Tilke Elkins


This is a long post, so first the short version. In the last year: I started working full time and am adjusting to that. I’m glad to be working towards my MFT licensure, but uncomfortable about how it pushes my relationships and other projects onto the back burner. My marriage gets better and better, despite this. The company I work for goes out of business so I get part of the summer off, and I get the exact same job (family therapist for US Marines & their families) with a new company.

And for the year ahead: I plan to continue this work, taking good care of myself, dance with Reanna every night, as promised to my friend, Tilke, in her “How to be a Real Artist” workshop, get in best shape in 5 years, and learn how to treat myself and Reanna really really well while working full time.

October: I started my year out at Farm & Wilderness, VT, staffing and teaching a really fun psychology project at Not Back to School Camp. As is traditional, I got really sick, but this time it was from a waitress in Rutland, not someone at NBTSC. I recuperated while visiting Ethan & Susannah, also in Vermont. Back in Joshua Tree, I started working out again (SERIOUS style), planted my first winter garden, fixed some electrical and plumbing problems in my trailer, and started setting up a private practice. In the process of hiring a supervisor, I found out that in California, unlike in Oregon, I cannot do my internship in a private practice. So I started looking for work in a local clinic.

Looking out over Woodward Reservoir from my cabin at Farm & Wilderness

Ethan, cataloging NBTSC lost & found in his library

The famous Quodlibetarian tub

Reanna

Reanna at Playa Del Rey

Ollie, a year ago

Ollie & Pap

Gabe, Damian & Maya on the Hwy 62 Art Tour

Trailer at sunset, looking south

November: I move into a new computer, archive my years of audio journal entries, and learn Sketchup while applying for and getting a job at Morongo Basin Mental Health: providing free, confidential therapy for US Marines, veterans, and their families. In what would become a series of small-town coincidences, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in decades worked there, saw my name on the interview list and sat in on my interview, interjecting stuff like, “Oh, yeah, good answer!” Nice way to interview. The manager of the military program assured me that the our contract was solid for at least two years. That’s about how long I need to get my hours for licensure, so the job sounded good–no chance of having to ditch my clients like I had to in grad school! I spent the rest of the month getting in as much time with Reanna and my family before starting full time work.

Rainbow over the Bartlet Mts

Maya & Ollie in hammock

Ollie helps Nana Honey cook

Me & Reanna

December:  My 93 year old Grandpa Bob gets really sick, and I get really sick taking care of him. I was pretty sure he was going to die. He had pneumonia and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in his life. It took me weeks to fully recover. He eventually recovered, too, but I’m not sure he’ll ever fully recover. He’s been on antibiotics off and on ever since and is progressively less mobile. It’s got me thinking a lot about dying–how I can support the people I love when they start having a hard time taking care of themselves, and how I want to die when my time comes.

I start at MBMH, reading 40 hours a week of protocols. I have Christmas with family in Joshua Tree. My brother Damian starts a weekly evening with family, listening to an integral Christianity lecture and meditation that turns out to be a presentation of integral theory to Christians, rather than Christianity to integral thinkers, but valuable nonetheless.

Reanna & Christina, Xmas

Reanna & Maya, Xmas

Ely, Christina, Pap, Ben, Rebeca, Xmas

Gabe, Ely, Ollie, Christina, Xmas

Reanna, ukulele, heater

Ollie, bundled up

January: I get my first paid vacation ever–one week off, fully paid by MBMH. Weird, pretty nice. I write my first attempt at a comprehensive political statement. Reanna and I start a three-month experiment with a strict “paleo” diet, which mostly means we cut out sugar and grains from our diet. The theory is that human adaptation to grains and refined anything is shallow at best. I also start cooking Mexican food (the paleo-friendly recipes) from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. I love it. And Reanna loves eating it. I start learning to play Reanna’s ukulele. I play and sing “Amazing Grace” most nights for a month. Fun!

I’m working full time, which I’ve never done. It’s not my favorite schedule. I had to let go of most of my projects. I started building a solar batch water heater in the fall, for example, that is still not finished. The schedule has simplified my life quite a bit. Work all day, spend the evening with Reanna. I gained more respect for my friends who’ve been working full time for decades and still manage to write some music or read books. I’m ramping into a caseload, though, and am seeing seven clients a week by the end of the month.

My endurance training is going great by this point. Mid month I got my heart rate up to 179 bpm without hurting myself. Very exciting.

Smiley and Gallant visit

Reanna in our clean, cold kitchen

Dinner’s almost ready. (Photo by Reanna.)

Grandpa Bob turns 94

Me in therapist costume, with Ollie. (Photo by Reanna.)

February: Full time work continues. I get trained in the Trauma Resiliency Model, which I find very cool and useful. I re-up the trademark on Abandon Ship. I feel sad that I can’t write music with my brothers right now, but have plenty of optimistic plans to do so… Reanna starts designing our future house, another exciting project that I have to watch from the sidelines. I love watching her get super deep into a topic like this, though. She is now the resident expert in passive-solar-optimized-very-small-house design. We start car shopping, too. We need to be independently mobile in Joshua Tree.

Trench. Hose feeding trailer finally to be buried.

Reanna & treehouse near the Mexican border

Ollie, Damian

March: I’m up to 16 clients at MBMH and I’m fighting for mastery of the intense paperwork load. The clinical work is going great. My supervisor is good, I am fully engaged by my clients, and I get to see a good variety of folks–kids, adults, families, couples. The paperwork is fairly unpleasant, though. Mental health providers that get government funding spend a huge amount of time and energy creating and maintaining a paper trail for their work. These clinics get paid based on the work they claim to have done and then various agencies can audit their files and take that money back if a box wasn’t checked or a T wasn’t crossed. I spend my first very late day at work in March, trying to catch up on paperwork. Reanna is not happy.

Highlights: A great lecture by Bruce Perry, planting my first spring/summer garden, endurance training going great (I work out during my lunches at MBMH), meeting the Transition Joshua Tree folks. And Reanna. Reanna is wonderful.

Lowlights: My truck fails smog and I begin what becomes an expensive debacle trying to get it to pass.  I start having sync problems with my Mac that I am still dealing with as I write. I start working on our taxes on weekends. Reanna is Canadian and that makes our taxes super complicated and somehow even though we hired a professional we ended up owing big fines.

Abandon Ship cover art, for the TM folks. Art by Tilke.

Damian & Ollie in old billy goat pen, future garden

Me, just having sunk the garden beds. (Photo by Reanna)

Reanna planting pepper starts

Ollie

Ollie & Reanna take the trash out

Ollie & Reanna rest in the hammock

April: I find out that Morongo Basin Mental Health has decided to go out of business after more than 40 years, at the end of June. That’s quite a shock and less for me than for the many decade-plus employees I work with. At home, our three months of paleo is up and I feel fine, as I have on just about every diet I’ve tried, but it clearly had not solved any of the problems we’d been tracking for the experiment. And I am sick in bed for a week for a third time this year. Reanna’s parents arrive for a month long visit. I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like, but we get in some fun events (like the Morongo Basin Conservation Association’s “Desertwise Landscape Tour” and Transition Joshua Tree’s Water Catchment Workshop), good talks, good swimming.  I get trained in sand-tray therapy by my supervisor, Richard Gray, which I find quite useful.

Reanna preps cholla buds for dinner

Family dinner at Damian & Maya’s (Damian with Bugzooka)

Doug & Kathryn up San Jacinto

May: We get a great little car, a gift from Reanna’s parents. It gets 38 mpg unless we use the AC.  At work, emotions are high and rumors are flying around. I try to avoid it as much as possible. My coworkers are mostly looking for work with great intensity. I decide that I will chill instead, concentrate on my clients, and do what I can to get my job back with whatever company picks up the military contract in the summer.  Meanwhile,  something is eating my garden. My weekends and after work time is often spent critter-proofing.

The highlight of the month by far is meeting my new nephew, Julian.

Julian in sling

Ollie in work gloves

First scorpion of a scorpion-rich year

June: I’m at 21 clients at the beginning of my last month at MBMH. The management has had me continue taking new clients but I’m starting to get nervous about it. It’s starting to look like my clients will have a significant lapse in services, and it pisses me off. I write people in charge at the county and local journalists but no-one can say how long it will take to get the military program back up and running. I know I’m fine. I can look forward to a full season working at NBTSC if things go badly. It sucks, though, that my clients are just getting dumped. It’s screwed up. I just have to set them up as best I can for the lapse and do the tons of paperwork to close their charts. Meanwhile, my co-worker, Jackie, introduces me to Candy Crush, which starts sucking up the cracks in my schedule.

Highlights: Jonathan & Ayako’s wedding in Idaho. Motorcycle safety class with Reanna. And being married to Reanna, of course.

Living room pano: Ely, Christina, Julian, Ben, Rebeca visit

Ben & Julian

North end pano from on top of Reanna’s sewing RV

Ayako & Jonathan, getting married

July: I’m unemployed again, but within two weeks I get interviewed by Pacific Clinics, the company who got the military contract that I’d been working for at MBMH. It looks like I’ll get the job based on the reputation I’d made for myself in that position. That feels good! It means I’ll miss most of NBTSC this year, too, for the first time in 14 years.

Reanna leaves for OR to do prep work for NBTSC and I delete Candy Crush from my phone so I can get some things done: install AC in our trailer, create an outside pantry, build a greywater cistern, make a front step for the trailer, get my motorcycle license, and a few other things. Satisfying. Then I fly up to OR to work the Camp Latgawa session of NBTSC.

Reanna hangs our laundry while I goof off with the camera

Cistern in progress

Julian & me

August: Finish at NBTSC (wonderful, as usual), and spend a few short days in Eugene at an NBTSC leadership summit, then back to Joshua Tree for my last week of unemployment. I completed some last-minute landscaping and plumbing projects, built a dry toilet and installed a weather station, then started training at Pacific Clinics in Arcadia.

At the end of August, Reanna got back from her travels, and we started shutting down all lights and electronics at 8pm and just hanging out until going to bed. This was lovely. We usually laid in the hammock outside, talking and looking at stars. The desert summer evenings are really, really nice. Especially with Reanna.

My advisee group, NBTSC Camp Latgawa

Ely & Julian before dinner

Reanna & Ollie, downtown Joshua Tree

September: I start making contact with clients and by the end of the month I’m back up to 7 clients. This is exciting, and it’s nice to be working with some of my old co-workers from MBMH, and the new crew at Pacific Clinics is an entertaining bunch. Working full time again limits what I can do in terms of projects, but I manage to put a new roof on the old goat pen/the new outside pantry, go visit Quail Springs permaculture farm, and start building a new composter with my 2-year-old nephew, Ollie.

At the end of the month, I have my first birthday at home in many years. Usually I’m at camp. It’s nice. My family threw me a little party and I’m glad to be here, even though I miss my people at Farm & Wilderness.

Yes, Ollie wants to help build the composter!

Rain Event, 29 Palms

With Reanna & ocotillo, on my 42nd birthday.

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While Nathen is away at Not Back to School Camp in New Hampshire, I, his lonely fiancé, am trying to keep myself busy and in good company. To that end, I moved in with some friends of ours, Nick and Tilke, for a few days.

While I was staying there, Tilke and I talked a lot about colour (or “color,” as I might start spelling it after I get my green card). Colour is a lifelong passion of Tilke’s, and she is in the midst of revising a book she wrote and illustrated on the topic as well as writing the syllabus for a workshop called Experiencing Color.

Tilke's backyard studio

While talking to her about her workshop, I started to describe my own challenges with colour: Since I started making quilts a couple years ago, I’ve struggled with figuring out how I want to put colours together and have realized how little confidence I have about colour. When I do hit on something I like, I mostly don’t know why it works. I described how a few days earlier I’d been in a fabric store trying to choose a few solid colours to buy: when I went for my favourites, the ones that caught my eye –fuchsia, emerald green and bright blue– they looked terrible together. When I tried to narrow my choice down to two colours that I thought of as complementary, the connotations seemed all wrong. I ended up leaving without buying anything.

Plant-dyed fabrics, books about colour.

So here she was, someone trying to figure out how to teach people about colour, and here I was, a real, live colour novice with a hunger to learn. We went to look at her fabric stash and talk it out.

Tilke has a very distinctive colour palette that anyone who knows her would recognize, a family of colours she uses in her work and surrounds herself with. She described the way that certain colours in her family support or “bridge” other colours. I noticed as she moved fabric around that she mostly grouped her colours in sets of three or more. She agreed and showed me how adding a third colour can add a subtlety and depth that you can’t get with two colours.

I started to get a feel for what she was saying. I tried putting together my own set, choosing first a turquoise I liked and then adding another blue, a mushroom, a brown and an orange until – magic! – I had a group of colours that looked great together.

“What if you couldn’t have this one?” Tilke asked, and took out the orange. So I shuffled things around and brought in new colours until I had another set I liked. We talked about the importance of arrangement (which colours are beside each other) and proportion, looking at paintings and photos around her house for examples. Later we played a game with her new “colour library” of fabric samples, where we challenged each other to take the worst colours (eg: neon peach or drab burgundy) and make them beautiful by combining them with good supporting colours. Very fun!

I was so inspired that I started “editing” some patchwork pieces I’d sewn together a year ago that weren’t doing it for me: it suddenly seemed obvious which colours weren’t working, and taking them out made a big difference.

My quilt project, before and after colour editing.

We also had great talks and I got to try out throwing around medicine balls with them in the park (Ooof. My hands were too shaky to keyboard afterwards). It’s so fascinating to peer into – and join in on – other peoples’ lives like that. I’d like to do it again some time.

Tilke Elkins, my favorite living painter, has her first gallery show and it is great. It’s open for one more week, until July 22, so you can still make it if you live in Oregon. It’s at The Voyeur in Eugene, 547 Blair Boulevard.

I may be biased by my years as the marketing director of her magazine, All Round, by my many more years living with her as she used our house as a gigantic art project, and by my even more years as her friend. (Plus, she did the album art and most of the photography and fliers for my band–here‘s an example).

I do not believe, though, that I am biased because of any of that. I’ve just had the great fortune to have spent so much time drenched in her aesthetic. I am not one of Abraham Maslow’s visual “advanced scout,” of superior sensitivity to color and form. It takes me a while to really appreciate an artist. I’ve had that time with her and it has really paid off. Tilke, on the other hand, is an advanced scout. When I am in doubt about a visual decision, I ask her and can trust to find her correct, eventually.

Photographs cannot do justice to her work–to my eyes, it seems to glow from the inside–but here is a shot of the gallery, to give you an idea:

Art by Tilke Elkins at The Voyeur, July 2011

Also, Tilke is starting an art school in Springfield, Oregon, this fall. She’s offering three classes:

Experimental Drawing Techniques and Materials: Tilke paints with natural pigments, many of which she makes herself, out of rocks and plants. She also paints on found materials.

Art for Synesthetes: This may be the first art class for people with synesthesia, whose senses behave quite differently from other people. (See my post on synesthesia here.) Tilke has synesthesia and it is part of how she works.

On Being a Metamodern Artist:  I have no idea what this is but it sounds intriguing. Check the “art school” link above for more information.

My friend Tilke sent me a link to this short film depicting synesthesia, writing “This is what it’s really like.”

Folks with synesthesia experience what those without it might call a mixup of the senses–seeing sounds, feeling colors, that kind of thing. The most famous way synesthesia shows up is with the alphabet: A synesthete might see letters in different colors. It’s not that they associate colors with letters, they will actually see an “N” as inherently brown, for example, or an “E” as red. Numbers can have colors, too. Imagine how different your experience of reading or math would be if words and equations had color schemes!

At first I was fascinated by synesthesia in terms of what might cause it–maybe it’s the result of incomplete synaptic pruning, for example. In a lecture by Dr. Ed Awh in his Cognitive Psychology class a few years ago, though, I realized that synesthesia is more like a super power than a problem. Here’s a slide from the lecture:

 

Difficult, slow search for most of us, because we have to look at each digit to determine whether it’s a 2 or a 5. A synesthete with colored numbers does not have to do this, because color is what cognitive psychologists call a primary-search quality. Differences in color jump out at you. Imagine the same field of 2s and 5s, except the 2s were blue and the 5s were red. You could pick out the 2s immediately, like I saw Tilke do. A superpower!

This is a version of the old “stranded on a desert island” game. I’m pretty sure it was my friends Tilke Elkins and Kyla Wetherell who invented it. It was a popular conversation for a while back at Suntop.

If you could eat only five species for the rest of your life, which would they be? You get spices, salt and water for free. You get the species that you choose in unlimited quantities, fresh, good quality–perfectly ripe, if applicable. You also get everything that species makes. If you choose cow, for example, you get the dairy products that come from cows, their meat, and whatever else from them you might want to eat. (Brains? Some folks eat cow brains, right?)

Here’s the list I made back when we first played it. I’m considering revisions, but I still think it’s a good list. What’s your list?

oats

salmon

porphyra (the kind of seawead nori is made out of)

cherries

blueberries

I’ve lived at the house we call Suntop for six years now, and I’m still living with the remnants of the community I helped start at our first house, Big Bertha, in Eugene, in early 2001. It’s been an amazing eight years and four months. I’ve grown a lot through it. I feel sad about leaving. I love it here, being so close to my dear friends, Tilke, Nick, and Joe, the Willamette River so close, the running trails, the woods, my bike-trail commute to school, the green property, the beautiful house, room for my office, my demo studio, my dance floor. This place and these people were a big part of the reason I applied only to the UO for graduate school. I never expected to live anywhere else in Oregon.

Perhaps I should have. When we moved here, I insisted on an upstairs room. I’m such a light sleeper, I couldn’t imagine being able to get to sleep with people walking on top of me. At that time, there were only two upstairs bedrooms–the sunny front room, that Tilke wanted (and it was she who was buying the house), and the master suite, with it’s own bathroom and everything. It seemed outrageous that I would get that room, and I said so, but there was a strong consensus that we liked the house and that it was acceptable that I lived in the fancy room. We were even splitting the rent evenly at that time. It probably helped that I was going to share the space with my girlfriend-at-the-time, and would for the next three years.

Six years later, the community is mostly dispersed. (Marriages and breakups, mostly, plus a dash of failure of leadership–probably the undoing of most communities.) Tilke is married, and I’m still living in the master suite of her and Nick’s house. What had seemed like extravagent space and privacy when we moved out of Big Bertha is now uncomfortably close quarters for them. Tilke asked me to leave about a month ago. It was super hard at first. I still felt ownership of the house and what is left of the community. I’ve gotten used to the idea now. Some friends have been encouraging me to leave for years, now, some mildly (“Nathen, you are always the one to hang on. You should consider letting go.” -Maya) and some not-so-mildly (“Nathen, get the hell out of there. Get out of Oregon, too. That place is doing nothing but reminding you of hard times.” -Evan).

I’ve found a good place to live. It’s in Eugene, close to downtown, the best health food stores, music venues, and campus. I’ll be closer to a lot of my friends and family–Gabriel, Maggie, Grace, Mo’, Vangie, Miriel, Akira, Jessica. I haven’t seen nearly enough of them, living out here in Springfield. I hope to deepen my connections with all of them in the next couple years. I’ll be living in a studio attached to the house of one of my main dance partners, Emily Aune. I don’t know her well, yet, but I have long suspected that she is great and that we could be close friends. She is easily in my top five of fun people to dance with. She’s thoughtful, smart, creative, and hip. She’s a botanist, native-plant enthusiast, gardener and a co-counseler. I’m looking forward to getting to know her.

I recently attended a lecture by Adam Galinsky where he presented evidence that assimilating into new cultures makes people more creative. Maybe it comes from a widening of the self-image. I left that lecture thinking maybe it was time I live somewhere else. I like moving. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve moved as an adult: Redding, San Francisco Bay Area, Joshua Tree, Maui, Eugene, Springfield. I love coming back into contact with each possession and reconsidering it. I love how being in a new space brings back into focus each thing I do and each way that I am, so I can reconsider. This is going to be great.

Suntop in Bathtub

Suntop in Bathtub

These are the people I live with. And the dog. When this photo was taken, Kyla Wetherell lived with us, but she missed the shoot. She has since fallen in love and moved out. I miss her. We have two cats, now, not pictured. They are probably nice and definitely reclusive but they don’t make up for Kyla. Anyway, left to right, we are Joe Dillon (student of engineering, writer), Luna (pug, lover of fluffballs), Kat Reinhart (student of developmental neurobiology, cyclist), Nathen Lester (student of psychology, dabbler), Tilke Elkins (artist, author), and Nicholas Walker (inventor, programmer). I’ve known almost everyone here for years: Joe the longest, for nine years, and Kat the shortest, for six months.

Suntop Action

Suntop in Action

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