Quotables: Junot Diaz

I read a lot. Those who know me (and those who follow me on this blog) know that. This means I often come across quotes that I find intriguing or puzzling, quotes that I want to talk about. So, I will! Every so often, as the mood strikes me, I’ll feature a quote here and say what I think about it. I’d love to hear your responses. It’s what I love most of all about teaching and blogging—discussion!

Enjoy this first “Quotable” feature with a quote by Junot Diaz!

Photo courtesy of npr.com

Photo courtesy of npr.com

“Books are surviving in this intense, fragmented, hyper-accelerated present, and my sense and hope is that things will slow down again and people will want more time for a contemplative life. There is no way people can keep up this pace. No one is happy. Two or three hours to read should not be an unattainable thing, although I hope we get to that stage without needing a corporate sponsored app to hold our hand. The utopian in me has my fingers crossed that we haven’t quite figured out the digital future just yet. After all, the one thing we know about people: they always surprise.” – Junot Diaz

This particular interview from which the quote is taken first appeared in The Guardian. I saw this right before I taught my first college course in 2012 and thought it would be a great way to open the class. The first time I ever asked students to take out a piece of paper and write was to talk about this quote. So, as you can tell, these words have weight to me.

More than the memory, though, is the ideas this quote presents. Granted, I don’t agree with all of them, but that’s kind of the point isn’t it? The words that often speak to us the most make us wrestle in some way.

I cheer when Junot says that, as a whole, people should make more time for a contemplative life. I love the idea of sitting by a lake and then getting up and walking into my cabin to sit next to a wood-stove fire and writing. But I know that’s not for everyone. While this quote speaks to me, I’m aware that Diaz is leaving out a certain portion of the population that likes frenzy, that thrives on social media. Whether or not that’s healthy is a whole other blog post. But I don’t think people can “keep up this pace.” Our bodies aren’t machines. They need rest. America is a country of excess, yet we desperately lack down time. (America, the ironic)

“No one is happy” is a really broad statement, and I don’t agree with the broad stroke with which it paints humanity. Though I do hope there’s some discontent with the disconnecting tendencies of social media.

I have to say, I love that last line. People do indeed surprise, for better or worse. (Ah, the beauty of free will!). Many times, it seems as if people don’t react unless something catastrophic happens. I hope that’s not the case with making time for face-to-face interaction. I don’t think so. I sincerely hope not. Technology has huge advantages. I get to talk to people all over the world, people I would not have otherwise had access to. The struggle, I think, this quote is getting at is balance. At least that’s what I take from it. This balance probably won’t be two to three hours per day to read (at least not in my case), but I do hope it’s at least an hour a day (maybe not consecutively) to disconnect from media and reconnect with each other. </hokeyending>

Now it’s your turn! What do you think about this quote and/or my reading of it? What sticks out to you? Do you agree, disagree, or find yourself somewhere in the middle?

Artist’s Spotlight – Mike Brennan

Today’s Artist’s Spotlight features talented multimedia artist, Mike Brennan. I’ve known Mike for a few years now and am continually inspired by his dedication to his craft (he posts at least one sketch just about every day!). Enjoy his enthusiasm in this interview!

Mike Brennan

Roaring Out: How long have you been creating art and in what types of media?
Mike Brennan: I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember. Drawing was my main go to, mostly pencils and ink. In high school I was introduced to chalk pastels too. I really loved the vibrancy of them. I was fortunate enough to have exposure to a variety of mediums along the way, and so I feel like for me it’s trying to figure out the best (or most interesting) media for a particular concept.

RO: What first inspired you to art?1286_10151559958660958_1936653038_n (1)
MB: My earliest memory of creating art was making cards for family members. And I also used to trace comics from the Sunday newspaper, Comic books, and when I was a little older I also remember recording cartoons on my VCR, pausing them and taping paper on the TV so I could trace them. I wasn’t aware of light boxes at the time 🙂 Tracing helped me understand lines and shapes.

From there I took as many art classes as I could in High School, and started to gravitate towards graphic design. I knew I wanted to go to art school for college, so I was fortunate enough to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology earning a degree in Advertising and Design, and then the School of Visual Arts majoring in Graphic and 3D Design. 

That set my career course in graphic design. Sadly with each passing year I did less and less personal drawing and painting, because really, who has time for that when you are creating all day for someone else? I also convinced myself somewhere along the way that I really couldn’t draw because I couldn’t do realistic renderings. I swallowed that lie until I didn’t even try anymore, until I read an important book last year by Danny Gregory called “The Creative License”. 

RO: What types of media are your current favorites and why? Is there a different type of medium that you would like to try in the future?
MB: Watercolor has been my media of choice lately, but I’m starting to experiment into mixed media a bit too.I still like drawing with inks, pastels, colored pencils. I try to mix it up from time to time, but not at the expense of being a jack of all trades master of none, 😉

1470246_10151871997180958_552693694_n (1)RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process? 
MB: It depends on what I’m working on. Lately, I feel like I’m trying at adapt and change my process as I continue to learn new things. Sometimes I get inspired by photographs, or books I read, other art. I tend to try to collect ideas BEFORE I need them. I use an app/website called Evernote. It lets you collect and organize your ideas so it’s easy to find them later. Once I want to move ahead on something, I usually start with a sketch or loose idea and begin developing as I go. Most times I just give myself over to the process to see what comes rather than have an established final image in my mind I’m trying to force myself to create. Happy “accidents” (and even not so happy ones) can be great learning opportunities.

RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a piece of art?
MB: I’m pretty impatient and get bored easily. Most days I spend an hour to three on a piece, before I feel like I need to move on. When I was attending the School of Visual Arts, I had the opportunity to design a 3-D skeleton based on the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I designed a life sized skeleton made of dog biscuits that was selected for a show in the Whitney Museum in NYC. It took me several weeks to create. That piece was a turning point in my art & design. The basic thought going into the design process was to come up with a strong concept, then figure out how to do it. In other words, don’t let cost, knowledge or skills, materials or anything else be a deterrent from a strong creative idea.

RO: You make a habit of taking art courses (a habit that is certainly admirable and 1525098_10151935307620958_212921335_nnecessary for any artist!) What is your favorite art class you’ve taken recently and why? In that vein, do you have any plans to perhaps teach a workshop in the near future?
MB: I hadn’t taken any art classes for years until recently. There was a million excuses of no money, no time, no energy, etc. What broke me out of the cycle was just deciding one day that if I really wanted to reembark on this creative journey aside from my day job as a graphic designer, I needed to do something different. I enrolled in a printmaking class. It was great because it put me in a place where I was experimenting just for the fun of it, meeting new people who were artists too and peaked my curiosity on new techniques and processes.

From there, I’ve taken a few watercolor classes as well. I really have loved those. It’s been a great mix of learning techniques, being in art community and setting myself up with challenges to grow and learn.

Even if you can’t enroll in a class at a local art center, I would advise checking out Craftsy.com. I purchased two art classes for around $20 each, where you watch a video instruction at your own pace and there’s even a place to ask questions and upload your progress.

The bottom line is if you really want it, you will find a way.

As far as teaching – I would LOVE to do that at some point. I’m always watchful to see what opportunities come my way, so who knows, maybe one day. It would be great to combine my love for art and my people-oriented heart.

1601030_10151929659680958_1095639281_nRO: You recently opened up a wonderfully quirky Etsy shop. What lessons have you learned from running the shop? Any advice to someone who is thinking of opening an Etsy shop?
MB: It’s a big undertaking, honestly. I started mine as a way to keep me doing some of my art, and have an outlet to sell some of my photographs as well. It’s like anything – what you put in, you get out. I haven’t been the greatest on keeping up with all the promotion that should really go into it. I find that I lack the energy/time/focus when I’m done creating my art to switch hats to PR and marketer.

RO: What subjects are your favorites to sketch? Any subjects you’d like to sketch more of in your work?
MB: Mostly people – Men, women, faces, poses, feet (much easier for me than hands). I also like to sketch dogs, birds, fish…I suppose it’s the organic nature of these subjects. I was just talking with someone the ether day about how I hate to do buildings, or mechanical objects, basically anything that requires me to be precise and controlled in my art.

My faith is a big influence in not only themes of my work but also in how I do my work. But not in a propaganda or preachy sort of way. I want to create art that engages people, moves them, makes them think, smile or see beauty. For me all those things trace back to my Creator.

I also have to be authentic in my art. Hence, doing what’s important to me or had influence 1607049_10152021340435958_1970299082_nin my life. That’s what led me to the Star Wars themed greeting cards I have on Etsy – combining two things that had tremendous influence in my past as a child.

RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
MB: I feel like I should say yes…But honestly, the only thing I can think of are 2 things: 1. I have a picture that hangs by my desk at home from my youngest daughter Faith that says “Daddy, I enjoyed being with you”. That reminds me of how important it is for me to stop working and just be with my daughters, as well as a reminder for me to spend some time with my Heavenly Father like that.

The other is an illustrated note that an artist friend of mine had sent me during a difficult season. She’s a fellow old soul.

1464695_10151805099480958_709725966_n (1)RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
MB: That’s a tough one. I loved so many different super heroes when I was younger (and still do). These days, maybe teleportation. But perhaps that’s a byproduct of living in the traffic infested NY/NJ area. When technology catches up to offer this, I’ll want to renegotiate.

RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
MB: Ok. Can’t decide on just one, so forgive me…

Be in it for the long haul. Don’t look for shortcuts. They will only hurt you in the end even if they advance you in the immediate.

Practice your skills but also put time into figuring out who you are so it impacts the art you create. The world needs YOUR art, but it needs to be YOURS, coming from the unique blend of who you are – your skill set, interests, influences, experiences (including pain and “dark” seasons of your life).

Never stop learning. Read. Observe. Asks questions. Be in community. Take a different approach to something that you consider yourself really good at.

Do the next best work you can do right now and don’t worry so much about being “successful”. Make art because you HAVE to. Because to not do it would stifle your soul. 998792_10152008955150958_99723871_n

Establish a challenge for yourself. I decided to do a daily drawing or painting for an entire year. It’s been tough at times, and sometimes i only manage a five minute line drawing, but the experience and journey is something that could never have happened apart from putting in all that time. April will be the year mark for me and it’s also fun to look back on my Instagram feed to see my progress over the past year.

Invest in a sketchbook and draw something daily. If daily sounds too daunting, just do something more than what you are doing right now. Then in three months increase that again. Just keep moving forward.

Have Fun and figure out how to make your art a GIFT to those who experience it!

 

Mike, thanks so much for sharing your heart for creativity and people! If you’d like to check out more of his work, visit his blog, website, and Etsy shop.

One Second Every Day – February

Here’s the second month of my One Second Every Day project. This month includes my trip to Philly, lots of sleeping, and my roommate using our vacuum cleaner to make a point.

The song in the video is the acoustic version of Hanson’s “Mmmbop.”

(Curious as to what this project is all about? See the first post.)

One Second Every Day – January

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

Photo courtesy of 1secondeveryday.com

When watching a documentary or reading a snippet about the life of someone famous or someone who’s done something noteworthy, I often wonder what happened in the life of that person during the silences. By silences, I mean when the announcer says, “This person got a job, and then six years later, they had their big break.” I always wonder what happened in those six years, months, days, minutes. What was their routine? What did they read? Who was their best friend? Who did they talk to when they cried?

The answers to the above questions are pieces of life that history doesn’t see fit to record. They are moments that history often forgets, and history shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because it is routine that is the lifeblood of, well, life, even if it’s not as exciting as our biggest victories or lowest valleys. Most of what happens to us is mundane, but in those routines, we have small variations that surprise us and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are delighted.

In that vein, I’ve embarked on this ironically app-inspired journey that I hope to continue throughout the year and beyond. I’m doing the 1 Second Every Day project (I found out about it via the Storyline blog). It entails recording a second of every single day with the intention of splicing those second together to make a sort of movie narrative.

I want to do this so that I have a record of how I spend my spare time and have a memory for each day that I live, no matter how small. Of course these days and months will be punctuated by excitement, but more than that, the reason I’m doing this is because I want to remember. I don’t want certain things to get old, like my finace kissing my hand, like my roommate doing something zazzy (a word of his own making). I don’t want to forget my drives to school or the work that I do (yes, that includes grading). I want to remember what I put my time towards. I think that’s important. I don’t know that I can articulate why, but I think it is.

I found out about this project a few days into January, so this month’s video is a bit abridged. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you’ll consider embarking on a similar journey of recording your seemingly mundane days. I think you’ll find there is always something noteworthy to record 🙂

(The song in the video is “Pictures of You” by The Last Goodnight.)

After Sandy: A Lesson Learned from the Storm

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 4]

Let’s face it: we’ve all become used to a certain amount of comfort. We have unlimited information at our fingertips with the Internet. Our homes are climate-controlled. We don’t even have to get out of our cars to get food.

For many, Sandy put an end to those comforts. For me, four days without power showed me that I can live without quite a bit.  And I have to say that the week off I had because of Sandy was one I’ll never forget, not because of the hardship, but because of the people I spent it with.

My roommate, boyfriend, mutual friend, and I spent a few days together without gadgets getting in the way.  We played poker, board games, and made a nifty heating/light source with a can of Spaghettio’s, a lighter, and some Everclear.  At some point during the week, I took a step back from the laughter and the many blankets piled around and realized that my three companions and I wouldn’t be sharing this time together were it not for the storm.  We wouldn’t have thought to hang out.  We might have been too busy or made excuses.  But here we were: cold but content.  It reminded me of a line from the Jason Mraz song “I’m Yours”: “Open up your plans and, damn, you’re free.”

I often wonder why it seems like I never have time to do anything.  Sandy was a pretty stark reminder of the fact that a lot of my “busy-ness” is self-imposed.  Although my power came on about a week and a half ago, I just got Internet service back yesterday (otherwise I would have posted sooner).  Now that all of my creature comforts are back, I’m sad to say I’ve fallen back into a lot of my technologically distracted ways.  But, I’m going to try to not spend so much time staring at a glowing screen.

I’m trying to re-evaluate my priorities.  Hanging out with people or reading or spending time outside is awesome and fairly liberating.  The Internet will still be there when I get back.

One thing’s for sure: I certainly don’t want to suffer from FWP (First World Problems) again.

How about you?  What did you learn/what was your favorite memory from Sandy?