The Perfect Moment (starring an orange tabby cat)

The artist James Lee Byars (1932-1997), known for conceptual works and performance art, did a piece called The Perfect Moment.

Not A perfect moment, but THE perfect moment. Byars seemed to like the word perfect; among his works are The Perfect Love Letter, The Perfect Kiss, The Perfect Performance is to Stand Still, The Exhibition of Perfect, The Perfect Quiet, The Perfect Death, The Perfect Thought, The Perfect Moment, Perfect is My Death Word, and The Palace of Perfect. That’s a lot of perfection! So when I thought of the idea of a perfect moment in my own life, as a former museum professional my thoughts went to Byars.

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Byars: The Perfect Smile, 1994 performance, Ludwig Museum, Cologne
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The Perfect Love Letter (is I write I love you backwards), 1974, performance, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In my personal experience, I think on the smaller level of having perfect moments, plural. Every now and then, there is a moment when all seems right with world. It doesn’t have to be something big and grand or momentous. It doesn’t even have to seem special to anyone but you. It can be fleeting, or it can stick around for a while. But in that moment, however long it lasts, all feels right and good and just the way it should. It speaks to the rarity of such moments that they are memorable. They can happen in the midst of tedium or of turmoil or, of course, when everything seems perfect already and then that one more thing happens, that cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae sits perfectly and beautifully, beckoning you and making it all worthwhile.

hot fudge sundae

I had such a moment recently on a long-awaited trip to Iceland. My interest in Iceland, a trendy travel spot currently, dates back from my days as a graduate student at UC Davis, back in the early 1990s. One of my textile department classmates was a beautiful young Icelandic woman, Thorbjörg, with her pixie-like features and cheerful attitude. During one of our graduate seminars, she presented some slides and facts about the Icelandic textile industry. The images of Iceland were so captivating—the color and the light and the natural beauty took my breath away. And animals—sheep, horses, marine birds like puffins—caught my attention as well.

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We finally made it to Iceland all of these years later. On my wish list, amongst other things, was to see these animals. And I did. But I kept wondering, where are all of the dogs and cats in Iceland? I saw very few dogs being walked around the city, and absolutely no cats. Zero. NO CATS. How is this possible? I was told that there were lots of cats in Reykjvik. I bought a t-shirt that shows the cats of Reykjavik. In one shop, I saw a sign regarding proceeds going to help Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) efforts for the stray cats of the city. But they remained invisible to me.

cats rule

 

On our last day in Iceland, we made a trek to the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the west coast.

stykkisholmur map

It was a perfect day. The towns of Borgarnes and Stykkishólmur were charming and picturesque.

Stykkishólmur
Stykkishólmur

We had good coffee and good food. We had sunshine. I saw sheep and horses on the road driving in. We booked a boat excursion to see puffins, and saw them as well as gray seals and a white-backed dolphin. I was thinking it had been the best day ever, and I was happy. It felt like a fitting and satisfying end to a wonderful week.

 

And then it happened. My moment. In an empty church parking lot on the edge of a small town on the west coast of Iceland, the friendliest orange tabby cat walked right up to us, like he knew us and was expecting us. He was clearly loved and well-fed. He had a collar and a lot of self-confidence. And he wanted affection. I immediately sat down on the asphalt and gave it to him. It made me ridiculously happy. It was a perfect moment.

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Looking back on such perfect moments, I find they often involve sunshine, animals, and/or books. The first that comes to mind was when I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I must have had perfect moments before that, but this is the one that stands out in my memory. It was a winter day, and I was snuggled up in the den of our house in Atlanta. I can see the green nubby fabric of the upholstery on the chair and the tones of browns in the braided rug on the floor. A beam of sunlight has cut through the air and settled on me in the chair, where I am reading Hugh Lofting’s 1920 The Story of Doctor Dolittle, an old copy that was my mother’s in her childhood and had that particular smell and feel of old paper and old books. I was warm and sleepy and enjoying my book, the room was quiet, I was alone, and there was nowhere to go or be. I was just there, a little girl doing what she loved, perfectly happy. I might have had our cat Whiskers in the chair with me, but oddly I don’t remember. It would make sense. And he was an orange tabby.

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And yes, I came to find out that the author, Hugh Lofting, really was an animal lover. Forget the silly movie adaptations of Doctor Dolittle. Go to the original.

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Hugh Lofting

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Another time, much later in my life, I was terribly jet-lagged and unable to sleep on a very hot night in Istanbul. Tossing and turning and hating life, I was cursing pretty much everything and everyone. I could hear the beginnings of the call for prayer coming from the loudspeaker at the local mosque. Great. I was about to put a pillow over my head when I listened instead to the most beautiful male voice I had ever heard, singing out the call. The gorgeous yet haunting song gave me the shivers. I can still hear the voice and feel the sense of the beauty in the moment. I am not religious, and for me this had nothing to do with anyone’s God or piety. It was about beauty in unexpected times and places, and the realization that I am just a really small part of this world, not its center. My soul was soothed, and I eventually went to sleep.

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There are no expectations attached to these moments. No preconceived ideas or possible disappointment. They just are. You can’t make them happen or predict them. That’s what is so beautiful about them. I know some will disagree; I see lots of articles along the lines of “Don’t wait for the perfect moment—make it happen now!” But I think they have to sneak up on you unawares; if you are trying to make it happen, that kind of defeats the perfection of it.

I am not a performer. I don’t know if Byars felt what he performed. Classical musician Bob tells me that the feeling that he’s played just the way he wanted is more rare than I might think. But that’s his idea of a perfect moment. Dabbling in art, I am usually dissatisfied at some level with the drawings and painting I produce. Once in a very great while, I think I’ve done just what I meant to or even more. It is rare. But this is something a little different; this is about self-satisfaction—something internal and based on when we expect from ourselves. These are from the inside out.

My perfect moments have come from the outside in. A friend put it that in that moment in Stykkishólmur, Iceland, the cat found me. I was, in a sense, perfectly happy already. And then I got that one more thing, the more than I could ask for, the cherry on the hot fudge sundae—I got my perfect moment. And I felt blessed.

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Peace and hugs.

Alternately purring and spitting

Yes, the title could refer to a kitten, like little Jarito (I don’t name them!), the current foster kitten in residence.

Jarito
Jarito. I call him JJ.

 

But what I was thinking of with the words “alternately purring and spitting” was Southern writer Eudora Welty and Southern women in American literature. That so aptly describes Southern women to me.

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Eudora Welty (1909-2001)

 

I had heard of Eudora Welty.  GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) tend to look out for Southern writers.

GRITS

 

Even though I’ve lived most of my life in California, I spent my childhood years in Atlanta, Georgia and was raised by proud Southern women. Yes, there are a myriad of social justice and human rights issues to discuss when one brings up the Southern United States, but there is also a unique and sometimes beautiful culture that I wax nostalgic over, even though I didn’t necessarily experience it.

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But what led me to Eudora Welty and a fascination with her was hearing actress Stockard Channing read Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” (written in 1941) on Selected Shorts, one of my favorite NPR podcasts.

American actress, Stockard Channing
Actress Stockard Channing.

The story is hilarious and poignant and so very Southern. The characters have names like Papa-Daddy, Uncle Rondo, and Stella-Rondo. The narrator is Sister. When I heard the story read aloud, I felt right at home! The story was published in her book A Curtain of Green and Other Stories. Despite its quirky, humorous overtones and absurd (or not, you decide) characters, there is an undertone of isolation and bitterness in Sister’s narration of the 4th of July holiday in small town Mississippi. The P.O. refers to the post office; Sister is the town’s postmistress.

 

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You can read the story here or listen here, if the links work. It’s well worth the $2.99 to buy your own download if the audio link doesn’t work. I tried, but sometimes I fail!

Welty herself was born and died in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to being a writer, she was also a talented photographer, capturing the lives of the rural poor for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression of the 1930s.

 

Her photographic work is being shown at the North Carolina Museum of Art in the exhibition Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty, on display until September 3, 2017. Art critic John Szarkowski wrote:

“Like those of [Helen] Levitt, Welty’s photographs do not show us the only truths of her subjects’ lives; perhaps they show us only the rarest and most evanescent truths, in which case we are the more grateful for these proofs of their existence.” 

Best known for her short stories, she also published 5 novels. She never married or had children, and kept her life mostly private. Her stories focus on individual lives and stories, using local color and humor to convey sometimes stifling environments and families.

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Illustration by Ryan Sheffield for The Eudora Welty Portrait Reader.

 

As described on the website The Bitter Southerner:

Why Welty? For a lot of us who grew up in the South and liked words, Welty represented not only what we knew, capturing the characters and cadences of our region, but also the range of what was possible — telling honest stories about a place that continues to struggle and progress.

As President Jimmy Carter put it when he presented Welty the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980: “Eudora Welty’s fiction, with its strong sense of place and triumphant comic spirit, illuminates the human condition. Her photographs of the South during the Depression reveal a rare artistic sensibility. Her critical essays explore mind and heart, literary and oral tradition, language and life with unsurpassed beauty. Through photography, essays, and fiction, Eudora Welty has enriched our lives and shown us the wonder of the human experience.”

 

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One can visit Eudora Welty’s home and amazing garden in Jackson. The garden was created by Welty’s mother, Chestina Welty, in 1925 and carefully restored by garden restoration consultant Susan Haltom.

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Eudora Welty’s mother, Chestina tends her roses.
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Eudora Welty’s garden.

Welty’s home is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Eudora lived there from 1925, when she was 16 years old, until her death in 2001. It is located at 1119 Pinehurst Street in Jackson. She gifted the home to the State of Mississippi and it is a museum of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, Mississippi.

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I myself am not a gardener. I love the IDEA of gardening, but the REALITY of gardening is another story.

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If you are at all intrigued by the life and work of Eudora Welty, please check out the Eudora Welty Foundation. You don’t have to be one of us GRITS to appreciate her writing or photography. Or of any of the others who I would add to the pantheon of great Southern women writers. Clockwise from upper left: Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Conner, Kate Chopin, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. There are many more; these are just a very few.

 

Hopefully you feel inspired to read, write, or take some photographs. Or dig in your garden. Or whatever makes you happy, be it painting, cooking, sewing, etc. They can all be therapeutic activities, good for your mental health and sense of well-being. Even observing creativity is good for you–reading, listening to music, or going to a museum. According to the lifestyle website Verily, such activities:

  • Relieve stress
  • Increase and renew brain function
  • Help prevent Alzheimer’s
  • Improve mood
  • Cultivate your social life

So instead of going to the gym, I think I’ll go read a book. In the garden. With some music. Getting healthy!

painting
Painting by Niels Frederik Schiøttz-Jensen (1855–1941)

 

 

 

Cooking for Insomniacs

Presenting the last cooking video of 2016! I go through periods of not sleeping well, and sometimes one of the things I like to do in the wee hours of the morning is bake.

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Muffins magically appear in the early morning hours.

I went through a particularly bad period of insomnia back in about 2003 (pre-vegan). I decided to perfect the baking of the morning bun–you know, those beautiful laminated dough twists covered in cinnamon sugar.

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I went through endless recipe variations, taking my middle-of-the-night creations to work everyday. I think my co-workers enjoyed my insomnia more than I did! But baking was much healthier than taking sleeping medications. I did have a prescription, but the nurse-practictioner neglected to mention that I should take a half-dose given that at the time I was down to about 100 pounds. (Those days are LONG gone.) The one time I took a pill, it took me two days to wake up.

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Size 2, smiling on the outside but really not a happy time.

At the time, I was working at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in the art exhibitions department. For a show we were working on at the time, artist Susan Graham installed her sculpture of sugar beds that reference insomnia. I talked to her a lot at the time about insomnia, and the sculpture haunts me still when I can’t sleep.

 

Lately, my insomnia nights have had me writing blog posts. But at 4:15 a.m. on December 31, 2016, I decided to cook instead of write. I am still learning how to use iMovie, so forgive the clunkiness of the video. And it was early in the morning. Apologies to amazing animal activist and vegan food writer Colleen Patrick-Goudreau for any liberties with her recipe.

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Muffins from a previous early morning baking session.

 

Because I had been sick (I promise I washed my hands many times during the cooking), my hair looked particularly bad, thus the hat. Taste Tester Bob says I have to wear it in every video now. (Hat courtesy of the Cat Lady Box.) Not making any promises about that one!

Have a happy new year, happy baking, bon appetit, peace, and hugs.

 

The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™

I wear the crown of Queen of the Unfinished Project.

queen
Good thing my sister sent me the tiara. If I had to make it, it’d be half-finished.

I enthusiastically start things, to either lose interest or time or both, with the promise that someday I will get back to each and every project. If I start something new and I am not immediately good at it, I give up (for example, my very brief flirtation with the pottery wheel; that thing is hard!). That romantic scene from Ghost? Total fiction.

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Remember folks, this is a Hollywood movie and these are actors.

I finally got one not horrible mug-like thing, applied some glaze to it, and then never went back to pick up the fired piece. And my hands and shoulders hurt like hell for days.

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Not my finest work.

For years I have wanted to do something with eucalyptus “buttons”, which are easy to gather here in California where so many eucalyptus trees were planted at one time. I finally found an old frame for a dollar at the flea market, bought some glue sticks, and happily glued away for a day. Never picked it back up.

eucalyptus-frame
I actually think it looks cool like this.

My mother was a talented seamstress, but I didn’t inherit her patience. Over the years, I’ve gone through spells of “I’m going to start making clothes” to then get frustrated when I realize it’s best if you take the time to make sure the clothes will fit you when you are done.

fabric-stash
The current fabric and pattern stash.
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I had a brilliant idea to repurpose a brown satin tablecloth into an evening dress. It hangs unfinished in my closet, about 4 sizes too small now. I have nowhere to wear a brown satin evening dress anyway.
mending-pile
The mending pile, gathering dust.

I tried quilting for a while. I bought bags of fabric scraps off of eBay, I downloaded quilting patterns, I made about a dozen wobbly quilt squares, and now they are in a tub in a closet somewhere.

quilt
I had good intentions.

There was knitting. I took classes, bought yarn everywhere I went, did finish a couple of sweaters I am too embarrassed to wear, and gave up about 3 years ago.

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The sweater I started for Bob. He picked the yarn and the pattern. I’m probably about 20% done after 4 years. Maybe for his retirement present…

 

yarn-stash
The reduced yarn stash; I cleaned it out a while ago but couldn’t part with the yarns I bought on trips to Germany, Halifax, and Salt Spring Island.

Drawing and painting? Yes, I dabble in those. Have all my life. When I was younger I would finish what I started. What happened? I’m currently into coloring books, but mostly buying them, not coloring in them. I also started a project of drawing portraits of animals at the shelter, but didn’t get very far with that.

coloring-books
Doesn’t it look like fun?
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Bought on a summer vacation. Again, I had good intentions.

 

When I first met Bob way back in 2004, I was taking a watercolor painting class at Napa College. I enjoyed it a lot, and finished my first painting and was mostly happy with it.

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I finished!

I started my next painting, one of a bird on a branch. It started out okay, commenced going downhill, and went into a tub in a closet. Then Bob decided to write a book. A challenge was issued. If he started writing a first draft, then I would finish the painting. He wrote.

bob-books
Bob has now written the first drafts of not just one, but TWO novels.

I didn’t paint. For a couple of years. I was oh so subtly reminded of the deal a time of two. I would get out the watercolor paints and the unfinished painting, stare at it for about an hour, and put it away again. I began to hate that innocent sparrow. After a long time, I finally resolved to do my best. Bob was on a trip to China, and I figured I’d surprise him. I painted, but not happily. I felt coerced. I hated the poor bird. I said “Enough!” and framed it as is, pretending I’d finished it. Everytime I see it on the den wall, I am unhappy with it. But it reminds me that when you are unhappy or angry when doing something, it shows. Chill out, relax, try to have fun.

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Meh. Stupid bird.

Bob has been thoroughly enjoying his writing classes and the group of people he’s been working with, so of course, I decided to give writing a try! My brilliant project–a memoir of the summer of 1972, when my mother married my evil stepfather, split up the family, and moved half of us to California from Georgia on a cross-country drive from hell. It was going to be poignant, funny, and an actual finished manuscript. I bought a road atlas to map out the stops I remembered from the trip, I hung a map with notes on my wall, I signed up for weekly classes.

memoir-map
We took the southern route, through Texas, in the summer, in an old station wagon without air conditioning and a driver who smoked and drank the whole way. Fun times. (The purple line through the northern route is a later trip in the 1990s, in the winter snow. Yes, backwards planning both times.)
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My stack of notes and index cards. I could restart that memoir someday…

What I turned out to be good at was making up titles. My favorite–“A Good Title Only Gets You So Far”, which would then be a blank book when opened.

titles-and-ideas
I guess I am more of a concept person.

So what happened? I enrolled in a PhD program and gave up my career in memoir and fiction.

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I am determined to finish this project!

But I still wake up, usually at 3:30 a.m., with great ideas that I think I should really start putting on paper.

So here we finally get to the tantalizing reference to the Hallmark Channel in the above title.

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I am a romantic and a sentimentalist. I have a real weakness for the rose-colored glasses world of the Hallmark Channel. The movies make me happy. I indulge when Bob is at work or his writing classes. I eat chocolate and wish I lived in the Hallmark world of small, charming towns, quirky friends and neighbors, and the cafe that everyone gathers in for coffee and cookies. I still believe that this town exists somewhere.

My latest 3:30 a.m. title and concept:  The Do It Yourself Museum. Please do not steal my idea. It would make a perfect beach read and then Hallmark Channel movie.

By way of explanation: I’ve until recently worked in a lot of museums. I love small town history museums, with old typed labels and dusty cases and volunteers waiting to greet you.

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A small town history museum somewhere I’ve been, perhaps in British Columbia.

I love to curate mini-collections that no one but me, Bob, and the cleaning lady ever see.

I want to have one of these museums in my Hallmark town. The main character, a down-to-earth middle aged woman (no, not in her 20s, not tall, not thin; this is my vision) drives into Hallmark Town, falls in love with the town, and lucks into the job of running the town museum. She buys an adorable cottage with hanging flower baskets on the big front porch (rocking chairs required) and butts heads with the handsome mayor, who wants to turn the old museum into a commercially-profitable something or other to attract business to the town. As they bicker, they fall in love, and she saves the museum and the town. I’ve got the Hallmark formula down!

If you know anyone at the Hallmark Channel, have them contact me. I’ll either be out on the golf course (see Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf) or at banjo lessons, depending on which I decide to enthusiastically take up next.

In my mind, I’ll be a cool cross between Steve Martin and Taylor Swift.

If lucky, I’d probably be more like these ladies (assuming I ever manage to play a note).

Or I could just pose with the banjo, and pretend I know how to play it.

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846-03164971 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: No 1960s YOUNG BLOND WOMAN PLAYING BANJO WEARING PLAID SHIRT

As soon as I finish that PhD, I’m signing up for lessons! I’m sure I can find a banjo at the flea market.

 

The Art and Science of Awe

I returned to my old neighborhood at UC Berkeley today. I don’t get to campus very often since I left my job at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) last December. But I was lured back by the Greater Good Science Center, of which I have been a member for a couple of years now. Taking their Science of Happiness MOOC (massive open online course) in September, 2014,  was a life-changing experience. I highly recommend it. The next offering begins September 6 this year.

The Science of Happiness

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According to the program notes for my adventure today, a “day of cutting-edge research and awe-inspiring performances”, the event “marks the culmination of an unprecedented three-year project to advance the scientific study of awe, conducted by Dacher Keltner’s Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and funded by the John Templeton Foundation”. Sounded like a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday to me!

The Art and Science of Awe

Off I headed to the Zellerbach Playhouse, a smaller (yet to me, nicer) annex to the big Zellerbach Hall that is the home of Cal Performances.

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* signage
Not really necessary, since the only people on campus on an overcast, summer Saturday were those of us heading to Zellerbach Playhouse anyway.

* banner

* your reporter
Your intrepid reporter, ready to be awed.
* your brain
If you are thinking,” that would make a great t-shirt”, yes, you can buy the shirt from the Greater Good Science Center.
* venue
Zellerbach Playhouse
1. Clerestory
Vocal ensemble Clerestory opens the proceedings, with images from Cal Project Awe.

Ever since I took “The Science of Happiness”, I’m kind of a Dacher Keltner groupie. UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center. He gave the morning keynote, “What Is Awe and Why Does It Matter”, getting us off to a great start. (I am trying not to use the word awesome. And I apologize for the “save” box on the portraits; that happened when I screen shot the images somehow and I am not going to redo them!)

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Dacher Keltner, Ph. D.

What is awe, you ask? Keltner defines it as “being in the presence of something vast, beyond current understanding”.

Lest you think this will get too serious, the discussion even included designing better emoticons with an artist from Pixar.

8. Emoticons

And why study awe? Because awe might provide the counterpoint to what many of us see as a current cultural malaise.

9. toward a culture of awe

Next up was arguably the crowd favorite, a participatory music session led by the amazing Melanie DeMore. Okay, I normally balk at sing-alongs and participatory anything, but I let myself be open to this and it was so much fun, and moving as well. I had a tear (or two) in my eye at the end. Melanie DeMore is a vocal artist and activist and is a natural teacher and mentor, if this session was anything to judge by. She had me singing and clapping and swaying at 9:30 on a Saturday morning before I’d even had coffee. Unanimous standing ovation from the audience.

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Vocal activist Melanie DeMare.

11. Melanie

Then followed the first panel of the day (the members of which acknowledged humorously that Melanie was a hard act to follow): “Nurturing Awe: How Awe Can Be Fostered Through Education”. Moderator Vicki Zakrewski, Ph.D, moderated the discussion, with presentations from high school teacher Julie Mann and Tom Rockwell, Director of Exhibits and Social Media at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

the-exploratorium

Julie Mann teaches at Newcomers High School in Queens, where 100% of the students are ESL students. As hard as awe as a concept is to describe, she asked us to imagine describing awe in a language you are learning as an immigrant. “You have to experience awe to understand it” so she works with her students to provide them the experience as well as the tools to describe it.

12. Julie Mann

14. Julie Mann
Students finding awe in fresh air, relaxation, and looking at the sky, an experience many of us take for granted but that is unique for these underserved kids.

Tom Rockwell talked about how they approach exhibits at the Exploratorium in an effort to provoke wonder and curiosity and questions, not to provide the answers. He also talked about the concept of wonder and how it relates to awe.

Break time, and the search for coffee, one of the magical things that instills awe in me.

The next panel, “Natural Elevation: The Therapeutic Benefits of Experiencing Awe in Nature”, was led by moderator Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D, and included presentations from Craig Anderson, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley), Stacy Bare (Director, Sierra Club Outdoors), and Jaclyn Lim, who as a teenager participated in a collaborative study between UC Berkeley and the Sierra Club that looked at the mental and physical health benefits of experiences in nature for underserved adolescents and military veterans.

Even Golden State Warriors basketball superhero Steph Curry made it into the discussion, as he apparently has a very expressive face for comparisons of facial expressions and emotions.

25. Stacy Bare
Veteran Stacy Bare, who says his bone fides as a presenter make him an outlier–“most of my life has been about kicking in doors and blowing stuff up”.

The morning wrapped up with poetry readings by former US Poet Laureate, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass. I would have loved to take a class from this warm, engaging gentleman. I felt awe in his presence.

Hass
Robert Hass.

27. Robert Hass

Lunch! Time to seek culinary awe. And thank you Greater Good Science Center for providing a vegan choice (catering by Ann’s Catering).

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Melanie DeMare graciously mingles with crowd.
30. Aftermath
The lunch aftermath. Where are the composting bins, cutting-edge university, hmmm?

The afternoon started with the super high-energy and voluble Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and maker of the short film series “Shots of Awe”, in conversation with Dacher Keltner on “Our Responsibility to Awe”.

To be honest, he was talking so fast about so many things with such animation that I lost track! As someone who feels inarticulate much of the time, this did produce a sense of awe in me.

The afternoon keynote, “What’s Awe Got To Do With It?: How Awe Changes Our Minds and Bodies” was delivered by Michelle “Lani” Shiota, PH.D, of Arizona State University.

Shiota
Lani Shiota, Ph.D.

Post afternoon break, we again were introduced to awe through music, with beautiful sounds of the Chinese stringed instrument the pipa, played by Wu Man. Haunting, mesmerizing, and meditative all at the same time.

Wu Man then joined the panel on “Evoking Awe Through Art”, moderated by Director of Cal Performances Matias Tarnopolsky and with presentations by husband and wife team Ben Davis and Vanessa Inn (Illuminate the Arts) and David Delgado (NASA Visual Strategist and co-founder of the Museum of Awe).

Illuminate the Arts is a light-based arts project that teamed with artist Leo Villareal to create the The Bay Lights, making the Bay Bridge into San Francisco a “canvas of light”.

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The Bay Lights

David Delgado “develops experiences that provoke curiosity through a mix of science and imagination”, such as Metamorphosis, a sculptural depiction of a meteor that allows people the experience of walking through the tail of a comet.

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Metamorphosis, photo by Ann Elliott Cutting Photography.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas led another panel on the topic of “Awe and the Greater Good: How Awe Can Inspire–and Be Inspired by–Acts of Altruism and Moral Courage”.

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Presenter Paul Piff, Ph.D., of UC Irvine, spoke about whether the experience of awe attenuates narcissism, entitlement, and self-interest (no surprise to me, he found that the people who are the most well-off also feel the highest sense of entitlement and are  less generous).

Piff
Paul Piff, Ph.D.

Covering the concept of moral courage was Jakada Imani from the Center for Popular Democracy (and former Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) with a profile of the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and how he ended up the path to altriusm and moral courage.

Imani
Jakada Imani

45. Jakada Imani

The final panel of the day, “Global Awe: Finding Awe Around the World and Across the Universe”, brought back Dacher Keltner with Jennifer Stellar, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, and astronomer Alex Filippenko, Ph.D, professor at UC Berkeley (and nine-time Professor of the Year).

Jennifer Stellar talked about how awe varies across cultures and what about it is universal.

Alex Filippenko, as the astronomer, went the universal route, invoking Albert Einstein and mostly talking over this humanities/arts/humane education person’s head. The crowd was generally more physics friendly, as far as I could tell, since they laughed and seemed enthralled and entertained. This kind of intelligene does invoke awe for me even if I don’t understand what’s being discussed!

Dacher Keltner closed with remarks about how the life’s work for each presenter beagn with awe and wonder, and after the standing ovation, everyone went out to the annoying but ear-worm inducing sounds of the song “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”.

I had to get that out of my head, so I drove home to the sound of Lee Horsley reading Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer prize-winning book “Lonesome Dove”. That, my friends, is truly awesome.

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A Visit to Historic TB 9 at UC Davis

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If you’ve never heard of TB (Temporary Building ) 9 at the University of California, Davis, it is the building that houses the classrooms and studios of the ceramics sculptural arts program made famous by Robert Arneson and his students. The 7,200 sq. ft. building was bought from the federal government as war surplus in 1947 and used as a dormitory building, fondly referred to as The Warehouse. In 1951 the buiding was converted to a combination police station, mailroom, and storage area. The art department began taking it over in 1961; Robert Arneson arrived in 1962. By the end of the 1960s the entire building had been given over to the ceramics program and a metal foundry (discontinued after the 1971 death of faculty member and metal sculptor Tio Gimbruni). If you’ve ever been to UC Davis, you’ve probably seen Giambruni’s work “Bum Bum You’ve Been Here Before”, 1967.

Arneson at TB9
Robert Arneson

 

Bum Bum
Bum Bum You’ve Been Here Before, Tio Giambruni, 1967

Temporary buildings have a way of never going away at UC Davis, and TB 9 is alive and well and is still the home of the ceramics teaching studio and kilns.

TB9 building

I had never actually been inside TB 9 before, but finally had a chance to see inside and discover its whimsical art garden with work colleagues not so long ago.

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What follows is a photo tour of TB 9, inside and out. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t wait to go back, and maybe the kumquat tree will still have fruit!

 

Art and Activism

I don’t refer to myself as an artist. When I was much younger I wanted to be “an artist”, yes, but as I have worked in the arts for many years now I have realized that a lot of the game of becoming a “successful” artist is knowing how to market yourself. And that’s the rub. I have no desire to develop that side of my personality. But I do love to draw still.

Art@DxE
Our first group meeting of activist-artists.

We recently started an art group at Direct Action Everywhere, and I was amazed at the wonderful artists in the group. It’s an honor to have been included.

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Here is an artist statment I wrote not long ago when I was approached by art group organizer Leslie Robinson Goldberg, aka the Vicious Vegan of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) about a series profiling activist-artists.

Artist Statement

Genevieve Cottraux

As a shy and anxious kid, drawing and animals were two of the ways I connected to the world. My mother was always very tolerant about taking in the strays that my siblings and I brought home. At one point, we had 4 dogs and 7 cats sharing the house with Mom and the 4 of us. I drew a lot of pictures of cats, needless to say.

In college getting my design degree, drawing classes were always my favorite. My first job out of college was as an archaeological illustrator with a company in Sacramento, working on environmental impact reports and historic building surveys. After a couple of years, I was being phased out by computer applications, so I went back to school and shifted careers into arts administration. My love of drawing had really suffered, but never my love for animals! By finding a community of artists with the animal activism world, I’ve finally felt inspired to get out my sketchbook.

The project that I am contemplating working on focuses on the animals I meet and love during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. I plan to do a sketch a week, picking the animal that most touches my heart during my shift. I mostly volunteer in the cat adoption area, but I’d love to start including dogs as well. The challenge will be finding the best way to include their stories with the sketches.

I think what bring me back to drawing is the personal connection I feel when I am with the animals at the shelter. My heart is involved, not just my eye-hand coordination and attention to detail. Someone suggested that I offer the shelter animal drawings to the eventual adopters of the animals, and I really like that idea, if I can bring myself to part with them!

I went through all of the work I have accumulated over the years, and was surprised at how little of it involved animals. I included an older piece (the endangered Smith’s Blue in the DxE blogpost, link below) because it is a drawing I am still happy with years later and it was one of the rare chances I had as an illustrator to draw something that made me feel like I was doing something important (plus it made me happy).

1. Smiths blue
Smith’s Blue, my rendering

 

BF-SmithBlue-u_0862w
Smith’s Blue, the real deal

The other 4 drawings, all unfinished, I included are of animals I recently spent time with at the The East Bay SPCA, the wonderful shelter where I have volunteered sine 2009. I plan to keep doing a sketch every time I go to the shelter, focusing on the animal that day who most tugs at my heart.

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Check out the DxE blog, The Liberationist, for many interesting and thought-provoking articles, such as this one by the amazing Kitty Jones: Five Things Animals Would Say If They Could. Here is a link to the post with my drawings: Art and Animals: Genevieve Cottraux

Tofurkey, the sad-eyed chihuahua mix, has since been adopted! Yay, Tofurkey!  I can’t decide if I hope they changed her name or not.

5. Tofurkey
Tofurkey (unfinished drawing)

I started a new piece last night, of my newest foster kitten Babou. He is the sweetest, funniest little guy. He makes me laugh and I know he will find a wonderful forever home, thanks to the East Bay SPCA.

Babou

The Alameda Point Antiques Faire, aka “The Flea”

On the first Sunday of every month, rain or shine, crowds make their way to the Alameda Point Antiques Faire, or as we fondly call it, “The Flea.” This is not your junky flea market; this is huge, with lots of stuff, ranging from the, yes, junky, to high end antiques. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning, and I count it as exercise. And there are food trucks; who doesn’t love a food truck? If you have time afterward, the town of Alameda is fun to explore, too.

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alamedanew2800
The Alameda Point Antiques Faire, at the sign of the clock.

The entrance fee goes down as the morning goes on; early birds pay more! Your strategy will depend on several things: e.g., how badly do you need coffee and do you want to start at the way far back in the low rent district or start at the front in the high rent district?

coffee
There are several coffee purveyors; I usually decide by which has the shorter line.
low rent district 2
In the low rent district, the vendors don’t mess much with fancy displays and there tends to be empty real estate.
low rent district 1
It may be the low rent district, but you can still find some good things!
high rent district
The stalls closer to the entrance, i.e. the high rent district, go to a little more trouble but also charge more.

The food options vary; on this January day there weren’t quite as many trucks to choose from, but you can get “state fair food on a stick”, falafel, pizza, Chinese food, Indian food, Greek food, baked goods, and of course, kettle corn (it’s everywhere).

 

One of my favorite activities is looking for the “art” (note the quotation marks).

 

Then there are the specific categories of art, such as clown art. The stuff of my bad dreams.

clown classic
The classic clown portrait.
clown classic unsold
Surprisingly, it didn’t sell. Maybe next month.

Weird sculptural things also make an appearance.

 

mannequins
Daryl Hall as Mrs. Santa?

If you have any interest in old family photos and other people’s ancestors, there are always lots of stacks and frames of interesting, usually stern people’s faces. It does make me sad that they end up at the flea market though.

ancestors

Interesting yard art opportunities abound. Someone purchased both of these and was wheeling them out. I title it The Bear Thinks About Eating The Thinker.

bear eats thinker

 

For the bookworm, there are children’s book, books that don’t really seem old enough to be at the “antiques faire”, and cookbooks, to name a few.

 

For the clothes mavens, there are plenty of “vintage” clothing vendors. Birkenstocks are vintage now?

 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of fur among the clothing items. My animal activist side gets riled up. Maybe I can get my activist friends out protesting with me some Sunday.

animal 3
It’s not fashion, it’s violence! Don’t buy fur!!!

I will allow the purchasing of a tiara or two, however. You can’t have too many of those.

tiara

One of my very favorite categories–cat lady (or cat guy) merchandise!

cat hair spray
The vendor informed me that this cat was made to cover a can of hair spray.
Susie kitten
I really was tempted to buy this.
Kitty Wampus
Kitty Wampus proved irresistable; I did buy it.

I am also fascinated by the extremely expensive French road and building signs. I can’t guarantee they are genuine; “faux French” is a thing.

french 4
This one will set you back $265.

Here are a few of the fun things I saw on this January visit:

 

beam me up scottie
Beam me up, Scotty! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Fargo snowglobe
Who wouldn’t want a Fargo snow globe, complete with bloody snow?
kiss ducks
A complete set of Kiss rubber ducks!
troll
Bob said he wouldn’t object if I bought a troll doll as long as it wasn’t bigger than my head. This one was close, but at $65, I don’t think so!

Transportation theme:

 

stop light
Fraternity house furnishing?
joe and bowl
A successful purchase; Tibetan bowl for Joe the music teacher.
misty not impressed
Misty is not impressed with my purchases.

Maybe Misty will have a chance to be impressed next month. And maybe I’ll see you at The Flea!

 

A Short Trip to the Kitsap Peninsula

Our holiday travels this year consisted of a 2-day trip to the coast of Western Washington, specifically, the Kitsap Peninsula.

Kitsap Pen
The Kitsap Peninsula, Washington

There was a reason for this trip other than needing a getaway after a very busy year. Bob’s brother Jack, planning ahead for retirement, bought a parcel of land outside of Belfair, on the Hood Canal. He’d been there in nicer weather and wanted to see it in the winter. When he asked us if we wanted to tag along on a short trip, of course we said yes! I love the Pacific Northwest, and have my own daydreams of settling in that part of the country. So we packed our carry-on bags and headed out, flying in to Seattle.

Diva
Seattle, you’ve got my number.

The rental 4-wheel drive SUV (I hate SUVs but in this case it seemed prudent), skillfully piloted by Bob, got us out of Seattle and over to the peninsula, where it was snowing! I grew up mostly in Georgia and California, so any amount of snow strikes me as wondrous and beautiful. And cold and wet, best viewed from indoors or on Christmas cards.

snow pan

snow person
Of course I had to build a snow person!

This is an area with a much larger population in the summer; in the winter off-season it is very quiet. Which is fine with me! But it would be fun to spend some time here in the summer too.

boys 2
The living room windows will face the canal view, thataway.
footprints
I was hoping for animal tracks, but all I saw were my own.

moss

The route for the next day: morning in Poulsbo, then to Bainbridge Island, and finally the ferry back to Seattle for a night in the city.

Poulsbo is a charming town on Liberty Bay. Its historic downtown, referred to as Little Norway, is popular with summer tourists. On the way in, make sure and stop to see the 12-foot tall Norseman who stands at the intersection that leads into town.

Norseman
Velkommen

First things first (well, second; seeing the Norseman was first), the search for coffee. I was not dissappointed. Viking Brew to the rescue!

sleep when dead
And it tastes so good!

A very welcoming town, Poulsbo, and quite proud of it’s Norwegian heritage.

velkommen

 

ship mural

 

Thor
The hammer part would scare me if I were interested in getting a tattoo. Which I am not.

Poulsbo 1885

And there is the beautiful view of the bay and a quite large marina.

Poulsbo pan
Winter on Liberty Bay at Poulsbo.
JJs Fish House
This guy outside of J.J.’s Fish House did nothing to change my mind about being vegan!

Next up, Bainbridge Island, a place I’ve wanted to see for a while. Winslow Way seemed to be the main drag and center of all things commercial.

Bainbridge sign

I’m not sure what the deal with frogs is, but like Chicago has its cows, San Francisco has its hearts, and Atlanta has its peaches, Bainbridge Island has its frogs.

I’m honestly not much of a shopper, but I can say shopping opportunities abound! We did make our way into a travel store, which included a great book section. I had no idea you could get Dr. Seuss in French. What happens with the anapestic tetrameter in which he wrote when translated?

cest bon
Smart kids on Bainbridge Island!

We also made our way into one of the many art galleries, Roby King Galleries, to look at their show of contemporary works based on Alice in Wonderland in honor of its 150th anniversary. Some fun, some weird, some a little scary.

Alice
Alice, by Helene Wilder

The highlight was a visit to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, a really beautiful space with several well-curated exhibitions on view.

Bainbridge Art

The first exhibition you enter, on the ground level, is Steven Maslach: New Light. Maslach does amazing things with glass and color. The museum space, with its light, open spaces, makes a good backdrop for his work.

ladder on fire
Steven Maslach, Ladder on Fire, 2014, hot cast glass with color filters, wood, steel base
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Steven Maslach, Kitsap Longboat, 2006, life cast hands, hot cast glass, steel base

I was particularly struck by the display of his casting jacket and the burned arm; I am in awe of people who work with the heat and fire of glass.

Also on the ground floor is Nancy Thorne Chambers: A Story Place, a whimisical ceramic installation that I found to be quite lovely and nostalgia-provoking. I was transported back to a childhood of reading books like The Wind in the Willows and my lifelong love of books and animals.

story place 3

Moving upstairs, the group exhibition Thought Patterns features regional artists working in an array of media but with a commonality of working in patterns and repetition.

museum general view

Some of my favorites:

waterfall
Jane Sekiguchi, 2014, Waterfall, scroll cut engineered wood, enamel
cantinas panel label
Julia Haack, Cantiñas Panel, 2014, latex paint and salvaged wood
mojave mattress
Julia Haack, Mojave Mattress, 2005, fabric over wood and metal
wilting
Peggy Smith-Venturi, Wilting, 2012, artist’s book

The most beautiful exhibition, to my eye, is the gallery of artist’s books. As an art form, these can be difficult to display and interpret for an audience. They can best be understood up close and personal (i.e., by handling) but are too fragile and vulnerable to allow this kind of contact. I think the specially fitted gallery allows for close viewing, safe exhibition, and a quiet, reflective space befitting this kind of collection. The particular exhibition on this visit: Artist’s Books: Chapter 6: Regarding nature…or disregarding it (Collection of Cynthia Sears).

The introductory wall includes this painting that a book-loving girl can’t bypass.

girl with raised hands
Jeff Weekley, Girl with Raised Hands, oil on cradled wood panel

artists books roomartists books 1artists books 5artists books 2

And as at all well-run museums, please exit through the gift shop!

yoga elephants
How could I resist the Yoga Elephants???

There is a children’s museum next door that looks quite fun, but no time to stop other than for a bit of silliness.

silliness

Time for the ferry to Seattle.

seattle from the ferry
The approach to Seattle from Bainbridge Island.

We made it to the University District, but given that it’s winter break, not a lot was happening there. But the Hotel Deca was quite nice.

 

For dinner, we headed over to the Wallingford neighborhood, which reminded me a little of the East Bay with its Craftsman Homes. Through the guidance of Open Table, Bob found the restaurant Tilth, one of the restaurants of executive chef and James Beard award winner Maria Hines.

tilth sign
Tilth, New American cuisine, 1411 N. 45th Street, Seattle.

I don’t drink, but Bob was intrigued by the craft cocktail menu. I had a sarsparilla soda, which I didn’t know was a thing outside of cowboy movies. Bob’s not a vegan; he said the fish dishes were excellent.

tilth hot toddy

I was pleased to see a vegan tasting menu. That’s not easy to find! I had the vegan cassoulet; it was delicious, smoky and mushroomy. And for dessert we shared the vegan cashew “cheesecake” with cranberry compote and pomegranate.

 

All good things must come to an end (must they, really?), so we were up early the next morning to get to the Seattle airport and home. I had no idea it got so cold in Seattle!

seattle 7am
The University District of Seattle at 7 a.m. in late December.
seattle frost
What is this frost on the windshield business?
airport flying fish
Follow the flying fish to your gate at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

And now we are home, and it’s 2016. How did that happen? Happy New Year, everyone!

 

 

My New Work Neighborhood (follow up to End of An Era)

It’s been more than a month since the staff moved out of the old University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) building at the top of Bancroft and College Avenues. There are things I miss about the old neighborhood (Caffe Strada, the Underhill parking garage), and things I don’t (Telegraph Avenue, People’s Park). We are all still getting settled into the new space and the new neighborhood, and the gallery spaces in the buildings are off limits since it’s still a construction zone, but here are my (mostly) highs and lows so far.

Watch for falling debris on your way in!
Watch for falling debris on your way in!

view 1 view 2

Moving is always so much fun.
Moving is always so much fun.
You can park here if you get here before 8:30 (yes, a.m.).
You can park here if you get here before 8:30 (yes, a.m.).

For reasons that are not clear to me, much of the new space is ORANGE. I mean, seriously ORANGE. Not a very calming color. Just saying.

Orange is the new black.
Orange is the new black.
Dressing to match the color of our new furniture.
Dressing to match the color of our new furniture.
What, are we in an episode of The Leftovers? Where did the people go?
What, are we in an episode of The Leftovers? Where did the people go?
It must be the lunch hour...
It must be the lunch hour…

During the settling in period, some things have been a challenge. LIke making coffee with no flat surface to put the coffee maker on. But I persevere!

Packing boxes serving an extra purpose.
Packing boxes serving an extra purpose.

We have windows! Big windows that let in light and air (and noise and dust). With a view!

windows windows 2

Everyone is trying to make their spaces feel a little more like their own. Some staff have more space to work with than others. I’m one of the ones with less. Less is more, right?

Not my space.
Not my space.
My space, shared with another person. At least we like each other.
My space, shared with another person. At least we like each other.
Look for me at the sign of the Cat Lady.
Look for me at the sign of the Cat Lady.

It gets better; I have a table now (no more making coffee on the floor) and we have (ORANGE) privacy screens going up.

privacy 1 privacy 2

And when I get sick or looking at orange, I can always daydream about summer in France by looking at my calendar (it looks good next to the orange).

France sigh

Just across Oxford Street from us is one of the most beautiful parts of campus; lots of trees and greenery and art. Walking around is much nicer than it was in the old neighborhood (sorry, old neighborhood).

Natural lanscaping in front of the Genetics building.
Natural lanscaping in front of the Genetics building.
Autumn at Cal.
Autumn at Cal.

autumn 2

The Cherry Grove.
The Cherry Grove.
The Eucalyptus Grove.
The Eucalyptus Grove.
Springer Memorial Gateway.
Springer Memorial Gateway.

gateway 2 green squirrels

An inevitable Cal Bear.
An inevitable Cal Bear.

Some of the campus art nearby:

Pomodoro Pomodoro plaque

Liberman Liberman plaque

One of the 5 Bruce Beasley ring sculptures on campus.
One of the 5 Bruce Beasley ring sculptures on campus.
“Brain scan art” at the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center at Cal.

And the arts are not limited to campus, downtown Berkeley has its share.

The window at the Berkeley Arts Festival on Addison Street.
The window at the Berkeley Arts Festival on Addison Street.
This alleyway makes me happy.
This alleyway makes me happy.

Being in downtown Berkeley, there are a lot of restaurants to explore. As an inveterate brown-bagger and an aspiring vegan, I don’t really eat lunch out but there are lots of places to choose from.

Saturn 1 Saturn 2 Sliver 1 Sliver 2

Cancun Gather

My favorite morning spot when time allows; good soy latte and really friendly people.
My favorite morning spot when time allows; good soy latte and really friendly people.
Ah, Cinnaholic. I will get to you someday.
Ah, Cinnaholic. I will get to you someday.
This looks more like my kind of place.
This looks more like my kind of place.

There are also new cultural opportunities to explore>

Magnes Marsh Brower

And great news for me–the Berkeley Public Library is close enough to visit during my lunch break!

BPL 4 BPL 1 BPL 2 BPL 3

It’s not a neighborhood without problems; there are homeless encampments in front of the Bank of America building on Shattuck, Center Street is a major hangout for panhandlers, and an encampment seems to be forming in front of the Starbucks at Oxford and Center. With the (hopefully) rainy season and cold weather looming, it’s especially heartbreaking.

Abandonned sign on Center Street. I hope we passed the test, but I kind of doubt it.
Abandoned sign on Center Street. I hope we passed the test, but I kind of doubt it.

The new, improved BAMPFA opens at the end of January. Come see us!