To Annie Dillard

What does it feel like to be alive?

What does it feel like to wake up every day and go?

Go.

Every second, constantly moving forward, constantly progressing, evolving. Never going back.

Being alive is this feeling of forward. This feeling of the push of the universe against your back and the pull of time drawing you closer to its outstretched hands. Time drawing you closer to an ending that no man has ever escaped, an ending that can never be avoided, a story that must conclude with “The End”.

And in between this push and pull is you.

Riding the wave that is created between Time and the Universe. Learning how to swim in it.

This is it.

This is the only chance you get.

This is getting the part and learning the lines and playing the role and earning your standing ovation. This is the worry that the butterflies in your stomach will come fluttering out of your mouth and replace the words that you were going to say. This is trying to have the perfect image, trying to find your character and be that person all the way through. This is the feeling of jitters as the curtain goes up, the sound of the murmurs dying, and the breath before it begins. This is the relief of the first clap ringing through the air as the lights fade to black.

This is when you run too fast too quickly and your feet cannot keep up with your body and your body cannot keep up with your mind and suddenly your mind is up and your body is down and your knees burn as they are attacked by the shadowy opposite of the clouds that you were trying to reach.

This is the dizzying, exciting, nauseating truth that tomorrow will come, and you have no option but to face it head on, you only get to choose the face you greet it with.

This is the feeling of laughter. The feeling of bubbles. This is the feeling of light. The feeling of flying or falling or floating through the atmosphere. Of jumping and knowing that you will land, but still hoping that you don’t. This is the feeling of roundness, and oneness: the circulation of blood through your veins, the inevitable next inhale, next exhale, next… inhale, next… exhale… Even when you are sure that your heart has skipped a beat and is now incapable of getting back on tempo. When you are sure that your lungs will forever have an insatiable want for air. This is the connection between the roots of the trees and the cutting of the umbilical cord – the all at once letting go and incredible need to connect. This is a cycle.

This is acknowledging mistakes. It is the feeling of those tiny pebbles of doubt or shame or guilt that keep you grounded, but that slowly erode until you know that the sand that is inside you is only a place for the water to rest on the beach, not a field of land mines waiting to explode at the worst possible moment.

This is here. And this is now. And this is next. Even cycles happen forward.

You get no choice to remain still or to go. Even when you do not lift your feet yourself to carry on, you are moved. However heavy. However light.

You are moved.

So you feel life from its deepest, most terrifyingly steep drop, all the way to the highest peak on which you are the ruler of the world.

You realize that the best performances always maintain a little bit of magic in the improvisation.

You feel the sting of the hard truth of failure every time you fall, every time you skin your knees and burn from the outside in.

You embrace every time you fly – every second in which you are airborne, because it cannot be known which will be the last. When will Time will claim its prize? When will he win the game which has always been rigged in his favor?

You let yourself float in the bubbles, right on the edge of the laughter. You live in this moment, in this bubbly eternity in which volume and sense and time and location all fade into the background and all that is left is a little round being.

You do not hold onto the rocks.

Because this collision of burning and falling, of flying and circling, of running and fading, this push and pull, this forward motion, this massive run on sentence that you title “My Life”:

This is it.

 

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Felix Gonzalez-Torres and the Function of Memory

We are made up of the sum of our memories. People define  ourselves by our experiences – we build an identity out of the past, with which we cast ourselves into the future.

However memory is not perfect. People sometimes remember things incorrectly, or forget. As we age memory can become less reliable. Sometimes a person is left grasping, looking for a date or a place or a name, some kind of marker to use as a way-finder.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres uses such labels in his art. I have experienced some such of his work in two contexts lately – a solo show at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York, and in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. These shows were understated and elegant – simple words, names, places, or events, listed with a year, painted high on the gallery walls, prompting viewers to raise their gaze, mimicking the way one looks up to try to pluck a tray memory from the air above them.

In his art Gonzalez-Torres gives hints to an identity, but not a full picture. He paints the backdrop of a character without filling in the detail – no eye color, no unique fingerprints. He strips identity and person from each other, leaving space for viewers to contextualize themselves in the work – creating and come and go space for memory – both communal and individual.

We are asked to remove ourselves from time and occupy the role of half-informed voyeur. In doing so, the intangible quality of memory is accentuated as the viewer realizes they will never have the full story. Gonzalez-Torres puts the secrecy of self on display, showing how you can never fully know someone else, no matter how absorbed into another’s life you may become.

It is emotional – seeing orphan memories only half-identified, and knowing that the art, even if only in some small way, truly does mimic and illuminate life.

Meditation

Inhale.

Exhale.

Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the way the air rushes into your body, willingly supporting you. Breathe in and feel the rise of your shoulders, the way your chest expands to make room for oxygen to fill the space next to your heart, the push of your stomach. Breathe out and be aware of the opposite process of your amazing body – your stomach and chest and shoulders all retracting to expel bused breath from inside of you.

You open and close and with each moment – open, inviting oxygen; closed, pulsing, only to open again.

As you inhale again feel how big you are. Notice your body – from toe to crown, open and welcoming and full of glorious life. Feel yourself relax into the shape of you, and the way you fit as a puzzle piece into the Universe.

Exhale and feel your stomach press toward your back. Release your breath and one by one let go of every stress you carry. They are cracking and breaking as you inhale, and they go tumbling off of you as you exhale. You feel your bigness and you let yourself be as you are, where you are.

Inside of you there is a heart that is only the size of your fist. It is small and fleshy – made of you – and it powers your stunning self – you are the thing that keeps you going. That stubborn, strong little organ runs all the blood through your veins, even when it is hurting, even when it is elated, even when it is exhausted, even when it is full of love.

Notice your pulse. This is a tiny metronome in you that keeps your puzzle piece body and soul in time to the music of the Universe.

Listen. This stillness of your being is the deep place inside you: your secret hideout. Here there is only breath and energy and love.

And still your body opens and closes. You are a conduit for energy. You are an infinite vessel to be filled endlessly with love and wonder. Inside of you that fist sized heart works and your lungs greet and excuse oxygen. Your body is still but for the expansion and contraction of your torso. Notice that feeling again. Return from that deep place inside you – through your pulse and breath and back into your big, full body.

You occupy this space beautifully. This puzzle piece is one in which no one else can fit.

Open your eyes and breathe deeply.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Lingering in the Liminal

Every so often people experience moments in their lives that are pivotal. It is often only in looking backward that we are able to recognize these instances – the seconds that bridge before and after, the exact breath of realization, the time something clicks, or when it falls apart.

These are liminal moments – almost-instantaneous times when change occurs. They are the second the water goes from simmer to boil, the first brush of skin in a handshake, the exhale of an “I love you”, the shift of weight, the spark of an idea… Liminal.

Sometimes you are able to see those shifts. Sometimes you notice the way the light morphs from gold to blue at dusk. Sometimes you catch the glance. Sometimes you sense the feeling bubbling up.

And then – in a split second turned infinite – you can grasp the liminal. You can pick out the single grain of sand from the hourglass and hold it and examine it and treasure it before, in the blink of an eye, it has passed.

So if you ever find yourself in one such lucid liminal moment, linger there.

#5: Aviano Coffee

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Aviano’s perfectly frothy cappuccino

Ryan Tedder – front man of Colorado band OneRepublic – is one of my music idols. He writes catchy songs that are so much more than just catchy songs. His lyrics sink from the ear to the soul, stirring it up and drawing in listeners. He is a poet. And so when I heard him say in an interview that his favorite Denver coffee shop is Aviano, I knew it needed to be placed high on my list of places to try.

It quickly moved from high on the “try” list, to high on the “favorites” list.

Located in upscale Cherry Creek North, it stretches the mold. Breaking away from boutique shops, organic restaurants, and chain coffee, Aviano marks its space more humbly, tucked back from the main drag and situated behind an large tree that shades patrons who choose to enjoy the patio seating. However, its distinctive young personality does not dissuade visitors, but rather invites them. At any time of day it remains busy – from the morning rush of people getting a coffee and pastry (while they last), through the afternoon crowd who sits to people watch, work, or chat with a friend before the evening falls and the shop closes.

In addition to the friendly ambiance, Aviano boasts a range of seating options – inside or out, table or stool; something for everyone. Their menu follows suit, with a host of tea and coffee options that are delicious. They offer everything from warm foamy cappuccinos to the house espresso drink called an Angeleno – a shot of espresso mixed with whole milk and sweetened with agave, all shaken up in a martini glass over ice, creating a smooth and slightly sweet drink that is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a hot summer day in Denver. The extensive menu may at first appear intimidating, but you can always count on one of the friendly baristas to approach and patiently give recommendations and explanations until you’ve found just what you’re looking for.

Then all that’s left to do is pull up a chair under the big tree or grab a seat next to the open garage-style-doors at the front of the shop and enjoy the day, delicious drink in hand.