time slips

Astonishingly, it’s Tuesday evening.

I’m not sure how that happened. As far as I know I returned to the desert on Sunday night at midnight. 48 hours seem like a high number, but the hours do slip into days. I’ve been busy.

It’s glorious here, fully summer.

first day of summer 2015

I’ve started swimming, although the water is still in the 60s. It seems good for my character as well as my muscles. I need everything I can get in terms of fitness, as life is full of challenges.

The pool is beautiful, the old plaster still holding the force field, patinated deep green, copper, blue. It’s 35 feet long, 16 feet wide, ten feet deep. A relic from the 1950s, when bigger was unquestionably better.

Orangelina has emerged from her sequestration, and is once again Queen of the Lurk. Her lover has been chosen; I do believe that it’s the same flash boy from last summer, the one who has a knack of disappearing when you blink.

Orangelina and palo verde

She is also enjoying the beautiful warm days, possibly she notices that the palo verde is in bloom, that the yellow flowers now cover the entire back corner of the yard. There seem to be an equal number on the tree and on the ground; the harvester ants are gathering the flowers into neat lines, ferrying them down into their underground matrix of perfectly canted rooms where they farm fungus, feeding it seasonal delights.

I continue sleeping and showering outdoors, it’s everything I dreamed it would be.

outdoor bed for sleeping

Tonight has been very beautiful, with a fat moon that ought to last until 4 am, and Venus and Mars just setting. The air is heavy with scent from the citrus trees, the honeysuckle, the jasmine, the jessamine.

The birds have become accustomed to me sleeping by their feeder, and the thrashers and quail forage around the bedskirts, the male cardinal lands on the round brass bedposts.

tucson sunset mar 31

I work and think, and garden, and work, and swim, and dream, in a haze of days, of love.
Tomorrow, video. I have a new project shipping out on Friday.

garden lights

questions, simple and complex

There are thousands of images from our week in Boston, thousands more from NYC, from the parties, the whirls, the photoshoots, the Glitterganza, the calendars…and tens of thousands of words that might go with any one of them.

I winnow the images, I sort through the people in my life.

Five to Beam Up, photo by Kyle Cassidy, March 2015

Bri Date, Kellner Brown, Kyle Cassidy, Ryan Anas and Kate McKinnon,
Eero Saarinen Chapel, MIT. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

My Love Letters project is a book about my experience of life and my delight in extraordinary, driven people who love to work, but it seems that this is not enough of an answer to explain why I am in a pilot’s uniform in a decommed radar ball on a roof, or in a ball gown under a bridge; people ask, “What are the pictures for?”

Pirate Airlines Kate and Kellner

Kate McKinnon and Kellner Brown, inside the disused radar ball on top of
the Green Building by I.M.Pei, MIT. photo by Kyle Cassidy.

After a decade of staging photoshoots, the question is becoming distracting. Does one need a reason? Alternately, must one identify professionally as a photographer or painter in order to justify spending professional resources (like time, money, or other people’s time) creating imagery?

After all, what is the point of a painting, or of the red of a roof, a glimpse of beauty?

October in Bern, painted by William K. Hartmann

W.K. Hartmann, painted from life, Bern, October 2008

What is the value of showing someone else that you find them unspeakably beautiful, or clever, or even (so simple and powerful) that you see them, that you are taking the time and spending the love and the risk to look directly at them with your open eyes?

What is the risk of feeling love but never announcing it, or of announcing love but never feeling it, compared to the risk of both feeling and speaking it? The math changes by human, by circumstance.

What new thoughts can we think, or insights can we find, when we express in different guises and examine the results? Are we different people when we are in different outfits?

I know that I am.

Pope and Kate Stern by Robin Douglas

Michael Pope and Kate Stern, photo by Robin Douglas at the epic Ten Day Party,
Tucson, Feb 2015. Finery from the Costume Closet at the Ranch.

I don’t know exactly how I’ll be using each shot beyond absorbing its existence. We make a gift of the photographs to everyone we shoot, so that is one set of uses for the images. The many personal, commercial and informative applications of experience (and of photographs of experience) are also epic and various; album and book covers, calendars, author photos, character or architectural studies, frozen moments of theater… captured pieces of time to enjoy, study, show, hang, or use later to illustrate text, to paint from, to gather together a show.

They are proof of life.

Kate on the roof by Kyle

Kate on the roof of the Green Building, I.M. Pei, MIT
photo by Kyle Cassidy, gown from a fun day in NYC with Ryan Anas.

I think about the shot below, a photo by Kyle of Trillian Stars wearing Robin Douglas at the Fashion Institute of Technology. When I see it, I remember writing the book and giving the talk and getting to know Robin and seeing her piece and I think about Trillian and Kyle and the train station and about Jennifer Goldsmith, who also came to model, and the amazement of it all.

I remember introducing Ryan and Pope to Carter Emmart over Indian food on that trip, I feel the air, I hear the sounds, I remember a kiss, a connection, the moments.

Trillian Stars wearing Robin Douglas by Kyle Cassidy

Trillian Stars wearing Robin Douglas, photo by Kyle Cassidy, FIT, NYC, summer 2014

I can use the photograph to advance the cause of the neckpiece, the next book, or the next lecture at the Fashion Institute. Kyle can use it as his own work, Trillian can use it in her modeling portfolio, the NY Bead Society can use it for whatever…heck, the FIT can use it, we don’t mind. The image is a placeholder, a memory palace, a beautiful thing, a tool for commerce, a gift to the participants. It’s a piece of art ready to be placed in service, or simply gazed at in wonder.

I coax magic, love, chances for visions into my schedule; my calendar is a living storyboard of my life; I view the boxes-and-months method of marking time with confusion, and reverence, and I paint and ornament it and I stud, salt and lard the compartments, I dream of how to make each one evince a distinct flavor: this moment, this person, that summer’s night.

mannequin at firehouse

mannequin, Torrent Engine 18, Boston, photo by Kate

I write my heart in a childish scrawl, I weep my disappointments, when I have them, into the moonlight, or into Bill’s hair. He never forsakes me, or asks me to be less full of wonder, or be more prudent with my dreams, or to limit my capacity for love.

Instead he says, “Hey! We’re in LA! Let’s go see the Watts Towers and visit the grave of Johnny Ramone!”

Bill at the grave of Johnny Ramone

photo by Kate

What is the value of any experience?

Intellectually I grasp that some people are bored with life; perhaps they are traveling in the same ruts, not loving their work or their jobs, not going up mountains, not having sex with their partners, not asking questions, not reading books, but I don’t know why they accept these living deaths.

I don’t want a life with those people; it’s easier for me (and even easier for them) if I leave them alone, and look instead for people who want to feel and see and taste and do and make and think, who are flexible, adaptable, people who take pride in having the minimum amount of gear, in doing things intelligently, asking questions, probing the physical world.

People who have positive feelings about the idea of work.

Rob by Kyle

a beautiful photo of Rob van der Hilst, department head of MIT Earth & Planetary Science,
keeper of the keys to the roof of the Green Building, photo by Kyle Cassidy 2015

I like finding the people who aren’t about the money, the title, the credit, the power or the glory. I look for the ones who know how to give things away, but also to spin gold from straw; people who take the raw materials of life and make something of them, who want to live lives of service, who are not afraid of work.

Opportunity is a living force; as Picasso said about inspiration, it’s best if it finds us busy.

Kirk at the Firehouse by Bri

Kirk hanging out at Torrent Engine 18 with Edgar Stephen Curo,
Katrina Galore, Ryan Anas, Kate and Bri. Photo by Bri

I think people who are trying to do their best are unspeakably beautiful, and one of the reasons I love staging events and photoshoots is because people come to them with the intention to be at their best; they don’t come to be bitter or to complain about bullshit.

At events, people do not perp the cold shoulders, the oversights and proprieties of everyday life. They let you touch them, arrange their hats, their globes of Venus, tell them that they are magnificent, they let you tell them why and how much you love them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.35.15 PM

Jack Wisdom, MIT, crop of a larger photo by Kyle Cassidy

When people are at an event, they are aware and attempting to present as the selves they aspire to be. They want to be loved, to be seen.

My tendencies, my predilection to love and to see, my desire for physical closeness, my foolish love, these are suddenly not seen as threatening during an event, but as in situational character. The rules of society briefly suspend; we unite against the dull moment, the unspoken tenderness, against mediocrity.

Kellner and Kirk by Bri

Kellner Brown with Kirk, photo by Bri Date at Torrent Engine 18, Boston, 2015

Photographers, cellists, pianists, crane operators, department heads, physicists, painters, poets, historians; I work with them all, but I must do what I can do, and I cannot do everything or own all of the equipment, the access, the expertise. I find the people I think are the best of the best, and I try to get them to work or to play with me, or to talk to me, or to have an adventure.

Longfellow trophies by Kyle Cassidy

under the Longfellow Bridge, checking out the Trophy Wall, photo by Kyle Cassidy

I try to be brave; I put myself out on the quivering limb, and I offer my heart, my pen, my joy, my attention; I beg moments of time, and if my timing is right, they blossom into lifetimes of love and friendship.

Handstand In Muck

under the Longfellow Bridge, handstand in the muck, photo by Ryan Anas
below, Kyle offering a wet-wipe, photo by Kate

Wet Wipe

Sometimes people find my love ridiculous, or fear that I have hidden agendas, or that I must want something, or that I am lonely. Sometimes people make fun of me when I am lucky enough to find someone who lets me love them to my heart’s content; admittedly this hurts.

A flinty female French planetary scientist said, in 1992, “Who is that woman hanging all over Bill McKinnon“; in 2015, a friend who loves me says “Kate fawns over Michael Pope.” Maybe I did, maybe I do.

If the people I extend my love to do not return it fully, it doesn’t matter. Every output is returned by the universe as a matter of physics. The whole of creation thrums and throbs, it is always available; it is a perfect mirror of my own attention, behavior, and of my expenditure of love and forward motion.

If my love is real,  energy comes back to me, doors open, blessings follow.

The physics of love is enough; it has to be, because people frankly are not; I find that their attention to love wanders, but the quivering, living everything is ever everywhere, responding, and my heart is ever (as Billy Collins says) on a tripod in a field, awaiting the next arrow.

Kate in a Hat by Kyle On A Roof

Kate by Kyle Cassidy, on the roof at MIT

I was telling Bill the other night (when we were together in Boston) that his love and his acceptance of me allows me a certain freedom in the world that I would not enjoy if he did not love me as he did; there is something about the steadiness of his love that says that my solitude is chosen; that I am not cast out nor have I cast myself out; I am human, I have a home in his arms and his heart.


I was in Boston for one blissful week. Technically I was there for Bri’s goodbye from the USS Constitution, but  I took the opportunity also to schedule the photoshoots at MIT and elsewhere that I had been plotting, and to see a performance of Shockheaded Peter with Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys.

We caught it on Saturday night, and it was genius.

Snip Snip

I made for the roof of the planetary building as soon as I got into town. Rob van der Hilst took me up for a quick safety check; I had developed a fixed idea that after three months of intense winter there might be ice, snow or water up there, but in fact it was almost absurdly warm and sunny. It was summer up there.

But still a bit icy down below.

from the roof Mar 24 2015

Since I was at MIT, I stopped by the Saarinen chapel as well, to see how the renovations were coming, if there was anything to know about access. I take these shoots seriously.

Our appointment with that location was set for Friday afternoon; they were closing the chapel for us, very nice of them. I wanted to do a few shots that treated the dais as a Star Trek transporter pad, and also lay someone out on the marble block, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful, even though it wasn’t built to be an exclusively religious space. It’s a community resource, available for anyone to request. People get married in there, they do theater. It gets a lot of architectural attention, because it was designed by Eero Saarinen.

This is a model in progress of his gorgeous TWA terminal at JFK, which I was lucky enough to have been in once when it was still swingin.

Library of Congress/ photo by Balthazar Korab

photo Balthazar Korab / Library of Congress

In addition to just knowing what was on the ground, I was trying to plan with and around the Boston weather, which has been impressive and varied. I saw two sparkling spring days, two rainy days, a beautiful snowflakey blizzard, and a bright, sunny blue sky morning that had everyone in the streets. We got lucky, everything worked.

The ceremony on the ship was memorable.

kate mckinnon and bri date by Kyle cassidy

Bri Date goodbye, photo US Navy

I loved seeing how much had genuine affection they all had for Bri and each other. They told stories, they complimented her on leaving things better than she found them, they even hip-hip-meowed her off the pier, a definite break with ceremony (and in deference to her tendency to communicate in meows or pterosaur skreeks).

Bri goodbye photo by Kyle

Quite a few of us turned up for the moment – Kellner and his dad (who is a ship fancier), Bill McKinnon, Gail Moore, Ryan Anas, Kyle. It was splendid, unforgettable.

It was good to catch up with friends, have adventures, be there for each other. Lots more photos coming… soon.

Jack Wisdom and Bill McKinnon by Kate

sushi lunch with Jack Wisdom, notes about Neptune on a napkin

family time

SO happy to have Bill back, no land can be bland when he’s around.

What Will Jesus Say

Above, Bill reading a shocking science paper from Bill Hartmann, with a stuffed Cthulhu behind him and a Morgus The Magnificent mug next to him.

B My Cutie

Sir and I, working on the video for the Flower Kit, coming out in ten days.

cast flower and sir

Evan and Liam Mar 21 2015

The boys, walking home with me from Cafe Provencal. I figure as long as we walk the mile there and back, I can have profiteroles for dessert.

kirk day

As it is William Shatner’s 84th birthday today, and St. Louis is running a fried chicken bracket, Bill felt we should celebrate with a trip to Sweetie Pie’s Soul Food, down in the Grove neighborhood.

Sir growing a new head for Bill

Sir is growing Bill a spare head, and our star magnolia has also decided to go with the idea of Spring and bloom.

star magnolia

Tomorrow, I’m off to Boston to meet up with Bri; Bill and others arrive on Wednesday, and the fun begins anew…

Trophy Guy sent me a photo of an installation he set up in NYC – I think I’ll have a chance to meet up with him at the end of my Boston trip, get some photos down under the Longfellow. Hoping! I’m so interested.

He says, “This week I’m in NYC and just set up the “Central Park Trophy Room” under the Inscope Arch next to the Central Park Zoo. Please encourage others to contribute to it!”

NYC trophy wall

the land of bland

Day 3 in the Heartland: I am pacing my enclosure, mad to go outside. I am hampered in my adjustment by having been ruined by living like a wolf for six weeks, showering, sleeping, and working in the lively peace of my garden, a place bustling with excitement, sparking with overlays of thrills past and future.

katelandphoto by Kyle Cassidy

Technically, there is nothing stopping me from going outside, except that there’s actually nothing out there. The light is thin, the air is grey, cold, dampish. There is yellow grass, more plastic fences. No street life, nobody walking anywhere unless they have a dog. There is no gardening yet; the ground is cold and hard.

I fix things that are not working; replace light bulbs, bed sheets, clean the refrigerator that will be sticky again soon. I fold the towels in the bath closet, stuffed in randomly by boys. I bead, and read, and answer my correspondence, I watch Endeavor Morse and I drink the red wine that Bill left for me, with love. He loves me so much I can feel it wherever I am. I watch the cardinals outside the windows.

I take pictures of the cats, I show the cats pictures of other cats. Here is Simon. Those are his long white whiskers in the hair of the doll in the garden; I save them as he finishes with them.

simon morning

I could zombie around the cold, empty streets and look at the beige and silver minivans and the gigantic SUVs with their impossible numbers of stick-figure children in their stick-figure families, or marvel at the often wheedling or threatening church marquees (about one per block here, with a particularly nasty one on the corner of Essex and Kirkwood that is always saying things about certain people, you know, naming names: “Jack, God sees what you are doing”, or “John, no one is fooled by your behavior.”

I ask Evan if he remembers some more, for me to write down, and he says, “If you need fresh material, just walk down and look at it, whatever it says, it’s sure to be obnoxious.” and he’s right. I could.

Or I could go count the plastic geese dressed in rotating seasonal and holiday outfits on porches (wtf?) or the so-wrong black lawn jockey statues on the lawns of the white people (wtff?) or visit the empty park, the empty pool. I could stop and talk to the teenagers hanging around Magic Market, bored, smoking, who would look at me and see only a grown-up, behaving oddly.

long yellow things

I could go to the grocery store, and see what kind of crazed signs they have, check for misplaced apostrophes. Plum’s!

I could drive to a different building, and go inside it instead. I could drive across the city on blank grey highways with blank grey walls rising along them, walls so high you can’t see over them, just greyness, nothingness, ribbons to somewhere from somewhere. I hate those tall grey walls, blocking not only noise but our sense of connection to place and to people.

I bend my head and my hands to my work, the broken-up one now in a neat little black removable cast, mentally focusing on the boys, grown so tall now. I make them food, loving them laughing downstairs; they are happy enough inside the house, happy enough in the blandness, playing games, being silly. I am soaking them in. Liam leaves for college at the end of summer, maybe to Chicago, the room that has been his since he was a little baby will become a quiet place, probably slowly filling up with Bill’s papers and magazines and journals.

Happily, Evan will play chess with me (he beat me fiercely tonight, I was very impressed) and Bill comes home tomorrow night, full of science, and Monday, I’m off to Boston, one of the least bland places I’ve ever been; I will fall headlong into a whirl, missing my sons, the math on all of this of course never once even coming close to meeting in the middle, but somehow, at a more vaporous level, all is maybe as it must be.

Look at this mysterious and excellent sign on the seat in the theater where I saw Mr. Turner (the Loft, in Tucson).

What can it mean?

It was very Jenny Holzer, next to my bag stuffed with Things.


on the move

The pipes having been finished up, I am once again on the move. Now, St. Louis, soon, Boston. It’s the same as ever to be in the Midwest in March ahead of Spring; in a few weeks, it will be beautiful, leaves and flowers are this close, but for now it’s still dull, and currently grey and cold.

I saw the movie Turner before I left Tucson (which is bursting with hot springtime) and it was incredible, I was much marked by it.

Timothy Spall did an astonishing job; the animalistic grunts and growls were perfect, but so also were the beautiful manners. Considering how deeply the interruptions of life affected him, how much he wanted to work, the depiction of the totality of his character was sensitive, kind, nuanced.

One of the things the film conveyed was how true to life the magnificence of his scapes were. He didn’t paint idealized beauty, instead, he went and found the real thing. Seascapes, landscapes, humanscapes….he went out and found the hugeness of the world.

Watching, I felt enraged (the tedious interruptions, I also wanted to kick the stool across the room) and empowered (to hell with blowhards and soul-crushers) and even more in love with the people with vision and will.

So many people seem to lack that pulsing, living drive to make work. They probably just need to be in a different place, doing a different thing, and they would suddenly come alive. Or so I charitably believe, based on my own experiences of being in vibrant, alive places with good light and good air and dull, stodgy, pale places with thin light and thick air. I pulse in the former, go dull in the latter. It’s not a mystery. And it’s tedious to pretend that it is.

A huge takeaway from the film (and from life) for me is that people who do not burn with life force and productivity should not proselytize to people who do about how they might better spend their time, or how they might adapt to a trickle of life, instead of a rushing stream.

I got lucky in my life partner.

surprises of all sorts

So the Tucson house (which I was available to come home to and take care of, having been swatted out of the sky last Thursday) is suddenly a plumbing job site at a thousand dollars a day. All of the old galvanized pipes from the 50’s that remain here at the Ranch must be replaced on an urgent basis; I knew it was coming one of these days, but it doesn’t mean that I was prepared for it. Can one ever be prepared for total disruption? Only perhaps by never fearing it, and having good strategies to handle financial emergencies.

One-story desert ranch houses tend to run the services around in crawl spaces, either below the house in a two-foot space (so revolting, so full of snakes and bugs, so absurd) or between the ceilings and the roof; we don’t generally have basements in Arizona (thank God).

Ceiling piping works until it doesn’t; I’m not a big fan of services being in places that ruin your life when they fail. Because it isn’t if with plumbing, it’s when, and everyone knows that. We should build smarter, with some eye to the future.

Smart place to run water pipes, right, over this ceiling? Facepalm, 1950s people. What were you thinking/not thinking? I just can’t stand to watch people doing dumb things on endless repeat. Which is how I get involved in everything I ever get involved in. I look at things, and say, how long has it been since you thought about why you are doing that, and what your options are? Most systems are improvable.

Personally, I like running services behind baseboards that unscrew for access, or around the exterior of a space, boxed in like an envelope house, with a veranda/greenhouse that encircles it on three sides, or a knee-high service wall that acts as a planter on top for a seasonal food garden. Encirclements keep houses warmer and cooler, provide flooding redirects, make great sense, and are cheap to add.

So. Anyway. Great ideas aside, one of the galvanized supply pipes up there burst the other day, as you might recall if you are a regular reader. There was a lot of feet of old pipe up there, rotting away, needing replacement. Thankfully I’ve got a great plumber, a guy who really understands old houses and doesn’t waste any time. A day of his time is like two or three days of another person. Carlos. I love you.

I didn’t plan on this. But it’s amazing that it’s happening. And it’s exciting – some things that haven’t worked for a while are working again. The outdoor shower has a beautiful new valve; I’ll probably never shower indoors again. The laundry room and the little bathroom down there have hot water to them for the first time in three years.

My kitchen sink has nice hot water flowing again.

tucson kitchen window

The plumbing is in for the outdoor sink, and why not; all new pipes were going in and it was just a bit of extra copper. We may as well sort them out as we like them as it’s an entirely new pipe job.

Slowly, bit by bit, things get done around here. Weeds gradually get eradicated, trees form canopies, old pipes get replaced… we’ve gone solar; we’re doing greywater on our sinks and shower. Gardens grow, soften, the lizards wake up already knowing my name. The curved-billed thrashers come dig their little holes around my feet.

Orangelina ate a worm from my hand yesterday, gently, as she does. It filled me with happiness.

first rain on the Miata

I didn’t plan for the timing of this either (freaking pipes!) but my car was in the shop this week for its annual checkup and tuneup. This time it got new clutch hydraulics. It wasn’t too expensive, though, as car repairs go. Nothing about my car is expensive, which is part of why I love it so hard.

My mechanics (the fabulous British Car Service) also love it (they even get excited about it, which is amazing if you know many mechanics) because it’s a gorgeous, original, well-cared-for example of the very first edition, 1990. And it’s actually (as you also may know if you are a regular reader) the exact car (the very one!) that would have been mine if I had ordered it new; I almost did, but just couldn’t swing it in my 20’s.

That the very same little vehicle found me 20 years later (and in perfect condition) is one of the delights of my life. I adore it, and I’ll keep it for as long as I possibly can.

I sing to it when I wash it, Roger Taylor-like.

I’ve been working like a fiend; not just to pay for the car and the pipes, but just because it’s springtime, almost summertime here, and I’m full of life. I’m doing things.

Sometimes the things I do aren’t really things I’m doing as much as they are like, hmm, course corrections … like you might turn your wheels in the direction of a skid, or lick up the edge of the meniscus quivering at the rim of a drink before it breaks, and spills.

Oooh!  Jay just said that he heard Bill McKinnon on NPR, talking about Enceladus I presume. So excellent. My husband is… magnificent. I can’t wait to see him as soon as all of this improvement is finished up. And I’m so grateful that I have him to split the plumbing bill with.  ; )

Off to the plumbing supply store I go, to get a faucet.
Good luck with your morning or your evening, your challenges, with falling in love at least once today…