The greatest secret the world has ever seen

I did something incredible. It was funny. It was silly. It was astounding. It was, is, a secret. I will never tell you my secret. 

Unless. 

Unless you mail me a letter with your statement of purpose, your resume, and your highschool transcripts. My address is 1011 Wain Place, in Brakendale. 

I am sorry, there is no other way I can tell you about my very exciting secret. 

Too bad, it really is an amazing secret. I don’t think anyone has ever had a secret as good as this one.

I look forward to your letter.

_action_11

It was 2012. There I was, sitting in a metal folding chair in a room across from the chapel in a Mormon church. Dianna Cook, her bob haircut as fresh as ever, looking out at the 6 of us. “I am so glad to see all of your smiling faces” no one was smiling “today we are going to write letters to our future husbands”. We were told to write a list of his qualities. What do we want in a husband? Is he handsome? Is he kind? Does he hold the priesthood? Now, this was not the first time I had been told to imagine my future husband. Not even the first time I had to write him a letter. Every Sunday seemed to bring a new letter. Each sealed with a kiss, these letters lay in wait until the day I am married. Or until the day I move to a different country to start graduate school, husbandless and queer. The letter I wrote to my husband that day reads “this is stupid. good luck bitch. Chloe, Age 14”. I wholeheartedly agree with 14 year old Chloe. This is stupid. 

I stand firmly against letters to the future. I can only express who I am now and I have no desire to project a future state. I am sitting at a plastic card table typing on my moms old computer. My fingers are cold.

Since moving to Canada I have become increasingly aware of my American-ness. It has become a joke. Didn’t you bring all of your guns? Who wants a big Mac? God Bless the USA. Back home, my Canadian identity is the joke. Sorey. Where’s the ice rink? Never enough maple syrup. Sorey again.  

These stereotypical expressions of identity bring me joy, I simultaneously a big mac and a bucket of poutine. I am a pile of green jello* and a box of kraft dinner.  

This is where this project begins. 

I wrote a letter to myself on macaroni noodles. Each noodle held a new word. 1011 noodles. 1011 words. The noodles were laid out on a table in a visual essay. Then they were unceremoniously shoved back into a Kraft Dinner box. That box was then put into a jello mold. The water content in the jello puffed up the macaroni and the words I had written faded away. It was perfect.  

*Green Jello is a regionally specific delicacy, Utahn’s love their green jello. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

_action_9

In action3_body I explored my need for movement while comprehending information. I was exploring less-colonial ways of learning new information. Since then I have moved and am once again an uninvited guest on land that I am unfamiliar with.

This week I wanted to learn about the current stewards of this land and the caretakers of this land since time immemorial. I believe that in order to  decolonize my practices as a “designer” it is imperative that I understand the history of the places I occupy. Unlike previous actions, I did not design around an idea. I designed to understand ideas. 

I went to the library and checked out books, movies, cd’s regarding local histories, local languages, and local stories. I then created a series of modular hand scale objects to hold and to move while I began to learn. 

I felt I could not comprehend the violence this landscape holds, the beauty it performs, and the inequality it maintains, without this help.These objects are stackable and encourage tactile engagement. I am nowhere near an understanding of this place, but these objects will help me get closer. 

_action_8

Throughout the actions thus far, I feel as though I have been unable to embrace a very important aspect of my design process - silliness. This course encourages deep profound conversations about politics, design, and power structures. As a “designer” I feel pressure to be professional, philosophical, and serious in order to have my work be valued. But this pressure is limiting and ultimately useless. This week I disregarded this pressure and embraced the spunky playfulness I have been missing. I created ittie bitties. 

These are earrings in the shape of boobs. They come in all shapes and sizes. They sag, they perk, they are pierced, they are irregular. People with boobs can have extremely complex relationships with them. This part of the body remains in hyperfocus for those of us who carry them around each day. By creating these earrings I chose to celebrate them and encourage a laugh about them. 

We can still be silly and simultaneously have conversations about the historical violence perpetrated against people with boobs. We can be silly and simultaneously question the commodification of breast tissue. We can be silly and celebrate the body. 

As a “designer” I wish to deconstruct the binary between silliness and seriousness. 

This however, is not necessarily received well here. When I presented this work I was told “Anyway, this fun but I don’t know if it holds up as a project for class”. My other projects, my “serious” projects have held up in this class. None of them have been dismissed. I feel as though I am allowed to “explore” as long as I use words like “facilitate”, as long I can post a black and white photo of it on instagram, as long as the instructor can understand it, as long as. As long as. 

_action_7

The current understanding of what it means to be “outside” is flawed, and perpetuates a white supremacist, ableist, and heternormative future for access to “the outdoors”. The peak bagging, mountain conquering, dominating narrative actively benefits from the exclusion of BIPOC and LGBTQ folks. 

The marketing campaigns by major outdoor brands exclaiming “the outdoors are for all” do not address or work to dismantle racism and the systematic barriers that prevent marginalized people from being outside. Restructuring the narrative and dismantling the idea that land must be conquered when recreating outdoors is vital to the inclusion of marginalized groups. Being “outdoorsy” does not need to mean summiting the Chief with your climber bros. It can mean breathing fresh air by opening a window, going to a park, hiking, sitting, watching. Not everyone has access to these experiences and by gatekeeping the outdoors we further limit these opportunities.

Living in Salt Lake City and Squamish, two very “outdoorsy” white wealthy areas I am surrounded by peak baggers and masculine ideas about land management. This week I wanted to expand upon my previous action that navigates this conversation (Action6_cowboy). I chose to deepen my connection with the natural environment by collecting natural materials outside of my apartment. I collected leaves. I then sat outside in the rain and stitched the leaves together to create a fabric of sorts. I did not run up a mountain as fast as I could. I did not climb. I did not conquer. I sat and stitched as a way to resist. 

During Action6_cowboy I felt a sense of freedom by donning a mask, putting on a costume, and being outside. I wanted to explore this sense of freedom so I used the leaf fabric to create a mask. I brought the mask inside and sat with it on for two hours. Breathing the damp leaves. I found a way to connect to the ecosystem around me through making. I contemplated my fraught relationship with the “outdoor community” and my place in it.

_action_6

I began this week's action by reading Cowboy, a graphic novel by Rikke Villadsen. This book follows six classic Western characters - the wanted, the sheriff, the whore, the coward, the widow, and the smoker. The idle widow craves to “break free and ride from her confinement off into the sunset”. She manages to steal the clothes off of the dead coward and becomes the cowboy to make her getaway.  This book melts gender and explores queerness in a way that I had not experienced. I strongly identified with the widow in the story in my desire to put on the cowboy hat, become the man, and ride away with power dangling between my legs. 

When I hike alone I carry bear spray for protection, but not protection from bears. As a queer person in the outdoors, I have to fight to belong and suppress parts of my identity to feel welcome. I have every certification in the books when it come to being outside. I am a certified climbing guide, a certified backpacking guide, a certified canyoneering guide. Not because I want to guide but because I felt that without these certifications I can not be taken seriously when I went outside. Because I am a woman I have to constantly prove that I am worthy to be there. Without that piece of paper that tells me I am competent, I don’t feel like I am invited. There are greater structural barriers for women gaining access to the outdoors and exponentially more for BIPOC and LGBTQ folks. But, If I were just a cowboy I could go anywhere outside. These barriers would immediately dissolve. I would be invited into every space. I could hike without fear. I want to ride into the sunset like the widow. 

After reading this graphic novel I decided that I would create a cowboy to become. The hat, the boots, the belt buckle. I chose to emulate Orville Peck, a country music singer who, like Villadsen, deconstructs the Western and all of its inherent queerness. Villadsen uses the format of the spaghetti Western to retell a story through a graphic novel. Peck pushes the character to expose the fundamental homoeroticism in cowboy culture. He is the cowboy I want to be. To become this cowboy I outlined a ritual that would allow me to become the cowboy and to place myself proudly in the outdoors. Make the outfit, pack it up, begin hiking, change on the trail, become the cowboy, continue hiking. Every day for one week. 
I created my cowboy outfit, imitating Orville Peck. The hat, the boots, the belt buckle. All pastel pinks and blues with rhinestones and fringe. I followed the ritual I outlined and brought the costume with me on a hike every single day for a week. 

When I began hiking on the first day I was extremely intimidated. I would begin to unpack the outfit, then see someone on the trail, and pack it back up and keep hiking. I already feel vulnerable outdoors and now I was going to even more clearly identify myself as other. After a week of changing into the cowboy outfit, the intimidation never went away. I was still nervous every time I had to transition from “Chloe” to “Cowboy”. However once in the cowboy costume, I gained a wild sense of freedom. Orville Peck wears a mask that covers nearly all of this face and I did the same. I was able to hide behind the fringe mask and to move in the ways that I really wanted to. I danced on the trails. I stretched out my arms. I felt powerful. Then I changed back into my clothes, put away the costume, and all of that went away. 
I used this performance as a way to examine my own relationship with the outdoors, my access and barriers to access. I tried to grapple with my feelings of fear, guilt, and uncertainty. This performance was done on unceded Sḵwx̱wú7mesh land. The traditional cowboy is a symbol of violence against indigenous people. I chose to manipulate the traditional cowboy identity, to queer it and to acknowledge the heavy past of the clothing I chose. I did not do enough to address this aspect of the performance and going forward I believe it is essential I explore this.