Wednesday 1.27.10

"No Swimming"
NBBJ Installation
Recycled velvet, poly-stuffing, Mozart, Handel, Elgar

I am waiting for the sun to rise, sitting in the 2nd floor nook at NBBJ. The sharks are here beside me--purple light in the hall, refrigerators buzzing, elevators sliding up and down their squeaky chutes, bells sounding in succession, demarcating the vertical zones: 1, 2, 3, 4…

And then.. there’s Mozart. I sit with the headphones on 20-30 times over the course of the evening. There is a magical opening up of space. Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik” wells up in me. It makes me feel as if things are right in the world, burstingly right. It transports me to the other places and spaces and times I've felt this way. I connect these moments into a timeline. Perhaps this is a picture of my spiritual life?

Kinetic Energy

I have spent the past three days sewing and stuffing shark fins, turning my gold pedestal into a blue pedestal, searching for the perfect music to say just what I wanted to say. I’ve been tuned into the classical station, looking for sharks. I heard one the other night. When I searched it out online, I found Elgar. Elgar! I went to purchase Elgar and Mahler. I listened to Tchaikovsky and Puccini. I borrowed Handel and Mozart. I’ve been asking everyone , “Can you hear the sharks, in what music?” I wanted to effect a sort of riveting release within the mind of the listener. It wanted dark and romantic, dangerous and freeing. In the end, I selected seven tracks, works by Mozart, Handel and Elgar. I wanted to encourage a breath. What can possibly override our mass work culture? The CD is resting in its portable CD player atop a slim pedestal, waiting.

Yes yes yes

I want to give them a dream-moment, to expand their heart-visions. Where the building cinches, I want them to expand. The windows too want them to expand. And the light. And the ceiling and floor. I want to lure them in and rivet them to the spot, that forbidden place among the sharks. I want to make for them a spirit space.

The Soundtrack

"No Swimming"

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Berlin Philharmonic
1. Divertimento In D (4:56)
2. Divertimento In F (3:31)
3. Serenade #13 In G (5:32)

Handel: Water Music, Prague Chamber Orchestra
4. Suite No. 1 F Major (2:16)

Elgar: Violin Concerto, Philharmonia Orchestra
5. Elgar: Violin Concerto, I Larghetto (5:42)
6. Elgar: Violin Concerto, III Allegretto (3:08)
7. Elgar: Violin Concerto, III Allegro molto (18:54)

No no no

At 3am, I had the fins and podium arranged just so, signs affixed, play/stop buttons clearly marked. I went to take a nap in the Quiet Room. The couch in the Quiet Room is not designed for napping. I lay, sharply folded, for 2 hours, waking every half hour to see the red numbers on the digital clock. “Not yet, it’s not time yet.” At 5am, I stopped trying. I went down to the nook, to wait for the sun to rise. I was deep-down cold and reminded of my last overnight on Rainier in early spring, alone, camping on the snow, in a bivy. The temperatures had dipped to an unexpected low and I couldn’t get warm, despite the hot food and the hot water in the nalgene at my feet and the emergency chemical packs ripped open after so many years in my first-aid kit. That night, I lay staring at the clear dark sky with its clear-cut crystals. Surely the sun will rise, at some point. It’s just a matter of time. But no, it refused. I lay, hour after hour, minute after minute, counting stars, waiting. When the first light did finally appear, it was epic. It was The First Sunrise. It signified something huge, Life. It isn't often the sun Signifies in such a monumental way to a suburban girl in the city.


It is just before 7am. The first person arrives. I am silent. They walk by. They do not sit in the chair. They do not listen to the CD. Woe. O woe! A second person arrives. He greets me, but does not stop. Don’t worry, little poet, this is their routine, their daily comfort. Let them have this. Lunch in the frig, coat in the closet, bag in the desk, lamp on, computer on. Perhaps my presence near the work will thwart them? I remove myself to the opposite nook, out of view. I can still see one fin, along with the listening chair, in the reflection of the model shop window. I want to write about the piece. I want to watch the light come into the sky from here. There goes a third person without stopping. This is normal. People are used to arriving, beginning their day, without you, without this work. It is early. So much can be accomplished before 9, before the meetings and telephones and lunches. Seize the hour, you architects of efficiency! A poet must be patient. Your audience will come. When they are ready, they will come. O, but I’m anxious to know, to hear, to see. Here now, a twosome arrives. There is light conversation, a burst of laughter, the word shark is uttered. The woman puts the headphones on. It is 7:02am. Halleluja! Mozart has arrived.

The Response

I converse with my first listener. “The music is beautiful,” she says. She’s coming back for more, but later, after she gets some work done. She agrees, the nooks are too public to refresh, but they're good for conversation. I ask, then, where and how will we refresh? The sun is still refusing. It is 7:30am. The coffee machine greets the workers. I greet the coffee machine. Small, regular. I position my cup to catch the morning. I peek around the corner at my work. It delights me. If no one else sees this all day, it will satisfy me still. Here now, the first hint of light, at 7:38am. It has been a long and impatient night. The white-gray growing in the sky is in the concrete family. It goes well with the building’s skin, with the metal sunshades. If I were coming into a familiar space and glimpsed a new work of art, would I see it? I missed the portraits by the water fountains, I missed the frosted quotes on the bathroom mirrors, the first week I was here. And if I were to register this new work of art, would I stop right away to enjoy it, or would I put it off and come back when I was needing a breath? There’s no telling. The workplace is not a changing gallery that requires our eyes and ears. Work is work and home is home. These are our knowns. The telephone and computer brings in the news. As the day goes on, I overhear some comments. "We have some sharks in the lobby today. They seem to be following the blue trail." "This is it, life and death." "O? Whales!" "What are they?" "I bet this was the poet." "Love it!"


It is 9:14am. Somebody saw somebody heading for the coffee bar. Their greeting? "Hey slacker!" There it is ,that keep-it-moving attitude, that ever-leaping attitude. This is what I’m up against. Grin and bear it, sharks. Grin and bear it. This will take some time.

Tuesday 1.26.10


I met with Paula Wissel of KPLU today. She is the Law & Justice reporter for KPLU. We met by chance, last week, at Counterbalance Park during “Studies in White.” I mentioned my residency at NBBJ and she asked if she could interview me. KPLU is starting a new arts programs and Paula will be contributing. We spent 2.5 hours at my office in Fremont talking about Adopt-A-Poet, my residency at NBBJ, and about past projects. She asked some pretty expansive questions. Why are you doing this? What do you hope to accomplish? How will this help? What's the point? Do we really need this? I had no trouble talking. These were things I knew. I was glad for the chance to articulate my thoughts. It is when looking at my larger body of work that I realize what is it I'm doing, which it seems then to be one thing, one overarching mission--to live. After the interview, we walked along the ship canal to my boat. I showed Paula how I cast off in the morning. I untied and paddled around while she captured the sounds of the water. I let Paula in on a secret. I'm planning a surprise installation for NBBJ in the morning. She asked if she could come capture some of the responses. I cleared it with NBBJ and we planned to meet in the morning.


I spent the rest of my day sewing, selecting and purchasing music, seeking out items for other NBBJ projects further afield. At 11:30pm, my partner Clinton dropped me off in the alleyway at NBBJ with the materials for the installation. It took two trips to get everything to my desk. It was then I made the final selections and burned a CD, made signs and labeled the CD player. At 2am, I began setting everything into place on the 2nd floor landing. I rearranged things a hundred times and approached from every direction before getting it right. Perfection is the enemy of good. I was growing tired.

Monday 1.25.10


Spectacular sunrise, well worth the pre-dawn rise. I was headed in for a 9am meeting with Studio 18. I was to read a poem. I chose “Under a Certain Little Star” by Wislawa Szymborska. It is a poem about what can and cannot be, about the polar opposites of life and how we must forgive ourselves if we are to enjoy all the little pleasures and sensations. The meeting was well-attended, lovely and light, with a choir of informative voices all around. They asked how my work was going and I told them what I was thinking of. I asked for help with Alley 24. After the meeting, Thom asked about my rowing. I invited him to row home with me. We decided on Thursday night. In the hallway, as I am leaving, I see Rysia. I tell her I just read a poem by Symborska at a studio meeting and she tells me she is Polish. She's from Wroslaw. Szymborska is one of her favorite poets. She could have read the poem in its original. And there I was, down the hall, reading a translation! O! I tell her I lived in Nowy Sacz and later in Ropczye. We chat for a while about Poland and poetry. Someone standing nearby says he has trouble with poetry. I bring him a collection of poems by Billy Collins. Is it my knee-jerk response to troubles with poetry. Billy Collins is one of the most accessible poets I know and accessible is a very good place to start.


I have lunch with Dawn, a Principal Architect at NBBJ, yet another artist-in-hiding. We discuss many things, including Alley 24 and Dawn’s travels and her passport and the nest she built and burned on the shores of Decatur Island. My alleyway research continues into the afternoon. I speak to Laura in the library and to Jeffery at the work table and Dan in the materials department. Then, in one of the common areas, I am approached by someone looking for poems specific to suffering and healing. I promise to rifle through my archives and collect what I can. I’ve been sending poems by e-mail to a long list of friends since 1998. I call this list the "aka poetry list." Because of this work, I have a many large files close at hand filled with poetry of all kinds.

Alley 24

I take a tour of Alley 24 with Brent who designed the building. I wanted to hear him articulate what the space is meant to be and do and allow. He tells me how a 10' slice was cut away from the 1945 brick building that sits under the roof deck to expose the 1923 face of the building next door. He takes me for a walk out onto the roof deck and through the alleyway to Pontius Street. He shows me the windows and doorstoops, explains how the original canopy was adapted, how the low privacy walls separate private from public spaces. He brings up an interesting question. How do the people whose doors open onto the alley experience it? It would be interesting to talk to them. I agree. It is something I will do.

Saturday 1.23.10

Extra Credit

I came to work today. I drove a car, which I parked in a 10-hour metered spot. It cost $7 dollars. A service was just starting at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Pontius Street. I have been meaning to see this church. I passed by, then stopped and turned back. Now is the time, I say to myself. The mass is a memorial to Robert Anderson, a priest who died two weeks ago, at the age of 70. His son and daughter were playing cello and piano while their friends and family assembled. The church is creamy white as if a certain light had leaked in and saturated everything. The bulk of the building outside belies the coziness of this interior. I sat for 10 minutes in a pew before leaving. I wanted to work on the blue line. I walked through Alley 24 to access NBBJ. I have come out this way, but never in. The sensation is homier than the commercial entrance on Yale. Shaped garden beds to left and right with small round plants, small doors covered with a dash of canopy, brick walls, blinds.

The Blue Line

I wrote for 3 hours on the blue line. I met a hedgehog who does wonderful things here at night. He comes up through a little door in the floor to bless the drawings on the presentation boards. When I am lost, I look out the window. I refer to the view, to the way the line is moving, to what it's moving through. It is not fast writing. It is slow and thoughtful. I finish another 1/4 of it. I'm at my half-way point, about to come back into the waistline window. A friend meets me for lunch. We discuss ideas for an alleyway project. I feel so far still from what it is, what is needs to be. I spend the rest of my day researching these ideas. The blue line waits.

Friday 1.22.10


Ahah! My 2nd oarlock broke. While not entirely surprising, it was once again comical and action-packed. I was right in the middle of the canal, at the mouth, just like last time. This time, however, a barge was moving swiftly toward me. Hah-ah! And I was just then thinking, I’ll just work on this here, what on earth could happen to me?! The barge came, I suppose, in answer to my question. I could obliterate you in one fell swoop. I see. I scurried to the west side of the canal with my one oar and tied to a dock to roll the sleeve off of my oar and replace the lock.


I met Saaduuts Peele at the Center for Wooden Boats. He is their current artist-in-residence. He is Native American. He was wearing a beautiful sterling silver necklace with a turquoise stone around his neck. He told me about his work at the CWB, carving dugout canoes. They are gifted to various tribes once they are finished. He was a long tall slow man with generous amounts of glossy dark hair. One day I plan to come back and watch him work. I have seen the dugout boats in construction under the gazebo, heavy and long, roughly chopped.

The Truth

This morning, I sat in on another critique. Fascinating process! Very big picture. Questions arose such as: What do we believe? How can we tell the truth? What is the truth of this building? In the afternoon, I struggled again with the alleyway. What does it want? Was is its truth? I am determined to work this weekend, to approach the blue line again while the workers are away. I am wanting to finish it in one fell swoop, much as that barge this morning deigned to finish the poet, whoosh.

Thursday 1.21.10

I had trouble waking up this morning. I way overdid it yesterday. When I finally rolled out of bed, it was 10am. It was 11 before I got on the water. I'm in my kayak today, using an entirely different set of muscles. They feel terribly similar to the muscles I used yesterday to row one-oared though.

I spent an hour on the blue line today, then worked with Laura in the library to search for information on the neighboring brick buildings. The buildings, now a historic site, once housed the Richmond Laundry. This area of South Lake Union was once filled with laundries. Laura was extremely helpful and turned me on to History Link, The University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections and the Lake Union Cybertour. I printed the info out and continued searching online until after 8pm for laundry-related arts and performance projects.

When I row home, it is dark outside, which is both peaceful and romantic. Little red lights line the lake, on dock-ends and houseboats, showing its contour. I have a headlamp, which I secure around my torso so I'm visible. Sometimes I forget it though and am a dark thing on the water, just part of the night. Legally, a rowboat isn't required to have lights, but all the crew boats have pinpoints of white light on their bows. This evening, I had two boats and a broken oarlock to contend with. Happily, I was able to swap out my broken oarlock for the new stainless one without much difficulty. So silvery! I think the moonlight will befriend me. I had to roll a 10” rubber sleeve up and off the oar to get the old lock off. It took a little wheedling, but I was eventually successful. Then I tied my kayak to the stern of my rowboat and towed my little red teardrop home. When I made the red nun #2, she scolded me. Look up, you fool! O the stars. O the quarter moon. O the white contrails! I could easily see Orion, Sirius, Taurus, Gemini, Pleides, The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. Ah, I needed scolding. I did a lot of head-back rowing with my face to the sky. What a night!


Wednesday 1.20.10

The Blue Line at NBBJ - Photo by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle

A Strict Schedule

Having to be at work at 8am, I pushed off in my rowboat at 7. It was going to be close. I’d have to concentrate on smooth strokes and be quick about tying up. Just out of my slip, half way across the canal, my starboard oarlock broke. oooO? And hmMmm. I wonder now, am I going to be the kind of poet who scurries back and gets in a car, or am I going to be the kind of poet who keeps going, with one oar? Adventure calls! I tried a few methods, even lashed the oar with a bit of rope to the holder, but that only chewed up the wood which splintered off in strips. I resigned to standing up and flipping one oar back and forth, right hand to left, overhead. A new fencing move. A heavy baton. My arms were already tired. O thank you still waters. What queer questions I fielded that morning from rowers in the lake. For some reason, there were lots of rowers about today. Perhaps the calm water were calling them. One says to me, “Where are you going?” I answer, “The Center for Wooden Boats.” I wasn’t anywhere near it, by the way. He replies, “You’ll make it.” How wonderfully hysterical! Later, a crew of gray-haired men in a skull, call out to me, “How come you don’t use the other oar?” What fun. I tell them, “I’m rowing creatively.”

Site Visit

I arrived at NNBJ at 8:30 and not 8:10am. I have missed my party. I quickly sorted out the necessary equipment and whereabouts of the site and walked off to 5th & Harrison hoping to connect with the IRIS team for a visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With a few questions to the right people, I am suddenly there, in a trailer with the crew. It’s a miracle! Grease soaked donuts in a white box on the table just out of reach. No way was I going to ask for one, but o I live the hungry life. After a few competently-handled RFIs, we readied for the tour and set off to see the hot spots. I felt a little dizzy between the work of the week & the work of the morning, not having eaten & needing sleep, but I hung in there and leaned, when I needed to, against the steel-studs. O glorious building. O curve!


I attended another lunchtime presentation, this one about the changes in LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. It wasn't a wildly exciting talk, but the information was needed by those who attended. The lunchroom talks are inevitably accompanied by PowerPoint displays. I spend time thinking about how the images work with and against the the verbal information. How else can an image support, deepen and further our speech? Are they simply visual fires, offered as a focus point, not to distract but to pacify us? Is this necessary? What does it make up for?
After hearing the whole of the information, I wonder, is the intention being lost? Is this innovation for innovation's sake or are we truly thinking? How does a certification program encourage thought? How does it discourage thought? My thoughts as I walk out the door are: Where is the tree? WHere are the birds? When does the river bend? I go off with confusing thoughts. I'm excited to learn more about The Living Building Challenge and troubled to think that until recently you couldn't collect rainwater from your roof to use for flushing your toilet and in many places it's illegal to hang your laundry. It seems sometimes as if we're taking the long way to what making sense.

The Blue Line

In the afternoon, I found my place on the blue line and took up my white crayon. Being tired, it took a lot longer to pick up threads. I spent much time looking out the windows. A fine response.

Photo by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle


Landlocked, I stopped into West Marine on my walk home and purchased a set of 2¼” stainless oarlocks. I have no idea if they are the right size or if they match the material on my rowboat. I can’t quite say what my airlocks are made of. I must be living in a dream.

Tonight is the night I clean a friend’s house. O, woe, o. I must persist. $40 is $40.

Tuesday 1.19.10

Writing the Architecture at NBBJ - Photo by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle

At 10am, I arrive at NBBJ & begin to write the architecture. I start at the front door and work my way up to the south wing. The waxy blue paper around the crayon & the white stick itself leave a miniature mural in the crux of my hand—-a mottled blue sky. How lovely. It’s the only contrast I have at times to the concrete all around. Writing with this tool, at this angle, for this length of time, is hard on the forearms. I ice my wrists at night. I’ve started taking Ibuprofen. The rowing along with the writing are saying, let's see now, here is a muscle. Have you ever written a 7 hour letter? It calls for a nice long bath.

My Architect

I watched My Architect before going to bed–-a wonderful portrait of Louis Kahn and a significant self-crucifixion by his son. In 3 distinct places, I see how it fails because of the son’s pride & need & closeness to his subject, but I was glad for the time with architects who knew Lou and were able to talk to his character, for the people who praised him & taught his son to quit looking for a father and let him be just a power of the people.
Photo by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle

Little Water - Lake Union

Back in the rowboat again. It begins with a bucket. Bailing. A red bucket. Until there’s less than a quarter cup. It’s good to be back in the boat. Dry & clear, atop the water. What a treasureful time! And what do I see? I see tugs pushing tenders into dry dock. And sleeping boats in rows. And floating cranes. And gulls. My favorite sailboat, red and white, is a pilothouse named “Metaphor.” I ask the same dumb question of it everyday. What’s a metaphor for? I carry on— What’s a petit four for? What’s a semaphore say? Where is Dumdledore’s door? What gives a gramophone tone? I am upon buoy #2 then, a lone old nun, to whom I give leeway and sing: Two is the loneliest number since the number one. I go on and on, sometimes to the number seven, with rations in rowboats and short and long planks. By then I am dockside at the CWB and ready to pound the pavement to NBBJ.

Monday 1.18.10

The Blue Line at NBBJ

I confess. I did not row to work today either. Wow. I did not even go to work. My, my! What’s gotten into the poet?! I’m still recovering from Saturday. Seriously. I fought the urge to go into work all day. Let it go. When I finally forgave myself, I was able to realign my goals. What do I need? I need rest. What do I need? Materials to work. What do I need? Space to think, time away from my desk. There’s soooo much coming in, from all directions, and it’s glorious, but I need a few hours in the shade. So today I gather supplies. I went to Artists & Craftsmen, Fred Meyers, The Goodwill and Lighthouse Coffee. A long good coffee is a tool too, a tool for thought. My nervous system was flickering & twitching all day. I made the right decision. Go eeeeeasy, little poet. Finally, at around 6pm, I felt like I might be improving, regaining balance. After a meeting on Capitol Hill & an airport drop-off, I went in to NBBJ. Sure it was 9:30pm and everyone was gone, well everyone but Terry. He was at the window, looking out and waving, when I came up the alley. Hello, Terry! He’s working late again. He's the one who outstays me in my area. I came in tonight to lay blue tape. I wanted to get the work done, to keep from disturbing the peace during the day. I wanted to leave the fun work for the morning. I took time to explain to the cleaning crew. Well, I'm just going to leave this long blue line on the floor everywhere. It's an art project. Niko told me about the ghosts she’d seen. She told me she read the columns. She told me about the ideas she has for an art project. Do it, Niko, do it. I went away once for supplies and came back. After 4 cups of tea and 1500’ of tape, I pulled it off, the last bit of tape, and said, “I’m done.” It was 2:30am. I drove home & fell into bed.

Saturday 1.16.10

Studies in White was a space-inspired, independent, unpermitted, outdoor winter art event I conceived of and coordinated with a friend, Danae' Clark. Whoosh!

Permission Granted

Who gave me permission? I like this question. Several people asked. My response was something like this, “How dare you wear those shoes!” Really now, who gave me permission!? My park gave me permission. It came to me and said, “You must come work in me. Make me a study.” Why would I deny such a thing to a beautiful park with such clean lines? Studies in White took place at Counterbalance Park from 9am-9pm. It was a joy & a pleasure & it offered real satisfaction to me. And that’s important. But I overdid it of course and woke up ill on Sunday, throwing up and unable to take any liquids. I slept for a day and a half then and was finally drinking water in the wee hours of Monday morning.


Friday 1.15.10

Testing the angle of repose of fortune cookies on a glass table.

I confess. I did not row today. I got a ride into work. Hah. It was god-awful raining and had been for days. I decided to take it easy. Eeeeeasy. I knew I’d be working outside for 12 hours on Saturday and it was likely to be raining then too. They’re predicting flood rains this weekend. On Saturday, I’m curating, filming & performing in a full-day, rain or shine, outdoor event in Lower Queen Anne called Studies in White. Only I would invent such a thing, with so many unknowns, so few payables. Will we be thrown out? Will it rain? Will there be witnesses? I have no idea. All I care about is the opportunity to prepare and carry forth a study. All it needs is my desire and energy and I’m in charge of that. I want to investigate the difference between a study and a practice or performance or improvisation. What makes a study a study? Have I ever conducted a study? Could I handle one now? A friend suggests that everything I do is a study. Hmm. I consider how that might be true.


I was invited, this afternoon, on a formal tour of NBBJ with Kelly Griffin & Ashley Widman of Studio 33. They are introducing a group of University of Oregon design students to the company and I was invited to sit in on the tour. Fantastic! I learned that the beautiful, neighboring, brick building that the roof-top deck sits on, used to be a laundry. That lends great information to me. I begin imagining. They explain the concept of the alley and its current intentions for this group of users. I question the results and wish to challenge them. The visiting students are completing degrees in interior design. They are all women with great hair and square glasses (to maximize their fields of vision), genuine leather shoes, dressing the part of the designer so well, in a flounce of ruffles, a mix of textures, good dark career grays. You’re all hired!! The most surprising thing about them is how much pizza they are able to eat. Students still. Later they will learn to eat at their desks, get a Bumblebar from the healthy vending machine and work on.

A Warm Place

In the afternoon, I got to feeling cold and tired and lost. I didn’t want to be at my desk. I was on the verge of several projects and needed a warm place to think. I didn’t have my laptop to port about, so I collected my notebook and pen and went looking for a place. I was eager to move forward, but with so many ideas I needed time to sort things out. I went to the Great Steps. I'd spent time there my first day, but found today they were too close to the shoreline. No, I needed a dune. I looked into the nautical nook on the 2nd floor landing. Too airy, too streamlined for my mood. I could hide in the library—if only it had a big armchair! One day I'm going to bring in an afghan, if I had a cat I’d bring it in too, and sit in one of the chairs in a nook and say, “Look at me. I’m taking a break. I’m sitting in a nook and I’m reading a book and it’s ok.” Someone needs to say this. Creative people neeeeeeeed to flush the buildings out of their minds from time to time. Lift their eyes, leave their bodies, seek and see peace, you know. But where?


I linger at waistline windows, question the passersby. Where do you go to refresh? When you need a break, where do you breathe? The smokers, I know where they go, shhhhh, to hide, but the breathers? I don’t know. I don’t think they do. I think they stay. Don’t they need a place too, time, air, some shade between the bright spots? It’s not like there aren’t places, places here to sit. There are. There are lots of little nooks. And chairs. And end tables. But it’s another thing to say you can, you should, sit here. I won’t look at you and think, "Slackergirl." I'll look and say, "Damn, I should do that, take a break." Studio 54 called a dance party at 4 o'clock. They announced it over the intercom. I was working hard at my desk. Writing. I’d go down soon. But I didn’t. I kept working. The party was over before I got up. Life. Next time I’ll go. The party is short, the work day long. What’s my job? Jump on opportunity.

I had a beer in the hallway with a couple of architects at the end of the day. I asked them questions. What does this space need? Someone said they wanted to put herbs in a box on the roof-deck. What do you want? They said they didn't know, they’d have to think about it. Do, I said. Then we talked about the look and shape and size of NBBJ, not of the building but of the culture. It’s a construction too.


I make a list to describe this slice of life, architects. They are a slim, fit, fashionable, white, short-haired, leather-shoed, dark-framed, angular, bespectacled, quiet-spoken, exact, um-free, word-ready, pen-toting, conference-loving, beardless, watch-wearing, balding, softly gesturing, alert, focused, visual-thinking, paper-rolling, fair-minded, inclusive, feet on the floor, short-nailed, idiomatic, quick to rise, unpainted, textured, achieving, coffee-drinking, multi-layered, code-referencing, questioning, jovial, witty, answer-seeking, process-defining, right-handed, price-getting, cost-cutting, assumption-breaking, athletic, referencing, prioritizing, detail-staving, recommendation-seeking, paper-hungry, pleat-panted, benefit-listing, disaster-ready, suggestion-offering, ruler-pointing, always-improving, aesthetic-weighting, cost-weighing, ok-answering, settled, professional, ring-wearing, straight, married, self-monitoring, pin-pushing sort of people.

On Foot

After work I walk home, the long way, posting notices about my event in cafés, on telephone poles, around Counterbalance Park.


Thursday 1.14.10

Sketch of First Thursday Critique

Hunting for the Soul

I went for coffee with Hao, an Associate Architect, this morning. We had a thoughtful discussion about what’s missing and what’s refreshing and where æsthetics start and stop and what interfaces we’re using and why. Hao wrote his thesis on spirituality in architecture. He brought up the idea of a building’s soul, something I’m thinking about too, then he mentioned the worth of a koan and the shaman’s role in Hmong Culture. Shamans retrieve souls for people who are ill. I asked Hao about his favorite spaces/buildings in Seattle or elsewhere. His answer: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I gave him my list of Seattle favorites and tried to determine what it was about them that affected me so and what they had in common. Each have as a main component a shared ritual of procession.

My List of Favorites Places & Spaces in Seattle

St. Mark’s during a Compline Service
Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University
Panama Hotel in the International District
International Fountain at Seattle Center
McCaw Hall (Seattle Opera) when the gates are blue
Labyrinth at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lower Queen Anne
Bhy Kracke Park in Lower Queen Anne
Fremont Peak Park in Fremont
Floating Village/Studios at 764 Summit Ave E. on Capitol Hill
Residence on Palatine Ave N in Fremont (b/w N 43 & N 42)
Residence at 612 NW 41st St. in Ballard
Small fountain at corner of W Galer & Queen Anne Ave

Hao and I struggled to understand what made a structure/space honest? Is honesty tied to purpose and meaning or is it tied to place and function? I wonder, would what we consider freedom be, to another species, fickle or false? The barn swallow or fire ant larva make the nest they do out of the materials and need at hand. We are free of all that. How free? Is this freedom at odds with truth?

Hmong Culture

In Hmong Culture each person is thought to have several souls. The main soul is reincarnated after death while another soul returns to the home of the ancestors. Another soul stays near the grave of the deceased. The souls of the living can fall into disharmony and may even leave the body. The loss of a soul or souls can cause serious illness. A soul calling ceremony can be performed by elders within the community to entice the soul home with chanting and offerings of food. [Wikiepedia] I imagine a corporate soul hunting ceremony. I imagine a corporate soul calling ceremony. I imagine a corporate soul healing ceremony. None of them look like a company picnic or retreat. They look more like a long walk backwards through the building, from the basement to the roof deck, into ever corner, with every worker present and moving in a line. Where is the soul of NBBJ? How many are there? One? Three? 350? I've been asking, "Where does the soul of NBBJ reside?" I've gotten some interesting answers, but not a one has mentioned a physical location.

The Poetry Columns

NBBJ has a lot of built-in collaborative spaces where it's hoped employees from various departments will meet, interact and cross-fertilize. I don’t often see people sitting on the Great Steps or in the comfortable chairs in the waistline windows. Chance conversations do, however, happen with frequency in the coffee/tea bars, in the lunchroom and on the second floor landing.

Poetry Columns as Collaborative Space

They draw people in.
They provide a shift in thinking.
They allow the viewer mental pause.
They provoke immediate response.
They provoke aftershock comments.
They linger creating spatial and textural relationships.

The comments and stories people shared with me afterwards weren't about architecture or about the function of a column, but about their vivid past experiences. The columns provided a spark to rekindle a moment long past when something similarly disruptive arched over their world and made things possible--that time I was on vacation, that time I was stuck in the airport, that time in which I was similarly energized and open and receiving.

Rowing to Work

I call them puffers, but they’re coots. I saw one this morning. Hullo. And up popped a cormorant's head, like a periscope, slicing the water. The usual gulls and crows and the rhythm returning.


Wednesday 1.13.10

the clouds were gray moods
falling into space
leaving a hope of color behind
a float plane on the eastern shore
brought a star sailor home
there’s a brief moment in the a.m.
when things transfer
world to world
travelers come &go
&the sky is a sieve

Document Set Organization

Drawings are how architects visualize and communicate space. They contain instructions to builders and act as cost explainers and tools for meeting design requirements and for client and community review. I’d seen the oversized books of drawings splayed out on conference room tables, groups of architects and structural engineers huddled around, pointing with red pens and rulers. The books held some mystery, I knew. I’d watched the movement of the men and women in relation to the books and listened to their language which seemed to issue from the book. I'd seen all the eyes in a room lift and return to it, but I was ignorant as to the detail and depth of the book until Duane, a Principal Architect, took me for a 2-hour tour through 4 volumes of drawings and their specifications. What a thrill to zoom in on the plans with a pro. We flipped through page after long page of instructions to landscape and building architects, civil, mechanical, electrical and acoustic engineers, elevator and concession consultants. As the pages flew by, the building grew, layer by layer.

World View

Here lives every conceivable view of the project, flattened and bound, in one place—the floor plan (God’s eye view), the elevation (from the front) and the section cut (sliced through). Here too are the dots and dashes and hashes that convey concrete, glass, dirt and guard rail. And all the bugs, those little numbers in ovals–-hear them scribbling through the halls and scratching at the doors–-going to schedules, interior elevations and enlarged plans. I got excited when Duane touched on aesthetics, the ideas behind the buildings, their intentions and social functions. Between floor plans, I asked him questions. How do you think our brains have changed since we started using auto-cad? Do we have a decreased ability to arrange and hold information or are we free now to use that brain power in even more complex ways? He suggested, as a potentially positive result, newer generations might have an easier time thinking in 3-D, then he mentioned a different kind of shift, more in the nature of the work. Producing drawings used to a visual-based activity in which the hand was busy and the mind free. Now the commands are verbal and architects must sit at their computers keying in dimensions. This moves the architect from a social space to a solitary one, which means fewer loose networking opportunities. What happens to a profession when its nets unravel?

The Sound of a Building

I hadn’t considered whether or not an architect could hear the space they were designing. Duane says that when he gets to the point where he can hear a space, he knows he’s making good design decisions. What a lovely dimension to add, sound. It makes sense that our hearing turns on as our visual confusion dies down. Isn't that what meditation is about, letting go and simply sitting in the moment? On my row to work, there is a moment in which I begin to hear, distinctly, the music of my oars. It is then I know I’m in the rhythm of my row, my day, my lake, my way. When it’s wet, the oarlock guards say “unh-huh.” When it’s dry, the locks turn and say, “ticktack.” But I only begin to hear them when I'm done with the noise.


After our meeting, I helped Duane transport the documents back to his desk. We carried them folded on our shoulders, like sails in a shipyard. I lingered, then, at a waistline window. The news there is terrible. It’s completely overcast and raining. My mood is tied to that window, that view, that weather. The windows are tall, very tall. I’ll be subject to this later. But it’s never, almost never, as bad as they say. The night is often warmer or brighter or more magical than predicted. You just never know until you're in it. What's going on in that window, in that relationship? Is there doom in that view, in that separation, or is it misinformation or exaggeration or a form of resignation?


Tuesday 1.12.10

Little Epic in the A.M.

I cast off at 6:30am. Persistent rain. Just out of the marina, I intercepted a crew team and chase boat. I rowed a few strokes, neck in neck, with the team. We said hello and laughed. There were 8 of them. They took me in 4 strokes. Crippled by a hood, I twisted to see a monstrous object to port, a tug pushing a 50 meter barge. Thankfully, I was profiling the western shore and was astride the danger. I had with me a hood, a headlamp, a cow-neck sweater, rubber boots worn at the toes and a pair of Grundens. I needed a wool cap, a clip-on light, a round-necked sweater, in tact rubber boots and a pair of Grunden’s. I am getting more and more waterproof, but I'm still leaking in places. I follow the forecast these days. 48 hours of rain is predicted with steady winds. Can’t say as I saw the sunrise.

Early Meeting

Consistently, I am the first person to the meeting. What does this say about architects? They're busy people. After a very nice introduction suggesting me, the poet, as an NBBJ resource, I read a brief poem by William Stafford called Ultimate Problems. I thought it especially appropriate to the process and level of detailing of the meeting, but when I was through, all of the faces in the room looked at me, waiting, unmoving. Was that the end? What was the meaning of this? Would there be an explanation? I did my best to elucidate and explain why I’d chosen it, but huh? This alerts me to the need to carefully weigh the time of day against the abstractions of the poems I am choosing. Unlike the previous day, I did not come with extra copies, so the room was left wanting perhaps. New rule: always bring copies.


Today, I sat in on a meeting and saw a charette go up. Last week, I was introduced to the term and taken in to see the end result of a charette, large-size, graph index cards, marked with words and phrases, in red, blue, green, orange and black, neatly organized in columns and pinned to the walls. It’s basically a design exercise, visual brainstorming, used to develop solutions to design problems. I sat in the post-charette clime, writing a response.

a model ear

down in the model department
there’s a renegade craftsman
grafting ears on the buildings
in which direction
do you suppose this one’s turned
towards the river
or away crosswind
to the earth or sky
once a model’s got the hang
of detecting sound
what do you suppose
it wishes to but cannot
filter in what ways
do you suppose
it changes
must it respond to
all the cries for help it hears
who will graft
as self-protection
a shoulder
for it to turn
what simple living systems
become its own
what weathers lights
prevailing winds
perhaps the one
they trundled out
as i came in
was an old model
i did not see its ear
instead i saw a riddle
how many farmers does it take
to change a light bulb?
you know these days
when a boy &girl marry
instead of raising barns
they topple silos
the world’s a backward place
&the land strewn
with cylinders
windows go round &round
instead of up and down
o that silos should regenerate
but anyway you look
up or out
a tube’s a tube
they help us see
the moon &mars
&carry maps
i’m going up
the ladder cage
to whisper something
in an ear


Monday 1.11.10

Chalk Poems

I spent my afternoon making chalk poems on the columns at the heads of the stairs, level 2 and 3. The day before, I’d printed a few articles on columns and looked up famous columns in history. At first, I was waiting to know more about columns, about these columns, but then I realized I had the chalk and I had the ladder and the only way to get to know a column is to go up to it and say hello to it.

The result was, I think, about my relationship to the whole, that is to say the column’s relationship to the building or the associate’s relationship to the firm. If the free space owes itself to the column, the free space ought to ask it, How are you feeling? I see you. I rest a hand on you. What do you desire? A moment? A moment like this?

Studio 5

In the morning, I attended a Studio 5 meeting. I wish I’d brought William Carlos Williams’ poem, The Great Figure, inspired by Charles Demuth’s painting The Figure 5 in Gold. They would have liked it. Studio 5 is the healthy group of professionals who meet under the stage on the south side of Level 2 every Monday morning. Their work is 90% health care and they seem to get a lot of work. I read The Cucumber by Nazim Hikmet to them. With all the rain and lack of color, it seemed crucial to bring a thing of color into the room, to imagine how it might transfix us and color the air. After my reading, someone recalled "Bring Your Dog to Work Day" and smiled, remarking on the poet-in-residence, "It’s an interesting place, NBBJ!"

Saturday 1.9.10

After a film class and a quick de-installation of a previous project, I came in for a few hours to get caught up with my writing. I’ve been struggling to manage my time. There’s so much I want to do! I have a tendency to create poetry in the round, but I want equal time to explore it all in writing. Then there’s the need to document this and that and, O, for a few more hours! It being a Saturday at suppertime, I saw no one. The building felt colossal and quiet, but not asleep. I get the feeling this building does not sleep. The lights in places winked on and greeted me. Hello, Poet. Hello, Conference Room. Hello, Poet. Hello, Hallway.

Friday 1.8.19

Face Time

I spent my morning working around the north end of Level 3, handing out Matchbook Poems. It gave me a chance to find out what people do and how they feel in their space. It took 2 hours to get through this much, just under a quarter of the company. By 11am, I realized I hadn’t eaten and retreated for supplies.

Efficiency in Design
As I wander through NBBJ, I’m struck by the sheer efficiency of the building. Nothing left to chance. Everything tidy, clean and useful. Things are either being used or being cleaned to use or are sitting at the ready. There are no impediments to forward motion. If people wanted to, they could just as easily jet about the place with propane packs on their backs. I think the building would keep up. A few clean-edged things are being ported about, up and down the stairs. The air sounds as if it’s being clean too. But what to do here, with my urge to niche, hole up, dirty, humanize, give texture to, make intimate, mar, soften? What to do with all these lines? I spent time hanging over the banister. I spent time on the stairs. They spoke to me. They said bulges. They said bread. They said blueberries. Melons. Dirt. Grass. Hay. Clay. Mud, paper, velvet, chalk. If it takes the quantifier "some," we want it.

What's Your Plat?

Laura, the librarian, was in and gave me a comprehensive tour of the NBBJ library. O la! I was shown the old plats of Seattle and the books on art and architecture and all the periodicals. I checked out 3 new books and have reason to come back.

Rowing Buddies

I told some of my friends I’d row them home if they wanted after work. One took me up on it. She lives in Fremont and works in Pioneer Square. So Kate shows up at 5pm, in full regalia, rain pants, jacket with hood and boots. Did the wind or rain or falling night deter Kate? No. She’d even brought a headlamp. Smart Kate. I, on the other hand, after 3 days of fine weather, had told myself, forget the boots, forget the extra jacket, the emergency poncho. What are the chances you'll need it tonight? Lighten up. So there I was, in a suede jacket with canvas work pants and leather shoes. Hah! I was drenched through by time we made Fremont. I raced to my office and took an extended hot shower. This is my most recent hard lesson in being prepared.

Thursday 1.7.10

Image by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle

The purpose of the rooftop garden is:
1. to distract (but the door is heavy)
2. to expand (but the rails are strong)
3. to command (captain my captain)
4. to invite (but O the weather)
5. to pretend (to a ship, a farm, an island, a state of mind, a democracy)

A Day of Corporate Meetings

I had 3 meetings today. How accomplished I feel! How well used! How well distributed! I was part of a brainstorming session mid-day, which gave me a fabulous appetite for imagining in 3-D. I got to peek into those big floppy books with lines that make one feel as if I they were a little plastic figure, legs in a permanent lunge, stuck to a base. Moving through the white spaces, I realized how square the world is. Where will the green things live? Where is the warmth, the heart? What is happening here? Where is my refuge? To where on this page will I drift—the center, the pockets, the fringe? Must I hide in myself? And what of the ceilings? Must I imagine? You can live on a ceiling, you know, if it’s nourishing enough. Think of the New York Public Library! I know, these are only lines on a page, only paths. But what if someone were to break the line, we all know there are fence breakers in this world, would we learn from it? And what would we learn? What is impossible and what is determined? What is imposed and what is offered? Would we learn?

Wednesday 1.6.10

The Conference of the Birds - Photos by Sean Airhart/NBBJ Seattle

I took a sack of sunflower seeds, an ink stick, some white paper and 4 brushes to the roof deck. I wanted to invoke the birds. I filled the wooden cover of my sumi-e set with the seeds and stood back. With very little prompting, they came. White and black birds, some with long beaks, some with hunched backs, some were tiny, some were slow moving. There were 30 or more in the flock, flitting about the bamboo, on the ground, among the slivers, discovering slow winter bugs.

Workplace Design: Strategies within Business Organizations

At noon, I attended a continuing education presentation offered by Arnold Craig Levin, who’s defending his MBA thesis. Pizza and salad were served and meant to be consumed during the presentation. I wonder if in Europe, where Arnold is taking his degree, it is standard procedure to mix food with business in this way?

I listened closely and heard Mr. Levin say if design and strategy are not linked, the intended result will not come. I wonder then, what are the limits to what a design structure/space can do, all by itself? Nothing? I imagine a grotto when I see the depressed, circular lawn in front of the Seattle Courthouse. All by itself, this space does something, I think, but what? What does it truly do without our shared history, myth and language? Perhaps it does nothing. Only put a person in it and they will give it story, story based on story, based on story... that will sprout new meaning but hark, hark back to something.

Rowing Home

An occasional reckoning, a backward glance—To port! To starboard! Watch ouT!—closer and farther from our supposed destination. With swervy allowance, we go. It’s easy to see your flaws when you’re looking backwards. Where have I gone? Is it where I thought I’d go? Does it matter? O, how filled with direction I was this morning. How focused. How seldom I considered the dangers of my single-minded going. The goal! The goal! How, in this model, does one learn to trust? How does one mistake their way to new destinations?

I am rowing, that means working backwards on the water. It is dark when I cast off. I come into a rhythm. I learn to trust the way is clear. The wind ruffles the dark water. I look to starboard and see I am on a carnival ride. A swarm of clouds plays on the water. I'm on a condensed and curdling Milky Way. I look ahead, which is really behind, and see I’m not going anywhere. It’s all a joke. I’m stuck. And this work I’m so seriously pursing is nothing. Hah! A muscle in my left hip plucks itself.


Tuesday 1.5.10

My Commute

At the outset of this project, I'd hoped to find a way to row to work. Lucky me! NBBJ is in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle so I'm able to row from Fremont, where I live, across Lake Union to the Center for Wooden Boats. The awesome people in charge at CWB have agreed to let me dock there for the month. I'm heartily hoping this daily commute will seep, no, soak into my project. Exactly how, I cannot say and do not want to. I only know that it is good and it is what I want. I have long been a believer that how you get there affects what comes next and that monumental living is available to us all through a series of daily decisions. And, if we find there is no opportunity for monumental living in our daily decisions, or if we find we want even more such opportunities, we may step back and re-program our lives. For, at the very outset, we decided these things. Things such as where to live, how to get to work, what sort of job, what matters to us, &c.

For me, I find things happen on the water, so that's where I want to be. And perhaps I want to feed this fantasy I have that being a poet-in-residence in a global firm is only reachable through extraordinary means, as if feet couldn't reach it, as if wheels wouldn't find it, and only a secret passage across a misty body of water could get me there. NBBJ, the island. A story such as this imbues my commute with weighty stuff.

So at 7am, on Tuesday morning, my first day of work, I successfully launched my rowboat into the misty, mild, darkness. It took a while to get situated with oars and weight and layers and light, but once I had, I stopped my oars and took in my surroundings. It was then I saw the red and white streaming edges around the darkness in which I sat. No one but me, no birds, no lights on the water. In ways, I felt completely safe. I was invisible. From this place, the sirens whirring down I-5 looked inconsequential, a little comical even. I moved on, quick to find a rhythm. After 40 minutes, I arrived on the southern shore and tied to a floating dock. In a pavilion at the head of the dock, a man was jumping rope. Tick, tick, tick, tick, like a radiator warming up. Does he know where he is going?

St. Spiridon

From the CWB, I walked up around the interstate to Aloha to Eastlake to Yale Street past St. Spiridon. I was early for work and so crossed the street to see this bonbon of a church, with its 7 blue flowers growing up like wild chives from a brick garden, bright blue doorways peaking up from play hinges. The whole thing looks so lightweight, as if I could lift it off the ground on my own. I saw on the church board there would be a service in the evening. Perhaps I would get to see inside?

Indeed, as I passed St. Spiridon on my way home, a black iron gate was open and there, inside a covered doorway, were seven brass bells which caused a twinkling in my eye, so I went in to ask, "Do the bells ring?" "Yes," said the man, “And if you stay you will hear them.” I took a seat and waited. While I waited, I watched a man move from relic to relic, signing the cross and putting his forehead and lips to everything. The room was full of relics in glass cases. His movements were never ceasing. Here again, the streaming around the darkness, not unlike Aurora & I-5 buzzing around Lake Union. When it was time, they said, “Come.” I followed them out the doorway.

The Ringing of the Bells

7 brass bells hang atop one another, each tied with rope to a wooden frame. 4 small bells on top, 2 large in the middle and 1 large alone at the bottom. The bells are connected by a system of rope pulls. I was given a pair of headphones as each man took a rope system into his hands. The first pulled the right side of his rope, 3 times in succession, then he pulled once more. This time he let the bell ring for a long time. After an equally long pause, he rang it again and again, 10 times, allowing the fullness of each ring to go on and on over the Cascades. Then came a rhythm, with a right-left tug. Then a 3rd bell was added, with a right-left-up tug. Then came the small bells. The 2nd man was in charge of these. He made a busy overlay with a right-right, left-left, right-right, left-left, 2 rings for every ring of a large bell. I stood by swimming in the vibrations until, sadly, it all ended with a final pull of the large bell. But now I know what I know. The difference between a bell and the sound of a bell. It is not that a bell sounds, but that there is a bell to sound, an object, and a hand to pull it, to set it ringing. It's that the two of these things are tied to this same meaning, not just present, but fulfilled in it.

Working at NBBJ

I met Kay this morning, the main operator at NBBJ in Seattle. Kay sits in the glass entrance at a tidy table by a paper chandelier. Kay and I have the same initials, aka. She told me about her favorite NBBJ projects, the new U. S. Court House in Seattle and the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. NBBJ has a strong advocate in Kay.

Christian Carlson met me in the lobby and showed me to my desk. Soon, we were off on a tour of the building. So many smiling people, sharing information about projects, inviting me to meetings. We peeked into the model shop, the library and mailroom, then went for lunch. After that, I was on my own. I wandered around taking in the lines of the building. I’d come purposefully unprepared with materials and ideas, so as to allow the space and place and people to influence the direction of the project. As exciting as that sounds, it’s hard to fight the pressure to know and be producing. Idling is not my forte.

No, I needed to do something. I went to the library and checked out a book, Archetypal Architecture. I got some tracing paper and began copying architectural terms, switching back and forth between fonts, print and cursive. I filled 4 pages this way and painted color blocks on the middle of each. I find it easy now to read poems from these pages. By referencing all cursive or all print or by reading words from the color blocks, I can easily make poems. I used this new tool to set the outgoing greeting on my NBBJ telephone.

After some time on the Giant Steps, I went to the lunchroom and looked out the west-facing windows. There is a strong sense of the nautical. Opposite NBBJ is a building reminiscent of a seaport with a red brick face. Metal lamps hang on loose wires between buildings and a metal gangplank sits over an alleyway leading to a roof deck where narrow garden beds tack back and forth into the wind. Lifelines stand protectively around the edges. I wonder, do birds visit? No, I am told. Not yet. Perhaps the bamboo is too young, the dirt too fresh, the lines too defined, the neighbors too tall, the insects too skinny.

My desk is in REV (Studio 81) on Level 3. I sit near Jane and Jacob and Mother Bernard Gosselin. Mother Bernard whispers to me. "Dear neighbor," she says in a hush tone, lips barely moving. Some things she says with her eyes. "I approve. I approve of your softening agents. Take these tulips. Take this cilantro. Use it. Awaken their senses." Her face is fixed in white vinyl to a concrete column. Christian told me about Mother Bernard. Text in her hand writing is wrapped around St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA. "Dear neighbor, I pray that you may find light, joy, and consolation."