Fall is for dreaming

Fall is for dreaming.  The leaves haven’t even started to turn yet, but it seems that we have our eyes fixed on what lies ahead.


My daughter’s school sent home a blank cloud for us to share our hopes for the new school year.   The new minister at the Unitarian Universalist church I’ve been attending asked the audience at last Sunday’s service to scribble aspirations for the upcoming season of assemblies on scraps of paper, which he collected and read aloud.   My partner is already figuring out ways to make his fall as fulfilling as his summer was with music and travel at the forefront.  It’s catching, I think.  The more everyone talks about their dreams, writes about them, the more I start to imagine my own cloud filled with writing and ideas and opportunities.  Thanks for the push, everyone.

Fall is in the air, and it is beautiful.

This week and next are all about zines. The Twin Cities Zine Fest is September 21st at Powderhorn Park.  I’ll have new stuff available, and I hope to see you there.


Hot + Tea = HOTTEA

via Hot+Tea

I first noticed HOTTEA on a railing near the library in Uptown.  To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what it said.

Hotter?  Curious.

I’d never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what it might mean.  Soon I started seeing the tag all over the city on fences and spray painted on yarn strung between signposts.

Some might see a tag like this as an act of vandalism or even littering, but to me, it was a mystery.  A question.  A possibility.

As I wondered about the tag, I watched it slowly unravel.  It became a reference point for me each time I went to the library, reminding me that I wasn’t the only one in this city.  Someone else was out there speaking with string.  I thought they were talking to me in a code I had yet to decipher.

Eventually it was gone.  The moment passed, and the conversation ended.  But it was just the beginning.  Now I knew to look.

That’s what so inspiring about street art–it can take us by surprise to create meaning where there was once just a wall, or fence in the case of HOTTEA.  It can make us ask questions we might never ask or look closely at spaces we might otherwise miss.

The artist explains his view of the project on his Vimeo page,

“The project is a comment on all relationships good and bad and the things that lie between them. Like the phrase itself Hot and Tea are two totally different words brought together to represent something new, which reflect on the media and surfaces that the project makes use of.”

I love this. HOT +TEA = HOTTEA.  Together something new.  Now that is inspiring.  (Read more about how the project started in this fascinating article from MPLSArt.)

This past Saturday HOTTEA took over a new space.  His latest installation is indoors–at the HAUS Salon in Minneapolis.  Five new pieces, including HOTTEA’s grandmother looking down on the salon from above and an array of thousands of yarn strings hanging over the salon’s washing station in a piece called “Sometimes I Wish Upon a Star,” are on display at the salon in a show sponsored by MPLSArt.  He even nodded to traditional graffiti in this piece that superimposes a yarn tag over a photograph of a train car.  This show is your chance to see what HOTTEA can do with all the time he needed to craft his code.  Don’t miss it. (See more photos of the show in this slideshow from MPR.)

Even among yarn bombers, HOTTEA is unique.  His weaving work stands out among knit and crochet pieces featured in the book Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti. Authors Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain write about the appeal of yarn graffiti:

“The juxtaposition of yarn and graffiti is humorous to some artists while others see it as a more serious act that builds on a long-standing practice of renegade street art. Others do it to escape the boredom of tedious day jobs. Some want to liberate the needle arts from their long-held association with utilitarian purposes. Yarn bombing can be political, it can be heart-warming, and it can be funny. Most of all, yarn graffiti is unexpected, and it resonates with almost everyone who encounters it, crafters and non-crafters alike.”

I may never be able to do much with yarn (despite my mother’s tireless efforts to teach me to crochet), but from now on, I will be open to its possibilities.  I hope you will be too.

Thank you, Dessa

As Kerri Miller’s interview with Dessa started playing, I quickly reached for paper and pen.  I found myself scribbling quotes, notes, and ideas throughout the interview.  I was doubly grateful for the songs.  I wanted to hear them, but I also needed a moment to catch up.

I was particularly struck by what she had to say about authenticity.  She came from slam poetry to rap, and she felt like she was faking it for a while.  Her journey–her attempt to find a place for herself in music–is fascinating and inspiring.

photo by Stacey Schwartz

She asked, “How many times can you tell a secret and mean it?”   It’s an interesting question for performing artists searching for originality and a way to communicate with their audiences.  Musicians perform the same songs again and again for different crowds (or local artists often end up playing over and over to basically the same crowd), and they have to bring as much energy to each performance as they can.  I am impressed by this.  I’m not sure I could.

She also spoke to her own creative process.  I was fascinated by her coffee table inspiration: Aesop’s Fables, a guide to Greek and Roman myth, and a King James Bible.  She’s not religious, but she is searching for stories in these texts that connect people to one another, our pasts, and our cultures.  I have been thinking about where I get my stories, what texts might be behind what I write.  What is on my creative coffee table?

Read more about Dessa:

“Dessa’s CD-release party at the Fitzgerald Theater on Friday night was about as far from a rap show as you could get. Backed by an excellent chamber group and back-up singers, and with her Doomtree pals tucked neatly into one of the balconies overlooking the stage, Dessa took the opportunity to cast aside all of her other titles — writer, poet, teacher, rapper — to to focus squarely on her expanding talents as soulful singer and engaging, downright hilarious storyteller.”
“I write slowly, with great effort, and lots of cursing. The feeling I get from crafting a perfect metaphor, or planting a clever seed of subtext is a very powerful feeling. There’s the thrill of personal accomplishment and there’s also a brand of awe—the recognition of a connection that had been previously hidden. But it’s not easy and it’s not really fun, at least for me.”
Thank you, Dessa, for reminding me to take creative risks.

For the artists and writers out there…

Lynda Barry is my new creative crush.  I just finished her hugely inspiring book What It Is, and I am filled with possibilities.  The book is part memoir as she tells us the story of how she came to be an artist and part creative workshop as much of the content is based on her creativity workshop, Writing the Unthinkable.  Peek inside What It Is with this preview from the publisher.

A few links for your reading pleasure:

Choosing Science Books (Books for Secular Families)

Children’s book reviewer, Danielle J. Ford writes in A Family of Readers in a chapter about science books for kids,

“One of the most valuable contributions a book can make is introducing children to the community and practice of science. A focus on facts alone might reward inherent interest in the subject, but it can be only a partial view of how science actually functions.”

Do you want to show your kids that science isn’t about facts as much as it is about investigation and curiosity?  Ford recommends books that include portraits of scientists, like the Scientists in the Field series.  My colleague offers a look at a few books in this series in a recent post on Books in Bloom.  She writes,

“Each book in the series follows real scientists as they seek to understand a specific topic in biology, zoology, earth science, astronomy, and more.  Authors and photographers follow real scientists out in the field, showing that science is more than cold laboratories and white coats.  Doing science is dirty, strenuous work, and can sometimes be very disappointing.”

Pair a title or two from that series with Turn it Loose: The Scientist in Absolutely Everybody by Diane Swanson for the ultimate in inspiration.  Swanson profiles various people who use scientific thinking (observation, prediction, etc.) in their careers.  Some are scientists (Marie Curie and Charles Darwin, for example) and some are not (Dr Seuss and Wayne Gretzky).   Swanson would have us believe that we are all scientists, and if we can keep our inner scientist alive, we can do amazing things.  I can’t recommend this book enough.


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.

The Joy of Biking

How will biking change your life?  This video from MPLS.tv’s Bike City explains everything:

In all honesty, I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid.  I’m not even sure how to ride a bike with the type of prosthetic arm I have now as an adult.  If anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them!

I do love that I live in such a bike friendly city regardless of whether or not I ride.  I have ridden in a pedicab, enjoyed Open Streets Minneapolis, and as a pedestrian I share some of the safety concerns of the bicyclists in the city.

Want to inspire the next generation of bike riders?  Try Along a Long Road by Frank Viva.  This picture book follows a man on a bike through the twists and turns of a long ride along a long road through the country.  It shares the joy of passing interesting sights and stopping to meet new people.  The slightly surrealistic style of the art is realistic enough for kids to understand what is happening and unusual enough to appeal to adults who may not usually get into picture book illustrations.

The book is like the kids’ version of the video above.  It shows how riding a bike can be a meditative experience.   Highly recommended to families who ride or who want to.

Finding Inspiration

Are you living life to the full?

The Ghost's ChildI guess I’ve been exploring this question lately without really thinking about it. It started with a simple fable: The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett.  This slim novel was published for teens, but the subject of looking back on a life as an old woman hardly seems to have teen appeal.  It did, however, have Mindy appeal with its magical exploration of happiness. Beautiful.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're DeadIt wasn’t long after I finished that book that I picked up Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.  It was just what I needed.  Gore, the writer/zinester behind the Hip Mama zine, gives plenty of practical advice about getting published, but she also boils it down to the most basic of basics.

Do you have a story to tell? Tell it.

Do you want to publish it? Do it yourself if you have to.

Do you want people to read it? Get out there and promote the hell out of it.

Her tone is encouraging and persistent.  I could not read this book without being inspired.   Here I am, hitting the “publish” button and planning for more.

Speaking Music

Learn to Speak MusicJohn Crossingham started playing music when he was around twelve or thirteen.  He went on to play in successful indie bands such as Broken Social Scene and Raising the Fawn, and he wrote a book about it.

Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, & Promoting Your Songs is part love song to indie music, part inspirational how-to book for kids (though I’d recommend it to interested indie music lovers of all ages).  Here’s a video that tells more about the book:

The main theme of the book is “you can do this.”  You can create, you can perform, you can live your dreams.  I love this.  Let’s pass on our DIY ethic to the next generation.

Minneapolis is a great place for DIY, especially music.  There is a diverse scene with people who are ready to support up and coming musicians.  We have local radio stations and many venues that feature local music, including a newly-launched stream from MPR’s The Current that features Minnesota music all the time.

I asked several local musicians how they would inspire the next generation of indie musicians to get started creating.  Gus from Hot Ashes is a strong supporter of DIY.  His advice to kids wanting to get started playing music is to “Learn the difference between talking about doing something, and doing it. Be cautious of people who have great ideas, but never even try them out. Be the kind of person who tries, even if you’re certain it’s going to fail.  Failure is necessary to even know what success looks like. Be comfortable with your own mistakes, and tolerant of others’ mistakes. Sometimes mistakes can be downright perfect.”

Her also offered this on the subject of criticism: “Learn to be excited about criticism. If someone is taking the time to try to help you get better, take the time to listen and understand the best you can. Consider the source, and carry on with your work.”

Here he is with Hot Ashes at the Uptown Apple Store last summer:

It may take some time to figure out what works for you creatively.  Sometimes you need a little collaboration to get the creative juices flowing like Thomas from Broken Bicycles, who writes about his songwriting with bandmate, Turkeyes:  “[She] writes the words and brings them to me. I read then and think of how they make me feel. I then sit down with a guitar, banjo, or uke and start playing what I felt. After I have come up with chords that I feel are right, Turkeyes starts to write the melody to the chords. Then I can start hearing the other parts for the instruments I will record over her melody.”  See the result of the collaboration in this video:

Cindy, the singer from HighTV, has a similarly open attitude about her creative process: “I strum a few chords to get a melody in place, and let the words flow through me and out of me. I keep a notebook close by, and most times I keep playing until the song is finished. It’s a wonderful, fulfilling process!”  It is particularly good to see women getting a chance to rock.  Music isn’t a boy’s club anymore.  At least not in Minneapolis.  We have Gospel Gossip, HighTV, and Zoo Animal–all fronted by very talented women.  And that’s just the few I can think of off the top of my head.  See Cindy rock with her band:

New York City musician and writer, Joyce Raskin, has a series of YouTube videos for girls who want to learn to play guitar.  Her upcoming teen novel, My Misadventures as a Teenage Rockstar, was written, in part, to inspire girls to find what makes them feel good.  Read more about Joyce and her book in this interview on Chicktellectual.

Part of being a teen is figuring out what you love.  For me, it was writing.  For many of my friends, it was music.  It may take some exploration.  Gus (Hot Ashes) gives an idea of his path to music with this advice: “Learn to haggle. Learn how to cook. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. Cultivate patience, learn to wait, and how to hold your tongue.  Read books. Turn off the tv. Look at art. Fill your head with great ideas, and your own ideas will be all the better.”

Learn to Speak Music‘s advice is right in line with that. Crossingham tells kids to seek inspiration, always be learning, and play for the love of it.  If you know a young musician, start them off with Learn to Speak Music.  If they’re middle school age, pair it with Rules to Rock By.  High School, Fat Kid Rules the World.  Then make them a mix cd. That’s what I would do anyway.

How will you inspire the next generation to create?