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Omphaloskepsis Blog

The automobile in front of me crashed in the tunnel

Nov 11, 2010


The Seattle Group, November 2010. L-R: Nichole Dement, Johnny Wow, Andrew Drawbaugh, Paul Young, Carl Jackson, James Brwon, William Fahey, Kate Vrijmoet, Shawn Foote, and my personal favorite- Robert Hardgrave.


On the way to the meeting Tuesday night. I was late. The girls have their cello lessons, one hour each with Mannfried, from 4-6. The problem is he and I have gotten a little chatty that the lesson tends to run over. He’s a good teacher, giving them undivided attention, music theory, physical position, music history, philosophy. But the lesson went until 7 PM Tuesday. I didn’t hurry. I didn’t speed. It’s too easy to get a ticket on 99. As we–the Land Rover in front of me–and I entered the Battery St. tunnel, she must have hit a slippery patch on the road. Her car spun out in the left lane, hit the wall twice, hard, spun and crossed to my side, hit the wall again and crossed over again and hit the left wall again. For a moment it looked as if she would flip. I slowed wondering how I would avoid hitting her and the debris flying from her car. I didn’t think of death, but I did. I can’t explain that. She coasted into my lane in front of me, her car badly battered, air bag open. I blared my horn as the cars behind us approached at top speed, hoping they would understand that I meant to alarm them to slow down, there was a problem here. She was coasting. I wanted to stop but knew that would be a death sentence in the tunnel for many people. I felt guilt for not checking with the driver. I pulled around her and off the exit where I called 911 and reported the accident.


L-R: Robert Hardgrave, Jeff Mihalyo, Stephen Rock, Lynn Schirmer, Tracy Boyd, goofing and having a great time waiting for Paul McKee to begin his presentation.

Was anybody hurt, they wanted to know. She was certainly conscious. She was on the phone when I passed her, maybe calling 911 too. I told them she must be hurt considering how hard she hit the walls, but that she wouldn’t be feeling it until the shock wore off.


L-R: Paul D. McKee’s legs, Paul Pauper, Stephen Rock, Jeff Mihalyo, Lynn Schirmer, (don’t know his name yet, don’t know his name yet), Nichole Dement, Johnny Wow.

It happened so slowly.


L-R: Robert Hardgrave, Paul D. McKee, Paul Pauper, Stephen Rock, Jeff Mihalyo, Lynn Schirmer.

But the cars came up on us so quickly.


And then they all decided to take the freight elevator up to the 5th floor to see Paul Young’s work. “Come on Kate, get on! Come on! Oh, it’s safe, it’s fine!, Nothing could happen. Come on Kate, It’s okay.” L-R: Paul Young, Tracy Boyd, Jeff Mihalyo, James Brown, dont know, Paul D. McKee, Robert Hardgrave, Shawn Foote.

I thought the opportunity for multiple accidents, multiple deaths, was great.


It was pitch black. Mark was concerned for me, but I was just in the experience, perfectly calm, once committed, no judgement would change the outcome. Observe Mihalyo in the following photos, how he managed to pose for each of these shots is beyond me and hysterical. Mihalyo, McKee, (too dark) Drawbaugh, Schirmer, Fahey, Dement, Rock, don’t know name.

I’ve been frustrated, unfocused and grieving. But personal issues have drawn my attention away from professional endeavors. How I think about myself in the world has changed since my mother died in March and I’m not sure exactly how, only a little: I’m an orphan now, I no longer can tolerate adolescent behavior from adults, I know I need to find a way to meet my needs. Also, the little girl dying in May has rocked me to my core and there are times my knees buckle under me at the thought of it all.


We rode the vater up, we rode it down. Don’t know, Brown, Mihalyo, McKee, Draughbaugh, Schirmer, don’t know.

I picked up Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, for a jump start, refocusing, something easy to read instead of the heavy philosophy I’ve been challenging myself with. She talks about down times too.


Finally reaching our goal, the 5th floor, Tracy giving great direction, only to find out that the access was locked from the outside. We were locked in the elevator. Me, Young, Mihalyo, Brown, don’t know.

But then this very unexpected thing happened. It jolts one back into the instant, the moment, and out of self-absorption, but totally into self. I wanted to be respectful of others’ lives and protect my own. Then I went onto my meeting, where I didn’t talk about the event, I kept the focus on the agenda that had been set and participated as appropriate.


Here’s Mark, concerned for me, and Tracy figuring out where we are and how to get us there. I just like this shot because of all my crazy big orange hair! But there we were, in a black elevator we couldn’t get out of . People started calling, “hey, anyone out there? Can you open the gate?”

Earlier in the day I had decided to eliminate outside distractions, get back to the things that are important to me about my own work, and keep the focus on myself. I had decided to keep the focus on myself in the here and now.


And someone was, and he did. I wonder whether he thought this was anything unusual as 18 people filed out of the freight elevator?

Discipline was never a problem for me. It was always straight to the studio to work after dropping off the girls at school. Sitters twice a week allow me to work late. And on the nights I don’t work late in the studio, I’m working from home. I’m not going to very many shows. With the demands of my family and the 80-100 hours I need to spend on my work per week, that’s it.


And so, adventure over, bonding experience for the group, we went to see Paul Young’s latest explorations. I would have liked to ask some questions, but my head was spinning based on something he told me on the elevator about Cambridge and the library expansion project. Maybe I’ll ask him for a studio visit...

I was glad to be at that meeting. Strange thing was, a couple of people remarked later, privately to me, that I had a "glow" about me that night. I wonder if a close call with death does that to a person.

I hope that gal in the Ranger Rover is okay. I wish there was a way for me to find out.

Maybe its time to start painting the car accidents I’ve been wanting to paint since before grad school, when I lived in LA. I sure have been thinking about them long enough. They’re 30 foot long paintings about time slowing down and rubber-necking, not being able to avoid looking. Funny that. I’m painting that anyway.

Category: Seattle Group

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