“It’s all back.”

August 13, 2019

My downstairs neighbor Kim dropped by this morning. He wanted help figuring out how to prepare himself psychologically for a visit later that day with his sister who had recently gone into hospice care. He wondered what he could do for her. What should he say, what could he take, how could he be ready? His questions brought back a powerful memory of my own, which I shared with him.

In the late ’90s a close friend of mine, Anne Gerber, was in the final decade of a long life. She was known for her unflagging support of artists and social causes. She called herself an “artnik” rather than an arts patron. She collected the work of risk-taking artists from across the country and world and was an avid supporter of local artists. She once said, “I like to watch for the art that’s discovering itself.” With her husband she worked to desegregate housing in Seattle and was a dedicated member of the ACLU. For me, she was proof that we don’t have to choose between art that matters and politics that matter or between a love of nature and a life of ideas. Remembering her, eco designer and artist Wendy Brawer wrote: “It was 1984. The phone rings, and the voice on the other end of the wire asks – what are you artists doing about the election? All it took was one nudge from Annie and we were off, running a creative campaign that brought our community into the political arena and sparked deep conversations on our rights and dreams as citizens.”

Anne Gerber on Bumbercycle, by artist Clair Colquitt, in the lobby of Seattle Art Museum, probably in the 1980s. The photo appeared on the program for her memorial service, 2005.

By the time she reached her early 90s, though, Anne’s eyesight was nearly gone and her mobility restricted. Living in a single room on the health-care wing of a continuing care retirement community, she was far from the friends she hadn’t outlived and didn’t get many visitors. The facility took care of her medical needs, but her social, cultural, and intellectual life suffered. She’d always been fiercely independent which kept her from reaching out when she wanted or needed something, and her failing eyesight kept her from reading and enjoying the art she loved. With very little social contact except for a group of five or six of us who visited whenever we could, her world got smaller. On my visits I began reading to her – sometimes choosing the latest art news and other times articles about contemporary political events or people she knew. She liked feeling connected to worlds that mattered to her. I would watch her come back to life each time we were together.

After one of my visits, it occurred to me that she might enjoy hearing something from her own life. I remembered that, somewhere, I had an interview with her from the early 1980s. The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art had wanted her oral history, and I’d agreed to do the interview. Anne and I had talked for at least an hour and a half on two different days. Afterward, I’d received a paper copy of the transcript, so I dug through my files to find it.

Before I visited again, I read through the stories she told – of her parents, her days as an art student, her marriage in Reno to Sydney Gerber, their sailboat summers in Canada’s inland passage where they became friends and supporters of renowned Kwakwaka’wakw carver Willie Seaweed, and many of her contemporary art world adventures, among which was a 1968 trip to New York with a charge from the Seattle Art Museum to find an exhibition that would be “new and fresh,” a search that led her to art critic and activist Lucy Lippard whom she signed up to be exhibition curator and who created for Seattle the first of what would be known as “Lucy Lippard’s Numbers Shows,” titled in our case 557,087.

The next time I saw Anne, I read aloud from the transcript for ten or fifteen minutes before I paused to look up. When I did, I noticed that she was sitting very still, listening intently, with a pensive, almost tearful look on her face. “I thought it was gone,” she said quietly. “But now it’s all back.” I read from that transcript many times on subsequent visits.

Anne Gerber memorialized in a sheet of stamps by artist CT Chew. Images of Anne appear in the center, upper left, and lower right stamps.

After sharing some of this with my neighbor Kim, I suggested that perhaps he could give his sister something that would trigger memories from her past. So much of our memory relies on recognition and has to be prompted to resurface, even when a memory defines us. Cues can be an object or a letter, a favorite song or the smell of a special meal. Or it might even be a question from a neighbor.

I bumped into Kim at the front door of our apartment building a few hours later. He was in a hurry but was carrying a big basket over his arm.


Memorable dents

I find notes to myself everywhere – jotted on scraps of paper, tucked in folders and books, scribbled in the pages of other documents, inside printed-out email messages – reminders of incidents or ideas, quick insights or future dreams. Proliferating for decades, they are extensions of my memory, or at least a source for recovering pieces of it. Each note captures something I’ve found intriguing, worth attention in the moment and sometimes worth pursuing further. I’ve imagined that each note leaves a dent in my memory. Recovering it deepens the dent, gives me a chance to consider its contents again.

Each small dent is different from the next. Recently it occurred to me that all these dents may be making a pattern, like the elaborate designs on old silver pitchers or the patterns in pressed tin ceilings or the random dings in a much-loved sauce pan. But until now I hadn’t consciously tried to decipher the design.

A month or so ago, my energy for writing got sluggish. It was hard to start anything, even though my list of ideas was long. I decided to get out of town to see if a change in surroundings would help. I also decided that in this short chunk of time, I would avoid trying to begin anything new and big. Instead, I gathered up some of the notes I’ve kept on scraps, those “dents” in my memory, polished them a bit, and considered how they might fit together.

A collection of these short pieces follows here.

Drawing on snow

February 2019 was Seattle’s snowiest month in 50 years – more than 20 inches fell during the month. One morning, sitting in my bright second-floor corner apartment after the month’s first big storm, I got a good view of neighborhood comings and goings and of the weather and sidewalk conditions at the intersection below. I admired the snow, layered up smoothly on the tops of bushes along the sidewalk. Though it came roaring back later that week, on this day the snow had begun to melt. The sun was out, the street was wet, and the sidewalks were slushy and icy.

As I watched, wondering how long the snow would last, an older woman with a cane, in a pink coat, walked toward my building. As she approached the corner, she turned toward one of the flat snow-topped bushes, lifted her cane, and wrote or drew something in the snow on top. She admired it briefly and walked on.

The bush faced away from my window, just out of sight. I was sorry I couldn’t see what she had written. Eventually, my curiosity got me on my feet. I put shoes on, grabbed a coat, and went out to see what the neighborhood walker had drawn.

When I saw it, I thought, of course! What would anyone of any age draw with just a few strokes? Her cane-drawn heart lasted three days until the next big storm came through.


Instant community and a lime

One evening after a busy and fragmented day, I enjoyed a light but just-right meal at a neighborhood bar and bistro owned by a friend. While I sat by the front window eating, a colorfully dressed, 25-year-old woman walked out the door past me. Standing with a cigarette, she initiated, in a way that seemed effortless, a street-side conversation with a gray-bearded man sitting on a motorcycle he’d just parked. They were soon joined by a young black man pulling behind him a loosely-full garbage bag. With laughs and small gestures, all three seemed to be having a good time and eventually headed off in separate directions. From where I was, only a few feet away but on the other side of the glass, they were like players in a silent movie. What an amazing instant community, I thought.

Apparently, the young woman felt I’d been a friendly, if mute, part of their conversation, and, before returning to the bar, came over to tell me about herself, which is how I know her age. A little later, as she left the cafe, she came back and gave me a lime.

A lime? I learned afterward that she’d bought it from the bartender. Surprised, I thanked her. It’s the only time I’ve been given a lime. Her gift, and the easy openness she carried with her, were soothing – a magical antidote to an otherwise hectic day.


What I love so often falls in between

In 2005 a space in Seattle’s new City Hall was given my name. The Anne Focke Gallery consists of the lower-level elevator lobby and a stepped-back space that becomes a corridor to the community meeting rooms. At least half-a-dozen rooms in City Hall were dedicated to specific people that day. Unlike many “naming rights” these days, naming these rooms had nothing to do with financial support, and I was one of just two who were still alive. I felt honored. I was also on the program to say a few words at the dedication ceremony. As often happens, I carefully planned my remarks, but when my turn came and I faced the crowd, my mind went blank. I spoke extemporaneously, forgetting most of what I’d prepared. This is my chance to share some of I’d written in advance.

May 14, 2005

Many thanks to the City for giving this space my name. I’m truly honored.

The space seems just right.
It’s an odd little space
between things
not exactly a room
not exactly a corridor
not exactly square.
It’s a space that falls between other spaces.
It suits me. The art and work I love so often falls in between.

An etched wall plaque suggests permanence. But this space is the passageway to community rooms. It’s also an intersection as people come and go from the elevator. This room will always be full of energy as the art on the walls, the people passing through, and the communities they care about change. Their inevitable shifts and turns will fill this space with possibility.

My hope for this space is that it can also stand for:

Paying attention to what doesn’t seem to fit.
Making room for something new.
Putting trust in artists – their imagination, their ideas, their work.
Giving young people real responsibility.
Celebrating our contemporaries, people who are alive in the world.

 So many of you in the room contribute to making our city what it is. Much of what the City remembers me for I had the opportunity to do when I was in my 20s. Perhaps every five years or so the space should be renamed for someone else who made a difference when they were young.

Finally, I hope this gallery can stand for the qualities of luck, serendipity, and openness to the unexpected. So much of what I value requires what Jane Jacobs called “drift,” a kind of work defined not by “practical utility,” but by play, curiosity, and aesthetic investigation – work that often falls in between.

2019 coda: Increasingly we live in a black and white, either/or, in or out world. Can we discover the value and beauty of grays, the possibility of and’s, the creativity and energy in between?


Knowing a little about a lot of things

I’m not a specialist.

Self-analyst that I am, I’ve known for years that I’m no specialist. Recently I ran across a crinkled, brown paper napkin where, perhaps five years ago, I’d scribbled a list of observations about this character trait. I’d probably forgotten to bring notepaper along to the coffee shop where I’d been sitting when the need came to jot the list down. After reflecting on the words for a moment, I probably just absent-mindedly tucked the napkin into whatever I’d brought along to read, and it took a while to resurface. The deciphered handwriting says that I…

Know a little about a lot of things.
Know a lot about how to live and move through the world knowing a little about a lot of things.
Know how to do a lot while knowing a little about a lot of things.
Know a lot about how to do a lot while knowing a little about a lot of things.

“Knowing a little about a lot of things” is not something that shines on a professional resume or in a job interview. But it seems a fine, even useful way to live, love, and work. And I’ve managed to get a lot done even without a specialty.

An experience as a pre-teen gave me an image I continue to value. When I was about twelve, a difficult day at school had left me feeling rejected and desperately insecure. It might have been the day I was called a “leech” by girlfriends and banished from the lunch table. When I got home, I went out behind our house and took my anger and frustration out by knocking rocks into the valley with my baseball bat.

As the high emotion gradually seeped away, I wondered how I could go on, how I could get past the bad feeling I had. I got help from my love of geometric forms – a love probably fostered by my physicist father – and imagined two choices. I could think of myself as an upside-down pyramid with everything balanced on one point, meaning that if I were knocked off that point (as I’d felt that day), the whole structure would come tumbling down. Or, I could think of myself as a complicated polyhedron with many points, meaning that if the point I balanced on was disturbed, the structure would turn only slightly to another point and I would only fall a little. I couldn’t be completely knocked down.

The mental picture of having many facets and many points of balance remains a valuable piece of my self-image. It affects my approach to emotional challenges and it gives me a boost when I feel insecure about my lack of a “specialty.” All those facets and points on the polyhedron in my mind help me remember the value of knowing many little things, rather than just one big thing. Getting work done this way means thinking and moving horizontally rather than vertically, learning and making connections broadly rather than specializing deeply, being able to move easily from one thing to the next.


Too much society?

Excerpt from an email response to David Mahler, December 5, 2009.

Yes, indeed, thanks. I am finding many ways to get walking into my life. I try to walk two to three miles a day, though it varies. I’ve had a personal tradition for the past four or five years of circumambulating Lake Union on Thanksgiving Day before the big meal. My aim is to stay as close to the water as possible. It’s a continuing treat. The weather definitely plays a role, and the terrain and landscape change a lot on the way around. Surprising phenomena and characters always show up. One year I passed the same couple twice and we realized we were each doing the same thing. We said, “See you next year!” though we haven’t.

This year I took a shortcut and ran into a wild-looking fellow on a little road that ran along a run-down complex of wooden buildings where I suspect he lived. As he chased pigeons away from the building, he muttered to me, “Too much society!” I smiled and scooted away, hoping I also wasn’t too much society. After I passed by, he shouted in my direction, “Hey!” I turned around and saw him give me a big thumbs-up, “Thanksgiving!”


Us and them

Once upon a time, we lived with convenient polarities – us and them, women and men, black and white, young and old, the in-group and the out-group. We now know better. We have so many ways to define gender, so many shades of human color, so many ways to be our many ages.

In truth, I move through the world inside many different groups, and outside many others, inside many varieties of “us” and outside many different “thems.” Sometimes us shifts and becomes them, or them transforms into us, or the boundaries become porous and I am neither or both at the same time.

In fact, my world is all mixed up and always shifting.

How is it that we’ve allowed ourselves to be defined by sharp divisions? We need our many small communities, but do they have to be at war with each other? How do we stop the warring without losing the community that we get from “us?”


Quiet in Port Townsend

In the Port Townsend home of friends during a self-made writing and thinking retreat.

Sitting alone trying to write, I’m distracted by the silence . . . though, in fact, it really isn’t “silent.”   When I hold still, I hear the inside of my head, and then the sound of the keyboard when I start writing. Whatever noise there is, I make myself.

It’s startling. I can’t stop listening. The refrigerator is off, no car is crunching down the gravel street. It’s 9:30 pm. The birds are silent.

Ah, now I hear the hum of a small plane, far off, fading quickly. The soft hum-buzz in my brain keeps going. I wonder if someone with better hearing would hear more. But there . . . the refrigerator seems to be slowly gearing up, just one small step up in volume at first. A couple of tiny creaks from the house, probably cooling down from the day. And now the fan of the heating system kicks in. (It wasn’t the refrigerator after all.) The temperature has dropped low enough to trip the thermostat. The sound of the fan rises, first slowly . . . now with more oomph.

The silence has vanished.


Notes

The polyhedron in “Knowing a little about a lot of things” is actually a dodecahedron-icosahedron compound and the beautiful image comes from Wolfram MathWorld. You can find the graphic and a description of it at: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Dodecahedron-IcosahedronCompound.html.

The photo in “In between” was taken in 2019 of a plaque created in 2005 which includes an etched photo taken in 1978.


Why walk? – Every time, it’s time away.

What is walking good for?

Losing myself in thought and sometimes in space
Getting where I need to go
Carrying on good conversations with friends old and new
Doing errands and learning how many things I can carry at once
Taking a stand in marches with friends and strangers
Grieving the loss of a friend or family member
Letting my mind go into itself and into the walk, often with unexpected results
Exploring new places – in small towns, wild & wide open spaces, and tightly-packed cities
Enjoying the familiarity of the same path over and over again
Mulling over next steps, thinking ahead through tricky situations
Whatever the weather, feeling it through skin and bones and ears
Getting away from my desk and out of the house
Putting muscles, bones, and joints to use, temporarily getting rid of the occasional arthritic pain in my right hip

In May this year, I decided to keep track of a month of my walks, mapping them after the fact, describing them briefly, noting what took me outside, and seeing where and how far I went.

What more is walking good for?

Timing my arrival at doctors appointments and work dates with careful precision
Smelling the wind, the trees, and of course the blossoms
Chatting with friends and strangers I meet along the way
Talking with nearby birds and small critters – squirrels, cats, dogs, a rabbit, and a raccoon
Feeling the satisfaction of my feet solidly hitting the ground
Finding new ways to get to familiar places
Allowing time for aimlessness
Listening to all the sounds I walk through
Getting unstuck and centered
Discovering new staircases, vistas, and untraveled short cuts
Following alleyways, water edges, railroad tracks, and back roads
Trying to come to terms with civic crises and figure out what I can do
Letting off steam
Simply enjoying the parallel motion of mind and feet

To make up for the fact that I didn’t have a map for every day in May – some days I either forgot to make notes or didn’t get out much – I made a record of a few good walks in June. In fact, it was hard to stop the recordkeeping, though I’m glad I did. I didn’t use a “fitness tracker.” It’s been clear, after listening to friends who use them, how easy it is get hooked on those electronic devices. It’s an obsession I don’t want.

Looking back at these records, I notice that, in this particular month, many of the walks I think of as favorites are missing – in towns and landscapes outside Seattle, political marches and rallies, through industrial areas or along railroad tracks, around the arboretum, along the waterfront, through Interbay and over the locks, and anywhere with grandkids. It’s definitely time to get outdoors and walk, right now.

What took me outside?  Where and how far did I go?


Thankful

2017 Thanksgiving Day walkers

When I started living alone about 15 years ago, all of a sudden my daytimes on Thanksgiving Day were wide open. Since then, almost all my celebratory Thanksgiving meals have been with friends Norie and Ralph, who enjoy preparing the evening’s magnificent food with little help from us, the guests. So, what on earth, I wondered, does one do during the day on Thanksgiving without any hosting or cooking responsibilities?

Take a long walk, of course!

At the time, I lived downtown, an easy walk – about a mile – from the south end of Lake Union. So I decided to walk around the lake. I wanted to see how close to the water I could stay as I circumambulated. Over the course of about 6.5 miles, the terrain and the landscape change many times – from docks with fancy water craft and restaurants, to light marine industry, houseboats, small street-end parks, two bridges, a major regional park constructed on the site of an old gasworks plant, a couple of sea plane terminals, and much more. And the weather is just as changeable – rain, fog, clearing, sun, wind, drizzle – anything goes.

I always made curious little discoveries and encountered memorable characters. One year I passed the same couple twice, and we realized we were doing the same thing, just in opposite directions. We said, “See you next year!” though we never did. Another year I ran into a wild-looking guy on a little road that ran alongside a run-down ramshackle complex of buildings where I suspected he lived. As he chased pigeons away from the building, he muttered to me, “Too much society!” I smiled and scooted away hoping I wasn’t also too much society. When I got twenty yards or so down the street, he shouted, “Hey!” in my direction. When I turned, he gave me a big thumbs up, saying simply, “Thanksgiving!” You just never know where you’ll find joy.

One year, Norie took time out to join me. From her I learned that Seattle City Parks and Recreation had given “my” path an official name: “The Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop.” The City’s path doesn’t always stay as close to the water as my path did, though I suppose parts of mine were probably a little too sketchy to ever be “official.” But the course is marked with signs, and information about it is posted online.

The Loop is named for Cheshiahud, a Duwamish man, also known as Lake Union John or “Chodups,” who lived most of the last years of his life on the edge of Portage Bay, an extension of the lake. The photo below shows him with his wife Tleebuleetsa, also known as Madeline. Born in about 1820, Cheshiahud died in 1910. It was said he was the last of the Duwamish people to live a traditional, independent lifestyle near the lake, land historically inhabited by the Duwamish people and their ancestors. More about his life is here.

Cheshiahud and Tleebuleetsa

Eight years ago I began to invite friends to come along. We start our walk at 11 a.m. at South Lake Union Park. We head out, whatever the weather, walking counterclockwise. With a few side trips – to the lake at street ends, a photo-op stop at the north end, and a coffee break at the Fremont Bridge about two thirds of the way around – we allow about three hours, though it often doesn’t take that long. The weather is always a surprise – bright or gray, sunny, drippy, or down right wet. For the first shared walk, we even had snow on the ground.

Each year, we have a few stalwarts who walk almost every time, many repeaters, and always new people – young and old, very small children in strollers, and a nice assortment of dogs. One year, we picked up a few curious strangers part way around. The past few years, we’ve passed, or more correctly, been passed by, quite a caravan of families on bicycles of all sizes.

I’ve loved the way that, over the duration of the walk, people drift forward and back along our loose line of walkers, talking with both long-time and newly-discovered friends. All in all, there’s never been a year when I didn’t end the walk feeling invigorated and grateful, for the walk, for the weather, and most of all for the friends.

Note: The  photo of Cheshihud and Tleebuleetsa was taken by Orion Denny, the first white male born in Seattle.

 


It used to take five fingers

For the last 67 years it has taken all the fingers on one hand to count my brothers. From the time I was five, I could run through their names. Fred, Ted, Frank, Karl, Ross – in order, in a flash.

I’m at a loss for how to count them now.

My oldest brother Fred – Alfred Bosworth Focke, Jr. – died on Saturday, November 25, 2017. He died peacefully, at home, with his wife Kay and daughter Julie by his side. I’m grateful it was, as far as anyone could tell, gentle and pain free. Julie told me afterward, “It was as though he quietly faded and then was gone.” He was 82.

Yet even as I absorb the news, the self underneath the sadness knows I still have five brothers. Four I can see and touch and talk with, but the fifth remains, in memory making a full hand.

 


Why keep making things up in an eighth decade?

Making it up, part 2

 

With seven decades under me, I want the chance to reflect back on the past I’ve known and to imagine forward to what might yet be by learning from others – young and old, here and there, alike and different, artists and others.

The years I’ve lived have given me a many-layered foundation, built slowly over 70 years, an aggregate mix of success and acknowledgment, failure and loss, gaps and continuities. The foundation is a strong but supple underpinning that offers something steadier to stand on than I had when I was twenty, a ground for making and strengthening relationships, for continuing to make a living and a difference, for being curious, being mad, being silly, for listening, loving, thinking, writing, acting up, and continuing to dream.

I want to share what I’ve accumulated and see if it’s useful beyond myself. I want to use the past as a springboard for my curiosity and for new connections and ideas. I’d love to inspire others to do the same, to use the foundations we’ve built to make things better.

Get up, I tell myself. Get up!  Let’s get going!

On turning 70, I became clearer than ever that my time is limited.

So, if not now…when?

I have so many questions.

What do we, who are 70 and beyond, do with the extra years that modern medicine and knowledge have given us? How do we mix past and present? How do we, as an ever-larger percentage of the population, answer these questions and make a difference today?

How is the nature of work changing? How is the economy around us changing? Can we be part of imagining a different future?

How can we live together with all our differences? What can we do to strengthen the common ground that seems to be getting lost?

What can we learn from artists’ experience of work, or of aging, or of the common good? How are artists adding to wider community conversations? What more can we do?

I want to provoke new attempts to find answers.

In an eighth decade, what patterns can I make? What new ways can I move? I’m still trying to change the world.

I want to use my old-fashioned, old-fogey ways and mix them up with sometimes hard-for-me-to-understand new ways:  new technologies, new ideas about the social world, new understandings of the natural world.

I’m eager to bounce ideas around with younger people. I want to be a novice again.

I want to be a spur, a spark, l’ancienne terrible – though this personality type doesn’t really sound like me.

I’d love to figure out how to call myself. It seems we’re often asked for a few words to identify who we are. I’ve never had a good answer. So, at this point, am I . . .

A vintage instigator?
An antique inventor, rabble rouser, catalyst?
An always curious old codger? (Can women be old codgers?)
Or maybe, a seasoned listener and observer who’s been around the block – more than a few times?

I want to keep making it up.

I want time and a charge that asks me to go back to the little piles of notes and ideas left behind at times in my life, notes that are now stacking up in storage, to think about them one more time, to clean them out, pass them along, or at least recycle the paper.

Jonas Mekas, now 93, put it this way: “My own personal work was done in pieces. Now all those pieces are crying out to be completed. I’m obsessed with finishing them.”

The spirit of making it up – of life and work as an experiment – has run through my life from the start, from organizing marching majorettes in high school, to making art, creating an artist workshop at a television station, helping start formal and informal organizations, networks, and conversations, and, just last year, helping to create, fifty years later, a new alumni-in-residence program at my college alma mater.

I want to keep living an experiment, where the results are unknown and possibility is wide open.


Note:  The first “Making It Up” was posted on November 28, 2016.


What is this “Carrying on”?

 

Roget’s Thesaurus offers these synonyms…

 

Q  Why is this website called “Carrying on”? 

Carrying on is what storytellers do when they get going and can’t stop. Carrying on is what grandkids do that creates a din in the living room. Carrying on is what people do when they’re mad or when they have a powerful sense of purpose or when they pick themselves up and keep going. Carrying on is what people lucky enough to live into the upper atmospheres of their lives get to do.

Q  But how does a website have anything to do with carrying on?

“Carrying on” is a prompt to keep me writing, to help me get down to it. Writing is a thread that winds through all the messiness and many directions of the work I’m doing now and have done in the past. Writing has been a way to plan, reflect, report, ruminate, try to understand myself and the world, and make my thoughts hold still before they meander off.

“Carrying on” is a gentle but clear commitment to write. There’s nothing easier than procrastinating when a tough writing puzzle awaits – there are always dishes to do, doctor’s appointments to make (more, it seems, as the years go by), correspondence from friends to answer, errands to run, bills to pay, someone else’s deadline to meet. The truth of Thomas Mann’s words become clearer every day. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

“Carrying on” is meant to take advantage of what might otherwise be an unfortunate personal trait: I’m much more likely to keep a commitment made to others than one made only to myself. It’s partly out of a desire to strengthen this commitment that I maintain a list of friends, family, and colleagues to whom I report when I’ve added three or four new pieces about once a month. Unwittingly, they – that is, you – are holding me accountable. I’m grateful for your help, whether you know you’re giving it or not.

“Carrying on” gives me deadlines. The end of every month comes with a little shove, becomes a kind of deadline. I feel pressure from my writing-soul when a whole month goes by without my having added anything new. If you’ve been getting these updates, you might notice how often they arrive on the last day of the month. (If you’re not getting them, but would like to, let me know at annefocke@gmail.com.)

“Carrying on” is a place to put writing that’s meant to be read by others. I’m writing in public.

“Carrying on” is a place to put some of what’s on my mind right now. And it’s also a place to put pieces I’ve written in the past that didn’t quite get finished, or need revision, or didn’t have a way into the world. A long trail of half- and almost-completed pieces fill paper and digital folders, and I have many little books full of ideas I want to explore by writing about them.

“Carrying on” may become something of an anthology.

“Carrying on” reminds me that for years I’ve said, “I’ll write about that some day.” I remember my mother saying the same thing. But she never had the chance.

With “Carrying on,” I ask myself, If not now, when?

and continues with these.

 

Postscript:  I’m thinking I should aspire to all of Mr. Roget’s synonyms as I keep on carrying on.


“Carrying on” is part of the Jini Dellaccio Project,
a fiscally-sponsored project of Artist Trust.

A birthday, simple joys, and a close call

“You celebrated your birthday by telling your friends about a close call with death decades ago? Really?”

This was what I heard when I told a friend about an email message I wrote six years ago. Actually, the message is one I’ve saved and occasionally send to someone new when it seems helpful. It’s not my birthday today, but I’m reminded of  the message because I’ve just sent it out again.


From:
Anne Focke
Date: 
May 6, 2011 12:09:03 PM PDT
Subject: Birthday musing

Birthdays have a way of reminding us of all the people we want to fold in and hold close. I know it’s a little unusual to send greetings to other people on one’s own birthday, but I thought I’d break tradition this time. Since you’re all scattered hither and thither, I’m grateful for electronic tools that allow me to at least throw a virtual loop around you all. I’m so lucky you’re all in my life. A few lines from Denise Levertov’s poem, “Complaint and Rejoinder,” say it well:

…you want to place all of it—
people, places, their tones, atmospheres,
everything shared uniquely with each—
into a single bowl, like petals, like sand
in a pail.…

Today I’m taking time to celebrate the simple joy of being alive, visiting gardens and seeing friends. It’s a cool, overcast Seattle day, crisp and gorgeous in its own way . . . and getting brighter at this point.

My celebration was given perspective by an email I opened this morning. It reminded me how close I came, at one point, to not being here for my day today. The video, “Dear 16-year-old-me,” is all about a cancer I had almost 40 years ago.

The melanoma (superficial, spreading, malignant) appeared on my back and looked like a mole gone a little crazy. There wasn’t chemotherapy back then; they just cut it out. Somewhere I have a little artist book I made about it. I called it “Healing.” The big scar that remains on my back and the pale stripes on my right thigh remind me how lucky I am to be here now. The video suggests sending the link to every 16-year-old I know, and I realized I don’t know many, but I could send it to family and friends who might have kids or grandkids who would. So I send it to you.

It’s an odd birthday greeting, I know, but it’s really about being alive!

Love to you all,

Anne


“We must find a way to stay in the same room.”

January 7, 2011

Can we stay in the same room?

The commons. Public trust. Civil society. 

These words describe big ideas that matter. Once you start paying attention to them, they seem to show up everywhere. But sometimes the ideas they encompass are so big or so complicated, or are used in so many ways by people with such wildly divergent views that they lose their meaning or make it hard to tell where they hit the ground in our real, every-day world.

In a group conversation about where the concept of the commons can be found in our daily lives, Wier Harman, a hero of mine who has managed to keep Town Hall Seattle hopping each year with between 350 and 400 events across a wide spectrum of ideas and culture, first thought of groups that form around pre-schools.

But then he focused on what, given the general direction of his politics, he called the “unlikely,” emotional impact of standing at a Rotary meeting with a roomful of Rotarians wholeheartedly singing patriotic songs together at the start of their meeting. He noted that at work he puts a lot of time and energy into arguing for Town Hall as a space that allows for profound differences.

With his Rotary singing as a backdrop, he added, “We must find a way to stay in the same room.”

• • • 

These words retain the quiet power today that they had for me in 2011. I hang on to the aspiration they express at least as tightly now as I did then. I keep my notes from that conversation handy and find I’m pulling them out more and more often.

The question of how we do it continues to haunt and provoke me.

 


Time away at home, addendum

Yesterday was a perfect time-away day at home.

After spending the first hour of the day letting friends know about new pieces added to my blog (a task that gives me a satisfying sense of completion), I put some notes, my laptop, and an umbrella in a small pack and, with my pack on my back, headed out for a long walk. Despite a weather forecast of clouds and rain with a possible thunderstorm and hail, I planned to be out much of the day on a course I would determine as I went.

I walked a few blocks before stopping for breakfast at a neighborhood coffeeshop, where I also read through past notes for a complicated piece I’m trying to write. Part-way through the longer next leg of my walk, the sun began to prove the forecast wrong. What a gift! After a couple of miles of steep, winding streets and views of the Cascades,  I stopped  for coffee at a tiny coffeeshop where I struggled to find a path through the ideas in the writing. I didn’t actually pull out my computer, but I found at least a preliminary place to begin and started out again. The sun had taken over completely as I headed down the hill attracted by a set of stairs I hadn’t walked before and then headed straight east toward the Aboretum.

A map of my walk made after the fact

Just before reaching the park, I stopped at a cafe/coffeeshop for lunch. I fiddled with my notes as I ate, but forced myself to actually begin before I left. By the time I walked out, clouds covered the sky and the rain had begun. Umbrella up, I headed into the Arboretum and followed a trail along the west edge that I hadn’t walked before, with pines at the start and hollies toward the end. The treat at the end of the trail was a bakery/cafe just outside the park entrance. Over another cup of coffee and a treat, I made pretty good progress in my writing, at least getting a few thoughts into a document on my computer. Sheets of rain came down while I worked.

A bit later, bright sun pulled me outside again, this time to walk an almost straight line home. The straight line I’d walked before reaching the park was level, this one definitely was not. My quick estimate of the elevation gain on one specific block – a short one, at that – was about 65 feet, though it felt like a 45 degree angle. After I got home, the energy of the walk continued and I worked for another hour or so.

The piece I’m writing is far from done, but the day convinced me that interesting places to walk and let my mind wander are another requirement of a satisfying time away.