Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Wunderkammer

The cabinet of Ulisse Aldrovandi (b. 1522), an eminent naturalist and
owner of one of the first, largest, and most influential cabinets of
curiosity ever assembled. Check out some neat stuff about him here.
Wunderkammer, literally "wonder-room," is a (literally) wonderful term for the august and bizarre predecessor of the modern museum, the cabinet of curiosity. (Boy, do I have some swell pictures for you today.) Once upon a time there were no public museums, just a bunch of rich people who owned a fabulous amount of very crazy stuff, which they kept in rooms devoted solely to displaying their treasures. (Back then, of course, a cabinet was a decent-sized, inhabitable chunk of space, not a little thing to hang on the wall and fill with toothbrushes and lost oddments of drugs and jewelry, although that's its own kind of special collection - yeah, I'm sure it's been done.) The public was actually allowed in to look at this stuff sometimes, but often it was only if you were, you know, "respectable" and got the caretaker on a good day. (The first public museums weren't much more public, though - Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, reports that when the British Museum first opened, prospective visitors were required to request a ticket via written letter, which in the eighteenth century cut out a good chunk of the population.)

An 18th-century cabinet of curiosity, in more modern-cabinet form. A list of
its contents can be found here. Believe me, you want to know.
The early wunderkammer were full of an amalgamation of natural history artifacts, and could include everything from funny-looking bits of coral to somebody's teeth to a beautiful feathered cloak belonging to a member of an indigenous tribe who really in all likelihood would have preferred to keep it for himself. Stones, bones, taxidermied animals, bits of plants, shells, and other fun stuff all got displayed - but they were also set up alongside art objects, miniatures, scientific instruments, and other marvels made by human hands. (Athanasius Kircher, whom I mentioned in my post on the Museum of Jurassic Technology, was known for his collection, which included magic lantern slideshows and a "Delphic Oracle" a statue that would "speak" and move its eyes and mouth. More awesome facts about his collection here, but you'll be very sad you didn't live in the 17th century for maybe five whole minutes before you remember the existence of indoor plumbing.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vivid

Poison dart frogs, one of the world's most vivid creatures.
Image via The Incredible Weirdness of Being.
Vivid (and its linguistic cousin, vivarium, which I'll get to in a minute) is one of my favorite words. It comes from the Latin vivere, "to live," and it was originally used to mean "lively" or "spirited" in the sense of an animal or a person - which is kind of interesting in itself, actually, because distinguishing a being as "lively" is kind of like saying they have extra life, since we as living things have a base measure of life already. So, at the root, vivid really means "more alive" or "extra alive." What is it, that measure of extra life, I wonder? What do we actually look at to decide whether something has it or not? It's not just energy; I think something can be energetic without being especially vivid, like a Jane Fonda workout video, or a politician. Later on, the word vivid came to be used on colors that were especially bright or strong, and as time went on we started using it for all sorts of things - emotions, dreams, experiences, smells. We use it mostly in the sense of intensity, something being very detailed or powerful or bright. And in some way we forget what it really means, that when we say something is vivid, we're designating it as more alive than other things, actually possessing a larger measure of life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Uncertainty

This is the very first image that comes up in the Google image
search for 'uncertain,' from the beautifully-written Water Foul
by Joe Nick Patoski, a lovely essay on ecology. Oddly, it came
up because it was taken in the town of Uncertain, Texas, not
because it's one of those weird quasi-inspirational stock photos.
I got the idea for this one from L.M. Murphy over at See Murphy Write - I was feeling utterly uninspired about U (what was I gonna do, universe? Little too big, guys, even for me) and so I will cop to searching #atozchallenge on Twitter to see what everyone else was up to. Which is how I stumbled over L.M.'s lovely blog. Although I am blatantly ripping off the thing that U is for, I am not  ripping off L.M.'s post, which you should read, and please note that I give her all credit for the idea and am humbly grateful to have been inspired. (Also, she thought it was cool that I was inspired - Twitter sez so, so it's TRUE!)

That being said, I would like to quote her. "Life is uncertain." she writes. "I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, as the glass-half-empty people like to point out. (...) However.... right now, in this very moment, no matter what happens tomorrow, I am content."

(In addition to having some awesome Buddha-nature on display here, she also wins points with me because she confesses her weakness for edible goodies in this post. I'm a fan of any gal who can be won over by treats as easily as me.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Touch

Glorious nectarine sunburst via Flickr. Yes, I am aware
of the, ahem, more luscious connotations of this image.
...and all the rest of our senses, and for the body that brings the world into us. We often think of beauty as something to be seen, but many of our most beautiful experiences come to us through other mediums: the power of a smell, whether a bouquet of freesias or your mother's curry or fresh bread baking or woodsmoke on a winter's night; the tactile sensations of toes on cool flagstones or dipping into fresh water on a day of oppressive heat, a loving body pressed against ours, the pleasing smoothness of an egg fitting into our hands, the fur behind a cat's ear; the taste of mangoes in summer and roast potatoes in winter, or a glass of water when we're thirsty, or the brown-gold warmth of coffee in the morning; the sound of laughter, or rain, or music. These are experiences that are fleeting and beautiful, and which often give us joy on a level so deep as to be almost unconscious. Sometimes we hardly recognize them except as a feeling of bliss or contentment or gladness, way down in our guts or souls, below the level of words.

If this month's posts are 26 inspirations for the Museum of Joy, perhaps this one is not only an inspiration but also the best explanation I can give of the exhibits I would like to fill it with and the way I want it to be built: a house of community, of festivity, of celebration,  and of the senses.

Look, I don't know how to put the quenching of thirst on display, or the taste of a summer tomato still warm from the sun, or the curve of someone's neck. But that's still the plan, really. To find a way to put these things, or the essence of them - distilled into art, or poetry, or song, I guess - into a labyrinth of lovely rooms, and let the people of the earth roam through it. I honestly don't care if it can't be done, because I'm pretty sure that even a loose approximation would be, to put it frankly, pretty fucking awesome.

If you were going to put one of your favorite small, sensual experiences on display for others, how would you go about it? Would you build a shaded garden for your friends to walk barefoot in? Give out fresh-baked cookies? Put together a room full of pillows and sunshine? Paint a picture full of the colors you feel when you smell thunder coming? Beat a drum? Would you try and remake the experience literally for other people to step into, or create an evocative representation instead? Think about it and let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

S is for Simka

My sister and I having a very important discussion on
the streets of Berkeley. (I'm the short one.) Note
the lampshade's elegant mustache.
Although the 26 entries of the A to Z blog challenge here at the Museum of Joy are all dedicated to inspirations for the Museum, this one might be the single most important. See, it was my amazing, brilliant, and lovely sister Simka who came up with the idea in the first place. Incidentally (or maybe not), Simka's name comes from the Hebrew word for joy, simcha, pronounced sim-hah with an extra-throaty h. (My parents were afraid of condemning her a life of being mispronounced in such senstive locales as elementary school classrooms and dentist offices, hence the alternate spelling. I figure they learned from their mistake with me. If I had a dollar for every time someone mangled my name, why, I'd be halfway to buying a few square feet of land on the Northern California coast by now!) (It's Jericha like the city of Jericho, if you were wondering.) Where was I? (Sometimes I get lost in my own parentheticals.) Oh yeah. Simka, my awesome sister. Simka is an inch taller than me for every year I am older than her (I'm 5'2" and she's 5'8") and the most empathetic person I know. In addition to a really extraordinary and sensitive emotional intelligence, she's also sharp, witty, booksmart like whoa, and loves math and cool nerdy things. I am praising her here in part because she's my sister and I love her, but also because, well, if I have a calling in life now it's all her fault.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

R is for Reverie, Reverence, & Robert Seydel

Robert Seydel, Untitled (To Joseph C)
via "Ode to Robert Seydel" from This Is The What
Robert Seydel was the chair of my thesis work at Hampshire College and one of the most extraordinary thinkers and artists I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. He died of an unexpected heart attack on January 27th, 2011, three days after my 23rd birthday. The world has less wonder in it without him. That there would be no Museum of Joy without Robert is unquestionable. Robert was my professor from my very first day at Hampshire, and his approach to the making of art is so deeply branded on my consciousness that I cannot imagine my life without having met him.

It is hard for me to talk about him, because I want so much to describe him to you, especially now that he is gone - to keep alive forever the way he paced around the classroom (always caught up in the rapture of a piece of art, abandoning his sentences unfinished, grinning to himself and shaking his head, flailing his hands), the particular way he spoke (always full of idearrrrs instead of ideas, as if he had to ground them in the world with the long tail of rolled rs so they wouldn't float away), the leaps his mind made (a student of his recalls a photography critique with him: "After we finished talking about it, he said, 'Well, it's obvious you need to take a linguistics class.' Only Robert would say that... but of course, he was right.")

Friday, April 20, 2012

Q is for Questioning

Here are some nice people inside my thesis installation work.
I was lucky enough to get to go to Hampshire College for my undergrad. Hampshire is a school known in most circles for its goofy quirk of having no grades, which SNL everybody knows means that we all studied ultimate frisbee and did a lot of drugs. Of course, it's simply impossible to take your education seriously when your professors obstinately refuse to tell you exactly what to put in your papers and give you essay-length evaluations of your strengths and weaknesses instead of competitively ranking you using a numerological system that gives no information about the quality of your work relative to your own abilities. Snarl. Okay, okay, I'm sorry for the snark. It's just that if I describe my year-long senior thesis work to someone without telling them where I went to school, they tend to get really excited. If I then accidentally drop the word Hampshire (or, god forbid, mention it first), they get the kind of slow, dreamy, glazed look of someone who is trying very, very hard to restrain themselves from laughing their drink all over my shirt.

This is very sad. People slack at every college in the country. Not everybody who goes to Harvard is a genius, gives a shit about their studies, or goes on to become an interesting person. Plenty do - but then, so do plenty of people at Hampshire, which has excellent graduate school acceptance rates and sends hundreds of kids out into the world every year who have managed to create a completely self-determined thesis work usually before the age of 23.  The system at Hampshire simply amplifies the tendencies of its students more than most schools - you can slack harder and you can work harder. Whatever. I'm over it. If it works for you (and it did for me), Hampshire is an awesome and extraordinary place. And part of that comes from the fact that it forces you to question. What's so groovy about that? More after the jump.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

P is for Petrichor

"Magic Street" by Leonid Afremov. This guy, while kind of a
one-trick pony compositionally, nevertheless paints in
exactly the way I saw things in my head as a child.
"Petrichor" is the scent of rain on dry earth. Is this an inspiration for a museum? Absolutely. What would a museum of joy have in it but the smell of the rain, the sound that snow makes as it silences the night, the pulped sunlight taste of fresh nectarines, the pleasure of a tiny wind-up toy? What makes these things joyous is that they can't be kept. They are absolutely and completely transient. That fragrance, that particular musty sharp hot smell rising up from the dirt, the loveliness of it - gone within minutes, sometimes seconds. The snow, the way it almost creaks but doesn't quite, how it disappears the horizon and turns the world into the quaint close dome of an ornament - if you're lucky, a few hours. The nectarine might linger on the tongue but you can only take so many bites. The toy - well, if you're anything like me, a great part of the joy is the longing for the toy, either before it is yours or long afterwards, when you are remembering it, and wondering what happened to it, and if anything so wonderful actually even existed and maybe you made it up, or read it in a book, or had it in a dream.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Ordinary

Things that will never fail to make me happy:
Zachary's pizza, Star Trek references.
Picture by me, from their Berkeley location.
Joy is a funny fish. Now, happiness is pretty straightforward - we usually have a pretty good sense of when something will make us happy and when it won't. Of course, occasionally it fails, and we discover that a seventy-foot yacht or a large chunk of sparkly extra-hard rock or a boyfriend who looks just like the psychic you went to in seventh grade said he would somehow fail to make us less empty inside, but when it comes to the small stuff - ice cream, making art, having the cat sleep on your stomach - it's pretty easy to say, huh, you know, no matter how rotten I feel, this will alleviate the misery at least a little bit (or, best case scenario, make everything better forever.) But joy is a thing so much of the moment, a kind of transcendent flash, that it's almost impossible to predict exactly when and where it will show up.

There are things we can do to help. For example, the redwoods of Northern California are one of my favorite places in the world. They are cathedral trees, a complete, encompassing, magnificent experience. (I'm not going to give a picture because something 600 pixels high is so far away from the experience of a redwood forest that I'd be better off writing the words AWESOMELY HUGE AND MAGICAL in ninety-point font instead for all the good it would do getting the sense of them across.) Usually I experience joy when in the redwoods. There in the shafts of green silence I often feel an almost paralyzing sense of peace and clarity. But, honestly, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I just have a very nice time and it is pretty and that's all. That unbearable lightness of being doesn't always visit just because I stand there smelling treebark. Often, yes - but, perhaps unsurprisingly, usually when I have not gone there specifically to seek it. If I travel to the redwoods looking for my nice tidy fix of joy, that evanescent feeling tends to harden into something clumsier - a memory of joy, or a longing for it. If I think too much, if I seek too hard, it's gone.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

N is for Natural Building

A cob house featured on the Mud Girls blog.
There is a very simple reason that natural building is an inspiration for the Museum of Joy: I am a poor artist. I will almost certainly never hit it big. The probability that I will be able to afford to buy or construct a conventional big shiny museum building is smaller than the seven dwarfs on the eye of a needle. But natural building - methods like straw bale construction, cob, etc - ? Ah, well, that's a different story. I was introduced to the idea of natural building by someone (probably my mother) who sent me a photo of Simon Dale's hobbit house in Wales. He built a wonderfully magical house for himself and his family for three thousand pounds - depending on the exchange rate, something in the vicinity of five thousand American dollars.

Five thousand dollars.

For a house.

And not just any house, but a beautifully designed construction built with low impact to the land on which it's situated, a house that looks like a childhood fantasy or a daydream cottage. Sure, it's small. Who cares? I could - hold it - I could build a bunch of them! And connect them! And fill them with windows, ledges, shelves, spirals, skylights, nooks, crannies, crevices, altars, dance floors, fire pits, whatever I damn well want.

I could have a maze of museum.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Miniature

Here's a picture of some amulaic stuff of mine. Not all the
bottles feel like amulets to me, but the smallest ones do.
No, M is not for Museum. Of course museums are an inspiration for the Museum of Joy, but I'll be getting to those when we hit W (which is for Wunderkammer, obviously). See, don't get me wrong; talking about alternate landscapes and dream worlds and mystical inner universes gets me fired up and all. But I can't in all honesty discuss the evolution of the most magical scenery in my mind without going all the way back to early childhood and my abiding, obsessive, frantic love of miniatures. Tiny things do something to most of us (who doesn't have at the very least a secret meltdown over a kitten in a teacup? and I mean a lot of people seem programmed to like babies, which I genuinely cannot understand at all) but there seems to be especially a power associated with miniature things - by which I mean scaled-down versions of life-size stuff, not things that are naturally diminutive - that I can only call amulaic.

Amulaic is a word that I apparently made up. As proof of this, I submit that the first four google search results for it are 1) a review of a 438-page book called The Ends of the Earth, 2) an Etsy listing for a hippy bag with a felted spiral patch on it, 3) a record of an email chain about the shape of the fingers during a certain Jewish blessing, and 4) a post on this blog that vanished when I revamped it. It has a very simple meaning, which is functioning as an amulet. Something that has amulaic powers serves as an amulet, whether it's a tiny china seal (the first amulaic item I remember) or your lucky rabbit's foot (does anyone even have those any more? I feel everyone I know would despise me for even acknowledging that that's a thing.)

What makes a miniature amulaic, and how does it work, and why should you care? Well, I'm glad you asked...

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Landcape

Remedios Varo, who I think of as one part
Escher and one part Bosch, paints landscapes
that look to me like coming home to myself.
It's a nice place, really.

Each of us lives in two landscapes: the one that surrounds us, and the one that we surround. Inside us all, opening up somewhere into the alternate space behind the brain or breastbone, is a world populated with the things that make us tick, a cabinet of curiosities that is bigger on the inside, a mountain range or a single room with shadowy walls. We are each of us museums of our own being, collections of our own dreams and fears and memories and longing and concrete shards of experience in bright colors and dim lights and that one name somebody called us one time. Sometimes it's a frightening place, a realm of darkness and slimy corners; sometimes it's a land of light and magic such as Disney himself would murder for. Much like, well, our own experiences, things mingle within us; we're a box of many spices, and some of them are bitter, but oh, dear god, the pungency of some, the sweetness, the fragrance!

This will be a short post, because I'm already playing catchup today, and not much needs to be said. Listen. It's really very simple. I want to make a Museum that reflects the natural makeup of the worlds that unfold within us, with their strange chambers and nested rooms, their bright spots and dark chapels. Joy is partly joy because we don't have it all the time, because it is mingled with loss and longing and nostalgia. I want to build a place to wander through that feels like walking into the shape of your own soul. Even if my soul speaks a different language (old cities and kaleidoscopes where yours is zombies and futurescapes, dead roads or tawny mountains, biker bars, black glass), if I do it right, you'll still feel like coming home to a place you never knew you'd known, a house that belonged to you before you thought to question your memory, something you saw under the sky once when the stars were out. What's a Museum of Joy for? Why, to remind us that joy is a living thing, entwined with history and also with our own story, coming up through the roots and blooming on the cheeks of the fruit upon the branches. As long as there have been people there has been suffering, perhaps, but as long as there's been people there's been joy also. And I want to make you a place that is a mirror you can melt through like Alice on the mantlepiece, back into a world where things speak to you and are not mute but wise and living, watchful, full of meaning. I want you to remember what it feels like to play, absorbed in an imaginary place and time that all of us have been to but most of us forget. I want to put you back so close to wonder that you trip on it and when your face hits the earth all you think is oh, I'd forgotten how good the dirt smells after rain. Delight is a place. As Liz Lemon likes to say, I want to go to there. I'd like you to come too. What else is there to say?

K is For Klezmer & Kevin & Krazy Kat

via Toonpedia
Things that inspire me: cartoon music and musical cartoons. Why? Because they create zany, playful, wild, wonderful worlds that bring out the joyous & the imaginative in all of us. And, there to help the pursuit thereof, is also my wonderful K-initialed boyfriend, who I will avoid gushing about because there's no need to embarrass him on the internet, but whom I will take as an example of the awesome things that can happen when your significant other supports and encourages you in your weird and wacky dreams.

I've referred to Krazy Kat here before, but never with the appropriate adulation and enthusiasm due such a shaper of my dreams. And I don't think I've ever made the fuss I ought to make about Klezmer music, and my father's old radio show The King of Prague (don't bother googling it; as far as the internet's concerned it doesn't exist), and their effect on my sense of the bizarre and the joyful. So please, today, come enter a mildly lunatic and lunar landscape, full of beards and bricks, and learn a little about the Old Country of the my mind.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Joseph and Jurassic

The amazing 17th-century Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher's
magnetic divination devices at the MJT.
Via Running Wolf Productions. in Joseph Cornell and the Museum of Jurassic Technology, two major inspirations for me in my dream of the Museum of Joy. (Obviously J is also for Joy, but that's a cop-out post.) Both the man and the museum I'm invoking today are magically adept at putting enormous and fantastical worlds into very small spaces, thereby simultaneously expanding the universe and filling it with very cool stuff. I've written about them both before in my post on marvelous museums, but they deserve a revisit today because they've been so intensely influential. They're important enough to me that they serve as catalysts for the imagination: if I'm feeling stuck or dispirited, I just need to spend a little time in contemplation of one or the other and I feel refreshed, revitalized, and full of creative zip and zest. (Actually, there's a thing I forgot to put in my guide to fishing for inspiration -- casting your line into the wild aquariums of other people's awesome ideas!) (Is this metaphor getting out of hand? George Orwell would not approve.) So here, today, just a  quick and tantalizing sample of stuff from the minds of men who think they way I'd like about evocation, dream, wonder, and the weirdness of the world...

Monday, April 9, 2012

I is for Imagination

Alphonse Maria Mucha, Poetry, 1898.
Via the Alphonse Mucha Art Gallery
...and for its elusive cousin, Inspiration. I've been reading articles over on The Creative Mind, a fascinating blog about psychology & creativity, and been getting into gentle little comment arguments on a few of the posts, which all seem to be saying, repeatedly, that it's not helpful to think about the muse or divine gifts or whatever when approaching creativity -- that waiting for inspiration to strike holds us back, that genius is not some special thing granted to the lucky few, that frustration and problem-solving make for the eureka moment and not some kind of touch from above. The thing is, I agree with all of these statements (and the articles are fascinating) -- it's just that I also believe in the muse. Not to belabor a point here, but I've said in a  few posts now that something really vital happens if we treat the things that give us the most joy and delight - like, say, our creative abilities - as gifts and not something that belongs to us by right. Does that mean I think anyone who doesn't feel "naturally inspired" should go ahead and give up art? Hell no. Listen, I woke up this morning to the sound of someone revisiting their breakfast in the alley outside my window. While that might be inspiring to some, I don't do 'gritty street humor,' and I hate the sound of vomiting. (Also, I was waking up from a dream in which I had to perform an impromptu bellydance piece with my boyfriend, which might have been okay if a little weird except that someone in the audience had just turned into a bright green zombie and was stumbling around mumbling about being hungry, which made me really nervous.) I just mean that thinking that we own our talents is as crippling as thinking that we're not responsible for them at all. (After all, if our talents are all our own, when we don't feel inspired, it's our own damn fault. You know what's crippling? Guilt, shame, and a sense of horrible failure. If you believe in the muse, you can just call her a fickle wench and go have a beer.)

"'Our digestions, for example, running sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars -- the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick.'" - G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

I said Inspiration is the  elusive cousin of Imagination. Actually, I take it back. Inspiration is a species of iridescent fish that swims in the great sea that is the imagination, and I think our job as creators of art is basically to go fishing. But please, leave your industrial trawler at home. You know how a fishing trip is supposed to go, right? You go out in your little boat, you bait your line, and, well, catching fish is not really the point, is it? Even if you're a fisherman by trade, there's a lot of waiting around and enjoying the view...and then, snap, zip, you reel in your catch. And here are five ways to ensure you have a fruitful fishing trip on the vast rainbow ocean of the imaginary.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for Gift

Imagine this door flung open with nothing
beyond it but the sea: that's the feeling of an
open heart. From The Intrigue of Passageways
(holy cow, it's got so many beautiful arches),
a profile of Sarka-Trager Photography
Gratitude and generosity are motivating forces in my life, and I believe staunchly that it is these two things, alongside compassion, that lead human beings most directly to a sense of joy. I'm not a practicing member of any religion, but I'm a  big sucker for a lot of modern Buddhist teaching; however, gratitude, generosity, and compassion are pretty much the tenets of most of the major spiritual leaders of, um, ever. The reason for this, if you ask me, is simple: that's the shit that makes life worth living. Period. And I don't mean gratitude in the sense of being self-abasingly thankful for every scarp that comes your way; I don't mean generous in the sense of giving away everything you have to the point of self-depletion; I don't mean some kind of gooey compassion that makes you excuse anybody's bad behavior. I'm not talking about going around pretending to be a saint, or expecting anybody to be a kinder, warmer, more giving, or more forgiving person than they really are. I'm talking about something a little easier and a lot more powerful: an approach to the world that treats the universe like a gift that we get to have. We don't deserve it, in the sense that we haven't done anything to earn it, but we don't not deserve it, either, in the sense that we're not unworthy of receiving it. This kind of gift is a very important one, no matter who you are, but if you consider yourself a creative person it might be most important of all.

It's also Easter today, and although I'm what would probably be best termed a Taoist secular Jew, I went with my boyfriend's mother to a Catholic mass this morning. I went a couple years ago, as well, and wept through the whole service because it was a beautiful spring day and I was having a deeply spiritual experience connecting the story of the Resurrection to the cycles of Nature and the human need to celebrate rebirth, etc etc, very pagan and whatnot. This year I wept through the whole service again, but had a different set of revelations -- and yes, they were about gifts.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

F is for Family (and Food)

Awesome parents via DiscoveryNews
Because I managed to completely forget the alphabet, and also because I was excited about my post for H, the fact that both F and G come first somehow slipped my mind. Um, oops. But F is an easy one: it's for family and food, two things that are inseparably linked in my mind and also major elements of my experience of joy. Instead of gushing a bunch about my folks, though, what I'd like to do is make a quick list of the things my family gave me that I am really grateful for. See, even if you really can't stand your family, chances are that somewhere along the line you did receive some form of gift from them. Whether it's your tenacity, your sense of humor, your love of Star Trek, your beautiful eyes, your favorite book, your amazing singing voice, or your unique ability to drink everyone else at the bar under the table, I would be shocked if your parents - biological or no - didn't pass on to you something that makes up a part of your identity you are proud of or a pastime that gives you great pleasure.

H is for Happiness

Fat Chance Bellydance via Ouled Nail
Perhaps this seems like an obvious one, but I actually wanted to take today to talk about a few things having to do with happiness that are oddly hurtful. And -- aww, geez. I was searching the internet for an appropriate picture to put up here, and I accidentally clicked through to a pro-ana blogspot, and now I'm a little derailed. For those of you who don't know the term, "pro-ana" is short for "pro-anorexic" and is exactly what it sounds like: a website that treats anorexia as a "lifestyle choice" and not a terrifying, life-wrecking eating disorder. Pro-ana websites tend to be run by young anorexic girls, and this was no exception. You know, it's one thing to see unreal standards of beauty pushed by the media. It is much, much, much worse to see them pushed by a sweet, ordinary girl who just wants to be happy and believes that her body is getting in the way -- and I don't know about you, but for her to believe that I, and anyone else who looks even remotely healthy, am fat is so strikingly and heartstoppingly awful that I just need a moment to breathe, here.

My healing instinct on this one is to immediately put up a picture of the amazing ladies of Fat Chance Bellydance -- for a number of reasons. First of all, check out the variety of bodies there! Second, look how totally blissed out they look - and how fierce. Although FCBD was actually named as a joking reference to the response founder Caroleena Nericcio used to give to creepy dudes asking for "private dances," the troupe is also famous showcasing a diversity of bodies and has done a lot to break down the Western stereotype of bellydancers as Barbies in coin belts. But also I want to put them up there in order to illustrate something I'm going to say in a few paragraphs...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Exploratorium

via Everything Science
The Exploratorium, which currently sits in the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (which was built by Bernard Maybeck, a major mentor of my own heroine Julia Morgan - he helped convince her to apply to the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris, where she became the first female student!) has been and will probably remain one of my favorite places in the world. I recently learned that it's moving to Pier 15 in 2013, and while that's kind of heartbreaking to me in some ways because I love the vast and beautiful building in which it lives, I just don't feel that worried about it becoming any less awesome. (Unlike, say, the museum which must not be named this place.)

My love of the Exploratorium begins not with me but with my father, who got a job there in the very early years under Frank Oppenheimer, the founder and brother of Robert Oppenheimer of Manhattan Project fame. My dad was fresh out of college and wanted to be a scientist - but not, you know, a boring scientist with a white coat. He wanted to be a weird scientist. Maybe not a mad scientist (although he does do a pretty good malevolent laugh), but someone who got to work with the peculiar and the wonderful and the mystical aspects of science. I mean, this is a kid who at age ten or so was skipping school to hang out in a hidden lab somewhere on 2nd Street (I'm pretty sure it was 2nd Street, because I got a job working for some foofy internet company on 2nd Street one summer and my dad came to have lunch with me and pointed up the road at a nondescript building and said "Hey look! That's where my secret science lab was when I was a kid!") to play with his chemistry set and dream about Science. The Exploratorium, home to some of the best weird science in the country, was about as close as he ever came -- maybe as close as any of us will get to come to the playful, mutable borders between science and imagination. Some of the signs my father wrote are still there, over a quarter of a century later. (I hope those will make it in the move, but that much I'm prepared to doubt...)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Delight

via Cream Your Day
Delight is a word I use a lot. Like joy, it is not the same as happiness, although not entirely unrelated -- which is to say, a life full of joy and delight tends to be a happy one, although I'm not sure, somehow, that it goes the other way. I think of happiness as a state of being, one that can last moments or years. But both joy and delight strike me as transient, the hummingbirds of emotion: one flash of brilliant feathers and a lingering impression of vividness and color, and that's it; you don't get to hang onto it. Happiness you can have, I think, but joy and delight you only get to taste. But that taste, that glorious flash, is one of the things that makes life most worth living.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Chapel of the Chimes

Reflecting Pool at Hearst Castle (via Destination Design)
After I got bored of wanting to be a paleontologist at the tender age of seven or so, I discovered architecture. Specifically, I discovered Julia Morgan. I spent hours poring over books about her. I read The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, which has a fabulous stone mansion in it, and I decided to design my own -- borrowing liberally from pictures of Hearst Castle and the fanciest building I had ever been in at the time, the Claremont Hotel in Oakland, California. I couldn't draw for beans, so every night when I went to bed I would lie awake building it in my head. I managed to perfect it to the point where I could walk in and out of most of the rooms in my my mind as if they were physically around me. I can still open the drawers in the tower bedroom I build for myself, which had a stream running through it and a yellow sandstone balcony. (I had expensive taste for a ten-year-old living in a grungy house in Oakland with orange shag carpeting.) I thought I was all set: great, cool, got a life dream and a career plan, what's so hard about this stuff, anyway? At a certain point, however, it occurred to me that I wasn't going to be able to just waltz into the Ecole de Beaux-Arts (partly because I couldn't draw for beans) and I would have to go to boring school for years and years and then build ugly apartment buildings instead of just, you know, being the next Julia Morgan, already. It was hard, being surrounded by her gorgeous work everywhere I went (Oakland and Berkeley are full of her buildings). But after a while I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker instead (a plan which lasted me all the way through my second semester of college!) and gave up on her buildings.

Well, mostly. There was just this one, you see...

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Bellydance

Khairiyya Mazin, one of the last teachers & performers of Ghawazi dance,
in 2003 - from an awesome article about her on the Gilded Serpent
The word "bellydance," if you were unaware, refers to a group of dances originating in the Middle East & North Africa that share a common movement vocabulary making use of the natural mobility of the pelvic girdle. In recent years, dialogue with Western forms and influences has added a number of stylistic elements to the mix, so that bellydance can now mean anything from a dance practiced by members of a small nomadic Egyptian tribe in traditional costuming to a live music ensemble to one performed by an American woman interpreting a piece of electronic music while wearing a costume that looks like it came out of the mating of an Orientalist painting and a 1920s film spectacular. Does that sound a bit dry? (Geez, I hope not.) It encompasses a lot. But bellydance is one of the most inherently joyful and expressive dance forms I have ever encountered, and my experience of it is one of the formative elements in my desire to build a museum dedicated to joy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Academy of Sciences

Image credit: Cal Academy of Sciences Research Archives
Welcome to the A-Z Challenge Entry for A on the Museum of Joy! This month, I'll be writing about 26 inspirations for the Museum of Joy, one for every letter of the alphabet. To be fair, this entry is actually about the California Academy of Sciences, but I've got something else lined up for letter C, and living in San Francisco there's no need to refer to what state you're in. When I was a kid, it was just The Museum with Dinosaurs.

My family moved to San Francisco just before I turned 2 and just after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. We were pretty poor, apparently, although I had no idea because I was a toddler and we lived at the edge of Golden Gate Park, which is still one of the coolest places in the world that a kid can possibly have at her doorstep. (Although the Inner Sunset, our neighborhood, is a whole bunch ritzier now, there still remains a shop that was for me a magical cave at the age of 2, which we called The Badge Shop because it sold dozens of tiny enameled pins and other treasures. It's really called "Oriental Import Co" or something, and it looks exactly the same. You can still buy a really great pin for five bucks, too.) Back then, a member ship at the Academy of Sciences was affordable. As this article says, a family membership was $25 in 1996, and this is even earlier. Now it's $500. Poor kids like me don't get to go any more, but then there's a lot less to see these days....
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...