San Francisco and the Marin Headlands

Photos of my adventures in the San Francisco Bay area.

In August of 2010 I traveled to San Francisco, California for the first time to attend a professional conference called UX Week. I fell in love with the area. Everywhere I turned was a visual feast that appealed to my inner aspiring photographer. Every aspect of the place—the climate, the fog, the architecture, the topography, the flora, the Mediterranean quality of light, and the cultural vibe—felt intriguingly and refreshingly foreign from anything I had ever experienced before, even in my dreams. Luckily, I had an opportunity to return to the area for a week in August of 2011. Following are a few of my favorite shots from both visits.

En route, somewhere over the Midwest

View from a plane

This story would not be complete without a photo taken from the plane. This one was taken some 38,000 feet above Michigan. As uncomfortable, expensive, potentially unhealthy, and inconvenient as the air travel can be, there is something about it that I love, and that I feel is necessary to drive home the scale of the country, its mountains, and the distance between the coasts.

It is still mesmerizing to me that I can fly out of Boston, see the Atlantic Ocean, and in less time than I spend at work on a typical day, see the Pacific on the other coast, as I descend into San Francisco. I always book a window seat, because I love to look down and get a feel for the topographical character of the various parts of the country. Every region has its own signature landmarks, crop circles, bodies of water, canyons, and other formations. And at night (if you have the fortune of returning on an overnight flight as I did), you can see different types of grids that cities and towns are built upon, etched in lights below.

Trolley leaving Powell & Market

San Francisco Trolley

Ever since I was a child I have always been fascinated with trains. So rugged and free, yet so orderly. Needless to say, San Francisco’s trolleys were one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing. After my flight, I took BART from SFO to the Powell Street Station (near where I spent the week, at Hotel Palomar). I had been up from the underground station no more than two minutes when I was blown away by this sight. I was instantly transformed into a kid again, full of wide-eyed amazement. Oh, the possibilities of things!

Steep hills in this city

Steep San Francisco hills

Neither the moderate Piedmont plateau of Atlanta, Georgia (where I was born and spent the first half of my life) nor the rolling hills and fertile valleys of Western Massachusetts that I now call home could have prepared me for the topographical surprise and delight that I would discover in San Francisco. There are a couple of flat areas in the city (that I am certain the local bicyclists have discovered), but most of San Francisco—at least the part that I saw—simply undulates.

It is one of the true great romantic cities of the world. Apparently it’s very motorcycle-friendly too, which I would not have expected of a place that is fairly seismically active.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge

I love bridges almost as much as I love trains! Before my conference began, a couple of dear old friends now living in the Bay Area picked me up at my hotel and drove me across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, where we enjoyed a simply perfect day lunching in Sausalito, playing on Rodeo Beach, walking among the tall California redwood trees at Muir Woods, and taking in some breathtaking sights from the bluffs above the San Francisco Bay, just north of the city.

Rodeo Beach

Rodeo Beach

Giant rocks and steep cliffs held together with succulent vegetation are hallmarks of Rodeo Beach (apparently pronounced “roh-DAY-oh”). This photograph was taken in August 2011 (on my second visit), and was a typically blustery, foggy day (unlike last year’s visit which was unseasonably clear and warmer). What a magical place it is. Seriously—as the song says—when you go, be sure to wear a flower in your hair!

Celebrating a Decade Online

My website—tracemeek.com—has been online since February 7, 2001.

Big Boy figurine

While reviewing and organizing some old digital files and accounts recently, I was both startled and overjoyed when I stumbled across a reminder that this website—tracemeek.com—had been online for over a decade. Since February 7, 2001, to be exact.

And then a twinge of sadness crept over me. Ten years seemed like an auspicious anniversary to have let slip by with such little fanfare. Where have I been? What have I been doing? How did I get this far? So I thought I would make amends by writing a little about this site’s history, and by recommitting to its future development. This also serves as the inaugural long-form essay in my second decade online, and coincides with the launch of a brand new website.

My formative years on the Web

Back in the late 1990s when I first went online, I was a recent college graduate and artist working in an art-related manufacturing industry. I saw the Web as an opportunity to promote my art work to a wider audience than I had previously known. Being a do-it-yourselfer, I set about learning how to build my own online art portfolio.

I quickly outgrew iTools (Apple’s WYSIWYG webpage creation tool at the time), yet the prospect of hand coding a site using a text editor (SimpleText) was still a little daunting. A coworker with friends in the web design industry told me that she had heard good things about Macromedia (now Adobe) Dreamweaver. So I bought the software and built my first real site by trial and error, reading everything I could about web design along the way, and loving every minute of it.

By today’s standards the code under the hood of my first site was disastrous, but I was online, Baby, and there was no looking back.

Rumblings of change

At some point along the way I began to see another opportunity emerge: a potential new career path. “If I can build a website for myself,” I thought, “I can build websites for other people, and make a better living doing something I enjoy.” The barriers to entry seemed relatively low: I wouldn’t need to go to the equivalent of law school or medical school in order to build a legitimate web design practice. I discovered websites like A List Apart (ALA) that published free (and priceless) articles that helped me to learn the art, the science, and the trade of web design. ALA was founded by Jeffrey Zeldman, a pioneer of publishing on the web and the preeminent champion of Web Standards.

In and of itself, this course of self study probably would have sufficed, but in order to gain more in-depth technical knowledge, build professional credibility, and academically affirm what I was already learning on my own, I entered and completed a Master CIW Designer professional certification program at STCC, worked an internship, scored a couple of freelance gigs, landed my first real design job, then the rest was history.

Consequently, at some point during the early aughts my site entered its adolescence (or was it extended childhood?) with an awkward multiple identity: fine art portfolio, aspiring mural painting business, and web design business, all lumped together under the label of Creative Services. My accountant assured me that it made sense on paper, but I struggled for several years with the breadth of the endeavor. While such diverse Creative Services may be an apt metaphor for my oeuvre—the spirit of my life’s work—it did not make for the most cogent business model, and ultimately proved to be unsustainable. So I contented myself with my role as an in-house web designer, which it turns out is not a bad place to be.

To blog or not to blog? That was the question.

Later I blogged in fits and starts (briefly in 2003, and again from 2007-2009), but ultimately scrapped those projects while I still had some water left in the proverbial well. Both my personal and professional life were in flux, so I choose a handful of priorities to receive the lion’s share of my attention. I needed to put writing on the back burner for a while, but I pledged to resume the practice when it fit more comfortably into my life. I wasn’t finding my public Voice then, and that was OK. It was the right battle, but at the wrong time.

Nor did I fully comprehended the scale of the Web—the fact that I wouldn’t be writing for just myself, friends, family, and business associates, but potentially for a worldwide audience. The responsibility of having such a global voice was intimidating. Would my small town musings seem petty on this big important world stage? How would I forge a connection? How would I keep trolls and stalkers at bay? How would I avoid being perceived as one? Already I’d had mixed success in attempting to befriend my heroes online. I had only experienced real-world rejection up to that point; would I be able to handle a whole new flood of potential rejection on a worldwide scale?

And then there were the technical considerations of blogging. At the time, I had not yet experienced the joys (and the heartaches) of wrangling with content management systems (CMSs), so I wasn’t quite ready to redevelop my site using one of these platforms. Needless to say, manually managing a growing body of content became laborious.

So I poured my energy into other creative pursuits. All the while I’ve been engaged in the Web and its people. But I’ve been listening, reading, commenting, and storing up energy more than I have been speaking up. It is possible that this may eventually change. Exposing our ideas to the judgment of others is a risk that we take living in this world. For all its ills, social media has given us a gift: the permission to express ourselves extemporaneously on the web.

Happy (social) medium?

Oh sure, I use the microblogging and third party sharing platforms—the Twitters, the Flickrs, the Facebooks, and what have you. These are hardly a substitute for one’s own personal/professional website, but with their built-in communities and their occasionally well-designed tools, they do enable one to develop a form of “web presence” without having to build a website from scratch.

On Twitter, I often feel like I’m hollering (or whispering) into the Abyss (à la the movie Garden State) rather than personally connecting. Still, it seems meaningful enough to be worthwhile. Like little mental calisthenics or musical scales, I can develop my voice without the more intense responsibility of gestating ideas into more fully-fledged essays. That’s not to say that there haven’t been golden moments on Twitter. I’ve been moved by certain tweets (1, 2, 3, 4). And there have been more than a few tweets that have helped me to solve a work problem or to better understand an issue relevant to my career, government, or society.

On Facebook it’s more personal. I put a lot more thought into the work that I share there, and the way I interact. On Facebook, people feel more familiar. But I still measure my words.

Long before I tiptoed into sharing via these relatively new sharing services, I contributed photos to the Mirror Project (1999-2005), a photographic community curated by the inimitable Heather Champ. And I lurked around the fringes of Fray—a magazine of true stories and original art edited by Derek Powazek. There, I interloped and read, but did not contribute; I dreamt of a day when I would be so bold as to comfortably and confidently express myself in this brave new medium. Little did I know that self-expression would rarely be comfortable.

But for all the wonders that these online communities have wrought, I have been longing for something more. A property of my own. A place to be. Preferably with a wraparound screened-in porch, crickets, and stars at night. Near a pond to skate on in the winter. Hopefully this will be it. Or an integral part of it.

And then there is mortality

One of the aspects of life that starts to hit home the longer you live is that more and more people you know and love die. Some leave by way of tragic accident, well before their rightful time. Others succumb to disease. Still others simply live to a ripe old age and follow the rules of DNA to their peaceful repose. As profound and sad as the loss of these significant individuals is, it is no more nor any less than an inevitable part of life—the life that we are all a part of and will ultimately manifest in our own way, in our own time.

So part of the impetus here may be to leave a bit of a legacy. If I can share something that teaches or enlightens someone (including myself) or brings a smile or a laugh or a tear, then I will have succeeded, and the building of this site will have been worth the effort. Otherwise, I’ll just have all of these ideas swimming around in my head—not doing anyone any good—until that great day of reckoning.

But to keep things in perspective, this website will be impermanent as well. At some point the delivery formats may change, the servers may crash, I will stop breathing and will consequently stop paying my web hosting bill, and this site will shut down. And that will be OK. Then again, it is possible that at some point there will be a sort of a massive free archiving system (Google?) that will prolong the inevitable erasure for a hundred or a thousand years. More likely, this will all go the way of Yahoo! Geocities and the eight-track tape. Sometimes, in spite of our noblest efforts, things stop working and we just have to let go.

But I am not ready to let go just yet

Bringing this full-circle, my intention with this website re-dedication is simple. Be myself. Welcome you. Hopefully entertain. Get some of these ideas out of my head and onto the digital paper. My inner idealistic 20-something still wants to save the world through his art, but a more seasoned me has begun to accept that more modest goals may illuminate more sustainable paths. And I’ve grown to feel that simplicity and happiness are noble goals in and of themselves. I will end this essay with one of my favorite quotes, which is a nice touchstone for any endeavor, but particularly for the creative efforts that I publish to this website:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.

—Gil Bailie

Little Deaths, a Chapbook

Little Deaths cover

In 1995, fresh out of college, I wrote and published a chapbook called Little Deaths.

I approached this project as both a writing exercise and as serial sculpture: After I wrote the story and the haiku poems, I hand lettered, illustrated, printed, assembled, and bound all fifty copies in the edition (plus a few artist’s proofs). I did not have a computer at the time, so there was never a digital master. This production was as analog as it could be. The entire series was handmade using photocopies, blueprints, hand-carved rubber stamps, ink, and glue.

For the front cover (shown above), I used a highly-textured purple paper, which I glued to three chipboard supports (front and back covers; spine). I printed the title, by-line, and “logo” with rubber stamps that I carved by hand from rubber erasers.

Front papers

Little Deaths page spread

I developed this pattern of onions by stamping repeatedly with the aforementioned rubber stamp.

More front papers

Little Deaths page spread

Can you tell that I like onions? The left page was semi-translucent vellum, hinting at an onion skin; the right was an actual blueprint, which provides a nice velvety texture and some wonderful, accidental color bleed.

Title page

Little Deaths page spread

Another blueprint featuring an enlargement of the onion pattern.

Dedication

Little Deaths page spread

This little chapbook written and hand-bound in an edition of 50 (plus a few artist’s proofs) by Trace Meek […] U.S.A 1995. Thanks to Benjamin Ostiguy, who took the photos on pages 26 & 30. For all who would listen…

The story begins with a walk.

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Now and again Annelise would go out on walks and would collect mementos of her various visits. A pebble here, an interesting stick there. Occasionally a pine cone or a sweetgum pod. A piece of mossy bark, a small shard of brick, a snail shell. A palm full of strange-color dirt from a significant location, the dried shell of a bumblebee. An old shoe heel, a

Little Deaths page spread

butterfly wing. Quite a smattering of these little treasures had begun to collect here and there in the nooks and crannies about her apartment. Each one would forever evoke in her a little pocket of memory, a reminder of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind. On this particular day, Annelise walked in a direction that she had never taken before. Guided only by intuition and a desire to be outdoors, she proceeded without a fixed destination. Out from the bustle of the town, through the quiet neighborhoods behind the college, over the abandoned trestle, out along the paths that lead through woodlands and meadows, left muddy by an early thaw. Out along

Little Deaths page spread

a subtle ridge to a cornfield and an apple orchard, to a view of those familiar mountains in the distance. The weather was unseasonably warm, but a roaring wind blew thick, moist air in over the mountains. High above, the close-knit trees clacked their leafless branches together as though they were deer locking antlers.

Little Deaths page spread

As Annelise gazed out upon those cool grey mountains and the slightly lighter-grey sky above, she wondered to herself, “How could I possibly express this moment and the euphoria that it brings, without positively living it for someone?” She entertained the notion of bringing back sweetgum pods by the bagful and handing them out to people on the street, then had a little laugh to herself. “Everyone will find their own little memory pods,” she mused, “their own reminders of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind.” For ages Annelise would continue to try to express the inexplicable, such as she had experienced on that winter’s day, and

Little Deaths page spread

on so many occasions before and since. Now and again she would go out on walks and would collect little soulful impressions, little memories, little nuggets of folk wisdom which would swim around her and emerge into five- and seven-syllable phrases. Annelise would stash these phrases in the nooks and crannies about her heart, live with them, and savor them. To her surprise, they would eventually assemble themselves into haiku poems, some of which are shared with you here…

Haikus

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
The good goes away,
the bad follows right behind,
then they both come back.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Expressing our needs,
look at what our hands have done—
this is where we live.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Onions enlighten—
peel back through clear layered skins,
get to the essence.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Islands in the Sun
thinking we could be as one:
closeness in distance.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
When in a painting
you see a beckoning road,
then down it you go!

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Send a friend a gift—
when it arrives at the door
you get love supreme.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Natural logic
pays attention to within—
calm before a quake.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Fate interrupts us—
little deaths we live each day
as we approach one.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Several apples,
passed over by suns and moons,
return to damp earth.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
In the wild of life
relationships come undone
and new ones are formed.

End papers

Little Deaths page spread

More end papers

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths cover

I sold a few copies of this chapbook on consignment through a cool but now defunct bookstore (whose name I forget) in Downtown Amherst, gave many copies away to friends, family and muses, and kept none for myself. Thanks to an old friend, a copy made its way back to me nearly two decades after I published it, so that I could scan it and reproduce it here. Enjoy.

Alaskan Sunset

I took this photograph in August of 2004 from a boat on Kachemak Bay, en route from Halibut Cove to the Homer, Alaska. I love how the warm glow of the sun is subtly reflected in the calm water, and the way that the horizon line between water and sky is barely discernable. I also love how during the summer in Alaska, days seem to last forever. I’ve never been to Alaska in the winter, but I am sure that the same is true of nights during that season.

The paradoxical truth is that the best strategy for finding your way out of the fog is to enjoy the fog.

—Rob Brezsny