November 2016: I thought I’d have a different caption for this photo

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I thought the caption would be about Hillary defeating Trump and soaring into the sunset to prepare for four years of especially gross misogyny. I guess I was right on one count.

3 interviews, 1 art review, 1 Terrance Hayes, 2 novels, 1 therapeutic theater date, 7 action items, 5 righteous reads, 1 Thanksgiving road trip

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Here’s what I wrote on Facebook on November 9 as an intro to my inverview with John Pluecker: “I was aggravated that (by total coincidence) my first interview for Public Poetry came out today, of all days, when we are mourning, not self-promoting. But it’s actually pretty relevant. John Pluecker is an activist (and experimental poet, with a cool new book), and we talked about language justice and what it means to be a social justice interpreter, among other things.

Check it out and get motivated, because that’s what has to happen next. Make sure to drink a lot of water because crying will give you a headache.”

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Our focus here at the museum is to educate the entire community — not just the Jewish community — on the importance of the lessons of the Holocaust: fighting hatred, apathy, and prejudice. Taking those lessons and communicating them effectively to the public is our mission.

Kelly Zúñiga, CEO of the Holocaust Museum of Houston

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The way I see it, we’re not in business just to make money. Of course, that’s a big part of it but we want our efforts to mean so much more. Growing up, I watched my family act in ways with such big hearts towards other people that it just became a part of who I am.

Moon Jamaluddin, principal/founder of Events By Momo

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Reclaiming Material Responsibility: Blake Rayne and Analia Saban at Blaffer Art Museum

I loved one of these artists and was lukewarm on the other, so yay, I got some practice trying to write a not-glowing review. One of my favorite pieces, “Draped Marble” by Analia Saban, is pictured below.

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I had no idea that the brilliant poet Terrance Hayes is also a visual artist. Luckily I found out about a presentation he was doing at the Menil Collection at the last minute, about the relationship between drawing and writing. I had a little bit of trouble finding his work online, but this article in 1839 has some great examples.

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“We Love You Charlie Freeman”
Kaitlyn Greenidge
2016, Algonquin Books

I read most of this fantastic debut novel in a day. It’s about an African-American family who move to the Berkshires in 1990 to “adopt” a chimp named Charlie and communicate with him via sign language (in which they are all fluent). But it’s really about their family, and the deep wounds of racism throughout American history that have yet to heal. In light of the election, themes of casual (and overt) white supremacy, guilt vs. shame, and desperate stabs at happiness are especially poignant.

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“Hag-Seed”
Margaret Atwood
2106, Hogarth Shakespeare Series

Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is a silly yet beautiful work, and Atwood’s is no different, albeit touching in more immediate sense. Artistic Director Felix, our Prospero, is ousted by his theater company just as he is about to mount his “Tempest” onstage. He becomes a hermit and eventually winds up teaching Shakespeare at a prison, with inmates as performers. When he starts directing them in “The Tempest,” his own plot for revenge unfolds. Yes, it’s ridiculous, especially the words Atwood puts in the inmates’ mouths. But Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is no less ridiculous, and who expects anything else than storytelling mastery from Atwood? I hope that high schools start teaching this alongside “The Tempest.”

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Speaking of cathartic theater: I saw Horsehead Theatre Co.’s “The Judgment of Fools” on November 12, four days after the election. The actors (Fool 1, Fool 2, etc.) mingled with audience members before the show started, taking selfies and chatting about the finer oddities of their costumes. The opening recording encouraged guests to not to turn their cell phones off — “Because what if this play is fucking boring?” — and the “head fool” encouraged us to heckle the actors at any time, or to run onstage and stop a scene with the big red bullhorn perched just offstage.

The fools enacted scenarios, and we were encouraged to vocally judge them. “Shout ‘slut’ when I reach a point in my story in which you think I was acting like a slut,” said one actor. (When someone jokingly did so after two words of her story, she genuinely asked why, ready to hear his answer.) An unwitting volunteer became a contestent in a “stereotype pageant.” One audience member’s facebook page was projected onto a screen, and the audience encouraged to judge him by it.

It all sounds very vindictive and awkward, and maybe it was with certain audiences, but people were largely kind and fair (or at least, they were when they shouted out). A cast of good and good-natured improvisors helps. I asked one of the “fools” if they always got this kind of reaction from the crowd, and he said that our audience was much more vocal than those they’d had before the election. People were ready to play (and in any cases, drink). So thank you, Horsehead Theatre Co., for producing new work that’s so damn fun, and — especially at this particular time — vital.

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Action items:

I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents. 

A 70-Day Web Security Plan For Artists and Activists Under Siege

“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet

Trump Syllabus 2.0

Why some protests succeed while others fail. 

The Case for Normalizing Trump (bad headline, good article)

The “Stronger Together” facebook group (I’ll add you if you want)

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Righteous reads on the wild internet:

‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations

After this election, I don’t owe anyone my silence or my unity. 

Blaming political correctness on Trump is like blaming the civil rights movement for Jim Crow. 

Trump excuses the white working class from the politics of personal responsibility. 

Please stop saying poor people did this. 

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We took an amazing four-day road trip across Texas and New Mexico over Thanksgiving break. Being from the east coast, I’d never been exposed to that kind of extreme scenery. For example, a prairie so sparse you can see an entire train plowing through it. And it’s been awhile since I could see the Milky Way at night. Even driving wasn’t all that bad. Plus, it was incredibly therapeutic to have limited internet access for a few days.

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Me, in awe of nature, not missing the internet at all.

Lead image/Paul Nicklen

October 2016: The Old Divination Standby

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“Aries” by Eugenia Loli, from her new zodiac collection. Really kind of her to use a picture that looks just like my grandma in the 60s for my astrological sign.

1 (unsettling) art review, 3 interviews, 1 exaggerated headline, 1 Screwtape musing, 1 accidental feminist classic, 1 of many similarities between me and Ron Weasley, 1 report from Australia, 2 Halloween costumes

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Black & White, the KKK, and the Enduring Banality of Evil: “The Beginning is Near (Part 1)” by Vincent Valdez
October issue of Aeqai (9-minute read)

“The City I” by Vincent Valdez

Vincent Valdez’s first solo show in 10 years was phenomenally eerie, important and complex. The unsettling centerpiece is more than 30 feet long and six feet high, and not one, but TWO middle-aged couples skittered in and out nervously while I was at the gallery.

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America has a long and proud tradition of taking in individuals and families who are fleeing violence and persecution, including my parents. Houston has always played a significant role in resettling refugees. When a city takes in victims of tragedy, it demonstrates to the world its compassion and humanity. Houston should continue to set an example for the country and the world.

–Teresa Messer, immigration attorney. Her parents were refugees of the Vietnam War, and now she serves immigrants and refugees in her home city.

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“Quiet leadership” is something I learned to emphasize during the M.A., or the idea that you can lead by example. You don’t always have to be that extrovert leading the charge — that’s not what leadership is all of the time. Leadership is listening, assessing, finding the people and matching them to their strengths, and you can only do that by listening and assessing.

–Alyson Landry, Professional Communications instructor at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I wish I’d been able to take her class in high school!

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My responsibilities of my new appointment is to manage the day-to-day operations of critical access hospital that serves a community of 12,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in the Cass Lake Minnesota area. My goals are to collaborate with local tribes to foster a relationship of cooperation.

–Dr. Robert Brady Malone, who simultaneously earned an M.B.A. and his doctorate in medicine, and is now the CEO of Cass Lake Hospital in Minnesota. I conducted this interview before the protest at Standing Rock was widely visible — I would have liked to ask him about how it affects his constituents, if at all.

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Favorite exaggerated headline: Thousands of Wild Buffalo Appear Out of Nowhere at Standing Rock

In reality, from what I can gather on the internet, about a hundred of them were purposefully released by protesters nearby. But the appearance of a sacred animal in a time of injustice… morale is morale and it doesn’t get more poetic.

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Speaking of spirituality: this passage of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” in which an elder demon gives epistolary advice to his young demon-nephew about how to sway humans toward their “father below,” is indeed more appropriate than ever this election season:

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I briefly dated a guy who flippantly said that C.S. Lewis is an idiot. Key word: “briefly.” Regardless of your thoughts on Christianity, “The Screwtape Letters” is a damn classic.

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Another damn classic: “George of the Jungle,” the 1997 kids movie starring Brendan Fraser. Having a cold will do funny things to a person, and on a sick day this month I found myself renting and watching this movie in its entirety. Why, you ask? Because I read this super right-on Tumblr analysis of how it’s a femininst flick, and felt slightly less bad about how much I liked it as a kid. Does it hold up? Not necessarily — you have to be eight or nine years old to truly appreciate it. But the analysis is still right-on, and I was delirious while watching anyway.

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I’ve been rereading Harry Potter before bed, and was tickled to find that in “The Goblet of Fire,” Ron Weasley perfectly sums up how I survived a number of avant garde movements, including surrealism, in a French literature class in college. It’s not that I dislike the avant garde — I was just very, very bad at French. But, I got much higher marks in that class than in any of my other French classes using similar tactics to Weasley in the hapless wizards’ Divination class:

“You know,” said Ron, whose hair was on end because of all the times he had run his fingers through it in frustration, “I think it’s back to the old Divination standby.”
“What — make it up?”
“Yeah,” said Ron, sweeping the jumble of scrawled notes off the table, dipping his pen into some ink, and starting to write.
“Next Monday,” he said as he scribbled, “I am likely to develop a cough, owing to the unlucky conjunction of Mars and Jupiter.” He looked at Harry. “You know [Professor Trelawney] — just put in loads of misery, she’ll lap it up.”

It’s surrealism, Harry.

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Jane Howard on the state of Australia’s culture of art criticism:

Criticism works in conversation. This conversation takes many shapes: the conversation between critic and art, between critic and reader, between critic and critic. . . . But we’ve lost these conversations. . . . And the less this conversation exists, the less it is able to exist.

Here’s to keeping the conversation going, even if it’s about “George of the Jungle.”

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Happy Halloween from the bridesmaid from hell and thift-store Thor:

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Cover Image/“Aries” by Eugenia Loli

September 2016: A perfect Houston evening

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3 interviews, 1 play, 3 books, 100+ nuns, 1 [long] joyful art experience, with videos

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That’s my lesson to all the young students: pay your parking tickets, or you could wind up in the slammer, and believe me, it’s no fun.

Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek. I talked to him on speakerphone for 30 minutes while parked in a Syracuse rest stop – incredibly nice and funny guy, and probably my longest-ever conversation with a proper celebrity.

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At first, I wanted to go into scripted filmmaking…. [but] there was a moment in time where I started to watch documentaries, and I became enamored with them — just in love with the truthful quality that you get from real human interactions which is impossible, really, to replicate in a work of fiction. To sift through hundreds of hours of footage to find a real, human interaction that you captured on film — there’s not one single fictional moment that can beat that, not one.

Kathryn Haydn, non-fiction television producer. Before we talked, I sat in on her presentation to a documentary filmmaking class, which was chock-full of practical advice and fascinating showbiz tidbits.

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One student in my class wrote a beautiful poem that mentioned Taub Hall by name. That was a revelation to me, that art could be made about a dorm room, about the mundane things surrounding us. At the time it seemed to elevate experience, to transform it.

Melissa Ginsburg, author of “Sunset City.” I read the book (a gritty Houston noir) and we corresponded via email. What’s interesting is that she’s primarily a poet and professor at Ole Miss, but she felt compelled to cross forms to write “Sunset City.”

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More than just a great headline: Hundreds of nuns trained in Kung Fu are biking the Himalayas to oppose human trafficking

“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”

– Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 22-year-old Nepalese Buddhist nun

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“Buried Child” by Sam Shepard
Catastrophic Theatre at MATCH

I read this play on a Saturday afternoon at the Emerson College library while it snowed outside, which was about the coziest and most exhilarating play-reading I’ve experienced, and I couldn’t wait to see this production. Fie on my memory because the play was not like I remember it at all, mostly because I pictured it being performed at a fast pace, and the talented actors on a perfectly drab set took an eternity to pull out the scenes. Some parts of this play should be slow, some explosive. Of course, it was treated to a round of gushing reviews by Houston’s breathless theater critics, which I’m learning to ignore not because their opinions aren’t valuable, but because it’s dangerous to let myself get over-excited about theatrical performances.

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“Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans
This would make a fantastically whacked musical, with Rex Harrison-style talk-singing. Then, the completely dark scene in the bomb shelter, wherein shelterers start nervously, laughingly calling out the luxurious food they’d like to eat, would be beautifully jarring. It’s no surprise that Evans is a TV producer. I’ll eat my library card if it hasn’t already been optioned by the BBC.

“Animals” by Emma Jane Unsworth
I believed in these characters, and their un-obvious wit is irresistible. The ending is the part that felt a little obvious, and I can’t say I appreciated Tyler in the same way I appreciated Laura, but the ride is worth it. Do not believe lazy people who will compare this book to “Girls” or “Trainwreck” and dismiss it.

“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July
Truly unique, funny, relatable and uncomfortable. I like July’s films for the same reasons, I suppose. But the discomfort extended into novel form was not really what I wanted to read before bedtime. The ideal reading scenario for “The First Bad Man” would be to sneak into waiting rooms without an appointment and read it all there.

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Bob Parks: artist talk

I wrote a feverish journal entry after this experience so I wouldn’t forget anything, and given the nature of Bob’s art and personality, I figured it would be best to include an almost-unadulterated version below. Note: I didn’t watch the documentary related to the two clips included here. The exhibition was visual art and artifacts.

It was what I’d like to call a perfect Houston evening, what you hope for when you go out, really. I found this artist conversation on Glass Tire with Bob Parks. The photo was of an eccentric looking guy, an older Weird Al type with a big British nose. I figured it was some art student’s photo of his grandpa, but it was actually a picture of Bob himself, wearing a Hawaiian shirt in his garden. The weird list of topics drew me in. 

A stub of a bulldog ran to meet us at the gallery. There was no one else inside except the curator, who followed the dog and introduced herself and the dog (his name was Boo), and another worker, a very young woman who was not introduced. An immediate awkwardness because we were the only people there. I was worried no one else would show up for the conversation. She gave us a flyer and we looked around for a few minutes. Weird mementos and photographs. Incredibly detailed drawings. Detailed logs of physiological health written in tiny, neat capital letters. A lot of “light constipation.” The dog sat on his bum looking at the ceiling, flailing his head back and forth in an especially groovy Stevie Wonder impersonation. He stopped eventually, and sat down near us.

The curator said she would go get Bob, and I expected him to arrive shortly. But then I heard a Skype noise, and realized she was flipping Skyping him in from England. She gave him a tour of the show by holding up her ipad, and we said hi when she got to us. No one else was coming in. 

She asked Bob how he came to be in a documentary (that’s how they found about him) while we were waiting in vain for more people to show up, and then he read an account of what he dictated to his mother about his “murderous rages.” Basically, he won’t ask questions of people he wouldn’t want asked of himself, so he’s dying for anyone to ask him a question so that he can ask it of them. He has quite a struggle with mental illness and is not on meds, we found out later, when the curator awkwardly asked him. “But you seem so well-balanced!” she said.

But, that was after he read the account of his murderous rages, as dictated to his mother, whom he dearly misses, and after he read a poem (“shall I do a poem then?”) about taking his parents on a tour of the national parks of England, when he was constipated and his dad was, shall we say, the opposite of constipated, and after he played two songs on his flutes, which made him very red-faced, and after he sang bits of two songs from the 50s (“before the beatles, a lovely sort of music”) and a song called “big nose” that he wrote and performed in the documentary. It was so weird and fabulous. We couldn’t leave, we were the only ones there and it would have been too conspicuous. The ipad kept slipping down from where it leaned against the back of the computer, and the curator kept propping it back up.


(Bob’s mum features heavily in this trailer.)

She asked him, first, about the dictation to his mom, but she misunderstood and thought that his mom had composed it (I kind of thought that too, he may have not explained very much) and expressed how nice it was, and how everyone wants to be listened to. He corrected her about the composition of the statement, and turned around the question on her: it sounds like you want to be listened to. Why do you feel like no one’s listening to you? You’re the curator, but not showing your own art? And she was flustered, first of all because oh no I’m not the curator, so first denying that talent, and then flustered because she doesn’t have any talent, “I’ve always been a facilitator for other people’s talent.” It felt very personal. Then the mental health thing. It got him on a roll about how everyone’s been psychotic since the first world war, and how no truly original and creative ideas had sprung forth since we started killing people on a global scale. Then I asked about media, and what he’s working in now. And he said something about Stanislavsky or Stravinsky and how an idea is transferred from the person to the canvas to another person, or something, but the message was really that medium is irrelevant, that the idea just has to be expressed. I’m probably butchering that. He also said, more practically, that he’s working class, and that means he often ends up just writing lately because it’s most available.

Then he went to bed, as it was midnight there, and we hung up on him. The curator offered to buy us a drink and chat for a bit, because she felt like she really needed to talk. We bought our own drinks, but did stay. We spent about half an hour talking about art in Houston and how Bob’s comment about her sharing her work struck her (“He was right, I don’t create my own work”). She was great, about our age, and we ended up having a lot of the same connections. We got her email address and promised to return.

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Image/screenshot from Bob Parks advert