Sunday, October 31, 2010

I love you so much

Search for Stars Hollow: Mason, TX

I feel like it's important to continue cataloging all misses in the search for my own Stars Hollow because maybe not quite right for me is perfect for someone else. On Friday evening, I drove through Mason, Texas en route from Austin to San Angelo. It was dusk, and as I rounded the central courthouse square, I was charmed by the bevy of shops lining the street. A banner strung across the street advertised an upcoming wild game dinner to benefit the community. Secretly, I vowed to convince my mom to come back with me, and true to my word, we were headed there Saturday morning shortly after breakfast at the Charcoal House.

Mason has a population just past 2,000, and like many small towns in Texas it is anchored by a central court house and square. We ended up haphazardly choosing a good day to visit as musicians and artists lined the square to hock their wares.

I hate to admit that the art was mediocre, but whatever, it was. I love bluebonnets and windmills, but I get tired of seeing so much West Texas art feature these symbols in such typical ways. What was truly heartbreaking (to me) was how hungry these guys were for sales. It was awkward to walk down the sidewalk and be pitched so actively. As I passed the work of one artist who caught my eye, I picked up the painting out of curiosity to find out what it was priced and felt so bad for the girl as she stumbled over herself to tell me the price was negotiable. She would have been so much more affective had she stuck by her price and been more confident.

The square itself is lined with an antique mall, a few gift shops, a museum and a couple of cafes. I got the impression the main street economy was geared toward tourists like us as the antique mall was way overpriced, and the other stores along the way had nothing really unique to offer.

Despite some of the Stars Hollow similarities I saw when passing through, I knew Mason wasn't for me when we walked within earshot of some local electioneering at the court house. I didn't linger to find out if the political leanings were right or left, but experience and common sense leads me to believe we would have been at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

In a region where cactus outnumber people, "cool" Fall temperatures are a balmy 82-90 degrees, and the politicians are likely conservative, my Stars Hollow I will not find.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hey, Paula Cole, the cowboys are here

Conference over, and I'm back in San Angelo until my next Texas conference in a couple of weeks.

After a couple of months away, I always manage to convince myself that San Angelo isn't very western or country.

Clearly, I have an amazing ability to blank on reality. At breakfast this morning, it appeared Wranglers were required for admission, and there were too many cowboy hats to count at dinner.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Austin: Day 1

I always forget how amazing Austin is. As a native Texan who has explored many of the state's nuanced crevices, both large and small, I find liking Austin cliche. Paul Goldberger* put it best in today's speech when he said that Austin is the one place in Texas that everyone from places like New York and San Francisco can agree to like. Still, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Austin has a lot to offer.

Long Center for the Performing Arts

Last night Charlie (the brother) picked me up from the airport and dropped me by my hotel. I ended up getting a room at the Austin Motel on South Congress (SoCo). While I'm a good mile from the conference hotel, SoCo is a fun, walkable neighborhood. There are tons of independent shops and restaurants, and the entire neighborhood just has an open vibe. The Austin Motel is fun because it has themed rooms and a laid back atmosphere.

Austin Motel

my Caribbean themed room

Charlie making himself at home

Texas, however, is killing my Fall buzz. I got up this morning and was able to have breakfast outside in my flip flops. In fact, the pool at the motel is still open.

Snack Bar

Snack Bar Outdoor Seating

Anyway, I walked across Town Lake into downtown in order to find the Hilton and check-in to the conference. I then camped out in the hotel lobby to do some work and wait for the opening plenary at 5:00.**

Town Lake

Austin Skyline

I fully anticipated being bored during the plenary but was so glad to be dead wrong. They kicked off the session with some live music from local musicians (check out Phoebe Hunt, phenomenal voice, cool fiddle, with the Belleville Outfit). As entertaining as the music was, it was far from the best part. The president of the National Trust was motivating and even Laura Bush had some great stories. However, Paul Goldberger,  the New Yorker's architecture critic, was phenomenal. He said so many things that were quote worthy and inspiring. I've been searching the internet for video of the speech and am hopeful he will post a transcript on his site. I left the 2-hour assembly pumped and brimming with ideas.

I capped the evening off with tacos from Guero's Taco Bar up the street from my hotel. After sampling the Al Pastor that was made with marinated pork, pineapple, cilantro and lime, I can see why it's one that put them on the map.

Al Pastor at Guero's

*OMG,so brilliant that I'm going to end up gushing.
**5?! It felt late for kicking off a conference, but who am I to judge?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When the paint dries and you can finally sleep

The event is over. The paint is dry. I am tired. I'm working up an effort to write something more interesting in the next couple of days. :-)

flower detail

wall #1 at Simkins sitee

wall #2 at the Simkins site


Despite the fact that we moved the location (closer to the dam, which was great) of our press event the day before it happened, I'm still please we were able to spice up a little bit of the site.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Everything is temporary

Here's a little sneak peek at my *surprise* project for work. I got so pumped today when I saw how breathtaking it was. I'm refraining from posting more because I want certain people to be surprised in person.

sneak peek

I need to spill a little bit about my struggle today. The artists are only painting a small portion of the site that will be most visible to folks attending an event. There are other areas along the path still covered with graffiti. One piece, in particular, is a giant penis. I went there today with every intention of painting over it.


However, as I was standing in the paint aisle at Home Depot with a can of Kilz in my hand, I couldn't help but stop in my tracks. The Kilz label talked about its effectiveness at covering stains, and as I pondered what I was planning to cover, I began to feel bad for the penis.

I realize I over think a lot of things, but I began to wonder who I was to judge this particular graffiti piece. Does valuing one particular style of graffiti over another make me into a bourgeois elite poser? Aren't I entitled to my own aesthetic? Why should I value this particular rendition of the penis as worthy of any kind of permanence?

Anyway, you can see what kind of random paths my thought process takes. For now the penis stays, but I can't guarantee it will make it through the weekend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Schoolyard memories

Have you ever stopped to marvel at how quickly some things become antiquated? I remember being in junior high and my mom telling me how I needed to take typing because it would be a useful skill to have. Typing. I bet they never even fathomed how much of our lives we would spend tethered to computers and mobile phones. Can you imagine typing still being offered as an elective? I swear I'm not that old, but knowing that I took typing makes me feel a little older than I should.

Any antiquated memories you'd like to share?

Monday, October 11, 2010

It all began at the Sugar Shack

Ravena got me thinking about race and art the other day when she mentioned wanting at least some art in her home by African American artists. One piece, in particular, she had had her eye on for a while was Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes.

Sugar Shack Ernie Barnes

I was unfamiliar with this particular piece, so I felt compelled to hit up Google and see what I could find out. Turns out his style is neo-mannerist, a term I'd never heard of until Google further enlightened me. The elongated limbs and fluidity in the work reminded me of the illustration on the cover of the children's book, Salt In His Shoes, and it seems the illustrator, Kadir Nelson (Abikanile's Prayer below), is also a student of the same movement.

springboard by ernie barnes


I hadn't really ever given much thought to the artists I like and what their race is, so it was definitely a challenge to search for new artists with race/ethnicity as my first criteria. I can't decide if not factoring this in is a luxury just given my own race or ignorance on my part.

Anyway, back to the fact that Google was not helpful. Typing in "African American art", "art by African Americans", "black art", etc. proved extremely limiting. I am very much a believer in that your history, culture and life shape your art. However, I refused to believe that art by an entire population of people falls into a few narrow categories*.

I should admit now that my second criteria was that the art also had to appeal to me. Would I put it on my wall or in my house? You can rest assured that I would display anything I've included here.

Right when I was about to get frustrated with Google I came across the work of Jacob Lawrence and mixed media artists Romare Bearden and Radcliffe Bailey (respectively below).

jacob_lawrence_the migration of the negro

The calabash Romare Bearden


If you remember all my yammering about Lisa Congdon, you'll know I'm a big fan of collage pieces.

I was still struggling though. I wanted cutting edge, even more contemporary, so I headed to Etsy to see what they had to offer up. If I thought Google was bad, Etsy plum near terrified me. Such.horrible.pieces. The great thing about Etsy is that magnificent might just be a click away. Patience is how I stumbled on Atlanta artist Shadra Strickland.

bird's rooftop shadra strickland

My luck held out, and I discovered these beautiful pieces by Tabitha Bianca Brown.

Honestly, my real break came when I discovered the article, Race issue a two-edged sword for black contemporary artists, by Blake Gopnik. While these pieces aren't really ownable unless you happen to be seriously wealthy or a museum, I wanted to hop on my chair and shout "yes! yes!" when I saw them.

Glenn Ligon (unknown, Excerpt, No Room #36)
glenn ligon

excerpt glenn ligon

No Room #36 Glenn Ligon

Kara Walker
Kara Walker



exodus of confederates from atlanta kara walker

Lorna Simpson
lorna simpson

Wigs lorna simpson

Yinka Shonibare

a flying maching for every man, woman and child yinka shonibare

Each of these artists deserves their own post and discussion of how brilliant they are, but for now, I think I'll just stop here and see where the discussion goes.

**All images pulled from corresponding artist's website.**

*I need to debate this out with my group of folks because I kind of want to explore this a bit further.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Everybody cares about something

What do YOU CARE about, and what are you DOING about IT?

I've heard murmurs of this campaign for at least a couple of months now, but thanks to Allister Ann for passing along the link to the video.

Falling Whistles

Headed to Hampden

I made the trek up to Hampden, a Baltimore neighborhood off of Falls Road, yesterday to meet with two graffiti artists about my project. Yes, you read that correctly! I met a great local artist and studio owner who was willing to put out feelers for me.

I was super nervous because I am not good at meeting new people. I think the fact that they were artists made it worse because I have the tendency to view artists a bit like superheros. Anyway, the nerves were for not because these were two of nicest and talented guys. I'm really excited to be able to work with them and think they are going to add an amazing edge to my project.

Cafe Hon
Cafe Hon in Hampden where you expect to see John Waters walk in the door at any moment.

I don't want to talk about it too much on here because it's work-related, but one of the great things* about working on a stimulus-funded project is that, despite the political flack that you hear, it feels amazing to look out over the entire scope of the project and see the number of people who are working to make this happen. Knowing there are people from all walks of life and professions that range from construction workers to scientists to landscapers to researchers and academics to engineers and even to artists and the people who build our signs who might sleep easier at night worrying a little bit less about where that next bit of funding is going to come from is empowering.

Hopefully I'll pictures of the work in progress to share in the next couple of weeks.

Cafe Hon's Biscuits and Gravy
Amazing biscuits and gravy while waiting at Cafe Hon.

*Besides the whole restoring an ecosystem benefit thing. That definitely rocks.

Friday, October 08, 2010


I struggle with the fact that I sometimes want to be one of those happy, fuzzy bloggers who only blogs of beautiful inspiration and lovely thoughts. The problem is that trying to force myself into just that box is against my very nature. I'm a ranter who needs to periodically grab my soapbox and shout to the world about its problems. If I were vying for President or Miss America, people would call this my platform. My friends just shake their heads, silently thankful that I have a blog where I can vent.

There is a reason for all of this rambling. Earlier today I was directed toward this article in The New Yorker on end of life care. This piece is overwhelming in so many different ways that even finding a way to capture everything it did* to me is difficult.

The state of our health care system and the politics and debates that rage around it is something that is very personal to me. I feel like over the past several years I have witnessed some of its bigger flaws as I watched my grandmother age. The author of the piece, a doctor, lures you in with the story of a young mother-to-be who discovers she has lung cancer during her 39th week of pregnancy despite living a healthy lifestyle and never having smoked. We're drawn deeper into her battle to survive, as treatment after treatment fails.

It's this fork in the road that the author wants us to ponder. The problem is that when he brings us to this point he immediately peppers the path with "...soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it," and "twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life." I refuse to stay silent in a world where medical decisions are based on a cost-benefit analysis, despite OMB's and insurance companies' efforts to put dollar value on what a human life is worth. Anyone walking by could see that I was visibly upset as I read,

"The subject seems to reach national awareness mainly as a question 
of who should “win” when the expensive decisions are made: 
the insurers and the taxpayers footing the bill or the patient battling 
for his or her life. Budget hawks urge us to face the fact that 
we can’t afford everything. "

I absolutely cannot wrap my mind around how we've created a system that would allow a doctor/hospital/insurance company to deny care that might save some one's life based on their ability to pay. Where is the humanity in that? I know folks on the opposite side of the spectrum would argue what I advocate for is socialism and point to the age old examples of waiting so long to see a doctor that you are essentially denied care. They would talk about competition brought on by the quest for higher profits as a tool to stimulate innovative research and treatments. I get that, and I reject it. I wish I were genius enough to have come up with a solution, but all I can offer is that this cannot possibly be the path we go down. The only person who should have the right to deny themselves care is the patient. 

If you hang on, the article does get quite brilliant. He and I found our common ground in the land of hospice. What the author had to learn through home visits and interviews with hospice nurses and patients, we experienced first hand with my grandmother. Even in some of my earliest memories, I remember my grandmother as having health problems (back surgeries, enlarged heart). The memory of those hospital visits pale in comparison to the last two years of her life. Her health had declined so significantly that, for a while, it seemed like each week was touch and go. A particularly horrific stint in the emergency room resulted in a very frank conversation between my grandmother and my mom and grandpa about her wishes and how she wanted to live and die. She was tired. She had lived a full life and didn't want her last breaths to be taken hooked up to a ventilator with her meals delivered through feeding tubes. As her family, we supported her decision, and she was signed up for hospice.

The men and women who provide hospice care are truly amazing human beings. I can't put it any better than the author does.

"In ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life. We’ll sacrifice the 
quality of your existence now—by performing surgery, providing 
chemotherapy, putting you in intensive care—for the chance of 
gaining time later. Hospice deploys nurses, doctors, and social 
workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible 
lives right now. That means focusing on objectives like freedom from 
pain and discomfort, or maintaining mental awareness for as 
long as possible, or getting out with family once in a while."

He goes on to quote studies where patients who opt for hospice instead of innumerable last ditch efforts don't necessarily die any sooner and, in fact, have sometimes been known to live a little longer. I know that, with my grandmother, I was given almost two years with her, and I wouldn't trade those for the world. I flew home more frequently and spent almost every hour I could with her. She enjoyed the simple things like getting her hair done, having her nails painted and kicking my ass at Uno

By the end of the article, we are grudgingly friends. He lays out a case for rethinking death and rethinking care based, at least part, strengthening communication, something I can get behind.

Read the article.

*Yes, I know an article can't physically do anything to me, but words can have such a profound effect that it feels physical.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Heard it through the grapevine

I haven't really had to explain blogging much to my mom. I don't know if she inherently gets it or just doesn't bother pursuing any questions that she has. However, the other day I came up with the perfect analogy if she ever does ask. Blogs, at least some of the ones that I read, are the new syndicated lifestyle columnist you would find in your local newspaper.

photo care of We Heart It

I remember reading weekly columns by Rick Smith in the San Angelo Standard Times. I looked forward to that weekly slice of Texas life that gave me the heart-felt human interest story or provided a lesson wrapped up in a story about Joe who knew Billy Bob who used to work with Phil. Through these columns we got to know a little bit about Rick while getting a little bit of news mixed in with local color. Rick is still banging out the pieces for the Standard Times and could be considered a blogger himself as the paper has gone all high-falutin' and online. I recommend checking out a couple of his recent pieces just for fun, including a peek inside what it means to talk Texan or the tall tale* of Jimmy Don Perkins, inventor of the chicken fried steak.

Fast forward 20-odd years, and I still hear stories from my mom and grandpa as culled from some of their favorite columnists.  "You'll never believe it, but this girl who writes for the paper was talking about how the Safeways in DC always run out of food." This happens to be from a regular column by Trish Choate, a transplanted Texan who writes columns about life in DC for the Standard Times (who knew?!). A favorite family read is Sharon Randall, a syndicated columnist who also runs in the local rag. My family admires the stories that Randall spins so much so that my mom tried to get tickets (sold out) to hear her speak at the Abilene Women's Club luncheon for my grandfather's birthday.

photo care of We Heart It

My point is that these columns supplement the day-to-day news we get from the paper, TV, etc. and provide an oft-missing human connection. Many blogs out there do a bit of the same. They give us advice, entertain or inspire us, and above all help foster that human connection. Maybe it's Jamie, who is always seeking, striving and attempting to lift others up or perhaps Colva's sometimes disturbing, sometimes poignant pieces or Tara, who isn't afraid to ask the tough questions. I read different blogs for different reasons, but I find myself drawn back to those who leave a little bit of their soul on the floor or plant an idea in my mind.

*A bit of a War of the Worlds-type story.