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.

This weekend in Brooklyn: Sound summer camp for badass young ladies!

Teen girls with headphones and microphones

When I took the Bushwick Daily assignment to write about SoundGirls.org’s Live Sound Camps for Girls, I thought it would be cool. Music, Brooklyn, empowering teenage girls—what’s not to like?

Well, I was right! There was nothing not to like about writing this story.

The end!

SoundGirls.org logo

No, no—of course there is more. But it’s the good kind of more!

It turned out that in addition to getting acquainted with an awesome nonprofit that connects female sound engineers the world over, hearing wonderful stories about girls learning to rock intimidating audio gear, and bookmarking the knowledge of this traveling summer camp program for the next time I meet a cool teenage girl, I also got to spend half an hour talking with the woman who’s been Pearl Jam’s sound engineer for the last 25 years: SoundGirls.org’s executive director and co-founder, Karrie Keyes!

I will pause to mention that, while I do enjoy me some classic Pearl Jam, I was even more stoked and awed to learn that Karrie has also worked with Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Neil Young, and did a 10-year stint as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ monitor engineer.

Waynes World not worthy

ANYWAY, what Karrie’s doing with SoundGirls.org is just as cool as all that, of course. Check it out, and if you know an NYC-area teenage girl who’d appreciate the chance to get her audio on this weekend, do spread the word!

Pleasant surprise: My favorite interview gets the royal weirdo treatment!

One of the coolest things about freelancing (and about life on earth) is that you never know what’ll happen next. Sometimes, you can go through days or weeks without anything much unpredictable taking place. But sometimes, you walk out of an event at Carnegie Hall and go to get your bike and there’s a plastic cup of wine sitting on your bike seat.

Plastic cup of wine on a bike seat

True story.

Or sometimes, you wake up and there’s a nice email in your inbox that says, “Hi, April. I came across your Medium story and would love to republish it on our site pionic.org. What do you think?”

What did I think? I believe my exact thoughts were: “Cool!” followed by, “What is Pionic.org?”

If you’re a Luddite who lives under a rock (like me), you might not have heard of Pionic, either, but it turns out it’s a pretty cool website that posts stories with names like, “Can There Be a Theory of Everything?” and “Squirrels Have Long Memory For Problem Solving.” I’m glad to have joined their club.

The Secret Lives of Vinyl Hoarders pionic story headline

You can check out my favorite interview given new life on Pionic right here. (I mean it’s my favorite interview that I’ve done. Of the ones I haven’t done, this 1995 New York magazine article that features a vaguely interview-like conversation between Martha Stewart and David Letterman might be my favorite.)

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.

Musique concrète? Oui oui!

I’ve blogged about Lily Wen before, and with good reason. Among other fabulous things, my excellent friend is an all-vinyl soul music DJ and Lindy Hop luminary. And not too too long ago, she started a record label called Figure & Ground.

Les Yper Sound Explorations in Drums & Sax record

I love everything about this record. Just look at the cover!!

Beside having a really hip-looking website, Figure & Ground put out a rad EP last year of spoken word tracks by Alan Watts set to groovy NYC woodwinds. This year, the label may be outdoing itself, as Lily prepares to release Explorations in Drums & Sax: 14 original tracks, inspired by ’60s musique concrète, written and performed by the duo Les Yper Sound (comprised of New York session musicians Miles Arntzen and Jas Walton), with additional genius contributed by Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark and Sudanese pop artist Sinkane, AND produced by the one and only Lily.

Whew! I will allow us to catch our breath.

Despite the record’s close relationship with sometimes non-musical “concrete” sounds, Lily writes that “it journeys through many genres showcasing percussion & woodwinds among an eclectic array of acoustic & electronic sounds—all rooted in rhythm and melody.” In other words, its notes and arrangements might be unusual, but they’re still perfectly listenable. Time to release that breath in a satisfied and relaxing way: Ahhhhhh.

Also, the album contains a song titled “Potato Brain.”

Now I know you just started scrambling for your headphones and Sherlock Holmes pipe (because I did, too), so here’s a link to a little listening party you can have right now before the thing comes out on November 4.

Thanks for keeping the hits coming, Lily! And by “hits,” I mean of course “intergalactic instrumentals mingled with the acousmatic sounds of everyday objects.”

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!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Voice on the Radio

Well, “love” might be too strong a word, but I didn’t mind it—and that’s an improvement!

If you’ve never heard me talk, I suppose you wouldn’t know that I have a fairly deep voice. Sometimes people who called our house when I was growing up thought I was my brother; I was the lone mezzo-alto in the school choir (I come by it honestly—my mom’s a tenor!); and I had an easier time singing R.E.M. in my college dorm shower than I did Tori Amos. Etc.

But out of all the things I was teased about as a kid—wearing thrift store clothes, riding to school on the back of a tandem bike, liking to read!—I was oddly spared any comments about my voice. Which was great! But that didn’t mean I myself was super cool with it.

man playing stand up bass

Did I mention I also played stand-up bass as a kid? (Though probably not as well as this guy.) How appropriate!

Still, I’ve always loved hearing other people’s voices: listening to the radio in particular has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I even aspired for a while to become an on-air DJ, a dream that only went so far as a year of interning at WERS while I was at Emerson College, and (maybe this counts?) a stint of reading books out loud for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (which is apparently now called Learning Ally). But I’ve been a proud public radio member-nerd here in NYC for 10 years, and “become an awesome radio DJ” remains somewhere on my to-do list.

Part of the issue, I think, was that I didn’t super-like the sound of my voice when I heard it on tape. I realize most DJs are probably not required to go back and listen to their own recordings after doing a show, but the idea of too many people hearing my low-low tones was perhaps a bit off-putting. Until now!

Enter Ken Kinard, a creativity coach and chief creative officer at the marketing agency Accent Interactive. Ken and I met last spring, during a team-building program he directed for my client Pilot Projects. A few months ago, he told me he was planning to produce a podcast or two about the freelance lifestyle and asked if he might interview me for material. I thought it sounded like a hoot, and hey, maybe it was a chance to see if I’d outgrown my aural awkwardness?

The result of Ken’s and my interesting afternoon conversation at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Manhattan is a two-part ‘cast—also featuring freelancer Meaghan Ritchey of Curator Magazine—that explores the ins and outs of today’s freelance species: what drove us to this marginal existence? how do we manage our time? do we miss having coworkers? Or, the podcast intros themselves put it this way: “As more people are going independent, the way work gets done is changing. We explore how freelancers are living the lives of executives and the impact it has on vacation, family, security, and the community.”

Workwise podcast #10: Nice lance. You free?

Workwise podcast #11: Lancers for the win

Ken’s questions to Meaghan and me are interspersed with reflections from the studio as he and his cohost, Mike Boyes (a leadership development consultant, coach, and president of Credo Consulting), listen to our answers and relate our work experiences to others’. I think (and I’m not biased at all here) that they did a really nice job of asking good questions, representing me (and Meaghan, I would imagine) accurately, and drawing some really interesting insights and further provocations from our conversations.

Plus, I was able to listen to both episodes from stem to stern and not cringe once at the sound of my voice! (Although I notice I did talk pretty fast.) Thanks for whatever magic you wrought there, Ken. Now I’m this much closer to chasing my dream of becoming an awesome radio DJ.

The next time you’re working it in the gym, chopping carrots in the kitchen, or toiling with the toilet brush, perhaps you’ll want to take a listen to these fun shows and let me know what you think? I hope my bass vibrato isn’t too much for your earbuds.

Writing about architecture is like… dancing about music?

People wearing building costumes

I had no idea until this moment that there is a persistent mystery surrounding the origin of that famous quote (which of course I chopped and screwed above).

But whoever originally said it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this blog post. What matters is that some words I wrote about architecture recently appeared in the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter‘s newsletter!

The Ways and Whys of Incorporating Social Science Methodologies into Architecture Curricula

What does all that mean? You’ll just have to read it to find out!

Many thanks to my very righteous clients Scott Francisco of Pilot Projects and Melissa Marsh of PLASTARC for hooking me up with this fun gig.

Now, let’s dance!

Delicious courage

Although I didn’t attend Sarah Lawrence College, I’m always pleased when people see my byline in their terrific magazine and think I did.

Sarah Lawrence comes out twice a year. It covers all the usual alumni magazine stuff like updates about goings-on at the school and news from notable alums, but blows most other alma mater publications out of the water with its commitment to producing a score of thoughtful stories about fascinating people, places, and projects in every issue.

Rohan Kamicheril Tiffin Club

Rohan Kamicheril at work (photo by Mike Jesson)

Take this sampling from their most recent edition, themed “Finding Courage”:

(In addition to presenting you with these opportunities for top-notch reading, I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out the aforementioned chef’s supper club by name. The Tiffin Club pops up periodically with inventive menus, bodacious wine pairings, and excellent camaraderie. Worth your time!)

The Tiffin Club

My hearty thanks to Sarah Lawrence‘s smart and gracious editors, who are wonderful to work with and who somehow keep inviting me back to write stuff. Coming this fall, an interview with a Davis Projects for Peace winner who’s making cardboard furniture with inner city kids!