Monday, June 6, 2011

Nancy Holt's "Up and Under" in Pinsio Finland

"Up and Under" Nancy Holt Earthwork, Pinsio Finland, visit March, 201

"Up and Under" Nancy Holt Earthwork, Pinsio Finland, visit April, 2011

"Up and

"Up and Under" Nancy Holt Earthwork, Pinsio Finland, Visit May 2011, 23:45

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Sublime Actions of the United States

Watching and hearing the news of the killing of Osama Bin Laden this past week has been heartening and chilling.  Just as, after 9/11, I watched the bloodthirst swell in our nation and I predicted on 9/12 that we would be in a war with another country within 18 months, the images that are making it to Finland of the young people chanting in the streets, holding U.S. flags and shouting "We're number 1" have chilled me to the bone.
As a nation, we have been stunned and angered by the images of the youth of other cultures celebrating when they have successfully carried out a terrorist attack.  We find their celebration of the death of our leaders and our military to be cruel and unjust.  We think this because we reside in the U.S.A.
I can't say this any better than this journalist already did.

Celebrating death: Isn't that what terrorists do?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's time to start asking questions

I am an artist living at a residency in Finland for 3 months.  Yesterday, I injured myself while chopping wood.  I had to go to the hospital to get stitches.  I went to a communal hospital that doesn't have a mechanism for charging their clients, so despite having and offering my U.S. health insurance foreign emergency coverage as a means of paying for my services, they were unable to process a charge for any patient including me. 

Admission to the hospital was a one page document requiring my name, date of birth, address in Finland, a local emergency contact and a brief medical history, including allergies to medications they may use to treat me.  Though the nurse and doctor didn't speak very fluent English, my basic knowledge of Finnish and their solid understanding of basic English allowed us to have a quick and comfortable conversation about how to proceed with the stitches and what I needed to know about my aftercare.  I was out of the hospital within 45 minutes with additional dressings for my wound to take home with me. 

This hospital was in a community of maybe 500 people in rural Western Finland.  The doctor told me there are no shootings, stabbings or interpersonal injuries that aren't accidents.  The nurse told me that most of the injuries in April are related to chopping wood.  Most of the injuries in May are related to lawnmower repair and most of the injuries in June are related to fishing hooks.  The Finns go to regular doctors for preventative care, not the hospital, and they pay a small co-pay for each of the first 3 visits of the year and then they don't have to pay anymore for any visits over the rest of the year.
Except for my experience with my senior parents who use medicare for their healthcare, this was my first personal experience with socialized healthcare.  My experiences with U.S. and Finnish socialized medicine have reinforced my belief that now is the time to be asking very important questions about the direction of our country.  I am pleased to see in the U.S. news that I read each day that there are seniors going to townhall meetings to challenge their elected U.S. representatives on their vote for the Ryan Budget Proposal that would gut Medicare and cut off any possibility for expanded socialized programs.  More questions must be asked.  My brief trip to the emergency room would have cost me more than US$1000 if I didn't have insurance and I'd had the same accident at my home in DC metro area.  Even with insurance, if I had a high deductible for my emergency policy, it STILL may have cost me more than US$1000 since this was the first emergency I'd had in many years and I haven't been paying into my deductible this year
It is very important to be asking questions of the supporters of the Ryan Budget Plan, because the plan intends to remake Medicare and cause seniors to compete in hostile private markets for a proposed $15,000 voucher that wouldn't come close to covering premium costs, let alone deductibles or overages in lifetime costs.  Without a repair to provide the guarantee that people cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, many seniors would simply be denied coverage.  Let us not forget that while attempting to make Medicare into a voucher program, the State Attorneys General of Virginia, Michigan and other states are challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (derisively referred to as "Obamacare").  ACA being the only law in the land that DOES prevent exclusion of individuals from medical coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

It's time to start asking very difficult questions of the Elected officials, Democrats and Republicans.  However, it's time to start asking even harder questions of the most vulnerable among us in these proposed changes being passed through the House of Representatives by conservatives - we MUST start asking questions of the conservative voters who are voting against their own interests.

Republicans, who had supported and voted for their elected officials, are the ones standing up at town hall events to ask their Republican leaders "what will the Medicare Make-over will mean for me and my children?".  This is encouraging because they are beginning to see how the Conservatives are voting against their own interests. They might be beginning to see that the conservatives are not their candidates and will not represent their interests in Congress.  

I am watching this from a distance and feeling very safe that if I should have an accident while I'm living and working in Finland I will not be left to die or forced into bankruptcy in exchange for a basic medical treatment.  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Questions Concerning Technology

There have been many, many long talks about technology at the residency in Finland. About my technology and my failure to bring a proper power adapter with me from U.S. and about the role of technology in human existence. There are strongly held opinions in many different camps about the role of technology and how technology exists. Some feel it is this monolithic (<--- this is my interpretation) entity that has agency and power outside of human agency. There are those who feel that technology is leading to a desensitization to the "natural" world. There is my opinion that technology is an attempt by humans to build prosthetic devices that make our ability to sense the human experience in a more focused way and to extend the capacity of the human body beyond individual means. All seem to share a feeling that there is a destructive capacity in much technology and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan have made the dangers of the rapidity of our technological advances physically palpable and tearful for us.

Though the title of this was lifted from Heidegger, I won't speak about Heidegger right now. I awoke thinking about technology and the human impulse to refine their environment. I recall a story that my mother or my mother's father told which may have mixed with other thoughts in my brain to become an amalgam of many thoughts. I can't guarantee the accuracy of my recounting of the story but I'd like to share it anyway.

My grandfather worked for a company (or knew someone who worked for a company) after WWII that was making advances in metallurgy. They had created this very fine copper wire. As the Americans understood it, it was the finest copper wire ever created by humans on the planet. This was during the Japanese post WWII era when the standing army had been eliminated and the country of Japan was in a technological and economical revolution. Focusing on improvements in technology as a means of rebuilding. The U.S. felt very much in competition with the Japanese (and the Russians, etc.) during this Post War Era. So, the U.S. company that made the finest copper wire ever made sent some to a Japanese company to show the advances of technology being made in the U.S. The copper wire was sent back from the company with no correspondence. Just the wire. The people at the U.S. company felt they had really shown the Japanese what U.S. engineers could do! They believed the Japanese company had simply sent the wire back as a concession to U.S. greatness. However, someone at the U.S. company decided to take a closer look at the wire. They put it under a microscope and discovered a technological message in the wire. This was the finest, thinnest wire / metal strand ever produced in the U.S. When examined under a microscope, they discovered that the Japanese company had drilled holes in it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flowers Measure the Progress of Spring

Empathic person to empathic person, we laid on my bed last night and we talked about difficult things. We are both strongly affected by the emotional currents that surround us and we both affect those currents equally strongly. Throughout the day yesterday, small conversations hinted at the challenges our shared nature pose in our respective lives. "I must find a way to be so connected but without it becoming destructive". A line embedded in a brief conversation about something funny. "I want to be this person but I have to be careful, it can be too powerful for me at times," mentioned while one of us was getting a glass of water at the sink. Empathy means openness and empathy can mean that when we extend our complete emotional selves to others, it may absorb what is around us without boundary or limit. It may hit a wall with others, it may hit a nerve with others. Positive and negative flow in equally when one is truly open. To be truly empathetic it requires that you are truly open. A sense of protecting yourself can't be in the forefront of your mind, you must allow the emotion in without filter to begin to know the life and meaning of the other persons emotional place.

This morning, I woke up remembering something that we had discussed late in the night. Something beautiful and powerful and hard to discuss. We discussed the progress of spring. Off of the patio at my childhood home where my mother still lives there are small planter boxes enclosed with railroad ties. In these boxes there are flower bulbs that have been at that house since shortly after we moved in. I remember planting some of them. I remember planting Grape Hyacinths specifically. I was wondering last night, and wondering still this morning how spring is progressing at that house. How the timing of flowers is progressing.

First come the crocuses. They will bloom gladly after just 2 or 3 days of sunlight and 45 degree temperatures. They will bloom when even other places in the yard still hold snow because they are locked in shadows. They are persistent and tough. They come in waves, depending on the variety but always in the temperature range that feels, bodily, that winter is letting loose its grasp on the earth. Then come the hyacinths. They are the most delicate. They come before the daffodils, tulips and irises. They need something very specific, they need day and night to be more in balance than the crocuses do. Many springs skip past the 46 - 52 degree days with nights remaining above freezing and no frost that the hyacinths need and they may appear only very briefly. The grape hyacinths at my childhood home were planted just outside of my bedroom and bathroom windows. I know the smell of those flowers with my entire memory, my entire body and my entire being. They arrive on the first days when, though it is cold, you may open the windows to let some freshness in after so long locking yourself away from cold and in the warmth. The smell of hyacinth would come into my window when I would open it briefly to check the day. My rhythm with spring, to feel the air, to check the day, to see the subtle shifts in grasses once dormant, now pushing the yellow to the tips of their leaves and pulling green up from their roots, to open the window on a day of optimism that things. do. change. smells like hyacinth.
Then the daffodils come, the tulips and the irises. These are parts of spring I remember from my grandmother's garden, not our own. I know that there is one poppy planted in the front garden patch but I don't recall if we ever had the other flowers. Perhaps I don't recall because they don't have a smell. The azalea bush is planted near the poppy and always precedes the poppy in blooming. It has a blaze of color, though the plant has never really grown large, even a small burst is evident when you approach the house. The two lilac bushes sit at the corners of the front of the house. The first days that the windows can be open from 10:00 - 3:00p without making the furnace kick on coincide with the smell of lilac.

I would like to know how spring is progressing at my childhood home. I would like to know if anyone is noticing it as it unfolds and passes. I would like to assure the place that, while I am not there to notice, I am extending all of my feeling to that place, completely open without boundaries in an effort to feel the time of the crocus, the hyacinth, the azalea and the lilac. I am stretching myself toward home without reservation and feeling an acute sense of the progress of spring internal, distance from memories of spring and the subtle movements that I witnessed and took into my body as cues to teach me and to remind me that things. do. change.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tentative steps

I'll get back to Helsinki story soon but today I noticed something that made me laugh and feel a little sad. I haven't felt much like laughing for a few days, long enough that maybe I was startled by the chuckle turned giggle coming from my mouth. We had lived under the threat of imminent death from falling ice and snow that was packed on the roof and flowing glacially toward the walking path below. A person at the residency shoveled out a new path that would be clear of the death from above that was a 3' snowpack preparing to fall. The path was pushed as far from the building as possible which meant it was near the boulders that form the hill a few yards from the building. Because of its placement, it had a few small trees with whippy little branches that protruded into the walking path and would catch on your coat and poke you in the eye when you walked.

I had a serious internal struggle with what to do about the trees. First, I wanted to live and let live. It was not an ideal situation but I wasn't about to cut anyone's tree down. However, I noticed that I was mentioning the inconvenience of being smacked on the face by tree limbs the 10 - 20 times / day I would make the walk from my apartment to the main residency building. I began to devise plans that would tie the limbs back without hurting the tree. I even brought twine to my room and tested a couple of ways of tying off the limbs. The slippery surface of the limbs prevented the synthetic twine from catching on well enough to be able to tie them back securely enough to withstand a strong wind. So I took my experiment back inside. I thought of wrapping the trees with twine or fabric in an effort to bind them, just until the snowy path melted enough that we wouldn't need to walk through the branches any longer.

This morning, I awoke, after only about 3.5 hours of sleep, and decided to get to work. I went off to the woodshop to cut wood. I walked the path 5 or 6 times without noticing, or perhaps before the event actually occurred, before I realized someone had ripped the trees apart. This made me laugh for 3 reasons: 1. Either someone experienced the tree whipping for the first time and thought they didn't have to put up with that and took charge of the situation or 2. Someone was attempting to make those of us who walk this path regularly more comfortable, but mostly 3. I didn't notice until I'd walked the path several times. Number 3 is important to me because of the noticing and not noticing that occurred. Today is the first day in many days that I've noticed something funny. Today, an external event brought me to laughter. I feel sad that the trees were mangled in the process but grateful to whoever added that small bit of comfort, or more accurately, removed that small discomfort from my path.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Helsinki part 2.

We're gaining 6 minutes of light each day now. The vernal equinox is upon us and the supermoon or super-full-moon pulls unwanted currents from my emotional stream right now. Ah the balance of imbalance and presence on the earth.

I'm sitting in my bed at Arteles reflecting on the trip to Helsinki. I'm pressed flat by the weight of the heavy comforter that shields me from the silence and the cold which are interrupted only by the hissing of the radiator and now in the morning, the clambering of birds in the nearby forest. I'm looking out on a field covered in snow that I can see roll away from my window. This morning, the field is blurry and the distant clouds mix with the snowy trees and the mist in the valley to make everything shades of formless landscapes. I wonder what is causing this mist. I hope it is the temperature. I hope that the temperature is rising and this is evidence of evaporation. Perhaps the snow is finally letting loose its lock-fisted grasp on the ground and is trying to lift itself to the clouds that are approaching. It's beautiful.

I set out after lunch to find the ferry. I followed the brief instructions I was given by our server at the restaurant. Go around that building then go straight. Got it. I left the restaurant and walked around what I believed to be "that building" and didn't know which way was straight anymore. I saw what was clearly a transportation hub a couple of blocks straight down a road to my left and decided that was straight. I went there. As I approached, I saw that it was a bus terminal and I saw no sign of water or ferries. I asked two women, probably in their 40's or older, if they knew how to get to the ferry. I knew this was a dicey proposition because, though I've been assured that people in Finland speak english - even many older people in the cities - people above a certain age can be shy to speak it and both gave me looks that were a mix of startled recognition and uncertainty about how to proceed. They both told me they don't know where to find the ferry. I didn't believe them. I guessed they weren't keen on speaking english... that's cool. I altered my search parameters and sought people who looked 30 or younger. An extraordinarily tall man told me how to get to the ferry. I stepped quickly along his suggested route as the Japanese / Finnish guide book said I had less than an hour to get to the Zoo and if a boat ride was also in store I was really pushing it.

I only knew it was the harbor because of the boats. Sounds silly reading that statement but it has to do with spending time in the Finnish countryside for these past few weeks. After consulting many maps and travel websites, I see that Finland is in competition with Minnesota for the largest number of lakes. However, the country is also filled with agricultural spaces, fields cleared for grazing and growing. All of these are currently buried under 3 feet of snow. Only recently have I learned to tell the difference in tree lines and that a prolonged flatness in the snow with no trees is likely a lake. Fields gently roll.

So, when I arrived at the harbor and saw many boats seemingly planted in a very flat field of snow, I knew I had found the Baltic Sea. "The ferry doesn't go in winter". "You'll have to take a bus". He was young and blonde and beautiful as so many Finns are but I wanted to shout things that would register with clarity in every language that my meager hopes had been dashed. I became frustrated that the very tall man who gave me directions to the ferry didn't find it necessary to inform me that the ferry doesn't run in winter and that I should just go to the bus station - since I was already AT the bus station - to get the bus to the Zoo. But maybe he's not concerned with Zoo's and ferries to Zoo's. Perhaps he thought any number of things... Maybe I just wanted to photograph the exotic beast that is the Zoo Ferry of Helsinki.

I took several photographs of the ferries looking quite exotic locked in the frozen harbor and set off toward the bus station. I arrived at the station, I found the Zoo bus (number 11 line) and stood under the shelter waiting for the next bus. 45 minutes passed. There were no more Zoo buses that day.

To be continued.