Love Note #13: Who Run The World?

In three days, it will be April. In less than 24 hours, I am somehow supposed to have most of my things packed up and ready for movers to bring all this stuff, my stuff, to my brand new apartment. I should be packing but I'm an expert in procrastinating and the compulsion to write is stronger than it has been in months. And because I am an artist, first and foremost, who am I to ignore the spark of expression? So here we are.

In three days, it will be April and it will be the end of Women's History Month. Last night, also in lieu of packing - although I tried to multi-task, I had a Virtual Ladies Night. This is when my friends who all used to live in Boston but now are spread out across the country, do what we used to do when we all lived in the same place: drink wine or another alcoholic beverage of choice and gossip. Except we aren't actually gossiping but more like sharing our progress on being amazingly bad ass women who have careers, aspirations, dreams, goals and sure, relationships too. We do this every few months and I always feel so lucky, so privileged, to have these women in my life. They are strong and brave in the face of hard decisions and things that our male counterparts, however much we love them, just don't have to deal with. Our friendship keeps us sane, keeps us supported, keeps us safe. And well, it's times like these where I'm just real grateful for technology and that we can do all this despite timezones and area codes.

In three days, it will be April and in seven I'll be on a plane to Los Angeles. A city that hosts a whole lot of other important women I have met along my journey. My best friend from graduate school who became my friend at probably one of the most challenging times of my life. That time sort of felt like the dream you have where you're driving and all of a sudden you have no control of the car. And you're not sure if you're going to crash or end up okay – but you always wake up just fine. In this case, we both got our degrees relatively unscathed. I don't know if I could have done it without her by my side. Los Angeles is also host to many of the Latina women I was so desperate to know growing up. It's hard to believe that it took me until I was 26 years old to meet my first true Latinx friend. Even now, I try and recall having one but I can't. I knew some Latinx people but I never forged a true friendship until I moved to LA. I remember my one friend sharing with me her feeling that she had growing up: never brown enough to hang with the brown girls and never white enough to hang with the white ones. I remember finally feeling understood when another Latinx friend flawlessly made some dude feel stupid after he insensitively asked: “So, what are you?” Her response to this day makes me laugh and feel proud, “Are you asking why I'm brown?” These three women and so many many more in Los Angeles, helped me piece together my fragmented identity and for that I am grateful.

In three days, it will be April and in twelve one of my NYU college roommates will be visiting. And this reminds me of how lucky I am to live in the same city as another one of those roommates. And just how lucky I am in general that 13 years ago, I was randomly selected to live in a closet-sized dorm with three other women who I'd grow up with for the rest of my life. These women have been there through so much and sometimes know me better than I know myself. We've been on adventures both in the states and some of us abroad, and I fall in love with them over and over every time we are together. They are my sisters despite what DNA might say and I know no matter what happens in my life, these women will be there for me and I for them. They are my grateful constant.

In three days, it will be April and I'll reminisce about the time I went to a little town called Johnson, Vermont three years ago and met the most amazing writer. And she had cool written all over her from across the room and I knew immediately without saying a single word that we'd be friends. And so we were. She's smart and funny, honest and real, and wrote in a way I could only dream of writing. She has seen so much well-deserved success and I know a younger me would be jealous. But it's hard to be jealous when someone who works so hard gets the validation they deserve. It's even harder to be jealous when someone that talented cheers you on continuously. I haven't seen my dear friend in a year and I'm not quite sure the next time we'll be able to see each other but I feel her love, I hear her cheers and that will hold me over until the next time we can eat ice cream or go to yoga or even put an impossible jigsaw puzzle together.

In three days, it will be April making it that much closer to May which is the month I get to go back home and spend time with the women in my family and other women who have known me anywhere from forever to a few years. Growing up and spending much time in Boston as an adult, I have a strong network and I'm lucky that inside that network are so many different women. Women who have lived with me, women who have worked with me, women who have dealt with teenage me and of course, the women who raised me. Some of these women knew me while I was working out what “me” really meant and others got to know me while figuring out what the next “me” was going to do. They each play such a vital role in my life and it's always so rewarding to go back home to spend quality time with these important women.

In three days, it will be April and I don't have a clever transition to talk about the amazing women I met in South Africa nearly 10 years ago. Maybe I had made the decision to go on this trip in April or bought my plane ticket... I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that half way across the world I met five amazing artists who at the time all lived in New York City and together we had a life changing experience. I talk to these women far less often than I'd like but I hope they know how grateful I am for them sharing that amazing trip with me. Something on that trip shifted my entire being and these women were there to help me through it even though I don't think at the time I really understood that. No matter how much time goes by or how much distance comes between us, I hope they know just how special they all are to me.

In three days, it will be April and the two collectives I am part of and helped create will be doing exciting things here in Milwaukee. Heard Space, a performance arts collective that is women of color led and focused is gearing up for our next show. On International Women's Day, March 8, we debuted as a group and put together a show called Unpacking The Name. We shared stories about our names and opened the mic up to the audience to do the same. It was one of those nights where I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was so incredibly proud of the women in this group for working together in such a seamless way to throw what I think was an absolutely beautiful event. I can't wait for the next one and I hope if you are reading this and you live in Milwaukee you'll continue to celebrate the women in this group and the stories we want to tell (next show: May 10th at Michai's Quiet Storm, details to come). The other collective, LUNA, is a Latina artists collective and we also debuted this month, last weekend to be exact, showing work together at Swan Day displayed at Urban Ecology (it will be up for 3 months, check it out!). We talked as a group about the importance of representation and opportunity for people of color. Another moment where I felt empowered to not only be a woman but a Latinx woman. This month we are coming together to figure out how to have a group show and I could not be more excited. I am grateful for these two groups for so many reasons. They both have created safe, inclusive spaces where I feel like I can truly express myself and thereby create without feeling censored. Moreover, these groups have given me community here in Milwaukee and that is invaluable. Community is something I have realized is so necessary for my survival.

In three days, it will be April and I will make a promise to myself to do better at reaching out to my biological sisters and nieces who I met for the first time just four months ago. These women who were absent most of my life have reentered and have already made such an immense impact in such a short time. We don't speak the same language but the love is there. I see my passion in my oldest sister, my face and creativity in the other. I see a mini-me in my sister's daughter. I see my empathy, curiosity and timidness ready to bloom in the daughters of my oldest brother. And while I am trying to do a better job at reaching out to the women that share my blood, I will do my best to reconcile how I feel about the woman who made me. The woman that reflects so much of the things I don't like about myself. I have to remember that she gave me more than just things to work through but she gave me life and opportunity. For that and for all these women finding their way back into my life, I will forever be grateful.

In three days, it will be April and I will feel bad about not including certain women because I am just that lucky to have so many incredible women in my life. I will attempt to make this a catch all for the women that keep crossing my mind while I write this. Like my soon-to-be former roommate who has always been a champion of mine and who I know will long support me once I move out. Or the first friend I met on my own in Milwaukee who showed me what true generosity looks like and literally is always keeping me fed. There's my radio co-host who teases me relentlessly and keeps me laughing for days. I'm thinking about all the new female friendships I've made in the last few years that haven't fully formed but I am eager to see how they will blossom. Of course then there's the female friendships that have faded away not for any real reason but just because that's how life works sometimes but these friendships made an impact nonetheless. And all the different female teachers, professors, managers, colleagues I've had along the way who have encouraged me and allowed me to grow intellectually and professionally. And I can't forget all the female students, past and present, and former interns who I can only hope to inspire but truly just end up inspiring me. The point of all this writing is that I have an army of women who live close and far away. Who have been by my side, who help me fight, and encourage and inspire me to keep getting up no matter how often I fall. And for each and every one them: I AM GRATEFUL.

In three days, it will be April and I might forget to tell all the amazing ladies in my life that I'm grateful for them even though I never forget to feel it. This is me showing my deep appreciation for you. This is me saying, thank you, thank you, thank you.

With all my love.

xoxo

Love Note #12: Coming up for air

Apparently, it has been 3 months and counting since I last wrote a love note. I kept meaning to write one but every time I got some free time I found it more appropriate to sleep and/or watch Netflix. Now that I'm on a self-elected three week winter break, I finally have the time and energy to write/reflect. Last summer, I took a similar much longer (3-4 month) break. I had to spend some time reevaluating what was important to me in terms of what kind of work I was doing and more importantly who I was working with. I did want to teach again but I wanted to be more exclusive to ensure that the organizations I was affiliating myself with really shared the same values as me. By October, however, I was ready to get back into the classroom and back to the classroom I went! 

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It started with getting a gig through Arts @ Large teaching two 4th grade and two 5th grade classes at one school one day a week. Last year, I had a residency with Arts @ Large co-teaching with my friend Mikal so I was both equally excited and a little terrified to lead my class solo this school year. And let me tell you, it has been quite challenging. Luckily, the school is pretty awesome and the staff and teachers I work with are really supportive. That being said, I still have to plan lessons and teach 26-32 students per class every week. My first 5th grade class is amazingly well-behaved but as the day goes on, each class gets progressively more out of control. I've broken up a fight, I've banned a student from my class for throwing scissors at another student and I've literally lost my voice yelling at these kids. And while I'm being compensated well for contact hours, I spend so much more time gathering and prepping for my class every week than I'm being paid for. And I start to resent kids being kids - misbehaving and not understanding that art time is precious time! And then just when I'm about to lose my patience and sanity, one of my students will tell me how I'm so much better than their last art teacher. Or I'll get unexpected hugs when students enter or exit the classroom. Teachers show their surprise when I show them certain student's work. Another student who is notorious for acting out, tries extra hard in my class, continually asking if he's doing well. I saw one student outside of school and she was so excited to say hi to me. Her mother made a point of telling me that she said I was 'the best art teacher in the world.' And all this pulls at my heart strings and I wonder if all the stress, effort and unpaid time I put into these four classes is worth it...  And I think the answer is complicated. Living in the gray space in between yes and no. 

Quickly after I landed the Arts @ Large gig, I was very excited to land two different teaching opportunities with Milwaukee Repertory Theater. For those who really know me, my love for theatre goes wayyyyy back. My only good memories I have from high school revolves around my involvement in the drama club and school plays. The only reason I showed up to high school my senior year was I had theatre class for 2 hours at the end of the day. I went on to college thinking theatre was probably going to disappear from my life only to fall more in love. When I transferred colleges, it was between the directing program at Fordham or my dream choose-your-own-adventure program at NYU where I could study theatre AND art both through the lens of cultural and gender identity. I chose the latter and while theatre wasn't my sole focus it remained something I was truly passionate about. I taught my first drama class to elementary school aged kids the summer before my senior year, I co-directed a Guillermo Gomez Pena play, I took a directing course and directed a rare but stellar one-act play by Tennessee Williams. Upon graduating, employment was more important than my passion, so theatre took a backseat but by the summer of 2008, I found myself in South Africa teaching the first ever drama class to amazing high school students. Nearly 10 years later, this is still by far one of the most magical and influential experiences of my life. I've had many teaching experiences since South Africa but it has taken me this long to get back teaching performance/theatre. And I have to say, I can't believe it has take me this long. 

Before I talk about my teaching with Milwaukee Rep, I think it's worth noting that I've worked for the Rep in the ticketing office since November 2016. It didn't occur to me to look into teaching until one day I was watching The Incredible Jessica James and then I realized I needed to be teaching theatre again. Whether my influence from film and television is normal or not is debatable but I am sure glad that as the credits rolled, I got my resume together to send to the Rep's education department. The following week I had an incredible interview and soon after I started to teach an after school program to high school students and three in-school 6th grade classes. Let's talk about the 6th grade first. 

For the 6th graders, I am teaching them about Animal Farm so they become familiar with the play before they go see it at the Rep in February. I also teach them different theatre/improv techniques and general theatre appreciation. I was really apprehensive teaching 6th graders but a job is a job so I figured I'd give it a go. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much fun I'm having with my students. It's awesome to have them act out scenes from the play and have discussions about what they read. I've been impressed with how much they understand and remember. We haven't read the play in total but each week, we peel back different layers of the story. It actually is pretty complex stuff but I think coupled with fun theatre exercises, it really does sink in with the students. To be honest, I've always been afraid of middle schoolers. And you know, some students, at times, have their moments, but so far, the experience has been far more rewarding than I imagined it would be.

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Now, on to my amazing high school students. First of all, after a short two months with these kids (and honestly after the first 2 hour class), I must say, I was totally in love. It also solidified what I have known for years, that I am truly passionate about working with teens and allowing them to find their voice through creative expression. I think it's because I am still so grateful for my arts teachers at that age. They encouraged me and my talents and I think I have this impulse to give back that gift. Also, teenagers are hilarious and I love listening to them talk - I always walk away with a new word or phrase to use and this simultaneously makes me feel super old and young at the same time. Anyway, for this particular class which met for two hours on Wednesday evenings, we were focusing on the theme "community heroes" and each week we explored that theme through different art mediums. I definitely got lucky with this group. On day one they came with excitement, intelligence, open minds and A LOT of personality. The culmination of this program was for the students to create something to showcase at the Milwaukee Rep's Stacker Cabaret Theatre and my group decided to do spoken word. I was excited for them to choose this, as almost all of them were incredible writers but only a few had experience performing. It was so cool to lead them through the process of bringing their voices/ideas to the stage. Of course, they did an amazing job and I was incredibly proud of how hard they worked, how well they worked together and how serious they took the class and opportunity. The week before the showcase, they met two additional times with me and another time without me to ensure they were prepared. Their dedication was inspiring. If I wasn't already bursting with pride, they impressed me even more at the showcase by demonstrating respect, attention and support for the other student groups that performed and shared work. Basically, I could go on and on and gush about these students. And I would probably be balling crying now just thinking about how this program ended BUT it looks like I'm going to continue to work with these amazing students when I return from my much needed hiatus from all things teaching. So stay tuned for more gushing and bragging about how I get to teach the best students ever! 

So yeah, that's what I've been up to the last few months. Completely consumed with ensuring the world continues to have amazing artists or, at the very least, people who appreciate art. You're welcome. ;)

xoxo

Love Note #11: Oh yeah, Chicago is, like, super close...

“It’s always fun to get away from camp, even for an hour.” — J.J. Wet Hot American Summer

When people ask me what I like about the cities I've lived in I always start with the most obvious answer. Los Angeles... weather. New York City... 24/hr everything. Boston... the easier answer here is more personal but it's home, it's where most of my close friends and family live. And while most of you are probably thinking beer and cheese for Milwaukee that's a close second, the real answer is rent! I type this from my studio which is located in my apartment where I also have a complete separate bedroom! And while I have two roommates it's still 2 to 3 times cheaper than anything I've ever paid in rent before. The last stress in my mind is how I'm going to make money for rent each month. And honestly, it's a big part of why I stayed. 

Of course, Milwaukee has charmed me way beyond it's rent prices! For one, like I wrote in my last love note, I have an incredible community! And it really feels like the the majority of people here, no matter what industry they are a part of, are pretty community minded. And that's something I think is extremely lacking in other cities, particularly bigger cities. I really feel like I'm a part of something here and while progress sometimes feels really slow it's not for the lack of organizing. I don't know if anyone has said this exactly but the sentiment that people say and what I really feel is that Milwaukee is a mid-sized city that acts with a small-town heart. For better and for worse! Luckily, I've mostly seen the benefits so far. 

I'm sure I've written about many other amazing aspects of Milwaukee over the past year or so, but I better get to my point of this love note and one thing that I think is pretty cool about Milwaukee is it's proximity to other cities, specifically CHICAGO! When I decided that I was going to stay in Milwaukee, I told myself I would go to Chicago ALL THE TIME. In reality, I became a true Milwaukeean and anything more than a 10-15 minute drive seems impossible. So "all the time" has translated as three planned trips and one accidental layover. But hey, it's comforting to know it's there!

This past weekend, I made my most recent trip to Chicago and yet again, I thought to myself, 'What an easy drive, it's so close, I should do this all the time!' And I seriously should, because like the great quote I started this whole love note with - it is so great to get away from camp, even if it is only for an hour!! Okay, so you need to replace "camp" with "Milwaukee" and "an hour" with a day... but you get what I mean! 

My reason for going down this time around was my good friend, who also happens to be one of my favorite artists, Jennifer Ling Datchuk. She was in town from San Antonio performing a new work at this great art space called Threewalls. And pretty much if this amazing rock star of a human is presenting any kind of work close enough for me to drive, I am there! If that wasn't motivation enough, everyone back in July told me how great the Murikami exhibit was at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I saw that it was open until September so I thought I had plenty of time. And then time did that sneaky thing where it just happens without notifying you and you're all like, OMG WHERE DID TIME GO?! And when I looked at the MCA's website again, I realized that this was my last chance to see the exhibit. So it was decided, I would have an art day in Chicago! 

I woke up early which is a rare thing for me these days and I was out of my house just after 8am. I stopped at Colectivo to fuel up on caffeine and a delicious muffin and I was cruising along sometime around 8:30am. As always, I hit a little traffic just as I was entering Chicago. I'm positive hitting traffic as you enter and leave that city is impossible but I got to my parking spot destination just after 10am! This is where all my east/west coast folks shout, 'IMPOSSIBLE! MILWAUKEE IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!" I assure you, it is not, just look at a map! Anyway, thanks to this real nifty app, SpotHero, I found a parking spot for $8 for the ENTIRE day AND it was near a Whole Foods, making for a great pit-stop before heading to the museum!

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And then I managed to get myself to the MCA with only slight confusion. I don't know if it is the lack of public transit systems in Milwaukee or if google maps is equally confused about the CTA but it is not intuitive. I had an easier time in Berlin when everything was in German and basically every stop had 10-16 letters in it! I've decided maybe google maps just needs to step up their game... I mean, right? I digress but while waiting for the train, I took a lovely photo and posted it on Instagram. Within moments, I get a notification that my friend from Milwaukee, another amazing artist, Gabi, was also in Chicago and was headed to the MCA at that very moment! See? Milwaukee is such a small town you even run into your friends in the next town over! 

It was great to run into Gabi (and her boyfriend, Tyler) especially since the line for the museum was out the door and onto the sidewalk! Apparently, everyone had the idea to go to see Murikami's exhibit and had also been giant procrastinators like me. On top of that, it was a million degrees on this late September "fall day." If I hadn't run into friends, I just may have  given up on all my plans. When we finally got into the museum, the next ticketed time for the exhibit was 1:30p. I was in a bit of a bind because Jenn's performance was at 2pm. So, I got a 4pm ticket and figured I'd do my best. Sorry, Murikami, but there was no contest on this one. In the meantime, Gabi, Tyler and I went around to the rest of the museum. I was really into the Michael Rakowitz exhibit and just might have to go back to take a deeper look and try to get some food at Enemy Kitchen. FULL DISCLOSURE: I probably won't do this, but hey, if you're in Chicago you totally should! After seeing everything but Murikami, I bid my friends adieu and took the train back to the neighborhood in which I thought Jenn's performance was going to take place. And since I thought I had plenty of time and I was in front of a Shake Shack, it seemed like a perfect time to stop for lunch. While I was waiting for my portobello burger, I thought I'd double check the address of the gallery and realized I was near the OLD address and the new address was a 15 minute car ride away! ¡Dios mío! Thank god for another great app - Lyft! I jumped in a Lyft with my Shake Shack and had a wonderful ride with man named Corin. I taught him being vegetarian doesn't mean you can't eat delicious things and he taught me a little about the neighborhoods in Chicago. I hopped out at Threewalls and arrived just in time. 

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There was only a few people in attendance for Jenn's performance Whitewash which made it feel like a private performance in a way. In this performance, she kneeled over a basin and washes unfired porcelain teacups and saucers until they break back down to clay. Her statement on this act is brilliantly written so I will share this excerpt:  "We live in a world where identity can be manufactured and appearances appropriated without concern or even awareness. We question and desire authenticity of the other. I explore this conflict through my chosen media – porcelain, which nods to my Chinese heritage but also represents “pure” white – the white desire I find in both cultures. I aim to take back that fluidity and use it to explore my own identity as a woman of color—the sense of being in-between, an imposter, neither fully Chinese nor Caucasian."

I didn't realize dishes were going to break until it happened. And the continuous breaking down of this material that looked so solid -- it was stunning and emotional. One of the reasons Jenn is one of my favorite artists is because she tackles her complex identity with such vulnerability and courageousness. In much of her work she uses her own body. In Whitewash, not only is she kneeling and washing with her hands for twenty minutes but at the end, she puts the broken down clay on her face. I'm also just so impressed how she has found a way to use a traditional medium and transition it's use into a very modern art practice. Anyway, as a spectator I was blown away and as a friend, I was so so proud of this new work. It's pretty cool when you can be a fan-girl but also get to call the person your such an fan of a friend! 

After Jenn's performance, I somehow made it back in time to see the Murikami exhibit before the museum closed. And maybe it was unfair to see his exhibit after Jenn's performance but I just wasn't that into it. I mean his work is cool to look at and I love the scale of it but I just like my art to have a little more meaning behind it. And maybe it does and I just don't get it. What I did learn, however, is that he has a PhD in traditional Japanese painting and he kind of ignored that during what I'm calling his "Kanye years." And then in 2011 when Japan was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, he tried to merge his traditional background with his modern aesthetic. This is a really hard thing to do and unless you're Jennifer Ling Datchuck, it can be hard. :) I also think that once you become a pop-star visual artist, I think it's pretty hard to go backwards. At the end of the day, the coolest thing about this exhibit was the insane amount of people lining up to see it. You can't say art is dead. 

After roaming around Chicago in the heat, meeting back up with Jenn for dinner that I wish could have lasted a few more hours, it was time to head home. I arrived back at my apartment just before midnight and man... it really was great to get away for an hour, er, I mean day. 

xoxo

Love Note #10: Family and Home

For a myriad of reasons, I have been thinking a lot about family lately. To be honest, it is something I have thought a lot about my whole life. As many, if not all, of you know, I was adopted. I was only three months old, so being adopted was and has always been normal. Naturally, I was surprised when I started to learn that being adopted isn't seen as normal to everyone else. Sometimes, it has made people downright uncomfortable. But being adopted is the only reality I have known and I can't imagine my life any differently. In fact, I don't want to. When I was little, we would celebrate my adoption day, August 5. It was like having another birthday but without all the presents. When I realized that not everyone was adopted (which was totally late to the game – I think I was 6 or 7), I felt bad for all the kids who only got to celebrate birthdays. Suckers. As you can see, I was more than content with my reality, my adopted life.

As well adjusted as I was to the idea of being adopted, many confusing questions, of course, bubbled up from time to time. It started with questions from everyone else. Where does your hair color come from? Little me would stare blankly and think God (I was raised religious and thinking back on this thought makes me chuckle). Just as I would give my answer, my mom would chime in: her uncle has red hair. Not untrue, but I obviously didn't get it from him. Why lie? I wondered. Now that I am older, I understand - not everyone needs or wants to know your business. Of course, as I get older I stop caring about what people want and answer their questions directly in hopes they think twice about asking questions they don't actually want to hear the answer to. I digress...

As I grew older and became more aware of myself so did the differences between me and my family, at least in my mind. My hair was red, my eyes were brown, my skin got darker instead of red in the sun. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered what it would be like to have blonde hair and blue eyes like my mom. I also started to notice that other families had members that looked the same and I wondered what that would be like to. I dreamed about having a twin. I felt like maybe I was missing out on something. I was a resilient little kid though and instead of focusing on the differences, I focused on the similarities. My mom was artistic like me and we would paint, draw and do so many other art projects together. We both had a sweet tooth and loved putting in the work for the reward of freshly baked cookies. I have the most vivid memories of standing next to my mom on a stool to reach the counter to mix in flour, sugar, eggs and more to make cookie dough. We'd laugh as we'd sneak scoops of dough to eat – the “broken pieces.” With my Dad, I played games. I loved games, I still do. On Sunday mornings, we'd eat pancakes and I'd help my Dad with the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Later in the day we might play a game of die-hard scrabble or cribbage. In between, I'd ask my Dad how different things worked and somehow he always had an answer. In the summer, we'd watch baseball over sandwiches and pickles. And my older brother, well, I just wanted to be him. I think I was in denial about being a girl for awhile. No pink. No dresses. If my brother didn't have to than I shouldn't either. Or conversely, if my brother was doing it, I should be able to as well. At a very early age, I realized there were inherent differences between us because of our genders but that wasn't going to stop me from trying to be the same.

As I got older and into my teen years, it became harder to ignore the differences. Thoughts of this family living in Colombia crept into my mind – would they get me? I was sure the family who knew me best didn't understand me at all. And just as I was going through the growing pains of figuring out who I was, my family fell apart. My foundation was shattered. It took time and a lot of growing pains later to figure out how to split myself in two. To share my time with both parents when they no longer shared their time with each other. To this day, I still worry I am not measuring up but I know my parents would (and will) assure me that I am. Soon after my parents split, I too went away for college. I wanted to get as far away as possible but only got as far as a ten hour drive away. Far but not too far. Distance, in this instance, really did make the heart grow fonder. Slowly, I crept back up the east coast from Washington DC to New York until I found myself back home in Boston. It was then I started to travel internationally, learning more about myself in every new city and culture. I was and forever will be grateful for my family who gave me wings so that I could fly.

While I think leaving home and traveling has always been my very personal journey to understand myself better and piece together my identity, I also always knew I couldn't do it on my own. So through all my travels and moves, I have found remarkable people who I am lucky to call friends. I have the privilege of saying that I have traveled around the country and the world and have created an even bigger network of family than I ever imagined. And finally, that brings me to why I have decided to write all this on this love note – my blog about my time in Milwaukee.

For some reason, all signs pointed for me to be here in Milwaukee. One of my best friends, who I met as my college roommate, moved here first. I started to visit and see this quaint city through her and her future-husband's eyes. A few years later, I headed to graduate school in Los Angeles and quickly met a professor who, coincidentally, was also from Milwaukee. As our relationship grew, the work she was doing in Milwaukee piqued my interest and I was even more eager to visit (and get bonus time with my best friend). Through all these visits, my heart was telling me that at some point, I would find myself in Milwaukee. Sure enough, in 2016, the opportunity presented itself.

At the time, I was restless, I had moved back to Boston yet again, and despite being close to my family and so many of my amazing friends, nothing felt exactly right. I wasn't finding work that motivated or inspired me. I was comfortable but I wasn't being challenged. I was starting to coast and simultaneously losing my way. A wake up call came in the form of an actual phone call when I received the invitation to work on a project in Milwaukee. It was the first time I ever had an offer to write for a living. I hopped in my car and couldn't get here fast enough. While I only took enough of my things to get me through the summer, a part of me knew I wasn't looking back. I was excited for this creative opportunity but I was even more excited to live in the same city as one of my best friends – we hadn't lived in the same city in nearly 10 years! Without a doubt, I knew our relationship was going to grow and we would become even closer. And while many obstacles presented themselves this past year, our friendship really has blossomed into something incredible. It has been so beautiful and rewarding. And while this older friendship continued to develop, I started to meet new people as well. Living in Boston, my friend-network is pretty large (this always feels like bragging but I swear it is not). So over the last year, it was hard to have so few friends here. It was a real lesson, however, in quality over quantity. I am so happy to say that the friendships I have developed in Milwaukee are truly remarkable. In such a short time, I was able to create a family here in Milwaukee. And in turn, Milwaukee has become another home.

I think most of us grow up thinking that we can only call one place home or one group of people family. What I have learned, more than ever in the last year, even more so in the last week, is that this is wildly untrue. If we open our minds and then our hearts, anyone can be family and any place can be home.

xoxo

 Just some of the wonderful people that make up my crazy Milwaukee family. <3

Just some of the wonderful people that make up my crazy Milwaukee family. <3

Love Note #9: Rewind and Unwind

Wow! What a difference a month can make! May was absolutely insane. I was basically working non-stop to help my students get their art projects done, wrapping up my elementary school art classes and completing my own piece to ship to North Adams, MA. I probably got an average of 4-5 hours of sleep a night and my stress level was through the roof. And now... I'm living a stress free summer in Milwaukee kind of life! And it's magical. 

Now that all the stress has melted away, I can finally feel all the good feels that months of hard work produced. First, it was incredible to see five different groups of teens, with five different artists and site/community partners come together to create five meaningful works of art.

The first project was done in conjunction with a really cool initiative called Block Build MKE where volunteers are going block by block to revitalize and rebuild homes. This particular Block Build was happening in the South Side of Milwaukee and 30 homes were being worked on. Our students from the very first time I worked with them were extremely interested in making art with and for the community to celebrate the different cultures that make up Milwaukee and the South Side neighborhood specifically. So, that's exactly what we did! Lead by the incredibly talented artist, Jenie Gao, we used a steamroller (yeah, that's right a STEAMROLLER) and made triangular woodblock prints that fit together to make one giant print. 

When we arrived on site for this printmaking project, we foolishly thought and hoped the rain would hold off until the afternoon despite the overcast skies. Of course, it started pouring as soon as we set everything up. We rushed to put everything in a generous neighbor's garage and headed to lunch. Our first complete print was ruined, we were soaked, cold and unsure if we should just pack everything up and call it a day. That was when Jenie and I looked at each other and realized we were sitting under a huge tent and were completely dry. Once lunch wrapped up, we got a few volunteers to stack tables and make space for our materials - including the steamroller! I was most impressed by my students who did not complain once. In fact, I'm pretty sure I complained more about being cold than they did. They were such good sports and ended up having a great time engaging with their neighbors all day while making prints! Each teen got a chance to drive the steamroller and they must have made thirty t-shirts using smaller woodblocks and printing by hand. All and all, it was quite an awesome day! 

Next up was an awesome sign-painting and sculpture project with the teens at Our Next Generation lead by one of my Milwaukee faves, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt. This was an extremely ambitious project and was basically two projects in one. We were given the task by the owner of Amaranth Bakery & Cafe, Dave Boucher, to beautify the wooden structure on his property that provides shelter to Farmer's Market vendors. The students wanted to put an inspiring quote and after a lot of conversations, we finally decided on, "Change the World Bite by Bite." During one of our design days, one student came up with an idea to make a sculpture that spelled out "LIFE" with the letter "i" made out of a tree. Mikal spent a lot of time figuring out how we could get both projects done and while it was down to the hour (literally we were hanging the sign on the structure an hour before the ribbon cutting ceremony) it all got done! And while I'm totally biased, I have to say that both the sign and sculpture have totally transformed this space. So - go get a coffee and a delicious treat from Amaranth and then take a selfie with the LIFE sculpture - post it on Instagram and hashtag it #LIFEMKE - I'm pretty sure this is going to be an iconic Milwaukee landmark. Just saying...

And then it was on to complete a project with MIkal's brother, another fantastic artist, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, and the teens from COA Holton Teen Center. This group took on a pretty heavy topic as they wanted to create something to bring awareness to gun violence. Under Anwar's patient and incredible leadership, we created 125 flower sculptures out of old records and placed them in a vacant lot. The number represents the number of documented homicides due to gun violence in Milwaukee in 2016. Installing this temporary sculpture garden was a labor of love and I absolutely loved how it came out. 

Another sculpture to find in Milwaukee is the beautiful, larger-than-life, interactive puppet in Alice's Garden created by Gabrielle Tesfaye and the students at NeuLife Community. Each limb represents a different element: fire, wind, water and earth. In the belly, a short history of the underground railroad can be found. This, in my opinion, was the most important piece of this puppet. Johnson's Park, which Alice's Garden is a part of, is the site where the first "passenger" of the underground railroad arrived in Milwaukee in 1842. At just 16 years old, Caroline Quarlls' arrival inspired Abolitionists to organize to assist and protect even more fugitive slaves. The puppet is stunning and I think that the garden could use even more!

And finally, the last project was at Escuela Verde where the students, under the direction of George Jones, created a vending machine that dispensed uplifting and positive items like small pieces of art, seeds, and words of encouragement. Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the finished product yet because I had to miss the celebration and revealing of the vending machine. I have no doubt it turned out awesome and I believe it may be traveling to a Night Market near you! ;) 

And the ONLY reason I missed the last project come together is because I didn't want to miss out on seeing my own work in an actual gallery! As I started this whole note, while I was busy helping all my students complete these great projects, I was making my own. The only other time my work has been in a traditional art gallery is in college so this was pretty exciting stuff! I was asked to be part of a group show called Babel's Bricks at MCLA Gallery 51 curated by a dear friend, Corwin Levi. When Corwin asked if I wanted to be in a building block themed show, I jumped at the opportunity. And Immediately, I knew I wanted to break things. You know, the exact opposite of building... ha! It has just been an incredibly tough year - the political nonsense, one of my best friends dealing with cancer, artistic rejection after artistic rejection, not feeling adequately valued (or paid) for work I was putting my entire heart and soul into... and the list goes on and on. It was time to let some aggression out. So I did just that with the help of my artistic partner in crime, Tracee Johnson. We smashed a bunch of plates out on Venice Blvd, in LA and filmed it. I came back to Milwaukee to create a 20 minute plate smashing complitation video and prep 100s of  broken shards to send to North Adams. And at the gallery, with instructions printed on a clipboard, I invited visitors to turn my aggression into art. And I have to say, I am completely in love with how this piece, Break·ing point turned out. 

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And just like that, it's JULY and it's time to relax and unwind. I'm intentionally taking it pretty easy this summer and hoping that I can keep my stress level close to ZERO percent. One, because I need a break after six crazy, amazing, inspiring, stressful, sleepless months! And two, Milwaukee summers - well, there's nothing like it! 

Til' next time... xoxo