Monday, December 31, 2007
Influenced by the Italian neighborhood I live in, I laid down the word trattoria. It is, in fact, in the dictionary, where it is described as "a small, inexpensive Italian restaurant." Just for fun, I started browsing the dictionary. I'd find words I didn't know the meaning of and ask my folks to guess what those words meant.
The game ended, and I kept looking through the dictionary, having a ball finding words I wasn't familiar with. "What's 5 times 365?" I asked my dad. "One thousand, eight hundred twenty-five" came the answer. "Well, I want to learn five new words a day in 2008," I declared.
I decided to start my big project even though the New Year has not yet begin. The same night I returned from California, I walked over to the book store to purchase Webster's New World College Dictionary. Today, I found my five new words:
grilse- a young salmon on its first return from sea to fresh water
lobelia - an annual or prennial plants of the bellflower family, having white, red, or blue flowers of very irregular shape
molder -to crumble into dust; waste; decay
numen -an indwelling, guiding force or spirit
pied - covered with patches or spots
I'm excited to be 1,825 words richer by this time next year!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Truth is, Petra moved to Bed-Stuy a mere 2.5 years ago. Originally from North Carolina, Petra came to Long Island in 1993 to earn a PhD in social health/psychology. In 1996, she moved to Chelsea and lived there for nine years. When it came time to buy a place, Petra chose Bedford Stuyvesant. She didn’t know a soul when she moved to Bed-Stuy, but starting her blog changed all that. Through writing her blog, Petra has accomplished something noteworthy: she’s created community and built friendships. Doing footwork for her blog forces Petra to go out and see what’s going on, to be more social, to go up to strangers and ask what they are doing. “I’m far more gregarious than I would be on my own,” shares Petra. Evidently, it’s easier to approach people when she’s on one of her many missions to provide a service to the community by answering their questions about goings-on.
According to Petra, Bed-Stuy Blog was born out of a real need. As someone who got the scoop on events via Time Out New York or online, Petra observed a hole in terms of information available online and just in general about Bed-Stuy activities. “The world is online,” observes Petra, “and if you’re not online, you don’t exist.” Inspired by other neighborhood-based blogs such as Clinton Hill Blog and Brownstoner, she decided to start one for her own place of residence. The outcome has been amazing: for starters, Petra has a huge following of readers. There are even folks who have said that they moved to Bed-Stuy because of what they saw on her blog. In addition, some of New York’s major magazines regularly link to Petra’s blog on the internet.
One of the aspects of Petra’s blog that keeps people coming back for more is the way that she makes it genuinely interactive: she asks probing questions and people state their opinions right underneath her posts. She asked, for example, why Fresh Direct doesn't service the Bed-Stuy population. Lots of readers responded to that piece. More recently, she inquired about the lack of holiday decorations in her neighborhood and plenty of people had plenty to say about that one.
And there’s more: Petra wrote about her neighborhood’s YMCA, featuring photos of people working out there. She posted a piece about an upcoming march against domestic violence. The bottom line is, Petra makes it easy for Bed-Stuyers to be up on current events and to get involved in their community in mind, body, and spirit.
Keep up the good work, Petra!
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
I enjoyed the Life Challenges which Diane lists at the end of each chapter. Here are some of them:
Ask yourself, "Am I waiting for someone or something to let me be me?" Think about what you'd do if you weren't waiting.
Identify a dream you can accomplish before your next birthday.
Pay attention to chance meetings and serendipitous happenings.
Call the number that will lead to an adventure
I loved Diane's book so much that I emailed and then called her. When she found out it was my birthday, she sent me an e-card that made me laugh out loud. Go here to see it for yourself.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
After 6 free visits, the love affair became a permanent relationship: I upgraded my Y membership to an all-city pass just so I could swim regularly at the Chinatown Y.
One thing I love most about the Chinatown Y is the diverse crowd it draws: lots of folks from Chinatown, the Lower East Side, SoHo. There’s a real range in terms of cultural/ethnic background, social class, and age. I guessed that there would be someone pretty interesting in charge of this Y and wondered what their approach to bringing so many different kinds of people together under the same roof. Following up on that curiosity, I paid a visit to Chinatown Y Director David Kaplan got the inside scoop.
First, a little bit of history about this Y:
1974: The Chinatown Y is launched by several volunteers from Chinatown.
1992: Their vision leads to the opening of the Hester Street Beacon Center.
2006: The dream of a full-fledged health and fitness facility for the community becomes a reality. The Chinatown Y’s Houston Street Center opens its doors to the public.
Today: The Center reaches more than 10,000 people a year from Tribeca, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, Little Italy, the East Village, and SoHo.
What interested David about working at this particular YMCA?
David grew up in the Greenwich Village area and, as a young person, was involved in a local community center where he played basketball. Years later, after slowly transitioning out of lawyerhood, he led a variety of non-for-profit organizations which served a wide range of people, including teenagers, young people, runaways, homeless people, gay and lesbian teens and adults. He sensed that the re-built Chinatown Y would be diverse because of its location and wanted to work someplace that attracted that kind of diversity.
What, in David’s eyes, makes the Chinatown Y special?
1. The diversity. Some of the members are from Chinatown and some are from the Lower East Side. There is an income-based rate scale to pull in people from all income levels.
2. The staff. They are a welcoming, positive, pro-active, and hard-working team of people.
3. The brand-new facility. There’s all kinds of potential in terms of how the space gets used. They listen to members to figure that out. As David says, “The space is open to play with.”
What has David Learned about Diversity?
In David’s own words, “Diversity is not just a symbol that you put on the wall.” It’s about what you do on a day-to-day basis to meet real-life situations. For example, different groups of people have different ideas about what makes for appropriate locker room etiquette, child-rearing practices, and behavior in public spaces. For some groups, it’s okay to be loud. For others, it’s not alright.
David is aware that each of his staff brings in his or her own background and set of life experiences and so challenges them to be open to people who bring something different to the table. He warns them that their assumptions will be tested while working at the Y.
“The Y” says David, “is about developing mind, spirit and body, so we as staff need to be doing that ourselves.”
What are David’s main areas of focus?
First, David focuses his energies on collaborating with other people in charge to run the physical plant. The goal is to make the Y a functional place and also a warm and welcoming place that is conducive to social interaction.
Second, David invests his time in fundraising events.
Third, he liaisons with the Y’s main office since they dictate what the branches do.
Last, but definitely not least, David spends a good deal of time reading the suggestion forms which members fill out and put into the feedback box. He sits down with other Y staffers and figures out what to do with that input. “We change and grow because we ask our members to do the same. Our work is never done,” commented Dave. [Editor’s note: how cool is that – a director who reads every piece of membership feedback!!!]
What is challenging about running this Y?
One challenge for David is being a white man and having people wonder what it means that a white man is running the Chinatown Y. Another thing is sharing space with University Settlement, having that additional foot traffic and figuring out how to collaborate.
David has the interesting task of listening to various individuals and groups of people in mapping out the course for the Y. These folks include board members, donors and other stake-holders, long-time staff members, community folks who witnessedthe place being built. He listens and incorporates as much as he can into his decisions.
What are David’s personal hobbies and interests?
David is the proud father of a 22-month-old daughter. He loves to basketball and box and he’s also a musician who plays the guitar and sings.
How did David transition from being an attorney to working in the not-for-profit world?
When David was a private attorney, he donated money to a youth center and progressed to raising money for the center. His level of involvement in the not-for-profit world grew to the extent that he could no longer practice law full-time. In 2004, David stopped practicing law all together.
What has been a rewarding aspect of the job?
David is walking proof of the laws of Karma, particularly the idea that what goes around comes around. From his long history of leadership in community-based and nonprofit organizations, David gets the satisfaction of seeing the people he helped as young ones come into the Y with their own children and thank him for what he did to reach them.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Recently, while on the UWS, I spied a sign that announced a book sale in the basement of St. Agnes. Basement? I never knew they had one. They were getting ready to renovate and clearly wanted to get rid of stuff while raising funds. A steep set of stairs led down to a huge cement-floored basement that was filled with books as far as the eye could see. Heaven!
My Big Find was a book called The World of Marc Chagall, photographed by Izis Bidermanas and written by Roy McMullen. This book is incredible. It is filled with photos of Marc in action – creating sets for shows, stained glass windows, paintings, sketches, prints.
I like this passage from the preface:
"One [assumption] is that Chagall is to be taken at his word when he insists, as he often does, that his art contains a serious ‘message.’ The other is that this message is to be found in his work as a whole. There is meaning as well as entertainment in his figurative midsummer night’s dream of Vitebsk, Paris, blue moonlight, giant bouquets, weightless lovers, sad clowns, and fabulous beasts; and the same meaning emerges when we isolate fore study what he calls his ‘abstract’ colors, shapes and structures.”
I keep the book leaning against the bulletin board that sits on my desk as a constant source of inspiration.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
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Thursday, October 25, 2007
Let me backtrack for a sec. Every year, I search for a festive, non-religious card to send as part of my end-of-the-year mailing. It’s a fun project: I make an alphabetized list of my highlights from the year and tuck the list inside the card. I try to get an early start in October by scouring stores and the internet for That Special Card. When I went into stores this month, I mostly saw the same holiday designs I had seen in past years. On the internet, all the personalized stationery seemed to feature goofy stick people or overly-delicate graphics. So imagine my great delight when I came across Fabulous Stationery via an ad in the back of Dwell magazine. The graphics, with a heavy 60s influence, are designed by Trish DeMasi, whose “inspiration comes from so many things: fabric, fashion, nature, architecture, friends, even pets.”
Then there’s the oh-so-cool feature of the cards developed by Jay Arnold, one of Fab’s founders. Jay developed the ideas of printing the sender’s return address on the back of the note cards and matching the address so it appears in an envelope which has a clear window in the upper left hand corner. That way, the recipient can’t lose the sender’s address. When you order a set of note cards, this feature is free of charge.
The other thing that the company offers that I love are the calling cards. With their retro graphics, these little babies are for people who want to step out in style with something more funky and less formal-looking than a biz card.
So after much perusing, I picked out my holiday card. Technically, it’s a birthday card but it has that just right festive look I’ve been searching for. The only problem with the Fabulous Stationery website is that it is highly addictive. Why am I up until midnight looking at their card designs? ‘Cuz I’m a freaking stationery addict, that’s why!!!!!!!!!!
Friday, October 19, 2007
Fast forward to present day: the mouse is back, but this time it seems to be roaming the living room/kitchen area. We throw out our saggy mattress and get a low-to-the-ground platform bed. “Do you think that the mouse will be able to get up here?” asks Mike. “Only if it has a javelin or a cape,” I say.
As long as Mousey does not snuggle right next to me, s/he is welcome to stay at 46 First Street. Guitar concerts are gladly welcomed!
Friday, October 12, 2007
out to Greenpoint one morning for tea. I present to you:
Ten Fun Facts About Summer Pierre
1. Summer is a transplant from Northern California – Palo Alto to be exact - and was raised in what she describes as a “post-countercultural lifestyle.” Her parents had been involved in the Haight-Ashbury scene and she spent the early years of her life on a commune. Pierre went to an alternative school in Menlo Park where artisty was encouraged. Put Summer in any situation as a young one and she’d start drawing.
2. Ten years ago, Summer moved to Boston and was part of the Harvard/Cambridge scene. During that time, she came out with her own album and toured both the west and east coasts. She describes her style as acoustic folk-rock.
3. Two years ago, Summer moved to New York. Whilst on her honeymoon this past August, she was visiting a small town museum in White Fish, Montana and got an idea for an illustration. Based on the info she collected about the town’s history, she would like to make a map of White Fish and send it to their chamber of commerce.
4. In addition to being a singer, songwriter, and illustrator, Summer works part time in an office setting. Since she is the author of the zine How to Be an Artist in the Office, I asked Summer how she personally goes about bringing her artist self into her workplace. She does stuff that breaks the routine and monotony without being disruptive. For example, she posts anonymous notes in between bathroom stalls and other secret places. She brings food anonymously and leaves it for people. She chalks messages on the way to work.
5. One of Summer’s proud accomplishments is her Great Gals Calendar which celebrates inspiring women. (Dolly Parton was featured in the 2005 edition. Yay Dolly!) Great Gals came out of Summer’s love of hand-making holiday gifts and it now has a sizable following! (Interesting side note: Summer’s college thesis was about women in rock!)
6. Summer sez: “The more permission you give yourself to do the things that delight you, your life goes through the roof. Start noticing what nurtures you.” What are some things that delight Summer? Watching movies alone, walking in Central Park, and going to the Algonquin Hotel to hang out in the lobby and write.
7. Summer has a wonderful honesty about her. For example, she shared the story of how she went to a week-long writing retreat led by one of the writers she most idolized. Her interactions with that person were not so pleasant, and Summer was crushed. However, it was a turning point in her life where she realized that everything she needed was in her – not out there.
8.Summer is currently working on a book with lots of illustration.
9. Summer creates one-page illustrated stories for Skirt! Magazine.
10. Her dream is to have a one woman show that includes music, art and writing.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I never knew about the scent of geranium till I was in my twenties and working in an aromatherapy store in Manhattan. That was before aromatherapy got to be a big thing in the US. The store owner's signature scent included lavendar, lavandin, geranium and something citrusy.....what was it called? I forget now. It was heavenly, but I discovered that geranium could stand alone as a scent to relish.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Every month, I receive Mike’s Appreciation in Action newsletter. In the newsletter, he shares a concrete way to make appreciation part of our work and personal lives and relationships. So I was excited when I heard that Mike was coming out with a book. He was kind enough to send me a copy of Focus on the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation.
I was curious about the book, because, to be honest, I wondered “What else is there to appreciation besides being grateful and expressing this sentiment to others? How can there be a whole book out about this topic?” Mike shows that there’s plenty to be explored here. The piece of the book that most caught my attention was the chapter entitled Appreciate Yourself. In it, Mike explores why self-appreciation can be challenging; the difference between self-appreciation and arrogance; what self-appreciation is; and how to appreciate yourself. Here’s a couple of thoughts I liked a lot:
“Without appreciating ourselves, we will find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel, think, and express gratitude bout life and toward others.” Why? “Because […] we live our lives and perceive the world primarily through the lens of our opinion of ourselves – our relationship to ourselves.”
“Once we discover and own our own unique strengths […] we learn that it’s more productive, enjoyable, and beneficial to relate to others through their strengths, rather than with a focus on their perceived weaknesses.”
Mike recommended the implementation of some “Positive Practices” for putting self-appreciation in our lives on a regular basis. These included creating a “sunshine file” – a folder with expressions of gratitude we receive (thank-you cards, photos, notes); regular “me” time; and picking something we appreciate about ourselves each morning and focusing on it all day.
I’ll tell you what makes Mike credible to me: his ideas don’t just come from being in the business world. Before becoming a speaker, author, and coach, Mike was a top-notch pitcher for Stanford University and helped lead his team to championships. He was voted “Most Inspirational” by his teammates. He was also drafted by the Kansas City Royals and played with them until an injury got in the way. Mike uses a lot of what he learned as a leader in the athletic domain in his work with companies today. Plus, you don’t get voted “Most Inspirational” for nothing!
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
At the F stop news stand, I grabbed The New York Sun and was delighted to find a special section entitled "Autumn in New York." This gem includes listings in a variety of categories - books, museums, galleries, family field trips, cabaret, jazz. Okay, you won't find as many choices as, say, in Time Out New York or The Village Voice. However, what makes this section truly wonderful are illustrations like the one pictured above. This one was on the Food and Drink page. (There were no credits for the art that I could see, but I will investigate.)
One thing I love about this season is all the Fall Preview editions of newpapers and magazines. The anticipation of what's to come, the idea of having so many possibilities, is so satisfying. I feel blessed to live in a city so rich in culture, art and street life.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I had a store credit at this great neighborhood place called Handmade. I ventured in and fell in love with the wallet pictured here. I think it's a French dog: it's wearing a scarf around its neck and is holding a flower in its mouth. The clasp is a bone.
The wallet is lightweight and has lots of slots for cards. Most importantly, I feel joyful everytime I pull it out and see the French dog.
The wallet is made by a group of Canadian designers who call themselves espe. I ordered one of their cosmetic cases for my friend's birthday.
We use our wallets so much, why not make sure they are tiny works of art that bring us happiness each time we look at them?
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Interviewing muppeteers and the cameraman from Sesame Street
Celebrating five years of together with my sweetie
Going on fairground rides with my brother and nephew on our last day of the family vacation in Seattle (see pic at left, taken at fairground photo booth)
Discovering the gorgeous Chinatown YMCA (it’s actually in SoHo) and enjoying swims in the Olympic-sized pool (they generously let me in for free since my Y's pool was shut during the last week of summer vacation)
Hanging out in the spacious and welcoming second floor lounge of the new Whole Foods, which is just steps from the Chinatown YMCA. (When I say lounge, I do mean lounge: people make jewelry, play boardgames, browse the internet, chat with friends for hours.)
Enjoying the end of the summer in the garden of Le Jardin Bistro with my sweetie. Nothin' like soft shelled crabs in the not-too-hot summer breezes while sitting under a canopy of ivy
Seeing the movie Hairspray with my friends Cecilia, Lizzy and Marjorie, then hanging out in the garden of Café La Fortuna (the west side’s oldest café) and catching up on summer adventures
Spending time with my teacher from second grade and her new poodle puppy
Re-organizing the home office in a way that showcases my boyfriend Mike’s paintings
So, what are some of your top summer memories? Email me: ETraubman@aol.com
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Fran Brill, the first female muppeteer hired by Jim Henson, has been on the set of Sesame Street nearly all of its 38 years. Here’s the big surprise: Fran didn’t play with puppets as a child. Her primary passion and training was in theatre, starting from when she stole the show in a play that her Brownie troupe performed. In her teens, Fran performed in summer stock and also interned at the Bucks County Playhouse. As a young adult, she chose to attend Boston University College of Fine Arts for its strong theatre department. There, Fran received classical theatre training and also participated in regional theatre.
Fran’s first big acting job was in a theater in Atlanta, where she performed in an original show called Red, White and Maddox. Red was a musical satire of a Georgia governor who wouldn’t serve people of color in his famous restaurant, the Pickrick Cafeteria. In 1969, the show moved to Broadway. Like all Broadway shows, it came to an end and Fran found herself looking for work in The Big Apple. By day, she’d make rounds to the agents with eight- by -ten photos in hand. In the late afternoon, she’d arrive home exhausted and in need of cheering up. Watching Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood seemed to do the trick.
“Watching those shows, I’d think ‘I could do those voices,’” shared Fran. She had already done radio commercials and voiceover work. In 1970, one of Fran’s agents pointed to an ad in Backstage, which announced Jim Henson’s search for muppeteers for a Christmas television special. Fran called Jim. “I can do the voices,” she said. Jim let her know he didn’t work that way: muppeteers did the voices for their own characters. Interested in her theatre background, Jim invited Fran to come for a workshop in the East Village. Under the tutelage of Jim, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz, Fran underwent intense training in the skills of muppeteering. In the end, she made the cut, and was asked to muppeteer in the Christmas special.
From the Christmas special, Fran and Richard Hunt were asked to be in the core group of muppeteers. Fran agreed, with the condition that she could continue to act in plays, musicals, and commercials. Jim agreed, and Fran was on her way to Sesame Street.
Fran remembers well the sparks that ignited Sesame Street. The initial collaborators included “The Four Js”: television producer Joan Ganz Cooney, writer Jon Stone, composer Joe Raposo, and, of course, Jim Henson. With the Head Start Initiative newly underway, the ground was ripe for a show that would educate children about numbers, letters, and other early childhood concepts. The show utilized the format of both magazines and commercials by featuring a combination of live action footage, animation, and muppet inserts. Fran describes the formative years of Sesame as “a rarefied experience in a rarefied atmosphere” and “the perfect storm.” “They invented the wheel as they went along,” she shared. “Nobody thought that the show would be a juggernaut.”
In terms of her own role on the show, Fran started out as Ernie’s right hand – literally. A muppet generally needs two people, one person to operate the head, left hand, and voice and another person to operate the right hand. Eventually, Fran helped create and inhabit a new character - Prairie Dawn. Twenty years down the road, when the show’s producers wanted a female equivalent of Elmo, theyworked with Fran to fashion the character of Zoe. The characters, Fran says, represent different facets of her personality. Her job, as the muppeteer, is to channel "the spirit and personality that lives inside of the puppet."
True to the spirit of Sesame Street, Fran views her role as muppeteer as an ongoing process of growth and education. “I’m constantly learning, trying to be better, trying to please myself.” Fran shares that she strives to be as truthful as possible in her roles – not an easy task since she’s got just her hand and her voice to make the essence of a character shine through. Fran also reflects on the larger experience of being part of Sesame Street. “We’re inheritors, or seeds of Jim Henson,” she relays. She explains how the warmth, compassion, and empathy of the crew, cast, and content of Sesame are reflective of Jim. He was, Fran relays, a man who never raised his voice, never lost his temper, just worked off of praise and respect. “He brought out the best in you as a human and as a performer.” The gentleness, humanity, cross-generational appeal, humor, love, and global concern in Sesame Street was, according to Fran, “Jim Henson’s way of changing the world.”
While Jim firmly remains a legend in the mind of Fran and countless others, Fran herself has clearly won the esteem, love and respect of her audiences. On Fran’s birthday, folks logged onto Muppet Central Forum to share these sentiments with her:
“Happy Birthday Fran Brill, and thanks for all the wonderful characters you’ve given us over the years!”
“Eeeeeeey!! Franny!! You go, girl!”
“As well as continued success with the muppets, I hope to see you performing in tv and movies. You’ve contributed a lot to the entertainment world.”
“Yay! Happy Birthday, Fran!” Hope you’re as blessed as you’ve made us all feel over the years! Thanks.”
“Frog bless you for all the fun and magic you’ve brought into our lives.”
Meeting Fran in person, watching her interact with her fans, and seeing her in action as a muppeteer, I got a clear picture of why she has won the affection of so many people. She is incredibly hard-working, loyal, funny, intelligent, cultured, and down-to-earth. Her lack of pretense is notable: she exhibits a complete willingness to share the events of her professional history without sparing any of the less-than-glamorous details. She does not see herself as separate from or better than her audience. In the end, it comes as no surprise that Prairie Dawn (a/k/a Fran) likes and gets along with all her friends on Sesame Street. She’s a living legend, and a lovable one at that.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Elise Long, founder and director of Spoke the Hub, has been a fixture in the neighborhood for thirty years and a key person who has used arts to build community. Here’s a description of the history of Spoke, taken directly from their website:
Based in Brooklyn since 1979, Elise Long and Spoke the Hub Dancing have been hailed by the local press and public as "neighborhood treasures" and "cultural pioneers" creating the Living Room Performance Space on 9th Street (1980 - 84); the Gowanus Arts Exchange on Douglass Street (founded in 1985, relocated and renamed the Brooklyn Arts Exchange/BAX, now active as a separate organization); and the Spoke the Hub Re:Creation Center on Union Street (1995- present).
Elise has an interesting life history. She came from a big family where her parents, both teachers, gave Elise plenty of support around her artistic leanings. Elise started choreographing in high school. As a college student in Vermont, she majored in English with an emphasis on dance and art. In the 1970s, Elise was involved in an “intense International folkdance scene in the 1970s” which was about being social and dancing with people. As a choreographer with her own Spoke dancers, Elise’s sources of inspiration are varied and include everything from Hip Hop to German legend Pina Bausch.
Elise is excited about her plans to expand Spoke to be a “well being center for the arts, with all kinds of art under one roof.” A piece of that vision includes a rooftop garden.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
So what’s the Cinderella bit about? Barbara wrote her own version of the classic tale, renaming it Cinderella (As If You Didn’t Already Know the Story). Some cool things about this version: One, Cinderella talks about her life in letters to her deceased biological mother. Two, the story isn’t over once Cinderella and the Prince are married. Barbara dares to show the complexities of married life and how Cinderella negotiates her own independence. Three, the illustrations are Barbara’s blcak shadow silhouette cutouts. The letters from Cinderella to deceased mom function, in part, to show the interior of Cinderella. “If you don’t see that interior,” comments Barbara, "you wonder why she is such a pushover."
Under the website heading Me, there is a little bio of Barbara. Some interesting facts:
She has written for New York Magazine, Entertainment Life, Village Voice.
Her illustrations have appeared in Harper’s, Self, New York Times.
She grew up mostly in England.
Her first job after graduating from Brown U was as a puppeteer.
During our chat at Park Slope’s Union Hall, Barbara let me know that her family traveled a lot when she was little, so she and her siblings found ways to adapt to different surroundings. For example, they played with dolls way past when they were supposed to, age-wise. They also created a puppet theater. “It was all about setting up the story,” shared Barbara.
Here’s something else interesting about Barbara: In 2006, she started The Little School of Moving Pictures and began teaching young people how to make clay animation movies. She even posts her students’ movies on UTube!
What’s coming down the pike from Barbara? Well, there’s her rendition of Thumbelina coming out in June of 2008. Thumbelina will be portrayed as a tiny runaway bride, with all these different animals wanting to marry her. And there will be plenty of Barbara’s magical black silhouettes.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I met up with Zina in a diner and found out more about her. By trade, she is an illustrator and writer who has contributed to publications such as Time Out New York, The Wall Street Journal, and D Magazine. In 2005, she transferred her focus from general illustration to reportage illustration. The new focus included articles which were an outgrowth of her profiles on Overlooked; one piece was about the Puerto Rican Schwinn Club, the other piece was about Central Park portrait artists.
As someone who grew up on the Upper West Side, Zina often sighted Puerto Rican men riding on biked tricked out with flags, foxtails, and fuzzy dice. Who were these men, she wondered? Where did they hang out? She wanted to talk to them. One day, Zina flagged one of them down in Alphabet City and he told her that he and other bikers hung out along the East River. So Zina went over to the River and started painting the bikers’ portraits. Word got around about her visits, and soon the bikers were traveling from spots as far as the Bronx to have their portraits done by Zina.
The overriding spirit of Zina’s portraits and profiles are the affection and great regard for the people she interviews. She picks individuals who are passionate about a pursuit, who are joyful in some fascinating way they have found of expressing themselves. They are earnest, sincere, and proud -- all the same ways Zina feels about her own work as an illustrator. Zina likes and cares about the people she interviews in a real way; there is nothing ironic about her depiction of them. She keeps in touch with the individuals whom she features on Overlooked. She "loves people and loves creating her vision of their joy."
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
The Write-a-Thon was the brainchild of Aaron Zimmerman, who is also the Founder of the Coalition. He got the idea from a friend who had planned to run miles to raise money for a charity. Aron felt that a write-a-thon was a fundraiser that would match the philosophy of his organization: everyone can write.
Aron, like his staff of workshop facilitators, is adept at getting others to tell their stories through writing. He himself has an interesting tale to tell about his own life path. In high school, Aron liked the writing he did in English classes. He also loved acting. In college, he studied film an ended up taking script-writing classes. For the final project, where most students made a film, Aron wrote a screenplay. It was a way of combining his interest in acting with his passion for constructing story through the use of language.
In graduate school, Aron focused on creative writing and began to lead writing workshops on his own. The Prince George, a supportive housing community for low-income, formerly homeless and special needs populations, asked Aaron to lead a writing workshop for its residents for National Poetry Month. The workshop was such a hit that Aaron stayed on to lead a weekly writing group. As more opportunities rolled in for Aaron to lead such workshops, he developed the idea of starting his own non profit organization. Aaron trained other people to lead workshops like the ones he had been leading at Prince George – gatherings that gave voice to typically unheard-from people in a safe, judgment-free setting.
Aaron describes the work of The Coalition as being three-pronged – to get people writing; to get people to connect to each other as writers, and to connect the writing with the world. One of the ways that the writing is shared with a larger audience is through a NYWC anthology called If These Streets Could Talk. Streets is a compilation of fiction and poetry from the formative years of Coalition workshops.
In terms of sharing one’s writing with a wider audience, Aaron has an interesting perspective: You don’t have to have a big audience to make a big difference. In a celebrity-obsessed society where fame is celebrated unto itself, we forget the power of moving one person with our writing. The person who listened may walk away with a new perspective on some aspect of life.
To keep his own creativity fueled, Aaron immerses himself in the visual arts. He also likes to play poker, hang out with his Beagle, spend time with his girlfriend, travel, and take walks. “Because of my work running the coalition, I have less of a need to be a published writer,” Aaron shares. “I am more focused on writing for myself.”
Monday, August 06, 2007
As a young adult, Bill loved newspapers and wanted to know what journalism was all about. So he got a spot on the staff of the college paper and worked his way up to being an editor. The newspaper staff, whom Bill describes as “bright, nutty, curious people,” became his surrogate family.
Following college, Bill became the copyeditor of American Banker, a highly-respected daily financial newspaper. With diligence, he worked his way to the positions of Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President. After leaving American Banker in 1989, Bill became Senior Editor at Newsday. There, he created the syndicated Student Briefing Page which was twice-nominated for a Pulitzer.
From that first success, Bill wrote A Book of Questions and then Make Beliefs: A Gift for Your Imagination. In both books, Bill invites the reader to write or draw responses to questions. The questions are designed to spark use of the imagination, to see the world differently. Bill’s newest book ties nicely into that self-stated thread of transformation. It’s called Doodles and Daydreams: Your Passport for Becoming an Escape Artist. On page 161, Bill says: “Escape artists build escalators to heaven in their minds.” On the same page, he invites the reader to write about what she hopes heaven on earth would be like. The text is accompanied by the whimsical and joyful doodles of Bill’s collaborator, Tom Bloom.
Since leaving his job at Newsday in 2004, Bill has continued to write and teach. In a typical day, he may also read, create websites, play the recorder, do Tai Chi, swim, walk, or grow plants. Bill has two interactive websites - Bill’z Treasure Chest and Make Beliefs Comics.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Friday, August 03, 2007
Now, as an adult, Timothy appreciates the art of the movement involved in puppetry – “the minute details that make the puppet believable and sincere.” For Timothy, the beauty of puppetry also lies in how it relates to other artistic disciplines, including sculpture, dancing, acting, and singing. As well, puppetry can enhance the learning of particular subject matter ranging “from the solar system to the Civil War.” “Puppetry can inject a plethora of new vocabulary and ideas into a solo or group project,” adds Timothy.
Fortunate for Timothy and for Brooklyn at large, he has built an organization based on his passion. “I wanted an outlet for my art, my characters, and my stories,” he recalls. For the past ten years, as director of The Puppetry Arts Theatre (TPAT) in Brooklyn, Timothy has been offering visual workshops and performances for young people and families in school and community settings. He began, ten years ago, “with a paper bag, two googly eyes, a bottle of glue, and some crayons.” From there, he led puppet-making workshops in schools and at community events. “It wasn’t easy at first,” remembers Timothy. “People were asking ‘Who is this guy?’" Eventually, though, he gained the community’s trust.
Some of the big events that Timothy oversees are an annual Haunted Halloween Carnival and the ongoing production of a fully orchestrated musical (starring puppets, of course) entitled In a Roundabout Way. Mr. Young’s big goal is to secure a building in Brooklyn that would serve as a new home to TPAT’s arts-in-educations programs. It would also provide a space in which to host affordable cultural events. Timothy envisions opening the building's doors for use by other community organizations as well. This visionary wants a real center for puppetry arts – “Like the one in Atlanta, only better.”
Timothy, who spends his days making puppets, doing workshops, and raising funds, relies on the generosity of individuals and businesses for donations of time, money, and supplies. If you’d like to contribute in some way to TPAT, you can email Timothy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I can think of few activities more rewarding or important than to follow a young person’s mind. It does take a conscious decision to not insert my idea of how things should go. There’s always a pull to worry about how a child is going to “turn out,” and direct him or her to activities that will (seemingly) ensure success in the future as a “productive” or “well adjusted” adult. But I have a hunch that if we adults spent more time following the creative minds and pursuits of young people, more humans would have lives that they are truly passionate about. Kevin Clash is the proof in the pudding.
Kevin Clash is the puppeteer behind Elmo, the lovable, furry red muppet who has won the hearts of millions on Sesame Street. I gathered information about Kevin by reading his book – My Life as a Furry Red Monster – and by meeting him in person at his Sesame Workshop office. Most inspiring was learning the details about a life of love and support from family, friends, neighbors, and mentors who backed Kevin’s passion for puppetry from the start. Kevin’s rich history as a producer and puppeteer shows that good things happen when adults pay close attention to and nurture the creative and artistic sensibilities of children.
Kevin’s Life in a Nutshell
Kevin grew up in a working class, African heritage suburb of Baltimore, Maryland with a mom, a dad, and three siblings. He spent countless childhood hours creating puppets and puppet shows, getting plenty of inspiration from television programs such as Captain Kangaroo, Good Times, and, of course, Sesame Street. During his younger years, Kevin performed shows for neighborhood folks, for audiences in the wider Baltimore area, then for local television programs.
When Kevin was in high school, he saw Kermit Love featured on an episode of Call It Macaroni, a children’s television show. Kevin was blown away by the fact that an adult was making a successful living from his passion – designing costumes and puppets for everyone from George Balanchine’s dancers to Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Through perseverance, Gladys got in touch with Love who in turn invited Kevin to come to his workshop in New York City. Shortly after that visit, Kermit invited Kevin to be Cookie Monster’s puppeteer in the 1979 Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Stu Kerr, a television personality, was Kevin’s first mentor. When Stu saw Kevin’s puppetry at a local fair, he invited Kevin to perform in a television show called Caboose. Through Caboose, Kevin eventually landed a spot on Captain Kangaroo. Kevin credits Stu with teaching him about the importance of cooperation in working with other professionals, both from the creative and business aspect of things.
Speaking about costume and puppet designer Kermit Love, Kevin commented: “He took me under his wing like I was a grandson. He was so positive, guiding me in the right direction. When the time came to decide to go to college, he encouraged me to stay working with Jim Henson.”
And, finally, Kevin said of Jim Henson: “Jim was so approachable; there was no ego. Jim’s message was ‘Let’s have a good time and respect each other and give back.’ With Jim, you learned the craft by watching and by doing. It was intimidating to be the new kid on the set and Jim stuck with me.”
Kevin has been blessed with the sound guidance of these three and countless other guides. He also knows, particularly from his childhood days, that adults must step back enough to trust the rightness of what children love to do and want to pursue. On the topic of supporting young people in their journeys, Kevin says this in his book:
“You can teach your children all the basics and then some, and they will turn right around and use their knowledge in wonderful, powerful ways you can’t even imagine. That’s the beauty of learning. But it can be hard to resist pulling on the reins and, at some point, steering kids away from what they want to learn to what you think they need to know to be successful. […]
Dreams are fragile things, but when they’ve been bolstered by the support of parents and teachers, and reinforced with early success, they can withstand the skeptics and take flight. When I was a kid, my dad and I spent a lot of time together building things, and I can’t help but think of this metaphor: Kids are the architects of their own dreams. I know that I was.”
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I took at look at garden-related items on the shelves and found these incredible hand made cards (including the birdy one picured above) from a company called Pixie Designs. Lisa Kovarik heads up this company, and her creations can be found at www.pixiecards.com On the back of each card, it says "Pixie Designs celebrates the marraige of exquisite papers - notably silkscreened Japanese chiyogami - and the art of collage. Multiple pieces and patterns blend beautifully to create original artwork that is reproduced , then finished by hand."
While at Taka, I also ventured down to the basement tea room. With very little visual stimuli, the room is a welcome relief in contrast to the visual and auditory intensity of the rest of New York City. I decided to get earl grey ice cream, something I've never tried before, and matcha iced tea. The tea is bright green, so it looks like wheatgrass juice.
Going back to the floor switcharoo: I was a little bummed about the fact that the first floor was now filled with makeup and makeup counters. This feature makes it like a lot of other 5th Ave. department stores designed to draw in women, and, I'm guessing, more revenue. The flowers, on the other hand, drew in both men and women and were about natural beauty rather than artificial beauty.
Still, Takashimaya remains a haven and an oasis for me.
PS - A great gift item, located on the floor with bedding, are the soaps from Fresh. Each soap is hand-wrapped with thick patterned paper and tied with a tiny stone on top. Even though I don't generally like perfumed products, I think these smell great.