happiness is… research note #12

This is the type of excess I could get used to.


Why would anyone use two sewing machines?


To stitch different colored top and bottom threads while sewing two-tone materials.

Changing thread doesn’t take that long. And of course, had known that there’s a sewing machine here, I might not have shipped mine. Still, since it’s here, might as well use it, and enjoy double the fun.

The optimist demonstrates resilience after encountering negative events (setbacks). And in encountering positive events, unintentional or not, the wily hedonist savors. Abundance abounds.


happiness is… research note #11

Site visits at Montalvo Art Center.

Site visits at Montalvo Art Center.

A few thoughts about what happiness is:

  • Having collaborators who are ever-armed with good humor, optimism and encouragement.
  • Buddies, true and warm despite time and distance.
  • Seeing someone who deserves every bit of happiness that comes her way find contentment.
  • And—even now, feeling like you’ve made your parents proud.

happiness is… research note #10

You never know what you’ll use for art.

I’m working on a drawing with lots of little text. It’s big enough to be uncomfortable on a table, and I can’t work on a wall as my gel pens don’t defy gravity. So I get the best results working on the floor, with me kneeling on top of the drawing. It has been very helpful to have:

A yoga mat. Kneeling on the concrete floors would have been torturous. Folded over, the mat has been a secret weapon in my drawing endurance.

A 4″-roll of masking tape / homemade anti-ant moat. A previous artist-in-residence left this super wide tape. It was actually too wide for my needs until rainstorms pushed ants into the studio. I’m using inks that smudge easily; wayward, tiny feet traversing the paper would not do. I made an ant-repelling “moat” of sticky-side out masking tape, big enough to fit the drawing, yoga mat, and me. Non-toxic, effective, and free!

Hyperflexion. Only during a recent visit to the acupuncturist did I learn that what I assumed was a normal range of flexibility is not. (I have a particularly well-honed creativity for discounting physical merits; I’d figured that I could easily touch my toes because I have short legs.) It probably helps to be limber in long days spent curled over drawing 12-point text.


Happiness Is… Research Note #9

I have  a conceptual relationship to my work—I read, write, observe, and reflect to inform the art that I want to make. I do so much research sometimes, my recent studio practice has involved organizing information:

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a large table.

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a 6’x6′ newsprint table.

Though I employ conceptual strategies, I still make things. I like materials, and I like working with materials. I like the challenge of finding and trying different materials that will best convey the ideas, emotions, and experiences I have in mind.

Materials are indifferent, however. They age, warp, stain, fold, bend, puncture, and undergo countless other unintended transformations. Reality, too, resists—physically, culturally, economically; I can’t always get what I want, and I can’t always make what I envision. Art objects, conventionally, aspire to timelessness—an unnatural condition.

In a recent project, I used over:

  • 700 yards of thread
  • 200 yards of twill tape
  • 17 yards of unmounted vinyl
  • dozens of pieces of aluminum tubing and wooden dowels

I also shipped a sewing machine across the country for this project.

It took two to three long work days to finally get a feel for the materials: how they sew together, what patterns would be strong and functional but visually minimal, and how to adjust the tension of the thread just so. In that sense, working is learning, gaining expertise. Doing is simultaneously gathering and applying information; hence, making is a way of thinking.

Detail, work in progress. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

And still, materials surprise me. As I conceptualize, plan, prepare and make, visual and optical qualities emerge. They call on me to look at what I’ve made with new eyes, to see things as they are. To be honest with myself about the degrees to which they are or aren’t what I intended, physically or conceptually.

I like the opportunities for flow made possibly by working with my hands. Some people can achieve flow in activities of the mind—mathematics, writing—but for me, flow arises in the challenges and satisfactions of physical art-making.


happiness is… research note #8

Here’s a lovely map by Max Fisher, based on new data from Gallup, from the Washington Post and brought to my attention via ET:

Emotion Map, by Max Fischer, based on Gallup data. // Source: Washington Post.

Fisher explains:

Since 2009, the Gallup polling firm has surveyed people in 150 countries and territories on, among other things, their daily emotional experience. Their survey asks five questions, meant to gauge whether the respondent felt significant positive or negative emotions the day prior to the survey. The more times that people answer “yes” to questions such as “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”, the more emotional they’re deemed to be.
Gallup has tallied up the average “yes” responses from respondents in almost every country on Earth. The results, which I’ve mapped out above, are as fascinating as they are indecipherable. The color-coded key in the map indicates the average percentage of people who answered “yes.” Dark purple countries are the most emotional, yellow the least.

Max Fisher, “A color-coded map of the world’s most and least emotional countries,” The Washington Post, November 28, 2012

The data is based on research described by Jon Clifton on Gallup’s website. The post also outlines the five questions used in the survey:

Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
Did you experience the following feelings a lot of the day yesterday?
How about (enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress, anger)?

Note that no question asks, “Are you happy?” Nor does it focus particularly on pleasure or cheerfulness, the most popular and basic associations of happiness. Instead, these questions get at more nuanced emotions and experiences explored in positive psychology—subjective well-being, enjoyment, competence, etc.


Happiness Is… Research Note #7

Positive psychology is not the same as positive thinking.

This ribbon text, which I made last year, appears to promote positive thinking, but I had more in mind.

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

Christine Wong Yap, think good thoughts / fortify good attitudes, 2011, ribbon, thread, pins, 30 × 40 × 1 in / 76 × 100 × 2.5 cm

In my readings, numerous positive psychologists explained that the unfocused mind’s natural state is chaos. When we don’t focus our attentions, our minds drift, and unhappy memories arise. Regrets, slights, and petty grievances beg to be reviewed. Engaging in rumination—unproductively mulling over negative events and emotions—can lead to anxiety and depression.

Rumination can be habitual, but people can learn to recognize and interrupt it.

I thought about this process of shifting one’s thought patterns away from chaotic, unfocused, and negative toward intentional and positive. Early steps—”thinking good thoughts” in place of bad ones—might seem forced, but with persistence, they can create a positive longterm habit, and “fortify good attitudes.”


Happiness Is… Research Note #6

Spending time with family on this holiday, and also, generally as an artist who craves validation, I’ll try to bear in mind this bit of wisdom:

Relationships thrive when they shift from the desire to be validated, to the desire to be known.

—Paraphrased from Nathaniel Branden paraphrased by Tal Ben-Shahar in Happier.

Happiness Is… Research Note #5

Studying positive psychology doesn’t make me a happy person.

It doesn’t make me a grateful person. Like Thanksgiving Day, it can only remind me to practice gratitude.

It doesn’t make me immune to negative emotions. I’ve learned strategies for coping with adversity, but I still have to enact them.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

When my sewing machine stopped working two nights ago, the uncertainty of how I’d remain productive during this residency got the better of me. I was under-slept and anxious, and when the machine came back from the repair shop with the presser foot unable to stay in the upright position, I’d had it, and lost my cool.

Thankfully, Montalvo just happens to have a sewing machine to lend me. It didn’t occur to me to even ask. (There it is, fellow artists: Have courage! It doesn’t hurt to ask!)

And when I went back to the shop, the repairman fixed the problem on the spot.

Now I’ve got two working sewing machines and am able to get back to work! For that—really, for art, which provides so many opportunities for flow and purpose—I’m grateful.