Impressions

Writing Waves Indeed

The many reasons why Jay Caspian Kang’s “Writing Waves”—part memoir, part book review of William Finnegan’s “Barbarian Days”—in the New York Times Magazine resonated with me.

Kang starts out by researching writing about surfing and pondering its difficulty, locating at the crux one of my favorite topics:

“I concluded that writing about surfing was impossible because surfing elicited happiness, and it is impossible to write about happiness.”

I think positive psychologists would argue that the sciences and humanities can intersect productively with happiness. It’s not impossible, it’s just very hard to do without cliché. Kang says Finnegan

“was the first person I had come across who could write about surfing without schmaltz or weighty metaphors.”

Here’s Kang quoting Finnegan’s description of Ocean Beach:

“San Francisco’s ‘giant gray,’ ‘ominous’ waves”

I can picture those waves, and OB’s riptide warning signs, posted at every entrance. It’s there that I watched M surf, in the same years that Kang surfed there daily.

Kang, inspired by Finnegan, even considers intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. To find flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains, one should participate in activities that are worthwhile in themselves.

On clean, January days, surfing, even badly, was enough to give me a purpose in life. But on choppy, stupid days in September, as I paddled futilely straight into the first line of white water at Ocean Beach, I would think about Peewee’s vision of silent, simple doing over Doc’s vision of daily, ritualistic heroism. I did not really believe surfing was nothing more than surfing, but I hoped I might one day get good enough at it to drop all its sentimental trappings.

He seems to be yearning for an un-self-consciousness state of engagement, where one’s skills are matched well to the challenges: flow.

He also covets Finnegan’s freedom to solely pursue surfing, not unlike my jealousy of Matisse’s lifetime of art-making:

A surfer feels an even mix of nostalgia and envy reading that passage. The boundlessness of Finnegan’s wave chasing now feels at once out of reach and dated, in the manner of Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty.

I’m intrigued by the humility, insight, and craftsmanship from both Kang and Finnegan. I adored Finnegan’s “Off Diamond Head” in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, and now am especially eager to read “Barbarian Days.”

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Uncategorized

Nuances Beyond Joy versus Sadness

Thoughtful ideas explicating good mental health, posted by a legit research center at UC Berkeley.

The Greater Good Science Center’s “Four Lessons from Inside Out to Discuss With Kids” by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski (July 14, 2015) is pitched as a story for guiding conversations with kids, but the research findings in it can be insightful to all ages. Its messages are spot-on for countering assumptions about happiness and positive psychology:

Happiness is not just about joy.

It’s easy to conflate the two. As I’ve explored positive psychology in my artwork over the past six years, I’ve also noticed that people can react cynically to positivity, and celebrate negative emotions like melancholy in opposition to our current zeitgeist of happiness studies. But actually, positive psychologists emphasize that

people who experience “emodiversity,” or a rich array of both positive and negative emotions, have better mental health.

At the same time, be intentional. While you shouldn’t become doctrinaire about happiness as a goal, psychologists also suggest

“prioritizing positivity”—deliberately carving out ample time in life for experiences that we personally enjoy.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my work—to make space to be exuberant, think about purpose, find flow, exercise creativity, and nurture relationships.

I don’t need to make space for myself to be negative—I’m plenty good at that already. Like most people, I get anxious and stressed out. I ruminate. I replay regrets and hold pointless internal monologues about perceived slights. I get angry and sad. These are easy habits of mind for me. Via my work, I’m trying to create a counterbalance.

Lately, I’ve also become interested in non-attachment. Tackling things head-on is one strategy; letting things go by on their own momentum is another.

Mindfully embrace—rather than suppress—tough emotions…. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction, a mindful person kindly observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to be feeling in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response.

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News

The Pictures Full of Happiness

A recent billboard exhibition on happiness in Poland.

The Pictures Full of Happiness mobile billboards with art by (left to right): Christine Wong Yap, Galeria Rusz, and Susan O'Malley. Photo courtesy of Galeria Rusz.

The Pictures Full of Happiness mobile billboards with art by (left to right): Christine Wong Yap, Galeria Rusz, and Susan O’Malley. Photo courtesy of Galeria Rusz.

Students hold posters by  (left to right):  Susan O'Malley, Galeria Rusz, and Christine Wong Yap. Photo courtesy of Galeria Rusz.

Students hold posters by (left to right): Leah Rosenberg, Susan O’Malley, and Christine Wong Yap, in front of an interactive billboard by Galeria Rusz. Photo courtesy of Galeria Rusz.

From June 2–8, Galeria Rusz’s travelling exhibition, The Pictures Full of Happiness, traveled across Poland’s Kujawsko-Pomorskie region asking the Polish public to reflect on an emotion. In  small villages and cities, artworks by Galeria Rusz, Susan O’Malley, Leah Rosenberg, and myself, appeared as mobile billboards and posters. Organized student activities solicited responses via interactive billboards and artworks.

Big thanks to Galeria Rusz’ Joanna, Rafał, and Agnieszka for sharing my artwork with the public!

 

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Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists.  // Source: ArtPractical.com

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in. Courtesy of the Artists. // Source: ArtPractical.com

Works

Happiness is Subversive When It is Collective

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Meta-Practice

Social Media: More is not always better

Turning over a Facebook page.

Eleven months ago, I started a Facebook page. I thought I would use it to interact with the public (for unclear reasons, FB remains very popular with artists). It seemed like a good idea* after taking a workshop on social media for artists, but now there are reasons to re-consider having a page at all. 

Valleywag just confirmed that Facebook suppresses page visibility to drive up ad revenue:

the social network is “in the process of” slashing “organic page reach” down to 1 or 2 percent.

It’s enough for me to discontinue using the page. 

Thanks to folks who had been kind enough to like or follow my page.

Please continue to find me here, or check out my website or tweets

*The following is not news, but being able to control one’s attention is crucial to both creativity and happiness, so I’ll share it at the risk of stating the obvious: I was also hoping to target and limit my Facebook usage. I detest the addictive, pleasureless compulsion its usage always fosters; the composing of updates in my mind instead of being in the moment; and the rage-y, poisonous aftermath from dealing with trolls and disagreements. For these reasons, I try to limit my time on FB, and therefore keep my personal profile very private, and my circle of friends extremely intimate. Ironically, my relationship to FB might be best explained by FB-speak: it’s complicated.

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Research

sometimes it takes work to be happy

Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.

Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.

Happiness is a vague term that belies the complexity of psychological wellbeing.

I was reminded of this fact by a few things this week. These things may help to explain what I wanted to express with the work, take charge of your happiness: it takes continual attention, intention, action, and time to cultivate the myriad elements that contribute to wellbeing.

1.

Make it concrete.

This week, someone asked me what I thought about the brief article, “A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think,” by Daniel Grant in the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2013). The author summed up three studies or sources that reported that artists are “happy” or “happier” than the general population.

I think the points are interesting but felt that the research warranted further elaboration. I thought: What is meant by happiness? Though the term is often used diffusely, it can be understood with more precision, and indeed, such clarity is helpful for increasing one’s own wellbeing.

What I mean by happiness is outlined a bit in the next item.

2.

Recognizing my own unhappiness.

This week, I skipped the gym and did desk work for four days in a row—personally, this amounts to a recipe for psychological disaster. I even walked five miles to work one day, but it wasn’t enough to release the endorphins that bring emotional balance. Add a few triggers and the result was pointless irritability and misanthropic anger.

I hit the gym until all my muscles were fatigued and my mind was clear. It showed me, once again, how I’m more relaxed, generous, optimistic, and compassionate after a good workout. My sense of well-being is increased. These are major components of happiness. But obviously, it takes intention to get to the gym in the first place.

So, reminder to self (it bears repeating): Working out is as much for psychological as physical wellbeing.

Add to that the fact that I’m starting to miss working out outdoors, and it’s not even winter yet. So an immediate action step is to look into bicycle clubs!

Less of this. (Charlie Brown by the inimitable Charles Schultz.)

Less of this. (Charlie Brown by the inimitable Charles Schultz.)

More of this. (by Charles Schultz)

More of this. (by Charles Schultz)

3.

Be physically involved in doing what you love.

I’ve been writing applications to grants and residencies as part of my strategic goals. It became a habit too successfully, to where I had to remind myself that I’m on track to my goals and can focus my efforts on the studio for a few weeks.

Once in the studio, I popped on a podcast of Grayson Perry’s Reith lecture, and he validated the importance of play and of losing yourself in the activity. (All the lectures are great, I highly recommend them!) He didn’t use the word flow, but I think he meant it.

4.

Make a plan.

I feel like I’ve been working on my VIA Semaphore flag project forever. I’ve sewed 13 flags in three months (it’s an edition of three, so I could say I’ve sewed 36 flags, but whatever).

Christine Wong Yap, flag for gratitude from the VIA semaphore project (tentatively titled), 2013, linen, 12.5x12" each, edition of three from a set of 24.

Christine Wong Yap, flag for gratitude from the VIA semaphore project (tentatively titled), 2013, linen, 12.5×12″ each, edition of three from a set of 24. See more on my Facebook Page album.

<NERD ALERT> Since I’m a huge adopter of Creative Capital‘s strategic planning advice for artists, I do weekly check-ins. I also moved my to do list onto a calendar; fewer tasks fall through the cracks, and I’m more aware about procrastination.

In this week’s check-in, I put the production of the remaining 11 flags into a calendar. It’ll take six weeks if I add nothing else to my schedule. This is familiar—I’ve done six-week plans in gearing up for road races. Instead of focusing on my slow progress or the seeming interminableness, I’m excited about enjoying the momentum and how much I’ll accomplish.

5.

It’s OK.

I really like this spark chart from pro runner Lauren Fleshman’s website. It documents her life’s highs and lows. It’s awesome because it shows how even major athletes have setbacks and personal detours, too. But the ultimate message is to bounce back, and be resilient.

Lauren's Life: Highs and Lows, from AskLaurenFleshman.com.

Lauren’s Life: Highs and Lows, from AskLaurenFleshman.com.

Having been sidelined from running by a knee injury, it’s also reassuring to know that Fleshman has overcome her own.

This chart also reminds me of Phil Zimbardo & John Boyd’s book, The Time Paradox, which urges readers to have a healthy time perspective: to ensure the past also houses happy memories and achievements, to utilize and savor the present, and to look forward to the future. Sometimes the past seems like a large closet overstuffed with regrets and humiliations, but as Fleshman, Zimbardo and Boyd point out, there’s lots to remember fondly too.

6.

Remember gratitude.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a proven way to increase your subjective wellbeing. There are apps for gratitude journaling now.

The University of Melbourne is seeking participants for a new gratitude survey.

Sewing on the bias (the stretchy direction) is hard! Fusible interfacing makes it easier.

Sewing on the bias (the stretchy direction) is hard! Fusible interfacing makes it easier.

What I’m grateful for this week:

7.

Give.

It feels good and it’s the right thing to do.

UNICEF, the Humanitarian Coalition, and Doctors without Borders are good. The Asia Society’s post on how to help is especially thorough.

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Citizenship

Color, happiness, and symbols of resistance

People paint rainbow-colored stairs on August 31, 2013 in Istanbul. Stairs in the Cihangir and Findikli neighborhoods, which attracted attention after being painted in rainbow colors by a local man on August 27, were all painted grey on the night of August 29, and following comments on social media, the municipality of Beyoglu immediately painted them again in rainbow colors. // Source: Ozan Kose / AFP / Getty Images. From Huffington Post.

People paint rainbow-colored stairs on August 31, 2013 in Istanbul. Stairs in the Cihangir and Findikli neighborhoods, which attracted attention after being painted in rainbow colors by a local man on August 27, were all painted grey on the night of August 29, and following comments on social media, the municipality of Beyoglu immediately painted them again in rainbow colors. // Source: Ozan Kose / AFP / Getty Images. From Huffington Post.

A set of public stairs in Turkey has arguably been the site of:

  • guerilla art (when a local resident painted them in rainbow stripes),
  • a populist happiness gesture (he wanted “to make people smile”),
  • censorship (Turkish officials covertly re-painted the stairs grey), and
  • resistance (locals were outraged, and the city re-painted the stairs in bright colors).

It goes to show how using vibrant colors and promoting happiness may seem like simple gestures, but they can be powerful and meaningful actions for people and cities too.

 

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