That’s Dean Potter and his best friend Whisper. Here’s what he says to people who for some reason question the way he spends time with his dog: “Dogs don’t live as long as we do. Every day that they’re trapped inside a house is like seven days trapped inside a house for us. Certain people I know will say, ‘Hey, you’re freaking taking your dog BASE jumping you lunatic!’ But my response is that Whisper wants to come with me. My philosophy is take the dog with you. It’s part of the family. Don’t trap it in the car or at the house all the time. That’s no fun.”*
*From an interview in the July 2014 issue of Climbing Magazine
Archive for the ‘consciousness/psychology’ Category
Ok, I resubscribed to the Harvard Business Review in hopes of finding something of value for my entrepreneur son. First issue to arrive was April 2014* and a quick look at the table of contents led me to page 30 and the “Idea Watch – Defend Your Research” section with: “The Challenge – Does touching men’s underwear really make women more likely to indulge in risky, reward-seeking behavior?” The title of the article gave away the findings of this important research: “Women Too Respond to Sexual Cues by Taking More Risks”.
Hmm. Interesting. Oh ya, I remembered an MTV interview with candidate Bill Clinton during which he was asked “Boxers or Briefs?” by a cute young woman and we all know how that ended. Further recollection brought to mind the series of events that led (eventually) to the birth of all three of our children and indeed tactility and boxers had been involved! I’d long wondered what could induce a young woman in the throes of youthful exuberance to risk all for reward of unknowable dimension. It all suddenly seemed so obvious.
Unfortunately though, a complication inflected these cerebrations at the very next visit to my reading room and what else but the Economist**. Recent experiments have conclusively shown that some lab animals are so scared of men (and not women!) that pain producing nerve cells shut down. “Simply put, the animals were being scared painless. A significant increase in faecal pellets suggested they were scared shitless as well.” And, relative to the above, the mere presence of an article of men’s clothing is enough to induce the phenomena.
Hmm. Go figure. That doesn’t seem conducive to you know what. I guess it must have been my good looks and scintillating personality way back when. But maybe I’m over thinking this whole thing. Recently, while reading of correspondence between artists Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt, it occurred to me that once again I should meditate or take a run or something other than cogitate. Hesse was agonizing about aspects of her life and work to which friend Lewitt advised: “Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbing, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning… Stop it and just DO!***
*No foolin’: HBR April 2014 P 30
**Economist May 3-9, 2014 Sex, writhes and videotape
***WSJ 4 23 14 “Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt
Note: Lewitt’s “just DO! was written fifteen years before Nike took as its slogan a convict’s entreaty to his own firing squad cf April 6, 2012 below
A few weeks ago I accompanied my potter wife to the NCECA* convention in Milwaukee. I’m not an artist, but am always interested, sometimes enthralled, listening to experts describe their enterprise -whatever it might be. At the very least it can be invigorating to watch the approach of truth and beauty at the hands of a mere mortal. Occasionally, with attention and luck there will be a flight of transcendence and such was the case with Ching-Yuan Chang who you see on stage above.
Mr. Chang makes his delicate pots by first scoring (like this: /////) several smallish slabs of clay an inch or so thick and then gently throwing the slabs against the floor till they are so thin that the spaces between the lines have become linear protrusions. He then trims them and assembles the pieces into a vessel of one sort or another; a cup, a pot, a vase. It was fascinating to watch him work while slides of his fired and finished pieces flashed on the screen to the right along with photos of the landscape around Taipei.
There were two sessions. The first was from 1:00 to 4:00 PM on a Thursday and the second from 9:00 AM to noon the next day. I was there transfixed for the whole six hours. He made many different vessels, talked about his career path, related his take on the life of an artist, and with a serenity unavailable to me answered many questions, some repeated many times. “I like to keep things simple” was a frequent refrain.
Toward the end of the second session a petite and elderly Asian woman approached the microphone and asked: “Mr. Chang, I would like to know why you choose to make functional pots and not something sculpture or figure.” I’ve listened to enough related conversations between ceramicists to know that the response to that question will range from a polite demure to inane verbosity.
Mr. Chang said “Something happened to me many years ago that I remember to this day. I was staying with friends in Japan and they asked me to walk their young child down the block to kindergarten. I did so and watched in wonder at snack time when each child was given a drink in a small handmade ceramic cup. One was dropped and it shattered. My Japanese is not very good (my friends speak English), but I finally figured out how to ask ‘why not unbreakable?’ ”. Teacher smile and ask if I speak English.
I nod, she answer: “Well, they are each unique individual pieces made especially for us. Very delicate. The children usually develop favorites and return for the same one every day. But also almost every day one or two are dropped and become shards on the floor. Even in kindergarten there is realization that something special is gone forever never to be seen on this earth again. Like friend. Good lesson.” A hush fell over the room and I thought of those small faces looking down and then up. Ya, good lesson.
* (National Council for Education in Ceramic Arts – the acronym is better than the mouthful, isn’t it?)
Few days after Thanksgiving I dropped son off at train station for him to make his way back to work some six hours north. We’ve had the pleasure of A fair amount of travel by rail and find it much the most enjoyable means by which to get from A to B. You can move about, see the countryside, converse face to face, and get a neat nights sleep on longer journeys. No TSA.
Depot is about forty-five minutes from our home and as per usual I used the time to share nuggets of my accumulated wisdom. I could tell it was well received because son’s eyes were closed in concentration. We hugged, I watched him board, and the bullet quickly departed on schedule having only stopped for ten or so minutes.
Wife knew of some sort of special repository in the vicinity and asked for me to find it and bring a load of stuff home. I followed GPS to where I’d asked it to take me, but found that of the two related locations, I’d made the wrong choice. Called the place and found that I was close and that the crow’s path would take me by the rail yard you see above. It is huge.
In no hurry I stopped to survey the scene. While so doing, for some reason, my mind went back to the advice I’d shared with son. I remember thinking first that, like most of the time I hold forth, I should pay more attention to myself. And then, while recalling the wizened faces of elders telling me how best to negotiate life’s labyrinth, realized that back then I figured that the nature of my consciousness would be different by this ripe old age than is in fact my experience of it.
Thought I’d know more, feel like a sage.
Jeesh. Sharpened my pencils, sat down, and just as I was going to put point to paper, something caught my eye. I forced myself not to look, to not let myself get distracted. Again. To no avail. Couldn’t believe what I thought I’d seen. Something even older than Col Davenport’s house. I got up and looked out to see the Nina and Pinta (well full scale replicas…) tying up just down river from my window. Had to investigate.
Making my way over I encountered a couple of young geniuses. Their caps were backwards, pants riding low, and they smelled like burning leaves. Standing well back they evinced a twinge of fear. “What’s that, man?” one said. “Ya” said the other. “They’re models of the Nina and Pinta” I said. I loved helping my kids with their homework years ago and was happy to be of service to the two young fellows.
“Huh?” “Ya, huh?” “Well, you know – two of the three caravels upon which: In fourteen hundred and Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Blank stares. “They’re boats” I said. “Ooooooh” they said in unison. Guess I’ve lost my touch. I let them marvel as I paid the modest admission fee and walked toward the gang plank.
The boats are small, the Nina only sixty-five feet in length and eighteen feet wide. Below deck is storage – only. The crew spent the whole voyage on deck, virtually unprotected from the elements. That is really mind-blowing to consider even though they did know that there was major landmass a good deal west of their point of departure. A body of knowledge that began with the Vikings made that fairly plain. They were though, of course, wrong with their thoughts of what it was.
Which brought to mind an interview with alpinist Voytek Kurtyka that I’d just read. “But hell, I’ve had several great things happen in my life against all reason. What’s even more interesting is that if you manage to do something is spite of reason, the level of satisfaction is even greater – downright divine…. If something is happening inside us, there can be no boredom, and life is beautiful. I create therefore I am.”*
A conflation of recollections of my own past escapades with thoughts of the mindsets of Columbus and crew upon their return home was tough to extinguish. Who gives a shit about gold? I needed though, badly, to get some work done and headed back toward my office when I noticed something else making fast to the seawall. It was huge. Damn. “Wonder what that is…” After I’d figured that out, it was time to take my friend Nellie for a walk in the woods.
Sure hope I figure out how to turn plan B into even a modest revenue stream before my little pile of precious metal runs out. Woe is me.
*Alpinist 43 Summer 2013 Interview by Zbyszek Skierski
I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you forgot, today is Bloomsday. You remember, right? It marks the life and career of James Joyce. Why the 16th? Well, Joyce chose the sixteenth of June to be that of the perambulation of the chief protagonist of his groundbreaking novel Ulysses. Now, mining way down, to the bottom, why June sixteenth? If you’ve forgotten, I’m glad you’ve been curious enough to read this far. That had been the date of his first outing with wife to be Nora Barnacle.
They had children and Joyce said that children should be raised by love which is convenient because this particular June 16th is also Father’s Day. Joyce would agree with Swiss child psychologist Alice Miller who looked at child rearing from the opposite perspective. She wrote that the most pervasive and pernicious crime in modern society is child abuse which is at root of all evil in our world. Her biographical analysis of Hitler serves her point well.
I have been fortunate enough to have had both a great dad from whom I solicited advice for the last time the day before he died in 2007 and a great father- in-law (who died just a few months back) to whom I posed a big question nearly thirty six years ago. The former’s words helped prevent me from electrocuting myself that day and the latter gave his assent to something incredible. I miss both dearly and think of them every day. I think they’d agree that men don’t really ‘get’ kids until they have one of their own and know that they would with the Navajo who “think that a baby is fully human when it laughs for the first time*”.
Father to the Man by Tom C HunleyThe OBGYN said babies almost never arrive right on their due dates, so the night before my firstborn was due to make his debut, I went out with the guys until a guilt-twinge convinced me to convince them to leave the sports bar and watch game six on my 20-inch rabbit eared, crap TV. After we arrived, my wife whispered, “My water broke” as the guys cheered and spilled potato chips for our little dog to eat up. I can’t remember who was playing whom, but someone got called for a technical, as the crowd made a noise that could have been a quick wind, high-fiving leaf after leaf after leaf. I grabbed our suitcase and told the guys they could stay put, but we were heading for the hospital and the rest of our lives. No, we’re out of here, they said. Part of me wanted to head out with them, back to the smell of hot wings and microbrews, then maybe to a night club full of heavy bass and perfume, or just into a beater Ford with a full ash tray, speeding farther and farther into the night, into nowhere in particular. Instead I walked my wife to our minivan, held her hand as she stepped down from the curb, opened her door, shut the suitcases into the trunk, and ran right over that part of me, left it bleeding and limping like a poor stupid squirrel.
*Thanks to Dr Brother for fixing me up with this bit from the 12/20/09 NYT Mag. You would not believe the size of my clippings file.
On the way to Acadia National Park recently, for another wonderful Artist in Residency, roommate tired of my line of BS and honestly actually told me to go to hell. Taken somewhat aback, my little black angel Nellie and I went for a walk in search of exercise and relief while my mind drifted (for the umpteenth time) to thoughts of redemption. And if you follow this space at all you will know that when I saw the sign above thoughts arose related to synchronicity and hope.
Expecting an assortment of other untethered souls, I soon found that all throughout Maine “Redemption” indicates a venue at which empty bottles can be exchanged for dirty coins. Oh well, we headed back to the artist supply store where our truck was being laden, working up our best sorrowful eye routine. Our artist rolled hers. Best case scenario.
Making our way north we stopped at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art to see a remarkable show of pictures and sculptures by “Scandinavia’s most famous living artist” Per Kirkeby. The Dane’s words greatly informed the experience. “The point at which art is found is the point where what is intriguing is dangerous.” I totally buy that. In every regard. Art, on an easel or in a life, will not be found – or made – very far from the edge.
“Where is the border between one and the other way to organize matter? For a brief moment I saw geology as a worldview… A huge stream of energy and materials, which now and then converge in crystalline structures, a mountain, a church, a brief moment, a breath, a morning mist over the ever-flowing river. The mountain-building energies were no less cultural than the energies of the church-builders”.
Brilliant. Consciousness as a force of nature. Tectonic even. Those scientists in search of a grand unified theory should start with him. New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote of Kirkeby’s work: it’s like being: “hit by an abrupt , mildly disorienting spell of self-consciousness, a kind of mental stumble: the Kirkeby effect”. See? Just like the slap upside the head with which I was graced by my artist as described above.
Below you see his “Fram”. It is at once “a poetic rendition of nature with a great force of color” and a demonstration of Kirkeby’s philosophy that: “A picture without intellectual superstructure is nothing”. He has said that Fram draws from Caspar David Friedrich’s Das Eismeer (The sea of ice) which you see at bottom. If you’re not familiar with the latter, make sure to notice the shards of a wrecked ship being crushed by the ice. Fram means forward and was the name of the vessel used by polar explorer Fridtjof Nansens between 1893 and 1912.
*Quotes, photos, and information from the exhibition catalogue: Per Kirkeby Paintings and Sculpture, Kosinski and Ottmann, Yale, 2012. The show originated at the Phillips Collection and the only other venue was Bowdoin. There through Bastille Day
The object you see above, a late 19th century Nkisi Nkondi power figure from a place now either in Congo or Angola, is one of many objects used in a collaboration between the art museum and medical school of a prominent Ivy League college. (Hint: it is the only one of them not in a slum)
The program, “The Art of Clinical Observation”, endeavors to exhort med students to “learn to look”, and employs a five step approach. First, closely observe. What is it made of…? Second, analysis. Without reading the label, think about what you see. What are the nails for?
Third, research. Read the label. Does it reinforce or surprise? Fourth, interpret. What does it tell you about art and culture? Fifth, critical assessment and response. How well do you think it served its purpose and – you’re no more or less human than those for whom it was made, what emotions does it evoke in you?
Evaluations of the program have been very positive and participants found it to have been very useful in their lives more broadly. There are many “Learning to Look” efforts in art museums across the country and this was not the first collaboration with a med school, but is apparently one of few.
A Nkisi is created through a collaboration between a sculptor and a shaman. The first carves and the second adds the spiritual strength. Such objects were possessed of considerable force and power and were used for redress and revenge by victims of crimes ranging from theft to adultery.
A dormant Nikisi would be awakened by verbal harassment and the driving of a nail into its body. Its spiritual power would obtain from materials contained in medicine packs in the head and abdomen which could include such stuff as dirt from a grave, herbs, and minerals.
The victim, with the help of ritual experts, would then be able to direct the Nkisi’s awakened fury to the great dismay of the perp who should expect to have some sort of pestilence visited upon him. Very interesting. Brings to mind thoughts of the evolution of consciousness and religion.
Take away for me though is a reinforced appreciation of the incredible relationship between mind and body. I have little doubt about a Nkisi’s intercessional efficacy and, uh, Lord help me should roommate get her hands on one of those things.
*Dr Seuss/last clue.
**Lesley Wellman, the Curator of Education at this museum and person who developed this program, was named the National Art Educator of the Year for 2912 by the National Art Education Association.
The photo above shows a petroglyph that wife found in a remote quarter of the Petrified National Forest during a recent artist-in-residency. The circular maze on the left is an early Native American representation of the nature of existence. Enter, persist, and you will eventually make your way to the center.
How do I know this? Good question. Several days previous to viewing the above, ‘friend’ of my long acquaintance and I visited San Xavier del Bac Mission Church near Tucson, Arizona. It is one of the finest and oldest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America. Among much fascinating else, tour guide pointed out an image very similar to the one above and told of the Jesuit led blending of local and imported religious and architectural iconography.
You’ll agree that any given existential maze is indeed far less than straightforward and that it is comprised of many many dimensions beyond the two in the icon. And that there are infinite paths to the, uh, center and multiple dynamic forces with which one must deal along the way. For example, in the photo below you see same friend hurling the F bomb at me for the very first time earlier this summer.
I’d taken her on a vertical journey and at the time of the picture we were about a thousand feet off the deck. She was tired, thirsty, scared, and had just been informed that we had quite a ways to go and needed to hurry because an afternoon storm was fast approaching and lightning rods we did not hope to become. Needless to say I was shocked and hurt by her fury. Little did I know that the notion of retribution eclipsed all else in her mind.
Naive, I thought nothing of it when recently she suggested a trip across the border to the south. Sure, fine, let’s go. She’s fluent and it sounded like fun. Well, turned out to be the first time I’ve soiled myself in many years. While eating god knows what (she wouldn’t tell me and it was $1.00 for six) I was informed that she was sideways with a gang of local vampires and that the real purpose of our trip was further investigation related thereto.
Images of Darkness Till Dawn, long teeth, guns, knives, and blood filled my head. I might never see my little black puppy again. Knew that should violent vivisection not be the order of the day, roommate would be able to only scrounge ransom for one of us. Woe was me. Combination of food and fear made for accidental #s 1 and 2.
Saw small silver angel candlestick holder in hand of back alley vendor and thought to summon divine intervention therewith. You will see negotiation in progress below. Also notice policias. Well, you can really only make out the two at left. Why? Because the others wear black ski masks so as to render themselves anonymous to Santanico Pandemonium and all the rest. Hooded one to their right is gripping a 50 caliber machine gun.
Finally back at the border headed north ‘friend’ laughed when immigration official asked her for my papers thinking that I was not a US national (besides being visibly irresolute, I have Moor in my blood) and could tell by our demeanor who was leading the way. ‘Friend’ was in fact carrying my passport and giggled as she fumbled for it. “Shoot, it’s gotta be here somewhere….”
We obviously did make it back to our car. Emotionally spent and dehydrated I was nearly catatonic for the whole ride home. Couldn’t speak until cold beer(s) irrigated my parched throat and unlocked my mind to wonder what in the world the rest of my journey from here to the center of the maze might hold.
In about 300 AD Lu Chi wrote in his Wen Fu(The Art of Writing): “The poet stands at the centre of the universe contemplating The Enigma”. Well, that’s usually where my mind is. Thinking big thoughts, asking the big questions.
Not here. I’d like to think that here I’m less of a stick in the mud. Here it’s more like Louis Armstrong’s famous “If you have to ask the question you’ll never know the answer”. Or, as poet Michael Carey put it: “Nature speaks to those who listen and those who listen when nature speaks rarely speak at all”. (Seen that before?)
Sitting in yonder house of the crescent moon, – door wide – watching the waves and whales and gulls and seals you realize that you’re not so very different, alimentary on down. And who’s to say about relative emotional tone? The feeling part is one of the brain’s oldest. Hmm… An outhouse experience here is far more edifying than the Sunday Times on the throne at home.
After thirty-five years of figuring stuff out together, where better to celebrate than the shack you see up top and below? We sorta wonder how the kids are doing at their four cornered points of remove and how the folks are faring back home, but what could we do from here?
We do speak and listen and eat and walk the beach and two in a bunk when it feels right; draw water from the well, and solar shower out back to wash the salt off after a cold swim in the sea. It’s been incredible.
Hey Sally, look, Thar she blows!