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.


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.


day of the dead cats

Since today is the final day of El Dia de los Muertos, I thought it fitting to not only share the altar I made here but also, because this shrine celebrates feline companions who are gone, provide an update on my cat status since my last, incredibly sad post a little over one year ago.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first. About six months after Sophie died, we had to say goodbye to Xander, too. He was fairly out of sorts for awhile when Sophie never returned home, but he settled into his new, solo cat routine eventually and - if there's any silver lining from losing Sophie - enjoyed lots of extra love and attention in his final months. In the end, I guess you could say he died of old age. He was about 18, after all, and seemed to suffer from mysterious, hard-to-treat ailments, like steady weight loss despite a hearty appetite and chronic congestion. Up until a day or two before he died, however, he was still very social, still eating, and still (mostly) making it to the litterbox (one normalizes a lot of less than ideal behavior with an aging pet). But one evening he was having a hard time standing up and walking without falling over. We knew it was time. We spent our last morning with him, after taking the kids to school, in our daughter's room, which gets the best morning sunlight. I brushed him a bit (he always loved being brushed), we basked in the sun, and he alternated between mine and my husband's laps. Around 11 a.m. on February 22, 2017 we took him to the vet. I had mixed feelings about whether to do this at home or at the vet's office but in the end I feel comfortable with our choice. It was in every way the total opposite of how we lost Sophie. We were able to say goodbye, for starters, we were both with him, holding him the entire time, and it was, thankfully, very peaceful (at least what we observed). He purred until he was sedated (step one) and we stayed with him for a long while after the second shot. It was so hard to leave his body behind, but I knew he was gone.

For a few months after Xander died, I thought I might be done with pets altogether. I wasn't sure I could handle that kind of heartbreak ever again. But the desire to have cats is, apparently, pretty resilient, and around May I started visiting Cat Town cafe in Oakland, an organization I'd been following for a few years. I visited with one or both kids 4 or 5 times throughout the summer and, as my final day at my day job approached, decided to begin the process to become a volunteer.

Through that process, we also began fostering Penelope, a sweet 2-3 year old white/tabby mix who'd been pretty stressed out after a six-week stay at the city shelter following a guardian surrender. Somewhat by accident, I also began the volunteer process at Oakland Animals Services (I was under the impression I was to take the volunteer orientation there as part of my volunteer training at Cat Town). The last time I'd been to OAS was during my search for Sophie, which, if you've read the heartbreaking post in the link above, didn't end well. It was extremely difficult to walk in to that space, but I also felt a sense of relief, once my volunteer orientation was done. Adding to this, I eventually ran into the very volunteer who, along with the vet, delivered the news that Sophie was dead. I didn't recognize her at first (that day is understandably a bit of a blur now) but eventually connected the dots and shared with her why I looked so familiar, which was really difficult to do. I did my first cat training with her a few weeks ago and the entire process, though difficult at first and not at all what I was intending when I got involved with Cat Town, has been extremely healing. There is something liberating about coming full-circle to interact with the people who were with you on one of your darkest days and understand better than most what you've been through.

Phew, we made it. Are you ready for the good news now? I'm a full-fledged volunteer at Cat Town, popping in a couple times a month to hang out with the cats in the "downtown" cat zone. I'm not yet trained to work with socializing the "forgotten kittens" in the cat zone two "studios" but I hope to do so in the future. I'm nearly done with the process at OAS and at some point may need to focus on one or the other due to schedule and time constraints (as much as I'd sometimes like to, I didn't quit my job to hang out with cats full-time and unpaid), but I'm hoping to remain involved in both in some way since witnessing the partnership between the two is what has been an educational and rewarding experience. Additionally, after a couple of months fostering Penelope, we decided to make it official and permanent with an adoption! I will always miss Sophie & Xander, and all the cats I've had in my life, but I am really enjoying having Penelope around the house.

Finally, speaking of past cats, and in honor of this final day of the dead, here is the altar I made using a box of holiday chocolates from last year. Before:

(I mean, I had to make something out of this amazing box, right?!) And after:

I knew I wanted to use the box for a day of the dead altar but I wasn't sure whose life (or lives) to celebrate.

I'd recently come across this picture of my Mom with the two cats we had in Virginia (Bogie and Bacall), when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades (when we moved to Germany they went to live with one of my aunts), and that gave me the idea to dedicate this altar to my dead cats.

It's not exactly traditional (no marigolds, etc.) but it does the trick. Catharsis via cats and crafts!


burning bridges: wayfinding

I wrote about how I got my start in the glamorous world of offices, as part of this "burning bridges" blog series, back in 2014. My first administrative gig was in a suite of law offices in uptown Oakland between 1997 and 2003. After several jobs in food service during my late teens, the switch to office work was welcome. Writing about it in 2014, after several subsequent office jobs but before my most recent, which ended this past August, I still reflected on that experience positively (this was also before I experienced the increased need to move constantly and monitor every calorie taken in as one ages that Heather Havrilesky details in this hilarious post about her treadmill desk). With this post, I'd like to focus in on the world of arts administration specifically, across the social, museum, and educational aspects of that broad field. "Artists in offices" that support the arts.

I've been mulling over this post for awhile, knowing I wanted to combine talking about the couple of jobs I had between college and grad school (after my summer in France and last year of college working for an artist and professor at UC Berkeley) but feeling like it made sense to lump those positions together with the one I was currently experiencing. Until this past summer. It's been about a month and a half since I became unemployed-by-choice. Lots has happened in that time: my sciatica flared up, I got bangs (again), I've lost anywhere from 2 to 7 pounds, depending on the time of day I weigh myself, I've spent time getting up to speed as a volunteer at both Cat Town and Oakland Animal Services, while fostering a cat from the latter for the former, and I turned 40.

'Heavenly', very early stages sneak peek

Aside from making very little money (from the occasional Etsy order) I have no regrets. I spend about half of the traditional work week with the kids (dragging them to as many art shows as possible), and the other half, now that I'm feeling mostly caught up on miscellaneous projects around the house, in the studio. I have fairly specific goals for the academic year: complete as many of the dozen additions to my portfolio as possible (we can call them paintings for now; collectively I'm referring to this new work as 'Heavenly') by about April 2018, and finish the screenplay I started a couple of years ago. Truth be told I have a much longer list of projects I'd like to complete, but I'm trying really hard to focus on those two for now.

Backing up to 2002, however, with college graduation looming, despite already having a job, I remember desperately looking for a different job that even remotely utilized my degrees in Art Practice and French; I was ready to move on from the world of law office management. I think the search only lasted about three or four weeks, but it felt like much longer at the time. Eventually I got a part-time job as an administrative assistant for the support group (museum members who pay a little more each year to further support a specific department) of the works on paper department at the Legion of Honor, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. For the first year I worked there, I hated it. I didn't have a car so I took two buses followed by a 15 minute walk to get there from my apartment in Oakland. I remember it being consistently foggy for the first several months I worked there (a typical summer in San Francisco is foggy but from what I recall this was a particularly gloomy summer). 'Eternal Egypt' was the traveling exhibition on view when I started and I remember people joking daily about the 'Eternal Fog'. On top of that, during my walk through the golf course that surrounds the museum, I was routinely attacked by birds I can only guess were nesting in the hedges that lined the trail. Eventually I started taking a third bus for that last leg of the roughly 90-minute, one-way commute, then resumed walking after a couple of months when, I'm guessing, the baby birds got kicked out of their nests.

I was still working occasional hours at the law offices to make ends meet, managing the law library and putting in a few hours here and there for the immigration firm. Right before my one-year anniversary at the museum, I turned down a full-time job offer from that firm. It's a decision I've once or twice regretted, but at the time, I wanted to stick out this whole arts administration thing, setting my sights, eventually, on getting my MFA. Shortly after, I had the opportunity to interview for a very similar position at a non-profit arts organization focused on networking opportunities for women in the arts (not artists, I might add; curators, writers, art historians, etc.). I got the job and officially quit, once and for all, my on-again, off-again gig at the law offices. Most weeks I worked just four days a week - two in SF, two at home - reserving Fridays and weekends for studio time. It was around then (summer 2003) that I began working on the portfolio I would submit to graduate schools. I was waitlisted that first round so I spent a third year at both part-time gigs, and tried again (with success!).

Getting ready to take meeting minutes as a "fly on the wall" in a Pacific Heights home in 2003 or so.

I eventually grew to really enjoy the museum gig. After the one-year learning curve, it was pretty easy. I hated the commute (even after getting a car), even just twice a week, but I loved the location, once I got there, and enjoyed most of the folks I worked with. Since I worked with the support group's board of directors, all volunteers, of course, I had a lot of autonomy and decent flexibility, both of which I now know I really enjoy and require in order to thrive in a position. My other gig, though great in part because I worked mostly from home, was a bit more manic - I had some really fantastic experiences and some pretty awful days, too. I blame it somewhat on the nature of the organization I worked for (versus museum work or work in higher education). But do I really want to burn this bridge to the ground? Ultimately, my main complaint was that I felt I was living a double life. Case in point, when I announced in the spring of 2005 that I was leaving at the end of summer for grad school, even after correcting people, they were convinced I was going to pursue my PhD in art history (wrong!).

Fast-forward ten years, one master's degree, two cross-country moves, and two kids later. I've written at length about my full-circle experience enabling my side-hustle habit via Etsy, so I won't get into that again here. I'll just add that throughout the process of building my itty-bitty business and hanging out with my toddler, I applied several times to "real" jobs. Initially out of grad school, of course, I wanted to teach. Art. At the college level. In the stank economy that was 2008-2009. LOL. After two years of that I focused my attention on jobs very much like the two I had before going to grad school (this is where the possible regret around turning down that full-time law office gig comes into play). When I found myself considering applying to the very same job I'd had several years earlier, before a cross-country move and expensive degree, I refocused my Etsy efforts. But after baby #2, I struggled to drum up enough business to justify even part-time childcare or preschool. I looked again to arts administration and eventually applied to a job that was far from my first choice but one I was perfectly qualified to do based on previous experience. And I did it. For 2 1/2 years.

There's no real juicy drama to share here (that I'll save for the memoir I'll write after a successful career as a painter and screenwriter). I just wasn't happy. Late 2016 into 2017 was tough, on so many levels. And, as I mentioned before, I was approaching midlife crisis status. My cat died, a mini vacation was canceled, my husband lost his job, and Trump was elected President. And then I saw Moana. Now, I've talked with many women who identify with Moana at various stages of her narrative arc. Some have already overcome some major challenge and identify with Moana at the end of the movie, after she learns to sail and (spoiler alert) returns the heart to Te Fiti. I'm not there yet, and certainly one year ago I very much identified with Moana at the beginning of the movie, when she doesn't know exactly what she's after but she knows she's not happy with her current situation. I think a lot of creative folks can identify; it's a place we return to many times over the course of a creative life and career. Moana's wayfinding is basically "design thinking" (as it's by now been borrowed and made trendy by Silicon Valley). Coming to this realization was liberating. Instead of feeling like a professional failure, rather than feeling "stuck" in a navigational sense, I began to view my most recent work experience as one of a handful of possibilities or "prototypes". Like Moana, I didn't know exactly what I wanted, but I knew I was longing for something else, drawn to it over and over again despite how many times I resigned myself to being satisfied with where I was and what I was doing. This desire to rapidly prototype one's way through life by tackling many different projects while holding down multiple day jobs, isn't a deviation or distraction from any one right path. For me, there is no one, right path. I've failed often. I'm not a navigator; I'm a wayfinder. Indeed, that's what this whole "burning bridges" series is all about, like Maui tells Moana, "knowing where you are by knowing where you've been."


color me underwhelmed

When I started hearing buzz about Color Factory in SF earlier this summer, I wanted to hate it, this thing that suddenly everyone in the design and crafty corners of my online social circle were drooling over, this thing that they, and by extension, I didn't really know much about, this thing that I quickly learned would cost me $32 to experience. It's a typical marketing strategy lately: create hype before there's any there there. And even my millennial coworker at my last gig admits that her generation is kind of known for queuing up for something just because there's a long line (e.g. chicken sandwiches at Bakesale Betty, a store that has a sad little website, no signage, limited hours, chronically long lines, and ironing board for tables...what can I say I'm not a fan of fried chicken). And I can't say I'm a huge fan of party supplies, per se (the driving force behind Color Factory).

Black Lives Matter Cake, in honor of Trayvon Martin & the 5th anniversary of the Black Lives Matter movement. Vegan chocolate cake with coconut-chocolate ganache from Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry, who does such amazing political work as chef-in-residence of MOAD. Leah Rosenberg & Tess Wilson, Protest Cakes

But then I heard Leah Rosenberg was providing creative direction. I admire her work as an artist who criss-crosses various media without apology, including cake. Yes, cake. Still, there was something about the project's insistence that it is not an art exhibit that turned me off (ironically, Color Factory is categorized as an "Art Museum" on Yelp). Even so, when September tickets opened up after August quickly sold out, I got lucky and nabbed a pair for this past Friday, my first day of temporary-unemployment-by-choice. I'd read Sarah Hotchkiss' (a CCA alum, like Rosenberg) review for KQED arts and I was, I'll admit, a hopeful convert.

I will eat just about anything with a fried egg on top of it.

In a nutshell, though, the burrito I had from Tacorea for lunch after was more magical than the roughly 40 minutes we spent at Color Factory (much less time than I anticipated spending there). Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad experience. It's possible that going in the second month, and being a bit skeptical to begin with, is like seeing Titanic a month after it opened. I'd read so many rave reviews and seen so many gorgeous Instagram photos that there wasn't much in the way of surprises. And the most enjoyable parts for me were pretty front-loaded, like the scratch 'n' sniff wall dots in the first rainbow-striped room.

Or sampling the sugary, pink marshmallows, followed by charcoal-infused lemonade.

"This is going to be a full-sensory experience!", I thought. But the richness of the Color Factory experience ended there for me. Sure, I felt a bit nostalgic in the orange room (cheez-its!).

And the disco ball room was cool, but the audio experience should've been such that people were dancing, not laying down on the floor in order to get the optimally Instagrammable angle.

And in the blue balloon room, one of a few equipped with a camera that takes and sends pictures to your email address, you're reminded of the project's insistence that it's not an art exhibit.

"In partnership with" Alaska Airlines and later, in the confetti room, "sponsored by" Method hand-soap - both tactics beg the question: why the steep ticket price if the experience isn't free of advertisements? If there's any kind of fourth wall in art-like experiences, these corporate elements definitely break that illusion, and not in a delightfully subversive way like when an actor speaks directly to the audience during a play. I'm simply reminded that I've been suckered into paying a lot of money for an experience not too far-fetched from something I might see someday soon in a particularly ambitious Target display.

Additionally, certain elements could have been pushed further, like the all-pink bathrooms. How about a nice, vintage pink toilet and some pink toilet paper? And the two bathrooms upstairs? Missed opportunities to do something different, in the style of SFMoMA (I know, I know, it's not an art exhibit, sheesh!). Finally, yellow was definitely not my color last Friday.

The ball pit ate my oft-complimented Old Navy sunglasses and the soft serve machine was busted. But I did stumble on a potential new response when people ask me what I do.

Ultimately, while I admit that of course I took a bunch of photos and shared them via social media, the experience, like so many other Instagram-friendly not-necessarily-art experiences increasingly, is ultimately a building full of one-liner rooms, seemingly immune to any culture of critique (if you want to know what the difference is between art and, well, stuff like this, you're getting warmer).

When I commented on Color Factory's post that $32 per person was bananas (bananas are yellow, get it?), somebody else responded, simply, "Then don't go?" Yes, I suppose I could have expressed my criticism around how this project frames itself and at what cost by simply not participating? That's how capitalism works, after all. You support stuff with your hard-earned dollars. Do I feel like I got my money's worth (see Color Factory's response)? Well, I'm glad the edible experiences were included. At least there's that. Too bad about that soft-serve machine, though. Might have to Yelp about that now, too.

In all seriousness, one of my favorite parts is the one we didn't have time for - the map! I'll do this sometime soon with one or both kids, for free (at least, I think the scavenger hunt is free...).