Friday, March 28, 2014

Shake It Baby


Every spring Seattle hosts a three day belly dance festival called Cues and Tattoos. What makes this event special is it's emphasis on the role of improvisation in the belly dance form. There are many branches of American belly dance, each with an emphasis on a particular movement style or regional music and movements, but improvisation is a fundamental part of nearly every kind of belly dance being practiced in the United States. That being so, in recent years there has been a marked shift way from improvisation and towards set choreography. Not so at Cues and Tattoos. One of the requirements for participating in their performance showcase is that at least 50 percent of the performance be improvised, which is especially challenging for any group that wants to present something other than the well-known and easily recognized movements of American Tribal or International Tribal styles.

My solution,  to play with "weaving" choreography and improvisation, unconventional formations, and a little bit of impish playfulness. What I have to show for it is a deeply textured and seamless piece that is, in fact, different every time. Time to put it on the stage.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Walk In The Woods


***From a 2009 post that has become the basis for a new essay on walking and the wilderness***
A long weekend and the beginning of summer do a lot to remind us to go outside, breath the fresh air, listen to the birds, stretch our legs, and experience wildness. I think it’s important, amid the beer, fireworks, weenie roasts, and recreational vehicles that mark the American camping experience, to make sure that we do just that, stretch our legs and experience wildness. It’s not often anymore that the majority of us find ourselves away from the crush of noise, information, and development that comes with “civilized society”, and I think our distance from the wild plays a key role in our health and well-being, and our decision making as a people. Distancing ourselves from the wild is part of why we are able to devalue the environment, and that devaluation reveals itself in our politics, policies, and way of life. It allows us to waste resources, diminish habitat, allow entire species to go extinct, and engineer our bodies and our food.

I feel at my most engaged in the environment when walking through it. A walk in the wilderness does more to ease my mind, body, and soul than almost anything else. And it reminds me, in a tangible and profound way, that I am connected to this place, this world, this land, that it sustains me. Thoreau, in his 1862 essay, Walking, had this to say about the value of a walk in the woods, “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainteterre" — to the holy land… They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering.”

We can make no progress in the improvement of our daily lives, in the fostering of health, community, sustainability, or peace, until we acknowledge and embrace our connection to the wilderness. Take a first step, take a walk.

To read the full text of Thoreau’s Walking:

To Read Emerson’s Nature:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Landslide Brings You Down


This week an entire community in northern Washington was buried under a massive landslide. The human part of this tragedy is still playing out as people search for loved ones, pets, and the remnants of their lives. As in most disasters, people are asking why. The geologist in me knows that this is really a rhetorical or spiritual question, but wants to answer it in tangible terms anyway.

Landslides happen when the downward forces on a slope exceed the strength of the material to hold it in place. Steep slopes, undercutting of the leading edge, and lack of vegetation are all contributing factors, but in this case,as with many others, it was rain that tipped the balance. Like when building a sandcastle, some water helps a slope stabilize up to a point; too much water though increases the weight of a slope and its likelihood to flow. Also, areas that have already failed are more prone to secondary events as the slide itself exposes subsurface materials, removes stabilizing vegetation, and over-steepens the slope. The Washington community buried this week had seen another large slide event in the last ten years.

So there it is. Rain. Steep slopes. Previous slides. Undercutting. Why. And not at all satisfying to know. Look around at the world. Understand how it works. Make good choices. Hope for the best.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Yes, And...


The first rule of theatrical improvisation is "Yes, and." Meaning, in order to keep the action moving forward, to progress the story or develop the plot and characters, you have to say yes to what you are given, and add to it. That means that if the other person decides in the first moments of the scene that they are a frog even though you have been asked to improvise, say, a scene in a doctors office, you have to accept the fact that in your new world, there are frogs in doctors offices. In dance, we call this "saying yes to your choices" and "keep dancing". Not as lyrical or succinct, but the idea is the same. No amount of pre-planning or rehearsal can completely prepare you for whatever will happen on stage, in that moment your only course of action is to keep moving forward, pressing into the piece and the other performers, not away. To stop, or roadblock is the only sure way to fail.

I think that the same rule is useful when applied to life, which is, after all, really just a grand improvisation. So today, say "Yes, and..." to the things you are given and push forward into the scenes you play.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Stuff Of Life


Scenes from a dance bag:

pointe shoes
duct tape
safety pins
stitch kit
leg warmers
fleece pants
hair pins
toe pads


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Less Than A Foot II


This week a town hall meeting in Ashland, Oregon was packed to standing room only capacity, and no wonder, one might think, their Mt. Ashland Ski Resort announced the first cancelled ski season in their fifty year history and impending bankruptcy. The loss of the ski area will have a huge impact on the local economy which thrives on tourism and access to outdoor activities. But no. The whole town did not show up in support of their local business or to discuss the growth of their economy, they showed up in protest of a local ordinance proposing placing a ban on carrying loaded firearms in public. Many people attended the meeting wearing their side arms.  And...scene.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Too Hot To Handle


NASA has just released a massive report concerning climate change, population growth, resource distribution and economic justice this week. Their conclusion? Bad things come to those who wait. Based on empirical data, numerical modeling, and historical precedent, this study is one of the first mainstream, high-profile reports to conclude that the collapse of civilization in the coming decades is not only possible, but probable.

They sound like activists or radicals or that crazy guy that mutters to himself on the street corner or a character from the X Files. But they're not. They're NASA, telling it like it is. It is time to accept the fact that all those environmental and economic models that predicted collapse of one kind or another, predicted it by 2050. And it turns out the people making those models knew a thing or two about what they were doing.

The up side is, NASA also reminds us that we can do all the same things people have been telling us to do to save ourselves (kind of  like the dentist reminding you to floss). Live sustainably,  distribute wealth and resources among the people, make less people in general. Simple. And not up to everyone else to do for you.

To read the outstanding summary of NASA's report published in the Guardian:

Photograph Courtesy of NASA via the Guardian

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Less Than A Foot


The Mt. Ashland ski area in Southern Oregon , in spite of it's plans to celebrate their 50th year anniversary, has canceled the entire 2013-2014 ski season for the very first time. They made this decision after arriving to mid-March with less than a foot of snow on their usually busy slopes. No one really knows what the economic impacts of this will be. But it can't be good. Worse than that, everyone is trying not to think about what happens if there is no snow next year. Is this climate change? An aberration? Normal fluctuation? If you own a small business or depend on the ski resort for your income it probably doesn't really matter. Change is coming, one way or another. How will it come to you?

Monday, March 17, 2014

New Begininnings


This week marks the convergence of the end of my winter projects and the beginning of my spring work. There are culminations, long rehearsed shows to perform and the end of classes. And there are new, hopeful steps forward like fresh paint on the walls and the annual turning of the garden beds. This year I find myself putting in more flowers, more early starts. Perhaps I am hopeful or in need of early signs of sun. These small steps though, these bright spots of color, they seem to fortify me. They give me grace on tired days and keep me looking forward, into new territory. I am glad for the putting in of roots and the pushing up of thin green shoots, reminders of my own possibilities.

Plant something and wait.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Blurred Lines


Part of the cultural transformation taking place regarding homosexuality and civil rights in the United States right now has nothing to do with homosexuality at all, but with gender. Transgendered people are no more likely to be homosexual than anyone else, but the dominant thinking around the issue tends to pair the two. As acceptance of homosexuality increases, so too does acceptance of transgendered people, albeit much more slowly. Now though, transgendered people are pushing to the forefront of the conversation, not through civil action, through pop art.

Jacob Bernstein of the New York Times chronicled the rise of transgender-focused pop art this week in an extensive article profiling well-known artists and and prominent characters in popular shows like Orange Is The New Black. And Barney's has unveiled a new ad campaign consisting entirely of transgendered models. These kinds of respectful representations are incredibly important because of their ability to humanize transgendered people. In these images we do not see people in mid-transition, we do not see people poorly fit into their personas or skin, we see people, just like us, which is the most important element of acceptance.

We are long past the days of thinking it is acceptable to harbor bias against a group of people based solely on their status of being "the other". Gender assignment and association is a personal and private matter, and a matter of the simple human rights to the control of one's own life and self expression. Stop seeing gender, start seeing people.

To Read the New York Times Article:

To See the Barney's Ad Campaign:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Who Would Find You?


Last year I wrote this post about Joyce Carol Vincent, an English woman found dead in her apartment years after her death surrounded by all the normal trappings of life, including yet to be given Christmas gifts. Last week, a Michigan woman, Pia Farrenkopf was found in the back passenger seat of her car, which was parked in her own garage, after more than six years.

While the circumstances surrounding these two incidents differ, the striking thing about these stories is the amount of time that passed before anyone raised an alarm or came looking for them. In truth, in both instances there were people that came to check, doors were knocked on, mail was delivered, and neighbors continued to come and go. In the case of Pia, one of her neighbors continued to mow her lawn for years, apparently thinking she was out of town.

Stories like this cut to the bone of my internalized fears. I question the kind of society we have built if people, presumably functioning, employed people with families and connections of some kind to the world can die in their own homes without anyone noticing or caring. I think that cases such as these highlight our increasing isolation, typically obscured by the false connections of social media but present and growing nonetheless. I wonder about the state of the modern neighborhood that a death can go unnoticed. I also think that it says something profound about what really drives our culture that both women were ultimately found by bill collectors.

What is the strength of your connections? Who are the people in your life in danger of becoming lost souls? Who will be the one to find you?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grade Three


Some days I badly wish to return to the third grade. I would like sit in a brightly colored room filled with Guinea pigs and rabbits and color in pictures of frogs while the rain streams down the windows. I would like recess and a snack sometime in the mid-morning, and perhaps again in the afternoon. I would like to practice my double dutch and times tables and generally be done with my obligations for the day around half past three.

Instead, I give you this:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Show Me


Sometimes being a writer gets you unexpected opportunities. This month, asked me to judge their outdoor photo contest. I jumped at it. Who wouldn't want to spend some time looking at pictures of spectacular landscapes and great adventures? It seems to me a great source of escapism, a kind of travel voyeurism that is just the kind of thing you need at the end of winter. Check out last months winner and judge here:

Now go outside and take some pictures.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Work Of The Feet


There are days of quiet dance. Days when you tuck, solitary, into the studio to work and rework the floor like a worry stone. Days when the rain wraps around the windows and the light fades and it is you, the music, and the work of the feet. On these days I feel my feet spread, thick and swollen against the wood the previous days dances appearing like ghosts in my soles. I shift my weight, forward and back, and settle, dropping my weight between my legs. I bend my knees and move, pressing through the floor, my feet the only thing left to drive my body into movement against exhaustion and soreness. My mind interrupts me and I falter, losing the sequence. The music stops, but the rhythm of the rain beats on. My feet begin again.

Sandhya Ramen, University of Oregon Spring Student Dance Concert 2009, Erinn Ernst choreography

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Doris Diaries


There is a wonderful series of books from the collection of diaries by Doris Murphy, a young 1920's woman from Portland, Oregon that are worth a read for anyone that enjoys history, the Jazz Age, and smart, spunky women. The diaries are a glimpse into the changing world of early 20th century America from the perspective of a girl that is breaking rules, pushing boundaries, and generally enjoying herself. What is great about Doris is that she is innocent of her own modernity. The diaries give the reader insight into the hows of ordinary social evolution. What kinds of places might a young women be able to go to? Who can you date? Do you actually have to like him to flirt with him, or can you just like him? The diaries are honest, charming, and a lovely window into the kind of world we used to live in. Happy reading.

To hear Julia Park Tracey, the editor of The Doris Diaries and niece of Doris Murphy discuss the books on OPB radio:


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Flash In The Pan


Sometimes I write flash fiction. I like the confines of the form, the necessary brevity of meeting a tiny word count, and the satisfaction of a complete story in a small package. This story one first place in Bang! magazines flash fiction contest a couple of years ago. The theme was travel and beer in 300 words. Enjoy.

Even Girls Drink Beer

Ultimately, it wouldn’t matter if it was the typewriter or his suitcase that she threw out the window first. But at the time, it seemed like an important decision. She chose the typewriter, though witnesses wouldn’t recall its shattering to the ground. It was the suitcase they would remember. The suitcase, opening as it left her hands, the contents catching fire as they passed the burning curtains. She stopped short of chucking his beer. Instead, she grabbed a bottle and carried it across the street to wait for the trucks. He was right, she thought, it was damn good beer.

***Girl Gone Wild is seeking representation and publication! You can help by sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and all kinds of social media. Thanks for your support!***


Monday, March 3, 2014

Getting It Done


Sometimes we take on tasks that bog us down, taking far longer or far more energy and resources than we could eve have imagined. They drag. It begins to feel like you are treading water. Then it feels like drowning. And then, like magic, it starts to get done. This week, I am in go-mode. There is no room for distraction or laundry or the Ukraine or pretty much anything else. I have things to get done. I love these times of fierce productivity, far removed from the stress of working under deadline, these times that seem to stem from an internal impetus. I have things I want to get done. I can see the path. There is no procrastination, no sorting of the mail or house work that seems pressing, because, you see, I am getting things done.

From the newly completed Girl Gone Wild, on safety:

I feel safe outside. But, I know that a lot of women do not. And to be fair, I have not and do not always feel safe. I can sometimes get spooked when I am hiking by myself and a man is a little too friendly or hiking too closely to me. Sometimes I worry for a moment if I feel turned around or feel like I have been too long to not be able to see the car on the way back. Sometimes I get terrible vertigo, a lasting present from my days in Grand Canyon. These all seem to me like reasonable fears to have, but not reasons to not be outside.

Most of the things that make us fearful about being outside have to do with preparation. Fear of getting lost subsides with gaining navigational skills and choosing well-marked trails. Fear of dirt and bugs and small injuries start to disappear with experience and time. Other fear though, fear of the dark, fear of animals, fear of aloneness, these are the challenges and opportunities that the wilderness presents us. Ultimately, there is no way to eliminate all risk, either in the wilderness or in our day to day lives. What is important is the choice. Do you let your fears hold you back, inside and away from the world, or do you step out? 

***Girl Gone Wild is seeking representation and publication! You can help by sharing this blog on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and all kinds of social media. Thanks for your support!