Tuesday, March 23, 2010

the effects of floating.

i sit here now and wonder precisely what is to come in the last half of my time in Bhutan. there's some big plans on the horizon...one very big plan. but, aside from doing as much as i can to make those things happen, i've decided it's best to just float until the other pieces of the plan really really commit. and i am indeed floating.
back home i always used to make these ridiculous jokes about how all i did was float and all i wanted to do was float. "floating" made up a big part of the ideas behind the work. (of course, the idea that i wasn't in any way floating and have always convinced myself i am floating was the real situation in the work...among many other situations that were also there.) now, here, i find myself actually floating. i wrote about silence some time back and i still feel it around me. i feel it over my lips and when other people's lips move.

in all my honesty, aside from sketches, bad paintings, and lots and lots of, sometimes, nonsensical writing...i haven't produced any particular art work of my own. i've done quite a bit with the children...but there is nothing that has been done on my own. many many things are started and left in corners in my tiny home. unfinished.

so floating and its negative effects are bad bad news these days.

now, it's not like me to be unproductive. it's actually completely opposite my nature. but i find, in all the madness of processing what i've seen, felt, heard, said and touched...it's difficult to find my way. it's difficult for me to grab this balloon...often i feel either the balloon is floating out of my reach, or i'm floating out of my reach. after speaking to many many many people, both well traveled and not, i find that for the most part, complacency is the way to go. ignoring the tremendous power of the things that surround us, ignoring the tremendous terror of things we want to change, things that are hurtful for the mere fact that they exist...i guess that's the way to go.
for "them".

i said it before and i definitely meant it. my idea of what exactly i can do, how my services might be offered is much more grounded now than it ever was. and while i have come to accept some things...i will never like them, i will never truly accept them. i simply can't. i would be lying if i said i could and i'm no liar.

i had an interview before coming to bhutan where i was asked to talk about my art work. the majority of the talk focused on "change". change is what the work has always been essentially about...changes i've felt, changes i had no control over, changes i wanted, changes that would likely never come...changes i could never force from anyone...change. i said i was excited to see how the work would change in Bhutan as i changed. but more often than not, i cannot even begin to put my finger on precisely how it is i'm changing. i only know i have. and so, when the time comes to produce work, there is no concrete notion behind anything so there i sit...going through the motions. using processes i am familiar with...rigor, repetition, obsession...but no actual end product is there. every now and then i'll switch up the process and make myself very uncomfortable on purpose...using a different method i'm not familiar with. lots of people ask me what's wrong...and for a moment i feel very very unproductive and semi guilty...then i just i giggle. i could never explain that there is nothing wrong...that in fact, there is simply too much all at once underlined by this very overpowering sense of frustration, emptiness and insignificance.

hitting a wall doesn't quite explain what's happened. i've hit lots of walls before...one could say i'm a seasoned veteran. this is something different. i think i consciously make the choice sometimes to simply watch from the outside...to step back and say nothing. part of me feels i shouldn't touch things, shouldn't go near them...another part of me says it's not time yet...i haven't accepted certain things yet so how could i even complete any thought about them?! and then of course, a different part of me says get off your a$$, quit over analyzing and get moving. so...considering i'm feeling more of the third one these days, i figure it would be best to do just that. i haven't ever had to force any work to be completed...i've often bit off too much for myself to chew on...but i've never had such a problem conceptually completing something. but i'll force myself now. who knows...might be interesting and more than likely hilarious to see what comes of it.

so on the personal end of my time here...the journey continues...whether or not it lacks the binnacle for the compass. i will continue to fumble until i stumble upon the proper method. i hope i get somewhere personally before i return home...or at least have a starting point to work from...

on the interactive/teaching/collective end of my time here, things have been incredible with the children and they continue to be. but presently, things are at a bit of a stand still. i've had the fortune of sharing my art history and theory "stuff" with a few different people who have been interested in learning. the most interesting of those people would have to be Passang Tobgay. he's a painter who joined VAST in 2000. he was traditionally trained at the Zorig Chusom (traditional school of art and craft in Bhutan), he was a teacher at the Zorig Chusom after he graduated and now he prepares to get his Bachelor's degree in Amsterdam. we've talked about it on several occasions and he has his mind set. he will find a way to balance the years of traditional training he has had in Bhutan with the contemporary challenges and experience that are to come in Amsterdam. he wants to help Bhutan open itself up through his art work. we've spent some time in the last couple of weeks talking about modern art and its been incredible. his mind is blown and while i watch his mind go all over the place mine also blows on account of his blowing. the knowledge he has concerning modern art is minimal, so we've started from (pre)scratch. it has been one of my biggest challenges since arriving here...especially on days when internet is down...but i find i'm full of hope for a few different reasons.

-i've learned so much from the discussions we've had...not only about art.
-he is a young man who is excited to learn, who is not afraid or threatened when he doesn't know something...he has just what it takes to really let himself be opened and in return open other people.
-he has truly mastered traditional Bhutanese art...so that puts him in an incredible position to be "the first" many many things...and he can provide young people with an example and some hope for finding that balance that is so important in Bhutan.

it's funny to think of it...when he goes he'll be in a world that is so hugely different from his, a world that is full of the things Bhutan carefully has its eyes on. and he won't just be going to some tiny town in the western world. he's going to Amsterdam! and when i came here,i suppose it was the same situation just opposite style. someone referred to it as a "time warp" and that it most definitely has been. i didn't only slow down on account of the Bhutanese' laid back nature...i basically had to take about 49582 steps back just to get my grounding...these steps of course had to be taken because this place has stayed hidden from the world i come from for the majority of its existence. so when i came here i was overwhelmed in the strangest of ways...and i'm certain that when Passang goes to Amsterdam he will also be overwhelmed for similar reasons under opposite effects. before he goes we have some time to share what we can about our very very different backgrounds...and i'm excited to do that. he and i will both leave Bhutan to our faraway places in August.

earlier today, he and i sat outside of the Alaya Gallery, Bhutan's first art gallery that is currently exhibiting some of the work done by painters at VAST. he asked what my coming plans were and with excitement i let him in on the details of Bhutan's first sculpture exhibition to be held along the river side. he was exciting and said "xoch, this will be the first time anything like this will happen in Bhutan!" i smiled...and said i hope we can make it happen beautifully. i would let you all in on the nitty gritty of what is to come as well, but that would ruin the surprise! all i will say is that he and i along with Asha will do our best to lead this thing so that we are sure to "keep it real" as my younger brother has always requested.

i am happy to share these tiny pieces with you all though!

possible name:
"river carries river"

reflections of our time and place.

august--just before i make my journey back across the world.

as always...there's more to come. i send my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

years in a reflection

i often wonder what it is that draws me toward children. many people might say it's because i want a child of my own, or it's because i had a bad childhood and i want to make up for it, or because i don't like being an adult...some will even say it's because i prefer to live somewhere other than a place where my years would normally take me. i would say the first is nuts...much to do before that adventure will begin. i would say the second of these is definitely wrong. i had a beautiful childhood! it wasn't necessarily "comfortable" in terms of monetary wealth, but of course my parents did a wonderful job teaching me that comfort was what you made it. i had no concept of where my family fell in the social ladder and so i loved everything. i was taught to look for the right things to look for in life. the third of the possible reasons i would say might be half true. adults are boring...and they forget about the simplicity that exists all around us and especially in the "mysteries". as for the fourth reason, i like to live everywhere. all at once. (this would probably explain a lot about why xoch is xoch) and so my conclusion is that the reason is quite simple. children are the best. to say it in a way that is not so "child like" i could also conclude that i'm drawn to children because i look back at my life all the time, examine the causes and effects and i know that if i hadn't had the childhood that i did, i would not be where i am now. surely, the years between "childhood" and "now" also mattered..but when i look at it, the stuff my parents put in me from a very young age are truly what have made up this big process that is "becoming xoch". so perhaps...when i spend time with youth, teach youth, work with youth...in some ways i see my years in them...and in many ways, i see their years in me.

and so...i'm happy to be able to be here. it's given me so many opportunities to meet young people and do what i can for them. VAST is an incredible organization in terms of its outreach to youth. AND! i am happy to say that the kiddos and i have begun our next chunk of goodness! we have been and we will be hosting a radio show together every friday on centennial radio--one of Thimphu's local radio stations! the show is ALL ABOUT THEM. obviously, it's very informal and centered around things they want to talk about. i find that adults tend to worry about young people getting on the radio...i guess they think they may say something wrong, or may say too much...or or or or (adults are full of reasons why not...sometimes). i, on the other hand, love the idea of young people on the radio! the potential and excitement of what could happen is FANTASTIC.

there's a humbleness that exists in the Bhutanese...it's a very beautiful thing. the youngsters i have worked with have shown me the most beautiful side of that humility. tiny gestures, like not giving a direct nod when the answer to a question is 'yes' are so cool. it's a funny thing. normally, i'm used to people giving the nice firm up and down yes...but here, i'm often given the round about or the twist and (no) shout. it's very funny....and truly fantastic to watch! it could be compared to the motion of a bobble head doll...no up and down about it...and physically its incredible. i've tried to master it and can't. there's a certain level of detachment that has to occur between the neck and head. to get a good example of what i'm talking about you can watch slumdog millionaire...the "yes" makes an appearance quite a few times. when i first arrived here i remember being so very confused. i thought nod meant 'no' so i found myself exiting rooms and ending conversations when there was no need for it. (embarrassing to say the least!) the youngsters also approach things with lots of hesitation...i've attributed it to their very respectful nature as well as their humble nature. it's a beautiful thing. however, on account of my "openness" and "frankness" as they refer to it, it's been very funny to see them come out of their shells. it's especially funny when we are in a formal setting and we all have to "behave".

in my first couple of months, my interaction with kiddos was very formal. i tried everything i could to break their shyness, not realizing it was not a matter of shyness at all. these children are so so so far from shy! it was a matter of respect. so when questions were asked it was difficult to get answers, it was difficult to get them to ask me questions and it was difficult to put them in a situation where they knew more about something i might have been talking about. (Bhutan). But now, there's a wonderful change beginning to take seed. they're not afraid to ask me questions, they're not afraid to challenge me if they think i'm wrong and they absolutely love to give me their suggestions. opinions are still kept to a minimum, but at least we've found a starting point...i'd say we're already headed toward the middle of the journey point.

and so, this radio show that we're doing is only broadening their opportunities to speak...the show is appropriately named "keep talking". obviously, the art making we've done together helps build their creative communication tools and their courage to express themselves unconventionally; and now, this radio show will help them gain their voices and be brave about offering their opinions. the first show we had was two weeks ago. we talked about school and learning, and the best ways they felt they could learn. last week, rebecca was my guest and we talked about what it is to be a good teacher, a bad teacher, a mentor etc. etc. tonight, two children will join me and we'll talk about what it is to exchange things with other people. in our case, we'll be talking about the things we've exchanged between ourselves, the american madame and the Bhutanese youth. specifically, we're planning a (very hilarious, i'm sure) dzongkha, english, spanish exchange session. should be funny....especially me trying to learn dzongkha! there's a certain word..."nga"...the xoch mouth can't do it.

and so...hooray fun times shall be had tonight.

as always...i await all that is to come and send you all my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


i 've been away for a while. i'm not necessarily referring to a physical location. i've simply been away.
several times in the last few weeks, i've tried to sit down in front of my mini screen and pound out some words to share with you all...the words wouldn't come.
it seems it finally happened. i expected it would happen. one of my reasons for deciding to travel to the exact opposite side of the world was to see if this would happen. i've been waiting for it to happen.


i must admit, i still find it difficult to reflect on the last few weeks. but in honor of some of what has happened, i know i must write. i wish i could share everything...but for now...i share a few tiny pieces...

VAST, with all hope, will be relocating!! it will shift from the attic where its current home is to a beautiful new location by the riverside. it's a very exciting time! something like this is just what VAST needs to get some momentum back.

my dear rebecca has departed to continue her roaming over the world. i am so thankful i was able to share a piece of this chapter with her. another dear friend of mine has also departed...he, however, i will likely not see again. he was a beautiful person to me from the moment he met me. he was the kind of person who shows kindness without meaning to...without thinking about it. he was kindness and joy embodied...i'm certain he was these things for everyone. and for that, VAST and everyone else as well will always be thankful to have shared their life with him. among these things...many other things have occurred......

the 5th King's birthday was on the 21st of February. i went to the festival grounds with a friend of mine. the celebration was the most colorful and lively celebration i've seen in Bhutan. children marched and performed for His Majesty. they sang and danced and smiled. it was absolutely lovely. the very mini children (i'm referring to the 5, 6 and 7 year olds) were by far my favorite performers...very unique and therefore flawless rhythm, fearless delivery and the most genuine sense of pride and enjoyment i've seen in a very long time. to put it simply, watching a mini dance is the most beautiful way one can learn how to live.

after spending the morning at the celebration, i decided it would be nice to give shooting off in to forever another try. the original plan consisted of having some lunch and setting out for Paro. i was excited (Paro has, after all, become so familiar to me and is home to some of my most beautiful memories in this magic land). of course, as things usually go around these parts and in the life of xoch, the plan completely changed in a matter of minutes. the next thing i knew, i was off to Pobjekah...to the misty silent valley of the black neck cranes.

now, though i write about it presently and made my decision then as though this adventure was a walk in the park, going off to Pobjekah is not as easy as it sounds. in fact, this particular adventure proved to be much more adventurous than i could have expected. to get to Pobjekah one must travel through Wangdi...lots of up and downs and lots of honoring every cardinal direction and every single direction in between. so from Thimphu we climbed up up and away to Dochula (the pass). these Bhutanese mountains always seem to do the trick when journeys are taken. as we drove over the pass, the snowy mountains that live in never never always land were doing there powerful dance on the horizon. we started our dissent down toward Punakha and that was when i saw them. the first rhododendrons of this year. highland blossoms giggling in light on the ends of branches. i thought "they must be giggling at me and this face i'm making right now...but let them giggle! i had no idea flowers could live in this cold high place" before i could even absorb the idea of rhododendrons, i looked right and their they were. dangling on stark leafless branches, their glow humming softly against a giant blue background. magnolias. i told myself not to faint...and didn't. it always helps to remember: any moment with eyes closed equals a moment of missing out. we drove down down down the Punakha/Wangdi snake's belly...listening to the usual bob dylan goodness.

i sang and laughed and contained the millions of questions i had. you see, we were traveling with a monk who hitched a lift from us on our way up to Dochula. i was given a wonderful compliment that i may never forget. he didn't speak english, but it was translated for me "she's not like a normal chillip...there's no division between us and her...i couldn't tell." i shared my two packages of unidentifiable gummy candy, bottle of water, potato chips and chewing gum (when on the road, i indulge like an out of control five year old) with our traveling friend and he never failed to smile and thank me. i think i amused him...xoch and her silliness. and so, bob dylan sang his tunes through the himalayas, xoch laughed and smiled with her head out the window, our monk companion in the back seat giggled and my friend translated, sang and cracked endless jokes...and we flew toward forever. after some time, we landed in Punakha. we dropped the monk off in town and as we pulled into a parking lot the car chukachukach ch ch ch c uk...broke down. of course i giggled...and then pronounced happily...hoooray!! adventures!!
(many a time in Bhutan, this lady has seen the push start method be utilized...fortunately, this is a method of starting a vehicle i probably have entirely too much personal experience with--any mexican probably does...and every rodriguez certainly does).

the car guj guj vrrrroooom vroom started again. to the workshop it went. of course, it was His Majesty's birthday so all of Bhutan was on holiday. the adventure's momentum would have to slow until morning. after searching desperately for lodging we landed up having an entire floor of a building to stay in. i spent the majority of the evening as a sniper might...on a hidden balcony snapping photos away one after another. i was caught by an elder man on a neighboring balcony and decided the photo shoot was over. morning came and off to the workshop we went. after some time, all of which i spent on the river side sitting watching and listening (the Punakha river is turquoise as can be...its belly is huge, its currents paint clouds within its course). once the car was good to go we were off again...to Pobjekah we went!

to get to Pobjekah we drove through the Black Mountains. this drive was only a small preview of what was to come. trees cracked black silhouettes against the blue blue sky. mysterious smoke rose from a distant ridge (i could not begin to imagine any evidence of its fuel...or the spark that started it) and i sat back in silence. where am i going? what am i going to see? normally, once i enter the mountains i find myself overwhelmed by hugeness and some invisible movement, but this time was different. my insides stirred and eventually laid there quietly breathing. i saw yaks and snow and men and women walking the roadside in the middle of this forever. i did not question where they were coming from...

the flight finally landed on top of Pobjekah and i opened my eyes wider. there it was. the eery valley sunk into and slept in the earth. light poured in streams over the ridges...cutting the air with silver and magic. we had picked up another passenger on the way and he began to point out the specks of white in the distance. they were the black neck cranes.

mist takes over the valley in Pobjekah. there is no electricity, there is no running water...except for the homes, monasteries and other buildings that are there...evidence of "us" does not exist in that place. the cranes dance and sing and scream in the marsh land...and in the cold mist of the evening, you shiver. in a different voice from any i've used...i asked myself where i was. on account of the remoteness of the valley, lights were out at 9 (they use solar panels), water was available at intervals in the day...i smiled and knew...

finally. i've reached forever and away.

i spent the next day trying to get as close as i could to the cranes, watching them take off and land...watching them flirt and show off. in the afternoon adventure continued. the plan was originally to head back to Thimphu, but of course...who on earth listens to a plan!? off to Trongsa we flew!

every hour i felt myself gliding into the heart of Bhutan. silence, peace, invisible and ever present fullness and slow slow emptiness grew inside of me.

finally. i had reached forever and away.

we inched our way over the wings of that healthy snake toward Trongsa and like a child...i seemed to suddenly fill up with that WHOA situation in my belly. i grabbed my camera and clicked away. those photos are now very funny to go back and look at--many many blurry situations. my friend compared me to dennis hoffman in "Rainman". we reached the Trongsa Dzong view point and i felt like a warrior. flexed my muscles and stood on the edge of the world looking at that powerful structure on the ridge opposite my minuscule location. the dzong moves with the mountain...unlike many of the other dzongs i've seen, this one feels immense. it's weight sinks it into the earth and like the most powerful snail ever to exist it rests there safely.

after spending some time there, we started our journey back to Thimphu. the journey was long and though i was tired, i felt so very awake. on the way back i bid farewell to the yak friends i had made (bob, dwight, morgan...and a few more), the waterfalls that filled me with hope, the trees that reminded me of something (i couldn't say what)...and i told forever "i'll see you again...soon..."

and so...though i don't feel forever over my skin now, i remember it. though i may not feel myself existing in it...i did for an instant. i suppose forever is like the clouds...i should be happy i had the fortune of that moment.

i should be thankful because i finally feel silent.

as always...there is more to come.
i send you all my warmest greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan.