Sunday, June 7, 2020

On Revelation | Modern Hanging Art Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: The Juggler + Blue Moon Rising (alt colors)

On revelation
“But how can I see,” asked sparrow, “when all around me is dark?”
“Sometimes,” explained fox, “darkness *is* the light.”
Thoughts while making
Monster. Robbers. Demons. On a nightly basis, these and a whole host of other unseemly characters kept me up at night.

Tiptoeing through the house. Looking in through my bedroom window. Appearing out of thin air.

To taunt. To tease. To wreak havoc on my 7-year-old self.

In the dark, they’d lay in wait. Under the covers. In the closet. Hanging from the ceiling.

In the dark, they’d grow. Uglier. Scarier. More menacing.

I would lie in bed, paralyzed by fear. Heart pounding so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. Unable to speak. To call out. To ask for help.

When I could actually make my way to the switch by the door and flip on the light, there would – of course – be nothing there. I’d check down the hallway, look behind clothes in the closet, dip under the bed. Nothing.
But the SECOND I turned that light off, BOOM, they all crowded me again; pushing in twice as hard.
The funny thing about lights is that it’s easy to (think you) see when they’re on. As a kid, however, I learned it’s a mistake to confuse light for sight. Because what you see, what you feel, what you think – and how you act – when the light is off, well, that’s another story altogether, isn’t it? That’s where the monsters, demons, and bad guys live.
My hope is, at a time when the collective switch is flipped on, that we’re each figuring out what’s needed – and, importantly, what unique gifts you already have and are using – to create light to illuminate the dark places when that switch is turned off again.
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you close your eyes right now?

Monday, June 1, 2020

On Inequality

On inequality
“I’m sad,” said bear.
“Me too,” said fox.

Thoughts while making

I was living in Oakland when the Rodney King riots / uprising erupted in May 1992. One night, I went down to the protests in Berkeley, right along Telegraph Avenue. “No justice, no peace” was the refrain as it is now. Then, as we see again and again, glass shatters, fires burn.

I remember standing there watching these drunk frat guys from Cal throw a rock through the window of the Gap store, casually stroll in, and grab handfuls of jeans. What did this have to do with a man getting beaten to an inch of his life? What did this have to do with justice? With racism? With systemic inequality?

I yelled at this cop as those guys came out of the Gap, “Aren’t you going to do anything?” And he just stared at me, another dumb white kid who didn’t understand. Or maybe I did on some level, but just didn’t have the term “white privilege” to make sense of why these guys were walking down a street loaded with cops with no repercussion ... or why I could yell at a police officer in full riot gear without fear.

I wonder what has changed in the nearly three decades that has attained between now and then? What had changed from the years before in Miami, Detroit, Watts, Newark, and on and on.

I’m heartened to see my nieces active and vocal about inequality, and I’m hopeful that this collective upswelling of voices is more than just some social media-induced virtue signaling from those with privilege, and that the conversations and actions of today will shift on cellular-to-institutional levels. What happens next matters.

In a “one person, one vote” democracy, we each still have this tool available to us. It’s just one tool, but it can be powerful; to cut out cancers in our system from the top down and remove those whose agenda against people of color, gender, women – civil and human rights – is not something we are willing to accept any longer.

I usually end my posts with a question for you. I don’t know the right question to ask, so that’s my question: What is the question you’re asking yourself or others right now?

Blue Viola for the Milwaukee Museum Art Shop by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Blue Viola, one of a series of mobiles commissioned by the Milwaukee Art Museum shop for their 2014 Kandinsky exhibition

On self-acceptance
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try,” said crow. “You can’t improve what you don’t first accept.”

Thoughts while making
When I was a kid, I had a yellow Schwinn bike. It had cereal box stickers stuck all over it, and heavy steel tires. Literally, they were just rubber wrapped around metal. No tubes. No air.

When you went off the sidewalk, you’d land with a jarring thump on the asphalt. But those tires were bombproof, and rolled true for years.

Every day when I rode it, I would attempt to pedal right along the edge of the sidewalk. And no matter how hard I tried, I would always fall off the curb and thump down onto the street. If I went slow, I’d thump. If I went fast, I’d thump.

I remember focusing so intently on that edge. “Don’t go over it,” I’d repeat to myself, my handlebars nervously twitching. Then, almost as if pulled by a magnet, I’d thump down. Defeated by those 6 inches of concrete. And I would feel like I failed. Again.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was pedaling up Rocky Butte here in Portland. A white painted line winds its way up the hill. It’s a sorry excuse for a shoulder as there’s no space between it and the traffic.

I heard a car coming up fast behind me. So I focused on keeping my wheel on that line. “Don’t go over it,” I repeated to myself. But wouldn’t you know it: the closer the car came, the more difficult it was. Right as it passed, my handlebars twitched and I nearly ran myself into the car.

Interesting, isn’t it? how when we focus on what we don’t want to happen, it often does? Or when our field of vision is so narrowed – on the sidewalk in front of us, for example – how easy it is to run into things. Hard things. Tough things. Things that land with a jarring thump.

Can you imagine what might unfold if you looked up from that which you were trying to avoid and just rolled with it and appreciated what was?

You might still go off that curb. But how different would it feel?

What was your favorite way to get around as a kid (e.g., bike, skates, Big Wheel, pogo stick)?

The Caldairemeiro Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Variations on a theme

On sight
“But when I look *that* closely,” explained bird, “I feel everything.”
“That’s good,” replied wolf, “feeling lets you see things as they really are.”

Thoughts while making
Not many years ago, I remember laughing as I watched my mom attempt to thread a sewing needle. I didn’t want to laugh. But I couldn’t help myself.

Her hand steady, the needle firmly between her fingers and lifted to the light. One eye squinted closed, as she lined up thread and needle … and proceeded to miss. By football fields. By oceans and eons. By light years and galaxies. Again and again.

I remember thinking that if she couldn’t see something that was – literally – right in front of her face, how could she see anything?

Fast forward to today and now I’m the guy pushing his glasses down the tip of his nose to see what that recipe calls for, grumbling about needing better light, moving the cookbook back and forth … and finally (reluctantly) grabbing the magnifying glass to see.

Sight is a funny thing, isn’t it? I know that when I take the time to put my glasses on or pull out that magnifying glass, I see things in a way I never would’ve before. Yes, practical things like 1/2 cup of sugar versus 12; but also subtle things like the font used, the saturation of ink, the kerning between letters.

And so it is in life, isn’t it? Where when we take the time to focus on the details, shining a light on the kerning that connects this and that, we realize how many of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves – the narratives upon which we build our truths – are constructed from blurry bits and shadowy pieces we simply have come to accept over time, even when they don’t serve us well, and often without much thought … although they are – literally – right in front of our faces.

My mom always finds a way to thread that needle. It may take a bit of time, greater attention, and a willingness to try and try again, but she gets it threaded; giving her what she needs to stitch together memories and moments in her beautiful patchwork quilts.

Where can you apply your focus this week? Where can you shine a light to better understand how you’ve stitched your story together?

Pivot II Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Pivot II

On kapow
“I’m me.” said fox. “That’s my superpower.”
And although bear wanted to laugh, she knew fox was on to something big.

Thoughts while making
 I didn’t see a cape. But I’m pretty sure it was there. He was definitely wearing a mask. And although he drove a Prius, I think it’s safe to assume he was no ordinary man.

He said his name was Floyd. And who was I to argue? He wore a dark blue cardigan sweater and carried a black briefcase. When he began to unzip it, I took a quick step back. Because, you know: kryptonite. But it ended up just having papers inside.

A notary. That’s what the title on his business card said. And he *was* here for me to sign my home loan refi papers. But I was sure there was some other reason for his visit. Something nefarious? I needed to stay on my guard.

But he laughed a lot, and – although I couldn’t see his mouth – he had such warm, smiling eyes. They literally twinkled. He praised me for small things over which I had little control, like locking in such a good rate, yet he sounded so genuine. He also used my name often, and each time he did my heart felt hugged in the softest way.

As time passed, I found it difficult to keep my defenses up. Soon I was laughing with him. Feeling the tension leaving my body. His superpowers working their comforting magic on me.

Floyd is 67. He’d been a child therapist in Santa Barbara for 23 years before becoming a notary. He said he loved his job because of people like me. And the money.

Whether it was because he was the very first human I’ve had any in person contact with since the beginning of March or because he truly was a superhero, I’m not sure. All I do know is that for a few minutes on a Thursday night in May, I laughed with a stranger and I went to sleep with a smile.

Thinking back over these past months, who would you say has been your biggest hero?

Black Beauty Modern Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: Black Beauty and The Classic
On (in)sight
“It’s true,” said bear, “some things must be seen to be believed.”
“But other things, my dear, must be believed if you ever hope to see them.”

Thoughts while making
“Your eyes will never adjust.” That’s what the guide said. So I waved my hands in front of my face. I squinted. I opened and closed them. But all was black.

Black like night, like pain, like endless space. Black like ash after fire, and fear. Black like ink, like curiosity, like possibility.

It took my breath, and held it; an uneasy feeling it is to so completely lose one’s orientation, to be unable to tell what is and is not, where one begins, and ends.

I found myself there quite by accident, pulling off the side of the road the night before, and camping next to an airfield. I woke at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico, my bare feet digging into the already-warm sands of the Chihuahuan Desert.

I remember lying there in that early morning, watching two crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos, lifting and dipping just above me on unseen currents of air. They were circling one another endlessly, painting the sky ancient and happy on whispered feathers black and sun sparked.

The Carlsbad Caverns are a magnificent testament to time and persistence; the power of great tectonic upheavals as well as the might of small, yet consistent actions over the millennia – no matter what was happening on the surface.

When the guide turned off the lights, he told us that – since we were in belly of a cave where no light could penetrate – our eyes would never adjust. “With even the hint of light, you can eventually see; but here where there is total darkness never.”

Being in the dark can be disorienting. And sometimes we wonder if there will ever be light. Yet as I stood there uneasy, those two black birds flew gently into my thoughts. And I could see them as clearly as I saw the sun rise that morning. And I felt light and giddy as they lifted me on their wings, my body left behind, soaring on golden currents.

Light is a funny thing, isn’t it? Often found by quieting ourselves in the dark. Where will you allow even a hint of it to penetrate today?