When the world breaks your heart…

Frida_Kahlo_endureThe shooting in Orlando breaks my heart. The malignant violence (and anger and hatred and homophobia) in American culture scares me more than I like to admit.

Sometimes, there’s nothing to do other than recognize the pain of others. And keep on living.

Frida Kahlo said it well: “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”

Image via Corazon Beats

Two cute monsters by Marina Muun & Scarlett’s colors.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 8.24.17 PM.pngI love these monsters and I love love Marina Muun’s color palate. I’m really into unexpected pastels lately, mauve-y pinks and gray-greens.

See her professional portfolio here.

Check out her Tumblr here.

Updated, a few hours later:
Some brilliant person pinpointed the color palates of famous films. Wes Anderson’s colors, when separated from context, are ugly. (I love his movies and how color creates a mood, but never-would-I-ever want to live in a mustard-and-ketchup world.) This one’s my favorite, though I love the colors of The Revenant, too. Scarlett_Lost

Dream job: color librarian.

Harvard_Rare_ColorsI once read that the most expensive paint colors were also the most difficult to describe. We can all picture buttercup yellow, but can you imagine a sandy mixture of yellow with hints of pink and gray? Or that pretty, silvery green color that so often appears on spring things, like lambs ear or dusty miller? What are those colors called?

Of course, there are experts who know about the names, uses, and mixes of each strange new hue. Like the folks at Pantone, who have just discovered the Worst Color Ever, which the Australian government plans to use on cigarette packs to deter smokers. (If you ask me, a crappy brown box wont be nearly as effective at deterring smokers than pictures of cancer patients—which is what they do in Canada—but you do you, Australia!) harvard_pigment_museumAnother place you’ll find experts in color is at The Straus Center. This Harvard-affiliated color library is home to all sorts of rare and valuable colors, including mummy brown and dragon’s blood. Their samples are made from plants and minerals, chemical compounds and organic detritus. They run the gamut from startlingly bright to subtle and murky.

The pigments at Harvard are used primarily for scientific analysis (like one time, scientists at the Straus Center used chemical analysis to out a faux-Jackson Pollock painting as a forgery). However, in my head I like to pretend that “Color Librarian” is a job title I could hold—if I studied my colors enough, that is. Aside from sorting and categorizing colors, I would like to be hired to name colors. Hard acorn green, dog’s ear pink, maple syrup brown, dead tooth gray, distant mountain blue. I’d spend my days matching pigments with their ephemeral counterparts, the things we see but can’t extract color from, the impossible things that slip right through our eyes and into memory. Insomnia street-light yellow, strawberry top pink, dandelion fuzz white.

Two nice things: A body like mine, a body like yours.

For a long time, my answer to the question, “Who is your favorite artist?” was spat out quickly, thrown from my mouth like something vaguely disgusting: Egon Schiele. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Schiele. But I love his work because it is so twisted and tortured, so uncomfortable to look at, so unsettling. Today, when I first saw the work of Kaethe Butcher, an artist from Leipzig, I gasped. Her illustrations have all the deranged, manic agony of Schiele, and all the raw sexuality, but Butcher adds a fierceness to her portraits. While Schiele’s subjects often seemed terribly sad, Butcher’s have an air of fuck-it-ness about them. They don’t care if you like it. They aren’t here for you. 

While we’re on the topic of female bodies, I’m reading two strange books. One is a first-person portrait of a sociopathic pedophile, a young female teacher with a taste for adolescent male flesh. The other is the story of an anorexic, image-obsessed young white woman and her jealous roommate. (Click here to see Tampa by Alissa Nutting and here for You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman.) While the subject matter is entirely different, there are so many similarities between these two bold books. Both authors zero in on the female body and explore every inch of it. They write about taboos and urges, inappropriate needs and pathological desires. They both feel feminist, but in very different ways. And I recommend both novels for your Unflinching Books By Badass Women reading list.

What I read at the Portland Museum of Art.


I was recently asked to write a short reply to a work of art in the “Masterworks on Paper” exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art and read it aloud during a one-night event. There were cocktails inspired by art and readings by local authors. I was one of the writers and I although I’m new to reading in public (and thus pretty nervous!), it was still a great evening. Above is the work I chose to write about. Below is what I wrote.

Thanks for being on my website, and thanks to everyone who came out.

Skin and Bones

In response to: Self-Portrait as Ishmael’s Arm, Scott Kelley, 2011. Watercolor and ink on paper, 18″ x 18″

When I was twelve years old, my forehead erupted into miniature mountain range, a mess of red bumps. Sometimes, little pieces of skin would slough off, like ice calving from a glacier.

I hated this change, the disruption to my facial topography. I hated every change imposed on my body by puberty. My body, this thing I had lived with for years, had become, suddenly and irreversibly, outside my control.

My skin cleared up after a few months—I consider myself lucky for that. But I never lost the feeling that puberty brought—that my body was something that needed to be tamed, changed, and conquered. As I grew taller, the thirty-three bones that make up my spine curved, first to the right, then to the left. It was subtle, my scoliosis, but it compressed my torso, bringing my height down from five-foot-nine to five-foot-eight.

But that change I welcomed because, as anyone who has lived inside a young female body knows, there’s always someone on hand to critique its size and shape. I have struggled to change my body, to make it into something other than its grown shape. I wanted to make it smaller, and somewhat paradoxically—because the world likes small, delicate women—something more visible to others. Over the years, I’ve applied myself to a series of ridiculous diets, some funny (like the time I only drank milk and ate carrots for a week, which gave my skin an orange tinge and made my stomach rumble loudly) and some sad (like the time I proclaimed proudly to a group of friends, “I only ate three grapes today” while they looked on in undisguised horror). I’ve joined gyms and attended expensive spinning classes where everyone sits in a dark room and pumps their legs aggressively while the instructor barks out orders from her own stationary station, going nowhere fast to the tune of overproduced bumping and grinding.

I haven’t found a single way to effectively tame this wild thing, this thing that grows hair in unexpected places and kicks fitfully in its sleep. But I have discovered a way to mark it as my own, and it involves needles, ink, and a blank piece of human real estate.

I got my first tattoo when I was sixteen years old. I had begged my mother for months to let me get one, to sign a parental release and let me permanently brand my body. Finally, on a family vacation to Bridgton, Maine, she gave in. Under the light of a neon sign, a burly man holding a can of Coors Light inked a small, black butterfly on my left shoulder blade. It cost $20. My mom held my hand as I lay on the cheap plastic table. “Does it hurt?” she asked me. “No it feels good,” I lied.

Or maybe that was the truth. I’m honestly still not sure. I’ve been tattooed multiple times since then, including a cover-up piece that erased the sad, faded remains of my first little butterfly, and I’ve never quite figured out how it truly feels. It stings, sure. It bleeds and that hurts. But it doesn’t feel bad. It doesn’t feel good. It isn’t pleasurable. But it feels interesting. Compelling. It feels like a transformation, and I’m a junkie for change. So I keep doing it.

Of course, I’m not alone in my desire to mark up my skin. People have been getting tattooed since Neolithic times. Anyone who has seen a picture of the famous “Ice Man” knows how strange these mummified ancient corpses look, all leathery skin and short bones and dark ink, at once both alien and primal.

And this is how many still view tattoos in the western world. Exotic and somehow primitive, a visual marker of a volatile person, someone uncontrollable. This has been especially true for women. Tattooed men were sailors and soldiers; tattooed women were freakshow acts, painted ladies and hookers. Deviants, all of them.Maud_Stevens_Wagner.jpeg

When I look at Scott Kelly’s piece, his delicately painted watercolor arm, his beautiful tribute to my favorite novel, I feel something I don’t like: Jealousy. I feel jealous of that arm in the same way I once felt sick with jealousy reading Melville’s prose. Not because I aspired to be a writer like him (though I do—who doesn’t?) but because I wanted to enter that world so badly. Ishmael spoke my language, but he wasn’t speaking to me. He was hazy about the eyes, plagued by the dark November of his soul, and pulled like a magnet toward the water. I saw myself in him, a Narcissus-like reflection in a pool of literary beauty. And yet, I couldn’t enter that world. There was no place for me there. I was a girl. And that was a world for men.

The world has changed and moved in fantastic, spectacular ways. My tattoos do not mark me as a freak, but as person who values something a little left of the middle. I could be a sailor if I wanted to. I could hunt a white whale and harpoon my own beast.

When I see that whale spine, I have to remind myself. Do not be jealous. Do not envy the freedom of those who came before. Just straighten your own spine. Take those thirty-three bones and stretch them out to your full height. Bare your skin, and align your bones.

You own this body. You claimed it, and it is yours.

[Image of Maud Wagner, first female tattoo artist in the U.S., plus a circus performer, aerialist, and contortionist. Bad. Ass.]

On color, beauty, and joy.

flower-petal-explosion-sony-4k-ultra-hd-1flower-petal-explosion-sony-4k-ultra-hd-4.jpgSony Flower Petal Rain Joyflower-petal-explosion-sony-4k-ultra-hd-8

Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways… For the real artist is he who proceeds, not from feeling to form, but from form to thought and passion. He does not conceive an idea, and then say to himself, ‘I will put my idea into a complex metro of fourteen lines,’ but, realising the beauty of the sonnet-scheme, he conceives certain modes of music and methods of rhyme, and the mere form suggests what is to fill it and make it intellectually and emotionally complete.

– Oscar Wilde, excerpt from “The Critic as Artist”

Images above from (of all places!) a Sony ad, in which eight million flower petals were exploded into the air above a Costa Rican town. The petals, which took weeks to gather, weighed 3.5 tons. While part of me wonders at that many flowers being torn apart (and picked from the ground) a bigger part of me thinks: This is what pure joy looks like.

What a joy that day must have been.

Two nice things: Writer’s block edition.

Frances Stark_why_write1. This piece by L.A.-based artist Frances Stark really speaks to some of the frustration I’ve been feeling recently with my own work. I don’t get writer’s block often, and I don’t often call it “writer’s block” (I usually just say I’m being lazy) but man, does this image hit the nail on its nasty little head. Why should you not be able to assemble yourself, Katy? (See more of Stark’s “trashy collage” aesthetic on Art Forum.)

2. Wet, Wet, always Wet. This indie pop band is just so freaking good, but this lyric is pure truth: “Some days just aren’t good for anything at all. Feel all those feelings but don’t make that call.” Listen to the song (which is fantastic and dreamy and upbeat and pensive at once) here. 

This is exactly how I want to look on my wedding day.

1897804_Except I’d like to be a little less angry. She looks pissed.

Anyway, I’m engaged and have been for a bit. I have no wedding date set yet nor any real plans. We might do a courthouse thing. We might do a backyard wedding. Whatever. Until recently, I thought I didn’t care too much about the dress… but damn, I want to look like this queen. Black and gold and crown and antlers and a fierce-as-hell armband? Yes, please. I never thought I wanted a “fairy tale” wedding… but I do! In the traditional sense, however, which means I want heads to roll and fairies to dance with and piles and heaps and piles of magical gifts. Sounds do-able.

The above image is by the amazing Artus Scheiner, who was a Czech illustrator and Bohemian painter. His work is considered part of the Secessionist movement, alongside my personal favorite artist, Egon Schile, and my second favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. I really do love me some Secessionists!

Learn more about Secessionism as an artistic movement here. See more of Artus Scheiner’s amazing work here (he illustrated lots and lots of fairytales, and the results are stunning and strange). Learn more about my wedding nowhere. Because this is probably the first and last time I blog about it.

I love Angela Deane’s joyful little ghosts.

ghost_joy_angela_deaneghost_joyGhost_Images_Angela_Deane_03My favorite images from Angela Deane‘s excellent series of ghost photographs (in which she takes vintage pictures and paints little white ghosts over all the people) have one thing in common: they all feature water. Perhaps that’s because swimming, for me, is such a joyful act, and these ghosts seem like oddly happy creatures, despite their featureless, faceless nature. Or maybe it’s because water has a strange, reality-bending property (as well as light-bending abilities) and ghosts inhabit that in-between place of real and not-real. Or maybe it’s because I’m craving summer and dying to shed some layers. Or maybe because it feels so irreverent, combining that spooky blankness with such standard images of All-American Summer Fun.

Or maybe who cares! Deane is a clever, funny artist with a great visual style and a wonderful collection of old photos to draw from (and upon!). See more here. 

Poem for today: “Toward you, I thistle and I climb.”

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 3.35.37 PM

Reader unmov’d and Reader unshaken, Reader unseduc’d
and unterrified, through the long-loud and the sweet-still
I creep toward you. Toward you, I thistle and I climb.
I crawl, Reader, servile and cervine, through this blank
season, counting—I sleep and I sleep. I sleep,
Reader, toward you, loud as a cloud and deaf, Reader, deaf
as a leaf. Reader: Why don’t you turn
pale? and, Why don’t you tremble? Jaded, staid
Reader, You—who can read this and not even

Excerpt from the beautiful, strange poem “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” by Olena Kalytiak Davis, found via an article on The Poetry Foundation, which suggests an alternative reading: swap “reader” for “lover” for a new perspective on this strange and seductive poem. And a word of advice: you really should read it aloud. It rolls around in your mouth, sometimes fluid and smooth, sometimes twisty and thorny, words running together and hard to get out. Reading poetry is the perfect activity for a rainy Sunday. Take a moment and savor it.

Image: Embroidery and drawing by Spanish artist Ana Teresa Barboza. I’ve featured her art on my blog before, but I couldn’t find a better image for this poem—the lion-girl just fits the scary seduction theme so well, I think.