There’s a point to this question

Crowdsourcing… What are “must know” history facts about the United States and its people, including both the positive and negative?

Like… inventions, innovations; things from science, literature, music & the arts; best & worst policies; culture; big protests, rights achieved; great firsts & accomplishments; rights & wrongs…; war & peace; health; education…. all that stuff?

+ Positive +

Achievements, policies, or actions by Americans and/or the United States Gov’t that enriched the human experience; without these our lives would be less sustainable and more perilous or difficult*

– Negative –

Dark, cruel, and terrible acts that Americans inflicted upon others, including policies, injustices, and deceptions, so we can be informed about the consequence of these actions and find a common level of respect, decency and integration despite differences*

I’m wondering how to put this information side by side, how can we look at the whole of our American experience, the US Story, and see all of it in its complexity? How successfully can I present the information in a way that says our country is all of the above, that We are still a We, so that We can do better than this? [Treating asylum seekers as criminals, taking their children, taking away rights, leaders lying, manipulating people’s fears, hard-hearted callousness towards suffering….]

Video: Us Talking #2, 60 sec, (turn on audio). Audio is from border recordings of children Texas 2018, May Day in Chicago 2006 (credit: Ignotus at Free sound.org), refugee rights protest London 2016

 

 

Just Once Then

“Just once, then”, 2012, encaustic on panel, 11″ x 8.5″

 

 

*the paragraphs for positive/negative are modified from what a Quora user posted here.

Memorial Morning

I went to the Lafayette Crosses this morning. It’s not something I’ve been able to plan ahead to do. I can’t predict how I’ll feel the morning of, which is today. Would I want to stay snuggled in my warm bed, not thinking about things? Or would I want to do the remembering on the day supposedly the whole country is remembering, as if my loss as an aunt (though paling in comparison to those closer in degree to him) as if my loss should just be rolled up into the big national story of patriotism and war and exceptionalism? As if it is not intensely personal and privately painful in a way only people who know me completely can understand? Could I scramble myself together and drive up and around the hills between where I am and where the many many makeshift crosses are? But this morning, ahead of my husband heading out for plans of his own, I decided to go. I got ready and headed out the back door towards the car, only to realize (as per usual, hearing the thud as the door closed into its frame) that I’d forgotten something. I returned inside to the supply room. Where did I put the bag of essentials for cleaning up and maintaining his memorial cross? The vase, the gloves, the weeding shears, the paintbrush and white paint, the fresh photograph? I don’t know where I put the bag or if I even still have those things. I think I decided a few months ago that I wasn’t going to go back, since I hadn’t been there in a while. I wish I’d had more faith that the time would come that I’d return. So there I was, taking out the one photo I keep framed on the wall, re-appropriating yellow paper flowers from my kitchen window so that I could mark his spot as loved, grabbing the small hand-broom and dustpan, then throwing in scissors just in case. And I drove the 10 minutes there.

I live so close to those crosses. You can see them from the Lafayette BART station. I remember being at that station several years before October 2012, and taking a photo of the crosses, posting it to Twitter, I think. I live so close, but going and doing this Memorial Day thing, or for Veterans Day, or for Armed Forces Day, or Day of the Dead, or anything… I don’t do the collective mourning thing very much, so living close doesn’t make it easier. I thought about posting a picture to Instagram while I was there (I took two, I’ll maybe share them here, if I post this to anything at all), but I decided I don’t want to say something public. Who would I be talking to? My nephew? To everyone else? I don’t want to do this for anyone. I don’t want to perform my remembrance. Can’t I just keep things to myself? There is so much I do keep to myself. I guess it’s the contrary person in me. I used to share publicly, now I don’t so much. While I’ve seen the value in the collective experience… sharing joy is multiplying it, sharing loss is dividing it so the burden is less… I’ve needed to retreat into my private experiences. Genuinely being in a space, quietly cleaning the ground around the cross I chose for him, dusting and washing the garden stone I made for him, replacing his yellowed plastic photo with a newly framed one… these were mine. I cut the spiked weeds, I dug a new spot for the vase of paper flowers, and I cried. A small way of taking care of him. Remembering the boy that I played with when we were both technically kids. He never knew how much I loved him. Why do I cry? Because I miss what could have been. I miss what was. Today, for me, this loss isn’t a national thing. It’s just me and him, my story and his and the stories around us, the living stories that keep building over years and years, even though his story cut, suddenly, abruptly, to the end before the rest of us were ready.

So… I will post this to my art + life blog. Hardly anyone reads the blog without prompts from alerts on social medias, and since I turned off those alerts, I get to post this here with the illusion that it’s almost completely private, while at the same time, putting it out into the world, because I’m an artist and well, I can’t help wanting to craft, create, form, edit, then exhibit, because, well, that’s what I do. And I think there’s something worthwhile about that.

Edit: I guess I forgot to turn off the FB & twitter notifications, I thought I did that a while back 😬

 

Starting and Stopping

1. I’m listening to RadioLab’s podcast called “Oliver Sacks: A Journey from Where to Where” and it has recordings of Oliver Sacks’ writing. That’s right, the act of him writing, where one can hear the scratchings and his thought processes as he puts the words down, as well the conversations and verbal musings as he writes down his words. It breathes even more life into his work, more than he already put there through the words themselves. We get to have a window into the workings of his mind. He died August 30, 2015.

2. I’ve been sick all week, pretty much in bed for five days, since the afternoon on Monday. I was too tired to keep my eyes open, but too awake to sleep. My mom came to check on me this morning, and I told her I was experiencing this feeling of returning health, how maybe life might return to normal soon.  I finally realized that maybe I have the same kind of sinus pressure headaches my mom has gotten for decades. She’s always used sudafed, but sadly I can’t use it because the last time I did was 15 years ago, when I was very pregnant with Nate, and my heart rate skyrocketed to 195 (not exaggerating). At the ER, they gave me medicine that flatlined my heart before re-starting it. Gene heard and saw the long beeeeeeeep of my heart having stopped, and he saw it re-start according to plan. I haven’t taken sudafed since then. So what will I do with this sinus headache thing if it becomes a regular thing?

3. This week, home bound because I’ve been laid up, last week, homebound because my youngest was sick and his anxiety + autism needs complicated his return to school. The week before that, it was Thanksgiving, and we scuttled our modest staycation plans because our oldest was sick. My life often comes to a stop for one reason or another, so that as I am finishing up my 3rd week being stuck at home, it’s a familiar feeling. Stop life. Change plans. Defer hope. Just five days ago, I was thrilled because my son turned a corner and went to a full day of school despite his anxiety. I could see a next possible positive outcome for him. I could maybe even see a whole slew of positive outcomes, so much so that I could imagine a future for him that had such a sunny glow of positivity that it drove out all my gloomy fears. Then I realized, not for the first time, that maybe my emotional state should be less intertwined with his. I need to establish what I believe is possible, and it has to be based on something that’s unchangeable. Then I got very ill with a simple cold, and I couldn’t even get myself out of bed, and I stopped trying to figure that out.

4. I keep trying to find ways to work around my limitations. I accept now that it’s what I do, this working (drawing, painting, writing, thinking) for the sake of working, even when maybe I shouldn’t. I had been thinking it was because I was a little cuckoo. But I guess it’s more because I love to spend my energy on doing things I love. I’m compelled, I push myself, I want to take this thing that’s in me and get it out into the world. I paint, I make, I write, I teach, I learn, I think, I build. Everything I’ve already done is never enough, I always want more. That’s what is disappointing about the nature of ambition. I can’t make myself not ambitious, but I can at least not let it rob me of enjoyment in the moment.

5. Last week I made it to the 50,000 words mark for the book I want to write, using NaNoWriMo as my motivator. This week, when I’ve been well enough, I’ve worked on my studio website so that I can put my three URLs (LOL) under the umbrella of a main one. I also want to make my art available for buying online.

6. At the very least, I can enjoy doing what I’m capable of doing. And so, I keep painting, drawing, making, writing, teaching, learning... even when nobody notices. At least I can be satisfied by doing my work well, a job well done. Good job, self! haha.

And that’s what brings me to gathering the links I’m sharing in the next post.

:)

~mrk

What They Know: Neurodiverse Siblings

My boys, looking out at the Smokey Mountains, at the Appalachian Trail, Summer 2013

I can’t read their minds about how they feel about each other. I see their expressions or hear the yelling, watch the retreat into quietness or the surrender after a dispute, but I can’t tell what each is thinking or feeling. I have clues, but what can I really know? They are my sons, but I can’t guess what’s happening under the surface.

One is autistic, and one is something else.

One is loud, talkative, and dependent upon the stability of people around him. He can misunderstand what people say, can read bad intention into innocent mistakes, and can react passionately from hot to cold to hot in one afternoon. The connections he makes can be instant but he’ll remember them forever. Being highly perceptive, however, if he senses a lack of heart, he won’t give his. He loves people and he talks about growing up to be rich enough to help the homeless and the elderly. He always sees them, doesn’t overlook them. He is sensitive to his environment and needs things to be just so. He notices tiny changes in things he sees, smells, tastes and touches. He is creative, dynamic, hilarious, and irreverent. He’ll make you laugh and just when you think that’s it, he surprises you with the funniest out of the box thing. He’s an avid youtube watcher. When he finds a book he likes (rare) (usually graphic novels), he’s all in. When he finds something he likes, he loves it. If he doesn’t like something… he can’t stand it. He loves to have fun, spending time with his friends, and any kind of celebration. Although it gets complicated because of his anxiety and being autistic (high functioning in some ways, low functioning in others), he loves life. Ideally, sans anxiety & sensory issues, his happy place is being where the action with the people he loves, making them laugh and eating good food.

The other is quiet, internal, and independent, always expecting more of himself. He hates to be misunderstood, he brings stability to his friendship groups, and he has high expectations of being treated as kindly he treats others. Absent that kindness, he doesn’t react. He goes silent. He doesn’t swing his moods around. He doesn’t want to be demonstrative except in his safest places. He knows what he wants, and he wants things on his terms. He likes being himself more than following the crowd. His connections with people take a long time to foster. Once made, though, he’s loyal and it takes a lot to lose his heart. He is sensitive in his way, both to how he feels and how others feel. The combination is so intense that, unless prompted, he can overlook context and environments because of all the things he senses in people, missing the forest for the trees. He loves deep thinking, and he loves to laugh, using irony and plays on words. And sports, he likes sports. If he reads this, he won’t like it. He’s way too cool for this. He’d much rather cruise around undetected.

So how do they get along? I only know what I see and what they tell me. I’ve pretty much said they get along rather well as far as siblings go. I’ve felt pretty lucky, even more lucky in this sense than some of my friends with two neuro-typical kids. My boys don’t argue (with each other) much. I haven’t seen hate. They’ve seemed simpatico. But what do I know? One lashes out at the other, the other one barely snaps back. One is busy playing online games with his friends and the other wants to do things together, but for one reason or other it doesn’t happen. I don’t think much of it. One says harsh things, not unlike a preschool kid being vindictive after losing a game. I don’t take it seriously, and I figure the other kid blows it off, too.

But I know more now. I know that the older brother feels the need to hold himself back, to edit himself, to be the stable one. He takes his brother’s words to heart, and doesn’t filter them through the lens of his brother’s disability. He doesn’t have the remove of a parent. I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve heard the harshest things for years from a little boy who is feeling more than his vocabulary can express, who chooses the worst words he can think of just to say how bad he feels. When he directs his pain at me, I’m one step removed most of the time (not all the time.) I know that something else is going on under the surface, and that he’s hurting or angry and that it will pass. I know he really loves me. My own worst pain from all this is when I think his pain will make him want to hurt himself, a threat he’s made many times. It’s scary. But I’m an adult, and I see this little kid, I see him as the baby I carried, as the kid who held my hand. My oldest son, though, he sees his almost peer. He takes his brother’s words at face value. Only as he grows up is he starting to understand enough to have his own remove. He’s learning. But he hurts differently.

The three of us had the best talk today. Which makes me feel like an amazing parent, but actually it wouldn’t have happened without my oldest son starting to learn how to speak up. He wants to be close with his younger brother, and this talk wouldn’t have happened without him feeling how important his brother is to him. He talked about what he’s been going through, his perspective as his brother interacts with him. There was a lot of squirrely-ness from the youngest, but we made our way through it. In his way, the younger one tried to make the commitment to caring about his brother’s feelings, but he said it even as he distracted himself with games, so it wasn’t really believable. I believed him, but he needed to communicate it to the one that mattered, his big brother. Second try. Third try. He finally gave it the right attention, and it came from his heart, in his way. Still, it was hard for my older son to accept it for what it was. The youngest was speaking through echolalia, repeating the types of things that are said to him to cheer him up by his therapists and behaviorists. “You are the best, I wouldn’t be who I am without you, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have accomplished anything good in my life.” I know these broad statements spoke more to the expansive regret my youngest had over not having cared about his brother’s feelings, relentlessly teasing him for years, with his brother having to be the bigger person even when he didn’t know how. It was hard for him to hear his brother as being genuine, but with a little bit of an aside explanation, and because he had researched the autism spectrum for a paper he wrote (he chose the subject matter), he remembered about echolalia. Things fell into place. My sons had a genuine exchange. One made a commitment to care about the other’s feelings, and the other made a commitment to be honest about when he feels hurt, with an expectation for his brother to respond with care and not harshness.

I know it won’t be perfect. I know we’ll have to revisit those commitments again and again. I know they want to be close. It’s so much of what I’ve wanted for them together, to be close as brothers.

So I learned that things were not as they’d seemed to me. I couldn’t roll up in a ball of sadness and guilt. I know I hadn’t insisted on the one to hide his feelings and take so much on, quite the contrary. I think I made an effort to hold the younger one responsible for how he treats others even though he has a disability. I thought I was advocating for them equally. But even though I strive to be sensitive to both of their needs, I still missed the distance that was growing in one son’s heart towards the other, or the particulars of his experience because he goes through this as a peer, not a parent. All I can do is see things for what they are, accept the truth as it presents itself, and learn.

Their friendship is a work in progress. They know it and I know it. But even in this imperfection, even knowing we’ll never get it just so, it’s still pretty perfect. We have a whole lot of imperfection and pain that only other neuro-diverse families understand. I hope this post helps map out some sort of path to wholeness in other families that feel they are drifting apart.

xoxo

~m

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It’s incomplete.

So, I’ve decided to just write a blog post, because how many times have I been on the cusp of posting something, how long have I gone not finishing what I’ve started because composing and arranging and editing what’s on my mind have all gotten so very muddled? Is it possible to just say what I want to say and hit post? Is it possible to stop trying to get it right, to stop thinking through all the ways it will be received, trying to make sure I clarify every unclear point I make, trying to make sure I mention every connection, all the things that have wowed me as I listen and learn and go about my days? What if I forget to share that podcast I heard? And all the things it reminded me of? What if I leave out the… . Pause. I re-read this. And I think, what am I saying again? What is this post about? What is the point of this? And I almost stop writing this and just close my laptop.

But I’m not going to.

I start writing a sentence and then I stop midway. I backspace backspace backspace delete, and I say to myself, no, not that. Not that direction. New paragraph.

This is what I do on Facebook. I scroll, see, sometimes choose a reaction (👍, ❤️ , 🏳️‍🌈, 😆, 😮, 😢, or 😡?), though most often, I don’t. I might start writing a comment, an innocuous one even, and I stop for a second. Because: is this a 🌎 one or a 👥 one? Who all is going to see what I write? And what will this mean to them? And do I want them to know what I’m thinking about anything? Or that I’m even online? What about when I have a complex response to someone’s query, and I take the time to comment on that post (hey they started it!) then… nothing? Never mind. It’s not worth it. I select all on my comment & delete. I scroll some more. Think one thing, then another. See a post from this person, that person, this old friend, that relative, this neighbor, that new connection, this artist I know who knows me, that artist who wouldn’t recognize my name if I engaged their post. So many people from different parts of my life, known and not known, all in one place, and that’s not how I do things, talking to all these people at once. I code-switch. It’s not because I’m changeable, not because I’m inauthentic. I care very much about empathic listening, about clarity in response. I want understanding. I want one-on-one talks more than blasting my one opinion in one post or comment or thought, and posting it for all my connections to send me their varied responses. I’m not referring to when I post about my personal life (amazing days or heartbreaking ones) because that’s generally when I hear from personal connections, like ones from a while back, or ones fostered mostly online but still personal, or even ones that are from IRL. Those are positive exchanges. I post an experience, and I hear back from people I know on some level. But when it comes to having strong reactions about everything that gets to me (it’s a lot), then interacting with everyone who reacts to my reactions, how busy would my Facebook self be? I’m worn out thinking about it.

So I consider posting here on my blog instead. I imagine what I might post before I start writing. I tell myself: Include that one thing you thought yesterday that connected to that random thing that happened today, and tell about how it’s making you see everything differently. You wonder, if just… could just a little more knowledge make a difference? Could what I write make a real difference? But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I have more to say than I’m able to write, and no one post would suffice, and how even if I started to write, once I got a paragraph or two in, I’d get confused and twisted. I’d turn back to re-read, try to edit and arrange and compose and I’d lose my way. And if this was all written by hand on a piece of paper (it never is), I’d crumple it up and throw it at the wall. Instead, I close the tab or window. If I save, I let the computer auto-fill the title. I walk away.

I feel a little sorry for myself. (I also roll my eyes about feeling sorry for myself.) How can I do this? My brain is not the same. I don’t write like I did before the injury two years ago. And lately I can’t even post to social media like I did before. It’s exhausting.

So I need to make peace with what’s incomplete. I need to start somewhere and do something. So I’m writing this. And all the things that I thought of as I wrote this, that I can’t manage to mention or explore right here? I’m letting it go. Maybe I’ll get to it later. Maybe I will post more tomorrow. I want to leave that option open for myself.

This is just a blog. This is short, but it was still really hard. I still did the re-reading and deleting and rearranging. But instead of erasing the whole thing and walking away, I’m going to hit publish. At least I’ve started this thought. And maybe instead of expecting this thought to run through to its conclusion, I will set it free as it is. And maybe by doing that, I’ll learn something new.


By the way, this sort of relates to what I’m doing in my current show. I have work up in my space, in the front of my studio that functions as a gallery. Find more info at www.thestudiomind.com

The Most Unorganized Imperfect Thing

Good morning. It’s Friday, January 13th, 2017. I started writing at 9am and it’s 12:30pm now. (Now it’s almost 1:30 as I fix to upload this after re-reading and minor editing. It takes me a long time to write/post.)

This might be the most unorganized set of thoughts I’ve ever posted on my blog. Ever since my minor brain injury thing that happened… what was it… Spring 2015?… it’s taken a lot more energy to edit my writing into cohesive flowing thoughts. I don’t even know how to start this, which is why I’m beginning by mentioning how hard it is to write with clarity and purpose. It takes me at least twice as long as it used to, to get (what I think is) the kind of writing I used to put together (was it ever that good anyway?). It used to be so much easier. Which is one reason I don’t blog as much (I have long blog posts in draft form that are over 1.5 years old!) It’s also why I occasionally choose instead to put lengthy-for-social-media emo posts on Facebook rather than really sit with all the many many things on my mind, trying to coherently express all the connections between what I’m experiencing and thinking, how it relates to my art making and my life.

But here goes this! I have so many things to write that I’d be (even more) embarrassed to put them all on FB. Too much! (CLEARLY. As I prepare to post this, I ask myself, Really? Was this necessary, Self? Yes, Self, it was necessary.) Probably not that many people will click from there to here to read this, but that’s OK. I’m writing this at least as much for myself as for others. I need to get these things said. I need to know I said it publicly somewhere. That if someone really wanted to know, that I said it. And writing this and posting it does something good for me. It’s like, I’m doing the thing I’m supposed to do. Somehow.

Home Life

In last week’s emo FB posts :) I alluded to the toll that having a special needs child can have on a marriage (copying to here): “In which we get back up again… Only other parents of special needs kids can understand the strain… how hard it is to not stay knocked down… to figure out how to face it together.” Maybe it is true that he and I are superlatively blessed to have each other, to have found each other despite ourselves. So yes, we are lucky aka blessed. We met when we were still so young (I didn’t realize how young until I look back now!) and I did not give my heart easily; several friends had to help me get past not wanting to trust my heart to anyone at all. I’d seen how much the wrong person could devastate a person. So we’ve been together since I was 21, and married since I was 22. And I love him. He’s very very different from me, and here we are, still together. There are so many things about him that exceed other men. I’m married to someone who is strong in so many of the areas where I’m weak, and I’m lucky to have that. I say all this to get to the point I’m actually trying to make: no matter how lucky a person is to find a person who is right for them, it’s still really really hard in the real world, where real losses and real heartache and real failures can and do happen. True love truly hurts sometimes. We keep working to help each other get back up, and sometimes we don’t feel very good at that. But I guess the thing is, the fact that we are doing our best and still here, that’s a big something to celebrate. Because sometimes the hits keep coming.

Sometimes honestly, it’s the cumulative of the small hits that seem to get us (by us, I mean- you, me, everyone) the most. The big hits- we brace for them. We fight back. The little ones, they just wear us down. Something that’s helping us (this time I mean my husband and I) in our shared parenting is admitting the pain of the small hits. We ride these out with our little one (not so little anymore! ten years old and taller than over 99% of kids his age!) as he faces the real anxieties that co-exist with his autism. He is so high-functioning in lots of areas. He’s so verbal that I can’t keep up with the number of things he talks about, he is so social that engaging/connecting/talking with others is a primary need for his mental health well-being (did I mention I am super introverted?!), he is bright bright bright and has wide ranging interests. Lots of these being why he wasn’t diagnosed till age 9. But he has the anxiety of a child that’s a fraction of his age, a toddler even. The only place he can (usually) go without being accompanied by a parent is school, and even that is hard for him after weekends, after vacations (which are themselves stressful due to the break in routine), or if there are any changes expected for that school day (fieldtrip), or if it’s raining hard, or… any number of unexpecteds. And speaking of places he can go… even with a parent, that list of places he’ll tolerate going to (emphasis on the “barely handle” aspect of “tolerate”) is short enough to count on one hand. He is rigid in his understanding of things, and it takes great internal rallying for him to handle stresses that those of us who are “neuro-typical” would call a bump in the road. This morning he was refusing to take the bus to school (if I take him, it’s a 45 minute round trip for me), but several things he said this morning and last night clued my husband and I in on the fact that he must’ve had a good conversation with his teacher yesterday. See, yesterday morning we had our annual IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting. Positives: his teacher and all the staff are incredible, they love him, a review showed our son’s amazing progress since he first came to the school, and wow wow wow it’s beyond what we could’ve imagined at this point. Negatives: just talking about all his needs etc is hard, mentally draining. Also… he only goes to his current school till June. Then, BAM, middle school. (gulp?)

Why am I going on and on about this? I’m not sure. I know I have a point. I think I have a point. … Ahhh… the small hits. See, it was a good meeting, a very good meeting. But even a good meeting can be a kind of small hit for a parent of a special needs child. And even the positive of seeing that meeting help his teacher have a convo with our son that helped him to own making responsible choices this morning… all the work that goes into our son following through even with that thing he wants to follow through on… he started out by aiming super high last night making personal goals that honestly were asking way too much of himself, and having to guide him to make the more immediately important choices like taking the bus… these are small hits because of all the work it takes to get to the small victories. I’m getting to the point where I’m getting OK with identifying the ways even these small things wear me down, wear us down. I think it’s a good step. (btw, I have a feeling that the last two paragraphs are hard to follow, but I can’t fix it because I know what I’m saying and can’t tell if it’s confusing to others. But i have a feeling it might be. Oh well!)

It’s Just Life

How about the big hits lately?

  • Our oldest son our well son, had a health scare in November. He’s recovering & doing rather well now.
  • But it really sucked when the specialist said: “If: _________, then: Hospitalization.”
  • I don’t remember a spike in emotions when the specialist said that, not afraid, not sad, but… but so much happened in that one moment that I can remember it clearly and it’s like time stopped. I remember: Startle. Full stop. Eyes widening. Quick breath in. Shock. What. p.s. he’s doing much better now, and that’s all I want to say about it here. And guess what date it was when we were at the well-check appointment with his primary care physician, realizing he needed more medical care? The afternoon of November 8th. Seriously. THAT NIGHT. Punched in the gut, even if I felt it coming. Because:
  • Trump.
  • Knowing that people I care about voted for him. If you’re reading this and you voted for him, know that it broke my heart a little bit (which I can say little because, look at all the big heartaches?) I still love you. But know that it hurts me that you voted for someone who 1.) mocked a disabled journalist, 2.) who talked about immigrants from Mexico, the place where my mom was born, calling them rapists and murderers at his announcement to run for president…. need I go on? Actually, one more thing: 3.) his hard hearted unrepentant callous actions and bragging about of women as playthings for his rich ugly mind. I. Can’t. Those three things are just the deeply personal ways he’s offended me, my own life. So many other things, the list too long to list, of ways he is not NOT qualified to lead our awesome country… I can’t. If you voted for him, I’m not saying you are racist or those other things, but you voted for a man who used those kinds of hatred to get elected. I can talk healthcare policy and hacking and foreign interference and fake news and freedom of press and conflicts of interest and oligarchies and the dominance of state run oil companies around the world and white working class and realities of the electoral college vs how the majority of Americans actually voted and gerrymandering and what is real America and what real Americans think and what it means to live in the bubble and what is elitism and so much more. I can tell the difference between what a normal transfer of power to conservative leadership is and what THIS is. I can tell the difference between “normal” far-right nominees and appointees, and complete breakdowns in democracy.
  • There is more that’s happened in life, “big” things, but I’ll stop here for now
  • Ima gonna go ahead an re-post a video I made a while back, since below I talk about a piece I made that has the US flag in it. Since it’s not the first time I’ve worked with the flag in my artwork, I want to post this, because I think it’s a strong piece and it also holds my heart in it…
  • Title: It’s Still, 2 minutes 20 seconds, and has audio. First exhibited in Provincetown, MA, June 2014. I shot the first part of this footage on the 7th of October, 2013 at the National September 11th Memorial in NYC. It was the 12th anniversary of the start of the US war in Afghanistan.

Faith Life

Another reason why I wanted to write this very-long-wander-where-ever post (I have a couple other reasons, starting with…)

If it hasn’t been clear from how my friends and family reply on my FB posts, I am a Christian. I was raised in a protestant faith since I was around 7, and my family was Catholic before that. But I really made my own faith decisions when I was 17. And this sort of feels risky to be very clear about for a couple reasons. 1.) I don’t personally know another visual artist who practices art in the way I do who is also a Christian, and very few who are a practitioner of any faith. 2.) My political views (which I consider not political, but life/human)… they are at odds with a lot of other religious people I know. There aren’t many in my own spiritual sphere who differ starkly from me, I mean, I do live in a fairly liberal area but also, my congregation is super diverse. Still obviously, there are people I know from other types of Christian walks who either hold much more conservative views from me or who even might have voted for Trump (I haven’t asked if they voted for him and honestly don’t want to know. Unless they are sorry they voted for him, then they can tell me & I will forgive them.) So I feel compelled to list out my spiritual credentials. Or some thoughts. Etcetera.

  • As I write this, I’m aware of how many atheist and agnostic friends I have, who probably think I believe in fairy tales and myths. Who might even consider my beliefs a part of a larger narrative of how people subjugate one another. Bill Maher’s opinions on Christianity ring in my ear.
  • I’m also aware that some religious friends might find my political beliefs at odds with my faith (they aren’t, they are at odds with their faith.)
  •  I read the bible every day. Almost every day. But pretty much every day. If there’s an off day I don’t read it, I’m still thinking about it.
  • I base my decisions on things I read in the bible. Or I try to. The conscious ones at least.
  • I do see paradoxes in the bible. There are things I don’t understand. There are things written in there that make me angry. I will keep questioning.
  • There’s so much in there that makes sense to me by living it, doing it. Like art making, the practice of it is what brings it to life. Just reading it as a text is barely barely scratching the surface. Without faith, it’s meaningless.
  • I’ve read the entire bible at least five times. Probably more, but I stopped keeping track. I do skip around a lot more than I used to, though, and narrow in on specific subjects more often than not.
  • I believe in the dignity and autonomy and beauty and rights of people even as I believe in the truths of the Word. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
  • I pray every day. I seek truth. I seek truth about my own failings. I don’t feel better by not calling my failings Failure. Prayer is asking for help from God, asking for understanding, getting internal strength.
  • I’m a whole person even when I fail. Maybe because I fail.
  • It is, in fact, hard to be a person of faith in a secular community. Just being a believer is hard among intellectual people, so imagine the difficulty of being a practitioner.
  • Everyone judges each other, outright or secretly, whether believers or atheists. I try to choose mercy. I wish I had more of it from some specific people.
  • I go to church weekly. I am a part of a congregation of people who gather and mostly believe like me, in that we are made a family by our shared faith, not our shared (untrue) betterness over other people.
  • I can’t stand hearing sermons from people who don’t talk about their own failings, or the failings of the people gathered, not so that the failings are the focus, but the kind of sermons that talk about the evil “out there” or the evils in “society” but not the evils in ourselves, us religious people. I don’t even like sermons that are about our “general” failings. We don’t fail “in general”. We fail specifically. Lack of specificity is a lie. If not bold-faced, then subtle, but still a lie.
  • I hate lies.
  • I also lie sometimes. To myself and others. I try to catch myself. I try to right wrongs.
  • I can’t stand going to churches that do not reflect the diversity of the places where they are located. Sunday morning, the most segregated part of American life. Even when there is a touch of diversity, they are all still middle class. Or upper middle. I want a place with diversity. Don’t tell me that my east bay suburb is the kind of mostly white that some of these churches are. It’s not that white. Don’t think that the one Asian couple over there, or that one mixed-couple here, equals diversity. I’ve been in places that are so white but don’t know how white they are. I’m not saying this negates all the good those groups of people work to do. But that’s a kind of bubble. They see other peoples bubbles but not their own.
  • I like that where I go, my husband and I are not the only ones who bring the color. Yeah, I’m 100% Mexican descent. My husband is 100% Korean descent. But I love the deep diversity of where I practice my faith. And I love that it’s not all led by men. No offense, men. I love that that the truth is, we don’t always get along in my group, because families don’t always get along. And it’s inevitable. We have so much diversity of life and thought among us. I’m good with that.
  • I didn’t mean to go on and on about my spiritual community or what I think of how people of faith group together.
  • Some people in my group are more religious than others. More religious than me. Meaning, they speak a more in-group type of language than I do, or speak in a religious in-group way more than I do. I get embarrassed by it sometimes. Sort of like one gets embarrassed by a sibling’s funny way of dressing when out together in public. I think I need to get over it.
  • I do, however, feel like maybe I should say something about the in-group language they use when they’re out and about. In-group language makes me feel weird, like, people who don’t “get” the in-group language are not in the group and should stay out. Exclusionary.
  • I’ve always been a bit different in different environments. I listened to the recent Freakonomics podcast with Trevor Noah (host of the Daily Show.) Being mixed-race from South Africa, he was able to articulate it in a way that helped me conceive of how to manage my own multiple identities. He talked about being a chameleon who changes based on the environment. And how it can change it’s skin but it’s still a chameleon, that he’s not inauthentic when adapting to the environment. That rings true for me.
  • So I will bring to the forefront that I am an intellectual person of faith who is a visual artist in a very secular field, who not only believes but practices her faith very, um… faithfully.

OK, onto other topics I have on my mind.

My mom (center) with her dad and then 4 siblings, later over 7.

My mom (center) with her dad and then four siblings, later over seven.

Death Life

  • My uncle died two days ago.
  • Pause.
  • And… .
  • Tio George.
  • Pause again.
  • Life.
  • My surviving cousins. What will they do now?
  • Remember that time? It’s the last time I remember my cousin George Jr. I think he was 19 when he died? Brain aneurism? I was like 13? or 14? But remember that time? We were sitting in his room, and he was like “get out of my room” and us cousins, we didn’t get out of his room. He was the very oldest boy cousin. Around the same age as my mom’s youngest brother.
  • Anyway.
  • What song was it on the radio? or on tape? When we were in his room?
  • I think I remember a stack of records? Ones with covers that had roughened white paper edges?
  • No one else will remember this. There’s nothing significant about this memory.
  • It was a song, an english song? About school?
  • “We don’t need no education/ We don’t need no thought control/ No dark sarcasm in the classroom/ Teachers leave them kids alone/ Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone/ All in all it’s just another brick in the wall/ All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”
  • Giggling.
  • That’s it. And maybe also we talked about MTV.
  • I remember warm colors, the color of the room, was it the paint? And summer?
  • And- “hey! Get out of my room!” And we got out.
  • That was when I was around seven?
  • And he died when I was a freshman in high school?
  • And so my mom’s brother and my aunt, they lost their son. And my cousins lost their brother. And last year that aunt passed. And two days ago, my uncle died. Their little family.
  • So, in my mom’s side of the family we’ve lost (and I won’t remember them all):
    • my mom’s mom, 1964, in childbirth; Harvey was born
    • Lalena, my aunt’s toddler daughter, a year after I was born, 1976
    • George Jr (cousin above), son of my eldest uncle, 1989?
    • Harvey (born the day his mom died; AIDS), my youngest uncle, he was 31 years old? 1995?
    • Grandma Alicia (mom’s stepmom) 1996?
    • now more recently…
    • my nephew (not my mom’s side but still, obviously must be incl. here), my eldest brother’s son, 2012, lost him in afghanistan, army
    • my dad, 2013? 2014?
    • my grandpa at age 98ish, passed in 2014? 2015?
    • was last year 2015? oh. 2016. Now it’s 2017. really?
    • my eldest aunt’s husband, last year
    • my eldest uncle’s wife, last year
    • now, my eldest uncle himself.
    • There are many (7?) aunts and uncles left, born of my grandpa and grandma, one more aunt & one more uncle born of my grandpa and his second wife, my grandma Alicia… that’s a whole story in itself, a first family vs. second family narrative, it still plays out at funerals, that will be hard in a couple weeks. Heartbreaking how families break apart.
  • This is getting older, saying a lot of goodbyes. We don’t get used to the loss, but maybe we learn to get back up again because we know it will happen again. And again. I think of this reddit post about being old and handling repeated grief.
  • I think about learning from my friends and family members, the ones a little older than me, the ones a lot older than me, and even my best friends my age, who lost their daughter 5 years ago. I learn from them.

Also on my mind….

We Are Home_WEB

We Are Home, 16″ x 20″ (I think?), stonehenge paper, partly spray painted, partly painted, partly written on, partly drawn with pen/ink… a poster. $25 at venues linked below.

Art Life

I made a poster for a show and one of the receptions is tonight. I’ll be at the early part of it. (Maple Street Denim, 465 9th Street, Oakland, 5-8pm.) $25 each for most posters showing! As organizer Alison O.K. Frost wrote: ridiculously affordable incredible locally-made art! I’m lucky to have seen Alison’s call for work and to have been able to work on posters to add to the sale, proceeds benefitting causes to resist the incoming white house administration. I made my posters with this true story in mind: My grandfather made rafts at the Rio Grande to bring my mom (and her siblings) across into the United States, YES illegally, he swam them all across. My mom felt safe, though she couldn’t swim. I want to celebrate that my story is American in whole and in part. That is part of my protest. By the way, did you catch that President Obama specifically called out those who came here via the Rio Grande in his farewell address? My mom and I caught that. We told each other, he’s talking about us!

Last thing to get into before I close out this rambling story? Another rambling thing. Making this poster was so so so so … add in some more SO’s… hard for me! Not the initial design, that was straight from my heart. But the screen printing process broke down (access to certain necessary items), then spray painting stencils as inspired from watching W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America, Episode 3, Latino USA, then that failed too, and stress in my life adding one after another after another and I missed the deadline for handing over my 10 posters even as I continued to labor and labor on them as well as travel out of town for my little sister’s impromptu beautiful beach wedding and standing for her as she made her vows, and still fail after fail when I got back to the studio. And I handed my posters in on Tuesday this week. And honestly, I’ve kept working all week to make (what are in my mind) better ones. But again, fail after fail. And more loss on Wednesday. Every time I thought I had it, the solution to make the posters what I thought they should be, I messed it up. I think about what I completed and handed over, certain pieces of it I’m like, no no it’s messed up. But these posters are my heart, from my heart. Maybe the reasons for my angst over them is only in my head. Maybe not. I don’t want to put anyone in the position of defending them for me. In a perfect world, I would have had more time with them. I would only send them out of my studio in the exact condition I wanted. But this is not a perfect world. And this show of posters, and I am sure to love this show, I’m glad I’m a part of it, thankful that Alison O.K. Frost conceived of this show, and put this call for art out, and that it got me to tell this story in this way in this poster. An imperfect an expression of the experience as it is, I want to embrace it in its entirety, embrace the flaws I perceive, not knowing how real or imagined they are. I want to embrace the action of going out into the world just as i am, even if un-organized, un-formed, un-edited, un-fixed up. What else is life but getting back up again?

PS, if you have read this far and OMG who are you? and you want to read another thing I wrote recently, there’s this: Studio Visit, posted at ProWax Journal.com

Unresolved Questions (+ more)

On Saturday I made a list of questions about the paintings I started last week, because what am I doing!? I ask myself things because I like charting the path forward in my work even when it’s not clear what’s happening. It’s like I’m on a walk that seems aimless at first, but I pause and look back. I think, why did I choose that way and not the other way? I figure there probably is a preference in each direction I choose, and knowing how I got to each particular place informs my next choices for when I walk again. That way, the walk itself is fulfilling the intentions I didn’t know I had. And wherever I get to, I will know where I wanted to be.

twelve small panels at the start, upper left, Monday

twelve small panels, work in progress, Wednesday

twelve small panels ordered in columns of most completed (90%?) to least (20%?), Friday

Unanswered questions:

  • Will this be one painting made of 12 parts or 12 individual paintings?
  • Why these shapes?
  • What happened to the stone shapes with the round and round and round scratched lines?
  • Where do these colors come from? From my internal experience? Are they lasting?
  • Or are the colors from external life? Environmental? Just trends? Are they superficial?
  • Why the hard edges vs gradients?
  • Is this a language? If so, what are these paintings saying?
  • Is this a place? Have I been there? Is this place real or imagined?
  • Do I need these answers?

Answered questions:

  • Do I love working on these? (Yes.)
  • Why am I making them? (Many reasons.)
  • Will I make more? (Yes.)
  • Will I work in the same small panel size? (No.)
  • What is the purpose of making these? (To do the making and see what happens.)

Statements:

  • I’m at the beginning, not the middle or end.
  • Whatever seems too obvious, I want to question.
  • Whatever seems too resolved, I want to blur.
  • I want hard edges in the floating space.
  • I want solid forms in the formless space.
  • I want a kind of balance, not just balance.
  • I want harmony and contrast.
  • I want the option for choices, then I want to choose.
  • If there is one kind, I also want something different.
  • It’s not about this. It’s not about that. It’s what’s in between both.

I’m baaaack!

Hello Blog,

How are you? We haven’t talked in a while. I’ve been a little busy, but I never forgot about you. I know you can’t tell, but I looked in on you from time to time. I saw you were hanging out real comfy-like, with that cute picture of my little boy playing at “shaking his fists at the sky” inside that huge basket painted in an elevator by artist Richard Artschwager. So I knew you were doing OK without me.

Here’s what I was up to, and what I’m doing now. I’m gonna back up to late spring of 2016. That’s when I started a search for new studio space.

I’d just spent the previous six months as the primary caregiver for that aforementioned adorable little boy, the youngest of my two sons. As you know, he had recently been diagnosed with autism. I was with him daily, at home almost all the time, because he was barely able to leave the house much less go to school. Although I occasionally focused on my art, I rarely made it all the way into to my Oakland studio (at The Compound Gallery & Studios), though I loved it so much. After quite a bit of advocating and support, my son finally settled into an amazing public school. He loves it and he’s much happier! And I’m so happy that he’s happy. : ) Still, after all those months estranged from my work, I knew I needed to get an art studio close to home if I wanted to keep my art practice alive, to sustain my “studio mind”.

Inside the Studio Mind

Pics of The Studio Mind space right now… still need to fill up the white walls! ~August 2016

I scoured the ads and nearby neighborhoods for something (anything!) that would function as a clean well-lighted place for working on my art. I couldn’t find any shared studio space, so I decided I’d need to start from scratch and rent some private square footage of my own. I began by thinking of where I’d want to be: a walkable mixed-use neighborhood, somewhere I’d be able to be a part of a larger community, and a place that just felt right. I knew of two neighborhoods like that near where I live: Todos Santos Plaza and Downtown Martinez. The more I explored, the more I realized #1- available commercial spaces would be larger than I needed for a private art studio and #2- they’d cost quite a bit more, too. These practical realities engaged that part of my brain that is simultaneously creative and entrepreneurial. I had so many questions: Should I open a shop? Should I teach painting classes? Should I take on artist sublessees? Should I rent out table space by the hour for writers or other people who would similarly work quietly? Should I start a non-profit? How else could I use the space? All these questions came into play as I looked for a new working art studio space.

It was on one little walk around Downtown Martinez that I stumbled upon the place I finally chose. I actually found it the first day that I went out looking, but I had crossed it off my list as unusable because it was a storefront that seemed a little on the big side for my needs. At that point, I was only looking for a small private space. Since I didn’t find what I was looking for, I went on to check out tiny storefronts in other areas; soon, I ended up back in Martinez. There’s so much to love here: the coffee places, the mom & pop shops, the antiquing, food from Mexican to Thai to Italian, buildings that are old enough to remind you that people have been here for over a hundred years and that we’re part of something much bigger, much older than just our small selves. (You can tell how much I love the neighborhood, I hope?) There’s even several art venues that open together as part of Art Beat, a monthly Saturday night organized by Artcelerator.org. What more could I ask for?

I signed the lease in mid-June. I spent the summer moving out of my Oakland studio (oh, the packing and unpacking!), furnishing the space mostly from craigslist (love the “free stuff” posts!) and slowly setting it all up to be ready for use as my own art studio space AND as a public art space. I was able to hand over the Editor-in-Chief reigns for ProWax Journal, the online art magazine I founded; I moved over to the role of consulting editor/wordpress publisher. Our 13th issue came out earlier this month. I almost forgot, I even squeezed in some time learning to work in woodshop at the Institute of Fabrefaction part of The Compound, because I (thankfully!) remembered I had paid long ago to learn how to use those big loud machines, but I’d never scheduled the class. Once I got the hang of it, I used up my last two weeks there using the miter saw, scroll saw, belt sander, nail guns, and table saw as often as I could. My boy had summer school (he needed that consistency) so it gave me the option to squeeze the last bit out of my time in Oakland. I fell so in love with working with wood that I kicked myself for not learning the machines earlier. Here are some pics of what I started on, and I absolutely plan to continue to work with wood. I can’t wait. Must. Save. Up. For. And. Borrow. Equipment. 

a little wood sculpture

1 little wooden sculpture in 3 views

So I completed the move into my new art studio at 725 Ward Street, Downtown Martinez. And all the while, I was thinking about how I would use the public half of the space. After quite a bit of consideration, I finally settled on it: I wanted to teach people about living, working, and thinking like an artist. I wanted to facilitate dialogue, to get people pushing themselves in their art making, to spark connections. (And I’d have a couple art-making classes, as requested by several friends). I wanted a space that could morph into various forms so that I’d have the flexibility to curate shows sometimes, to sell my artwork and others’ artwork, to be an art space but a different kind of art space. And so that’s what I’ve set out to do at what I decided to call The Studio Mind.

Screenshot 2016-09-01 09.29.22

The website is live! 

Once I got my space all set up, I spent the rest of the summer mostly at home (again!), since my son was out of summer school for several weeks starting mid-July. During that time off, we went away on vacation (found a place that worked for our family!), and I set up the nitty-gritty of my business, like licenses, insurance, the website, blah blah blah.

So now it’s been almost a full year since my son began the most difficult several months of his life (going to regular fourth grade without getting any support because we didn’t know what was going on, then not having it in him to go anymore yet deeply missing his friends…) Now he’s in 5th grade, happy to be back at the school that’s oh-so-right for him, and I’m happy to be back doing the work I love.

And I’m excited! I have no idea if people will sign up for the classes I’m starting, but I think it’s worth trying. It might even take a few months to really get things going, but that’s fine. I’m looking forward to thinking, talking, doing more art art art. I hope this is a start of another something wonderful.

TTYL blog, hopefully sooner rather than later. Actually I have a few other things to say about how The Studio Mind came to be, so I might write you again soon after all.

XOXO

~maritza

And so it is Autism.

This is from our day at the Whitney in NYC in August, in the elevator that looks like a basket, (so you ride in a basket up & down the museum floors) by Richard Artschwager. My kiddo loved it.

This is from our day at the Whitney in NYC in August, in the elevator that looks like a basket, (so you ride in a basket up & down the museum floors) by Richard Artschwager. My kiddo loved it.

 

 

 

 

And so it is Autism.

After years of appointments and therapies and treatments, here we are. He’s nine and a half years old. How did I not know sooner? I have plenty of familiarity with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some of my friends have kids that have autism. I thought I knew what it looked like. I really thought I knew.

But I didn’t.

I’ve only known that we didn’t know what to do for our son anymore. We’ve sought all sorts of help since he was age two. And we still felt all sorts of stuck. We kept seeking more support. We tried one behavioral intervention after another. We changed our way of life and our expectations. We simplified our life in as many ways as we could. We stocked our toolkit to the brim with tips and tricks to help our unique son navigate life. But we still faced the adversary that didn’t seem to have the right name. We were told it was severe anxiety. We were told it was ADHD. But the things that helped kids that had those adversaries weren’t helping our son. In fact, he just seemed to get more frustrated. And it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Then in late November, after one week of refusing to attend school (an ongoing battle, but the first time 5 days in a row that smacked us down), we went to our scheduled appointment with his child psychiatrist. She’s impressed us with her expertise ever since we met her over a year ago. We discussed all we’d done for our son. We still seemed to be at square one for school anxieties. Then I described some of our activities during the week since he’d been home from school. And it was one little odd story, one that didn’t stand out to me as a red flag for autism but just said to me “hmm, that’s interesting about my kid, he sure likes to dig his hands into paint and smear it around in circles with no pictures in mind, isn’t that more typical of younger kids” and that’s what finally did it. A picture actually did start to crystalize. She asked, has anyone ever talked to you about ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)?

I was stunned. What!?!? No… not in regards to our son.

You see, I was really afraid when my sons were babies. For some reason, I felt sure I’d have a kid with autism (I’m remembering that as I write this), but it was probably more like a fear of it than a foreshadowing of the future. Then my older son reached all those milestones, and then so did my younger son. Eye contact. Pointing and indicating things with interest. Talking to and making friends. Loving make believe. I felt I’d dodged a bullet. Having autism seemed like the scariest thing. Really. But once we seemed in the clear, I didn’t think about it for my family again, even after little by little, after age 3 and 4, his strengths and qualities slowly changed. See, I was super aware that if there was a sudden change, that I should be alarmed. But instead, like when a lobster is put into warm water and it slowly reaches a boil, I didn’t see the signs, and I didn’t shout for that kind of help. Even if we’d asked for ASD evaluation early on, I’m not sure he would have been diagnosed. His increasing struggles seemed to happen over such a long period of time. We didn’t have a name for the subtle changes that happened over the years. I felt the heat rising. Our whole family did. Our stress has been at a boiling point. But we didn’t know why.

So we got the referral for autism spectrum disorder evaluation, and yesterday we left our house around seven-thirty in the morning and we got to our appointment in San Francisco by nine (thanks to Waze we were early!). Our appointment lasted until two-thirty. They weren’t slow, it’s just that my son had that hard of a time. The doctors were so very thorough. Even though I’d already sent in a huge pack of papers from old evaluations, from school testing results to report cards and teacher evals, they still went through our life with a fine toothed comb. They also spent time with our son doing cognitive games (um, he passed with such flying colors, my son was even making up tricks to make the game more interesting to himself; they had no need to finish the games), and doing a social evaluation thing that has a name like ADOS or something. My husband and I ended up being in the room because our son was too anxious without us there. Normally parents don’t get to watch. But now that we were in this ASD center and looking at my son in the ASD light… I could see it. I mean, I had a strong feeling going into the appt that ASD was the right track. I hoped to God they’d see it too, if that’s what he had. But seeing it in action at an evaluation appointment like this is a whole other thing entirely. It was so clear. I saw the way my son didn’t respond to social connections, the way he often used long quotes from television or YouTube shows to express himself, the way he demanded literal answers. And when us parents were interviewed separately from him, all the questions of “did he ever _____” regarding a milestone, then saying “yes, well, i guess he used to do that… I guess he stopped at some point” and realizing I was replying that way over and over again.

OMG. How did I not notice?

But we’re okay. We’re okay now, and we’ll keep being okay. I have so much to learn about the world as my son sees it. I want to help him join his world to our world. I want to help him make sense of it all. I want to appreciate his point of view. To know that the way I see it, the way most or many of us see the world, that it doesn’t make sense to him, but what he sees, that’s a thing too, it’s an important thing. I want to understand him better. And trust his actual intentions instead of only seeing the resistance and frustration. I’m looking forward to learning these things. That’s all for now. My son just finished his in-home school session with the teacher that comes out to our house. I’ll write more later. This is only the beginning for us.

Deadlines and Horizon Lines

External (or even internal!) art deadlines don’t always match what I need or serve my work. I thought I had come to terms with setting my own pace as an artist. I guess not. Well, life’s pace is setting me now, that’s the part I haven’t liked. I didn’t participate in deadline related projects for my work this past year, not outside shows, no applications to speak of. All the deadlines were internal ones I had set for myself, focusing more on studio work than anything else. But it turned out I couldn’t even keep those up. So, what’s been harder to reconcile has been my own expectations as an artist, my own desire to work without constant roadblocks put in my way. I wanted to meet the deadlines I set for myself. I wanted to mark progress (defined as making imagery that gets ever closer to that thing I’m trying to say) in my work, but I couldn’t even meet the minimal goals I had thought were realistic.

But wait a second, Self. How about listing out what I DID do in what I called my first semester of my Studio MFA? I think it would be helpful to remember that I DID do something. I actually did a lot.

  • Subjects: I chose 3 subjects (added a couple along the way), read up on them, and even wrote about what I read. I did more reading/writing back when I was still recovering from my bike accident, but since I’ve been back at regular life, I’ve still spent a little time reading at least.
  • Crit Group: I got one together, and we met to talk through our recent work and projects.
  • Mentor/Advisor/Tutor person: I met twice with an artist I admire for lots of reasons, who has experience teaching in the graduate MFA program at SFAI, who spent time with me & my work and gave me the kind of feedback I crave. She pointed me to things to read, think about, consider, explore. She agreed to meet with me in this role for me as I chip away at this MFA experience. Thrilling!
  • Events: I had all sorts of events plugged into my calendar. Show openings, free lectures at art programs all over my awesome Bay Area art community, things like that. All I got to do was ONE show opening, but it was a good one ( Mills College Art Museum: Public Works: Artists’ Interventions 1970s–Now) & I made it count.  I also did a studio visit with a friend whose work resonates with me even though it’s pretty different than mine. He just had a solo show open this past Friday in Oakland. I hope to make it in to see the finished work. Erik Parra, Each Devil His Own, Transmission Gallery, 770 West Grand Ave, Oakland. Thru January 23rd.
  • In Studio/Art: did the best I could, worked a lot from a makeshift studio area I created in my bedroom. I had a 22” x 32” anodized aluminum plate fabricated (to be used heated to 180 degrees by electric griddles) so I could work with wax + pigment on paper. I worked whenever I could.
  • I’ve written six blog posts (including this one) since September, and that’s something that took some effort. Even though I have no idea how many people read this–it could even be just a # I can count on one hand! ha!–but writing this & getting it out into the world is something that keeps me going. Writing my story as it happens, noting how it moves along, it keeps me aware.
  • ALSO, I’m the Editor-in-Chief for the art blog ProWax Journal and we published our 11th issue in November.

So yeah, Self… it might not have been exactly what you wanted, but it wasn’t nothing. Don’t you forget it.

In the middle of the Fall, life changed. Again. I kept hoping for more time in the studio, more uninterrupted focus on my artwork. But it didn’t happen. I had to let go of the big picture, at least for a little while. No deadlines, not even the private ones I make for myself. Just living for today. Like I said last week, I’m sitting down now. I’m breathing.

The home life things that are changing are a.) My youngest kid will be doing school at home for the next little while. Getting him to school had become impossible. We worked for over a year to get him to overcome school refusal due to anxiety. We added anxiety accommodations for the IEP he already had for speech issues. We did therapies and group classes. But we still seemed to be at square one. So now the school district is going to send a teacher to our house for a few hours each week for individual tutoring. We’re doing that till mid-January then reevaluating. b.) We’re being referred for Autism Spectrum Disorder evaluation. As I read up on high functioning autism, I was like OMG that’s it! I don’t know if that’s really it… we’ll find out after a lot of testing. But no matter where that determination lands, I know I’ve been dealing with a lot of the symptoms for years and years. My heart breaks for my kid the more I learn about what he’s been experiencing. But we’re making progress for him, and I’m seeing him happier than he’s been in a long time. The battles have lessened dramatically. He seems comfortable in his skin. I’m so happy that he’s happy; I’m even enjoying the process of having him home and with me all the time. We’re in this together.

I’ve realized there’s only one kind of line that is worth me holding onto as an artist, considering my life, considering my son, considering that I still want to make the artwork that only I can make. It’s The Horizon Line. It’s always there. I can trust that each day it will be available to me. I can’t reach it but I can always see it if I stand in the right spot. I’ll never arrive there to find that the journey is behind me. Because even if I was to reach that horizon, there would be a new horizon. I now trust that I’ll always have a hunger to see what’s over there, wondering what it looks like, and what it will be like to try and get there. I’ll always want to know what will happen when I make the next art thing. I know I’ll never stop being an explorer. I can’t help but hold on to hope, even if it’s a small hope, that I can always make art for the sheer joy of it. And that hope grows and leads me to know that I WILL keep making art. Today, it might not look like going to the studio. I don’t even know if I will go to the studio tomorrow or at all this week. But I’m finding joy in being an artist no matter what I do, in being an artist that is living life as it happens.

~mrk

“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.” —Maya Angelou


On the Pulse of Morning
Inaugural Poem 1993
by Maya Angelou


A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.


But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.


I will give you no more hiding place down here.


You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.


Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.


The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.


Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.


Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.


Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.


Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,


Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.


Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.


The River sings and sings on.


There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.


So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.


Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.


Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.


Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.


You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.


You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.


Here, root yourselves beside me.


I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.


I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.


Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.


History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.


Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.


Give birth again
To the dream.


Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.


Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.


Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.


The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.


No less to Midas than the mendicant.


No less to you now than the mastodon then.


Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Summertime and Living (and more)

It’s Summertime. Over here, that’s when things get both more quiet (my creative life) and more noisy (my boys at home, at play, all-the-time.) It’s easy and not easy, but this is a pretty good life. It’s our most successful summer so far; it looks especially nice through the rose-colored glasses I wear. When I focus on what’s working well (home life) and ignore what’s not working (studio life), it looks like everything is peachy. Each spring for the past few years, I’ve been anxious about the long hours of the summer that lay ahead. How would I keep my studio practice alive? How would I keep my boys (now ages 9 & 12) from languishing on screens? I’d go back and forth between What about me? and What about them? Each summer, I try to figure it out. Three summers ago, I enrolled the boys in various camps. From the get-go they were frustrated and in bad spirits about being forced to spend half-days with people they didn’t know. No matter how fun the activities looked to me–these were the kinds of things I would have loved to do at their age!–they were not persuaded to enjoy themselves. The energy output of getting them to the camps wasn’t worth either the money spent or the few hours I’d supposedly get to devote to my work. The last two summers, the boys went to part-time day care (full days 2-3 times per week) with kids and a home they knew well. There was a pool! But they still preferred being home and complained about “having to go” to daycare. “We’re too old for this!” they said and “why why why???” every time I dropped them off. They generally prefer to be home instead of anywhere else. It’s quite a compliment to our family, but… what about my studio time? It’s not easy carving out time for my work as an artist. It took some convincing to get my sons to accept that I do, in fact, have a career. It was true that I didn’t “have to go” to the studio in the traditional sense… no one was marking my comings and goings, and my studio practice doesn’t bring much income to the family. Our family needs don’t depend on my work.  I had to articulate the importance of what I do, to convince them that I did “have to go to work” even if it didn’t fit the typical type of job mode, and they did “have to go to daycare” so that I’d be able to do what I’m meant to do with my life. Art is my life’s work, and that’s the end of that.

This summer started out slightly different; instead of being anxious about the never-ending summer hours with my boys home from school, and having no daycare so I could go to the studio freely, I had an influx of energy to wile away the days with my children. It might have something to do with surviving that bike accident/brain injury thing; I’m just happy to be here with them. Maybe also, being active with my children is one of those perks that have come from the accident. In any case, I no longer have the daycare option available anyway, so I figured I’d try out a less-structured summer and see what would happen.

The boys have this loose framework for each day; it’s my parenting framework, too. There are three things daily that I direct the boys to accomplish:

  • reading chapter books or learning things
  • housework or yardwork (I don’t call my work around the house “chores” so I don’t call theirs that either)
  • going outside (sadly I have to direct them outdoors, they aren’t the kind that seek it out on their own. I like it best when they are being goofy with made up weirdness while they’re outside, but basketball and other sports are good too)

As I wrote this, I realized that I didn’t create a daily framework for my studio practice. I had a general idea how I might get help with my boys, so that I could do my work during those times, but that plan didn’t materialize. So I stalled out. I’ve been drifting, unsure about how I’ll get back to shore. But here I am writing this, so I’m righting the course I’m taking. I’m making a plan. It’s a start!

Here’s what a day might look like. Yesterday, I took my time waking up completely. I’d stayed up late the night before reading, and I needed to recuperate the sleep I’d lost. Late in the morning, I got my coffee and breakfast, took time to read an article on Ta-Nehisi Coates, then worked at my spiritual practice (a daily thing I do.) By 11 o’clock, I started to dress for the day & told the boys we’d leave soon to take our dogs to the vet. After the appointment, we got a used volleyball at the sports thrift store, then we came home for lunch. I wrote for a while, and the boys “read books” in the backyard, aka reading that morphed into water games; which turned into an indoor ball game (it was literally exactly next to me as I typed this at my desktop computer); which came to tears when someone (not me) smashed a hand; which turned into pleading for more video game time (NO); which led to TV watching of an animal show on Netflix (at least that’s the summer favorite, and they are learning about animals from all over the world.) So. They read a little & played outside a little. Then we headed out for our afternoon of volleyball even though we’d never played it together before (some friends joined us). Our awfulness at it was so very fun. Lots of out-of-bounds plays and cries of “nailed it!” for completely missed balls. It wasn’t a perfect day, but we all felt pretty accomplished. We ended the night at Halmeoni and Hal-abeoji’s house (Korean grandma & grandpa’s) and they made us patbingsu (korean sweet bean shaved ice dessert). The day felt ideal.

Patbingsu: a Korean shaved ice dessert made with red bean paste, and fruits. (image via wikipedia commons)

Patbingsu: a Korean shaved ice dessert made with red bean paste, and fruits. (image via wikipedia commons)

My days recently have a sort of delightful summer free-wheeling feeling to them, but my free time (to work in the studio) is unpredictable and unreliable. I have this summer plan for my boys at the cost of having the active studio practice I crave. I could have forced them to go to camps, I could have given them a bummer of a summer. But I didn’t want to. I had higher hopes for productive working time this summer, especially as I started to fully recover and have less headaches and fatigue. When I was still resting and recovering, I was reading so much & writing almost all the time. I thought that more healing would bring more creative time, but No. It’s been three months since the bike accident/brain injury. I’m pretty much on the mend now, which is great! but I’m just not managing to keep the creative part of my brain humming along in the background as loudly as I used to. I’m so busy with life, and I guess I’m catching up with everything I couldn’t do for quite a long time. It used to be that when life got busy, I could still juggle a lot and have thoughts percolating as I went along. Instead, creative things seem to be running at a much lower volume as I go about living my life. It’s frustrating. I mean, I’m thrilled I’m pretty much healed and that my home life is functioning optimally. But I feel an acute sense that I’m not functioning the way I used to (as an artist, as a writer). I’m not sure if it’s due to the brain injury or the restless summer hours that my boys are keeping. Maybe both. I need to write a short article for ProWax Journal. Like, today. Since I’m the editor and we had a couple writers take a break this issue, I need to contribute a little something. My deadline to the copyeditor is tomorrow. This deadline is what got me writing yesterday. But I felt all dried up. So I wrote this collection of thoughts to hopefully prod out the writing I’m really supposed to be working on. That deadline is what got me to carve out time for my work today. That deadline is what got me articulating things I haven’t stopped to clarify for myself. Maybe since I fit working time successfully into my yesterday, I can see how to do it again in the coming days. For example, I’d like to determine what the next steps of my #exMFA are. I need to determine when I will add in the critique group, the work with a mentor, and the IRL events (the Fall is likely the time to make these happen.)

To conclude this post, I want to discuss the subjects I chose for the first semester of my #exMFA, so that I can shed some light (for myself) on my status with them. They are:

  • artists & object making in the art market,
  • social practice and art as activism, and
  • the artist as writer.

To get myself focused on these subjects, I made a reading list of ten books.

But the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to focus my attention on my chosen subjects when the terrible shooting in Charleston demanded my attention. I watched commentary on PBS Newshour, I considered the symbols of the confederacy, and I put together a future reading list that was suggested by a friend, to further wrap my mind around the black experience. AND ALSO: I stumbled upon a five hour series on PBS that happened to be exactly the kind of material I needed to feed into my work, so I had to watch the whole thing. While watching it, a lightbulb went off about the provenance of the imagery I’ve used in my artwork for so much of my life; I checked out seven books about it (not on my #exMFA reading list!) from the library. I fully credit my #exMFA program with showing me how to consider the visual language I use in my paintings, so that I can place it in a larger context. I’m thrilled with this new inspiration source but I need to pace myself. AND THEN: On a whim, I read two other books this past week, (also not on my #exMFA reading list!). They were: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, and her biography: The Mockingbird Next Door. (Harper Lee disavowed the bio after she cooperated with its compilation.) I read those because it’s the eve of the controversial publication of a second book by Harper Lee; it’s possible it’s being printed against her will. Hmm. So much to think about. I’m really not keeping up with how all of this works with my three chosen subjects, but I suspect each of these “distractions” are actually quite in line with the original subjects I set aside for myself. I have to trust that. I sort of see how things relate, but my brain feels too busy to spell it out. My understanding of the connections between these subjects seem to be lying beneath the surface of my conscious thought. This process isn’t happening in a linear way, so I’m trying to let it happen organically. I’m happy I set my #exMFA so that my first semester would be April through December. Originally it was because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to recover, but this nine month semester (as opposed to possible four or six month ones) is really working since this entire summer seems to be pretty tricky with my boys out of school. Maybe another way to look at it is that my graduate studies are starting in the Fall, I’ve just gotten a jumpstart on them. There, now I don’t feel so behind. ;) I plan to complete my #exMFA by Summer 2017. 

This is life as the primary caregiver/parent. This is life as a persistent artist. This is my circus-y life.

This is Why I Do It (the Studio MFA)

This is a different kind of post. I don’t have the energy to craft this into something more. I have new limitations (and new advantages). My life the last few years has been full of all sorts of unexpected twists and turns, not the least of which was that brain injury thing in April. I embrace the passionate pursuits of life (faith, hope, love, family, friends, art) with all the strength I can muster; that strength waxes and wanes. I keep up with life. I keep learning new things. I keep writing. I keep making art. And to that end, I keep my graduate studies going, my #exMFA plan. It’s the structure I can rely on, it’s the path to goals I have and the goals that I’m still figuring out.

How could I do this if I was paying for a degree, how could I manage the pressure that comes with knowing that the more I get back to life, the harder it is for my brain to articulate complex information? That kind of thinking isn’t happening on the surface of my brain and it’s not easily retrievable. I can’t easily process and express it the way I want to.  If I was in a traditional MFA program, knowing that I’d have to keep up with a pre-determined schedule, and that I’d have to do it all despite my deficits, that would really stress me out.

IMG_2333

Ruiz-Kim
untitled painting, 20″ x 16″
finished June 19, 2015

I started to doubt myself in this #exMFA thing ever since I got more active with life. Back when I had zero life responsibilties, when I rested/rehabilitated all day, I had enough surplus energy to read, learn, and write as I pleased. Now that I’ve resumed my former home-life jobs, and also now that my children are home for the summer, I’m not only mentally fatigued, I’m physically drained. I have to nap. Take breaks. If I don’t, I want to cry, that’s how worn out I get. OK, truthfully, I cry more easily than I did before, about anything, so don’t feel too sorry for me :). There have been lots of plus sides to this thing, anyway. For one, I care a whole lot less what people think about me than I used to. Extreme sensitivities and empathetic skills aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be! The result is that I can enjoy being myself so much more. I’ve always valued and continue to value being a considerate sympathatic person, but I’m super glad I’m making more room for my voice to join the conversations I have. (Sounds weird but it’s true?) There are a whole host of other fun changes in my brain, too, more than I’ll get into here. Woot!

So the thing is, despite lots of slow downs, this #exMFA plan, aka my graduate studies, aka my plan to take my studio practice up a notch– it’s still happening! I haven’t read my materials as quickly as I was at first, nor have I written/posted as many notes. (I spent a month or so on working through certain concepts; I keep the notes that are specific to the classes & subjects here). But the last few weeks, I’ve taken the subjects I’ve considered and applied it to my visual work. It’s happening slower than I want it to, but it’s still happening. This is the art life. This is what it looks like to keep an art practice going, come hell or high water. This can’t be taught, it has to be lived.

ArtLifeNow I’m looking at the gestures that stick with me, the ones that make up my drawings and paintings, and I’m asking myself, what am I looking at? As an artist, what is it that I’ve been seeing that is making me paint or draw these particular images? I want my work to resonate with the non-art educated, I want to find the shapes and lines that are a part of a visual language that any human would know (whether or not they know that they know.) I’ve learned that I see things in a particular way, and I’m sharing what I see in these particular ways. I have more answers for my work than I had before. I’m not going into those details here (they are concepts half articulated by imagery and half by worded language anyway) so it’s not something I can elaborate on now. But it’s happening. My studio practice might move at a glacial place, but glaciers are pretty big, so big that they can change whole landscapes, so big that there’s more of them than is visible. So you know what? Maybe I’m okay with this glacial pace. Maybe that’s what I’ve wanted all along.