Song for a Magnolia

Song for a Magnolia

‘Song for a Magnolia’ (48″x29″ Acrylic, Gouche and Archival Gold Ink on Salvaged Barn Wood) 2015

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you

in spite of everything,

don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your

heart and your mind and your mouth

and your gut,

don’t do it.

-Charles Bukowski

Billy here. This week Spence and I collaborated on a piece we call Song for a Magnolia. It’s the first time either of us have worked on a painting with anyone else and we both found it really delightful.

Sometimes it feels awkward to share things. There’s usually a feeling of not being good enough. My inner critic always pipes up after making art or playing music for people, “Well, that was all right I suppose, but it sure wasn’t perfect!” Oh, the old childhood issues. It’s a pungent realization that I am stingy with what I love sometimes out of fear. I could play my digital piano plugged in to the amp sometimes, so that the people around me could hear the music I make instead of playing on the headphones all the time. But there’s that stinginess. And that’s all it is. It takes generosity and vulnerability to share what we love the most, to expose our heart. Vulnerability gets a bad reputation in our culture. It’s so much more hip to be cynical, hard, mysterious, knowledgeable, snarky…in short, invulnerable. But the ability to open is actually the most courageous thing we can do. Without it there would be no life. So here it is, the imperfect things I do and am.

Being a perfectionist, it’s so incredibly difficult to release things out into the world that aren’t perfect, which is everything! You want to suck everything back in and hold on tight. Spence is really helping me relax in that way. There is no such thing as perfection. Even the supposed perfection of musical pitch is a clever cultural fudge, as properties such as the Pythagorean comma show. Physics itself is more complex that we want it to be. Things don’t line up to the patterns we see. The practice, the process, the path – that’s all we have. Everything else is temporary. If I don’t keep playing, painting, sharing, and getting feedback from sharing, then I will never get better at all. Is the work toward perfection a waste of time? Maybe only if it makes us a closed and bitter person.

Well, I’ll never be perfect, thank the stars! So that means I have a lifetime of work to do and I’ll never be bored. Meanwhile, I’d really like to give my ears to the music that is the world around me with the kind of attention I would give to a symphony.

What’s needed is to rouse confidence in your ability to give…Rousing confidence starts with appreciating yourself as you are, extending warmth to yourself so that you can extend it naturally…to others.

– Madeline Bruser, The Art of Practicing

Spence here: I love that Billy and I joined forces this week to create this piece. It really was a true collaboration, in which we came at it with all our ideas, even painting simultaneously at times. Working together exposed the myriad of ways we go after a project, our rhythms, our strengths and things we admire about each other. We have co-created much in our lives, but until now have never painted together. I am looking forward to more–we learn to accept and embrace what we both bring to the table each day. In this reflection, I feel as though I am becoming a better person. I honor and appreciate the chance to be vulnerable and timid and to grow and change, (without sounding too corny), like the blossoms of the painting as they gather layers.

A 50 year-old Magnolia tree (the stump is about three feet in diameter), once stood in our friends’ yard before they bought the home. As it “threatened” the numerous shotty carports built underneath it by the previous owners, they thought it a good idea to chop it down. Actually, almost all of the trees in the yard were chopped down, previously. Our friends are in the process of returning the land to a more natural setting–getting rid of the football field effect has been step one. Planting an orchard, creating berms and planting native plants all around have been some of the latest steps. In homage to the old tree, and trees everywhere, taken out for our convenience, protection, aesthetic, ignorance and/or safety, we offer up this painting, which now hangs in beloved friends’ living room.

Aspiring Gutter Mages

New pics of our tiny house!

Spence here:  A couple stories. An old boss of mine, who is a skate-boarder, told me once when I was trying in earnest to work on my skate-boarding skillz, “You gotta commit!” I have not taken that advice as hardily as I could. For example, I have never learned to ollie a curb on a skate-board. I gave up because I couldn’t ‘commit’–I was too scared of breaking my back. I did eventually learn to ollie curbs on a dirt bike, mountain bike, road bike and a pair of street roller blades in the 90s. Another story. There is a cartoon I am fond of, perhaps it was Larson or someone of that ilk. It is a drawing of some gentlemen, sitting around in a support group style, with the organizer sitting by a sign saying “Anal Sex Recovery Group”. The organizer is passionately stating “You’ve got to hit bottom!” It makes me laugh every time I think of it, and its been several years since I first saw the cartoon.

What is the point? The last couple of weeks I feel like I have been struggling to commit to my own life. Sometimes I drift off and I fail to connect with family, friends, work–even my current projects are collecting dust. I was sick with a stomach-flu-like illness and things have improved, yet slowly. I finished my art website and a big art sculpture I was working on, and then nothing happened. Maybe I have been taking a breather, or it is the trough after the crest, but instead I think I have floated somewhere and in the intern, caught the depression again. I forget that beast needs constant attention. It is easy to fall prey to the lethargy, non-committal, apathetic attitude, especially in Portland for some reason, as many people here seem to have the malaise plagued by cynicism and disposal income. I lack the latter, but still slide sometimes on life’s slippery slopes. The answer is re-committing. Daily yoga and exercise, helping others, building something, digging something, writing something and telling stories.

This week I re-committed. The sun is out, I am eating more solid foods again, I’m “back on the bike”. We decided we needed some spring cleaning of our spaces, and Billy took some new photos of our ‘Cabana’ and the music studio. The spaces feel better after this rearrangement and I look forward to creating more outdoor spaces for us, like an outdoor kitchen, a new roof, deck and sitting area. I walked down to the local bike shop, something I have been meaning to do for months; walked right in and with help from a neighborhood bird, might have landed myself a bike mechanic apprenticeship. This morning I went down to Pier 99; a cool old marina area on the Columbia River, located a few minutes from the house. There is a group which has been meeting there (NOT an anal sex recovery group) which focuses on the craft, upkeep and enjoyment of small wooden boats–which I have also been meaning to check out for months. I talked to John, a member of the group, and we had a lively discussion about river dories and float boats. He gave me a tour, I helped around the shop and helped John with his bike, which was a cool old Peugeot. He pointed me in the direction of a pile of books and encouraged me to take a look at some of the affordable boat kits being made by a local crafts person. Another dream I have always had is to work on wooden boats.

Billy and I are soon to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary and I feel very proud. We have been strolling the streets in the sunshine lately, and getting our summer skin. There are many new murals in town, painted since we left and it is fun to discover our streets transformed. Get back on the bike, or the board, or the trail or whatever it is you’ve been putting off all winter. On the forefront, learning, formal and informal, working, re-committing. This weekend my brother is running the Boston marathon–again. He knows what that 25th mile feels like and he is still willing to go there. That is commitment.

Bravery doesn’t mean that you don’t feel afraid. If it did, you’d have nothing to be brave about. It’s when you feel frightened of a situation but step into it anyway that you demonstrate courage.

– Madeline Bruser

Billy here. A gutter mage is a character class I made up from my nerd days of playing role-playing games with dice, such as Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun. A gutter mage is a modern sorcerer, somewhat of a cross between a crusty punk train hopper and an alchemist who studies sacred geometry. In a steampunk world, the gutter mage would call forth the symmetry of abandoned train tracks and wild raccoons to create a portal of travel or summon magical helpers. We need a little magic in our current city life phase. It’s all temporary. But it’s so simple. If we are here in the city, let’s embrace it or get back out!

It seems like there is always the danger of losing faith in ourselves. I don’t think this is unusual human behavior. For people who thrive on time to reflect in this speeding world, it seems like we are caught in a riptide. It’s absolutely easy to give in to the prevailing paradigm of the mad rush to some kind of completion.The sun has come out and has peeled back the curtains on everything internal and returned inspiration! I feel like putting exclamation points at the end of every sentence! I read recently at an art gallery a quote by a well known artist, whose name I have forgotten, which said that it is easy to be a successful artist…All you have to do is commit your life to art. Commitment is success. I am committed to Spence. We don’t have to make a certain amount of money or earn a plaque from the government that says we have jumped through the success hoops of love and earned a promotion at life. Life is a gift. Life is art. Everything else serves life, art and love, not the other way around.

All we needed was a walk down the city streets to remember that it takes all kinds to make this beautiful world. There’s the guy who always stands near the same pole and asks gruffly the same phrase to every passer-by, “You gotta quarta’?” There’s the woman with a masquerade mask on both sides of her head. There’s the guy with the zebra pants stapling up flyers. There’s the dirt bike gang with giant head pieces. There is no wrong way to live one’s life if you are doing no harm or causing no suffering. Who is to say that knitting covers for bike racks is not a valid way to spend one’s day?

There are over seven billion of us. By the time you finish reading this post the world population will have grown again by hundreds, depending on how fast you read. That’s a staggering 228,000 people per day, 1.5 million people every week and 83 million people per year. We don’t have the resources – food, water, jobs, health care, education, sanitation and not to mention space – that our parent’s generation had, and our friend’s children will have even more competition for these resources.

At this point in our history, can we afford to not be creative?

The Many Ruins and Waters of Wy’East


Spence here: The many ruins and waters trip this past weekend was only three days long, but felt like a two week vacation. When we returned to Portland, I was surprised to recall how much we explored, however, it never felt hectic or rushed. We started out with a plan to go east and find a place to catch the lunar eclipse, which could be viewed Saturday morning, early. From there we had a jumping off point, but no set road. Billy had never been to Maupin, Oregon, so all the more reason to go, where the Deschutes River runs cold through pleasing rounded brown hills. High desert smells, plants, coyotes and friendly fishing people abound there and oddly enough, a nice old preserved cow horn, which came to be in our possession. The towering canyon walls were sadly too vertical for our needed view of the moon, come morning, and so we snacked-up and proceeded to a new favorite camp spot of mine on the John Day River called Cottonwood Canyon.

Perpetually chasing waterfalls, we detoured to White River Falls State Park, driving by the Warm Springs Indian Reservation traditional fishing platforms. A large ring-necked pheasant greeted us at the entrance. A steep trail took us down the canyon slopes towards a defunct power station (in operation from approximately 1910 to 1960). It set up a great photo extravaganza, as I took the whole roll of 35 mm film, which I was saving for the rest of the trip. Worth it. The canyon stretched on in the sun and dramatic dark cloud play and we savored the exploration like little kids. Behind every rock and pipe was a new plant, flower, photo op and smooth gray sand ripple. The White River eventually flows into the Deschutes River. We probably could walk the whole way, we pondered.

Losing time, we finally headed out to Cottonwood Campground. It was a bit busy and very windy when we arrived. I argued with the wind setting up the tent, but once staked out, proved to be an excellent palace for napping and gin rummy. We rose at 5:00 a.m., made a small fire and watched the Earth’s shadow move across the moon, with only a few birds and spirits watching. The rest of the campers had decided to stay in bed! While watching stars fade and tracing the hillside contours in my journal, I realized I am still wrapped up in the Western entanglements of hope and fear. What to do but realize and try to breathe.

A little while later we took a chilly stroll towards the John Day’s banks and I fished for a spell. I can’t recall ever being so relaxed in the past month as right by that river in those moments. I only caught snags, lost my favorite lure, and had a knot or two fail me, but the grin stayed on my face and a weathered elk bone accompanied Billy and I back to the Jeep in my jacket hood. Billy and I were engaged around this time last year during a lunar eclipse. Had it been a year already?!

We decided to head back along a rural route, taking Monkland Lane. Billy had spied an old church on the way out and we stopped to snoop. More ruin porn. I guest-i-mated this church was built around 1880. It still had a few recognizable pieces of hardware, which I was tempted to nab. A creepy, boarded-up, dilapidated convent-state hospital-looking building over saw the small town, but there were houses near, so we decided to skip getting close to that.

We had excellent talks in the afternoon, chasing sun patches and sitting around the fire at Bear Creek Campground, in the Mt. Hood National Forest. It was good to prioritize and give volition to the original leanings and plans about coming to Portland. A unique time to be up that high without snow, we took the chance to hike around Trillium Lake, another popular fishing haven. The fish were jumping, a Bald Eagle watched us close and the skunk cabbage was coming to life. Spur of the moment soon after, we drove up to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. I had never been up, and the history and views were imaginative. I can understand why there are so many groups formed in the area who talk about and research the Sasquatch. What a habitat. The snow is up there year-round, but this year, we could tell from exposed shale and dry patches, it is going to be a very hot summer.

You don’t run down the present, pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty-handed, and you are filled.

– Annie Dillard

Billy here. The three tribes of the Warms Springs Reservation are the Wasco, the Walla Walla and the Pauite. The Wasco were fishers who lived along the Columbia River and spoke Chinookan.The Chinookan word for the Columbia River is Wimahl. The Walla Walla, known today as the Warm Springs tribe, spoke sahaptin and lived along the tributaries of the Columbia, frequently interacting with the Wasco and moving from summer to winter villages. The sahaptin word for the Columbia is Nch’i-Wàna, which, like the Chinookan name, means essentially big river.The Paiute spoke a form of Shoshonean and lived in the high plains of southeast Oregon. They migrated further for game animals as they were not primarily fishers.

The Columbia River is the jugular vein of the Pacific Northwest. It is the fourth largest river by volume in all of North America, spanning two thousand kilometers from its headwaters in British Columbia . Under tribal care, the historic salmon and steelhead annual numbers were estimated to run up to 16 million fish. The current annual run is less than one million fish. Thirteen salmonids have made the threatened and endangered species lists. Now over 450 dams are in the Columbia River Basin and a nuclear power plant still operates on the river.

Only in the last 200 years has tribal life in the Columbia Basin been completely disrupted by the coming of European settlers. In 1855, white dude Joel Palmer negotiated treaties in order to clear the people from the land for Oregon territories. The tribes relinquished around ten million acres of land with the promise that they would still be able to fish, hunt and harvest the meager lands of the reservation. Because of forced assimilation and ecological degradation by settler agriculture, dams and other practices, their traditional ways of life were no longer as workable as they once were. In 1957, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers finished building the Dalles Dam, inundating and completely destroying the ancient fishing village and inter-tribal trade center at Celilo Falls that had existed for perhaps 15,000 years. I am finding myself very emotional over learning this fact. Maybe because on some level I knew already before reading the Wikipedia article on Celilo Falls that “Celilo was the oldest continuously inhabited community on the North American continent.”

And maybe I knew the story already because it had happened a thousand times to every tribe on the continent over the same decades that saw the dropping of the atomic bomb, the first drilling of oil, and the witch hunts of the “Red Scare” and the “Lavender Scare”. What have we lost? And is the price of modern convenience and security worth the destruction it has caused?


Spence here: Here we are in computer-land again! Although, as you read this, we will be wandering the outback somewhere in eastern Oregon, tracking down a lunar eclipse! Put your fears in a box and set it on fire! Guess this is an apt Easter post, although by accident. Happy Jesus Zombie Day, as they say in Portland! Instead of bunnies, our house got chickens this week!

I made up the word “nexit”, although I’m sure someone somewhere has already been using it for the name of some drab, highly successful business venture/merger. (Since then, that “someone” has changed their life, bought a 3 story house in a gentrified neighborhood and now they talk about real estate all day.) Anyway, I haven’t the heart to “Google It”. My own meaning of “nexit” has come to the surface as a cross between what’s next and an exit strategy. Billy and I ponder what it looks like, “exiting” society as we know it. We talk about what’s next as a step towards an alternate living situation which encompasses all that we care about–leaving a light footprint, being in nature, working with the land and creatures as opposed to domination, as well as how to sustain one’s livelihood by doing that which brings joy. Every year we understand more and get closer to our reality. This is valuable work, and in the meantime, we have come to acknowledge and embrace the nomad-life and it feels good. We like to live outside of the rules and bounds of “the everyday” and have been continually exploring. We have no other choice–we get twitchy feet, literally have restless leg, and personally, I get fussy thinking about routine and domestication. I have come to realize I prefer to shake it up because I learn from it and enjoy the new scenery. I had a therapist once tell me I “escape” to keep me grounded in reality. I admit, there are stories out there about me and the tantrums I have had in the past when moving all my stuff…if I like traveling and exploring so much why does it bring me such anxiety? Shedding/growing is like that. Anyway, we’re not getting rid of all our stuff, I guess until we’re dead, as we have plenty of heart-felt musical, arty, valuable tool-y items. However, I think this summer we will travel light, whatever we end up doing, and that feels really good.

I am brain-storm-y this week, in that I have ideas but nothing I could really set down as a plan. This is okay actually–it matches my mood and the recent spring weather. DICHOTOMOUS. It has been sunny, then see-your-breath-cold, then raining, then hailing and hot and sunny again. Sort of like my blood and all the thoughts flowing in my head, like the rivers which are too swollen and fast and murky to fish in. I have to wait a little bit before it is time for casting, or I’ll never catch anything. Might as well sit on the banks for now, get my tackle in order and crack open a cold one. By the way, we bottled our Valentine’s Day home-brew, so it might be a few weeks for that yet!

I am pleased with the direction some of my art is taking me this week. I’ve really been using my dreams more to guide my thinking and my actions; which can make life strange in a good way. I am not seeing everyday-normal things much anymore, as really looking for alternatives. This is how I like it. What is good for others may not be good for me and that is okay now.

Be conversant with transformation.
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Billy here. This week we both have been making art projects, bread, tortillas, beer, and making a little music, though not nearly enough! Even still, I feel like these processes aren’t grounding me enough. Spring is rolling the sky up and cracking it open. My dreams are mossy and dark. Things are shaking up and I feel the rumblings of arctic, the ocean rushing into rifts of ices opening explosively. I feel the dryness of the mountain orchids, the thirsty snowless slopes.

For eons, nomadic folks have migrated to follow the food sources or escape rising seas, ice ages, or droughts. Our ability to survive was in our negotiation of transformation. Many have said that we are always in transition and I believe this is true. Life is a dynamic equilibrium that thrives on adaptability. Our heart fails if it cannot adjust to different rhythms. I had a dream last year in which I lived with a family whose home was being flooded. They were living in my hometown on my street, but they were a different family, who I seemed to know just as deeply as my waking family. They warned me as the flood waters rose that the only way to survive was to be flexible, to not be attached to any one way of living.

The spring festival of Ostara in pagan Germanic Europe is the root of Christianized Easter, which was celebrated around the full moon after the Spring Equinox. The goddess Ostara or Ēostre was dawn herself, the springtime and fertility. She was connected to hares, baked goods and the renewed laying of eggs. This weekend we are taking time out to contemplate the lunar eclipse this spring full moon and also our summer adventures. It seems like an apt time to revitalize. I have five months and a whole summer until school starts in September. The seeds saved from last fall must be picked through and now we decide which ones to plant! More thoughts after we return! In the meantime, here is the art we have been working on this week, including a recording of a piano improvisation.