Sunday, February 28, 2016

The End of An Era

It's an old story, especially in New York...

Artists move in to the place where no one else wants to go.  In search of space to work, they exchange safety and hygiene for high ceilings and open floor plans.  They bring a new appreciation to places where everyone else has packed up and moved on.  Coal mine canaries.  Once the air is safe to breathe, more people flood in, perhaps looking for a little bit of that edgy cool.  Soon enough, and predictably enough, the artists can no longer afford to stay in the place that they created.

It's an old story.  Especially in New York.  

In Long Island City, it has been a little different.  The artists arrived - and stayed - and not much happened for a good, long while.  Every few years, a New York Times article would declare it "The Next Big Thing" but it never really happened.  Until it happened.

I moved into my studio in 1992.  I started with a huge space - it must have been over 800 sq.ft. for $400/month, which seemed really pricey.  Eventually, I moved to a smaller space for under $200/month.  Finally, I ended up in another space, which I have been in for about 20 years.  

About eight years ago, I discovered that I could now get a really good cup of coffee in the neighborhood.  In the last several years, parking became even more scarce - weekends and after 4 p.m. were no longer guarantees of a space.  When that first cafe that opened was forced out of its space because of rising rents, the reality of what had happened to Long Island City was no longer deniable.  The Next Big Thing had finally come into its own.  

Last October, the studio building was sold.  In November, a guy in a suit came around under the guise of getting to know us.  Spying, more likely!  He made no secret that the plan was to double the rent by the end of the year.  Then, my studio mate moved out in January.  Clearly, it was time to go.

If I had to choose my most prominent memory, it might be the most poignant one too.  In fact, it might be my very first memory from way back in 1992.  I remember moving my supplies into that big space and getting all set up to work and closing the door.  It was such a radical, revolutionary, revelatory act.  In all my life, I had never had a place where I could work without anyone looking over my shoulder.  I remember feeling like I could do anything - it was that powerful.

Farewell Mittman Building!  We've been through a lot together.  Good luck!  In the end, I think you might need it more than me...

Friday, February 26, 2016

Old School

Last weekend, I took a workshop with artist, Pat Steir.  She reminded me of some of my professors in art school: her attitude and aspiration.  She isn't trying to be clever.  She kept saying things like, "Don't show me how smart you are.  I am not interested."  I guess saying that sort of thing that gets you labelled "old school" because it isn't about showing off or shouting the loudest but, instead, it is about really trying to understand something.  Realize something beyond superficialities.

Of course, Pat is a very successful painter who has been in the game for a long time, so I won't romanticize her either.  She knows how to hustle.  Still, it was quite refreshing to meet someone who is still talking the talk after so many years of hustling.  I think this is my favourite line from the short video she made with the Met.

"Any work of art that hits its mark is a useful object because it changes the person who see it."

Friday, February 19, 2016

Your Life is in Your Hands

In Nashville, I had a nice little morning routine going.  Get up around 5:30, do my abhyanga (ayurvedic oiling), pour out a 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, make a cup of tea, do some asana or some zazen, drink said tea, take a shower, drink said pomegranate juice, then go to our morning group practice at 7 am.  The day would flow from there.  As someone who has resisted schedules and routines and list making like the plague, the fact that this morning ritual brought such a sense of order and grounding to the hectic, relentless pace of our time was a bit of a surprise.

Not just about the coffee....

And it was no surprise at all.  I know that a self care routine is a good thing.  Knowing it and living are two different things.  Coming back to New York, I immediately fell into my old ways of waking up at various times each day, making lots of last minute decisions about whether or not to include this or that practice in my morning.  Suddenly I was aware of how it all felt kind of off somehow.  Then I had a thought - this is my life.  And a second thought - this is my body.  I may not be in control of either of those two things but I am in charge of them.

Somehow, after years of various practices and disciplines, I still was holding on to the idea that everything was outside of me, beyond my doing.  But, in fact, it is as simple as: get up at 5:30 am, rub some oil on, make tea and so on.  No one is telling me to do it.  No one is asking me to do it.  No one is watching me do it.  Indeed, having stretched your patience and goodwill with even writing this blog post, no one cares one whit whether or not I do it.  And this, my beauties, allows me the most wonderful freedom to just do it.

No need to speak of it futther.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Is Fear A Kind Of Addiction?

No thanks.

It is not a secret that I am afraid to fly.  Having a rather domestic life, I haven't had that many opportunities to fly in the past 20 years so it hasn't been a big problem.  In 2009, I went to Berlin for an art project and, two years later, I flew to Korea, again for an art project.  Both were long flights but I managed them with the help of some Atavan and a Norman Fischer essay on shikantaza.

in the past six months, I deliberately created two opportunities to fly and it really did not go well in either case.  Most recently, it was the night before my flight and as I wrestled with my demons - in tears at times - Lucy came home.   I was sharing a little with her and she called out from the kitchen, "Have you built up a big rationalization of why you can't go yet?"  Ouch!  But the truth is - I had done exactly that.

Looking closer, there is something deeper than just fearing flying.  If I am perfectly honest, the actual experience of flying is kind of exhilarating once the plane is in the air - I mean, how could it not be?  So clearly there is something else going on, and maybe that is case with any kind of deep fear or phobia.  Talking with a close friend, he suggested that there was a similarity between this fear and what goes on with someone who has an addiction.  Certainly, I can see how I am letting people down: making promises and failing to live up to those promises because this force is leading my behaviors.  The urges feel overwhelming and the "solution" in my mind (cancel the flight) feels correct even when I know, in my heart, that each time I don't fly at the last minute, I am reinforcing something that isn't healthy.  I think the analogy with an addiction has some merit.

Perhaps, like an addiction, the first step is admitting that you have a problem and asking for help.  I can see that I do need help with this fear and whatever it is that lies behind it.  The feeling of the fear is miserable.  It is awful on every level and yet it is my go-to reaction.  So what's up with that?  I assume people with addictions can see how it is ruining their lives and hurting people around them, and yet they still make that move to pour another drink or light up one more time.  Reflecting more, I wonder at how it happens that I allow myself to be in that state of extreme fear.  It's not like I have no tools for settling my mind!  My experience this past time wasn't that I couldn't access those tools, it was that I didn't even remember them!

The one thing that I did differently this time was that I didn't beat myself up about it.  Yes, it needs some attention and to be addressed but, also, it is part of being in the human realm.  I don't need to make it a big deal and yet, I shouldn't ignore it either.

How about you?  Any big fears that are also no big deal?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Addiction Can Be Pretty

Ok, so I have an addiction.  What of it?

This is what happens during the heartbeat/blink of an eye moment during our yoga therapy training when we are given a break from our studies.  I dashed to Craft South to soak up the beauty of Anna Maria Horner's fabrics.  You can't just walk away empty-handed, right?  Plus, the hedgehog knitting needle sizer is a gift for Lucy.  For myself, nothing.  Well, almost nothing.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Give A Little, Get A Little?

Available as part of The Sweetest Little Thing auction to benefit Struts & Faucet Artist-Run Centre.
Every Tuesday (almost) since September, I have been going to the Manhattan Detention Complex to teach a yoga class to inmates there.  Specifically, those in the Transgender Unit, which is a new concept in the prison world.  The unit was created as a way of allowing transgender inmates to do their time more safely.  As you can imagine, they are at risk for and targets of all sorts of violence.  Each week, there are a dozen or so people in the unit.  Some stay for months or longer as they await sentencing and transfer to a prison facility.  Some with shorter sentences spend their whole time there.  Sometimes there are men who are openly gay there as well, as they also suffer from an increased risk of violence among the rest of the population.

Teaching yoga in jail (they call this place jail and the upstate facilities, prison) is very challenging.  One of the most challenging parts is simply getting in.  About 50% of the time, we don't get in.  Sometimes the whole building is on lockdown and no one is getting in or out.  Other times, there is no one available to escort us up to the unit.  Either way, we arrive and leave without teaching.  Getting up to the unit is another challenge as one never knows what one will encounter in the hallways or elevators.  Search teams with dogs.  "Sitting on a body" as they call it - restraining an inmate who was acting up.  Or just blatant stares at my body.  It's all happened.

Then there is the unit itself, which is all cement and metal and wired glass.  Not cozy.  It is very loud between the television, which is always on, and shouting inmates and corrections officers.  Leading a meditation while "The Price is Right" is blaring in the background is a very interesting challenge in staying focused.  Sometimes, midway through a class, there will be a call for medication or social workers and everyone will just get up and leave.  I don't blame them - it is just how things go.  Jail isn't meant to be a nice place and it decidedly isn't.

Everything I have just described feels manageable to me.  I get it - yoga in jail is considered a luxury and we are not a priority.  If things were soft and comforting, it would not be part of a penal system.  Now, I have some strong opinions about the system and what it actually does to people in it - not to mention the glaring, unavoidable fact that I have only seen a total of four white inmates in the whole time I have been going in there, at a facility housing 800 men (and a dozen or so transgender women).  So, there are plenty of systemic issues to debate about the current state of so-called justice in this country.  But I am talking about teaching yoga.

The truth is, the inmates just aren't that into it.  When we manage to get up there to teach, often only one or two will be interested or available to participate.  More than the lockdowns and the lewd stares, this is what is most challenging.  My heart and my intention are totally directed towards offering this potentially very healing practice to a population that could really use it...but what if they don't want it?  Then what?  I have been tossing this question around in my head for a couple of months.  I suspect most of the ladies in this unit have had very difficult lives, full of abuse and disappointment (to say the least).  Am I going to be one more person who gives up on them?  Isn't there a huge lesson being offered just by showing up?

And yet...

And yet, it is hard to keep coming back, going through everything it takes to get up there to teach, and feel like no one gives a damn. What then?  I have often said that it isn't my responsibility to know how the gift is received.  My responsibility is to offer the gift.  This is where the rubber meets the road, I guess.

And yet?