Sunday, October 10, 2010


Skygate by Roger Barr, San Francisco, CA

 I really like the sculpture in this photograph.  (If you click on the image, you can see a larger version). It was created by Roger Barr and dedicated on September 17, 1985, almost exactly 25 years before I took this photo.  I took a handful of photographs of it,  focusing on the numerous reflective surfaces, and forgetting entirely to take a ‘traditional view.’  If I had, you’d see that it is an arch situated in a grassy area along Embarcadero St. in San Francisco.  In a more traditional view it would look like a gateway, something reminiscent of the St. Louis Arch but with some twisted California quirkiness.  In fact, even its title, “Skygate,” is reminiscent of the  “Gateway Arch” in St. Louis, only instead of being a gateway to the West,  it is a gateway to the heavens.

But, what really attracts me to “Skygate” are all the reflective surfaces, twists, and turns.  The ‘outside’ of the left leg of the arch is the inside on the right leg, like an oddly-shaped Mobius strip.  I like the way the flat surfaces reflect both the heavens and the earth and reflect themselves reflecting the heavens and the earth. I like the playful way the surfaces capture the light and toss it back and forth, while the edges focus the light into a radiant glow.

I have been thinking a lot about making things and creating things.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I seem to be driven to make things--physical things like photographs, frames, bread and  all sorts of other food.   Lately I have yearned to knit, to make scarves, mittens, socks, lap blankets, etc. Like my Dad, I love to work with my hands and I have often thought that the drive to do so arises as a response to my professional life which has always been focused more on the life of the mind than the life of the hands. But, lately, I have felt a strong urge to write, not the sort of technical scientific or academic writing I do every day, but more something more creative, more reflective, more distinctly my own. 

Early one morning while we were in San Francisco, Al went for a run and I found a coffee shop and worked on a blog entry.  When he was done, we had breakfast and he asked me, “Why do you write that blog?”  I looked at him stupidly, because I have been asking myself the same question since August 1.  I still didn't have a very good answer.  He went on, “Is it to prove you exist?”  He reminded me of a book that we both read a while back called the “History of Love” by Nicole Krauss.  Leo, an old man, does some pretty crazy things.  For example, he goes into stores not to buy things, but just seeking attention.  He drops his change and makes a big production of picking it up.  He goes into shoe stores and asks to try on ridiculous shoes with no intention of buying.  He says, “I never actually buy.  All I want is not to die on a day that I am unseen.”

You know, I think Al and old Leo have something there. 

I think we all want to be seen and noticed.  Unlike Leo, I don’t think much about my own mortality, at least not consciously, although maybe that horrible accident last May has something to do with my recent push to write, play the piano, etc.  Certainly, I think that creativity is about making a person’s internal self evident to the external world.  It is about being seen and proving existence.  In a way, it is like “Skygate” – internal surfaces twist in the light of ideas to become externally visible.  The gritty earthy parts and the ethereal philosophical parts take turns  to combine into some particular thing that is hopefully intriguing-- something unique to the artist or author,  the one person, the only person, who could have created it.

Just like that crazy sculpture in San Francisco.

I don’t know what Roger Barr, the sculptor, had in mind when he created “Skygate” but I will venture a guess that I am not far off.  The inscription on the marker indicates that the sculpture is dedicated to Eric Hoffer,  longshoreman, poet and philosopher—the integration of the physical, the artistic and the abstract.

Today I am grateful for friends.  Of course I am always grateful for my friends, but specifically, today I am thinking about Betsy who, over many years,  has listened, laughed, challenged, and encouraged me in so many ways.

Some bookkeeping notes:
You may have noticed a mid-week post about my newest writing idea (A random neuron fired)  I have decided to start another site for posting things related to the piano project.   If you feel like checking out my progress with writing and piano playing, those entries will be at Etudes&Essays.   I thought it would be easier to keep them separate from my general purpose blog!

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