some of my "extracurriculars"

I’ve been spending most of my non-work time on classes and projects lately. It feels great and fulfilling and they’re each activating different skills n interests of mine. Here are the main ones:

* art class *

The first, major thing is my art class. I’m a third of the way through the course (it goes til June) and it continues to be enlightening, sometimes frustrating, and intense overall. The main thing I’m getting out of it is the practice of reflecting on personal habits and patterns of behavior, and allowing myself to be curious about whether they hinder richer experiences in my life. It’s all done through the lens of “mark making,” but it’s affecting even the smallest things about my daily activities– whether it’s to change up my bike route to/from work, my cooking, or the style of my writing. If I have a lull at any point, I sometimes force myself to resist reaching for my phone, and instead try and observe the environment and things around me so I’m more present.

The drawing below just happens to look like a person, because our mark making is only meant to capture our reaction and feelings in response to the poses the model makes before us. But I like it, and it’s a good example of how far we’re going in this class to deconstruct our creative processes. For the most part it’s enjoyable, but as I said, it can be frustrating at times. It takes a lot of effort to try and resist your habits, and to challenge the comfortableness with new ways of doing and experiencing can be, well, uncomfortable.

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* everett alumni foundation*

It’s been slow to start, but things are finally rolling forward with the Everett Alumni Foundation, which is a non-profit I incorporated to network the alumni, partners, and friends of the Everett Program at UC Santa Cruz and to give financial grants and mentorship to students. We got out our first newsletter a few days ago and will be fundraising in the coming week. woop!

* dance *

I’ve been getting back into dance. I finally made it to Dance Mission Theater right next to the 24th St. BART and took a West African dance class with live drumming, which has been one of my favorites at other studios. I love the dance from that general region because the movements tend to be big, energetic, somewhat ~sensual~, and feels natural in a way that ballet (for me at least) totally doesn’t.

* flash mob theater *

Then I’ve also started working on choreographing another piece for my protest flashmob group, Get Up Street Theater (GUST). We have one on the environment, called Toxic, and another on militarism/law enforcement/lack of accountability in government, called They Don’t Care About Us. The new one is going to be about surveillance. The common complaint among people has been that there’s too high of a barrier to participate because they need to learn all the choreography, so this time we’re mixing in a good amount of other theatrics with it so anyone who shows up can decide to participate. Pretty excited about this one.

taking apart creativity

so far I’ve been making good ~strides~ on my art making, largely due to the way-more-than figure drawing class I’ve been going to. Besides the intense, weekly three-hour classes that involve a lot of mark making and discussion about expression, reaction, and the meaning of creativity, the instructor has been asking us to do weekly “homeplay.”
The writing component of this homeplay has been really rewarding so far, and has been a great counterweight to the loose, reactive approach to drawing that we do during class. It’s forced me to reflect upon what I find valuable about art and  being creative–actually, much more than reflect, but to define it, put it out in front of me, examine it, and take apart the pieces. As someone who has long had a strained love affair of sorts with art making, it’s felt like therapy. He calls on us to ask ourselves: What does creativity even mean, and why is it important to us?
So far, these have been some of my answers below, followed by questions that I posed myself upon reflecting on my answer to those initial questions:
I understand creativity as an ability that allows a person to be free to experiment in what they make or do, given any number of constraints. There’s an element of unpredictability or resourcefulness that the word connotes, and that usually seems to be related to some kind limitation, such as the available materials, existing rules and expectations (like an aesthetic), or the amount of time given for the activity.

For me creativity‘s importance lies in both its experimentation and resourcefulness, but also that it can occur within almost everything I do. I’m being creative when I whip up a meal from the random assortment of ingredients I happen to have in my kitchen. I’m being creative when I write a blog post for my job and choose the words and type of sentences I use to explain something. What I love about these regular activities is how I get to express myself in them, that I get to exercise my intuition, judgment, taste, and mood. Creativity is valuable because it’s fun, even when I use it for my day-to-day survival.

~
Does creativity have to be so calculated and backed by intent, or can it be raw and expressive? Does it have to be either/or? Can it lie on various points of the spectrum of these things and be still feel good and fulfilling?

What are my limitations at any given point?

And what are my resources?

How can I learn to play with both?

The way I described creativity and my value of it feels uncomfortably self-indulgent and ego driven. It didn’t capture how much I enjoy collaborating with others or acknowledging how I am influenced by others, whether directly or indirectly. All my judgments, my feelings, and the ideas and resources that affect my work has not come out of thin air and I don’t want to act like they appear in a vacuum. So how do I approach creativity and my artmaking practice as one that’s more of an dialogue with others, rather than as a solitary, egocentric experience?

 

 

why do street protests?

As government officials grow depressingly less accountable to the public they’re supposed to represent, we have to resort to  other means to get them to pay attention and set them straight. Going out on the street en masse to air grievances is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book. Sometimes, it works. It works when it grabs press attention, when it catalyzes others to take action, or when it’s really big and it causes officials to shake in their boots and actually change their course.

But most of the time, it doesn’t do any of those things…and if so, is it just a waste of time?

I thought about this a lot when I was in Washington D.C. for protest actions against the TPP this week and as I went to my third march yesterday in Oakland to perform with my protest dance flashmob group. I spent a pretty significant amount of time and energy preparing for the D.C. actions in the weeks leading to it, getting other organizations to endorse them and invite their members to come out and join us. My goal was to have as many people on the streets at the main action on Monday afternoon as possible.

And we did get a good number people out there (I first said on Twitter that I thought it was at least 1,000 people but given my knack for being horrible at guesstimating large numbers or sizes of things it was probably pretty off). I think it’s safe to say that we had 300~400 people when it was at its largest when we marched through downtown D.C.—apparently, that’s not too shabby for a protest action on the Hill. We had Flush the TPP lanterns shaped like rolls of toilet paper, some big light projections on nearby buildings, and actual rolls of toilet paper with facts about the TPP printed on them that we used to TP trees and statues along the route.

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On the following morning, we had another action to march to each of the 12 embassies of the countries involved in the agreement. It was way smaller (about 60 people) but we definitely made up for it in theatrics and props. We had a big Mr. Monopoly puppeteering the flags of the TPP countries and a massive blow-up globe that four people had to carry on their shoulders.

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Popular Resistance did an incredible job at organizing everything that happened last week. Not only did they plan out a dozen or so separate activities, they coordinated with people who came from all over the country, figured out how to house and feed 30+ people in a church which was our planning HQ, and most impressively of all, kept up their energy and had a positive attitude the entire time. The folks at Popular Resistance were the most impressive organizers I’d ever worked with.

Really though, I think it came down to that: the people you meet at these events. Obviously the goal of doing this kind of thing is to enact some real change but it’s really hard to quantify and measure that kind of impact. But if during the process, you meet and connect with people who share a common goal of resisting oppressive, backward government policies, I’d still say that’s a success.

It’s empowering to get together with a group of total strangers who come from entirely different backgrounds from you and recognize that you’ve got each other on your team. Protests and rallies are just as much about taking up space and creating a spectacle to call attention to an important issue as it is about celebrating your community.

I can say that I definitely needed the inspiration and hope that we still have a chance (see previous bleak blog post for reference). It was an intense few days with the several dozen people who stayed at the church HQ and were involved in all the action.

There was the kindergarten teacher-turned-activist in her 60’s who got teary-eyed with me as we both ranted about how hard it was to make more people care about the TPP. She said she starting doing activism when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of her kids’ futures in the world the way it was.

There were the 20-something-year old brothers from Michigan who run an organic farming business on their property. They were there because they’re against GMO’s (which we disagreed about) and think Monsanto is an evil company that should not be empowered any more than they are already are (which we agreed about).

Then there was the guy who flew all the way from Washington, from the northern most county in the state. He’s an organizer who managed to turn his entire district Democrat with his grassroots work to rally thousands of people to turn out for local elections.

These and the other people I met this week are, in their various communities, doing whatever they can to be an active participant in re-shaping the future for the better. I hope they went back feeling as pumped and re-energized as I did. We got a pretty good team going, but to win in the long term, we’re going to have to keep building this community bigger, stronger, and with more love and common respect.

Having said that, I think I’m good on going to any more street actions in the near future… 😛

the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.

 

centering & creating opportunity out of crisis

First, it was at an event put on by the Asia Foundation where I was speaking. I met a leading feminist and human rights organizer from Mongolia who put on the first production of the Vagina Monologues there (and to much controversy).

Later that week, I spent three days with two fellow digital rights nerds in the Sierras. We cooked, explored, chatted, and made sense of our community with each other. Both of them incredibly hard-working, passionate, hilarious, and thoughtful people.

With them, I visited and slept in an old schoolhouse of a ghost town recently purchased by a woman my age, who was one of the most gorgeous, elegant people I’ve met. She’s re-building this long deserted town into a sustainable community centered on organic farming. So far it’s inhabited by a dozen or so happy humans, dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens.

I had lunch with one of my colleagues who I consider an influential mentor. She almost single-handedly built an international project to create legal principles that would guide surveillance policies so that they could fall in line with international human rights. It has been too long since we hung out and talked about life.

All of this came after spending the last few weeks reading the entirety of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. The book blew my mind in its comprehensive explanation of why climate change is an urgent crisis that must be addressed immediately, but in the same vein, an opportunity to re-think many aspects of governance, the economy, and the ideologies that underpin both social structures. She manages to make someone, like me, who has peripherally cared about this issue into an evangelist for direct action against carbon-based fuels and demand subsidies for renewable energy programs.

These past few weeks, I’ve encountered these and other inspiring women who are putting their all into fixing this broken mess of a world in varied but individually stunning ways. Despite how fucked things seem lately, thinking about them and their work help me shake off the despair and get to work. Just as Naomi would say, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Whether or not they’d admit themselves, these individuals are doing this through their day-to-day work and are committed to making things more just and sustainable.

I’m preparing myself for a busy few months as TPP negotiators may announce tomorrow morning that they’ve concluded this sprawling trade deal once and for all. If they do, I’ll be laser-focused on killing this agreement dead because it goes against everything I believe in. I hope to soon do more work that involves building towards positive, equitable institutions, rather than having to fight this bullshit neo-liberal/private-interest-captured policies. But in this crisis, I’ll be looking for new opportunities. In this work, I’ll try and emphasize ways of organizing that will make people feel more connected and responsible to their society and global community. Who knows what the hell that looks like but I’m gonna do my darnedest and I’ll take a cue or two from these bad ass women who’ve come into my orbit.

stream of consciousness: aug 9 '15

Another stream of consciousness—wherein I write whatever comes to my head and I only go back to correct for grammar and formatting.

I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a story about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to the U.S. as a student and becomes a blogger who comments on her racial experience as someone who “became” black only once she came to the States. There are about 20 of the character’s blog posts in the book, and it contains some of the best writing on the experience of intersectional racism/sexism of black women. The story that encases this commentary is a love story which isn’t bad as far as those go. Adichie’s writing is beautiful too, with just enough descriptive flare to suck you into certain moments in the story but not too much to be tiresome.

Anyway I definitely recommend it.

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Very much into ibeyi right now. They’re twin sisters, 19 or 20, of French-Cuban descent and are the daughters of the percussionist from Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is just gorgeous and soulful and…Mmm!

>> Youtube video of their show at KEXP Seattle <<

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Random thoughts about trade policy/innovation still swimming around in my head that I can’t nail down.

I’ve started three different long pieces trying to make sense of them and I keep scrapping them. Can’t tell if it’s just a bunch of obviousness, that I’m just saying something someone else has already said but then I know that if they had, I probably would have read it or known about it.

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That’s it for now. bleh.

mood: intellectually, creatively constipated

 

 

 

rise of the third place

The late architect Victor Gruen is called the grandfather of the American mall.

It was distressing for him to see people increasingly consumed by the automobile in the 1950’s and 60’s. He said: “their threat to human life and health is just as great as that of the exposed sewer.” Yup, he *hated* cars. So he wanted to bring cohesion to the suburbanite lifestyle by giving rise to a “third place,” outside the home and workplace. He wanted to build mixed-use spaces that could serve as a place for leisure and community.

He eventually became disgusted by the very thing he helped create—these climate-controlled private spaces, national monuments to American consumerism.

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We celebrated him, and the rise and fall of the modern mall, on Gruen Day yesterday at the Bayfair Center in San Leandro. It was the fifth mall he had designed.

It seems to be an empty shell of what it once was. The woman who leads the management for the space repeatedly decried the use of the term “mall,” calling it a four-letter word in the industry. Everything the management does now is geared towards de-malling. They want to gut it and completely re-design the interior so it can house offices, maybe even residences.

Gruen, who gave rise to the mall and became one of its fiercest critics, would probably be thrilled to see this happen to his own creation.

p.s. ICYMI: 99% Invisible did a great episode about him.

 

stream of consciousness: march 2015

this is a stream of consciousness—i’m writing anything that comes to my mind.

On Friday I went to the dentist and they fixed a tooth that got chipped while I was eating a bowl of salad I made with Trader Joe’s fancy Red Quinoa. This particular tooth was already fucked up—a snaggler that jutted out taller than the others on the front bottom row of my mouth. In middle school, when my appearance became a sudden and painful new part of my every day consciousness, I was really embarrassed of it. I covered my mouth when I laughed to avoid people noticing it. But eventually I got over it and didn’t care anymore. Every time I changed dentists and they asked me if I wanted braces, I’d defend its right to stay. “It’s fine and it’s not gonna hurt me right?” But on Friday they changed it. They first added whatever gunk they put on it to account for the missing chip, then asked me if they should just file it down. “Uhhh…Yeah.” I nodded, while my mouth was held open. “Great! It’ll only take a second.” When they started, I realized that it’d lose it’s charm. My teeth would be boring now. I’d lose my ability to make weird bite marks on apples…! But it was too late. They had an electric filing device in my mouth filing that lil’ guy down…

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Saxophones haven’t been cool for as long as I remember. It was at its pinnacle while John Coltrane and Charlie Parker ruled the jazz scene. But then who killed it? Kenny G might’ve been the first wave of uncooling, then was the sexy sax man the final nail in the coffin or was it just making fun of the complete utter deadness of its cool? Anyway, I think it’s creeping back into the mainstream. It’s in that Ariana Grande song, in Macklemore’s Thriftshop, and Big Gigantic does it electronica-styles.

One night a few weeks ago I was under-the-influence wandering around the Internet and I found this Tiny Desk Concert session with Moon Hooch. They sounded nothing like anything I’ve heard before, despite being just three white dudes who looked like they just got plucked out of Humboldt County. I was hypnotized by their performance, recorded in that awkward little NPR studio. So I immediately bought tickets to see them when I saw that they were coming to SF.

The show was on Friday and it was pretty amazing. As Andrew said they were a mix between being really talented musicians and being strangely comedic in their performance. I feel the same way, but I wonder if it’s just because I still can’t shake the thing about saxes being the butt-of-the-joke instrument. But that actually made me enjoy the show MORE. I feel like I mostly see the same instruments being played on stage, and while I appreciate talent with those, they’re just something extra eventful about seeing that kind of artfulness with instruments you don’t usually enjoy. So yeah, it was good.

~

In the bathroom I found this sticker on the stall door. This is how I feel about writing/painting/reading:

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– fin –

what's the point of modern trade policy?

At my job, a major project has been the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Specifically, I organize EFF members to oppose the many digital policies that would impact how signatory countries implement laws—the underlying problem being that the negotiating texts are kept secret from the public while it’s overwhelmingly influenced by major corporate interests. So I spend a significant amount of time reading, and watching the politics behind US trade policy, in order to identify opportunities and targets for direct action.

Over the last 3 years or so that I’ve been watching these TPP talks unfold, one of the things that confound me is how proponents—mostly the White House and some Congress members—defend this and other secretly negotiated agreements. The primary argument is that enabling “free trade” and breaking down protectionist barriers will mean job creation and economic growth. Job creation and economic growth…they both sound like wonderful motives, but the implication that this means that more people, in the US, would live more prosperous, stable lives seems to be extremely dubious.

What we should be asking is, what kind of jobs would this lead to? And at what cost? For example, one of the big arguments I hear for the XL Keystone Pipeline is that it would lead to employment of thousands of workers. But first, how permanent are those jobs, will they be paid well, and what are they actually doing to promote a sustainable future? The jobs that project would create are those that would be paying individuals to literally help shove poison into the earth, and into our water. You can’t think about public policy in such a narrow, irrelevant frame as “job creation”, especially if that means nothing more than putting people at work at a task that doesn’t pay well enough for people to live healthy, decent lives.

When I hear that justification for a policy, what it sounds like to me is a more twisted version of trickle down economics. By helping mega-corporations to make more profit (even if it means infringing on people’s rights, even if it means putting peoples’ lives at risk) they can hire more people and spread that wealth all around. That’s just not how this happens though—companies aren’t incentivized to hire more people for the hell of it, because they can. They’ll only do it if it means yielding more or better product, so they can capture even more profit…

Now’s not the time to flesh this out as much as I’d like, but the point I want to get to is the huge deception of modern trade policy. What they, trade delegates, allege is being negotiated for the benefit of their nation, is actually only for the benefit of the wealthy, influential figures in that given nation. That’s why each country is willing to give up flexibilities on other policies as long as the dominant industry gets its deal. For instance, Vietnam may be willing to cave in to worse copyright rules, insisted by mainly Hollywood companies, as long as it gets better access to US’ textile/clothing markets. That isn’t a reflection of what the people of Vietnam want or need, it’s just that of the powerful textile manufacturing industry.

So if other countries agree to more extreme digital policies, it may harm future opportunities for the tech industry to thrive there. The US, in having the most flexible copyright rules, might be the country where starting certain tech businesses might be more conducive, while it forces other countries to worse rules that would prevent such industries to thrive there. Is this the point of trade agreements? I know for sure that they’re now solely there for the purposes of propping up private industry, but is part of the goal, the point, to have countries become more specialized producers for certain products?

art-making is gonna happen, 2015.

Some friends of mine mentioned that this year, they were going to forgo yearly resolutions for aspirations instead—a broad set of ambitions, rather than a set list of objectives. It seems like less pressure, allowing you to be more realistic about what you want to accomplish while forcing you to think more directionally and long-term.

So I’m gonna give it a shot.

The only one I’ll write here for now is…

Work towards becoming a part-time artist.

I want art-making be a more regular part of my life. I kept thinking it was just a matter of making time to sit down and draw, paint, write, etc., but when it came down to do it, it was stressful and awful every time. It had been so long since I did it regularly that I’d come to be creatively constipated, worrying and self-doubting what I was making and what I was trying to “say” with my work.

Finally, I came up with an assignment for myself that lets me make something without getting too caught up with all of that: to make a big 30″ x 40″ painting of a California poppy to put up in my living room shared with my roommates. The subject needs to be non-offensive, decorative, and composed and painting well. It took me three straight hours of hand-wringing to realize that I need to just get in the habit of making, so I can at least get the craft of it feeling natural again.

I’ve only really sketched it out and done a color wash (below) but I’m so excited to keep working on it. 😀

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