January Things.

Here, a joint post in which we discuss what has been recently occupying our minds.

ALISON

hottoddy

Things I Like.

There’s a bite in the air even in San Antonio this winter, so these days I enjoy the feel of cozy, loose sweaters (worn with fitted jeans or black leggings, so I don’t look like a bag lady), the inner warmth of crock pot dinners, chai tea in the morning, chamomile tea at night, and maybe a hot toddy in between.

And positivity. I like that. Thus, I will not have a Things I Do Not Like. At least…not this month.

Things I’m Reading.

no-one-belongs-here-more-than-youI am currently halfway through a collection of short stories by Miranda July, called “No One Belongs Here More Than You.” The stories are bizarre, funny, deeply sad but hopeful, and…resonate with me more than I’d like to admit. I have a feeling, although I have no evidence for it, that one has to be at least slightly damaged, even in some undefined way, to enjoy July’s work. One thing I noticed right away about this collection is that the voice (always first-person) is basically unchanging throughout the stories, despite the wildly different situations the various protagonists find themselves in. That singular voice could be a considered a criticism, but to me it created an impact and a sense of cohesiveness and made me appreciate July’s style more fully. This book is certainly not for everyone, but it is perfect for me, especially at this time in my life. I think Ms. July has even inspired me to tap into the short story well that lies somewhere inside of me.

Things I’m Thinking About.

These last few days, as I need a distraction from Real Life Shit, I have been daydreaming about What It Means To Be An Artist, (in my case, a writer), and what I need to work on. One thing I have trouble with when I sit down to write is that I have a deep need to Represent It All. I want to scoop up each morsel of life, hold it all at once, and spray it over the canvas, so to speak. I am the dog with a ball in its mouth that also wants the ball in his master’s hand. But no one can Show It All through art. Well, maybe the James Joyces of the world can come close, but I know my limits. Disciplined artists? They choose the little truths. They start with an idea, a truth, and the trick is, they don’t add to it, they subtract from it until they have reached its essentials. Those who practice this method realize they can’t impact It All, but instead they seek to create little waves that might ripple. My goal, as a writer, is to learn and master the art of truth by strategic subtraction. Knowing this might be half the battle.

Things I’m Listening To.

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I usually love discovering new music, but I’ve been in a rut lately, listening to familiar favorites like M. Ward, Jeff Buckley, Wilco, and soothing but stimulating classical music like Debussy. (Oh, and I share a birthday with him… nerd alert.)

AMY

Thing I’m Listening To.

(To which I am listening… ahem, grammar nerd here)

So it’s been around a while, but this video has everything I need to cheer myself up so I’ve been pulling it up almost daily to bask in the cheek of it. Seattle sights, Seattle inside jokes, Seattle faces. The weather is bitterly cold in Saint Paul and I keep dreaming of my old haunts (and cursing my instagram feed for all the photos from people I know who live places that aren’t sub-zero!). Plus, man, I miss that awesome Goodwill off Dearborn!

Things I’m Reading.

A peek at my Goodreads account shows me just how much of a homebody I’ve been the past month. Lots. Of. Books. Here’s just a sampling.

From the entertaining and imaginative but really not challenging category comes the Scott Westerfeld Leviathan series. Really, it is a perfect series to read in the middle of winter when the darkness and snow makes me want to stay inside and pretend I’m somewhere else. It’s a young adult science fiction steampunk alternative history novel, so there is something for every part of my imagination. One of the main characters is a teenaged girl and she’s quite well written. Sensitive, strong, smart but still a little dense at the right moments to make her feel real. Oh, and the artwork is fantastic.

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Staying with the young adult theme, I finally read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. How it missed me when I was in middle school (or high school, or college, or well, until the ripe old age of 30) is beyond me. I could only barely relate to Charlie, he’s just too, well to use his teacher’s terms, gifted and special. But the whole mood of the book, the whole feeling of being a lost teenager, not understanding how to navigate life, wanting to opt out of difficult situations and just live in one’s head – I could have used that when I was a teenager. And, least of all, I’m glad I didn’t see the movie because I can’t imagine such a tender, real and beautiful yet raw EPISTOLARY NOVEL be a live action film. Just can’t imagine it. Don’t want to. It’s so much better just living in Charlie’s head and seeing the world through his somewhat foggy filter.

Currently I’m reading Sacre Bleu – which is a mix that should really appeal to me – historical fiction/mystery/satire set in France and featuring Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. But I haven’t really dug into it yet. Plus… the text is printed in blue, and this makes my eyes hurt and also is a bit too CUTE for my liking. I will report back later on that.

I Like.

VINE!  The videos people are uploading range from strange to terrible to very creative. The sound aspect annoys me so far, since you can’t edit that — it can get loud and a lot of weird ambient noise gets chopped up and run together. BUT! I think it would be really interesting if used in a directed way. My museum brain is thinking of ways museums and educators could use the platform – such as asking for submissions on a theme, or asking people to respond to a question or prompt.

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I’m Working On.

Many things. Being more patient. A new sewing project (gunmetal washed silk crepe de chine – wish me luck!). Motivating myself to start playing my violin again. Learning Dreamweaver. Thinking about data privacy and copyright, because I find it fascinating.

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In the Interest of Participation, Throwing Perfection Out the Window

There are certain things I look for in a blog. There are so many out there competing for my attention – life is too short, even for an autodidact who would like nothing better than a life spent ingesting information found online. Anyway, my personal high standards have kept me from publishing, or even writing anything for far too long. I read, I comment, I share the thoughts of others, but more and more there is a feeling that I’m missing out by not allowing myself to share my own thoughts and experiences. 

So here it goes. An experiment in just getting it OUT THERE. Hoping that people won’t judge me as harshly as I imagine they will. Here is my first sketch of a blog post.

As our intro post explains, I’m back in my home state, bouncing back and forth between Minneapolis and Saint Paul and slowly involving myself with the nonprofit world. The Twin Cities have an amazingly rich arts scene, the museums, music, art and culture offer so many opportunities. Every week there are so many concerts and shows and exhibitions and experiments. One that crossed my path is an arts ambassador program called Theoroi. It’s the brain child of The Schubert Club, an arts organization with a long tradition of nurturing musical performance in Saint Paul. The 2012 – 2013 season of Theoroi includes music, dance, and theater performances at some of the many excellent venues the Twin Cities house. The first event was a Delfeayo Marsalis show at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, and as soon as I make sense of my jumbled notes and distill my varied emotions, you can expect a post describing that experience.

Going back to participation, though I have always been glued to the internet, over the past year my interaction waned. Self consciousness and negativity held me back from interacting with all but my closest friends. Shutting myself off from the world makes little sense, especially when I think back to how isolated I felt in Baltimore. Isolation fed loneliness, fed feelings of insignificance, and a disgusting spiral of lameness kept me from reaching out. Back in Minnesota, surrounded by people who know me well and who call me on it when I start to retreat from society, I’ve decided to focus on the social. Step one was actually being SOCIAL on social media. Tweeting, conversing, commenting, putting good out and taking in the interesting, positive and fun.

Step two was involving myself with some local arts organizations and seeking mentors. I’ve connected with some wonderful, passionate, fun people. Building up a network of mentors and friends has been easier than I imagined, but my old friendships suffered, and now comes the difficult task of balancing old and new, professional and social, not neglecting and not taking on too many projects.

A few weeks ago I attended the Minnesota Association of Museums annual meeting and it was a revelation. Finding a place in the museum community has always felt like a insurmountable challenge, as I’m interested in all subjects and all areas – science, history, art, collections, education, technology. But I realized–talking with people, listening, attending sessions–that my dream to focus on visitors, community, education and technology is not as impossible as it seemed in 2008. This is hopefully a teaser to another post about the meeting and about this revelation.

I’m not a multitasker by nature, but focusing on one group of friends, one type of music, one genre of books, one city, one professional focus has never appealed to me. So it’s time to figure out how to balance it all and not exhaust myself with the effort. Letting go of perfection and pushing myself to participate will hopefully help me find balance and momentum.

Our Band Name Would Be “Bars and Bar Culture”

No, we didn’t derail. Maybe we took some detours, laid down some fresh tracks and ended up here. Maybe when the conductor said, “all aboard,” we were buying candy bars or cold beer at the station. Maybe I should stop with the train metaphors. It’s just that this blog title took on new meaning, since I notice that now it’s September, 2012.

A & A were recently in the same place again for a few days, attending the wedding of our lovely friend Lindsae in Seattle. A couple weeks later, Amy sent me a text, essentially asking if I wanted to get the band back together. I say “band” because it sounds cooler than “blog.” Maybe this will be the reunion tour?

So yes, it’s been more than two years since our last post. Since then, I find myself living in Texas, a place that feels like a different country at times, but luckily I have my best friend and the love of my life, Peter, at my side now.  I’ve been working at a small contemporary art center, mostly on education programming.  After previously working in museum collections (aka basements), it’s been refreshing to see six-year-olds squeal with excitement over getting to make their own kinetic sculpture. Amy is dividing her time between nonprofits in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Minnesota takes the arts (and nonprofits) seriously, and there is never enough time to see and experience everything on offer. We are both doing are best to bloom where we are planted.

A lot has changed for both Amy and myself since 2010, but one thing hasn’t: we want to use this blog to keep in touch, for our musings and muse-ings (that’s museum-related posts- don’t worry, I don’t think we’ll actually call them “muse-ings”), photography, inspiration, storytelling, and capturing the “time-spirit” of our lives right now. I would use the word “zeitgeist,” but since I don’t speak German, I think the English translation is perfectly lovely. [Amy’s note: You DID just use the term “zeitgeist.” Right there.]

Amy really likes the Minnesota State Fair, MN music, craft beer, and hats.

San Antonio living: our patio. All of the non-succulents are not pictured because we failed to realize only cactus-types will survive if you go away for the weekend any time between April and November.

My Fault, I’m Female, or, Things Amy Thinks About

This week I discovered the My Fault, I’m Female blog and also caught a report on Current TV about mail order brides. The common thread, beyond men behaving badly/sexism, is that a lot more men than I realized are still idealizing the concept of the submissive women, expecting or wishing women would conform to this role. Me being me, my mind has been whirring, and my thoughts ended up going in two different directions. One, sexist humor (even the mild stuff that I find funny) is really not helping men (or women) and their concept of self in a modern world. I know that humor is funny, it’s fun, it’s not serious, that current thought is that as long as a comedian is making fun of his or her own culture or gender OR is attacking everyone and everything with equal zeal it is okay, but as with many other issues that are fodder for comedy, sexism and gender relations are still serious problems. Joking about it lets people acknowledge its presence and then move on without actually addressing the issue, and for people who take jokes at face value, it can be dangerous (because I know lots of comedians consider jokes as catalysts for thought on social issues, but let’s face it, lots of people in the audience just don’t think beyond the surface).

Two, I wonder if we focus too much on empowering women and teaching them how to be strong and smart in a modern way and not enough on helping men understand why a strong and smart woman is good for the world and for them (as men, as lovers, as fathers and as friends). I know this isn’t a new idea (pretty sure my gender studies textbook had a whole chapter on how feminism hurt the male concept of self/ego) but I’ve spent more time thinking about it (and feeling a bit bad for those misguided men). I could go on and on in either of these directions, but I’d really like to hear what others think about these ideas. That said, my encounters with men have been very positive lately, and I hope that continues. Let’s hear it for the very polite men who have boosted my ego with such passing compliments as “You look really nice!” and “I just had to tell you, your outfit really works!” and “Hello! Have a nice day!”

Musical Snapshot From My Life, or, I Am Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Most of my life I have had terrible taste in music. From time to time I embrace something unusual and cool (my love of Jelly Roll Morton as a toddler, for instance) but more often than not I brush past musical milestones (the guys in 5th grade who tried to interest me in Green Day, an aunt who worked for an early alternative radio station who offered to lend me her CDs, an encounter with the Seattle music scene during a 2001 visit) without so much as a second glance. It wasn’t until I was in college (with access to peer-to-peer sites, a really amazing college radio station, a lot of art classes*, much more free time to spend listening to music, and boys with excellent musical taste who I desperately wanted to impress) that I started to really pay attention to my reactions to music. I began to slowly take in a song and pay attention to my responses to different sounds.

My final semester of college, a childhood friend took it upon himself to send me two CDs in the mail after a long AIM conversation about music and influences. One was a mix CD, the other was the soundtrack to Garden State. At the time I was dating a guy who imagined himself a charming, romantic, yet rakish figure. He would tell me, “this reminds me of that song by XX, you know, ZZZ,” and I would nod in agreement and make a mental note to look it up later. I had never heard of any of the songs he imagined we were living. About the time my Garden State CD arrived in the mail, he became obsessed with the movie, while I fell in love with the sound track. Several times he compared me to Sam, Natalie Portman’s character, and she always won in his eyes. I was struggling with the idea of leaving my small college town and all of my friends for an uncertain future, and took long walks listening to the soundtrack on repeat. One song would comfort me, and the next would throw me into doubt, back and forth, over and over. It became my own personal soundtrack, to the point that even when I wasn’t listening to the music, a certain mood would queue up the corresponding song in my imagination. Every time I hear any of the songs from this soundtrack I am instantly transported back in time. Today I heard The Shins song “Caring is Creepy” and in my head I was suddenly walking through a small midwestern town under a cold spring sun, pondering my future and feeling depressed yet hopeful. Listening to The Shins, Iron and Wine, and Simon and Garfunkle led me to other artists, re-introduced me to Elliot Smith and the Beatles, and helped me to pay attention to my own internal taste, away from the judgements and pressures of others.

Last year I was introduced to the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl** by the author John Green in this excellent blog post. The very point of identifying the construct of a “manic pixie dream girl” with this phrase, as coined by Nathan Rabin and as explained by John Green, is that many men (and boys) believe in the existence of such a woman. A beautiful, flighty, fun, quirky woman who can bring a guy out of his shell, encourage him to live an exciting and surprising life full of unexpected adventures, and help him transcend his troubles through her presence and influence. She is, in some ways, the man’s answer to many women’s belief in a knight in shining armor. Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State is the typical manic pixie dream girl – and, I fear, has served as a measuring stick for many guys to evaluate their unfortunate girlfriends. Happily, while I enjoyed the movie for what it was, the soundtrack is what has stuck with me. When I hear those songs, I am reminded not of Sam and Andrew, but of my own life and my real struggles with identity and relationships. And, as Sam says, the Shins changed my life–at least as far as the music is concerned.

*I don’t know about all art classes, but there was a CD player playing constantly, and people would bring their own CDs to share.

**I recommend this list of movies featuring a manic pixie dream girl character.

Photo credit:

How to Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day (Without Getting Drunk)

Well, I’m part Irish and–at least in the US–on the feast of St. Patrick, that’s the part that counts. For me St. Patrick’s day has never been about getting drunk (especially not off green beer… ick) but more about reflecting on my heritage (and eating boiled supper*). As this year’s feast day falls on a Wednesday I suspect most people won’t be out all night closing down an Irish pub. I will be curled up with some potatoes** and a movie. There are a few Irish movies on my to-watch list that look promising (Once and The Wind That Shakes The Barley) and let me suggest five “Irish” films (quotes because, well, one is about Irish-Americans, and only some were actually made in Ireland, and, well, are those enough qualifiers for you?) if you would like to do the same.

The Magdalene Sisters is about what the Irish (well, the Church) used to do to unwed mothers and “fallen women”. It is a heartbreaking commentary on the practice of locking these women up in Magdalene Asylums, away from their families and children, to toil over vats of laundry and piles of ironing. Gosh that sounds depressing. I am terrible at writing compelling synopses. Fun fact: the last Magdalene Asylum in Ireland closed in 1996. Ninteen-ninety-six.

In America is about an Irish immigrant family living in a rundown apartment in Hells Kitchen surrounded by poverty, but here’s the twist – it takes place at the turn of THIS century and is a semi-autobiographical tale told through the eyes of the family’s oldest daughter.

The Quiet Man is full of stereotypes (about men, women, Irish, Americans, priests, drunks), but of all the films starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, it is my favorite. And let’s face it, all the films starring O’Hara and Wayne are FULL of stereotypes, but you just have to make a mental note and get over it and allow yourself to enjoy the wonderful chemistry between them. It’s about an Irish American (Wayne) who returns to Ireland to work his ancestral farm and falls in love with a local spinster (O’Hara). Again, please trust me because I know I fail at writing compelling descriptions, it’s entertaining and sweet and beautiful and funny. I mean, look at this still:

The Secret of Roan Inish is by far my favorite Irish movie. It’s a story about a young girl who believes the story her grandfather tells that her baby brother was taken by the mythical selkies (creatures in the shape of seals who can shed their skins to take human form). The best thing about this film, besides the enchanting Fiona, is the beautiful, sweeping cinematography. If you watch this film and don’t want to move to Ireland to live in a stone cottage and search for selkies, then I don’t want to be your friend.

The Boondock Saints are twin brothers whose particular brand of vigilante justice is sanctioned by God. It is by turns funny, violent, intense, and amazing. Willem Dafoe is fantastic as the FBI agent in charge of finding the brothers. You notice there is an FBI agent in this movie – well, that’s because it takes place in Boston, and the twin vigilantes are Irish American. But this film is just too good not to include in my list.

*Boiled supper is the Irish culinary tradition of cooking meat and vegetables together in one pot. In the US, the meat is usually corned beef, and the veg are usually cabbage and potatoes. The reason Irish Americans usually eat corned beef is it was the cheapest cut of meat available to Irish immigrants, and somehow it became a tradition. Thank goodness the cheapest cut wasn’t something like tongue.

**Because, damn the stereotypes, potatoes are fantastic! And there are so many ways to cook them… the possibilities are endless.

First photo credit from flickr user seminarianvoitus

Mix Tape Monday

Photo from leandroid on flickr

I’ve slowly been working my through the WKE series Don’t Move Here, short video episodes about the Portland music scene, and Episode Six is all about tapes. As in cassette tapes. As in homemade cassette tapes. And this episode, above all others (even the one about awesome poster designers Mike King and Guy Burwell, and believe me, I love me some cool poster design) gives me the warm, fuzzy, music-is-wonderful nostalgic feeling. Even though I was a bit young to make mix tapes with actually cool music and all of my really good mixes have been on CDs or e-mailed to me. Still, I remember sitting by the radio with my finger on the record button on my parent’s enormous stereo, waiting for my current favorite song to come on and praying, PRAYING that the DJ didn’t talk over the into. And even though I’m not sure what I would do with a mix tape if someone gave one to me – my car has a CD player, and I listen to most of my music on my computer – “mix tape” is still my preferred phrase to describe a carefully chosen assortment of music. “Playlist” isn’t ever going to cut it, and mix CD doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

I’m not confident enough in my own musical taste to share compilations with my friends, much less the internet, but in honor of St. Patrick’s day, allow me to present a collection of classic “bar songs” my friends and I compiled for a St. Patrick’s day celebration a few years ago. I dubbed it the “Drunk Song Sing-Along” mix because most of the songs were chosen for their power to make us want to sing (and our inability to resist breaking into song once we’ve had a few drinks). Let me preface this list with three things – 1. these are not “cool” songs, 2. we are all a product of the 80s and 90s, 3. we are all from the Midwest and cut our teeth in dive bars and VFWs and this music feels like putting on an old sweatshirt.

Art B**tches Drunk Song Sing-Along

  1. Jump Around – House of Pain
  2. Mr. Jones – Counting Crows
  3. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty
  4. I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family (David Cassidy)
  5. Only The Good Die Young – Billy Joel
  6. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  7. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
  8. Shoop – Salt N Peppa
  9. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
  10. Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
  11. Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
  12. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
  13. I Love Rock and Roll – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
  14. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
  15. Livin’ On a Prayer – Bon Jovi
  16. Piano Man – Billy Joel
  17. Love Shack – The B-52’s
  18. Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
  19. Cecelia – Simon and Garfunkle
  20. Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
  21. Closing Time – Semisonic

I’m thinking about posting some favorite mixes that my friends have given me over the years… any interest?

Photo credit leandroid on flickr.