POV: Presence.

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV focuses on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories.

I tried acupuncture for the first time recently, spending an hour in a brightly-lit office, discussing sleep and stress levels and the color of my tongue; then, another 30 minutes on a bed in a dark room, my body a constellation of thread-thin needles. A tiny lamp, burning orange, shone on my toes.

As the pins went in, I recounted past needle encounters gone wrong, and my unfortunate tendency to faint post-puncture. “Meditate,” said the doctor, most certainly reading my mind. “Your thoughts may drift, but just remember to breathe.” An assistant switched off the foot warmer, draped me in a blanket, and shut the door.

Dutifully, I focused on my breath. But not a minute passed before I was trying to figure out what time it must be, picturing the clock on the door counting down the seconds. I thought about the 78-degree weather in the next day’s forecast and the final sentence of a freelance assignment due that week. I wondered whether paper invitations were a worthwhile wedding expense. I studied a vent in the corner of the ceiling and asked myself what would happen to the needles in my legs if I went to sleep and let them fall slack.

The assistant reappeared. “That was 30 minutes?” I asked. She told me that it had in fact been a little longer, then set to work removing the pins. The light was back on, buzzing.

One of my earliest memories is being picked up at nursery school, and telling my dad I hadn’t slept at naptime. “I was thinking instead,” I said. “What about?” he asked. “Wars,” I answered. “And hospitals.”

Later, when I was a little older, I remember going on field trips with my elementary school classes—sitting in plays, wandering museums, shuffling single-file through the kitchen of the local bagel shop—and using the time to daydream. If something didn’t hold my attention, there was a never-ending queue of other things to think about.

Many years later, my ability to focus has improved. But there are moments—regularly, every day—when I find I’ve tuned out what’s in front of me. A stranger at a dinner party may be talking and I’ll come to the terrifying realization that I haven’t heard a word they’ve said. Reading on the subway, I’ll reach the end of a news article having read the first line but skipped over everything else. Sometimes, still, I daydream through plays and movies, absorbing nothing of them.

Of course, there’s nothing special about this. Everyone gets distracted; it’s healthy—and healing—to daydream. But I notice these small daily allowances now more than ever—now, when it feels imperative to stay awake, to hear others, to read the words and understand the full story. It’s made me realize how easy it is to drop out of the present. To find a way out of engaging with what isn’t easy or immediately attention-grabbing. To miss things completely: strings of words, entire stories, precious opportunities to lie down and breathe deeply.

My fiance, Rob, and I took a trip to Aarhus, Denmark last year, arriving on a Sunday in mid-November. The day and a half prior had been frenzied. A nine-hour delay out of New York, a whirlwind stop in Oslo, and a mishmash of wintry weather made for a weekend that seemed to represent a microcosm of the year leading up to it—exhausting, full of joys and frustrations, and over in an instant. The first day, I barely left our hotel room. On the morning of the second, I went for a walk alone while Rob, a musician, rehearsed for a symphony performance at a nearby concert hall.

With no international phone plan, there were no calls to take, no texts to write, no breaking news to read. Instead I hobbled on cobblestones, drank three cups of coffee in three different coffee shops, and met the people who made them. I ate the world’s best lunch—crumbly, caramel-y cheese on the densest, stickiest bread imaginable—plucking the crusts from the plate as the waiter came to retrieve it: “Wait! I’ll take those with me.” I read a book. I thought of things to write about. (In fact, I planned to write this piece there, and then, as always, the time flew.)

Later in the afternoon, I slipped into the concert hall to watch the last hour of rehearsal. I felt a very particular kind of happy, awake to my senses and a little overwhelmed. I’d feel the same way months later in New Orleans, licking sugar off my fingers to the tune of a lone trumpet, and again, more recently, catching up with a crowd of familiar faces in the sunlight at a friend’s art opening. But in that moment, in Aarhus, none of this had happened yet. There was only this humming hall and its glowing, wood-paneled walls.

The symphony was playing sections of the same piece over and over with Rob conducting, standing on his toes in polka-dotted socks.

When I was younger, ignorant to the bliss of music without words, I might have daydreamed it all away. Now, alone in the audience, I was convinced I could hear every note.

You can find my previous POV entries, here. Thank you so much for reading.

Many Voices.

In belated celebration of International Women's Day (but also because it's never the wrong time to recognize creative women), here are snippets from conversations with five inspiring artists I've been lucky enough to interview.

1) Arpana Rayamajhi, Jewelry Designer, New York City

Photo by Anna Rose

For The Weekender (translated to German): “I’ve always made things, and ultimately, the reason I do what I do hasn’t changed. It’s just that the language I use to talk about it has gotten a little more sophisticated. When I was younger, I would say, ‘I do this because I love it.’ Now it’s, ‘This is a medium for me to connect with myself and the world.’ In ten years it could be something completely different.”

2) Nicole Katz, Director of Paper Chase Press, Los Angeles

For Sight Unseen: "Being a manufacturer in California is important to us, now more than ever. We live in a state that’s approaching a $15 minimum wage, has some of the most stringent environmental and labor laws in the country, and supports a huge immigrant population—my family included. These are values we care about and that we live by."

3) Carla Fern√°ndez, Fashion Designer, Mexico City

Photo by Ana Hop 

For Freunde von Freunden: "We want to prevent the extinction of Mexican crafts. My clothing is very fashion-forward but if you look at how it’s made, you’ll understand that it has traditional roots. I’m always thinking, how can we allow these people, who do such amazing work with their hands, to keep their skills?"

4) Megan Eaton Griswold, Owner of Little Moving Spaces, Jackson, WY

Photo by Jenny Pfeiffer

For Architectural Digest: "I wanted to make something small and affordable, yet give it a style we hadn’t seen in a yurt before." (Griswold on her Wyoming yurt, which boasts "the lattice structure and mobility of its traditional Mongolian counterpart, but also a porcelain stove, Michael Anastassiades lighting, and a kitchen built using 800 pounds of Carrara marble hauled in by sled on a trail she forged herself.")

5) Carly Jo Morgan, Furniture Designer, Los Angeles

Photo via the artist's website

For Sight Unseen: "I spent most of my life identifying more with men, which I grew to realize was more out of my own insecurities. Something has softened in me, especially since becoming a mother, and now strong, inspiring women are flowing into all aspects of my life. The sisterhood is deep."

Many thanks to these women, and all the many others I've had the pleasure of interviewing over the last few years—your stories continue to inspire me.

All Day Drifting.

I’ve been trying for weeks now to write something on the subject of paying attention (and trying, also, not to let those weeks turn into months). For that reason, I was all the more charmed to come across Accidental Haiku, a 2009 project by artist Lenka Clayton that’s a true testament to the value of looking closely.

Outlined here, the project features pages from an anonymous diary written in the 70s, in which Clayton found several instances of unintentional haiku (rules of the form include the “use of three [or fewer] lines of 17 or fewer syllables” and a seasonal reference).

This isn’t the first time something like this has caught my eye (see: the spines of booksGoogle autocomplete, Times Haiku), but I’m grateful for the timing of this particular find—and the happy reminder that there’s poetry to be found everywhere, even in basements that need cleaning, in trips to the hairdresser, in snow on just another winter day.

More art in the everyday:
-Leeks / love
-Coincidental captures 

See more from Lenka Clayton, here.

Moon Lists.

The holiday rush now behind me, I've realized that again, several weeks have passed in a flash. I spent most of the last four with my family in California, doing everything we typically do this time of year: watch home videos; rummage through boxes of old photos; indulge in our signature rotation of classic Christmas meals and my mom's virtuosic Japanese dinners, which feature dozens of familiar dishes she (and we) grew up eating. Around the holidays, as always, there's so much of the past present.

2017, as I mentioned here, passed in a blur. This year, I'm making it a goal to focus attention on paying attention—and I'm very happy to have found inspiration in Moon Lists, a site created by writer, editor, and fellow FvF contributor Leigh Patterson. Inspired by a project by photographer Sam Abell, Leigh asks three women every month to reflect on the past 30 days with a short series of questions.

I've particularly liked entries from other writers, like Stephanie Madewell, whose experience of nature last April was punctuated with birdsong:

"...the staccato hops of a woodpecker moving deliberately up and down the trunk of the cedar tree; a swallow flying across the sky, wings out, then in, a swift and joyful looping like writing in cursive with a calligrapher’s pen; the racket of wings from a pair of doves kicked up from the brush; songs and calls in the trees, more and more all the time."

Or Marion Seury of Paris, who stumbled on a breathtaking read in June:

"...someone forgot the book 'à ce soir' by writer/journalist laure adler at my place. she is a marguerite duras specialist and you can feel an influence on her writing i think. a very personal and emotional book. I read it straight. It shook my heart."

Or Su Wu of Mexico City, who received a thrilling call in May:

"I’m pregnant, my best friend said into the phone without hello, and I yelled, holy fuck, on the street in another country. Some guy turned, rushed over and asked, are you okay?, and it was a new kind of joy for me, a whole joy running headlong into kindness, and I said, I’m okay, and really, more than ever this month, I was."

Each year seems to pass quicker than the last. It's easy to forget what happened a week ago, or three months ago, or twelve. I don't like the idea of holding on to the past, but I do like the idea of finding ways to preserve the moments, images, tastes, sounds, smells, and interactions that are the tiles in a year's mosaic—and that make reflecting on the past an act of staying alert, awake, aware.

This makes me think of something my dad wrote the day after drinking a 75-year-old wine in honor of his 75th birthday: "It took me back. And forward."

Find all of Leigh Patterson's Moon Lists (including those excerpted above in their entirety), here. Photo by Emily Johnston.

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