Research

Brené Brown on Shame, Racism, Accountability, and Armoring Up

Shame and belonging researcher Brené Brown spoke specifically to white people confronting racism and their own feelings of shame in a terrific podcast episode (“Brené on Shame and Accountability,” Unlocking Us, July 1, 2020).

There’s a lot in here that resonates with the current moment—resistance to antiracism and white racial resentment—as well and a central question in my art and life: “How do you keep your heart open?”

Racism and Shame

“…being held accountable for racism and feeling shame is not the same thing as being shamed…. We need to understand the difference between being held accountable for racism and experiencing shame as a result of that accountability, and how that’s different than actually being shamed for being a racist.”

Shame vs Guilt (focus on personal flaw vs behavior)

“We think that shaming is this great moral compass, that we can shame people into being better. But that’s not true. …everyone needs a platform of self-worth from which to see change. You can’t shame people into being better, and in fact, when we see people apologizing, making amends, changing their behavior, that is always around guilt…. We feel guilt when we hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values, they don’t match up, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s helpful. It’s a positive, socially adaptive experience [which] motivates meaningful change. It’s as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive.”

Shame as a Social Justice Tool

“…shame is not an effective social justice tool. … Shame is a tool of oppression. Shame is a tool of white supremacy. Humiliation, belittling, those are tools of injustice; they’re not tools for justice. First, shame corrodes the belief that we can be better and do better, and it’s much more likely to be the cause of dangerous and destructive behaviors than the cure. … Shame itself is inherently dehumanizing.”

Self-regulation and Antiracism

“…there’s a huge difference between being shamed for being a racist and feeling shame. And it’s our responsibility for experiencing and regulating our own emotions. It’s my job to regulate my emotion, move through shame in a productive way, without defensiveness, without doubling down, without rationalizing, without demanding to be taught, demanding absolution, demanding comfort from the person who’s holding us accountable, which is often a Black person or a person of color. I’m responsible for that emotional regulation.”

Armor Is the Greatest Barrier to Courage

“…the greatest barrier to courage is not fear. The greatest barrier to courage is armor, is how we self-protect when we’re afraid. And I studied the arming-up process and just in preparation for this podcast, did I realize that this armoring-up process is so applicable to white supremacy.

So let me go through the six stages of armoring-up…

So number one … building the armor: “I’m not enough.” Number two: If I’m honest with them about what’s happening, they’ll think less of me, or maybe even use it against me. … Number three: “No way am I going to be honest about this. No one else does it. Why do I have to put myself out there?” Number four: “Yeah, you know what, screw them. I don’t see them being honest about what scares them…” Number five: “You know what? This is actually their problem. This is their shortcomings that make them act this way, this is their ultra-sensitivity…” Number six: “In fact, now that I think about this, I’m actually better than them.”

…“I’m better than people” and “I’m not enough” is the exact same standing still position of pain and shame.”

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Research, Values

On Empathy, Belonging, Interconnectedness, and Race

A recent podcast episode on empathy resonates me, since I’ve been thinking about interdependence and interconnectedness, especially in regards to racial justice, polarization, fear, and white racial resentment. This all also relates to a central question in my art practice—“How do you keep your heart open?”—which is part of a forthcoming art project.

Jamil Zaki, author of “The War For Kindness: Building Empathy In A Fractured World,” and empathy research at Stanford University, speaks directly to this on Hidden Brain (“You 2.0: Empathy Gym,” August 31, 2020).

[I planned to just share one to two quotes but so many passages from the podcast are resonant.]

On how to keep your heart open, or how support in trauma can lead to becoming links in a chain of support

VEDANTAM: Jamil, people who have been through terrible suffering can respond in different ways. Some people turn inward to avoid future pain, while others turn outward. They show empathy for the suffering of other people. I feel like I’ve seen research studies that show both these things. Can you talk about these studies and why people might go in one direction or another after they experience trauma?

JAMIL ZAKI: …We often hear about cycles of violence or the idea that hurt people hurt people. And that’s certainly true in some cases.

But there’s a lot of research that’s actually much more hopeful on what psychologists call altruism born of suffering. This is the idea that sometimes when we’ve gone through great pain, that actually sort of opens us up to caring more about other people and their suffering….

Psychologists don’t really know that much about sort of what causes people, when they experience suffering, to go in one direction or another. But one important factor that they have identified is the support that we receive from other people. So if after a trauma, an individual is able to find a community of others who support them, well, then they’re more likely to recover from their own trauma, and they might also be more likely to turn around and provide that support to others….

Threats and fear-mongering foster cruelty towards out-groups and unity within in-groups

ZAKI: …reminding people of a collective trauma, for instance, can make them more weary of outsiders and sort of more … willing to even endorse violence or aggression towards outsiders. But thinking of a common threat is also one way to bring people within a group closer together. I remember after 9/11 the way that Americans really felt like we were all one because we were facing this really deep trauma together. And likewise, there’s all sorts of evidence that when people feel that they have a common threat that they’re facing, they band together.

[CWY: If we can’t agree that COVID is a real, common threat to us all, that might account for why there’s so much disunity in taking necessary precautions.]

[Note: This is followed by insights on how police are so over-empathetic with fellow cops that they can’t understand civilians’ perspectives on police misconduct.]

On belonging, and how over-emphasizing with one’s in-group correlates to othering

VEDANTAM: …Empathy, in some ways, has this double-edged sword quality to it, which is, on the one hand, it’s prompting us to be outward-looking, but it’s also driven in some ways by factors about who’s in our in-group and who’s not in our in-group. The psychologist Paul Bloom, who wrote the book “Against Empathy: The Case For Rational Compassion,” he argues that empathy tends to be parochial, and it tends to be biased. …

ZAKI: …Our instinctive empathy might be more driven towards people in our tribe than outside of it….

…I think that that’s a problem with how empathy tends to operate, but I try to focus us on the fact that we can control how we empathize and make choices about the way that we deploy our caring. And if we recognize that, hey, I’m empathizing in a parochial way, in a tribal way, we can try to make a different choice and broaden our empathy even towards people who are different from ourselves.

And, in fact, this is consistent with research by my friend Emile Bruneau. He’s studied sort of parochial empathy in a lot of different intergroup contexts. And what he finds is that sometimes if you want to predict when someone will be willing to be aggressive towards outsiders or unwilling to compromise with someone on the other side of a conflict, it’s not enough to measure whether they empathize with the people on the outside. You have to also measure how empathic they are to their own group. And it turns out that people who are extraordinarily empathic towards people in their group, even if they’re also empathic towards outsiders, are unwilling to compromise, unwilling to do anything that could threaten their own tribe.

…what this suggests is that sometimes, if we want to open ourselves up to other cultures, to people on the other side of a political or racial divide, maybe what we should start out doing is not just trying to get to know them and empathize more with them, but to recognize if we’re empathizing so much with our group that we’ll be unable to be flexible emotionally.

Dehumanization as avoidance of negative emotions such as guilt

VEDANTAM: …White Americans asked to read about the suffering of Native Americans become more likely to say that Native Americans are unable to feel complex emotions such as hope and shame. So in other words, empathy not only can produce pain, pain can not only produce disengagement, but we can actually almost dehumanize other people because we’re so, in some ways, reluctant to accept the pain that comes with actually empathizing with them.

ZAKI: Yeah, absolutely, especially if you or a group that you belong to is responsible for that pain because then, empathy can twist into a sense of guilt or even self-loathing. There are a lot of studies like this. In one classic set of studies from the 1950s, psychologists asked people to repeatedly shock – electrically shock – another person. And what they found was that when people had to shock someone else, they ended up saying that they liked that person less, almost as though they were defensively, again, turning down their empathy for that individual.

Why our multi-dimensionality matters and how identifying as human can conquer tribalism

ZAKI: …yes, it’s easier to empathize with people who are like us than unlike us, but all of us have many different selves inside us at any given moment, and each self carries with it a different group, maybe of a different size.

So if I think of myself, for instance, as a Stanford person, well, then people at UC Berkeley are my mortal enemy, especially during the big game. But if I think of myself as a Californian, then my in-group, the people who deserve my empathy and who it’s easy to empathize with, that group grows. And if I can think of myself as – I don’t know – an American or a human being, then that group will grow even further.

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A empty white walled room with a bright window in the back corner. Two tables and two office chairs. light brown carpet.
Art & Development, Research

LMCC Workspace Residency: Update #1: What, Who, Where, When, How, Why, and What I’ve Been Up To

About the first third of a nine-month residency.

In October, I started the 2019-2020 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Artist-in-Residence program. It’s a huge honor. I first applied like 10 years ago. The application pool is quite competitive. I’m very humbled and grateful that it’s working out this year.

What

This year’s Workspace residents receive:

  • A semi-private studio space.
  • Weekly salon evenings consisting of studio visits with curators and arts professionals, studio visits with the cohort, professional development workshops, cohort-led activities, and more.
  • An open studio in June 2020.
  • A materials stipend of $1,300.

This is pretty typical of the program, with some variation in the fee depending on funding, and slight differences in timeline and studio space, depending on the space available.

A empty white walled room with a bright window in the back corner. Two tables and two office chairs. light brown carpet.

My studio, before move-in.

Who

This year’s cohort consists of 10 visual artists (learn more on lmcc.net). (The number of residents depends on the space available. LMCC residency programs are usually open to dance, theater, and literary arts, too; check for next year’s application in mid-January 2020.) An on-site assistant, who was a Workspace resident last year, also has a studio.

I really like the cohort! It’s an interesting group of artists working in sculpture, installation, performance, works on paper, and textiles. My cohorts are clearly invested in their practices and in building a respectful, serious, and friendly community.

The program is managed by Bora Kim. Other LMCC staff and interns help out with the program as well as marketing and events.

Where

Building & Location

The studio is located in a corporate building near Wall Street. The building itself is quite impressive. The guards and maintenance team are friendly and helpful. It’s secure and clean.

An ornate, gold, orange and red interior. Lots of embellishment on every surface. The ceiling has built-in light figures that make geometric rays of light due to the bas relief in the ceiling. The walls have a matching louvered paneling in gold. There are multiple spaces defined by transoms with ornate floral grillwork. The floors have a checkerboard of yellow and cream marble with black and white marble interspersed and used as a border. There are touches of gleaming metal.

The gorgeous Art Deco lobby at 70 Pine. View towards the mailroom and elevators.

LMCC encourages residents to learn more about lower Manhattan. One salon evenings was a walking tour led by a member of the city’s landmarks commission. I especially loved visiting 70 Pine, a stellar example of Art Deco. (As a landmarked building, there is a public mandate to make the lobby accessible to the public. Anyone can visit. Don’t miss the bas-relief on the elevator doors.) I’ve also been going on walks, exploring Oculus, the 9/11 Memorial, and longtime neighborhood businesses.

The transportation options are ridiculously convenient: the N/W, 1, and 4/5 subway stations are all very close. I’ve also taken the ferry, rode Citibike, and walked to the studio from Queens.

The Studio

The cohort shares a large carpeted office space, which is divided into studios with tension-pole partitions sheathed with Homasote.

My studio is about 16′ long by 8′ wide. It’s sunny, with a large window facing east. LMCC provided two work tables and two office chairs.

a office with carpet and two folding tables side by side, with an office chair. there's a small ironing board with a bandana on top, and an iron. There are drawings on the wall, and various clipboards, pencils, colored pencils, etc on the table.

A view of my studio, recently.

Two residents have enclosed offices with glass doors. In a large open space in the center, we’ve put a table and chairs to gather for meals. There’s also smaller lounge areas and a conference room. There’s a kitchen with a fridge, electric kettle, microwave, dishes, silverware, and sink (there is no separate work sink). There is a computer and scanner/printer available (it’s been useful for me lately for making copies of drawings to do quick color studies). Residents occasionally work in common spaces when they need to spread out. It feels like there’s plenty of space.

Carpeted office space divided into artist studios with office chairs around a table in the middle. Various art studio supplies: shop vacuum, bin of fabrics, dolly, etc around.

LMCC Workspace studios, one wintry day.

Having an art studio in a corporate building entails a little extra coordination when moving large items in or out, and using the one small, staff-operated freight elevator. LMCC has a dolly we can borrow, which helps.

When

Our first day was October 7. We received immediately received IDs, access codes, and permission to move in. (I love it when there’s no delay!) The program ends after the open studios at the end of June 2020.

Residents have 24/7 access to space.

Salon evenings are held weekly, except on holidays. I’m happy to be there each week, especially because a former resident told me about how much he looked forward to them. There’s a great variety of programming and cohort-building activities.

How

I really like the program for its combination of space and programmatic support. They invest in community-building. The first salon evening was speed intros, where residents got to introduce ourselves and our practices to each other via projected images of our work. Some LMCC staff attended too (which is nice considering that it’s after work for them). LMCC often supplies refreshments, which help lend conviviality.

LMCC asked us to suggest potential guests to invite for studio visits. The final line-up includes many curators from major NYC institutions. Studio visit evenings usually feature a few guests. Each guest are scheduled for four, thirty-minute, one-on-one visits with residents. Residents may have one to three visits per evening. When you aren’t paired with an outside guest, you do studio visits with other cohort members.

Early in the program, when a salon evening was canceled due to a holiday, I asked the cohort if they’d like to have a potluck anyway. We did. It was fun to get to know the other artists in a more relaxed setting. I’m really grateful everyone shares an interest in getting to know and support each other.

A computer printout pinned to a white wall. Text reads:

Skill Share Pictionary Set Up instructions

I had the opportunity to lead an activity one salon evening. I made up an activity called Skill Share Pictionary (learn more on my Glint Project Instagram takeover).

Fellow resident Naomi Safran-Hon initiated the idea of having a group exhibition in the foyer. It was pretty impressive that the cohort organized our group show in about 20 minutes. I appreciate our group’s cooperation, initiative, and flexibility.

Why

Here’s why I applied, as written my application. (My brevity is due to LMCC’s strict word count limits.)

I’ll develop new works exploring resilience, vulnerability, authenticity, and connectedness.

I’ll research and present findings via calligraphy, sign painting, and drawings. Then, I’ll create garments with pockets that reveal or secure aspects of one’s identity, and hybrid books-games-interactive objects in textiles and paper for fostering brave spaces.

WHY WORKSPACE?

I need different perspectives to ground these subjective concepts, and mutual support and rigorous feedback.

WHY NOW?

It’s time to grow my craftsmanship, my fluidity between thinking and making, and my ethics of social engagement.

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?

To grow. To do my part to cultivate authenticity, vulnerability and connectedness.


What Have I Been Up To?

I started by trying to define what I meant by resilience, and how it is connected to authenticity and vulnerability. These latter two concepts are things I kept thinking about in my projects on belonging. Being able to express yourself authentically, and being able to be vulnerable, were often characteristic of spaces of belonging. At the same time, belonging allows you to be more vulnerable, and more authentic.

Dozens of small pieces of paper tacked to a white wall. Some of text on the paper are headers written in a black calligraphy marker, such as adversity, risk, exposure, discomfort, pain, loss, failure, fear, blame, shame, othering, disconnection, vulnerability, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, authenticity, hope. Then there are numerous small pieces of paper written in pencil but it's too small to read. Then there's yellow tape lines connecting various parts.

A mind map on resilience.

I have been working and re-working a large mind-map, trying to see these connections and fill in what else I know about related concepts about hope, growth mindset, belonging, sports psychology, shame, etc.

I’ve also been reading more mass market books by psychologists with academic affiliations or longtime clinical practices. I’m proud to say that this year I’ve been more intentional about supporting indie booksellers and libraries.

Cover of a book, with a big red heart on an ivory background. The title and author name with subtitle:

Emotional First Aid, by Guy Winch, PhD

I read Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch, a longtime NYC therapist. I loved that it explains the logical sources behind squishy feelings (violation of rights results in anger, or a fear of violating other’s rights or standards results in shame) and logical responses to those feelings (reflective writing exercises that reframe situations, or deliberate, detailed strategies to repair relationships). (I first came across this book at the San Francisco Public Library, in the Chinese section. I wish more mental health books were translated into different languages. BTW the English version is available at the Queens Public Library.)

Cover of a book with a photo of a gnarled tree atop a rock. Subtitle: Seven keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles.

The Resilience Factor, by Karen Reivich, PhD, and Andrew Shatté, PhD.

My suspicion that resilience relates to optimism was validated when I stumbled upon The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatté, PhD via the Queens Library. Reivich and Shatté were students of Martin Seligman, whose book on optimism was the first positive psychology book I ever read, way back in 2010. Reivich and Shatté build upon Seligman’s explanatory style—the idea that people explain adversities with beliefs, which shape consequences or actions, therefore different responses become possible by examining the beliefs. This book organizes a lot of mental habits and strategies that I find insightful and worthy of sharing. I’ve been working on some drawings (see a few sketches on Instagram), with my Positive Signs series as an early predecessor.

Cover of book, no images, but there are three bars of color: purple, blue, green. Mostly white background. Updated Edition. Subtitle: The new pyschology of success: How we can learn to fulfill our potential. sticker: 2 million copies in print. list: parenting, business, school, relationships. small blurb.

Mindset by Carol. S. Dweck, PhD

I’m also reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, PhD (which I got with credit from selling books at the Strand). This is book has had a huge influence on education and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. People with growth mindsets are willing to take risks in order to grow. People with fixed mindsets are afraid to be exposed as inadequate. I’m starting to see through-lines between optimism, resilience, vulnerability, and courage.

To take a break from reading, I practiced a lot of hand lettering and calligraphy using markers, dip pens, and brushes. It was  fun to dive into different letterforms (my reference book: Hand Lettering by Thy Doan, also from the Strand).

I also just got loose in my sketchbook inspired by Syllabus by Lynda Barry (Strand), which I’ve expounded upon in a previous post.

All this note-taking, lettering practice, and drawing added up into completing a 250-page sketchbook in two months—a record time for me.

Fancy handlettering on a dot grid sketchbook page in pink, blue and black marker. Text reads: Resilience is a mindset that enables you to seek out new experiences and to view life as a work in progress.

Sketch book page: lettering practice with a quote on resilience by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté.

My proposal mentioned sewing. I have some ideas about textiles and garments. I’m letting those ideas marinate as I synthesize all this information and lettering forms. My sewing machine and materials are at the studio, and I’m looking forward to diving in over the next six months.

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Impressions

Top Seven: Syllabus, Glass Blowing, Parasite, Color Pen

Seven things I’m loving right now.

1. Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor

The simultaneous experience of looking, reading, and thinking in this mostly-hand-lettered and hand-drawn notebook explaining her curriculum and lessons on leading classes combining image and word made me want to reach out for my notebook and pencils and fill every page with abandon. I’ve been using exercises in my own studio to loosen up, and filing away other ideas to try with future workshop participants. Syllabus is published by the illustrious Drawn and Quarterly. I am working my way through it, to savor each section.

You can see Lynda Barry’s Face Jam Exercise on the NewYorker.com. It’s from another book of Barry’s, Making Comics.

Parasite_(2019_film)

Poster for South Korean film Parasite, theatrically released on May 30, 2019. Source: wikipedia.

2. Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho)

You don’t need me to tell you that Parasite is masterful, and very much worth viewing on the big screen. I’ll say it anyway, since I’ve been enjoying more films lately, especially films by people of color. It’s also really cool to see a foreign language film embraced by US audiences in record-breaking numbers.

A man wearing sunglasses using a gas torch on a molten ball of glass.

Still from Blown Away. Source: Netflix.

3. Blown Away

This Canadian reality TV series was released on Netflix this summer, and I just binge-watched it this week. Despite the fact that it’s a formulaic competition show with goofy hosts and oddball challenges, I loved it.

There have been other artist reality shows before, but none have necessarily revealed so much craft and skill. My heart went out to the glassblowers. Many were extremely skilled, and really deserved honors for their accomplishments, which were not afforded by the structure of the show.

My only other qualm is that the show didn’t show enough glassblowing technique continuously. They could have followed each individual project from start to finish for a half an hour and I would have loved every minute. The makers are casting for season 2. I hope they reconsider having students as assistants—it’s far too much pressure on the competitors and the students.

Blown Away made me yearn to blow glass again. I only did hot glass for two semesters in undergrad. It’s very addictive, like wheel throwing—once you get the bug, you just want to be blowing glass, challenging yourself, and being in the zone all the time. I miss that sense of being in sync with the material. Also, there were tools and techniques I never saw as a beginner glassblower that I wanted to try. I never pulled cane, or used a soffietta!

4. Pentel Color Pen Markers

The other week I was using markers from my set of 36 Pentel markers, when I realized that I’ve probably had this set of markers since 2015 or 2014. That would make these markers nearly 5 years old. All of the markers are still going strong. Granted, I don’t use them often, and usually only in small bursts for lettering, not for coloring. But still, that’s pretty impressive. I’ve had many ballpoint pens, gel pens, and calligraphy markers dry out or stop working; it’s refreshing when art supplies last.

set of markers in a yellow case.

Pentel Color Pen Fine Point Marker 36 Set. Source: uoduckstore.com

I just found, that on the Pentel site, you can purchase individual markers for 99¢ each. So even if one of the colors did run dry, you could replace it and not have a horrible gap tooth in your rainbow palette.

5. Feeling Good, Mel Day’s Wall of Sound Project

Mel Day is a California-based artist who as been collecting videos of individuals singing and compiling them into installations. She’s been scaling up (way up!) lately, by partnering with San José Athletics, Marching Band, Choirs, athletes, fans, students and community allies to create a new, “evolving series of participatory massed choral video works and half-time live singing events” around Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.”

You can contribute by recording your video from the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to be a “singer” to sing! Learn more at wallofsongproject.com.

6. Museum of Capitalism at the New School, on view through December 10

Spoiler alert: The Museum of Capitalism is a speculative project that invited artists to imagine the artifacts leftover from capitalism in a post-capitalist future. I saw the original iteration in a sprawling Oakland building a few years back. (I am still moved by Packard Jenning’s installation of a guided meditation for riot police de-escalation.)

A new iteration was is on view at the New School, including contributions by friends Related Tactics and Nyeema Morgan.

When I visited the exhibition, it felt to me that I hadn’t seen anything like it in NYC, that I hadn’t been in conversations in NYC that envisioned post-Capitalist perspectives.

There’s only a few more days to see the show. Find the address and hours here: https://www.museumofcapitalism.org/museum-of-capitalism-new-york-city

7. Batalá NYC

Batalá is an “all women Afro-Brazilian Samba Reggae percussion band. Batalá New York is a part of a global arts project made up of over 30 bands around the world.” I recently heard them play as they accompanied an Afro-Brazilian dance class. Wow! The beat is palpable in your chest. There’s something so cool about seeing women embracing power and massive volume, with unity and coordination. Check out their videos on YouTube.

Batalá NYC are currently raising funds to travel to Brazil. Consider supporting their GoFundMe.

 

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Research

Resilience through Sports Psychology, Heartbreak, and Mindfulness

Three books related to resilience.

I’ve been interested in resilience since 2016. I wanted to learn more about how people recover from setbacks and major changes in identity.

I started by thinking about athletes recovering from major losses, enduring injury, or facing retirement. This was partly fueled by my own participation in athletics (competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu last year, coping with chronic aches) and as a spectator (the mental or psychological preparation or fallout in Rhonda Rousey’s loss to Holly Holm, Rose Namajuna’s self-management which helped her dethrone Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Megan Rapinoe’s sense of self-driven purpose).


Jim Afremow, The Champion's Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive.

Jim Afremow, PhD, The Champion’s Mind (2013)

[Find on IndieBound.]

I highly recommend this book for anyone who plays sports and wants to be more mentally prepared for competition. Practical, helpful tips for having the most conducive attitude in practice, in competition, in the face of loss, etc.


Competitive athletes face winning and losing on a regular basis. But loss is inevitable in everyone’s lives. We will all face grief. When you love, you can also lose your love.


Cover of Guy Winch, How to Fix a Broken Heart

Guy Winch, PhD, How to Fix a Broken Heart (2018)

This is a great little book written by a NYC therapist based on 20 years of treating clients. The focus is on heartbreak following the loss of romantic love, and heartbreak following the loss of a pet. Dr. Winch is keen to challenge social assumptions that provide accommodations for physical pain but not psychological pain, especially around these heartbreaks, which can be deemed insignificant compared to divorce or loss of an immediate (human) family member.

“We have been dealing with broken hearts for millennia and yet most of us know only two healing agents: social support and time.”

He explains: if other people deem our loss insignificant, they’ll withdraw social support, leaving us with only time,

“a variable over which we have no control, which is why heartbreak makes us feel so helpless.”

Dr. Winch describes several client stories of heartbreak and the unhelpful behaviors they engaged in. I found much of this very relatable.

He explains how love is neurologically like addiction, how heartbreak activates the same parts of the brain as a drug withdrawal. He goes over strategies informed by cognitive behavioral therapy, for things like moving towards closure and increasing self-compassion.

The book is published by TED Talks and is eminently readable. (I read most of it on two long subway rides.) Highly recommended.


What if resilience is a matter of preparation? What if you could train your brain to withstand setbacks—and the emotions and beliefs that follow—by becoming more mindful?

Like any job, my day job can entail stressors like shifting priorities, unexpected changes, long hours, and challenging personalities. Different tolerances and coping strategies are on full display (including myself, of course). I noticed that my co-worker D doesn’t let his feathers get ruffled. He doesn’t seem to get frustrated, upset, or impatient. I asked him about it, and he said, “A lot of meditation and prayer.” He keeps in mind a bigger picture and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.

This month, I gave myself a mini-mantra and suggestion: “Be Kind. Unwind.” I just wanted to give myself space and permission to feel and acknowledge my feelings (there are A LOT of them this month) instead of rushing from thing to thing—task to task, distraction to scrolly-scrolly to ruminations. In practice, I am trying to be more mindful.


Cover for Christophe Andre, Looking at Mindfulness: 25 Paintings to Change the Way you Live. International Bestseller. Illustrated with a painting by Caspar David Fredrick of the back of a man at a mountain summit looking over a cloud cover below him.

Christophe André, PhD, Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art (2016)

[Published by Penguin Random House]

André is a psychiatrist and meditation practitioner who runs meditation groups for hospital patients. This is a beautiful book that uses old European paintings as inspirations for discourses on mindfulness.

“When we cling to our painful thoughts by ruminating on them, we solidify them. We ruminate on our ills and turn them into monsters. Rumination is the solidification of our mind’s chatter. Without meaning to, we turn an ordinary reaction into suffering.”

This next quote seems especially well-suited for striving New Yorkers. Or competitive athletes. Or artists who feel disempowered by the art world.

“We should go on making choices and pursuing goals, but without merging them, without obsessively clinging to success or perfection… We must do our best, in awareness and presence, but without seeing our effort, which depends on us, as less important than the final result, which does not depend on us alone…. We must stop thinking of our lives in terms of victories and defeats, seeing them instead in terms of the experiences that make us who we are.”

This is also about not being defined by your last project or bad review or win or loss. It’s about not tying your self-worth to an external indicator.

One question I keep coming back to in my work is “How do we keep our heart open?” To not become numb, scarred, hardened, or detached from the innumerable scary and traumatizing things in life. André writes,

“It’s true that access to these worlds of the present moment is made easier by external gifts [such as nature, beauty, etc.]… But it also requires a decision on our part to open ourselves up as often as we can to being touched, contacted, and struck by life. This is an act of deliberate awareness.”


 

I borrowed some of these books from Queens Library. I resolved to use the library more this summer, after “The People’s Guide to the Queens International” (my collaborative project partly situated at Queens Library branches) and probably the Marie Kondo effect. The more I use the library, the more it becomes habitual and convenient. Just yesterday, I used the bookmobile near my subway stop for the first time. I also like the enforced timeline of a loan—it motivates me to read.

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I loved this show! I love Maurice Sendak’s drawings, hand-lettering, and the whimsy, compassion, heart, and sensitivity in his work. This exhibit features Sendak’s sketches, watercolors, storyboards, and dioramas illustrating his designs for the theater. I really makes me want to draw more, and explore absurdism.

I can’t stop thinking about these sketches for costume designs. The first is from Where the Wild Things Are. The second is from A Love for Three Oranges.

Sendak-wild-things

Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), Study for Wild Things costume, with notes (Where the Wild Things Are), 1979, watercolor, pen and ink, and graphite pencil on paper. © The Maurice Sendak Foundation. The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Maurice Sendak, 2013.103:19. // Source: TheMorgan.org.

Drawing of costume designs. Three figures. The two figures on the left show the front and back of the same person, "prince" in a body suit showing organs and bones. The third figure is a man a boat.

My photo of a page in the exhibition catalog, “Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet.” // Find it in the Morgan shop.

There’s something just nice thinking about these drawings together. About bringing the inside out (your beastly feelings becoming a monstrous suit you wear and control), or making your outsides show your insides (the soft, vulnerable organs we’re all made of).

Through October 6
Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
Morgan Library & Museum


 

Also, if you’ve never listened to the Teri Gross’ interview with Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air, give it a listen. It will break your heart.

Sights

See: Maurice Sendak at the Morgan Library

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Art Worlds, Research

Watch: On Why Art Belongs in the World

A beautiful work of storytelling and advanced learnings about sharing art.

Kristy Edmunds’ keynote speech at United States Artists Assembly 2019 is stirring, smart, and compelling. I highly recommend it. Watch the video, which includes an intro by Ann Hamilton.

Person holding a bowl in one hand, standing at a podium.

Keynote speaker Kristy Edmunds. // Source: UnitedStatesArtists.org.

Edmund’s speech comes from her perspective as curator and artistic director, facilitating relationships between artists and institutions. She’s particularly pro-artist [which is something you might assume people working in the art world would be, but actually, some are anti-artist, H/T Shannon Stratton].

Edmund’s perspective was especially interesting to me as a social practitioner, in thinking about partnerships with organizations, institutions, and communities, and also as an artist who thinks about my work less in terms of objects to be owned, and more in terms of aesthetic experiences and engagements.

Below are a few highlights.

On partnerships between artists and institutions

The quality of invitations to artists and audiences matter.

Artists are not to be treated as vendors. A public is not to be treated as consumers. Do not transact poetics and people, ever.

She said that requiring measurable outcomes facilitates gatekeeping and hinders bridge-building.

On how art lives in the world

When introducing performances, Edmunds feels compelled to tell audiences:

We have a job together, which is to make a memory. We will be the living archive for this artist, in this moment, in this time. We going to become its permanent collection.

I love this idea. She explains:

Art belongs in the world. It is informed by the maker, its place, city, community, culture, conditions—everything through which it is made—but it isn’t owned by the organization that helped facilitate it. Nor, once it is given by the artist, is it exclusively owned by them. It become owned by a public, in the world, in a memory that we made…

Ownership as a fixed idea is transformed into something else. To me, that transformation is a participation in belonging to the work, to the experience of it, to the acknowledgment of its maker, to the cultural assets that stand with it, and also to us, fleeting or long.

The future completes our work—how it sustains or endures. What is forged in our cultural memory connects us uniquely.

For me, when an artwork exists that way—as a shared memory or an experience ingrained in the body—that’s whats most exciting about working in the realm of aesthetic experiences. That’s why I keep going back to making projects with people, inviting participation, gathering stories, and sharing emotions and experiences.

She also shared this tidbit:

…Art needs to belong in the world because it is how we practice, in the words of Deborah Hay, “the deep ethics of optimism.”

 


Tangent: On “The deep ethics of optimism”

*Since I’m obsessed with optimism I wanted to learn more about what this phrase meant. I found an interview with choreographer Deborah Hay. She said, “A friend of mine who is a poet talks about ‘the deep ethics of optimism.'”

Then I found an interview with writer Zara Houshmand:

Issues of social justice matter to me very much but over time I’ve been more inclined to look inward at deeper sources of change—the mechanisms of empathy, breaking down prejudice, embracing the other, fixing oneself at the root in ways that create a more viable relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice. It goes beyond finding a balance of contemplative and active life, or marshaling limited resources to prevent burn-out. Rather, it’s about what it means to commit to impossible tasks wholeheartedly, the deep ethics of optimism.

This relates to ideas that I keep coming back to, as well as new ideas I am currently discovering:

  • What I’m trying to achieve in my art is space for connection, for people to be whole-hearted, vulnerable, and authentic. Through my work, I am trying to ask, “How do you keep your heart open?” I think this is connected to optimism and embracing the abundance of the world and human goodness, which informs your ethics and how you move through the world and relate to change.
  • What is the relationship between social change and personal growth? This came up a lot in my recent Belonging Project at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. I focused a lot about how belonging feels. Then we looked at how to relate this to how belonging (and othering) happens on institutional scales, on a societal level.
  • I’ve also been thinking more about what it means when “the personal is political.” When are acts of self-care or self-actualization empowering and radical? When are they self-indulgent and afforded by privileged? For whom? In what conditions?
    • Self-care can be radical for people subjected to systematic violence. I identify as a woman of color, and, I’m also East Asian, educated, with sources of income that allow me to pursue being an artist, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, with birthright citizenship and fluent English.
    • I am encountering my own ageism, ableism, and fat-shaming and the loss of privilege afforded youth, ability, and control over my body. I want to challenge these biases to work towards social change and inclusion, AND to accept myself for improved mental health. I recognize that this latter reason is completely self-interested; that this is how privilege works (I didn’t have to think about this before, I could be un-empathetic and uninformed about those affected); and this is how bias works (I couldn’t ‘see’ it until it affected me directly).
  • I’m reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (AK Press [an anarchist worker-run coop🤘🏽], 2017) and “doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice” seems very related.

 

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