Alder Street Market

In the room under the place that used to be above the Alder Street Market,
hope sleeps.
Stirs again.

The bed in the place that was once the Alder Street Market
makes noise.
Plastic noise.
Atop a plastic pedestal.
In the center of a room.
An altar for the afflicted.

The bed in the room above the place, known, three decades past, as the Alder Street Market,
was anchored by the floor.
Thrice as wide.
Occasionally alone.
Occasionally not.
Terrestrially silent.

The window in the room under the place once called the Alder Street Market
doesn’t open.
Can’t open.
Is not allowed to open.
Faces south.
A wall of endless gray.
A blanket of ash.
Shutters on the windows.
No light at all.

The rooms in the place above the space that was formerly the Alder Street Market
had windows standing eight feet tall.
Opening outward.
Opening Eastward.
A precarious few inches from the floor.
Summer light, scorned three decades past.
Summer light, woke us and called us to new days.
Spoke in another tongue.
In the future tense.

The kitchen in the place where I lived, over the Alder Street Market,
held skylights.
Out of reach.
Twenty feet away.

A kitchen in the space underneath the place where I lived above the Alder Street Market,
toils out of view.
Food miraculously appears.
At preordained moments.
Mechanical soft.
No restrictions.

In the halls of the space beneath the place that was once above the Alder Street Market,
pictures are hung and unhung.
Hung and unhung by living masters.
Masters of grief, graphite, and grace.
Old and New masters.
Incapable of mastering their days.

The people taking space in the place that used to be the Alder Street Market,
change nearly daily.
Different shapes.
Different ages.
Different durations.
Same pain.
Same suffering.
Same hope.
Some rail.
Some return.

The room in the space of the place long gone.
The Alder Street Market.
Is 150 feet away.
150 feet and sixty milligrams.
150 feet away from another room.
150 feet from another time.
150 feet and thirty-one years.
150 feet and one hundred thousand miles.
150 feet from another bed.
150 feet from another view.
150 feet from others, lost to memory.
150 feet from looking forward.
150 feet from no longer looking back.
150 feet from letting go.
150 feet from the beginning of the end.
150 feet from the end.
150 feet from new beginnings.
150 feet in thirty-one years.

The place that was once the Alder Street Market is gone.
I remain.
150 feet younger.

Spatial Disorientation or Desperately Seeking an ENT for the Soul

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Seascape, Ligurian Sea

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Seascape, Ligurian Sea

After a lengthy talk today, I wondered aloud: “how can one feel so clear, so absolutely sharp in their faculties, while simultaneously feeling utterly confused and unsure of things?“ The things here are beside the point. Is there a term for this concept of hyper-acuity resulting in, or being produced by, an equally certain lack of certainty? More precisely, how is possible to be absolutely certain in the face of one’s acknowledged lack of certitude?

I’m not sure why, but the sensation reminded me of the forensics surrounding John Kennedy Jr.’s death in 1999. I was living in New York at the time, John Jr. was obviously a celebrity, and because of my media obsession, I still cherish the inaugural issue of George magazine dating from 1995. That’s not it. The crash itself wasn’t the catalyst. Confounding, plagued by conspiracy theories, overshadowed by the tragic Kennedy legacy, yes. But that wasn’t it.

In the analysis of the crash, a concept known as Spatial Disorientation was proposed as the most likely final, ultimate cause. It’s a somewhat contradictory concept that I couldn’t wrap my brain around when I first heard it explained.

There were contributing factors preceding the crash to be sure. Despite the forecast for calm and mostly clear skies, July 16 was actually one of the most polluted days of the year in the northeastern US. These pollutants produced a lack of transparency at certain altitudes. Expressed differently, the particulates created an opacity–or–opacification in his flying conditions. Opacity is not good, in many circumstances, as we shall see.

Combined with the timing of his flight–well into the evening hours, past 9:00 PM, where the layer of pollutants most adversely affected the visibility of the horizon line, landmarks or other visual cues–these particulates, together with JFK Jr.’s lack of instrument training resulted in the tragic event known in aeronautics as a graveyard spiral.

Graveyard Spiral

Graveyard Spiral

The concept itself is self-evident, but bear with me. Control of the aircraft is lost, usually in a steep, diving turn. Leading up to the spiral, however, the pilot is blissfully unaware of the condition, believing he or she is maintaining an even steady flight path. In some aircraft, the pilot could be upside down without being aware of it. That’s because a gradual change in any direction of movement may not be strong enough to activate the fluid in the vestibular system–hey, that’s the inner ear–so the pilot may not realize that the aircraft is accelerating, decelerating, or banking. A pilot can enter a banking turn and experience the sensation that the airplane is no longer turning. If the pilot attempts to level the wings, the action will produce a sensation that the airplane is turning and banking in the opposite direction. If the pilot believes it’s an illusion of a counter-turn, they will overcompensate and turn in the wrong direction even harder.

According to one study, 19 of 20 non-instrument-rated pilots went into graveyard spirals within 178 seconds of onset of conditions. 3 minutes of disorientation, during which one is entirely unaware of one’s disorientation: 95% mortality rate.

Enough aviation arcana. Why am I so desperately seeking an Otolaryngologist to help me through my understanding of John John’s fatal flight? Why do I need an ENT for the soul?

I Heart Huckabees

I Heart Huckabees

Do these even exist, like existential detectives in I Heart Huckabees?

After spending more than four hours in the ER on Monday, CT scanned, eventually cleared of a stroke, opacity is discovered. Opacification behind the left ear. Pollutants in my flight path. In this case, either a cause–or result of–my biennial, debilitating sinus “events.” I’ve grown used to them. Massive sinus pressure accompanied by temporarily diminished hearing out on my left ear. The feeling, not ironically, of being in a plane, going up and down, trying to find its proper altitude, giving me no release from the tubes in my ear trying to keep up and recalibrate, re-equilibrate, a term known as barotrauma. My own particular barotrauma has resulted in compressed nerves, pain, congestion and other–reportedly temporary–conditions upon which I choose not to dwell. If only to avoid my own spiral.

So clear skies and easy flying gives way to pollutants. Opacity. Barotrauma. Spatial Disorientation?

Is my own barotrauma causing this Spatial Disorientation? This enriching and empowering sense of certainty tempered by an equal measure of certitude in my own lack of certitude? If that’s elliptical, try flying upside down and feeling entirely certain that you’re doing just fine…

But, unlike John John or other pilots in similar conditions, I’m not unaware of my disorientation. I feel it distinctly. Or is this what happens to those 19 pilots? Are they convinced of their certainty? Moreover, are they convinced of their certainty, when in the face of conditions that render their (suddenly insufficient) training powerless, also convinces them of their lack of conviction? Their absolute assuredness that they’re doing things right even though they know that they desperately need those instruments and can’t be sure that what they’re doing is, in fact, right?

What about that 20th pilot? What did he do to avoid the graveyard spiral?

So I await an ENT referral in the hopes that something can be done to relieve the pressure. Put the pain in abeyance. Re-equilibrate my middle ear. De-barotraumatize me. Unclench the grip on my nerves. For the annoyance caused by my compressed nerves, I’m reassured by the prospect of a 95% recovery rate. It’s not lost on me that the 95/5 split among those recovering inversely (perversely) mirrors the recovery rate of pilots entering a graveyard spiral.

While I wait, I’ll keep looking for an ENT for the soul to help me understand how my middle ear, my sinuses, and my painful congestion, can initiate feelings so astonishingly similar to Spatial Disorientation right here on the ground. Feelings that may have helped me understand the obtuse description of what doomed that flight into Martha’s Vineyard.

I’ll continue to hope, too, that somehow, 48 years of flying, some of it by the seat of my pants, some of it in the dark, and some of it in conditions that were simply foolhardy, may just be the threshold of cockpit time distinguishing one of those pilots from the other 19.

“…the beating of his heart…”

mannproudfleshI was a little bit crushed when I sent this image on Valentine’s Day and it landed with a thud. No comment, no appreciation.

I’ve loved Sally Mann since first laying eyes on Candy Cigarette ages ago.

sally-mann-candy-cigaretteThe perfection of the tonal range and composition are not even worth mentioning, they’re so obvious. But the audacity, the transcendent wisdom of her daughter, in such a mature, confident pose, is what hooked me immediately. I can go on and on about which of Mann’s images I like most, but this isn’t a critique per se, more of a lament, or an unsatisfied desire.

Ponder Heart, 2009, from the series Proud Flesh arrested me in much the same way, but left me with longing and an aching heart.

At first, the image isn’t obvious at all. Her husband, sitting against a glass window on a winter afternoon with his right hand on his left shoulder. The glass has striations, making it appear – at first – as a series of marks or scars running down his back. And the depth of field and selective focus eliminates any potential connection with this man as his face is turned, back to us, hair, face and window a blur.

But the text. Reveling in the memory of a woodstove, some bourbon, and NPR, Mann focuses instead on his fingers. His fingers?  Mann writes:

You see that slight movement at the tips of his fingers

That is the beating of his heart…

I was awed and devastated. Awed at the attentiveness to her husband, the observation of such minute movements, and the connection to the heart that still beats for her. Inspired by the intimacy that comes with over forty years of marriage, and that the desire to look for those signs, those movements, those signs of life – and love – is still there.

And devastated by recognizing the absence of such generosity in my life. Does it only come after 40 years of marital attentiveness? I hope not. Will someone notice the twitch of my fingers after 40 minutes, 40 days, 40 weeks?

Simone Weil once said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” When viewed through this lens, the image reveals Mann’s generosity of spirit in an act as simple as focusing her lens on her husband’s quivering fingertips. And it encourages us all to stop.

Stop and give your attention to your spouse, partner, friend, wherever possible. You may see signs of feelings, of love, that you may have doubted or feared were gone. Or you may just be initiating a cycle of generosity that offers no immediate sign or artifact. Either way, it seems like an easy way to be generous that will reap dividends many times over.

ASPP as Reassimilation Therapy

ImageA good friend called recently and finally, after some fear and trembling, asked me to take over the co-presidency of the Midwest Chapter of ASPP (American Society of Picture Professionals) on a temporary basis. I was honored, flattered and used everything in my rhetorical kit bag to convince him of the lunacy of his request.

I was active with ASPP for many years, served on the board, and – apart from the recurring identity, mission and differentiation challenges accompanying any association – really enjoyed the experience. Still, I was reluctant.

I had left this business. Shed my skin. Went to two coasts to avoid it. Except for the many solid friendships I had forged, I crossed the street any time I saw a stock agent, stock shooter or PACA member. The only PACA’s I dreamt about were Alpacas. 

Don’t pretend you don’t know how this ends. 

Though it’s only been a few short months, I find myself grateful for Michael’s request in unexpected ways. Resuming age-old conversations with former colleagues and friends, I find comfort in learning that the more things change, the less they change. I’m discovering a certain universality of view that was formerly disposed toward the particular. And I’m sensing stirrings of lately-dormant passion and interest in ideas and concepts that have eluded me for the past 18 months or so.

Combined with independently cultivated readings – I highly recommend To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov for anyone seeking a tonic to the inebriation of 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 fixes to every seemingly “unfixable” problem – I keep discovering threads that have been hidden in the warp and the weft of the past 18 months.

ASPP is serving as my forced reassimilation. 

So, while it’s not necessarily a deep thought, I suppose the lesson learned here is:

Say Yes.

And be present for what happens next.

Mossy is My Keyboard…

caravaggiolazarusIt’s hard to fathom that it’s been over a year since I’ve blogged.

There are hundreds of reasons for the silence – personal/professional, private/public, but mostly it has been sheer exhaustion from the dislocation and loss of the past year.

And so, like the biblical figure rendered by Caravaggio at left, I’ve come out of the ground.

So let’s get going, shall we?

The Zen of Cycling


Near Fitchburg, WI

I had every intention of commenting on Tim Kreider’s insightful editorial, Cycle of Fear, when it first appeared in May. April and May produced their own cycles of fear, however, none of them biking-related.

When I described a recent 40 mile ride through rural Madison, Wisconsin to a friend, his comment – “…sounds like it gives you a lot of time alone with your thoughts…” – reminded me of the piece and my initial reaction to it.

Cycling on a stationary bike gives one time alone with one’s thoughts. Those first minutes drowsing in bed in the morning; unencumbered by responsibility, email, texts or phone calls gives one time alone with one’s thoughts.

Cycling, whether on a downtown street or the shoulder of a rural highway, is never conducive to rumination, however.

My focus pivots constantly between car doors, traffic, small animals, children, potholes, gravel, my route (often only loosely charted out), my leg position, my seat position, the heat, the angle of my neck as I reduce strain on my shoulders, my hydration level, that “crunchy” sound I just heard while shifting gears, my tire pressure, average speed, miles ridden and miles to the next opportunity to rest and refuel. For good measure, I pause to dwell on that persistent ache in my left wrist and whether I remembered to pack my tire lever.

I suspect if I rolled this all up into a zippy chart, the survival component of those thoughts would consume 95% of the pie. Kreider takes it to the psychological limit:

“Your brain’s glad to finally have a real job to do, instead of all that trivial busywork. You are all action, no deliberation. You are forced, under pain of death, to quit all that silly ideation and pay attention. It’s meditation at gunpoint.”

I remember now why I bristled at my friend’s innocuous comment.

Cycling used to be a primary mode of transportation for me in places like Eugene and Portland when I refused to own a car. It was a functional enterprise. Lately, it’s become a refuge. Somewhere I can go for 3 hours and close off the chatter, anxiety and feelings of loss that have swollen that particular wedge of my own personal pie chart of contemplation.  Kreider puts it better than I can:

“But it’s at those moments that I become briefly conscious of what I actually am — a fleeting entity stripped of ego and history in an evanescent present, like a man running in frames of celluloid, his consciousness flickering from one instant to the next.”

So the next time someone asks me to join them for a relaxing ride along the lake, I’ll kindly refuse and opt instead for the ego-stripping evanescence of an urban foray or long-haul ride through the country. It’s an incredible way to be truly present and find sanctuary. From oneself.


The Real Face of the Mean-Spirited GOP

I came across this video having spent a significant part of the morning reviewing SCOTUS’ decision on the ACA. The raw cellphone video captured moments after the initial news of the Individual Mandate being struck down on the basis of the Commerce Clause shows GOP Representative Jean Schmidt from Ohio’s 2nd District reacting as though she just learned that her daughter was finally freed from years of brutal imprisonment at the hands of Somali warlords.

I won’t dwell on the easy targets like FOX and CNN; Jon Stewart and others have done a far better job of that than I could. And that’s really not the point. CNN and FOX are really only giving us what we want. But this woman, that’s another story.

MSNBC attributes her reaction as a “…testament to the initial flurry of misinformation surrounding the court’s ruling.” All I can see is a hateful, mean-spirited woman doing a jig at the prospect of 30 plus million Americans not being able to access affordable healthcare.

This is the same angry woman who attacked the distinguished Vietnam vet, Democratic Representative (and former Marine) John Murtha, of Pennsylvania, on the House floor in 2005 by implying that he was a coward. She later asked for her remarks to be stricken from the House record.

Two other brief points. First, Schmidt’s official House bio touts some of her signature issues as “…child nutrition and women’s health…” I can’t quite see how she squares that circle when the ACA goes such a long way toward leveling the playing field, particularly for women. I can only imagine the blood-curdling shriek of glee she would have let out if this were Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Finally, I decided to write Representative Schmidt to thank her for her brave, courageous display of honest emotions when she didn’t think anyone was watching. Thing is, her email address is not published, and she “can only” receive automated emails from people in her district. Having written and called my own Reps and Senators numerous times in the past, I was shocked to realize how fire-walled off our public servants are. So much for transparency. I think I’ll pop for the 45 cents anyway.

So, remember this face; this jig; this (almost literal) dancing-on-the-grave of millions of Americans without access to affordable healthcare. After all the arguments and parsing of constitutional language, THIS is the real face of those that want to disenfranchise so many. THIS is the face of someone who goes to sleep each night earning $174,000 a year of our money with sterling healthcare. THIS is the real face of the GOP. And it’s NOT a pretty face…

Richard Serra @ SFMOMA

With so much happening on the personal front (family illness, relocation dislocation, etc.) I’ve been delinquent in commenting on a recent trip to San Francisco and the Richard Serra drawing retrospective at SFMOMA.

Serra’s massive Cor-Ten steel sculptures are legendary. His drawings have received less attention – and that’s a pity. The large drawings, using layered paintstick to build up incredible density and texture are as resonant as Pollocks or Rothkos. They have the dimensionality of a Tapies without violating the plane of the surface quite as aggressively.

Serra, House of Cards

My two favorite pieces were not drawings at all, however.  House of Cards, is a set of four 4-foot-square, inch-thick slabs of lead antimony precariously balanced against each other.  The tension of creating a four-foot, one-ton object hinting at such delicacy and precariousness hit me like a, well, like a 4-foot square slab of lead antimony as I entered the gallery dedicated to this piece. It’s as though a simple gust of wind could have upset the whole affair. And yet…


Serra, To Lift

The other highlight from the show, To Lift, was produced in 1967 using discarded vulcanized rubber. This delicate three-foot high sculpture is both confounding and playful. Expecting the mass and solidity of steel or lead antimony, you’re confronted by a soft, sloping shroud-like sculpture that looks almost wearable.  Incredible.


I love finding new surprises in the work of artists I thought I knew….