On Listening

“I believe equality will be won with thousands of small, quiet gestures…Every time someone, male or female, steps up and declares that they’re taking action, the more likely it is that these gestures will happen when they need to.”

This is an excerpt from nickd’s blog on the choices he’s made to promote diversity and gender balance in his life and career. It’s an excellent list; if you need any ideas, please start there. Aside from that, I want to supplement his post with a couple of additional requests of my own. And while there are plenty of big ticket feminist issues that deserve every ounce of discussion and support they can get, today I want to focus on making little changes in our daily lives too.

Here’s a scenario that happens frequently at social events. I’m there happily shooting the breeze with an acquaintance of some kind – let’s call him guy #1. Suddenly, guy #2 comes up to say hello to guy #1, perhaps cutting me off in the middle of a sentence. And then the two of them start talking together, as if I weren’t a part of the original conversation. Guy #1 doesn’t introduce me, and I’m left awkwardly half in the conversation, half removed from it. This is irritating, but what’s even worse is what often happens after this.

Depending on how much I like either one of these guys, I will make attempts to insert myself back into the discussion. However, this sometimes doesn’t work: my comments or questions are simply ignored or diverted. This behavior is reductive and has the affect of making a person feel invisible. No good outcome comes from this, typically I decide neither guy has manners and I walk away, and our relationship remains tenuous.

The most memorable example of this happened last year while Chad & I went on a weekend jaunt up to Milwaukee to see art and take a break from Chicago. We went to an apartment gallery, American Fantasy Classics, which was more apartment than gallery; maybe 10 people were there. Chad knew a guy who had artwork up, and they eagerly began talking about running art spaces. This guy knew of the Post Family, and started peppering Chad with questions. At this point I’m wandering around solo, trying to make sense of the most arresting piece of artwork in the show. It was a cartoonish and grotesque sculpture of a horse made of collected bits of trash and fabric, complete with a creepy and glittering oversized penis. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the sculpture’s overt statement was a preview of the macho behavior I was about to encounter.

I made my way back to Chad, curious to hear more about the space and its baffling artwork. Introductions are made, and the conversation carries on – only I’m not part of it. I try multiple times to insert myself, offering insightful and relevant things to the conversation. I’m met with blank stare and diversion, followed by, “So, Chad, what about…?” Chad, thankfully, sees me getting frustrated and makes a point to explain why I know what I’m talking about. I kid you not, this guy did a double take. In this moment I transformed into a real person with valid thoughts and feelings.

It’s not right that it takes Chad – or anyone – to speak up on my behalf in order to be taken seriously. I am not a unicorn. I am a person, and I’m good enough on my own. You just have to talk with me, not at me, hear my words and respond in kind.

Even though this is a small request, my hope is that it catalyzes more listening, without complaint. So often when I see anyone making a stand for better treatment of women and minorities, there’s at least one guy bemoaning the request or making attempts to justify or defend the boorish behavior. I am so done with that response. It only makes things worse – it’s so much better to accept it with a smile, and offer an earnest apology so we can both move on. We can even still be friends; in fact, I will respect you that much more for handling the foible with grace.

This isn’t just my own perspective either. In Mychal Denzel Smith’s recent piece White People Have to Give Up Racism, on The Nation, he makes a similar argument with regard to African American culture. Among many great points, he implores white people to improve their listening skills. How? One way is to seek out more diverse media, but another is to simply hear what’s already being said around you. Chances are excellent that we’ve been talking this whole time, but you just had us on another channel.

How San Francisco gets me writing again

I should just write. I should. Stop over-thinking it. Just….do….it. Okay, go. Now. I’m going. I’m starting, picking up the thread not knowing where exactly I left off or how to start or fill you in. Life doesn’t follow such a tidy narrative though, so I guess it’s okay if blogs don’t either. In an email from my friend Kate Singleton of Buy Some Damn Art / Art Hound said, any blog posts are good. Even if they are sputtering and sporadic.

I came down with shingles in August, with my recovery lasting well into September. The only explanation for why, in my case, was months of prolonged stress. While the virus wasn’t terribly painful – I was lucky in that respect, but it did cause 4 days of temporary blindness in my right eye, many doctors visits (thank goodness I have insurance), medicines, and strict orders to take it easy. Very easy. Okay message received, universe: clearly it’s time to make some changes. What changes exactly, I’m still thinking about, but I’m happy to report that I’m physically back-to-normal. After taking a significant break from maintaining any kind of personal work – ie this blog or anything else, I’m finding my way back to it. I get some flickers of inspiration here and there, lukewarm at best, so I know I’m not totally broken. But I knew travel would speed things up, and it just so happened that Chad & I had booked crazy discounted tickets to San Francisco way back in the spring so the timing was perfect.

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The biggest reason for the trip was Tony & Kat’s wedding, but there were also self-assigned work: museums, galleries, literature, hiking, a golden visit to the Pacific ocean, a tour of artist Lisa Congdon’s studio, and coffee with Makeshift Society owner, the masterful Rena Tom. Our adventures took us all over the Bay area, on Bart, MUNI, ferry, car, bicycle, streetcar, taxi, and of course on foot. We saw more organic produce at the Berkeley Bowl than I’ve ever seen in one place before (Whole Foods included), drove legendary Highway 1 at sunset, noshed on a late night In-N-Out burger – animal style, dove into rich gourmet bowls of mac ‘n cheese at Homeroom, desserted at Tartine, and marveled at the highly technical event that is parallel parking on SF’s steep hills. And so much art – art, and people doing interesting things it was a feast for my brains too.

Thank you, California friends, new and old. The way you brought us so generously into your lives was all of the soul fuel I could’ve asked for. I’m looking for all the reasons I can to make my return and see some more of you soon.

1. Muir Beach Lookout. 2. Awesome logo on a Bay Ferry boat. 3. San Francisco’s literary festival, LitQuake plays hosts to comedian/novelists, David Handler and Andrew Sean Greer. Recap of the event here by my friend Margaret Edith Maggie who also kindly lodged us for a few nights. 4. I got chills seeing this couple unknowingly mimicking a massive Margaret Kilgallen painting at SFMOMA. 5. Woodland elf? Nope, it’s photographer Ben Speckmann in Muir Woods! 6. Lisa Congdon fans my already major lust for Scandianvia with tales her three week solo trip to Iceland, Sweden, and Copenhagen, and how it’s inspired her work. 7 & 8. Lettering inspiration dialed up to 11 at highly traditional custom sign-painting shop Golden West Sign Arts in Berkeley. 9. The ocean was so cold my toenails turned blue! Ah!!! Okay, not really. Just seeing if you were still paying attention.

All photos by me or Chad on iPhones or the Canon S100.

Why the Invisible Bike Helmet is cool

This. This will change the cycling world. I’ve long been complaining about the poor helmet options out there, especially for ladies. It’s hard to find the correct size and most people don’t even wear them correctly. It’s just dump design, period, with crap decoration on top of it. As if ladies must be enticed to wear helmets that have been feminized with some girly version of the logo (looking at you, Bern) or some child-like floral pattern, it’s patronizing and insulting. Smacks of dudes designing for what they think all women want, without actually bothering to ask any of us. But the invisible bike helmet is not about vanity, it’s just a better solution to the whole problem. By designers Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, there’s 7+ years of research and funding that have gone into the project, which I hope will continue to grow. Right now it retails for $600 which isn’t exactly accessible and if it gets deployed then you need to buy new one (though I would imagine insurance would cover this cost), but fingers crossed this will change as word spreads. Seriously, watch the video if you haven’t already. It will take your breath away.

Via Swissmiss.

Ugly Face Wednesdays

Man! I’m on a real photography bender this week! These photos are what I want to look at when I need a laugh. I discovered artist/designer Cari Vander Yacht’s Ugly Face Wednesdays series from my friend Kate Bingaman-Burt several months ago while we were in Portland. And I’ve loved it since. Cari’s project is simply just to make the ugliest – and I mean ugliest– face she can think of. There’s something so refreshing about how honest these are. Not concerned with pretty, cute, perfect is a welcome change of pace. Chad & I have taken to doing this after a long day, it’s always a welcome dose of comic relief. It is Wednesday, what’s the ugliest face YOU can muster? Bonus points if you send me a picture of it!