Wednesday, November 29, 2017

on science, love and not knowing.

I waited on an older couple last night in the restaurant. Early birds, they ordered tea. Used their phones to light up the menu navigating choices together: grilled cheese, a shaved brussels sprout salad with pecorino and walnuts. I polished glasses at the bar, studying their intimacy as they rattled on about where the bathroom might be and if it was occupied or vacant. The likelihood of us accepting credit cards. They ordered dessert, of course. Later he helped her on with her coat. As she buttoned it up he gently pulled her very long brown and grey ponytail carefully out from under her collar and smoothed it down her back. I fell in love again with the world yet again.

Your heart is a muscle as big as your fist. My heart, in my chest skips a beat every day or so. I had this diagnosed years ago as some sort of murmur after too many tests in dark rooms with electrodes and green lines on screens. They may as well have told me I’d always suffer from longing. I go to acupuncture now. My first session he asked me 100 questions. What is my favorite flavor. Bitter. Ah! That is the flavor of the heart, he tells me. Later that evening I rendezvous with Nicolette, who, after months of traveling has landed miraculously in Hudson to see me. We can do our own acupuncture I tell her. Lets start. What is your favorite color? What is your favorite flower? She has some boutonniere pins lying on the floor of her car somewhere and I dig in my pocket for a lighter to sterilize them. Stay still!

Upstairs from the restaurant is a beautiful apartment where I stay. I sit in the windowsill, it is a good place to watch birds fly south and the sunset. One afternoon I find a displaced ladybug and we spend some time with each other. She opened me right up and I cried because there were no other lady bugs or aphids for her to eat in this apartment, she might as well have been crawling around on mars. I coax her onto a bit of dried leaf with some effort and walk her outside. Displaced bugs always tap a wellspring of emotion in me. When I used to drive from the farm to the city - the prius packed with buckets of flowers from the field - the car would become increasingly alive with bugs as they worked up the courage to emerge. By the time I hit Manhattan the car was a cyclone, a wild party confetti-ed with a host of pollinators, a handful of anthropods…the occasional arachnid sidestepping nervously across the steering wheel. The party ends when I pull up outside the castle. I would apologize, and try to offer something amidst the dusty street - a section of sidewalk with a tree and some weeds. Go there. 

How do we put it all together? Two weeks ago I toss out my jungian-heavy reading list and go back to science. I am now reading about systems theory; which aims to describe matter and reality by observing patterns and relationships instead of particles. A systems view is qualitative as opposed to quantitative. It is nonlinear. Systems theory (and the complex math that accompanies it - think the butterfly effect or chaos theory) can be applied to water molecules brought to boil in the lab (thermodynamics) or the ways in which differing socioeconomic groups cohabitate in a section of Brooklyn. A systems view can unite science and social welfare. This reading has my heart beating faster.

When we talk about classical science - the physics say of Newtown or Descarte or Galileo - we are talking about a rigid, reductionist approach. A description of the world as a sum of it’s parts. An approach that assumes a universal truth and absolute knowledge. But quantum discoveries in the early part of the 20th century baffled us with the realization that at the subatomic level nature gets spooky. Light is both a particle and a wave, particles can be in seemingly multiple places at the same time, and - my favorite physics bit - they know when they are being observed and then behave differently. This strange science - which baffled even Einstein - is what gives you the Apple product that you are likely reading this on. But we don’t understand fully the ‘nature’ of this science despite our rush to invest billions of dollars in cracking the code. The Hadron Collider - with its 17 miles of subterranean tunnel - is the largest single machine ever constructed. After years of false starts and troublesome superconductor magnets; it finally succeeded in colliding two beams of particles at close to the speed of light. And we collected more spooky data. More strange sub-atomic particles showed up with names like ‘muons’ and ‘charm quarks.’  

We sort of already know that we won’t ever know. 
And this is impossibly complicated for us humans who seem to always need to know. 

In the 1960’s the Gaia Theory was born out of  the study of self-organizing systems and the concept that life occurs not as a collection of matter but rather as pattern. When something dies, it’s matter doesn’t become ‘dead’ but rather it’s pattern of organization evaporates. Death is an arrangement that dissolves. It’s poetic and applicable to so many cycles and changes we experience. Gaia theory considers the earth as a macro-organism which regulates itself - it’s temperature, it’s homeostasis, etc - similar to the way our own cells and bodies do. This idea was the brain child of James Lovelock, an atmospheric chemist who was invited to NASA’s jet propulsion lab in Pasadena California to help NASA - riding high from the moon landing - look for life on Mars. After studying the chemical composition of the martian atmosphere using relatively simple telescopic techniques here on earth, Lovelock advised NASA to call off the mission. His analysis showed that the chemical interactions in the Martian atmosphere had all been exhausted sometime in the planet’s distant past - the Martian air was in a state of complete equilibrium and therefor could bear no life. NASA proceeded anyway, loaded viking with various life detection instruments, only to find Lovelock was of course right. 

Men are from Mars…? It’s easy to see the masculine and feminine at work here, easy to see the space race and our attempt to know (and dominate) the natural world as infinitely masculine. Which is not to say it’s gender specific; it is not men who do this but our culture which is oriented to favor limitless expansion, domination, competition and linear problem solving.  

I like to imagine a world, perhaps not in my lifetime, in which we have softened those impulses with our more feminine desires for beauty and intuition; one in which we can trust more in the interrelatedness of nature and our place in it. So I find myself asking how can my work aim to reduce our alienation in this world and provide more opportunity for connection.

Two months off has felt like two epochs. Wildly uncomfortable at times, exhilarating at others. It is a good place for observation. Everyone should take a drift through the cosmos now and again. 
What is to say of smoothing ponytails and experiences with bugs. Of subatomic particles and being open to seeing patterns. 

I don’t know
And I'm laughing with myself at this.

Thanks for always reading. Excited to make more beautiful pictures of flowers to share with you here next month. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

notes from sabbatical

September was red in the garden with dahlias and 'empress of india' nasturtium. Overripe tomatoes hanging on the vine stabbed at by chickens. Elsewhere in my life a latent red simmering. The color of tongues and the backs of throats, making words. Courage, perhaps. 

I watch red now, months later. It is softer and faded, my favorite abandoned train car. Bittersweet vine cracks its shell on cue...November...gaggles of tangled red beaded necklaces of it, cheap and plenty, strewn up in trees up and down the Taconic State parkway. Our own mardi gras in the Berkshires. I suddenly remember to breathe at a red light coming home from picking up laundry. 

I am living in Hudson. I wake up here at 5 or so. When it starts to get light out, I go walking. I’m writing a lot,  collecting information and resting. I practice my cello and watch myself struggle with the frustration of fretwork but also how achingly beautiful the sound is and how it coaxes me away from my thinking brain. The best gift for myself right now. Stripped of most of my identity, gone here are many of my familiar tricks. A lot can happen in this space. I wait tables on weekends downstairs at my friends Monica and Leisah’s new restaurant

My first introduction to melancholy occurred in autumn as a little girl, hustling (always?) to collect maple seed pods, fine twigs and clumps of moss around the yard. The last bits separated into disposable tin pie pans stashed in my hideout under the rhododendron. I built myself an easy bake oven with discarded patio bricks and made pies with mud and acorns. Always building, making, always with a sense of urgency. Someone had to prepare for a hard winter in the suburbs.

Red is the opposite color of loons. A family of four paddling silently in mid July in Acadia; another time altogether. Tourists traipsing by on a raised waterside wood walkway, too fast to notice. The birds opened their throats and sang to those in earshot of their own loon-ness. This color is cloudy blue. It is taught between a great weight and the air. I wanted to watch them forever, follow them out of the frame that was fixing itself in my permanent memory. I wanted to be a loon. How can a moment be so sad and happy? The ineffable tension that natures asks us to notice. 

You mix red and blue and you get purple like pokeweed stains on my cheeks for a long battle of beauty and various betrayals, my bed sheets at the castle where I camped out for a year and half. Everything is different now. It is the season, mine - autumn, always - for consideration and finally I took the time. A two month sabbatical. October was a whirlwind, half spent in England. Fifteen hundred miles in a ridiculous black jaguar loaned to me on a whim late one night in a email to their corporate headquarters. Typed out weeks before when I might have already known that things would unravel and the woman-child in me would need to speed across the moors and immerse myself in dying gardens, gothic myth and endless tea and cigarettes. 

On the second day standing at the edge of the moat at Bodiam Castle, dark eyed and cloaked, alone and again avoiding tourists, I thought that perhaps I would become a witch. I encountered a white horse days later, on the top of Dorset’s highest moor, I talked to him to get answers. He whinnied. All year I’ve waited for some sort of  radical shift - I half expected it to drop out of the sky at dawn or in the gloaming. I wanted to crack the code on art and commerce - it always seemed just around the corner. I was frantic, dancing like in the myth of the red shoes, depleting myself. I started fantasizing about being tied by the ankles and dragged behind a pickup truck along a dirt road. Bruised, plummeted. When you are black and blue you really are purple. I know this color well. 

I meet a wise woman one morning at the brunch counter, we sit down a few days later and I tell her my story. She observes that Saipua is intended to nourish people with beauty and yet all it does is deplete those at its core. She also mentioned that I don’t breathe. How can you tell? I asked her. 
She replied; ‘Because I’m having a hard time breathing sitting here with you.’

I look back on this last phase of my work at Saipua and see a large hole. A big sadness. I built it too big without thinking about what I wanted from it or what made me happiest in it. All of my desires for building community or my love for all my employees --instead of nurturing these things, I strained them. They became frantic with me, working 70 hour weeks, their lives also bruised and battered in the process. I was miserable and I just kept working harder, building more programs -frantically to avoid my own dissatisfaction. I don't have any regrets; I learned so much. Invaluable information collected, noted and stored up in tin pie pans. Here on sabbatical, with so much free time, I wander back through all of it. And see that it's all ok. 

In September a giant snake appeared one day in the pond at Worlds End. Five feet long. Two inches at her thickest. It ended everyone swimming for a while. I was so sad because I loved swimming there. One night I had a dream that I was in the water and the snake came up and gently coiled herself around me and took me down to the mud at the bottom. In the dream this occurred in a soft way -quiet, like a nice journey. After this dream,  I swam again.  The last week of September in the freezing mornings through the mist on the surface, the water still warm from summer. And in the evenings. I was by myself on the farm, and I wanted the snake now. But of course you can't rush these things. Everything with it's own timing. 
It was the edge before the beginning.

This morning I woke up and realized I don’t want to be a business woman. That is the purple, the radical. Instead, I really only want to make the most beautiful flowers in the world and share them. I want to let myself go back to the place where ecstasy and aching are knit together - a creative place that fills me up so much that it overflows - then only can I really begin.

I think as success oriented women, we so easily slide away from knowing or listening to what is really calling us, what we really want. We turn our creativity into commodity - make an armor of personal dogma and sell the shit out of it. Sacrifice our essence for the sterile image of perfection as so easily witnessed on social media these days.  I’m thinking so much lately about how to earn a living doing what I love and staying close to what I really want. Excuses about money or fear of failure sort of fade when you are living at the bottom of a pond. I remind myself to stay present with what matters most. I can, after all, always wait tables. 

There is a certain relief that comes in realizing I had a lot of it all wrong. I don’t have to fight for it anymore. Perhaps, I can just be it. Me and my pickup truck again? What I’ve secretly wanted for a long time. I’m smiling as I write this. How uncanny to stand here and look back and laugh gently with myself. The frantic tap dancing Sarah. I say with full conviction: I love her so dearly. 

In a few weeks I go back the castle, and trust I will know how to begin.