Finding hope in the dark, the mountains, and art

Hope in the dark

I’ve been writing and deleting, setting aside and picking up this post over the past few months, choking on rage as I did so. Every time I tried to return to it to make a coherent point about the political state of things there was more violence to account for, more things to make sense of. Tragedy after tragedy, hurt after hurt has been piling on. I spent most of my days feeling reactionary, emotionally frayed and deeply sad. I started to pick fights about things that did not matter.

I tried to craft a deeply angry but intellectually developed piece in response to the sexual violence women face as part of their daily lives after the Brock Turner case. Then in response to the brutal attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And then after police have took the lives of more Black people (again). And then after ongoing violent attacks by religious extremists all over the world.

Some of my friends on my social media feeds tried to stay positive, saying “Now is the time we can heal, now is the time we can address these injustices,” or, “At least all this ugliness is out in the open and taken more seriously as injustice.” And as communities who care about social justice we march, we cry, we grieve, we raise our voices, we nurture our communities, but the sheer helplessness I felt when seeing these acts of violence occur over and over rubbed like raw heartbreak.

I kept asking myself, “What will really make power budge? What will effect impactful change?” It’s the same question I’ve been asking myself, and my friends, and my teachers, and all those who are smarter and have lived fuller lives than me, for over twenty years.

In my teens and early twenties I had enough of an ego to think that by sheer force of will I could help change the world. I desperately wanted to see a world free of racism, sexism and homophobia, that had shaken off the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism. I still do. Of course I didn’t understand how long change takes, that it’s incremental and part of thousands of small steps. I also didn’t understand how reactionary and fearful those in power (even after I read all those post-colonial studies texts in college) can be and how they will hold on to what little power they have for as long as they can.

Twilight at azule

I was weighed down by my own hopelessness and found that I was practicing hopelessness as a defense against more heartbreak and disappointment. I thought that being hopeless would protect me, not realizing I had the luxury to be hopeless because it gave me a reason to hide behind my privilege as a white, upper middle class person.

And then I read this line, “Activism isn’t reliable. It isn’t fast. It isn’t direct either, most of the time, even though the term direct action is used for that confrontation in the streets, those encounters involving law breaking and civil disobedience.” Oh. Right.

Mountain view

These words were in “Hope in the Dark,” Rebecca Solnit’s book from 2005 (re-released this year). She goes on to make the case for hope as a more radical act than despair to read while I was on a solo trip in the California desert this winter. I didn’t get to it then. I finally started to read in August during a week-long artist’s residency held deep in the mountains of North Carolina. On the suggestion of my friend Elisa I signed up for the CAMP residency, a week long collaborative art and community-oriented project designed for artists who need time, space and to be around those of different disciplines and ideas to create their work.


This year CAMP was held at Azule, an incredible house designed by a visionary artist named Camille who imagined it as a healing, creative space, with a strong under current of social justice. It was exactly what I needed. After so much heaviness and stress having the time to re-find my own creative focus felt liberating. I spent the week writing, debating, thinking, dying cotton indigo and casting my fingers in plaster, hiking a section of the Appalachian trail, and scrambling barefoot down a steep muddy bank to a swimming hole, eating together meals prepared with local ingredients and a lot of panache and love. And reading.

Indigo dye

I usually read nonfiction with a pencil so I can underline the really good passages, but I failed to keep a pencil with me as I wandered around Azul picking corners on the deck or sagging arm chairs in the living room to flop down and read, so I just dogeared pages with passages that stood out to me.

But I actually set down my book and went in search of a pencil to underline this one, “Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place.”

Swimmin hole

Solnit illustrates, though her heady mix of history, personal story, and political analysis, that to have hope is a radical act. To keep to a far-sighted vision for change and have the audacity to believe it can happen can take decades or centuries. Or it can take a month, but when when change arrives, radical struggles to achieve it are mostly erased and those in power act like it has always been such. “Thought becomes action becomes the order of things, but no straight road takes you there.”


As I read I thought about how much the world has changed in the decade since she originally wrote this book (Obama had barely started his Presidential campaign, gay marriage was not legal just being two huge examples) and I started to think about activism and my role in social justice differently. I started to despair less. However, change does feel incremental and slow when injustices like police violence against communities of color and constant sexual violence against women and queer people are right there and so blatant.

I started to realize the power of being around art and artists, those who are critical and make work to disrupt the status quo, the power of being in a place explicitly created to foster discussion, possibility, community and change – in short, hope. I spent so much of my twenties proclaiming “Art is activism!” and trying to use art as a lens for transformation that I lost my own personal connection to it. It getting closer to art, in delving into my own practice and others, I started to connect with the idea of hope, and activism, again.

Eating dinner together

Having hope does not mean that injustice does not make me angry and reconnecting to my activist flame (as opposed to the very critical but very cynical attitude I have carried around lately) does not erase my privilege. In my rage I ask, how do we not give into exhaustion and despair and instead support each other knowing the struggle for justice is long, knowing that we will be discredited by mainstream power, but knowing that is is worth it for a more equitable world? How do we think productively about power and privilege and how we occupy them and act as allies to each other? These questions are rhetorical -we make our lives and a better world by the connections we build with each other while we explore them. We make our lives in trying out different answers. We make our lives knowing we have to be in this together and it’s up to us to figure out how things can be different.

Walking path

Solnit as a writer is always there to guide and remind me. In her words, “Resistance is usually portrayed as duty, but it can be a pleasure, an education, a revelation.”

Return of the Zine!

Indulgence 11 CoverBefore I was a world famous blogger and these musings on my life, clothes, travels, and writing were read by millions (or at least by my mom, hi mom!), I poured by personal writing out into a small, handmade publication called Indulgence. I started Indulgence a shocking 15 years ago, in 1998, while I was still in high school and living with my parents outside of Portland, Maine.

The name was inspired by one of my high school English teacher’s snide comments about personal writing – that it was nothing but self-indulgence, as a way to mock that sentiment (I think personal writing is vitally important), carve out a space for my writing, and at the same time, not take myself too seriously.


Over the years and issues Indulgence has been a place for me to experiment with form, voice, storytelling and risk taking. I came out as queer in its pages in the second issue, did a lot of soul searching about what it meant to move to New York right before September 11th and experience its aftermath in the 7th and 8th, endlessly analyzed my relationship to race as a white woman in the 9th, and recorded the heartache of a New York to Paris love affair in the 10th. Finally, nearly 5 years after issues #10, I finished issue #11.

Even though the zine was dormant for five years, I never stopped identifying as a “zinester” (I certainly relate to it more than being a blogger) or speaking of Indulgence as an active publication. I met my closest friends through writing and trading zines in the late 1990s and early 2000s and am still constantly inspired by zine culture. My experiences organizing zine events, like the Portland Zine Symposium, were a big part of what inspired me to write my first book, Grow. I was even quoted extensively in the New York Times about zine culture in reference to the recent Brooklyn Zine Fest!

However, I felt like all my interesting personal stories had dried up. I was discussing this with Golnar and Mimi after watching a reading during the Race Riot Zine Tour (both of these rad ladies are in their 30s, super smart academics and still make kick ass zines, by the way) and Golnar’s comment gave me the kick in the pants I needed to make a new issue. “My life is way more interesting than it was when I was 17,” she said, “And I still wrote about my life then, so why not now?”

Working on Indulgence #11 at the IPRC

Working on Indulgence #11 at the IPRC

Right, of course. So Indulgence #11 is my way to coax myself back into personal storytelling. I can’t help but feel like the writing is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a zine after all.

This issue brought my zine making full circle. I laid it out over the course of two days in Portland, Oregon at the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s brand new space (I spent hours at the old, cramped IPRC back in the day making Indulgence issues #5 through #9). When I brought it, hot off the presses, to the Brooklyn Zine Fest a big group of my zine pals from the late 1990s showed up!

My table at the 2013 Brooklyn Zine Fest

My table at the 2013 Brooklyn Zine Fest

So after all of that, I’m really excited to share this new issue with you. It felt good to get gluestick glue all over my fingers again (despite my love of a clean, minimal layout, I will always prefer to do an old fashioned paste-up to a newfangled InDesign layout) and start to put some thoughts and feelings on the page. It’s 28 little pages of stories about music and life in New York City, line drawings, and infographics that try to grasp at the relationship between career, love and money. All in a hand printed cover lovingly stitched together by my own hands. You don’t quite find that kind of love on a blog, right?

You can have your copy for just $3 plus shipping (or a trade). You can order it here!

Introducing the Grow book trailer and fundraising campaign!

I’m so excited to share this trailer for my book Grow: How to take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job! with you. The animation was created by the talented Mackenzie Katz and it lays out the passions, ideas and experiences that drove me to write Grow. It also highlights what I hope to achieve with this project, from helping creative people clarify their vision and build their own sustainable path to success to working together to build an economy that is supportive of creative businesses and careers of all types.

This book trailer is being released in conjunction with a crowd funding campaign on to support the production and promotion of Grow. Grow is about building DIY community and your participation during this campaign will enable me to develop and present workshops with other DIY entrepreneurs all over North America to help creative people strengthen and sustain their ideas and businesses.

The campaign is a great time to pre-order Grow and pick up other fabulous titles from the book’s publishers, Cantankerous Titles and Microcosm Publishing, as well as rewards handmade by me, including a special, new issue of my personal zine Indulgence that will only be available to campaign supporters.

You can watch the video, peruse the campaign, learn about all the fabulous rewards, and make a contribution here.

We have until April 1 to reach our $7,000 goal and hope to build as much support as we can in the early days.

Thank you in advance for your support of DIY creativity and for spreading the word about how others can get involved in the growth of the Grow project! The ideas, inspiration, and support I have received from the DIY community has sustained me over the years and I continue to be buoyed by all that my community offers me. Thank you for your attention and support!

GO See Art in Brooklyn This Weekend!

As some of you know, for the past few months I’ve been working on GO, a borough-wide, community-curated open studio event organized by the Brooklyn Museum. After months of planning, preparation and outreach the open studio weekend is upon us! This Saturday and Sunday, September 8th and 9th, over 1,700 artists with studios all over Brooklyn will open their doors to you from 11 am to 7 pm.  I am so excited about GO because it showcases the diversity of artistic talent that Brooklyn has to offer. It also gives viewers the chance to see art in places they never knew artists were working, whether that’s under their nose in their own neighborhood or farther afield.

I’ve been working as the neighborhood coordinator for my beloved neighborhood, Sunset Park, where 160 artists will open their studios! I knew artists worked in the neighborhood, but I’ve been so pleased about just how many artists there are and how many want to participate in GO. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to think about how we can continue to promote art in Sunset Park as a group and our first small step is a Tumblr page, Sunset Park Artists, for participating artists to share images of new work and work in progress. There’s also two fantastic nonprofits, Chashama and the New York Art Residency and Studio Foundation that offer artists affordable studio space, and many artists with studios in these buildings are participating. I’ve also put together a Sunset Park guide of places to eat and hang out before, after or during seeing studios. Why not make a weekend out of coming to Sunset Park? All of these sites give you a little taste of what you will find here in the neighborhood!

To learn more about participating in GO as a viewer and voter, search neighborhoods and explore the profiles participating artists visit If you want more information about Sunset Park artists stop by the Green Fig Cafe on Saturday or Sunday between 11 and 3 and I’ll give you all the information you need to get out and see art. See you in the studios!

Hey, Brooklyn! Let’s GO see art!

I’m really excited to tell you about a great, new project that I’m involved in. The Brooklyn Museum, my favorite museum in the world, has launched GO, a community-curated, open studio event.  During GO, Brooklyn-based artists are asked to open their studios to the community on September 8–9, 2012. Community members registered as voters will visit studios and nominate artists for inclusion in a group exhibition to open at the Museum on Target First Saturday, December 1, 2012.

GO brings together so many of my favorite things: contemporary art, the Brooklyn art scene, social media, and the cultural life of the borough. Knowing that Brooklyn is a huge borough with 71 square miles and 67 different neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Museum is working with 22 neighborhood coordinators to help get the word out. I’m serving as a neighborhood coordinator for my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, Sunset Park. If you see a redhead taking up posters or distributing GO postcards along 5th avenue or down in the industrial waterfront, that just might be me! You can meet the different coordinators, learn about art highlights in different neighborhoods, and learn more about the GO project on the very lively GO tumblr.

If you are artist with a studio in Brooklyn you have until June 29 to register to participate in the open studio weekend. You can find out more  and register on the GO website. If you don’t have a studio, but want to go see art in Brooklyn on September 8th and 9th, mark your calendar! Registration for voters opens August 1st.

Introducing the Creative Money Maker

Even if you read this blog regularly you might not know (yet) that I have a secret life as a arts administrator with a love of numbers, finance and fundraising. A girl has to pay for those shoes somehow! Over the years I’ve gained a whole bunch of skills when it comes to combining creativity with logic and strategic planning, especially around money. So, it is with great pleasure that I announce the debut of my bi-monthly column for the DIY Business Association, the Creative Money Maker, which will be full of financial advice that feels good for creative people.

If you are a creative person who wants to make a living at your creation and there’s a part of you that wants to run away screaming as soon as you hear the words “finance” or “money” this column is for you!

Read my first column: Dear creative person: It is time to shift your thinking about money about how financial empowerment is creative empowerment and please join the conversation!

Also, spend some time checking out the rest of the DIY Business Association’s website. It is run by the ever-inspiring Amy Cuevas Schroeder, who was also the mastermind behind Venus Zine, and is full of advice for creative people in all fields interested in (or in the process of) nurturing a micro-business.

Arts, Forward!

Walker Teen Art Council, 2009-2010. Photo Cameron Wittig.

Since graduating from college I have made my career in arts institutions. I’ve worked as a museum educator, public programmer, and now work to support artists in their fund raising and teaching artists about services and resources that can help them grow their practice. In my studies I’ve focused on the arts in the realm of cultural and social policy and thought about the kind of quantitative research that can be applied to arts organizations to better understand and articulate the value of arts and culture in society.  I’m excited to announce that for the next few months about I will be blogging about some of these topics as a blogging fellow on the new website ArtsFwd. ArtsFwd examines innovative practices in arts leadership and is a really exciting place for sharing ideas and about adaptive strategies to create dynamic change in the arts sector and move it, well, forward.

Artist Marie Watt gives a talk at Crow's Shadow

My first piece explored arts leadership in rural areas, which features Melissa Bob, the new Interim Executive Director of Crow’s Shadow Institute outside of Pendleton, Oregon.  My second piece profiles the Teen Arts Council blog at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and shares some fantastic ideas of how arts organizations can effectively engage teens and honor their voices in an arts institution.  I hope you’ll check these out and join us in the conversation! There’s a lot more innovation to come from ArtsFwd, and we’d love your input!