grad school is hard.

as i was biking home tonight i was thinking that maybe happiness and contentment have some pretty significant connection to the feeling of wanting to be where you are.  i mean, looking back on life, there have been times and places that felt so right, and others that took some adjustment.  some things just never panned out.  i’ve definitely struggled with feeling totally at home or connected in this town since i arrived.  i guess there’s always a bit of an adjustment.  ups and downs, that settle (eventually?) (hopefully?) into and upward trajectory.  but what about when you don’t seem to adjust?  even before i was on this ceramic artist track i was pretty nomadic, so i’ve rarely been settled in one place long enough to really come face to face with overcoming disconnection.  until now.

i was just thinking that, when things don’t seem to feel right, when you find yourself procrastinating more than you are being productive, it’s not because you are a terrible person/artist and lack any discipline, right?  perhaps it is because of the totally human reaction to discomfort and disconnection—>avoidance.

i definitely don’t mean “place” entirely in a physical sense.  where we are is definitely a mental state too.  and since we can’t always choose where we are, or how long we’ll be there, maybe we naturally cultivate acceptance and excitement about how to move forward.  unless we don’t.  i mean, sometimes my reptile brain just takes over and avoids and it’s only when things get bigger (i.e. finding yourself avoiding making work a.k.a. your favorite thing in the world to do) that you have to take a step back and evaluate.

ok, so it’s fine.  despite all the positives, benefits, and amazing people around me in this time and place, i’m finding myself not feeling it.  this is normal-ish.  and as a flawed, awesome, multi-faceted individual i can call upon my strengths to move forward and embrace this unique experience i’m having.

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a more realistic day in the studio.

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just a few things to get done.  no big.

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i’ll just knock some important computer work out of the way.

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and read a few books on professional practices, technique and conceptual development. they didn’t just sit there in a pile.  that would be crazy.

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i drew some….i just used invisible ink.

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my work table was sagging under the weight of all my productivity.

 

in my imagination anyway.

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wow, after a day like that i’m gonig to need an additional ware cart.

not.

inspiration

 

i’m reading a lot right now about beauty and wonder.  i’m interested in understanding more about beauty’s role in art and nature and the separation of beauty and aesthetics.

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i probably should have listened more in undergrad when they were talking about greenberg and modernism right?  some of the sources i’m looking at talk about beauty being removed from aesthetics way before modernism by philosophers drawing a stark like between anything that elicits desire and anything aesthetic.

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i’m more inclined to side with plato’s take on the whole thing (which i am currently interpreting as) beauty makes you feel all awesome and that makes you want to understand and that leads to knowledge.  or something.

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i think work should be able to hold up criticism or evaluation that can take longer than an instant to be fully realized.

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but is that hook so bad?  (schopenhaur thinks so)  maybe beauty can be the neon sign that brings somebody in closer, a means to an end.  but where does beauty end and wonder begin?

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“the wonder of the aesthetic state of wonder is the play of te mind over the details of the object itself.  aesthetics is part of the mobility of attention, interest and delight.  its lingering over the widest range of details so as to prolong its pleasurable contact…”  phillip a. fisher

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thanks to mia familia for all this green inspiration.

 

interview with a public health maven.

back in 2003, right after undergrad,  i started working for this awesome women’s health center.  one of the amazing people i worked with there was this wonderful public health masters student, we’ll call her j.  j was working on a project for the cdc to find out more about the social and emotional aspects of the hpv diagnosis.  for those who don’t know hpv is the virus that causes cervical cancer, but more about that in a minute.

so cut to 2007 or so.  while i was in japan i realized that a lot of the foreign women i interacted were (like me) apt to let there healthcare needs go unmet. healthcare in japan was affordable but it was difficult at times to find the resources you needed.  also, i think that being out of the country at a time when all of this information was coming to the forefront of healthcare allowed women to feel a false sense of security.  cases of young women fighting aggressive cervical cancer were not making the english language papers.  i decided to put this interview together to see if i could get it published one of tokyo’s english language magazines.  unfortunately it did not go to print and i eventually lost touch with j.

tonight i was sorting through some old papers and i came across the original interview and decided to post it.  information presented here is minimal, certainly less than you would get from some of the stellar coverage of hpv and gardasil that i’ve heard recently on npr, but definitely worth a look.  of course, if you have questions or concerns about anything you might be experiencing you should go to your doctor or a reputable health center like planned parenthood immediately.  but you know that:)

this awesome mph student went on to medical school and i’m not totally sure what she’s up to now but i’m sure whatever she’s doing she’s kicking some serious butt!

Nicole:  So, what was your research at our health clinic about?  How did the project come about?

J:  While the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, was in its final stages of development and approval, the US CDC/NIH became interested in how the public, and women in particular, would respond to understanding more about what HPV is and what that means for their overall health and self-image.  More specifically, they were interested in the effects of receiving an HPV diagnosis on the social (how women would interact with or tell others), emotional (how a woman would adjust her self-image and react emotionally) and behavioral effects (how a woman would act, or not act, after getting the diagnosis).

The project was funded by the CDC/NIH and 5 universities were chosen to fulfill the mandate as they saw fit.  University of South Florida College of Public Health decided to recruit women from health clinics, like Planned Parenthood, and pay for their annual pap smears and an HPV DNA test, and the women who had abnormal pap smears and tested positive for HPV DNA were invited to participate in an interview or survey to discuss the diagnosis.
Nicole:  What exactly is HPV and how is it connected to cervical cancer?

J:  HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and yes, that means that there are papillomaviruses for other species.  It is the virus that causes all warts.  Everything from the tiny bumpy ones on your feet to the ones that cause cervical cancer.  There are over 100 types, and all are transmitted through skin contact (which is why people tell you if you touch a frog you’ll get warts, though that is NOT TRUE).

About thirty types of HPV are transmitted through genital contact, that means they can be passed without intercourse with penetration; all you need is skin to skin contact.  Condoms help because they prevent some skin contact by covering the skin on the penis, but they cannot prevent all skin contact during intercourse.  So wear a condom, it will prevent spreading other sexually transmitted infections as well.
There are two types of HPV that are spread through genital contact.  One type causes genital warts.  Though they are unsightly, they do NOT cause cervical cancer.  The type that causes cervical cancer you CANNOT SEE.  The virus attacks the skin cells and is more harmful to the cells on the cervix because the cervix is a thin, very vulnerable mucous tissue, like the skin inside your mouth.  It is easier for the virus to harm those cells and make them cancerous.  And the younger you are the more vulnerable your cervical cells are.
It is very important to understand that HPV is EXTREMELY COMMON.  Approximately 20 million people in the US currently have HPV, and about 6.2 million get a new HPV infection each year.  If you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship where you were each other’s first sexual partner for ANY genital contact, it is statistically very likely that you have been exposed.  However, the human body is very good at fighting the virus off.  Most women who are infected manage to fight off the infection before there are any effects.  The body’s ability to repair cell damage, and kill viral infection is amazing.  However, sometimes the body must work harder and an infection can establish itself in the cells.  This is why you get your pap smear yearly if you are a sexually active woman who still has a cervix.  You are getting screened to see if an HPV infection has managed to actually harm the cells of your cervix which is how we prevent cervical cancer.  Pap smear screening is one of the most effective prevention screenings available today.
Nicole:  Can you tell us a little about the HPV test?
J:  The HPV test takes a small sample of the cells collected from your pap smear and tests their DNA for signs of HPV viral DNA.  Virus injects its own DNA into cells and then the cells reproduce the virus, which spreads to neighboring cells and continues the cycle.  That is how cells start to grow out of control and become cancerous.  The DNA test is looking to see if the virus DNA is present in the cells which indicates an active infection.
HPV DNA testing is only recommended for women who have an abnormal pap smear, but the presence of HPV DNA does not mean that a woman will develop cervical cancer.  As I mentioned previously, the body is very good at fighting off infection, and an active infection should be monitored, not always immediately treated.  That is a decision a woman must make with her physician depending on her health and risk factors, like whether or not she is smoking, whether she is in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, etc.
Nicole:  What is Gardasil and how does it work?
J:  GARDASIL is a new vaccine made by Merck & Co., Inc. and has been approved by the US FDA to prevent cervical cancer in females by administering the vaccine to women between the ages of 9 and 26.

The vaccine protects against 4 types of HPV, two that are associated with causing cervical cancer, and two that are associated with causing genital warts.  It will not prevent all genital HPV infections, nor all genital warts, but it is highly effective in preventing infection by the 4 types of HPV it guards against.  Vaccines work by teaching the immune system how to recognize viral proteins and DNA thereby starting the defense against the virus more quickly and preventing an infection from establishing in cells long enough to cause any symptoms.

happy new year!

good bye 2011.  hello 2012.  the last year has been paradoxically super challenging, the most so since i returned to the u.s. in 2005.  sounds crazy, i know, but i just haven’t felt that full-on “flow” in the last year of my life.

anyway, new year, new life, and some resolutions to accompany it.

1.  blog everyday.  write more.

2.  be proactive (and hardcore).  follow all the roads to the end, creatively.  schedule studio time and stick to it.  apply to at least one show a month.

3.  enjoy health.  schedule exercise.  go out into nature at least once a month.  transition to eating only local/organic meat.

4.  stick to my budget.  find ways to decrease spending.

5.  visualize/create the future.  set large goals and make step by step plans.  do things (like a garden) on a small scale.  reach out to old friends.

happy father’s day.

i guess i’ve always had a special connection with my father.  i grew up with stories of my mother’s and his lives in tunisia and italy (where they each respectively lived until emigrating to the united states when they were teens).  he says “there are two kinds of people in the world, those who are italian and those who want to be italian.” reminding me daily that while we might live in the united states and have american citizenship we were certainly more italian then american.  after living for 3 years in japan, i can understand that sentiment.  no matter how much you may like your adopted country it’s natural, i suppose, to romanticize your country of origin.  anyway, back to those stories of far off places.  for as long as i could remember i wanted to get away and travel.  and my father has been central to some of my favorite travel stories, even though he wasn’t with me physically.  he was a little bird in my ear telling me where to go.  or maybe leaving a trail of breadcrumbs is more accurate.  here are a couple of those favorite stories.

since i moved abroad in 2005 there have been some pretty intense leaps in technology, or at least in the accessability.  now-a-days, even a technophobe like me can look up directions on google maps, or for that matter, take a snippet of information and google my way to an address and phone number.  but in the early 2000’s i didn’t even own a computer and cell phones didn’t have gps on them yet.  so when i decided in the winter of 2001/02 to hitchhike to new york city to see the metropolitan museum of art’s show of works by caravaggio and the father and daughter orazio and artemisia gentileschi it was with the aid of a map, made of paper.  imagine.  i didn’t even own a cell phone yet.  my only other destination was arthur avenue, the “real” little italy, in the bronx.  armed with the crossroads (186th st. and arthur ave.), crytic details (look for a deli with a star of david tile on the sidewalk out front, that’s the best deli in the area) and a list of requests(pepper biscuits, a few pounds of proscuito de parma, etc.) i took a day and headed there with my friend kat who had hitched up with me.  from a friend’s place in washington heights, we took various buses and walked a fair distance, honing in on these crossroads, until finally, we found ourselves in the the little italy of the bronx.  walking through the streets i kept my eyes peeled for the star of david tile in the doorways.  finally i found it, affixed to the sidewalk in front of teitel brother’s deli.  kat was a little amazed that we had found it.  but for some reason i knew all along that we would find it.  of course now the teitel brother’s deli has a website, as does arthur ave which spell out for you exactly which publix transit to take there but who needs internet when you can rely on psychic connection?

fast forward to the following summer.  i have been in school at fau for a year and decided to do the study abroad program in italy for the summer.  basically, i spent a month and a half in florence, italy learning italian and studying rennaicance art history (pretty amazing) but the real amazement came afterwards, when i spent a month traveling alone throughout italy.  there were just a few relatives still in the country that my parents were in touch with, namely my mother’s 2 cousins.  one in san remo and one in partineco (sicily).  i spent a few days in san remo and about a week in partineco.  both were really good visits but stories for another day.  on my dad’s side of the family we weren’t really in touch with anyone.  but again, i had a list from my dad.  names of people and villages (in an email, actually, via my mother).  once i arrived in the tiny, tiny train stop at ponte’ (during siesta, which is no good), stumble into an empty bar and am pointed in the right direction i start walking.  and walking.  and walking…..finally i flag a small car down.  the car’s driver happily takes me to casaldune, the small village outside of which my father grew up.  once there he tells me that the bus in front of us is leaving and it’s the last bus out of casaldune.  it’s not like this place has a hotel!  so i thank him and jump out.  pulling out my camera, i snap a picture in one direction!  turn and snap another, call up to the bus driver to please espeta just a minute while i take another photo.  catching on he yells to me “la fontagna, la fontagna!”.  to my left i see a small set of basins with spigots and snap a picture of it as well, hoping it’s the fountain he’s speaking of and jump on the bus.  the driver takes me back to benevento station (benavento being a proper city with a proper station) and i find out from him when the morning bus runs for future reference.  later that day when i talk to my dad, the first thing he says is “did you see the fountain?!”.   thanks bus driver!

a few weeks later, literally 36 hours before my departure, while making my way from sicily to milan, i decide i have to try again.  this time i start out at benevento station, but the earliest i can get there and get the bus (same bus driver) has me arrive just as siesta is beginning.  sheesh!  i haven’t written down the names my father had given me but i assume that i will call them from a payphone using an international calling card once i arrive.  (the funny part was assuming there would be a pay phone!).  i walked into a tiny grocery store and ask in my rough italian “where’s a pay phone?”  I am introduced to this analog machine that will definitely not be taking a calling card.  someone asks me, what are you doing here?  when i try to explain (to the entire store, all of whom are listening now) that i am searching for my father’s long lost relatives someone gets a brilliant idea, runs off and returns with a woman who speaks proper british english.  she, at the urging of everyone in the store, asks me a series of questions.  what’s my father’s name?  his father’s name?  what village did they live in? and on and on.  eventually everyone disappears, and the owners of the grocery store make me a mortadella sandwich (which they refuse to let me pay for) and things settle down for siesta.  i wonder around, take photos and eploring casaldune.  eventually the chief of police shows up and in his broken aussie english (everyone seems to have spent their youth being educated by the commonwealth) explains to me that we are going to the house my father grew up in.  crazy!  i can’t remember everyone’s name now, but i met a couple of people who knew my father’s family before they left.  i get to see the house he grew up in (now a small shed really, with a giant modern house attached, with tons of drying garlic and a huge pot of sauce brewing inside), the house he lived in the year before leaving, slightly closer to town and eventually, through these people we learn that my great uncle still lives near by so we pop in on my uncle rocco and his wife.  they are totally delightful, we have a quick chat and they ask me in for coffee.  unfortunately well into siesta, the police chief’s wife is calling him on his cell, insisting he come home and there is no way for me to stay with out missing my flight out of milan.  so we say an equally quick good bye, but i snap photos of each of them and write down their phone number for my dad before i go.  the police chief takes me back to benevento and i head north to milan and eventually home feeling like i have had a pretty fantastic adventure.

since then my parents stayed in touch with uncle rocco and a couple of years following my trip, they returned to italy for the first time since their teens and visited.  i never saw uncle rocco again and this spring he passed away.  in a way, though, he was my favorite relative because we shared such a special story together.

i think i got my sense of adventure and exploration from my parents, inspired by their stories and lives.  i’ll always kind of blindly trust those lists of names, places and cryptic clues and know i’ll find my way to another great adventure, even without gps.

here’s a pic of uncle rocco taken by my sister a couple of years ago when my parents, sister and brother all went to italy.  my photos of my trip are all film and paper and stored in florida right now but jackie was nice enough to send this one to me.