Back to reality

I’m back on the wagon. I was off for some days as I thought I could write while still on my little recorrido of Peru, but I decided that I needed that time to just be present with other things and be in the moment with revisiting the Southland. So, here goes again…I’ll make up for lost time and just write into February as my blog per day…

Today, the 25th of January, it has been a month since I left the Bay Area to go on a little escapade. Now I am back. Trying to re-integrate everything it is that I learned and I experienced. Let me tell you a little about this experience…

Yesterday I was happy that it was my roommate’s day off so we jumped in the car, floated across the Richmond bridge (figuratively speaking of course as we were on the pavement part of the bridge, but it did feel like floating all the same), and up the 101 to land in Marin for a little hike. In California, whilst I was gone, the rain has come down non-stop and on the radio I have heard that we are no longer in a drought, so I guess there has been some good news during this tumultuous time of changing the hands of power. As we made our way into the Tennessee Valley and were approaching the Pacific I felt a sense of calm come over me and it felt like the perfect end to a trip.


For Christmas I made my way to Denver to see my parents and sister. I always like going to Colorado but the plains, the wind, the dryness, and the flightiness of the people there tends to leave me chapped and feeling like a tumbleweed at the end of my time. On New Years day I made my way to Quito to visit my brother and family (namely Deli and Aliyah). It was good to see them after a year and a half of Whatsapp and Skype. When you live far away from family, as I have for the last decade, you start from zero but you also start from wherever you left off. It’s like an awkward but very familiar encounter each time.

Then, I made my way to Peru to explore a country I had never been to before. While in Peru I came to realize that the Andean people are extremely friendly, down-to-earth, and very economically driven. They have no qualms in striking up a conversation with you and like to get to know new people in a very informal way. At the same time, everything has a price and many people that I encountered were very concerned about where there next soles were coming from and if they were going to be coming from my (the wealthy tourist’s) pocket. As a person that isn’t necessarily money-driven this came as a bit of a shock. At the same time, I come from a country that is capitalist in nature and the reason it keeps on going is because the monetary engine that drives it. Of course, our economy is a bit more structured and integrated into the daily fabric of everything. In Peru, everyone is trying to get their piece of the pie and sometimes these pieces overlap and I am sure that this leads to distrust in one another and to competition between friends and neighbors. I could talk about a particular woman who owns a hostal just south of Peru who talked to me at length about just that, but I will save that for another post.

Today I just wanted to briefly discuss how it is we integrate our experiences away from home into our lives. I will venture to say that most people go on vacation and then come back and try to go back to their daily rhythms and routines. Might this be you? They dream of the beach they were on a, reminisce over all the pictures they took, and use some of what they learned about a culture, country, state, or people, in conversation at the next dinner party or happy hour. There’s another category of people that like to integrate what they have learned and experienced into the very fabric of their beings. This is the person that I am. Sometimes this takes time, because you have to process the things you witnessed or were part of and see how you can really make sure they can come into your life in a meaningful and poignant way. If not, yes, you risk culturally appropriating and the like.

For example, one of the things that I hope to do in the upcoming weeks and months is to cook some of the dishes that I most enjoyed during my time in Ecuador and Peru. Some of these dishes include sopa de quinoa (a simple quinoa soup with vegetables in a light veggie broth), salteñas (a kind of empanadas that have a sweet doughy taste to them normally made with ground beef and veggies and is a mix between sweet and savory), ají (a spice that is put on almost anything in both Peru and Ecuador, and uses different hot peppers and other spices to make a great accompaniment to whatever you have on your dinner table. I’ll just start with those three and then go from there.

Other than the food I’d like to continue to eat, one of the reasons I love going to the South is because I love the cadence of life there. It is not pressured or hurried, it is tranquil and at-your-own-pace. Sometimes this can prove to be irritating or annoying if you have somewhere to be, but really, I think it’s a good reminder that humans are not machines and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Another aspect of this travel that I’d like to take with me in my everyday life is best said in a quote by Walt Disney, who, by the way, I never thought I would be quoting:

“Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”

It seemed like everyone I saw had a job that they were doing and they were proud of the fact that they were doing it well. They didn’t have there brain off in some unknown place thinking of all the other things they could be doing. Don’t get me wrong, Peru was full of entrepreneurs, but they were focused on doing what they did well in the moment without too much concern for the future. I loved this sense of presence and of being in the moment. Something that I have been working on during the whole of 2016 and something that I will probably be working on the rest of my life.

These are just a few of the things that I will be trying to integrate into my Californian life. I’m curious, what to do you do at the end of your vacation? Do you compartmentalize pleasure and day-to-day life, or do you try to have the two worlds meet? Or maybe there is a whole other category out there worth creating…

volando vengo, volando voy

A poem surfaced from my flight from Ecuador to Peru:

Volando vengo volando voy (yes, this is a lyric from Manu Chao)

Flying across a stillness of white

the lady behind me, mouth slightly open with red-orange lipstick

pronouncing her fat yet flat lips

closed eyes, forrowed brow, but just in the area where her eyebrows meet the top of her nose–her wrinkly third eye.

Her hair has been through the wringer

It’s been bleached and dyed on countless occasions and I imagine it as the same texture of those head’s of doll’s hair that my sister, cousins, and I used to play with at grandma’s house–matted and rough, a cloud of blonde mass, the comb was just a prop.

The guy in the seat in front, has eyes closed behind rectangular frames.

I can only see the back of his head and the tag on his baseball hat is visible–hecho en Guayaquil–probably his final destination.

And then a small granule of hail falls on my journal, and then some more.

The pellets melt into words and run the ink.

I’m not sure what to say, but it is cold up here, quite visibly, and the little pellets pelter my journal as I look out on the white expanse–a seeming tundra of snow–untouched and only appreciated by those coming by this high up.

Landing, everything comes back to life.

The lady opens her eyes and the space between her lower and upper lip is no longer visible, her lips are pursed.

The man’s eyes, once closed, now gaze through the window at his left.

And the hail stops falling from the ceiling.

And the plane breaks through stillness to ride over the beginnings of civilization–little houses all around, buildings become bigger, and finally, we land.

Quito and Goodbyes

I’m currently in the airport, about to leave Quito and in route to Lima, Peru. My brother dropped me off at the old airport (to take the bus to the new airport) where I left Quito a little less than 12 years ago. At that time, I was leaving at least one loved one behind. During my study abroad I had gotten close to a Chilean guy who was in Quito studying to be a lawyer since the degree and the process was a bit easier to come by in Ecuador than in his home country. I was young and maybe I was in love, but I was probably just enthralled with the encounter, once again, of my second home and someone that understood the part of me that I could never get in touch with in the United States.

Cuando me despedí de él le entregué mi gogó negro que tenía alrededor mi muñeca, era bien usado, y le dije q que sin duda me iba a ver de nuevo, y corrí las escaleras de mi apartamento y no lo volví a ver hasta lo que pareciera una eternidad después.

When I said goodbye to him I gave him my hair tie which was wrapped around my wrist, it was black and well-used, and I told him that without a doubt I would see him again, and I ran up the stairs of my apartment and I didn’t see him again for what seemed like an eternity.

Luego, en el aeropuerto me despedí de todas mis amigos queridos con quien me había pasado mucho tiempo de los últimos cinco meses. Y con algunos los volví a ver, y con otros he perdido más bien el contacto, pero siguen en mi corazón y en mi mente. Perdidos solamente cuando hay un fallo en la memoria y recordadas siempre en momentos adecuados. 

Then, in the airport, I said goodbye to all my dear friends that I had spent so much time with during the last five months. And some of them I saw again, and others I lost touch, but they still live on in my heart and my mind. Lost only to the glitches in my memory and remembered whenever an appropriate occasion arises.

Hoy día la despedida fue mucha más tranqui. Es difícil igual, desperdirte de las personas a quien más quieres. Pero a la vez, te vas con la confianza de que los volverás a ver en el futuro no tan lejano y que ellos viven siempre en ese pedacito de corazón que has reservado para las personas quienes más han sido parte de tu vida y quienes más te quieren–sin importar lo que hacés. 

Today the goodbye was a lot less difficult. At the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye to the people that you love the most. But you go on your way with the assuredness that you will see them again in the not-so-far-off future and that they always have a part of your heart that you have reserved for those people whom have been the biggest part of your life and who you love the most–no matter what.

Touch me if you can

I have been on buses in South America ever since I can remember and they are always an interesting experiment in cultural appreciation and adaptation.

Just the other day I was talking to some Americans here in Quito that are visiting and learning about different projects that are going on with the Mennonite Church here that my brother and sister-in-law works at. Of course they asked me the usual questions that most Americans ask: Where are you from? and then the elusive (for me at least), What is it that you do?

I told them that I was an Educator (in the nontraditional sense) and that at the moment I am between jobs. As we were talking, one of the ladies, a member of the Cheyenne tribe in Montana asked my advice. She said that she went to the juvenile detention center at the reservation every week and did different workshops with the youth there and that one of the things about her work that she found astounding is that the kids were starved for touch. At the same time, one of the rules in the center was that visitors, volunteers, whomever, wasn’t allowed to touch the youth in any way.

When she led workshops she realized that whenever the opportunity arose for the youth to even brush her hand, they did, just because they were so starved for touch. She let them know that when they got out of the detention center they should come by her thrift shop (where she works) for a hug. And she said, to this day, the youth come by for their hug as soon as they are out.

I commented that in my experience, most people in the U.S.A. are touch-starved. I realize this as a yoga teacher in my classes when you approach people and touch them even lightly it’s almost as if they startle and then lean into your touch. This signifies to me that people are not used to being touched (especially  not by “strangers”) and that when they are touched they realize how much they like it and want more of it.

Her direct question was asking if there is any research out there to suggest that touch is something that helps with healing and growth and overall nurturing. Of course this has been proven in a psychological sense since the near beginning of psychological experimentation. Once such study was by Harry Harlow that studied monkeys and their attachment to mothers. One experiment he conducted had monkeys choose between a “mother” monkey made out of wire and wood versus one that had cloth on it (to make it softer). He found that even when there was a bottle the monkeys could feed from, they still preferred being close to the mother monkey that had a cloth on it, seemingly for the comfort that provided them.

We humans are much the same. We like to be close to each other, touch each other, receive contact in a loving and nurturing way. Here in Latin America, this is more the case, and even on the buses you can see this happening. People like to touch you and push you and press into you (in the States if you touch anyone’s finger even, the person will excuse themselves profusely). Aquí, no hay disculpa ninguna y el roce y el tacto en los buses es algo usual, común y corriente. Here excuses are not even thought of and brushing up against someone or touching someone on a bus is something that is pretty common. Today on the bus I was doing a kind of unintentional dance with the fellow next to me as we were both swaying back in forth with each lurch of the bus. Our hips bumping together to the rhythm of the ride. Of course, I can tell you of some pretty awful moments on buses when hands went where they were not supposed to go, but in general, this particular cultural phenomenon in this part of the Americas is fascinating.

So, my invitation to us all, is to touch more freely and readily, those we love, because you never know when a hug can bring the human connection that person really needs.

 

 

El quinceañero y su padre

Today I decided to hike up Rucu Pichincha yo solita. It’s a volcano that is just to the west of  Quito’s city limits that measures 4,698 meters or 15,696 feet tall. Being Sunday, the mountain was as crowded as ever so I wasn’t too worried about getting lost going to the top. At the base of the volcano you take the teleférico or a kind of ski lift to about 4,050 meters. From there you hike to whatever part of the summit you’d like. My brother recommended I take the sendero, or the path that is to the left, and this particular trail is an ascent that is more even and not so up-and-down like the one to the right.

On this trail I took a wrong turn from the beginning and so did three guys that were just ahead of me. They turned back and I asked them if I was on the right trail and they said we had to shift over to the right a bit to get back on the route to Rucu again unless I wanted to do one of the other peaks that are also on this range (Cerro Ladrillo, Guagua Pichincha, and  Padre Encantado). I said I was going up to Rucu and they helped me over the ditch and we started walking together for a ways. It turns out one of the men is a guide, Oswaldo, who works at one of the reservas close by (I can’t remember which one). He is from Cayambe, a town just northeast of Quito and right next to a volcano by the same name. As we were walking Oswaldo related that he was hiking with a father and his son. He said the father gave his son, for his quince (or his fifteenth birthday) the gift of climbing the fifteen peaks in Ecuador that are higher than 4,500 meters.

-¡Qué hermoso regalo!

I commented what a beautiful gift that was and we continued chatting.

En Argentina donde yo crecí, para tus quince te dan una moto o te hacen una fiesta grandísima (dependiendo de los recursos de tus padres, claro). Where I grew up in Argentina, for your fifteenth birthday, or quinceañera, you are gifted a motorcycle (to scoot around town with) or a big party (the grandness of the party always depends on the financial situation of your parents).

-Sí, -me comentó Oswaldo-. Este regalo de las cumbres es poco usual.

I nodded my head in agreement that this gift of hiking fifteen mountain peaks was a very unusual one.

-Yo hubiese elegido la moto para poder subir todas las cuestas del Ecuador, -me sonrió Oswaldo.

And I laughed at his comment about picking the motorcycle option to climb up all the mountains in Ecuador.

And we continued walking side by side as the father and his son made more and more distance between us.

-¿Cómo está el paso? -preguntó Oswaldo

“The pace is fine for now, but I’ll be wanting to rest here in a few minutes,” I commented. “It is, in fact, the second highest peak I’ve every climbed in my life,” I added in order to make up some kind of excuse for my incredibly slow yet steady pace. “The first being just a few days ago–to the refuge of Cotopaxi,” I said.

And as we walked I thought about the present his father had given his son and the experiences they were building as they climbed each peak, solo le quedaban tres and this was probably the least technical and easiest one they would do (in fact they had already done it as their first peak as well as the other three Pichinchas a little over a year ago as their first challenge). The three they have yet to climb, if I remember correctly, are the Volcán Antisana, Volcán Tungurahua, and El Altar.

When I got home after climbing to the top, I had a headache and just wanted to lay down, take it easy, and drink té de coca so I didn’t write anything. But this morning, I googled this birthday adventure gift, the guide, the father, and the fifteen-year-old whose name is David and found his blog although he hasn’t updated it in a while. If you speak Spanish check out this amazing proyecto de vida.

En Familia

This week I have been pasando tiempo con mi hermano y su familia. My brother and his wife and my little niece of three years old are really accommodating and a pleasure to spend time with. I’ve never really lived close to family as an adult, so when I hang out with them it’s normally for long stretches of time and then we spend very few hours apart to fully take advantage of our time together. Last time I spent a month and a half with them when Aliyah was born. It was interesting to have everyone back in the house again minus my sister who just accompanied us for a week during this particular period. Three years ago it was my mom, dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law, and Aliyah (a newborn). For a time it was fun to have everyone together, but on the other hand I started realizing that I liked being a lot more independent. I wanted to cook whatever I wanted, I wanted to have my own routine, I wanted to be able to curse like a sailor, and move about my life without having anyone say anything about what I was doing. And for some reason, en familia, these things for me have always been a bit compromised as an adult.

It’s weird writing about this too, because I know that my family reads my blog sometimes, but I think they understand where I am coming from.

Today on our way to Otavalo as I was sitting in the car I was thinking about how much having children consumes your life and makes it all about them. I’m not saying this is a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a realization that when you have an extension of yourself, it’s just that; an extension of yourself that you need to take care of, feed, water, love, and nourish just like any other part. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be ready for that extension of myself, but I guess it’s worth thinking about. If anything, kids are a patience builder like none I have known before. Mostly because at no point can you just deshacerte de ellos (or get rid of them, so to speak). They are always there, needing your care, and you have to sacrifice much of what your independent life consists of, unless you have the $$ for a nana o algo por el estilo.

As a child I remember we had a niñera named Adriana que nos acompañaba a cada parte y nos cuidaba a los tres (yo, mi hermano y mi hermana). Adriana cared for us three, my brother, sister, and me, and she would accompany us wherever we went, even on family vacations, and she would take care of us when we were at home, too. Her presence, among other niñeras we had growing up probably made my parents’ lives a lot easier. I remember her company more than anything else. I felt that her love, her cariño, and her warm embrace were what I needed at that point in my life. Of course, at the time I probably didn’t realize that all my basic needs were being taken care of by her and my parents, but sometimes you just notice that another being is there and is watching out for you.

En fin, parenthood is something that most people are thrown into since most pregnancies are unplanned (I could probably Google a stat right now, but I’ll let you do that). That being the case, people probably think kids are cute, which they definitely are, but all the time and energy that goes into making a child grow big, strong, and well-rounded is mind-boggling, so hat’s off to all those parents out there doing the parenting thing.

This week I met a little boy named Benji who came to Aliyah’s third birthday party. I could already tell I was going to like him when he came running up the sidewalk and down the front walk with a gift in hand, a huge grin on his face, and his energetic eyes peering through a pair of bright blue glasses that framed his face with a playful air. He ran in and gave his gift to Aliyah and immediately started talking about whatever was on his mind. His Tyrannosaurus Rex shirt matched the dinosaur-themed party to a tee and his energy tempo didn’t miss a beat the entire party. His mom, an introverted, small-framed woman, seemed no match for his stamina, but I admired the way she treated her son with a calm and collected air, if not with a bit of fatigue and surrender.

Thinking about both Aliyah and Benji, I realize why we fall prey to taking care of our young, they are cute and defenseless, and maybe it makes us feel like we have a purpose and of course, it’s in our evolutionary nature to procreate.

I’m not sure if I have anything profound to say about this particular relato but what I will say is that I am convinced that parenting is an art, and that everyone creates their own way of raising their own. And the product of this artwork makes is so that we have many different kinds of people roaming the Earth. Maybe one day I will make this kind of art, but for now I am content admiring, observing, and studying the work of others.

The economy of truth

On the craft of poetry, by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his novel Between the World and Me:

“…the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions–beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.”

I’ve neglected to let myself and any readers out there know what my purpose is in this month of writing. I guess, selfishly, my goal in this challenge is to become a better writer. Sometimes I don’t follow through with anything unless there is a deadline or some kind of self-imposed time constraint like I have established currently with the month of January 2017 Writing Challenge.

On our drive to Cotopaxi yesterday I was listening to a podcast from Freakonomics Radio entitled “How to Become More Productive.” It seems pretty straightforward and hella New Years resolution oriented, but I have actually found these particular podcasts depicting the science of expertise, studied by Anders Ericsson, very interesting and pretty applicable to everyday life. What I picked up from this last podcast is something very simple. There has to be a goal in mind when you are trying to get good at something (this refers back to a previous podcast entitled “How to Become Great at Just About Everything“). This goal is très important and we all know this from the basics of life. Do everything with a purpose and things will be better for you.

En fin, my purpose in writing this month is related to the quote above by Mr. Coates, whose memoir I am currently reading: Between the World and Me. I like what he mentions about the “economy of truth” and how this is the essence of poetry. Sometimes I feel bad because I don’t say much or because my writing is a bit sparse at times, or because I go directly to the point or I don’t write with enough detail, etc., etc. But I am realizing that this is a blessing in disguise because by whittling down my truth, what remains is all that needs to be said–no justification needed.

And so it goes…my attempt at poetry (or practicing the economy of truth) ce soir:

Yoga (to join or to yoke)

Rain patters on the roof and is the only reason I feel good about sleeping in–sleeping long

My heart beats for no one but myself it seems

and I wonder when will be the next time my heart skips a beat?

For you?

For me?

For us?

Today I taught a yoga class in Spanish y me fue fatal

Mostly because I am used to teaching yoga with many anatomical terms

y no se me venía ningún término en castellano a la mente

So I just described where the body part was or I used my own body to demonstrate or I used the word in Sanskrit or a reverted to English.

But amidst all this “struggle” for what was right or accurate

the breath went on

And that’s the most important part anyway.

Inhala

Exhala

Y descubra que todo te irá bien,

(And discover that everything will be fine)

Y encontrarás a las personas que te querrán y que te necesitarán en el camino

(And you will find people that love you and that need you along the way)

Donde sea que estés.

(Wherever you find yourself).

Inhala

Exhala

And make yourself available to be available to others in whatever way you can.

Because opening up yourself to people’s wants and needs

Could be your purpose right now.

 

Cotopaxi

cotopaxi

Walking up Cotopaxi today with my brother was a thrill! One of my regrets from my stay in Quito last time was never having gone up the volcano and today I finally got to! On our way to the park the volcano was in full view and it was all clear. When we entered the park clouds were starting to form and we could only see bits and pieces of the summit and the mountain itself. As we got further and further up, the cloud cover started becoming heavier.

I don’t have much to say about the experience except for this is the highest I have ever been (4,800 meters), that I know of. The ascent wasn’t bad and by the time we got to the refuge (where the snow starts and currently no one goes further up because of the recent eruption earlier this year) I was breathing pretty hard. It isn’t a difficult climb though, it only takes about 45 minutes to an hour and you gain just shy of 1000 feet in elevation. It’s absolutely thrilling to come down. And after a bit of coca tea you have the energy to descend, no problem.

The photo above isn’t mine. I posted one on Instagram earlier today and at the end of my trip I will post more pictures that I or Peter took, but for now, you can enjoy the vista. It really does feel like you are in the clouds when you are at the top 🙂

Ice cream

dsc_0121

The lady in the ice cream store

Visor on and perfectly penciled eyebrows, smiles into our eyes as she

Uses little wooden spoons to scoop every single flavor in the store

We try everything she offers and before the cold goodness even hits our taste buds

we have judged the flavors by their names:

Beba (Baby)

Pan con Platano (Bread with Banana),

Diabético (Diabetic)

Prosperidad (Prosperity)

Maracuyá Ají (Passion Fruit Aji, which is a kind of pepper, but also a condiment that Ecuadorians put on everything)

Ron Café (Rum Coffee)

Maduro con Queso (Maduro, a kind of banana, with Cheese)

Caca de Perro, yes Dog poop is actually a flavor.

You can tell a lot about a culture by the ice cream they eat.

In Guadeloupe, the most popular ice cream was le sorbet coco which was the most delicious coconut sorbet I have ever tasted. During my time on the island, every week I would swim on Wednesdays and Saturdays and after each swim, my treat to myself was a sorbet coco, freshly churned.

In Argentina, they take their ice cream pretty seriously too, and there one of my favorite flavors of ice cream was Dulce de Leche, the best of both worlds; I could have my ice cream and Dulce de Leche too. Of course another favorite, especially during the holidays, and a favorite among the older crowd, was Ron y Pasas which is basically Rum and Raisins. I never liked this flavor much as a kid, but last time I went back to Argentina I went to visit my tía Milka. She had me over for lunch and for dessert she pulled out a whole container of ice cream from her fully stocked freezer and we had two servings each of Dulce de Leche and Ron y Pasas. As we spooned into the ice cream everything else melted away and our mouths were taken over by the overpowering sensation of cream and sugar. We were in heaven.

Ice cream is a kind of heaven. I think I could write all day about ice cream because of such good memories attached to this particular food.

I think the only bad ice cream experience I had was one time when my dad thought it would be a great idea to buy one ice cream flavor in the biggest container he could find. In Argentina when you buy ice cream they put whatever flavor you want into a Styrofoam container and no one, just no one, gets only one flavor. He got peach ice cream, solamente, and my family and I ate peach ice cream for days upon days to never again touch the stuff.

So we set, content with our choices.

Licking our cones.

Aliyah has an ice cream goatee and the Chocolate Marshmallow flavor she has chosen now is fully part of her outfit: head to toe.

We spoon, and we lick, and we savor, and for a few moments, each of us is in ice cream heaven.

No name

Dentro de nosotros existe algo que no tiene nombre, y eso es lo que realmente somos. Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.

José Saramago (Ensayo sobre la ceguera/ Blindness 1995)

Last week I went with my sister and parents to a museum in Denver called the Clyfford Still Museum. When Mr. Still died he wrote in his will that he wanted to give all of his works to an American city that would put all of his life’s work on display in one place. The bids went out and his wife interviewed many cities, finally deciding that Denver was the best option for the painter’s works.

Clyfford Still was an abstract expressionist, but much of his early work was of sketches of people and of nature. His artwork at the beginning of his career was of portraits or natural landscapes inspired by one of his childhood homes in Canada. He was an autodidact who taught himself to draw and paint and experimented profusely with many different mediums and expressions.

The museum docent, by name of Lindsey, who was just over a month away from giving birth to her first child, beamed as she described this man’s work. I wondered why she was so excited about his art until I eventually realized her impetus. We entered another room of Still’s works and after perusing a bit on our own she asked us to look at the smallest piece in the room. I can’t even remember what he used, to me it looked like chalk or pastels and it was next to the one that is pictured below (sorry, doubly, first of all I don’t know how to write about art and secondly I know posting the drawing below is probably against all copyright laws).

The piece depicted a rectangular splash of red at the left-hand corner which one could make out to be a truck if you stood far enough back. There was green grass dispersed throughout, and some seemingly random brown vertical lines that one could discern to be a kind of fence. It was beautiful! And the reason I thought this was when Lindsey said, with her perpetual smile that never left her face the 45 short minutes I knew her, something about the fact that you could only come to these conclusions about the painting because of what we already know. And from what we already know, we can then know that there is a red truck driving down a road that is flanked in green grass and a fence that has seen better days.

clyfford-still

 

Lindsey proceeded to show us Clyfford’s abstract pieces that had as their central focus, life-lines. A term that Still had come up with that stood for living beings in his works. And they came across the canvases just as lines, and then just as colors, sometimes vast blank spaces where the onlooker had to decide what to make of such a depiction. And this is when I realized why our guide had been so excited. She knew that there was a lot that we, her audience of un-art-educated visitors, didn’t know about Still and his work. She filled in the gaps of our ignorance pretty well in this area. But she also knew that each of us had an imagination and we could paint our own picture of what Still wanted us to see–which may have been in our own mind’s eye, and not his.

After the tour I briefly looked at some of Still’s other artwork but was most interested in creating my own in a room where there was an interactive community drawing project as well as tables with art supplies galore where I drew to my heart’s content until the museum’s doors heaved their last open and close for visitor’s that night.

Sometimes it’s a relief to know that what we really are and what really is, doesn’t really have a clear answer, doesn’t have a clear depiction; and it is open to our imagination to figure it out. At the same time, we know that our true essence does shine through if we let it, and this light is what we become; it shines through us to other people and we might consider this light our soul.