Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 15-17–Georgia-Florida Loop

Dearest Readers,
It’s not over yet! The Hand to Hand Roadtrip Across America continued last weekend through South Georgia to Thomasville, on to Tallahassee Florida on Saturday; across to Jacksonville, back to Tally Sunday, returning to Decatur on Monday via Milledgeville and Athens. One thousand more miles added to the circuit for a grand total of 11,400 miles delivering H2H artwork around this country. Scion still holding up. Not so good me. Came down with a cold again. Little Etta James stayed home.

From Middle Georgia southward, the earth changed from our hard-as-a-brick red clay to soft sandy soil. I shot this dirt road near Montezuma, then a field of bursting cotton near Vienna, and a stately pecan grove outside of Cordele. Stopped for gas in Sylvester and got snagged among the participants and cars at the annual peanut festival there. Lots of kids were lined up to use the bathroom at the Shell convenience store. The weather is sunny, dry and in the low 90’s.

First stop Thomasville pop. 15,000 near the Florida border. This is Rich and Lori Curtis in their home beneath one of Rich’s paintings. He teaches art at Thomas University in town. Lori works in plantation tourism.

We’re holding one of their six collaborative hand and glove photo close-ups depicting a narrative of hand gestures as they recorded their reactions to the Iraq War events of their week in 2008. This piece became the cover shot for the Hand to Hand catalog.

Rich took me to lunch at Grassroots, a coffee shop and cafĂ© in historic downtown Thomasville. The town grew up in the 1800’s as a cotton and nut plantation center, and in the 20th century became a tourist town because of its location at the end of the railroad line, before interstate highways changed travel patterns to Florida.

This is Rich with his artwork in the multi-store venue of “Flaunt-25”– a show of 25 artists’ works on 25 local store walls. His wood, paint and zoological assemblages address his opposition to the hunting culture in the area, and the killing of local wildlife for stuffed trophies. I took this picture of an elaborate taxidermy shop downtown selling rugs, lamps, chandeliers and knickknacks made from animal parts.

On the way south out of town I stopped at Pebble Hall Plantation, which is open to visitors.

Twenty minutes outside of Thomasville I crossed into Florida, and then on to charming Tallahassee, the state capitol with its old courthouse and government buildings downtown surrounded by live oaks and lush landscaping. There’s a bird and wildlife sanctuary nearby, accessible by boat, that I did not have time to visit. Turtles, waterfowl, armadillo, heron, hawks, owl, deer and even bears I’m told live near. Tally has a small town feel. Everything is fairly close.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Tallahassee was to meet my artist friend and former Atlantan, Judy Rushin, at a baby shower she was hosting in the neighborhood. This is Judy with Mama Anne and her new little boy Gabriel. Most of the guests are artists or art teachers with Judy and Anne at FSU. Lots of Anne’s work and local art hangs on her walls. I was honored to be a part of the group.

Saturday night Judy took me to an art auction to benefit Space 621, an alternative gallery in the Railroad Square art and theater area. We stopped by Occupy Wall Street/Tallahassee where we talked with a student activist who told us about their march on the capitol earlier. He did not want me to take his picture. We saw a group discussion and a long line of folks waiting for free food donated by a restaurant. Yay 99%!

I returned Sunday morning to find the demonstrators breaking down the encampment. They’ve arranged with the city to stay in the greenspace downtown only on weekends. They will return next Friday night.

Then I took off to Jacksonville along straight-as-an-arrow I-10 – two and a half hours each way. I listened to an early Bob Dylan compilation CD set that my condo neighbor lent me, and “Remarkable Creatures”, an audio book about the life and discoveries of Mary Anning, a young fossil hunter along the English coast who predated Darwin. Good stuff for a monotonous highway.

I arrived around 1:30 pm at the Jacksonville home of glove artist Neha Luhar-Trice and her husband Chris. He just received tenure as a professor of photography at the University of North Florida there. Unlike compact Tallahassee, Jax is a big seaside city that sprawls along the ocean and beaches, across inland waterways, among burgeoning apartment complexes, and a downtown with skyscrapers visible in the distance.

Chris took this picture of Neha and I seating by a shaded pond and fountain near their home. I’m handing her one of her gloves depicting her reaction to an extreme week of civilian killings in Iraq in 2010. This piece addresses the bombing of a textile factory by insurgents, and the death of eighty workers.

Neha made a colorful and very tasty Indian buffet of bhel, a puffed grain mixture (in the foreground), topped with a selection of chopped tomatoes, onion, raspberries and a tamarind chutney with dates and cilantro. Wow!

Then back along I-10 to Tallahassee and a second night as guest of the Rushins.

Meet the whole family-Judy, Rob and their smart, creative kids Anna and Ben. We’re having dinner Sunday night on their deck overlooking a backyard of thick semi-tropical vegetation. Pasta shells with homemade tomato sauce, grated cheese, wine and baby field greens are on the table. Raspberry sorbet and Symphony chocolate squares for dessert.

I snapped this shot of Judy in her studio standing next to some painted and drilled wood studies. Here are two of her paintings...a large green canvas that Rob photographed for an album cover, (He’s a musician in the band Reba-Seger, and an orange panel diptych from Judy's newer series.

Monday I said goodbye to Judy and Rob and headed back north to Georgia around 10:00 am.

After crossing the border, I headed North and East, cutting diagonally across Georgia. I bypassed Macon, driving further northeast to Milledgeville, the former old capitol city, a pre-civil war town spared by Sherman on his incendiary March to the Sea. My first stop of the day was at the home of glove artist Megan Tiedeman Bowen who I had met in 2006 when she was an art student at Georgia College and State University there. I was a visiting artist.

Here I am at her front door holding two of her six gloves with the dates emblazoned, and slashed with red threads. Megan was not able to meet me when I arrived, so I took the picture, and left the package of artwork on her porch as we had planned.

5:30 pm-Last stop-the sewing studio of Sara Spurlock in Athens. She was finishing making costumes for the Canopy Repertory Company, an aerial dance ensemble performing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A MidSummer Night's Dream this weekend. We’re holding one of her six little canvases with inked marionette and puppeteer hands connected by embroidered threads. Her sweet, quiet Chihuahua looks on.

Arrived home in Decatur at 7:00 pm, the road still humming in my head.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Miss Mole Climbs Out of Her Hole to Occupy Wall Street in Atlanta

Miss Mole (me) has been inching her way out of the tunnel of a September virus–slowly creeping upward for over a month. Yesterday she finally poked her head above ground, and jumped on a MARTA train to join the Occupy Atlanta rally in downtown Woodruff Park.

She’s demonstrating her solidarity with the Occupy Wall Streeters in NYC, and with people gathering in over 100 cities across America. This grassroots movement is expressing its anger at the political system for its lack of action in the economic crisis, at the big banks and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

When the mortgage bubble burst in 2008, the Wall Street financial institutions were deemed too big to fail. They received taxpayer bailouts, have bounced back and are now enjoying profits,

while the people of America and the world (the 99% who are not the wealthiest) are struggling, with little help from the Washington political parties.

What an evening it was! The demonstration of hundreds of people was more than just a big mix of like-minded folks holding signs. It was real democracy in action.

The gathering was called the General Assembly and the moderator, facilitator and scribe got right down to explaining the process of consensus decision making,introducing the different subgroups dealing with medical, legal issues, and the Demands. There was no sound amplification besides a bull horn, so the crowd repeated the speakers’ words in successive waves, flowing outward to the edges of those straining to hear.

This rough poster is a flow chart showing how agreement or disagreement with the agenda would take place.

People raised a thumb or wiggled fingers to express agreement. The process was cumbersome and time consuming with so many folks there, but I think the subgroups will take up the fine points of developing a list of demands and next steps to be agreed upon.

U.S. Representative John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, wanted to address the crowd in support of the OWSers. His request was put to the crowd for acceptance, but two attendees felt the agenda should be adhered to first. There was no consensus, so John Lewis was asked to speak after the agenda. Unfortunately he could not stay, and he graciously bowed out. It was the people’s decision or lack of decision that let that happen.

As night fell, Miss Mole went back to her den in Decatur. Some in the crowd agreed by consensus to sleep there in the park and begin to “Occupy Wall Street/Atlanta.” In the shadow of the Equitable Insurance building and Georgia-Pacific tower, owned by the Koch brothers of Kansas City, the people (and a girl-mole) are speaking their truth.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

So What? – Observations and Lessons from the Road

Well. Cecelia’s Big Adventure is done, more or less. So what? Did I discover something about myself, or America along the way? “Hold onto your hat”, as my mother would say. Here comes my laundry list of revelations.

I learned that the Hand to Hand Project is a flowing organism, not an individual work of art, or just an expansive collaborative installation. It’s become an unfolding story. H2H has ceased to be about me, or war, or one more art piece to put on a resume. It’s about communicating with artists and viewers without asking anything in return. It has become a structure for moving deeper into my own life, trusting others, pushing out self-protective walls and reconnecting with relatives, artists and friends. The Return of Hand to Hand seems to be a vehicle for experiencing people within their essential life spaces, beyond the Project’s diverse messages on the gallery walls, or the individual creative juices that spawned them.

I learned on the road that fear comes from somewhere in the mind, and that most of it is a stone rolled out by my little ego to keep supporting its fantasy of control.

I learned that I did not fear aloneness in the wild. Talk of bears on the loose, and two experiences with odd acting humans at campsites was unnerving, but I kept my “street smarts” alert in the forest, and made adjustments for safety whenever I could. I listened to my gut.

I learned that direct experience within the world is the most vital form of learning.

I learned I can push out my limits, but I was never eager to do so.

I learned I’m a running water kind of girl. On the road, I usually wanted to spend the night in a cushy motel or a cozy cottage...not camping – but I did it anyway. It saved me a lot of money. I stayed in a motel only once when the temperature in the sand hills of West Texas was too much for me to bear.

I learned I can make choices to live within my means, and still create an adventure.

I learned I’m a seeker...some may say a navel-gazer...bent on a quest to figure out my purpose on this planet. The Hand to Hand Road Trip Across America was just a nice excuse to extend that path horizontally.

I learned I’m braver than I was when starting out. I can face the unknown a bit better, but I’ m still most comfortable when I can arrange my future necessities–especially where I will sleep the next night, how much money I have in my pocket, or how far to the next gas station in the middle of the desert. Let’s say I had 10,000 miles of practice becoming comfortable with uncertainty, and I’ve still got more miles in that direction to go.

I learned I’m afraid to sleep in the car by the side of the least not alone. I’d need a lover to hold and protect me in order to surrender to that much insubstantiality of existence.

I learned I hate hot weather...thoroughly and throughout my body, from its core to the outer pores and hairs of my physical being. My face erupts after enduring days of sun through the windshield, and explodes in a relentless flush of red cheeks and miserable rosy splotches blooming across my neck. My body refuses to sweat in enough quantity to keep itself balanced with the punishing, endless daylight. This body ran down after a week of intense, blistering climate across the South and Southwest, even with AC in the car.

I know why the prophets went to the desert for enlightenment and transformation. It is a place stripped of security and comfort, ripe for fostering existential questions about the nature of life and death. The intense sun, lack of water and absence of people, shelter and shade left me feeling exposed and alone. The desert sky is huge. Etta and I were specs beneath its giant dome.

I learned that in empty landscapes and on long, lonely highways, “The Unknown” gathers force and personality. I gave this depressive emotion the name The Road Demon. Sometimes he sent me into little panic spells as I gripped the wheel and hoped to find a town or gas station around the bend.

I learned I can roll with the rules and the housekeeping styles of my hosts. I was always treated to a comfortable bed, fresh, beautifully presented meals, and conversations about art and life. Some of the folks I stayed with put flowers on the table, had elaborate kitchen appliances to figure out, and special rules for loading the dishwasher. Sometimes Etta was allowed to jump up on the couch, in other homes she had to stay in a separate room (with difficulty and lots of whining.) In some places I stepped around the hairs in the shower drain, and ignored the dirt behind the commode. In others, shoes were removed at the door. It all seemed to work.

I learned that after traveling four time zones west, and then four time zones east in three months, my body’s preferred active time is rising with the dawn, and sacking out by 9:00 pm. This explains why in winter, when it’s dark after dinner, I have such a hard time motivating my body to get off the couch. My circadian rhythm would suit a Vermont farmer.

I learned that I can push through loneliness, continue moving, and that the feeling will change, especially when I make the effort to connect with strangers.

I learned to stop trying to identify every river I crossed, or mountain in the distance and to enjoy the flow.

I learned on Puget Sound that I can unleash Etta and she will return. She disappeared along the coast, I held my breath, but she answered my calls. I learned I can let her meet other dogs and she will be OK. She herself is opening to more diverse experiences. Each travel day she would jump onto her passenger seat perch, and wait enthusiastically for take off. Etta gradually relaxed into each new day, and the new people we encountered, particularly their pets. She set her boundaries with other dogs by a low growl and a snap in the air if they did not get the message. Then most of the time, all canine/feline parties understood how the territory would be divided–who gets the pillow or couch. Most of the cats chose to disappear.

I learned that I love the cooler northern summer weather, and its deep green forests. Places without tall trees, and too much dust or desert comprise the first rings of the inferno for me. Vermont became the Emerald Kingdom quest in my mental mists. The downside of course, is the long cold winter and all that restrictive snow, but no worries about that in July.

I learned I can eat simply---cereal in the morning with a small can of juice. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with sliced cheese and baby green spinach for dinner with fruit for filler. I ate only ten times in restaurants the entire three months of summer (not counting my daily search for coffee shops with wi-fi each morning and the elusive great cup a joe.)

I learned that America and I have a love/hate relationship with coffee. Small town cafes and gas stations usually serve weak, over-cooked coffee. No one seems to mind. Convenience stores sell elaborately flavored hot brown stuff in big thermos pumps with over-sweetened half and half substitutes. On the other hand, college towns all across the USA support at least one local coffee shop serving delicious, well-tended brews and home-made pastries. Starbucks is a reliable source of flavorful, fresh coffee whenever I could find one. I stumbled upon a Starbucks in small-town Spencer Iowa inside the Spencer Dream Center, a city social services building opened by a welfare group, and manned by students–excellent coffee in a welcoming atmosphere.

I learned I can travel light, without a camp stove and all the cooking utensils and fuel. Space was at a premium, especially in the beginning when my compact Scion XB was filled with boxes of artwork to return.

I learned that oranges and apples stay fresher longer in a hot car than soft skinned fruits like plums or peaches. I craved bananas, but they did not survive the intense heat of the car. I learned to buy only two or three at a time, and stop at stores more frequently. America offers an abundance of foods, with small stores along the highways that cater to the travelers needs.

I learned I can store all my perishables within a 6-pack sized cooler, and simply buy a couple of “Big Slurp” sized cups of ice each day. Inside it I packed a block of cheese to fancy up my evening peanut butter and jelly sandwich, one bottle of beer for the evening wind-down, and a vacuum box of soymilk which kept longer than cow’s milk. Bread in the cooler invariably got soggy no matter how well I ziplocked its plastic bag. I stashed non-perishables like dry cereal, bread, raisins, nuts, individual pop-top canned juices, and my multivitamins in one grocery store fabric totebag. I regularly bought a gallon of spring water, or the shrink-wrapped 24 pack of individual bottled waters. Etta lived on available brands of dry dog food.

I learned I am not a loner-survivalist. Throughout the journey I went out of my way to connect with shopkeepers, fellow campers, cousins, and friends scattered around the country. I used talking, camping, and eating as vehicles for deeper connection.

I learned that my car is my friend. I took good care of her along the route with regular oil changes and gentle driving. I went the speed limit, and on step roads I did not push or rev the rpms. I usually let her find her comfortable speed uphill, even if it meant she dropped below the postedlimit. Her engine became shrill if I pushed too hard.

I learned that camping in state and national parks is an ephemeral community act. In mid-summer, these places, carved out of the forests, deserts, and lakesides are gathering spots for local families and friends staying for a week or so of down time. Campsites are close. Conversations, songs, game-playing, cooking smells, truck doors slamming, headlights at night sweeping across my tent reinforced my awareness of being a part of a bigger body of vacationers.

I learned that a tent is a thin-skinned interface between inside and out. In a crowded camp ground, neighbors can be loud and intrusive, but also they will share food and resources, like my fellow campers on Grand Isle, LA who drove around in a golf cart offering fresh cooked shrimp, crab and veggies from a beach low-country style boil. They showed me how to crack open the shellfish, and offered three types of home-made sauces.

I learned to always say “yes” when someone offered help. In Santa Fe at Black Canyon campground, a young woman from a group of Oklahoma girlfriends on a mini-vacation came to my site to help me set up my tent. She was genuinely disappointed when I turned her down. Later I visited their area. We talked about our lives, and I shared my story about the return of the Hand to Hand Project. The next morning they gave me a breakfast soup made of grains and chick peas, and I showed them the actual Hand to Hand glove artworks. By saying” no” to help in the beginning, I almost blew the opportunity that developed to get deeper.

I learned that I like the feeling of being encompassed by something bigger than myself, like waking up inside a misty cloud at dawn camped by a riverside, or being contained within a forest surrounded by the density of trees. It is a humbling, exhilarating, existential experience to look up at midnight under a dome of stars, or to travel an endless road in the merciless desert. I am a spec within this mysterious bigness of being.

As an easterner, I learned that I had no concept of the vastness of space and land and the hugeness of the sky in the western desert landscape. Small plants and scruffy trees reveal the heavens, and lay bare the body and mind to the relentless drilling of the sun. I felt afraid sometimes. At other times I experienced the joy of freedom running down the highway.

I learned to turn off the music and the talk radio. The landscape, signs, and the craft of thinking drew my razor sharp attention. My eyes sucked in the world beyond the windshield. My mind and memories seemed to be expanding. This ultra focus was exhausting, but I’m sure I was creating new synapses with each mile. It had to be better than a crossword puzzle as a brain builder.

I learned I love talking about art with artists. It is so easy. Having a conversation with a well-meaning person who might not be into art about what kind of work I do elicits a silent sigh from my soul, and a begrudgingly difficult response. Polite smiles and gaps in their understanding is a drag, but I’ll always try.

I learned I miss my grandkids–Jack from my bones, Rosie from my head and Roman from my heart. I hate saying goodbye to my own children and kids-in-law. I love sharing their lives and being pulled into their circle of fun, friends and experiences.

I learned that I had no inclination to meditate or pray the rosary. That seems to be a function of staying in one place and being with the stationary moment. On the road I’m in a heightened state of observation and movement. I suppose if I did this constant motion thing for a living, I’d be praying more. I gravitated to the Buddhist readings that I brought, rather than my Catholic books.

I learned that “land” is no longer an abstraction to this city-raised girl, but is an ally that supplies life and livelihood, or can take it away. I physically experienced the elements of weather, sun, rain, water supply, plant life, wild animals, time changes, and earth formations.

I learned that some friends and artists along the way are also seeking, like Kevin Maher in Silver Spring, MD who wants to know, “What is my purpose?”, or Andy Faith in Charlottsville, VA who is retired, and feels like a free spirit in her art. She told me that she would not let anyone say she couldn’t do this.

I learned that I do not realize when I’m stressed or exhausted or pushing myself too much, until my body gets sick. It happened over and over on the road. I was fine. It seemed the world was out of whack. Is this learning?

I learned that I have two homes. Vermont is where the memories and deep heart connection with friends, relatives, the land, the mountains, trees, rivers and liberal, local, back-to-nature lifestyle live. And Georgia is where my children grew up, where my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren reside, where I keep my possessions, and where I have an expansive network of artist friends and collaborators.

I learned that my dog Etta is a comforting companion. I could not go into museums for fear of frying her in the summer heat of a parked car, but I adjusted the trip so we could follow trails and walk in nature instead.

I learned that Americans like big cars¬–lots of SUVs. It amazed me to see an elderly gentleman in West Virginia clamber down out of a monster pickup truck. He had trouble walking, but had power behind the wheel. I observed that in Southeastern and Southwestern USA, white is the predominant color for pickups.

I learned that Subway and McDonalds restaurants can be found all over the country, and that Dollar General stores favor locations in much of small town America.

I learned that all the truck weigh stations I encountered on major highways were closed except for Virginia. I’m not sure why.

I learned that one could study the animal life of America by observing road kill. Alligators on the side of the road in Louisiana. Prairie dogs, weasels, pheasants and locusts on the grillwork in the Midwest. Jack rabbits in the Southwest. Pikas in the Northwest. Skunks in the northeast. Armadillos in the South. Raccoons, deer and squirrels almost everywhere.

I learned (tried) to be a considerate driver. It was more relaxing to drive long distances this way.

I learned that friends on the route wanted to give me traveling directions. I accepted this verbal help, but generally ignored most of it. It was less stressful in traffic to simply let the voice of my GPS instruct me in real time.

I learned that the Clean Water Act is working. A friend asked me to stop by his hometown of Covington, VA, which was on my way. He asked if the Jackson River was as polluted and full of paper mill foam as it was in the early ‘70s. I was happy to report that it ran clean and clear.

I have a sneaking suspicion that over time these lessons may fade in importance. Right now they are vivid. Perhaps I will forget. Times will change, and make my observations simply chronicles of one path in America at one time in the universe. I guess that’s OK. What I did exists in a big soup pot of events and experiences. This realization is humbling. I do suspect, however, that I’ve turned some sort of corner in personal expansiveness, and gentle abiding with whatever happens next.