4.10.2018

5 reasons you should read Felicia Day's memoir

In August 2015, about seven months into my last day job, already miserable juggling unfulfilling full-time work, two young kids, and virtually no time for creativity of any kind (but nevertheless trying desperately to squeeze in "art" projects like this one and this one and this one), after dropping off my kids at preschool and summer camp, I heard Felicia Day on my local public radio station talking about her new memoir, You're Never Weird On The Internet (Almost). Despite a couple of decades of prodding by my husband (who, at some point a few years ago, gave up) I've never been one for video games (aside from Dance Dance Revolution, Karaoke Revolution, and most recently, Just Dance) but something about what Day said really stuck with me. I can't recall now the specific words that resonated with me then, but I immediately added her book to my Amazon wishlist and when a gift card coincided with the book being released in paperback, I bought it. Last night I finished reading it (it was a quick read but took me a few months to get around to starting it) and here are five reasons why you, creative person, should read it, whether you're into gaming or not.

For the record, I like reading "real" books AND e-books on my Kindle.

1. The mental health benefits of diversifying your creative portfolio.

After Day moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, she counterweights the frustration of acting classes and auditions with what eventually turns into a World of Warcraft obsession. But before she spends twelve hours a day playing the game, she writes about how, in addition to bonding with her brother, "a part of Hollywood-defeated Felicia Day was 'fixed' by my double life as a tiny little penis-haired gnome." This is, I suspect, how many artists feel about their day jobs (and vice versa). I am not one of them. But this is how I feel about alternating between art-making (and the discouragement of serial rejection), and writing my screenplay (it can't be rejected until it's finished and shared - ha!). I guess this is to say it helps to not put all your creative eggs into one basket, for your sanity, if nothing else.

2. Sheer obstinate grit.

About halfway through the book, Day writes about her goal to finish the pilot script for her web series The Guild by the end of that December. "What drove me to continue? Sheer obstinate grit." This is really what any creative endeavor comes down to, after all. Write those words down on an index card and pin them to your mirror, bulletin board, laptop, etc.

3. An overview of #GamerGate and parallels to our current political climate.

Especially if, like me, it wasn't on your radar quite as much as it was for folks(/women) in the world of gaming, this is an important chapter to read. There are direct links between the #GamerGate "movement" and the alt-right, of course, but even without digging into that, the parallels to what's going on in politics right now under the "leadership" of President Trump are stunning (in a bad way). Day writes, "I think the same viral effect that leads people to share a crazy Korean music video a billion times is the same kind of phenomenon that helped give rise to #GamerGate." A few pages later she continues, when #GamerGate didn't quietly go away, "the issue somehow morphed from attacking a single woman over a messed-up revenge post to a quasi-conservative movement striving for 'ethics in game journalism'...They focused a large amount of their wrath on people trying to add dialogue about feminism and diversity in gaming, condemning them as 'Social Justice Warriors.'" You could plug in almost any social issue facing our country today and the dynamics of conservative media to these sentences and it would still be spot on.

Day continues: "#GamerGate as a movement created an environment for the attacks to flourish. Hell, it ORIGINATED with them. A great quote from a video series called Folding Ideas put it best: 'The use of fear tactics, even if only by a minority, creates an environment of fear that all members enjoy the privilege of, whether they engage in them or not.'" Um, hello, Trump effect?

Finally, on the "good and bad" of the internet, she writes: "What frightened me the most about my #GamerGate experience was the possibility that this could be the future of the internet. That the utopia I thought the online world created, where people don't have to be ashamed of what they love and could connect with each other regardless of what they looked like, was really a place where people could steep themselves in their own worldview until they became willfully blind to everyone else's." It's so easy to let this happen, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, and the consequences can be devastating.

In summary, this chapter in particular was basically my #GamerGate woke moment. And it's important for creative folks to be aware since so much of what we do is shared on the internet.

4. The importance of failure, blah, blah, blah.


When, in 2014, YouTube ceased funding for the Geek & Sundry channel, Day "immediately went home and wrote down the top things [she'd] learned going from naive actress to experienced web series show runner to world-weary start-up lady with Geek & Sundry." This one is my favorite: "The more mistakes, the better the story afterwards, especially if there's a happy ending."

5. Finally, start yourself a creative support group that discusses life goals and stuff...over pancakes.

That is all.

3.29.2018

I'm writing a screenplay

It's difficult to ease into this, especially following up on my few posts of 2018 so far, in which I write about the visual art I've made since quitting my day job last summer, and the juggling act between studio time and, well, all the other stuff. But during the month of March I stopped painting, if that's what I was doing, and started devoting all of my kid-free hours (about 20 each week, minus a few for cleaning, errands, appointments, etc.) to finally putting into script format the screenplay idea I've been mulling over for about two years.

Let's back up just a bit. January was the first month of this academic year of unemployment-by-choice during which I felt satisfactorily productive in the studio. I finished three smallish, mixed media works on paper, accompanied by some three-dimensional/sculptural components (one of which is technically a diptych, and this doesn't include the first piece I deemed a total failure, so five works total if we're counting everything, which we are). I used that new work to apply to four different art-related items on my winter/spring 2018 checklist - a local residency, an exhibition proposal, a publication, and some digital exposure. The work was rejected in all four cases. Which is totally par for the course for artists. But I handled the rejection, something I'm fairly used to, not as well as I thought I would. I'm not exactly fresh out of college or grad school, after all, and after a decade of trying my best to keep my practice technically afloat while being genuinely busy with other aspects of, you know, life, I was feeling especially discouraged.

'Suckers' from the ongoing 'Art from Ephemera', 2016. After all, you can't win if you don't play, right??

Additionally, a couple of things happened that helped me focus my screenplay idea into something I felt I could finally translate into a script. First, Lady Bird was released. I've since seen - and absolutely loved - Greta Gerwig's directorial debut film, but I was apprehensive about it since there was so much talk of the universality of the mother-daughter relationship. It dawned on me that while I've been pretty into stories and art that explore that relationship most of my creative life, it's been from the perspective of loss, lacking, absence. What does that "universal" time in a young woman's life look like when the mother is not part of it? That apprehension helped me focus what my movie idea is really about in a huge way.

Secondly, I retrieved several boxes of childhood stuff from my step-Dad's attic in two batches: when we drove there almost exactly one year ago and when he came here last October. I've taken my time going through all the mementos, writing, and of course pictures. One item I came across was my 11th grade English term paper about Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road'. The process of using index cards to articulate and organize ideas came flooding back to me. I started writing out the various plot points and visual ideas - all pretty disparate at the time and mostly contained in a sprawling Google doc - on index cards and suddenly I had a lot of raw material I could quite literally - and visually (that's key) - organize into a story arc.


I should add here that there also seems to be something happening on a zeitgeist-y level around stories for and about girls.



That quote, by Ian Wojcik-Andrews, who studies and writes about the less common bildungsromane (that's bildungsroman, or coming of age story, but from a girl's perspective) was included in Anya Jaremko-Greenwold's 2016 Atlantic article 'Why Hollywood Doesn’t Tell More Stories for—and About—Girls'. The article blew my mind when I read it, right around the time my story - about an 11 year old girl - began percolating in my brain, and I've returned to it many times since, most recently when 'Wrinkle In Time' was released. To boot, Jaremko-Greenwold also wrote about 'Wrinkle In Time', in advance of its release, in FLOOD magazine: 'Hyper-Girlish Sci-Fi and Trump Parallels in Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”'. For the record, while I really enjoyed Ava DuVernay's take on the book, I felt the script was a bit lacking in convincing us that Earth could be the next Camazotz if we're not careful: "One of the scariest lines in the book is, 'Just relax.' Just give in, we’ll take care of you. Relaxing is much easier than trying to combat IT. That’s what happened to us as a nation..." But I maintain its importance as one of the rare, but growing pool of stories for and about girls. From the 2016 article, Jaremko-Greenwold writes, "Girls...tend to be slotted into a narrower range of character types (princesses chief among them), making it that much more valuable when films present alternatives young female viewers can relate to." I'm optimistic that this is finally starting to change. Exhibit B: movies like 'I Kill Giants' (directed by a dude, but still).

When not writing, I'm slowly rewatching all the movies Jaremko-Greenwold names in the 2016 article, the early to mid-90s being a bit of a golden age in female coming-of-age stories (I mean, it's relative, right?). So far I've really enjoyed Secret of Roan Inish while Harriet the Spy felt a bit light and generally lacking. Some titles have been easier to find (from the library, because it's free) than others. And not to be all, like, mystical and whatnot, but one morning in late February I woke up with The Sundays' 'Here's Where The Story Ends' in my head. I haven't listened to them in ages. Turns out the lyrics to that song sum up pretty well what I think at this point is the general tone of my story. "It's that little souvenir of a terrible year..." Domestic tragedy and grief aside, isn't middle school just the pits?

PS - I'm averaging ten pages per week so I'm hoping to have a first full rough draft (emphasis on rough) by early June. If I don't, it'll haunt me during the ten weeks I'll be spending full-time with two kids this summer. After that, between endless editing and filling in the holes, I do plan to get back to some visual art-making, but I need to get this story out of my head first.

2.05.2018

diluted

The title of this post seems a fitting one to follow my last, pushing back a bit against the expectation that I commit all my waking hours - and maybe some of the sleeping ones, too - to being an artist. Along those lines, one thing that I've been mulling over quite a bit lately, as I transition back into the reality of establishing a more robust studio practice, is this idea of "diluting" one's "brand". Search the web for something like "artists dilute brand social media" and you'll find no shortage of how-to articles and cautionary checklists (I'm an artist - I will naturally question your so-called "rules") about how to market and sell your work without diluting your brand. One could write an entire essay (and I'm sure someone already has) about whether or not artists should even think of their work in the context of personal branding, but I won't do that. Whether you think of the images you share with the world via social media a personal brand or not, I'm here to argue for artists in particular not really giving a fuck.

A day (or two) in the life of @danceswithkids, one part artist.
I think about this a lot for selfish reasons, obviously. My social media handle is @danceswithkids, after all, fully embracing sometime in 2017, the many facets of my life as a creative parent who sometimes has to do boring stuff to make money and who, in her elusive free time enjoys dancing, baking, traveling, and spending time with cats. If I have a personal brand, it includes all of these things. I won't open a separate Instagram account for any particular area of interest (or obligation). I'd like to think, instead, that I'm part of an increasingly vocal community of creative folks who embrace the idea that being an artist, in particular, can include being all of these things, not just sharing images of one's work, studio space, other art we're looking at, and so on. Less so in my case, but I've seen a lot of artists wrestle with this lately for political reasons as well.


These ideas I hope will get some steam from the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin, whose passing a couple of weeks ago inspired a surge in rereading and listening to past interviews. I had no idea she addressed so openly her life as a writer and mother. In this Fresh Air interview (from 1989!), she tells Terry Gross, on the topic of "babies and books," "there are some of us who really need to do both and are perfectly capable of doing both.” And this, via Austin Kleon, from Le Guin's Dancing at the Edge of the World: "Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades..." (emphasis mine). And finally, from this article via Jocelyn K. Glei's weekly newsletter, second of ten things Karen Joy Fowler learned from Le Guin: "There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. (This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.)" It struck me that the self-evident part isn't necessarily so for visual artists, at least not yet, and perhaps made worse by the convergence of social media and our multi-faceted lives being whittled down to "personal brands" that can be bought and sold. Even the artists I follow and admire who don't have kids seem, in my opinion, unnecessarily concerned with diluting their "art-brand" by sharing images of all the non-art in their lives. This unfortunate trend I find, frankly, a little boring. Being more transparent about the juggling act at the core of being an artist is important. It adds to our humanity, and we could all use a little more of that these days.

Diluted? No. Rich in a way that those with monetary wealth from their successful personal branding may never truly understand.

1.29.2018

one part artist

As promised some time ago, this being my first post of 2018 (Happy New Year, by the way), I wanted to compile a recap of art/making that happened during the first four months of this day-job break


To warm up a bit in my studio, I initially started making mini "art from ephemera" collages on leftover business cards from my last office gig (a tongue-in-cheek response to the question people are no doubt asking when they find out I'm one part stay-at-home-mom, one part artist: what do you do all day?). You could say this ongoing project is "artists in offices" meets "art from ephemera," two themes I've explored in various informal projects over the past three years. As my time in the studio has increased, my desire to make these every day has decreased a bit. I'll continue this project when I have materials from the day and the time to do so, but I'm not forcing myself to commit to making one every day; they served their purpose in the transition from full-time day-job to part-time artist. You can see the 40+ cards I've made so far in this photo album on my Facebook page.


I don't want to say or post too much just yet about my newest body of work, Heavenly, except to summarize that, finally, as of this month, it's going well. To date, I've completed about 4 to 5 of the total dozen or so pieces (roughly 13 x 19 inch mixed media works - paintings, if you will - on paper), several with sculptural elements I hope to explore in an installation format at some future time (and space). You can follow my process on Instagram and see progress shots in this gallery on my Facebook page. I'm using this new work to apply to residencies and such so wish me luck.


Other than my own work done when both kids are in school, I spent much of the fall, during our significantly increased time together, trying to distract them from screentime with various creative projects. Here are some images from that effort (with mixed results*):

Made at Michael's weekend workshop. Time, space, money - pick two! On a very limited budget, my challenge is to find things to do with the kids - and ways of working - without spending much money. This workshop was $2.

Our brief interest in kindness rocks.


Halloween-inspired.

The 9 year old's diorama book report for 'A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom'.


This little nook was once a built-in DIY play kitchen. Since both kids have long outgrown it, I decided to convert it to a mini maker-space, so that they have easy access to a variety of art/craft supplies. Monday afternoons are devoted to making stuff, whenever possible.

This is also the reason why I'm in no rush to replace our 13 year old table!

Pirate turkey advocates for a vegan Thanksgiving.

The 4 year old's painted paper-mâché cat. Not creepy at all.


For the short-lived "troll in a bowl" project, and as the subject of a "maker-space playdate" the 9 year old had with one of his classmates, I made this mini longbow, courtesy of Sonic Dad.

Okay, yes, this is food but it's of my studio so it should be included in this round-up!

Nailed it!

More clay, this time at the awesome drop-in art studio hosted by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF.
*To clarify, I'm not anti-screentime. But, with multiple screens and a sudden, significant increase in free time, on top of a shoestring budget, the hours were quickly adding up. Making and movement are my main tools in this endless battle!

12.13.2017

wait for it

In my last post, I mentioned spending about half of the traditional work-week since leaving my day job in August with at least one of my two kids. That portion has increased slightly as I'm no longer sending the fourth grader to the after-school program at his school two days a week (long story, partly financial), taking another roughly four hours of my studio time, which is a significant chunk. I'm down to 16-17 hours of kid-free time most weeks during which I manage the household (menu planning, grocery shopping, errand running, cleaning, etc.), hang out with cats (usually just one or two shifts a month now at Cat Town with my regular shift at OAS on Sunday afternoons), and, most importantly, spend time in my studio painting and writing.

It's ludicrous. But it's more time than I had when I was doing all that and working full-time (and it's forced me to continuously refocus my studio efforts which is a good thing given my generalist tendencies). In my last post I also promised a recap of the making I've managed to squeeze in since September 1st but, like me, you're going to have to wait for it. Instead, I wanted to share with you all another phenomenon of having more time with the preschooler in particular and that is: waiting in public bathrooms. Like so many young children who haven't quite mastered the art of going at home before leaving the house, and being one to take her time no matter what she's doing, I've spent a lot of time with little else to do but take a bathroom selfie. So here you go, the top 10 bathroom waiting selfies since summer.










11.14.2017

art you can hug

I have now been unemployed-by-choice for about 2 1/2 months. When people ask me if I love it (and they always ask that way) I say, other than having less money, YES! Our one-income budget, without dipping into savings or racking up any new debt, is tight, and spending about half of the traditional work-week entertaining two young children without spending money is challenging, especially in the Bay Area. But, fortunately for me, much of what I enjoy doing - looking at art (not to be confused with blowing funds on this kind of thing) and spending time outdoors - is free! Additionally, while I will admit that spending two full days in the studio each week has proven challenging due to all the other little things I commit to each week, I have made significant progress in the area of organizing the creative spaces in my home and generally making stuff, often with the kids. The good news there is that I have a ton of art and craft supplies already on-hand. To that end, following is a recap of art I've seen, usually with at least one kid in tow (we saw a lot of art; stuff I've made will be included in a follow-up post).



Before I left my job at the end of summer, we purchased a family membership to SFMOMA. Special exhibitions we may reserve for seeing sans kids on school days, but it's also one of my post day job goals to schlep the kids to more art shows. So in early September, we went on a Sunday morning to check out the new Julie Mehretu paintings and the SECA award exhibition, right before it closed.


Good stuff all around. I've been a fan of Mehretu's work since I saw it at the Berkeley Art Museum as an undergrad and I found a new favorite in the 2017 SECA award exhibition in Sean McFarland's work.


I think the kids liked it, too. Also in September, our neighborhood in Oakland - the Laurel - got three new murals, all related to the plight of the grizzly bear population in the state.


We spent a weekend morning on a bear hunt, followed by some afternoon crafty time at newish shop Mischief.


Wednesday afternoons, while the preschooler is still in preschool, I pick up the 4th grader early (all Oakland schools get out early on Wednesdays). Several afternoons so far we've seen art during our "wacky Wednesday" afternoons, just the two of us, before picking up little sister.


For example, we saw the Martin Wong exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. Get this - kids are always free, as is one adult "chaperone" per kid, per visit! I'm so used to things being so expensive I almost wonder if this policy wasn't a mistake of some sort. For now, however, I'll take advantage of it.


The following week I met Neal, who works a couple blocks away, at SFMOMA for a quick, kid-free lunch hour tour of the Edvard Munch exhibit before it closed in early October. What can I say except it made me want to go home to my studio and paint, which I think is one of the best compliments a show of paintings can get. The only other time I've seen Munch's work in person that really stood out was at MoMA in New York in 2006, mentioned at the end of this post.


That same week I again schlepped the 9 year old to see some art on a Wednesday afternoon, this time abstract paintings by women artists at Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. As I wrote on social media after, I'm not usually abstraction's biggest fan (though my own work oscillates between abstraction and representation, but more about that later), but I thoroughly enjoyed this show.


When we're flush with funds again (ha!) we plan to financially support the Oakland Museum of California. For now, we take advantage of their free first Sundays. We went in October to see the new Jet Martinez mural in the courtyard (above), part of the annual Day of the Dead exhibit, among other California art, like Susan O'Malley's lovely series of prints, 'Advice from My 80-Year-Old Self' (which you can also get in book format).


Both kids were out of school one day in mid-October, so we took a day trip down to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University to see the Nina Katchadourian show.


What can I say other than: fabulous. I'm a big fan of her work and the 9-year-old was pretty into her rendition of Under Pressure (from the series 'Seat Assignment') when he saw it at SFMOMA shortly after they reopened in 2016. A very kid-friendly show if my kids are any indication. And, best of all, the Cantor Center is free.


On a pre-Halloween "wacky Wednesday", as we call them, the 9-year-old and I saw In-Between Places: Korean-American Artists in the Bay Area, at the Mills College Art Museum and Culture Industry at Slide Space 123 (also on the Mills campus). Both spaces are, you guessed it, free.


On an early November Friday with the 4 1/2 year-old, we took advantage of light traffic to make our way across the bay to see the work of my friend and fellow "artists in offices" Lisa Jonas Taylor, also my first time in the newish Minnesota Street Project space (Lisa's work was in the Bass Reiner Gallery, one of many galleries in the space).


I've seen Lisa's work in person before, and I'm a fan, but I thought this show was particularly stunning in her use of the space's "horizon", the window, and her materials.




The 4 1/2 year old was particularly enamored with the many "treasures" shed by one sculpture in particular.


Finally, for the second first free Sunday in a row, I took the kids to experience Nature's Gift: Humans, Friends & the Unknown at the Oakland Museum. Art that is not only okay to touch, it's art that beckons to be embraced.

Stay tuned for part two of this almost quarterly report, in which I'll write about stuff I/we have made and the progress, slow though it may be, being made in the studio.