Instagram: the best part of my day (and a museum’s best friend).

You know that oft-quoted line from John Lennon, about how life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? These are wise words. I need to keep them in mind a lot more, or possibly even have a poster made of it (like, with a picture of cat playing with a ball of yarn and a thought bubble above his head showing a scratching post). You see, I have been planning for the future, pretty much daily, the entire time that I have been living in San Antonio. Some of this planning is necessary; especially in light of our upcoming move to Seattle. I like to think of this obsessive planning as doing my future self a favor. But what about my current self? I focus on everything but the present. I might even say I am uncomfortable with the present. I don’t know if it’s being born into a time and place with literally limitless options and endless distractions, but lately I tend to feel like there is always something more, or something different than whatever it is I am doing at that moment. First-world problems, right?  Why am I incapable of giving myself a break and letting myself enjoy this singular time and place? Being present, meditating, living in the moment: these are things I’ve never been good at. I want to change: to overcome the anxiety that comes with being comfortable with me, as I am today, whenever today is. 

As I said, I’m no good at meditation (restless, lack discipline, etc.), but there are other ways to achieve the same mindfulness of “now.” While I’m busy with any of these tasks, it is my goal to just focus on the one thing I am doing, and do it well.

1. Knitting. Getting off of the computer, and making something tangible, even if it’s just a bunch of scarves. The mind is still active, but pleasantly distracted. The hands are busy, so there’s not much else I feel like I could be doing. Who wants a scarf? I recently mastered stripes.

2. Walking, now that it’s not 100 degrees, is another good mind-clearing activity/exercise. But. I find myself feeling more and more like a local when I’m on the riverwalk: annoyed with slow-moving tourists and their strollers. Perhaps it’s a good exercise in patience, another virtue in which I lack.

3. Art projects are another way to focus my jumbled energies. I have been asking my boyfriend Peter to teach me some techniques. He pretty much says I can discover my own “visual language” through just making marks on the paper. I’ve never been drawn to the sketchpad like he has been, though. My right brain creativity is more connected with the verbal left brain. Which is why he and I have had, for years, the idea to do be a writer-illustrator team. We did try it a few times in the past, although I guess others have had the motivation to follow through before we did.

4. Photography. Not the “real” kind, that actual photographers do. Not the kind I used to do when I worked as a museum collections photographer in Madison. No, just me and my iPhone, out in the world. This device, that is always with me, has become the mode of documenting my life over the last year here in San Antonio. More than any activity, taking photos, by definition, puts me in the moment. I never really thought about what taking these photos means to me, until I read this last week on an inspiring blog I follow:

And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, “How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?” And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, “Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?” The wonder of it was, I told them that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something I hadn’t known was important will leap out and hover there in front of me, saying I am— I am the best moment of the day. I noticed two people were writing down what I was saying. Often, I went on, it’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking across a parking lot and admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed across the windshield. I thought, Ah, of course— I’d forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. “And that’s my secret, such as it is,” I said.

Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist

This is from August, when we stayed at a farmhouse built in 1881. Being in the middle of nowhere was exactly what I needed. At this moment, the light in our room was cast from prisms, and that, combined with the quiet outside made me extremely happy.

Even though this excerpt is about poetry, it can really be about any creative pursuit: making art out of the inspiration that is received from an ordinary day. This makes sense to me: I do use these photos to capture something fleeting from my day; maybe what I choose to capture even is the best part of my day. Having a camera with me all the time now does allow for the creation of a legitimate photographic journal. But more than the journal, the poetry, whatever, the thing that holds me in the moment is the act of capturing the scene. What am I drawn to photograph? It could be a pretty vista, or someone who is with me, but often it is just something I see that I like and can’t explain it anymore than that. It’s the way the evening light hits an industrial building. The way a flowering plant looks extra beautiful against a gray wall. It’s the small things that often make up the best moment of the day; we all know this. As I sit here, always making plans for the future, this is what is happening is right now, whatever that happens to be.

And, the best part of having a documentary device always with me? Because the iPhone is actually a tiny computer, these photos can be shared through the magic of Instagram. The act of taking a photo, formalizing it as a portrait through the filters, and then sharing it: it’s a form of sharing visual poetry, isn’t it? We’re social. We want to share. I like Twitter, but sometimes the endless links and hashtags and words become too much to process. Instagram is the visual Twitter, a way to say “I was here” or to express a visual ideal.

Which brings me to this, because my brain is always jumping around: I have worked in several museums, and I can’t think of a better use of social media than Instagram for cultural institutions. First off, there are suddenly a LOT of people using it. The potential audience is huge. As museums become more and more social entities, there should be more of them on Instagram. And the museums who already use it could be using it even more creatively.

Museums are visual institutions and Instagram is a visual social resource: they are a natural fit. Using the app should be a main component of a good social media and marketing plan. Of course we know the photographic quality is not archival. That’s what museum photographers and archives are for. This is about social engagement and a moment in time. It should be a fun and irreverent way to engage visitors and followers and to start discussions.

The best ways for museums to use Instagram? Show off the collections. Give us behind-the-scenes shots. Use it to promote exhibits and events. Ask questions, start an artistic dialogue. Keep a consistent visual language, to use Peter’s phrase. Use it once or twice every day.

I took this photo during the first few minutes into the first education program I coordinated, back in June. I was nervous. I wanted it to be successful. These young teens were filling out a contemporary art guide I wrote, and just seeing young people engaging with art was a good feeling that morning.

Here’s a list of some creative arts organizations and artists to follow. Some of my personal favorite photographers that I follow? Yvette Inufio, Jasmine Fitzwilliam, Andy Spade, and Marie, in addition to lots of others. And, if you want to see some of my favorite daily moments, follow me. When we move from San Antonio, I am going to be really glad I have a visual record of this past year.


Personal Objects, Personal Histories

The almost-empty studio. We are ensured a full security-deposit, yaaaay.

I don’t follow my horoscope, but if Fall 2012 for Leo were to be accurate, it would include something along the lines of: “A great change is in store” or, to be more specific: “You will pack up many old belongings. Including your high school mixtapes. And your eighth-grade graduation dress. And your My Little Ponies. In their stable. And you will also assist your boyfriend in cleaning out his art studio, which is not quite as much fun as it sounds.”

For the past few weeks, that has been my life. Coincidentally, my parents are moving at about the same time as Peter and me, so that means a lot of sorting, giving away, and packing the objects that make up different times of my life. As someone whose education and career path has dealt with objects as markers of history (art history and museums), looking through ones’ own personal belongings as a measure of personal history is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s the organizational, collection-manager in me- always having the desire to neatly record- that longs to use the collections at hand- our personal collections- to tell a story. I want to document it all, maybe if only virtually. Peter wants to do this, too, but as a painter, printmaker, “modifier of found objects (?)” and carpenter, his focus is on 3D, live-action display and exhibitions. In our world, the interpretation of our personal histories would be suspect, tongue-in-cheek, and embellished. Memory is filtered and flawed anyway, so why not exploit its very nature? The labels and text would be an art project, a creative writing experiment unto itself.

The idea is presumptuous; who cares about any of these things we have accumulated besides us? But yet, we are here, now. What is the point of saving all of this, of creating art, of creating anything? We all want to live forever. Maybe this is why we, as humans, hold onto things. We all want all this stuff of ours to live forever, and through it, us.

I found this. It reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie. I am quite sure I performed no special feats as a member of the school safety patrol, but that might not stop me from writing about the object as if I had.

But back to reality. Before any of these projects could ever happen, we are serving as our own collection managers: boxing all this up, we are saving it, for something. And oh, is it boxed up. For better or worse, Peter and I are professionally-trained museum professionals, so our packing standards are pretty high. I worked at a historical society, but he, you know, packed actual Calders and Picassos, when he worked for an art-handling company in Chicago, so he wins. He is a serious packer. It doesn’t mean our things are quite up to those standards, but let’s just say our (his) system would be approved by the Smithsonian.

In the meantime, I can rest assured that our collections are safe and dry and climate-controlled and ready for whatever the next step is. Probably, most of our things will just end up on bookshelves and closets, not photographed, or cataloged, or serving as the subject of half-true personal mythologies on wall text and brochures. But you never know.

My dad, a musician, collects records. Someday I actually, really and truly do want to inventory and catalog them, and also store them in a way that they are happy.

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.

Photo Friday Introduction

As part of this brand new experiment, I’m going to test-drive a possibly regular column (in addition to the likely randomness): Photo Friday. Foto Friday? Photo Phriday?


Cymbal-clanging monkey, Wisconsin Historical Society

I love photography, always have. As a kid, I’d spend hours going through albums in my grandma’s attic (museology-nerd note: don’t store photos in your attic or basement- too much temperature flucuation= bad.) This interest propelled me into a career path involving history and photography: getting my MA in Museology. At my current job at The Wisconsin Historical Society, I spend a lot of time taking photos of sometimes bizarre (see left) historical collections. I have had also had a couple interesting internship experiences working with photography collections at The Henry Art Gallery (where I learned a lot about recognizing a variety of photographic mediums) and Museum of History and Industry (where I worked on a project relating to the 100th anniversary of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition). I also love to view artist portfolios in person and on flickr- I guess it’s my inner curator that loves the sorting, the possible themes and combinations. That said, this feature from flickr is something I need to take the time to try.

Since I’ll be posting some photos here in the upcoming weeks for Photo Friday, I’ll just list a few elements that will likely show up in my future posts:

Interesting Use of Color: Just straight-up aesthetically speaking, color draws me into a photograph. Black and white minimalist photographs can be stunning, but my brain just initially responds more to color photographs. I have lately been into washed-out palates, similar to Polaroid-type color. If you are looking for particular colors, this website is a great tool – you can search for flickr photographs based on color combination.


David Hlynsky, Military shirts, Moscow, 1990

Backstory/context: I love both the aesthetic and story behind these photos of Cold War Eastern Europe store-front windows. When there is such a sense of detachment in photographs, usually the response in the viewer is something very different. In a photo like this, it is what it is- a photograph of a store-front window doesn’t beg for a response from the viewer, but yet this one is unnerving. The backstory of the photo is what makes one feel that way, which can be very powerful.

Right place at the right time: Sometimes you plan for this, sometimes you don’t. Could be a completely set-up scene, like a movie (David Lynch often takes photographs this way), or could be a serendipitous moment. You definitely have to be in the right place at the right time for “manhattanhenge” – when the skyscrapers on the Manhattan street grid pattern line up with the setting sun. Ever since I visited New York a few years ago, I’ve loved looking at photos that capture the view into the cave-like streets. Adding a natural phenomenon just makes the ordered street grids even more visually compelling.

Look for some more photos next Friday.