Love Note #14: Work Hard, Play Harder

'Things will slow down once the school year ends,' I thought. And they did for a week or so. During that time, I made multiple attempts to sit down, reflect and write about the amazing but busy spring I had. Of course, my brain was much more interested in bingeing on Netflix so writing remained on the back burner. In came summer and well, now it's Labor Day...

So where have I been since my last love note on March 29, 2018??

Here's the thing, as busy – no, let me stop there because I hate the word busy. We're all “busy” and a brilliant article I read years ago articulates why we must stop the “glorification of being busy." So instead, I haven't been “busy” but I have been living my life the best way I know how by filling up my days with exciting work, passion projects and somehow still managing to see the people I love and travel the world. Somehow in the last 5 months, completely free days with absolutely nothing planned have disappeared and while I'm tired, real tired, I have also never been happier.

I don't remember the first time I heard the quote, “work hard, play hard” but I know it resonated with me and over the last few years, I've changed it just slightly, “work hard, play harder.” I don't want to get down on anybody's work ethic and if people want to work 60+ hour work weeks and pride themselves on taking no personal days, that's their prerogative. I too, have had work weeks that look like that, sparingly – thank God – but I think it's not uncommon for us, and by us I really just mean Americans, to overwork. That being said, I am not in the camp of people who work super hard now so that some day when I'm “retired” (hahahah retirement is a hilarious concept for an artist) I can enjoy life. No, I am going to work hard and enjoy life any and EVERY chance I get right now! People are often saying to me, 'you're traveling again!?' 'I'm so envious of how much you travel!' 'Where are you off to next?' Truth be told, I do always have my next vacation planned. It's not always to some exotic country, in fact, mostly I stay right here in the continental U.S. but I think the only way I survive my day-to-day life filled to the brim with all the things, is by getting out and taking a breather. Mostly because I don't know how to take a breather when I'm here in Milwaukee, here at home.

So where have I been literally, other than Milwaukee since March? Los Angeles, Appleton, Boston, Guadalajara, (Mexico), Door County, a road trip through South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and Minnesota, 24 hours in New York and then on to Spain to sit on a beach in Sitges with one of my best friends and roam the streets with my younger brother in Barcelona. And last night just before midnight I got back from one last summer weekend getaway in Kentucky to see Mammoth Cave. Life, I think, is just plain better when you fill it with adventures.

 Summer Road Trip 2018: Yellowstone National Park

Summer Road Trip 2018: Yellowstone National Park

That sums up my travel life over the last five months. I basically made sure that at least one weekend a month if not more (i.e, two whole weeks in August) I was not in Milwaukee. For me, this is essential because even though I wasn't finding time to write about all that was happening, time away always gives me the perspective – that wide angle view of what I have been up to. Travel in many instances has helped me make the necessary changes in my life so that I don't just get wrapped up in the every day or get into a routine that is not serving me just because it's easier.

 My amazing students from Milwaukee Christian Center performing at The Rep. 

My amazing students from Milwaukee Christian Center performing at The Rep. 

This is a good time to transition into telling you about my exciting career shift. For the last two years in Milwaukee, I have been focusing on teaching. I had a lot of teaching and education experience under my belt before I got here so it was natural to get connected with various arts education programs. And I have truly loved teaching here. It has been an amazing way to get to know a city by traveling to different schools, neighborhoods and connecting with a whole bunch of different kids! And many of my students were not shy to tell me about their experience of and thoughts about Milwaukee – their frustrations with the ongoing racism and small-mindedness that happens here, their lack of safety and fear of violence but also the things they love and the hope that it will get better coupled with their determination to contribute to make their home somewhere they can confidently be proud to live in. Teaching has been inspiring, eye opening and has given me much needed hope for our future. And I will continue to always have a hand in teaching but after this school year, I knew something had to change. I was basically a full-time teacher without any of the benefits. I was in multiple schools and at times, I couldn't even remember some of my student's names because there were just too many to remember. My car became a storage locker for supplies for my students. And while everything is fairly close in Milwaukee, the time driving to all these different schools still takes time and may I point out, no one pays for commute time. It was wearing me down and in some instances, I don't think I was teaching at my best which filled me with guilt and disappointment in myself. So the search for a job that would help me take a break from the classroom commenced.

I got lucky and in one month three jobs opened up that I was extremely interested in. Almost immediately, I got two job offers while there was radio silence on the third but most intriguing position (of course). Of course, I wasn't going to wait around for this third job, so I weighed my options on the other two. Both of the job offers were in education departments, one was a full-time with benefits position for an organization I was currently working for in a part-time capacity and another was for a part-time position contracted from May-October, no benefits. To many the full-time with benefits probably would be a no brainer. I looked at it differently. I have been freelancing for about five years and while benefits are a nice thing, I've survived without them. For me, my time is still a lot more valuable than slightly better healthcare than the one I have been paying out of pocket for. And again, retirement plans are hilarious and my morbid plan for retirement continues to be death. Seriously. Anyway, I looked at the numbers, and looked at them again. It was then I realized if I broke it down by hour, I'd make almost double in the part time job than I would for the full-time job. Sure, I'd still have to find other jobs to fill in the rest of my income but I wasn't worried about it because it's something that has come second nature to me over the last few years. Plus, it was a new organization and I figured it would be good to expand my network. I started, life was good and then the third job rang.

At this point, I'll be honest, I was a little irritated by this third job. I had applied in April, got a phone call in late May to schedule an interview in mid-June and they would tell me by end of June. What kind of insane timeline is that?! The answer: a city position timeline. But the job was exciting: Arts Project Coordinator for the Milwaukee Public Library and I would be coordinating projects under a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant at the Mitchell Street Branch. So I went into the interview curious and really with nothing to lose because I had a job and a plan for at least the next six months. The job interview went well – it was one of those rare moments where I felt really proud of all my experiences and confident that yes, I really did have what it takes to be awesome at this job. I walked home from the magical Central Public Library and had a major realization that this just might be my dream job and now I'd actually be disappointed if I didn't get it! But also, crap, this would mean I'd have to quit a job I just started and I've never done that before and stress, stress, stress!!!

Long story short, I got the job! I quit the other one – they were understanding and even supportive! Which wasn't surprising, in hindsight, but you just never know. Since mid-July I took on this new role with the library. It's exciting on so many levels. I get to help manage the communication between the artist-in-residence (who right now, is my friend and the AMAZING artist Erick Ledesma), the library and the partnering organizations; support all the artist programming; I am working with Artists Working in Education to put out an RFP for the next artist-in-residence and will be helping select the next one; I get to think strategically with two local artists Sonja Thomsen and Adam Carr to help them archive their public art project, Listening to Mitchell, so that it both has a physical and digital home at the library; I am creating a lecture/workshop series that is both for and about artists – meaning I get to bring in some really rad people to library and even give them some money to share their expertise and knowledge; next year I will support Ex Fabula and a Deaf Storytelling Festival and in general I get to ensure that the library is prioritizing art and supporting artists from all over the city. Of course, it's a job and it's not always easy. There's many different people working under this grant, meaning there's a lot of personalities, opinions and ideas to navigate. And probably the biggest challenge is getting the library, an institution who has never had programming like this before to be comfortable having programming like this now. Might I remind you of how long it took me to get hired... Overall, it's really exciting work and it's the perfect position where I feel like it's using so much of my skill set but it's still challenging in really rewarding ways.

The cherry on top, this new position with the library is 30 hours (but with health benefits, and vacation days and even, you guessed it, some retirement benefits!) which means I still get to teach but only a few classes of my choosing which is better for all involved. I am happy report that I will be teaching for Milwaukee Repertory Theater again both in and after school and there is another class at my favorite high school in Milwaukee that I'm working on figuring out as well. I'm exciting my teaching load will be manageable and also appreciative of the extra income! 

And then there's all the other stuff that doesn't always pay me but makes my artist heart so so happy.

 Article in print from the Journal Sentinel!

Article in print from the Journal Sentinel!

LUNA had it's first debut show back in August which was super exciting for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it felt good to finally do something major with this group after meeting for over a year. Second, the turn out to our show was absolutely incredible. Our opening was slated to be 7pm-10pm and at 6:45pm people were already starting to show up. The gallery was jam packed, with people spilling into the street until we had to tell everyone to go home at 10pm. It was so awesome to get that kind of support for our first show. In a really exciting turn of events, writer and art critic, Mary Louise Schumacher, from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also came to our show which resulted in her interviewing us later and writing an amazing article about us. I'm still kind of flying high about the turn out, the press and can't wait for our next show which will be in October! 

 Heard Space at Summefest 2018

Heard Space at Summefest 2018

 

After two successful shows and a plug at FemFest, Heard Space performed at Summerfest during Children's Fest Day! It was the first time I ever got paid to perform and it was pretty exciting stuff. After that we took the rest of the summer off which I think was much needed for all of us. But our hiatus is coming to a close and we'll be meeting next week to plan for the plan and early 2019! 

And last but certainly not least, We Heard We're Funny is still being silly every first and third Wednesdays of the month. It's still such a blast to do this show and we've talked for awhile how to make this into a real podcast and expand our listening audience! I would also love to see us do some live shows. 

Stay tuned for updates on all! 

And in the middle of all that, I celebrated two years of being in Milwaukee. I have to say this city has been real good to me. It's been a crazy and amazing journey but again, I am so so happy here. I have amazing people who have supported me not just as a friend but as an artist and professional. I can't believe it's almost fall but excited for the shift in seasons. I'm ready for this transition and open for all the new exciting things it will bring.

I can't promise when I will write next only that I will.

Until next time...

xoxo

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