Sure Signs

Drive on left airport sign Dublin Ireland

AKA: These sure are signs!

Many exciting things are happening around here.

So many of them, in fact, and so exciting, that I don’t have the time or energy to report on them before August is over!!

Therefore, please indulge in the following selection of funny signs collected on Arthur’s and my second annual work-related pilgrimage to Ireland, plus this time Scotland:

Anteater sign outside museum in Dublin Ireland

Dublin National History Museum making everyone feel welcome

Beware of Cyclists sign Dublin Ireland

Usually good advice

Thermos Museum poster Edinburgh Fringe

My kind of culture! (off the beaten path at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

Good work

Good work, team

Flour and eggs exam sign University of Edinburgh

When I finished my exams, I usually just went home

Choking to Death on a Currant Bun

How did we miss this show??

Just Falafs funny falafel sign

One of the better food-related puns we came across

Last but not least, a reassuring sign of the times:

Drag nun with round glasses

???

A drag nun performing at the Frankenstein pub during the Edinburgh Fringe!!!

As you (hopefully) do some gallivanting around this Labor Day weekend, keep those eyes peeled for fun in written form. Send me your faves and I’ll post ’em on the blog!

ArtPlace America: Birthdays & Anniversaries Edition

I like birthday parties as a rule, but when attending one leads to new friends, new work, and new travel possibilities, my like grows into love.

Such was the case a year ago last May, when I met Sarah Westlake—esteemed writer, teacher, and editor of the ArtPlace America blog—at a birthday party in (where else?) Brooklyn. It turned out we had some friends, some favorite beers, and some editorial pursuits in common. She told me she might have some work for me in the future, and before parting ways, we exchanged business cards. I was excited, but tried to keep calm, since I’ve learned anything can happen in the wild world of freelancing.

ArtPlace Annual Summit 2018 Polaroid Louisville Kentucky

A vision of things to come
(portrait by the singular Eli Keel: twitter.com/thateli)

Happily, this chance meeting was not my last with Sarah. Fast forward a handful of months, and I was pitching her story ideas and starting to write some posts. (You can peep the first few here, on the topics of: health equity and art; preserving black culture in gentrifying neighborhoods; and a public utility’s investment in their community’s story.)

I was already stoked with the new gig, but when Sarah asked if I could cover a couple of upcoming creative placemaking conferences happening in other states, my stoked-ness increased. While I’ve learned that traveling for work has its ups and downs, I still get a kick out of it. Plus I had never been to Madison, New Jersey (“A Town Right Out of Central Casting“) or Louisville, Kentucky (home of bourbon, baseball bats, and that famous derby), which meant one more uptick on the stoked-o-meter. So I packed my bags and experienced every major public transit typology to help document the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit’s Northeastern Corridor Conference on May 3 & 4 and the ArtPlace 2018 Annual Summit, May 21 – 23.

If I were to sum up these trips in two words, I would use the words: GOOD STUFF.

My posts from the events are still in process, so I’ll have to leave you with that verbal cliffhanger for now, but I can share a handful of my choice snaps from in and around the proceedings:

Woven tapestry featuring people

One of Ebony G. Patterson’s remarkable photo tapestries
(exhibited at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville)

Shine Bright cardinal mural downtown Louisville Kentucky

Rad mural in downtown Louisville
(if anyone knows who painted it, please leave a comment!)

Skippy in the trash can

One or another of America’s finer airports, exhorting you to throw your perfectly good food and toiletries into the garbage

A big thank you to Sarah, ArtPlace, and a couple of groovy U.S. states I don’t often get to for extending me such a warm welcome this past year. I hope our relationships can enjoy that most oft-uttered of birthday wishes: many happy returns.

2017: Greatest Hits

Is there a five-second rule equivalent for saying, “Happy New Year”? Like, is it still reasonable to say it on January 13? I guess I’ll find out.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s celebrate the arrival of 2018 by kissing 2017 goodbye in style: with my annual end-of-year newsletter!

I Peace NY sign in lights

Hark! The holidays!

This year, I got into…

  • Women with guns
  • The art(s) of community development
  • Fighting plastic waste in oceans
  • The future of work
  • Audio engineering day camps for girls
  • Ridiculous party games
  • A 26′ moving truck… for 2,000 miles

If this year-end-stravaganza didn’t already hit your inbox, you can peep it here, and even sign up to get one next year!

Peace out—or really, peace in! I’m psyched to be starting 2018 with you.

Can’t we still enjoy a good old fashioned family rug sale?

We’ve all been there: our mother hurriedly vacates the four-bedroom house she’s been living in for 40 years and packs enough oriental rugs in the moving truck to carpet Lower Manhattan.

Whatcha gonna do? Sell those puppies!

Or, try to sell them.

Nice, huh?

It seems that on the Ikea-encrusted plastic fantastic landscape of home decor today, classy handmade oriental wool rugs are not a hot item. Since July, I’ve emailed dozens of my more domestically inclined friends about them, posted them on the neighborhood Yahoo group twice, flyered our local food coops and cafes with their visages, and enlisted fellow travelers to spread the word through their workplaces. Last night, I finally resorted to Craigslist.

The results? One sale, everyone! One measly sale.

Esteemed readers, please don’t tell me taste is dead—especially in a place known for its preoccupation with style! Please don’t tell me the Young People of Today, walking around in their skinny pants with their double-digit lattes, don’t care about aesthetics, or don’t want to splurge on nice things. Even worse, don’t tell me that the Old People of Today left their dignity in the checkout line at Target and forgot what they were always nagging us about when we just wanted to play Nintendo: the importance of craftsmanship, the wisdom of buying things that last, the value of maintaining tradition and culture.

Or, hey, if you do want to tell me these things, go ahead. I’ll steel myself. But you know what would really salve the wound? If you wanted to buy a rug! All reasonable offers entertained.

Deconstructing guns with Of Note magazine & artist Jessica Fenlon

“Gun violence is a women’s issue,” begins editorial director Grace Aneiza Ali’s introduction to the latest issue of her magazine Of Note. Grace goes on to explain that while ‘gun culture’ in America is dominated by men, it’s women who bear the brunt of gun violence:

  • Every 16 hours, an American woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 80% of people shot to death by their intimate partners in the U.S. each year are women.
  • Women are 16 times more likely to die by guns in the U.S. than in any other developed country.

Yet the silence and stigmas that blanket most of our country’s gender inequalities continue to hamper efforts to combat the gun violence that hurts women most.

Of Note magazine cover with gun image

“The 10 multidisciplinary women artists in Of Note‘s ‘The Gun Issue’ engage the gun as an art object in their artistic practices,” Grace continues. “In doing so, they confront the infiltration of guns in our day-to-day lives.”

It would be tough to think of a more vital and urgent topic to write or read about. Couple that with the fact that I have long been a huge fan of Grace’s, and you can imagine my excitement when she asked if I would interview one of those 10 artists and contribute a story to Of Note‘s Gun Issue.

While I would have been eager to speak with any of them (you can see they’re all spectacular), I wound up feeling especially lucky to have been paired with Jessica Fenlon, a brave, articulate, and intuitive poet and visual artist, currently based in Milwaukee. Jessica uses a process she calls “glitch sabotage” to visually break images of guns in an effort to neutralize their danger. As she said it:

“There’s a feeling of power, of control, in that moment of, ‘Here’s this thing that kills all these people, and I’m just going to break a bunch of them!’”

Jessica went on to say a lot more interesting things as we talked—but please don’t take my word for it. If you’re interested in art, guns, women, technology, reading, thinking, and/or Pittsburgh, I hope you’ll check the story out when you have time for a sit-down read. Extra credit if you drop me a line to let me know what you thought.

Two Shameless Feminists

When my friend Angela Altus—of Bushwick Daily and Shameless Photography—spread the word that she was looking for volunteers to man up in front of the camera for a project called “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” I was all ears.

“The purpose of the project is to showcase the many faces of feminism, and how shared values span gender, age, race and so much more,” she wrote. While my combined characteristics peg me as just about the most predictable feminist in the world, I still wanted to represent! Thankfully, so did my fabulous husband.

Feminists in bike helmets

In our bike helmets, OF COURSE

The shoot took place at Shameless’s awesome space in an old industrial building in Dumbo earlier this month (site of countless body-positive boudoir photo sessions!), and has so far resulted in some gorgeous documentation on the studio’s website and Instagram; I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of these brilliant shots on billboards soon!

Big ups to all the ladies and dudes involved in this uplifting creative project. The organizers said it best themselves: “No matter our differences, if we can come together around equality, we can accomplish great things for the world.”

***

Also: My friend Kaitlin Archambault of Incendiary Designs recently redesigned Angela’s website. Wonderful, isn’t it?

A good sign: The Women’s March on Washington

Of course, there were about a BAJILLION good signs there, which is the focus of this post.

But the pun is not lost on me that this event was also a good sign of broad support for women’s rights (oh man—”broad support for women’s rights”? they just keep coming!) as well as for human rights, environmental stewardship, and general common sense and decency across the board.

Those sentiments came across loud and clear in thousands of amazing handheld signs and banners. (Which is quite fortunate for me: if a sign is worth a thousand words, and I tried to convey the meanings of thousands of signs… I’d have loads and loads of words to write!) If only I’d been able to capture more. But here’s a decently representative sample:

Womens march protest sign

Mega-love to all the amazing people out there! It was a miraculous day suffused with positive vibes, politeness on all fronts, and even the responsible disposal of litter!

See you at the next.

Family at Womens March on Washington

The thread that’s pulling us through post-election depression

On Wednesday morning last week, overcome with a mix of despair, denial, and a post-election night hangover, I sent this email to over 60 people:

Hi friends and family,

Apologies for the long recipient list, but I’m thinking of you all right now.

Been a lot of tears in our house this morning; maybe yours, too. Still doesn’t seem real.

I remember being in Williamsburg in 2008 when Obama was elected for the first time. The streets were alive. People were yelling from apartment windows, dancing on the roofs of cars. Last night, as Arthur and I walked home from Michael and Hallie’s, this place was a ghost town. We passed a couple sitting on a stoop, the woman crying and the man consoling her. When we got home, we saw the attached was spray painted across the street from our apartment (one of a few on this block); this morning, a couple laid out the pantsuit memorial. (The signs read “RIP America” and “1776 – 2016.”)

Maybe things won’t be so bad. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a relatively uneventful four years followed by someone better. But this election does throw into relief for me the constantly-important need to live a good and decent life, and to help each other stay engaged and succeed in that. It also reminds me of how much love I have for each of you, and how grateful I am that we’re in all of this together.

Good luck to us all,

A

I attached this photo: the scene across the street from our apartment on November 9:

Hillary Clinton pantsuit memorial Donald Trump graffiti

There was no real intention behind the email; I was just feeling shocked and wanted to reach for my people.

But as they say in clickbait: “You’ll never believe what happened next!”

(Well, I suppose it’s actually pretty predictable, but it did pleasantly surprise me.)

  1. No one seemed annoyed by that long recipient list.
    .
  2. People began to respond—usually “reply all”—with a beautiful variety of perspectives, stories, emotions, and even some freaky art. (This eclectic group ranges in their ages from mid-20s to mid-70s, in their education levels from GED to PhD, and in their vocations from bartender to retired chemistry professor to child psychologist to sommelier to wood shop teacher to real estate agent and beyond.)
    .
  3. As the post-election week wore on, people began referring to the thread as a “safe space;” they said they were so glad it was there for them in this trying time; they said it had created a community.

Bittersweet moment

Color me touched, impressed, and more grateful than perhaps ever before to have this outstanding group of people to turn to, in good times and in bad.

Here are some (anonymous) excerpts from their contributions:

  • “I fear that you younger folks will have to live with a very different country ahead.”
    .
  • “Yes, all we have is each other and love where we can find it. When the going gets tough we’ll probably find less of it around. What I’m finding myself scared and sad about is the need to be brave for maybe years to come, to sacrifice and take risks for each other, and I just feel too tired and scared for another civil rights movement. Getting arrested made me less fierce, not more. Thanks for the missive and the community. Sorry that I don’t have a lot of light right now. Want to come over for a hang tonight? I’m back from soccer by 9.”
    .
  • thank god my cats have no idea that today is different from yesterday and make me laugh. (scraping week old cat puke off the floor feels appropriate.)”
    .
  • “As I told my Dad earlier today, this is the first time I’ve lost sleep and then had a nightmare about a political issue. And I’m not even that liberal! I think the overwhelming amount of people that care for one another and are genuinely disturbed by this result will make a big difference. We’re not dead! Either Trump will be just another crappy president, or he’ll try something really bad and the people won’t have it. We aren’t Germany after WW1, we’re a multicultural nation that can’t be tricked completely. It will be OK.”
    .
  • “I’m thinking that perhaps most or all of you are living ‘Up North’ (as we say here in North Carolina). It is very helpful to read your personal statements of despair and yet hope. My husband and I feel fortunate that we have so many like-minded friends and family and also a strong, progressive and outspoken church community. Otherwise I think we might feel even more depressed and overwhelmed than we do already. At 73, I am crushed to find that our country is still not ready for strong female leadership, which I had hoped would happen in my lifetime. It is hard to keep on hoping after so many dry years (the 70s were a lot more fun). But it is the hope and encouragement of people like you who keep us all going and willing to keep fighting for true change in this country of ours.”
    .
  • “Did you know that H.L. Mencken predicted this would happen almost 100 years ago?”
    .
    H.L. Mencken Trump cartoon
    .
  • “Feeling very much the same here in the western bastion of sanity. Finding some relief in commiserating with like minded folks. One thing I’ve found therapeutic is to create a list of three things that I can and will do to make the next 4+ years just a little less shitty. Give it a try.”
    .
  • “I believe my fear is rational. April and I were in Russia over the summer, and we witnessed first-hand a country where an authoritarian has taken power, then systematically weakened, dismantled, or taken control over all the institutions of democracy and media in order to cement his power. The same thing is happening in Turkey as we speak. There is a blueprint for it. Perhaps I am being alarmist (I hope), but as we learned in this election, underestimating Trump is a mistake. We can’t keep dismissing him as a buffoon. He has never played by the rules or respected the norms of civil society. We need to assume he is capable of anything, and that even his most outrageous threats are serious, possible, and anything but bluster. I think we need to ignore our democratic impulse to be gracious in defeat, or to give the new president the benefit of the doubt. He has said what he wants to do, and we need to believe him and challenge him from the start, before he gets entrenched.”
    .

  • “Remember Susan B’s words, ‘Failure is impossible.’ “

An Indian-American friend gave her account of getting “Shut up, you Arab bitch, you’re dead” shouted at her repeatedly on the subway. My husband’s septuagenarian aunt proposed several practical actions we could all take moving forward: hosting letter-writing potluck dinners, making phone calls to state and national level representatives, convening small groups and visiting congresspeople’s offices with a particular request or list of questions. We traded links to petitions, homemade satirical videos, comforting quotes and poetry, and possibilities for answering the question, “What do we do now?”

In one of my favorite replies, a lawyer friend wrote about his volunteer work with the Safe Passage Project and how in the past two years he’s helped three children apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and (fingers crossed) get green cards.

Outside of the births of my children, [helping one of these kids in particular] might be the proudest moment of my life and it is definitely my proudest moment as an attorney,” he wrote. “It is exactly why I became an attorney, to help people.”

He continued: “Please see the importance of connecting with others. We cannot allow kids like these to fall through the cracks. To become victims of Trump and those who support him. Elizabeth Warren said on Rachel Maddow yesterday that we need to organize and stay in touch with those around us. Do not be afraid to ask your friends, your coworkers, and even those you meet on the street what is wrong and be prepared to listen to their answers. Forge relationships with others and do not be afraid to ask for help. We are here for you and we will not let you fail. You are not alone.”

The group’s wonderful and poignant notes go on, too many to recount here. I’ll end with the one that’s probably gotten the most play in our house to date, from our computer-programmer-turned-full-time-drummer friend who encapsulates with equal parts intelligent critique and absurd humor the scary ride we’ve been on for the past week and change:

I guess we must revel in the friendships we make during the struggle and not take it for granted that we live with neighbors who understand science, diversity and the importance of inclusion for effective democracy.

From my perspective, the same people who weren’t concerned as we lost soldiers daily in Iraq, lost hundreds of contractors, killed hundreds of thousands of people defending against our illegal invasion of their nation, and destroyed thousands of emails that would have explained our intent for invading that country have spent the last several years seizing on one terrible moment where we tragically lost four contractors in Benghazi, wasting millions of dollars and all their energy attacking Hillary over less important emails and one tragic night, instead of governing.

Somehow this bad work ethic and focus on negative attacks was rewarded: and we have a president who, for example, has the endorsement of the fraternal order of police because he doesn’t hold them accountable, exemplified by his stupendous belief that the Central Park 5 should still be in prison or executed in spite of DNA evidence exonerating them and fingering the actual perpetrator who has a record of sexual assault (who also confessed and described his attack). And who similarly chooses ignorance on science of climate change, racism, freedom of religion, women’s rights, marriage equality, health care, etc…

Into the time machine we go: goodbye health care, goodbye freedom of choice, goodbye marriage equality, goodbye holding authorities accountable for false confessions and planted evidence, goodbye freedom from religion, goodbye leading the world on how democracy can work by being inclusive and positive. Hello darkness my old friend.

Just kidding: We need to stay positive, affect ignorance with love and positive guidance and finding common threads that bind us rather than alienation, as hard as that seems. And on the positive side: comedians will be in heaven with this guy in office.

This is all going to backfire as I have decided to run for city council, work my way up to senator as I get my law degree, all the while I will be groping white men like [friend’s name] full-on with no remorse and without permission. My ultimate plan is to be the first gay President. After the third debate, as me and my GOP opponent (picture a Mitt clone) reach to shake hands, I will grab that motherfucker by his balls and as he squirms I will look at the cameras, looking America right in the eye, and say “This is for Trump, you no good son of a bitch!”

Laurel Snyder’s solosarehardtomake makes wildly good sense

Dancer Laurel Snyder screaming

Laurel Snyder wails in solosarehardtomake

Read my review in Bushwick Daily!

The first thing I said when I spoke with dancer, singer, and musician Laurel Snyder on the phone before seeing her solo work solosarehardtomake was, “Thank you for writing an artist statement that makes sense.”

Don’t get me wrong: I feel quite sympathetic to anyone tasked with writing about their art (even writers!), but some of the blurbs I read go beyond just not illuminating the work; they actually muddy the waters with a bunch of big words and esoteric constructions and make it harder to understand. Yikes!

So when Laurel stated that the multiple creative disciplines she works in allow for “layered expression,” and that playing her field recordings during shows “invites performers and viewers to exist within the same world,” it made sense to me on the page—and then it enriched my understanding of her performance when I saw it on stage.

That’s brilliant! That’s the point!!

And, as a bonus, my heightened understanding of her work didn’t at all detract from its innate sensational-ness: it’s a wild show with lots of spontaneity and emotion, packed to the gills with nuance. So “getting it” didn’t break it down or make it boring. It just made it like a Beck song: orchestrated chaos I can get into.

My favorite.