Some art from last semester

Posted February 11, 2010 by breadriot
Categories: art

Tags: , , , ,

As a visual arts minor, I’m expected to do independent work as well as class work. Here’s some of both. (The colors in the photos look better in my Windows Photo Gallery than on WordPress for some reason.)

I had an about hundred fifty square foot white box of studio space all to myself – all VIS minors and majors get their own studios on the fourth floor of the art building, where only we and faculty are allowed to go!

Justine's art
One of my first drawings from fall semester

We had an assignment in my drawing class to do a self-portrait each week on an unconventional surface. This was my first:

A sort of greenman-woman. It lived as a pet on the desk the my carrel that went along with the studio.

Just before Halloween, our student center had a Jack-o’-lantern-carving party. I still had to do my self-portrait for the week.

We had an assignment to do a self-portrait on a different unconventional surface each week. Our student center had a Jack-o'-lantern-carving party and I had an idea.

A light-bulb went on in my head – literally. We’re not allowed to keep candles in our rooms, so the organizers of the event provided all pumpkin-carvers with electric candles.


I left the pumpkin in my carrel over fall break, and when I returned, as I had hoped, it had shriveled and sagged:

It continued to shrivel – a nice reminder of mortality and, since it was a self-portrait, maybe a sped-up version of my own aging process (though I hope that one side of my face will not cave in so soon before the other). As it aged, its expression seemed to convey increasingly disillusioned feelings toward the admittedly bleak and bizarre world around it. I don’t think it approved of the rest of my art in my studio, at which it had to look every day:

I did this one directly on the studio wall, making it impermanent, but in an appropriate way - it was about topography - the California topography I miss when I'm away - and the assimilation/naturalization of its inhabitants (Irish and Chinese railroad workers in particular), and eliminating the distinctions between the organic and the inorganic, and civilization patterns, and maps, and lots of of other things I could go on about, or maybe about nothing to begin with. It's easy for me to give things meaning as they go along - maybe not a terrible philosophy.

Through the semester, I found that I can produce “abstract”-looking art as long as it doesn’t seem abstract to me. I needed to find some story for it, and as long as I had that, I generally didn’t feel the sinking feeling of futility that some abstract art (the work of suprematists and minimalists, for example) makes me feel.

The one I’m working on above was better in the in-process photos than it is now because the fixative kind of dulled down the pastel.

This one was not-abstract for me on the micro-scale because I included various designs from my mind, sketches of things around me, and other tidbits; and on the macro-scale because I saw the spiral as the “sweep of history” (the good thing about art is that it can’t be cheesy in quite the same way as phrases like the “sweep of history” can be). Treating it as a historical spiral, I worked on it from the initial, primeval center to the modern outer rim. As I went along, things got bigger and brighter, but less dirty and fun.

The problem with it now, post-fixative, is that because the pastel on the black part is most faded, the sweep of history is too clear and unambigious. Pre-Hegelian even. The antitheses, which I had intentionally included in the form of the lines running outward from the center, perpendicular to the lines of the spiral, are too weak to help yield any sort of synthesis, as is the “dust of the ages” that I’d made sure to place between the spiral’s coils and under the contrary lines. I’m especially sad around the perpendicular lines, though. I tried this semester to force myself out of my “natural” way of doing art – making everything “swirly,” as people always describe my art. I don’t want such a weak non-concept as “swirly” to be the chief characteristic of my art. So I tried adding a little more rigor; where my impulse is to make everything go with the flow, I instead put lines directly orthogonal to my impulse, and to the existing lines. But now…

The problems of memory, documentation, and preservation – history again.

Below is another example of an assignment (we had to create an entirely abstract drawing) where, after hours of struggling, I finally forced myself to go against my Art Nouveau-ish instincts to make everything swirly and organic – everything amenable to everything else – and to create forms that were solid, geometrical, and hard-edged.

I don’t like the result very much in some ways, but I feel connected with it in another way – I respect it for being, I’ve been told and I think I can tell, well done. It’s just well done in a style I don’t much like. But it has a decent sense of composition and space, objectively, or as objectively as art goes, I think. That’s what the art faculty thought. It helped give me artistic backbone, I think, certainly in creating space – the problem with naturalizing and assimilating everything to everything else, as I did in my wall-piece above, is that the impulse is to not put anything harshly divergent on top of something else. Even when working in my natural, nonconfrontational style, I do enjoy contrast, but it usually occurs through the slow darkening of one area until it has reached an appropriate level of intensity, or through the filling up of a blank space. Suddenly (though after careful consideration) covering up a large part of the paper with white gesso, as I did in this drawing, was refreshing.

A drawing more in my “natural” style – the style both more natural to me and more organic:

Inspired by a picture-filled book about the Anglo-Saxons I'm reading for one of my Oxford courses

More to come on my site-specific art-ing from the fall, in addition, maybe, to some non site-specific stragglers, some non-art catching up from the fall, and Oxford.


Fireflies and mexican wrestling masks

Posted February 8, 2010 by breadriot
Categories: musings, random happenings in my life

Tags: , ,

My first post in a long time – fall semester was quite busy. I meant to post this in October and just never did. Please read it as if it were written back then:

While a lot of things have happened, two relatively insignificant events are probably two of the most interesting – to me, anyway.

1. I saw fireflies for the first time.

When I say I saw them for the first time,  I don’t know how literal I’m being. I’ve probably seen them before, given that I’ve been at Princeton for two years, including during times when it’s been hotter than it’s been since I’ve been back this year.

What I mean is that if I did see them before, I never realized what they were. It sounds ridiculous, and I’m someone who prides herself on observing the world very closely as an artist, etc. Maybe I didn’t notice them before because I didn’t realize that fireflies flash – I thought they emitted a constant glow – and I didn’t realize they were so bright and neon when they were “on”… Anyway, somehow, if I did see them, I didn’t realize they were fireflies. Maybe I thought I was just “seeing things” and dismissed them as those random flashes of light that everyone just sees from time to time. (I’m not crazy, right?)

All I know is that when I did see them, it made my week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to linger outside while it was still warm enough for fireflies, nor did I particularly want to be fed upon by the other insects that also like to come out at warm dusks. I last saw them just before a thunderstorm a few weeks ago. Even though it was completely black out by that point, and I’d noticed that generally they tended to disperse after dusk, that night, they were still flashing over any clumps of grass they could find, as if heralding the storm… it’s easy to get poetic about fireflies, which is one reason why I love them.

Another reason I love them is that if I managed to overlook them for so long, then maybe there are more “things in heaven and earth” that I’ve been overlooking. As someone who always hoped she would stumble into another world like the Narnia kids did, suddenly discovering fireflies almost give me the hope that there’s still the chance – though if everyone else had always seen them, then maybe I’m just oblivious. But it’s true that the people who pointed them out to me are the ones who had grown up with them, and, to take nostalgic sentimentality along another line, I wonder how many of us would see fireflies if we hadn’t grown up knowing to look for them.

It would be fun to have a firefly party. Cocktails by bug-light. Except you would end up with a room full of dead bugs. Maybe they could be displayed in jars, rather than loose. Or maybe there could be a party game to catch them all again.

2. I wore a Mexican wrestling mask to lawnparties. Lawnparties are a grand old Princeton tradition where everyone dresses up as preppily as possible and parades around the eating clubs, listening to rather bland live bands and drinking. Boys in pastel polo shirts and loud plaid shorts, girls in summer dresses and large sunglasses. It is an exercise in testing the boundaries between irony and pure, genuine enjoyment of Princetonian privilege. “Oh my gosh, you look gorgeous! I love your dress! How are you?” Masks are on. The mask metaphor is a cliche, but it’s a fun one to exploit when one’s good friend happens to have given one a Mexican wrestling mask over the summer.

monster me

I’m happy to say that I turned a few heads.

Coming up: More overdue thoughts and my recent adventures in Oxford!

The rest of my NAM pieces and other tidbits

Posted August 25, 2009 by breadriot
Categories: internet sociology, journalism, random happenings in my life

Tags: , , , , ,

Finally, I have time to post again. My last few weeks at NAM were busy, though lots of fun.

Here are the rest of my NAM stories from this summer. I definitely feel like I know more about how various organizations work. Yay!

A few other papers and senior-focused orgs have picked this one up.

Since my photos didn’t get used with my HSF story on the NAM site, here is one:

Healthy San Francisco Silver Avenue Clinic

Someone from CNN booking emailed me after reading my HSF story, asking for a pre-interview on skype. We skyped last Thursday, and she’s forwarding my contact info to the editorial and broadcasting teams (no guarantees that they’ll contact me, but they now have my info), and she told me to email her if I’m interesting in contributing writing/reporting for them!! (She thought I had an interesting perspective on health care as a college student..)

Healthy San Francisco Silver Avenue Clinic

I wish I liked taking photos more. It always feels so much more intrusive than reporting to me, or less respectful, even though I ask permission.

This story of mine broke before the Chronicle’s story about the Nichi Bei Times, first in the Nichi Bei Times itself and then on the NAM site, and a few other Asian American news sources picked it up. In fact, looking at the way the Chronicle structured their story and the information they included, I wonder whether they used my story for guidance.

I also got an email from the Asian American Journalists Association, for whose listserv I’m registered because I got a grant from them for my NAM internship, called “Save the Nichi Bei Times.” AAJA asked for members to support the new Nichi Bei Foundation and referenced my article. In other words, I got a general, anonymous blast that referenced my work! It was great seeing that someone was actually using my reporting to promote a cause. If my job is to be simply shifting information around, and maybe also digging up something from time to time if I’m lucky, it’s good to see that the shifting might matter.

Other NAM news:

Shane Bauer, one of the three hikers detained in Iran after accidentally crossing the Iran-Iraq border on July 31, is a freelance journalist who contributes to NAM. So the day the story of their detention broke, CNN and two or three other mainstream news organizations burst into NAM’s little, very-non-mainstream office to interview our director and others about the detention, and other media kept the phones ringing all week about the story. Iran has released little information about the status of the three since detaining them.

Random: someone recently found my blog by searching “What do dolphins eat.” Alas, poor searcher, my blog has given you only more questions, and no answers. Though I might suggest “fish” as an answer. This blog has also been the destination of the searches “what do ladybugs eat and drink” AND “what do deer eat.”

On another note, how did I manage to see 40 or so meteors the Wednesday before last and forget to wish on a single one?

NAM 7 week update

Posted August 4, 2009 by breadriot
Categories: journalism, random happenings in my life

Tags: , , ,

I think I missed a great editorial meeting last week. As I tried to get off the phone with Dell tech support, I wandered in and out of the meeting and heard something about an upsurge in leg extensions and other cosmetic surgery among Asians – someone asked how they did it, and someone else explained that she thought they broke the leg, and then added titanium piping. Then Dell told me I had to install something I didn’t need on my computer. (It turned out that one of our writers is working on a story about a dramatic increase in middle-aged Chinese-American men getting plastic surgery to compete better in a difficult job market. Their wives used to encourage them to come in – now they’re doing it on their own!)

When I got back to the meeting, I heard someone saying, “It’s a little late. I mean the movie came out two weeks ago,” and someone else saying, “Yeah, but he has a pretty unique perspective as a bank robber himself.” I correctly concluded NAM has connections with a bank robber who reviewed Public Enemies:

I recently had to do a lot of outreach for these roundtable discussions on women immigrants that New America Media was hosting in Washington, D.C., Chicago, LA, New York, and Miami. As an offshoot of the discussion, NAM decided to post blog entries by various contributors about their women immigrant relatives. Since I’d written about my grandma leaving China after World War II in my Writing About War journalism class last semester, I modified that piece and they posted it:

I mentioned looking for a family to interview about long-term care of a family member. I arranged to go meet the Waltons in Berkeley – Carol takes care of her husband Ortiz – and went to interview them last Friday with Paul on the video team. We got there 30 minutes early, and as we were waiting outside the house, a firetruck and ambulance came speeding down the street. Paul said, “They better not be coming here,” but sure enough, they stopped right next to us and five or six officers and medics went into the house.

They came out a few minutes later – it turned out the husband had had a fall, and then the wife had passed out as she was trying to help him. They were okay now, but we told Carol we’d come back and interview them another day, after they’d got some rest. That this had all happened just when we came to interview them about the difficulties of being old and ailing without support.

We came back on Monday, and in our interview, we learned that Ortiz Walton is a fairly famous jazz bassist – the youngest person and first African American to play in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who has since then written about called Music: Black, White, and Blue in America, and held benefit concerts to raise money to support voting rights, and started a foundation for vulnerable students with his wife, and received a doctorate in Sociology from Berkeley, and been mentioned by Duke Ellington in his book, and been called by Max Roach “the greatest jazz bassist of all time.” And so on. My feature on them will be going up soon, but it was an all-around surreal experience.

Second NAM story

Posted July 22, 2009 by breadriot
Categories: journalism

Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s my second full story. They had a lot fewer edits for this one, and I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, except for an extra, unnecessary “Perez said” – which has now been fixed. Here’s to having the intern-guts to point out even small problems!

Now I’m working on two health-related stories. For one, I’m interviewing  a family involved in long-term care of an elderly family member. My interview will be part of a policy piece on the place (or lack thereof :() of long term care in state and national health care plans. Apparently, 27% of national Medicaid spending on long term care services goes to home and community-based  services (HCBS), while 73% goes to nursing homes. 89% of Americans of 50 year and older want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and the unpaid contributions of the US’s ~34 million family caregivers are valued at over 375 billion.

I’m also working on a story that assesses the success of Healthy San Francisco so far and looks at how its principles might apply to national health care in light of the current national discussion.

And next Thursday, I’ll be reporting (maybe on camera :o) at a rally organized by the Ella Baker Center in Oakland calling for more California budget cuts in incarceration for minor offenses (they say these cuts could save 12 billion dollars over the next five years) so that cuts won’t be made in social services, education, health care, etc. (yay!).

The Xinjiang riots

Posted July 10, 2009 by breadriot
Categories: uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The riots, which have killed over 150 people and injured over 1,000, Uighur and Han, came up at our NAM editorial meeting yesterday. Our director made the point that the Uighurs get a bad deal twice over  – firstly, because they have become increasingly dispossessed of their resources, rights , and culture by the Han Chinese, which is a major reason for the current unrest and Uighur resentment toward the Han; secondly, because for some reason or other, they are a group that few outsiders care to advocate for – unlike, say, the Tibetans. (Although the Guantanamo Bay resettlement story gave them some recent exposure.)

It seems likely to me that the general lack of passion about Uighur rights is at least in part because they are Muslim. Maybe it is hard for many, say, in the US, who want to fight for greater freedom, etc., to champion a Muslim cause in the same way they can champion the Tibetan Buddhist cause (which of course also has its own issues of class and religion that do not match the liberal values of many of its champions  as well as they might like to think). I believe this bias exists even though the Uighur’s brand of Islam is, from my understanding, a good deal less rigid than Islam in much of  the Middle East, for example. I don’t know if many people know that much about Uighur culture.

Call to prayer in Kashgar
Call to prayer in Kashgar, from my 2006 trip. I feel a little weirdly anthropological and condescending in the dumb Westerner way, adding these photos, since they’re not related to the riots in particular. But I want to give a sense of the normal scene in one of the currently affected cities.

The Uighurs also don’t have a figure quite like the Dalai Lama to rally outsiders. They do have Rebiya Kadeer  – who currently lives in the US, and who the Chinese government accuses of instigating the recent riots, maybe taking a US-blaming cue from the Iranian government.

Also like Iran, however, the Uighurs now have things like Twitter and text messages to help unify them.

A few people in Munich, Washington, etc. have been showing their support by protesting, trashing the Chinese embassy, etc. But these protesters are generally Uighurs in exile themselves, not multi-ethnic supporters like those Tibet attracts.

I am certainly not saying that the Uighurs do not share blame for the riots. But it seems unfair (as it often is) to classify them as the sole aggressors or terrorists, and unfortunately, it may be easier – for China or observers – to do so because the Uighurs are Muslim. Then again, may also be too easy for many Western observers to classify the Han Chinese as solely at fault because of the way many in the West delight in pointing out the continuing repressive nature of the Chinese government and somehow using that to incriminate the Chinese people themselves.

If anything, these riots demonstrate that people’s tendency to be violent idiots is in no way limited to one group of people.

Kashgar Sunday Livestock Market

Kashgar's Sunday livestock market

Selfishly, but probably in a way many people might be, I probably feel especially sympathetic to the Uighurs because I was in these places – Urumqi, Kashgar, etc. – three years ago, when I went on a trip along the Silk Road from Beijing through Xinjiang with my mom’s side of the family. Worse, I might also feel an especial interest because the Uighurs there thought I was one of them – I have that Eurasian look. It was the first time I’d felt like I fit in, appearance wise, with most people around me.

But I guess silly things like that are how many people come to care about specific causes, rather than just having a general desire to do something about something, which often bothers me, especially when I detect it in myself. Not that a simple desire to do good is a bad thing.


Uighur kids in Kashgar from my 2006 trip. Again, I feel dumb putting their photo here. My point is just that the little girl is adorable, chador (I think?) and all. And that the kids look Eurasian like me.

Unrelatedly, except in that it comes from my Silk Road trip, I wouldn’t like to have a cavity in Kashgar. This was not the only shop in Kashgar’s Old Town with a sign like this at its front:



My apologies that my photos are only of Kashgar, and not Urumqi, the epicenter of the recent riots. Kashgar was a much more interesting city for us as tourists, and my mom, who took all these photos, didn’t get any of Urumqi. Maybe it is a little suspicious that, at least according  to several Chinese news sources, Rebiya Kadeer, who lived in Urumqi for over 20 years, couldn’t tell that the photo she used to demonstrate government brutality was actually from Shishou, in Hubei Province, not Urumqi. But as far as I remember, Urumqi really doesn’t have many visible distinguishing characteristics as a city. (By the way, it is, however, of all the cities in the world, the farthest from any ocean.)

More stats, a link, and a poem

Posted July 7, 2009 by breadriot
Categories: internet sociology, writing and books

Tags: , , , ,

Well, as intended, a post called “My sex statistics,” coupled with a very tempting first few lines to appear under the results for the tag “sex,” has attracted to my blog a few more wayfarin’ strangers searching the  tag “sex”. Only 4, this time, which, given the post’s tantalizing beginning, I can only attribute to the fact that the “sex” searchers are generally a small, regular group of people who have begun to learn that I cannot offer them what they seek.

Still, it seems now that something more complex than simple search results is drawing people to “My Sex Statistics.” 35 page views, my largest number so far, happened on the day I posted “My sex statistics,” with most views of that page in particular. Also for the first time people visited my “About” page. The increase in number of visitors was much larger than either chance or the four “sex”-searchers could account for. I guess it could just be a few visitors looking at many pages.

Apparently, one person also found my post by searching for “sex dreams.”

On an unrelated note, you can now read my first published NAM reporting piece (Note: I just collected the parents’ info and quotes. Someone else wrote it up; grammar and formatting is not mine.):

Also, a silly poem I wrote a few months ago, but which no one has seen and I just re-discovered on my computer:

The hem of my skirt touched the ground

and I winked at you just so, hoping that by quaintness

I could enchant your heart that beat to the rhythm of

hip hip, and I never thought to wonder why

rhythm has no vowels when

doom da dum dum dum

where would we be without vowels?

I shouldn’t have been wearing a long skirt in that club

anyway, and the way I was thinking chant came from enchant

I knew I had it all wrong.

But I can always hope.