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193 posts categorized "Thinking Out Loud"

August 26, 2018


Educated by Tara Westover


Educated

I just finished reading Educated by Tara Westover. I first learned of this book by listening to Tara being interviewed by Jason Gots on the SUPERB Think Again podcast. It is a memoir of a woman who grew up in a family living WAY outside of society's mainstream, in the mountains of Idaho. That she would find her way out of the mountains and onto elite universities to not only gain an education but to write words that would educate the world is told with jaw-dropping accounts that I won't forget.

It's temping to classify uneducated mountain folks as bad, and educated university folks as good. And vice versa. It's tempting to speak with certainty about such things ... with zero tolerance for this, that and the other.

What this book presents is that doubt and uncertainty have a way of generating its own unique strength. And that what might seem like pure strength when in the presence of aggressive dogma and certainty and abuse ... is frequently not strength at all.

When I used to work as a social worker within child protective services, it never ceased to amaze me that kids ... no matter how severely mistreated, can never completely reject their families. The ones who tried to convince themselves that their families and histories didn't matter were the ones who suffered most of all.

I am inspired to look at Tara's education as a call for my continued education ... to never stop inquiring, to constantly learn, to welcome doubt, and find ways to become better educated in order to better understand me, my family, my world.

 

July 21, 2018


To Fight for the Now


KareemThere are so many parts of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's book: Coach Wooden and Me have deeply touched me. I want to talk about them all. But maybe I'll talk just about a couple and how they connect to other dots floating in my mind.

Like when Jabbar explains that when he was a young player, he felt a desire to find meaning in the game, and the fact that he was playing this game galled basketball: "I wanted the game to make sense in my life beyond just having a skill set."

Jabbar also explains that practices with Coach Wooden were highly structured because rather than just running familiar drills from a list, Coach spent hours preparing for each practice, making sure he was coaching per the uniqueness of each player: "... he [Coach] realized that a particular player was not the same player one day that he had been the day before ..." Like Heraclitus who said: You can never step in the same river twice.

I think Wooden knew that the player, like the river was always evolving, always becoming and that a good coach needed to be aware of that.

My favorite podcast as of late is ThinkAgain. Every episode is so packed with interesting info that I often listen to it twice. The latest episode is with Jason Heller whose insights really enriched my appreciation for David Bowie ... and how in his quest to be "inauthentic" and arguably disconnected from community ... with startling and almost non-sensical invocation of scifi fantastic into his music ... that his work became authentic and connected. Free jazz.

Heller also wonders if artistic authenticity is even possible, given that the artist (like the basketball player) changes and evolves ... almost immediately after the art is made. After the play is played. Like the river. Always the same. Never the same.

In Celeste Ng's Everything I never Told You, the character Lydia dies. That fact is not a spoiler alert as it's the first thing we learn. How she dies is a spoiler alert so don't read on if you don't want the spoiler.

So Lydia decides to enter the body of water even though she doesn't know how to swim. She is in that moment who she is and she does what she feels is right in the moment.

Having lost my brother to suicide, I often wonder if in the middle of the act he changed his mind but couldn't take it back. That's the one thing that really bothers me. What if in the middle of Lydia's decent into the water she evolves and changes but can't take it back?

It makes me think about the delicate balance of life. To be in the moment and have the courage to step in that water, knowing we will change and the water will change tomorrow.

But isn't that also true with other choices we make? Like to fall in love? To say yes? To walk away? To say no? To fight for the now?

Coach Wooden lived to be ninety nine ... who said about the game, which applies to life and death: "Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time."

Kareem2 Three
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July 17, 2018


The Force Is.


TheforceisConceptually, I support equality for women. It's in college when I opened my eyes to how deep-rooted sexism is, as well as other forms of oppression. It's when I became a radical, structural feminist.

However.

I'm not that comfortable wearing a t-shirt that says "feminist." Or other variations like "the sisterhood" or "love your tribe" or "the force is female." No thanks.

The reason such tees make me uncomfortable is because I'm uncomfortable with the notion that there is some sort of genuine sisterhood among all women. Some of the most egregious acts of cruelty I've experienced have been by women. Truth is, women DON'T help women. Women shame. Women gossip. Women sabotage. Women envy. Women take down. So do men. Not all, but many. That's because women and men are human. And many humans (not all) don't help humans.

I'm also uncomfortable with "the sisterhood" because as Roxanne Gay points out, race remains a big problem within some feminist circles.

And then there are those very special women who go out of their way to support misogyny, white nationalism and ickiness in general to pursue relevance and celebrity ... like Kellyanne, Sarah, Dana, Ann, Tomi ... and quite frankly the 53% of educated white women who helped put disgraceful Trump in office. And in the deep reaches of my radical feminist heart, I say that there are men who are more my sisters than these women.

The force isn't female.

The force is.

 

July 10, 2018


Golden


GoldenYears ago I saw an interview with an educator who worked with poor kids in inner cities. Her thing was about raising funds to take these kids on trips abroad. She talked about how important it is for poor kids to travel ... even if they can't travel as frequently as rich kids ... for them to see the vastness of the world ... to help unleash their potential. And the importance for a poor traveled kid to be able respond to a rich traveled kid who says "When I was in Paris it was foggy" by replying not with silence and ignorance but with direct experiential insight like: "Oh really? When I was in Paris it was raining."

A few years ago I invited poor kids to paint with me. One in particular was crazy talented. I let her use my Golden paints. After class, she came up to me and asked "Where can I buy those paints?" With her talent, I'm sure she had had lots of practice with paints but never the expensive and gold-standard Golden paints. I'm not sure if she ever found her way to a store to buy Golden paints or if she has kept up her practice with the brands that she had been used to.

I was listening to author Lauren Groff on the the Think Again podcast the other day and she said that sometimes she will spend years on something and throw the whole shebang out cause she thinks it sucks. She segued into a discussion about how it's important for creators to have that luxury ... actually that privilege ... to create with abandon. The privilege to create with access to the best materials and best creative environment ... without the pressure for what we make to put bread on the table or clothes on our backs. It is a privilege. It is my privilege too.

So I'll be painting with poor kids again. And this time, I asked if the school budget could allow for Golden paints and all the other good stuff and I got the green light. I'm so thrilled. Perhaps I'm being impractical because what if they experience these beautiful paints but cannot afford them again in the near future?

Maybe, maybe not. I'll give that question to the universe to answer. But I do know one thing. If after we paint together and they interact with a kid who can afford to buy all the good stuff all the time, they won't reply with ignorance or silence. They'll be able to keep up, compare notes about Golden versus other paints ... and perhaps how when they were in Paris, it rained.

November 15, 2017


I Don't Know


PaleyIn her essay titled The Value of Not Understanding Everything, Grace Paley presents the idea that artists live and work withiin a world that we don't completely understand while critics of art live within the pages of fiction, the lines of poetry, the strokes of paintings ... to point out the merits of the art at hand, based on what the critic already understands about the world. Artists dare to imagine, illuminate, and create even when we can't fully figure out the conundrum of the human condition ... embracing the tension and the mystery of it all ... the love, lust, hate, disdain, and all the rest.

Paley also states that art is synonymous to justice ... which she defines as "the illumination of what isn't known, the lighting up of what is under a rock, of what has been hidden." This justice happens because artists work through the power of imagination. Like really and deeply imagining what it's like to be someone other than myself. Empathy.

Tension in this world feels at a peak these days. Women. Men. Gay. Straight. Bi. Trans. Love. Lust. Touch. Grope. Grab. Fuck. Flirt. Yes. No. Maybe. Me too.

Here we are. And here I am humbly bowing down to audacious artists ... who work relentlessly to light up what has been hidden as we deploy the power of imagination/empathy ... with the strength of character to occasionally say "I don't know" ... and engage the tension within those beautiful words to embrace the light and pursue the creation of justice. Fiat Lux.

 #artandactivismlog

September 20, 2017


Enjoyment without Possession


Not now

In a recent essay by John Lanchester (How Civilization Started, The New Yorker), I am reminded that for most of our modern human existence, we've lived as hunter-gatherers. This way of life was followed by the Neolithic Revolution (AKA: the Agricultural Revolution) where humans segued from hunting and gathering, to planting & cultivating.

With invention of cereal crops, states came into being because such grains, unlike other crops became taxable as they were "visible, divisible, assessable, storable, transportable, and rationable" (James Scott, Against the Grain). Taxable cereal grains also gave rise to writing ... not creative writing, but the writing of lists ... ledgers that recorded the happenings of grains, including divisions of labor, and those divisions leading to societal hierarchies.

Lanchester references a new book by James Suzman titled Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen. Suzman's research takes him to southwest Africa to study the Bushmen that still exist today ... a people that still hunts and gathers. And contrary to what we the "civilized" might think, these hunters and gatherers live a life fulfilled, with an '"unyielding confidence" that their environment will provide for their needs' (Lanchester). Hunters and gatherers live in the moment ... as they enjoy and share with others their abundance, without scrambling to hoard, tax, trade, and accumulate.

There is this thought in our current world that once we accumulate enough, life will be good and we will be happy. Lanchester points to an essay by John Maynard Keynes (The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren) that points to the problem when we place value on accumulating rather then enjoying:

ArrogantIt reminds me of Louis CK's funny explanation of why he doesn't save. Because he says saving is "arrogant." He'd rather spend what he has and enjoy life.

It also reminds me of the documentary, Minimalism, where I'm challenged to consider that to live a life fulfilled, all I need is less. I think that the pursuit to enjoy rather than possess takes a hunter-gatherer mindset where what I have now can be enjoyed now. Because tomorrow, there will be more to have and enjoy. And if we are no longer able to hunt and gather due to age or illness, to find ourselves in a world where those who HAVE decide not to lord it over others, but to share.

 

September 04, 2017


David & Goliath :: Matte & Gloss


 

HighDid you know that Michelangelo (1475-1564) is either the first or one of the first artists in history known to have signed his works of art? He was part of the Renaissance/High Renaissance movement where artists were experiencing a rebirth of classical culture. Instead of the immediate past thousand-plus-year tradition of anonymously making pious art that focused on the hereafter, Renaissance artists focused on the here and now ... claiming their style, championing humanism. 

And rather than remaining anonymous MAKERS, Renaissance artists were becoming named, known, and identified CREATORS. As audacious as this rebirth was, it was a movement that resulted in art that inspired contemplation. 

I feel this contemplation in Michelangelo's famous sculpture: David. The work makes me feel that David (the ultimate symbol of the underdog) is exuding not just courage but also concern, as he is about to use in earnest, his humble sling and stones, to battle the giant Goliath.

The Baroque movement which followed the Renaissance caused the pendulum of art to swing from contemplative to active. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) is a Baroque artist who also sculpted David. Even though the subject is the same underdog, when I put them side by side, I can definitely feel the difference of the art periods of Renaissance and Baroque. Contemplative versus active. In other words, matte versus glossy.

Interestingly, the Catholic church enlisted Baroque artists to create active, glossy art with more light and less shadow, with the hope that it would inspire people who had veered into Protestantism back into the Catholic church. In hopes that the Catholic church could be considered not just as a passive place, but a stand-up-and-take-action place. 

To me, contemplation and action go hand-in-hand for my life as an artist and activist. Like when I feel I've been thinking a long time about doing something there's a point when I hear myself saying "Jenny: Stop the over-thinking and take action." Glossy.

And then there are times when I'm going a mile a minute and I feel the need to pause and think and make sure the course is either correct or in need of correction. Matte.

#artandactivismlog

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August 30, 2017


Houston Strong


Houston2

Look at this H charm and jump ring I made with sterling silver wire. It's to honor the people of #Houston. I'll make you one and ship it to you if you email me a new screen shot of a minimum donation of $100 to American Red Cross (for #hurricaneharvey ) or Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Houston Food Bank or Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Screen shots must be dated from this moment forward (Previous donations are great but this is to encourage new or second donations.) jenny@crescendoh.com /// chain not included///please allow 2 weeks for the charm to be created, packed, and shipped #HoustonStrong #riseup

Houston

August 28, 2017


Jean Valjean, Hurricane Harvey, and Osteen's True Colors


Romanticism

I remember learning about Romanticism in high school and being struck to realize that it has nothing to do with conventional ideas of love and romance. Romanticism is a movement that reaches not only the visual arts but also literature & music. It's a movement that shines light on the need to take care of the underdog, the downtrodden, the suffering.

Like Victor Hugo's magnificent literary work: Les Miserables ... where the Bishop tells the authorities to not arrest Jean Valjean because the silver found on him is silver that the Bishop gave him, not silver that he stole. Jean Valjean can't believe this grace given to him by the Bishop because he did in fact steal the silver. And the Bishop says to Jean Valjean ... take the silver and rise up and succeed. God. I weep every time I think about that exchange.

Paintings by French Romantics like Gericault and  Delacroix exude the passion that they felt ... particularly regarding oppression based on class. Their works show breathtaking uprisings of a downtrodden people who overcome class oppression.

Speaking of the downtrodden. Have you seen the devastation and the havoc that Hurricane Harvey has caused on the people of Houston? The images of the suffering are heart-wrenching. These images are available to all ... including Joel Osteen, head of a megachurch in Houston that has not been flooded and that could house and aid thousands of people ... only if he opens the doors.

But Osteen and his team members have shown their true colors. And they look nothing like Jean Valjean's Bishop. The doors of the megachurch will remain closed, he said, but dollars will be accepted through his website to provide aid.

There ARE churches that open doors to help the downtrodden. That's part of the conceptual reason why churches are allowed to collect money without paying taxes. Because they're supposed to help. For free. And that's why I used to wear a cross around my neck. But I took it off in my 20s when I realized that most crosses on necks reflect closed doors, closed hearts of the greedy who use tax-free money to build shiny things that belong more to the over-the-top Rococo art movement of extravagance and jet-set life of the Osteens and nothing to do with Romanticism. They turn scripture into cliches of privilege to help them sleep ... like "we aren't perfect, just forgiven."

Maybe one day I'll wear that cross again ... when I feel that #fakechristianity no longer has a stranglehold on Christianity.

August 23, 2017


Matters of Importance (Again)


Matters

When I was a new immigrant to this country, I was the only girl of Korean descent in the elementary school that I attended in #Bakersfield, California.There was a bully named Andrea who used to slap my face regularly.I told my family about this and Marilyn, from our sponsoring American family, started coaching me with my limited English skills and told me the next time it happened, I should look at Andrea in the face and say "Stop it!" And so I did.But it didn't work.

 

So the next thing I knew, Marilyn accompanied me to school & asked me "Where's Andrea?" I pointed her out & witnessed Marilyn going over to talk to Andrea & telling her in no uncertain terms that she was to stop slapping me.

 

It worked. Andrea heard Marilyn loud and clear. Even though I was different, I mattered. 

If someone had said to Marilyn "But what about Andrea? Doesn't she matter too?" Marilyn probably would have said "Of course she matters. But I'm here not because someone is slapping Andrea. I'm here because Jenny is being slapped. And I'm not going to not do or say anything about that." I think that when a nation has a long-standing track record of killing unarmed Black people, it is not illogical for someone witnessing that to speak up. And when the witness stands to speak, they may say something like "Stop it!" Or a collective community of witnesses may say it another way, like #BlackLivesMatter

 

To me, those three words don't mean that other lives don't matter. Because of course Jenny matters & Andrea matters too. This great nation protects the right for Marilyn to speak up and get involved & it protects a collective group of like-minded & concerned witnesses to stand together ... to state the case and shine light on matters of importance.

 

(I am re-posting today, this story of mine which I originally posted on July 12, 2016. #IStandWithKaepernick )

 

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