Wednesday, March 13, 2013

rules of the game














The longer you live, the more death you will encounter. Rules of the game.

At first death seems distant. You know it's out there, you hear about it in vague ways, in the news, from older people, someone else's grandma. Or maybe you encounter death at a very young age, and you carry that burden around for years and years until the rest of us begin to understand. Either way, death makes more regular appearances as life marches on. We, the living, march on, and the dead fall down beside us on both sides.

Until death knocks on your door, it remains a fuzzy concept. Of course death never knocks. Death slips in under your nose while you're chatting on the phone, or in the shower, or walking home from work. It doesn't wait for you to get ready. Sometimes it comes partly announced. Maybe you knew it was in the neighborhood and might be stopping by, but it's still a shock when it steps over the threshold. Often it comes completely out of the blue. Perhaps you witness it quickly move through the room and leave with your beloved. Or perhaps you simply hear that it came and went, and left your world forever changed without touching a hair on your head.

What is it about death that makes us look up toward the sky? That causes that primal wail to well up in our throats as the tears begin to fall? That forces us to clutch at our head in astonishment and disbelief, unable to contain the reality of its doings in our simple fleshy noggin? We don't weep for the dead, of course. We weep for those still living.

Do we become more sensitive to death once we've met it face to face? I've known of death for years. I've wept for lost cousins and grandparents. I've mourned their departure while knowing there were others who were grieving much more deeply than I. And so I mourned for the living and wondered at how they carried on with such a vacuum in their lives. But I didn't dwell on it too much.

Until it touched me directly. It knocked me down, and although I still stand, death has changed me forever, and each subsequent death builds upon the solid foundation of grief and disbelief that now resides within me. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking among ghosts, and that's a comfort, almost as if I can see through this mortal veil and have an inkling of understanding beyond my mundane corporeal self. Other times it's like a tidal wave of emotion that wells up in my tender eyes, constricts my aching throat, weakens my shaky knees, and refuses to accept a reality that cannot be escaped. Death cannot be escaped. It keeps coming, it keeps taking, until there is no one left.

Friday, February 8, 2013

menagerie


















The Cloverdale menagerie lost an extremely valued member last May (RIP, Zoe Topaz), but we have recently acquired two new members. Dharma and Karma are female leopard geckos. They've been here about a month, and I think they're doing well, but it's so dang hard to tell with reptiles! Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they healthy? Are they sick? Are they bored? Are they the same as they would be anywhere else, or are they miserable in captivity? Is there something more I could/should be doing for them? These are the dilemmas of creatures that you have to keep in a terrarium. Obviously they don't have the freedom that cats and dogs are allowed. But do they need it? Who am I to decide? I will always be torn between the desire to possess animals and the belief that they should all be free to live their own lives. It makes life interesting, I suppose. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.














Xander is doing great. Maybe he's a little slimmer, and a little slower now that he's 15+ years old, but he's still totally himself, and he snuggles and eats and freaks out like he always has. He was definitely "off" for several months after Zoe departed, but I think he's fine now, and I think having Marzoid around helps keep us all distracted, if nothing else. Marzipan is now 5 years old and has lived with me almost as long as she ever lived with Mom. She's come a long way, baby. She sleeps with us every night, and voluntarily climbs into my lap frequently. She's feisty as hell, but she's also smart and dynamic. I wouldn't quite call her my "friend," but we're closer than we've ever been, and she LOVES Mr. G. Sometimes, especially at night, I can't help dwelling on the image of her being with Mom when she died. I'm sure she was sleeping next to her in bed, and then wondered why she didn't get up in the morning. Or the next day. God, how horrid. But she's mine/ours now, and I guess I'm glad?


nhm

NHM Rocks. I've been working at the Natural History Museum for almost three months now, and it's everything I dreamed it would be. I love, love, love it! I can see myself staying here for a long time. It's still early days, but I feel happy and connected, like this is MY museum. And it'll only get better.






















One of the coolest things about NHM is that it's the oldest museum in town. The original museum. It opened in 1913 as the County Museum of Science, History and Art. Some major things have changed since then, but this year is our centennial year. We still have the awesome original building overlooking the rose garden, beautiful marble staircases, funky old hallways and cabinets full of specimens, a gorgeous stained glass rotunda, and original diorama halls. Plus there's a ton of awesome new stuff too, like the dinosaur hall and age of mammals exhibit, and all the exciting new stuff opening outdoors this summer.



















The halls are full of stuff like this thing, a giant ammonite. I can't pretend to know exactly what this is (yet), but it's old and it's awesome. We have dinosaurs, dioramas, one of the few active taxidermy studios, shells, gems and minerals, zuni fetishes, mesoamerican ceramics, skeletons, birds, live reptiles and insects, gardens, and some cultural stuff too.

The dioramas are my favorite. Many of them were originally created in the 1930's and they remain today, full of nostalgia but still educational and artistic if you give them a chance. Many people absolutely love them, but some folks probably think they're ratty old vestiges of days past. Take a closer look though. They're FULL of beautiful animals, preserved and posed just so in natural social groups, engaged in natural behaviors, with myriad details of foliage and other creatures throughout each display. They're freaking awesome!




















And then there are details like the antique taxidermed parrot who shares our office. I have a great roommate already, but the parrot really make our house a home. Some folks are lucky enough to have offices within the old diorama halls. They have warthogs and snow leopards watching them as they type on their keyboards and have their meetings. How lucky are they? A secret (or not so secret) ambition of mine is to befriend the taxidermist. Also the guy with the big beard in Vert Paleo. I've always gotten on well with men with eccentric facial hair in the workplace.




































I love you baby sloth who lives in the classroom where we hold orientations and training sessions. I love that I get to do things like help carry a donated bear skin upstairs; that people ask me to make signs that say "carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore"; that my office mate has a pile of insects and a human skull on his desk; that I get to work events like First Fridays, Bug Fair, and Reptile Appreciation Day; that POW stands for Pavilion of Wings; that people appreciate my desk echidna.


















They sell dinosaurs in the gift shop AND the cafe.

And then you find random things like this awesome illustration just lying around the copy room.





Thursday, November 8, 2012

change of scene

I've been walking under this sculpture on an almost daily basis for over two years now. Tomorrow will be the last time I do so as LACMA staff. It's time to move on. Honestly, I was ready to move on a long time ago. I tried to stick it out and make the best of it, which I did, but my departure is long overdue.

LACMA is a cluster fuck in many ways (pardon my language). Museum standards, professional ethics, teamwork, trust, cooperation, responsibility, communication . . . all of these words are meaningless within the massive dysfunction that is LACMA. That being said, there are many wonderful people there, and as an institution we somehow manage to accomplish an awful lot.

I've enjoyed working on a wide range of exhibitions with a ridiculous number of colleagues within and without the museum's walls. From the elegant David Smith sculpture retrospective that traveled to the Whitney and Wexner Museums; to the popular Tim Burton exhibition with his eccentric chihuahua-toting assistant; to the awesome Ai Weiwei zodiac animal installation; to the beautifully complex Fashioning Fashion tour to Berlin and Paris; to the fabulous California Design exhibition of mid-century modernism, now set to travel to Tokyo, Auckland, Brisbane, and Massachusetts; to the recently opened Drawing Surrealism exhibition; to name a few highlights.









































My problems with LACMA are legitimate, and shared by many others. But my reasons for leaving, and the fact that I never felt at home here, have at least as much to do with my parents dying as anything else. I remember sitting at Black Cat Cafe with Zoe on my first day, reviewing the exhibition schedule, discussing which projects I'd be working on, and being filled with excitement and enthusiasm, ready to dive in whole-heartedly. Then Dad died. I was disoriented and distracted, but I attempted to limp along, partially because I knew that's what he would have wanted, and partially because I didn't know what else to do. I was a zombie, going through the motions but not really present. Then Mom died, and my world crumbled. I had to leave to cope with the emotional and logistical challenges of sudden orphanhood. Nothing about LACMA, or hardly anything else in life, seemed important anymore. I returned after a leave of absence, and tried to reinvest myself, but in hindsight this was an impossible task. My career at LACMA was doomed from the beginning and perhaps never meant to be anything more than an insane transition phase.

So my priorities changed. I realized that working behind the scenes with jaded disgruntled colleagues was not satisfying. I felt impotent and unable to contribute anything to the chaos swirling around me. My job became little more than a paycheck. The passion was gone. And the negativity outweighed any positivity. I also realized that what makes me happy, what gets me excited, is working with animals and museum visitors. So I increased my zoo volunteering, and started applying for public-oriented jobs at the Natural History Museum. And it finally paid off.

I cannot articulate how appealing the idea of a FRESH START is to me at this point in my life. It's not LACMA's fault, and perhaps no one can understand, but every time I walk the halls I think of my parents and the many days I dragged my hollow soul through those passageways, galleries, and offices; struggling to remain focused during meetings; the endless days sitting in my office trying to get through exhibition agreements and emails while trying to simultaneously make arrangements for each of my parents' memorial services. There's the bench in the east garden where I talked on the phone to my father for the last time, his speech slightly slurred and loopy from the leukemia quickly stealing him away from us; and the street a few blocks away where I received the phone call from my neighbor in San Diego telling me that my mother was dead. I just can't be here anymore. The place is too heavy with grief, too full of negative experiences. So I'm leaving, tomorrow.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

at the sanitarium


At the sanitarium you can escape reality. When life is too crazy, too chaotic, too unpredictable. You need to get away from it all and let yourself be tended to for a while. Step away from the hustle and bustle, the rat race, the demands of modern society. Retreat to a relaxing atmosphere in a peaceful setting surrounded by natural beauty. Allow yourself to be cared for by gentle, understanding staff who are happy to turn away your friends and family when they come looking for you, telling them "she's in one of her moods today," as they gaze out at your silhouette resting in a lounge chair in the distance where the vast lawn meets the quietly lapping waves of the sea. After they've gone you might find yourself wandering leisurely through one of the gardens or green houses, or sitting on the shady porch with the resident cats, or enjoying an icy cold drink poolside. When you're feeling sociable again, perhaps you'll join your fellow residents for a light hearted game of tennis, or an evening concert under the stars. When you're feeling especially emotional, you might pick up brush and paints, or pen and journal, or pop into the little cabin on the edge of the property to smash dozens of china plates to pieces until the emotions subside. Of course there's always the spa, with its sugar scrub, aromatherapy massages, and refreshing facials. Come. Visit the sanitarium. And let your crazies be gone.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

rep tiles

Finally the new reptile and amphibian house has opened at the zoo. LAIR -- Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles -- is a super cool environment to get up close to a variety of gorgeous and amazing creatures. Out front is a cleverly designed donor wall of "RepTiles," or plaques that you could purchase in people's honor that are then arranged in the shape of reptile scales. Very cool, right? I ordered one for Dad over a year ago, and now it's finally in place! Yay, Dad! :-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

art communion: buddha

Last week's art communion was with this glowing Buddha Shakyamuni from Burma (early 20th century). He stands in a dimly lit gallery devoted to images of the Buddha in modern Theravada traditions, and is one of many artworks here that were commissioned and donated to Buddhist temples and monasteries to bring merit to the donor and their loved ones on special occasions. This may explain why this figure is more ornate than one might usually expect from a Buddhist sculpture. He's carved from wood, gilded with shimmery gold, and inlaid with glass details in his robes and headband. He's somewhat opulent; perhaps as a way of showing the dedication and devotion of those who donated him to the temple. Of course you always want to give the very best.

This Buddha is exceedingly graceful, and perhaps even gracious in his pose. His elegant drapery hangs loosely on his long slender frame, and his delicate hands hold his garment out almost in a gesture of courtsey. Although his body is slight, his face is still pleasantly round with folds of flesh under his chin. The reddish pigment combined with the gold gives him a very warm, earthy appearance, embellished with small blue flowers of inlaid glass. His bare feet stand upon a lotus blossom. Perhaps due simply to the passage of time, his face retains the most gilding, and is thus his most radiant feature, with that ever-present gentle smile of transcendence.