Archive for the 'Work' Category

This Side Up

If only instructions for life were this easy: This Place Now. This Job Up. All Arrows To The East.

People often make overarching statements about the cultural differences between the West and the East in the U.S. – and generally, they’re talking about New York versus Los Angeles: one big city pitted against another.

But it’s not so easy when you’re comparing mid-sized Virginia towns to tiny Ohio villages to medium-ish Colorado towns. Or when the small Colorado town is one of the most isolated liberal bubbles in the state. Kind of a cultural blip.

What I’ve missed about Eastern Appalachian and mid-Southern towns: The kindness. The total lack of pretension. Lower food prices. Lower rents. Lower cost of living. Black people. Being able to rely on community. Generosity. Good hosts. The way people have a real sympathy for other people, even if they’re only acquaintances. The way people are really aware of other people, even if they don’t have sympathy. Mixed-income populations. Obesity. Ugly gardens. Ugliness in general. Conservatives. Manners. Better drivers.

What I’m going to miss about Boulder: Sunshine every day. The total lack of self-consciousness. The beautiful gardens. The beautiful houses. Not living anywhere near a Wal-Mart. Or a CVS. Intentional living. The intellect. My favorite coffee shop from over the summer. Big skies. Being able to hike at a moment’s notice. The big forbidding metaphorical mountains.

Anyways, I’m going to on a train for the next few days, and then driving for another, so I won’t be posting until I get settled in on the other side.

Wish me luck!


On Resolutions, Goals, and Playing Cards

“We must imagine the possibility of a more just world before the world may become more just. That’s something that poets do well.”

– Martin Espada

In the progressive artsy sector of the internet, it seems pretty well-accepted that New Year’s Resolutions are over-simplifying things, at the very least. Even Oprah thinks that keeping a journal is a better method for self-improvement than making some spastic once-a-year goals (and I agree). I also like Stephanie’s (aka Biffybeans’) guidelines for making manifestations instead of resolutions.

There’s something about Boulder the United States the Holidays that leaves me exhausted. And maybe that’s why people find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions so refreshing, like a deep cleansing meditation after a bad hangover. But the general sentiment from friends and fellow bloggers is that a feeling of “stuck-ness” is more than a matter of internal motivation. Unfortunately, there really are external factors that affect your success – a shitty economy, for one. A highly motivated, optimistic, and qualified individual is not guaranteed a job, at least at the moment. In fact just such a friend of mine is currently on food stamps.

One of my big-picture goals has always been to bring these larger systems up in conversations, especially with people who believe that the individual is 100% responsible for his or her fate. Having tried to live as a low-income person in a high-income city for the past few months, I can tell you that positive attitudes and initiative can only take you so far. Chance has a lot to do with it, and so does the willingness of luckier people to reach out to you. There isn’t a lot of outreach here in Boulder, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities for poor folks to mingle with the rich folks. Let alone different racial groups.

In 1994, the KKK held a rally in Boulder. When Boulder residents vehemently protested, a KKK leader gave a speech in which he identified Boulder as a model city for the KKK because (contrary to the image of being one of the most progressive cities in the nation) “it is impossible for a lower middle class family with multiple childeren to live here.” In fact, he congratulated Boulder on achieving 90% white demographics. It took a member of the KKK to give the city a wake-up call about privilege, to show them that no amount of Buddhist meditation groups and African dance lessons will create real diversity.

Having said that, I’m no fatalist when it comes to success and happiness, and I don’t think The Man can keep you down forever. Re-examine the cards you’ve been dealt: the privileges and the opportunities, the options and the limitations. There are a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity to save or invest money, and will never have the financial padding to move to a different city or switch professions. So heck, I feel real good about being able to miserably pinch pennies in order to move across the country (yet again). Miserable, sure, but lucky as hell.

I propose we think of the new year as reshuffling your deck. See if new patterns emerge, or if you’ve been trying to play the wrong hand for too long. (Is this metaphor still making sense?)

My Hand This Year

  1. Do whatever it takes to avoid being overwhelmed by job-searching. Take a day off to rest my brain, and ask for help if I need it. Indulge in self pity if necessary, but don’t be crippled by it.
  2. Fake the enthusiasm that I don’t always have. I know that my tendency is to curl up alone and read or paint, but that certainly isn’t going to make me friends or get a job.
  3. Spend money in ways that enhance my life. I will not feel guilty about going out to a restaurant if it helps me get closer to a new friend. And I will not feel guilty about ordering lunch, if it helps me bond with my co-workers. Sometimes not spending money can isolate you and prevent you from connecting with your workplace or hometown.
  4. Be strategic with the Great Flow of Information. Because damn, it’s easy to get lost in the internet. Instead of zoning out on forums and looking at infinite other artists, use that time to read tutorials on job-searching, or better yet – to actually paint something myself.
  5. Seriously consider whether graduate school will make me happier or more marketable. And if the answer is yes, get going on that.

Branding, and Its Problems

I’m in the middle of “rebranding” my online presence– I finally got tired of that damn smirky face always staring at me from the corner of my screen. Unfortunately, the last time I could take a skillful self-portrait was during an egotistical high school phase. So, for the present, you’ll see my ripped jeans hangin’ around the internet.

Also, I got a Twitter account. Frankly, I have no clue to use Twitter (sometimes I even say “twittering” instead of “tweeting” at the office, which is horribly embarrassing, mostly for everyone else), so I’ve been dorking out for the past two days and watching all kinds of free tutorials online. Look at me! Adapting!

But, okay, aside from my discomfort with fragmented Twitter communities and my distain for ultra-hip corporate PR advice,  my real problem with “branding” is, well, etymological. It refers to the process of burning one’s slaves and animals to mark them as your own. And although the method has changed, the motive has not: a good brand can be recognized anywhere. Which, funnily enough, was precisely what helped slaveowners to track down their runaway slaves.

Ricë Freeman-Zachery, the blogger behind Notes from the Voodoo Cafe (who also happens to be visually striking enough to not really need any “branding”), has a damn good rant about this whole concept of online branding, and what it means for the blurry line between internet and real life.

As for me, I’m happy enough to talk about “online presence” instead of “branding.” Although, my biggest client at the office is beginning a major rebranding and new product launch in a few months, so it’s pretty hard to avoid using the word. Sigh…

I Keep Coming Back to the Figure

Sure, the face looks a bit stiff. There’s some problems with the proportions of the head. And I wasn’t expecting Quinacridone Burnt Orange to stain as much as it did… but I’m getting back in the game.

One of the things I’ve been angsting about this summer is how I have yet to develop a signature artistic style. Not having a unique style can really hold an artist back. Without it, you can’t create a unified show to submit to galleries, and you can’t really gain an online following if you’re always spazzing out in a new medium. If you take a look at my portfolio, it looks like five different artists contributed to it. I admit: when it comes to art supplies, giddiness and experimentation often trumps stylistic consistency.

I’ve also given myself a hard time about how often I draw women. Because c’mon, every bloody male artist since the Renaissance has made his career off of scantily-clad white women. And the feminist in me does not want to make money off of naked women. (Not that I’m against naked women…or even making money off of your own nudity. But I am against making money off of other naked women, I think).

Anyways. So that anxiety has caused me to wander through a wide range of styles and mediums, thinking I’ll magically stumble across my strength—my artistic niche—like Jackson Pollock drunkenly spilling that first drop of paint on a canvas.

And yet I keep coming back to the figure. Figure drawing is my strength. It’s what I unconsciously doodle in the margins of my notes. It’s most satisfying to me to figure out how bones and muscle create shadows and curves. Drawing/painting the figure is also a way for me to explore social and political questions about gender, about self-presentation, and about how we view ourselves and each other.

Looks like the ol’ Nature-versus-Nurture debate strikes again. What do you think– do we make our own creative niche?

Life Lessons from a Desk

I’ve been putting off a confession for a few weeks now: that I (farmer-feminist-writer-and-technology-skeptic, firmly situated in the grassroots) am working a desk job. A Desk Job.

–But it’s not what you think! …Well, it’s kind of what you’d think. I do in fact sit at a desk. And yes, I do most of my work on a computer.

On the plus side, I’m working for a Public Relations firm that represents natural and organic food. I have a lot of respect for this company. The founder/president lives on a farm, after all; there’s not much more that a PR person can do to connect with food than that.

In fact, the whole office gang is pretty darn excellent. And did I mention the kitchen? ….that I (oops) don’t have a picture of? (But just take my word that it’s big and beautiful)

Or the office setting, that I DO have a picture of?

Despite being a bit sequestered in the Intern Alcove, I really respect the approach that this company takes, both in their larger values and in their day-to-day practice– the way they run a meeting, for example. And I love that part of my job is reading environmental news and food blogs. I feel more in touch with politics than I have in a while.

The downside? Staring at a low-resolution Windows laptop is frying my brain. It exhausts me much more than a day of farming every did. It exhausts me in a way that drains me mentally, so that it’s hard to write, or read (much less blog– my apologies!) in the evening.

If I had to pinpoint a devil in the workplace, it is this: database maintenance.

…that, or inefficient operating systems. I can’t decide which.

But somebody (read: interns) has got to do it. The more I learn about our clients– as people, not companies –the easier it becomes to do the shit work for them. Without knowing the purpose, that sort of work is dreadful (which is why I hate the specialization of labor in today’s work force).

I’m also having to negotiate a new relationship with the internet, especial social media. But that’s a loooong thought that will follow in a future post.

But yes, it’s funny, how all this desk-sitting comes back to dirt and seeds. Needless to say, this is a musing that is TO BE CONTINUED…

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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