starting in the middle

margo halverson

True North

GConvergence, traveling through, resting on, concluding, opening-up, weaving in the ends, moving, stopping — fits and starts of investing into what may be intended as a forward motion now includes overlapping side bars and history — non-linear and three dimensional.

PART ONE

Last year I was on a sabbatical from teaching Graphic Design at Maine College of Art in Portland. This absence from teaching began with a detailed and zealous plan to fill what appeared to be an inspiring slow expanse of time with projects to initiate, pick-up, and conclude. Over the weeks the daily to-dos came with an evaluation of needs vs. wants, deadlines vs. the beautiful household rhythms of two teenagers, husband, dog, a studio of work, and a garden of four Maine seasons.

My main project in this year ‘off’ was as one of archiving, curating, and collating to edit and examine the body of personal work and creative research (beginning to be represented here, In The Middle) where I’m still transposing completed exhibitions, portfolios of photographs, bits of writing and film into a new view. My intention is of discovering, not dictating forms of resolution that might emerge. The only rule is to use work and make observations that still resonates and needs a home to be completed and transported. Here I am being pulled to understand where my work has been in effort to see where it is going.

Taking a sabbatical also suggested I make time to initiate work not in the category of design or photography: making a will, volunteering in my kids public school, saying yes and lecturing as a visiting artist, and learning to play the banjo. While these list-things were easy to name, what was not in front of me moved to the foreground about ten months into the break from teaching.

My parents, both deceased, had given me their small winter home in Mesa, Arizona years ago. I’d also lived in Tempe, AZ for 17 years before leaving 21 years ago to come to Maine to teach. I’ve been renting out this AZ house with the granite yard for a couple of months each year since their passing. This winter the renters offered to buy it before they headed home to MN — a long unpleasant real estate story made short — I found myself on a shaky attic carport ladder in Mesa, AZ for 3 days in the end of March handing down filthy taped-up bulging boxes to my sister-in-law. I had packed these 21 years ago. Holding disintegrating newspaper wrapped around objects I hadn’t remembered I’d owned (though I was happy to find the glass egg timer of Gram’s I’d wanted for banjo practice), together with emptying the house itself of Mom and Dad’s objects and furniture, clothes and details, the stack of what I simply didn’t want to transport back into my own life grew larger and larger. While the renters strolled through our packing between their golf games and card parties, I felt like I was the star of my own horrible reality show and the clock was ticking. I had only three short days until I headed back to Maine with the remaining dream of only a carry-on bag and one free checked box.

Convergence, traveling through, resting on, concluding, opening-up, weaving in the ends, moving, stopping — fits and starts of investing into what may be intended as a forward motion now includes overlapping side bars and history — non-linear and three dimensional. It was new information for me that my revered collection of milk bottles, glass marbles, carbon-copied handwritten letters, and prom corsages dipped in paraffin wax hold no interest now. With no more fanfare than a cell phone photograph I quickly tossed those items away or packed them up for Salvation Army to pick up after I was gone.

TRUE NORTH

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GEOGRAPHIC NORTH 

The geographic top of the earth where the longitudes converge is called True North, Geographic North, or Map North. We think of this North as the one and only real North. We orient our bodies to this direction and we know North is at the top of the map.

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But True North would not be true if you actually get somewhere using a map and compass. Compasses point to Magnetic North, not True North so you’ll be off whatever the difference is, which depends on where you are on the planet.

MAGNETIC NORTH

The earth’s magnetic field is inclined give or take 11° from the axis of rotation of the earth. And because the earth’s core is molten — which is where the magnetic field lies — Magnetic North is always shifting slightly.

Since the red end of compass needles are magnetized, the earth’s magnetic field rotates the needle until it lies in the same direction as this field which is not True North.

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ANGLE OF DECLINATION

The difference between True (Geographic or Map) North and Magnetic North is expressed in degrees and minutes, east of west. This is the angle of difference between the top of the earth’s axis and the North pull of the earth’s magnetic pull.

STATION

At DesignInquiry at Vinalhaven Island, Maine, July 23-29 the angle of declination was 16º 5’ 17” W. So to locate Magnetic North on our compasses and to set the angle of declination, we (DesignInquirers at our island STATION) turned our compass dial 16º 5’ 17” counterclockwise to compensate for the magnetic pull to let the map tell us the truth. Now when ‘RED FRED IS IN THE SHED’ on our compasses we could trust the top of the map is really North and our compasses were set to match the map which did not include the shifting magnetic north that is the real pull on our direction-giving compasses.

PART TWO

EXERCISE: LEARNING TO READ A COMPASS AND COMPENSATE FOR DECLINATION

At DesignInquiry we practiced ‘taking bearings’ and being ‘given a bearing’ to understand how the map’s North at the top of the page is different from where the compass points. We used Vinalhaven’s angle of declination calculation to compensate for the difference.

STATION Inquirers made magnetic compasses for dining centerpiece which consistently reminded us which way is magnetic North. By rubbing a magnet onto a metal sewing needle in one direction over and over (picture whittling a stick only with a magnet on a light metal-something) the needle becomes magnetized with a N and S end. Then the needle needs freedom to turn towards the pull of the earth’s magnetic core and floating encourages this turn. Any other metal objects nearby intrudes and interferes. We taped True North and Magnetic North angle of declination onto the studio floor so at all times in the barn, we who were exploring STATION as place, attitude, or concept were reminded of the shifting, pulling, fluidity of our work and ideas. We too were finding our way and re-aligning with the topic of STATION, navigating our relationships to each other and our questions of STATION and all within this place that we had little choice but to be present within and together.

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WORKSHOP: COMPENSATION FOR DECLINATION TRANSLATION

During the week of STATION I collected stories from participants through conversations and interviews. I asked each person to tell about an experience when, in the course of setting off in one direction, unexpected and unplanned events, needs, or pulls required a ‘righting of course’. Our conversations focused specifically in strategies of compensation for redirecting from the first True North plan to the real, magnetic North direction of purpose. These stories of navigation converged in differences of theme, time frame, approach and strategies of correction. Adjustments ranged with key phrases, people, and places and included quotes such as these:

… it was a veering off of what I was already in …

… only now I recognize the pivot points that I zoomed in on and pulled apart …

… a person made it possible, it could have been a move to anyplace but the shift in location also made it possible …

… the landscape proposed a different kind of education …

… one year got this all on track …

… building, building, building …

… where does this confidence come from? I think it’s family. Plus: I had him. I’ve kind of forgotten about the hard part …

… I used to regard interruptions as bumps in the road or hurdles to get over, now a drift is a sign that I’m supposed to go with the interruption or the thing I used to overcome is the sign. Now I see that thing that is pointing …

… it’s quite a gentle pull for me now, when I was younger it was very abrupt, the course was a snap-to …

… a slow process of life was falling around me. Each time I thought I was seriously invested, but each time a readjustment decision led me to another step …

… I’m at a fork in the road. Right now. How to redirect? Employ the rules of improv: to accept, to say yes, to build, to use generous acts …

… I’m not being pulled. I’m taking a guess that it’s circumstances and I’m making a radical change to stir it up. I just know I want out of the current situation …

… I’m cautious. I try to figure this out before I do it …

… where I was was not an expression of myself. Someone in that job told me “you’re going to hate your life”…

… there was a curiosity I was moving towards and I noticed if I didn’t have a chance to make things I’d get very cranky …

… moments of transcendence pulled me …

… I got some of the stupid out and I got the better part of life …

… a series of things built up that was turbulence over one year. To see what was next I needed to put myself physically in a different town, a school, finding a way …

… I felt lost and it took experimenting & seeing first hand how wrong the pieces were …

… I was sitting in the back of a classroom thinking about where else I wanted to be …

… the murky water was a culmination of things that had been bubbling up …

… it was a 1-yr. crash course in redirection …

… my True North was cooking school then an art teacher said to me ‘what about art? WHAT ABOUT ART?” He was right …

… my True North is flexible and flowing …

… I practice to be open and aware; meditation, reading certain authors, talking to people, having experiences, situations (DI) …

… I don’t like the idea of a singular True North …

… I’ve found planning my life out doesn’t work; even a five year plan …

… maybe you become your own node. You put yourself in the situation’s that teach you to become a traveling node …

… assumptions cause drift. The trick is how to navigate assumptions …

“When I was young I was attached to religion. I thought it was true north. At age 13 my uncle was diagnosed with AIDS and on his deathbed he was told by his priest he would be going to hell for being gay. He resisted death for months he suffered immensely until he could resolve this. I am not religious anymore.”

… I reorient by jumping ship (fearlessly)…

… I start to feel the itch …

… Every time you do it it reminds you how easy it is …

… Feeling in touch enough with what you’re feeling is what you need to admit; knowing what you’re looking for then not being afraid to jump …

… People can perceive it to be selfish, but its your life …

… it was not having a big picture I could get on board with …

… I don’t struggle with decisions, I flow into change; organic decisions because I’m already heading into the other path …

… I credit it to getting older and more inquisitive …

… we chose to give ourselves the sixteen degrees. We had hunches and weren’t committed to anything but an address …

… we came up with a plan for the worst possible things when the best possible things came up …

… major dissonance of investing in a life in a place we weren’t going to stay

… we cut and run …

… it’s about motivation. The fact that I wanted to do that was a sign …

… I made little steps that linked to other things, but I only knew that later …

… one choice gave me a chance that I didn’t even know was pulling me …

… each step was a catalyst, not what any given moment does alone …

… moments of generosity is the navigation and what I want to be around …

… I was associating milestones to my identity too much until I realized I didn’t want to pursue these …

… tracking the inner compass is much more subtle …

… I keep trying to notice. I write five things every day that is evidence …

… realigning is like when you walk into a dark room and you have to wait for your eyes to adjust …

… you have to train your muscles to feel the indications …

… lost walking in Paris, arguing with my sister, someone yells out a window in french for us to stop. I don’t understand but it stops our argument. We wander around until we find the place we needed to get to …

… I thought I was heading to Rt 1N out of Logan, but I ended up on the dreaded labyrinth of underpasses. I asked the guy in the tollbooth for directions and he said ‘exit 27’. I thought it was vague (wind) but once on track I realized it was full of potential (seed)…

PART THREE

WAYS THAT PARTICIPANTS AT STATION COMPENSATED FOR ANGLE OF DECLINATION*

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  • a sharp turn due to
    • Someone saying something: one thing that ‘hit home’
    • Meeting someone who supports a shift of focus or place
    • Changing location: a physical move to stir things up
    • Noticing a thought in a moment that is abrupt
  • a slow building
    • One thing leads to another
      • Because of a conscious practice of listening and noticing
        • Meditation
        • List making, journal writing
        • Communication with others
        • Meeting someone new of influence who listens too
        • Being aware and measuring past needs, wants, successes and failures

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  • a messy shift that is not linear
    • Building, wandering, moving on hunches that are not clear, only now in hindsight the layers make sense
  • a clean shift that is a jump
    • Easy to make because it’s a recognized method of operation and has proven to work
    • Out of desperation because of a true ‘knowing’

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  • knowing that the magnetic move is right because of the ‘wrongness’ of True North direction
  • not knowing True North was wrong until a slow build to something that ‘sticks’ feels right (and where most still live)

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  • some were alone in the shift
    • School or job related (vocation and passion), sometimes a move alone to test the waters
  • some were with partners or friends
    • Also passion related but most of the stories involved others only in the building-up-to the magnetic north move; supportive of the individual who ultimately recognized, with this person’s (family) support he/she made it into the pull of what was right.

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* my own summaries of these stories, trying to delineate the differences and similarities of the movement towards the angle of declination

– Thank You Gail Swanlund for your inspiration and asking the right questions and Gabrielle Esperdy for those days on Mount Desert that kicked the whole archive idea into gear.

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Obi at True North

Obi at True North

 

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