What does it mean to be In Unison?

It is two days after Martin Luther King Day and two days before the 45th Presidential Inauguration.

We began the week by honoring the memory of a man who emerged from and spoke for the crowd, and who fell, though he spoke of hope. We will end the week by officiating a man chosen by the crowd, and who rises to power, in spite of or maybe because of a toxic campaign that we all fed into, regardless of which side we claim to represent.

What is the responsibility of the everyday person, to rise as an individual, who then represents many?

What is the role of the leader we elect, and the manner in which that leader exercises power and influence over us?

What is the role of the crowd?

The saying goes that united we stand, divided we fall.

And yet unity is not always what it seems. Unity can be used against us.

Lemmings will run off a cliff to their death together. And buffalo. And wildebeest. And the same act of flocking together makes sheep and cattle easy to control and turns birds into marks for hunters and their guns. Wolf packs run together so they can be better killers. United, wolves can kill, and someone from some herd will definitely fall.

Divided, we are guaranteed to fall.

But let’s not kid ourselves. United, we may still fall. For the truth about our unions is that they often inherently require exclusion to make them work, or at least to make them easy for people to understand and latch onto.

Researching different birds’ flight formations.

So the question is, are your words, principles, and beliefs worth the risk of falling? Are the people you stand with worth falling for? Are you truly in control of your actions and reactions, regardless of how well intended your beliefs may be?

Can you be effective? Do you want to be effective? Or are you just running with the crowd?

How can you be sure that when you rally with others, that you will rise with your fellow people? How can you be sure that the cause you stand for should be uplifted at all? Whether you stand with a Pro-Life or Pro-Choice campaign, whether you spread the word of your God, whether you fight for the credibility of science, whether you fight for a free market, whether you fight for the underserved, whether you stand in formation with fellow troops on a battlefield, whether you carry signs alongside fellow protestors, your unity for any cause decidedly makes you somebody else’s opposition. The fact that you have to rally–have to protest–have to march–means that you are standing for one thing and against something else. Even if you stand for peace, you have already been indoctrinated as a soldier. You are playing by the laws of war. The feeling that your presence is needed here is a sign that your battle is not yet won.

So what do you stand for? And is it as simple as you think it is, or feel it ought to be?

Like the Grown-Ups (v2)

Estoy estancada.

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I’m stuck. I’ve used up most of my paper, but am dissatisfied with my drawings here in Castro, Chiloé. The setting is tranquil. I am restless.

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On the bright side, I’m writing a lot every day, and really loving this seaside city. Each day the beauties and peculiarities of this place seep a little more inside of me.

The design of the city is both logically gridded and haphazardly rough, having to wrap over the rises and drops of the terrain. Much of the architecture uses the wood of this land and has become inseparable from its identity. Cinnamon lumber in the houses/powder on top of beverages.

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Then there are the palafitos, representatives of an amphibious lifestyle dependent on the sea.

The imagery this conjures up is fantastic. We humans are like the frogs, amphibious in nature, if not between land and sea, then between any two perspectives that must be at battle within us. Our loyalty to the water that has long nourished us turns into an attachment that keeps us from evolving and fully experiencing the joys of the land, the freedom of the sky.

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The feeling of Castro, Chiloé hovers between obstinate independence and frail tranquility. It has evolved in both the freedom and imprisonment of its isolation.

But while geographic isolation may have fueled and instilled the identity of a culture developing separately and uniquely from the rest of the world, the patterns of history are undeniably human. This is an immigrant land, both colorful and conflicted with the gifts and scars of its mixing heritages.

This is a city turning on the axis of gentrification. I visited a beautiful cafe yesterday in one the many restored palafitos of Castro, where I read a book about the history of these houses on stilts over a cup of Yogi tea like I mighty have been drinking in my own, hipster, American town.

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Los palafitos. Stilted houses that face the sea. Cages that captured fish from the receding tides. The beginnings of commerce in a new world. The blending of indigenous and Spanish cultures. The trade of goods and patrimonies.

Poor homes on the margins of society. Human refuse in the sea. Neighborhoods in decline. Fire that rapidly consumed closely packed wooden houses, among other man-made catastrophes. The eternal war of tradition vs modernity. The same seeds we sowed for progress have dug deep into the earth with the roots of a cultural identity we cannot escape.

Swap out the fish and lumber industries for General Motors and we might as well be in Detroit. Replace the palafitos with the skyline of an old, European city, a temple in China. Different industries, different architectures. Same questions, same reactions.

The palafitos were considered unsafe and unhygienic and under the constant threat of demolition, by both nature and by government.

Now, the same things that threatened the palafitos’ existence have proven their fortitude. If these houses survived fire, earthquakes, tsunamis, and rich politicians who considered them to be ugly, they must be something worth saving.

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Los palafitos. Boutiques filled with handmade, local goods. Hostels and hotels in shades of pink, green, and blue. Delicious, pricy, restaurants and cafes, that dress up and celebrate what have long been local tastes, so they may be newly discovered by the phenomenon of tourism. Sushi. Jasmine tea. Indie music. Fresh pressed juice. Chia seeds in baked goods.

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And now, the steeply climbing costs of real estate of any place reborn in its success.

Like the Grown-Ups

Like any common over-analyzer, I’ve twisted my head these last few weeks over the significance vs. coincidence of things. Looking at things from my own perspective, there has to be a reason for it all. There must be something I’m supposed to discover here, and each little gift the world gives me is like a clue leading me to what I’m supposed to do next.

Then again, if I were to hear another person sharing similar accounts as mine, same feelings as I have now, maybe I would think that he or she was interpreting what he/she wanted. Every inch of the Earth is covered with some thing, and I cannot pay attention to it all. So I have to be selective. Maybe I see what I want to see, and depending on the choices I want to make, I’ll read the signs that indicate I should make those choices.

This month is the anniversary of my father’s passing, and so, has been a time to reflect in honorarium. Combined with the experiences of my trip and my see-sawing relationships between two languages, I finally feel like there’s a traffic jam inside my head.

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Not until it was pointed out to me, not until I was told, “You’ve got to get over it,” did I realize that maybe from an outside perspective, I seem stuck on not a concept, but in the past.

It’s undeniable that our upbringings are inseparable from our characters, even or maybe especially in the ways we try to express ourselves as the opposite of those who brought us into this world. We yearn for what we lacked, and often overcompensate by trying to give this missing thing to our friends, children, loved ones. One can learn a lot about the things people have had to live without in the past by observing what they can’t live without in the present.

But where do you draw the line between being conscientious of history and being confined by it? The past is a sign that can inform us as we proceed into the future, but it is not a mirror.

There is a paragraph in El Principito that reads:

“Mi amigo jamás daba explicaciones. Quizá me creía semejanteba él. Pero yo, desgraciadamente, no sé ver corderos a través de las cajas. Soy quízas un poco como las personas grandes. Debo de haber envejecido.”

“My friend never gave explanations. Perhaps he believed me to be the same as he. But I, unfortunately, do not know how to see sheep through boxes. I am perhaps a little like the grown-ups. I must have aged.”

I used to get annoyed with my parents for telling the same stories over and over again.

Yet here in my adulthood, I scour books, landscapes, cities, the internet, the lines of my personal history, anything for more information, more explanations, more how-to’s, to aid me in the things I cannot envision on my own.

Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.

Perhaps those who study history will fail to imagine a different future.

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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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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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