Projects

Three Elements of Resilience for Better Coping

Some potentially useful skills and abilities of resilience.

I’ve been studying resilience over the past few months, and a few concepts with have been useful to me recently. 

Putting It In Perspective

Seeing the bigger picture, and paying attention to those who have it worse than us, can help make our problems seem relatively minor.

Drawing in pinks, reds, and purples of building blocks. Title: Seven Skills of resilience. There are seven building blocks, each labeled with a skill: Learning ABCs (adversity, beliefs, consequences). Avoiding Thinking Traps. Detecting Icebergs. Challenging Beliefs. Calming and Focusing. Putting it in Perspective. Realtime resilience.

For example, if you or your loved ones aren’t among the most vulnerable, and your priorities right now are non-life threatening, nor about serious economic hardship, it could be possible that they’re first-world problems. Trying to stick too stubbornly to your plans, being upset and inflexible about disruptions, and prioritizing personal gains or achievement goals might be over-investing in relatively minor concerns (over which you probably have limited control anyway).

It’s important for everyone to work together to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Personally, I’m relieved that employers, businesses, and organizations are temporarily closing to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. (This is a great example of society leading when government is flailing.) It’s a time for cooperation and making sacrifices for the vulnerable—as well as their caretakers and all health care workers.

Optimism

Recognizing when to be optimistic, and what we can control.

When to use optimism

Everyday, we’re evaluating risks and making decisions.

I love optimism, optimists, and being optimistic whenever possible. Still, I recognize the limits of optimism. When grave consequences are at stake, be wary of being too optimistic. (Trump’s bluster and uninformed overconfidence are so disrespectful of people’s intelligence and the gravity of COVID-19.) If you’re making a decision that could impact health—yours or society’s as whole—err on the side of caution.

Drawing on gridded vellum. Title: When to use optimism. Red circle

From Positive Signs, a series of 60 drawings interpreting positive psychology research and more. 2011, glitter and/or fluorescent pen with holographic foil print on gridded vellum, 11 x 8.5 inches.

On the other hand, if you’re making a decision with lower consequences, choose optimism. For example, maybe you want to check in on an elderly neighbor but you’re worried about social awkwardness. In the best case scenario, it’s welcome and helpful, and you both feel good. In the worst case, it’ll be awkward, not that big a deal.

What we can control

As Karen Reivich, PhD and Andrew Shatté, PhD, define it in “The Resilience Factor,” being optimistic is to believe we control the direction of our lives.

A drawing in bright chartreuse with a

From a suite of drawings I’m currently working on about resilience.

There is a lot we can’t control right now—travel restrictions, closures of businesses and schools, and diverted plans.

So what can we control?

We can be creative in fostering connection despite the disruptions. For example, sharing photos of families instead of photos of empty shelves and commiseration memes (H/T artist Risa Puno).

We can gather resources and share knowledge.

We can try to use time at home productively, such as brainstorming ways to generate income. [Artists can work on applications, update websites and CVs, and improve art storage and inventory records. For example, I recently make boxes for art that I’ve been meaning to pack.]

Or, we can choose to see the restrictions on movement as a chance to rest, reflect, and practice self-care (such as using yoga instructional videos on YouTube instead of going to the gym), or doubling down on our support of neighbors and our communities.

We can choose to take steps to manage anxiety, and stop obsessing about coronavirus news (H/T artist jenifer k wofford).

Reaching Out

For Reivich and Shatté, reaching out is both a skill of resilience as well as a use of resilience. One definition they offer is to enhance the positive aspects of life.

A colored pencil drawing in green and black. Shown: of an arm reach up with the text,

From a series of drawings on resilience currently in progress. 2020, colored pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches.

We are in an unprecedented time, when everyday brings scary news, anxiety is high, and everyone is coping with uncertainty. This is a recipe for poor mental health. Balance the negative with positive: connection, joy, humor, generosity. I love the videos of Italians singing from balconies, and Iranian doctors dancing. These are much-needed reminders of the human spirit and resilience.

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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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Research

happiness is… research note #12

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

sewing-machines

Why would anyone use two sewing machines?

sewing-machines_2

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.

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Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #2

For my fellow artists:

For [lifelong flow] it is necessary to invest energy in goals that are so persuasive that they justify effort even when our resources are exhausted and when fate is merciless in refusing us a chance at having a comfortable life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990)
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Meta-Practice

Via ArtInfo: 10 Pieces of Advice for Artists From Jerry Saltz’s Keynote Speech at Expo Chicago

Stay the course, fellow artists. Some words of wisdom from NY Mag art critic Jerry Saltz, via ArtInfo:

1. Go to an art school that doesn’t cost too much. Those who go to Yale and Columbia might get a nine-month career bump right after graduation, but you’ll all be back on the same level in a year, and you won’t be in as much debt.

2. Envy will eat you alive.

3. Stay up late with each other after all the professors go to sleep. Support one another.

4. You can’t think your way through an art problem. As John Cage said, “Work comes from work.”

5. Follow your obsessions. If you love the Cubs that much, maybe they need to be in your work.

6. Don’t take other people’s ideas of skill. Do brain surgery with an axe.

7. Don’t define success by money, but by time.

8. Do not let rejection define you.

9. Don’t worry about getting enough sleep. Worry about your work.

10. Be delusional. It’s okay to tell yourself you’re a genius sometimes.

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