Lost Angels

I’m driving to Los Angeles today to meet up with my colleagues on the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts for our annual Winter Meeting and planning session.  We’ll spend two days working out how we want to spend our year together, what we can do for Emerging Leader networks nationally, and what we think Americans for the Arts should be more aware of in regards to emerging leaders.

I’m really happy that Americans for the Arts revised its definition of “emerging leader.”  Since the ELC started, it has been defined as an arts professional under age 35 with fewer than 5 years of experience in the arts nonprofit field.  Now we embrace anyone with fewer than 10 years of experience, which I think is a good option since the Great Recession has changed a lot of people’s lives and careers, particularly in the nonprofit world.

For the last few months I’ve been working to reboot the Tucson Emerging Arts & Culture Leaders group, which is just a local network of arts professionals, culture workers, and artists who work both in the nonprofit and for profit worlds.  It’s been slow going but I’m hopeful that 2012 will bring new members and more energy to the group, which has been off to a good start thanks to some highly motivated and committed folks.

Expect photos.  I love Los Angeles.

Notes toward an Autobiography

I have developed a new obsessive-compulsive behavior. Before I can read a magazine, I go through and remove all the blow-in subscription cards. After that, I go from cover to cover and tear out any advertising (or advertorial) printed on stock heavier than the rest of the magazine, typically cologne/perfume samples and tobacco ads (I’m looking at you, Marc Jacobs).

Then I may read the magazine.

* * * * *

I have traveled over 6,000 miles since August 15. Only 2,200 of those miles were by aircraft. The rest were by car. I love driving. I love to travel by car. Air travel makes me stressed out and cranky. I dislike being close to people I don’t know, and I have a secret fear that I will be strip-searched by TSA, or, at the very least, that the metal detector will go off even though I have dutifully removed everything from my person that may contain a metal. Driving for travel is like being Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: you say who, you say when, you say how much.

* * * * *

Whenever I do fly, I’m as neurotic as when I read a magazine. I have three primary fears in life: being hungry, being cold, and being bored. Being on an airplane exacerbates all of those concerns.

Here is a list of the non-negotiable things I have to carry with me into the cabin:

a neck pillow
a zip-up sweatshirt (in case I get cold)
a bottle of water
some kind of nutrition bar
a bag of candy of some kind, or a salty treat
my iPod
my Nintendo DS
at least two books, but usually three (in case one is boring or poorly written, and also to cater to my unpredictable reading tastes).
(in some cases, I substitute a magazine like Spin for one of the books)
my laptop

Partly this is because I’ve rarely flown on flights shorter than 3 hours (see driving, above), and these items are often used in conjunction with each other. For instance, the iPod goes on at 10,000 feet. (I find it an especially useful form of stranger repellent.) Then I sleep or play games or read.

I do not talk to other passengers, and I never, ever, disclose that I am a writer. It’s just too risky.

I always sit by a window. And before I get on the plane, I like to have tomato juice.

* * * * *

On one of my recent flights, the man next to me made the stations of the cross while we took off.

* * * * *

I have only once really believed I might be about to die while flying. It was, I think, on one of my flights to Phoenix/back. Right after we lifted off and were making our ascent, the plane arced and pointed down. I mean, down. I didn’t hear that weird plane-diving whistle sound, but the other passengers and I all leaned forward involuntarily. We flew at that angle for about ten seconds.

They were the longest ten seconds of my life.

When the plane flattened out and began to climb again, I looked over at my seat neighbor, who, like me, had been staring out the window, as if that could help. “Holy shit,” I said. Her eyes, round and wide like jet engines, said the same.

* * * * *

In an unrelated story, my niece is, at this very minute, at school, dressed as Lady Gaga for Spirit Week. I had no part in cultivating this action, but believe me when I say it delights me to no end.

How did she do Gaga? A long, blond wig and a dress made out of dollar bills.

Note to self: Halloween.

Report: Atlanta Queer Literary Festival

Over the weekend I made a jaunt down to Atlanta for the AQLF. It was super fun!

I got in Friday night and had a nice dinner with friends, then went back to my hotel and hit the hay. Saturday I had breakfast with Jim Elledge, which is one of the nicest ways to start a day, and then spent the rest of the afternoon reading my poems to people, listening to other people’s works, and chatting with other writers.

The festival was small, but it was nice. There was a very collegial and intimate feel to the day. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a literary event that I didn’t plan myself. LOL.

Other highlights were running into Michael Montlack, who edited My Diva, hearing Andrew Bierle read the opening of First Person Plural, hearing Collin Kelley, Dustin Brookshire, and Megan Volpert read their work, then spending various amounts of time hanging out. Jim’s new chapbook is amazing, by the way. H, the full length version, is going to be fantastic when it comes out.

Odd story: I rode MARTA (their metro) to and from the airport and around town. On my way in, suitcase in tow, a woman struck up a conversation on the platform with me. (Mostly, she wanted to talk.) It turned out she was born in Milwaukee and had lived in Tempe for some time, and also loved DC. Then she went on and on about all the awful things that have happened to her–losing jobs, losing savings, etc, and I was totally sure I was in for the long-form panhandle like I got last time I was in Atlanta (guy talked to me for 15 minutes about how he was a Katrina refugee…then, did I have $5?). But when we got off in Decatur, she very kindly asked me where I was staying, then gave me clear directions to get there. And she said, “Enjoy your visit.” And was gone. I have a theory on stuff like this that I’ll share another time.

Even weirder, as I walked out the MARTA exit, another woman asked me if I understood the directions or needed more help. I looked around and was like, “Um, me?” And she was like, “Yeah, you.” I thanked her but said I knew where I was going. I couldn’t believe people were so friendly. It was a nice change of pace. In DC, when strangers talk to you, they just want to know what kind of shaving cream to buy, or if they can skip you in the line at Target because they’re so much busier than you are.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun, and I needed the mini break from DC!

Alotta Vagaga

On Monday Beau and I went to the Lady Gaga show in Richmond. It was awesome.

I know that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Gaga, and those who think she’s gaga. I’m clearly in the first camp, but don’t disparage those who won’t join me (so do me the same respect by not leaving your snarky comments here).

The show opened with a short film starring Gaga, called Who Shot Candy Warhol? Gaga combs her hair with a Hello Kitty brush while answering an interviewer’s questions. The whole thing is very Truffaut, until somebody gets shot! In the heart! Gaga appeared onstage in all her pant(y)less glory and sang Paparazzi. And she danced. And she was actually singing while she danced. It was impressive, and authentic, and fun.

Gaga is an ethusiastic performer. After each number, she’d chit chat with the audience, telling us how wonderful her fans were and how excited she was to be there. I think she kind of got off on being on stage, though, because while singing, she’d intermittently shout, “Scream!” And the audience would scream. Or “Hold your guns in the air and shoot ’em” (during “Beautiful, Dirty, Rich”). She loved telling us what to do…and then watching us do it.

The show was sparse, stripped down. The set was almost austere as far as pop shows go, and she only had three back up dancers, three men who’d been traveling with her for two years. The biggest set piece was a real scooter they pushed her in on before she sang “LoveGame.”

Yes. She wore the bubble dress, for a while. She wore it while she played the lucite piano and sang stripped down (pun intended) versions of “Brown Eyes” and “Poker Face.”

Although the show was fun, it was short. No opening act (yay!). She didn’t sing all the songs on her album (losers included “Paper Gangsta” and “I Like It Rough”). But she gave 110% to what she did do, and, like a honest-to-real diva, she showed up 60 minutes late for the show.

But, she said she was sorry.

Storm King

Although it sounds like some kind of supervillain or maybe a kind of hurricane-recovery clean-up service, Storm King is actually a very high profile outdoor sculpture museum featuring some significant works from the 40s-90s.

Beau and I dropped in during our recent trip to NY, and we had the good fortune to visit with his art history teacher, who filled in a lot of context about the different works and artists we saw.

The museum, which I think is about 500 acres, featured this long, snakey stone wall, hand-built, which wound around trees, dove into a small pond, and emerged from the other side to climb a hill and run right up to the edge of the highway at the museum’s edge. The craftsmanship was remarkable, but so was the wall’s meditation on shape, space, and scale.

I was pretty excited to encounter a Roy Lichtenstein piece in the museum. I love pop art, especially pop art inspired by cartoons and comics, and this piece, called “Mermaid,” uses one of Lichtenstein’s core iconographies and places it in a context I’d never encountered before. Although it’s “just a canoe,” it evokes images of ships with sculpted prows.

The most interesting installations were from Maya Lin, who, in her early twenties, became famous when her MIT thesis project, rejected by her faculty, became the accepted design for the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. At the time, Lin suffered the vitriol associated with the memorial’s construction, including the ridiculous criticism that such a monument should not have been designed by an Asian American. If you’ve ever visited the memorial, you know it is among the most powerful monuments in the nation’s capital for its stark simplicity and meditative use of space.

“Wavefield,” one of her projects at Storm King, is a large plain of sculpted dunes growing over now with grass and wildflowers. Throughout the year, the installation looks different, but from high vantage points it does replicate the rhythm and scale of waves (the “waves” crest at about 10′ high at their highest point and about 6′ at their lowest). Currently, you can walk through the valleys between crests, but due to the soil’s fragility, guests are asked not to walk along the tops of the dunes until they’ve had a chance to become more firmly rooted with flora. It’s an interesting piece–one I found myself thinking about over the entire weekend.

Lin had a few really spectacular installations in Storm King’s only gallery building, including a scaled-down version of a another wave-related project that used shorn 2′ x 4’s to make wave shapes on a gallery floor. There was also a plaster model of an iceberg and a map of the Hudson River constructed onto a blank wall using lines and groups of pins. Upstairs, I saw this, which I loved:

A series of glass “drops,” which seem to be holding their shape at the preicse moment of impact before the meniscus explodes and the water flattens.

There were many significant modern pieces there, including “Black Flag”–my favorite in the museum (Beau has the photo of me under it) and a remarkable vertically-cantilevered piece that I didn’t realize was held off the ground until we drove by it (too late to get a snapshot!). It’s probably the best sculpture garden I’ve been to, although I will always love Klaes Oldenberg’s Cherry-and-spoon fountain in the Walker Arts Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis.

For those keeping track of such factoids:
Total miles driven so far in August: 2,000.
Total miles driven in my entire first year of living in DC: 6,000.

Happy Trails

Not that kind. The other kind.

Arden and I, after much wrangling with the airlines, are planning to fly out this afternoon for AZ’s not-much-warmer weather, family, and much relaxation.

I’ll be checking in, mostly as I succumb to the utter boredom that is having no work to do, including my annual end of the year post on my favorite albums, and possibly an overdue review of Milk.

A Five Hour Tour

I gave a brief presentation on The Writer’s Center in Arlington today, for a group of federal employees.

I left my house (in Maryland) at 7 am to give myself a large cushion for arrival before the 9 am start time.

I arrived at the place at 8:45 am. It was “10 miles,” according to my GPS. I didn’t even hit that much traffic, really, until I got near the VA border (typical) and to the gate of the organization itself. And then waiting in line to get security clearance to enter…

I got home again at 12:30 pm. All in all, it was a five-hour ordeal.

In my experience, typical of going to Virginia! This is why the states don’t mix much. It’s a tremendous headache/heartache to go back and forth.

Me? I’ll be back in VA on Sept 5 for The Writer’s Center’s event with Kate Blackwell for Leesburg’s First Friday.