To Know the World

“What can we know of the world? What quantity of space can our eyes hope to take in between our birth and our death? How many square centimeters of Planet Earth will the soles of our shoes have touched?”  - Georges Perec, Species of Spaces[1]


The minivan of my childhood made it to every state but Hawaii and, as my dad puts it, “all the Canadian Provinces with roads.” Growing up, summers were spent zigzagging out of Texas and out into the plains, the Badlands, the Rockies, the blue Pacific coast.


Sometimes it felt like I could see everything. Fields, mountains, driveways, birds. The car window framed the world and I was watching every second. No commercials. No rewinding. We stopped to tour a potato chip factory outside of Birmingham and met exactly whom we needed to: Don, who could smell a spud and say where it grew. His hands moved assuredly in and out of the machinery. He passed me a cheese curl hot off the line. I put it in my mouth and knew everything I needed to.

Back on the road, I felt the weight of all the turns we didn’t take hanging like the buzz of cicadas. Wondering about alleys and insides of doors, backyards and bathroom stalls, what else was on the radio. Wondering about how wide I could open my eyes. Wondering what I might miss if I closed them for a catnap.

Sometimes I feel impossibly small, impossibly slow, impossibly limited.

I go to the studio.

I shut the door.

With paper, with charcoal, I begin to draw. In drawing, the world blossoms before me.  

[1] Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (New York: Penguin Classics, 2008), 78.

Beautiful Places

When I’m feeling low on inspiration, I find it very helpful to turn to beautiful places. Yesterday, I went up to The Cloisters in Upper Manhattan. It’s a museum featuring medieval architecture and art in a striking park high on a cliff overlooking the Hudson river.

“ The Cuxa Cloister ” by  Ivan Herman  is licensed under  CC by 4.0

The Cuxa Cloister” by Ivan Herman is licensed under CC by 4.0

It feels so good to sit inside there. I love the arches of the cloisters and their peaceful sense of containment—the layering of inside and outside and inside, the layering of dark against light. In other areas of the museum, the stained glass takes center stage. I’m always awed by how stained glass can really let you see light as its colorful strokes dapple the walls, quiet and alive.

Stained glass light at The Cloisters

Stained glass light at The Cloisters