my week: my summer (part one)

It's been a minute, hasn't it? Last time I wrapped up my "week", summer had just begun. Now we've passed the halfway point (last weekend), with just four weeks and change until the first day of a new school year which, for my son, will be at a new school. Interesting timing, too, since Oakland-based Design Mom just posted this thorough explanation of why she doesn't stress about school choice. Her younger kids actually attend the same school my son attended for Kindergarten and 1st grade. And it's a great school in a lot of ways (I liked it; I never loved it as so many do), but the final straw that motivated me to spend a lunch break at the student assignment office a few weeks ago was the lack of after-school options. Kids get out of school at 3 p.m. most days, 1:20 on Wednesdays and all other "minimum days". But I don't wrap up work until between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Dilemma! So, yeah, it's easy to not stress about school choice when you have the flexibility to get your "work" done, whatever your "work" may be, during the school day. If you need supervision before and/or after the school day, your thought process about schools in light of your child's overall day might change just a bit. And the school my son will be going to is that much closer to home, meaning just a smidgen more time each morning and evening.

Other than schools and after-school programs and extended day enrichment classes, here are a few things I've been thinking about over the past six weeks.


I recently got to meet one of my favorite artists, Allison Smith. She teaches at the college where I work and just happened to be sitting next to me at an office birthday thing - an unofficial perk of working at an art school, you could say.

MoMA acquired the rainbow flag as a design icon.

Also via Brainpickings, I was introduced to the work of Oliver Jeffers. He's a visual artist who works across various media, including children's books. I'm particularly smitten with this project and immediately snatched up this book to read with my kids.

Speaking of kids, I love, love, love this article about creativity and age in The Atlantic, about how "Everyone Was an Artist in Kindergarten". This line in particular has really stuck with me since reading it: "Creativity is contingent on willingness to be judged." So true.

Speaking of a more, how shall we say, mature demographic, I finally watched Noah Baumbach's While We're Young. It's no Kicking and Screaming but pretty good. Best line in the film: "What's the opposite of 'the world is your oyster'?"

I just got my print in the mail yesterday! Jaime Rovenstine partners with Design Milk and Sebastian Foster to offer affordable, high quality art prints. I love the print I got but I'm also really digging her paintings with darker, space-like backgrounds.

Take me back to Boston so I can see Amanda Parer's giant, illuminated rabbits!

CRAFT (and design and stuff)

I planned a Pokemon-themed party for my 7 year old. It was the first time I've made his party invites in three years, creating a 5x7 inch invitation in the style of a Pokemon trading card with the help of Beagle Cakes on the anime style illustration of my son as the centerpiece (I loved it so much I'm having her make one for my daughter, too). Unfortunately, I just don't have the time to get too crafty with these sorts of shenanigans these days, but I did transform the gatorade into energy bevvies:

...and Costco pizza into pokeball pizza!

Kids really dig gatorade, by the way. They had a lot of energy by the end of that party.

Oakland and CCA, where I work, both get a nice mention in this article in American Craft Magazine. If you're from here you probably remember when CCA (California College of the Arts) was CCAC (California College of Arts and Crafts). The college has actually changed its name 3 times in its 100+ year history.

DANCE (and all the other stuff)

Misty Copeland is the first African American woman promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. Did you know she didn't start ballet lessons until she was 13?! Her life story so far is quite the read.

Speaking of SYTYCD (Copeland was a guest judge a couple of seasons ago), are you watching? Do you love it? Are you #teamstage or #teamstreet? While I'm not a huge fan of the revised format of the show, I'm "Team Street" all the way and happy to see the distinction isn't a huge deal, after all, with dancers from both teams not only dancing together but in all the usual styles. I'm not sure how I feel about the threesomes, though. Officially dance crushin' on both Jaja and Yorelis.

By the way, tomorrow is National Dance Day. Have you learned the choreo yet? There's still time!


burning bridges: pink toilet paper

Me, atop the Dune du Pilat, about 60 km west of Bordeaux, France.
Summer 2000.
Last time I updated this series, I wrote about my work with painter/professor Katherine Sherwood while an undergrad at UC Berkeley. Turns out I skipped over a summer internship with a bit of a twist. In 2000, less than a year after transferring to Cal, I decided to apply to a summer exchange program to supplement my French major, since, as a transfer student, I didn't want to be abroad for an entire year or even a semester. The main reason I decided to double-major, after all, was to extend my credit "ceiling" which allowed me to spend three years at Berkeley instead of just two. So during the summer of 2000 I traveled first to Paris, then to Bordeaux, as part of a work exchange program with the goal of being perhaps not fluent exactly but certainly "conversational" in French by summer's end.  My exact goal was to be able to watch French films without subtitles and more or less understand the plot.

For most of my 11 weeks abroad I completed a "stage", or internship, at the Office of Tourism. Normally in these "burning bridges" posts, I write about the job. But the job itself was mind-numbingly boring, with most of my journal entries from that summer about other things like the pink toilet paper in Paris, the dog poop problem, and the incredible food (skip to the post-script below if that's all you're really interested in). I was led to believe I'd be working in the information area of the Office of Tourism but they stuck me instead in one of the offices upstairs, where I interacted with just a handful of regular employees each day and spent most of my time translating various documents into English and responding to email and phone inquiries in, you guessed it, English. “I’m not at information nor will I ever be, hence no need for all the navy blue skirts and white blouses I bought,” the dress code for the folks who worked the floor, so to speak. Seriously, that was really challenging, like trying to find school uniforms to fit a grown woman. Anyway, while this occupation did little to enhance my French speaking ability, I was a whiz on French keyboards by the end of my internship. And I spent much of the first three weeks and a bit of the last week or two on free walking tours, "dégustations" (wine tastings), day-trips to nearby châteaux, etc. The days I did no sightseeing could be summed up in four sad words: "all work, no wine."

While in Bordeaux, I stayed with a host family, the son of which was participating in the same program, working at Great America in Santa Clara. I'd grown pretty fond of my host family by the time I returned home in August but initially found the entire experience to be incredibly awkward and frustrating. My hostess spoke little English, criticized me for not dressing "elegantly" enough for shopping in Le Bouscat, a suburb of Bordeaux, and took me on epic sightseeing adventures that had us visiting old churches and castles until 9 or 10 p.m. most balmy Sunday evenings. One of my most vivid memories is when she picked me up from the train station and I complained, in French, that my trees (mes arbres), not my arms (mes bras), were tired from schlepping my luggage through Paris during the first three or four days of my summer in France. Talk about first impressions.

My French hostess, elegantly dressed in a skirt and heels for a rainy tour of a medieval town.
Other than all the free tours and wine-drinking in and around Bordeaux, I spent, as I mentioned already, my first few and last couple of days in Paris, where I'd been a few times before (lucky gal that I was to spend grades 4 through 12 in Germany and England). I love Paris. I could totally live there. Additionally, I spent one mid-summer weekend in Toulouse, and a few weekends away with my host family, first on the Ile d'Oléron, where they were spending their August vacation, and my final full weekend in Blois, for a traditional French wedding. I could write entirely separate posts about each of these weekend adventures!

Ile d'Oléron at sunset. Just heavenly.
I saw just two movie-theater movies: Le Gout des Autres and Les Destinées Sentimentales. I developed a bit of a film-crush on Emmanuelle Beart, writing in my journal that she had "a great face." The films were, obviously, not subtitled and sure, I got the gist of what was going on. Mission accomplished!

The final entry in my journal, written during my final night in Paris before my flight home to SFO, details the few regrets I had about my summer in France, primarily this: "Didn’t ever get around to writing in here in French! But, see, if I read this in, say, twenty years after I’ve forgotten all my French I’ll be glad I stuck with English." Writing "twenty years" probably seemed like an exaggeration at the time but here I am, going through my box of Bordeaux memories 15 years later. And yes, I'm glad I wrote my journal in English!

PS - A few more words about the incredible food...

Most breakfasts consisted of croissant or baguette with jam, coffee or cocoa, juice, and occasionally yogurt. Dinners in Bordeaux with my host family were usually buffet style and served outside since it's so hot there in the summer. Some examples include: “first some tomatoes, tabouli, and spicy chicken wings, then salad, then some cheese and bread, and finally apricots for dessert.” Another night: “first some radishes and bread, then salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and a piece of ham, cheese and more bread, and strawberries for dessert.” And another example: “half of an avocado, followed by a green salad with these little crab meat stick things, bread and cheese (of course), and pudding for dessert.” One more example: chestnut mousse one night for dessert, following a dinner of salad, 3-cheese “tart”, and bread & cheese. Weekend lunches were the heartiest and most formal: “melon, some sort of beef thing and fries, bread and cheese, and cherries for dessert.” This next example, I wrote,  "lasted four hours!" - aperitif & hors d’oeuvres of cheese trays and toast with salmon pate. This dinner called for fancy table settings including “little salt servers that resembled very small ashtrays with tiny little spoons.” First course was a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, and green peppers with vinaigrette and feta cheese, served with bread. There were two different kinds of meat - bayonne ham and “some sort of pork thing” served over green beans. “Also, some chicken McNugget things but with broccoli instead of chicken.” Full cheese course, with bread and for dessert - individual fruit tarts (I had lemon). Another Sunday lunch included “three aperitifs, mussels, cheese trays, and what essentially seemed like duck ‘bacon’ to me, followed by salmon pate hors d’oeuvres, some sort of duck main dish (too much! enough duck already!), served with berries and nectarines, cheese and bread, and chocolate gateau for dessert. The cake was so good - consistency of a great big brownie, served with creme anglaise.”

The Bastille Day Dinner that blew my mind: “I had some sort of gratin dish for starters, with avocado, cheese, some sort of seafood and a few mussels. The main dish was kind of like a salmon shish-kabob with some sort of very rich sauce and rice and for dessert … fondant au chocolat with creme anglaise. I don’t know exactly what ‘fondant’ means in English, nor have I ever had anything quite like this, but it was so tasty. Kind of like a cake but really dense, essentially fudge, but with a creamier ice cream-like taste. There were two slices of this swimming in creme anglaise and garnished with sliced almonds.”

Labor-intensive seafood on the Ile d'Oléron: "Lunch was an adventure - assiete des langoustines - like little lobsters, unbelievably difficult to eat, but delicious. 'Dos de maigre' was some sort of fish, for the entree, and nougat glacee for dessert." "Had my first real 'gaufre' with chestnut spread at the port." Another lunch at the port included family style "platters of seafood, again all very labor-intensive to eat - langoustines, shrimp, ocean snails, crevettes, mussels, oysters, and crab."

In short, lots of meat, much of it unidentifiable (or was it that I was in denial that I was eating a cute little bunny rabbit?). And cheese. Lots of cheese.


kids: the natural antidote to wanderlust

I love traveling. Scratch that. Since having kids, I love the idea of traveling. Because with young kids, especially the toddler (not to point fingers or anything), a vacation is a "trip." That changes as they get older (I don't feel bad saying my one-on-one road trip with my son was overall more enjoyable than our cross-country travels with both kids in tow). For now, we focus on visiting family while saving fun stuff like Disneyland and Hawaii and, I dunno, Marfa, Texas for when the children are a bit older. Perhaps in college. Which is not to say visiting family is not fun. It is, but it's also far less expensive so maybe it has less to do with where we are and who we see and more about how much we spend versus how exhausting the kids are. Anyway, in the meantime, my son and I took our second road trip together, just the two of us, and we successfully flew cross-country and back again with both kids. A few highlights from those trips included:

A Japanese cultural festival in Bend, Oregon. I forget now the connection with these dancers but they were fun to watch. They gave an epic performance that my 7 year old son sat through with keen interest.

I also realized that while we've made the trip to central Oregon together countless times over the past 18 years, since I initially moved from Bend to Berkeley (after less than a year in Bend), this was the first time I attempted the 8+ hour drive on my own. Needless to say, we split the drive home over the course of an afternoon and following morning, my son and I stopping for a dinner of ice cream in Klamath Falls.

So what did I learn from our east coast travels? For starters, a red-eye with two young kids is miserable no matter how well they do and I hope to never have to do it again. Fortunately, that first leg of the trip was the most grueling.

We sought out the best donuts in Williamsburg. Naturally.

And capped off our return trip via Boston with a wee bit of art. Actually, a huge aerial sculpture by Janet Eichelman.

It was strange to be back in Boston after six years. It simultaneously doesn't seem possible that it's been that long while also seeming unbelievable at times that I ever lived outside California (this state has a way of doing that to you; it's far worse if you were actually born here). The weather was deceptively perfect, meaning we must have lucked out on visiting during one of the three to four weeks out of the year when the weather is not either painfully cold and snowy or miserably hot and humid. We saw quite a few old friends, colleagues, and even our old landlord, showing my son where he lived his first year of life. The people were friendlier than I remembered. I rode the T a lot when I was pregnant with my son and can only remember one or two times someone giving up their seat for me. And yet almost every time we rode the T someone gave up their seat so the kids could sit. I'd almost consider moving back if not for those long, brutal winters. Even so, Boston is still one of just a handful of cities I'd consider calling home.


a little ice cream helps the art go down

As you may recall, I don't have a lot of time these days to make art. Or you could argue I'm not disciplined enough with the little bit of time I do have. That's a fair argument. To which I respond, "It's my kids' fault!" I go from my full-time day job to my main moonlighting gig as toddler-wrangler, kitchen cleaner-upper, tushy-wiper, bedtime story-reader, and lullaby-singer from about 5 until about 8 or 8:30 every evening. After that I spend about a half-hour doing "chores" - making lunches, doing laundry, and so on. So yes, technically I do have about 30 minutes to an hour each evening all to myself (I go to bed early because sleep is important, especially after many years of being chronically sleep-deprived, and because my early morning workout is non-negotiable). I guess I could do something with that time.

This past Monday, for example, I caught up with a friend from grad school (Elizabeth Amento) during the last evening of her show at LESS SPACE in Oakland. But this sort of evening shenanigan is highly unusual. Most nights I prefer to watch TV while eating popcorn and chocolate, after which I read, on average, about 3 pages of my current book before falling asleep. Sometimes I throw in some half-assed yoga poses while watching TV.

I don't mean to complain. I love my kids and I'm so glad I have them. I wouldn't change a thing. But they do make making art extra challenging given I'm a FTWM these days (you could argue it's actually the work that makes making art tricky but to write about the decadent luxury that making art would be at this time in my life would constitute a whole 'nother post). Which is frustrating because, for the first time in nearly 7 years, I have a pretty concrete idea for a new body of work. Paintings, even. I know, right?! Alas, I don't have the time or space to make them just yet. In the meantime, there's plenty of research/prep I can tackle (research that, conveniently, includes watching some TV and a handful of movies). I've also been doing a lot of writing not yet published on this blog, and I'm trying to pull together a more participatory art project that stems from this half-baked idea - in other words, projects I can chip away at without an actual studio space or a whole lot of time.

For the latter, I've been thinking a bit more about social practice, looking at artists like Miranda July (which won't come as a surprise if you read my last post), Harrell Fletcher, Julie Ault, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and David Robbins. Robbins' long-term, multi-platform project Ice Cream Social has been a project I've looked to in the past. There's something about meshing the act of looking at art with the social aspects of food as something that brings people together in often celebratory ways that's very appealing to me these days. It reminds me of one of my thesis-related trips to London to view the Elgin Marbles.

While there, we saw Shakespeare's Othello at the Globe Theatre, and afterward enjoyed one of many soft-serve cones from a food truck parked nearby (I lost count of how many of these we had during that trip).

These memories are so intertwined, not just because of chronology and geographical proximity. It's like the memory of the play is inextricably linked with my memories of eating ice cream, perhaps even enhanced by it! Food for me has always been key to triggering memories. So I like this relationship between food and art, perhaps not unlike how salad dressing, it turns out, can actually help your body absorb more nutrients from the vegetables in your salad. You follow me? At any rate, I feel it's a hypothesis worth further investigation.


summer reading

Summer reading lists always leave me a bit mystified. All this gearing up to read more during a two- to three-month period that isn't really any less busy than the rest of the year. I mean, I still have to work and take care of my kids, right? That said, I did resolve to read more this year. "Well-read" is not necessarily a phrase I'd use to describe myself (although I did read 'Of Mice and Men' in the 4th grade). So far I've read some really great stuff. I thought I'd share a couple of suggestions here today.

First up: Rebecca Solnit's 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost'. Overall I really enjoyed it. There were some really amazing passages and some that were a little more meandering, but it averaged out to a great non-fiction read, especially if you're into ideas around place, travel, loss, and so on. My favorite passage is in the section called 'The Blue of Distance,' where Solnit compares running to film:
Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that make it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without that darkness, there would only be a blur. Which is to say that a full-length mirror consists of half an hour or an hour of pure darkness that goes unseen. If you could add up all the darkness, you would find the audience in the theater gazing together at a deep imaginative night. It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map. In a similar way, a runner's every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds, whose shadows crawl below them, caressing the surface of the earth, growing and shrinking as their makers move nearer or farther from that surface. For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.
Incredible, no? I look forward to reading more of what Solnit has written. Next up, though, and speaking of "small bites", I wanted to tackle something I could read in smaller chunks of time, since I typically only read during the few minutes between going to bed and giving in to sheer exhaustion (which is why it took me over three months to finish one book). So I finally read Miranda July's collection of short stores titled 'No One Belongs Here More Than You,' a book that has been on my bookshelf since shortly after it was published in 2005 (I know, right?!).

Oh man, it was so good. So entertaining. Full disclaimer: I'm a huge Miranda July fan. There's really no project, piece of writing, performance, or film of her's I haven't totally loved. That said, I think you'll like it even if you don't dig her other work as much as I do. I was talking to a colleague recently who isn't as into her work as a performance artist, for example, but enjoys her writing. My favorite story was 'The Swim Team,' in which the main character teaches a group of adults how to swim without having access to a pool. It's hilarious in a uniquely Miranda July-esque way. I also loved this passage from 'Ten True Things,' when the narrator attends a beginning sewing class at an adult education center after learning that her boss' wife is taking the class, a woman she feels she knows pretty well, despite having never met her, because she talks to her on the phone almost daily. At her first class she observes:
It was not immediately obvious who Ellen was because we did not play any name games at the start of the class. Past a certain age, they give up on name games, which is regrettable for someone like me who loves anything that involves going around a circle and saying something about yourself. I wish there was a class where we could just keep going around the circle, around and around, until we had finally said everything about ourselves.
Another funny exchange is in the story 'How To Tell Stories to Children.' This isn't really central to the plot or character development or anything; it's just funny because it's so mundane. The main character runs into another character at Trader Joe's:
He said his bread always god moldy before he could finish the loaf. I said he should freeze the bread to prevent this problem. He said, Won't that ruin the bread? I said, Not if you're making toast with it. He said, You can just toast it frozen? And I said, Yep.
Yep. It's true, too. You can toast bread that's frozen.