Alli Harvey Art

What Bob Ross never told me

He did it long before TikTokers: Bob Ross set himself up with an easel and broadcast his painting for people to behold in real time. As I kid I’d watch him on PBS. I wasn’t watching for his technique. Like many people I found his painting hypnotic and satisfying: as he applied his brushstrokes, I felt marvel right alongside him when “happy little trees” magically appeared. His steady, confident, and warm voice reassured something elemental in me.

Contrast that with me now. Many days at the easel, I’m squinting at the canvas with my brush hovering uncertainly. My mind races, terror and frustration meeting a deep undercurrent of inevitability. Is this failure?! Should anyone (…Wes) dare to interrupt me in these moments, I bark. I absolutely do not (typically) record my painting or, god forbid, broadcast it live/timelapse it into neat little social media ready clips. I repeat little dumb mantras to myself to try – try! – to access something ephemeral I can only describe as “flow”, a fickle state of mind that shows up sometimes and then ghosts me for weeks after. I can I can I can.

I write all of that as a healthy dose of hyperbole. Painting’s not actually quite as bad as that – at least not all the time! – but for me, it’s a whole lot different than it seemed watching Bob. For me, creating is work. It requires my undivided attention and presence, a deep sense of confidence and calm that I am constantly working to tune and replenish, and the same discipline as focusing on my laptop on a task or getting through the uncomfortable part of exercise.

I have to coach myself through the hard parts to get to the good. And there are plenty of hard parts. I don’t always know if I’m going to finish a piece, but I have to trust that I will do it – a conflicting and scary sense of not knowing the end to the story while I’m still in it, but somehow convincing myself to “know” it’ll work out. Feel familiar?! I hope so!

I share this to help anyone who wonders why what they care deeply about doing still feels difficult or even, at times, unpleasant/unworthwhile. Isn’t that just life? It doesn’t show up “purely” one thing or another. Joyful times always carry something of an edge; grim experiences are often, horrifyingly, funny.

For me, I coach myself through the difficult parts of painting because the pursuit of those good moments and the final piece is worth it. In that way, a painting is an artificial creation of a life arc: spark/idea, littered with little fleeting moments of pure joy and awe, characterized by longer periods of buckling down and swells of anxiety, but ultimately and somewhat artificially, in retrospect, “completed” as one chapter in a longer series. Even that ending is bittersweet: it feels so good to look at a completed piece and know that it’s done, but there’s also always a lingering bit of wondering: was there more? What might I do differently next time? And, of course, given that I can’t help but be in my own never ending main-character syndrome of life: what’s next?

I doubt this only applies to painting. Anyone who creates – new projects, writing, event planning – is likely (hopefully!) familiar. From my perspective, I think it’s normal, and maybe even a sign of doing something worthwhile.

Sharing from my current work site, a gorgeous bigger context of the Sonoran Desert. When I imagined the Mobile Art Studio, this is what I had in mind. Even as art is work, having the opportunity to be so fully present and getting to know this place is giving me a whole lot of energy to draw on. I feel very, very lucky to be here! If anyone’s interested, we found this site on Hipcamp, kind of the Airbnb of camping. Happy to share more – message me.

The easy way out

Wes asked: “You have to pick a place to live. Would you choose Framingham or Vegas?”

“Vegas,” I replied without thinking. He agreed, and paused.

“Okay, Vegas or Boston?”

I paused for just half a beat longer, but still returned with: “Vegas”. He agreed with that too.

We were driving the spaghetti mess of Vegas’ labyrinthine highways flanking the brightly lit casino complex of the strip, five minutes in to the two hour drive from the airport back to St. George. We’d started our day in the pre-dawn morning hauling luggage through the notoriously windy corridor of high rises, old churches and state buildings, and cobblestones of Boston streets to get the airport, and then done the usual marathon of plane travel back west. I was grateful to Wes for being up for the final drive in the dark. I’d semi-secretly run a half-hearted search for a night in Vegas, and just didn’t feel like dropping another hundred dollars on travel…but then again, I was near cross-eyed and also not feeling like driving.

Since then we got a full night of rest. Today’s the day we get all ready to hitch up the Mobile Art Studio and drive eight hours south to Tucson for the winter. We set sail at 7am tomorrow. The forecast is 37 degrees in the morning in St. George. By sunset, we aim to hit those sweet AZ 60s. Next week is forecast to hit 80 (but we’re heading to Death Valley to scout a backpack for Wes then – a whole other story, and adventure I haven’t gotten to wrapping my head around quite yet. This is part of mobile living, I think…a healthy blend of compartmentalizing and pacing oneself. Do you KNOW how hard this is for a born east coast worrier?!).

Having just steeped myself in some good ol’ east coastery, which is where I grew up, and surprised myself with my answer to Wes’ questions, I’m thinking about life, change, and how my/our perspectives might change with life experience. When I was younger, I sneered at the idea of “ease”. Hellbent on getting myself up to Alaska to be immersed in the toughest and also most exquisitely extremely beautiful environment I could imagine, I think I had an unarticulated opinion that were I to live somewhere a little more…inhabitable, I’d become a soft and boring person.

I still know I run that risk. Hear me out: my life is an elaborately constructed guard against losing myself to comfort and routine, both of which I know will simultaneously soothe and also kill me. I indulge in comfort plenty. But I live my life in a 19′ Airstream trailer, have forgone a salary in favor of being mostly a full time artist, and run up hills for “fitness” and “fun”. Within all of this, the macro ease is provided, simply, by climate.

Living this way in Alaska? We sorta tried that. I can wholeheartedly say I 10/10 do not recommend the sound of pouring, endless rain on Airstream aluminum for weeks at a time. And I’m only just a tiny bit exaggerating.

So yes: between Framingham and Vegas? It’s going to be Vegas. The broader desert climate works better for me, there are incredible outdoor opportunities within and just outside the city, it has ever-changing art, culture, and food, diversity in its population in a number of measures, an international airport, and affordable cost of living (depending on where you are). See also: Boston, which I love forever as my home city, and also is extraordinarily expensive. And cold!

I’m so curious if others have adapted in this way, as you’ve gotten older? Are there types of places that have gotten more under your skin that you never thought would? Have you outgrown places you once loved? Let me know in the comments.

More soon, from Tucson! In related news, here are photos from a recent, grand backpack and reunion trip with the Alaskan gals. I may talk some crap about Alaska, but there is no doubt that it has connected me with some of the best ever people. This was a trip for the books, and I’m happy to share what we learned with anyone who asks/might be interested in a similar trip.

How to decide and how to change

In early 2011, I sternly sat myself down to journal. I’m an intermittent diarist, but in this moment I had a particular task: design my upcoming move to and life in Reno, NV. I was upending everything I knew in Alaska to go see about a guy who lived there. I had enough bravery (recklessness?) to make the move, but had also scrapped together enough wisdom about relationships to know that this one only had a shot at working out if I first put the pieces in place for my own happiness and well being. In short, I didn’t want to rely on this guy – Wes – to provide for my entire upcoming existence in a new place.

I didn’t even know how important this was at the time, only that the exercise felt like something I needed to do.

Months later, after my move, I would marvel that what I’d doodled in my journal had essentially come to life. The word – obnoxious, overused, ignorant of its ability to perform mostly only within a certain level of privileged existence, yes I used that word too – manifest came to mind. And it came to mind yet again when a career coach for whom I had/have enormous respect offered me the feedback: You have an uncanny ability to manifest, Alli. Fully, and very quickly.

I sat with this feedback and thought about whether this was true. Over time, I realized – or did I ~*manifest*~ – that it basically was, even though as an impatient human I always felt that change didn’t come fast enough. Then I wondered if this ability was intrinsic to me, or a skill. Both, I decided. It was intrinsic because I live a rich life full of support and possibility, part of which I’ve been fortunate to be born into. And it’s a skill because I have tools at hand.

Here’s how I self-guided that journaling exercise that worked as a life-design primer for a big upcoming move, along with other tools that have worked for me in deciding on and adapting to change since*. I’ve written these out in advice form, so anyone can grab ’em and adapt as needed.

  • A Me (or Us) Summit – It starts with identifying and guarding time to take a step out of the daily thrum of life to zoom out. At minimum, this can be deciding on an hour over, say, a weekend that’s dedicated to this process. That’s how I initially visioned the move to Reno, and it was powerful enough to meaningfully support that change. But since then I’ve pushed myself to go to a third place, like a coffee shop, or for me/Wes we’ve rented a cabin for a weekend for a fresh place and perspective, and then pushed ourselves to think and dream from a new environment. The point is, the time and focus won’t necessarily just happen naturally. It feels a little awkward at first; it feels a little like work. …because it is work. Push yourself to spend the energy, in whatever dedicated time/space you are able to create. Think of it as a mini work retreat for yourself. Or, my shorthand, a “Me Summit”. Hokey, but it gets the point across.
  • Energy In/Energy Out – Create a list of things that bring you energy and things that drain your energy. I’ve seen this done with “you” as a central focal point in the middle of a circle, with arrows in for energy-boosts, and arrows away for energy draws. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s simply a brainstorm. But be as specific as possible. Examples of “energy in” (they’ll differ for everyone): gardening, time with loved ones, good food. Examples of “energy out”: email, financial stress, navigating health insurance.
  • % of Time – Reflecting on the previous brainstorm, imagine – and put pen to paper – your ideal percentage of life time you are spending on various activities. We’re not at the “but Alli, I want to garden 100% of the time and yet…still need a paycheck” part yet – we’ll get there. This is simply, in an ideal life scenario, what percentage of your life would be spent on what? How much of your energy with family/friends; how much in a yoga studio? How much of your life is dedicated to service, or working with your hands, being outside – etc? These are just examples. Specifics should be drawn from reflecting on your own Energy In/Out list, and anything else that comes up for you as a result of that exercise.
  • Needs – Bringing it back down to earth just a little, this is where you identify the “must have’s” in your life. This can be the elemental pieces you’ve just identified, like – for me – exercise, relationships, and being outdoors. Those are non negotiables, but in addition to those I’ve got this pesky asthma/hypothyroid that I need to manage. Additional needs could be, simply, food and clean water, supporting a family/kids, transportation. In this section, don’t get tripped up on the mechanics yet. By that I mean, if aging well is important to you, write that down but don’t yet list contributing to/creating a retirement fund – that’s a “how”, not a what. Thinking about the underlying needs will help you in brainstorming solutions, but not if you write down the “solutions” first.
  • Potential Solutions – Okay, now for the big brainstorm: you’ve covered what gives you energy and what spends your energy. You’ve brainstormed some ideals for how you’d like to spend your life time percentage-wise. And you’ve listed basic needs – the must have’s – to accommodate in your life. What are some potential pathways to satisfying these factors you’ve identified? This is a brainstorm. Come up with as many solutions as you can. Don’t evaluate them just yet. Go big, don’t talk yourself down. You’re allowed to spin up and out a bit here into dream-world. Get creative with the what-if’s. Enjoy yourself! (This is the part where, in imagining my move to Reno, I identified a way of satisfying housing/being outside as volunteering on a farm in exchange for room/board. I found one such opportunity through the WWOOF program, applied, and ultimately did exactly that for about six months).
  • Pros/Cons – Okay, now evaluate the potential solutions you came up with. See if any could be combined. Are there modifications to make to better satisify identified needs? As you hone in on any that stand out to you, weigh pros and cons, and brainstorm/make adjustments as needed.
  • Steps to Try – This will be different every time. It may be that more research is needed. It might be that you’re ready to make a few phone calls to scope out options. Maybe you need another “session” to fully flesh out and complete your ideas, or maybe there are a few people you need to talk with before making any decisions. These are simply discrete steps you’re committed to taking following your planning/ideation.
  • Evaluation and Adaptation – It’s ongoing. The thing about ~*manifesting*~ and creating change is it’s not just a “life lever” that is pulled and suddenly the train tracks that you’re on visibly shift, with you on them. It will likely feel a lot more subtle than that; a slight change in direction more akin to dipping an oar in water and seeing the boat shift. Same motion forward, slightly different view. Keep taking steps. Keep assessing how it feels. Keep revisiting the vision, gut-checking if it’s still what you want and adapting as necessary.

Part of creating a painting is this whole exciting visioning process of what isn’t (yet) and what could be, followed by an equal parts painful/scary journey through attempting to bring that thing I kinda saw and believed in into being, course-correcting as needed, but above all learning to trust myself along the way. I don’t know it’s done ’til it’s done, and even then sometimes I’m not super sure as I apply my signature on the bottom of the painting. Life goes on, and I get both better through practice, and worse through trial, error, and learning, as I continue.

Sound familiar? Yea. This painful and beautiful process of creativity and adaptation mirrors my life, too.

*Do these steps look familiar? They’re universal. I’ve picked these up and adapted them to my own language/life from a variety of sources, from Permaculture Design (yes, lessons from how to vision your backyard garden fully apply to life, it turns out), various leadership trainings especially but not limited to Training Resources for the Environmental Community (TREC), and organizational/business strategic planning – a process I gladly still walk clients through in my consulting work with AK-based Information Insights. Why not take these steps and apply it to our own lives, when we give our professional days/hours such great care? They work at work. And they have worked amazingly well for me, and for us – Wes/me – too. Maybe it feels formulaic or awkward at first to try these out personally, but I encourage you to try it or something like it just to see.

Six months in and so much more

I was scrolling through the photos on my art phone – did you know you can call/text me at (907) 390-9983?! Try it! – looking for reference photos for new paintings. Interspersed in all the pictures were so many memories from the past six months that already felt like they took place in a different but somehow related life.

It made me take a minute, put down my phone, and stare at the sky. I thought, with a mix of awe, reverence, and gratitude about all the life that has been packed in this time and yet how it’s also been afforded by a great slow down of sorts.

The quickest context for anyone new to my site and writing (and, welcome!): six months ago in May, 2023 my husband and I officially moved from a three bedroom home into my 19′ Airstream Mobile Art Studio, a custom build and iconic silver trailer designed for creating/displaying my landscape paintings from the very places that inspire them, and also full time living. We pointed ourselves south following ten years living in Alaska with a plan to kick around the Lower 48 for some years, however long that ends up being.

Six months in, and I’m happy to announce that we’re not only still married after sharing nineteen feet of fancy tin can for that amount of time, but – I think – we’re thriving. That’s not in any platitude/Instagram definition of thriving, either: I mean that while the day-to-day stresses, and worse, that come with any life are still very much present, there is now more in our lives that fulfills us.

I think this is what “they” mean about resilience? So many years ago, various trainers brought in to support nonprofits I was working with tried to tell us about this wild and wacky concept. Stress, they said, would always be there but if we lived in it for too long it would destroy us. Growing our own resilience through “taking actual care of ourselves” in various ways would help ward off these toxic, cumulative impacts and ensure we were present and able within our own lives, including for these nonprofit missions we cared so much about. But also, you know. Our selves. Our families and friends.

I never managed to fully achieve resilience in the construct of a normal workweek. That wasn’t for lack of believing in it or consistently trying, either. It’s only now that I’ve opted out, and in to something new, that I realize my own sense of self, belief in my abilities, and perspective is as present as it’s ever been. I won’t say “solid”. I won’t even say “big”. It’s just that my awareness and faith in these facets of myself and my life are more. Which – you guessed it – provides me a bigger energy bank to draw from when things go south.

I write this post not to brag. “Look! I’ve created resilience for myself! I did it not within the confines of a normal life/workweek/structure, whatever that is, but by blowing everything up! Too bad that’s dang near impossible for many people to pull off. …Go, me!”. I write this to 1) share that the 180 degree shift that I vaguely believed would contribute to improving my experience of my own life was, in fact, worth it – and I say this after some months of experiencing and evaluating it in real time; 2) creating this big life shift took years of tightening and sitting still, which in retrospect created an inverse effect of the kinds of memories that flood these last six months.

What do I mean by that?

As my husband and I discussed the then-pipe dream of the Mobile Art Studio sometime in the (literal Alaska) darkness of 2020, we affirmed the reality to ourselves that we would need to buckle down, stay put, and endure in order to make it a reality. It would take a kind of collapsing in on ourselves, squeezing every dollar we could from our lives, and the discipline that comes with it. It would take a lot of what is kryptonite for us both: sameness and saying no for an extended period of time. To be clear: we did not finance the studio alone. Far from it. But we sure as hell put in our fair share of sweat equity before asking for help, which we were very fortunate to receive in many forms every step along the way.

For those days, weeks, months, and years of discipline came a kind of flatness in memory. Time doesn’t differentiate much. Was it 2021 or 2022? I don’t really know. It was the same view, or a similar experience. We ran similar routes near our house. We made a lot of dinners at home. This flatness in time/memory is punctuated with, not defined by, good and vivid memories of time with people we love. Those moments are, I think, what pulled us through the rest.

In contrast, for these past six months, memories are shockingly diverse. There is texture. Most prominent are the feelings: big feelings, good and bad. But so different! And, again, so many. From different paintings, conversations with people, camp spots, hikes/runs, meals, travel, work opportunities, and learning, since May I realize I’ve accumulated many, many moments of feeling truly present and myself across various circumstances. I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. I just feel humbled by all that is actually possible in six short months. I never thought time or experience could work like that, and here’s life showing me what it can do when I really live it how I’m meant to.

My big message in this somewhat sprawling reflection is this: whatever the big life change, toward whatever end that is most true/meaningful to you, is worth it. At the end of our lives it won’t be about how much money we have in the bank. It’ll be an accumulation of experiences, connections, and impact. I am writing from here on the other side of my life change, which is not for everyone, to say definitively that even just judging from these past six months, everything I put forward – and it was a lot! – to create this was worth it.

Here are some photos from my earlier tour through my phone that really underscore, for me, the moments leading up to and through this time in my and our lives. I hope this can serve as whatever the opposite of a cautionary tale is! I think, fervently and maybe a little obnoxiously, that life is too short not to make bold moves if/when needed.

How to train yourself to see

When I was a kid, bored as hell trapped in my childhood bedroom by yet another round of illness/asthma, I often passed the time by drawing. I drew magazine clippings of celebrities. I drew the inside of my closet, or the tree outside. This was long before the hypnotic draw of smartphones, so my attention stayed focused for as long as I let it. I enjoyed bringing objects into being on the page, watching my skills improve, and looking up to realize hours had passed. That meant hours closer to whatever event: my sister getting home from school, dinnertime, or bedtime. Those were some dull days.

During Covid lockdown, also confined but this time to my own home and the broader, open air environs of my then-big backyard of Alaska, I felt trapped. As an adult, I’ve learned I crave and thrive on dynamism and change. If I wanted to experience any of that during pre-vaccine Covid, I had to create it myself. So, once again, I witnessed and I created. My range of activity went from sitting on my back porch observing how dew droplets perched across tendrils of grass sparkle an entire rainbow in the sun, to watching You Tube videos in an attempt to teach myself watercolors, to – of course – lavishing acrylic paint across canvases to transport myself, briefly and visually, into a new scene.

Finally, recently on a backpacking trip through an incredible and remote southerly section of Capitol Reef National Park, my husband pulled out a small satchel of colored pencils and a sharpener. As we waited at the foot of a natural “tank” – a pool of water formed over time in carved stone from accumulated rain and runoff – for our water to filter through a bag/hose system, we sat together in silence sketching what we saw. The sun lowered slowly over us, the vast cake-like formations of earth worn away through time to reveal reds, browns, pinks, and ivory deepening in hue.

I have learned that sitting still and noticing what’s happening is equally important to me as change. I could keep moving forever, striving for the next thing, and never actually know or enjoy where I am. So it’s a mixed bag that asthma trapped me for as long as it did (arguably again for round two when Covid hit and I refused to expose myself to a respiratory virus) – I would give the experience overall a 1 star Yelp review, yet it also taught me how to make the most of inhabiting and seeing a space, and also gave me some of my earliest and invaluable practice in art.

Creating is one way to train yourself to see, either someplace new, or in a new light. The act of translation and study is in itself an immersion. After I drew, I never saw my closet the same again. The tree in my yard was intricate and familiar. Every one of my paintings is a scene requiring so much focus that if/when I’m lucky to see the origin scene again in person, it feels familiar in a way that is soothing and kind of funny, like – fancy meeting you here, what are the odds?! (Below is a recent example of that)

Quietly sketching next to my husband while way out there in the backcountry felt both like a return to what got me started in art and creating, and somehow also a retreat from art as a purely outcome-based practice. I was sketching for the pure immersion of it. What was down on paper was secondary to how the practice shaped my own ability to see a little differently and, maybe, more.

Hello after months on the move

I had a nagging feeling through mid-August, September, and somehow I’m already nearly done with October: I said I’d write. I take my commitments seriously; sometimes too seriously. As the days wore into weeks and months and I still wasn’t updating this blog as consistently as I’d intended, I decided to let it go.

Wes and I made an enormous life change back in May of this year, deciding to live full time in the 19′ Airstream Mobile Art Studio, point ourselves south from Alaska, and live smaller/get pickier about our work. Me, I doubled down on art and painting as a primary source of income, alongside continuing to consult on a project-by-project basis. Wes took a job as a hike/camp/backpack guide with a company based out of St. George, UT, which is where we’re currently based.

It’s so easy to write that all out in retrospect. But the mechanisms that support this new life – the new budgeting spreadsheet that enables us to better allot our seasonal incomes, the vehicle(s), the scheduling of our work – are all new. Adaptation looks like waking up in the morning and feeling torn between going for a walk on a sandy trail or sitting down to the easel to paint. It looks like a new transmission for the truck costing what we thought was a pretty healthy margin of financial error – strike those numbers from the spreadsheet marked “savings”. It looks like Wes’s trips blocked off on a Google Calendar; dovetailing with my consulting projects in Alaska and us realizing we’d better actually take time together this coming Friday night because it’s the last time we’ll see each other for a month.

In short, it’s learning. As I articulated recently in my (new! But also very much not new!) Alli Harvey Art Values, it’s progress over perfection. It’s doing, vs analysis paralysis.

For me, it means even when I’ve stated that I want to update this blog more frequently, when I don’t do it, noticing it and freeing it. This is, overall, still (and maybe always) a time of shift as we spend our first weeks, months, and eventually year(s) in this phase of life. I will need to get more comfortable with knowing where I will push myself to discipline, and being okay if there are places where I slide.

And you know what this enables me to do? Be better present. I can’t tell you the number of moments these past months that I have been filled up to the point of tears with amazement at a connection, a view, an opportunity, or just a fleeting feeling. That feeling – that builds to overall contentment – makes me a better me. So when I do paint, write, facilitate, I’m all the more there. This, wildly, still feels like a novelty.

But what have I been doing all these months?! Well, a mix of painting, travel, consulting, and spending time with friends/family. I’ve accrued quite the selection of potential paintings from trips to Alaska, Reno, and across Utah. Some potential photo references below!

More soon. Or – at least a little sooner than this last time, I think and hope!

A new no normal

Wes’s alarm went off at 4:45am. He peeled back the single bedsheet we’d pulled up at some point in the night, moved to the foot of the fold-out bed, walked three feet across the floor, and tapped a small battery operated puck light in the bathroom. This was enough to illuminate the trailer in the early morning darkness.

4:45am is a strange time because it’s too early for me, but not by much. I can be persuaded to get up at 5am for something cool. 5:30am is an easier sell. And, here in the desert, the earlier I’m awake, the greater number of hours I have to do something outdoors while it’s hospitable out. The contrast in my energy between morning and afternoon is significant. Even as someone whose IQ usually drops in the afternoon, here in the blazing summer of southwest Utah I am stupid by 2pm.

I decided to get up. Not just to drive him to work and then come back to the Airstream to go back to bed. I was going to get fully up-up. I started fumbling around for pillows, stacking them on the small corner table and stuffing them to the side so I could fold the mattress back in on itself and scoot the pullout frame back in to half its size, thus creating our couch by day (queen sized bed by night). The sheets got stowed in a cabinet cleverly installed at the head of the bed just under the front wraparound window, iconic to many Airstreams.

Awake though I was, I made Wes drive the truck to his work, over in a nondescript warehouse about 10 minutes away. He grabbed the Utah Gazateer from the dashboard, which I grumbled about because I imagined I might need it although I have looked at it all of twice in the month since we bought it. He got out of the truck, dumped his gear for the week on the ground, kissed me, and walked away toward the warehouse where he stages trips. I hopped out and pulled myself up into the driver’s seat.

I slowly navigated the truck back to the trailer in the still-deep darkness and refreshingly empty roads of early morning in St. George. Turn-signaling here, and waiting for the light to go green there, I immediately missed Wes who’ll be gone for a full week. But I also felt excited for the enormous energy and focus I knew I’d be able to expend with my significant other out of the daily equation for six days. The temperature gauge on the truck read 70 degrees.

Back at the Airstream, I made myself coffee and actually took (significant) time to wake up. I decided I’d spend my best, early morning energy today, Monday, catching up on consulting. I’d just finished an original painting yesterday and had just enjoyed an entire week of hiking, painting, and art/life related tasks.

On my second cup of coffee, I cracked open my Dell laptop, the company-owned one I use for consulting, and realized that something that typically happens when I do that was not happening: my heart wasn’t racing. I didn’t feel like something was about to chase and pin me down.

I prodded myself mentally. “Email!” I thought, reminding myself what was about to happen when I clicked that icon. My heart raced only a tiny bit. I decided not to overthink it, and if email wasn’t stressing me out, let email simply happen.

A few things: I share all of this to illustrate not a typical, but a typical-in-that-there-is-no-typical morning. Some of the features are similar if not the same: the wake up routine, the immediate need for caffeine to catalyze me into a coherent and pleasant human being, and the weighing of how to best use my time and energy in a day where I’m the one largely making decisions on how to spend both.

I also share this to illustrate my changing relationship to work. The lack of the feeling of being chased was a big deal moment for me. No, there’s no one actually chasing me at work, but for the longest time I’ve felt that email is something out to try to get me. I’ve felt a lack of real choice in what I do with my time, in a world where I’ve entered into agreement that I get paid a certain sum in exchange for my work. This is particularly heightened in consulting, where the hours I’m paid are directly correlated to the work I bring in or accept.

Now, I no longer have a salary. I’m hourly. The agreement of my employment is explicit in that some days and weeks I might work a whole lot; others I might work very little or none. The flip side is, almost all of the responsibility to bring in and sustain work rests on me now, and if I work very little in consulting, I make very little. But in that I have freedom. I have a lot more grounding when I look at my inbox to know that I always have the option to say no and feel perfectly okay and ethical about it. That gives me great peace of mind.

Today I worked a little over four hours on consulting projects. I’m smack in the middle of one, asking some questions so I can follow up; another project is coming to a close in the next two weeks and I’m emailing reminders of what we need to complete the work; another one is just in contracting and startup phase, so I’m drafting a list of things I need to discuss with the client this week. It feels exciting. It feels manageable. It feels like I’m giving something I have to give, and am competent in.

Then, I spent a couple of hours on Alli Harvey Art related writing projects and social media.

I had it on my list to paint. But you know what? By 4pm, I didn’t have the energy anymore. I decided not to push myself.

I sat down and wrote this instead. There’s still tomorrow. And the days after that.

Asthma defined me, and it’s not all bad

I don’t know how many people know this about me. It feels like I share pretty openly and freely, but it’s still so outside of how I come across now (yet so deeply shaped my identity and how I approach my life) that it feels worth repeating.

I had chronic asthma as a kid. Due to frequent hospitalizations, cut with recovering at home and big/tapering doses of prednisone and all of those thrilling side effect, I was often unable to participate in life stuff growing up. One year I missed 130 out of 180 days of school.

What that looked like in real time was a lot of quality time in the world bound by the four walls of my bedroom, with its daytime TV, landline phone, desktop computer, journals, sketchbooks, books, and magazines.

Some of the stuff I was by and large okay with not participating in, like, oh I don’t know: school. I got my assignments and completed them at home. But when it came to the social stuff – field trips, sports, what have you – I felt apart. I was apart, and I was occasionally brutally reminded of that thanks to the kindness of high school peers (read the sarcasm between the lines). Luckily, I had some good, close friends.

Still, there was a lot of space to fill; big open days of not being in school. In my early teens, I focused much of my attention inward because it had to go somewhere. I filled my journals and sketchbooks, made the most of what was then AOL Instant Messenger, wrote and read poetry, cultivated my burgeoning interest in music by taping songs off the radio and making mixes. I attached great significance to those moments that I was healthy and asthma-free enough to be present for: the sleepovers, movie and mall trips, vacations, and even a backpacking trip my then-stepdad schlepped a battery-operated nebulizer for so that I could participate. Normal stuff, but it was so outside my daily reality that those experiences were uniquely meaningful.

When my asthma disappeared nearly overnight after I changed school environments, I found myself suddenly…self-less. Who was I without asthma as my core identity? Without that black-hole center of everything I “could not do” wheezing and sucking in all of the possibilities, it meant all of the pieces of my self were in free form, with no gravitational pull. I was free, sure, but that was confusing and scary. If I could do anything, what did I want?

It turned out I wanted a lot of things, but most fervently I wanted to be as fully engaged in the world as I could muster. I looked around me for some ways people seemed to do that – be engaged, be present – and I happened to see a lot of hikers and runners.

The idea of me, as an asthmatic, as a hiker or runner was so antithetical to my life experience so far, yet so representative of engaging the world in a way I’d previously been largely unable to, I was drawn to it. Could I do that? Could I be that?

There is a lot of middle here between then and now, but ultimately the answer continues to astonish me because, apparently, it’s yes.

These days perhaps I come off as a fitness fiend. I am active. I’ve been on a pushups kick in the past few years, and recently discovered dumbbell workouts. Me?! Enjoy lifting weights?! Apparently, yup. I hike and backpack competently, if not quickly; ditto with running. Mountain biking is thrilling. I’ve been swimming laps again recently, dipping my toe in the proverbial waters of joining a friend for a triathlon race.

I like working out because it gives me freedom. Fitness enables me to say “yes” to things I want to do, and to do those things comfortably and with enjoyment. I am still acutely aware of that having spent so much time as a kid experiencing the opposite.

I love being able to go do a hard run because it’s there; go on a big backpacking trip, ride a bike in the mountains. I never EVER take that for granted. Every time I’m out there, or every time I lift a weight, there’s the voice in the back of my head that marvels I’m able to do this at all. The awe is, I think, healthy – it’s not a nagging, “you’ll never be this” imposter voice. It’s a feeling of overarching gratitude and appreciation for life’s longevity and my own physical health and presence, with acute understanding of what it means to inhabit the opposite. When you perceive my awe or my “extra” approach to life, this perspective is, I think, at its root.

That feeling bleeds over. It’s good for my art. It’s good for my mental health and perspective on life. It’s good for my connections to the world and to others. I share it here because it is so intrinsic to who I am and my every day, even if the origin story is from an entire lifetime ago. It’s amazing how much we carry throughout our lives, and how much change is possible.

When the high is 117F

Cars line the parking lot at 7:30am when we show up to run the red dusty trails. By 8:30am, there are only two cars left.

There’s a neat hidden flat tab of fabric woven on the inside upper edge of my sun shirt sleeve. I loop my middle finger through it to keep the shirt pulled up as far as it will go across my skin, covering most of my hands save for my fingers. My hood is up over a wide-brimmed hat, creating either a Bo-Peep or Handmaid effect, depending on how sinister I feel in the moment.

When I sit, I sweat. I feel it snake down my chest, behind my knees, and where my thighs meet my butt. It’s horrifying and unbelievable, realizing how much water my body is expelling simply to exist. I’m constantly drinking water: hydroflask, empty, refill, refill, refill. I’ve lost track of how much water I consume in a day.

In the early afternoon, I feel my eyes get heavy. Where has my energy gone? I can easily take a nap, or sit very, very still for a preternaturally long time. It feels impossible to think about doing anything. Even grilling feels daunting, and I consider whether I really need dinner. (Spoiler: I do!)

In an intellectual sense, the heat is sobering. I think about it when I’m driving. If my car broke down, do I have extra water? Do I have a way to create shade? I’m aware of it, always, as the temp ticks up: this is a killer.

I used to be of the camp, when asked, that I’d prefer cold to heat because “you can always add extra layers”. I think about that now, still, but after years of “adding extra layers” I still felt cold, and I got so sick of feeling cold. This past winter I wrote the phrase “hot red rock” in my journal.

Again, all caps: HOT RED ROCK. Is that a poem, I wondered? The phrase hung around as an anchor to what I was working so hard to create those many, endless final months in Alaska.

I laugh now. There’s plenty of that! The hot red rock is an amphitheater in this town. It radiates. It is absolutely gorgeous, and also a visual touchpoint to – again – the heat.

We knew what we were in for when we said yes to a summer in Saint George. And, I tell my husband, we’ll get our cred for enduring this. It’s life experience, like getting through Alaska winter. It’s humbling; it puts me right at my edge, which is a place I both (apparently) love and hate to be, like the best and worst of being alive.

But I think next summer we’ll migrate someplace a little kinder; even a few degrees cooler. There’s no need to endure this level of heat beyond one season of our lives. We already put in our time with Alaska winters, and those were beautiful and wonderful until they absolutely weren’t.

For now, we just take it day by day, hour by hour, a little awed and a lot put in our place by truly understanding and experiencing heat. I’m a little slower, a little dumber depending on which time of day you find me.

It’s the price of admission

The morning of my first-ever trip to Bryce Canyon National Park, one of my many bucket-list level destinations, Wes and I had a terse conversation. We were driving, and interspersed with us talking was Google Maps’ crisp robot female voice instructing us to take this exit, that right, a left in a quarter mile. Our own tones of voice changed as we switched from our own tense conversation to affirming directions; then back to the still, thick air of a not fun conversation. It wasn’t exactly a fight, but a stressful exchange, shaped roughly like health insurance. Because, of course.

The basics were that it was the last day to lock in our market healthcare and it hadn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, because we are us, we were rollicking our merry way toward a trailhead and a day of walking through a world class National Park.

These are decisions we make. We had the wherewith-all to wryly observe this of ourselves even in the moment.

The tension eventually dissipated as we started to form a plan: we’d go to Bryce, hike Fairyland Loop, and then once back at the trailhead at a comfortable 2 or 3pm MT / 1 or 2pm PT (we were getting Nevada insurance, where we are legally domiciled – it was too early to call before the hike) we would use our fancy pocket computers aka phones to call and follow up on our application status, and (fingers crossed) lock in our new insurance.

The rub is that this meant we’d have to go on the hike with this basic life logistic still unresolved, hovering and looming somewhere over and amidst the hoodoos in the views we were taking in.

At the trailhead, I decided to do my best to shove the health insurance stress aside in favor of immersing myself in the place. We walked, gawked, and took photos. One snapshot later ended up serving as a photo reference for my first-ever painting of hoodoos.

When we got back to the truck, we were happily tired and sun/view filled. Tailgate down, water and snacks out, ankles caked in red dust and shoulders sheened with sunscreen, we got a very patient person on speakerphone who walked us through finalizing our insurance. Apparently, some emails were lost to spam, but we’d been approved and just needed to sign some forms and pay. Again, with the miracle of pocket computers, we were able to do this all over the phone with a mix of two phones on the case and Safari, speakerphone, and surprisingly abundant cell service.

Later, when I told a friend on the phone about this not-really sob story, she reacted with immediate and emphatic sympathy: that’s not what that experience is supposed to be about, she said. Meaning, the health insurance monkey wrench was a blight on what is meant to be filed in the category of fun and enjoyment.

What she said helped me realize something, though. The price of admission for the kind of life that Wes and I are choosing is that the day-to-day nuts and bolts and checkboxes and hurdles of modern life are interwoven with what we do with our freedom. Meaning: our lives no longer fall neatly into 9-5pm, 5 days a week, with weekends and evenings for decompressing and fun, and vacation over some weeks a year for pure release. Vacation is kind of all the time, but that also means the Stuff of Existing in Our Modern Age is, too. We’re semi-constantly dealing with vehicle and trailer maintenance, health insurance aka us maintenance, monitoring our spending and income, etc. All of this is intrinsic to most peoples’ lives, of course, but with ours it’s less neatly segmented into categories of work vs off time.

This is teaching me to hold both the supremely enjoyable and inspiring experiences I feel lucky to create and inhabit with a kind of astounding frequency, and some degree of unknown, stress, and discomfort; sometimes all in the same minute, and absolutely within the same day. This isn’t something I’ve been particularly good at before. I like to fully deal with things so that I can move onto the next. But often, these days, I’m just not going to be able to operate that way and still enjoy my life (the to-do list is never ending, as it is for anyone). I just need to accept the constant lingering something, and still be able to enjoy moments for what they are, as they happen.

On that note, we are just back from a five-day backpacking trip that was characterized by both delicious meals and slightly burnt breakfast; incredible lush views but also bad water due to cows; long days of walking that exhausted me in the best way but also parked two giant blisters on my toes; and a beautiful road trip there/back that also had our truck acting up.

Paintings are inevitable. I’m excited to be back at the Mobile Studio and getting to work this week, and I have ideas!

Here are photos from the trip! For anyone interested, this was our route.

A summer playlist breakdown

I have had many thoughts ricocheting around in my brain that I’ve wanted to share this week. Now that I’ve officially given myself the go-ahead to blog again, the inspiration just keeps coming.

Which explains why when I sat my tanned-and-sun-giddy self down at my laptop in the lovely air conditioning of the mobile studio this afternoon, the cursor blinked emptily back at me. My fingers were poised above the keyboard.

What…did I want to write about, again?

I think the best I can do is enter in the many thoughts and feelings from a different angle(s). I’m going to start with a playlist, because of course I am. Playlists are another form of art that I don’t pretend to be expert at but I do love creating them.

But instead of just sharing it with no context, I am going to crack these knuckles (but carefully, because I suspect my finger is broken – another story) and write out a little context for the songs. The playlist is linked here and below so you can listen along (don’t shuffle! Please don’t shuffle!), but really it’s best for playing in the car or while out walking/running/what have you.

Worms – Ashnikko. Last year while hiking with friends and having the kind of long, rambling hiking conversations you do, we discovered that at some point in our old age we’ve become prudish. And, entirely unbeknownst to and independent of one another, we had the same evidence: we heard the song Slumber Party by Ashnikko and were scandalized by the lyric I gave your girlfriend cunnilingus on your couch. I know, right? We were practically whispering it on the trail, and then laughing hysterically at ourselves. What and who have we become?! What are the kids up to these days?? Anyway: this song is not that song (which is, by the way, a good song). The feel of this is how I feel at my best right now. I imagine that I listen to it while rolling down some long, lonely desert highway en route from one destination to the great and exciting unknown; in reality I listen to it while walking the mile to the gym in the blazing 90+ degree sunshine wearing a UV hoody and hat and hoping to dear god the drivers of St. George see me at the crosswalk. It puts a little pep in my step.

Howl – Junip. Honestly? Boring story: it came up on Pandora recently and I remembered/enjoyed it. The un-boring part of this story is that even though I’m still a paid Spotify subscriber because of the ease, having access to full albums, and yes creating playlists; Pandora remains the undefeated master of music radio. There’s a whole reason behind it with the music genome project that’s cool to look into. Also, Junip has a song on my favorite movie, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. So.

When You’re Lonely – Cash + David. I love songs with sad lyrics that are upbeat (in my book the classic example of this is Train in Vain by the Clash). I was hiking recently in Snow Canyon’s Padre Canyon, and as the sand sage smell ballooned in my nose and I picked my way through seemingly glowing red sandstone in the morning shade of a canyon I’d never seen before, with a dazzling array of phosphorescent green plant life contrast against these massive and often surprising rock formations, I felt so completely happy. I also felt so completely aching. The same joy I felt at the experience of simply inhabiting this place, of feeling the combination of heat interspersed with shade on my skin, laying a hand on rock as I moved along and up, seeing lizards skitter in my peripheral vision bled over into this painful bursting feeling, like there is just too much, and I am just missing everything even while I feel (maybe because I feel?) so perfectly content. It makes no sense. It makes so much sense. The way this song builds and defiantly sings about missing something all the time falls along those lines.

Lithium – Nirvana. This song is the focal point and why I decided to come up with this playlist. It got lodged in my head one morning when I realized Sunday morning is every day for all I care. That works for me right now on a lot of levels, both in terms of caring less about what is a weekday and what isn’t (I tend to work more on weekends, and save up adventures for weekdays when we can evade the crowds) but also Sunday here in Mormon St. George, Utah is a THING, and I am…not Mormon, nor a church observer. Then, I don’t need to explain the raw joy and beauty of Kurt Cobain scream-singing yeah multiple times or, again, the upbeat song with the mix of love and pain. That’s life right now, feeling many things every day (everywhere, all at once. Sorry. Couldn’t not).

Attrape-reve – Polo & Pan. This came up on some sort of radio recently and it stuck. I have no idea what they’re saying. But it sounds like how I feel much of the time: a grounded, focused kind of woozy and dreamy where I spend a lot of time dreaming and thinking, but also sitting myself down to do (she writes).

How It Ends – DeVotchKa. This is about me, a drain snake, and a plunger. I was concerned I didn’t know how that particular mobile studio plotline would end. And then there was that voice yowling in my inner ear: you aaaaaalready knowww. It ended with me fixing the clogged drain! I expanded on this triumph on the phone with a very patient and supportive Wes, who has worked probably over 100 hours this week on his first solo guiding trip and made the questionable decision of calling me to say hello. Side note: if you haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine…

leikara ljoo – Susanne Sundfor. She put out a new album and Wes and I listened to it at many a campsite on the drive down to Utah from Alaska. Notably, I remember hearing this song one glorious night when we decided to fully unhitch the trailer. Generator! Heat!! We were in go-mode, so often we would just boondock by the side of the road but this was the first night we treated ourselves with a full on campout. This was also before it was warm enough to add water to the trailer. We built a campfire by a lake in Yukon Territory and made a delicious dutch oven dinner. We were surrounded by snow on opening day of the campground, but we were happy watching spring light push through skeletal tree branches and thinking about a future that included a little more warmth.

A Baby for Pree/Glow Into You – 1995 – Neutral Milk Hotel. Agggh, my HEART. I understand this song will not be for everyone, but for anyone it IS for you will get it. I tried to explain my love of Neutral Milk Hotel in a rambling post from earlier this year, and I’ll leave it at that. …but ALSO I was delighted to find out there is now an album full of previously unreleased recorded work that included this updated rendition of a song I know well, and yes, I listened/scream sang along with the album several times along the drive down.

Do You Remember – Jarryd James, Raury. Playlist order and arc is very, very important to me and this song I happen to like and comes up frequently on my suggestions fit nicely here. It’s kind of brooding, which I like. Enjoy.

Hallucinogenics – Matt Maeson, feat Lana Del Ray. The song I kind of wanted to include here is another Lana song, Taco Truck x VB from Did You Know There’s a Tunnel off of Ocean Blvd, her most recent album. The reason I wanted to include that other song is because I love it and listened to it an unhealthy amount earlier this year. Specifically I listened to it while pacing the snowy, then slushy, then mucky little loop of road our tiny home complex dreaming of a different life that was then a few months and change away. I didn’t include that song because, while it is an amazing song and you should hear it if you haven’t, it is now of a different time (thank god), and this song popped up one night and I liked the duet, build, and lyrics.

Sleeping on the Blacktop – Colter Wall. The best at playlists is one Kyle Martin, my friend in Alaska. I asked him for his rec’s for a few languid hot desert nights boondocking in Nevada’s fabled Black Rock Desert, and he sent over this album as part of a suite of ideas. Nailed it, as always. This song is actually already on this year’s draft Fall Mix (yes, those drafts start…early) but you know what? We ARE often sleeping on the blacktop. This song is probably going here vs fall.

Non-Believer – London Grammar. It’s pretty simple: I always love strong vocals, and again I like the contrast of beautiful and building music with kind of a struggle bus of lyrics because these days that totally speaks to me.

Straight to Hell / Satan is Real – Medley – Hank Williams III Lol. That’s all. Again, this speaks a little to the feeling of being a bit of an outsider here. But. Mostly, just – lol.

Here is the playlist again. Give it a listen, and like I said somewhere back there, buried in text – please, please, play it in order. I take such great PAINS. You wouldn’t believe the listens and relistens to truly get those transitions just right. Enjoy!

This is how it ends

I had a silent adult temper tantrum last night just before bed. I’d pondered leaving to go pick up a plunger and drain snake to deal with the clogged shower drain. But I knew troubleshooting at that late, hot, tired hour was a bad move. If anything went awry (and doesn’t it always?) I was too drained to cope like a rational human. I knew The Move was to put myself to bed and deal with the drain in the morning.

The shower drain in the trailer only semi-functions in the best of times due to the floor being too flat. Weird problem, I know – basically water that is lucky enough to hover exactly above the drain, drains. We lift up the teak floor to squeegee out the rest. The glamour, I know!

But, when it overflows the black hand towel we use as a mat just outside the shower door is the first tell: it gets soppy, sodden. This happened last night after I showered. But, lo and behold, when I lifted up the teak flooring to squeegee, the water just swished around.

The first primal (in my head) yell, of course, was “WES!”. But Wes was/is out doing this thing called “working”. Wes won’t be back ’til later this week. And, come to think of it, I realized, when he’s back from his long days of being outside, Wes is going to need to shower. (I am going to need Wes to shower).

So, I ran a quick Google search for “clogged trailer drain”, learned some things, and pulled out my yellow note pad ongoing check list. “Snake, plunger, dawn soap”. Then I made the bed and parked myself in it.

Enter “the thought”, the aforementioned silent tantrum (like a terrible silent disco, in which an adult just stands and scowls while staring into nothingness) which was:

“I just want to know how this ends.”

Here’s the funny thing, and it was funny in the moment too – immediately on the heels of that thought came another one. “No I don’t.”

From knowing how the plugged up drain ends, I realized, would come a cascade of knowing how so many other things end. I’d already know everything that happens in our upcoming staycation with Reesa. I’d know where we’ll be in five years. I’d know what lovely things are in store, and what grief is on its way. I don’t want to know how it ends at all! That’s just my fear that somehow the clogged drain is terminal. I’m not exaggerating. These little blips can feel like a complete eclipse of my human experience; an impediment to getting to fully experiencing my life.

Meanwhile, these blips and hurdles and successes and challenges are life.

I know how it ends. One way or another, the drain gets fixed. It’s a funny, annoying, hopefully ultimately triumphant little chapter that gets wrapped into the bigger chapters of days, of which I truly don’t want to know the ending. I want to stay lucky enough to experience it all as it unfolds.

And, ultimately I fixed the drain. I played DeVotchKa’s “This is How It Ends” as the literal soundtrack to me gunking around in there, just for some extra strings and drama, and laughed at myself as (with a good night’s sleep at my aid) I got ‘er done.

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