“Stained Glass” Insects

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“Stained Glass” Insects

There are plenty of beautiful insects out there beyond butterflies. My brother-in-law, who lives in Indonesia and runs an Eco-tourism business, is constantly uploading macro shots of all sorts of creepy crawlies that are at first glance terrifying and at second glance exquisite!


Earlier this year with my Craft Clubbers, I made stained glass butterflies, which was delightful in and of itself, but I wanted to give our six-legged friends another go, this time exploring variations with bumblebees, dragonflies, ladybugs, and particularly beetles.  There are so many beautiful beetles out there, though from the above list of insects they are usually the most intimidating to come across in nature.


This craft is easy to do, appropriate for a wide variety of ages, and useful for upcycling some around-the-house items!


DSC_8324b DSC_8352b


DSC_8363 DSC_8366



– 2 liter plastic bottle (one with straight sides, not curved)

black sharpie

nail polish




1. Cut your plastic bottle into a sheet.  Your plastic bottle must have straight sides, not curvy sides, so that you have a flat surface with which to work.  The larger the bottle the better (2 liter is best) so that your insects don’t curve too much.  First, take off all of the labeling.  In the top curved section, puncture the plastic with the pointed tips of your scissors or a knife.  Next, starting in your puncture hole, cut off the top of the bottle right where it starts to curve.  Then, along the seam where the label was glued, cut straight down the flat side.  Finally, cut the bottom of the bottle off along the edge right before it starts to curve again.  You should be left with a good-sized rectangle that rolls in on itself.




2. Trace your insects onto the plastic sheet. Using a sharpie, trace as many insects as you can onto the top side of your plastic sheet.  You can download my template to use as stencil.  You don’t need to trace exactly every line you see, particularly in the bugs’ wings.  This was especially relevant for the bees’ and dragonflies’ wings.  Also, I prefer the bugs to curve across a vertical axis – this basically means trace them so that they face up or down on the sheet, not right or left like that one rogue beetle on the far left of the middle row.




3. Cut your insects out. When cutting my insects out, I usually left a 1-2mm border so that I wouldn’t have to mess with going in and out of the legs and antennae too closely.




4. Paint using fingernail polish.  To paint your bugs, flip them over so that the edges are curving upwards.  Start with smaller areas first and then move to larger spaces, letting each color dry before starting the next.  If your nail polish is translucent, you can go back and add second and third layers as desired.  Mistakes are fairly easy to correct using a Q-tip and nail polish remover.  Track your progress by flipping your insect over to the top and making sure you’ve filled in all of the spaces.  This craft is a great way to use up old nail polish that you no longer prefer.  If it’s a bit clumpy, pour in a few drops of nail polish remover and shake thoroughly.  Glitter polish generally won’t work for filling in spaces, but it’s fun to use for transparent wings or over the top of your insect. (To get ideas for colors, check out these beauties!)


5. Darken your black lines. Once your paint has finished drying completely, you can flip your insect back to the front and darken some of your lines with sharpie again to make the edges more crisp.


Where your critters go from here is up to you!  You can use a safety pin to poke small holes in the borders to hang them with fishing line.  They’d be fun to use for a garland, to dangle from a baby mobile, to float in your window, or to sprinkle across a shelf.




Is it ethical to haggle?

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Just the other day, my brother Luke (who runs an eco-tourism company in Indonesia called Wild Sumatra) was more-or-less scammed by an Argentine and Kiwi couple who tried to hitch a free ride on a guided trek through the Kerinci-Seblat national park. The couple were apparently backpacking through Indonesia on a shoestring budget, trying as hard as possible to have an “authentic” experience while spending as little money as possible, and consequently misled Luke and some of the Indonesian guides while trying to skip out of payment.


All this got me thinking about the desire to travel “on the cheap.”
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Art Therapy – French Coloring Books

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After reading an article a while back in the Atlantic about coloring books for adults, I was reminded of the many hours of coloring that I did as a child, particularly with my sister and Grammy.  The article lauded coloring as a de-stressor, a mind-clearer.  When I was a kid, I of course made my way through the usual gamut of themed coloring books – princesses, sea creatures, ponies, etc.  When I was a little older, I graduated to more sophisticated designs, mainly fancy mandalasWhether with crayon, colored pencil, or marker I always enjoyed assembling a complimentary color pallet, trying to push myself beyond my preferred cool colors for warmer shades of yellow and orange.  I was definitely the kind of kid who liked to stay within the lines.


David and Grammy

My brother David and Grammy

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Teacher Timer Review at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools

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Woke up to a nice surprise this morning – a review I’d written about a year ago was posted at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools today. I’d given up on it!


From the review:


“I’m a teacher in a school that uses a lot of timers. And it’s not just for exams – a well-paced lesson sometimes depends on hitting certain timestamps, and nothing can keep you accountable in quite the same way as the humble timer. The simple act of counting down is a surprisingly versatile arrow in the quiver of teaching practices.”


“At school, we need our timers to do just a few things but to do them well. The LUX CU100 scores high marks in all the necessary categories and gets extra credit for its ability to take abuse.”


I still use this timer daily as a teacher and I agree with everything I’ve written here, even a year later!

If you’re interested in reading other reviews I’ve done, click here.


“Sometimes I find myself shielding myself with white bodies to feel safe.”

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via Koran Addo's twitter page here:

I’ve been reading through the latest N+1 and there’s an illuminating conversation re-printed there between several of their contributors, both black and white. There’s a moment when Doreen St. Felix, a black woman, says the following, which bears repeating more or less in full:


“Sometimes I find myself shielding myself with white bodies to feel safe. I have friends of all different groups of people, but I experience a surfeit of body creativity, of doing whatever I want with my body, if I’m surrounded by white girls. When I mean safety, I also mean freedom of expression. It’s not just about not being seen as dangerous — it’s about being seen as a happy person, someone who can be approached, and someone who can be quirky. Quirk is the fullest reckless freedom white people traffic in…It’s the quirky-industrial complex.”


“Quirkiness is white bodies expressing the immense space the state and culture carves out for them to be free and safe…If quirkiness is eccentricity or white-girl-weird, then it’s about making new movements, tics — and they can be affectations — that are peculiar but never seen as threatening. Black people are often forced to keep making old movements, in our bodies, speech, the way we live, because the space for whiteness to see us as safe if we’re unpredictable barely exists…How does that affect me and the way that I comport myself? Am I limiting my creativity?”


What St. Felix says here struck me with force for a couple of reasons. Granted, the statement above — a testimony, really — is an expression of St. Felix’s experience as black woman, and it is hard to know how much should be generalized from this. But, assuming her experience is typical, or at least not atypical, a couple features stand out to me.
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Knotted Necklace – MoMA Inspired

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Knotted Necklace – MoMA Inspired

Josh and I recently spent some time perusing the MoMA gift shop and I came across this beauty (and similarly this).






I thought to myself… I can do that!  Or at least something along those lines.  So here is my attempt:






Here’s how to make one for yourself.


FullSizeRender_2 (2)MATERIALS:

1. paracord* (at least 7 ft.) – any color

2. beads (optional) – large hole required

3. gold thread (optional)



*You can buy paracord at a craft store, but I got mine for cheaper at a hardware store.



1. Preparing your paracord. You will need four lengths of paracord tied off together to start.  I measured 85 inches for each strand, though this left me with plenty of extra, so you could probably afford to use a bit less.  When cutting paracord, you will need to seal the ends by burning them or else they become frayed.


2. Tying the knots. The knot is very easy to do.  Separate your four strands into pairs.  Basically, slide one pair under the other, then loop back up and between the two pairs.  Pull tight.  Now repeat, this time starting the other pair.  Pull tight.  Alternate starting with the left and right pair.  Within both pairs of strands, try to be consistent in keeping one strand the “outside strand” and the other the “inside strand.” To do this, as you pull each loop tight, make sure the strands haven’t twisted or switched places.  This will give the necklace a flat, consistent look. (See pictures below – click to enlarge.)


knot instructions


3. Adding beads – OPTIONAL: You can intersperse beads across the necklace if you’d like.  When picking your beads, you need to make sure the hole in each bead is big enough for the paracord to fit through.  As often as you like, slide beads up the paracord throughout the knots.


4. Finish knotting. Continue knotting until you’ve reached your desired length.  My necklace is about 23 inches long.


5. Clasping the end. I haven’t yet found a polished way to secure the ends of my necklace.  Eventually, I may try to find a fancier way to clasp the ends using crimps like these.  At the moment mine looks like this.




6. A FINAL OPTION: I had originally considered winding gold thread around the cord but decided that using both the gold thread and the metallic beads would make it too busy.  But you can opt for jazzing it up this way if you’d like!



Hometown Nostalgic

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A few days ago I dreamed of the Philippines. I don’t normally remember my dreams — on any given night, it’s just oblivion, like falling into nonexistence for 8 hours, and then getting up afterward and brushing my teeth like nothing happened — but when I do remember my dreams, there’s at least a 50% chance they take place in the Philippines.
What is it about moving from somewhere as a child that encases this place in such viscous sheets of amber nostalgia? Seventeen years later and my dreams are full of a place that no longer exists and maybe never did. A homeland from which I was exiled but never fully belonged. A passing glory.
So I think there is something fitting about how this half-remembered time and place comes to me in dreams like this, something marvelous.
Dreams are the only space that can contain it.

New article up at the Washington Post

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Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy “Amazing Grace”

My friend Sarah Pulliam Bailey asked me to do a review/analysis of the new musical “Amazing Grace” and the recent renewed interest in the song, especially after Obama’s rendition at the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pickney.
From the piece:

But are these moments just a comforting and specious fiction, an understandable but false attempt to move us past necessary and uncomfortable racial debates?

Or could it — just maybe — be prophetic? About where we could be, and are in fact headed?

Let me know what you think! And if you are interested in reading any of my other pieces, click here.

Where are the young Greeks?

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Photo: Giannis Papanikos, Associated Press

A disaster is unfolding across the ocean from those of us in America.  It’s hard to call it anything else, no matter what your politics inclines you to say about the whole affair.  “Greek GDP fell by a quarter over five years, unemployment is over 25% and youth unemployment over 50%,” The Economist stated last week.  These are Great Depression-era numbers.


What does that do to a country, to a people?


The scare-quotes answer is to look at what happened to Italy and Spain and Germany in the 1930s, look at the rising popularity of far-right and possibly fascist parties like Golden Dawn, and start ringing alarm bells.  Even if you put fascism aside, the Great Depression left enough of a scar in the national consciousness of the United States that our public schools still bang on about it.  Nobody gets out alive without reading Steinbeck or Faulkner or observing the odd Dorothea Lange photo.  An entire mythology has sprung up around it, with reverberations that sound today, with our cutesy chiming appellations like the Great Recession, and the odd grandparent who is still alive to chide us about our complacency.


And this level of suffering– economic, political, social–is happening now, to the Greeks, and has been happening for the past five years.


My question is a simple and genuine one.  I ask it because I don’t know, don’t have the language ability, don’t have the connections, and just generally don’t have the know-how at this moment to answer it myself.


Where are all the young Greeks?  What are the young Greeks saying?
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What good is poetry to me?

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Eduardo Carranza, poet, 1913-1985

Reading Gabriel García Márquez’s memoirs Living To Tell The Tale, and among many other wonderful crystalline asides, I came across this quote from one of the author’s friends, the poet Eduardo Carranza:

“If poetry does not make my blood run faster, open sudden windows for me onto the mysterious, help me discover the world, accompany this desolate heart in solitude and in love, in joy and in enmity, what good is poetry to me?”

Hard to beat, that.

DIY – Fun for any day, or Valentine’s Day

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DIY – Fun for any day, or Valentine’s Day

Too cute to pass up, check out these fun little cork owls.




(Someday, I hope to post something that is more truly original in design, but more often I build on ideas from others!)


So, credit for the cute owls goes to: .  Really fun, right?  I tried these with my Craft Clubbers and they really got into them.  One girl called them her Derpy Owls (my husband had to explain the online lingo to me).  They ended up preferring googly eyes over buttons, though I still prefer the button look. If you don’t have small black buttons, just use a sharpie and color them black.


I also glued a magnet to the back to turn them into magnets – I used these crazy strong magnets that I had purchased accidentally, but they’re actually really cool (just don’t eat them unless you want your small intestine attached to your large intestine).  I used E-6000 glue to attach the magnet to the back of the cork since the magnet has really strong pulling strength.




Supplies Needed: corks, felt and/or cotton cloth, buttons or googly eyes, & glue







And the Owl Valentine cards I made myself – pretty simple.  Attach the cork with glue (thin line of hot glue) or strong double sided tape.


Owl Valentines

Click the link above to download a PDF version of the Valentines.



DIY – 3D Letters

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DIY – 3D Letters

For the third year in a row now I’ve led a Craft Club at my school on Friday afternoons. Our most recent project was these 3D letters.  Aren’t they fun?!  The options for design, colors, and decorations are endless!  The project took several sessions to complete because we had to wait for the letters to dry at various steps before moving on.  The pictures below contain my middle schoolers’ projects… some are a bit rough around the edges (both figuratively and literally!), but I love their creativity!





styrofoam sheet* (approximately 1 inch in thickness)
– paper
white glue and/or hot glue
– paint
Paper Mâché Materials:
– newspaper
– flour
decorative paper
– etc.!


*I bought one large syrofoam insulation sheet from a hardware store for about $10 and cut it into at least 25 blocks since I needed a piece for each club member.  If you’re making just one letter, you can buy premade letters and skip to step 5, but this takes away the fun of designing your own letter shape.  You can also buy smaller foam sheets like this one.



1. Choose and design your letter.  First off, in choosing your letter, you may want to avoid letters that won’t easily stand on their own, such as F, P, T, V, or Y.  Then, when designing your letter, ensure that all of the lines are “chunky” enough to keep the letter strong and stable (at least an inch in thickness all the way along).  I looked at a variety of fonts to get ideas!  When you’ve determined your design, sketch it out to fill the space of an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper.

IMG_1834     IMG_1835


IMG_18372. Cut out and trace your letter template for the styrofoam.  Cut out your letter then trace it first on a second sheet of paper (you’ll use these two cutouts later). Next, trace the letter onto your styrofoam sheet and use an exacto knife to cut it out.





3. Glue the paper cut-outs to the styrofoam.  Glue a layer of paper along all sides of the letter so that the paper mâché will have a suitable surface to adhere to.  It’s easy to glue the two traced letters to the front and back of the styrofoam letter.  When gluing paper along the sides, cut paper strips that are about two inches wide.  In order to prevent the paper from wrinkling along the curves, cut vertical slits along the edges, as shown in the picture.




4. Wrap the letter with 2-4 layers of paper mâché.

IMG_1854When preparing the paper mâché, I just used flour and water following a method like this one.  Make sure that you fully allow each layer to dry before starting on the next one.  Wipe off all excess paste so that the letter’s surface is smooth.  Also, keep testing the letter to make sure that it can stand on its own.  If it seems to fall to one side, reinforce the bottom edge of that side with some strips of cardboard to balance the base.




5. Paint the letter.  You can paint your letter a solid color or jazz it up with multiple colors.  I used tempera paint, but if using this type of paint, you must mix in some white glue (or something called gesso) to prevent it from cracking when it dries.  Also, in order to prevent the newsprint from showing through, you may want to do a base coat of white first, or just several thin layers with the tempera paint for it to be opaque.  In general I prefer working with acrylic paint, but I only had tempera paint in bulk on hand for this project.  (If you plan to cover your letter completely with another form of decoration, you can skip the painting step.)


6. Have fun decorating!  Finally, I let my craft clubbers loose with the decorating supplies.  I had buttons, yarn, ribbons, and decorative paper available, but don’t be limited by just those options!  If you do a google image search for “paper mache letter” you’ll see a bunch of fun ideas (Ex. decoupaging with magazines, maps, or comics). We used hot glue to attach the decorations, but I’m sure white glue would work as well.






Eyes and Beholders: Joshua Cave and the Possibility of Value in Things

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Somewhere In Washington

Somewhere In Washington

I’ve written about my friend Joshua Cave before, in other contexts, but never directly in response to his work. It’s always a tricky thing writing in response to a friend’s creative output – slavish admiration would be unseemly and false; speak your mind too bluntly and you risk alienating someone important to you – and this holds doubly so when you are writing speculatively, in a field (like art) where you are really a neophyte, barely a degree-and-a-half past the slack-jawed yokel setting on the beginner’s dial. Fortunately I genuinely think Josh is an amazing artist so I present some of my thoughts on his (almost) latest work below. (He has since started on a new series, fresh off the press still; you can see a few new pieces on his website.) Josh, I hope the ideas below aren’t too far off into foul territory.


Eyes and Beholders: Joshua Cave and the Possibility of Value in Things
Value, subject, object—it is these terms which swirl at the edges of artist Joshua Cave’s latest series of work, entitled, appropriately enough, Things. A clear extension of an earlier painting series called Kingdoms, Cave’s current work represents a more cerebral turn for the visual artist, a density in the painting which borders at times on opacity.

Melo's Things I

Melo’s Things I

There are many ways to assign value – economic, personal, social, utilitarian – but isn’t it a rather odd thing that we have this concept at all? The pleasure my wife takes in a bouquet of flowers is not inherent to the green stems rooted in a distant earthen plot from which this bouquet arrived. While the flowers may be red, and produce an odor, or display other observable characteristics, the positive value my wife attaches to these things is something altogether separate from the fact of the flower alone, unobserved, swaying on a hillside in a summer sun. Like a map projection, we view the world as inevitably distorted, the work of a perpetual editor in the mind. We cannot accept a thing as a thing as a thing—it cannot be a sunrise but we have to assess it. When we speak of people having value or objects having value, it is revealing that the language we use places the concept of worth as something exterior to the thing itself, this third thing, outside and bestowed–the givenness of value. This is all another way of saying that a flower, alone, is not valuable: values are a matter not of objects but of subjects. Not the work of impersonal forces but of intelligences, consciousness. Appraisal implies subjectivity in a formal sense: a subject, as in a universal grammar, which acts upon an object. But if we, like the flower, are products of the natural world then where does this subjectivity come from? And is there any value at all in the concept of value?
Melo's Things II

Melo’s Things II

While these questions of value animated Kingdoms in an oblique manner, Cave’s layering of objects in the viewing plane in Things forces the viewer to confront them headlong in this latest work. From fields of taupe and cloudy gray, as though seen through a mist, everyday items like plastic bags, clothes hangers, bits of string, and sheets of paper emerge and bisect in disregard to the natural laws of gravity or physics. At times, as in Melo’s Things III, the surge of objects threatens to overwhelm perspective itself, cutting at one another in impossible angles from murky smears of entangled color. It is a work almost relentlessly subjective—the work not of an artist in the photorealistic mold, replicating the natural world in its exact color and form, but forcefully and almost unrelentingly the work of a mind.
Melo's Things III

Melo’s Things III

Ironically, the accentuation of the mind in the work is achieved through this intense devotion to the minutiae of matter. Against indistinguishable backgrounds of hazy color, these mundane objects, which are invariably clear and sharply defined, have the effect of being almost fetishized. This is doubly highlighted by the massive size of many of these canvases. In this way, Cave’s work does not so much remind one of the Impressionists, with their attempts to capture the inner senses and emotional responses within them in response to the outer world, which inevitably distorted the scenes and objects they painted with unreal hues and fantastical inward lights. Rather his work may be described, perhaps, as Subjectivist: the objects he paints are distinctly not distorted (indeed, they are often remarkably true to life) but this serves in Cave’s work only to emphasize the fact of their selection. The enormous pin, for example, in Sky Pinned, points not so much to the object depicted as much as to the mind that assigned it value, that saw.
Sky Pinned

Sky Pinned

The inescapable sense of other minds, of other perspectives and values, pervades these pieces even if the reasons for which these subjects assigned these items value are sometimes inscrutable. One subject in particular comes into unsteady focus through the combined effect of several paintings in the series. Melo-as-curator appears as a character in the titles of the paintings (and in Christ-like portraiture in at least one piece that bears his singular name). Indeed, as the artist attests, Melo exists in ‘real life’ as an errant rover in the artist’s South Bronx neighborhood. His bags of clothes and colorful twists of string inhabit at least five paintings in the group, suggesting the importance of these meagre items to this man. In these paintings, Melo appears as a cultivator—a selector—of various doodads which to the outside eye may appear as trash. But by noticing Melo’s attention to these things and then painting them, Cave invites the viewer into a separate subjective space by means of his art: an empathetic contemplation not only of the belongings themselves, or of Melo’s valuation of these same, or of the artist’s distinguishing and compassionate eye that observed all this, but of the three in one location: the painting. With the viewer’s participation, something new of value is perhaps—the possibility of a question mark after that perhaps seems to infuse the tinged and haunted pigments the artist chooses—created in the frame of the work. It draws us to participate in something remarkable: not just the usual imperialism of the subject over an object, acted upon mechanistically—one is tempted to say naturally—but the creation of an object that is itself the confluence and fruit of an interaction between at least three subjects (Melo, the artist, and the viewer) and their respective assignation of merit. While the value we as observers assign to this, as we would to a sunset or a flower, will inevitably vary from viewer to viewer, Cave seems to see his paintings as the locus of imaginative possibilities that transcend the mere fact of the molecules and hues which make up the material Things on the canvas.
But it is this tension between transcendence and immanence, the natural and the subjective, value and truth, which Cave cannot seem to solve in these works. The variety and banality of the items he paints, as they loom out from threatening skies void of color or form, suggests an arbitrariness to the appraising impulse. The backgrounds of gray indicate that the author finds this possibility at least as discomforting as it is freeing. For in a world where even the smallest thread of string can find value in a subject’s eyes, does it then follow that all things are equally valuable? If in such a world there is no such thing as inherent value—no value, that is, which adheres to an object—then worthiness becomes a total function of subjectivity. But where does that leave the flower, alone on the hill, unseen by a subjective eye?


In an interview with The Curator, Cave is on record as saying: “It seems sincerity is all that separates thing from nothing.” This desire for meaningful distinction finds painterly expression in Crucified Clothes, with its titular clothing against the dim form of a cross on a pinkish background. One cannot help but wonder if by layering his Things atop an altar of sacrifice, the artist evinces his longing for a greater Sincerity—which is only another way of saying a greater Subjectivity—to which he may find his work affirmed.
Crucified Clothes

Crucified Clothes

With their dense accumulations of color and form, it is tempting to see Things as Cave’s attempt to paint himself out of the corner formed by these questions. If his success in resolving the tensions between value, subject, and object is debatable, the viewer is no worse off for observing his endeavors, and will indeed find themselves richly rewarded with thoughtful, challenging, and, above all, sincere work.
Joshua Cave is represented by Outlet Brooklyn. You should go see his work! He should be showing sometime in the fall. I’ll keep you posted.

Readings Lately – End Of Summer Edition

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What’s been in view of the mental eye this past week:


The US bombing its own guns perfectly sums up America’s total failure in Iraq
No pleasure in this irony – just bitterness and sorrow.

Iraq Redux
I would make some quip about history repeating itself first as tragedy and then as farce but four presidents later the joke is getting far too depressing.

The Islamic State | VICE News
VICE has become a compelling eye on the news in the down-and-out places of the world. After watching this video series my buddy Kevin, who served two tours in Iraq, told me : “Thank God they still don’t know how to shoot. I can’t wait to go back there and shoot them in the face.” Most people I know have responded similarly: with anger, not fear. What this bodes I don’t know.

The fantasy of Middle Eastern moderates
A fearful assertion from Fareed Zakaria, if true. This is the sound of reality kicking you repeatedly in the teeth.

‘No’ from one Iraq villager triggered Islamic State mass killings.
And finally last on this dismal subject, fresh horrors to add to the stew. The turbid ebb and flow of human misery. Americans, expect this in your news feeds for the rest of your lifetimes. We have inserted ourselves here and these things aren’t going anywhere.

The Anger in Ferguson
Closer to home, the tide swells too. Over and over and over and over. Another note of eternal sadness in the funeral dirge we have accustomed ourselves to in the history of this country. We are still trying to achieve Lincoln’s “just and lasting peace among ourselves.” Another headline I expect will not disappear from the world in my lifetime.

Armed police: Trigger happy
How did we get here? Twenty years ago, even at the height of the crime waves of the late ’80s and early ’90s, this would’ve read to people then like an Onion article. Now we live in a world where satire is kicking your door in and tear-gassing your grandmother.

Why Obama won’t give the Ferguson speech his supporters want
Soaring rhetoric grounded by poll numbers. And why is Obama so polarizing to the American public? What makes him different than every other president who came before? No points for guessing but it bears mentioning the general trend has been to wider and wider disparities in Republican and Democrat presidential approval polling.


The end of neighbours
Why can’t we seem to agree as a country? Maybe because we can’t even pick our neighbors out of a lineup, much less talk to them. It’s a thought-provoking article, and this paragraph struck me with fresh force after a World Cup summer that saw NYC going absolutely bonkers over the USMNT in Brazil: “”Middle-ring relationships take persistence and grit, because we don’t always like our neighbours—it’s not a relationship by choice—and, now that we don’t have to approach them in a ‘yes, we disagree but we have to keep talking’ spirit, and we don’t even run into them while shopping and the like, we drift.” We grab what easy commonalities we can, he adds: In a world of multiple media where the top-ranked TV show is watched by less than 10 per cent of the population (as opposed to more than a third 50 years ago), pro sports are more culturally significant than ever—one of the few talking points between neighbours. International contests—a soccer World Cup match, or Canada in an Olympic gold medal hockey game—can give a feeling of community to an entire nation with ever fewer such talking points.” Panem et circenses, folks, panem et circenses.

I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me
If you are already frightened about corporate power then this will have you awake at night with chills. You are in the grip of vast forces that are invisible to you and whose algorithms dictate your life. A secular kabbalah of numbers behind the fabric of your perceived existence. Who do I contact to tweak the formula that keeps sending me advertisements for penis enlargement pills?

Edward Snowden: The Untold Story
There is something so postmodern about this man and this whole situation that I can’t help but be fascinated by him. There is a riddle here made of so many strands that the angles and opinions it generates multiply in almost fractal infinitude. It is the one story that consistently feels like sci-fi.

Clashes Erupt as Liberia Sets an Ebola Quarantine
Speaking of sci-fi as real life, this story reads like something out of a more brutal, more horrible World War Z.

The Strange Tale of the North Pond Hermit
It’s been getting a lot of good press so read it now before you feel left out of that water-cooler conversation on Monday. And with headlines like the ones above, you could be forgiven for wondering if Christopher Thomas Knight wasn’t on to something.


So which poem best captures the zeitgeist? I think the summer of 2014 is a toss-up: “we must love one another or die” vs. “confused alarms of struggle and flight.

Stay true out there.

DIY: Printers Tray Jewelry Display

Brooke Mackin on | Categories: Marvels | 4 Comments

Hi there!  Josh’s wife, Brooke, here.  I’m taking advantage of Josh’s website to write my own DIY post!


Given that I’m a teacher, I’m able to fill my summer break with various DIY ambitions.  This is the project I’m most proud of from the summer.  Any project that incorporates a drill is always up my alley!





printers tray
colorful paper
various hooks
wine corks (optional)
wall hanging hardware
paper cutter


Printers Tray

1. I acquired my printers tray from eBay, though you may be able to find a cheaper one at an antique store.  I love repurposing materials and printers trays have stuck in the back of my mind for a while now.  Once it arrived, I wiped it down with a damp cloth, but didn’t feel the need to do a deep clear or refinish it.


2. Next, I selected an assortment of colored and textured papers within an aesthetic color pallet. (While researching jewelry displays I saw many beautiful varieties with the wood left raw or painted with bright colors.  I opted for using paper because it added a nice pop of color, while preserving the natural color and quality of the wood.)  Trimming the paper down to size took a while, but using a paper cutter helped tremendously.  I cut the rectangles such that they were snug enough in each box to not require glue to hold them in place; though I’m sure a glue stick would do the trick.  At this point, and for the next step, being a bit of a perfectionist paid off.


photo 2    IMG_1677


3. Then I decided how/where to place the hooks.  You can see that sometimes I used two smaller loop hooks, just one loop hook, open-circle hooks, or left the box empty.  I sketched out where to insert the hooks and then started drilling!  Make sure your drill bit is a tad smaller that your hook size and try not to let the sides of the drill drag on or scuff the wood.  Screwing the hooks in was honestly the hardest part so I alternated between drilling and screwing in the hooks to give my fingers a rest.  You can see that I also put in a row of hooks along the bottom to hang necklaces. (You can click on the images to see them enlarged!)


IMG_1682    IMG_1686


IMG_1696    IMG_1704


4. Finally, I installed the hardware to hang the tray on the wall.  I used D-ring fasteners and wire.  I had to be careful of the hooks along the bottom when doing this; you may want to put a towel down on your work surface to provide some extra padding.




5. Also, you can use wine corks to store your stud earrings.  Small, skinny corks may fall out of the tray, but mine have worked well so far!  They fit so nicely along the bottom, don’t they?




Best of luck!  Feel free to ask questions if need be!

Happy Accidents

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Another Addition To The Catalog of Weirdness

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I’ve asserted before that reality is a machine that generates weirdness as effortlessly as the sun produces heat. As further proof of this maxim, I offer today’s oddity for your consideration: a slow-cooked Buzzfeed article on a leafy bed of Youtube channels. Delicious!

Last time we learned that millions of Chinese know it’s time to go home when they hear this Kenny G song. Today it’s toddlers: tens of millions of them, apparently, lulled into some kind of trance-state by this particular Youtube creator. No one knows who she is. No one knows why she has such strange power over three-year-olds.

But them’s the facts and here’s the stats: 90 million views on her most popular video, the third most-viewed channel in the world, probably seven figures in advertising revenue annually.

WEIRD. What is it about human behavior in the aggregate that continues to produce such bizarro details, such fantastic facticities? Why have tens of millions of toddlers and their parents spontaneously arrived at these videos and collectively swooned in enthrallment? Why has this particular combination of elements – unboxed toys, soothing voice, manicured nails – risen like cream to the top of our global hive mind? What does it say about us?

What does it MEAN??????????????

Le consommé du Nabakov

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Having an embarrassment of free time (for once) now that we teachers are on summer break, I’ve enjoyed rummaging through my bookshelves for unread volumes. While on vacation I finally finished Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, a book that’s been niggling to be finished for a while.

Nabokov isn’t for everyone, I understand. But an English major is an English major and which of us can resist his confectionery phrases, his delicious amuse-bouche sentences, with their brilliant stutters and starts spiraling around and around (the spiral, of course, being one of his favorite visual motifs), his layered elliptical asides compounding on each other like so much interest, his slippery trickster’s mind? The language, my friends, the language! With Nabokov you know you are playing a grandmaster and half the time, when the checkmate comes, you won’t even realize it.

Some of us find that prospect ravishing. Many others do not.
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“Let’s, Like, Demolish Laundry”

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“Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.” – Luke xix. 22




I’ve probably told a dozen people about this article in the last month. (Sorry if you were one of them.) But rarely does something so perfectly crystallize a certain trend, a certain type of person, as Jessica Pressler’s article for NY Magazine. That it does so primarily through getting out of the way is merely the cherry on top. Her outrage is sublimated and therefore intensified in letting her hapless subjects speak for themselves: and in so doing, they rise amply like fish to a dry-fly, and so condemn themselves with their own mouths. It is at once horrifying and strangely fascinating to see these young men (they are indeed mostly men), bestriding the world from their perches in Silicon Valley like Colossi, so terribly reveal feet of clay.

There are some truly delicious sections:

“We are living in a time of Great Change, and also a time of Not-So-Great Change. The tidal wave of innovation that has swept out from Silicon Valley, transforming the way we communicate, read, shop, and travel, has carried along with it an epic shit-ton of digital flotsam. Looking around at the newly minted billionaires behind the enjoyable but wholly unnecessary Facebook and WhatsApp, Uber and Nest, the brightest minds of a generation, the high test-scorers and mathematically inclined, have taken the knowledge acquired at our most august institutions and applied themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems. The marketplace of ideas has become one long late-night infomercial. Want a blazer embedded with GPS technology? A Bluetooth-controlled necklace? A hair dryer big enough for your entire body? They can be yours! In the rush to disrupt everything we have ever known, not even the humble crostini has been spared.”

I mean, my God. This paragraph is like Marlow’s journey up the Congo River, each twisting and turning alluvial bend revealing new abominable vistas, until, coming face to face with Kurtz, your lips utter the self-same words that must always be uttered when you gaze into the heart of darkness. (“The horror, the horror,” in case you were wondering.)

Phew. Hyperbole aside, we need to read the Greeks more. They knew hubris and knew it as essentially tragic. And now we are growing accustomed to seeing tragedy daily, not on an Athenian stage but in our streets and on our phones and in our newspapers and universities and our youth, and we are coming to accept it as commonplace, even desirable.

For a people whose cultural stance toward humor is celebrated and derided as ‘ironic’, we are losing our ability to see these things in the unflattering light of an irony they deserve. Irony is an unusually moral shade of comedy: it implicitly cries out for change, for a realignment of ships that have come unmoored and drifted apart in dangerous oblivion to the sea currents of the real world. It warns; it is the prophets’ weapon of choice. Used and received properly, it demolishes hubris.

Yet the irony is that it has come to pass in America that we can have people going around saying things like “let’s demolish laundry” and have articles written satirizing these people, and whole shows pointing out the deficiencies of the moral space these people occupy, and everybody understands but nobody understands. Money continues to pour in, our culture continues to produce and celebrate youth intent on disrupting and commodifying even the most mundane of human activities (even as we laugh at them in our cultural artifacts), and the pace of change rolls forward without stymie, without abatement, Big Data continues its ascension, and the application of technical solutions to moral or spiritual problems intensifies until it acquires that terrifying self-justification that is accepted middle-class conventional wisdom.

The jeremiads of the world have an embarrassment of riches on their hands. Rage on, ye prophets.

Mission Juxtaposition: The Yarnell Hill Fire

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Taking things apart, the tinkering impulse, runs strong in the human heart. We are curious — how does that work? Let me see! How did you do that? I work with children. They are always saying things like that. (God bless them.)

So I thought I might do a periodic feature I’ve titled Mission Juxtaposition. The goal: hold up two pieces of literary work with similar topics, views, or aims and turn them in the light a bit to see which bits glitter best.




As an exercise in literary nerdness, it is fascinating to see how two different authors approach the same topic. What choices do they each make? What do they leave out? What do they leave in? I’ve been doing a lot of magazine reading lately and it’s always instructive to compare how different periodicals spin the same topic. Magazine writing can be particularly helpful here. As the form is relatively short, you get a rare chance to see in a really digestible way two pieces of work held up side by side. Pick it apart. Tinker with the gears. Tweak the springs.

And that’s exactly what I hope to do with The Atlantic and Outside and their respective pieces on the Yarnell Hill Fire.

The Yarnell Hill Fire was an awful tragedy that left 19 young hotshots (a type of specialized forest fire fighter) dead in Arizona in June 2013. There is something about young men and fire — Norman MacLean wrote a book with that very title — that captures with particular pathos something about the human condition. And when those young men die in the flames, glory and tragedy intermingle in a mythic way that would’ve had the ancient bards reaching for their lyres. Today we have journalists, an arachnid profession, seeking to spin the raw material of human suffering into something palatable, moving, even revelatory, to catch readers in.

Right or wrong, both of the following articles set the trap in different ways, and pattern their webs quite distinctly so as to provide a uniquely suitable opportunity for comparison. (It will help to read them yourself before continuing, especially if you want to evaluate any of the possibly crackpot theorizing that follows.)

Let’s start with the most recently published (and therefore most removed from the actual events) of the two pieces, The Atlantic piece.
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Caught In The Wild: Good Writing from The Believer

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Check out this quote from “Heart of the Emerald Triangle” by Lee Ellis:

He stood in the center of the yurt holding court with his staff. Telling stories, touching people on the shoulder buddy-buddy. In moments like these, when Ethan went into friend mode, you could see the high-schooler who’d sold weed to make money but more so to gain proximity to the school’s nobility. It was in his delivery, this unsure youth: Ethan would hazard a joke and immediately scan the room, eyes darting, the reactions of others dictating his own.

I’m not as concerned with the writing itself here as the seeing the author displays. Frederick Buechner once said that paying attention is the essence of a writer’s vocation. (His exact quote is: “Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that.”) And I think that is very true.

So I was dutifully impressed by Ellis’ outstanding work in paying attention to the humanity of the people he is interviewing and interacting with in his nonfiction piece. The frequent result, as in the above paragraph, is something illuminating and honest and even painful about the persistence of the past for these particular individuals. I would venture to say not one person in ten would have had the vision to make this particular observation, and fewer still could make it ring true.

The whole piece is worth reading. It is about a very strange, very weird space that has opened up in America, something new yet also rooted in the myth of the West, in the whirligig morality of the frontier. I like too that Ellis makes the piece fully about the subject, committing himself totally to it, and doesn’t turn a reflexive eye to insert himself into the pages. So many young writers fail to see properly; their own noses and navels get in the way.

(I, uh, ahem, speak from experience here.)


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From the latest issue of The Atlantic, June 2014.

Finding these little playful design details – the nose just a touch over the timeline – always makes me smile. I picture some whimsical graphic designer sneaking it past a dour editor on a Friday afternoon. Days later, she picks up the magazine from a newsstand and allows herself some small private celebration, a rush of internal triumph, the kind of tap-dance-feeling that can only come from unseen victories over our own intimate enemies.

Oh – and the articles are pretty good, too.

Saccharine Perspiration Blues

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Some friends who used to live in Brooklyn drove in last week and we all thought it would be fun to see what we could see in the penumbras emanating from Corporate Art these days. Kara Walker, a big-time artist known primarily for skewering the U.S.’s dismal history of race relations, fortunately fit the bill: a huge opening in the hulking Domino Sugar Factory on the banks of the East River. It was the kind of installation you knew would get raves in the press even before it opened. Plus it was a chance to see the inside of this incredible industrial building before the insatiable appetite for millionaire housing consumed it whole – from highest I-beam to lowest brace bar – and spat out luxury condos. The people-watching promised to be pretty good, too.

sugar boy
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Reality is weird.

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One of the defining characteristics of reality is its weirdness. You might even call it a personal theorem: drill down far enough, and the essential weirdness of the cosmos will manifest itself. Things tend toward oddness, certainly on the quantum level, but often far before that too. Our lives run up against improbable and frankly strange contours more often than we admit. Details stubbornly refuse to cohere. Meaning chases itself around the circle of events. This is as true for individuals as it is for our collective lives within nations.

Errol Morris (EM), the celebrated documentarian, posits the same point to Lawrence Weschler (LW) in one of my favorite interviews ever:

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Artist runs 50 miles, gives new meaning to phrase “starving artist”

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My friend Josh Cave is an amazing painter and he ran 50 miles this Saturday at the North Face/Gore-Tex Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY. Something like 400 people entered. 250 finished. Josh got 24th overall, with a time of 9 hours and 9 minutes.


24th! 9 hours! 50 miles! The numbers are frankly intimidating. When you witness an incredible feat of athleticism and mental strength like this – well, your “tough” 4-mile run on Tuesday seems pretty shabby by comparison. One is tempted to look in the mirror and say the aspirational “I should work out more” but then you realize, no, no matter how much you work out, it is unlikely that 50-mile ultramarathons will ever be in your future. The 8-ball says don’t count on it resolutely.

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It Was A Good Day

Josh Mackin on | Categories: Marvels | 1 Comment

1. 8am: woke up, cup of tea, read for an hour.

2. Went climbing at Brooklyn Boulder.

3. Ran in Prospect Park.

4. Got iced coffee from Beny’s.

5. 11:50am: coached our varsity soccer team in Crown Heights. First game of the season. 8-2 win.


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