Side Street Egress

Billy here: Work today was one of those tornadoes that keeps going even after the work load lessens because you are still swept up in the chaotic head space. This is perhaps a good analogy for the whole season as I have been experiencing it. A lifetime of catching up: catching up on sleep, catching up on culture, catching up on my own heart gone racing ahead…I found myself saying out loud today to my sister that I wasn’t expecting to lose heart quite so hard coming back to the city from the mountains. But it’s not that I’m losing heart now, it’s only that I realized I lost heart a bit ago and now I’m catching up to it again. The last couple of weeks work has been stressful but I’ve been playing piano almost every day and my emotions have been stirring again. The bits are coming up from the deep, evoked by music, a flower, or a film. The dulcimer and the grey-greens of the moss and vines are swirling the sediments of heartaches already passed up through my eyes, spilling up that mother salt water.

New art projects are cracking the shell that has been frozen for a while. I set out the day planning, but the most important task could be cracking that shell. The Earth opens up her skin and we all come out, all sorts of life from her pores. This is what I remember from being a kid – listening to beautiful music with the trees and the plants, and being moved to tears by the heartbreaking beauty of it all – the elegance, the decaying, swirling river of leaves. I never noticed the blossoming cherry next door behind the stand of birches. Perhaps because I did not smell it until now. There is the acrid intensity, almost like urine, that sickly sweet of spring. There is a poem by e. e. cummings I remember having to copy as a kid and it has stuck in my memory for eternity, though now I realize how dark this must seem!

O sweet spontaneous

earth how often have

the

doting

fingers of

prurient philosophers pinched

and

poked

thee

, has the naughty thumb

of science prodded

thy

beauty,            how

often have religions taken

thee upon their scraggy knees

squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive

gods

(but

true

to the incomparable

couch of death thy

rhythmic

lover

thou answerest

them only with

spring)

– e. e. cummings

The Earth, I feel, will only take abuse so long. I walked by a sticker on the crosswalk button just now that said: “old wounds abuse”. Although it may have been a snarkism, I found it profound, for it seems accurate that the old poison keeps us stuck in the patterns that are no longer necessary. How many thousands of years will pass before we realize that violence, sexism, racism, and all the other -isms, actually do not help our survival?

How many breaths will it take to breathe out the anxieties of childhood, the dangers we learned, the violence we absorbed just by living in a world that condones cutthroat tactics to rise to the top of dominance in war and finance? Are they not the same? Have not all the saints and poets eschewed them as such? Not to say that that I am either! And if I were, perhaps I would not be taking a paycheck at all. Perhaps I would be sleeping in the shelters for the homeless. It struck me a bit ago that the difference between madmen and prophets is perhaps that madmen still retain a shred of ego after having been annihilated and hold on to it for dear life, while prophets have had their ego annihilated completely and therefore are content to give everything back to the world, because they know that they are the world already.

Spence here: Yesterday I was having a hard time. It was one of those days where I felt of the entire planet’s surface area there was still no nook left for me to sit alone and be quiet with my thoughts. City life just isn’t for me. No wonder people for centuries have taken off across the ocean in vessels towards mystery and salty wind. Perhaps they were driven by a need to have a cup of coffee without a dog barking, a small child yowling, a ranter on a cell phone or a cop car sirening. Looking out at a vast openness of sameness waving water–that sounds like the perfect remedy. So when I saw a cool old door leaning up against the wall on a side street, of course I went through it and spent the day in peaceful anti-caterwauling. I saw flower petals, trees, green patterns of every shape and color, grand old retired fossils and new blooming life. I saw a light-filled structure called “The Sky Building”. It had a foundation and windows, but mostly was made of mirrors, so when I was near the base of it, looking up, it disappeared into the sky and had no roof

Of course I didn’t go through the door, but went to work instead, where it was “go time”. I clocked in and before I knew it, time had evaporated. I had a nice walk on the way though, and was reminded that walking is its own kind of solitude, even in the city. It is good to have time to dream, for it gives us space for hope. While the Buddhist’s may argue that we, as humans, are caught in the loop of hope and fear, my retort is hope is a remedy for fear. I am not talking about controlling an outcome, but rather conjuring feelings from our childhood, the forgotten brightness, of what we wanted to make our world like in the future and sticking to it–creating and replenishing magic time. Even finding magic time in the seemingly mundane. This week it’d be good to get to the ocean for a day I think.

Speaking of nautical sea-faring ways, there are three knots I would like to master soon:  the Bowline, the Trucker’s Hitch and the Blood Knot. There are several useful knots I know already, like the Simple Fisherman’s Knot and the Lark’s Head Hitch, and the Reef Knot. The bowline I have successfully tied, but can never remember on the spot how to do it when I need it, so therefore it is still on the list. The blood knot isn’t always needed, but it is a very attractive knot and permanent for those times when a commitment is necessary. The Trucker’s Hitch has been listed as a backpacker’s “go-to survival” knot in many articles. Similar to a Sheep-shank, this knot can be load-bearing and easy to adjust. One can use it in place of cord tensioners on the ropes securing a tarp or tent, thus saving weight and lessening one’s gear pile. I was thinking about knots today as I looked up where to take sailing lessons and small wooden craft classes. I am sure there are many more I need to know, but for now, that’s a start.

Sometimes it seems I know a collection of random things and how could they possibly add up to anything relevant. I guess if someone is talking about the knowledge in terms of a career, I’m certainly not going to profit from randomness, however, I like to think I am preparing for something. There is a quote that lives on our fridge in the main house, and is similar to one I have read before about how all the experiences we have prepare us for what we do not know, but it is still important and necessary.

There will come a day for all of us that shows us without a doubt or room for discussion that all the roads of our lives have led directly to here.

–Tyler Knott Gregson

This week I fixed a stool, two doors, my drums, my own bike, the bike at work, (which I have to name soon I think), some shelves, a sticky desk drawer, a dishwasher and my attitude. Pretty good week. I am looking forward to taking more photographs this week with “real” film, and submitting 6 new poems to various publications… stay tuned!

“Red Priest” Love Spring Rising

Spence here: Alongside trees and flowers, magic also started to bloom this week, as Billy and I spent some time brewing, creating, music-making and cavorting.

We kicked the week off by moving into our music studio. Both Billy and I have enjoyed some creative solitude and practice time already in the space. The first night, we sat on the cozy bench, cheering and conjuring up possibilities–movie nights, outdoor seating nooks, roof ideas and where to put the typewriter! Something about a new space always excites me and my mind wanders through all the time-continuum of potentialities. I have something to tell all of you–I am a dreamer. I realized this while playing drums in our studio yesterday. I like to imagine where I will be, what we will do next and how or why we will get somewhere and this spurs me on into life. While playing guitar, I moved similarly through the past, which explains why I spent most of high school staring out the windows or writing poetry. Luckily, I found a partner who also reflects these sentiments, looking out and up, and by doing so, looks in.

Finally our brew is in the making. We boiled up the wort with help from several “friends” hanging around in the kitchen on a heart-breakingly sunny day. It feels good to make acquaintance again with the sun at this latitude. Adding raspberries to the fermenter in the final moments created pleasing colors for this St. Valentine’s Day. Our brew now sits in our homey studio, awaiting bottling day, a few weeks away. Bloop. Bloop. Bloop. We call it “‘Red Priest’ Love Spring Rising”.

For our big night out this month, we attended an Australian film called “Charlie’s Country“, shown through the Portland International Film Festival at Cinema 21. (Billy also got to see “The Boy and the World” from Brazil, but alas, I had to work). The film is essentially about our main character, Charlie, who is an Aboriginal fella, trying to find his place among an ever-changing scope of new White history.  I really appreciated the pacing of “Charlie’s Country” and the effort to illustrate the dichotomy which has become life for native (and some non-native!) peoples everywhere–how to embrace the present and move forward, carrying important beliefs, intentions, history and old ways ahead with optimism and a prideful cultural expression. What is it about a person (or community) living simply, co-creating with the environment they live, with indigenous knowledge, that is “lazy”, “unproductive”, offensive or even threatening? Why is there always some bureaucratic intervention? I know there is more to it than this…my simple quandary enveloped in a web of complicated interrelations. How does “living” come to mean what or how a person earns, i.e. “A Living”? As opposed to just living, alive, like being? I enjoyed the scene in the movie where Charlie and his friend are leaving the community to go live in the bush and the car they are driving runs out of gas. They just start laughing and then start walking. I also liked when Charlie catches a fish and talks to it right before eating it. He lived in the rain, the sun and the dirt.

After the movie we walked quietly to the MAX station and took a nice train ride home. Its hard not to be reflective after a movie like “Charlie’s Country”, but that is why I like to see and hear such creations. I wondered who was living in all those blocks and blocks of apartments we passed–who is tucked away in there out of view–artists, party-store employees, bankers, shamans, doctors, lawyers, witches, hacks? I was thinking about work, and how we all have our “real work” to do–the work that sustains us and doesn’t feel like work. I just wish that didn’t include monetarily prioritizing each others’ endeavors. By any stretch of judgement, Billy and I had one of the best weeks of our “real careers” so far this year!

Billy here: It seems that the city of Portland itself is bipolar, which might be why it attracts so many eccentrics. As the depressive listless state of winter lifts, spring comes in manic and we are all swept up with it! I am surprised to find the quince and cherry already blossoming. The camellias have already bloomed and are dropping. Spring has reared her head early and by summer’s end her feet may have worn a path of drought. But for now the people are smiling and the flickers singing. As the Northeast and Midwest is being blasted by yet another snow storm, the West is balmily preparing for what looks like will be yet another heat stricken summer.

On our magic day of brewing herbal beer, the sun dried out the moss and we flung the windows open for the first time this year. We listened to the ensemble Red Priest play the music of Bach as if possessed themselves with the mania of spring. The morning of brewing I was still enthralled with the movie I went to see the night before at the Portland International Film Festival, The Boy and the World. It seems strange to try and write about the animated movie, since most of it was wordless and none of it was subtitled. At first I thought it was going to be a sweet little hand-drawn movie about a kid, but as the world it painted and played with music combed out my memory of the English language, my perceptions changed. The charming childlike world of the rain forest gave way with surprise when the industrial world invaded in collages of magazine print, riot cops, textile factories and barges of clothing to be shipped overseas. Then the indigenous uprising came forth in a battle between the rainbow phoenix of the tribes and the black bird of the military industrial complex. The only words spoken were the sparse indigenous words of the parents and the lyrics of the peasant music, but with such simplicity and honesty this art explained globalization and colonization that a child would understand it. I loved the humorous collages of pasted magazine eyes and lips for the TV/advertisement propaganda personalities. This is now one of my favorite films in its creativity, its non-linear spiral of surreality, its ability to create an emotion-scape without words, its unapologetic critique of industry and imperialism, and its hope. It was so inspiring that everything after seeing the movie I recognized as art: the train ride home, the city on the river, the reflections in the window glass downtown, the roars and beeps of the city. That is what good art does, it puts us right back into the Dreaming that is always art infinitely creating, out of itself, literal dreams and the dreams we forgot, until they become reality.

In other news, today, keep your hearts perked for the black new supermoon! This will be the nearest new moon until 2020 and will affect the spring tides strongly. A ‘black moon’ is a relatively recent term explained in this helpful article about today’s particular moon on Earthsky.

Hopefully by this time, another year’s winter has ground us down for remaking. Are we ready to plant something new?

Cheers to Weirdos and City Parks in Portland, Oregon

Billy here: When I first visited Portland, I was a fresh faced sixteen year old queerdo. I saw girls holding hands with other girls in public! I saw pink mohawks, hairy legs, girl punk bands, record stores, art shows and costumed unicyclists! I wanted to move to Portland as soon as I possibly could! Eight years later I finally made it here and made a rock and roll production with some of the very same women I idolized in my teen years. It seemed like Portland was a city of dreams come true.

But then, as one of my good friends has said, Portland also “kicks your ass” to see if you can hack it. Nearly everyone I’ve ever known got their ass kicked almost immediately after moving here: heart break, debt, bike wreck, you name it, sometimes all at once. Well, it seemed like I was already black and blue on the posterior when I got here, but there’s that old adage: The same thing will keep happening until you learn the lesson it’s trying to teach you. People will keep pushing your buttons until you learn to stand up for yourself. Portland is now so intimately tangled into my own personal history that I don’t know how to talk about it objectively. We are always a part of our geography. But my point is, for something this good, Ye Olde Portland, you have to work hard. That work is usually emotional and spiritual work. Money doesn’t get traded for it.

We walked long miles through the town one evening together, our first real walk on the town after moving back from the mountains, and noticed the city seems to be “growing up” – gentrification, hipster-ification, whatever you want to call it. But this “growing up” is represented by a new generation and immigrants from folks from places like L.A. and Brooklyn. Among the new condos, literally every other new fancy business is a swank bar or a hip hair salon, with an occasional baby boutique. It seemed, we joked, that young people are interested only in looking good and getting drunk, and that the result of these two things leads obviously to having babies. I was somewhat dejected by this. Where was the old Portland? And was my favorite city of working hard for things more meaningful than money getting taken over by the capitalists once and for all? Or was Portlandia convincing urbanites everywhere to move in? 

Ah, but I’ve been taking more walks and I see the food forest gardens where parking lots used to be, intersections painted with rainbows of flowers, avant music salons tucked away behind the condos, independent publishing companies like Microcosm still selling zines on how to make your own tinctures and subverting paradigms, all the new vibrant murals, and, of course, the goat herds on public blocks. All we have to do is step outside and walk, and we are a part of all this. Where there is freedom to create, humans create. We won’t be squelched by the rat race. Maybe I will write a song on the harpsichord tomorrow and wear something sparkly…

Spence here: In a previous job, I won’t mention which one, I spent a year of my life talking about “Good Growth Principles”. Basically, it was a way for our team at the time not to feel bad about over-development, making more money, continuing to over-burden ourselves with work in the name of “Progress”, gentrification, and “spreading our business model”. I was thinking I would be way more into the conversation of “Good Growth” and its equally boring “Growth Capacity” if we were talking about the plants taking over the buildings, or moss growing on neglected cars or uprooted sidewalks, replaced by cedar foot paths. I have always been a fan of “Ruin-Porn“. But it’s tricky talk because to fix neighborhoods up and bring in needed services isn’t inherently bad. Perhaps it is the question of empowering people to get involved–to enable each other in our neighborhoods to collectively better the health of our places–caring for all the inhabitants, people, plants, animals, water, air, soil, spirits. Alas, capitalism and helping our neighbors sometimes are entirely different pursuits. That said, I guess I can appreciate when a new grocery store goes in (granted it is one the people who live there can actually afford) but I’d rather see a farm. But here we are again, trying to judge what might be good growth. I can tell you this, store front after store front of swank bars and hair salons isn’t exactly what neighborhoods need. Which is what we encountered on our big walk through the city this week.

But today, this blog isn’t about what is wrong with Portland, or every other revitalizing city, (whose “Growth Capacity” sends investors drooling), it is about what we love about being here. Every place has its pros and cons and complaint department, but Portland actually has a pretty big “Yay!” department.  Recently, we walked through two of my three favorite city parks, Laurelhurst Park and Mt. Tabor Park, (my other favorite being Forest Park.) I love Mt. Tabor for its “hill-top” view, old, mossy castle-looking restrooms and reservoirs like moats around them, and its friendly steps. Our friends were married in this park a few years ago, and we found a newly planted tree right where their ceremony was…did they plant it? The tree had little feathers on strings tied to the branches, as well as small beads stuck onto the twigs and plastic hearts dangling from twist-ties. Could that have been the work of our magical friends? Walking further around the circular drive, we came to a funny stuffed animal sitting on a wood fence.  Several couples were sitting on park benches chatting, the misty background and calm trees creating a very pleasant attitude–no one seemed to think the stuffed animal was the least bit remarkable or odd. This, is what I love about Portland: a strange, home-made stuffed animal, lacking features, such as arms or a mouth would be pretty “at home” here, sitting on the fence at the park, next to the other weirdos. Another wonderfully weird thing about Portland are all the toy horses (or monsters or dinosaurs or super heroes) tied to the old metal ring hitches, set into the the curbs for when people still had real horses in the city. I noticed this phenomenon a few years back walking along the neighborhoods bordering Laurelhurst Park.

Basically, if it is conventional, people here aren’t really interested. You can be a pizza delivery guy anywhere, but here it’s by bike–my current profession! And we deliver beer too! And actually, people have all sorts of jobs here and seem to get by loving what they create and vice versa. There are tall bikes (bikes welded on top of each other) ridden as daily commuters! There are punk bands playing on bridges, art in the trees, tiny hobbit doors set into the nooks of Douglas Fir trees, recycling of everything (I heart SCRAP) and DIY everything and even a misunderstood worship of fashion from the 80s. I think a lot of what I love here is that people really do pay attention to details in an aesthetical way–they care about art and creativity and doing things a little differently.

And then there are collectives: bike collectives, wood collectives, clown collectives, dance collectives, food collectives, meat collectives, housing collectives, urban farm homestead collectives, awakenings collectives… you get the idea. Next week, Billy and I head out to the International Film Festival, which never fails to give insight and inspiration. Also, the Portland Art Museum has a free night at the end of the month we will try to attend. We basically go to the Multnomah County Library everyday and Billy is excellent at finding new music to bring home–or old–the last few weeks I have been listening to the Smiths Box Set over and over again, playing the drums in our newly finished studio.

As far as capitalism goes, VeloCult is my new favorite business: a full service bike shop, which repairs bikes, sells new and old, sells coffee, sells beer and has shows on a homemade stage salvaged from an 18th century drawbridge… They even have a bike museum, with such frames formerly belonging to Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond from the Tour de France. My new favorite anti-capitalist place besides the park, is called Bike Farm: a neat non-profit that exists solely to create space for people to learn how to be self-reliant with bicycles, skills and confidence. Needless to say, I am happy to walk, bike and engage in this city. I have a lot of hands in different things right now, which are all fun and interesting, but the best part is my hand is in Billy’s hand too. We made a pact to try to get the most out of being here this time around, and try to do all the things we always said we wanted to do. I am happy that also includes getting out of the city to Mt. Rainier, Three Sisters, Mt. St. Helens, Goat Rocks and other amazing wilderness areas coming up.

The Earth Grows Back

Spence here: Imbolc (pronounced im’olk) is a new-ish term to me, but one which I understand from lifetimes ago. Like its lost weird grand-kid, Groundhog Day, Imbolc is a Gaelic festival marking the mid-way point between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, where we look forward to the end of winter and new beginnings. The days are getting longer, the sun is throwing back the covers a little more often, dogs and squirrels are getting antsy and people too. Whether or not “Phil” sees his shadow, this time brings about positivity and plans…I recently read in Paris (and maybe many other places), goat herders used to run their goats into town in the early morning, milk them into large pots on people’s doorsteps, whom paid the herder and had fresh milk for the week. For some reason, this delights me, even though I don’t care for goat milk. It reminds me of lost connections and Imbolc feels like that: like waking up in the morning and knowing something special is going to happen.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.

–Ernest Hemingway

As I ran around the yard taking photos, I realized the essence of Spring is everywhere. Had I noticed until now? Having a name for this future hope is, for me, what Imbolc is about. The plants look a little less threatened by impending frost, less downtrodden with torrential rain—more confident. The dirt looks inviting, more sponge-like and capable. Even the lemon tree, wrapped in wool blankets on the porch has taken a step forward with multiple buds and a cheery disposition. I, too, am still wrapped in long underwear and two sweaters, much like the Midwest and east, still under snow and hibernation, but warming with excitement of grander days and plans.

The seeds of the New Year have not yet been soaked, nor awakened, but maybe sorted. I have plans this year to take a sailing class, a wild edible plants class and to volunteer at the small wooden craft (boat) center, here in Portland. I have already started to volunteer at a non-profit bike shop called Bike Farm. I am still looking for a good job, which I would love at the very least to teach me something new. More music and school are also on the burner.

This morning I woke up on the Malabar Coast–the Western ocean side of India. Just kidding. But recently, I have been writing short stories of fiction which have foreign (foreign to me anyway) backdrops for the characters. One is about a woman who is a reporter, who ends up on a desolate beach in Jamaica, with marijuana runners. Another is about an older Italian man, trying to convince his landlord that he is actually his French twin brother. Billy and I got to talking today about the spice trade and I decided Malabar is somewhere I want to go, if not for the black pepper I could get there, but for the culture, the fishing and the food. I am interested in stories that change us and want to actively seek those out this year, in writing or learning. These are the seeds of our imagination, but they can also be what determine our next planting. Instead of feeling like the New Year’s resolutions have worn off, we want to reconnect and recommit throughout the year, following these rituals (like Imbolc) from the land and the sky, such as our ancestors did.

Imbolc is an honoring of what’s not present yet. It represents the words yet to be spoken, the potential in our spirits, the ‘calm before a storm’ of growth, the quiet before the show, and the unknown baby before its birth…Imbolc’s beauty is in its waiting and not knowing.

– Heather Greene

Billy here. Here in the Pacific Northwest the bulbs and buds are starting out, but the days are still short and grey. The full moon behind the light-polluted clouds woke us up last night and I thought it was almost dawn. I was about to get up and make breakfast when Spence checked the watch and reported that it was only 2:11am. The old festival of Imbolc seems like this to me: the light of the full moon before dawn. There is so much strength in spring. Each year, no matter how brutal the winter, the plants always grow back.

That being said, the fact weighs heavy that the world is warming irreversibly due to our industrial ways. It has been said that we can’t buy our way out of climate change. We all have our strong opinions and we can’t seem to agree globally on a politically acceptable way to end the runaway train our hunger for resources has started. For me, it’s all about habit. In New Mexico, when I lived off of the grid with my only source of water being rain barrels, I found it easy to conserve water because it was a necessity. If I took too many showers I didn’t have enough water to drink. It was simple and immediate. I didn’t feel like I was doing without, because I was so thankful for what I did have. In the city, with instant gratification capitalism at my feet, I find myself using more and taking more as more time passes from my memory of living lightly in the desert.

In times of old, when we were all, Europeans included, indigenous to a place and behaved as such, we celebrated many festivals such as Imbolc during a year, to remind ourselves of the pact between ourselves and the ecosystem we called home.

Your family is your entire village with all its inhabitants, living or dead.

And your relatives aren’t only human.

Your family also speaks to you in the crackling of the fire,

in the murmur of running water,

in the breathing of the forest,

in the voices of the wind,

in the fury of thunder,

in the rain that kisses you,

and in the birdsong that greets your footsteps.

-Eduardo Galeano

We can spark renewals with intention and this intention takes practice and discipline. It is not enough to make resolutions once a year. It takes a lot of energy to change a habit. I found this list in the front of my journal for 2015, so I thought I would share it here:

  • thinking happens with the heart, not just the mind, try and get out of the limitations of mind
  • you are not the one creating, you are co-creating with your environment, your tools and the medium itself
  • change mediums frequently to better understand the relationship with each one
  • express with the whole body, from the feet up, every note and brushstroke
  • act and participate, move through and dissolve resistances. what are the resistances telling you? you can ask this question while still not letting the resistance paralyze you
  • re-tune daily – listen to your body, the environment, dreams, plants, weather
  • discipline in flexibility
  • allow trickster to play – practice unstructured playfulness
  • life is art – every small act of love is a creative act – sandpaintings are lost shortly after their creation and the art of keeping house is just as ephemeral – do not succumb to materialist art! the finest art is the way we live – something that can never be captured or put in a musuem