White Space

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22" x 30"

Lucinda Bliss, Pineland 1, pencil and watercolor on paper, 22″ x 30″

On March 8th, I participated in the Bretton Woods nordic half marathon. As I wrote in My Visual Cue , it was my first Nordic race in 29 years, and I set out to enjoy the experience, not to compete. I have memories of brutal race experiences in high school, at Kimball Union, and I wanted to dip a toe back into the culture without jumping fully into the world of pain.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The majestic hotel set the stage for the race, as we queued up in the fields below. The Bretton Woods Nordic Center grooms 100k of trails, and I was eager to cover 21k of the gorgeous ups and downs.

I intentionally started in the middle of the pack, not wanting to get pulled out too fast. There was quite a bit of shuffling as the pack narrowed down to two sets of tracks.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

At 4k in, I was having a blast (bib #197), and my wax was perfect, which made the hills a breeze. My form was pretty rusty, but at least I had forward momentum!

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

The issue of wax was significant in this race. A few days earlier, I’d received the following email with the official Swix waxing recommendations:

GLIDE:
Pre Tune ski with Glide Wax Cleaner (I0084) to remove any contaminants in the base, wipe clean with Fiberlene (T0150).  LF05 or LF06 will be base layer for glide wax.  Race Wax will be HF08BW (25F to 39F)for 22km race, Marathon Wax Black for the 44km.
Powder will be FC78 Super Cera

KICK:
VG35 Binder Ironed In
VR45 moving into VR50

If using mechanical grip skis be sure to apply Warm Rocket spray or F4 to Glide zones and kick zones.  Temps will approach freezing and potential for icing in kick zone is high.
Top Coat will be HVC Warm or Rocket Warm.

Panic shot through me as I read. I haven’t raced in a long time, and I couldn’t even interpret the email, much less follow the instructions. I forwarded the message to friend and wax wizard, Rick Chalmers, hoping he could help me relax and come up with a plan. He was sure it would be a klister day, and said,  “Do you see snow in the trees? If not, stick with the klister!” The best skiers can double pole a marathon on rolling hills, but I would need a workable wax that would give me kick. The klister was perfect! Throughout the entire race, particularly after the 12k mark, skiers were talking wax. Some were calling out for waxing help from the edge of the course, manically trying to rub in some hard blue before jumping back into the tracks.  Even though I wasn’t “racing,”  my arms were shot by the half-way point, and I needed to take advantage of the leg strength I’d built up through the running season. That was only possible with wax left on my skis. At the finish, I was spent, but the skis could easily have done the full marathon!

Looking at photos of myself during this race has been an education, and humbling. For some reason, I expected to retain excellent form after 29 years away from the sport. After studying the pix, I have some clear goals in place for next year.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

Developing upper body strength and putting in more hours on the trails are at the top of the list. If I’d had the strength, I could have double poled long sections of the trail; instead, I had to save my arms for long, flat stretches. I felt confident on the skis–my ski legs began to come back this year–now I can work on efficient form: keeping my body and arms straight, rather than twisting my body and letting my arms cross over.

 

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

As for double-poling technique, I was cocky about that. I’d always been strong in that area, and I thought I had it securely in my nordic toolkit. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be squatting over my skis at the finish! It’s easy to see how much energy I’m wasting by bending up and down, rather than using core strength to propel forward.

photo: Rick Chalmers

photo: Rick Chalmers

 

 

 

I finished the race in a hair under two hours, nearly being lapped by the full marathon winners. Though I was slow, I finished happy and eager for more, which seems the perfect way to re-enter the world of racing.

 

 

Posted in Art, Half Marathon, Uncategorized, X-C Skiing | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Little Mouse Running

 

3After my second desert run, up the Catalina Highway toward Mt. Lemmon, I realized that in the Southwest, I would need to carry water for any run over an hour. I’ve never come up with a good solution for lugging water while running. Hydration belts have always seemed a bit ridiculous to me, and I don’t like the feeling of being encumbered by excess gear when running. Still, knowing I was a bit dehydrated after the last run, I decided to stop by Fleet Feet Sports in Tucson to check out the options. After a great conversation with an enthusiastic saleswoman-runner, I walked out with an Amphipod RunLite AirStretch hydration belt. The belt came highly recommended for a few features: moveable parts, a cell phone pocket, and the secure but stretchy and velcro adjustable belt. While chatting about the different hydration systems at Fleet Feet, I asked for local running recommendations, and she raved about Sabino Canyon, adding that I should head out early and stay off the trails, due to the snakes being out early this year.

The next morning I had some work to take care of, so I got off a bit late. By the time I arrived at Sabino, there were swarms of people–locals, tourists, runners, cyclists; it was hard to find a place to park! Still, I was excited to be back. When my sons were young, we lived in Tucson for 6 months while I was finishing up my MFA, and after we had moved to Maine, we flew out for annual Christmas gatherings. As I looked up the canyon road, and around at the young families, images of my sons as little boys flooded back.

1 As I started running, I noticed bright green cottonwoods, and remembered 4that the winter melt makes the canyon lush with unexpected trees and large pools of water. This also makes it a popular watering hole for mountain lions, though not during the day when the paths are jammed with human activity.

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The day was heating up, and my head cold seemed to have sapped my lung strength. I decided, tissues in hand, that I’d still try to complete the length of the canyon road (about 3.5 miles in), but that I would take it very easy and enjoy the sights along the way.

6As I neared the steep final stretch, I looked up at a craggy peak and was sure I saw the rocky outcrop shift! It was probably a hiker, but I could imagine a puma up there, taking in the view.

I’m in Tucson helping my mom pack up for a move, and yesterday, she handed me a file of drawings, letters, and report cards from my childhood. The file included a series of short illustrated stories: “The Shark,” The Dolfin [sic],” and “Me,” along with poems about a green snake, a white wolf, and “a little mouse running.” As a young girl, it seems I had lots to say about the emotional lives of animals (they’re lonely, they find best friends, they hide behind trees…), but in “Me,” I wrote: “I really don’t know what to say about my myself…I just moved to burlington and befor that I lived in bakersfield and befor that in Enosburg. Befor that in Cambridge befor that I lived in boston mass. and befor that I don’t remember THE END [sic].” This gripping tale ends with a small drawing of a house. Perhaps there’s a clue in this story as to why I love mobility, and perhaps it’s just more interesting to imagine what it feels like to be a cougar on a rocky outcrop than to figure out what to say about “Me.”

7I made my way to the end of the paved trail and took in the view. The air was hot and still, and after a look around and a sip of water, I set out for the mellow run down. As I descended, I could see the crescent moon, faint against the blue above.

89I saw a fair number of runners and a few cyclists throughout the trip, and had to smile at the signage for the hazardous bridge crossings.10 This one is a pretty fabulous artistic rendering of the potential hazards of a bike crash.

I made it down to the base, where I met back up with my mom, who’d been walking the lower part of the canyon. She shot a pic in which I look like very much like a tech-loving running geek. I admit it, my advisor from Fleet Feet was right–the Amphipod system is great. During the run, I slid the two bottles to the small of my back and kept the belt at my waist as she recommended. I hardly noticed the gear on the trail, and the bottles were empty when I reached the bottom. The little pocket for my phone/camera (and tissues) was handy as well.

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Thorny Questions

HeadingThe question that inspired me to start this blog in the first place–how to develop a life that’s in alignment with what lights me up–feels like a thorn in my side this week. Some unexpected challenges have come up, raising big questions about the coming year, and I’ve been in need of a long run to sort it all out. It’s been icy and cold in Maine–not conducive to long road runs–and I’ve come to depend on long runs in order to process mental thorns.

A few days ago, I flew out to Tucson to assist my mom with a move, and in spite of a head cold, I’ve been getting out for at least a short run every day. There are the rattlers, cyclists, and hot rods to look out for, but no black ice or snow banks. This morning, I ran up into the Coronado National Forest, on the road that leads to Mt. Lemmon. The mountain, at 9,159 feet, is the highest point in the Santa Catalinas and the journey up is stunning. Given my head cold, I didn’t have much lung strength, so I took a gentle, hour-long run into the hills.

Heading out of my mom’s yard, I could see the adventure ahead.

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3As the road winds its way up, it’s fun to take in the view back down toward the city:

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up, up, up…

And the ocotillo in bloom:6

8I wasn’t carrying any water, so after a few miles up the mountain, I decided I should head back to the house. The cyclists were coming in a steady flow from below, as the 25 mile route to the peak is a popular weekend trek.

9The day was heating up into the high 70s, and it was the right choice to turn around and make my way back down the mountain. I don’t tend to do well in the heat, and I had the tell tale beet red face when I finished the trip.

hotfaceThe run didn’t banish the thorny questions, but it did seem to sort them in a way that has allowed me to be present in the day. Clarity will come.

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My Visual Cue

A week ago, just after I signed up for the Bretton Woods Nordic Half Marathon, I came down with the stomach flu. I’m almost mended, and the plan is to head to N.H. tomorrow for packet pick up, touring the course, and no doubt lots of conversation about how to wax (old snow with temps shifting from low 30s to 40s during the race). This will be my first x-c ski race in 29 years, and I’m excited (and, I suspect, over-thinking it!). My plan is to just enjoy a few hours of skiing and not take it too seriously. In preparation, I thought I’d remind myself of what it looks like when I bite off more than I can chew. Last night I flipped through some pix of my first (only) half-marathon on Grand Manan Island last July (blogged about in Salt in My Eyes). This image is my reminder to take it easy this Saturday. Two miles into the half, and I looked like this:

lesson3_blogGreat, only 11.1 miles to go. Yup, it hurt the entire time. So this is my visual cue to have a blast on Saturday–to just cruise for the first 10k, assess how I feel, then pick it up or continue to tour to the finish.

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A Joy to Witness

start1

I don’t end up spectating at road races very often, and when I do, after a flicker of regret about being on the sidelines, it’s a complete pleasure. At my best, I run 7:45-8:00 minute miles, which means that when I race, I see the fastest runners–their backs–for about 30 seconds. When I’m able to witness what the lead runners are capable of, it’s an education, and deeply moving. At this year’s Mid Winter Classic 10-Miler, in Cape Elizabeth, I spent the morning with my friend Rebecca. We roamed around the high school with my dog, Oliver, until it was gun time.

start2

start3

We decided it would be fun to plant ourselves somewhere on the course. Earlier, on our way to the race, we’d stopped for coffee and donuts, and once we’d pulled over about 2 1/4 miles from the finish line, near the entrance to Crescent Beach, we sat in the car listening to music, telling tales, cracking jokes, and munching donuts with coffee…not a usual race day. After 40 minutes or so, the first runners came into sight. We hooted and cheered and checked out the range of running styles. I only had my iphone but decided to take a few shots.

lead1

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lead4

lead5

RobbieG

lead6

lead7EricaJessimanAfter seeing the first woman pass, the inspiring Erica Jesseman, we scooted to the finish just as the lead runner was breaking the tape. Dan Vassallo of Massachusetts had held his position from the 8 mile mark.

These runners have a gift for the sport that’s a joy to witness. I’ll never touch their ability or speed, but there is something about the experience that’s available to me. In a few races, I’ve set out at a good pace, and then, at the right point in the course, found my edge and maintained it to the finish, but mostly, I’ve felt the deep pleasure of the daily ritual. Running marks time in the best possible way.  It’s funny that I sometimes have to overcome my own resistance against doing something that I love, though it usually only takes a few strides to forget that I wasn’t in the mood.

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Head to Toe Happy

NensaClinic

On February 9th, I attended the NENSA Annual New England Women’s X-C Ski Day at the Bethel Inn and Nordic Center  in Maine. If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know that my re-discovery of cross-country skiing was emotional. I raced as a teenager, and pushed myself to my limit (at least that’s what I told myself at the time), and I gave it up in college. I got out a few times over the years, but when my boots finally fell apart, I gave it up altogether. Then, a few years ago, I borrowed skis from a friend and stopped at Bretton Woods on my way to a meeting in Vermont. After a few hours on the trails, I hopped in the car to head to Montpelier and started to cry; I was head to toe happy. Since then, I’ve picked up some Fischer Racing Cross classics, and I get out whenever there’s snow. A side benefit is that I can build up lung strength and give my running legs a rest in the winter months.

At last year’s NENSA clinic, I got on skate skis for the first time. It was rough on my ankles, which seemed mysterious until I learned that skate skis have a right and left, and mine were on backwards. This year, in spite of having skate skied once in my life, at last year’s clinic, I decided to sign up for the advanced Uphill Downhill Skate. The instructors, Kathy Maddock and Beth, were inspiring—strong, patient, and clearly in love with the sport. Uphill Downhill Skate Though I had a few moments of feeling the rhythm of uphill skating, it was largely will and brute force that got me up the hills. It also seemed as if I was working harder than anyone else. I could tell that there was a groove to be had, and I wasn’t hitting it. Photographer Carol Savage was there, shooting pix of the NENSA Women’s Day, and she captured a few moments of my struggle: Uphill Skate

Over lunch, there was a raffle and a number of presentations—including a recorded video from the U.S. Women’s Ski team in Sochi. There was also a talk by Leslie Bancroft-Krichko, who competed in the winter Olympics in Lake Placid and Calgary. She mentioned the shift in the culture of the Olympics from 1980 to 1988: it “went Hollywood.” In Lake Placid,  she recalled trying to walk next to speed skater, Eric Heiden, during the opening ceremony as a strategy for getting on TV. Heiden was a rising star in the 80s, who ended up winning gold in all 5 speed skating events. Krichko went on to say that as they walked by Vice President Mondale, the U.S.team tipped their cowboys hats in unison, at which point, the significance of the moment hit her, and she started to cry.

1980olympics

Opening ceremony of XIII Winter Olympics on Feb. 13, 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y. Photo: Anonymous, AP

Seeing the tears, her friend leaned over and whispered, “Good job, now we’ll be on TV!”

Leslie told the story of how her skiing career was launched. It was her senior year of high school, and during a race, a “goofy” spectator blurted out, “who’s that moose on skis who’s beating my daughter!?” After the race, the man found Leslie and asked about her future plans. She answered that she was hoping to attend Middlebury.

“Why Middlebury,” he asked?

“They have the best ski team in the States,” she replied.

“Actually, I think I have the best ski team in the States,” he shot back. He was coach of the U.S. Ski Team.

That was that; after getting up the nerve to tell her parents, she decided to put off college for a few years in order to compete. She began training for the 1984 Olympics, but she progressed so quickly that she qualified for Lake Placid in 1980. After an injury, in 1983, she retired, or tried to. She ended up working at a ski shop a few days a week, and one day the manager approached her, saying, “You know, you outsell everyone else in the store. You love this sport so much, I’m worried you might regret giving it up so early.” She took the manager’s advice and started back slowly; she “didn’t feel ready for the circuit,” but after placing well in her first race, she began to get serious and ended up qualifying for, and competing in, the 1988 Olympics. I got choked up listening to her story, if only for knowing what it feels like to give up something that you love, and then to find it again.

In the afternoon session of the NENSA event, I joined a guided tour with a mixed group of skate and classic skiers. I was so happy to be back on the classics that I didn’t have patience for the stop-and-start pace of the large group. I borrowed a map, and took off with a skate skier who also wanted to cover some ground. We headed for the Corkscrew, which wasn’t groomed for classic but was still a blast to ski.  After an hour on the trails, I cruised up the last hill to the Inn; I was whooped but elated.

I packed up the skis and headed for the Tavern to wrap up the adventure. At the bar, one of the instructors mentioned the Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon and Half Marathon on March 8th. I’m contemplating. It would be my first x-c race since 1985…

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Matthew Barney’s Bathroom

Bath 4

A few weeks ago, my cousin Katie invited me to join her on a visit to Matthew Barney’s Long Island City studio. I’d just opened an exhibit at Aucocisco, completed an intensive teaching gig in the new NHIA MFA program, and this opportunity seemed the perfect culmination of a busy month. Barney is epic presence in contemporary art, and I’m drawn to some of his persistent themes: mythology and narratives of transformation, exploration of the tensions between structure and freedom, and the integration of physical exertion and creative process. Also, I was eager to see what kind of space he works in.

Brooklyn Bridge 1

Brooklyn Bridge 2The morning of the event, I woke up early to do an out-and-back run over the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve been taking it pretty easy since the 10-mile McDowell Mountain Frenzy in early December—giving myself recovery time and focusing on a busy work schedule. Now I’m beginning to build back up to the 5-6 hours (35 miles) of running per week that I’d established in the fall.

After the run, I walked over to AlMar to meet my colleague and friend, painter Craig Stockwell. Craig is in the middle of a residency with the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation and it’s inspiring to visit him in that environment. His abstract paintings are as thoughtful as always, and now they’re infused with play and contradiction.  The work takes itself less seriously, which, to my eye, invests it with a fresh depth and complexity. Over eggs and coffee, we talked about the shifts in his work and my recent show. I’d been pondering Dan Kany’s thoughtful review of my work in an attempt to narrow in on key questions that I want take back to the studio. One such question has to do with the reflective nature of the paintings. They document a physical experience–navigating and running difficult terrain–in a narrative language that doesn’t mimic the physicality of the subject or inspiration. They map an experience rather than express it. I’m not sure where this understanding will take me, but it was inspiring to narrow in on it in dialogue with Craig.

Long Island City Studio

Pondering the relationship of physicality to creative work, and questioning the monumental gesture, set a perfect context for heading to Long Island City with Katie. Matthew Barney’s studio is in a huge warehouse across the east river. After exploring the neighborhood a bit, we entered the studio through large industrial doors. The afternoon began with a short reception, to be followed by a preview of Barney’s film, River of Fundament (the film will premier at BAM on February 12 -16). We were a bit early and so we wandered through expansive workshops to find the bathroom. The bathroom was a bit like walking into a dada collage, so I lingered and took some shots.

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Barney's Bathroom 1

We made our way back to the reception, where Katie introduced me to Matthew. We chatted for a few minutes as people milled around finding seats and getting coffee.  I had that mental pause that comes when trying to assimilate the physical presence of someone whose visage is familiar from the media. Noted: he’s remarkably present, self possessed, a bit shy, has small ears and celebrity teeth, and is significantly handsome and impish.

Barney’s new work is a multi-media project drawn loosely from Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel, Ancient Evenings. The work combines the narrative of Mailer’s death with themes from the novel: sex, death, and reincarnation from Egyptian mythology. The two main protagonists are Mailer (the ghost of Mailer) and a Chrysler Crown Imperial. Barney shared that Mailer, shortly before his actual death, suggested that Barney work with Ancient Evenings. The two had collaborated previously and Barney decided to take the project on in spite of having mixed feelings about the novel. He was drawn to the challenge of a subject rich with contradictions–drawn to the seduction and repulsion of both Mailer and his work. As the audience gathered for two short clips from the 5 1/2 hour film, Barney shrugged and gave Katie and me a shy glance.

“Nervous?” I asked.

“…a perpetual state,” he said with a smile, and headed to front of the room to introduce  River of Fundament. As the film began to roll, he walked to the back and stood partially concealed, arms around a pillar, watching the audience watching the film.

The first scene begins with the cast–including Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ellen Burstyn–sitting at a banquet table and milling about the brownstone apartment (a replica of Mailer’s actual Brooklyn brownstone). The set is arranged for Mailer’s wake and is thick with tension. The music, composed by Barney’s partner in the project, Jonathan Bepler, underscores the discomfort. The clips reveal a film where porn, horror, opera, and art meet in equal parts. By the second clip, the banquet feast has decomposed into maggot and mold covered remains. Ghosts begin to haunt, and the room is filled with compartments of action: a close up view of a woman, in an acrobatic pose, pissing on the banquet table; an awkward erection slipping out of slacks under the table; and extended, graphic views of a man performing analingus on a woman on the floor.

The tension in the audience built as the film progressed and became an integral (and I think intentional) part of the experience. The tired pose of “I’m a knowledgeable art viewer absorbing something cutting edge” rammed up against “I’m really uncomfortable watching porn with my neighbors from Brooklyn Heights.”

After the film clips, we walked to the largest in a string of connected warehouses where Barney spoke a bit about the work and answered questions. The place is an industry, and there were groups of assistants working throughout.  We meandered through the space, viewing what I interpreted as artifacts from the film work.

Chasse

Barney clarified, stating that for him, the pieces serve as independent sculptures as well as artifacts. They are distillations of narrative, and all aspects of the work are integrated. We wandered throughout the room, looking at the upside-down framing of Mailer’s house, and what looked like a lead cast of its interior. The second protagonist of the film was present in the form of an altered chassis of a Chrysler (above),  in one of its seven stages of reincarnation–Egyptian mythology and American auto mythology combined. My favorites, in terms of stand alone sculpture, were two monumental rectangles, one made of sulfer and one of salt. The latter reminded me of wandering into cow pastures in Northern VT as a child, lapping the rust colored salt licks with my friend Susan. In spite of the abundance of conceptual framing in Barney’s work, in this case there are multiple points of access outside of the artist’s particular narrative.

Barney’s work is extravagant. It’s rough and highly produced, expensive and demanding, and sometimes irresistible, at least in excerpted form. He presents a monumental puzzle—a puzzle with a tremendous amount of capital investment. The visit to his studio shifted my thinking about Barney and his work. I feel more connected to it and less dismissive of the excess. Excess is the point.  The work is a workout; Barney refers to it that way himself. I’m guessing that the point is not entertain with the 5 ½ hour River of Fundament; rather, the point is to push–to create an endurance activity in which desire and disgust, boredom, excitement, and discomfort are forced to chafe against one another until they create an experience for those who can make it through—it’s Durational Work. I’m not sure if I’ll see the full film or not, but I feel some satisfaction in beginning to understand what his work asks of the viewer—how it is intended to reflect the endurance and restraint he asks of himself. And there are worse ways to focus our economy than on an army of young artist fabricators. I’m still most drawn to the work of the hand, but my understanding of what’s possible with excess has deepened.

I was due to leave New York before sunrise the next morning, in order to make it back to Maine for a road race. My brain was on high charge and I was barely able to sleep. I lay in bed listening to city dump trucks and crunching away on all that I’d seen that day. I rose at 5:30 and hit the road. In spite of some winter weather in CT, I pulled into Old Orchard Beach in time for Jimmy the Greek’s Frozen 4-Miler. It was cold and windy and I was exhausted, but since I’d run the race 2 years in a row, I was determined not to miss it. The race was rough, and I ended up heaving over the side of a police car after crossing the finish line in 32:07. I placed 3rd out of 72 women in my age group, and given that I’m on the high end of the 40-49 spread, I’m feel alright about the finish. After the post-race party of pizza and IPA, I was ready to bring the journey to a close.

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