Race you

Yesterday I didn’t feel up to being very vertical, thanks to a cold, so I spent a number of hours lying down, creating outlines of silhouettes and batching them in Illustrator, so I can create lots more little laser-cut people for my latest mixed media series.


So today I am typing this while intermittently using a foam roller to unkink my back.

I am also praying that this dumb cold will soon leave me alone.

Oh, and that the lice I found on my daughter a week ago will prove to be truly gone this weekend. Yuck.

Equally annoying is that I thought of what seemed to be a great title for the new series and…didn’t write it down. So now I’ve forgotten of course.

I really do think there is a correlation between creative thought and slipperiness (lack of retention).

Hm, I would say having real clarity about emotional issues or life challenges falls into this same category: surprisingly hard to remember.

It reminds me of this story Elizabeth Gilbert told in an old TED talk about Tom Waits, who apparently was often troubled by this creative slipperiness:

One day he was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles, he told me, and this is when it all changed for him. And he’s speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalizing, and he wants it, you know, it’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He doesn’t have a piece of paper, he doesn’t have a pencil, he doesn’t have a tape recorder.

So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, “I’m going to lose this thing, and then I’m going to be haunted by this song forever. I’m not good enough, and I can’t do it.” And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen.”

I have to admit to having used this technique more than once since I heard about it…though I had forgotten the Leonard Cohen part!

And I now have to harass you with my current favorite Tom Waits album, specifically The Early Years, Volume 2. From before the years and cigarettes had their way with his voice, softer, maybe a bit simpler, but still undoubtedly his.

Anyway, once I get myself off this floor, I am going to be slowly heading up the hill to Photoworks, where I’m grateful to have that experience of walking in and seeing some of the same people I’ve dealt with for almost 20 years. They are finishing printing my new series, Race You, on aluminum for me.


Four of these photos will be part of Taste, a fabulous exhibition and event over at Root Division on April 23 that features food, drink, and lots of art, while helping to raise money for this vital Bay Area arts organization.

This will be the first event in their new space, and I will definitely be there. I am so excited that they are not only sticking around but managing to turn the challenge of losing their old digs into an opportunity to grow. Inspiring!

I wrote a bit about working on Race You back in February. At the time I didn’t discuss the conceptual basis for the series, which is actually both very personal and very important to me:

My photo series, Race You, creates a simplified, benign-appearing depiction of the superficial and often arbitrary ways our culture chooses to categorize race. It is inspired by my ancestors, free people of color who sometimes passed as white in the pre-Civil War era.

I actually had no idea we were mixed race until my father passed away a couple of years ago. My stepmother sent me a collection of photos and documents that inspired me to see if the magic of the internet would provide any further clues as to his family history, which was always pretty vague due to his having been orphaned and raised in a state-funded foster institution most of his life.

As you can tell, it turned out I got more than clues, and some parts of the story I discovered really resonated with me, not only because they were sad or astonishing or self-revelatory, but because they made me see the people around me differently, and my country differently.

I’ve tried to bring those discoveries into this series in a way that isn’t just about me and my family but addresses those moments when we step outside of our usual ways of categorizing each other: how funny it then seems, the ways our eyes and brains have chosen to separate us.

So for this week, here’s to letting go of your wonderful, slippery, creative thoughts and trusting that they’ll return.

Here’s to taking the changes we can’t control and finding ways to grow from them.

And most of all here’s to finding the ways to step across boundaries and connect again and again and again!

Share your thoughts