Art, Shells and Inner Worlds

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Even though I see drawing and photography as, well, mostly solitary pursuits, ironically they act as ways I can connect with others. Or–if connecting’s too strong a word–at least sparking conversations with strangers. On airplanes, in libraries, in coffeeshops, on piers, etc. Sometimes we’ll talk briefly for two minutes–oh, what’re you drawing? or, I take photographs, too–and other times, for several hours.

For a while I worked on a photography project called the 100 Strangers Project. I’d talk to strangers (something I often do anyways), photograph them, then write about their stories on my blog. I guess it was a way of recording the conversations I’d had with so many different people, people whose paths I’d likely never cross again. These conversations were sprinkled across cities, across the country. Usually we’d bond over something small, or something that we shared in common (or maybe we didn’t). The person was an avid traveler and had visited my home country; they liked video games, too, and recommended one I’d play years later; we shared the same taste in weird TV shows, and their favorite was one that’d soon become my own. And like the quote that “everyone you meet has something to teach you”, I’d always learn something new about the person.

I stopped working on the project a few months ago–I’m notoriously bad at finishing what I start. Writing the descriptions also felt–what’s the word?–contrived, and I felt self-conscious, and so I’d have all these portraits and stories but I’d be too afraid to write them down. I still talk to strangers; I don’t take as many pictures, but I remember the few strangers I wrote about quite vividly. I remember their faces, the spaces where we met, the point in our conversation where you could tell they felt passionately about xyz. And that’s what I’d write about. Some of them emailed me afterwards, or vice versa, to say hi or follow up, to send links or snippets from their book.

A poet whose name I forgot wrote about how, without our inner worlds, we are merely shells. And we all have inner worlds. Sometimes we just get so wrapped up in our own that we forget, or simply don’t engage with, those of others–particularly strangers. We do it all the time. Talking with them and hearing their stories reminds me to peer outside my turtlish shell from time to time.

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Indie Throwback Playlist

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The kind you might drunkenly sing at the top of your lungs in the middle of the night post-Comedy house laughs, boozy Oreo milkshakes and whirring pinball games that you win by, oh, thirty million points.

  1. Someday, The Strokes
  2. Take Me Out, Franz Ferdinand
  3. Young Folks, Peter Bjorn and John
  4. Riptide, Vance Joy
  5. Where Did Your Heart Go Missing?, Rooney
  6. Midnight City, M83
  7. Ho Hey, The Lumineers
  8. Tighten Up, The Black Keys
  9. I Wanna Be Yours, Arctic Monkeys
  10.  A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
  11. Oxford Comma, Vampire Weekend
  12. Float On, Modest Mouse
  13. Mardy Bum, Arctic Monkeys
  14. What You Know, Two Door Cinema Club
  15. Stolen Dance, Milky Dance
  16. Are You Gonna Be My Girl, Jet
  17. Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked, Cage The Elephant
  18. No You Girls, Franz Ferdinand
  19. Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap
  20. Welcome to the Black Parade, My Chemical Romance

(Honestly I’m so happy right now my heart might just explode.)

An Update (Raises Juicebox)

disposable film 35mm photography philadelphia architectureHe-llo, world, WordPress, world of WordPress. I haven’t been on the past week since–as you may or may not know–it’s the first week of school. And so I’ve been getting into the school grind, seeing friends, going to class, wandering around campus. Most things haven’t changed–my best friendship and our musical jams; talking to strangers in coffeeshops; subsisting primarily on food truck food. And yet other things have–I have my own space (insert gentle chorus of angels); there’s a new wave of freshman….and I can’t think of the last difference.

Anyhow. It’s nice being back, albeit a little noisy. I forget how loud the city can be. I’m still getting settled in, but that’s probably not entirely true, since I currently have copious amounts of free-time. Even so, I haven’t been writing or drawing much. The most art I’ve really done is some figure drawing in an old sketchbook. I used that sketchbook most during my second year second semester, probably one of the (literally) sunniest semesters I’ve had here. I’d carry it around, then sketch the people around me: classmates, teachers, strangers, you name it. A girl at the cafe saw my sketchbook two days ago, started talking to me, and then we spoke for two hours.

My best friend is happy. And I, too, am happy. Yesterday I joked about how, after all these years, our moods had finally synced up. When she first met me, I was sad. A year later, she was sad. And now, finally, we are no longer sad, but content and happy, musical like chirping birds. For a few hours I sat at the piano playing songs by ear while she belted them in a crowded lobby. I used to live there, felt self-conscious of how many people were by the piano. But it was different yesterday, because neither she nor I cared about who was there, so it was easier to jam without hesitation.

In retrospect, most life dampeners from the years before were people-related. Antagonized roommates, confused people (?), sad friends, not-particularly-helpful-advice-bellowing acquaintances. That, for a handful of reasons, probably won’t be as much of an issue this year. For whatever reason, the actual school part–where you do homework and take tests–was never quite as stressful as the emotionally-knotted people situations. I can handle a school curriculum. I cannot, however, handle a bunch of mixed emotions and passive aggressive text and noisy people.

But, well, obviously not all people are aggravating. A few days ago I watched The Conjuring with my friend, posed as a freshman to get into a poorly executed dessert reception; got bubble tea and played Connect Four; introduced my past froomie to Chewing Gum; walked past the bridge to get sno-cones; caught up with the best. When I talk about my schedule, the people in my life chuckle about it. After taking, for whatever absurd reason, a 9 AM my first year, I quickly resolved to have a manageable schedule where I can sleep like a panda, eat like a cat, and do well.

I’m excited. Here’s to a good year. -raises juicebox-

Facebook: A Rant, A Wasteland

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Facebook is trash. It’s evolved from being a wasteland of mundane updates to a wasteland of bad memes. At this rate, as I scroll past loads of digital trash that’s racked up millions of trash views, I’d rather see the shiny curated-lives feed people once spoke of. “Facebook”, people once said, “is not real. Because everybody is so fakely happy on there, and their lives are so fakely joyous.” But now all I see are memes. I’d rather see perfect lives instead.

Ironically, Facebook used to be a place where people wrote about the most personal, real-life, trivial things. “I made a sandwich,” one status might read. “Here are my toenails; I’ve clipped them for the first time in ages.” Above the caption, an off-focus photo of said toenails. Then an uncomfortably personal rant about a fight someone just had with their significant other: “I’ve had it with you, Derek! It’s! Over!” And then: “Derek and I have made things up. He says he will no longer trim his toenails at the dinner table.” Update after update: it was life at its finest, its dullest, its weirdest, its realest.

Five years later, Facebook would evolve to become a platform of privacy-munching absolute-fakery, where people were perfect to an unholy degree and Facebook gobbled all our data. People were perpetually smiling, at the beach, soaking up the rays of a beauteous life. While we masked our sadness with deliriously bright posts, Facebook kept tabs on us. On the sites we visited, even when we were logged off, on the ads we’d clicked, feeding our info to its delicious creep-algorithm. This, in turn, fed us loads of intrusive ads. Still does. Ever looked up furry boots on Amazon only to find an ad for furry boots on your Facebook feed two seconds later? There you have it: glorious ubiquitous digital tracking.

But Facebook, for all this feather-fluffing you spew about your great algorithms and snoopy tracking, could you not offer a slightly better feed? One that isn’t littered with unrelated posts? All I see, as I scroll down, are trashy memes, videos, images, captions, and statuses from people I haven’t spoken to in years. I know why–it’s because the feed caters to popular posts. And popular posts are usually ones that elicit gut-reactions, like laughter, or shock, or sheer anger. It’s primal. The wilder, the weirder, the more controversial, the better. Doesn’t matter whether it’s quality or not. And, well, I’m not even going to get into this one, but that fueled fake news like no other.

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As if the platform wasn’t already objectively shitty, everything has to revolve around it. A Spotify playlist, Pinterest boards, group chats, business pages, Instagram–all of it’s roped into the monster platform. It’s abhorrent, the system, synonymous with loathsome, repugnant; in other words, gross, dude. It’s also, weirdly enough, a social thing. Do you know how much shit I’ve gotten over the years for trying to get off the site? You don’t, so I’ll tell you: a lot of shit. And it ranged from the benign, “where’d you go? I want to tag you in a picture!” to the snarkier “oh, I know you’re off, you’re always off, aren’t you? You’re so weird.” In a way, not being on Facebook became–and this is going to sound dramatic, but I swear, sometimes it was the first thing people said to me in ages–part of my identity. And I’m not sure why, but it really upset some people that they couldn’t just look me up to see what I was doing.

The best part of all this is that, despite loathing the site, I’ll probably find myself back on it sooner or later. It houses my photography platform. It’s where I can most easily reach my friends. It’s where you’re supposed to be–employers will think you’re a psychopath for not having a Facebook. Also, it’s stalker central! And if you don’t live under a rock, then stalking has to be a part of your everyday routine. Again, it’s all utterly absurd to me, how normalized privacy-invasion is, how horrendously trashy our feeds are, how it’s a social must. See, I don’t mind social media–I like Instagram, maybe more than I should, and I’m on Snapchat several times a day. I very specifically detest Facebook, though I seldom talk about it lest people get defensive over it. Also, I know many a person who either works at, or has worked for, Facebook. So here I am, writing about it on the Internet instead.

Hopefully, I can stay off for just a wee bit longer. Realistically, though, I’ll likely be on in a matter of weeks (or, if I’m lucky, months). In the meantime, I will dislike it intensely.

Solar Eclipse

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Shadows, passing moon, a darkening sky. Even though it’s ten degrees cooler my dress is sticky with sweat. I’m holding up a bright yellow Cheerios box that reflects the sky since I didn’t order solar eclipse glasses in time (you can’t see it with the naked eye–you’ll go blind). When I look inside the box, I see a little orb of whitish blinding sun glaring at me from the back of box; I see a black dot, the Moon! inching across the orb.

The Solar Eclipse: when the homewrecking Moon passes between Sun and Earth.

Some parts of the country saw the solar eclipse in its totality. Others, only partially. If you google solar eclipse, you’ll find a ringlet-of-fire-looking thing–the sun’s corona–staring back at you the way it did in my textbooks. That’s what the people in its path today saw. Alas, I didn’t, not in its entirety. Taken from the small cut-out opening, this picture shows the blurry partial eclipse seen from my location. The sun looks, ironically, like a little moon where the moon passes over.

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Like seeing science in the flesh. I remember the first time I peered into the telescope to see a massive spotty Jupiter staring right back. I experienced less an epiphany than I did surprise: I knew the planets were there, but they’d always been more…conceptual to me. Science had always been removed by textbooks, grades, illustrations to recreate. Earth was a plastic globe spinning on my pre-k teacher’s desk–according to her, it rotated constantly, and I imagined it spun on its own at night. In physics, in astro, I memorized definitions, calculated coordinates, listened to songs about stars in the sky, but I didn’t always get it, just regurgitated for the grade.

But for a moment, today, I got it. The sheer coolness of solar eclipse wasn’t so much about it being the first in several years (there’ll be another in 2024), or the well-publicized hype. It was more of a small a-ha moment, when things clicked in my head, when textbook definition met astro illustration met real life demonstration. Like in the fourth grade when I watched vinegar and baking soda bubble volcano-ey; like in sophomore Chemistry when my teacher said, “there’s no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat”. Like the moment I understood that basics and acids, when combined, neutralize to create salt and water. Quirky instances of science that, at some point, sunk in beyond the understanding-for-a-grade level.

And today it sunk in–the light-spitting corona; a massive crater-riddled Moon. Us, wee little people, pointing paper glasses towards the sky, oohing and aahing on a (carbon) coughing-sputtering earth.