A million colors of white

Van Gogh_feistyharriet_July 2016

I dabble a bit in painting, I would hardly call myself even an amateur, really. But it’s a fun hobby and I get a ridiculous amount of joy from an afternoon in my little studio with all those little tubes of paint, mixing and painting and remixing and painting on another layer.

There are probably a lot of lessons to learn from mixing and painting, but there is one that I can’t stop thinking about. If you’re trying to make an interesting painting–contemporary, abstract, realistic, whatever–you need lots of layers and subtle differences in color. Red is never just red, in fact, it’s most interesting when it’s got a little green in it. Blue is most interesting with a little orange or yellow in the shadows or highlights, respectively. And white and black are the most realistic when there are bits of all the other colors mixed in.

That image up there is a still life by Vincent Van Gogh hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago. From across the room it looks like floppy white roses; but when you come up close, one white rose is lined in lavender, another in seafoam green, blues and purples, yellows and reds are probably more frequent than straight up Titanium White, the whitest white.

Consequently, the deepest, velvety black patches of paintings have bronze and purple, forest green and burnt umber, and sometimes even stripes of silver or yellow to offset those deep, rich dark colors. (Also, coincidentally, it’s a LOT harder to get a decent cell-phone photo of all that variation with unforgiving museum lighting and guards nervously pacing, anxiously intervening when they think you are too close. Ahem.)

I like to think about people in terms of those flowers, and the dark skirts of Victorian ladies, or the sumptuous midnight backgrounds of Dutch portraits, with gorgeous browns and vibrant reds and inky blues. We all have undertones and edges that change who we are, that reflect where we have been and what we have experienced. The variations and changes, the subtle glint when the light changes, the differences in perception depending on where you stand.

This is what makes us human. This is what makes us interesting. And this is what makes us so dang hard to understand each other, and so beautiful to each other when we finally can see all the colors and undertones and variations that work together for each, individual person.

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Around, and around, and around

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Do you ever feel like you fluctuate between two opposite extremes? One day you want fuzzy slippers and leggings, the next some killer shoes and a sharp blazer that Stacy, Clinton, and Tim Gunn would swoon over. Or maybe one day you’re all about salads and lean protein, and then next it’s chips and guac, mac & cheese, and a bucket of ice cream.

Right now, I’m caught on this particular roller coaster, constantly swinging from side to side, with a few moments of contentment somewhere in the middle. One day I want a lovely back yard and garden (which are truly lovely, and I still love them) and the next I want to sell everything and spend my life wandering. Or I want a nice, stable, dependable job with state benefits and a reserved parking spot…but then I want to spend 3 years in a creative commune and, I don’t know, go hunting for berry pigments to turn into dye, or paint, or pie (I’m not entirely sure what happens at a creative artist commune, clearly.).

When I get knocked off kilter, it sometimes takes me a while of flailing around to find my center again. I feel like I can see where that center path is, but I keep missing it, criss-crossing it haphazardly, but slowing the pendulum swing…eventually I’ll find my feet confidently walking where I want them to be, and until then, I’m just trying to survive the ride.

It occurred to me in the last few days that I probably need to be on medication. Again. I have always dabbled around the edges of depression and for the last few years have also been fighting anxiety attacks and overwhelming moments of panic stemming from everyday situations. I’ve tried therapy and meds, and more meds and different therapy. And those things have all helped to some extent; but depending on how extreme and powerful the forces in my life…well…I think it’s time to up my meds.

 

 

I know that part of my issues of late have nothing to do with my brain chemistry, they would be shitty for anyone in my shoes. I also know that my particular brain chemistry sometimes needs a little boost to stay even. So, while I know my doc–who is well acquainted with my brain–wouldn’t hesitate to re-write me a prescription for something to help me manage my day-to-day; part of me wonders if that’s a cop out. Wonders if it’s my brain, or if it’s just the situation. I don’t want to be broken, but I also sometimes wonder if I’m gas-lighting myself. And then I remind myself for the umpteenth time that regardless of why, it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to take meds, or go to therapy, or do whatever it is that works in order to get back to a place of feeling okay again. And when I, myself, try and convince myself otherwise…well, that’s not a very healthy behavior, now is it.

Oh, the hamsters in my brain, if you could only see and appreciate how they work, and how they work me over. It’s exhausting.

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When you can’t see the trees from the fire in the forest

Kings Canyon NP_feistyharriet_2016

Earlier this summer I took myself on a detour-road trip on my way to San Francisco for a wedding. As I drove through King’s Canyon National Park I was stunned and terribly saddened by the devastating damage from a recent forest fire. The photo above was taken at the end of May; there should be carpets of green covering everything, tender new shoots and leaves everywhere. Instead, everything was charred and dead, it seemed like the fire had consumed as far as I could see. However, when I got out and started exploring, there were thousands of wildflowers peeking up through the ashes and burned stumps. Maybe they stood out more to me because of their charcoal background, but in that setting they were absolutely vibrant in a way that could only exist with the fire scars surrounding them.

Sequoia National Park_feistyharriet_2016Later that day, in Sequoia National Park, I wandered for miles through the giant trees; there was a particular little spot where most of the trees had been gutted and scarred by a forest fire (or twenty); it seemed like every tree had gaping black gashes on it’s body. Yet, even with so much lost to the blaze, these trees continued to grow, putting out new branches and needles. I read at the Ranger Station that some Sequoia trees had survived dozens of forest fires in their hundreds of years in the forest. They have adapted to be able to absorb the flash-point heat of a quick-moving fire, and some even need that heat in order for their seeds to germinate. I spent a lot of time in one particular grove, trying to capture these giants with burned out canyons rising twenty or forty or sixty feet up their bodies, charred bark to their heart, deep enough to swallow my length of my arm.

Sequoia National Park 2_feistyharriet_2016

And yet, the forest continues to grow; the forest is healthier because of the fires. The necessary adaptions and evolutions of the trees in order to survive for hundreds of years is the reason places like Sequoia NP and Redwood NP exist. Sequoia trees are some of the oldest, largest, and strongest living creatures on earth, able to withstand heat and cold and fire and drought and earthquake and any other kind of natural disaster (or man-made disaster) that has been thrown at them for thousands–literally, thousands of years. Those trees are thriving, with the yawning black cracks likes badges of honor.

This last little while as I’ve been both reeling from my own personal fire, and also feeling sorry for myself (yes, I’ve been wallowing), I had forgotten about these trees; I’d forgotten how long I wandered among their burned trunks, putting my hands in the scars and trying to wrap my head around how they were still alive and growing and expanding. I had forgotten. I’m not sure what jogged my memory, but I’m glad it did. Everything may be on fire, but it won’t always be on fire. The flames will die out, the smoke will clear, and the coals will eventually stop smoldering. And yes, I’ll probably carry some scars from the experience, but I am a fucking Sequoia: a fire cannot destroy me.

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P.S. Thank you to all who have reached out in concern; I haven’t responded to many, I’ve literally been just trying to breathe. Last night’s epiphany about the Sequoia’s was an a ha! moment for me, a crisp, swift breeze that brought me hope I haven’t felt since this whole thing started. Yes, I’m being vague. I’m sorry. Actually, I’m not sorry. This is my little corner of the internet, and I use my writing as therapy. You’re the weirdly voyeuristic part-stranger who is reading my therapy sessions for recreation.

P.P.S. THANK YOU, all you voyeuristic weirdos! You are My Tribe.

P.P.P.S. ooxxooXoXXx

On cactus, and living in the Valley of the Surface of the Sun

Purple Cactus flower_feistyharriet_April 2016

In my short time as a resident of the American Southwest I have come to appreciate some of it’s thornier and more beautiful parts: the desert plants that thrive under the harshest of conditions. In the early spring I loved taking my camera with me on walks through my neighborhood to photograph some of the spikier and thornier specimens in people’s yards. Then, you know, temperatures soared and I retreated back to the air conditioning, where I have stayed.

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I see my northern neighbors celebrating cooler temperatures, the coming of fall fashions, pumpkin spice everything, and exhaling that the heat of summer has passed. Meanwhile, it’s still 100+ every day here and my cabin fever continues to rage. Locals keep telling me that Arizona’s fall is coming, and looking at the weather patterns I only partially believe them. It will be in the 90’s through October before finally cooling off to temperatures where I can breathe, but for me, 70 degrees is a perfect summer day, not appropriate for November and December. I truly don’t know if I will ever fully adapt to life in the low desert; the high desert where there is frost and snow and plummeting temperatures at night? That I can do. But without the elevation of those ancient plateaus, Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs just bake, and bake, and bake, for MONTHS on end.

Red spike cactus_feistyharriet_April 2016

The soul-sucking heat, the neverending blistering sun, the subsequent cabin fever…it makes me anxious and irritable and, in general, makes everything worse. I somehow feel that a few days of truly cold temperatures would solve a fair number of my internal turmoil, the cool temperatures calm me and help me think more clearly. I am sharper and more logical, more productive and happier when my body is not fighting itself and my surface-of-the-sun environment.

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I have had to negotiate a lot of adjustments since I moved to Arizona: new work routine (which just changed again), new dynamics with Mr. Blue Eyes and his kids, new dynamics with my own family and friendships to accommodate the distance, and new relationships with friends and colleagues here. Those are the pieces that keep my going, the beautiful desert bloom, the cactus flowers…but the damn heat is the always present spikes and cactus spines, the constant that must be negotiated multiple times per day. When walking to the mailbox has the potential to give you heat stroke, the weather doesn’t just disappear into the background. Perhaps it does for those who are used to the fire-breathing sky, and perhaps in time I will adapt. If my love of Charles Darwin has taught me anything, it is that species will always adapt to their surroundings (or they will die out, but let’s not focus on that option, mmmkay?)

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“Get off my lawn!” A story about technology

I love technology as much as the next person, but…

Actually, no. That’s probably not true. Let me start again. I appreciate and am simultaneously wary of technology, seemingly unlike the vast majority of the population.

Let me explain. It’s all about apps these days, right? An app for this, an app for that. You can order your groceries or your jeans through an app, save 5% here, rack up points there, play in a simulated world, talk to your friend on the other side of the world, keep notes that update across multiple devices, check your email, your instastorysnaptwitbook, and probably ten million other things that are made simple and easy with a magic little downloadable app for your phone. Brilliant! Right?

Probably.

But, see, I am SUPER skeptical of most apps. I get really skeezed out by all the permissions that most apps claim they need access to in my phone. I don’t need a restaurant to have access to my location; I don’t want a game to have access to my Gmail data; I don’t want a shopping platform to have access to my camera roll or a big box store to know what other apps are on my device. As such, I have very very few apps on my phone. I turn off my location and bluetooth settings 90% of the time, I sign out of every social media app every time I close out of it, I wear a tinfoil hat, and yell at the teenagers to get off my lawn gravel.

Am I an anomaly? Does anyone else get wary of what kind of data, exactly, all those downloaded algorithms are gleaning off your phone activity and what, exactly, the umbrella company will use that data for? I mean, the most obvious answer is “market research” and “targeted advertising” and not “to sell to the North Koreans” or “to round up the underlings to sacrifice to the extraterrestrial overlords.” But hey! What do I know! I can’t write or even truly understand that kind of coding, and how many of us truly take the time to read-with-the-intent-to-understand every privacy policy we agree to and all the terms and conditions we accept?

My favorite Mexican restaurant (ok, it’s Fresh Mex, not authentic Mexican food) had stamp/punch cards forever; for every 10 meals you buy, you get one free. I faithfully brought my card to be stamped, saved up full cards, and then volunteered to take Mr. Blue Eyes on a date…to my favorite restaurant where I paid with freebie cards. I’m so romantic. BUT! This restaurant is now high-tech; they don’t punch cards anymore, I’m sure they will stop accepting filled up cards soon (and I’ve got about 7 of them in my wallet…yes, really). They want everyone to use their handy-dandy app….only, I am really uncomfortable with the terms and privacy of said app; I don’t want it on my phone and it’s not worth the free meal (after spending upwards of $125 dollars in meals) to allow access. I won’t download it on principle, determined to stick to my own moral high ground.

I’m super fun at parties. Pinky-swear!

Ultimately, I love the information that I can access via technology, but I am super wary about what kind of information other entities can access about me. I suppose that is truly the issue when it comes right down to it. I want to know everything there is to know, but simultaneously I want to have very tight control over what people know about me. Does this aversion to certain types of technology make me a freak? Probably. It certainly puts me squarely outside of the Millenial generation (I truly fall somewhere between Gen X and Gen Y/Millenials, born in the early 1980’s in a community that was always just a little behind the times).

What about you? What kind of apps do you have on your phone? (See what I did there? Want to be all voyeuristic about YOUR phone, but have provided almost zero information about what, exactly, is allowed on MY phone…)

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