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.

New Groundswell mural vivifies East Williamsburg; really makes ya think

Early last week, I took a short walk down Manhattan Ave to its terminus at Broadway. It was a nice walk—in part because, on a morning this hot, I found myself actually enjoying being in the shadow of those 2,700-unit Lindsay Park cooperative housing buildings. But mostly it was because I knew what awaited me at the end: not one, but two!, beautiful and moving public murals by NYC’s own Groundswell, a nonprofit that’s been bedecking the city with gorgeous, socially-conscious public art, painted by teams of professionals and city kids, for 20 years.

I’ve been admiring the first mural I passed, “I Just Want To Come Home,” since it went up in 2015. A “contemporary blues piece,” according to the organization, the painting’s moody color scheme and kaleidoscopic arrangement of faces  within the letters of its title make it at once an arresting, calming, and haunting visual experience. With the knowledge that its purpose is to illustrate the complex relationships between police, young men of color, gentrification, incarceration, and a sense of safety and belonging, that experience is enriched many-fold.

Then I turned the corner onto Broadway and joined the dedication ceremony for Groundswell’s newest art project in our ‘hood: “The Fall of Oppression” (so new, it looks like Groundswell’s yet to put it on their website!). It’s a pretty fascinating work.

You can read my write-up of the whole dedication experience—complete with tear-jerking quotes from the lead artist, Groundswell’s program director, and our city council district rep—on Bushwick Daily.

My renewed thanks to all of you for keeping Williamsburg an enjoyable and educational place to live, paint, and walk. And for continuing to fight that good fight.

Readers: Tell me about your favorite public art!

Colorado photo tour -slash time warp

America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs

Arthur and I just spent four days and change in the big square state of Colorado (from which I originally hail), and boy was it a hatful—for reasons beside our inaugural start-to-finish screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! (Tim Curry: respect.)

Yes, multiple factors led to the head-spinning:

  • Going back to where you’re from, when you don’t go regularly, is all but guaranteed to be a trip. “Is that what XYZ really looks like? Where did XYZ go? I can’t believe I used to do XYZ here!!”
  • Colorado is different from New York in many ways: more sky, more dry, more guns; you hear fewer different languages spoken on the street—and fewer people are walking down the street to begin with, and the streets are steeply crowned to deal with the occasional flash flooding. That’s just a few, of many more, off the dome.
  • Taking a break from your usual routine and surroundings is a shake-up—even if you’re just spending the night on a friend’s couch. There’s nothing quite like shoehorning yourself into a different place temporarily to shift your perspective and put it in… perspective.

I could easily go on, and I don’t want to image myself out of blog-writing business!, but pictures are probably the most apt expression tool in this case. Ladies and germs, prepare to feast your eyes on… Colorado, Spring 2016!

Readers! Care to show and/or tell me about a trip ‘home’ you’ve taken?

Fly By Night: Duke Riley turns everybody on at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

“Duke Riley’s Fly By Night brings the rock dove back to the forefront of the New York story once again,” reads the program for the performance we saw last night, “assembling an unprecedented fleet of specially-trained birds that pay homage to the inhabitants of Cob Dock [the largest U.S. Navy pigeon coop, previously located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and now defunct] over 100 years later.”


As they got started, a hush fell on the crowd

Extremely cool artist and “long-time pigeon fancier” Duke Riley is partnering with one of my favorite organizations ever, Creative Time, to enact a fairly thrilling bird-based performance on a semi-secret corner of NYC’s waterfront this spring. Creative Time says:

“Friday through Sunday evenings at dusk, a massive flock of pigeons will elegantly twirl, swoop, and glide above the East River, as Riley orchestrates a series of performances… At the call of a whistle, thousands of birds will emerge from their home in a grand, converted historic boat docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The pigeons will circle above the river as the sun sets over Manhattan, and small leg bands, historically used to carry messages, will be replaced with tiny LED lights, illuminating the sky in a transcendent union of public art and nature.”


The birds’ changing shapes, swoops, and dives were mesmerizing!

One might wonder “why pigeons?”, but then one only need read further into the event program, which was so good that I’ll just quote it verbatim again:

“As the oldest domesticated bird, the rock dove has been part of the human story for thousands of years. …These delicate and talented creatures are deeply loved by the humans who raise them and widely misunderstood by their urban neighbors. … Letter carrier, spy, camera operator, educator, and soldier are just a few of the professions cited on the long resume of this often underestimated bird.”


In the dark, it resembled a giant game of Pong on steroids

The romance of the many points of light, the pigeons’ swirling flight patterns, and the long, almost melancholy whistles of the jumpsuited “conductors” were not lost on the crowd. Most of us kept our seats on the temporary bleachers and craned our necks back to watch the half-hour show, while others reclined on the pavement for a panoramic view. Judging by the general silence and periodic gasps of delight, I think we were pretty much all peacefully entranced.

From any vantage point, it was nice to see NYC’s proverbial “rats with wings” literally cast in an artful and appreciative light. (I’ve never had an intrinsic problem with rats either, come to think of it. Maybe a performance starring them will be next? Paul Jarvis would be proud!)

Scholes Street Studio: Making my day in all kinds of ways

I did an interview a few weeks ago with the lovely human beings Anita Mercier and René Pierre Allain, long-time Williamsburg residents, accomplished parents, and co-owners of Scholes Street Studio, a gem of a music space in our fair neighborhood.

The fascinating couple took more time than was necessary to show me around their beautiful and impressive live/work/performance space, and we enjoyed talking about their collection of African masks, the benefits of a metalworking background in the context of a major building renovation, and the ever-changing arts landscape of NYC.

Artists By Any Other Name performance

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (photo courtesy of Scholes Street Studio)

I felt the story I wrote about it for Bushwick Daily basically did the conversation, and Scholes Street Studio itself, justice. Plus it came together pretty easily once the interview was done, which always feels good from the ol’ craftsmanship perspective. But I was totally and wonderfully shocked when Bushwick Daily’s managing editor Emilie Ruscoe sent me the following feedback a couple of weeks after it was published:

“This is way overdue, but I have been meaning to email you back regarding your amazing work on the Scholes Street Studio piece! It was outstanding! Seriously beautiful, thoughtful, elegant features writing that, in my estimation, made up a story that seems like something the most discriminating news outlets I read would have been proud to run. I feel so lucky that you wrote it for us and so proud to have something so great among the stories I’ve edited for this site. Thank you so much!!”

Jeez, Emilie—you made me blush! You also made my day. Heck, my week! While trying to write well is its own reward, it’s a huge, huge help to get thoughtful pats on the back like this from time to time (as well as thoughtful critiques, which Emilie is also good at!). Helps make all the time spent staring at the screen totally worth it.

So this is pretty much a win-win, right? Memorable conversation, solid story, and morale-boosting accolade. (Well, if my math is right, that actually constitutes a win-win-win.) Just had to share.

Fellow writers (or anyone else): Tell me about a notable compliment you’ve received!