Photos from the show at Proyecto’Ace and some thoughts from Chiloé

It’s hard to believe I arrived in South America almost two months ago. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime compressed into three weeks here in Patagonia.

After being on the road and multiple long bus rides, I have now what feels like a gargantuan amount of time–ten whole days–in a remote, tranquil studio with no Wi-Fi, reachable from the city center most easily via taxi for between the equivalent of 80 cents to $1.30 (depending on your driver and whether you’re obstinate about not getting ripped off as a foreigner/disinclined to fight with someone who is desperate enough to lie for an extra 50 cents), or if one is so inclined, an hour’s walk straight up a hill.

I’ll have more to share soon about this island of Chiloé and my second residency here. For now, I’m ready to share some pictures from my first residency, in Buenos Aires.

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The story follows the life of a homing pigeon, who unlike other pigeons, leaves his home and what he knows, to work in a world delivering packages of no value to people with no heads. He is rewarded for his ambition with a life in a golden cage, delivering messages for heads that are not connected to the bodies they try to lead. He has a choice at this point, to be comfortable with his “reward” in life, or to pursue a different way of being.

I have carried a draft copy with me on this trip, sharing it with a few other travelers who have been curious about my business here.

One of the many beauties of travel is how it gathers transient people to bond through the universal art of storytelling.

I have two choices when I buy a bus or plane ticket. Ida, or Ida y Vuelta? Going, or Going and Returning? For three weeks, I’ve only been going, but in this next short week, going will become returning, as I wrap my journey northward again.

Always, we are going and returning, and there is nothing quite like leaving what we know to find whom we always have been.

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Querido Pajarito: Dear Baby Bird

I’m sitting in a Refugio in El Bolsón. Checkout was technically an hour ago. There’s a beautiful, new city to explore. And yet, and yet.

I arrived here late at night on March 3rd, after a 20 hour bus ride from El Chaltén, and almost immediately met four Argentinian travelers, also all strangers before this night, and we decided to set out for a 2 day hike the next morning to Hielo Azul.

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It’s a 15 kilometer hike from the base of the sendero (trail) to a Refugio on the mountain, then another 1.5 hours steep hike up to the glacier. People usually stay overnight before making the ascent to the glacier in the morning, then running to the destruction of their knees back to the beginning of the trail.

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My hiking buddies didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is shit, but the energy of the group was warm and in short, it was an amazing two days. It’s gorgeous up there, though for the record the area was morrón (brown) with sediment, not “azul.” For anyone else who wishes to visit Hielo Azul, be forewarned: there is no glacier anymore.

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A badly receded glacier.

About an hour before we reached the Refugio, I picked up another passenger.

I could find no nest for this little bird, and maybe I should have let nature take its course, but I have a weak heart towards animals, and so along for the journey he came.

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I’ve unofficially named him Antonio, unofficially because I never told anyone, in part after Antoine Saint-Exupéry who is much celebrated in Argentina, for his contributions as an aviator in this region, and of course, for his novel, El Principito (The Little Prince). My little bird is Antonio, though, because he is Argentino, not French.

Antonio was a strong, little bird, who ate plenty, pooped, and squeaked much. I would say he was about two weeks away from flying, and I thought maybe it would be lucky to name him after a famous pilot. I made him a warm nest of tissues and Buffs and he lived through his first night, which is always a good sign.

He visited the glacier, enjoyed time at the Refugio, and came down the mountain to El Bolsón last night. I kept him in my sports bra wrapped in tissue, that lucky, damn bird.

I hoped to go find a vet this morning to see if there were any animal refuges in this nature-loving hippie town. As much as I’d have loved to keep my little passenger, I don’t think Customs in Chile would be very happy with me.

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But my plans this morning have changed, for some time during the night, he passed away. He had a good dinner, some water before bedtime, and a warm bed. Sometimes there is no reason for these things.

I spent my whole childhood raising animals with my dad. We had lots of rescues, and lots of birds. Some lived, some died. It’s not a new concept, but it’s sad all the same.

I can remember a few times when I tried not to seem sad about something because I didn’t want to look pathetic in front of my dad. We once had an injured mourning dove whom I loved dearly. She was recovering well and I dreaded that soon, we would release her.

Then, she died. And I cried my eyes out, that morning when I found her. My dad wasn’t home and would return the next day. When we had her funeral, I pretended I didn’t care. I’m not sure why, but ten-year-olds, like twenty-something-year-olds, and anything-year-olds, do inexplicable things. My dad didn’t say anything that day, but a week later told me how upset he was to see me be so cold.

Life is full of recurring patterns, and maybe they are just coincidences, and maybe I’m just an over-thinker grasping for anything to rationalize and simplify my tiny, complicated world. Even so, I can’t help but recognize this rhythm of events and familiar stories.

I’m the daughter of a man whose Chinese name translates to “ghost under the mountain,” whose childhood nickname among friends was Stone Grace, and a woman named Winter Garden. My dad always called me his baby bird. Always, he was frustrated with where he was. Always, he talked of the adventures of his past and stagnancy of his present. Always, he wanted to travel and learn other languages, as he built more cages for more animals whose lives he felt compelled to collect and save.

I’ve spent the last two days hiking up to see a big piece of ice and a waterfall parting the rocks, surrounded by Spanish conversations I struggled to keep up with, with a baby bird (more poetically) beside my heart (less poetically) between my boobs, a bird that I tried to save like the meddler that I am as I pass through temporary homes and instant companionships, a bird that I will bury today on my way to buy my bus ticket to transition to the next destination.

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The sixth anniversary of my father’s passing is at the end of this month. There was a moment on the mountain these last two days, when my head was too exhausted to try and understand Spanish anymore, when my knees were broken down, when I wished that I could talk to him again. But I am on a mountain on Earth and he is nowhere, so for the answers I cannot have for the questions I cannot help but have, I search for metaphors to fill the gaps between my head and my gut.

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If you’re in a hurry, you’re wasting your time: Lessons from Patagonia

I love plans. I can spend hours strategizing, rearranging, anything from a business process to a budget to a schedule to typography on a web page.

And as much as I adore organization, I love as much or even more so watching plans totally go shit. Life almost never goes according to expectations, and part of the fun is adjusting for the ride.

Of course, the collapse of a beautifully designed plan can also be unsettling.

I wanted to be prepared for a reason, after all! Always life is a dance between letting the present carry you and having enough of your own momentum to not let this current state carry you away to a future state you do not want.

Fail to be conscious of the present, and you will miss the fruits it offers you.

Fail to be conscious of the future, and you will fail to plant the seeds for the fruits of your future present.

I have encountered a saying in Patagonia, “If you are in a hurry, you are wasting your time,” and every day I spend here I become more aware of it.

At the beginning of my Patagonic voyage, I tried to be very planned. By the time my bus departed from my first stop of Ushuaia to Puerto Natales, Chile, I already knew I would be departing again in two days for El Calafate, Argentina. I would have only the nights in the pueblo of Puerto Natales and the middle of one day to enjoy the national park of Torres del Paine.

And here, my stereotypical Asian cheapness screwed over my stereotypical Asian mathematical-ness. In Torres del Paine, they nickel and dime you for fucking everything. After paying for the bus to reach the park, the park fee, and the extra foreigner’s charge for the park fee, I refused to pay 5 US dollars to get 7 kilometers closer to the base of the trail to reach the mirador (lookout) of the “towers” this region is famous for. I was told that it would add an extra 1.5 hours to my hike.

1.5 hours for 7 kilometers? Pfft, you’ve got to be kidding. I’ll do it I half that time.

Well, for certain, I moved quickly, but also very quickly uncertainty filled me. It wasn’t an extra 7 kilometers on my hike, but 7 each way. It was 11:30 am and I was supposed to be able to reach the lookout in 5-6 hours. The last bus back to Puerto Natales was 7:30 pm. Mathematically, it wasn’t working out for me to reach the towers.

I made it to the final kilometer in under 4 hours, but the last bit was straight up, and returning hikers were telling me I had around 30-45 minutes remaining, which, doubled, meant I wouldn’t catch my bus. Having gotten myself stranded in the past, I decided with my age, experience, and obvious wisdom, that it would be best to turn back. I did not need to see the towers in full to have enjoyed my hike. So I turned around. The journey is more important than the destination, among other cliches.

By now, it was 3:30, and my anxiety was high. I hauled ass down that mountain, and most definitely my knees in old age will pay for my youthful abuse of them. I have run recklessly down the mountains of Patagonia more times than necessary within the span of a few days.

I got to the base of the trail at 5:30 and breathed a sigh of relief. I had two hours to reach the bus pick-up. All was well.

And then I saw it, the sign that said the last bus pick-up at 7:30 left from where I was standing, and by 7:45 I would exit the park back to Puerto Natales. So for the few pesos I refused to spend, I cost myself the knowledge of this. Even without taking that earlier shuttle, I totally could have reached the towers.

There aren’t adequate words to describe the moment when you face the self-created karma of your own idiocy and obstinacy. You’re in fucking Patagonia. You’re on a mountain. You could have spent two more hours hiking and enjoying natural beauty and your whole hike in a much more relaxed state of mind. Instead, you elected not to get screwed out of 5 US dollars based on a principle no one else cares about.

But in conclusion, covered with sweat and dust, I entered the fancy hotel restaurant at the base of Torres del Paine, and spent the money I withheld from the shuttle on a fancy whiskey cocktail and lamb sandwich. I enjoyed a hilarious and raucous conversation with a group of American travelers who have even less time than I do to enjoy this region. And I haven’t planned any part of my trip in advance since.

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Losing My Prince in El Chaltén: Lessons from Patagonia

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I have been collecting books in Spanish throughout my trip in Patagonia. Nothing too heavy since I have only my 40-liter backpack, but I adore books and my need for practicing Spanish justifies the purchases. Almost all of my money goes towards books and food.

One of the first books I bought in Patagonia was El Principito, or The Little Prince. I bought this book because I have adored it in English, and being able to read in Spanish at an 11-year-old level by the end of my two months here has seemed like a sufficient goal. I made my purchase in Ushuaia, my first stop in the south of the south, but it wasn’t until I began traveling northward again that I realized just how much they love this librito here.

The author, Antoine Saint-Exupéry, was a pilot who worked for many years just outside of Buenos Aires, and one of the first to travel to the remote regions of Patagonic Argentina and Chile.

There are roads in almost every pueblo of Patagonia named Saint-Exupéry.

El Chaltén’s most prized feature is the peak of Fitz Roy, and understandably so. I went on some of my favorite hikes in this region. The four peaks surrounding Fitz Roy are less celebrated, but all of them bear the names of men as well. One of them is Saint-Exupéry. An idealist such as myself can’t help but be endeared by a place with a mountain named for a children’s book author.

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El Chaltén is a young, tiny tourist town of Argentina, clinging to its existence within the Argentine borders by the power of government paperwork and the payment of its citizens to continue living there. A little piece of wild Patagonia, barely attached to society between the rocks and the wind that define and shape it. It is nestled in the mountains, where you can spend days hiking on 20, 30, 40 kilometer trails and never suffer exhaustion from thirst amidst the clearest glacier water the Earth can provide; without venturing on these traverses, you find yourself stuck in a village whose entirety is walkable in 30 minutes and whose residents somehow survive on a diet of bread, dulce de leche, and a sad assortment of dead vegetables that for some reason are still delivered in their unpalatable state to the grocery stores. But because it is a tourist town, you wlso find some of the cutest, damned cafes here.

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It was in this barely-town-of-Argentina that I lost my copy of El Principito.

I don’t suffer much for objects. I thought I might have lost my whole backpack in Ushuaia and aside from feeling a little filthy without my bath products, barely flinched. My possessions here are few and cheap. I blog from my smart phone most of the time. I alternate between two main outfits that I wash in bathroom sinks and air dry.

But the loss of a book, the loss of words, the loss of my nightly comfort and ritual, here in the shadow of a mountain bearing the author’s name, here in a quasi-real village with barely existent Wi-Fi, here where the supply chain and vegetables both come to die…this was too much, and I re-traced all my steps in this tiny village in search for it.

This book has been printed millions of times and is loved by even more millions of readers. I could buy it again in El Chaltén for 95 pesos or less than 8 US dollars. Its author, though fascinating in his own history, was a flawed and pained human being in his own lifetime. Having his name on a mountain makes him no greater a being than the rest of us. But this book I lost, this was my copy. I have invested my time and effort in it. I have treasured it, scratched it. And to cure my bitterness over my own carelessness, I tried in my soul to be a better person and hope some other traveler discovered it like a lucky omen and a piece of love and solace during a long, weary trip. And at any rate, modern, solo female travelers have no need for princes to embark on journeys such as this.

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It was my final night in El Chaltén. Most nights in my adulthood, I sleep like a rock, but at the restless, insomniac time of 3:30 am, I rose from my bed and wandered into the halls of my hostel. And for whatever compulsion, I dropped down on a couch in the hallway and casually began lifting its seat cushions.

There he was, my Principito.

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I spent my last day in El Chaltén on the shorter, easy trails and finding tasty food to eat very slowly as I passed the time before my 20 hour bus ride to El Bolsón. The last thing one would expect to find in a town with few fresh vegetables in a culture whose cuisine is dominated by meat is an amazing vegetarian restaurant flooded with fragrant, foreign spices. But if there’s anything worth knowing about the world, it’s that what we do not expect, we find, and just because we cannot see a thing coming before us hardly means it doesn’t exist.

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Proyecto’Ace, Week 3: Time is Money, and some other thoughts and idioms

Time is money, the old saying goes.

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It’s not entirely true. We can buy other people’s time with money, and others can buy our time, too. But while we can always find the means to earn more money, we can never earn more of our own time. Our lifelines are a finite resource.

Still, in our developed societies, we have learned how to trade this resource for a monetary amount that someone else deems it to be worth. And we think the length of our freedom is attached to the supply of our bank account.

Another saying goes: a man works diligently for eight hours a day, so that some day he may get to be a manager and work ten hours a day.

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If the work you do with your life is work that you love and that adds value to other people, then this trade of time is worthwhile. But far too many people hate what they do, or worse, are completely indifferent to it. Many people are disconnected from a sense of purpose in what they do. It’s no surprise that we are so wasteful in our “modern” life. When people do work that holds no value, they waste the money they earn from this work on things of no use as well. So goes the inertia of our hamster wheel lifestyles.

I worked for three years at my last company, which was not the original plan. I never intended to stay in an office job, and planned to save and quit after one year so I could focus on my studio practice. But I underestimated how stereotypically American I am and how much I get sucked into my work. There were a lot of problems in the office. First, I ignored them. Then, I got pissed about them. Then, I got competitive and driven to change them. Then, lots of people got pissed at me. Then, other people were really happy with me, and I started to earn some rewards and create a career for myself.

That’s a pretty inadequate summary, but I guess you could say that in spite of the stress, grievances, and frustration of office politics vs the need for business growth (never has bureaucracy been “value-add”) I learned a lot and, in retrospect, I’m really glad I stayed. I’m also really glad I left.

Whether you quit your job without an immediate opportunity/guarantee to follow it, jump out of an airplane, move to an unfamiliar city, change career paths, I hope you do something, anything, to risk losing the comfort of what you have and know, even the progress you’ve made and are scared to lose, because you’ll find on the other side that all those fears of loss don’t actually come to fruition. I could go on, but will leave it for another post.

The laws of inertia apply no matter where you are or what you are doing. As much as I got caught in the office rat race, I was enraptured by my most recent project at Proyecto’Ace, and now in the changeability and spontaneity of travel. But as full as my time has been in Argentina, I have not felt overwhelmed. I feel lifted by a new momentum, have absolutely treasured having the time to focus solely on my artwork in a studio space with many buenas ondas (good vibes), and now this immersion in the rich soul of the earth.

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As far as I’ve been concerned on this trip, I am not on vacation. I am building a new way of being, and opening my time to improve myself and my talents for whatever opportunity comes my way. I love being active, which is different from being busy. There is dynamic work that evolves you and the world around you, and there is work that fidgets, dances, and runs, in place. We should all opt for the former as much as possible.

Admittedly, at one point, I began to feel overexerted by my project. Commuting between Milwaukee and Madison for much of last year meant I haven’t had this kind of time to dedicate to new wood carvings, and in a way I binged a lot on a thing I enjoy to the point of getting indigestion. But, true to intent, I finished all 21 plates in time to print for our exhibition, or rather, for Adriana Moracci and Barita Vincenti at Proyecto’Ace to mix and test ink colors, set up the registration at press, and start the edition as I carved the last of the blocks. Thank you thank you thank you. I’m amazed by the team at Proyecto’Ace more than words can express.

I’ll write one more post after this one to share the final book, and there, I will share the full story of this little pigeon and some thoughts moving forward.

Ciao y cuídate. Envío mi amor desde hermosa Argentina.

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“El Fin del Mundo | The End of the World”: Ushuaia, Argentina

My art residency at Proyecto’Ace ended on February 13th and the second residency at Museo de Arte Moderno in Chiloé starts March 8th. Since historically I’ve always made my best decisions at 3 am on some random weeknight, I purchased a last minute plane ticket to Ushuaia, the southernmost city of South America. This was to be the start of my exploration of Patagonia.

I left Buenos Aires at the wee hour of 5 am, February 16th, and opted to stay awake through the night to catch a taxi. The airport kindly sent my backpack to another city, and though they said I would get it back by 5 pm the same day, I knew there was no way this would happen. There has to be a moral lesson in there somewhere, when you find yourself as far south as you can go without hitting Antartica, with nothing but a purse and the clothes on your back. At any rate, this event didn’t keep me from enjoying what the city had to offer in terms of adult beverages or day hikes.

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I was only planning on being in Ushuaia for three days, but waited for my luggage to be rerouted to me before purchasing a departing bus ticket, thereby extending my stay to five nights.

During this time, I probably slept no more than 20 hours over a span of five days, but I had an absolute blast in this gimmicky, touristy, inevitably charming city, nestled amidst mountains and lakes, and so close to the dream of Antarctica that some who travel to this point will fulfill. By the time I write this post, three of my fellow travelers will have taken a polar plunge more epic and awful than I can conceptualize. This year, at least, I had to settle for a milder New Year’s plunge in Ushuaia. I’ll still take it.

My hostel had an amazing mix of great company. Pretty much anyone who decides to go to the so-called “end of the world” has a good story for the journey that led them there. Motorcyclists from as far as Alaska, Australia, Switzerland. A bicyclist from Minnesota.

Three of us went on an epic 36 kilometer hike in Tierra del Fuego. Two cheeseburgers with fried eggs and a double scoop cucurucho of gelato never tasted so good as after that hike.

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I love meeting other travelers and finding out what brought them here. So far, it seems there are two types. Those who get in tune with the pulse of the places they visit and those who don’t. I hope I am in the former group.

A lot of people back home were surprised when I quit my job last August, but it’s the last thing to make me unique in Patagonia. It seems like most of the people I’ve met on this trip quit their jobs to travel, some for as long as two years, and often with a far more nonchalant attitude about it than I’ve had. They left their former lives behind without “bookends” to neatly contain their trips, whereas I left knowing full well when my return flight will be. My two months abroad slip away too quickly, though it’s not so much the lifestyle of “perpetual” travel that appeals to me as the mindset required of those who choose to pursue it.

A willingness to take action on an idea that sounds impossible or risky to those who haven’t done it.

A sense of values that’s not attached to a job title or an oversized ego.

A hunger for new challenges, not for glory, not for gain, but for the sake of self improvement.

A lifestyle that consistently trumps any danger of analysis paralysis.

The knowledge that true comfort and stability come from within, not from jobs, possessions, or reputation.

The ability to not need a plan, and not be lost without one, either.

Of course, for every feeling, there is its opposite, often generated by the same source, within a shared moment. Suddenly while in Ushuaia, I felt so distant from any attachment, any responsibility, that I ceased to know what exactly I’m returning home for.

I don’t feel quite so removed anymore, but I also know that my sense of home has altered in an irreversible way.

I have been between many things on this trip. I am always excited to go to a new place and meet new people, sad to always be leaving. I have had deeply satisfying experiences here, backlit by a sense of longing for something I can’t quite identify.

And because I do have a return ticket booked for the end of March, I can’t help but feel anxious about returning. The price of having a home to return to is feeling the obligation to return to some thing; to know what I want at least on paper; to have a clean, simple answer that’s easy to summarize, package, and deliver to other people, with no room for misinterpretation, and therefore no risk of inviting questions or judgment.

Yet… I have never felt more at home than by not having a home, never felt more purposeful in my actions than by doing rather than planning.

I get tired of eating ham and cheese sandwiches. I’ve eaten enough white bread and crackers to annihilate the entire paleo population. I thought the U.S. had a sugar problem until I traveled to South America. The corruption and problems are not concealed here like they are in the States. It’s not a sheltered place, but maybe then it’s also more real.

I don’t doubt that it will be good for me to return home in ways I have yet to anticipate. Inasmuch as it matters to listen to your intuition, you must also be capable of countering it.

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Proyecto’Ace, Week 2: Drawing and Carving the Images

If I’m to say any truth about the way our brains work, or at least my own, it’s that there’s often a delay between our experience of a thing and our understanding of it. (Or I’m just a little slow.)

This is my second post about my time at Proyecto’Ace. Read the first post here.

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The story is something of an allegory. Once I knew that I would be creating a fictitious tale, the storyboarding happened quite quickly. I love the momentum I had right from the start of this project. I finalized 12 images to illustrate this story, printed in two colors, for a total of 21 woodblocks to carve, print, and edition in under two weeks (my hand still aches thinking about it).

It’s funny to me that I had to fly to the other side of the equator to resolve thoughts that I have been brooding on for a long time in the States about our work culture.

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The story I’ve created follows the journey of a little homing pigeon, who, unlike other homing pigeons, decides to fly away from home.

He finds work as a carrier pigeon, delivering packages of no value to human beings who have no heads. He doesn’t understand these headless people, but continues to work hard in hopes of gaining something bigger.

Because of his ambition, he moves up in the world, to become a messenger for heads that have no bodies. This is the ambitious pigeon’s reward, to live a life in a golden cage through which he gets to see the world, and be a part of delivering messages that have no value and continue to drive the disconnect between people and their perspectives.

Stay tuned for posts three and four, where I’ll share the prints and resolution for this story.

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Even if you hate your voice, you must speak.

Current location: on a Colectivo to Punta Arenas, Chile, following five days in Ushuaia, Argentina, “el fin del mundo (end of the world)”.

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It’s a funny feeling, relearning your own personality in a new environment. The places and the people may feel immediately warm and familiar. The thing that feels strange and foreign is you.

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I’m shier than I’m used to being. My ears and my mouth are so slow in Spanish, to the point they even slow down my English thinking here. Slowly, I’m regaining myself, but when you’re supposed to be assertive, when you’ve been accused of being even too aggressive in the past, finding yourself quiet and passive can make you feel weak.

Then again, a former mentor once told me to be quiet and listen (and later recounted his own “shut up and learn” mentorship moment), so maybe this a time to follow that advice. No matter the experiences you’ve had before, you are forever a student of the same, basic teachings. Listen so that you may speak. Forget who you are, and when you are a little lighter without your ego, a little emptier without your judgment, a new understanding can begin to fill you.

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Then, naive and uncomfortable as you are, you must speak. One, to ask dumb questions that start new dialogues. Two, to assert yourself as someone who is open to these dialogues.

One of the resident artists I met at Proyecto’Ace, Christiane Peschek (check out her work, I love her project, Golden Mountains), said that since learning English and Icelandic, she likes her native voice in German less. As I stumble through my infantile Spanish, I wonder what my own voice will sound like in another language, and how it will change the sound (or my perception of the sound) of my native tongue.

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Slowly, I’m understanding more of what people say to me. My grammar is still shit, so while I often recognize words I’ll fail to understand sentences, but it’s getting there. I find myself wanting to speak more. My conversations in Spanish are getting richer. I had a friendly, albeit extremely pungent and idiosyncratic hippie hostelmate in Ushuaia named Almicar. He talked a lot and refused to speak slowly, which pissed me off but made for great practice.

I learned that he’s on his way to Mexico, though how that led him all the way south to Ushuaia, I have no idea. He likes to sculpt clay around old beer bottles and make leather wallets. He’s the middle child in a family with five kids, all sons. He’s an uncle. All of his family lives in the same province of Argentina, except for a grandpa in Italy, but Almicar has zero interest in going to Europe, just like he has no interest in the US. Supposedly, he has a girlfriend in California that he refuses to visit as long as she lives there (though with his hygiene, there may be a reason for the distance). He thinks I should visit Potosi, Bolivia, because there’s a lot of good art there, and that I should stay in South America and be solely an artist. He thinks my Argentenian version of “Castellano” is greatly improving, and also that I’ll not learn real Spanish. He laughed at me for having trouble understanding him, but at least he was good enough to say he knows zero English and won’t try learning, so good on me for trying.

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Various Argentine shop owners have given me either candy or stickers for speaking like an Argentine (using “sh” sounds instead of pronouncing y’s, and “vos” instead of “tú” for you). I’ll take it as a compliment that the longer I live here, the less people ask me if I’m a chino and instead start talking rapidly like they expect me to understand. Maybe, eventually, I will.

At this point, I could search for some metaphor on what this whole language deal suggests about the evolution of my artistic expression and career. But since I don’t have time to write something simple and concise, I’ll leave the meaning buried in my wandering stories instead.

Ciao, mis amigos. Buen suerte de Chile.

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Proyecto’Ace, Week 1: Storyboarding new concepts

I arrived in the studio of Fundación ‘Ace on Monday, January 26th. The space is gorgeous and full of buenas ondas (good vibes). This was to be my creative home for the next three weeks.

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I knew that I wanted to produce an artist’s book during my time here, but did not yet know the story I wanted to tell. Whereas my work in the past has focused on the more personal narratives that connect people to their histories, I’ve found my interests moving towards a more social dialogue.

What I knew prior to this project: I am interested in passionate people, and for that matter, in indifference. I’m interested in what drives us–and thwarts us–in our pursuits. I believe it is important to understand the value of and motives behind what we do, and that a lack of understanding drives disconnect, dissatisfaction, and apathy. I believe that most people are capable of change, of either going after the things they want or reinventing their surroundings, and that the lack of movement in our lives stems not from a fear of change but a fear of loss.

More specifically, through my various work experiences in art, education, manufacturing, business, I’ve learned this: same shit, different place.

People are ambitious, industrious, passionate, opinionated…judgmental, apathetic, insecure, limited. Often loud spoken, but poor at articulation. Rarely do we express what we truly intend.

Printmaking as a medium was made for sharing messages with the masses. I like to think it was the world’s first social media. It’s an art form that educates and incites. Historically, politically, conceptually, it’s a powerful medium, capable of moving people first to understanding, then to action.

Among artists, I find myself in the company of those such as Goya, the Chapman Brothers in their defilement/decoration of Goya’s prints, Posadas, Otto Dix, the many creators of Brazil’s literatura de cordel

Otto Dix shone a light on human destruction.

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Goya stripped away the romanticism and idealism surrounding war.

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All of these artists have created poignant and relevant work, both in response to the social agonies of their time and the universal sufferings of humankind. Many have been great exposers, cynics, and satirists.

But for the work I was to spend my three weeks at ‘Ace on, I knew that I had no wish to be satirical or harsh. I wanted this work to deeply sincere without being naïve, to create simple images that explore a complex, human trouble.

I asked myself, “Is it possible to create images that can be honest about corruption without cynicism, that make healing seem possible in the midst of disrepair?”

I spent my first few days storyboarding. As much as I would have loved to jump straight to just making something, there was something coming clear to me that I could not see when I was living my “normal life” back home. And I needed to have the patience and focus to do justice for this newly forming story I wanted to tell.

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This will be the first in four installments that share the process of my project in Buenos Aires.

On quitting and beginning

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The time goes too quickly. Four weeks isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but for me it’s the longest time I’ve stayed in another country. And as Buenos Aires becomes more familiar and homelike to me, I am preparing for the next leg of my journey. At 5 tomorrow morning, I fly to Ushuaia, “the city at the end of the Earth.”

My time here has been vibrant and full, my project at Proyecto’Ace is essentially complete (though I’m ruminating on how else I want to evolve it). I’ll write a post soon about this project and the amazing, invaluable experience the people at Proyecto’Ace have given me. But first, I need to backtrack a little to how I even got to this point.

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In August 2014, I quit my job at a manufacturing company, quite possibly at a time when my life was the most comfortable it had ever been. Life-wise, nothing scary was happening, no horrible financial stresses, no family illnesses/deaths, no tense relationships, etc. Career-wise, I was on a good-looking track. I cared about what I was doing: finding ways to eliminate waste and grow and improve the company. I got paid to be a “change agent,” more or less, at a time when many jobs are designed to finish task lists and maintain the status quo. I worked tirelessly and persistently and was rewarded for it. I got a promotion. I had terrific managers who mentored and invested in me. I got to share my voice on the importance of continuous education, and while maybe that should just be a given, it’s important to not take for granted having the right and ability to exercise one’s values in the workplace. Not everyone has that luxury. I parted on such great terms with my managers to the point that I questioned what kind of a self-righteous asshole I had to be to walk away.

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Was there shit I didn’t like? Of course, lots of it, but there is very little in life that’s worth doing that doesn’t come with duress. Things that make us angry or frustrated are not our enemies as long as we know how to channel our energies; indifference is the real devil.

But I’m an artist!! Was this really what I wanted, to work in the corporate world and be a part of a system? “Want” isn’t really the issue, I’ve learned. Despite our greatest proclamations, few of us truly know what we want, and who I am, how I work, what I philosophically believe in, doesn’t change depending on what I’m doing. Lean manufacturing became my art in the past year. Process improvement in business is no different than one’s handling of a paint brush or a pen. Teaching has always been an art. Learning how to lead, when to let others lead, this, too, is an art that can only be learned in organizing with other people. If the only job I could get was as a trash collector, then keeping the city clean would be my art. The strength of my identity as a creative does not depend on the time I can spend holed away in a studio surrounded by paints and picturesque paraphernalia. Of course, I could only come to understand that by having something else consume my time, and then to see how my visual language has evolved even in dormancy.

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So what was the big problem?

For me, it was a question of depth and motives. Things looked good on paper, but on a deeper level I was conflicted. On the one hand, I believe I worked with good people who genuinely wanted to clean up this old company and make it great. On the other hand, I dislike the corporate hierarchy. No matter how well your managers treat or try to treat people, no matter how great the intentions, no matter how great the interest in service of of others, hierarchy breeds a limited mindset, layers that hide and manipulate information, and narrow perspectives. The pro is you know where the floor is, and you can’t fall lower than that, even if you fuck up at your job. The con is that you know where the ceiling is, too, and it doesn’t matter how high up anyone is in the organization. The law of the lid still applies.

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We are taught in our societies that having a job is important and that the importance of our jobs directly correlates with our ambition to move up. We are taught that it’s not just what you know, but who you know, and even those with the best intentions and greatest integrity get caught in the race to the top. Here’s the Catch-22. You cannot be heard unless you rise to power, and you rise to power by appealing to the interests of those with more rank than you have. You earn accolades by accomplishing the objectives set by the top, not so much by improving conditions for the bottom. The more you get to share your own voice, the more out of touch you become with those you truly need your service. And so the imbalance of power perpetuates.

The nobler part of me quit because I have no interest in ascending to a “good enough,” comfortable life, with a nice house and a white picket fence and enough dispensable income to drink my problems away after 5. While there’s something to be said for proving your worth and earning respect, particularly as a woman, I feel conflicted about receiving any special treatment, even if I did work hard to earn them. I don’t want to sit at a conference table and be a “have” talking about how to make things better for the “have nots.” I don’t want to give PowerPoint presentations lecturing at people about how I know what’s best for them.

And while it can seem counterintuitive to let go of a thing you have fought hard for, even just a few months of distance has reframed my perspective dramatically. I’ve had the time to pursue other opportunities that have enhanced my skills exponentially faster than I was able to before. I’ve gained a confidence in my discipline as an independent worker.

The less noble part of me, frankly, led me to quit because I’m a control freak. I love my freedom to a fault. The reality of working for a company is that everything you do, they own. Every hour of hard work you give them earns you the privilege of doing a harder hour of work to make somebody else richer, and though it’s nice to say, “I don’t need a lot of money to be happy,” it’s undeniably perverse to dedicate your service to lining bigger pockets without really, deeply, understanding why all this work matters in the first place. Companies today want speed and efficiency at the cost of purpose. Who cares how fast you are if you don’t understand what you’re running for?

But as George Orwell kindly informs us, freedom is slavery. I’ve had to eat a lot of humble pie in the last few months. As free as I am to conduct my own schedule and pursuits, I realize that my ability and opportunity to work with other people either greatly enhances or limits what I can accomplish. On my own, I may be in control, but there is no one to make up for my weaknesses. There is no ceiling on my potential, and with it, I’ve lost the grounding to break my fall.

Finally, I simply had the privilege to quit, so I took it. I’m single, in my twenties, and have no dependents. And even without these great conditions, I’m lucky that my life experience has made it easier for me to be flexible and to know that there is very little in this life we can actually lose. Few have the education and perspective to know they can change what they do, and even fewer have the mindset coupled with the opportunity. I can’t count the number of times I questioned whether it was right for me to take this privilege, but in the bigger picture, it is terrible and misguided to let the weight of your conscience limit your potential. Our energy is not best used worrying about what others cannot do, but rather on what each of us can.

In the past few months, some people have called me brave for being willing to quit without knowing what’s next, and others most definitely think I’m a reckless idiot. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, it’s to trust as much in the counterintuitive as we normally would the obvious or the sensible. To be in control requires a willingness to let go of control. To have stability and security requires that we not need either. To grow, we must always be questioning, always be listening, without needing to find the answers we are searching for.

The Power of Silence: a day in the botanical garden

I would have done my laundry today, but I was preoccupied with learning to be slow.

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I have completed my first week at Proyecto ‘Ace. I feel both fast and slow living here.

Fast because the time hours quickly, because already it feels like it will not be enough. Fast because I’m used to a more hurried pace than what exists here. Sometimes I’m anxious that I’m not doing enough, not moving fast enough, though I haven’t defined what my rush is.

Slow because everything takes longer here. Slow because this city and it’s people are so relaxed, and schedules are fluid rather than compartmentalized like in the US. Slow because I’m a fool in a different language, and expressing myself takes a little longer or doesn’t happen at all for lack of vocabulary.

In some ways, I feel that I am here to learn that the best things often happen slowly. The sweetest moments are the ones not fully answered, not immediately understood.

Society is not good at silence, but in the noise of people yearning to be heard, meaning loses its way. Perhaps we are loud, but we are not understood. Perhaps we fear censorship, but noise can censor is just as well as silence can.

La alma de la ciudad | The soul of the city

How is it you can know a place for a long time, know its personality, its idiosyncrasies, and yet after much time still not know whether you love or like it? How is it that a city you barely know can strike a chord with you immediately, and color your perspective with that initial love, even as its vices become evident to you?

What makes us decide to bear or empathize with the pain of one while rejecting another?

Perhaps this is an example of how cities are like people. Sometimes you connect, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’ll fight for them, sometimes you won’t. It has nothing to do with fairness or an equal exchange of support between the two of you, either. People are known to fall in love with their abusers, after all, or vice versa, take advantage of those who have loved them dearly.

Does an American suburb coddle too much, and lull people to stay out of convenience rather than love? Yes.

Is there evidence that we love our dirty, gritty, soulful cities who ignore or even scorn their poor, while their privileged are often drunken, sheltered, and spoiled? Possibly.

I am not blind to the wrongs that a city has committed. Perhaps I’m being the archetype of the naive sweetheart who still thinks she can change the one she loves, or, more likely, gives greater weight to the goodness she has experienced than the evil she has heard of or witnessed.

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Hola de Argentina!

I’ve been in Buenos Aires for close to a week now and have quickly become smitten with this city.

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Buenos Aires is a beautiful, lively, and peculiar city. The buses follow no schedule. Wine is often cheaper than fruit. The people are warm and everything and everyone moves more slowly. Somehow the right music is always playing in the background depending on where you are.

Nothing is convenient and there seems to be no desire for convenience. It’s often dirty, nonsensical, and complex, and so it has a soul.

Maybe this will change the longer that I am here, but I do not miss convenience. I do not miss the gridded and sterile roads. I do not miss that sense of rushing to nowhere, of being late to or behind on a thing of no importance.

It seems that anything that moves the heart is destined to trouble it as well. If it does not trouble you, it does not need your time or attention. The less time you invest in it, the less deeply you come to love it.

A city is like a person in many ways. There are the things that make it iconic, the best faces it wants you to see. But if it is to stir something within you, it must be vulnerable to you, and you to it. If the love between you is to deepen, then your hearts must be open immediately, while your acquaintance with each other unfolds slowly.

You will learn what makes the other smile and laugh. You will learn each other’s tastes, how you each choose to decorate yourselves. You will learn the patterns of each other’s movements as much as your speech. You will learn which stories you repeat, which memories you get stuck on.

You will see each other hungover. You will see each other distressed. You will see each other happy and in tears. You will know that the other has been heartbroken, disappointed, and betrayed. Your potential will live in the shadow of that historic pain. And you will learn of the scars that have overcompensated for past injuries. You will learn where the chasms are that limit your mutual understanding. You will know where the other does not want to build bridges. But you will want to build bridges, because for all your own insecurities, for all your fears of coming off too strongly, or not enough, you want this to be more than a passing interest.

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You want this to be a friendship that supersedes romance.