbook and markers on hand developing new lettering styles along the way.
Crazy man Dave Sipe of Mancos, Colorado once told us: if you really want to know if the person you are with is the right one, take them on a camping trip.
When you live in a 5′ x 9′ aluminum box with one other person while traveling across the country, it gets pretty close. When you have the opportunity to spread out at a friend’s or have the luxury of being part of an art residency for a few weeks it may feel like you have space, but the space in which we occupy is not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the space between thoughts, ideas and projects. These days, I hold that space sacred. And when I find myself packing too much in, I feel as if I’m losing grip to a part of myself.
Ray keeps reminding me that we are over halfway through our trip. I see this adventure as an inspiration of how to live our lives even after we land—it’s an adventure of a lifetime. When I look back at where we started, what astounds me is that when I was working in DC, I was able to graphic record, graphic facilitate, design meetings, create visuals, and constantly make decisions that aligned with my values while working hard to serve the mission. I was able to squeeze what amounts to a year’s worth of freelance work into a few week’s time. I was doing more work than ever and felt like my colleagues were still running circles around me. My time in DC was like boot camp. I left one of the best teams I ever served on and one of the most culturally diverse places I will ever come to regret not being a bigger part of.
But just 8 weeks into this adventure—with just as many to go—I have experienced so much diverse human interaction than I ever did working full-time in DC. Making fine art for an entire month in a mansion full of artists, check. Traveling from coast to coast and meeting people in their environment while getting to know their culture, check. Making more letters than ever, check. Wait, was that possible? The list goes on and on. But one facet that I was living consciously, but couldn’t put it into words until now was the human experience that I was gaining by witnessing others—only possible at this level from being on the road.
It took a Skype call with a new found friend in England, a telephone call from a mentor in California and text from a best friend in Colorado to help me realize that it’s the short stories that I am writing, and not blogging about, that is making my experience the richest. The part that is filling every moment of this journey, packing it in so tight that is making it nearly humanly unbearable. And why haven’t I been sharing? Two reasons: 1) I didn’t think you wanted to hear it, and 2) I can’t write them down fast enough!
I have enjoyed the phone calls, skype calls and texts with many of you where I get to share: our first night of our maiden voyage, or the mystery stain on the carpet at the roadside motel we found just before crossing the border—was it a murder or attempt to change an identify before/after crossing the border? Or learning that someone who seemly held such different values wasn’t that different after all.
So now here I am at 4:44am tapping away at the computer instead of sleeping or making art. Instead I’m reflecting on the past few days and planning out the practical: social media content, finding campgrounds along the west coast, designing two books: one art and one for sale. Thinking less about the weather because I’m not exposed to the elements like I was two weeks ago while at the same time more about it because I can’t wait to go hiking in the most beautiful place I have ever been.
These weekly posts come so fast I can’t possibly capture every event or reflection. Writing about it takes me away from living it. But being in it is so unbelievable I have to account for it.
Once we land in August (wherever that may be) I have an entire list of writing prompts to help me write the back stories of this trip. My final dream destination is to end up writing in a cabin in the woods. Now I have the content, I just need to recollect and get it all down on paper.
Too close and making space for new…
As I sit in this soft, warm cocoon I’ve made of Ray’s sweatshirt, pillows and blankets on the couch at the foot of the bed where he lay sleeping, I can’t help but feel the pressure to make more of this experience, to take more in. I know that in just a few weeks I won’t have these comforts—unless they are offered up by friends along the way.
I’m also inspired but the life of Svena Caetani and the legacy she has left for artists. I look out the windows and wonder what she saw, how she felt. Was this her bedroom? This chair wasn’t hers, but was there a chair here for her to read in and look out across the property? What flowers grew here then? What trees were hers to climb? I am reminded by random statements that Susan, the director, has made about the property—how it once was and now her vision for the future. I am considering the possibility of capturing what I can while I am here and the longing to return when I find myself in my future studio, recapitulating about this experience and writing it all down.
Constantly inspired and influenced by others, this week was about gaining perspective. Thank you Lauren for the reminder. Today, I wish to consider these wise words from Guido Neuland, “It’s always worth to leave proven paths and allow new thoughts.” Reading those words for the first time on his website make me reflect on why I left DC for this journey. Who knows, it may bring me to a new place.
It’s supposed to be nice today, sunny and warm. We have stopped long enough to watch Spring catch up with us. Perhaps Ray and I will take a hike in the mountains of British Columbia and take more in.
Call me, email, text or let’s Skype. I’ll share with you my latest story. Perhaps you can help me retain all of this goodness of being on the road.
It took a week to get to Canada, but we made it. And what a beautiful site! Well, except on the way to the border crossing the road was washed out and we drove through a place in the woods that was adorned with confederate and Christian flags—oftentimes associated with the Aryan Nation—scary.
People keep telling me how much I am going to love the Pacific Northwest. Nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking views of Canada. Ray keeps saying, “just wait until we get to the coast.” I love it so much here, I’m not convinced that it gets any better.
Speaking of better. What better way to spend a few weeks than at an artist retreat? It took only a 1/2 day to clean up and get settled into the space. The history of the Caetani Cultural Centre is intriguing. Svena Caetani lived in the house as a young girl but was captivated by her mother never to leave the house until her mother’s death. Svena was never allowed to make art while her mother was alive. Just 15 years before her own death, she started to recollect all of her memories and put them onto paper to form a series of 56 paintings called “Recapitulation”.
It’s nice to have a place to rest our heads for a while. We can take a breath, I can focus on my lettering practice, Ray can go fishing and make needed repairs on the trailer.
And what’s a birthday without dancing? In addition to Rosanna and Ulrich being incredible hosts, they also invited us to a Cinco de Mayo dance party on Ray’s birthday. He wasn’t thrilled at first, but these photos prove he had a pretty good time.
For those of you who would like to follow my lettering journey and perhaps learn a few new lettering styles, check out my new Facebook page where I will be posting events and resources. If you are on Twitter and Periscope, I plan to make small “knowledge deposits” about lettering throughout the rest of this month. You can follow me @CorpGraffitiArt.
Thanks everyone for being patient with us as we leave DC and make our way to my hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas to visit my folks where they have been remodeling Flo. We have had a lot of requests from friends and family to know what’s happening. We have been posting weekly so feel free to read past posts or follow us by clicking the link at the bottom of the page to receive updates via email when we post. We also post snippets throughout the week on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Last week in Kansas was intense: paperwork, fixes, squeezing in time with family and leaving unfinished projects. After the amazing woodwork Clint and Larry did on the cabin, we were itching to hit the road. Since we have a timeline and a lot of miles to travel, we were ready to leave last Friday but didn’t get a chance until Monday. That set us back so with no time to test her out, we just went for it. We knew that anything could happen and we thought we were prepared.
The first hit of culture shock came the first night at a campground in Little Sioux, Iowa just 225 miles north of Kansas City. Here is my first evening report of our maiden voyage:
Day 1: 17 April
Shortly after crossing the Kansas/Missouri bridge and as soon as we hit 50mph, a little wind got under the window, popped the artist tape off and the duct tape popped shortly after (2-3 minutes later). I was watching the whole time so we pulled over immediately.
I added two pieces of gaffer’s tape to each window. A long piece in the front and a long piece along the bottom.
At the 50 mile mark we pulled over and did a walk around. The gaffer’s tape didn’t budge. The wheels were cool and not much had shifted inside the cab, just a little settling of contents.
~160 miles later…
Sunset at Little Sioux, Iowa is 8:07pm. When we pulled into Woodland Campground, we weren’t sure if we would get a spot. The website said it opened April 15th but the office was closed. A couple pulled up in a pickup and asked–nearly in stereo while bogarting cigarettes–“can we help you?” I explained that we were chasing the sun and were hoping there was a spot available with electric.
The woman passed her cigarette to her husband and gave clear instructions on how to put it out without “killing” it. I said something about needing to save it. She agreed and said she was trying to quit but her son recently shot himself so things were a bit crazy lately.
She showed me to the office and told me our spot would be block 9, lot 2. I looked up at the map and the RV rings resembled a microscopic view of a Petri dish full of bacteria. Funny shapes, and lots of them, scattered around with lots of little sections. Each representing a lot to drive through. Drive through…good because we haven’t mastered the back-in yet.
After forking over what I hoped would be worth a hot shower in the morning and an electric hook up she shooed me out the door. I asked for a receipt and she referred back to her son’s tragedy, complete with details about how he shot himself, fractured his femur in 5 places, had to create a tourquinette and plug a major artery with his finger as he drove himself to the hospital where he worked. While stunned by the amount of detail she shared while staying compassionate for her son’s tragedy, I thought I was never going to earn that receipt and get camp set up by sundown.
Hierarchy of Needs
Once we were in and started pulling out gear, it hit me. I was stirring mayo (from packets I took from a gas station) into my tuna when I realized I simply was not prepared. Part of feeling not prepared is a sense of safety. The campground was cold, with a lot of annual residents but very few cars which indicates they haven’t returned for their summer getaway. While there we only saw three other families in the distance. Since we packed in a hurry, I didn’t know where everything was therefore not everything has found its place.
I have always felt safe with Ray around. The only change was our environment. I went from the warmth of my childhood home to a cold, small metal cocoon. So many “I should haves” ran through my head including all of the luxuries my mom offered me before we left. I said no to so many things that would give me comfort in exchange for keeping things simple.
Due to many unknowns of pulling a trailer, new geography neither Ray and I have visited, and the stress of lifestyle changes, I was not able to stay in the flow state. However I have been able to simply go with the flow. There is a routine when you go camping: setting up, finding the gear you need when you need it, eating, cleaning, tearing down, etc. But what you may not be able to anticipate is where you may sleep the next night and what the weather will bring. Most campgrounds this time of year are closed or don’t have electricity. With such low temps and since we aren’t “self-contained” we need heat to keep us warm at night. Not to mention all of the luxuries electricity may bring (hot pot, charging mobile devices, etc.). So I spend a good majority of my day tracking the weather and calling campgrounds to keep everything running smoothly. It’s a temporary flow for now until I can get into a more comfortable routine.
In the meantime, we were able to smile for the camera during stops along the way.
Life on the road with a teardrop trailer is like having another person in an already committed relationship.
So here we were, on the road with this new to us—yet antique—piece of metal. Ray is very familiar with camping as he grew up on the mountains and lived there during his childhood summers. Me? I’m used to 4-5 star accommodations and all of the amenities it provides. The idea of having a bed everywhere we go and a solid cover over our heads was what we both had in common.
Getting the rhythm down and taking on a new lifestyle was a challenge. But when we found ourselves at the foot of Bitterroot Mountain in Victor, Montana our challenges melted away.
George Wilkerson is a tall and generous man who served in the Army, 35 years with the LAPD all while running a teardrop company, and has built over 600 trailers and touched at least that many rebuilds and repairs. He kindly took us in and watched over and guided us as we found and fixed things on Flo.
The setting was gorgeous. The snow-capped mountains served as our backdrop as we ran around in t-shirts all day airing out linens, adding seals, patching and learning about other teardrop makers, how to build from scratch (both kits and replications) and where to source parts if George doesn’t have them. And he ALWAYS has them.
George added a little sparkle to Flo’s shoes with these rims. He specializes in aluminum trim, sells kits for those DIYers, and has all the tools. His website is what attracted us to Victor and can be seen here.
George’s knowledge was matched only by our couriosity and desire to learn. Along with all of the resources, he shared stories of Bill Kennedy, co-owner of KenSkill trailers, and Dan Pocapalia, author of “I Love a Challenge!” and veteran teardrop builder. George loves to talk teardrops. He shared emails from people who sends him pictures of their builds and offers commentary about how they are built, estimates of how long it would take us if we took on a project like this, and tips on how to recreate an original trailer should we ever want to. We are hooked.
An entire wall in his office reflects his life from Boy Scout badges, certification in diving (he was an underwater diver for the LAPD), and even a Purple Heart. He didn’t talk much about the awards, just that they remind him of where he has been. He has lived a full life, has two beautiful daughters who he talks about fondly, and shares his passion for the classics freely from Coca-Cola coolers to black and white movies featuring Humphrey Bogart.
We are headed back on the road now a little smarter, a lot more confident and extremely grateful for the kindness of George and others. With the 10-day forecast showing rain, we are reminded that it is spring and have the best seat in the house to witness the change of season: the front seat of a Jeep while on the road.
If you have any favorite stops along the Westcoast that you recommend, please let us know. We are planning that leg of the trip now.
We spent five days in a vortex. First I thought it was the pattern of visiting my home town. Then I blamed Mercury retrograde. Finally I realized that it was simple: too much to do in order to prepare for the next leg of our trip—more than we had time for.
When explaining to my dad all of the delays from parts not being in stock, paperwork not clearing in time for registrations, etc. his response: “Do you know when the best time to plant a tree is? Twenty years ago.” I swear I could write the sequel to “Shit My Dad Says.” He is famous in my family for some real doozies. His commentary assumes failure to plan on my part. I’m not sure how the operational speed of others and automated systems are my fault. This was my opportunity to practice patience.
No sense wasting time reliving the vortex by listing everything that kept us from moving forward. My friend Diane Bleck once advised me, “Don’t speak when your bleeding, only when your healing.” So instead, we will celebrate all that we have accomplished in the last few days before taking to the road with Flo.
Do you have a spare?
I will share that after a dozen phone calls and six visits to tire stores in two cities, we found the part we were looking for: the size equivalent to a Coker American Classic spare for Flo. While the part number is important, the critical piece was getting the right width so that the tire doesn’t rub against the wheel well while driving down the road. Tire dealers told me they stopped making that size and one even laughed at me. After asking me what I was putting the tire on and me saying, “a rebuilt 1947 Tourette teardrop,” he said, “I don’t think my inventory goes back that far, haha!” Soon we were digging through piles of tires and walking through dark, musty warehouses.
It wasn’t until I changed my approach from focusing on logic to relying on intuition that opened up and delivered us from the vortex. Why focus on an obsolete part number? So instead I got to know the shape of the tire and it’s relationship with the wheel well. By doing so, I trained my reticular activator to manifest the tire we needed. When I walked around the garage at Falco’s Service on Truman Rd in Kansas City, it was if the clouds parted and I could hear angels singing. I could tell from a distance that it was a fit. And it was!
Upon returning to my dad’s shop, together we continued to check off tasks from the punchlist. Mom and Dad added seals to the doors and galley, screws and plugs to cover holes and caulking anywhere we see daylight coming into the cabin to prevent leaks. Together Dad and I installed the light fixtures, fixed key locks, popped on the half moon hubcaps, and added a flexible rubber/aluminum fix to cover the piano hinge. It seems like every time you walk around the trailer you find something else to fix. Flo is 70 years old so she needs a lot of TLC…and she deserves it!
It has certainly taken a team and a lot of preparation to get Flo road ready. Mom and Dad have been working on her for months. Clint and Larry have added a golden glow to her interior. Here’s Clint’s account of the build and some additional photos from his recent Facebook post. Special thanks to these two for working so diligently this week and for your patience over the next 4 months until you can begin phase two: the galley.
I can’t help but wonder if the original builder and owners—who purchased Flo 70 years ago—had any idea the adventures she would see. Mom picked her up in Sedalia, Missouri the day after Thanksgiving in 2014. We have no idea if she has ever left these two Midwest states, but she’s about to see the Westcoast.
In just one week after leaving Arts Letters and Numbers, Ray and I have experienced the gamut. And we have discovered how bumpy riding in a Jeep Wrangler is over 1,500 miles. We wondered, “will adding the teardrop help or jumble us more?” I guess we will find out.
Niagara Falls was the best first touristy stop we could have made. We took it in at night and the next morning. I had witnessed it’s grandeur before. This was Ray’s first time and he was in awe. Honestly though, standing next to all that rushing water while impressive, just makes me want to pee.
Traveling on the cheap during our pre-Flo era means a lot couch surfing and staying at roadside motels. The hotel in Niagara Falls included a police visit to the hotel and a hooker (separate instances). That was something not everyone gets to see everyday. But what’s better is when someone who knows you are traveling says, “come visit me…” Those types understand what we are doing, the way of the wanderer, and want to share in the adventure.
We had the pleasure of staying with Diane Bleck, scribe tribe colleague, and her family on their farm. It is a gorgeous tree-filled farm with chickens and wildlife. Diane was incredibly generous in sharing her techniques with me and her children are a delight with their voracious curiosity and kindness.
Knowing that I would spend next month focusing on lettering, teaching workshops, and creating more exemplars for students, my visit with Diane was a timely springboard for this effort. I was blown away at how she has built a following at http://www.DoodleInstitute.com, the quality of her materials, and humbled by how she contributed to building up the industry we share. She is incredibly generous in her offerings to the community. While I had been thinking about packaging my skills into online courses, etc. she has taught me a lot about what to expect when putting myself out there to the public and balancing that with a happy life. Together we offered a 1.5 hour live, double broadcast (Periscope and Facebook Live) on, “4 Techniques to Massively Improve your Hand Lettering.” The viewing audience grew to 299 people and continued to grow even a day later.
I have a lot to digest and so many ideas to share with my new lettering friends. I’ll save it for the next art residency and focus on getting back on the road.
Visiting with friends and family has really been the highlight so far. By doing so, we have been able to share in the rituals we set at Arts Letters and Numbers: baking bread and pizza night.
Whether it’s having lunch with Brandy Agerbeck over deep dish Chicago-style pizza or meeting new friends like Renee Adriani to talk shop, it’s the connections we make along the way that string together an exciting adventure. As we head West, we look forward to more.
For those of you in the KC area, please come join us at a free gathering about how to leverage the power of visuals. I would love to share my creative passion with you and help you discover yours!
Next up: more roadside motels, meeting Flo, sign painting and spending time with family.
I’ve spent so much time in the Flow State that for a couple of days I couldn’t tell when I was in it and when I wasn’t.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly there are 8 elements of Flow. Here is what you can expect to experience if you are maintaining it correctly:
Clarity of Goals: The rules of the game or steps needed to take are known. Every moment is clear as is every step of the way to meet the goal.
Immediate Feedback: Moment by moment you know what you are doing. Your senses are heightened and you are fully aware.
Balance between Skills and Challenge: What you need to accomplish is equal to the skills you have. You are operating at the right level. If there is too little of a challenge, you can become bored. if there is too much of a challenge, you can become stressed.
Concentration and Focus: Duality disappears—split attention merges into concentrated, focused attention. You experience harmony through efficiency and effectiveness.
Operating in the Present: You can’t afford to let your mind wander. There are no worries. You become unaware of the problems of everyday life. You can escape forward and create a new reality.
In Control of the Experience: You may feel as if you are on an edge with a sense of control of what’s in front of you.
Loss of Self Consciousness: There is no wondering of what others may think of you. With a loss of ego, you transcend defensiveness and have the feeling of being a part of something larger.
Sense of Time Transformed: Time adapts itself to how you feel when you are doing something. Hours get condensed into minutes or what takes minutes feels like hours.
At the beginning of the residency and in my studies of Flow, I noticed that when I switched to working with art materials, I could quickly get into flow. But as soon as my phone rang, an email alert came in, or my alarm reminding me to capture my experience I would quickly exit the flow state.
Later I simply shut off or ignored electronic sounds that permeated my creative space. Eventually I was able to maintain a flow state whether I was creating, cooking, conversing, driving. I even found that running errands was rewarding.
Until I dropped my cell phone. That’s when everything came to a halt. I couldn’t call, text, or check email. A sense of fear overcame me pulling me so far out of flow that it kept with me for a few days. Fear about the costs involved, the lost opportunities, and the usual addiction to devices we all suffer from. Not to mention that I dropped it two days before leaving and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the replacement in time for our planned departure. In most cases, this would be an inconvenience. When traveling, logistics are complicated. With changing billing addresses and shifting shipping addresses, it may seem to an outsider that I am committing fraud. But it all worked out, the phone arrived and we are back on track to travel West as planned.
Despite traveling down the highway at speed and thinking about how doing so is a type of time travel in the space-time continuum, I am still able to experience the flow state from time to time. What I have noticed is that if I let my imagination go to a negative place it pulls me out of flow and keeps me in a negative spin cycle until I can pull myself out. Once I catch myself, I quickly focus to gain clarity of the present moment and the goal then I’m back in again.
We create our own realities. I find that when I am in a flow state, it’s blissful.
Integration is key.
Weather plays a crucial role in the lives of us all. This is especially so for those who make their living collecting and processing the sap of maple trees. Maple syrup is big business and a proud tradition among those in the Northeastern states of the U.S.
There is a small window when sap can be collected: when maple trees awaken from winter dormancy until the first buds of spring appear. During this time there is much work to be done as well as time to celebrate. Maple syrup festivals are held across the area once the sap begins to flow. There are demonstrations of maple syrup production, tastings of syrups, creams and butters, and of course pancake breakfasts to sample the new year’s syrup. Each farm with their special technique or secret recipe makes for interesting visits.
I met Kent Goodermote at Kent’s Sugar House in Berlin, NY. Here he has produced maple syrup for over forty years. In contrast to the large automated commercial syrup producers, Kent’s facility is a shack in the woods using a wood burning evaporator. Kent and his partner Todd Hewitt, with the help of family and friends, complete every task necessary to produce their maple syrup.
The work begins in the fall as Kent and his crew gather the 8-10 cords of firewood needed for the evaporator. As winter settles in they plan how many taps they will place in the trees and how best to lay out their lines. Sap is no longer collected in buckets but in long plastic tubing connecting the trees in a large system depositing the sap in central locations. Once the trees are tapped the wait on Mother Nature begins. This year with unusually warm winter weather the sap began to flow in mid-February. When we were visiting in late March they expected the season to be over in a few days producing a low yield for the year. Typical seasons can run from early in March to as late as the end of April. Mother Nature is in control during the entire process. In his forty plus years Kent has produced anywhere from 50-270 gallons of syrup in a given year. It takes 43 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup.
One of the regulars at Kent’s Sugar House is Kent’s friend Loren. Loren is a true mountain man of upstate New York. In 1922 Loren’s father purchased 250 acres of wooded land for $500 on Berlin Mountain. Loren and his 10 siblings were born in the house his father built and where he resides today. He has left Berlin Mountain only to serve his country and returned in 1954 to never leave the area again. Loren never had much interest in beaches and cities and the mountains had everything he needed or wanted. He spent his life as a logger and charcoal maker and continues that work today. Many of the trees he harvests now are third generation growth on the property in his lifetime. Today the high property taxes on his land threaten to force Loren from his mountain.
One of the larger maple syrup producers visited was Ioka Valley Farms. As the names implies they are more than maple syrup producers. There are farm animals of all types along with crops raised and wagon rides. This time of year is all about their maple syrup. They produce upwards of 3,000 gallons of maple syrup each year. Using a modern automated evaporator their production is fast and efficient.
The main attraction at Ioka Valley Farms has to be Terry Lynne. She spends her time in the Sugar House describing each of the products made and handing out samples. She does so with an energy and enthusiasm that is hard to describe. She reminded me of a snake oil salesman in an old western movie. She even referred to one of the maple syrup products as an elixir for good health. But Terry Lynne is serious and no nonsense about maple syrup. She says it’s “supercalifragilisticexpialidelicious!”
Standing, looking out the window, focus on breath, the beat of the heart becomes more apparent. My internal rhythm matches the cadence of my fingers as I type.
Where one applies their thoughts, focuses their attention, receives immediate feedback, and distances themselves from the past or future is the start of the flow state—the start of the next instantiation of self.
This residency for me has been about being both on the balcony and on the dance floor with flow. From gathering and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data to making work both in and out of the flow state, I have had the opportunity to watch my ideas develop both internally and manifest into reality:
hearts drawn on kraft paper, thoughts captured in sketchbooks
testing all the materials to best approach works on paper with the least amount of experimentation
leveraging experimental marks of ink on scrap paper for marks on final pieces
exploring glyphs and writing illegible letters with energy and personal meaning
binding ideas together with folds, waxed linen and glue
It hasn’t always been this way.
Diane asked if I was making the work I thought I would make. No, not really.
It’s been three years since I’ve made art in a studio. Before coming to ALN, I was in DC for work. Shortly after the election, Ray and I scrambled to orchestrate the next chapter of our lives. Having shifted from the fine art and commercial world to the corporate world in the past, I knew I could and greatly needed to have an experience that would allow me to shift back to the fine art world. ALN has been a rich environment to do so.
Conversations here have their own weekly rhythms: art shares, pizza night, and T time. Here I learned of others, science, and myself.
The final works I hung to fill the space I was provided are merely artifacts of my experience. Pieces from miniature (2″x3″) to large (3’x4′), I created 3 series: Flow, Bookmark in the Continuum, and String Theory. Because who doesn’t like to throw in a little String Theory when the topic of conversation is waning?
Bookmark in the Continuum is a term I have used for years to explain the key points in our lives that illustrate our existence. When time is compressed and our time here is viewed as just a nit over billions of years ask yourself, “What mark have I made?” It could be one big one like a discovery that contributes to humankind, or a series of them that build up to represent a full life. Nothing we do goes without impact.
Over 20 bookmarks were created these past few weeks. Most of them just passing thoughts that make up who we are. Some more profound with sustaining themes. Some weathered many storms, some found themselves bound by a found treasures, others will act as actual bookmarks—reminders of a time that has passed.
I had not given String theory much thought before coming here. I thought it would incomprehensible to me. But Rob made it interesting, put it into context, then habitually reminded me that nothing really new has been discovered in the past 50 years. Imagine those who have devoted their lives to a theory in which the result is essentially null. Not for me. I haven’t dedicated my life, but I did focus on the subject for several days and hope to continue to explore. My interest started with Rob’s mention of Noncommutative Geometry. I studied M-Theory and knots. I had a helluva time (that’s a mid-Western term) drawing them so I made 3-D models made of strips of paper to better understand. Phenomenology models are what they are referred to. After creating and understanding the forms of 5 of them, I had an easier time drawing all 15 of the common models found throughout String theory.
I loved the way the lines inspired me to consider them over time and through space through the making of books and other structures.
The Flow series started the moment I stepped into the studio. From the first heart drawn to the collection of data I have experienced, learned from, and harnessed the flow state. I captured qualitative data using Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Experience Sampling Method. Over the course of 25 days, I captured the following information prompted by a random alarm 3-5 times a day.
What were you doing? Where are you? Who are you with?
Are you happy?
How well do you feel about yourself?
Were you concentrating?
How well do you feel about what you were doing?
Check the Spire for streaks of quantitative data.
The Spire works by tracking breathing rhythms to determine states of calm, focus and tension. I used this information in conjunction with the qualitative data to quickly learn what help bring me into, sustain and ultimately take me out of flow. This approach helped me transition from the life I was living in DC and temper me into this new environment.
After practicing it for just 3 weeks, I feel as if my level of wisdom has nearly caught up with my physical age. Oh have I still have a ways to go!
Paired with Panarchy, my learnings have been magnified which I can now leverage for personal use in future circumstances. And paired with organizational change management models, this practice can be scaled to teams and organizations. It’s a way to increase self-awareness and productivity that to my knowledge is not currently being leveraged in the commercial, corporate, or government space.
So what does all of this have to do with making art? To me, it’s putting everything into perspective, sense making and integrating the learnings from time in the studio to time in the kitchen to time with others—understanding and building relationships. This opportunity is exactly what I needed. The time, the space, and the people have shown me what I can do and how far I can take my ideas when given the opportunity.
To inquire about purchasing some of the work from the exhibition, please visit this page or email me directly. For more information about Arts Letters and Numbers, visit their website or ask a resident.