Sunday, June 3, 2012

From the Vaults: A Place to Bury Strangers @ Death by Audio

Death by Audio, in Williamsburg, is Oliver Ackermann’s baby: his living space (so I hear); his effects pedal company by the same name, and the site where those babies are designed and constructed by hand; a recording studio; and also a performing arts space, with a makeshift bar. So, on any given day, Ackermann and a collective of artists and musicians are toiling away at custom pedals in their upstairs “factory,” then recording bands that practice in their warehouse (for Death By Audio Records), and finally hanging out downstairs, where all of the public shows take place. Not a bad venue to wander into fashionably late!

Squeezing into the jam-packed room, once again admiring the paintings of tigers and a retro Mickey Mouse on the walls, and astonished that the suspended ceiling tiles weren’t falling onto anyone’s head (some are looking pretty hazardous!), I entered during Weekend’s set, having completely missed No Joy. Not to be confused with a band from Baltimore called Weekends (also worth checking out), San Francisco based Weekend was perfectly complimentary to A Place to Bury Strangers’ sound and their fans’ musical tastes. Like APTBS, The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine inspire Weekend, and their music maintains just the right balance between melodic/riff-y and wall-of-noise, with gorgeously languid vocals smothered in distortion on “Youth Haunts,” and some really sexy, walloping build-ups of amplified sound that finally give way to drum beats you can hang onto.

While chatting with Benjamin Curtis of School of Seven Bells, whom I interviewed earlier this summer, and who’s been friends with APTBS for years, I got wedged between bodies in the 200-ish-person room just as the band went onstage. Unfortunately for me, at 5’1’” and never one to wear heels, I couldn’t exactly see them. But, I recalled watching them play in their former practice safe when I interviewed them for BRM back in 2007, and also being up front and center when they performed at SxSW in 2008, so I didn’t quite mind the non-view. As palpable as ever, their blend of 1980s post-punk, dark psychedelic, experimental, avant-garde, noise rock, and shoegaze blasted from the speakers, and I mean blasted! With the use of those handmade pedals, they’ve always been recognized for their volume.  

A few songs in, a technical difficulty with the amps, or speakers, or wires arose, which left Jay Space playing the drums alone. But after things got sorted out, the band dove back into their set with even more fervor and passion, as if that were possible. Completely unpretentious, they grace the stage not to banter back and forth, cover songs of their idols, or try to swindle the crowd; they’re simply there to play potent music, gliding in and out of songs with added loops and digressions, in the performing style of Sonic Youth.

For me, there was something magical about my immersion in that crowd. As usual, APTBS projected abstract images and swirling designs as they played, and I watched floating dots on the ceiling and large shadows on the tiger-wall. The room filled first with cigarette smoke and then with smoke from a fog machine. Songs like “I Know I’ll See You” and “Ego Death” saturated everyone’s bones to the point of frenzy; shoes flew, and guys and girls crowd-surfed for as long as their bodies could be held. Soon, things got even more intense. The smoke machine obscured the band to the point of complete invisibility. It was as if the stage had opened up and swallowed them whole, their music lingering on the event horizon. Heavy distortion fell over the crowd like a cloud of dust, and everyone was covered; the music as impermanent and elusive as the smoke. With the band “gone,” a strobe light pulsed, arms lifted, a girl was carried towards me, her body arched at the ceiling...and all while the song “Ocean” swelled, revolved, and gushed.

Former bassist Jono Mofo once explained how this last part of their shows tends to verge on performance art. “There’s no real music left,” he told me during our interview, “it’s just noises and lights, I’m not even on stage, I’m like standing next to it while it’s happening…my bass is feeding back, Oliver is ripping his strings out.” And true to form, the band emerged from the smoke and abandoned the stage, walking right through the crowd, accepting pats of approval, and heading to the back, while the music looped and echoed, more deafening by the second. Even though the guys were no longer on stage, the crowd stood transfixed, not sure whether to move or to stay, absorbing the last remaining waves of “Ocean” until they regained their senses. Many headed to the adjoining“bar” room, maybe to talk to the band, maybe to exit the backdoor and hang out on Kent, where I too ended up. As I exited via the short hallway to the front door, the music finally stopped. It was all over, but somehow, it was still ringing out.

Fun fact: A Place to Bury Strangers is also the title of an Aleister Crowley poem, as well as a Biblical reference to the thirty pieces of silver Judas received for selling out Jesus, which was then used to buy a field for burying strangers.

[second photo by A. Dupcak, taken at SxSW 2008]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oh My Rockness gives some Tips!

On this rainy, migraine-y day, I am pretty amused by a sassy and sarcastic Concert Etiquette list by none other than Oh My Rockness. How do you think it compares to my list?

Show Etiquette Tips from Oh My Rockness
1.) When a band says from the stage, "How's everyone doing tonight?" - tell them. "Actually, not so great, Thurston. I'm a little distracted by how much I just spent on this domestic beer in a plastic cup. Annnnnnd, the hemorrhoids are back. But we all sorta saw that one coming, am I right?"

2.) If you're a really tall individual and are standing right up front; congratulations! You are statistically more likely to be a "CEO type" than people of average or below average height. Heck, we could even be staring at the back of the next President of the gosh darn USA! How neat would that be?!
3.) Between sets, it's polite to pitch in and help the next band with their set-up. If you don't know where to plug something in, just find the nearest hole. Also, all those levels on all those gadgets they have? Two words: ADJUST THEM.
4.) On the guest list? It's only respectful to notify the venue at least 48 hours in advance of the show so they can print out a giant banner in your honor and string it up behind the drums (i.e. "the skins"). And don't you worry; they won't forget the ice cream cake.
5.) When you hear good music with a good beat, do you like to move your big hair rhythmically? It's common courtesy to first remove your shoes, go to the bar, fill them both with rum, then give one of each to the neighbors directly in front of you and behind.
6.) Your cell phone sure is a fun gadget, isn't it? Seriously, who even thought of all that neat stuff?! And it takes pictures too?! Amazing! Just remember though; indoor shows can get pretty darn dark. If you want to take great looking pics with your cell phone at a show, you may want to consider bringing along an extra set of lights and their respective riggings. Ask the venue for a few ladders to borrow too. Also, don't over think things like what you choose to "shoot." Take pics constantly throughout the entire evening and you'll fix it "in post" later.
7.) When in doubt - sit down

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview Series #12: Charlotte Gudmundsson

Charlotte Gudmundsson is as unique as they come...even though she's an identical twin! Half Icelandic and half Swedish, Charlotte and her family have lived all over the world, settling in places as far flung as Thailand, South Korea, Syria, and Sri Lanka. With such an unconventional upbringing, it's no wonder Charlotte has taken the path less traveled in her adult years. On her own, she chose to study art at Parsons in Paris, which landed her, two years later, at Parsons in New York City.

Charlotte pursued a degree in illustration because, as she says, it tells a story in a visual way. Her art has been shown in various galleries, including Greenpoint Gallery in Brooklyn and The Bottle Shop in Paris. Currently, her work is available for purchase on Le Baz'art, a site that connects emerging artists with art-lovers, and acts as a place where "novice and seasoned collectors alike [can] purchase quality, progressive young, talented artists." She was also interviewed (yes, they beat me!) on the great pumpkin by way of collaborating with the vegetarian supper club, Brooklyn Fork and Spoon. And though she's only twenty-five, Charlotte has already embarked on an artistic career as a designer for Astor Wines & Spirits in downtown Manhattan. An all around delightful person with a passion for food, wine, travel, and fantasy, I was truly excited to uncover all that contributes to Charlotte's creative --- and contagious --- energy.
Quick Look
Birthday: March 1, 1987
Living in: Brooklyn, New York
Born in: Mountainview,  California

No-Alternative: Growing up, you lived in nine different countries on three continents. How has this upbringing affected your personal relationship with art, and how has it inspired you? Do you have a favorite place, city, or country in terms of artistic inspiration?

Charlotte Gudmundsson: Growing up in nine different countries has definitely shaped my relationship with art. As I moved around so much, it was difficult at times to adjust to a new school, new groups of friends, and a new city. I always had a crazy imagination when I was little, and it would provide a hiding place, a source of comfort that I could enter and feel familiar. I would create whole stories and characters and make them real by putting them on paper. What I do now is pretty much the same thing: making tangible fantastical ideas, so that others can be a part of them as well. 

As for a favorite place, I would probably say the spooky pine forests around my family's house in Småland, southern Sweden. There's just something very, very old about them, where many things have happened unnoticed, and where living things are hidden by the shadows of the pine trees and layers of moss and lichen. It makes me curious and makes me want to explore. 

There's something childlike and sometimes darkly sweet about your illustrations, but then there's the Explosions series, which is far more sexual. How would you describe your general aesthetic and your biggest influences? And is there one particular drawing or set that you feel encapsulates you as a person/artist?

There are two things that have greatly inspired me and my work. One is the art that came out of Germany and Austria at the turn of the century, from around 1900-1930. The other is nature and all the bizarre animals that populate it. 

Die Brücke and the Wiener Werkstätte, two very disparate groups that formed in Berlin and Vienna respectively, both shared similar views that I find incredibly interesting. Die Brücke, which was founded by the expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and his friends in Dresden in 1905, believed that through the revival of old, traditional media such as woodcuts, combined with a rejection of academically approved subjects, they could create a 'bridge' between the past and the future. The Wiener Werkstätte, a production company of visual artists in Vienna founded in 1903, didn't form as casually, but they had the same anti-establishment sentiments when they formed. Their mission was to design art that was accessible to everyone, using traditional media and paying close attention to craftsmanship. I especially love how the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte didn't limit themselves to one field; Koloman Moser, who was an incredible painter and illustrator, also worked in glass, woodworking and furniture design. Their approach that art should be useful and enjoyed by everyone is something I really take to heart. 

The natural world, on the other hand, is where I find the most fascinating forms and characters. Some of the bizarre creatures that exist are just so fascinating to me because they are so alien --- like the 5-foot long Giant Salamander of China, the largest amphibian in the world. What a monster! It doesn't take much more than thinking about such a strange thing for me to get ideas about stories and characters --- I imagine this is how fairy tales and legends start. 

Concerning my 'Explosive' series, it was a bit outside of my usual style of drawing. I was given an assignment in a class to explore the theme 'sexuality'. At the time I was playing around with different watercolor and india ink techniques. The idea I had, that sexuality, if contained or repressed, will still manifest itself, but then in more violent, uncontrolled means. It's best if you embrace it and have fun with it. I thought it would work out very well with the splashy watercolor effects I was playing around with at the time, and I think it came together really well. Even though it does look different from my other work, I think I was enjoying the technicalities of painting just as much as I would creating a screen print.

If I was to choose one drawing that would define my work, I think it would have to be the little 'dreaming' hair monster. He's turning his dreams into a beautiful, valuable and tangible object, with a bit of cranking.

What's your ideal drawing environment in terms of light, sound, vibe, locale, etc?

I am not too particular about my setting when I work. Ideally, it should be fairly distraction-free, but I don't worry too much about a specific light/time of day or something like that. I do love blasting the Knife or Fever Ray when I'm working --- Karin and Olof Dreijer are my absolute favorite musicians in the world. Their music provides the perfect mix of energy, kookiness and creepy humor which I hope to imbue my work with.

You've painted two murals in Brooklyn --- how do you decide what to paint when the canvas is so public and highly viewed? And is there a certain way you go about brainstorming for a mural and then putting it all together? 

When deciding on what to paint for the two (fairly) recent murals I did, I definitely took into account WHO I was painting it for. The first one, which was completely public, was for Jane's Closet, a clothing store  on Grand Street by Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. The owners of Jane's Closet are inviting artists to paint a mural on the wall adjacent to their store, which stay up for a few months before changing. Because of the temporal nature of this project, I never felt like it was going to be too "precious". The owner of the store is a big animal friend just like me, and she has an adorable cocker spaniel named Ginger. So, I decided to include Ginger in a mural, along with a menagerie to keep her company! I wasn't too concerned with matching the identity of the store too closely, but I made sure to include them as credit. 

The other mural I painted was for Amplify, an initiative organized by the New School's DESIS Lab (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability). This wasn't exactly "public" --- it was in the courtyard of the St. Nick's Alliance building in Williamsburg. For this I took an equally playful approach; I wanted to paint a city landscape that was colorful and whimsical, which reflects how I see NYC. The city is really a playground, not an urban wasteland --- there are opportunities everywhere for improvement. 

As a full-time designer for Astor Wines & Spirits, which have been your favorite, or most gratifying, projects so far?

The best thing I got to do when working at Astor Wines was designing three wine labels for Astor's private label "Erdenlied". It came in three varietals, two white and one red: a Gruner Veltliner, a Riesling and a Zweigelt. Not only did this allow me to tap into my obsession with the Wiener Werkstatte design style, it would also result in a tangible product that thousands of people would purchase and enjoy. The manager of Astor's private labels came up with the name "Erdenlied," which means "Song of the Earth," based on a symphony by Gustav Mahler, a composer who hung out with all the Wiener Werkstatte guys in the first decade of the 1900's --- in other words a fantastically evocative name. After a number of rounds of designs, I ended up creating a decorative floral illustration that I hoped would reflect the flavors of the wine.  
Art is literally your livelihood --- from your job at Astor to commissioned work --- but I'm wondering how art-as-work might change its personal value. How do you feel about getting paid for art? And do you still have time and/or the desire to do art for art's sake?

Working as a full-time graphic designer/ merchandiser at Astor has really been a wonderful experience. I unfortunately have hardly any spare time to work on my own projects, projects I initiate not out of financial interest but out of a need to not let the ball stop rolling --- I don't want to let myself stall too much on my own projects. Of course, getting paid for your work is immensely gratifying. Creating work for a client and on your free time isn't too different...the only difference is having a shorter deadline when you're creating something for a client. 

Along a similar train of thought, you studied art formally at The New School, in both New York and Paris. Were you ever worried about your decision to pursue art as a major and, ultimately, as a career? And do you think it's necessary for aspiring or budding artists to study art in a classroom setting?

based on a visit to a fortune teller
Personally I never worried about choosing to pursue art as a career. It was a decision I very single-mindedly made when I was still in high school, and I didn't give a second thought to the difficulties I would have to face with such a path. I just KNEW I wanted to make art and draw for a living, and really didn't think anything beyond that mattered. As long as I was trying to do this I'd be happy. I realize that this sounds fairly simple, but it was also a decision I made based on a lot of self-analysis, and considering what my personal strengths, weaknesses and inclinations were, and what I thought I would do well in. In some part I think I wanted to stand out from among my siblings too --- they all pursued "sensible" fields, either political science or engineering.  

I definitely didn't get my best grades in Art in High School; in fact, I did much better in English. Going to school for Illustration was definitely a good idea too. Art school was a great experience, but I did find value in different places than I thought I would. It wasn't so much about the techniques and skills I learned there (although I loved all the printmaking classes I took and wish I had the same access to their amazing facilities now),  but more about the people I met there and the close friends I made. I also have stayed in touch with many of my professors, which has been a great help for me in trying to stand on my own feet after graduation.

I often wonder how an artist measures his/her success. How do you feel you've personally grown --- as an artist or otherwise --- in the past few years? 

The biggest realization I've come to make in the past few years is that you can really only rely on yourself to make things happen. In order to get anywhere or for anything to happen, you have to initiate it yourself, and not just sit and wait for things to come for you. This definitely applies to me personally as well as for my work, and it is something I struggle with everyday. I don't want to be complacent or comfortable, I want to go out and take chances and seize opportunities. As for measuring my own success, the only yardstick I have for that is myself. As long as I make things that I myself am happy and proud of, then I feel like I've been successful in that venture. You can never please everyone, but you can please yourself!

Your boyfriend, with whom you live, is also an artist/illustrator/animator. What's it like for two artists to date?  

My boyfriend, Garrett, studied traditional animation, and we actually worked together on a project, an animated short film, before we were going out. He was the animation director and I was inking pencil sketches --- he was actually the best boss I've had so far. I don't think it's too different from any other two people who date. We may do things a little differently in certain situations: e.g. if we're both sitting in a restaurant together with a paper tablecloth, both of us are guaranteed to start doodling all over the table. We also might make each other little hand-drawn cards for special occasions. 

One of the sets you showcased on your blog is "a series of illustrations inspired by songs [you] obsessively listen to." Tell us more!

Charlotte in Sweden
This is a serialized project I started as a motivation to keep making work regularly. The idea is just to take one of my favorite songs, or a song I've been listening to on repeat recently, and make a drawing of it. I see it as a little mental exercise. The first (and only one) was of "Kino" by The Knife, which is a very playful electronic song that makes me think of a Chinese video game with strange creatures. I drew it on lots of tiny paint chips from the hardware store to reflect the rhythmic, fragmented nature of the song. 

Last but not least... say I wanted to buy a bottle of wine tonight (from Astor Wine & Spirits, of course). What do you recommend? 

One of my favorite wines I've tried  is a white wine from Burgundy called "La Boheme." It's a natural wine, meaning the grapes were grown organically and the wine was made with minimal intervention: no sulfites, extra sugar or anything else added. It's so delicious slightly chilled, perfect for a beautiful May evening. As a plus, it's also got a funny label, and a good price, for around $12.

(all artwork by Charlotte Gudmundsson)

Monday, April 30, 2012

No.Alt Recommends, April

Norwegian cinema means snowy fields, authentic characters, and a decidedly un-Hollywood experience, though this one may be a little more Hollywood inspired than I expected. Trollhunter (2010) is like Blair Witch Project meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Cloverfield, but somehow still original. And while the handheld shaky camera might make you a little dizzy and the late-night troll-hunting can get a tad repetitive, the film's impressive CGI, gorgeous landscapes, high-tension scenes, interesting mythology, and completely realistic 'documentary' feel will absolutely reel you in. And hey, at least it's not about vampires!

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
Though it's actually her third studio album, it's the first one to enchant my eardrums. Her velvety voice is packed with emotional prowess, but also delicately executed. Though the record certainly lands in female-singer-songwriter category, Tramp doesn't fall prey to some of those stereotypes. Quite simply, it's poetry.

Picture're at home watching a kickass movie (like Trollhunter) and you're itching for a little snack, but it's raining or really late or you're just too engrossed (lazy?) to move, let alone bake. What's a girl or boy to do? Go online, pick out which cookies you want, order them and have them delivered up until some ungodly hour of the night. It's cheap, it's easy, sometimes it's quick (depends on the studying season!), and it's not only for students! You can even order milk.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Magic in the Silo

In February of 2007, a good friend from college, Blake, returned to New York to work on an independent film. I hadn't seen him since we graduated in May of the previous year, and I was so excited to help him with his latest project, even if it was just for a couple of days. I always considered Blake to be that friend who would someday be famous, whether it be for his poetry, playwriting, filmmaking, acting, or any one of his immense talents. 

I remember ringing the bell of an apartment near mine, only this one proved to be quadruple the size. In fact, it took up the entire floor above a bar on the corner of LaGuardia. When I walked in with my friend Beth, I saw not only Blake but his partner-in-crime: a gorgeous, skinny girl in skinny jeans, with pixie-cut hair. Her name was Evann. The two had been friends since attending high school together in LA, and like Blake, Evann was also involved in the film industry. Evann assigned me the role of "production assistant," and I was truly pumped.

Ben S., Ben R., and Blake
That day, our two friends --- both named Ben --- showed up to act. Evann adorned the Bens with fake blood for their small roles in that day's shoot, and we all took the subway to midtown. Blake's script involved a 9/11-ish terrorist attack on New York (the film was a stark, fictional documentary), and in addition to Ben and Ben talking to the camera, the lot of us ended up running madly through the streets and pointing at the sky.

I remember perfecting my fake fall on the sidewalk and doing it over and over again until it actually hurt like hell. I also remember accidentally tripping Evann --- who was running alongside me --- and causing the LCD screen of her camera to break once she hit the pavement. I felt absolutely terrible, but she was really nice about it, and decided that the footage on that camera would look really cool. On the subway heading back downtown, Evann and I had a nice chat, and it was great for me to encounter a girl my age who seemed to be so in control of her life, her vision, her passions, her future, and her current decisions. She seemed older than me, yet completely on my level.

The next day, my sore self met Blake, Evann, and Bronwen (the sole actress for that day's shoot and another SLC alum) at 7:15. The morning was cold and rainy, and there was still some snow on the ground from a few days prior. The four of us carried loads of stuff along the street until we finally hailed a cab. We piled in and sailed off to Gowanus, Brooklyn, where we drove up to an old silo literally on the Canal.

We walked up to a large black gate and, as soon as were let into the old oil building, it was like leaving New York City behind (a common, mutual feeling). That year, a writer for The New York Times wrote this about the incredible location: 
Perhaps the biggest wow factor lately comes from seeing a show at a former oil silo... Occupied for the last two years by ISSUE Project Room, an experimental arts organization, the silo is hidden behind an imposing metal gate with a small sign just off the Carroll Street bridge. Between the lapping (if occasionally stinky) water, the courtyard filled with poplar trees and the warm glow emanating from the two-story performance space — the top floor is reached by an exterior metal ladder — it’s as far from mainstream clubland as you can get. 
ISSUE Project Room is the brainchild of Suzanne Fiol; founded in February of 2003, her project offered an art and performance space first on East 6th Street, and then in the abandoned silo. According to ArtForum, “Fiol wanted to make a space for music, performance, and readings in a spirit of love and commitment and created one of the warmest and best-sounding venues in New York.” For almost ten years, ISSUE has been an "important showcase for experimental culture" and has provided "artists and musicians with a dynamic environment in which to create innovative and challenging work."

It was Suzanne herself, all long hair and large eyes, who greeted us that hazy day. Blake had reserved the round performance space for its ambiance and acoustics, and Suzanne led us up there. Blake had also hired a lighting professional, and I helped him carry all of his things up the aforementioned "metal ladder." Soon, Evann sent me out to get some food. I remember that I slipped on the ice and fell (for real this time) while holding bags of snacks. Back inside, I set up a poor-man's craft service table for the "cast and crew," but luckily Suzanne was already making soup for us downstairs. She generously made us feel like her kitchen was ours too, and her soup was the perfect remedy for the chilly day.

While Evann was doing Bronwen's makeup and Blake was getting her into character, I sat at the table and talked with Suzanne. She was warm and passionate, and she told me that ISSUE Project Room was going to be relocating soon and that the silo might be torn down to make condos, which made me very sad. She also mentioned that each month's performances at ISSUE were themed, and that the upcoming month's theme was "synesthesia."

I was flabbergasted; I had just conceived my first column (called "Crash Course") for the next print issue of Beyond Race Magazine, and I was going to dive into writing about synesthesia! Since I had already decided that I would debut "Crash Course" with synesthesia (for which I was going to interview two synesthetes), I told Suzanne that I would be back for the performance, and even considered asking if I could intern for her. Suzanne, who was in her forties, inadvertently taught me that one really could live a life of art and music and wonder; one really could become successful in a creative realm, and defy societal expectation. At newly 23, that's all I could envision for my own future.

After filming wrapped that day, I felt truly inspired by my adventurous two-day experiences "on set" in my beloved city, with amazingly talented people. When I returned to the silo, alone, less than a month later, I sat in on a synesthesia performance in the round room, and then used it in one section of my article:
On some level, everyone can occasionally tap into a synesthetic experience, either through dreams, memory, or common sensory associations (such as lower musical notes evoking dark shades and higher notes evoking lighter ones), and non-synesthetes can certainly enjoy synesthetic art, from Fantasia to Stan Brakhage to the vibrant paintings of Michael Fratangelo. Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room dedicated all March exhibits to synesthesia. The opening of “Sensorium” featured color-intense paintings, moving images, multimedia art pieces and a performance by Laure Drogoul, where blindfolded audience members described the emotions and memories different scents conjured up. To identify the same weed (concealed in envelopes), responses ranged from bubblegum, to lemongrass, to cider, and England.
 In October of 2009, Suzanne Fiol died after a long battle with cancer.

In April of 2012 (just a few days ago), Evann Marie died as well.

For just one day in time, I existed in the same space with both of these magical women...a magical space that I never knew existed before one of them took me, and one of them welcomed me.


Monday, April 23, 2012

In Defense of Girls

Last night I hosted a little impromptu Game of Thrones viewing party, after which we let HBO do its thing while we thoroughly (perhaps too thoroughly) discussed the episode. Along came the second episode of the show Girls, which prompted a totally different discussion, and then a full-on debate. It seems that the negative press the show's already garnered has really influenced public opinion...even if the affected people haven't actually seen the show. That, or they already have their minds made up for them.

As for me, I only saw half of the first episode and sort of "viewed" the second episode amid our rather intense debate, but I can honestly say that I like it so far, which is better, I think, then only seeing that much of the show and automatically deciding I don't like it. It bothers me that one of the only shows written by a young woman (who happens to remind me of Miranda July) is getting so much flack after only two episodes!

It would seem that people are annoyed at the show for a few reasons: 1) the lead cast is white, 2) the show is primarily about "white girl problems" or "first world problems", 3) the cast consists mostly of "famous" people's children,  4) the show is frivolous and just another version of Sex and the City, 5) Lena Dunham writes about her own life and casts her own friends, and who the hell cares?, 6) this show does not accurately represent Brooklyn. 

I will now address these, point by point, from my own perspective:

1) Yes, the lead cast is white. Let's try to think of other popular TV shows, past and present, that have a mostly-white cast....hmmm....this is hard....Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier, Sex and the City (more on that in a bit), Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 90210, Gossip Girl, Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond, shall I continue? Now, my point here isn't that it's okay to have a show that only focuses on or features white people, just that Girls isn't any different from a thousand other shows that include mostly white characters. 

Out of the dozens of characters on Game of Thrones, for instance, how many are not white? And is that okay because it was a book first and in the book they're not white? How about that other new HBO show Veep, which comes on after that okay because it's about the government? Or how about Boardwalk that okay because it's historical? But wait, those shows do have a couple of non-white it's acceptable then if at least one of the main characters is not white? That way the diversity quota is filled?

My point here is this: don't blame one show for doing something that so many other shows are just as guilty of.

2) Speaking more on race, there's that saying "white people problems"...that's what Girls deals with, right? So, because these characters aren't struggling with life or death situations, that means their problems aren't real and no one should care about them? This is flawed thinking for a few reasons. To say the show focuses on "white problems" means that we're automatically separating non-white people from white people and assuming that non-white people have more serious problems because of the "disadvantages" of their race. In a truly diverse and racially tolerant society, we wouldn't be categorizing people based on their race in the first place, or making broad assumptions about what their race means they have to deal with in life.

Let's look at The Cosby Show as an example of this flawed logic. It's a show about a black family living in Brooklyn...but unlike many black families living in Brooklyn in the 1980s, this one was unaffected by those things one might associate with the words "black" / "Brooklyn / "1980s." There was no crack, no poverty, no teen pregnancy (at least not among family members), no domestic violence, no dropping out of school, etc. The family in question was wealthy, well-educated, career-driven, sober, and living happily and comfortably. Very rarely did the show focus on "race issues," though some plot lines were certainly African-American themed. 

Now, my point is this: was the Cosby family really that different from the Tanners, or the Seavers, or the Arnolds, or any of those white 1980s-sitcom families? Did we not care about the Cosby family because they weren't starving on the street or smoking crack in the bathroom? Were we upset because they did not represent "black problems?"

Everyone has problems...some of those involve being able to afford to feed your kids lunch, and some of those involve feeding yourself lunch after your wealthy parents cut you off financially, but race should not determine whether or not the general public, or society at large, "cares." Nor should anyone automatically assume that being of a particular race (or gender, for that matter) guarantees a specific set of problems.

3) On to the nepotism complaint...the girls on Girls have famous parents. So does half of Hollywood! Even in that Games of Thrones episode my friends and I had watched, Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter plays a role.

Lena Dunham's mother is an artist/ photographer, not a Hollywood star. Is it really that strange that the daughter of artists would herself become a writer/artist/actress? And let's look at the other famous fathers in question....a playwright, a drummer, and a television journalist. How terrible! At least these ladies are actually doing something that requires talent with their connections, unlike a hoard of Hollywood socialites.

4) Sex and the City, in all of its shoe-shopping glory, was sometimes a frivolous show, and yes, Girls may very well be an up-to-date, twenty-something, hipster version, but the fact is that Girls knows it. The first episode even references Sex and the City. And yes, there are four white women in Girls much like our old friends. But, I don't understand how this is a problem, since it's a) a different show with totally different female characters, b) Girls is self-aware enough to essentially admit its own inevitable comparison, and c) Sex and the City had its empowering, not-so-frivolous, moments too (remember when Samantha shaves her head before her hair can fall out from chemo?).

Furthermore, if Girls is frivolous, then what about all of those reality television shows that feature already-rich people fighting, drinking, getting laid, or making even more money than they already have?

5) So yes, Lena Dunham writes about her own life and casts her own friends...because she writes creative nonfiction (and wouldn't you cast your friends too?). Her film, Tiny Furniture, was based on her own life too. Whether you like her or not, the fact remains that "writing what you know" is not a new concept. And between reality TV that's scripted and vampires/zombies running rampant, is it really so bad to have a carefully plotted television show that is actually based on real-life events?

My So-Called Life was another show that attempted to embody the real-life goings on of "regular" people. In some ways, Angela Chase was a voice for her generation, even if her character was not conscious of that fact the way Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, is. (A woman writing a show that attempts to portray her generation about a character who is writing a memoir that attempts to portray her generation is enjoyably self-reflexive, if you ask me.) Like Girls, the widely acclaimed My So-Called Life dealt not with extreme issues (aside from Rayanne's alcoholism), but with the trials of finding yourself, proving yourself, growing up, being in love, making mistakes, etc.

Now, there are a lot of real-world problems that a TV show could AIDS, rape, war, gangs, genocide, racism, sexism, terrorism....but that is not what Girls is about. I'd like to take this moment to point out that The Office isn't about any of those things either. It's about people...who an office.

In the first episode of Girls, 24-year-old Hannah gets fired from her year-long, unpaid internship after she tries to turn it into a paying job. At two years out of college, she's worked hard only to be fired for trying to get paid...a very real problem that young people now face. No, she doesn't seem to be in debt from her education. No, she doesn't come from an orphanage in Cambodia. But she still has problems, and she's still struggling, and it's something that a lot of people can relate to because it's something that has entered Lena's real life.

6) Onto the last point...that this show does not accurately represent Brooklyn. Well, see, the thing about NYC is that it's very big, and it has a whole lotta neighborhoods packed inside of it. So no, this isn't Bed-Stuy, nor is it the Hasidic encampment. But let's take a look at Williamsburg of today: a large population of transplanted college graduates (whose parents still help support them financially) striving to "make it" in their chosen field, be it art or fashion or writing or film or music or whatever. In the show, the lead characters are NYC-transplant early-twenty-somethings interested in artistic things. So, how does that not represent NYC of today?

IN CONCLUSION, I think this show hits a nerve with people because it's probably hate it because, in some way, it accurately represents some aspect of your reality (possibly people you dislike), which is part of its whole point. I love that there's a smart, relatable show right now that a) doesn't take itself too seriously, b) features a pudgy, plain-looking girl as the main character [and writer, director, etc], and c) attempts to hold a self-aware mirror to some of the silly things this generation says and does, as well as some of its "grim" realities. It's also supposed to be fun...I mean, really, I can only watch so much decapitation. Go go Girls.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

From the Vaults: A Conversation with Moby.

One of my favorite conversations with anyone ever took place in Moby's Manhattan pad, filled with musical instruments. On that rainy day, I was fortunate to have the chance to converse with Moby one-on-one and then, a week later, to attend the planetarium listening party for his truly beautiful album, Wait For Me. Here is the lengthier, online version of the article I wrote about Moby for Beyond Race Magazine in 2009. I also helped design the concept of the Moby image, drawn below by two separate artists.
The cover of Moby’s new album, Wait For Me—an expansive and delicate exploration of loneliness—features a lonely alien that he drew and can replicate in less than 5 seconds. Beyond Race spoke with Moby in his pad about this new record, his buddy David Lynch, and his affinity for junkies and New York City.

Although your new album is more personal and you didn’t use digital effects when mixing, it would seem that you have an interest in technology and multimedia projects. Can you talk about this? Your connection to technology in music seems to have really impacted your work.

Not to be too general, but the history of music goes in lockstep with the evolution of technology. Something as simple as a guitar, or a piano, or Les Paul inventing multi-track technology. I mean Les Paul invented everything, like the first electric guitar pick-up. And for me, because I’m a solo artist, if it were the mid-70s the records I would be making would sound completely different from what I make now because technology is what, for better or worse, enables me to make my records. I have a small studio here and to make the records that I make thirty years ago, forty yeas ago, I would have needed a huge studio with tons of people around and now, one of the nicest things about technology is its lowered the cost of making records. It costs me next to nothing to make a record, and it’s also taken off some of the pressure because I do everything at home and if you’re working in a big studio the clock is always ticking, so there’s constant pressure to create, and if you’re not creating you’re wasting money. Whereas at home, if I spend a week working in the studio and nothing good comes from it, I’ve lost some time but I haven’t lost tens of thousands of dollars. Autonomy comes from technology…I now can do everything myself. I go into my studio and I mean, it gets a little lonely at times because it’s sort of monastic and there’s an ascetic quality to it.

And you’re a solo artist.

Yeah, I do occasionally envy people in bands who make music in a more social way because that’s fun. It’s kind of more fun making a record with a band but I can better make the kind of records I want to make by myself.  

Can you tell me about the storyline of the video for “Shot in the Back of the Head,” and your collaboration with David Lynch on this? It’s really beautiful and minimalist and I was wondering about the process of working on this project and the symbolism of both the song and the video.

The way the title came about was I was talking to some friends and we were talking about the way in which we wanted to die, and most people say they want to die in their sleep or they want to die surrounded by loved ones, but my friend Alex, her answer is she wants to be walking down 34th street and have a complete stranger come up and shoot her in the back of the head. That’s how she wants to die, with no advance warning and no awareness of what’s happening. And I thought that was a very interesting way to want to die and when you make an instrumental song you can name it anything. If I write a song with lyrics, usually the title comes from the lyrics, but if there are no lyrics you just have to think of these arbitrary sort of random titles.

Every now and then, since David Lynch and I are friends, I’ll just send him a piece of music. I’ll be working on something and I’ll think, 'Oh David might like this.' So I sent him “Shot in the Back of the Head” and he liked it and he said, 'Oh if you have any footage lying around I’d love to use it in a video.' I know he’s constantly shooting, no pun intended, shooting things and he does a lot of animation and he wanted to learn how to use Flash and so he used making the video as his way of learning how to use Flash.

Did he draw those images in the video?

He did everything. When I’m working with artists I really revere and respect, I like them do whatever I want. For me to in any way try to give direction to David Lynch would be the most absurd, presumptuous thing I’ve ever done.

How is Moby of today different from Moby of the past, when you first began playing music, and DJing in clubs, or when you first achieved mainstream success? And do you feel that you have evolved as an artist?

The first record I put out was actually in 1983, I was in a hardcore punk band called The Vatican Commandoes and we put out a 7inch called Hit Squad For God, which sold 250 copies, and at that time all of my favorite musicians were underground musicians and there were no musicians I respected who actually sold a lot of records, so when I was growing up I always thought I would be a weird underground musician who never sold records. And when I signed to my first label, I thought maybe I would sell 2000 records. I never expected mainstream when it happened it just kind of confused me. For awhile, to my shame, I actually found myself having success and wanting more. But then the more I had the less I liked it.

In some ways it’s sort of emancipating because now I can make a record like this and I hope that people like it but I’m not concerned about anything resembling mainstream success. And it’s nice to not care about that aspect of it. But as far as my evolution as a musician or an artist, I don’t know. I can’t say that there’s been a progression; technically I know how to engineer records better and play instruments better, but some of the music I made when I was trying to get signed in the late '80s—I made some really strange, interesting music—that from my perspective is just as interesting as some of the music I’m making now. Some artists progress in a sort of linear way; I don’t think I have.

Do you think that your new album is a more intellectual approach to music? I know you wrote and recorded Wait For Me in your home studio, which is a converted bedroom, and you drew the album art yourself and had friends as guest vocalists.

It’s a little more experimental, it’s a lot more personal. It’s a lot less bombastic. One of my goals in life has been to make almost anti-intellectual music, because when I was nine years old I started learning music theory and playing classical music and from the time I was about ten until 13 or 14 I had a music teacher who loved complicated jazz and the only music he liked was intellectual, complicated music. And then I discovered punk rock, and I was like, 'All I want to hear is The Clash and three chords.' I like smart music when it still has a populist, emotional quality to it. Sonic Youth are a great example. Sometimes simplicity is really an underrated virtue in all of the arts. Sometimes the process can overwhelm the emotion.

Is there any part of the recording process that you absolutely hate?

I don’t like writing lyrics, I don’t know why. My mom was a literature major, I’m related to Herman Melville, I love writing essays, I love writing prose, but for some reason I just don’t like writing lyrics; that’s the drudgery of it. I try hard to write personal and expressive lyrics but in a perfect world I’d have a friend who wrote all of the lyrics. Mixing is also another part that makes me really anxious.

You’ve written that Last Night was an eclectic dance record, a party record for 1 a.m on a Saturday night, while Wait For Me is much quieter and more like a '9 a.m Sunday morning raining outside' record. Did you always want to make a record like this? Did you always want to slow things down and create something more introverted?

Musically I love Pantera, I love Black Flag, I like really aggressive music, but the music that other people have made that’s closest to my heart tends to be more mournful and quieter. As much as I love Pantera, I’ll always love Nick Drake more. As much as I love Public Enemy, I’ll always love Joy Division more. I love big bombastic expression, but quieter, introverted expression has always appealed to me more.

You've also said that Wait For Me is meant to be listened to from start to finish. Are you trying to indicate that there is no one “single,” or that it is more cohesive than your other albums, and therefore must be enjoyed in a different way? Your other albums did have singles and songs that leant themselves to clubs, parties, and sometimes radio play…but this one seems different.

I understand it’s 2009 and the vast majority of people who listen to music from this record will listen to it on their iPod on shuffle. It’s just a given and I accept that but I really do hope that if someone is willing to buy the record they, at least once, listen to it from start to finish. There’s something nice about a cohesive album. You put it on and you let it do all the work. And you hand yourself over to the musician’s vision of what the album should be, and I’m certainly not going to be presumptuous enough to say that this is a classic record, but I just hope that somehow someone will listen to it from start to finish and get something out of it.

The first focus track, “Shot in the Back of the Head,” was us saying, 'We like this song, let’s put it out and see what happens.' But that was an interesting choice because it’s an instrumental so it can never be played on the radio, and the video is dark and strange so it can never be played on MTV. The old punk rocker in the back of my head loves the fact that the first focus track, or single, is probably the least commercial thing I’ve ever released.  

When you wrote about the meaning behind the song “Jltf1/Jltf” you mentioned that everyone you knew was smoking crack, smoking meth, and shooting speedballs and dying of overdoses and that this became normal. And then you went on to say that these people shouldn’t be demonized and that the reason people do drugs more often than not is they want to be happy, and you have spoken about how it shouldn’t be the job of the government to impose laws upon the bodies of adults. Can you say more about these opinions?

The song title is a dirty acronym; it stands for Junkies Love to Fuck. Living here for so long, I’ve had so many friends who are drug addicts, and a friend of mine, the woman who shot the press pictures, Jessica Dimmick, she made this amazing book called The Ninth Floor, she spent a year living with junkies in a shooting gallery, and what’s interesting is that my friends who are junkies are trying to feel good. They’re destroying themselves, but they’re just trying to feel good so they get in almost this feral state. Basically, it gets reduced to shooting up, sleeping, eating and having sex. And then eating falls by the wayside, so they shoot up and have sex. And so the song is inspired by a lot of junkie friends.

I don’t think that the government ever has a place to tell an individual what they can or cannot do to their own bodies. If someone wants to get crazy tattoos on their face, if someone wants to kill himself, if someone wants to take drugs, it’s not the government’s place to prevent them from doing it; it’s the government’s place to provide them with information. And as far as drugs though, I’m all in favor of decriminalization because most of the people I know who’ve really been damaged by drugs, it’s because they didn’t know what they were taking. They didn’t know what they were getting into. Certainly, people shouldn’t deal with the awfulness of addiction. The Dutch government has this amazing public health service where they set up a booth in nightclubs and if you bring them your drugs they test them for purity. That way there are less drug deaths. I don’t advocate drug use, but it’s a fact of life that people like to take drugs.

Do you ever make music consciously thinking that people listening would be on drugs?

I’m aware…Everybody does drugs. Honestly I don’t know a single person who has not at some point in their life done class-A narcotics. I have, everybody I know has. Luckily, I emerged relatively unscathed. Luckily most of my friends emerged unscathed. I really worry about people harming themselves. The war on drugs is not working, it’s costing tons of money and it’s sending poor innocent kids to jail for having the smallest amount of drugs on them.

Having lived and made music in NYC for 30 years, and having been fully ingrained in the culture, what do you think about New York of today, in terms of gentrification or its music and arts scenes, versus New York of years past? Are you still as fascinated with and absorbed by the city now as you were then? And would you ever want to record elsewhere?

Selfishly, I did prefer NY when it was cheaper and scarier. I preferred the East Village when you sort of took your life in your hands walking down certain streets. Cheap rents enable people to take more chances. I do miss cheap, dirty, scary old NY; having said that, I’m one of the few people who thinks that this is an amazing time. The last few years, barring gentrification and barring how expensive everything is, there are more galleries, and more bands, more clubs, more musicians, more photographers, more writers…just the number of bands that have come out, the number of records that have come out. Like the '90s, not much happened here. From 1990 until 1999, I can’t really think of too many relatively well-known bands that came out of NY. There was stuff going on but NY had been ravaged by AIDS and the crack epidemic, and so, in the '90s, NY was kind of licking its wounds. I think NY is in a really good place…the bigness of it means that the moment one place becomes too gentrified, people leave. There’s always a next place to go and that’s what keeps it interesting.

Let's talk about your sentiment, shared by Lynch, about art versus commerce and how the market should accommodate art and not the other way around. Do you believe that people like yourself in the music world have any power to change the industry? Or do you feel that you are doing so simply by making a record based upon your own artistic intentions?

I think luckily it’s already sort of changed because records just don’t sell that well anymore, so ten years ago, a major label could go to an artist and encourage the artist to make a lot of compromises in the interest of selling five million records. And now the same major label will go to the artist and ask them to compromise without any incentive. It seems that musicians are able to have a lot more integrity now, and also musicians can reach their audience more directly; decades ago, there were a handful of radio stations, a handful of magazines, and a handful of record companies, and if you didn’t go through them no one heard your music. And now, I don’t know, there’s so many different ways in which people can release records and communicate with fans, in which people can disseminate music and information, so I do think that the demise of the major label is one of the greatest things to happen to music in a long time. 

Since you've been personally inspired by David Lynch and his theories about creativity, how do you feel about his ideas of Transcendental Meditation? Lynch has said that transcending is “an experience that you can have just before you go to sleep….when you go from one state of consciousness to another,” but that we can get there in the waking hours through meditation. Do you think music, yours or anyone else’s, has the power to transcend? And do you ever meditate or feel as though you have reached this “fourth state of consciousness” where you find an unbounded ocean of bliss within your Self?

I don’t know if I ever reached the fourth state of consciousness. Maybe I have maybe I haven’t. I mean certainly there was no one there standing there…if you’re learning how to play an instrument, you can play for someone and they’ll tell you that you’ve gotten to a certain point, but as far as consciousness goes, all you can do is talk about your experience. It’s all subjective. One of the things I love about music and art in general but especially music is it can take you anywhere, and you don’t have to do anything. It’s one of the only art forms that exists even when you close your eyes. Most other don’t like looking at a painting, you close your eyes the painting goes away. But with music, even with your eyes closed, it literally penetrates every cell in your body. Music is air molecules being slightly adjusted. Part of its power, I think, is that it’s technically intangible. It’s also the only art form you can’t touch; it never exists. The moment it’s created it doesn’t exist anymore. And people sometimes confuse the delivery vehicle for music with the music itself; like someone will think you can touch music because here’s a CD. A CD is just a piece of plastic with binary code on it; it’s not actual music. Music is also the only art form that can’t exist in a vacuum, music needs air.

(first illustration by Maurizio Masi; second illustration by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Five people, One guitar.

By now you know that I love really good or unique covers, and you also know that I (like everyone else) love the dangerously addictive, popular-as-hell Gotye song, "Somebody That I Used to Know". So when I noticed that there was an-almost-as-popular cover navigating Youtube, I got excited...

The cover is very faithful to the original, and a situation like this typically begs the question of "What's the point?" I mean really, who cares if someone else can sing like Gotye if they're going to just mimic the song he wrote and not add their own flair? But this particular case is interesting because the appeal of both versions of the song lies partially in the visual component. While the original music video is artful and symbolic, the video above shows five musicians playing a single guitar, three of them providing lead vocals, and all singing back-up. While Gotye's voice is as smooth as the paint that slowly covers his naked body, the voice of the center singer in this video has some rougher edges, adding to the depth of the emotion that the song attempts to convey. The new version is artful, masterful, and symbolic in its own way, and makes  me wonder what else Walk Off the Earth is capable of.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bonjour Avril.

Well, looks like I am giving up blogging for good.....

Just been slacking off lately, and also terrifically busy. Please stay tuned for more alternative goodness.

a cloud in a room, by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interview Series #11: Stephanie Violet Clark

Placing true passion and care into every word she writes, Stephanie Violet Clark takes blogging to the next level; her beautiful website showcases not only her home-life but also her love of organic food,  crafts, and various DIY projects. Along the way, she has photographed and reflected on her countless blessings, as well as her most difficult experiences.

At age 11, Stephanie lost her right leg to bone cancer, and though the journey was a rough one, it didn't stop her from pursuing what she wanted most...which, in high school, was a boy named Dustin. Less than a year after their wedding, at age 21, Stephanie was diagnosed with cancer once more, and the doctors removed her entire right lung. Three years after that, she battled cancer two more times, undergoing additional surgeries to remove parts of her digestive system. Through it all, she maintained as optimistic an outlook as one could possibly have, envisioning a healthy, domestic family-life that she and Dustin could enjoy. Yet another curve-ball was thrown her way when her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. But on June 19th of last year, her son Roman was born, and everything finally fell safely into place. I "met" the crafty and creative Stephanie through a certain rock band and the magical world of the internet. Now, the raddest lady on one leg proves that her "quiet life" isn't so quiet!
Quick Look:
Birthday: June 21, 1984
Living in: East Richmond, CA
Originally from: Oakley, CA
Twitter: @Quiet_Violet

: What prompted you to start a blog for the purpose of documenting and sharing your life? And how has your blog changed, or grown, since you started it?

Stephanie Violet Clark: The very first blog I ever stumbled upon was that of Elsie Larson, who was a scrapbooker at the time. I remember reading this scrapbooking magazine in the waiting room right before going in to get chemo at Stanford University and feeling this odd rush of curiosity wash over me. Six days later, after lying in a hospital bed feeling like utter death, I was back at my Mother's house. I mustered all of my energy, because let me tell you, chemo will kick your ass four times over, and got on the computer and typed in the address only to find myself in a whole new world.

I started out with a Blogger blog, The Quiet Life of Violet, and set my sites on Elsie noticing me. Ha! I remember my first blog post, listing 25 things that I liked and hated and getting all excited that she might see it and think I was cool. I was 21 at the time.

My blog eventually morphed into this chronicling of my life. As I realized how fragile just being able to exist was, my blog became this journal, this proof that I was alive, my stamp on this Earth, this day, this second. It became a way to leave something for those that I love in case my life was taken from me.

Did you always consider yourself to be a writer, or did your writing life evolve along with your dedication to keeping The Quiet Life of Violet alive and kicking?

HA! This is a funny question because my Husband is the smart one, the writer. In fact, I still to this day am the most concerned about what Dustin thinks of my work. I respect and look up to him very much, so when he is touched by something that I write, my heart is filled with such satisfaction. I know that sounds very... 1950s, a wife seeking her husband's approval, but making him proud makes me proud of myself. We love each other very, very much.

As far as writing to keep my blog alive goes, not really. I write to get something out. The days (months, even) that I was stuck in a bed dreaming of just living a normal life gave me ample emotional baggage, which I am able to work out though my writing. I feel like every once in a while I write something worth talking about, but I just usually feel pretty timid. I guess I have two sides of me...the first is rather shy and lacks self confidence and the other is this total hard-ass biker bitch who pushes the other to just do things. Just do it. Life if short. Take a risk. Look like an asshole. As long as my heart is in the right place, that's all that I care about. I'm alive and I love hard and that's all that matters.

Ooo... biker bitch just came out. 

Well you are obviously an expressive person! You have openly written about motherhood and marriage, some of your scariest cancer moments, and even your miscarriage and fertility challenges. Do you have any boundaries with what you share about your personal life and struggles? And do you ever feel conflicted about something you've shared or, conversely, something you chose not to share?

I choose to share a lot about myself with the hopes that it can make just one teeny tiny person feel more accepted, normal, and less alone and fearful. My friend's mother once told me that everyone has their own measuring stick, so just because my problems are life threatening and very... final, it doesn't mean that your problems don't affect you just as deeply. I'm not a rich person, but I can afford to share my hope.

As far as what I'm not cool sharing, I'd have to say anything along the lines of in-depth sexual details? My Mom AND Mother-in-Law read my blog and that just screams awkward. Also, I learned a very important lesson in putting my (one) foot in my mouth when it comes to friendships and fights. It's tacky and disrespectful and makes me look bad to use my blog as a platform to tear another person down. Nothing good comes from it, nothing at all. Maturity has its price and sometimes it includes making a bit of a fool of yourself for the world to see. Life is all about lesson.

I also have this fiery person inside me that loves to argue and tries to prove my point with a quickness.  There have been more than a few times on Twitter where I try to make a point, but due to my lack of complete knowledge on the topic, I end up sounding totally ridiculous. I have to pause and force myself to take a moment and re-evaluate what I'm about to pour out into the world.

Can you explain the series, or plans for series, that appear on your blog, especially "1,300 Things to Be Thankful For" [which I am psyched to appear in!] and "Dear Squid-Kid?"

I started my "1,300 Things" series after reading a book called 14,000 Things to be Happy About by Barbara Ann Kipfer. I wanted to do something sort of similar, but figured that 25 "things" per week was good enough. I stuck with it and finished the whole year, and then put a call out to my reader for the second year. I am currently on the second year, "1,300 Things to be Thankful For: Guest Posts." I had a flood of people volunteer and have some pretty amazing guests coming up soon, but in all honesty I am really, REALLY excited for the guest posts to be done. I want my series back.

"Dear Squid-Kid" was a series that I did while pregnant with my boy. It was basically just sweet little letters to him. I hope he reads them someday. You know what totally blows my mind? That he will READ someday! This whole chapter of my life is just amazing.

My next series is going to be about food. See I love food and I love taking pictures of my food. I never post the pictures because I don't use recipes and just make things up as I go, and I've always kind of felt like I had to have a recipe to post a picture. Now I don't even care. I'm going to just have a series that's pure food porn and if I'm feeling saucy, I'll include a rough recipe. It's my blog, I can make the rules.

Your blog was recently in the running for Circle of Moms "Top 25 Moms with Inspiring Families" (congrats!). How do you feel about being called "inspiring?" And who or what do you find personally inspiring?

Ha! Well, as a bit of a back-story, last year I won first place in the "Top Pregnancy Blog" category. I busted my ass and campaigned for myself and freaking won. It was so high-stress, though. I am a terribly competitive person and I was seriously working myself up, checking my vote-count like five times a day.

So, this year I was nominated for the "Inspiring Families" category and I was MUCH more relaxed. The person in first place had 5107 votes -- I had 136. I didn't even make top 25, but I don't care at all. Such a different place I'm in than last year! I guess that's growing up for ya.

I'm inspiring to those that matter the most and this child of mine literally pilfers most of the hours in my day, so I don't have the time to worry about it. I love it, though. This child of mine, my Husband and the little house we rent... it's my "quiet life" and my heart feels so full. If I say that more than once in this interview, it's not because I'm full of crap, it's because it's true and I am just so at peace with things now.

Who do I find inspiring? I guess it depends on what area of my life we're looking at. As far as being a wife and homemaker go, my Mother-In-Law is so inspiring to me. She swears she doesn't know what she's doing, but her home is just so full of serenity (I'm starting to sound like a Hippy)... the vibe there is so relaxed and loving and calm. It's peaceful. I already told Dustin that if I get sick again and am going to die, I want to do so there, on their couch with my Father-In-Law plucking away at his guitar. I couldn't think of a better way to leave this world.

As far as Inspiration in business goes, I'm going to go with Martha Stewart, Dave Ramsey and Elsie (The blogger I mentioned before). I love that Martha has taken this simple way of life, the homemaking, house keeping and entertaining, and turned it into this big empire. She's smart as a whip, minus, of course, the whole Enron thing. Dave Ramsey is someone that Dustin introduced me to. He's a money management and financial planning expert and he's changed our life. We have his books and totally follow his wealth management method. I love that his message is basically take care of your shit, amass wealth and help others. Dustin and I have decided that we want to become millionaires so that we can give. Elsie has just basically built this whole online world. She's gone from scrapbooker to blogger to vintage and handmade trendsetter to fashion designer / DIY queen. I firmly believe that most of the blogging community that I'm involved in is all because of her. Plus, she's my friend now and she's really freaking nice. Blogging has opened this whole world for me and has introduced me to some of my closest friends. I have Elsie to thank for that.

How does being a four-time cancer survivor affect how you see the world and how you live your life today? Also, do you think you are any different now than you were prior to these experiences?

Having cancer so many times in my life has given me sort of permanent rose colored glasses (in a good way). I remember when I was 21 and getting chemo and just how dreadful I'd feel after I got home from a week at the hospital. I honestly felt like death. Beyond death. I felt like it was inhumane for my doctors to keep me alive. Now, I am a serious life-loving person, so for me to say that you know that it was bad. BAD. I remember waking one night with awful cotton-mouth. I remember the silence  of the night, seeing the moonlight through my window and reaching with everything in me for the glass of water on my windowsill. I remember sucking the water through the plastic straw, lips chapped, and just being so thankful for that water. The way it immediately calmed the pulling that dehydration had created deep down in my core.

I find myself being so entirely satisfied with life's simple things. You will never know how amazing all of life's little things are until they are threatened. Do you know how amazing it is that you have clean laundry? That you have fresh fruit on your counter that was grown many miles away? That you have a new toothbrush and a towel and clean underwear? That you own a cup and a spoon and books? That you are able to eat food and taste things and not vomit every two hours? That you can breathe? That your ancestors survived long enough to find a spot in some cave to have sex and create part of your DNA? That you have been alive fucking long enough to experience every step of your life's path so far and all directions have pointed you here, to reading this very article in this moment?

Cancer created this fear inside of me, this constant voice. I equate my experience somewhat to that of a rape victim: things stolen from me, mental demons perched upon my shoulder. I have lived the past 16 years of my life in fear, some years more than others, and it's very hard. With the birth of Roman, though, something has changed. Something has finally allowed me to give up the feelings, the fear and worry and to trust in God. I know that many people don't believe in him, but there is something about my experience, the birth of my boy and the life that we're living that has made it clear to me. I have no doubt in my mind that God is real. I have no doubt in my mind that if I truly am meant to die of cancer, I will. I can try my hardest to prevent it from happening and hopefully God sees that I'm putting the work in, but I don't believe that it's up to me in the end. I am finally free and nothing else compares.

I know that nutrition and diet are crucial to you now, as you've written, "I connect food with health. I connect eating healthy with keeping my immune system up. I connect having a good immune system with keeping the cancer from coming back. Food is my secret weapon! It's my medicine!" What are some of the best dishes you've created, and do you have any advice for others who want to live healthier lifestyles?

People think I'm some kind of food Nazi. I'm really not! I had a s'more last night with my sister! Granted, the graham cracker was gluten-free and the chocolate was dark with nuts, but it was still a s'more. I try to eat 80/20... 80% really healthy, nutritious food, made by me at home and I let myself have 20% "other" foods. Others include eating out at healthier fastfood places and pre-made goods (bread, granola bars, coconut ice cream, etc.) I make sure that I know what I'm eating. If there is an ingredient in an item that I am not able to identify, I won't get it. If I reeeeally want it, I'll look the ingredient up on my phone and make a judgement call.

Rules? I direct people to Nina Plank's book, Real Food, the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. The message in all of the books is about the same. Don't eat crap. If your Grandmother or Great-Grandmother wouldn't have made it or wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it. Make your own food. Know what you're eating. Eat a lot of vegetables.

My favorite things to make are roasted chickens with garlic and lemon, baked sweet potato cubes with herbes de Provence and olive oil, steamed carrots with thyme and butter, quick miso salad dressing on chopped kale and plain cut up fruit with goat cheddar. I'm on a grapefruit kick right now. Life is so hectic and messy and busy that I like to eat simply. I eat good quality food, too. Besides rent, our grocery bill is the highest of all our bills. I love to grocery shop and get giddy with delight when I'm in the produce isle. Seriously. Produce is my drug.

You also have a passion for DIY and you once took "The Handmade Pledge." Are there any projects currently in the works?

Ooooo! This is a fun question! I've been into making bath and body products since I was in high school. I used to use this melt and pour soap from Michael's and it STUNK, but I thought I was hot shit for making soap. Melt and pout pour isn't really making soap, though. You just melt the base in the microwave, mix in colors and fragrances and any herb or whatever and then pour it into a mold. I remember making this oatmeal soap for my friend and she came back a few days later and told me that the soap was not for washing "down there." Poor thing... I bet I scratched her baby making parts! I didn't know what I was doing then.

I've had my current project, a line of bath and body products with mostly organic ingredients, in the works for a few years. I've been taking classes and researching essential oils and whatnot to make my line compatible with pregnancy, lactation, and on. I plan to make products that have healthy ingredients and are safe to use on children (not all essential oils are baby safe) and infants. I've been in the development stages for a while, and just recently I've kind of put it in to the next gear. I've had some mentoring from a very prominent DIY blogger and I'm finally ready to start making real test products to smear on my friends and family. I plan on launching my line in the Fall.

My most recent product idea is a three step facial cleanser kit: infused oil cleanser, a hydrosol toner and a facial serum to moisturize, I've been using it on my skin for the past week and I swear I already notice a difference. I'm SO excited to make a big batch and have my testers try it out!

Do you feel that you are part of a community --- be it fellow cancer survivors, young moms, bloggers, or crafts-folk? And if not, do you want to be?

As a teenager, I went to this camp for kids who have or have had cancer, Camp Okizu, and I really found myself there. I didn't have to explain what was "wrong" with me there... my fellow campers just knew because we were all the same in that sense. It made me feel like cancer could be this totally normal thing and I didn't have to hide anything. I still have friends from camp that I keep in contact with.  Love them!

The blogging community is funny. It may just be me and my insecurities about putting my life out there for the world to see, but I feel like Mom bloggers are always judging each other. I do it sometimes and it's gross. I'm working on that. It always feels like (most, not all) mother bloggers are competing with each other --- who has the better house, who has the baby that goes down the easiest, who is crawling soonest and so on. I've stopped reading 98% of the Mom blogs that I used to because they stir up jealousy inside of me and I don't have a desire to have that in my life. On the flip side, I've met a lot of REALLY wonderful people through the blogging world. Some of my most wonderful friends are people that I never would have met if not for my blog --- people all the way on the other side of the country. The blogging community is really like no other.

Lastly, you often write about your husband, Dustin, and how your love "is the kind of love that you see in movies. It's the magical kind of love where you just KNOW. I wish so badly that everyone could experience the kind of love that we have and the happiness that comes with having a one-and-only. Endless love." So here's the million dollar do you just know? And do you have any advice for those seeking love?

Oh, that boy. We had been classmates for years. We met officially in Study Hall when we were 16 and he was this antisocial boy who wore all black, kept his sunglasses on indoors and listened to his CD player all period. I literally stalked him until he liked me. To be fair, it wasn't complete creepy stalking --- he'd flirt with me a bit and kind of lead me on (as much as a 16-year-old boy, who had never kissed a girl, knew how) and I took those as definite sign of "he wants me." He used to play Dungeons and Dragons with his friends and play Everquest (an online game) and was just very a very nerdy boy. I liked nerds, though. And he was a very hot nerd. I hate to say this, but I usually get what I want and won't back down until I've succeeded. I conquered that boy, and now I let him conquer me. Oh dear.

I think the age old saying that "love is right in front of you" couldn't be more true. Open your eyes.

How do I "just know" that Dustin is my life's love? It's always felt like Dustin's soul had this piece of mine that was missing, that we were this two-piece puzzle. We were drawn to each other. When he's around me, even if we're not interacting, the world feels right. When I'm feeling very scared or low, I just stick my head under his shirt and put the tip of my nose in his belly button and hide. It's my safe spot. Nothing can get me there. I'm going to get all Hippy again and say that it feels like we've been together before, in a different life. That we've found each other once again. It's like walking into a hole-in-the-wall bookstore and coming across a book that you had as a little girl, and then opening the cover to find your name written in ink. Meant to be together... Maybe I am a Hippy.

(all photos courtesy of Stephanie)