For the past few months, I've been working on a project about signs. Specifically, Colorado signs. A combination of photography and translation, I launched a show last week at Watershed in Buena Vista, Colorado. It was a little bit amazing. The community in BV is impressive, to say the least. I met so many great people, and got so many "sign stories." I really appreciate the entire experience. Check out some photos of the the process!
When I was in first grade, my father's job moved us to central Ohio--right downtown, Columbus. If you've ever been to Columbus, you know that Ohio State University dominates the city. Also, two rivers, the Scioto and the Olentangy, meander through campus and the surrounding suburbs. When I saw a crew team for the first time, it was like seeing a giant, graceful, 8-legged animal. I wanted to do that. I loved watching the Ohio State crew practice. Sometimes my parents even let me get close enough to the river to see exactly what the rowers were doing. The slide, the oars, the blades, the riggers. Lucky for me, my father's job gave us a house in one of the wealthier areas of the city; meaning, I got to go to the rich school. I counted the days until I was in high school, and could sign up for the crew team. It was everything I wanted it to be. Physically, one of the most demanding sports imaginable. Mentally, so many things to think about. Most people don't realize this. We met for practice on the Olentangy River, at the end of a dirt road, where a camp had been turned into our boathouse. We ran a few miles, did calisthenics (the first time I learned what a burpie was), and prepared our boats for the water. There was a lot to learn, about the equipment, about balance, about the lingo. I was tall and skinny, but more determined than anyone. I sat port, and eventually sat stroke. I set the pace. We traveled all over the midwest, and competed against colleges and private high schools at some of the most impressive regattas in the region. I rowed crew both spring and fall seasons, for my entire high school career. And at the end, I had no idea what I would do without the water.
I ran a lot. I rode my bike. But every time I'd see a truck hauling sculls, or a crew on the water, I'd get an ache. In graduate school, I joined a private club. It really is like riding a bike. I got up before dawn and drove 12 miles to a little lake. Lake Lemon. We saw eagles, and deer, and no one else was awake. I learned how to scull, and how to maneuver a single. Sometimes on my way home, I'd stop at a friend's house for blueberry pancakes. Post-row is an incredible combination of pain and resilience.
After more than 7 years out of the boat, I'm finally relishing new blisters again. Northern Colorado has lakes: lots of them. This week I woke at 4:30am to meet other rowers at the water by 5:15. We watched the sun rise over the mountains to the sound of oars feathering and water rushing under the hull. It was nothing less than perfect.
In college, I read all of Kent Haruf's books and imagined his fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Last week, I rode my bike 62 miles from Loveland, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. About halfway, I came upon a little, rural town called Ault (population 1,574). It was just as I had imagined Holt. I checked Benediction out at the library. Haruf's final book. The plot here, if there is one, is time, and age, and death. Not a lot happens, except, everything happens. The character who all the rest call "Dad," is dying. Rapidly. There's reflection. There's coming to terms with mistakes. There's life to put to an end. Haruf's real talent was capturing humanness. And dialogue. A book where you come to know the characters so well that you feel related. I finished reading this book as I rode in a truck from NYC back to Loveland, Colorado--home. What I noticed was, Kansas is huge. This country is enormous. So much farm land. So many people living simple lives with simple jobs. But really, we're all the same. We enjoy accomplishing tasks. We enjoy being quiet, watching the afternoon drift by. We love people. We miss people. We want someone there at the end, when breathing gets tough, and our last day drifts into night. My only lament in finishing Benediction is that I live so close to Holt now, and Haruf is gone.
In case you missed it, Kanye West named Justin Vernon as his “favorite living artist.” Recently, Vernon performed at the Sydney Opera House, and will be at his own Eaux Claires music festival this weekend (August 12-13). If you’re going, you will not be disappointed. In Sydney, an acapella version of “Heavenly Father” was captured and is incredible. Especially because Vernon is standing with a group, in a circle, backs to the audience. There’s light clapping and thumping on chests. There’s Vernon in a t-shirt and a ball cap that says, “My Other Truck is They Might Be Giants.” Everyone else is in black. Everyone else an instrument. Vernon puts his whole self into this song. It’s all that matters. I wasn’t there, but I’ve watched the videos from Sydney non-stop for weeks. I did see Bon Iver a few years back. I had just moved to New York City: still impressed with the lights. I got in touch with the guys from Jagjaguwar, who I knew from my time in Bloomington, Indiana. I ended up with front-row seats at Madison Square Garden. It was one of the best nights of my life. The point is, I agree with Kanye. Vernon is the kind of musical genius that makes everyone he works with better; you can just see that. People like Vernon are rare. You recognize them because you love their music, of course, but also because they’re constantly trying such new things that at first you wonder, “Can he do that?” Can he sell out the Sydney Opera House and perform in a t-shirt? Can he keep singing that way? Can he work with Kanye? Can he switch from jazz to metal to harmonica within a single song? Yeah, he can. Spend some time with the Sydney Opera House videos. If you can, get to Wisconsin. Watching Justin Vernon is as phenomenal as watching an Olympic athlete. So do both.
1. an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.
2. a gesture or action used to convey information or instructions.
I’ve moved 5 times in the past 4 years. Two of those moves were fewer than 10 miles. But the last one was 1,878 miles. Regardless of distance, a new neighborhood demands that you learn new rules, new routines, and a new sense of familiarity. I prefer to explore on foot, or bicycle. So when I arrived in Colorado, I took to the streets as much as possible, without a car. What I noticed were a lot of signs I had never seen before. I started taking pictures of signs and was reminded of my father, who also took pictures of signs. So many that when we’d return from vacation, and he turned our photographs into a slide-show, as one did in the 1980s, my mother would be so embarrassed. “Why did you take so many pictures of signs?” She’d ask. Now I get it. Like seeing a new language. A farmer/tractor sign. A sign about what bait can be used. A sign about rattlesnakes. And on and on. Most of these signs were easy enough to interpret; but some of them left me baffled. Clearly this is a warning, but for what? The other thing that I enjoy about exploring on foot or bike, is that my mind wanders freely. I started imagining outlandish versions of the signs that I didn’t understand. I started leaking one translation into another, until I was left with ridiculous—sometimes very personal—ideas of what each sign meant.
If you're in the Upper Arkansas River Valley of Colorado, stop by!
Watershed Project Number One: "Point of Interest" by Micah Ling
410 E Main Street, Buena Vista, CO
OPEN HOUSE: 5-8pm, Saturday, August 13th. Interactive! Stop by to add your translation!
Official launch: September 10, 2016
Life is better with dogs. That's just true. If you're a cat person, that's a shame. Dogs are hilarious. I've been living in Leadville, Colorado for the past 8 weeks with some friends and Muddy, their dog. Muddy has his own pack when he goes hiking. He carries his own food, maps, toys, and sometimes the walkie-talkie. He has responsibilities. And when you give him a bath, he gets the serious zoomies for about an hour. Sometimes he falls asleep on your shoulder. After a while, you start to hear his voice: a little sarcasm, a little cockiness, but mostly just a guy who want to be part of the scene. The other day he said, "Guys, how about you treat me my age (in dog-years) and pour a little Bailys in my water bowl?" It was weird. He claims to have a lot of friends out here, even though he just moved from Chicago. He also has a theme song. "I am the Mud Man. Do-do-do-do-do-do-do. Four paws down, two paws up, I don't really give a fuck, I'm the Mud Man. Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do. Two paws up, four paws down, I pretty much, run this town, I'm the Mud Man..." It goes on from there. Anyway, get to know the area dogs is my point. They're full of character and full of love, even if they do fall for the "relax your paw, relax your paw...why are you hitting yourself?" gag every time.
Last night I had a dream that I was at a Damien Jurado concert. I lost my phone, but was sure that someone had stolen it, and was worried that Jurado would need to text me to check the sound. Dreams are more vivid at 10,200 feet. And farther up, things just get weird. Mount Belford's summit sits at 14,150 feet. Toward the top, vision gets a little fuzzy. You're not sure if you're actually seeing pikas carrying bouquets of flowers, or if that's a hallucination. Wind gusts are such, and dizziness is just right, that you have to make sure not to literally get blown off the mountain. But there's something about getting to the top that is powerful. Like, 50 feet below the top is just as difficult to get to, but being as high as possible feels like such a finished task. Maybe I was at a Jurado concert last night. Maybe I checked the sound for him. I definitely saw a pika on his way to a hot date on the mountainside.
I rode from Leadville to Minturn (just south of Vail) this morning. A little over 30 miles, beginning at 6:30am. Leadville is often frosty for morning rides and runs (usually between 37 and 43 degrees at sunrise). But this morning it was a balmy 48-degrees, so I wore shorts. Long spandex in July just gets old. My legs felt good. The first 10 miles were steady climbing. By the time I hit 11 miles, I took my gloves off and was sure that I'd regret long sleeves. But by 13 miles, I had to stop and put my gloves back on. The downhills were frigid. My body got so cold that all I could do was look forward to more uphill climbing, just to warm up. Miles 20-24 were pretty intensely uphill. By the time I pulled in to the Sticky Finger Cafe, I was no longer shivering, but needed to sit in the sun long past breakfast to truly be warm. Moral of the story: mountain roads are not to be tempted. They'll always make you wish you had your spandex.
There's an indoor aquatic center in Leadville, Colorado, run by a plump man with dreadlocks, who wears purple John Lennon-style glasses at all times. He told me that I should eat more, because the elevation, "Sucks the weight right off," (he gestured at the mountains when he said this). He also told me to drink a lot of water, and avoid too much alcohol. All good advice, as far as I can tell. Things that are still difficult after living two miles above sea level for 3 weeks: running at any incline, swimming more than 50 meters, biking hills, sometimes folding laundry or talking while walking. Things that are surprisingly not difficult: making pizza. Baking times take a little longer, but pies turn out great! (Half vegan, half...not, as pictured here). The altitude is always in the back of my mind in Leadville. I notice it when I try to go to sleep, I notice it when I get up too quickly, I notice it when I shower. A lightness, a dizziness that never fully takes over, but constantly has me wondering if it's all a dream. A dream with consistently great pizza.
Ride a road bike at a decent clip from Buena Vista to downtown Salida, and you’ll cover the mostly flat/slightly downhill 30 miles in about an hour and a half. To your left will be the San Isabel National Forest. To your right, Mt. Princeton and Mt. Antero. There will be a few slight uphill climbs, which will make you realize how much more difficult the reverse trip would be. You’ll see cows, and llamas, and alpacas. Prairie dogs will dart away from the road as you whisk by. A red-tail hawk will call at smaller birds. You’ll notice the way things smell more than you would in a car, or even standing still. Manure, pine, sage, possible rain moving in. You’ll see the things on the side of the road: a single Twizzler. A paintbrush. Think about how tiny you are, and how lucky to be here, on this road; and about how huge the sky and snow-capped peaks are. Think about how a bike works: how efficient and productive it is. Think about power and energy, and how it seems like you could ride forever. But when you do stop, it will feel good. Order a local beer and a sandwich and watch kayakers play. Be part of this place.
In 1993, when I was 12-years-old, I went to my first concert: The Grateful Dead at Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus, Ohio. Sting opened. Yes, I went with my parents and their friends. No, my father wouldn’t let me try Jello shots. But it was amazing. (See my full review at Hobart).
I’m allowed to love The Lumineers because I live in New York City. Hear me out. There are now more than 8.5 million people in this city. Meaning, we’re all searching for an escape most of the time. We get up even earlier than the early-birds so that we can run the path next to the river and only see 2 or 3 others for 45 whole minutes. Listen to “Gun Song” on the Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra: that’s what we’re singing when we want to escape. “La-la-la-la-la…la-la-la-la-la” Read my review at Hobart...
When I was between the ages of about 9 and 16 years old, my family always took a summer vacation. This meant heading west. I know now that my parents saved all year for those trips, and found ways to make them as cheap as possible. But I never knew it at the time--as a child, I thought we were living like kings. We went to Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. We visited national parks, and out-of-the-way towns. We hiked the Grand Canyon, and drove our old station wagon to the top of Pike's Peak. We camped and stayed in YMCA lodges. We found swimming holes that locals told us about, and stayed up late to look at the stars. At the end of each summer trip, I felt my first real versions of depression. Back home in Ohio, I ached for the mountains. I asked my father why he couldn't get a job near the Rockies. I think he probably tried. In one month, I'm moving from NYC to the Arkansas River Valley of Central Colorado. There's a 12-mile paved trail--for bikes and pedestrians only--that goes around the historic mining town. It has views of the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. My adolescent self is so goddamn proud.
If you didn’t learn how to have sex with Prince playing, you might still not know how. Everything about Prince was, “Wait, you can do that?!” It’s not that he was (just) a genius musician, it’s that he was doing something that no one else had done, and may never do again. See my full recap at Hobart...
Last week I was in LA: Venice, specifically. It was amazing. I miss it. While I was there, I discovered that Rivers Cuomo wrote the new Weezer album there, which made a lot of sense. Here's my review on Hobart Magazine.
There's little that can be said about Jim Harrison that he hasn't already said perfectly himself. This "What I've Learned" from Esquire is everything. When I lived in Livingston, Montana, I worked at a restaurant called the Second Street Bistro: upscale, for Montana. It's attached to a famous hotel and bar: The Murray. Jim used to come in often, and drink the best wine we had. People in Livingston rightfully loved him. He was so gruff and so gentle. He loved writing, and art, and eating, and being in the the last best places. That's all there was for him. Anthony Bourdain did an episode of No Reservations at the Bistro, and spent much of the show exploring with Jim, which I found--and still do find--hilarious and lovely. Jim croaks to Bourdain about food and hunting and Montana: about how life should be lived. I would love to be at the Yellowstone River now, reading, and re-reading. There's something about that place that makes you ache to get back to it. In Search of Small Gods is amazing. The English Major is certainly true. The Big Seven is pure fun. Brown Dog is worth just reading on repeat.
When I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, Secretly Canadian had just signed Damien Jurado. What I'm saying is, I've liked this guy since before he was so cool, and so I'm cool. He came to town and played shows in Bloomington houses, which is to say, houses with porches and gravel driveways and people hanging around outside with a dog or two. At one of those shows, someone had one of those lights you clip to something while you're working under a car. And it made an enormous shadow of Jurado on the wall. I'll always love And Now That I'm in Your Shadow because of that. "Hoquiam," "Denton, TX," "I Am Still Here." So many solid songs. Jurado has an incredible range. His falsetto in songs like "Cloudy Shoes" and "Arkansas," is so tender. But his tenor dominates. This new album is the third in a trilogy of albums (including Maraqopa and Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun). In all of these, Jurado is telling a sort of magical story. I imagine there's a lot of fog and mist in the story. It's certainly eerie. It's an odyssey. This installment has a lot more synth play than before. But as usual, Jurado focusses on place--being in a place, and moving on--trying to get to a new place. Even though a lot of these 17 songs seem sad, you could totally do the two-step to them. This album will improve your mood: it will get you where you're going.
My extended family on my father's side has conducted an NCAA bracket-pool for as long as I can remember: I haven't won since 1997, and this likely won't be my come-back year (curses, Michigan State!) When I was accepted into the MFA program at Indiana University in Bloomington, my dad bought me season tickets to see the Hoosiers play. I was in basketball country. On more than one occasion, I was an arm's reach away from Larry Bird. Of the sports we watch, college basketball has always seemed like the least corrupt. Maybe that's naive; certainly the sport isn't clean, but it seems like there's a lot of raw talent on the court. With final scores that sometimes don't breach the 50-point mark, the players still seem like kids. When I think of clinging to the wholesomeness of a sport, I think of Jimmy Valvano. He died of bone cancer 23 years ago; he was 47. Eight weeks before he died, he gave his epic ESPY award speech. Most notably, he was the coach at North Carolina State from 1980-1990, but in his speech he talks about his first job, at Rutgers University. This speech is such a tear-jerker, because Jimmy embodies everything that a person can be, and also everything a person can fear. He encourages his audience to constantly think about where they started, where they are, and where they're going. He says that every day, we should strive to laugh, to think, and to have our emotions moved to tears. "That's a full day: that's a heck of a day." By the end, Valvano can barely walk off the stage, but he's grinning and full of hope. Anything can happen in March Madness; anything can happen in life--the only thing a person can do, is have hope.
The Whitney Museum is currently featuring Andrea Fraser's take on the expanse of 18,200 square feet that makes up the fifth floor. The exhibit, called Open Plan, will feature four other artists in the coming months. Fraser's version of Open Plan is called "Down the River." It explores the reality that 32 miles north of New York City, in the town of Ossining, sits Sing Sing: a maximum security prison on the Hudson River. The experience of being in the new location of The Whitney, is exceedingly impressive. The clouds and the sun and the shadows emphasize the space itself: it's profound and empty. But the sounds of the prison play on a constant soundtrack; to the point that you can't stay maybe as long as you'd like to. There's an uncontrollable eagerness to move along: to escape outdoors. In her statement, Fraser notes that since the 1970's, both museums and prisons have experienced a boom of expansion. Museums have seen ten times more attendance, while prison populations have grown by 700 percent. Fraser says:
Beyond this parallel growth, museums, and in particular art museums, would seem to share nothing with prisons. Art museums celebrate freedom and showcase invention. Prisons revoke freedom and punish transgression. Art museums collect and exhibit valued objects. Prisons confine vilified people. Art museums are designed by renowned architects as centerpieces of urban development. Prisons are built far from affluent urban areas, becoming all but invisible to those not directly touched by incarceration.
It was announced yesterday that Ross Gay won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. I'm reluctant to say that these kinds of announcements usually make me a little envious; but that was not the case with Ross. When I read the news, I was nothing but thrilled. I've had the great fortune to work with, and be neighbors with this guy: he is all good. He recently read at the Fey House in Radcliffe Yard. He spent the night explaining himself; I wish I could have been there. Ross is the kind of guy who can change your life for the better, just with his smile. He's so goddamn cool. I ran into him on a hot-as-hell summer day in Brooklyn a couple years ago. I thought he was a mirage. In my mind, Ross was in Bloomington: how could he be on my street in Clinton Hill? That day made my week, maybe my month. But he's also a very, very serious poet. (And a silly poet). The kind of poet who is reinventing how we talk to each other, and treat each other. Ross Gay makes everyone he encounters want to be better at what ever it is they do. I think this is because he's always on a quest to learn and be better himself. He's always asking questions. He's always practicing his jump-shot. I can only imagine that everyone who knows him feels like they won yesterday. Honoring Ross is making us better.