Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lighting a Lantern for Mom

Last week on Mother's Day, I flew to Seattle for business. The business I was there for didn't actually start until Monday morning, so Sunday evening I visited my alma mater, the University of Washington, and walked from there to Green Lake. I walked around the lake, taking pictures of the gorgeous sunset. And then I happened upon something unusual: A group of four women releasing floating lanterns into the sky above the lake. It was such a beautiful sight, I couldn't help watching and taking photos. But then I felt creepy for photographing these people I don't know doing something that appeared to be some kind of intimate ceremony. So I approached them afterward, apologized for taking photos without permission, and offered to delete the photos and/or share them. The women gratefully accepted my offer to share the photos with them. They explained they had been sending the lanterns off in memory of their mother, who had passed recently. I told them that my mother had also passed recently, about a year ago, and they unexpectedly offered to let me light a lantern for my mom. I was touched by their willingness to share this experience with me, and thankful for the opportunity to participate.

As I watched the lantern float away into the sky, I thought happy thoughts about my mom and imagined those positive feelings going out into the world, my mom making the world a slightly better place through me and others she touched for good. I remembered laughing with her, I remembered how she worked hard as a waitress and single mother to support me and my siblings, I remembered how she gave me her love for learning and for music.

After I thanked the women and started walking away, another take on the experience occurred to me: Sending that lantern into the sky could just as easily be symbolic of me letting go of the more negative effects of my relationship with my mother. I won't detail my mom's shortcomings here because that's not my purpose, but I will say that in many ways she was not emotionally equipped to raise children. I believe she did the best with what she had, but I have spent much of my adult life realizing how abnormal and deficient my childhood was, and how unhealthy my relationship with her was. My life can be split into three parts: The first eighteen years I spent unable to distinguish my mom's emotional needs from my own, the next eighteen years I spent slowly separating myself from her emotionally, and now since she passed I finally feel free to be myself completely, with my own needs and all. In the past year I have come into my own more than I ever managed to before. From that perspective, letting that lantern fly away was cathartic, like releasing the baggage that my mom left me with.

I am not ungrateful for all my mom did for me and all she gave me. I love her and I miss her. I also feel relieved to be free of the more difficult aspects of our relationship. No human relationship is all good or all bad. Perhaps the contrast between the good and the bad in my relationship with my mother is more stark than in most. Regardless, it was nice to say goodbye to Mom--both the good parts and the bad parts--one more time. She is part of who I am, and now more than ever I'm happy with the person I've become.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Recently, my husband and I have become connoisseurs of quality music videos. At least that's what I tell myself to feel better about how much time we waste on YouTube. Sometimes we feel like watching something but don't want to commit to a full-length movie or even a TV episode, so we've been building a playlist of music videos that we enjoy watching over and over. Randon has even written a computer program that downloads new videos as we add them to our list, so that we can watch them offline and without ads (and without paying a premium for ad-free viewing). The list is about half Mika videos, with the other half from a variety of artists ranging from Janelle Monae to Pentatonix to Scissor Sisters to OK Go. The best videos have great music, of course, but they typically also have visual appeal, make an interesting point, or tell a good story.

Take, for example, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Same Love." We have several Macklemore videos on the list because most are hilarious, but this one has a different appeal. Or, I should say, different appeals, plural. The song itself sounds great, between Ryan Lewis's masterful production, Macklemore's smooth rapping, and Mary Lambert's beautiful chorus. The lyrics argue for gay rights and marriage equality, which makes the song personally meaningful for me. The video tells the story of a gay man from birth to death, including his difficult coming out process and his joyful wedding, which is a story I can relate to. And to top it off, the cinematography is top-notch, with nearly every shot a delight to view.

The other day we were watching Adele's "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)." We've watched the video before with friends and have discussed what a technical feat it is--for the choreographer to come up with multiple dances that look good when overlaid on top of each other, and for Adele to learn those multiple, similar-but-not-quite-the-same dances well enough to pull it off. And whoever chose that dress knew what they were doing; the intricate design adds a complexity to the overlaid images that makes it even more fascinating to watch. So as we were watching the video the other day and I was thinking of these conversations we've had about the technique behind it, I thought, "It's a shame most people who watch this don't realize what must have gone into making it." And then I immediately thought, "That's stupid. In the first place, it's pretentious to assume that I, with no training in choreography or cinematography, am capable of understanding anything 'most people' wouldn't, and in the second place whether or not you are conscious of the effort that went into making great art, you can still appreciate the end result."

That's the thing about great art--it appeals to many different people because it has multiple layers of appeal. When I was a library science student at the University of Washington, I took a class from Nancy Pearl where she talked about the different ways books appeal to readers: through plot, character, setting, and language. Her point was that different books have different appeals--some have strong characters, some have beautiful language--and so we can find books people will enjoy by understanding what appeals to that particular reader. As I thought about it, though, I realized that the books with the widest appeal are strong in all four aspects. The Harry Potter series, for example, has a captivating plot, memorable characters, unique settings, and clever language. Some would argue that popular literature is a very different thing from good literature, and I agree that the two are not necessarily the same thing, but I would also argue that the two are not mutually exclusive.

As far as I'm concerned, the best art appeals to the masses as well as to us snobs who are interested in the craft behind the art, in uncovering deeper layers of meaning. As an artist, my goal is to communicate. If I can appeal to different types of readers in multiple ways, then I am simply using multiple frequencies to broadcast my message. Whether you are listening with AM radio, FM radio, or broadband internet, if I connect with you on your personal frequency then I've succeeded.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


It took me two years in this house before I started painting it to make it my own. It took me thirty-seven years in this body. For much of my life I had no interest in tattoos, but in the past year or so I've become more and more intrigued by the idea of transforming my body into a canvas for my art. It wasn't until this past February that I came up with a design that I wanted to put on my body, and then I waited three months to be sure this wasn't a passing whim. I now have two tattoos and I love them.

As I thought about what kind of tattoos I'd be interested in, I knew that the design had to be my own--I wasn't going to point at someone else's tattoo and say, "I want one of those." The whole point of it for me is artistic expression. I also knew I wanted something bright and colorful. Most importantly, whatever I put on my body needed to have meaning.

I came up with a pair of complementary tattoos for my two shoulders:

On the left shoulder I have the Justice League. More specifically, I have the Justice League shield with the emblems of what I consider to be the most iconic members of the League: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Green Arrow. There are few things so intrinsic to my core identity as my love for superheroes. I realized last week that April was the 25th anniversary of my first superhero comic, so I was happy to get this first tattoo done before the month ended. Originally I drew the design in Paint just as a mockup, but I decided I really liked the imperfectly-proportioned, assymetrical, cartoony look. To me that captures the fun, youthful energy I was going for--I didn't want a tattoo that took itself too seriously or looked like I was trying to be a badass. The color palette was also important to me; I went with magenta instead of red in Superman's shield because I wanted bright pastels, and I chose purple for Hawkman's emblem even though it's traditionally red because I wanted all the colors of the rainbow. It's my way of showing gay pride without something as obvious as a rainbow flag or an equality sign (although I considered both).

On the right shoulder I have a heart-shaped, rainbow-colored globe. Again, I went for cartoony rather than realistic, and kept the same color palette as the other shoulder. The globe represents my love of travel; as I travel to new countries and continents over the course of my life, I plan to add dots to those locations in the tattoo. The heart shape is a cheesy reference to global unity, peace, love, granola, all that. The seven continents also remind me of the seven most important people in my life: my husband, our five kids, and myself. I intentionally included myself there because sometimes I need a reminder to love myself and to value myself as much as I value others, so now I will have that reminder every time I look in the mirror.

I couldn't be more pleased with the work Chris Corvi at My Pride Tattoo did. He took my design, stayed true to my vision, and improved on it. I love the shadows and the gleam he added to the blue backgrounds--both were elements I'd crudely represented in my mockup, and he made them look fantastic. I love that I have art on my body now. I'm already starting to think of what I'll do next.