on the mind

Wandering Elegies

Sam had been one of the founding members of Speakeasy, so while I had heard his name often over the years, we didn't actually meet in person until Blasé died. At the memorial service, we were introduced to each other by mutual friends, and the group of us decided to head to Sam's condo in West Seattle afterwards ... to reminisce and reconnect.

Blasé had been a veritable force of nature -- a rabble rouser and a dilettante, an artist and a commercial photographer, a cynic and a philosopher -- and he had touched all of our lives in very different ways. For me, his somewhat objectionable behavior had resulted in my actually having the opportunity to join Speakeasy -- an experience that has had an immeasurably positive impact on nearly every facet of my life -- and his keen, artistic eye, and cool professionalism enabled me to learn how to love my portly little bod.

The latter might not mean that much to you if you didn't grow up as a fat girl in a society obsessed with lithe beauty. These days, body positivity is an actual political movement, but in the years of 90s waifdom, fatness wasn't something anyone wanted to cosign. There was no social acceptance platform with which I could use to soften the blows, and so I turned inward and focused on internal interests, eventually developing a sense of myself squarely rooted in my curiosity with the world around me and my creativity for interacting with it.

In fact, I had so completely disassociated myself from my physical form, I was often quite stunned by anyone expressing either positive or negative sentiments about it -- as if, in doing so, they confirmed my greatest fear: I had been seen. I was infinitely more comfortable as the observer, merging into the background. In fact, even though I am far more connected to my physical self now than I ever have been in my life, I'm still more comfortable watching and absorbing from a distance.

Either that or getting right into the thick of it: No one is watching you when you're writhing on a crowded dance floor, because they're all too busy dancing, too.

By the time I met Blasé and was posing for him in varying levels of undress for a series of Speakeasy's advertising campaigns, I had started to get a little bit more comfortable with my physical form. His humorous, respectful and open way of working completely disarmed me, and it enabled me to start the journey of recognizing -- and learning to love -- my own, unique beauty. His photos captured my curiosity, my playfulness, my creativity, my intellect, my mischievous nature; all the qualities with which I had aligned myself as a way of alleviating the demands of inhabiting a physical form that was regularly demeaned and degraded. It was a revelation to see those very qualities reflected in the physicality I had been taught to despise. That process enabled me to come home to myself in the most visceral way possible, and so while I doubt Blasé was ever aware of the measure and tenor of his impact on my life, losing him was incredibly bittersweet.

The evening of Blasé's memorial, we headed up to the rooftop deck of Sam's condo. He had picked up paper lanterns for us to light and send out to the Seattle skies in effigy. And we sat on the rooftop, smoking pot, sipping wine, sharing stories, laughing, learning. Our mutual friend Adrienne noted that Sam and I both loved live music, and that initiated our all-too-brief friendship, bolstered by some rather joyous musical discoveries and experiences.

When I learned that Sam had passed away quite suddenly in his sleep after only a year of actually spending time with him, it at first seemed like a poorly delivered joke -- or a dramatic twist to a tale you're crafting, but then think better of almost immediately and rewrite. It was just over a year from when we met at Blasé's memorial service, and now this profoundly unique soul had moved along, too.

Sam inspired me; while some people might look to those that are almost saccharine in their positive spirituality, Sam was someone who had battled -- and continued to battle -- some serious demons. He had fucked up, he'd made some shitty mistakes, he'd hurt people that he'd loved deeply. And throughout all of that, he persevered: He remained an unassailable optimist, curious about the world around him, dreaming of big ideas, and sharing the joy that he found.

And even though he's gone, he will continue to inspire me -- to live life as fully as I know how, to keep dreaming, to keep creating, to keep exploring. The shock of his loss is still reverberating throughout my life, and I am certain to feel it for years to come. Someone as phenomenal and irreverent as Sam doesn't come into or leave one's life lightly. They do so with a glorious clamor, hitting all of the wind chimes and channeling all of the birdsong. They make such a large space for themselves that, when they are gone, the hollowness is bittersweet, for you must simultaneously celebrate the gorgeousness they imparted while also keening mightily for their return.

From Blasé to Sam, Autumn to Autumn bookended by reverberating losses. But I'm fairly sure that both of them would be quick to remind me that while we'll all die, someday, on all of the other days, we will not. So we'd better fucking live.

on the mind on the town

Embraceable You

The first thing that you notice is the stillness. There’s a kind of easy commingling between the vast Amazonian jungle and the film’s hero, Karamakate; their integration is so complete, it’s difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins.

In those first few moments, we’re introduced to a method of interacting with the world that is marked by both nurturing and respect, knowledge and mythology. In fact, it’s a way of connecting with nature that has shaped cultures throughout history: Before we had the means to aggressively change the world around us in order to support our fragility, we had to learn how to survive in it; and to survive in it, we developed rules and mechanisms which ultimately evolved into deeply-held beliefs about the nature of our reality, and our place within it.

Embrace of the Serpent - Movie PosterThroughout Embrace of the Serpent, we’re reminded of this seemingly essential element of humanity: Our core desire to define how and why we’re here. As Karamakate travels with the first of two Western explorers that influence his own personal journey, we’re exposed to two particularly savage methods for establishing the how and why of it all — capital and psychological colonialism. From desperate and broken rubber plantation slaves, to spiritually bereft religious missions bent on beating the civility into indigenous children, we see two very different approaches for affirming our reason for being.

And as he makes the same journey with a second explorer decades later, we see how the soul-crushing methods used to validate our existence, for legitimizing our right to colonization, can result in psychological scars so deep, they transform a culture’s perspective of their unique place within the realm of existence. Their own stories, rules and mechanisms are perverted so viscerally by the colonizer’s manifest perceptions, they develop a somewhat disturbing amalgam that serves to reveal the ultimate emptiness of “meaning.”

While it’s true that our search for and attempts to establish meaning within our discrete cultures serves a crucial purpose — and is the basis on which the very structure of our societies are built, for better or for worse — when our cultures blend, and our different methods for defining the why and how diverge, we clash and struggle; we shift our focus to proving that our methods are based in veracity, and rather than continue to question, we fight for what little psychological consolation we’ve managed to carve out of the vastness of space.

But enveloping all of this humanity and its petty foibles is the vastness of the natural world; specifically within this film, the Amazon jungle. It’s like the strong arms of a parent gently holding their toddler as they cry and wail, fighting against sleep or eating or putting on pants or whatever. Our kicks bruise its shins, our flails scratch its cheek, our screams ring in its eardrums; and nonetheless it holds strong. It doesn’t give up on us, even as we’re rebelling against its needs — even its very existence — and abusing it with our wanton attitude and amorphous beliefs.

At some point in many of our world’s cultures, our collective ego emboldened us to explain the why and how by holding us above nature; a kind of clumsy divorce wherein the visitation rights have never been truly determined and we’re still living in the same house. And our practices in pursuit of this divisive why and how have served only to deepen and widen the separation between us, fooling us into believing that it’s the way of things.

While Embrace of the Serpent is equal parts road trip movie, classical hero’s journey and historical snapshot of a disappearing world, it is also a testament to the loss of our connection, on a global scale, with the planet which has shaped and nurtured us. The movie depicts historical events from the perspective of the indigenous Amazonian tribes at the turn of the 20th century, but it would be folly for us not to recognize that the spirit of these practices are alive and well today.

Until we’re able to see the structures we’ve built for exactly what they are — mechanisms for defining our world, in an attempt to survive it — we’ll continue to be divisive and disconnected. And while we’ll still be embraced by the natural world, there will be no ease in it, there will be no stillness, there will be no peace.


on the mind

Philodendron Versus Maidenhair

2015-06-06 17.21.57
we are philodendrons and we are dangerous.

I love plants. Growing up in a forest with towering evergreens, sticky salal and wild rhododendrons, I’ve spent much of my adult life attempting to recreate that unruly approach to greenery.

While working on farms, my duties were often centered on weeding in between the rows of veg — and, trust me, I get the practicality, the necessity of the work. Shit needs room to breathe. But while a bit of my OCD nature felt sated by such activity, I always felt, instinctually, that I was doing something wrong. It just didn’t feel natural to me.

I want everything unkempt.

So that’s probably why I’ve never dug bonsai. And that I usually choose plants that, at their core, misbehave. Philodendrons have my number: Trailing vines that are incredibly forgiving if I don’t water them for a month; all I have to do is add a bit o’ water and they’re luscious again. I have them on shelves surrounding my bathtub, and I love that they often dip down and take deep sips of the water while I bathe.

Conversely, I have been having a rather tempestuous love affair with a maidenhair fern. For years now, it’s been a constant back and forth: Steady pruning, watering several times each week — in fact, if I even dare to let the water tray beneath her go dry, I’ll hear about it. No, actually, I will; there will be a high pitched sucking sound coming from the maidenhair until I fill the bottom of the dish with water, then she’ll relax. Our relationship seems to be constructed in the following manner:

look, i shouldn't be in a pot. i'm a fucking forest fern.
look, i shouldn’t be in a pot. i’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Yeah, I know, but you’re pretty and I want to keep you near me.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Hmmm … well, honestly, I bought you at a nursery so you have probably never lived in the forest. But I get where you’re coming from.
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: You keep saying that, and I’m not arguing with you about it … but don’t I treat you right? I trim you up, water you regularly, sometimes I even dance / sing next to you. I even gave you some luscious fertilizer balls last week! Yum, no?
  • Her: Look, I shouldn’t be in a pot. I’m a fucking forest fern.
  • Me: Okay, okay, I get it. You’re a fucking forest fern. Now shut up and drink.

Now, it’s true and I’ll fully admit that there have been times when I have left town for several weeks and just hoped for the best re: longevity / health of my collection of plants. My succulents look upon this kind of experience as a challenge: Yes, you can not water us, yes we will continue to grow, yes, when you return home, you will not be able to see your floor because we have taken over. Because we are succulents, and that’s how we do.

And maybe, at the crux of it, that’s where my relationship with mademoiselle maidenhair breaks down: She’s high maintenance — and I am, too! Can two high maintenance bitches really roll together? I keep trying to make it work, and I’m not going to stop now because, amidst my rebel succulents and rowdy philodendrons, I want something gentle, something fragile. The maidenhair’s fronds are rice paper thin, their delicacy a distinct art form, and that kind of gorgeous simply needs extra pampering. Just because she demands more from me doesn’t mean she lacks joie de vivre, right?

So I’ll keep manicuring her, I’ll keep watering her, I’ll keep dancing next to her. While the philodendrons cover the ceiling in trailing vines and the succulents develop biceps from their hearty dedication to living without water, I’ll stay focused on managing the maidenhair’s tender fronds.

Because, ultimately, neither of us belongs in a pot; we’re both fucking forest ferns.