cracking open my creative blocks

Last weekend I went to the final meeting of my 6-month art class. It was an intense experience, and the best, most challenging instruction on creativity and visual art I’ve ever had.

I went into the class pretty lost about what my motivations were for making art, and how I’d find my style and voice in the craft. Going to art classes all throughout high school and college, it always felt like I was being pushed to make things look more realistic. Whatever personal flavor happened to manifest in the final works sorta felt accidental. After a while, I realized that making things look accurate was a waste of time given how you can use any number of digital tools to do it for you. I loved getting sucked into a project, but the objective of art—which seemed to coming at me suggestively from all sides socially—to make cool, somewhat realistic looking shit, began to feel hallow and stupid.

Anyway, this class really helped to drag me out of this rut. More than anything, it gave me the tools to experiment so I could continue to explore what my aesthetic voice is. I’m really excited to use these new methods and try it on some other kinds of media besides charcoal on newsprint.

I thought these three drawings from the last session do a good job of reflecting my evolving approach to and thinking around my visual aesthetics. Each one was made in < 7 minutes.

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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… 😛

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.

 

a peek at monsanto's evils.

I don’t have a problem with GMOs, but I do have a problem with Monsanto.

First I heard about the multinational agricultural biotech firm was in high school, when my dad told me about how they’d sue farmers for having crops that contain traces of their patented plant genes—including threatening their neighbors, for simply having their farm nearby a farmer who used Monsanto seeds, the genetic traits of which could get transmitted through pollen that floated or carried over to them by bees. I just did a quick search to find out about their other evil doings, and found these:

  • They’ve continued to sue farmers for having “improperly reused their patented seeds.” Yes, they have invested millions into their R&D for their products, but it’s perverse for them to go after farmers for reusing seeds when that’s what farmers have done for literally thousands of years. Farmers are under ever-increasing pressure to yield more and more crops (esp. corn and soy beans), and making these farmers dependent on Monsanto’s products to remain competitive seems dangerous and unsustainable..

Sooo on Saturday, I ended up going to the March Against Monsanto in San Francisco. Food safety and anti-pesticide activism isn’t one of my fights, but I deeply respect those who’ve taken up the cause. It also happened that one of the dances that my political-dance-flash-mob does, Toxic, fit perfectly with the demo’s message. On some level, I felt bad that I suddenly showed up to perform (which as I said in an earlier post, feels more like activism-cheerleading than anything else) and join their protest. But I think it’s actually okay to be peripherally involved in a cause like this, especially if you’re already focused on a different one.

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There’s only so much anger one can muster in a week. My day job is to wrangle with a massive trade agreement that could obligate its signatory countries to various bad awful digital regulations, and really threatens to upend public interest policies from across the board. It’s already been a struggle for me to try and stay positive and focused on the things that we can do to stop the TPP, so I have to be okay with letting others lead and fight in those trenches to do what they can on issues I also care about.

Anyways, I’ll just end this post with this awesome video on Youtube, “Lobbyist Claims Monsanto’s Roundup Is Safe To Drink, Freaks Out When Offered A Glass.

And a photo of me in a gas mask, which was really fun dancing to Britney Spears with. 🙂

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bike ride to point bonita

warning: this is a broring photo life update

It was a gorgeous sunny day out on Saturday so we decided to go out for an afternoon bike ride up to Marin, across the big ol’ Golden Gate.

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Tourists were out in droves, but I couldn’t blame em. The Bay looked ridiculously clear and it felt like the kind of summer you earned after a bitter wet winter…which of course we hadn’t. 😐

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On the way back as I was biking back home up Market Street, I was hit by a car. But I was hit very, very slowly. So slowly it was more like I was gently shoved over. The guy immediately got out, apologized profusely and stuck out his ID for me take a photo. I wasn’t hurt at all though, except maybe my road-confidence. Honestly a giant pine cone that fell out of a tree and stuck the same spot earlier that day hurt more and left a bigger bruise.

Anyway, it was a great day and I needed it. I’m expecting Fast Track to get introduced any day now so I knew I had to recharge to get ready to fight.

I’M READY.

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burning man: a pilgrimage to transience

I’m back.
I survived.

months and months of anticipation, frustration, and “goddammit this better be fucking worth it”

first morning,
waking up to the melody of Cake.
I crawl out of my yurt into the blinding heat

out there, on the Playa, the Sun is the Star. The main character of that stage, where both its presence and absence is the most blatant fact.

at night,
the neon lights
pulsating geometric jewels cut across the blackest black horizon

clusters of pulsating bodies released bodies releasing the raw sexual carnal energies that we’re trained to ball up collect suppress hold in default life

the young eager successful warm friendly helpful uptight,
letting go…

seeing the restraints of gender norms and expectations of “norms” dissolve in this environment
a land of shakers makers risk takers
in a suspended reality, everything can be called into question.

flavors, temperatures, feelings
anything but the heat and dryness feeling like a complete sensory miracle.

at night,
crescent moon floating by
scrap octopus spewing flames from its eight

then,
the sweet grapefruit hazy sunrise
a naive response

it’s a constant shiver down your spine.
it’s a vacuum of spirituality but full of new cohesive meaning

it’s just as much about the building, as it is about the destruction.

leaving, your blood is thickened into mud.
by the sun, the inhaled dust.

here, we get to define our fun, our pleasure, and create it if we don’t see it.
the only rules that exist exist because existence of this world relies on it.

/ streamofconsciousness

I have a way longer, more essay-like piece comin’…

a new twitter account for my thoughts n' taste

I have a weird relationship with Twitter.

So the obvious: it’s amazing for finding out what’s happening, what people are talking about. I love the rawness of it, especially when you can read how people are reacting to things in real time and you see their opinion or thoughts evolve in front of you. I learn so much from interacting with people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t even have known existed.

But man it stresses me out. Sometimes reading my main timeline is like going to a giant room with a fascinating party filled the world’s best journalists, activists, writers, academics, AND your friends, all speaking at the same time, with well-written long-form news reports being broadcast from speakers, AND art+culture+tech magazines being beautifully displayed on the walls. It’s too much at once. I have to be on it for work to find out what’s happening in my realm of copyright and innovation policy, so I tend to take breaks from it over the weekend.

The other exhausting part of it is the “personal brand” thing. For my workier account, I want to maintain my professional voice. The part of me that wants to educate and get people to share the same anger/delight/curiosity that I have for the happenings that I see. It’s the part of me that has no patience for bad journalism, bad grammar, and uninsightful comments. I want to be put together, accurate, and authoritative.

But that’s not all me. I think stupid (but awesome?) mundane stuff too. There’s music I want to share, opinions about art or esthetics or even the fucking weather if I so please. If I’m suddenly inspired to write a haiku about that moment I had with a stranger on the Muni, or about that funky but delicious smell, where do I put that? For me that doesn’t jive with @Maira, the character that I have up there.

So yeah, I made another account.

It’s not because that side of me is a secret or I’m ashamed of it at all. It’s just that I don’t wanna impose these thoughts on people who follow my other one who don’t give a shit about this other stuff. I totally don’t blame them. I guess it’s my way of not contributing to that thing about Twitter that stresses me out the most, that awesome-fascinating-clusterfuck-party part. I want to help people follow the conversations that they care about, and if that means I just have to have another account that lets my spew my pointless thoughts, thazz okay. I’m still not completely used to letting my thoughts drivel on to this new one but I’m working on it.

South Africa Pt.1: speechless (not the good kind)

I was picked up by a driver at the Cape Town International Airport to go about 200 km northeast to spend the night at an animal conservation/game reserve, after I’d spent over 22 hours in a plane and 12 hours in airports traveling from San Francisco. Walking out of customs, I immediately spotted a short guy in a collared shirt holding a sign with my name in big capital letters. I felt a blip of giddiness at the sight of it—there’s something exciting about meeting a complete stranger at an airport who’s waiting for you, even if it was pre-arranged.

I wave at him and he grins widely, revealing a row of shiny, gold teeth. It’s surprising and admittedly off-putting. He tells me his name is Tony. “Hi Tony, thanks for waiting. Let’s go get Rebecca then?”

We walk to the airport parking lot and to his white Toyota sedan. I make small talk about how long my trek was and that I’m here for an intellectual property conference, and he told me he was born and raised in Cape Town. All I wanted to know was how he felt about the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. He looked mixed, or “colored” as they’d say here to differentiate from “black” and “white” people. I figure he must have some opinions but I felt awkward asking outright.

My sister texted me the news as I was waiting at my gate to board a flight to South Africa. First, I was pretty weirded out by the personal coincidence of it. Then I quickly felt ashamed of my ignorance of the extent of his struggle. I knew what apartheid was…generally. And I knew he was crucial in the fight to rid of its policies and was held in prison for 27 years. That was the pathetic extent of my knowledge. I’m of the generation that knew him as a peace icon, not the organizer, the activist, the revolutionary. I still want to understand more about how he did what he did, but I did know enough to know he is a crucial icon in South African history.

We get Rebecca, who’s staying at the airport hotel about 400 meters away. We start driving into the hills and make some more small talk before the car gets quiet again. I go for it.

“So you heard the big news?”
“Yeah,” said Rebecca. “It’s so sad to hear about Mandela’s passing. It’s strange to be visiting South Africa for the first time when the country is in mourning…”
“Yeah seriously.”
We look at Tony, expecting him to say something.

“Sure…” He says distractedly. Then he says in a burst of excitement. “OH! You know who ELSE died?! Paul Walker! In a car crash!”

I was too shocked to say anything. This must be a joke. Please indicate that you’re joking.

“Who?” asked Rebecca.

“Y’know, Fast and the Furious. So sad…so very sad.” He said as he shaked his head.

“Oh. Right.”

Silence.

I was horrified and so confused. I was particularly shocked because I was expecting him to say anything, anything remotely more reflective. Of course there’s no reason why he’d be representative of any common sentiment… it’s my own fault for thinking that any old stranger that I’d meet here would be engaged in their nation’s story, and be proud of the legacy of a man who sacrificed everything to end legally codified racial segregation. Mostly I was horrified to confirm that people like this exist. They exist everywhere. People who don’t care at all to participate in their community or to celebrate progress in their society.

I have more stories about Tony, who ended up being our “guide” for the weekend and was so dim and yet so bafflingly confident… But I need to go to sleep now. It was a bit amusing at first, then it got somewhat disturbing. Rebecca and I wondered how such a self-delusional person like this came to be, as he continued to make us momentarily speechless all weekend. I’ve never been around someone so unbearable in my entire life. I guess there’s a first for everything.

exhale

The last few months have been such a frenzy of things I haven’t had the time to sit down, center, and write.
Between all the hurried travelings and doings, there were some times I got to space out and go on long thought tangents. I wish I did a better job of writing notes down but I’m gonna work on that after a ranty life update.

Trip to Japan in five words: family, meetings, trains, humidity, food.

I went to see my grandpa in Chiba with my mom and my sister Hanami. We call him “Jiji”, which sort of translates to “gramps.” He’s 88 now and is as grouchy and dour as ever. If he had miraculously become a fun and energetic person, it would have felt very wrong and very weird. But really, this time he was so especially awful it was sort of amusing. The only times he would speak up was to complain about mundane things that only made other people in our family feel bad. Like ripping on the traditional sweet confections my 13 year old cousin brought all the way from her school trip to Kyoto.

We were all crammed on couches around this little table enjoying these treats, when Jiji suddenly went on this long ass tangent about how everyone who thinks highly of Kyoto is a shallow idiot with bad taste. All 13 of us fell silent as he went off for a while. When he was done, someone was brave enough to change the subject.

Even though my grandpa was as cranky as ever, and even though he sat through all the family meals munching his food so sternly and silently, it was comforting to see him and be near him. I used to go to Japan every summer growing up, and he was always difficult. In the mornings, he used to wake my sister and I by banging on a pot with a ladle for a straight minute and walk away. I also got to spend time with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and there’s something bonding about experiencing and talking about the wrath of Jiji together.

He lived through some of the hardest times in Japan. During World War II he was a plane engineer, during which he was called out to carry the bodies of the dead after the Tokyo fire bombings by Americans. He ended up building a family business from nothing and worked 60 hour weeks to support our family for decades. So while he’s difficult and can be really stressful to be around, he did everything for us. I’m always going to be deeply grateful and respectful of him for that.


Trip to Detroit in five words: biking, activism, art, vacant, renewal.

Straight, long streets divide endless stretches of ruined suburbia, where lone homes stand next to vacant overgrown lots. My colleague and I bought cheap used bikes for the 5 days we were there and used them to explore the desolate neighborhoods. I felt guilty for being fascinated with it and felt bad for finding it beautiful.

I guess what’s so appealing about it is how raw and vulnerable the city looks. It’s like you’re witnessing the deep scars of a long lost U.S.A.: a country blind with irresponsible optimism and incoherent capitalistic growth. We’re definitely coming to the end of that, slowly, agonizingly. The decades of seemingly endless prosperity given rise to a corporate class willing to give up prosperity and stability at home to feed their corporations’ insatiable hunger for profit.

Detroit especially suffered from that neglect for years but you can see that it’s transforming. The young Detroiters that I met there talk about their city with an intense pride that I think only happens when people invest so lovingly in their community.

Anyway, I could go on and on about it. I haven’t even mentioned how incredible Allied Media Conference was. I’ll save that for another time.

Next blog post here will be less diary-like…

I got myself a Flattr account.

The first time I even heard of Flattr was when I was watching The Pirate Bay: AFK. It made me a little intrigued but I quickly forgot about it. Then the same week, I saw this article on Tech Dirt that talked about how this “social microdonation” service had partnered with other apps/platforms to make it easier to give to creators through likes, favs, stars, etc. When I actually looked into what it was, I was immediately in love with the concept and added “JOIN FLATTR” to my master to-do list.

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So now I’ve finally made an account and I can’t wait to Flattr the hell out of eVErYoNE.

But first, I gotta Flattr that Tech Dirt article introducing me to Flattr.  >_<