Two things at once
joy and _____
A compilation of obsessions, thoughts and feelings that are not a part of my usual art-material-centric programming. I send this newsletter out the week before releasing a new episode of my podcast Material Feels. I also post an audio version of it, voicing it one take as 1) a way to practice and 2) a way to subvert my perfectionistic side. Welp, I’m exhausting this morning and have allergies but the show must go on!
Oh, before I get into it, the playlist. Each month I make a playlist that runs parallel to keywords, concepts and references from my writing, and it usually includes any audio treats I mention towards the end of the newsletter. It’s a fun extra that helps me think about the topics I cover in new ways! Listen below or go directly to the playlist here.
Word of the Month
Three Happy Things
Word of the Month
From Latin, gaudia "expressions of pleasure; sensual delight," v. gaudere "to rejoice."
Usually I choose the word of the month about 10 or 15 days in, after observing how my days have been going. I write about a specific experience and reflect for a week or two; then I pay attention to things that crop up and see how they fold into my already-established theme.
But this month, I wanted to do something different. I decided, day one: the word is joy. Because I said so. I want to and need to just… insert Joy wherever I freaking can. With freelancing and starting a new branch of my business (a studio and classroom in my garage!), it feels like I’m either in grind mode with 42 metaphorical and literal tabs open, or initiating a “super hyper intense rest” - an aggressive form of rest where I lay down naked in a dark room and get as close to floating in a desalination tank as possible. *LOL Thank you to my listeners, this is a desensitization tank not a desalination tank.*
So… not only am I craving some balance between these two extremes, there's a third category in my life that I am not conjuring enough: joy and fun and laughter and silliness. It might seem like I am a silly person with lots of fun and joy and laughter, but… that's fueled by chance. I turn a lot of my dramas and traumas into jokes, but this month, I decided to try to and like… seek out joyful experiences.
To start programming myself this way (is it weird I think of my brain as software?) I tried to think about the things I already seek out naturally. Novelty and variety are intoxicating to me, and I will hyperfocus on learning about a new thing... hence the “obsessions” category of this newsletter.
I set an intention (wrote a command?): This month I will switch some of that novelty-seeking energy over to the pursuit of joy.
So with joy on the tip of my brain, one night I went and did something spontaneous.
I visited Friends and Family, a women/queer owned bar in Oakland that I had heard about for a while. I dressed up (*put on one of my two “Okay fine, perceive me” outfits) and did my extras (*put on bracelets, painted my nails and scrunched my curls). I’m not used to going out (pandemic) let alone going out by myself, but it’s something I love to do. I did text two people who I find intriguing to see if they wanted to join: the woman who adopted my cat when I moved three years ago and the clerk at my local herb shop who has my exact same birthday - we were born 14 minutes apart on the same day, same year. They each had plans, which surprisingly, didn’t deflate me. Their responses, Oh man! I wish I could! and I’ll come next time!, made me feel encouraged.
When I got to the bar there was a waitlist to sit down for drinks (what!?) but the host, when they saw I was solo, found me a spot at the end of the bar next to a person who was savoring their meal and writing in a journal. I took out my watercolors, which I bring everywhere, ordered a drink and started sketching the bar.
It was a beautiful space, with soft yellow and pink lighting, a menagerie of funky glasses and plenty of cute haircuts. One person had already caught my eye when I first walked in; they had black hair, a silver chain and tattoos all over their arms and chest. They looked like they were a superhero by day and a line cook by night. I kept seeing them flit in and out of the frame formed by the illuminated awning connecting the kitchen to the bar. I flipped to a new page and started painting everything in that window of light, and when they were stationary (which was about once every six minutes) I got a few brushstrokes in to create their form.
Meanwhile, next to me, the writer person was also looking around and making marks on paper. At one point we both were looking up and then returning to our pages in tandem. I wondered, maybe they wouldn’t want to be disturbed, maybe they came here to be alone on purpose, rather than hunting for new connections, like me. But after about an hour, our eyes met. I started a conversation, and we ended up chatting for the rest of the night! I learned about their creative interests, their hustle, their relationship and their geographic timestamps (aw, Vermont!).
I showed them the painting of the line cook superhero (turns out this new friend was also a line cook, with dreams of combining food and their first love, theater). I asked if they thought I should give the painting to person I had painted, or if that would be weird. “Do it!”, writer friend said.
We settled our bills, and I asked the bartender what the cook’s name was so I could write it on the back. I showed them the painting and they came alive - “Ally will love this!” They took it into the kitchen to show Ally and the two of them started pointing at all the objects in the kitchen excitedly and then pointing down at the painting. I tried not to look because I didn’t want to seem… over eager? I don’t know. “Look, they put it on the fridge with a little magnet!” new writer friend said. “That is adorable. Oh my god they are coming over—-” Superhero linecook was suddenly to my left, introducing themselves and thanking me for the painting. Writer friend, who is also a line cook, bonded with them about the hustle. They treated us to some carrot cake; I was extremely happy and a little bashful. It was a delicious evening.
Other things I did this month that brought me joy:
I said yes to a last minute gig (10 hours notice) and helped out on the set of a commercial; this involved filling out faux evidence bags and shopping for two versions of a living room in one day! I’m not allowed to share pictures of the shoot, so above is an image of a cute cat I met on set.
I took my adopted nephew to the beach each week. We threw sticks in the bay, dug holes in the sand and sat on a towel with no pants on (him) eating snacks and singing songs. 10/10.
I invited a friend to go away with me for the weekend (I haven’t taken time off and gone somewhere I wanted to go in a loooooong time). We haven’t booked it yet, but pictured above is general inspiration for wherever we end up going.
I ran another 5k, didn’t stress about it and had a great time with my friend Steve, who ran a 10k that morning, too! I shaved three minutes off my time from March and he beat his expected time by nearly thirty minutes! And there were snacks at the end. Woohoo!
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I usually share four obsessions, but, I’m so obsessed with this, I’m going to spend most of this part detailing why you need to watch this show.
This year has already been a lot, personally, and on a global scale. When my brain and heart is at level “a lot,” I rewatch favorite TV shows. And when it comes to favorite things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes the cake. There is singing, wholesome friendships, taboo content, campy references, countless costume changes and steamy will-they-won’t-they chemistry. I love this show for its music, its multi-talented cast, and its fantastical, imaginative, varied way of approaching struggles with mental health. The basics: it’s a musical about a lawyer in New York City who quits her job to move to West Covina, California where her childhood sweetheart JUST HAPPENS to live. You might be able to guess from the title - this show addresses “crazy” behavior in a brilliant way. I think it makes the viewing experience better to know *mild spoiler alert* that the main character struggles with a complex personality disorder, and discovers her diagnosis in later seasons.
In the early seasons, it seems like a wild, chaotic and campy ride; as the show develops, the characters address taboo content in thoughtful ways: what it feels like to experience a depressive episode, coming out as bisexual and pushing back against biphobia on both fronts, getting diagnosed with something, admitting alcoholism, going through menopause, deciding to take meds… Writer and lead actress Rachel Bloom writes lyrics that are so specific and strange, and yet so relatable. The music also goes all over the map, tipping a hat to Broadway shows like Mamma Mia and Les Miserables while weaving in a range of choreography and genres including pop, tap, jazz and ballet.
Some of the songs I find myself humming throughout the day: one character, Josh, has trouble accessing his feelings. Something makes him feel “bad” so he goes to his dojo to blow off some steam. The actor is clearly a badass ballerino; the song kicks off with dramatic lighting, guitar riffs and emotional intensity that takes the viewer back to the construction sites of Flashdance and Footloose. Pure emotion: and the lyrics are hilarious. “Angry! Feeling Bad! Why do I feel this way? Angry! Mad! My heart is hurting and it feels. Bad! Punching, feeling, crying. Grrrrrrr.....Bad! Grrrrrrr......Bad!” Then there is the clearly Lady Gaga inspired music video where main character Rebecca brags about how “she gives good parents” - a nonsensical phrase meant to indicate how much parents adore the Ivy-league, ass-kissing, novel-reading persona she puts on to impress. Rebecca uses musical numbers to process feelings and create meaningful stories from her pain: another favorite of mine is Sexy French Depression, a number she sings while stuck on the couch for two days in a depressive episode. I love how each musical number is a world in and of itself. I’ve been told I have a very active imagination, and I love how Rebecca uses hers to process feelings, solve problems and get through painful or nerve-wracking experiences. And sometimes, it’s just a fun way to bring song and dance into the show, like when she and her girl group generalize about men!
This video, and similar videos, of deaf babies hearing their parents speak for the first time. Wow, that’s… really specific, you’re thinking. That’s what I thought too, but apparently Instagram algorithms are freakishly on point sometimes. These videos started popping up on my feed and I just… I loose it. There is nothing more wholesome to me than a child hearing their parents’ voices for the first time. And this baby in particular, DAMN! Like, that is what my face looks like as a thirty something burnt out millennial holding back tears watching that baby. Are we all the same? Are we all hearing something for the first time at any given moment, holding back tears of joy and grief? I don’t know, but do I know I am incapable of scrolling past these videos.
**I do want to say, hearing is not the end all be all and if you’re a non-hearing person, these videos are whatever, just swap in “dude puts on glasses for colorblind folks and cries about purple” or “old couple is reunited after six month quarantine” and you’ll get a similar vibe.**
Lime pickle. Mixed pickle. Mango pickle. Whatever kind of pickle, however you want to add it to your curry, IT’S SO GOOD. Lime pickle in particular made my month extra zesty. A spoonful (or three) adds a tangy kick to an otherwise regular degular meal. Yes, it’s entire limes, rinds and all, picked in a delicious combination of flavors. My mouth is watering right this second, but I finished the jar this month (hence, “obsession”) so I’ll just have to reminisce. Here’s a recipe if you’re curious what’s in it, and if you’ve never had it and see “mixed pickle” on the menu of your go-to Indian spot, try it!
This is the section where I usually recommend three tasty shows, but I’ve realized I’ve subconsciously taken a break from listening to podcasts. I began to notice this month, I am less inclined to make time for it these days. In the podcasting industry and in audio in general, there is a lot of “what are you listening to right now,” and even “how many hours a week do you listen.” But instead of pushing myself to consume the media in (one of) the industries I am making space for myself in, I am allowing my ears a break.
Here’s what that sounds like:
The soft voice of an audiobook narrator reading out loud a self helpy-mental healthish book; when I’m winding down for the day, I listen to a title that’s helping me understand myself more: Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self Care.
Soft, slow piano music where I can hear the light touch of the felted hammers and the gentle rustle of the brass foot pedals releasing. This sound helps slow down my movements while I’m tidying, gardening or cooking.
Popping in my “hearrings” for no particular reason other than to nestle into my own headspace and float in my own breath. The silence is deep, rich and rhythmic.
The conversational chirps, whistles and calls of birds when I walk or run outside.
Humming, whistling, singing or talking to myself.
In limiting the audio content I consume, I find more space for me - my voice, my body, my direct surroundings. I am also noticing that my relationship to sound continues to change, which is a big deal for me as I have a sound-sensitivity that can really mess with my day-to-day. More about this another time.
What complicated emotion are you sitting with right now?
I’m repeatedly learning that the ability to recognize multiple emotions at once, especially conflicting emotions, is a skill that takes intention and practice. Tuning into the subtleties of emotions is a form of intelligence, just like understanding the different formations of wood grain, or the behaviors of various clay bodies.
It’s not just clay. It’s a stoneware that can handle pressure and intensity, but takes a minute to warm up; it used to be alive and is made alive again by your hands.
It’s not just sadness. It’s nostalgia, wrapped up with grief, burnout, resentment, hope for something different and the strength to feel it all simultaneously.
Three Happy Things
The Equity Fund at Waveform Ceramics. I offer beginner clay classes out of a converted garage; transforming a one-wheel-in-the-dark art cave into a functioning, inviting studio has been quite a ride! In addition to offering intro classes, classes for kids and couples' claydates, I invite students to add to their tuition; fans from afar can also contribute and make clay community more accessible. The Equity Fund allows me to provide a handful of classes free of charge to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) living in Oakland on an ongoing basis. It’s my way of contributing the place I’ve called home for nearly a decade with an awareness that 1) BIPOC are disproportionally displaced in the Bay Area, 2) they remain underrepresented in the arts & craft world and 3) they are part of an underpaid, marginalized group who also deserve access to art-making! Click here to contribute via PayPal, or find my business on Venmo @cxmpdx; just add a note that it’s for the Equity Fund.
A multi-media installation at an audio festival this summer! Elizabeth de Lise and I are working on a project called Conversations with the Material World, featuring other queer, nonbinary makers. This interactive installation features video as well as sculptures by fiber, wood, glass and clay artists, accompanied by narrated soundscapes. Contributing artists include woodworker Dominique Tutwiler, glassblower Deborah Czeresko, and fiber artist Selena Loomis. The work will be on display at Sound Scene, June 3rd -5th at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. There will be select showings of this installation in the Bay Area; more about that later!
A firetruck for a toddler. Have you ever made magic out of cardboard? I did this on a Saturday afternoon after my BFF’s mom asked me to turn a box into a firetruck for her grandson (my adopted nephew and beach buddy). Highly recommend! If you’re into art-making, tinkering or DIY stuff and need a break from your usual activities, building with cardboard is relatively easy and VERY fun.
Thanks for tuning in and going down a few rabbit holes with me. Here’s to fresh forms of joy!