16 May 2015

Connection and Clay . . .

In May of last year, I was part of a pilot arts program at The Singapore Boys' Home. 

The Singapore Boys' Home is a juvenile residential home, run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. It provides care and rehabilitation for boys between seven and sixteen years old, housing about 380 youths. 

I taught a clay workshop for 12 boys on 3 consecutive evenings. We made masks and pots and--on the last night--they were able to make whatever they wanted. Then I went back in August and we painted all of the projects. 

It was an amazing experience. 

Most of the boys had never worked with clay before. And they absolutely loved it. I basically just had to show them how to score and slip, and they took the reigns from there . . . 

The guys took a lot of risks, building relatively large pieces and things with quite a bit of detail. It was fantastic! And their response was overwhelming. They wanted more classes and more creative experiences . . . 

Clay can change people's lives. Or it did for me, anyhow . . .  

The first time I really felt like art (A.R.T.) could make a difference in my life was in the clay studio. I talked about it here, during my heartbreak at the closing of the clay facilities at The University of Texas. I grew up there. I became a real, live artist there. (In my head, at least.) It was my home

I could make anything I wanted out of clay. It was like being in a kitchen with all of the ingredients laid out in front of you. A lot of chemistry takes place in the studio, from glaze mixing to firing the gas kilns to making clay. And it's incredibly labor intensive, which I completely respect. You have a relationship with clay from the moment you touch it and begin to work with it. You have to hold it's proverbial hand every step of the way. There's fragility, strength, imagination, color, fire, and comradery. It's all-encompassing.

I've been investigating more on this "change" topic lately. Especially since embarking on my newest project. And teaching the introductory clay class at The Singapore Boys' Home helped to reminded me why I do what I do.

I mean, I teach art every day. But within giant, fast-paced schools, art doesn't get the notice it is well-deserved. Students can still love it and be affected by it. Sure. But in smaller, more intimate environments, lifelong connections can be made. And more times than not, clay can facilitate that connection. Maybe it's because of the transformation that happens: the change within mirrors the transformation of the clay from mud to object. 

I've never had a connection to another kind of material like I have with clay. Fabric comes close, but it's not the same. There is something so magical about clay. Molding of the earth, perhaps.

One of the first books I read in my Community Arts graduate program was called Make The Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland. Mr. Strickland founded the Manchester Craftsman's Guild in Pittsburgh, an innovative nonprofit that uses the arts to inspire and mentor inner-city teenagers. About clay, he said this: "I was a young kid just about flunking out of school. And one afternoon I happened to walk past the ceramics studio. I glanced inside and here was this man throwing pots. Frank Ross. Now, I don't know how many of you have ever seen a ceramics wheel turning, but if you have, you know it's magic. It was like a big invisible hand lifted me up and carried me over to that wheel."

More recently I came across a link on the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art's (NCECA) Facebook page. It was an image of a pottery wheel with the words, "this machine kills hate" scrawled on the front of it. I had to know more . . . Upon further research, I found Roberto Lugo. Below is his Emerging Artist talk published on March 30th of this year. It's completely filled with emotion, and rightfully so.

Superman. Power. Building strength through making. It's a relationship, right? Connection as relationship. I found this video on Baltimore Clayworks' website. "Spiritual" comes up several times in the video. I think that says a lot . . . 

I don't know if the students I taught at The Singapore Boys' Home will ever work with clay again. From their playful banter and excited conversations during our time together, I can tell you that something was happening. Was it a lifelong change taking place? Perhaps not. But for that brief moment in time, there was magic.

03 May 2015

The Lift . . .

Wow. 2015 has been a big, giant mess and it’s only the beginning of May. I guess I should try and stay positive, because that gives about 8 months for this year to turn around. Lot’s of my energy is being thrown in that direction in hopes that it does--in fact--turn around . . . 

I can't just jump back into my regular blogging without mentioning a few notes. There are a lot of exciting projects coming up that I am going to share over the next few weeks. But I can not move forward without thanking all of the people and organizations that have gotten me through the last month or 45 days. So I hope you'll stay tuned . . .  

A little less than two months ago, Ben passed away. I can’t believe that it hasn’t even been two months. It feels longer. These last several weeks have seemed to drag on and on and on. I don’t think there has ever been a moment in my life where I have been more sad. Perhaps I have mentioned this before. But I honestly didn’t think this heaviness would ever lift. But it has, to some degree. I’m still sad, of course. But the tears have dried up for now. I actually don’t know how I had that much liquid inside me to begin with! 

Several things have taken place that have sort of helped to lift me up, so to speak. 

For one, I was introduced to the most wonderfully kind lady on the planet. She and her husband were friends of Ben’s a few years ago at the Men of Nehemiah. They were volunteers of the ministry and visited him every once in a while. She is also a grievance counselor, by profession. She has been helping to walk me through this whole process, all the way from Dallas, Texas. About every three to five days, I get an email from her with all sorts of information in it. Sometimes she mentions passages to read in the Bible (which have been an amazing source of calm to me), sometimes she suggests things that I can do to keep myself busy (walk, walk, walk!!!), and sometimes she agrees with my sadness and basically just says, “Yes, this absolutely does suck!” She has also been very helpful with the questions I’ve been asking. A couple of weeks ago, I was asking a lot of questions—I was pretty much feeling very inconsolable and alone. Some of the questions were just plain unanswerable. So I had to let things go, forgive the unanswerable, and make peace with what I did know. 

About halfway through my Spring Break, Ben's mom suggested that I text his older son to see how he was doing. I was kind of worried about this: I have only met him once and I didn’t know if it was appropriate or not. But I did it anyhow. I was really lost during Spring Break and feeling a bit miserable. So I was ready to do anything anyone asked. It’s actually indescribable how much texting with Ben’s son has helped me. From what I hear, it’s been really good for both of us. It’s lighthearted, for one. And we have similar senses of humor and music tastes. And, I can tell him stories about his dad. I haven’t gone into huge, detailed stories with him about his dad yet. But we’re building up our relationship slowly. We text every other day or every three days. Sometimes, every day. It’s hard to explain, but we can be each other’s sounding boards, which is so nice to have. He’s a really, really great person. I’m so incredibly thankful for him.

My friends have been an incredible source of strength for me. I have contacted all sorts of people, from my friends in Singapore, to my friends that I haven't really spoken to in a long time, to friends of Ben's whom I've never actually met. Some of them have gone through similar experiences, some of them haven't. Some of them knew Ben, some of them didn't. But all of them have been so kind and informational and loving. They've helped to breathe a new source of motivation in me. Especially when I didn't think I could go on. Really!! All I wanted to do was lay in bed and weep.They helped to push me forward, and I am so grateful. 

Just before I started talking to Ben’s son, I decided to start doing research on how I could help out--either with addiction services or suicide support organizations. How could I share Ben’s story with other people? I felt like if I could have a purpose or “crusade” about this, it would help. Perhaps it would comfort me and aid in my processing of things, if I were able to tell his story (our story) to as many people as I could. 

My goal for sharing his story was simple:
A. To honor Ben. People need to know about him. He was a very important man.
B. To help other families who are struggling with similar issues.
C. To build a visual legacy for his boys. 

This "crusade" was prompted by an email I received. Very rarely am I able to read through all of my emails. Usually I file them almost immediately upon receiving them. But one came through from an organization in Baltimore that made me stop and read it. The top of the newsletter said this, "Led by artist, curator, and organizer Peter Bruun, the New Day Campaign is an arts-based initiative in Baltimore to challenge stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorder, making the world a more healing place." 

A light went off. Couldn't I channel the energy I was using to be sad into something more positive? Couldn't I make artwork about Ben for shows and share his story visually? Wouldn't that be a better way to work through this grief? Turns out: YES. Finding ways to express my sadness visually or lift Ben up through visual expression seemed like the perfect fit for me. Besides, I don't like being sad. Some people do. But I don't. It usually stops me from being creative. But giving my sadness a purpose was motivating! 

During Spring Break, I put together a plan for a visual legacy project and sent off my proposal to Peter and the New Day Campaign.This started more research into venues for showing work or storytelling. Through the New Day Campaign, I found out about an addiction rally that happens in DC on October 4th. The rally is called UNITE to Face Addiction, and thousands of people show up on the National Mall to bring awareness to addiction related issues and talk about recovery. They are accepting stories to be featured on their website. I will be sending in a story about Ben before the end of this week.

Finding the UNITE website led me to start searching for suicide support websites. I found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Hunting around on their website led me in two new directions. One link led me to an overnight walk that was happening in Dallas. They choose a few cities to do their overnight walk in each year. I am so lucky--for lack of a better description--that they chose Dallas this year! The walk is called, Out of Darkness. Their website describes the walks like this: "As you walk through the night, you'll feel safe and cared-for in a community where everyone supports each other. It's a place to laugh, to cry, and to heal - to honor the past and embrace a future that your work will change for the better." Obviously I couldn't be there because I live on the other side of the planet. But I contacted one of the walk coaches in Dallas and she made a luminaria for Ben that was featured at the closing ceremony. I was so happy and thankful that she was able to do this for me and for his family. He was represented in his hometown! How amazing!

The second link on the AFSP website led me to the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, which happens on November 21st. People can offer to host get togethers for people who have lost loved ones, all over the world. I will be hosting a get together in Qatar. My plan is to have people screen print t-shirts and have a wonderful home cooked meal . . . Time where we can all sit around a beautiful table and have some great conversation. I'm very much looking forward to this!

My third summer in graduate school is coming up. It begins in late June. For this coming summer, my plan is to work full force on the visual legacy project. The work includes felt portraits, sound clips and interviews, interactive art pieces, songwriting, performance and video. It's a giant undertaking, but I think it's doable. I am very productive during my summers in the studio. And I am so motivated by this project, that I think it'll come together quite nicely. A huge inspiration for the work is Salvation Mountain. If you haven't had a chance to see it in person, check out it's website for some beautiful images.

I won't always be this active in sharing Ben's story or creating work that is focused on a visual legacy about him. Life changes all the time and I might be in a completely different place in a year or even 6 months from now. But at this moment, this feels right to me. It feels like the thing I want to do and the thing I need to do. This is a major step in my personal healing and establishing a positive collection of work for his boys that can honor their dad with all of the goodness he brought into the world. 

Watch for more blog posts soon! Sending love . . . 

28 March 2015

Time . . .

I remember when my cat died in 2010. She had been my cat for 18 years. I acquired her when the mall pet store in Denton, Texas had turned her down, claiming she was too small (she was smaller than—at the time—a cordless phone). I named her Sam. She moved with me every time I moved. She met all of my boyfriends. She witnessed all of my roommates, my time studying, my late nights coming home. She went through everything that I went through. When she passed away, not only did I lose a part of me. But I lost a substantial time in my life. She was my connection to my formative years as a young adult. 


Losing pets is different than losing people.


Today is the first day that I did not cry. I teared up for a second, but I did not have a full-on cry. I’m not bragging, by any means. I’m just stating the facts, like you would the weather. “Today it was rainy.”

The last 35 days of my life have been the hardest 35 days of my life ever. Losing Ben has been really, really difficult (on everyone that knew him). Primarily we all worried about the details surrounding the event: the timeline, the reasons, the directions left for the ambulance, the positive upswing he seemed to be on, all of the plans that he and I had made together, leaving his boys. 

Fixating on those details has agonized my grief even more. I can’t seem to shake the visuals in my head and the unanswered questions.

People have so graciously reached out to me. People I have not seen in years, since high school. They’ve told me stories about Ben, and wished me a quick healing and peace. It’s a weird place to be in. Sadness does not fit my lifestyle. Anyone who knows me, knows this. But Ben was my person. I loved talking to him and being around him and writing to him. We shared everything with each other, even things we may not have ever shared with anyone else. He was my best friend and the love of my life. Can you imagine meeting such an amazing person? 

It makes all of the “I’m so sorry for you loss’s” not seem to carry enough weight. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiments, I do. It’s just that I’ve dated a ton of people in my life. I finally found the right one, and now he’s gone. Ben was not a perfect person, as we all know. None of us are. But he was absolutely perfect for me. 


Ben’s mother gave me a wooden heart that he made in wood shop. I guess in high school. I held it during the memorial service and sleep with it under my pillow. Lately I’ve been walking around with it in my coat pocket. It’s smooth, like a well worn pebble you might find along a riverbed or near the ocean. So it’s calming to hold in my hand, and it makes me think about Ben and his attention to detail and craft.

I’ve set up an educational grant in his name through the Men of Nehemiah (MON) organization that he was so active with. It’s called the Benjamin John Educational Allowance. It will help subsidize educational costs for MON graduates. When Ben left us, he had been working on researching various certification programs. And he loved to learn things. I can’t think of a better way to give back, both as an honor to Ben and a thank you gift for all that MON did for him. He loved that organization with all of his might.

I’ve been reading passages from the Bible that his mother has been recommending to me. I know it seems like a stretch for me . . . And believe you me, it is. But that’s what this experience has done for me. It has made me reach out for things that I might not normally reach out to. I’ve never been this sad before, or felt this lost. The pain is so great that it physically hurts. I have nowhere else to turn. Ben gave me a monogrammed Bible for Christmas. I have no doubt in my mind that he knew that I would use it one day. He didn’t even balk at the expression on my face when I opened it--a strange mix of "WTF?" and “oh, um, thanks”. He knew it would come in handy. He was confident, and he was right.

According to his mother, Ben’s verse is Deuteronomy 33:12. “About Benjamin he said, “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.””


I think about the day of his memorial service. Most people dressed in black. The Men of Nehemiah sang in his honor, tears streaming down their faces. Ben’s fire service memorabilia laid out on tables. A slideshow of images of him as a baby, a kid, a teenager, and a dad. People somberly mingling. On this same day, I had two different friends get married. Another friend had a baby shower. And somewhere in the world, a baby was born. The day that we all said goodbye to Ben was the same day that made so many other people jump for joy. Life is funny that way.

I wonder if people have forgotten already. About Ben or his amazing life . . . It’s been 7 days since his memorial service. Did everyone who came to give their condolences go back to their normal lives after attending his service? If they did, how were they able to do that? 


Sometimes I check my phone to make sure I haven’t missed a text or a message from him. I keep thinking that he’ll come back. Miraculously, he will return and things will go back to normal and be good again. It’s hard to go from talking to someone all day long every day for 8 months, to losing them completely. Surely he’ll call. “There’s been a mistake,” he’ll say.

I’ve even turned into a bit of an eccentric . . . Taking out my phone, opening my photos to an image of Ben, setting the phone next to me on a bench or table . . . Like he’s there with me. I know it’s weird, but I just need this time. I don’t know how everyone else was able to let go so quickly, and get back to their regular lives. I need this time.


I have not forgotten Ben. I will never forget Ben. From here on out, every time someone mentions 2014 or 2015 or high school or elementary school or firefighters or christianity or love or sugar gliders or ice cream or Plano or Texas or Facebook or Singapore, I will feel a twinge of pain in my belly, a sinking in my heart, and welling up in my eyes. 

He’s gone.

14 March 2015

Thank You For Asking "Are You Okay" . . .

I take to writing when I need to get things out of my head. The following events occurred over the past week.


Have you ever been to a Chinese funeral or a memorial service? I have not. 

Custom states that when a death occurs in a Chinese family, all statues of deities in the house are covered in red paper and all mirrors are removed from the house. Joss paper is burned continuously throughout the wake. Funeral guests are required to light incense. During the wake, there is usually a group of people gambling in front of the deceased’s house because the corpse must be guarded. The gambling helps the “guards” stay awake during this vigil and lessens the grief of the participants. After the funeral, prayers are said every 7 - 10 days for 49 days. A period of mourning is generally 100 days, for which family members wear a specific colored cloth on their sleeve.

The Chinese believe that seven days after the death of a loved one, the soul of the departed will return to their home. A red plaque may be placed outside the home to insure the soul does not get lost.


I have been so angry and confused for the past week. 

People handle things in such varied and different ways. Over Christmas break, my dad and I were having a conversation about pain. He told me that you can never compare how you feel pain with how someone else feels pain. We were talking about being sick with the flu or having a cold, but that bit of advice goes such a long way.

My best friend and the person I had been dating for the past 8 months, Ben, committed suicide last weekend. That’s the hardest sentence to type. Part of me feels like that is no one’s business except for his family and friends. But part of me feels like it’s important to say or type out, as a way of coming to terms with it.

Suicide sucks. I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who might think differently when it comes to that statement. 


Ben was a great person. He liked to build things and write things and cook things. He kept a blog of poems and stories he wrote on Tumblr. And we had a notebook that we would mail back and forth to each other, filling it with letters and stories and drawings. I would send him things from Singapore and he would send me things from Texas. It was a magical exchange that I will treasure forever. 

I went to Dallas and Nashville and Baltimore for my Christmas break. We met up in Dallas and it was truly amazing. We had a great time together—it was like no time had passed and we were no longer living millions of miles apart. I got to meet his parents and learn about him by spending actual time with him. He flew to Nashville for New Year’s Eve, and the magic continued. We cooked meals together and went on walks. We took long drives out in the country and hung out with my nephews. I showed him around Nashville and we had an incredible steak dinner. 

While I was in Baltimore for my winter session of graduate school, we Skyped every day. We were together.


We met in second grade. Upon our reconnection, he contacted me via Facebook. I remember telling him that all I could think of when we were messaging was that he was this kid that my second grade teacher held by the ankles upside-down in front of the class because he had swallowed something. She just kind of shook him about. We laughed.

We began talking daily. Soon after, I started remembering all sorts of things about him. Specifically things from high school. He loved talking about high school. Retelling stories about his friends, talking about parties he went to, traveling down memory lane. I—on the other hand—did not. I wasn’t really present in high school, nor was I fond of where I grew up. But we continued talking. It was interesting to relive high school through his memories.

We Skyped, texted, messaged, and emailed about everything. I was in Singapore, he was in the States. Ben was in a tough place. But he was positive and making some really amazing progress. He was the strongest person I knew, and I was so proud to know him.


His mother contacted me about 20 minutes before my first class was to arrive for their art lesson. It’s amazing how our brains work. I compartmentalized the news she gave me and taught my classes for the day. That night, my friend and neighbor art teacher K came over and we went to dinner. Nothing fancy. We went to KFC because nothing else was available at the time. I hadn’t eaten KFC since I was in high school, so it seemed oddly appropriate. I was thankful for her company and the distraction it provided me. I got home in time to Skype with a graduate school buddy, S. She was understanding and did not make a big deal out of the news when I told her. I needed that. I needed the calm.

The next day, I woke up at 2am and read the news about his upcoming memorial service on Facebook. I stayed awake thinking about things. I thought about his friends from high school, who were also my friends at that time. We didn’t really hang out, but we had all grown up together and managed in some way or another to stay in touch through various social media outlets. I thought about his parents. I thought about his brothers and sister, and his two beautiful sons. I went to school, spoke to the school counselor about everything that was going on, taught my classes, and then spent the evening at my friend S and J’s house. 

S and J hosted my 40th birthday party at their apartment. They are awesome, passionate friends of mine that I have been so incredibly blessed to meet, here in Singapore. S is such a great person to talk to about Ben. I started to express anger a bit about the situation, asking unanswerable questions. Why didn’t he contact me? Why didn’t anyone tell me that he had taken a turn for the worse? Why did he shut me out? Why, why, why? She kept it real. She basically told me not to go down that path. She’s not a sugar-coater, but at the same time she gave me hugs and patted my arm when I started to talk nonsensicals. I walked home from her house on the damp, fresh from rain streets of Little India. I thought about Ben the entire time, specifically his facial expressions and how--when I looked at him--I could no longer see the little boy with white/blonde hair that was held upside down by our teacher.

I woke up the next day at 2am again. This time I tried to figure out what stage of grief I was in. I thought it would help if I could look at this process practically. I decided I was still firmly planted in anger, but on the cusp of bargaining. I thought about all of the unanswered questions I had. I started thinking not very nice things. I kept whispering over and over again, as I laid in bed: “This is what you wanted: attention, people adoring you, support, immeasurable love.” 

He had all of those things, but he wouldn’t take notice of them. Or it wasn’t enough. Nothing was ever enough. I was angry.

Here are the 5 stages of grief: 
  1. denial and isolation
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance
After teaching my classes, I went over to my friend P’s house. P is the nicest, kindest, warmest human being I have ever met. She speaks between 7 and 8 languages. She’s an incredible person with an indomitable spirit. She made us a wonderful vegan meal, and then she placed oils on my neck and feet. We talked about all sorts of things. I got to hold her roommate’s bunny rabbit, and got my ears candled (which released a lot of tension). I told her about my day and how something very interesting had happened earlier. Twice in the day, I heard my name called while being surrounded by a loud group of teachers in a closed classroom. But none of the other teachers had said my name (and quite frankly, they looked at me like I was crazy when I answered). It was Ben. He was visiting for a brief moment. 

I believe in angels and spirits. Every time someone close to me has died, they have always come back to say hello or comfort me in some way. My 3 grandparents and my friend, Pat. My experience with Pat’s spirit was by far the most phenomenal experience. After Pat’s funeral, I was flying back to Austin, and this whoosh of his spirit rushed over me—like a hug—when the plane took off. I knew it was him, because I could so very plainly see his face.

I know that sounds crazy. But it’s my way of dealing with things, so leave me be.

The last day of the week was extremely busy. For once I slept through the night. I was co-running workshops for a middle school conference while trying to attend a day of professional development. I was in better spirits. I attribute this to the interesting happenings from the day before, and that I was surrounded by awesome students and supportive teachers all day long. I also received a job offer via email. (Yay!) After our work at the conference was complete, my friend S drove me to the Tanglin Club for dinner, drinks, and relaxation. We sat outside by the pool and watched families and kids for about 3 hours. She convinced me to attend Holi with several friends on Sunday.

Saturday was another conference day. I slept through the night again. Only this time, something new happened: I woke up crying. I laid in bed thinking about how no one would ever see Ben again. It was heartbreaking. He was a really good person. He just had some big hills to get over. Why was I so far away in Singapore? Why couldn’t we help him get over these hills? Where had the hold up been? How could he have lasted as long as he did and just now give up? Why didn’t he reach out to me? Why didn’t he reach out to me? WHY DIDN’T HE REACH OUT TO ME?

I went to day two of the middle school conference. I spoke with teacher friends about whether they thought I should go to the memorial service or not, and how hard it must be to write an obituary. I even had my friend S try and describe me in 3 words. She could only come up with two: crazy and creative. I came home, sent off another cover letter, and returned emails. Then I slept. 

I woke up from my nap crying again. I’ve been watching TED talks about suicide and life choices. Again: I'm trying to experience things from a practical place instead of an emotional place. I call this research, and it’s definitely part of my grief process. 

Tonight I will Skype with my friend D. She went to elementary school with Ben. And I also met D for the first time in second grade. We’ve known each other for 33 years. She is the support I need now, and I’m so incredibly thankful for her.

Tomorrow is Sunday. Tomorrow is Holi: the celebration of spring. 

Sunday was Ben’s favorite day. He was the only person that I willingly agreed to go to church with.

Rest in peace, my sweet man.

19 February 2015

Year In Review: My Favorite Creative Experiences from 2014!

1. Turning 40. From the time I turned 39 until June 11th of 2015, I will be celebrating my 40th birthday. I mean I had the year leading into my 40's and then the year that I was 40, which is still happening. That's 2 full years of goodness! Sometimes the celebrations have been small, sometimes they were personal in nature, sometimes they involved overcoming fears, and sometimes they were bigger, more exciting undertakings. I had a small little gathering of people I met in Singapore for a more traditional birthday party, thrown at my friend Sasha's house. It was a fun night, filled with people and drinks and food and dancing. I got my nose pierced on the street in India. And I took myself to New York City for a little 3 day adventure before heading into my second summer of graduate school. It's been a really wonderful 2 years, and continues to be. So--definitely--turning 40 was a highlight!

2. Attending an Indian Wedding in Delhi. For Spring Break last year, I decided to join some friends in India. I knew I wanted to go back to India, especially since I had a 6 month visa. Plus, I loved it so much the first time around . . . So when I was invited to my friend's son's wedding, I knew this would be the occasion to go! And it was such a fun experience! I spent part of the week in Jaipur, and part of the week in Delhi. I felt like I was at Mardi Gras. There was dancing and food, fireworks and marching bands. Everyone was dressed up and smiling and laughing. It was one of the best celebrations I have ever attended. Hands down!

3. Making a 4' x 8' Foot Equality Banner. Over the summer, I was part of a really great show called GUTSY: Taking the Fear Factor out of Feminism. I included a hand sewn banner with words on it. The words were direct quotes from students--young people between the ages of 5 and 18--who I had asked to define feminism, in their own words. I actually got some flack about this piece. But they were direct quotes, so I wasn't going to change anything. I actually think it says a lot more than people are giving it time for . . . And I absolutely love it. 

4. Rowing to an Island. As I mentioned above, some of the things I have done this year were attempts at making me stronger or overcoming my fears (specifically of water, and being surround by it). My initial want for going to Borneo was to learn how to scuba dive. But upon further investigation, I wasn't ready. So instead, I rowed to an island and back. Round trip--with a 30 minute splash break--took about 6 hours. And I had a sunburn for the next 4 weeks to prove to myself that I had really done it. It was an amazing experience, and probably one of the most rewarding things I've done since moving to Southeast Asia. 

5. My New Website. Oh my goodness! If I had to spend the time doing this alone, it never would have happened. I am so thankful to have found the girls behind Public Culture (thank you, Fictive Fingers). They helped me organize several years of work into an updateable and affordable online portfolio. Art + Community + Teaching: all in one neat little package! Find out more! Please take a moment and visit www.cakecrush.com. Click on everything when you get there! Make sure you see what's behind every little link . . . Enjoy!

6. Seeing Justin Timbo Live. The 40th birthday that keeps on giving . . . 4 months after I turned 40, I went to see Justin Timberlake in Perth, Australia. I had splurged on a ticket back in February, when they went on sale. I figured it was the closest he would get to Singapore, and I was right. Once I got to Perth, and into the arena, I realized I would be front row center. Now that's a concert! One of the greatest shows I've seen in a really long time . . . Right up there with Prince! Happy birthday to me!

7. Making a Woven Hut With Community. One of the most interesting groups of people that I've had the absolute pleasure of working with were the senior citizens from the Bedok neighborhood. I've never seen such energy in all of my life! We built two little magical huts together, both in a very short amount of time. Inventive, engaging, and enthusiastic! I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

8. Starting an Etsy Shop. I never wanted to do this, but I always wanted to do this. (I know, it's very confusing.) I had a hard time trying to figure out how I could be a part of the Etsy community. But somehow--within a month's time--I've managed to figure it out. I list banners, bunting, notecards, and ornaments. Most of my items are made out of felt, which is my guilty pleasure. And everything is hand sewn. I can't wait to start putting together treasuries and advertising the shop more! All in good time, folks . . . Have a peak! Shop around! Hand delivery available in Singapore, Fed-Ex shipping available worldwide. Cakecrushonthetown on Etsy! Yay! 

9. Participating in Holi. I'm not into color runs or getting wet in public. But something about this experience was really exciting . . . It's the welcoming of Spring--who doesn't love that? Each person is handed a small bag of powdered dye. And someone has a hose, or a bucket in most cases. Dye goes a long way when water is involved. And red is definitely the strongest color. But what fun! Everyone wears white, and the color and water just flies through the air. Anyone is a target, and the looks you get riding home on the subway, dripping wet and colorful, are priceless. It's great fun! And my Diplo shirt has never been the same. 

10. My Second Summer of Graduate School at MICA. This past summer was an incredibly fruitful 6 weeks. I went into the summer knowing that I would spend most of my time making videos. But I had no idea how I was going to do it. I had always dreamed of making videos, but never liked the idea of sitting at a computer to make art. So in order to make it happen, I made the filming part active. I had friends come into the space with me and dress me. Then they would leave, and that's when I would film the movements. The movements were based on various situations I would find myself in, while living abroad. It was a really fun way for me to get through the shooting part of the video, and it made me more excited to sit down behind a computer to see how I could piece everything together. You can see some of the videos here and here. I can't wait until the summer of 2015! More fun on the way! (This program is flying by way too fast . . . )

11. My Second Batik Made in Bali. The first time I went to Bali, I wanted to do something creative with my time there. So I researched Ubud and found a great little studio that teaches day long workshops on batik. My friend Cheryl went with me and we each spent about 6 - 8 hours learning the process and creating. My first batik project went to my sister, Kerry. You can see it here. This past year, when I made my annual Thanksgiving trip to Bali, I visited Widya's Batik again and this time I made a piece for my mom. I felt much more relaxed creating the second piece. I splattered the dye on the ends of the muslin and painted the piece much more quickly than I had done previously. I would love to start attempting to do this in my home studio on costuming projects. I found a process that uses Elmer's glue. It works great, but it's not as authentic. The search continues . . . 

12. Being Part of James and the Giant Peach. I know that I waxed on and on about this project in the post I wrote a few weeks back. So I'll lay low a bit here, and just encourage you to read all about it. It was an amazing collaboration, and I was so honored to be a part of it. Request to the masses: more theatre projects, please!  

13. Making Lanterns With 11th Graders. We are partially through this massive community undertaking, but we are definitely making headway. This project began in September of 2014, and I have had a great time working with our 11th graders. Taking inspiration from Baltimore's community lantern parade, we are creating lanterns to help celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday party. Lanterns are a huge part of Southeast Asian celebrations--all of them--so we thought this was the perfect combination of cultural relevance and creativity. We spent a few weeks teaching the 11th graders how to build and make lanterns. Then, in turn, they attend community events in our school's neighborhood where they teach this process back to participants. Teaching and learning, community and creativity . . . All in one project! Check out the unicorn costume lantern I am currently working on for my co-teacher, Sarah. I love it! 

14. Dune Bashing in Dubai. Last February I was sent to a PYP conference in Dubai. It was a fun weeklong trip, where I got to meet several art educators from around the world (music teachers, art teachers, and theatre teachers). After the conference was over, we had about a day's time before our outgoing flight. So we spent the day in the desert, dune bashing and eating amazing foods. It was an absolute blast! I felt like I was on a movie set for Star Wars. The UAE is a magical and interesting place!

Honorable Mention: Stellar Swimming Pool Portraits. Last November, my second graders began self-portraits based on David Hockney's swimming pool paintings. We will be showing them in the library next month. They are the most interesting portraits I have ever seen. I had them imagine what they thought they looked like when they were under water or when they were just about to jump in . . . I'm really so proud of their attention to detail in these portraits and how careful they were in creating them. Not to mention, they worked really large, which is super challenging for second graders. Look out for more on this project soon! In the meantime, have a look at this interview with David Hockney.