Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Meet the Museum Team 2014!

If you think this post has an overly-cutesy title, you should see the ones I tossed out. It's amazing what 2014 almost rhymes with. Dream. Scheme. Nectarine. Some of my very favorite words! All of which are instantly reduced to kitsch the second they get stuck in a New Year's blog post headline, so I figured I'd just stick to words which are already basically cheesy by nature. Like team.

But listen! Despite the kitsch factor, I am honestly and truly excited to announce that the Museum of Joy has taken on two Artists in Residence for 2014, both of whom will be co-conspirators in the creation and curation of the Museum's new collection, Suddenly... 

This is how I feel about the Museum's new folks.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


....for making the first annual Festival of Light & Gratitude an amazing experience. Natalie and I were blown away by the hundreds of people who came to walk the labyrinth, bring offerings for the altar, light sky lanterns and menorahs, sing, chant, and help out. Some folks took truly amazing photos of the labyrinth, which we built in a triple spiral pattern, after the farolitos (all 369 of them!) had been lit:

Photo by Carlos Justiniano. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Carlos Justiniano. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Carlos Justiniano. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Kyle Hanson McKee. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Kyle Hanson McKee. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Kyle Hanson McKee. Used with his kind permission.

Photo by Kyle Hanson McKee. Used with his kind permission.
You know, it's funny. I've heard people talk about having "humbling" creative experiences before, but it's always been a concept I associate more with, I don't know, mountain climbing, look-how-tiny-I-am-in-the-face-of-Nature sorts of adventures -- or, um, all the times my overblown ego has been neatly deflated by the uniquely sharp humor of the universe. But humble is exactly how I felt on Friday night. Heck, I felt almost invisible. Hundreds of people came and had what they described, to me or to their friends standing next to me or online, as a beautiful, spiritual, deeply moving experience. And me? I mostly just felt bewildered. Like, wait, I built this? Me?

The truth is that I spend actually a fair amount of time thanking the universe for the really amazingly wonderful things it gives me and praying, as best I can, that I'll be able to do something to give those things out again. To become a vessel, a channel, a threshold. I really like the idea of being able to create things that act as a conduit to meaning for others. And during the festival, that's exactly how I felt. In a way, it really wasn't like I had done it at all. It felt as if something had passed through me, as if Natalie and I had dreamed something into being that took on a life so completely and abundantly its own that it seems incredible to think it was ever locked away in someone's head unmanifested. I got exactly what I asked for. I'd say that's a pretty rare and glorious experience.

And it was a bit of a spooky feeling, to be honest -- to realize that the people who had come to walk the labyrinth were feeling a deep, profound, and personal connection to something I had made, without any reference to me as the maker. It absolutely feels as if I had become, for the course of that evening, a channel through which a river flowed, hardly touching me at all, as if I was the path through which something passed on its way from the intangible to the real. This seems like a huge and cataclysmic honor. It was also - well, not what I expected. (Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes...) It was a little strange, a little bewildering, to feel it lift so lightly out of my hands into the shared sky of that night. Natalie and I kept looking at each other with a sort of delighted disbelief - neither of us seemed quite able to believe what it had become, how completely beyond us it had grown. But it was that feeling, of being almost incidental, that made me feel most strongly like it was truly successful. It took on a life of its own. Of course there's a strange sense of loss in there -- and yet, seeing what we created, I could not be more grateful for the chance to see it march off into the world without me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Festival of Light and Gratitude

The Museum of Joy is having its very first event! Inspired by the fact that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hannukah fall on the same day for the last time in fifty thousand years, we're throwing a Festival of Light and Gratitude in the form of a luminary-lit labyrinth constructed at San Francisco's Baker Beach. (The labyrinth party was actually the idea of dancer Natalie Nayun, who is co-hosting the Festival. She's a pretty luminous presence herself, as you can see here.)

Labyrinths are the MOST AWESOME. Here's a lovely 
sunlit turf labyrinth in Yorkshire, England for your 
visual delectation. Photo by Simon Garbutt
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Festival is absolutely open to the public and everyone's invited! It starts at sundown on Friday, November 29th at Baker Beach in San Francisco and goes until all the candles burn out -- which, this being Hannukah and all, could be a VERY LONG TIME INDEED. There's a Facebook event, of course, and you can RSVP and learn more there.

We're super excited to be able to host this event, and we're hoping to make it a yearly tradition. Come walk the labyrinth, see the sun go down in splendid flames, and give thanks for whatever it is that keeps your light burning through the long dark.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A is for Awesome

Hello internet. I've missed you. (Well, parts of you.) It's been a hectic couple of months full of turmoil, magic, and synchronicity, because the universe is good like that. The tornado of change has dropped me into something like Oz, except there will be no attempts to murder women for their possessions and fewer tiny people singing and dancing. (Pretty much just me, actually. But I sing and dance a lot, and I'm short, so you can pretend.) The biggest and most fabulous change is, quite literally, an awesome thing: I am proud and honored (and still, to be honest, frankly sort of shell-shocked) to announce that the Awesome Foundation has given me a grant to make artist books and scatter them all over San Francisco. Really. (If you don't know about these folks, you should; everything about them lives up to their name. There are chapters all over the world, and every month every chapter gives away a grand to fund a project they think is sufficiently awesome. Yes: some very, very nice, generous, and potentially insane people think that I should get a thousand dollars to make art. I am okay with this.)

Miniature collage is my thing. There will be miniature
collages hidden in books all over San Francisco. 
Basically I make the art I want to find myself.
That makes sense, right?

The project I submitted was inspired by the "Portraits of an Ingenious Gentleman" project I stumbled across a few months ago, and I was doubly delighted to have been chosen for the grant because it felt, in a way, like I was being given the chance to show my gratitude for the amazing experience of discovering that work. Now other people will be able to stumble across and discover the work that I leave hidden in books all over the city. If all goes well (i.e. if I do a decent bloody job) the books I make will, hopefully, inspire the same feelings of delight and wonder that I experienced when I discovered Boethius's drawings. If not, it will probably just inspire befuddlement, which is sort of like wonder after wonder has had too many drinks and starts slurring its words at the bar....

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A is for Art Bar and Other Awesomeness

So my partner, the spectacularly-bearded Santa Cruz street poet Kevin Devaney, just launched the IndieGoGo campaign for his truly awesome & amazing solution to the gutting of funding for arts education. It's called the Art Bar and the basic, brilliant way it works is this: since artists are always broke and working at bars anyway, what if you opened a bar that specifically hired artists and used the money from the beer sales to help them fund outstanding arts programming and free arts education in local schools? That is, what if the beer you're out buying on Saturday night was actually paying for your kids and your community to do poetry, painting, theater, visual art, dance, design...? Sounds like a great freaking deal, right? Right. (If you want to donate the cost of one beer to making this model of sustainable funding a replicable reality, you can do so by clicking here! You will get many thanks and also poems and other great perks!)

Did you know there's a whole category on Wikimedia Commons called
"Drunken People in Art"? I was looking for an appropriate illustration for
"Art Bar" but I just couldn't resist this. It's by William Holman Hunt and
it's called "The flight of Madeline and Porphyro during the drunkenness
attending the revelry (The Eve of St. Agnes)" from somewhere  around
1847. The Art Bar will not look like this, of course, except maybe for that
swell pink cape the  guy is wearing. Swell pink capes are always welcome.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

M is For A Vision of the Future, Maybe

So last week I sorta saw my future.

Well, my potential future. My future in the event that I manage to manifest the insane dream of building a magical museum. Which is, let's face it, not exactly the world's most easily-realized ambition.

What happened to me between July 27th and August 3rd, however, served as a sort of week-long kick in the pants by a semi-benevolent universe. What the heck did I do? I attended a world-music-and-dance camp in the Mendocino Woodlands. It's called Lark Camp. It's another universe.

In the Lark Camp universe, people play music together eighteen hours a day -- not because they have to, or because they're obsessive virtuosos, but because they love it and it makes them happy. It doesn't matter how good you are; whether you've just picked up an accordion or you've been playing the fiddle since the age of three, you're invited. If you don't like what one group of musicians is playing, you can walk twenty feet and find another group of people playing something else behind a stand of trees. Or by the river. Or around the fire. Or in a tent.

You can't see them, but there are at least three different groups of
musicians playing within a fifty-foot radius of this idyllic little spot.

In the Lark Camp universe, you can dance from 8 in the morning til 4 in the morning. There's the morning waltz. There's the afternoon swing class, or Turkish Roman class, or Morris dance. There's the evening Balkan dance, or Greek dance, or salsa party. There's the midnight ceili dance, the 1am country dance. Don't know how to dance? Whatever. You'll learn.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Exhibit Inspirations: Kinesynesthesia (II)

I have been tragically neglectful of this blog, which seems to be the refrain haunting the beginning of every one of my rare posts these days. This is because I am actually working at a museum, a job so intellectually rich and all-encompassing that I have been essentially distracted from daydreaming about imaginary exhibits by actually learning how museums work. The nuts and bolts of development, membership, exhibit-making, grants cycles, visitor experience, outreach, ADA requirements...all incredibly useful things for a museum-minded gal like me, but they haven't left much space for reverie.

Until recently. I've been so busy that I've had very little time for dance, which is terrible and tragic and generally doubleplusungood. And it's started getting to me. My body has its own set of interests and desires, which don't always mesh exactly with my intellect's ideas of what I'm supposed to be doing right now. If I go too long without dancing, I get restless. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. I can't sit still. I feel subtly wrong all over. I don't even like food as much, which is really saying something, because I always like food. And by dancing I don't mean dancing around my living room (I do plenty of that) -- I mean dedicating myself seriously to a practice that asks me to think with my body. Donna Mejia introduced me to the idea that the body is an intelligent life companion a long time ago, and I've been grateful to her ever since, because it's just true: the body has its own intelligence, its own ways of knowing and perceiving, its own nuanced understanding of and interaction with the world, and I spend a lot of time forgetting that because I am a very thinky person who likes words like "reification" and reads Roland Barthes for fun. But when I pay attention to my body like it's actually an intelligent being, an ally who can tell me things my rational mind can't see or grasp, I'm always, always glad I did.

Sure, it's a cliched image. But Da Vinci created this image
based on Vitruvius's ideas about the human body as
the source of proportion in Classical architecture -
an example of  the kinds of knowing that belong to
 the body, if you ask me.
I think of joy as being very much in the realm of things the body understands better than the mind. For example, I'm listening to Mozart's Requiem as I write this, and I don't understand how this progression of sound waves buzzing out my tinny little speakers could possibly move me so much. It's just sounds. But I have ALL THE FEELINGS listening to them. Why? What's going on, as the signs at the museum say? My mind's grasp comes second to my body's in matters of music. That's what music does -- it moves us. We use the language of the body to describe it for a reason. The mind can understand music rationally, can contruct it and deconstruct it intellectually, and that's a noble and beautiful thing -- but it happens after the first thing, which is that we feel that movement. And I am tempted to say that it's also precisely that movement, harnessed and refined, that is really at the roots of what we call dance.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Regarding Boethius, An Inspired Mann

If you're anything like me, you've lived your whole life in private, hopeful anticipation of the moment when you at last open up a book and find a magical clue inside, or stumble on a symbol in a bathroom, or overhear a secret transmission on the radio, and find yourself suddenly caught up in some mad and glorious adventure taking place in the hidden world you've always been half-sure exists just beyond your reach in the heart of your own city...

So a seriously marvelous thing happened to me the other day. I was at Green Apple Books, one of my absolute favorite bookstores on the planet (and location of one of my very earliest memories! The memory is a clear image of the racks and racks of books out front, and I know it's early because I also remember being wildly bored. I learned to read when I was three. Books have not bored me since). I picked up a volume of Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings. Lo and behold, tucked neatly into the front cover was a piece of paper in a plastic sleeve. This is the paper:

To find, wholly unexplained, what looks essentially like the calling card of some mystical literary gang inside a volume by Borges, that most secretive and sly of authors, is wild enough. To remember that one of Borges's most famous short stories is about Don Quixote, and to therefore find yourself immediately basking in the wonderful suspicion that layers of meaning are being revealed to you with all the intricacy and wonder of an Umberto Eco novel - well, that's even better.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stranger Things in Heaven & Earth

Here I was imagining I'd be better with this blog this year, and I allllmost managed, until a snafu with my hosting service shut my website down for almost a month. Alas. I'm sure you all missed me. 

Aw, I missed you too.
Barred owl mother and chick. By William H. Majoros
(Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I want to tell you a story about something that happened to me last week. I don't know what to make of it. I just know that it feels as if it was important, as if I'll look back in twenty years and remember this.

I was in a waiting room, and it was evening, and the gentleman next to me asked if I was an actress. Really! Out of the blue! I said no, because, well, I'm not. And then I asked why, because he hadn't asked it like a pickup line, but like he was curious about something.

Oh, he said, just the way you hold yourself, you look like an actress. Or a dancer, or something.

I am a dancer, I said, as it happens.

Why get into a conversation with a random man in a dismal room with no one left in it but the two of us and one or the other certain to be called away soon? I don't know; because I'm a talker, maybe, because it was more pleasant to speak to a real person than read a garish magazine, because he was soft-spoken and had kind eyes. He had gray in his beard. It was a free clinic, a place it's unusual to see a man, especially a not-young man. I was curious about him, too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Exhibit Inspirations: A(nother) Labyrinthine Library

Libraries and labyrinths definitely go together. It's a well-loved literary tradition, from Jorge Luis Borge's "The Library of Babel" to the library in The Name of the Rose. (Actually, I can't think of any others,but there must be some, right? I mean, come on.) Now, as it turns out, a genius bookshop has taken a page from Eco's book (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist) and created a fantastic art space at The Last Bookstore in LA called, yes, the Labyrinth. There's a really delightful piece in the LA Times about it, which simultaneously gave me hope for the future of booksellers in America and pretty much singlehandedly convinced me to go ahead and take a pilgrimage to my least favorite city ever just to see it. (Of course, LA is also the home of another of my absolute favorite labyrinthine spaces ever, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, so I should probably start trying to get funding for my coffee table book about Los Angeles Labyrinths now and kill, like, all the birds with one weighty, photo-laden, hardcover stone.)

Of course, reading about this fantastic space has got me all jazzed about the idea of building my own goshdarned library labyrinth because why not. I mean, if I'm going to be building a museum anyway. The Chapel of the Chimes, a slightly more...esoteric...take on this pairing, is one of the major inspirations for the way I envision the space, although the "books" in that particular intricate nest of stone chapels and mysterious passages are full of people's ashes. (God, the temptation to make "lost in a good book" jokes is killing me.) And, of course, as soon as I started thinking about writing this post, I just had to go and look at about five hundred pictures of libraries - just on Wikimedia alone, mind you, because I wanted to post all the best ones and I'm trying to be good about only using content I have permission for, so this is skipping all the spectacular images to be had just from simple googling. Which is probably a good thing, because when it comes to the collection of labyrinthine library images on the internet, well, a girl could really lose herself browsing...oh, god help me. To avoid any more awful puns, let me simply roll out some of my favorite finds. Remember - these aren't the prettiest libraries. These are the ones I am least likely to ever make my way out of...

This library looks deceptively pleasant. Ha!
No, seriously, you'll never get out of there.
The Bibliothek St. Florian, Austria, by
Stephan Brunker at de.wikipedia.
(GFDL) from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Exhibit Inspirations: I Wanna Hear People Say 'Can I Help You?'

Sisyphus, Franz von Stuck, 1920.
Public Domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.
I had a string of very bad days recently after reading too many posts on Jezebel about literal, legislative, and psychological assaults on women and their rights. Sometimes I just hit a wall. I get frantic, outraged, angry, bitter, and above all heartsick, pervaded by this kind of vacuumed-out sensation of weak hopelessness and exhaustion that's more than anything like a feeling that happens to me occasionally in dreams when I'm attacked by someone and I try hitting them and I just physically can't do it. The feeling of doors that won't lock, legs that won't run, injuries I can't inflict, safety I can't make for myself. And the worst of it, for me, is the part of that feeling that has to do with the deep and scary suspicion that the men in my life don't care. No, that's not quite right -- that they care, but distantly, or just because they care about me, and there's no way for me to express my boundless feeling of misery, that ground-down sensation of endless burden and Sisyphean toil, that they won't eventually tune out of because it's not their problem.

 What I want is to see the perfectly nice, everyday guys in my life - the ones who don't post about politics or comment on threads about injustice or spend much time considering privilege but who are, nevertheless, thoughtful, decent human beings - reach out to the ladies they know and say "Hey, you know, I read about some truly f%@!&ed-up nonsense being perpetuated on your gender, and I want you to know I've got your back. What can I do?" I want to see straight people doing this for LQBTQ people. I want to see white people doing this for people of color.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Museum Musings: How To Make S#%! Happen

Totally how I picture Time, actually.
By Jeremy Simon (GFDL)
via Wikimedia Commons
I would like to think you've noticed my absence, but the internet is full of clamor and I won't be hurt if you haven't. After all, I've hardly noticed I've been gone. Time, that vast and wheezy accordion, has been compressed, and I've skipped over the pleats and found myself inexplicably in March. (I worry about the speed with which time moves; I'm certain it was slower in my childhood. But that makes perfect sense, really, especially after watching this stunning stop-motion animation.) I can't account for it, other than to say I've been moving, and working, and spending my rare spare minutes dancing and trying to fit my novel in around the edges. If one thing has to falter, it's my life on the internet.

But this blog has been my brainstorming space for my own museum, and much though I love the hours I'm pouring into the Exploratorium (which is going to be so superlatively awesome, you guys, and if you're in SF this weekend you can get a taste of it at our epically awesome and totally free roadshow-slash-street-festival), it's very easy to get so caught up learning and making and working here that I forget to take the time to daydream. Daydreaming is a vital part of any ambitious and bizarre endeavor; if you're trying to create something that doesn't exist yet, how can you know what needs to be done without dedicating hours purely to imagining the possibilities? Fantasy and reality aren't opposites, but complements. Problems arise when you can't distinguish between the two, but creativity occurs in the space where the boundary becomes mutable. Much of what has become our daily life began in fantasy; much of what we envision and dream has its roots in what already is. They nourish each other. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Museum Musings: A Word About My Dreams

A hummingbird nesting outside my boyfriend's
bathroom window. The moss cup is the
size of a large egg. 
I had a dream last night in which a hummingbird came an perched on my shoulder. I've been thinking about hummingbirds a lot lately. One of the things I have been most sad about in leaving the Palace of Fine Arts for Pier 15 with the Exploratorium is abandoning the amazing birdlife that proliferates in the Palace lagoon - blue herons, egrets, swans, and, yes, a wonderful hummingbird I used to see almost every morning in the bushes. There is something so fantastical about the hummingbird, this tiny ball of green iridescent fluff vibrating madly though the air, a quickness and brilliance and impossibility. My old commute took me on a winding path through an elaborately landscaped garden, past a deep green duckpond, and under the arches of a truly beautiful dome of golden stone; my new commute is a straight shot through the glassy heart of San Francisco's financial district, a grim gray walk full of busy people in expensive shoes bowed under the gaze of reflective, glossy monoliths. So you can imagine my absolute delight when I discovered, my second day navigating the sour concrete shadows, that the financial district has hummingbirds as well. There's a little parklet I pass by, a bump of green and hunched trees, and almost every morning I have been astonished to see another hummingbird buzzing and darting at the edges for all the world as if it didn't know it was surrounded by skyscrapers, those largest and grandest blandishments of human indifference to natural world. (There's also a murmuration of starlings nesting there, as I discovered on my way back: a raucous cacophony of cawing birds fighting and swirling in the trees. They are loud enough to cut through every city noise. They are wonderful.)

So I woke up this morning with the clear memory of a moment in a dream where a hummingbird, wise and minute and glittering, came to sit weightless on my shoulder under the drift of my hair; it was a guide of some kind, although I can't remember why, or to what. And the memory of this dream startled me, because it was a dream-moment of a kind I have so rarely that I can count every instance I remember on my fingers: a moment of gladness and joy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A...is for A Year Full of Gifts

Yesterday was my 25th birthday. (I meant to write a post the day of, but I was busy actually celebrating instead of blogging about celebrating, so you can just imagine that today is my birthday.) I'm not entirely sure why, but a quarter of a century seems sort of important. Maybe it's because in my head I feel like this is the year I've got to start taking myself seriously. Not too seriously (we can't have that), but seriously enough that I stop making the kind of excuse for myself that starts with "But I'm still young, so..." or "But I'm still a broke quasi-artist, so..."

Call it a turning point. I have some serious dreams and ambitions, and if I want to see them come out of the realm of pleasant fantasy and actually put forth roots in reality, at some point I have to stop imagining that I am working/what it will be like to work/that I might start working on them someday, and actually, well, get started. And 25 seems like a good year for that. But it's a scary thing. It's almost impossible for me to avoid falling into the trap of comparisons when it comes to creating a meaningful life for myself. How can I catch up to those friends of mine (or, hell, annoying middle school acquaintances) who are already published poets, or make $200K a year, or are famous performers with bands I'd die to get on stage with, or are getting written up in the New Yorker, or started their own wildly successful company...

...etcetera, etcetera?

"What other instruments are there, pray tell? Scratchy violins?
Screechy piccolos? Nauseating trumpets? Etcetera? Etcetera?"
(Hi, I made you some 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T gifs. You're welcome.)

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