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)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No.Alt Recommends, March -- Pina

Spring is fast becoming my favorite season (beating out summer and early fall!). March means spring, and spring means dancing, and dancing means my sole recommendation for the month.... Pina!

Wim Wenders directs this part-dance film, part-documentary in 3D, which is about the passion, choreography, and ultimately the loss of a German dance choreographer named Pina Bausch. Pina's unconventional style of modern dance ofter verges on performance art, telling a story through movement and music. Unlike some other forms of dance, the dancers in Pina's company --- called Tanztheater Wuppertal --- are almost like actors in how they interact, and their facial expressions are just as important as their bodies.

Pina was really a trailblazer, letting her classical training lead her into largely unknown territory; she was very interested in portraying emotion as well as male-female relationships through dance (though not without some humor), and she sometimes stuck her dancers in seemingly infinite loops of motion. The dancers fall into, carry, kiss, and fight each other in a way that almost resembles miming, but without being so literal. She also invited the natural elements to literally spill onto the stage and become part of the performance. Many of her productions involve props, such as a giant rock on stage, or a cafe setting with many tables and chairs.

The film Pina was conceived with Pina's participation; she started to collaborate with director Wenders in 2009, but during the preparation stages, Pina died unexpectedly of cancer. Pina's dancers convinced Wenders, who had cancelled production, to carry on with the film, which began to take a different shape. The film is dedicated to Pina, as her former dancers and friends speak of the time they spent with her, how she made them better dancers, and how she impacted their lives.

A few key elements are at work in Pina to make it a truly special film, and unlike any other I have seen or even heard about. One is the fact that it has no apparent narrative, or at least not a linear one. We move in and out of different dance pieces, most notably Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), which starts us off, Cafe Muller, Kontakthof (Courtyard of Contact), and Vollmond (Full Moon)

Some of the dancing is on stage, as an audience would see it, and some is done in public and outdoor locations -- large halls, dusty hills, a crossroads, a swimming pool, the ocean, and even an elevated railway. For The Rite of Spring, the stage is covered with soil, while for Vollmond, the dancers on stage splash around in water. Some of the pieces involve many dancers, and others only one or two. Intercut with the vast array of dancing are intimate conversations with the dancers, who face the camera and highlight their experiences with Pina --- how she taught them to be unafraid, to look deep within, and to express their most secretive selves. We also see some old footage of Pina teaching the dancers, and even dancing herself.

Another key factor is that it was shot and presented in 3D. This was actually the very first 3D movie I have seen in the theater, and though it threw my head for a loop, it was perfectly suited to the film --- it is as if we, the audience in the movie theater, are actually attending a dance performance and watching the dancers move up and down the stage. Even the subtitles pop out, as each scene plays with dimensionality to create the feeling that you are inside of it --- dancing, participating, watching everything come alive. 

Between the bright colors of costumes and sets, absolutely surreal images, and a camera that dares to zoom in on the dancers' every wrinkle, Pina can't not affect viewers' imaginations and emotions.

I also love that so many strong, older dancers --- those who would not usually appear in dance films or dance performances --- were part of this film; in fact, it seemed that there were far more older dancers than young. One of the dancers even remarked that working with Pina was lucky if you were older. Courtyard of Contact was performed multiple times in the film, with groups of different generations: teenagers, middle-aged dancers, and dancers over 65. Seeing each dancer "age" and then regress, while showing off their faces and figures to an imaginary audience, was truly fascinating.

 As Wim Wenders said about Pina Bausch:

No, there was no hurricane that swept across the stage,
there were just … people performing
who moved differently then I knew
and who moved me as I had never been moved before.
After only a few moments I had a lump in my throat,
and after a few minutes of unbelieving amazement
I simply let go of my feelings
and cried unrestrainedly.
This had never happened to me before…
maybe in life, sometimes in the cinema,
but not when watching a rehearsed production,
let alone choreography.
This was not theatre, nor pantomime,
nor ballet and not at all opera.
Pina is, as you know,
the creator of a new art.
Dance theatre.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

NYC Spotlight: La Sirena.

I tend to gush about independent shops in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, and La Sirena (which means "the mermaid") is certainly a note-worthy gem in that category. This past Xmas, I spent some time amid the shop's colorful, ceiling-high clutter looking for little gifts for family and friends. I ended up purchasing a Day of the Dead matchbook, hand-made ornament, miniature angel figure, skull-woman magnet, and a luchador figure... because honestly, what is Xmas without a little rubber Mexican wrestler?

The shop sells Mexican folk art that really runs the gamut: from tiny trinkets to printed shirts to funky jewelry to artful collector's items. I love all of the Catholic iconography and pendants, especially when combined with images of skulls and flowers, and portrayed with glitter in absurdly bright colors. The owner, Dina Leor, is also sweet and helpful (she even gave me a free calendar). But the best part about the store (other than its killer kitsch factor) is that many of the crafts are handmade from Mexican artisans, which reflects "the beauty and richness of the country of Mexico and the people who live there." As it says on their website:

The store is filled with arts and crafts from all over Mexico, from museum quality pieces to traditional marketplace merchandise and in all price ranges. Much of the work is crafted by families whose traditions have been handed down from generation to generation. Families whose lives, in and of themselves, are living art. The pieces are bought directly from the artists, whenever possible. This is very important because it ensures that the artist fully profits and the traditions live on.

It really doesn't get much more authentic than that. Next time you need a quick gift or find yourself in the mood for browsing, stop by this little space. I guarantee you'll see some things you've never seen before, and you'll probably acquire a sudden need for a tiny Mexican wrestler of your very own.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Inspiration: Urban Fantasy.

Artists and designers often use inspiration boards to help them conceptualize and create something new, but I think writers can too! And while I may not be a visual artist in any conventional sense, there are certain aesthetics, colors, images, objects, and people to which/whom I am fiercely attracted, and from which I find personal "artistic" inspiration. Every now and then, I will compile these in a themed blog post. For now, let's take a dip into Gotham City...

Batman overlooks Gotham City
Promotional art for Batman #608 (Oct. 2002, second printing)
Pencils by Jim Lee and inks by Scott Williams
as Patti Smith awaits the train,
Patti Smith on platform in the 68th Street/Lexington Ave, subway station, New York City, 1971
Image by © Gerard Malanga
encountering this man inside,
who watches a girl dance on the platform

while another girl dances on the fire escape,
above two gems by Dane Shitagi
dreaming up a new Batman and Robin.
Nico and Andy Warhol pose as Batman and Robin for Esquire in 1967

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mix Tape: Magnetic.

It's been awhile since I posted one of my 8tracks mixes, so let's celebrate March 1st with one. I made this dancey little playlist over the summer when I really needed to groove to some electro beats! The last song is one of my favorites...Iggy Pop covering The Velvet Underground! Thanks too to a celebrity stylist named Melis for personally tuning me into a couple of the beginning tracks.

"Cult Logic" - Miike Snow / "Any Way You Choose It" - The Black Ghosts /
"Blind" - Hercules and Love Affair / "Daylight" - Matt & Kim / 
"Whirring" - The Joy Formidable / "Enjoy (Further Over the Edge mix)" - Bjork /
"Paris" - Friendly Fires / "Heroin" - Iggy Pop & The Stooges

(photo of me dancing in Detroit)
lv, amy.