Thursday, May 31, 2018


A shift has begun. We are leaving Europe.

It felt subtle a week or two ago, but now it’s quickly ramping up.

The shift begins when you decide you are actually doing it. That happened for us about a month ago when Kodiak (literally) won the lottery and was re-admitted into his old school in Taos. Then the logistics start to pile up, and overwhelm your ability to really remain present in the place where you are.

The logistics in our case are quite intense, as we are extricating ourselves from Germany while also trying to finish the Burning Man sculpture on a very tight timeline. In fact, Christina and I made a calendar a few days ago, mapping out the next few months. With BBK’s “business-hours-only” schedule, I have only 18 build days remaining. I don’t even like to write that sentence, much less think much about it, as I find it quite stressful. On top of that, I am also trying to organize the international shipping of the container. (Which, as it happens, is really cumbersome in Germany. Here in Deutschland, you need a registered company to export anything with a value of over €1000. So German. KAOS to the rescue.) We also need to build crates in the next few weeks to carry all our personal crap which we will stick into the container. We need to pack those crates in the next few weeks. (The same weeks during which we are trying to finish and load the sculpture.) And the wood used to build travel crates needs to be special (expensive) wood, fumigated and stamped for transoceanic travel. And we need to de-register as residents of the city of Berlin. And we need to cancel the four different kinds of insurance Germany compels you to buy upon arrival. And organize two separate meetings with the real-estate management company from whom we rent. And fight for our deposit (Apparently German real-estate management companies are notorious for trying to keep it, and ours is proving difficult in many other ways, so…) And sell our car. And sell our motorcycle. And sell our furniture. And keep bringing Kodiak to school every day. And organize a goodbye party.

If I actually really think about it, it’s too much.

Don’t think. Just keep doing.

As readers of this blog know, I like to keep my posts pretty light, and focused on culture, art, etc. I don’t veer off much into politics or other similarly weighty topics. But I must admit, I am quite anxious about returning to the US. Two years of living in Europe have given me a certain perspective on things. I would say that, generally speaking, the experience has served to reinforce much of what I already thought about the US, but with the addition of actually having lived an alternative.

I have no interest in starting a political argument around this blog, because everybody has their own political view and political arguments never actually accomplish anything other than sowing acrimony among the participants, but…. My opinion is that corporate capitalism and income inequality are destroying the US. Meanwhile the US has the most sophisticated media and PR machine in the world, centered around Hollywood, which is constantly sending out the message that it’s a paradise and a land of promise. But those newsmakers and message-makers are in the 1%, so of course it’s a paradise, for them. Meanwhile the middle class shrinks, the underclass grows, and people actually suffer. Schools are underfunded, some communities lack basics like clean water, and all this in a country that people still call “first-world.” The issue is not a lack of resources, or overpopulation (although it’s tempting to think that…), the issue is that all those resources are concentrated in only a few hands. Imagine how intransigent problems like racism would ameliorate if everyone had enough money to be comfortable, have a home, have their kids in a decent and safe school. (Jesus, don’t even get me started about guns.)

Anyway, for the sake of my readers… the rant is over. Suffice to say that Europe is quite different from most of what is elucidated above.

Christina and I are reading a book about coming home from an extended period abroad. The main thesis is that, while people expect a big change when they leave their home country and are thus prepared for the shock, people expect returning to be easy, and when the hiccups invariably arise it quickly leads to depression and a desire to go back abroad. The problem is the dissonance between the expectation that coming home will be easy and the reality that it’s not easy. Well, maybe it will be easier for me… because I’m not expecting it to be easy. Yes, I’m looking forward to being in Taos, seeing friends, seeing our dogs, sitting in the hot tub and riding my motorcycles. But goddamn am I going to miss the energy and culture of Berlin, a society in which people seem to have enough to get by, where decisions are not made from fear, and where people don’t shoot each other over small things like trespassing. Did you know that there is no such thing as trespassing in Sweden because all the land, even if owned by someone, is free to pass on, pass through? You tell me which approach is more civilized. (*EDIT* Christina's mother Helga tells me that there are actually plenty of fences and no-trespassing signs there... but it is in fact codified in the law, and in any case you're a lot less likely to get shot for doing it)

Anyway, Buddhist thought suggests that I am causing myself unnecessary anxiety by devoting my thoughts to a time other than NOW (by planning, worrying, remembering…) so I should probably shut the fuck up. But anyway, this is a bit of how I am feeling about returning. The book we are reading says that the depression will really begin about 2 weeks after returning, which is right around the time we will head to Burning Man… and I am sure that will help.

OK, shutting up now.

Despite the fact that only 18 build days remain, the build of With Open Arms is going well. Guy and Cedar and I are cranking in the shop, with the occasional help of Christina. Meanwhile Christina actually spends most of her time heading up a team of people from KAOS and another place called MotionLabs, working on the frieze, organizing the water-jet cutting of the Flame-Burst, and various other tasks. (As I mentioned in the last post, Christina is also handling about 95% of the paperwork divorcing us from Germany... no small task!) It’s a remarkably small team making this sculpture happen, but it’s happening.

The shoulders were, from a technical standpoint, absolutely the hardest part of this sculpture so far. They are fabricated from steel and aluminum joined with bolts, incorporate a pocket which allows attachment to the body, and are built on a complicated geometry involving multiple non-orthagonal angles. They required at least 2 cardboard models and about a week of fabrication to complete. Here is one of them...

 And here, a week or so later, is the current state of things.

The body is starting to look like something, and the Flame-Burst is coming together, thanks to Cedar (welding over at left). Guy is seen in a rare moment of relaxing; he is normally kicking ass with a jig-saw, a circular saw, a band-saw, a grinder, or the shear.

Thank you Cedar and Guy; this project wouldn’t get done without you.

We went to Maker Faire Berlin last week, and had an unexpectedly good time. Here is Kodiak watching Dizzy, the rideable mechanical Rhino from Lyle of Doghead.

Other than Dizzy, we haven’t seen much art or culture lately, so not much new to report… but that is about to change. Germany has a lot of holidays, especially in May, and we are taking the opportunity of BBK being closed today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) to go to Prague for a long weekend with Kodiak and Cedar. Nothing to do but soak up culture. Actually I am writing this post while on the train, cruising through the beautiful countryside of the Czech Republic. (Ironically, I was told a few weeks ago by the secretary at BBK that they were closed today, so we made the arrangements for this trip, but I learned yesterday that she was wrong and they are not actually closed. But what the hell, I could use a culture and relaxation break.)

And OK, lastly... on a lighter note... my favorite building in Berlin is the Fernsehturm, and Berlin's mascot is the Bear... and from the time of moving here I always wanted to make a graphic (for a t-shirt or a sticker) that involved the bear climbing the tower, as in King Kong. But then I saw that someone else already did it...

Yes, I know this is just a photo of someone else's store logo. But I love it. So there.

OK, we are almost in Prague.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Time, time, time, look what's become of me!

I know there are a few people out there who enjoy reading my blog, and more importantly I really enjoy writing it, so I really feel the time lapsing when I go awhile without writing. I've been feeling that lately. I'm not sure how long it's been but it feels like a while. It literally comes down to time.

The last month or so has seen a marked increase in the frenetic pace of our life here. Production on WOA has radically ramped up while at the same time we have begun to wrap our heads around the tasks associated with moving back to the States, and even tentatively begin to tackle some of those tasks.

Yes, we are moving back. In August. Kodiak beat the odds and got re-admitted (by lottery) into his old school in Taos, and that sealed the deal. So now we are starting the cumbersome process of disengaging from Germany.

These developments, the Burning Man project and the impending move, keep me busy, body and mind. My body is either working at BBK, getting around Berlin in one way or another, dropping Kodiak off at school, or spending (increasingly scarce) time with my family. Christina has an equally, if not even more, punishing schedule, doing all of the above and more. She is helping with my project as well as handling most of the moving logistics and also teaching welding on Saturdays.

It recently occurred to me that she and I (and Kodiak because we drag him around with us!) do things on an ambitious scale that some others only dream of. But it's not easy and in fact it's a hell of a lot of work, sometimes.

Anyway, like I said I am so busy doing all that above-mentioned stuff that it's hard to find time to sit down and write. In fact I decided to take the metro to BBK today specifically so I could write this blog post. Look... here I am, writing it!

But my mind is also so consumed with the project and the move that it's a big enough challenge for me to stay present with my family, let alone to find the mental free space required for the development of the sort of idle philosophical thoughts/observations with which I like to fill this blog.

That being said, there have been a few kernels percolating, perhaps a bit more slowly than usual. They tie together a few other threads found elsewhere herein... emotions and feelings, Alexander McQueen, (and motorcycles?)

--------- The Idle Philosophical Part ---------

It occasionally occurs to me that a very large percentage of what we humans do, especially when it comes to our non-essential (non-survival) activities, is selected specifically in order to feel something. (Or sometimes to stop feeling something.)

Motorcycling, bungie jumping, snowboarding... certainly these kinds of activities are usually undertaken for the feelings of freedom they promise.

Hugging and kissing and even sex bring feelings of closeness.

Artistic endeavors can be career-driven, but for most people (who aren't professional artists), and even sometimes for artists, this sort of activity is often done for the feelings it produces.

Meditation, exercise, drugs, hiking, lying in the sun... all these things are done to a greater or lesser degree for the feelings they produce.

I think that when people have free time, they chase after feelings.

As much as I admire Spock and Saga Noren for their lack of emotion, we humans are emotional creatures.

Maybe this is because the things we MUST do, such as work, either numb us into a state of feelingslessness, or actually produce negative feelings like stress and dread. So perhaps we need those feelings of freedom and closeness and self-actualization that leisure activities bring.

And yes, there is a tie-in to Alexander McQueen. McQueen specifically stated that he designed clothes in order to produce feelings in the wearer, as well as the observer. He intended that women wearing his clothes would feel powerful, sexy, and confident... while those observing "his" women would feel attracted to them, but also intimidated. Take a moment to let that sink in. It's awesome... to be working on that level... manipulating the emotions and ensuing interactions of people based on their clothing. It's almost a form of puppeteering.

I went to an all-boys grade school that had a school uniform. I remember that I was very excited to finally be going to high school, where I could wear whatever I wanted.

I was a soccer player in those days, and the schedule of my high school was such that soccer practice started before the academic school year. So, before I attended a single class on campus, I spent a week or two going to soccer practice. I remember there was one older fellow who commanded a lot of attention because he was charismatic and tall and blonde and handsome. I remember wondering how this guy would carry himself, would present himself, in the context of the school campus. I was sure he would show up with some awesome, individual sense of style and be an incomparable ladykiller. I was truly and genuinely shocked when school started and he showed up dressed in the same sports shoes, sports shorts and sports shirts that he wore to soccer practice. What a wasted opportunity! He was in fact something of a ladykiller, but the ladies he attracted were totally uninteresting to me. I think that was the day when I first understood the concept of a "jock," as well as the blonde, conservative girls who liked jocks.

He was probably equally shocked by me. I used to "dress up" to go to school. I was experimenting with newfound freedom. I used to dress up like rockstars such as Mike Score, Ian McCulloch or Andrew Eldritch, complete with ridiculous hairdos and hats (Andrew Eldritch is at least partly to blame for my hat problem).  I wore a lot of leather. I made my own clothes. I wanted people to be attracted to me, yet intimidated. It's a powerful feeling. Using clothes to precipitate feelings, or states of mind, is a process that I think most people (most men, certainly) don't really participate in. In an informal class poll, upon our departure at the end of senior year, I won four awards (simple math reveals that most in my class didn't win any of these mock accolades). Among the four awards were: Best Dressed, Most Likely to Have a Harem, and Most Likely to Start a Cult. I think that playing dress-up worked pretty well for me back then.

Alexander McQueen is holding my interest longer than most of my Art-Crushes, and I'm constantly asking myself why. I think this, elucidated above, is part of it.

(Fashion also works as a social filter. You know all those people with ripped black clothes and face jewelry? They are "wearing" a filter, essentially guaranteeing that only people who look like them will approach. They are the extreme example, but the same holds true all the way through every mode of dress. People who wear intimidating clothes ensure that only confident people will approach, and so on. It's a social code, and I believe it's an important part (along with eye contact, posture, etc.) of the way we size up potential romantic partners, friends, colleagues, etc. Maybe a topic to expand on another day.)

My project is going well... but again, only because I live it and breathe it, and am getting good help from Christina and Guy. Our old friend Cedar has just arrived in Berlin, staying for a month and helping to fabricate the upper part, the "Flame Burst." I don't have many friends, but I have some good ones! A few days ago we went down to the Landwehr Kanal Ufer and had a few beers at sunset.

 Very Berlin.

Kodiak and I saw some art.

Access to global, contemporary culture is something I think I will miss when we return to Taos. Thank Jeeze for the internet.

The faces for the sculpture are in the process of being cast in aluminum. They are currently in the wax stage.

Next up, the waxes will be encased in ceramic, then the whole thing is put in an oven which cures the ceramic and melts out the wax, and then finally molten aluminum is poured into the void where the wax once lived.

The torso of the figure is basically done. It was an extremely interesting bit of fabrication, insofar as it is one structure which is actually 2 structures (a steel framework and an aluminum surface) which had to be fabricated simultaneously and yet which cannot be welded together. Lots of test-fitting and careful cutting.

The cones scattered here and there are parts of the legs.

Well, I have written 100% of this post while on Berlin's public transportation.
Now I will use my phone's hotspot to publish it. 

Jeeze, what will they think of next?