Tuesday, November 30, 2010

giving thanks and finding happiness

On Monday night, Kris and I watched a DVD I borrowed from the local library called "Happiness 101". I figured, with the recent turn of events with my mom, and Kris' current job situation, we could use a little help in this area. Basically, the DVD was a live presentation by professor and author Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a very popular course at Harvard about happiness. I enjoyed Tal's low key approach and I found the information gleaned from this presentation extremely helpful. Some of the things that caught my interest the most was how he discussed everyone's potential to achieve more happiness through more deliberate, conscious effort, such as shifts in personal perspective/outlook, physical exercise, breathing exercises, and meditation and/or prayer. One segment that resonated with me most was Tal's discussion on "allowing ourselves to be human". In this segment Tal shows footage of a baby crying and laughing over the course of a minute or two, then cites the baby as a prime example of someone in tune with their feelings and not worried yet about how others perceive him. He then talks about how, as we grow into adults, we find more and more ways to hide how we feel about things, as we become increasingly self-conscious. When certain emotions are supressed too much, the individual is far more prone to depression and feelings of negativity. During this segment he asks the audience to try not to think of a pink elephant for one minute. The audience (as well as Kris and I) found it immpossible not to think of a pink elephant for a minute. He used this small exercise as an example of how the more we surpress emotions, the more they tend to overtake our lives. While it's good not to ignore the more negative feelings, it's even better to do something proactive about them, rather than wallow in this state of mind.



Another thing that stood out during this excellent presentation was how Tal suggested writing a daily list of five things you're thankful or grateful for every day, either at night or in the morning. He cited a study where folks who practiced this had significantly increased levels of happiness, where those who did the opposite (wrote five things they disliked every day), experienced very opposite results. He even exhibited some scans done on the brains of some of the Dalai Lama's closest Buddhist monk colleagues, which showed an overwhelming amount of activity in the prefrontal cortex (the brain's happiness center). So, there's even physical evidence of the effect of mindful, proactive practices leading to happiness. I think more people are catching onto this, as you see more blogs using the term "mindfulness" in posts, as well as posts where people list things they're grateful for. I used to do something of this nature here at my blog - a weekly "top ten" of things that brought me joy. Perhaps I'll try it again here. For starters, I'll list ten things I'm grateful for from my mom.

1. I'm grateful for her being there for me all the times I was sick as a kid.
2. I'm grateful for the time she stuck by my side for three days at the hospital when my tonsil operation didn't go so well.
3. I'm grateful for her chasing and catching a toad for me to look at when I was young, despite having an aversion to all things creepy and crawly.
4. I'm grateful she bought me lots of "Fun Pads", coloring books, stickers and crayons to encourage my love of drawing and coloring.
5. I'm grateful she worked extra hard to help my brother and I get to college.
6. I'm grateful for her putting up with my bad haircuts and constant skateboarding as a teen.
7. I'm grateful she didn't take any crap from me when I gave her attitude.
8. I'm grateful for her and dad taking my brother and I to amusement parks in the summer, only to sit around and let us ride the rides all day long.
9. I'm grateful for the letters, the coupons, the saved boxes of Grapenut  Flakes, and the long, spirited phone conversations in recent years.
10. I'm grateful for her love and the fact she stuck around for us as long as she possibly could have.

So, how about you try it sometime. What can you think of that makes you happy or grateful?

In the meantime, the song below goes out to my mom, who loved Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The song is "Who Loves You" from 1975. It was one of her favorite songs and one of mine when I was a kid. I have to admit, I cried a bit, just listening to this song, but it also made me very happy to hear it again. The cover art is from a compilation simply called "The Very Best of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons" - a double cassette I bought her for her birthday years ago. There's some incredible music on that album, and this track is still amazing to this day. Mom definitely had some good taste in music, whether she knew it or not!

Monday, November 22, 2010

for mom


It's always so difficult to write posts such as these at my blog, but this one so far has been the most difficult of all. Last Saturday, around 7:45 PM, my mom, Daria passed away from cancer at the age of 64. It's hard to believe I'm sitting here writing about this now, and she's not here anymore. She's been sick for a while but seemed to bounce back for a while since she was diagnosed with breast cancer about four years ago. My mom was never one to complain about how she was feeling and never wanted to worry anyone. She always put everyone else's needs before hers, especially those of her family's. Sometimes, she worried about us far more than she needed to, but that was just how she was. We knew things were getting worse when she did start complaining about lots of pain in recent months, but never knew just how truly bad it was. 


Up until a week ago, Kris and I were seriously looking forward to a nice Thanksgiving spent with my parents and my brother and his family in Pennsylvania. Things took a sudden turn for the worse a little over a week ago when my mom was blacking out and feeling awful all over. My dad promptly took her to the ER where they ran some scans and tests. The results indicated the cancer had spread rapidly to her bones and liver. She was soon on life support and fought hard her first two days at the hospital. We were fortunate enough to be able to talk with her and see her see us with her eyes still open, while she was still somewhat able to respond. On her third day she was no longer responding but her breathing was much more peaceful. The last time I got to see her and spend quality time with her was when her and my dad visited us in Leesburg late last August. It was the highlight of my summer, and we all had a lot of fun that weekend (photos above). She even sounded pretty good when I called her a couple of weeks ago and she "talked my ear off" (as she'd always say). I think she knew something even then however, but didn't want any of us to worry too much. 


I've got a feeling my mom probably could have gone a lot sooner, with her heart also being bad, but she hung in there for her grandsons (my nephews), now two and five, who gave her lots of joy. I know they're going to miss her badly, as all of us will. I've been going back and forth between feelings of anger, sadness and acceptance these last few days, and fortunately we've got lots of good people around us to keep our spirits up. I know we're all going to lose it when she gets buried on Wednesday though. Looking at the bright side, my mom was very well taken care of and loved, and she went peacefully at a facility that was superb with the kindest staff you could ask for. It will be toughest for my dad, who just celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary with my mom, and who recently told my brother and I how he would fall more in love with her with each passing year. I know we all have to stay strong for him, more than anything. I know my mom and our love for her will always be with us, in our hearts, and I know she would want us to continue to live, thrive and be happy. These words don't begin to do her justice, but they're better than nothing. 

In the meantime, I'm going on a brief blogging hiatus for now, but will return in December. I'm hoping that, whether you and your family and friends celebrate Thanksgiving or not, you take the time to see what's most important in life and have fun and take a moment to tell them how much they mean to you. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

arc in round: diagonal fields



Several years ago I braved the cold and headed on out to D.C.'s Rock & Roll Hotel to see the band The Album Leaf. While The Album Leaf were great that night, it was the two opening acts, Relay, as well as Lymbyc System who blew me away. What a surprise I was in for that night, and for only ten bucks. It would be a while before I heard anything from Relay, after giving both their EP and LP heavy rotation in my car's CD player for about a year or two. After some online reasearch, I discovered that Relay had changed their name to Arc in Round, and were working on some brand new material. I really love the dream-pop sound from this Philly band, led by studio whiz Jeff Zeigler, so I was relieved to hear they still retained the same sound as Relay, and were still around. Unfortunately I missed them this month on a recent tour stop through D.C., however I've got a sampling of their new EP. There is also a full length in the works as well which will no doubt be top notch music from start to finish. In the meantime, check out the tunes below and the band's excellent interview at The Big Takeover.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

burning


made for the Illustration Friday topic "burning", mixed media in A4 watercolor Moleskine, 11/2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

interview in rojo & garabato



Last month I was asked by monthly online art publication Rojo & Garabato Magazine for an interview. Of course I said yes, though I was pleasantly surprised by their request. This isn't just any ol' art magazine, online or otherwise, so I made sure to get to those questions ASAP. Well, November's issue (issue nine) is finally out, and it's a beauty as always. These gals from Coruña, Spain really go the extra mile with this labor of love, and cover a wide spectrum of artists, designers, illustrators, and photographers from all over the world. I posted the interview here at the blog for your viewing pleasure, but I seriously recommend reading the whole issue, and all of their issues for that matter. It was truly a pleasure being a small part of this awesome publication.









Tuesday, November 9, 2010

front 242: "don't crash" (live at the 9:30 club), "w.y.h.i.w.y.g.", & "sacrifice"



As with last week's music feature Kraftwerk, this week I'll post another triple header, this time in the form of what has been described, in one magazine article years ago, as "Kraftwerk, if they had died and gone to hell". Well, that might be a bit too strong a description, but it's not too far off when referring to Front 242. Formed first as a duo in Brussels, Belgium in 1981, Front 242, in many ways, began where Kraftwerk left off at the time, taking influences from early industrial music and using current technologies to express their sound and vision. Not your standard industrial band, like Skinny Puppy, 242 pushed boundaries with each successive release, taking inspiration from news media and the rapidly changing world in which they lived. Above is some great footage from a concert I actually attended several years ago at the 9:30 Club in D.C., where Front 242 performed early classics like their anti-war anthem "Don't Crash" (seen above). I have to admit, their live show has gotten far better with age, after seeing some somewhat cringe-inducing performances from their early years. Still, it was the eighties. Enough said.




If I had to choose a favorite, or recommend one Front 242 LP to anyone, it would have to be their 1987 release "Official Version". This one also happened to be my very first full-length CD purchase (I used to have the cassette), and remains in my all time top ten albums, of any genre.  Unlike their early live performances, this album is timeless, and sounds like it came from another time and place. The opening track, W.Y.H.I.W.Y.G., is an epic dance floor sound collage, making creative use of found media samples set to a widescreen, orchestral build-up, setting the tone for the rest of the album and cementing their place as the founders of a genre known as E.B.M. ( Electronic Body Music). The original artwork on Wax Trax! Records, which varies on the cassette, CD and vinyl releases, is in itself exceptional and just a sample of their equally impressive skills as illustrators and founders of the Art & Strategy design team. Today, many of the hip indie groups are beginning to once again bring this style of design back with their own album art, whether they are aware of their influences or not, however no one can quite duplicate Front 242's unique visual aesthetics.  Below are some quotes from You Tube listeners about the opening track and album:


  • "I was amazed by this track when its out, but even more today, because the sound didn't take an age, and it's true for all the album :|"

  • "this song is one of the ones that made me start djing!!! The vocal sample at the end of this album (the preacher) is a guy from Dallas, my hometown...sad to say"



In 1991 Front 242 were signed to major label Epic, releasing the album "Tyranny >For You<" at the start of America's obsession with grunge rock. Despite this, Tyranny was the band's biggest selling album to date, and was an expression of the band's take on the Gulf War and environmental destruction. I can thank Front 242 and their music for causing me to take notice and start to think more about these things back in high school. Above is an older, fan-made video for the album's opener "Sacrifice", which reflects a brutally honest look at the futility of war and the sense of hopelessness and loss it brings to the world. This album also hints at the band's growing concern and involvement with green issues, and it wouldn't be until 2007 when singer Richard Jonckeeheere (known to fans as Richard 23) ran for Belgium's own Green Party, Ecolo. Sometimes wrongly perceived as a band who glamorized war, and even carelessly connected to the National Front, Front 242 were anything but these things. Currently the band have an excellent new DVD out showcasing their "Vintage" tour stop in Budapest. This is by far some of the best live footage I've seen from the band, and you can catch a sample HERE, in the meantime.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

afterwards


mixed media in A4 watercolor Moleskine, made for the Illustration Friday topic "afterwards", 11/2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

kraftwerk: "tanzmuzuk" , "music nonstop", & "computer love"



Usually I'll feature a video and a song/track roughly once a week, from a band I enjoy. In this case, I'll have to include a triple dose of one of the most influential bands of all time, and a personal favorite, Kraftwerk. I often joke about how this band from Düsseldorf, Germany influenced some of the very best as well as some of very worst music in history, their sound so far reaching and ahead of its time. Founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben while attending college, Kraftwerk were originally influenced by modern visual art aesthetics and improvisational musics. The band would go through many phases during their musical career, though they are most known for their minimal electronic pop sound. Above is some excellent live footage from one of Kraftwerk's earliest, more "Krautrock" inspired sounds from 1973, called "Tanzmuzuk".



I got my first dose of Kraftwerk thanks to a late night radio show back when I was in the eighth grade. It was a song I recorded from the radio called "Music Nonstop" (above) from the 1986 album Electric Cafe (orig. entitled Technopop). While Kraftwerk's music had a heavy influence on the development of Hip Hop and Techno, a good segment of Electric Cafe (namely Music Nonstop) further continued this influence and played like a continuous DJ mix. I remember playing this song to some buddies of mine back in the day and they were like, "what's this crap?!". Well, in hindsight, they were dorky schmucks who listened to bad hair bands like Europe, so who cares anyway. More about the album from a source at You Tube: "The music was generated, recorded and mixed on analog and digital equipment and transfered to the digital master. It was the first Kraftwerk album in CD format. The tracks "Boing Boom Tschak", "Technopop" and "Musique Non Stop" formed a sequence of tracks, an idea that would be used a lot in the DJ culture mixing technique. The use of samplers made the treatment of voices more sophisticated, incorporating them into the rhythm and melody at the same time. Boing Boom Tschak is in fact pure sound-poetry and electronic-funk, followed by the synthetic voices and sound-collages of "Music Non Stop". The mix of this album was done by Francois Kevorkian in New York.

The changes did not only occur in terms of digital sound, Kraftwerk also digitized their own images. The cover of "Technopop" showed the digitized faces in computer graphics, developed at the New York Institute of Technology. The video of "Music Non Stop"is a tremendous example of virtual modeling and was created by Rebecca Allen and the team of NYIT Computer Graphics Laboratory. The pioneering work of developing these 3-D computer animations took more than two years to be completed."



Arguably, Kraftwerk's 1981 album "Computer World" was their most notable and pioneering release. Here the band had further honed their merging of forward-thinking electronic music and traditional pop sensibilities to perfection. As with many of Kraftwerk's releases, the song above, "Computer Love" is a great example of the warmth and humanity found throughout the band's catalogue. The melody in particular is considered a classic by fans and music aficionados alike, and was even used, with permission, by the band Coldplay in their hit song "Talk", from the very good album "X&Y".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

spent


mixed media in A4 watercolor Moleskine, made for the Illustration Friday topic "spent", 11/2010