01/24/16

since the last time I was in Brussels

 

onion soup and  fries

late night room service im eating as i write this

 
The last time I was in Belgium was right after high school, when my buddies and I took a euro trip across five countries in three weeks. Now ten years later, I’m here for a work trip—to discuss at some meetings how policies between the EU and U.S. undermine consumer/user interests and to figure out a plan to reform corporate-captured trade deals so they’re more transparent and democratic. I think 18 year old me would be nodding in approval if she knew what I’m up to nowadays. 

Mostly because I was so full of self-conscious despair throughout my teens. I knew that the world was deeply messed up, power-wise, money-wise, gender-wise, race-wise, etc., but it felt so overwhelming to wrap my head around and I didn’t know where to start. There wasn’t anything inconsistent to me about enjoying Ayn Rand’s writing, which I thought was a celebration of unique self-determination, and reading Adbusters and becoming disillusioned by unrestrained capitalism. I didn’t know where to direct my anger or concern, how to articulate my criticism or my own ideology. 

But now I feel like I have a much better handle on things. For one I’m more on top of my shit and so more confident in my own skin and voice than I’ve ever been. I’ve come a long way from the emo days when I could barely contain my anger when someone around me would utter something ignorantly hateful (although I couldn’t a few times, once flipping over my desk about someone’s pro-Iraq war comment in Morality class). When my only outlets were to scrawl my feelings about the world in my journal and rant about “the world” at anyone who would listen when I got drunk at parties.  

I’ve found a way to funnel those anger/despair feels into being an activist. In the decade since I was a confused baby adult, I’ve learned a few things—to be curious and skeptical, to avoid blindly clinging to ideologies, and understand the importance of balancing between idealistic optimism and pragmatic cynicism. 

My 18 year-old self might be surprised to know that I’d travel all the way back here as part of my job. But I’d like to think she’d be more pleased that I’ve been trying what I can to fix some of the injustice in this world that filled her with so much dread, and am constantly challenging myself to get better at making sense of them to myself and others. 

01/18/16

taking apart creativity

so far I’ve been making good ~strides~ on my art making, largely due to the way-more-than figure drawing class I’ve been going to. Besides the intense, weekly three-hour classes that involve a lot of mark making and discussion about expression, reaction, and the meaning of creativity, the instructor has been asking us to do weekly “homeplay.”
The writing component of this homeplay has been really rewarding so far, and has been a great counterweight to the loose, reactive approach to drawing that we do during class. It’s forced me to reflect upon what I find valuable about art and  being creative–actually, much more than reflect, but to define it, put it out in front of me, examine it, and take apart the pieces. As someone who has long had a strained love affair of sorts with art making, it’s felt like therapy. He calls on us to ask ourselves: What does creativity even mean, and why is it important to us?
So far, these have been some of my answers below, followed by questions that I posed myself upon reflecting on my answer to those initial questions:
I understand creativity as an ability that allows a person to be free to experiment in what they make or do, given any number of constraints. There’s an element of unpredictability or resourcefulness that the word connotes, and that usually seems to be related to some kind limitation, such as the available materials, existing rules and expectations (like an aesthetic), or the amount of time given for the activity.

For me creativity‘s importance lies in both its experimentation and resourcefulness, but also that it can occur within almost everything I do. I’m being creative when I whip up a meal from the random assortment of ingredients I happen to have in my kitchen. I’m being creative when I write a blog post for my job and choose the words and type of sentences I use to explain something. What I love about these regular activities is how I get to express myself in them, that I get to exercise my intuition, judgment, taste, and mood. Creativity is valuable because it’s fun, even when I use it for my day-to-day survival.

~
Does creativity have to be so calculated and backed by intent, or can it be raw and expressive? Does it have to be either/or? Can it lie on various points of the spectrum of these things and be still feel good and fulfilling?

What are my limitations at any given point?

And what are my resources?

How can I learn to play with both?

The way I described creativity and my value of it feels uncomfortably self-indulgent and ego driven. It didn’t capture how much I enjoy collaborating with others or acknowledging how I am influenced by others, whether directly or indirectly. All my judgments, my feelings, and the ideas and resources that affect my work has not come out of thin air and I don’t want to act like they appear in a vacuum. So how do I approach creativity and my artmaking practice as one that’s more of an dialogue with others, rather than as a solitary, egocentric experience?

 

 

01/10/16

nostalgia for the early Web

I just miss it, don’t you? If you’re older than the age of 23 or so and were fortunate enough to have access to the Internet, you’ll remember how magical this new digital frontier felt like, its aesthetic and air of possibility…

There’s a fair criticism that those who feel nostalgia for the early days of the Internet often dwell on how fascinating it was compared to its often polished/siloed interface now, but never think about how very exclusive it really was. It was mostly white, well-off educated people who had access. So in claiming that the Internet ought to somehow be like “the old days,” there’s an implication that it ought be exclusive.

But having said that, I still wish I could browse and interact with the Web from back then. I would pay *good money* to get a copy of what my livejournal or myspace page in its full anigify splendor. I must’ve spent HOURS futzing with their html/css to get it just the way I wanted. Designers would (and probably did) cringe at the thought of everyone designing their own web pages, but there was something endearing about the fact that glamming up your site with flashing buttons and titles wasn’t just accepted, it was freakin celebrated.

So anyway, I got a major pang of this when I came across this museum of old Geocities images called Cameron’s World. It’s just a thematically curated web page of awesome tacky anigifs that once adorned people’s random sites. Check it out and let that wistfulness for the early web wash over you.

hamster

01/3/16

I’ve made a six-month commitment to artmaking

There’s one resolution that I’ve kept on declaring new year after new year: create/draw/paint more. And year after year, I’d largely neglect it. Every time I tried, I’d freeze up, get terrified, and end up torturing myself to make something. The judgey asshole side of my brain made all of it seem too forced, pointless, and lost. I couldn’t escape the grip of it every time. While I managed to sign up for two art classes in the 8 years since taking one in college, drawing/painting had turned into something like taking a shit while constipated. But even though I started to dread that feeling, I kept having an itch to make visual work. It was a ceaseless, awful nagging.

So I finally signed up for a new class. Not just any class. This is, according to the instructor, a “creativity” class. For the next six months, we are going to draw as if our life, the essence and meaning of it, depended on it. It’s all going to happen within the bounds of one subject, a model, and three materials: compressed charcoal and a white eraser on newsprint paper. The instructor has been teaching this class in his home for the last 24 years, and he is intense about shedding and kicking away creative barriers.

I cannot be more excited. >_<

Below are the highlights from my first class from today. All of these poses were less than 30 seconds long and were told not to care at all what ended up on the page.

chacoal_sitting

 

charcoal_facedaway

 

charcoal_crucified

charcoal_butt

12/6/15

a quick life update – Dec 2015

in lieu of something more substantial…

HEALTHY AGAIN

I was sick for a week and a half—a cold turned into strep throat. I pretty much was in bed for three days straight after I managed to fly to Pasadena for the holiday and totally missed Thanksgiving. Clearly my body/immune system was in rough shape, maybe because of the East coast trip and various other stress factors. Anyway I’m starting to finally get completely better so yayyy.

GOING TO INDIA

Moar traveling. I’m going to New Delhi this week for the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest and to meet with other folks working on fighting over-restrictive copyright/patent policies. I’ve never been to India before so I’m pretty excited to explore the few days I have free. The flight is a brutal 19 hours each way with stopover so I better have some productive things to do on the plane.

DIVING INTO LINUX

I finally got around to buying a new laptop and I’m stoked about installing Linux on it. There’s been all kinds of things with Macs that’s been frustrating for me for a long time from a UX perspective (that it’s a walled garden, is a DRM enabler, etc.) but I also just want to be libre-rated from the restraints of proprietary software. It sounds like it’s not going to be an easy peasy experience but I’m okay with that—freedom’s supposed to take work right?

11/22/15

why do street protests?

As government officials grow depressingly less accountable to the public they’re supposed to represent, we have to resort to  other means to get them to pay attention and set them straight. Going out on the street en masse to air grievances is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book. Sometimes, it works. It works when it grabs press attention, when it catalyzes others to take action, or when it’s really big and it causes officials to shake in their boots and actually change their course.

But most of the time, it doesn’t do any of those things…and if so, is it just a waste of time?

I thought about this a lot when I was in Washington D.C. for protest actions against the TPP this week and as I went to my third march yesterday in Oakland to perform with my protest dance flashmob group. I spent a pretty significant amount of time and energy preparing for the D.C. actions in the weeks leading to it, getting other organizations to endorse them and invite their members to come out and join us. My goal was to have as many people on the streets at the main action on Monday afternoon as possible.

And we did get a good number people out there (I first said on Twitter that I thought it was at least 1,000 people but given my knack for being horrible at guesstimating large numbers or sizes of things it was probably pretty off). I think it’s safe to say that we had 300~400 people when it was at its largest when we marched through downtown D.C.—apparently, that’s not too shabby for a protest action on the Hill. We had Flush the TPP lanterns shaped like rolls of toilet paper, some big light projections on nearby buildings, and actual rolls of toilet paper with facts about the TPP printed on them that we used to TP trees and statues along the route.

IMG_1954

IMG_2052

On the following morning, we had another action to march to each of the 12 embassies of the countries involved in the agreement. It was way smaller (about 60 people) but we definitely made up for it in theatrics and props. We had a big Mr. Monopoly puppeteering the flags of the TPP countries and a massive blow-up globe that four people had to carry on their shoulders.

IMG_2158

Popular Resistance did an incredible job at organizing everything that happened last week. Not only did they plan out a dozen or so separate activities, they coordinated with people who came from all over the country, figured out how to house and feed 30+ people in a church which was our planning HQ, and most impressively of all, kept up their energy and had a positive attitude the entire time. The folks at Popular Resistance were the most impressive organizers I’d ever worked with.

Really though, I think it came down to that: the people you meet at these events. Obviously the goal of doing this kind of thing is to enact some real change but it’s really hard to quantify and measure that kind of impact. But if during the process, you meet and connect with people who share a common goal of resisting oppressive, backward government policies, I’d still say that’s a success.

It’s empowering to get together with a group of total strangers who come from entirely different backgrounds from you and recognize that you’ve got each other on your team. Protests and rallies are just as much about taking up space and creating a spectacle to call attention to an important issue as it is about celebrating your community.

I can say that I definitely needed the inspiration and hope that we still have a chance (see previous bleak blog post for reference). It was an intense few days with the several dozen people who stayed at the church HQ and were involved in all the action.

There was the kindergarten teacher-turned-activist in her 60’s who got teary-eyed with me as we both ranted about how hard it was to make more people care about the TPP. She said she starting doing activism when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of her kids’ futures in the world the way it was.

There were the 20-something-year old brothers from Michigan who run an organic farming business on their property. They were there because they’re against GMO’s (which we disagreed about) and think Monsanto is an evil company that should not be empowered any more than they are already are (which we agreed about).

Then there was the guy who flew all the way from Washington, from the northern most county in the state. He’s an organizer who managed to turn his entire district Democrat with his grassroots work to rally thousands of people to turn out for local elections.

These and the other people I met this week are, in their various communities, doing whatever they can to be an active participant in re-shaping the future for the better. I hope they went back feeling as pumped and re-energized as I did. We got a pretty good team going, but to win in the long term, we’re going to have to keep building this community bigger, stronger, and with more love and common respect.

Having said that, I think I’m good on going to any more street actions in the near future… 😛

10/25/15

the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.

 

10/4/15

centering & creating opportunity out of crisis

First, it was at an event put on by the Asia Foundation where I was speaking. I met a leading feminist and human rights organizer from Mongolia who put on the first production of the Vagina Monologues there (and to much controversy).

Later that week, I spent three days with two fellow digital rights nerds in the Sierras. We cooked, explored, chatted, and made sense of our community with each other. Both of them incredibly hard-working, passionate, hilarious, and thoughtful people.

With them, I visited and slept in an old schoolhouse of a ghost town recently purchased by a woman my age, who was one of the most gorgeous, elegant people I’ve met. She’s re-building this long deserted town into a sustainable community centered on organic farming. So far it’s inhabited by a dozen or so happy humans, dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens.

I had lunch with one of my colleagues who I consider an influential mentor. She almost single-handedly built an international project to create legal principles that would guide surveillance policies so that they could fall in line with international human rights. It has been too long since we hung out and talked about life.

All of this came after spending the last few weeks reading the entirety of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. The book blew my mind in its comprehensive explanation of why climate change is an urgent crisis that must be addressed immediately, but in the same vein, an opportunity to re-think many aspects of governance, the economy, and the ideologies that underpin both social structures. She manages to make someone, like me, who has peripherally cared about this issue into an evangelist for direct action against carbon-based fuels and demand subsidies for renewable energy programs.

These past few weeks, I’ve encountered these and other inspiring women who are putting their all into fixing this broken mess of a world in varied but individually stunning ways. Despite how fucked things seem lately, thinking about them and their work help me shake off the despair and get to work. Just as Naomi would say, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Whether or not they’d admit themselves, these individuals are doing this through their day-to-day work and are committed to making things more just and sustainable.

I’m preparing myself for a busy few months as TPP negotiators may announce tomorrow morning that they’ve concluded this sprawling trade deal once and for all. If they do, I’ll be laser-focused on killing this agreement dead because it goes against everything I believe in. I hope to soon do more work that involves building towards positive, equitable institutions, rather than having to fight this bullshit neo-liberal/private-interest-captured policies. But in this crisis, I’ll be looking for new opportunities. In this work, I’ll try and emphasize ways of organizing that will make people feel more connected and responsible to their society and global community. Who knows what the hell that looks like but I’m gonna do my darnedest and I’ll take a cue or two from these bad ass women who’ve come into my orbit.

09/13/15

three new things

a few discoveries from my recent explorations…

long stemmed buckwheat, in Big Sur

 

I went backpacking last weekend and fell in love with these flowers, which covered the sunny, drier mountainsides of Big Sur. They’re what sakura would look like as a California plant—with similarly small, pink, delicate bursts of fluffy petals.

~

Gary Kremen, who founded Match [dot] com and was the plaintiff in a lawsuit over a fraudulent transfer of his domain Sex [dot] com (and subsequently won $65 million in the case and later legitimately sold it for $15 million), now sits on the water board for Santa Clara county and his passion now is water purification and recycling.

I found this out during a tour of a new water purification center yesterday. He seemed so passionate and excited about his new venture and his enthusiasm for the topic was weirdly contagious.

I’d like to think if I miraculously became a millionaire somehow I’d also try and do something impactful and super pragmatic like improving public infrastructure…among some other things.

~

I’m reading This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and it’s amazing, but also amazingly dense with facts and anecdotes.

Anyway, one thing I didn’t expect her to say was how massive, new infrastructure for renewable energy systems can’t happen without it being a people-driven, cooperative exercise. Of course that wouldn’t be possible without some drastic regulatory changes and new economic incentive programs, but the systems themselves, according to her, can’t be top-down or centralized.

It’s also making me re-think many aspects of trade agreements that until recently I had taken as granted. In sum, I’m not so sure that the so-called traditional trade issues ought not to be questioned or probed in regards to their impact on climate change or what they mean for “jobs”. I’m not taking her critiques and policy proposals without skepticism, though I’m pretty sympathetic to many of her arguments.

We’ll see, I’m still workin on the book.

08/9/15

stream of consciousness: aug 9 ’15

Another stream of consciousness—wherein I write whatever comes to my head and I only go back to correct for grammar and formatting.

I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a story about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to the U.S. as a student and becomes a blogger who comments on her racial experience as someone who “became” black only once she came to the States. There are about 20 of the character’s blog posts in the book, and it contains some of the best writing on the experience of intersectional racism/sexism of black women. The story that encases this commentary is a love story which isn’t bad as far as those go. Adichie’s writing is beautiful too, with just enough descriptive flare to suck you into certain moments in the story but not too much to be tiresome.

Anyway I definitely recommend it.

~

Very much into ibeyi right now. They’re twin sisters, 19 or 20, of French-Cuban descent and are the daughters of the percussionist from Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is just gorgeous and soulful and…Mmm!

>> Youtube video of their show at KEXP Seattle <<

~

Random thoughts about trade policy/innovation still swimming around in my head that I can’t nail down.

I’ve started three different long pieces trying to make sense of them and I keep scrapping them. Can’t tell if it’s just a bunch of obviousness, that I’m just saying something someone else has already said but then I know that if they had, I probably would have read it or known about it.

~

That’s it for now. bleh.

mood: intellectually, creatively constipated