Friday, December 4, 2009

"Art as Therapy"

This month, the Triangle Art Gallery features an exhibit called "Art as Therapy". I helped organize the opening reception last night and was really happy to see how many people came to show their support. The show features work from Seattle-area teens that have been guided through therapeutic art practice at local Neighborcare Health centers. These brave kids have been grappling with difficult issues; some coping with serious life circumstances (substance abuse, HIV, family tragedy...).

Social workers at the Teen Health centers have introduced art as a potent means of expression. The collection of work is very... well, "raw" would be an apt description. The art pieces are mostly honest "first drafts" based on a reflective exercise -some speak to the conflicting range of emotions manifest in one moment's time, others tell a longer story. I had the privilege of seeing some of these art workshops in process a few weeks ago.

Due to the personal nature of the pieces, not all of the artists wanted to be identified by name. In an effort to let them know that their efforts are supported and worthwhile, however, gallery attendees left messages on large pieces of white butcher block paper spread out on tables in the middle of the room.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day

Today is American Thanksgiving -one of this country's most beloved holidays. Most Americans enjoy a 4-day weekend and make big efforts (traveling across the country sometimes) to share the occasion with friends and family. Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving (albeit in mid-October) but while the traditions are almost identical (big family feast of turkey, potatoes, gravy, squash, cranberries, pumpkin pie, etc), it strikes me that Thanksgiving weekend here is a much bigger deal.

The holiday commemorates the Pilgrims survival through the first winter in the New Land. The Thanksgiving narrative involves a feast, much praise to the Lord (for helping them through their struggle) and a (rather exaggerated) fraternity with Native Americans. Thanksgiving imagery often depicts the Pilgrims sitting to celebrate the bounty of the land with their friendly "Indian" brothers. The story recounts a mutually beneficial relationship between the groups.

In recent decades, however, groups like the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), have challenged the popular myth. The UAINE claims Thanksgiving Day as "The National Day of Mourning" and tries to educate people about the history of the Wampanoag people. UAINE representatives claim the Pilgrims would not have survived their first years in New England without the aid of the Wampanoag and that in return, the American Indian tribe received not friendship but genocide, theft of their lands, and repression.

On one hand, Thanksgiving is a beautiful tradition -the gathering together of family and friends to give thanks for what you have - celebrating the harvest and the bounty of the land. I like the ritual of it -the preparation of all the seasonal fixings and the warmth that comes from breaking bread with loved ones, etc. And yet, it does have some uncomfortable colonial undertones as well. It's got that "all's good for the white people" kind of feel.

And with that said, I think I will go eat the delicious chicken curry dinner Mallar is making us for dinner.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bikini Baristas

pic from Seattle Times

Mallar and I are rarely in a car. We mostly walk, bike and/or bus most places. In the event that we do need to drive, however, we will reserve a Zip car. Zip car is a car-sharing service that allows you to use a car without the hassle of owning it (or paying for gas or insurance). It's actually a rather genius system. Anyway, as we were on a little road trip this weekend in our Zip car, it occurred to me that I should write about the ubiquitous "espresso huts" that line most of the autoroutes in the Seattle-area.

Most of the coffee huts in the Seattle environs are pretty standard. You drive up and you order your triple short soy latte, or your tall americano or your "shot in the dark" (see this link for long list of Seattle coffee lingo), you pay, you tip -you drive away. In recent months however, there have been a number of stands that have gone "sexy".

In an effort to increase sales, many espresso huts have featured bikini-clad baristas -suggestively dressed young women who serve up a little cleavage with your java. This marketing "innovation" did raise a few eyebrows at first (especially in tourist areas where you would likely find young children). Things really became controversial a couple months ago, however, when it was uncovered that some of the bikini baristas were crossing the line for extra cash -offering "whip cream shows" and flashing their "privates". See this oh-so "classy" Fox news report about the scandal:

Here is link:
More than coffee

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Local Bookstore

Bailey Coy Books, one of my favorite neighborhood bookstores, is in the process of liquidating stock in preparation for its final closing. I went in last week to pick up a few discounted items. I felt a bit like a scavenger doing it especially given my buzzard like behavior of circling and circling around the shop to find the good "remains". They were even selling window display decorations. So sad...

I liked Bailey Coy because the shop was small and manageable, not at all claustrophobic and had a great spread of my favorite kinds of novel in an accessible and warm atmosphere. There is really something special about the small book store. I know that prices (of the more popular reads) are often cheaper online or at the local Walmart but, to me, buying books from Amazon is an uncomfortable last resort. The experience of book browsing gives so many people such fulfillment. I can spend hours happily strolling through the local bookstore -flipping through pages, reading the employee recommendation cards, checking out the bulletin boards to see if any of my favorite authors are coming to town. This business of buying books online is driving the local bookstores out of business. It is really unfortunate. There aren't that many places where you can gain so much for so little -an afternoon at a bookstore is both enriching and free.

Another bookstore in the city, one of Seattle's most beloved, Elliott Bay Book Company, may have to move out of its gorgeous Pioneer Square location because it can no longer pay the rent. Everyone seems quite disheartened about this development too (it really is a stunning book shop). I hope that this unfortunate trend can serve as a wake-up call for all the book-lovers out there. Let's remember to support our local bookstore by buying books there. It may cost a few extra bucks but the experience of soaking up book store wonder far outweighs the experience of a few mouse clicks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

This I Believe

I have one more week left in my essay writing course and while I have enjoyed the classes immensely, I have found the writing process challenging. As I sit down to write about meaningful episodes in my life, (with style and universal appeal) -I realize that I have been working through a fair number of dramatic issues and events over the last couple of years. Sometimes I feel like the stories are too gnarled to unravel -and I have trouble picking a starting point and pulling through on a single thread. My attempts are characterized by a lot of stops and starts and it has been frustrating. Our assignment for last week was to write a "This I Believe" essay. I did not know what this meant until I looked up the website:
The following is lifted straight from the homepage:
"This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 60,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books and television programming, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow."
Contributors to the project range from Bill Gates and Muhammad Ali to the everyman or woman of middle America. I found the exercise of writing a "This I Believe" essay more manageable and rather satisfying as a value-clarification kind of exercise. My first "This I Believe" attempt was about Clash (as in debate, dissent, opposing ideas) and inspired by my frustration of censoring myself while living in Denmark.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween in my Hood

In the days leading up to Halloween, Mallar and I began to notice that a number of our neighbours were erecting monstrous ghouls (grim reepers, skeletons, furries!?) and setting up other impressive engineering feats in preparation for the big night. As we inquired more about the extraordinary effort being put forth in our particular block (notorious for its displays, apparently) we were told that the woman just down the road from us had approx. 1200 trick or treaters last year. 1200! We had always planned to carve some jack-o-lanterns and give out candy but we had to go back to the store and stock up on more supplies in the face of the rumored traffic.

Joining forces with our upstairs neighbors, we set up a good show in the end (skeleton, spiders, webbing, pumpkins, tombstone, creepy soundtrack) but it was really tame compared to the goings on a few doors down from us. The home-owners a few houses over were in full costume and character -and being very scary. There were open flames on torches, smoke, big pots of potions brewing, skeletons sliding down pulleys to scare you, the whole works. It was madness. Our house became a de facto "safe zone" for younger children who were knee-knocking terrified of the goings-on down the road. wild...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Last night I attended my final Michael Jackson dance class for the crowd-pleasing Thriller choreography. The 4-week course also covered Beat It, The Way You Make Me Feel, and Bad. The MJ class is another one of Century Ballroom's offerings (I took the Beyoncé Single Ladies class with them as well). I have to say that I love the idea of tribute-style dance classes. I only wish that Century Ballroom would limit the number of participants attending any one session. It's rather annoying to always be struggling to see the demos and to have to restrain arm movements lest a neighboring someone loses an eye. It's also rather fast learning too. Basically we are learning each choreography in one hour and a half sessions.
I am realizing some interesting things about my learning style/preferences as I take these kinds of courses. My dance background is really informal -so while I have devised or been a part of numerous choreographies in my younger years (and even as a teacher, actually -lol) I don't count the same way as formal dancers do. Learning steps for me has always been to the music. You know, "so let's do the running man until this lyric/beat/break and then into the jazz splits...". The moves were always cued with music. Learning these choreographies to counts of 8 and in different tempos is really foreign to me. I feel as though when it comes to body movements (sports as well as dance) I am much more holistic in the way I learn. I guess I am a "right brain" dancer. lol.
For kicks and giggles -here is a group of prison inmates in the Philippines doing Thriller: