My body holds my thoughts

What to write about? I just realized that I had tricked myself into thinking that I had to write something clever - that’s what happens when I spend the first waking hour of the day reading blogs and digital newspapers - it rubs off - thinking that I have to show up to the page all put together, neatly groomed and ordered thoughts. Long past the times of throwing books on mindful parenting back in the closet and donating them later to the local library (see yesterday’s blog), I am still looking for order. While a part of me (I have yet to figure out which part) is looking for neat categories, my brain frolics freely and is developing all kinds of integrate concepts and performance ideas. It feels a bit like having a really deep conversation in a coffeeshop while the waiter is wiping the table and putting up the chairs. It’s hard to completely lean in to the conversation when you have to hold on to your chair so it doesn’t get moved out underneath you and your elbows can’t touch the table because that just got cleaned and is still a bit wet. 

Order has to be meaningful somewhere in this process? Corita Kent writes about how structures create meaningful restraints which speaks to the fact that play and creative process needs structure. A place to lean against, to push off from, a container in which you can go wild without worrying about getting lost. What is my structure then within the chaotic seeming process? The time? The size and synapses of my brain? My body as container?  Structure is an individual choice.  Just like each one of us needs different foods to feel nourished, different spaces and furniture to feel supported, we do need different structures to feel secure in order to let our imagination work freely and at its best. My structure, one I always can rely on, one that’s always there for me, is my body. 

 

Biodiversity and the mess in my head

This morning I noticed a Facebook post that said something to the effect that mindfulness is an attempt to make not only your home but also your mind Pinterest worthy - neat and organized. I don’t remember the source of this post but the statement that mindfulness practice is about order resonated. My experience with mindfulness started with a parenting book. Mindful Parenting I think it was called (I gave it away a few years ago and don’t remember the exact title).  I am one of those people who always feel like an imposter and never good enough. Parenting is a fertile ground for this kind of attitude and after having cross referenced about 30 different parenting books (I am a researcher and curious at heart), the only one I kept holding on to was the one on mindfulness. I liked the aspect of careful listening and slowing down. What derailed my enthusiasm for this technique was the disciplined practice of purely living in the present, in the here and now. 

After years of wrestling myself into this narrow concept I couldn’t master after all, I am now realizing that my mind will never be Pinterest or Martha Stuart or Zen or whatever the newest lifestyle goal is, worthy.  

My mind doesn’t work like that. I need my thoughts to cross pollinate. I thrive in the messy entanglement of past, present and future, of English, German, Italian, Swedish, the mysterious Icelandic and any new unknown language perspective, of day and night, of neat and messy and cold and warm, of black and red and anything in-between. I am not talking watercolor style gentle blurring, I am talking storms blowing parts from one side of my brain to the other - cross-pollination in its fullest. Biodiversity in my thoughts. And just like nature, it will never be perfect, mostly look a bit messy and always be good enough as long as the complex entanglement and richness of content have enough room to mingle and grow.

What do you see?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA How do you explain an experience that is filled with the absence of sensory input and yet overflowing with it? How do you describe silence? In Roberto Benigni's film Life is Beautiful ,Guido, the main character, is asked to solve riddles given by an acquaintance. One of these riddles illustrates my pondering over writing about the big beautiful stillness and visual absence of man's fingerprints.

If you say my name I'm not there anymore. Who am I?

Answer: Silence.

How would I process, make meaning of and communicate my Antarctica adventures? Entering this journey, I equipped myself with pens, notebook, laptop, camera, GoPro, several pencils and the option of using all or non of these mediums.

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It seems that every explorer who has ventured to this white continent in the late 1800s and thereafter, has documented via journaling and photography. You read about frostbites and crevasses, wind blown fields and hunger, determination and ships crushed by icebergs, friends lost to the elements, captains motivating and pushing through any unimaginable adversity to make it to the South Pole and back again to civilization. Some succeeded and some didn't. Their words and images still linger and you can hear their voices echo. In preparing for my own Antarctic adventure I researched and explored many of the books, films, papers, artworks that were created and fueled by this huge white canvas, this continent without owner, without rules, without cultural imprints nor expectations, worlds largest desert. This is a whole continent, not just a small place, where nobody hands you a new lens or filter to see through, to live by. You have what you bring.

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I found myself writing and photographing just enough to remember without disrupting the immersive immediate experience. I created little figurative safety lines that I could bring back home to then allow me to fully plunge into these landscapes. No matter how lively, how pronounced the experience is, our minds are unreliable record keepers. Once you are back on familiar ground your lens and filter shifts no matter how hard you try to keep it fresh and unedited. The process of driving and flying, arriving back home in safe familiarity, hugging your loved ones, and meeting with friends over coffee changes the experience and the memory of it. For me, the process of making meaning is very much like cooking. You start with fresh pure ingredients and as soon as you cut, add spices, combine and stir, things change. Flavors shift. Add some heat and time to this and you have a stew that is complex and tasty yet puts texture and taste of the once fresh and pure ingredients in the distance.

My daughter shared her travel experience as a 16 year old snowboarder and inspired explorer with her GoPro always ready, in a 4 minute video (click video. to watch). When I watch this video, in my mind, I also see her placing the GoPro in front of the penguins, scanning the landscape and experience for GoPro worthy moments and later, in the coziness of our cabin, spending hours to edit the footage of the day.

I loved reading super star mountain guide Andrew McLean's write up of the adventure. His lens, as a master-mountaineer and ski guide who has climbed and skied world's gnarliest mountains, allowed him to capture geographical detail and the experience in a concise and immediate way. Our Icelandic guide and friend Einar Isfeld Steinarsson must be world's most experienced glacier guide and has spent extended time in Antarctica working for the US science station, teaching crevasse rescue, building igloos and helping groups of scientists navigate the merciless landscape and weather of Antarctica. I loved reading his blog post about his experience of 60 degrees south as he was writing his blog back in his home land at 66 degree north. These reports are concise, rich and so very well communicate this shared adventure on this untamed continent, seen and processed through their individual lenses.

Now, back home I keep looking for these white untouched spaces. I continuously find myself reaching for books about Antarctic and Arctic adventures, scanning websites for remote skiing adventures and using white paints in various shades to work and rework the canvases of all sizes in my studio.

IMG_8774Work in progress

A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike, and all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggles that we don't take a trip; a trip takes us. John Steinbeck

I would add to John Steinbeck's quote that every person is taken on their own individual journey even when skiing on the same mountain and riding the same waves as her fellow travelers.

Beyond the comfortzone

IMG_8371Emergency drill - we also have our personal drysuits stored under our berths. I have a card in my studio that reads: Life begins outside of your comfort zone. It's a familiar sentiment and holds true for most days of my life. Today it's taking on a new and very literal dimension. Leaving the comfort of terra firma and stepping on this ship to sail across the Drake to Antarctica makes me realize that, even in an unfamiliar country on the opposite side of the globe I feel comfortable and inspired. Stepping on a boat of any size is a whole other story. It evokes memories from my early childhood years. Spending summer weekends on a small dinghy sailboat trapped in a bulky lifejacket and tucked into a small storage space at the bow, a space just big enough to hold my 2- or 3 year old self curled up next to the spare jib sail, didn't exactly teach me to associate sailing with a sense of freedom. The exhilarating experience my young parents enjoyed while heeling in shifty mountain lake winds translated to me as pure terror and lack of any control.

In retrospect it doesn't surprise me that I choose to experience the Drake crossing tucked in safely in my berth and yielding into the motion of the waves, half sleeping half meditating. Only this time I didn't need to dissociate my thoughts from the experience. I absorbed it fully. Wanting to witness how my body reacted to the unstable ground and sensory disconnects between my vestibular and my visual input, I embraced the opportunity for self study. What happens when I stand up? Where is the onset of seasickness? Or can I think it away and completely relax into it? I fell in love with the rocking motion and felt relaxed and at ease as long as I was laying down and staid completely present with the motion.

We sailed in moderate Drake conditions. Wind speeds of 50 knots isn't a big deal for this part of the world. At home, on Lake champlain most boats don't leave their mooring when it blows 25 knots or more. Context does matter - as always.

We stepped on the boat on Sunday evening, sailed through the Beagle Channel during dinner and were rocked to sleep by the first Drake waves. After 40+ hours of rocking, on Tuesday late afternoon, we saw this:

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IMG_8575 (1)Time to get on to our feet , leave our cabin and smell the Antarctic air. We are here - the place that doesn't exist on most maps and holds the pencil sharpener on my little pencil sharpening globe. It's real!!!

IMG_8576 (1)Icebergs super sized - and this is just the beginning!