Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Girls Want Superheroes, Too

Right on, Riley. To read an article of Riley's awesome rant on marketing,
click here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Treats: Sarah O'Holla

Introducing children's librarian,  YA novelist, and the blogger mastermind behind Desirous of Everything, Sarah O'Holla. I have the pleasure of working with Sarah, but since we are separated by three floors and two worlds (since she works in academics and I work in admin) I read her blog more often than I actually get to spend time with Sarah. But her blog is very inspirational, especially for writers, which makes me feel like I see her a lot more.

We recently just had a book fair at our school and seeing Sarah in action (along with fellow librarians) was amazing. She has a wealth of knowledge on YA novels and children's literature. Give her an age, describe a kid and she has the perfect recommendations. I asked Sarah if she felt her work as a librarian helped fuel her writing and her answer was an enthusiastic, "Yes! It is the best day job that a YA writer could ever dream for!" She elaborated by saying, "A big part of my job description is to read books so that I can recommend them to kids. But this is also so helpful to me as a writer. I am constantly shocked when I meet aspiring children's or YA writers that don't read children's or YA books. And I mean read a ton of them, not just remembering loving Judy Blume as a kid."

Sarah has two completed manuscripts which she is currently shopping around through her agent Marissa Walsh, represented by Fine Print Lit(*Please note that Marissa is not currently accepting submissions, but there are several agents part of the Fine Print agency) Sarah had the great fortune of meeting her agent in a Gotham Writers Workshop. (Note to all writers, if you meet your agent IN a writing class, chances are they have fantastic sensibilities!) I asked Sarah about her working relationship with her agent. I know a handful of writers who have actually acquired agents and I'm always fascinated by the dynamics of these relationships. About Marissa, Sarah said, "I am lucky enough to have found a literary agent who gets me, and my writing and believes in me-that's a big one for this writer's fragile ego." I asked Sarah about the dreaded topic of "rejection." Sarah said, "I have an arsenal of rejection letters...And a lot of them, are 'really  good' rejections, as in really encouraging. Sometimes this still makes me really bummed, but here's what I try to remind myself: I may not be a published writer, but I have had editors read my work - that's a big accomplishment!" This is why I read Sarah's blog. She exudes positivity. She ended that question with, "Someday I will be published but only if I never give up. This is what keeps me writing. That and the fact that there just must be some crazy thing about me that has to write. I kind of don't have a choice about it." Ah yes, the writer's creed.

And what are her stories, you might ask? Currently, Sarah has a tween novel about band camp out with editors right now. Sarah admitted, "Yes, I went to band camp, I was in the color guard!" She has been advised not to share snippets from her manuscripts that are out around town, however she did share a snippet of her Work-In-Progress, a young adult novel about a teenage girl (obsessed with Emily Dickinson) who starts cutting after her sister goes to rehab for alcoholism. (This of course would make me drool as an adolescent who once carried around copies of Go Ask Alice and Catcher In The RyeWhat can I say about Sarah's writing other than, the girl's got range! Here's a sneak peak at her WIP:

Even though Livy, Suzanna and I had been going to these parties for a while now, it was pretty weird how I didn’t really know anyone new yet.  Suzanna and I would always find a spot around the kitchen counter where people were constantly coming and going, looking for more booze or snacks or to see if they’d left their pack of cigarettes on the table.  And we didn’t really have to talk to anyone but each other.  I liked it this way.  We were allowed to be here, we belonged and we could still just be ourselves.  
For a rare moment, I was alone.  Suzanna had gotten up to watch some Youtube video and I was just waiting for her to come back.  I’d had my fare share of “people falling down so we could laugh at them” videos.  As I sat alone in the noisy crowded house, I noticed how the light in Mags’ kitchen always had a greenish tint to it, and wondered what her mother was like.
         “Becca, your sister’s been in the bathroom for a while,” Mags said to me, looking up the stairs.  “Maybe you should…”
I knew Mags wasn’t being a bitch, but I saw eyes around the room locking with one another, and I stared at her cold before I stood up.
As I climbed the stairs, I rubbed my eyes with my hands before knocking on the bathroom door.  When did I become so old feeling?
“Liv?  You okay?”
“Becca?” Her voice sounded bright and slurred and confused at the same time.  Just like a little kid’s.  But a sick little kid, rather than a drunk one.
I opened the door.  Livy was sitting on the toilet with all of her clothes still on and I noticed a wet stain on her jeans.  Her eyes were halfway closed and she was resting her head on the wall next to the toilet.
“I’m just so sleepy,” she said.  
“Yeah, it’s late, let’s go home.”  Somehow I managed to get her to stand up with my arm around her waist, but when we got to the stairs I knew we were in trouble.  
“No, let’s just go to sleep here,” she said, and I was losing my grip as she started to try and lay down.
“Suzanna,” I started to call down the stairs.  By now she must have noticed that we were both MIA.
“I don’t even need a pillow,” Livy whispered into my ear and this time I yelled louder.
 “Suzanna!”  Jake Seibert walked by the stairs and looked up at us.  “Could you find Suzanna for me?” I asked.  
“Jesus, Livy,” he said and started snickering.
“Hi Jakey,” she called down.
“Jake,” I said, “Now.” He walked away.   “Come on Livy, one step at a time,” I said, but then Suzanna was there, bounding up to me two steps at a time.
“She was in the bathroom again,” I said as Suzanna put her arm under Livy’s other shoulder and we carried her down.  
“Hi Suzanna, you look so handsome,” Livy said.
“Hi Livy,” Suzanna said, running her hands through her short hair.  Suzanna loved Livy almost as much as I did.  And I knew that compliment was going straight to her head, even though she was well aware of how drunk Livy was.
By the time we made it downstairs and out the door, the party was still in full swing.  No one said goodbye, or even noticed we left.
Even though it was May and warm during the day, at night it was cold.  But I couldn’t stop to zip up my hoodie as we crossed pleasant street and headed around the corner without risking losing my grip on Livy.
“Funny how this walk seems so short when you’re not carrying a dead person,” Suzanna said and then grimaced.  I know she was being funny, but it almost did feel like Livy was dying, and I didn’t really want to think about that. I forced a “ha” anyway.
“Party on!” a drunk college kid called out to us as he stumbled by with a red plastic cup in his hand.
“Yeah,” Suzanna yelled back at him, dead pan sarcastically, and I genuinely laughed at this.
“Pathetic,” I said.  I guess when you didn’t grow up in a college town, partying was a bigger deal.  Livy, Suzanna and I had seen drunk twenty somethings stumbling around on weekend nights since we were little and maybe that had something to with why we were in this situation before we were even 18 years old.
We walked underneath our neighbor’s magnolia tree as we rounded the corner and headed down the driveway. Livy plucked a flower from a branch.  Almost as if the scent of the flowers had sobered her up.
“This is so beautiful, I could cry,” she said, staring intently at the pink and white blossom.
“Beautiful things should make you feel happy, not sad Liv,” I said, almost absent mindedly. As if I was saying it to convince myself that it was true.  But she didn’t seem to be listening anymore.
By the time we got back home, Livy was practically asleep on her feet so it was easy to get her into bed.  I had to make it look like she didn’t pass out drunk though, like she came home from the party, took off her shoes, pulled down the covers and went to bed soberly without ever peeing her pants.  Suzanna stood in the doorway of our room.  I turned to her.
“I can take it from here, thanks,” I said.  Suzanna lingered for a bit and the skin under her eyes was dark.  She looked hollow and sad and I tried not to feel that sadness that was practically shooting out of her and straight into my heart.  I needed to keep my armor on.  
“Becca, maybe...” she started, but I interrupted her.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I whispered and she turned to go.
Livy didn’t make a sound as I untied her shoes and pulled them off.  I pulled off her jeans and stuffed them in the hamper, then I took the blanket off of the chair that we shared for reading, that was covered in clothes, and covered her up to her chin.
I climbed into bed and turned my light on.  I took out my notebook and started to write while my other hand played with the lighter next to the candle on my nightstand.  I flicked the lighter on and off until the metal got hot underneath my thumb.  And over and over I wrote the only thing I could think inside my head.  I don’t feel anything.

Forget my fifteen year old self, my 30 year old self is hooked! When I asked Sarah about her writing process and if she had any pictures of her self in "action" I love that she sent me this picture of her with her laptop, in bed with her cats. She also sent along two cartoons with her own text lifted from her guest post on process at the lovely Edison Rex which I inserted throughout this post . About process  Sarah said that she has come to realize that her process is always changing. I loved that idea. If we are always changing shouldn't the way we create? For Sarah's latest WIP she gave herself a very public writing goal which she tracked on her blog, Desirous of Everything. Sarah committed to writing 500 words a day for at least 8 weeks.  "I got myself a calendar, some stickers and tracked my progress on my blog." You can read the start of that challenge, here. Sarah continued, "This turned out to be an amazing way to write the first draft of this book.  But who knows, the process for my next book might be completely different.  And I still have to tackle revisions!" On revisions, Sarah said, "This will come after not looking at my first draft for at least a month (maybe 2).  Then I will work on draft 2 and send that to my agent.  Her comments will be the start of draft 3, and this could go on for 6 or 7 more drafts until it’s ready to show to editors.  This decision is always made together with my agent." 

Writing is hard, hard work that takes discipline and dedication. And even Sarah O'Holla, who, is a refreshing wake up call of just what it takes, admitted that her biggest obstacle is sitting down to write. "I try to write every day now, and every day it is one big obstacle hanging over my head."

I asked Sarah, who has a BA in English and an MA in library science what drew her to write and what drew her to the YA genre. She said, "I guess I've always been a writer since I was imagining up stories with my little Fisher Price figurines and always will be a writer, even though sometimes I feel like, I'm just going to quit-when blocks and rejections start to get me down." (Love it when writers share the struggle!) Sarah started writing seriously during her final semester of grad school when she took a class on children's literature and fell in love with it all over again. Inspired by that year's Newbery winner, Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins, Sarah "thought for the first time in years about wiring again, and for the first time ever about writing a novel." About the YA genre, she said, "I think my natural writing voice has always been tween or YA. I just had forgotten all about it! As a super nerdy high school student (who won the "best English student" award senior year) I was pretty snobby about only reading the classics. I stopped reading anything remotely YA in the 6th grade. Same goes for English major, college student me." In library school, Sarah felt that passion when discussing literature in her children's lit class. "Then I couldn't stop reading children's and YA. Five years later, I haven't looked back since." 

If Sarah had one piece of advice for aspiring writers she had this to say, "Don’t stop after the first draft. As hard as it may be to accomplish- and you should give your self a huge pat on the back and go out for a brownie sundae or something when you do- a first draft is not a novel.  Keep revising and respect your process." See what I mean about inspiring?

Hopefully, Sarah's hard work (and her agent's hard work) will pay off in 2012, and us lucky readers will have the great pleasure of purchasing her first published novel, Always A Trombone. And I personally, can't wait for the future books, as we got to greedily soak up the snippet posted here! Sarah, thank you for your time and for letting me guest post on your blog this month! I will be first in line at your book signing this year! You can reach Sarah through her blog, Desirous of Everything, or through her agent, Marissa Walsh at Fine Print Lit Agency And you can also follow her on twitter @Soholls!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Anxiety and Chasing The Social Media Dragon

Sometimes I wish I could do the dishes like this. Sometimes I wish I could do the holidays like this. Christmas is done, man. The teenage punks in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead were onto something. Since about mid-October (or so I thought) I've been having these waves of nausea and random asthma. There were times where I felt like I was forgetting how to breathe and I'd have to take these deep breaths because every breath felt too shallow. It was around mid-October that I got an iPhone and when I really went public with my blog and started promoting it on Facebook. I joined Twitter and stepped into this huge world called "social media" where there is no guidebook or how-to manual. Every step of the way is trial and error. I didn't "get" Twitter. I didn't even "get" status updates on Facebook. Something about it felt so counter-intuitive, so narcissistic,  so full of shit. Who cares how I'm feeling this minute? Or what guy annoyed me on the subway? Or what I ate for dinner? Who cares about what I think? I felt pressure to come up with something clever or funny or at least different which I realized quickly was impossible. Everything that has been said on Twitter has been said by thousands of others at one time or another, sometimes even the same time. No matter how awesome we think we are, we are just not that original. 

I also started reading blogs and added them to my Bloglovin account. I started commenting while also taking on the challenge of NaBloPoMo where I posted everyday sometimes even twice a day while also posting links to these posts on Twitter, Facebook, the NaBloPoMo thread on BlogHer, BlogHer chatter and by commenting on other blogs. I suddenly felt like I was in this race. Part of it was fueled by my realization that perhaps I could make my dreams of supporting myself through writing a reality. That I didn't have to wait to be "discovered" or get an agent. That I could simply manifest my own success by being a self-promoter. The other part was fueled by the frightening realization that I did not know how to elevate myself out of the assistant world and that even though being an assistant has served me well and allowed me to have a full rich life outside of work, that maybe I had hit my burnout with making xerox copies and collating. Maybe my fingers could no longer manage refilling a stapler without shaking just a little bit with the pangs of disappointment. My ambition kicked in full force and I was a social media maniac and very quickly I saw results. And then better results and even better results....But it did not take long before all of my multi-tasking transformed into a racing heartbeat, sudden sweats and this nervousness I felt I couldn't contain. I emailed a friend of mine (who is a social media maven) about the anxiety I had been feeling since joining the race and she responded, "Yeah, man, it's bad. You're chasing the dragon, now." 

The anxiety grew worse aided along with taking on too many freelance jobs (Two back-to-back 700 page books I needed to read and do a write up on), still working full time, pursuing writing full time (including a book I have been working on for over a year), my commitment to a writing group and a writing class which meant every Tuesday I was doing one of these, tutoring, celebrating my 30th birthday, having a melt down at work, while cracking some tough eggs in therapy. About two weeks ago I hit my breaking point, and decided to seek professional help. After meeting with my general practitioner, I did not feel right about the diagnosis or the Rx. I then met with a psychiatrist for a very expensive consultation who gave a similar diagnosis and similar Rx although was more in tune with my hesitation about "meds." I hate to admit this but somewhere I totally subscribe to the idea that meds means I'm a failure. I grew up in a house where we didn't even have Tylenol. We never even took cold medicine. Once my mom left, all of that stuff did, too. My Dad did not drink at all and never liked a stocked medicine cabinet. My experience of what is appropriate when it comes to meds, alcohol, taking care of one's self, is skewed. The idea of taking a daily drug that could curb my anxiety or stabilize my mood freaked me out beyond belief and even writing this right now is producing anxiety because I am afraid of being judged by even toiling with this decision. A year ago when shit hit the fan, even then I was adamant on not taking an anti-depressant. But after everything felt like it was crumbling around the edges, I opened to the idea: Is this a moment where I am blinded by my own stubbornness? Blinded by my own refusal to accept help? I should be able to handle this on my own. I've handled everything else on my own, this isn't even the hard stuff!  

I am now in this moment in my life where I feel like I have no clue who I am. In one sense it is totally freeing and the possibilities feel more endless since I am no longer in my own way. (Or at least trying my best to get out of my way) In another sense, I feel more vulnerable than ever because the convictions I once proudly stood on and based tough decisions on are also gone. I am trying to honestly assess what is my own truth while trying to separate it from the truths I inherited as a kid. And I'm not judging those truths. I just want to make sure I am doing what is best for me because I believe it is best for me. 

I still have not decided what to do. Each moment is different. Most of the time I think, This doesn't feel right. But when that anxiety comes out of nowhere, disrupting my life, and the sadness hits, triggered by the smallest of things, I think to myself, It doesn't have to be this hard.  And to decide anything around the holidays feels loaded to begin with. Who can say that they are still in their normal state of mind, their normal state of emotions, around the holidays? Around their 30th birthday? Around publicly exposing themselves in the way I have done?

For now, all I can think is one day at a time. Christmas is done, man. The year is coming to an end and maybe the best thing for me to do right now is to sit still with my feelings until I feel at peace with a decision. In the new year, I might step back a bit from the social media craze, try to care less about the outcome of blog posts and get back to what it was when I started it before I cared about stats and "an audience," before I saw it as the potential life jacket to my present-day problems, and just get back to the idea of it being an outlet for my writing, a place where I hold myself accountable to this crazy dream I have always had and take it one word, one step, one breath at a time.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas. Think Vegas.

When the undecorated Christmas tree started to turn brown it just got too depressing. And let's be honest, anything dressed up in lights looks better. Think Vegas. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Christmas Playlist by Special Guest DJ Mike Christmasclaus

Get a glass of eggnog and wrap your last minute gifts to this awesome Christmas ditty....

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Difference Between Being Tough & Being Strong

I talk a lot. I am really good at arguing and I can spin just about anything. I am never wrong and I always know better, which is why at 28 years old I had alienated almost everyone I was close to. I was picking fights with my boyfriend that sometimes erupted into fits of rage over something as simple as him falling asleep on the couch. I got my butt to therapy after a ten year hiatus from it, because I thought I had all the tools. I was self- aware. It did not take a degree to see that I had issues from my childhood. Who the hell doesn't? But I never thought it would disrupt my adulthood. For all intents and purposes, I believed it hadn't, until I found myself alone more than I wanted to be and even I couldn't stand to be with me. Negativity is a drug. So is hysteria and my favorite of all, rage.

With everything that happened when I was a kid, I just charged through the same way I charged through the halls of high school. I had a boyfriend once dub me "The Enforcer" because you could see me coming from a mile away, hands looped through my backpack straps, head down, furrowed brow, plowing through kids, much like I plowed through my youth. I don't remember ever feeling sad, I was just angrier than hell, which of course, was my deeply penetrating sadness. But anger is active. Anger made me feel in control and that I was taking care of business. Anger got me through everything and eventually became my quality I was most proud of, although I called it "being tough." I remember leaving the house once, just a random afternoon about to meet up with friends probably and my dad stopped me and said, "Lindsey, you don't have to be so tough anymore because now you're strong and your heart belongs to you." I rolled my eyes and left but I never forgot that message. Of course I was strong! But I don't think I got that message until this week, the same way I don't think I always understand the difference between when I'm acting out and when I'm truly expressing myself. Sure, I can talk a blue streak about how fucked up something is, how wrong someone else is, but when it comes to identifying what is really bothering me, often times I have no clue. I never learned to sit with my feelings, to let myself feel sad. I was The Enforcer.

This week I had someone say to me, "Be the friend that you want." I also had someone say to me, "You can stop the soap opera whenever you want." I can go from 0-60. My rage could easily be tracked on a speedometer. It is much harder to slow down, to shut my mouth and NOT tell everyone in the world how wronged I've been and just how fucking right I am. It is hard to feel sad and hurt but this week I learned that sometimes it's worth it. That anger just clouds the road. Another thing I heard this week, "There's a place we can live, that seems much more shaky, much more softer, but is actually the stronger and happier place to be."

I find that the more I let go of my negativity, which for me is really fucking hard because it is so ingrained in my identity- my toughness, but the more I let go of that and try my hardest to be positive, the more blessings have come my way. And I don't want to get all new-age-"The Secret" on you. But, its true that the more I've stepped out of my comfort zone and admitted my flaws and said my thank yous and admitted my wrongs, the better things have gotten. I'm learning that maybe expressing myself is a whole lot messier that comes with a lot longer process and that if my first instinct is to hit the gas pedal and open my mouth, it is probably a good sign I should keep it closed.

Here's to a holiday weekend of not hitting the gas pedal, taking in my conversations and my feelings before spitting things out and trying to give myself the space to see when I am acting out and when I am struggling to express myself. Cheers to a peaceful holiday and even more peaceful new year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pinkies Up: The Importance of Etiquette

The first time I ever watched Pretty Woman, I fell in love with the scene where she charms her way through a fine dining multi-course dinner. I remember thinking that I wouldn't know where to start. Sure, I set the table growing up and I understood a basic place setting. We were always taught please and thank yous. We were taught to shake hands, be polite and courteous. But we were never the kind of family that went to a meal like that. I think we all sort of laugh at the idea of "formalities." We are more backyard bbq people. We like pool parties and tacos and ice in our wine.

In college I dated a guy who came from a family that was "well off." He taught me things like when you are done eating, you place your utensils next to each other on the plate, which lets the server know they may take your plate, that you are ready for the next course. If you were not finished eating but needed a break, you crossed them on the plate.  I remember telling my father this and he was annoyed. "You don't come from the wrong side of the tracks!" I can understand his annoyance. I was raised well and just because I didn't know to cross my utensils didn't mean anything. I think I sort of looked down at etiquette as snobby, conformist, elitist...but also admired the clear rules and boundaries it defined. I liked that there was a language and a playbook and that anyone could learn it. I liked that there was a system in place to preserve feelings, avoid misunderstandings, and set parameters. Each year, I would convince my Dad to buy Christmas cards and we would pretend we would send them out to our family members and friends and each year we never got around to it. Part of it was that we had enough on our plate and I think another part felt like it was a waste of money or felt phony. I never saw a Christmas card as a thought or a thank you. But once I left home, receiving a piece of mail became priceless.

Even if a card just has someone's name signed, it is a thought in your hand. Someone took the time to write you on their list of people they wish to send good will to for the new year. They wrote your name in ink and a thought and hope for a merry holiday or a happy birthday. They looked you up in their old address book. Spent money on a card and a stamp and either took it to the post office or left it in their mailbox. For me, it always means something when I get that card.

In my twenties, I started writing thank you cards. Even though email was beginning to replace thank yous and letters, I mailed cards and it felt good. But there was still so much I didn't know. I did not know I was supposed to write a thank you letter if I was interested in a job after an interview. I almost blew one of the better jobs in my life because I did not send a thank you card immediately. When I learned this piece of etiquette, I hand-delivered the note. I got the job.

I have now taken to Christmas/holiday cards and now Halloween cards or care packages with candy and stickers for all my little cousins and godsons. I like the feeling this gives me to spend some time thinking about someone else. Even though they may just glance at my card, the whole process is more for me to count my blessings. And the older I get the bigger the desire I have for a life with etiquette. If I receive a gift, I write a thank you card. Not an email. Around the holidays I write cards wishing the people I love most a merry new year. I RSVP to events in a timely fashion. I respectfully decline. I show up on time and if I'm invited to someone's home I never show up empty handed. I know the time lines for inviting guests to an event as well as what makes a suitable wedding gift if you attend a wedding and what makes a suitable gift if you can not attend but were still invited. I don't talk about plans in front of people that are not invited to those plans and if someone happens to join the plan, I check with the other guests first if they mind me inviting another friend along (unless it is the type of "the-more-the-merrier event"). I even check with Mike first about having anyway over or sleep over because it's a matter of respect that his time and space which is shared with me in our home is just as important as mine. If he does not feel up to company, I make plans outside of the home, or sometimes we compromise and he will compromise for me.
Then there are the more common slip ups I try to keep in mind. When out with a friend, do not answer your phone and do not make a quick call and don't text while you're walking. And when when you are out for a drink, do not place your phone on the bar. (We are all guilty of this, but it's so rude!) I am also learning when the appropriate response is to not bring a gift or not offer to pay for a meal but to just say thank you and when to say thank you. There is a graciousness to accepting someone's generosity and a way to thank someone with humility. Etiquette is like monogamy, it was created to protect us from hurting each other or in some cases to politely let us know where we stand one another. It is the cornerstone of civilization. What I once called "bullshit," I have only come to appreciate more and more with each life experience where I get to practice my understanding of these rules of engagement and bring to the table my own acquired etiquette and grace.

Now, I'm not saying I'm perfect. Far from it! And there is so much I don't know and probably never will know. And of course I do things that are not graceful and sometimes maybe offensive. Certainly, one could argue that a blog was not very "etiquette friendly." And I use the "f-word" too much. But I have adopted etiquette as something important which makes it something I strive to achieve. When I have kids, they will most likely not go to meals like the one in Pretty Woman, but I will always practice with them the art of refinement and grace. Pinkies up, kids.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Treats: Alex Goldberg

Introducing the very fascinating and ever-evolving design and mixed media artist, Alex Goldberg. I have known Miss Goldberg for a couple of years now and in that have time have seen her make gusty, sometimes painful strides to define the life she wants for herself which has only strengthened the voice she is finding in her art. When I first met Alex, she was a little reluctant to show me her work, most notably her final project at Boston University, a sexualized painting that explores the body. I remember at the time that she was nervous because her work was somewhat "dark" and in the context of our day-time jobs at a sunny elementary school, there never did feel like an appropriate time to cross that bridge from colleague to friend, co-worker to fellow artist. But sitting down with Alex today as she flipped through her portfolio for grad school that she will be submitting in just a few short weeks, I was not only amazed in how confident she has become in her art and how unapologetic and fearless she was in discussing it, but how awesome her work truly is. Alex's work resonated with me on many levels but most importantly as a woman and someone (like many, many women) who has struggled with body issues.   

Alex had a harder time discussing her older work, like the above mural, because it feels like a former life, which sounds about right since one could argue that Alex lives in her paintings while in process. "The work occurs and then I figure out what the pent up reasoning for it was. It's like a form of therapy in a way," she explained. If you flip through the course of her work you can see the mountains and molehills she has overcome in her early twenties as she approaches graduating to her mid-twenties. While earlier work explores and challenges "body," other pieces (that I also resonated with) depicted a woman, beheaded, shirtless, with an "x" over the vagina. She has come to call these paintings "The Chastity Series" which I love both for its irony as well as its compartmentalized sexuality (And again, another big theme that hits me at my core). The head is not attached to the body but the vagina is also silenced. Neither can speak, so what is left is the body in between, the body as vessel. What I love about Alex's paintings is that although her art is specific, her themes are universal. While she may not know exactly what a piece is about when at the beginning of the process her subconscious informs the conscious, the painting informs the artist as well as the viewer. 

But what I really admire is her most recent series, a collection of liberated feminist pieces that as Alex puts it, "are not as tight, but more comfortable in my own voice." She added that in contrast to her earlier work that started while in a long-term relationship, her recent series began when she was newly single. However, it is not just about a single woman's liberation, but a further examination into the layered, often unspoken complexities of female relationships in the context of being a woman in a patriarchal society. About these pieces, Alex said, 'They are my most political work in terms of feminism, but it is also about women hurting women, women not supporting other women, and if we don't support each other who will?" Amen, sister. 
When discussing Grand Dillusion, Alex talked about being interested in women's image in society versus reality, the often twisted truth, and what is happening to women on differing economic levels. Women and class, body and perception, are both reoccurring themes throughout her work. When I asked Alex why she was drawn to these topics she told me that she used to be a dancer. Up until she was sixteen she did modern dance, jazz, ballet, tap, African... when I asked her why she stopped she bluntly replied, "I started parting." But she further elaborated that the feminist views she was brought up with were conflicting with dance as a form of artistic expression for her. Once puberty hit, she was told to lose weight. In addition, she confessed, "You are working so hard physically but not saying anything ever. You are just being directed." However, Alex still uses dance as part of her process when painting and when asked if she had any influences she admitted that she was hugely inspired by Pina Bausch, especially her last piece Vollmond which ran at BAM last year. But with painting, Alex said, "I can have my body in whatever way I want it to be and still do this."
Grand Dillusion
Last summer, Alex took a collage course at Parsons, (collage being an art form she used to look down on) and felt an uncertainty at first and now a complete embrace of this new form of expression. She uses a combination of her own drawings cut up and combined with text from newspaper tear-outs (which often inspire the title) and magazine and acrylic paint. And I love the skeletons that have been popping up in her new works which also may be a bridge to her upcoming work. In this painting, called The World As He Finds It, Alex used a drawing from a model who at the time was anorexic. She was criticized for her drawing's "proportions being off" because the model was "unnaturally thin." Alex took this and ran with it, the result which is incorporated into this piece which also seems to explore the issues of class. My favorite part is the woman donning a tiara made of dominoes. 

In her most recent completed piece (which I die for!!!) Alex used newspaper, magazine, acrylic paint, colored paper, feathers, gouache and ink. While Alex is forging her own path at the moment and could not cite any artistic influences she did say that in creating these collage pieces she has been reading a lot of Louise Bourgeois whose ideas about women and sex align with her own. How I love the bones at the center of this piece!
I Am Woman
 For Alex's upcoming work she is exploring the idea of pain. Growing up in a "nuclear" family with a father who is a doctor and a stay-at-home mom, Alex is curious to explore the relationship a profession has on family dynamics. Having been shown medical slides and engaged in commonplace conversations regarding pain or what should and should not be painful, Alex will be using medical slides, pointillism, and more skeletons! Her gravitation towards design and architecture was also something she felt a pull towards while in school at Parsons. She took packing tape and created these photographs which then progressed into an impressive pointillism drawing.

As you can see, Miss Goldberg is well on her way to an exciting artistic life and career that both breaks the mold and blazes a new trail. Alex, thank you for your friendship and for doing the kind of art that talks, especially to women. We need your voice out there.

You can follow this amazing (and super fun!) artist on twitter at @alexrgoldberg or shoot her an email at
Stay tuned for her website and upcoming shows!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Notes You Can Find Around Our Apartment

What it's like to have a car in Brooklyn

Sent with a check from a friend in VT to reserve his spot for a ski vacation.
Been on the fridge for 7 months

That's right. Jerry.

Mike likes to make "packing lists." I like to wait until midnight the night before
I take a flight and pack at the height of a panic attack.

"Request for penalty abatement"-- Yup, still dealing with the IRS

My storyboard for my book.

Notes written out of anger, defeat, frustration and exhaustion.
Ikea always wins.

A thank you and an invitation from our friends in Seattle, a note from our neighbors about
putting in a gluten free order to Sami's bakery, a recipe for an Inca power bar,
and  a reminder that we both liked this German beer "Hacker-pschorr..." 

Mike's secret recipe for his killer brownies.

Return to Sender

A tear-out from 2009 about which organic fruits and veggies to buy.
I still don't think I've read it.

Wish list for the apartment. Always a Work-In-Progress.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Check me out at BlogHer!

Yesterday, BlogHer posted a piece I wrote about Meryl Streep talking about taking on the role of controversial icon, Margaret Thatcher in her new movie, Iron Lady. Click here and check it out!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Message to Jimmy Kimmel from my Cousin's Pissed off 5 year old

My cousin, Breanne, along with my aunts and I all have a very similar sense of humor. Seeing this on facebook this morning made me homesick, but made me laugh even more. This is Nate and he is pissed off at Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy Kimmel has been pulling pranks on children for far too long. If it were up to Nate, the buck would stop here. Sorry, Nate, the Grinch does exist.(And thanks to Jenna Hatfield from Stop, Drop & Blog who just posted on the cover of BlogHer!)

And if you haven't seen Jimmy's shenanigans....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Undecorated Christmas Tree in the Room

Thanksgiving weekend, Mike and I went and picked up a Christmas tree in a parking lot in Jersey. We were quick, matter-of-fact, and on our way to a post-Thanksgiving, post-family party where they were deep-frying a turkey as well as everything else under the sun. We kept the tree in the truck while we gorged on an amazing spread, fancy Brooklyn beer we brought, and the best thing of the night- fried Oreos. (Yes, I still eat like I am ten years old) The salty-sweet smell of the fried Oreos reminded me of the boardwalk at the Jersey shore, and I got nostalgic for summer and warm weather and swimming and sunshine. But alas, here we are and it is already holiday season. We got home late that night and didn't want to haul the tree up since it still needed to be cut so we left it in the garage overnight. In the morning, Mike cut it, brought it home and we stood it in the tree stand with water. I had developed a cold overnight probably brought on by an allergy attack triggered by those damn cats at the party the night before. But we didn't decorate the tree. I was sick, Mike was tired, football was on. We said we would do it later in the week when we could really make a date of it.

Over two weeks have now passed and the tree still stands in the corner, gorgeous and full as ever without a light or ornament on it. I don't even really notice it when I come home from work or pass it in the morning. The only time I even remember it is there is when the radiator kicks on and opens up the evergreen scent. I have been sick, I've been busy, I've been dealing with some hard-core anxiety, but mostly, I think I just don't want to decorate it. I don't want to crack into that bin of small ornaments that Mike and I have collected or made over the last four years. This will be our fifth Christmas together and while I'm thrilled to have reached that landmark, there is a Christmas season blues that has “a-come” this year, more profound than years past. Every year I get a little blue, even when things are GREAT I get a little blue. It is something in my bones, a feeling of anxiety, loss, grief, triggered at any moment by an unsuspecting Christmas Carol or droopy lights on a home or the sight of a decorated Christmas tree. There were so many sad Christmases and then so many silent Christmases where we danced around the phone wondering if my mom would call or not. I know now that she was in her own world of pain and there were definitely Christmases where she did reach out and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. Everything made me sick to my stomach. If the phone rang, I panicked and if it didn’t ring, I got angry. And if I actually talked to her, inevitably, the day would end up in tears somewhere or an explosive fight with my brother. We ping-ponged our emotions off each other.

Now, it wasn't all bad. Christmas Eve was always a blast because my Dad’s gigantic family (oldest of 8) would get together and my brother and I could lose ourselves in hanging out with our cousins. But Christmas morning was always tough.  Before my mom left, Christmas morning was usually spent at her parents’ house, my grandparents's house. We’d open gifts there and have Christmas dinner. When we’d come to the table there would be an English Christmas cracker on our plate. We would all open them at the same time and wear are funny paper hats and play with our Chinese handcuffs while eating turkey and stuffing. Every year, my grandmother would put walnuts in the stuffing and every year my Dad would remind her he was allergic to walnuts. There was once so much joy and there still is so much joy, but like my birthday, there is an energy still connected no matter how hard I try to drown it in peppermint hot chocolate and Christmas shopping, sometimes I just hate the holidays.

I kind of love my undecorated Christmas tree because it is just what it is. The smell is enough of a reminder of what time of year it is but I don’t know that I need all the bells and whistles. Maybe by not decorating it, I can start my own tradition.  Like a blank canvas, a clean slate, a different kind of Christmas spirit, one that is honest and real, and admires the beauty of something for what it is without all the shitty stuff from Target dripping off of it. (I actually love Target, but you get my point). Maybe this simple tree in the corner will remind me what this time of year is supposed to be about – joy, giving, love. Maybe I can detach it from years past? Detach it even from family Christmases of years past? But how do you scrub your bones?
I am going to leave my tree as is, until Mike probably makes me decorate it with him. But I like that it just is. Just like I am, in all my sadness and nostalgia and anticipation and joy, as well. Like I said, it wasn’t always sad. There was always joy, too. Maybe the holidays are just intrinsically both sad and joyous, one could not be without the other, like life.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Treats: Joe Valentine


Introducing the gutsy and charismatic artist and musician, Joe Valentine. Born and bred Jersey, Joe now resides in Seattle with his beautiful daughter, Tula, and partner, Marybeth. What has always struck me about Joe is that he is very confident in his work. He never lets on to any sort of struggle with fear or artistic doubt. When I asked Joe what the truth is, he admitted that a lot of it is "smoke in mirrors" but to be completely honest, with the materials he uses, "I can't fuck up. It's in the gel. I have to be confident in where it's going." Joe works with heavy gels and resins, paint pens, and markers and he likes to use fragile, reflective surfaces which draws him to use glass and mirror. As he spoke about in his interview with Twilight Artists Collective in September, Joe works with "repurposed glass, mirror, and canvas to indicate the importance of reusing." Joe's choice in materials embodies some of his convictions about art. "Reusing materials keeps art accessible through its price," Joe said. "Most of my recycled material I get for free on Craigslist. Why would I then charge $500 for a piece? For my time? That is a fucking gift that I get to do. If I'm going to charge $200 for a privilege that I get, I think that's way out of balance." Spoken like a true man of conviction.

And like most men of conviction, Joe was very honest the more we talked about what it takes to be, not just an artist, but a confident artist. "There is a bit of arrogance. But sometimes there's a perceived confidence that you require for yourself," which it seemed to me was perhaps more important than acquiring an art degree. Joe sees his rejection from art school many moons ago as a blessing in disguise. He instead studied cultural anthropology, philosophy, and design.  "Meditating on stuff like art history is dead. It's the relics...of course, you can learn stuff from the masters, but be in the present about your art. We all have our reference points. There are artists who I'd love to emulate, but it's not about history or the static environment of art. It's about making it with sincerity." Joe argued that studying bracket dates was not the real conversation of art. "Talk about the now, your feeling in your gut." It's statements like this that make Joe such an inspiring and exciting artist. His deep belief and desire to explore human connectivity goes from the repetitive line applications on his glass to the core of his bones. He leads his life and creates his art from his heart which comes across in his work.

Having known Joe on the periphery of my life the last few years, I have had the fortune of seeing his work grow over the last four years. But, probably even before then, since I had the great pleasure of moving into a bedroom that had his artwork on the wall and living in a home where Joe once lived and painted. There were a couple of Joe's earlier paintings that hung on the wall of this home in New Jersey, and seeing how much his earlier works have changed to what he is creating most recently has been nothing short of inspiring and moving.

schrier_archways.jpgAnyone who doesn't know Joe can see the life transformations he has been through in his art work or as he puts it, "Those are my words. That's my story. The image is the meaning. [Studying] anthropology gave me language." Whether it is his more street-aesthetic pieces like his rich and colorful Kiwicon Series or his Anti-Re-Undefined works or his beautiful high contrast Line Works where he perhaps manifests a sort of meditation through the repetitive application of lines or the black and whites in his more thought-provoking Vektor Series  or the huge collaborative arts and live art pieces or mural pieces he does, all of Joe's paintings have energy and heart. They are the kind of pieces that make you stop and feel it.

I asked Joe about the Vektor Series which had a show  in West Philadelphia in 2009. The Vektor Series had started in Ithaca when Joe was visiting a friend and contemplating the idea of meta narratives. "What I am saying in my art work and what people are saying in my art," he added. He was drawn to the idea of cells  and orbs. A vector is an algorithm, an equation. It's an element of vector space, kind of like how we think of pixels. Joe elaborated with how he was interested in creating a dialogue about "how the very small looks like the very big and how the very big can emulate the very small." We are a map of cells but zoom out some more and we are a cell in the universe, just like how we wish on a single star in a sky made up of billions. Joe is a deep thinker and someone who can ponder about life cell by cell and universe by universe.


"Of course, I can't talk about any of this without mentioning illness," Joe said. One of Joe's first creations came out in a painting that looked something like a bull with a tumor in its belly. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphatic cancer. In going back to the topic of fear, Joe feels grateful for having the experience of cancer. He said, "Illness made it a fact. Your locked into this eternal agreement with your creative self." I surmised that all the bullshit falls away and perhaps the confidence and courage he has in approaching his work was propelled by his illness. He agreed saying that when the doctor told him he was okay (which Joe explained with cancer often means okay for now) Joe felt like he'd lost his best friend. There is a  fearlessness, or as Joe calls it, "a gift," that comes with that experience, one that he never undervalued or took for granted.

whats_left.jpgWe talked about how art can be a dialogue between the subconscious and the conscious. Joe agreed whole-heartedly and argued "How could anyone not believe that?" I asked if there were other paintings that haunted him or perhaps spoke to him like the bull? He told me of two paintings, one of a tidal wave that he painted while spending time with a friend just recently back from Thailand. He made the wave his logo and three days later the 2004 Tsunami devastated Indonesia and surrounding countries. Last year, when also in a moment of transition, he painted some tee-pees with what looked like yellow and black churning clouds, kind of spirits moving west on the canvas. Soon after, his cousin offered him to come out west. She had an art studio in need of an artist. If anything, painting teaches Joe to listen.

v3.jpgJoe did move out west, after surviving cancer, several moves, and other transitions. There he met his lovely lady and to their surprise, not long after came their little girl, Tula, perhaps one of the most light-spirited and joyful babies I have ever met. On becoming a father, Joe said,"It's so hard, but what a great gift to teach you about yourself. She's molding me into a completely different person." If you look at Joe's more recent works, (which I am in love with) (and which have also been showcased in Irwin's Neighborhood Bakery & Cafe in Seattle) there is a move away from the high contrast street-aesthetic and more into a sort of positive life-aesthetic. Where once he focused on decay (as quoted in the The TwAC interview), his newer works evoke a more spiritual, earthy element, like his Flame, Feather, Fin and Frond Series. I found the same sort of elements in the more muted tones he uses in his Diffusive works. It doesn't take an art historian to see that there is a different spirit in these newer paintings. I asked Joe if that was possibly inspired by becoming a father? He thought on it and admitted he suddenly had felt drawn to fire once his daughter was born. "I painted fire after Tula's birth- flames. But that's how I was thinking of her, like this bright star. I was given this flame through this creative self."

Did I mention that Mr. Valentine is also quiet an amazing musician? I know, swoon. But, hands off ladies (and some gentlemen) this one's taken. I've linked and included some of Joe's songs in this piece as well as his video on how he actually paints, because it is all a part of his process, his creative creed, the idea of transparency, honesty, and just going for it, creating from the gut!

Recently inspired by Joseph Campbell and Robert Frost, Joe has been on a journey of saying "yes" to life and you can see it in his art. There is a transformation happening with the addition of this new beating heart in his life. (Two, I should say) "It's about walking with your heart out," Joe said. "I am proud of what I do. I love the potential value art can hold. And I don't always think it's vein."

Perhaps what I loved about talking with Joe, is whenever I asked if something was "intended," he would throw that idea away, which further confirmed for me that he truly is an artist that just comes at his work from the gut. I can think of no better way to live as an artist and as a connective human being in this world.

Many thanks to Joe who took time out of his day to answer my questions while entertaining a cooing baby.

Robert Frost
Check out Joe's Website, where you can also purchases some of his pieces, at Follow him on twitter @zephsauvage or shoot him an email at You can also check out some prints at Society 6. Then you can have your mind blown everyday!