Category: art

Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must. Read more »

Invented Landscapes and Very Real Things

Berkeley IB Art ShowI know memory leaves bright spots where there used to be large, black expanses, and I know it hardens up shapes that used to be fluid and swimming. I know my memory draws long, looped lines to all the places I could have got to quickly if I’d turned the other way.But what I remember about being a teenager is a lot of uncertainty and a kind of desperate cultural claustrophobia.

Nothing about my high school, or the streets I took to get there, or the people who rotated in different versions of the same visual, reflected the ripplings that were going on inside me. There were structures in place: gateways and tryouts and solidifyings that stretched out forever and determined one’s place in an inscrutable system– which felt everlasting, in the doomiest way possible.

Not having played soccer religiously from the age of four, for example, had been a bad choice. No teamlife for me.

Not being a prodigy in any one spectator-ready talent was troubling, as the best is what it seemed the system was searching for. Every fifteen-year-old had a lot and wanted more, and the point was to stand directly in the spotlight and grab it. That was the point. Grab it.

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Ballad of a WiFi Hero

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Great animated adaptation of “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero,” by Mike Lacher, from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Tour of the House Called Longing


Prints by Zarina Hashmi

There’s a tree blocking the house from the front, a needled tree, but that can be cut back. The house is green and lovelorn, it is 1093 square feet on a 3 thousand something square foot lot, room for lemon trees, anything. It borders an alley, industrial spaces, its street address is 808 and all of this points toward yours.

The house is listed for 550,000 and will need some work.

You will take up the carpet to expose the old floors, and somewhere in there you hope you’ll find an alcove, an indentation, a place to build some kind of shrine like every house in India.

“This is my house.” So said Navita, packed dirt floor, we stepped over a gutter moat to reach the front door. Walls painted bright orange, one plastic chair, nothing else but the shrine: Durga’s picture hung on the wall with a calendar. The next room was all but dug out, where she and her mother kept their sleeping mats rolled during the day.

“This is my house.” It will contain only the best of what you need and love, you don’t need more and more. Potted palms in the corner of the living room. Necklaces hung for the choosing near the bedroom window. The bathroom tiled like an Istanbul hamam. Things you’ve found, collected, resting finally.

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The Cat Show is Decadent and Fabulous

A show person's beautiful denim shirt.

A show person’s beautiful denim shirt.


Last Saturday, I went to a cat show. Yes, a cat show. I’m still piecing it all together. I feel like I spent my weekend at a rave surrounded by people in soft sweaters navigating through feathers and little gold bells, like my brain is still coming down from all of the ecstasy and molly I ate. But I was sober. Stone cold sober. I have no excuse other than I was under the influence of heavy dopamine surges typical of an all-night cat video bender. So. Many. Cats. I was there for three hours. I planned on staying less than one.

The Saintly City Cat Show in St. Paul, MN is held annually, and it brings hundreds of cat people in varying levels of cat-personhood ranging from cat video enthusiasts to the seasoned breeder and presenter. Some come from as far away as central Illinois—an eight-hour drive. In January. One woman I met flew to Sweden to get her rare Norwegian Forest cat. Sweden! These people are dedicated. They are proud of their pedigree felines. They give their cats three-word names. Gaelic names. Names of Roman gods. They subscribe to Maine Coon magazine and Cat Fancy. Their sweaters match the coat coloring of their cats. Based on what I saw this weekend, it is astonishing—nay, negligent—that Christopher Guest hasn’t written this screenplay because, just like his movie Best In Show, these people are as nuts as they are lovable. Read more »

Does Geography Determine Creativity?

MapEyeAs a teenager, I thought I had to move to a big city to be a writer. Growing up in a small Swedish town (3000 people), I had my sights set on London, Amsterdam, or in a pinch, Copenhagen. Berlin seemed pretty cool too, but when it came time to pick a third language in seventh grade and my school offered German and French, I for some reason picked the Romance language. When after three years I still hadn’t mastered the French vocabulary, I scratched Paris off the fourth place position on my list.

At seventeen, I moved to the US to study and learned quickly that in this country, the only place to become a successful writer was New York City. Young creative people still flock to this vibrant metropolis, but according to Candy Washington, sometimes they need a vacation from the “hustle-and-bustle of the NYC grind.” In her recent article for PolicyMic, she writes:

New York can be a great environment for the creative 20-something — but only if you’ve got endless funds, patience or both. And as the city continues to price us out, it’s important for young artists to consider other equally exciting and inspiring places to call home.

Ms. Washington suggests the following five cities for creative living:

1. Wilmington, NC: The new film and television hub
2. Little Five Points, GA: Boho-chic in the South
3. Providence, RI: The new ‘Creative Capital’
4. New Orleans, LA: More than Mardi Gras
5. Portland, OR: Stay weird

I would add San Francisco, CA to this list because of the video games influenced increase in creative jobs such as graphic art and game story writing. I’d also add Seattle, WA because I read somewhere that it has more published authors per capita than any other US city. And I’d add Austin, TX because it’s the city that first coined a marketing term that included the word “weird” (Keep Austin Weird) and because it offers live music of any genre any day of the week.

None of these cities were on my radar by the time I arrived in America and I didn’t pay much attention to New York either. Science had taken over as my main focus. I still did some writing, but not with my previous fervor. Being immersed in a second language also did weird stuff to my brain. Paragraphs would end up half Swedish, half English, and sometimes wholly in a new language I named Swenglish. Writing was hard and when I wasn’t studying, I was more interested in spending time with my new American friends and my new American boyfriend. None of them were interested in writing or any other type of art. Read more »

How a Life Travels or The Life and Blues of Amiri Baraka

Amiri-Baraka-Quotes-2Amiri Baraka was the self-chosen name of the poet, playwright, story writer, activist, and father who died last Thursday. Like most men who live 79 years, he wasn’t just one person in all that time, but unlike most men, Baraka seemed to accept and celebrate his plurality. He was born in New Jersey in 1934 as Everett LeRoi Jones just after the Harlem Renaissance; across the river from his cradle, folks were quoting DuBois and Hughes, surely singing their souls into his. William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman drank his water first. When he was learning to love words, modernism was alive in America, surrealism in France. The stock market had just crashed five years prior to his birth, Civil Rights wouldn’t come to town for decades, and by the time LeRoi hit puberty, WWII had ended, opening the road to the Beat generation, where he would find Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and live their bohemian lifestyle. He was a lover and a father. He was a soldier and a scholar and a fighter. He used words as his sword. And for a short time, he was the Poet Laureate of New Jersey until his sword grew too brave and the politicians stripped him of his title. From all that I’ve read of his work and about his life, the one thing I can be sure of is that he did not live in the shadow of fear. He lived in the light of his convictions, and whether we all hold those same convictions or not, that is a life worth celebrating.

Want to hear him read the poem that got him kicked out of the Poet Laureate seat in New Jersey?

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Want to hear or read his interview with Terry Gross? Click here.

And this is an insightful, personal story in The New Yorker told by someone who new Baraka’s first family.

Rest in peace, Mr. Baraka, or if you’d rather, raise hell, wherever you are.

Streetview Moments in the Age of Curation

Canadian artist Jon Rafman’s 9 Eyes Tumblr displays enigmatic moments caught by Google’s street cameras. The cameras have nine lenses and take photos every thirty feet or so. These photos become the panoramas that enhance Google maps. The results are often voyeuristic and enigmatic.


There are glitches, Big Brother moments, and people flipping off the camera. According to Rafman,

“Street View collections represent our experience of the modern world, and in particular, the tension they express between our uncaring, indifferent universe and our search for connectedness and significance. A critical analysis of Google’s depiction of experience, however, requires a critical look at Google itself.

“Initially, I was attracted to the noisy amateur aesthetic of the raw images. Street Views evoked an urgency I felt was present in earlier street photography. With its supposedly neutral gaze, the Street View photography had a spontaneous quality unspoiled by the sensitivities or agendas of a human photographer. It was tempting to see the images as a neutral and privileged representation of reality—as though the Street Views, wrenched from any social context other than geospatial contiguity, were able to perform true docu-photography, capturing fragments of reality stripped of all cultural intentions.”

glitch Read more »

happy xmas (war is never, ever over)

timothy edward kane, playing the role of "the poet" in "an iliad"

timothy edward kane, playing the role of the poet in “an iliad” at the court theatre in chicago

war is hell.

how many times have i heard that phrase?  just from hollywood movies alone, it must be dozens.  but rarely, if ever, did it provoke an emotional response from me.  which is probably as much my fault (for not really thinking about it), as it is hollywood’s fault (for employing the phrase with so little care or conviction).  and yet, if there ever was a true statement, that may well be it.

war is hell.

i might just be projecting my own thoughts on the entire country here, but i think that this phrase, this cliché, this particular bit of Truth, has lost its power—and its meaning—in america.  the concept of “war.”  the concept of “hell.” for so many people, they’ve become just that: concepts.  abstractions.  things we can think about almost like a mental exercise, without any real/emotional/psychic connection to our own, actual lives.

war is hell.

i was thinking about that phrase, and about how i’m often haunted by dfw’s belief in the “great and terrible truth” that lurks beneath clichés, when i was driving home after seeing a stage production of “an iliad” last week: after i’d sat through that one-man show & cried—cried like a faucet turned all the way on, complete waterworks, silent-but-absolute-and-unstoppable weeping—so much in 90-some minutes that i really did lose track of how many times i cried.

Read more »

The Glass (half-full)Menagarie

imagesThe Booth Theatre has a fantastic new production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams.  Zachary Quinto captivated as Tom.  I suspect he will live long and prosper in many future roles on stage and screen.  Cherry Jones portrayed a very funny and naturally dramatic Amanda. I totally bought her southern, exaggerated way of speaking.  And Celia Keenan-Bolger quietly shone as poor, awkward, Laura.

My more experienced theatre-going companion assured me this was the best production of “Glass” she had seen and pointed out it kept more in line with William’s original intent. The stage was set apart by a shallow pool of water from the audience, which may have contributed to the overall dreamy and ethereal quality to the production.  As Tom announces in the first scene, this is a memory play and must be treated as such.

With praise duly noted, and I do highly recommend catching a performance if you happen to be in NYC over the holidays, I do have some quibbles.

It’s a memory play and we witness Tom’s memory, so ultimately the play is about Tom.  We see him revisit the night he abandoned his overbearing mother and selfless sister to strike out on his own, following in his deadbeat dad’s footsteps.  So Tom has to leave at the end, but I’m not buying that his mom’s irrational anger at him for bringing an engaged man to dinner as a gentlemen caller for his sister would have caused him to leave. Not after all the years of abuse and pent up frustration he felt toward his mom and his lack of success in life so far.  Perhaps, this was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it didn’t feel right.  Instead, it seemed like Tom had to leave, and the plot served to move the characters, rather than organically growing from the characters. Read more »

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