Community Art Sunday

I love spending gorgeous days outside. Although this Community Art Sunday centered around kids, I nourished my inner child as soon as I walked in by blowing bubbles.  At least I started off by blowing them. After a few seconds, I just held up the stick and let the strong wind do most of the work. Next stop was designing my own art advocacy postcard. My heartfelt message was far better than my so-called design: Only cool thing about that card was the juxtaposition of my finger shadows. Nonetheless, I’ve learned from experience that I can seldom go: 1, 2, 3, DRAW!  I’m much better at writing on the spot than drawing on the spot. I normally start off overly ambitious. So I drew very simply, which wasn’t at all interesting to look at, but at least I didn’t spend a lot of time drawing a hideous mess.  Of course, I had to photograph the homemade mermaid costume. Still not sure what her cause was, but I liked the effort.  Here’s another mom of the year, “holding” her son’s pet lizard while he was off playing.  Great day to hang out in the sun.  This display made my day since I’d previously thought all bees lived in hives. I’d never heard of solitary bees that made nests.  I participated in a short field trip to visit the Sustainable Food Center’s sponsored community gardens. Now, if only I had the life-giving touch to grow food or any plant for that matter. I thought I’d be more successful with a nearly indestructible plant, but it lasted about 18 months and its dead potted stem has sat on my balcony for much longer than that.

Those raised beds were for people who wanted to garden without bending over.
I discovered a few years ago that I wasn’t, in fact, allergic to bees; so, I left the tour group to go closer to the aviary. Although the glass walls may have given the bees a sense of being enclosed, there wasn’t a ceiling.  This flowered bench was my favorite and actually made me wish I could grow plants. Perhaps when I retire–if that fine day ever comes–I’ll make a sincere gardening effort. I probably would have left after the garden tour, except I’d heard a designer cake was on its way. These two cake decorators have their own TV show on Food Network. I’d love to catch a glimpse of myself in this episode, which will air some time in July. At first, I thought they had a parachuting wombat on the cake, which made no sense at all since there aren’t any calico wombats and clearly it was a parachuting cat.  I knew since the whole afternoon was dedicated to kids, I’d have to wait until they and their parents received cake first. People swarmed the table worse than bees. After a while, I noticed that people who had cake remained milling around the table. One of the women in charge of the event also realized that phenomenon and gently shooed them away. That’s when I made my move. I’d only seen one episode of their show, but the cake designers oozed passion and joy as they sliced and served their creation. I had to slow my roll just to take a picture of what I had left of my piece of cake.I asked a friend who happened to stroll by to take our picture.
Next thing I know, the TV cameras swarmed him. I would have loved it if he had broken out with one of his memorized poetry slam pieces right there on the spot. Instead, he enjoyed both the cake and frosting-covered rice Krispy while answering questions.

After dancing forro with a friend, I called it an afternoon well spent and went home to do some art on my own.

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Earth Day Celebration: Great Hills Hike 2

The first time I hiked this area with my Meetup group, we had a pretty relaxed time although the temperature was much hotter. This time around, some people actually bailed for fear of rain. The forecast was “cloudy,” which I pointed out, but not “rain.” Nonetheless, those of us who still met enjoyed the temporary cold front that brought us 68-degree weather and cool breezes. I was the only one in the group who knew it was Earth Day. Spending time in nature is a fantastic way to destress and celebrate the planet.  We crisscrossed those water crossings three times. The first two times because we ended up at the end of the trail in someone’s back yard. The third because, despite three GPSs, we managed to get lost. Each time we crossed, I made sure of my footing, especially my permanently injured left foot, which slid uncontrollably one time. At least I didn’t fall, but it hurt. At one point, our organizer suggested we take the “urban” trail, which was code for walking along the streets in the residential and commercial areas. Along the urban trail, we finally saw some wildlife. The woman who spotted the deer was a little too loud and animated when she saw them. I whipped out my camera just to capture them fleeing.

We ended up walking five miles instead of the original three miles we’d set out to do. For the first time ever, I had a copper sleeve on my left knee and ankle. Those things made the post hike recovery much more enjoyable, especially when three of us ended up at one of my favorite barbecue restaurants. The two guys wolfed down all of their food, but I had ordered enough to take some home.  I don’t usually go out to eat nor take home any leftovers; so I made the visit count and got three more meals out of it. Delicious brisket tacos!

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Haiku Death Match

As part of the 25th Austin International Poetry Festival, I hosted my first ever haiku death match. In the beginning, I was only supposed to host my own spoken word and poetry show, The Austin Writers Roulette.  Then, I accepted the offer to host and perform for as an opener for Bucolics Anonymous. Later, I agreed to host this event.

I’d half paid attention to the one haiku death match I watched over a year ago. Like a dutiful Virgo, I looked up the rules, typed them into my phone and then left my phone at home, rushing out the door to arrive at the venue early.

I had two different plans in mind just in case I had a slew of participants or if I hardly had any participants. For the former case, I’d have two poets read one haiku each and have the judges vote one of the pair off the stage in a sudden elimination round. Then when I got to the next round, with hopefully no more than 4 poets, I’d allow them to read more than one in the round to allow the judges to award 1st through 3rd place.  The only female participant, Ailana Larson, signed up first. Followed by Marsh Muirhead, then the host from the previous AIPF event, Chip Ross. Just when I thought the judges, who were not associated with the festival, had to merely distinguish places among the three poets, a fourth poet threw his monkey wrench into the ring. Steve Kocen wrote all five of his haikus moments before the competition.

In the meantime, I rounded up four chairs and put them on stage. Once both Chip and Steve had finished their poems, I invited the poets to be seated on stage. First, I introduced them. Then I explained the rules: read one haiku per round for five rounds; then, I’d gather the judges and we’d discuss the order of the winners. One thing I failed to mention, because I hadn’t read it in any of the rules, was that each poet would read his/her haiku twice. I guess that’s common sense, but not for me! I’m more of a limerick and free verse kind of poet.After five rounds…our fourth place winner was Steve Kocen. Now, I’d just so happen to have brought with me some Peace Corps posters, bookmarks and stickers.  As a matter of fact, I’d given both Ailana and Marsh stickers for being prepared and the judges bookmarks and stickers for participating as judges. So, it was only fitting that I gave Steve a poster. Our third place winner was Ailana Larson. She received her medal, certificate and trophy. Our second place winner received his bling and even gifted me one of his books of haiku. Then, an amazed Chip Ross received his first place bling.

Now that I have successfully hosted my first haiku death match, I suspect I’ll be asked to do that again unless someone else has a burning desire to do so!

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Capitalism Trumps the Handicapped

At the end of a shitty week, all I looked forward to was happy hour with a good friend at one of our favorite local Mexican restaurants. Cars had already filled the tiny parking lot. As I drove up to the handicapped parking spaces, my bad mood worsened.

A long plastic table occupied a handicapped space. I caught the eye of a woman who had set up a similar looking table across from the table that illegally blocked the handicapped space. I pointed to my handicap placard and pointed at the table as if that nonverbal communication would convey to her to move the damn table out of my way. Her attention returned to her wares.

I sat there fuming and brainstorming several scenarios, including getting out of my car to push the table out of my way when a couple, who were parked two spaces down from the violated space, left. Although my immediate situation had been remedied, the battle had not been won.

As I approached the restaurant, I whipped out my phone and took several pictures. When the hostess greeted me, I told her that I needed to see a manager about the vendor table in the handicapped parking space. She looked confused. Fortunately for the both of us, my friend had already arrived at the restaurant and intervened. I breathed deeply, actually proud of myself for not yelling. The hostess attempted again to engage me into the conversation of how big our party was. I turned my back to her while my friend answered.

We ended up on the patio, in the shade, where, if I’d just turned my head 90 degrees to the left, I could see the capitalist fucking over every handicapped person who may have wanted that parking space. So, I chose not to do that.

One thing I realize about myself is that I have to work on being more empathetic. At the very least, I didn’t want to sabotage our happy hour. So, I stewed in my own angry juices while asking my friend how she’d been since I’d last seen her. I calmed down by focusing on her. And truly she was a good friend, since she’d texted me before I’d arrived, a warning about the handicapped space. I just hadn’t read it in time.

After a few sips of the creamiest coconut margarita ever, I articulated the bias society has against those of us who are “permanently handicapped” and ambulatory. No one can see the metal pins in my left ankle. Or how I sit with my left foot propped up most of the time when I’m at home. Or how I wear copper sleeves on my left knee and ankle while I sleep. Or make a batch of turmeric pills periodically so I can take two every morning. Or go to yoga four times a week to work on my uneven, tight hips, creaky knee and metal-enhanced ankle. Or how I’ll never again walk up or down a flight of stairs without holding onto the railing even if I also need to carry things. I’d much rather make two trips than suffer another serious fall as I have in the past.

Instead of dwelling on the things I have to do not to appear permanently handicapped, I pursue happiness with as little limping as possible. So, I slowly walked away, minding my own business one day while some random guy in the parking lot kept yelling at me, “You ain’t handicapped! You ain’t handicapped!”

And I guess I should be happy that he couldn’t detect that I was. That I am.

What I try to project is strength because that matches my personality. Yet I respect my physical limitations even though I attempt to shift those boundaries just like any other thing that’s not governed by an immutable law of physics.

My friend and I enjoyed our dinner, talking each other off the ledge, venting about our jobs. Another friend joined us an hour later, bringing her own wonderful energy. At the end of dinner, I asked for the check and the manager.

With a civil tone, I told the manager that his restaurant was one of my favorites and I had been going there since 2004. Then I pointed out my car, the one with the handicap placard. Next, I pointed 90 degrees to my left. I explained to him that the woman who’d set up in the handicapped parking space to sell things was committing a crime. Also, I wanted to give him a heads up since I’d taken pictures and would report the incident. He said he hadn’t realized the situation, but would talk to the restaurant owner.

Now, I’m not going to stake out the restaurant, but I’ve researched and reported the incident, via email, to 311 complete with pictures. I hope that’s all it takes. My intention isn’t to shut down the restaurant or sue, but to ensure that other handicapped patrons of that restaurant have access to those designated spaces. It’s not enough to have handicapped parking if there’s no access.

Besides, it’s my civic duty to speak up, just like voting and paying for my financial obligations. Many handicapped people have fought to be treated as first class citizens just like black people and women. They all fought so people like me can be autonomous. I’m not going to suffer in silence nor shirk my responsibility. I’ll police those rights.

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Greenbelt Hike

Originally I’d planned to join other hikers/walkers from a Meetup group at the tail end of the Green belt.  Then, out of nowhere, a filmmaker friend came along with the SXSW swell.  Just so happen that the only mutual free time we had was the hours before my planned hike. Of course, I invited him along.

Since I didn’t want to be late for the hike, I messaged my out-of-town friend that I’d pick him up at 3 PM. Then I texted him that I was on my way. So, when I arrived and he announced, “Oh, I forgot you were coming,” in a hazy, post inebriation fog, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I parked myself on his friend’s sofa as he got himself together, which required showering away the partying- until-6-AM funk.

Miraculously, he didn’t take as long as I thought and traffic wasn’t as heavy as I’d suspected. Even after stopping so he could get two bottles of water for the hike, we were still an hour early for the group hike. I made the executive decision to send a message to the organizer that I’d started an hour early with a friend. Then we descended into the Greenbelt.

Gravity pulled us down the loose gravel and jutting rock trail. After about 15 minutes, we heard the ambient sound of rushing water even though we couldn’t see a body of water yet. Once the sound became louder, we veered off to the right on a side path  and came upon a small waterfall.
With my hiking Meetup group, we would’ve continued for two miles and trekked back two miles.  Instead, I posed for a few pictures and we parked ourselves on a rock and just enjoyed nature and caught up for a while until I was ready for dinner. As I suspected, the walk back took twice as long although it’s always safer to walk uphill than downhill.

We came across the Meetup group who hadn’t descended yet and I greeted the organizer. He hadn’t read my message yet, but at least I was accounted for. We dashed down the street to my car and off to eat brisket and creamed corn.

Since barbecue varies with every region, even within Texas, my friend thoroughly enjoyed the brisket. For a change of pace, I’d also ordered spicy chopped barbecue since I’d never tried it in all the time I’d gone to that restaurant. That turned out to be his favorite.

Definitely time well spent since I hung out with him, hiked in a beautiful park, ate delicious barbecue and took home the leftovers!

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Staying on the Right Side of Natural Selection

It’s convenient to be an artist when you’re strapped for cash. Not to live up to the cliché of the poor, starving artist, but because it’s a bonus to be creative when dollars don’t stretch to the end of the month. Nothing gets me in hustle mode like nearly running out of money.

Only people with money can afford to say that money doesn’t buy happiness. The peace of mind that comes with a great night’s sleep in a warm bed, in a home where there’s food in the fridge—all those things cost money and contribute to happiness.

One thing you have to do to remain on the right side of natural selection is expand your money-making skill. You have to possess a skill for which someone, somewhere will compensate you.

Wait, did I say “skill”? I meant to say “skills”! You don’t want to be a one-trick pony. Just like a species can only survive a drastic environmental change if there’s genetic diversity across the population, an individual must be able to adapt and respond to changing circumstances. Taking too long to learn a new skill is tantamount to being the weak one in the herd that a predator picks off. Having a varied range of hobbies and reading across disciplines are the best ways to make sure you’re always exploring new things because you never know when your main money-making avenue will be blocked. As we Black Baptists are fond of saying, “When life closes a door, God opens a window.”

Regardless of your religious background, you’ve got to be ready to exit out of the window in a moment’s notice. Preferably with a plan. If you don’t have a plan, then you’d better have a range of skills. If you claim, like some of my adult Korean ELS students claimed, that your part of your skill set is drinking or sleeping, you’re going extinct.

What we call “safe zones” are illusions, based on mutually agreed upon set of circumstances that we thrive to live under. Even when we find ourselves among people who have common interests, we don’t really know where those landmines and agendas are until we’ve stumbled onto them. We navigate through those interactions as part of our survival because we never know when such occasions will escalate into a “stand your ground” moment.

You have to be vigilant. If you’re not paying attention, you’re never going see shit coming. And don’t dismiss the weird vibe you get from another person. That’s your primitive instincts kicking in. I’m all for civilization and civilized ways of doing things, but people will let you know who they are even if they don’t announce it in a common tongue.

Speaking of civilization, places where you can always count on a breakdown of civility are in a parking garages, parking lots, and rush hour traffic. Fairly intelligent people walk right in front of moving cars as if they’re made of bumpers. Drivers furiously compete for parking spaces or a faster lane as if they were scarce life-or-death resources. Cars are driven around as if they are weapons-grade hummers or jet fighters. How many times have we wished we had missiles to blast the slow-moving-for-no-apparent-reason asshole out of our way? Or suddenly flip a switch and transform our vehicle into a flying machine to break out of the stagnant chain of traffic?

In general, it’s best to avoid stagnation, especially when all you have to do is learn a new trick. After all, no one wants to be that old dog who can’t be taught a new trick. A new trick worth learning, that is! Not all tricks are created equal; so, another way to stay on the winning side is to prioritize which new tricks you’re going to learn. After all, why put any effort into accelerating your own demise, providing it’s survival you’re after.

The under resourced only have but two choices: A or Not A.  There is no B. Those lacking resources only have Not A. They are the Have Nots. When the thing you have in abundance is nothing, then you’re desperate for anything. For the prepared survivalist, the situation represents a chance to jump out of the window of opportunity.





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Unbound & Reincarnated Opening reception

When I read the description of this art opening, I had to attend.  Every single work of art was, in some shape or form, repurposed from the printed word. These portraits were printed upon book pages. Another artist had placed 256 words atop the head of nails and fixed them with resin, then bound the nails together. This batch contained English words. These Spanish nails had the same 256 words. I would’ve loved to have spoken to this artist who made the erasure poems. I’ve never seen someone transform found objects and turn them into poetry.  The young male-oriented conservative text was turned on its ear. This one reads: “To get somewhere, you’ve got to be willing to give up.”And this one reads: “By taking advantage of others, you will get a real thrill.”

Part of the reason this collection drew me in was due to my yearlong project to repurpose a vocabulary-building book as an upcoming Christmas gift for one of my nephews. Of course, I had my work-in-progress in my purse.  I shared the motivation behind its creation and allowed others to peruse what I’d come up with so far. Most seemed fascinated that I’d cut out so many “cheesecake shots,” as one woman referred to the gentleman magazine pictures of women. When I showed the curator of the gallery collection my work, she enthusiastically agreed she’d take the 12 magazines that I’d cut the pictures from. I returned the next day to donate them since she sponsored a creative room for people to repurpose print material.

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Graffiti Park

I met other members of the Art Hikes Meetup at the HOPE (Helping Out People Everywhere) Outdoor Gallery AKA Graffiti Park.  I’d seen pictures of this park and even footage of it in a participatory work at the Austin Short Film Festival a few years ago, but I had no idea it was merely a block west of S. Lamar, near Whole Earth Provisions. The place oozed a youthful, creative vibe with a range of spray can talent.  If there was anything one considered a masterpiece, the best course of action would have been to take a picture. Definitely a strong lesson in nothing lasts forever. Enjoy the moment while you have it. Despite being outside, a hazy spray can paint fog enveloped the park. I kept walking through the fog to find fleeting pockets of fresh air.Even knowing the resilience of plants, I still felt bad for the grafittied plant, which needed an unpainted surface to photosynthesize.
Among the littered ground, I found a tiny gold ring. We all assumed it must have belonged to a little girl since it barely fit on my pinkie on my non dominant hand. I told the other Meetup members in jest that this was the way to be married–not live with one’s spouse! As it turned out, after several hand washings, the golden paint wore off the metal after two weeks. Pretty symbolic of most of my romantic relationships with the exception that the ring lasted longer.
The park was launched in 2011 with the intention of being a temporary installation where artists of all stripes could express themselves.My group speculated about the concrete structures that served as the canvas. To me, it looked like a construction site ran out of money. What I’ve since read online is that it was the remaining foundation of an old building that HOPE, a group dedicated to bringing attention to the turmoil in the Sudan, repurposed. As much as I enjoyed the views, I was amazed at how many parents allowed their small kids to wander around without holding their hands. The teacher in me became especially nervous when one teenaged girl stood on the ledge while her friend posed like she was pushing her over the edge.  The view from the park revealed the city of Austin as I knew it. Even the view above the park seemed surreal as if the foundations of a castle lay in the graffitied creative energy of the people.And no visit to the park would be complete without a classic shot of Castlehill, which serves as everyone’s reference point of how to find the urban stylish park.

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2017 Austin People’s Gallery Reception

Being a part of the 2017 Austin People’s Gallery became real to me when I drove up to city hall and saw the line out of the building. I arrived 30 minutes late, or “on time,” according to some cultures, but I found two yoga friends already in line. The security check had created the line. A guard came out, passing plastic bowls, so guys could empty their pockets. He informed us women we could keep our jewelry on. One of my friends confessed to having a pocket knife. When the guard asked how big it was, she whipped it out to show him and he told her it was OK.  I just laughed and asked the people behind us, who’d witnessed the exchange, if they felt safe. 
As befitting “The Live Music Capital of the World,” a musician performed near the entrance. Two large screens flanked either side of the “stage area.” Once my picture flashed, I realized I’d worn the exact outfit as in my picture, making it appear that I only had one nice dress for an evening. I received my name tag, which included the number of my painting and the booklet that included a layout of all the artwork along with an artist index.  The mayor told us a funny story about the architect who’d designed city hall and had liked the stone walls so much, he didn’t want anything to hang on them. So much for that! We slowly ascended to the second floor, appreciating all the other work along the way  while heading to my painting.  The design of the office space isolated my painting away from the other work. The people who placed my painting there did me a solid. So much good work was displayed that my painting could have easily looked shabby adjacent to a real painter’s work.  One of my friends teased me about having the title of my book in the painting’s title, but the real question is, why would I waste such an opportunity by not advertising my book? As a matter of fact, I think I could have been clearer that this painting illustrated a book. Probably better not to have gone overboard with the self-promotion. I hope Mayor Pro-Tem Tovo gets lots of visitors to her office. After the reception, I called my father, an avid lottery player, to give him a pick-3 and a pick-4: 089 and 2121.  As soon as I saw Redd Foxx, I started singing the “Sanford and Son” theme song. The blurb stated this was how he’d look when he finally joined Elizabeth.This mosaic exuded richness and complexity in its design, but such simplicity in the suggestion of her face.
I didn’t bother to read the artist’s blurb for this work. I just figured these politicians should be paddled for the transgressions  shown below their image.
Since my long-term 2017 project is repurposing a dictionary for one of my nephews, I loved how this book had been incorporated into this contraption.Among my friends and I, most of us saw the big picture of the guy, whereas one friend had zoomed into the tiny toys that created this mosaic. The 3-D pieces added more shadow and depth than my camera phone captured.

After attending this reception, I truly wanted to start another painting although I didn’t have the schedule to take on any new projects.  Once the weather turns consistently warmer and the daylight lasts longer, I’ll have more incentive to put paint to canvas.

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Stonehenge II

A 2/3 replica of Stonehenge exists a mere two hours outside of Austin. Yet, the first structure to greet our adventurous Meetup group was a Moai.We’d all piled into the organizer’s Honda Fit and rode comfortably to the location. For a group of strangers, we gelled quite well politically, which was good because the car was packed and there wouldn’t have been anywhere to hide!
Hard to believe that the real Stonehenge is 1/3 bigger than this replica since, at least in my mind, they tower like mountains in all the pictures I’ve seen. I would’ve loved to have heard more about the speculated use of Stonehenge on a guided tour at this scaled down version.Our organizer, a Texas history buff, kept us well entertained on the drive there and back, but we all scattered to explore the destination grounds individually. Besides arithmetic, I love algebra and geometry.  The aesthetically and mathematically arranged stones, together with their shape,  made this such a peaceful place to visit. I imagined attending a spoken word/storytelling event in that beautiful space. Even the Moai inspired me to ponder dialogue I’d write for them. The outdoor theatre surprised me. I’d seen the indoor theatre on my way to the bathroom, but that outdoor one took advantage of the beautiful surroundings. As much as this creative compound offered, an art gallery and a facility for workshops and classes shared the space. Not only was the ladle tree shiny, but it moved in two directions, which looked fascinating when it got going. I didn’t see a description for this woman, but I felt she projected melancholy, given the lack of rain. Sight on seen, I liked the blue wine bottles since I’m a red-wine wino, myself! Then I read the description. I’d never heard of this Congolese tradition of trapping evil spirits near graveyards into bottles. 

I had actually expected to eat lunch before we’d visited the site; so I was too ready for this restaurant!  I should’ve heeded the banner advertising “Puffy Tacos.” I ordered the sampler plate, which included one mouth-watering puffy taco, but honestly, everything was delicious, including the margarita and lively conversation. Apparently, I’d obsessed about food and hunger too much to notice the model car collection at the register near the front door. We rode into the sunset, heading back to Austin. That day trip was just what the doctor ordered as far as mitigating my February blues.

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