Sunday, July 27, 2014

July Scramble

In a week, I will be at my new home in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts! I've accepted a position to be an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, where I'll be working with their neighborhood revitalization and veteran engagement projects for at least the next year. I'm thrilled to take this step in a direction where I will help and work with people, dig into a new region, and hopefully understand if non-profit advocacy and policy are what I want to pursue professionally. I've been on the move a lot the past several years, and although it's not China, New York City, or D.C., it's something new. I aim to absorb every experience as a chance to learn.

These plans came together surreptitiously with the help of my former St. Lawrence Habitat House roommate, Luke, and after weeks of e-mails, phone calls, documentation, the move is happening next Sunday. I'll actually be saying goodbye to the Finger Lakes for the last time--my parents have also sold our house, and will be making their move South by the end of September. I'm happy for them, but it certainly crushes my heart. Aggravating small-town quirks aside, this has been my home for nearly 13 years, along with the people that have come and gone through it. I'm excited because I know these change have to happen, but I'm trying to wrap my mind around no longer returning. As for my friends who are still based here, I know that they will always remain my home. I'm already mentally planning the trip back here for Thanksgiving, as Christmas will probably be spent in Florida!

Another point: moving is pretty soul-consuming in a bad way. It's a constant reminder of all the things you've accumulated. I know I've said this before, but minimalism, unfortunately, does not suit me at all. I'm sending four or five totes of things to storage in Florida because they're reminders of what I used to do, used to be, which I actually don't think is a negative thing until it truly starts weighing me down (when that day comes, it'll all just go blindly into a dumpster). My room is nearly packed with overflowing bags and boxes strewn about, but yesterday my nephews helped my dad move the heavier furniture. For the first time since we arrived here, I can stand and even lie down in my closet! It's cool that all of these dressers, shelves, a table, and even my bed will join me in Massachusetts, because they would be trashed otherwise.

Here's a visual round-up of the rest of July's adventures:

Rochester's Party in the Park concert series with Jenny. It was an bluegrass vibing shakedown with Yonder Mountain String Band and Railroad Earth! We eventually ditched the blanket to be closer to the stage and dance (of course).

Kristen's family pond down the road from her house with spectacular views of Bristol Valley. The pond was so clean that we could see to the bottom.

I was invited to join a Rochester and Syracuse-based ultimate frisbee team to compete in a Schenectady tournament called Ow My Knee! It was blazing hot and full of laughs, as usual. I was really happy that my friends and teammates from Massachusetts let me camp with them on a beautiful farm south of Albany.

There's also been a fair share of hiking adventures, like to Hi Tor Wildlife Management Preserve in Naples. We walked along ridges and into valleys and streams.

 Then to another side of Hi Tor called Clark Gully, where we had to scramble washed-out hill sides and waterfalls.

Sunsets on Canandaigua Lake before Buffalo-based jam rock band, Aqueous, played at a local bar. It was sweet to shake down with them because they're cool guys and perform at St. Lawrence's Java Barn at least twice a year.

Views of the Erie Canal in Fairport for Caitlan's 22nd birthday dinner and drinks this past Monday. We celebrated with her family and college friends the weekend before. Oh, to still be the youngest ones in a bar.

More views from another pond on Kristen's property. Chasing sunlight and fog in the golden hour. 

A few weeks ago I also picked up an old Huffy road bike bike for free not too far from my house. $35 of repairs and minor parts later, it's a a beauty to ride and after cranking (sort of) through the 20-21ish miles of Honeoye Lake, I know it'll serve me well in Massachusetts.

And finally, last night I had a great time with my nephews who are older but still ridiculous, roasting marshmallows in our backyard and lighting fireworks.

Summer, you've been too good to me.

Listening: "Don't Wait" by Mapei

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Art Sessions

I'm moving myself away from the computer and back into book pages and clean canvasses. I love posting in our barn with the doors open, the sun and breeze washing in, and my stereo playing mixed CDs that resurrect memories of high school and early college. Painting, for me, is therapy; it's meditative, it's restorative, it fights melancholy and unnecessary regrets. I drag my brush across smudges of pigment and spread, analyze, and move until it has become that shade for that particular form, casting the light in different ways until it conveys the concept I envision. Sometimes, I don't quite capture what my mind sees, yet it's always important to step back. That's what art reminds me: to invest everything and focus on my vision, but to take breaks and assess the grander image to see how far I've come. There are days I can crank out a few canvases, others I've barely moved beyond a corner. It's a process, and one that I miss far too much when I'm at school and can't afford three hours to be consumed. I guess that's not a problem anymore.

Here's a couple things I worked on:
This is a portrait of me and one of my best friends, Kristen! Embarrassingly enough, I began painting this last October with the intent of mailing it for her 21st birthday because I was at college. In high school, my kooky and inspiring art teacher Mr. Williams had us create a painting emulating another painter, so I had Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in mind again. He was one of the drunkard Parisian artists of the Belle Epoque that spent way too much time at the Moulin Rouge drinking absinthe (and yes, he's even portrayed in the 2001 film!). Yet his charcoal croquis (sketches), oil paintings, and pastel gesture drawings breathe movement and vulnerability into a world behind the performances. Check out his foundation and work here.

I had an awesome time re-styling the photo as sort of a neo-impressionist, loosely linear portrait. But then I was stumped by our faces. Human faces have never been my strength, less I do my own because I can stare at it in the mirror endlessly (which develops a particular psychosis of it's own, but that's different). I finally sucked it up and just mad something for us, which actually I'm seeing that Toulouse-Lautrec avoided overly-detailed expressions, making me somewhat on point.

Fish on a canvas board. Nothing really conceptual here, I just wanted to make something detailed and graphic. My only trouble is running out of paint; I mix these beautiful shades, then use it all before I can fill in the micro-texture of the canvas board. This needs touching up.

These are paintings from Zach's New Hampshire lake house. I finished this canvas that essentially mimics the light house, because I love the use of form and bordering tonal families (I just made that term up):

This isn't anything crazy-conceptual, but the curled up elephant just kind of drifted into my mind and I wanted to make something graphic and vibrant.


Here's a bunch of op-art I posted in June for RoosterGNN from my watercolor notebook:

25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square 

 Brazilian Crackdown on World Cup Protesters

U.S. Debate on Student Loan Forgiveness

My art is not functional, but I love that I can share it. My backpack-like carrier for supplies will become especially handy in a few weeks once I'm in my new digs (have to write a post about that!) and might explore new places to paint. I also sent out quite a few letters last month and awaiting replies, though regardless, letters are one of my favorite gestures. I never know who's actually reading this, but if you'd like one, just send me your address!

Listening: "Sound of Erasing" by Rubblebucket from their new album Survival Sounds that releases at the end of August, eeee!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

American Pastimes

Independence Day is one of the best holidays to celebrate in the northeast. The weather is balmy, barbecue smoke fills the air, everyone wears their crispest reds, whites, and blues, and as fireworks thunder across the sky we take a moment to remind ourselves that, dang, this country is beautiful and it's ours. At least, that's my take on things. 

Unlike last summer when I was on a rooftop in China's capital haggling for over-priced Pabst Blue Ribbon, this year I visited my teammate and good friend Eric at his family's cottage on Keuka Lake. There was no shortage of clear blue skies and warm water (and PBR, haha). I watched the local Fourth of July Parade with his family and other kids, cheering for the volunteer fire departments, antique tractors and fire trucks, and local residents tossing candy-- a quintessential rural America celebration. It was a nice moment to appreciate these small-town traditions that I seemingly try to escape.

Some other St. Lawrence and Habitat friends came as well, which was fantastic. We cruised down the lake to Hammondsport, swam near the bluff where the lake branches meet (Keuka Lake is shaped like a Y), sailed in Eric's little laser (which capsized at one point!), indulged in barbecue and salads, and played in the front yard until the sun went down for fireworks. Then we stayed up even longer at his friend Bobby's house up in the hills to have a bonfire next to a small wooded lake. The Milky Way was the clearest I've ever seen, and all in all, it was a glorious day.

Hammondsport, at the south end of Keuka Lake.

The Bluff 

Playing Spud with guests of all ages, and their golden doodle, Gracie!

The best lake cottages are those that have been passed down generations, like with Eric's family. They have prime front lake property with their wide, flat front yard and sizeable docks.

 Saturday morning while Eric and Phil went fishing, Eric's mom took McKenzie and I blueberry picking up the road. The patches are situated up a hill among equally long rows of vineyards. I may have mentioned in the past that Keuka Lake, hands down, has my favorite wineries of the Finger Lakes. Obviously I'm biased because of what my parents purchased, but it turns out the blueberries there are equally delicious. It was the opening day of picking season, so a lot of berries have a way to go to ripen, but I was thrilled to spend another weekend harvesting fresh fruit. Although the guys came home without a catch, we picked nearly four pounds of blueberries that generously joined our pancake breakfast.

And finally, our house is for sale (anyone looking to move to the Western Finger Lakes?) so my parents have been tackling every room to clean, renovate, and restore for potential buyers. The other day my dad took down the recessed vanity mirror of the master bathroom, revealing a pleasant message from nearly twenty years ago that reads "whole house remodeled." Looks like we have these previous owners to thank for the beautiful living space we've inhabited. I love thinking of houses as physical frameworks for memories and life, with predisposed characters based on their architecture, cultural significance, and general design. Yet the soul, that truly breathes through its inhabitants. I remember doing something similar when we replaced the kitchen counters of our former house in Brockport. I hope whoever finds it next smiles at the handwritten momento of the seven-year old girl who used to live there.

Listening: "Tempest" by Lucius from their 2013 album, Wildewoman