31 July 2007

To the Peacocks at St. John the Divine

an overwhelming peace that
startles. so uncommon on this day.
structure. anxiety. pressure. rushed.
instant blanket of relaxation drops. covers.
lost in this purity.
not albino. not lack of pigment.
presence of white. a cloud defining itself against a darker sky.
forced to stand out. proud to provide substance.

contrasted by the brilliance of iridescent satin in
rich royal hues. perched. watching.
guarding and regal from a rusty pipeline.
"this is my domain."
nothing is more beautiful, even if it tried.
both creatures: not necessarily powerful. still
created to stand out in both directions. perfect
balance. never conforming. don't
fit in. but two parts of a
unique whole. completing each other.

30 July 2007

i sat on the floor at borders

Farewell, My Blood

Does a Generation, once stained, become unstained?
Or does "stain" imply a permanence I
no longer believe in?
Because everything passes and we are
all dynamic. Even the most stoic.
Because I still believe in
the nature of man. to love. Even if it skips
a generation, to stain the next
with love.

28 July 2007

How To Find One’s Way Back From That Place “East of Eden”

Every now and then, I forget what love is.
Then, I plunge into a piece of life to emerge weeping and reeling from my intensely close encounter with humanity. And I immediately recall that gut-wrenching passion bound with a self-sacrificing loyalty that passes for a more tangible version of that romanticized emotion.
This week, that artistry was none other than the work of John Steinbeck.

Chaucer claims that there is "nothing new under the sun." Everything that is written has been written before and will be re-written until mankind gives up that false sense of pride that comes from the spark of an allegedly novel idea. This reality provides an imminent danger for a man who attempts to tell a story that has been told throughout generations since the beginning of time, literally. However, in East of Eden, Steinbeck re-creates that narrative, so ingrained in our ancestry - giving new life to those images tattooed on our souls.

Steinbeck is a master of the fine arts. He does not rely on exciting plot lines or flashy word choice. He does not cater to the new generation of overstimulated youth who require a dominant voice or image to get through the constant noise and distraction. Steinbeck's voice is soft-spoken, but firm. A storyteller who knows that his words carry weight and promise, he paints a complete, detailed picture and walks the reader through this parallel universe that resembles our own just enough to draw us in completely.

Recalling the sentiments of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude, we follow the Trask and Hamilton families through births, deaths, and the existential crises that inevitably come in between. Steinbeck explores and re-defines the boundaries of what we consider "family," as well as how we respond to the blood that runs through our veins. We slowly tear apart and rebuild our conceptions of virtue as we decide if any story with substance and complexity can justify outward displays of malice. Steinbeck's portrayal of a brother's sincere pursuit of affirmation leaves the reader at the beginning of an introspective journey through one's own essential struggle with the immense potential for both good and evil that are deeply inherent in all of us. We are candidly reminded that we live every day at the crossroads of surrender to or redemption from an elusive evil that we will never truly be free of. And so we continue, each day, making conscious choices and determining our own destiny, because "we may."

27 July 2007

The Modern Art Conundrum

"Modern art is inaccessible!"
It's almost like a battle cry from Davey's lips, feeling especially snubbed by the art-elite because he can't quite remember the last time he considered himself a part of any "out" group. (Actually, he just chooses not to remember, but who really considers high school to be the "glory days" anyways?) As I make my way through the disconnected forum of the permanent collection of modern art at the Met, I am trying to imagine what it would feel like to take in this exhibit cold.

I am unable to empathize. Each piece triggers the search for some information I've filed away for this exact purpose. I piece together historical events, personal biographies, innovations in technology, anything to contextualize the work in front of me so that I can gather my own sense of it's significance and presence. People argue pretentiously that art is not created to be analyzed, but simply enjoyed. The reality is that most people cannot begin to enjoy something they feel is beyond their reach of understanding. We are rational, logical beings who find comfort in comprehension. Also, it's easier to command a viewer not to think too much when the object being scrutinized has a recognizable subject.

There are two aspects of any modern art piece that allows me to truly enjoy the art. The first is the relevance of its place in a historical timeline. In the Berliner Gallerie's display of work from the DaDa movement, one sees collages similar to pieces we made for Mother's Day in the 1st grade while learning coordination through the use of safety scissors. This means nothing until the patron realizes that this is one of the first of its kind in the public sphere. Before this moment in time, no high profile artist within or outside of any movement thought it would be a nifty idea to cut out pictures and paste them on a canvas to create a new image. This was considered the deconstruction of art as they knew it at the time.

The second characteristic I like to draw upon for contextualization when considering modern art is the placement of the piece in the creative process of that particular artist. When I first stumbled upon Robert Rauschenberg, I was appalled. The idea of old photos and magazine pictures pasted on broken cabinet doors being considered art was hard to swallow. I was especially skeptical about the goat wearing a tire. However, I am a flexible, open-minded human being, so I gave it a chance - and what I experienced shifted paradigms. Slowing taking in an entire special exhibition devoted to Rauschenberg, I relived his artistic processes: the why joined with the how and what simply became an object of my affection. I experienced his frustrations with his limitations and his rebellion of mixed mediums. I grew to respect this visionary who learned how to make others fall in love (for how else does one sell modern art?).

Now, a diagonal flourescent light is no longer random and silly; it is an integral part of Dan Flavin's large scale light installations that explore the properties of light and color in ways that invoke the amazement of an optical illusion. A felt-covered cello is no longer impractical; tears form in my eyes and emotions well up in my throat as I remember Joseph Beuys' obsession with the material that saved his life when he was shot down during the second World War. This life-giving fabric not only contrasts the shine of the classical instrument, preaching practicality over luxury - Beuys also invokes the memory of concentration camps where human hair was actually used in the manufacturing of this textile.

Modern art does not have to be inaccessible; perhaps curators simply choose to make it so. Until art spaces truly become interactive educational spaces as well, the average Joe will continue to shake his head in disbelief and confusion.
And who are we kidding? Even my friends aren't that eloquent under pressure.
His real words: "I dont get it."

26 July 2007

Turning Perceptions: Replacing Inanimate Beauty With Immortal Power

I was walking through the art of Africa and the Americas at the Met in New York City when I realized: this doesn't appeal to me.
The realization bothered me, so I decided to explore the art more carefully to try and understand my lack of immediate interest. What I discovered instilled a deep respect for ancient traditions and the cultures that still honor those sentiments.

The evolution of Euro-centric art is the refining and redefining of the human body - idealized conceptions of beauty seen as objects to be portrayed. One can imagine the timeline of refinement as any scholar starts from the stylized depictions of the body and travels through the more realistic depictions and the corresponding quintessential images. These representations correlate to the social norms or cultural values of the time. Botticelli's Venus exemplifies the robust figure of the Rubenesque form when a full figure represented wealth and health. Da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci exemplifies that strange High Renaissance phenomenon of the high forehead and pudgy porcelain cheeks. Picasso favored disembodiment altogether, causing viewers to think twice as they look twice at what could be and should be various body parts.

This "other" art of Africa and the Americas consisted of subjects, even depictions of people, who were actors with agency and purpose. Instead of focusing on natural forms as they appeared in reality, figurines like the Mayan monkey god and the Incan wind god showed a different kind of fantastical imagination and attention to detail. These statues were worshipped and prayed to for guidance as well as sustenance. They were given agency and a power of their own, even by the hands that created them. There was a bust of an African tribal queen used as a marker for her tomb. She was not objectified; the image was not even an exact likeness of her. Instead, the bust exhibited characteristics that the people believed all queens should have, and she was then consulted in times of confusion or need and thought to protect and guide her offspring. In another tribe, when the chief died, a small statue would be created in his honor and would be given as a gift to his wife or closest relative. This statue looks nothing like a human being, but is decorated with various symbols to serve as reminders of his work and valiant personality traits. This piece of stone is regarded not only as a continuing presence of the chief; it is even referred to by name.

By creating an actor, instead of an object to be desired, these images invoke a deep respect for nature, life, and humanity in a way that seems to have somehow become lost along the way. The creator even often is subject to the creation. It takes on a life, mind, agency, control, social influence of it's own. The artist no longer owns the work: the subject's identity is more important than the artist's name or signature. Perhaps this speaks to a sense of communal permanence over the individual desire to be remembered and to leave some kind of personalized mark in the world. I walked away from that wing of the Met with a new appreciation for non-Western art. It struck me as totally imaginative because it does not simply take images from real life, but rather is more intricate, infused with raw creativity and vision.

25 July 2007

When New York Expeditions Don’t Meet Expectation

Our entire modern history of literature, arts, and film don't lie... all the time. New York City truly is an impressive place.
The city is still cold and unloving. Everyone is still trying to make it. The rich are still rich; and the poor? Still poor. But at least they get the title: "starving artist." What a world, where a label like that can invoke pride, even when it's just a fancy way of saying "dirt broke." But that's exactly it: New York City is an entirely different world unto itself. She has her own personality and could care less if you like her or not, because she has enough lovers to endure beyond the most biting criticisms. Thus emboldened, I continue.

New York has all the things that anyone who loves cities would love about cities. There is never a shortage of cheap authentic or rudely overpriced eateries, work to be put off or events to provide sufficient distraction, and people. Bright lights and endless crowds are usually comforting to people seeking anonymity and freedom in new urban spaces. I was drawn to the rich abundance of art and culture that pulls me to these lively urban centers, but all the factors that set New York apart as a unique world made me recoil in disappointment. In the same way that students push blindly through commuter schools, just waiting to get out, people in New York (not necessarily New Yorkers) run around as if for their lives and not from them. Granted, the impersonal feeling comes from not only the fact that New York is a commuter city, but that most people are tourists - literally just going through. Any normal human being would lose the impetus to reach out and meet new people in such a temporal environment with little hope for any sense of permanence. And so we have it: a city of brilliant lonely people, living a fast life, conditioned to retreat if triggered by any breed of fear, and so completely certain that they live in the best of all possible worlds.

And who am I to argue? I take the occasional dip in their pool when I need my modern art or open mic fix, but I'll stay in my city out here in the Bay where people aren't afraid to ask for your name. And that's an understatement.

14 July 2007

If I had to describe myself:

I believe in social justice and the importance of social welfare. This is a direct result of my background in academia - focusing on sociology and religious studies; my religion; and my personal experiences with various disenfranchised groups. Through traveling and meeting people from various parts of the world, I have gained a deep value for learning about and from other cultures. I know that I am privileged. I also know that I have many talents and gifts that I feel I can contribute to the world around me, and in a more dynamic way in places where resources are scarce. I am obsessed with learning. I want to eventually go into the field of education, but I desire to first have more world/life experience.

I would like to give up ties to academia and my intellectual identity; I'd like to learn to relate personally to people without necessarily a relationship or connection based on cognitive understanding. I want to learn what people's needs are and how they can be met on a global scale. Academia is a place where we exchange ideas with one another. The American University has been an institution that encourages extensive debate and discussion about various, often controversial, issues in our society. We constantly analyze and asses the who and the what and the how. But even that reaches a point of saturation. We find ourselves repeating arguments that cannot be further developed within the context of this intellectual community. I desire to apply the ideas I've developed in the real world. I am dissatisfied with just talking. Frustrated with academia. I want to commit to something bigger. I want to see who I am away from my cultural distraction and discover my identity based on what I can let go of and what I cannot live without.

I was really moved by my experience both in Turkey and with Turkish people in Germany. In Berlin, the second largest population of Turkish people outside of Turkey, they are marginalized; and frankly, no one has anything good to say about them. That was really hard for me because it just is so unfair how the Germans, and all of us for that matter, have this distorted image of what Islam and its values are. Several times, I would have to challenge my students to think beyond the stereotype that "Muslim men beat their wives and their culture upholds that practice." It was really painful to see how the western world judges peoples we don't understand, because we don't care enough to learn from them. My best friend had a Sufi Muslim host mom, and they would sit for hours talking about religion. He would say "Jesus" and she would say "Allah" and they would just meet each other on this plane of understanding and love. Her practice of discipline and calm compassion really challenged me to rethink my own images of faith manifested in my life.

I think most people see international volunteering as "us helping the world"; but I really see it as me learning from the world. Particularly places in the world I would/could not really encounter and engage with otherwise. I want to use the skills and gifts I have to contribute to something bigger than myself and my limited community. So many truths are lost in cultural translation and I want my life to reflect a possible synthesis of seemingly binary worlds. Like Queen Noor al Hussein of Jordan's Memoir Leap of Faith, I want to provide a way of communicating, sharing, and understanding for different peoples - drawing from similarities and virtues to find a common ground of compassion.

We talk a lot about the simple life. We live in a world where we stack up achievement upon achievement, climbing multiple ladders without stopping to think what building the ladder is leaning on or leading towards. I would really appreciate, even though I know it will be monumentally difficult, that kind of slowing down and listening to the world around me.

10 July 2007

I have a new Hero

Her name is Lisa Halaby aka Queen Noor al Hussein (literally "light of hussein" which is super cute because her husband was King Hussein and he gave her the name) of Jordan.
She's an arab american woman who married the king. it's so hilarious. she calls her autobiography "memoirs of an unexpected life." It is truly a beautiful story.

This woman, who discovers the arab world through her career, who is part of the first class of women to attend Princeton University, who grows an enormous heart for her husband and his people and just learns to love them and see them - she really humanizes the leaders of the arab world and speaks to the stark contrast between the extravagance of royal life and her previously so simple lifestyle.
She really paints a beautiful image of her husband and his country. Her work is a testament to her husband's love and devotion and dignity and all those good things that kings should have. It really is just a thrill and pleasure to read and I love her, deeply.

AND Queen Rania of Jordan, her daughter in law, is currently on the cover of vanity fair for her work with children/orphans. It's astonishing to see all the amazing things Queen Noor does with the power that she has and all the ways she really influenced development and re-construction. Things that we take for granted in our countries, and yet really celebrate the Jordanian culture and speak to the deep richness of their lives through the arts and other things. And how she really cares for them through providing basic healthcare and a desire to balance the economy and.... oh everything. AND she has a wonderfully real and honest perspective about the arab leaders and their decisions through the second half of the 20th century.

I highly recommend.

06 July 2007

poems from the park

After all that is dissipates
we hope that which is left is calm.
Perhaps the peace we seek is a
stage in itself, not the final place
of rest beneath it all. Perhaps

in this world built on fantasies
taken at face value and lives
based on arbitrary assumption
or lies - the imaginary foundations
are all we really stand on.

We fear the confrontation
with the absolute truth. But
maybe we fear what we already
know - there is nothing there at all.


I remember days when love was
simple, but images too complex,
ideal for me to desire.

The days were long and weeks
eternity - and even then, a year
was longer than a promise could

What was this love I wanted?
Did I doubt? or simply desire
perfection? We made, bought, and stole
time. Hoping to trick or
outrun our attention spans.


Nothing is carefree.

delusions of self-sufficiency.
affirmations of existence.
crises of independent thought.

I am free to live and relive my mind.
to excavate and explore new
frontiers of the human condition
to find: I need you.


I tumble, but every hill has
a plateau. for better or worse.
maybe if I turn it off, it won't
hurt. But if it hurts, I forget.
I cry to scream. I scream to
numb my senses. To block out
the world and enter into aural
nothingness. my sound's existential.


I run at the last moment.
when I know it makes a
difference in the world. when it
drags someone else down.
It isn't real unless someone
else hurts.
But it's not like anyone
believes in love anymore.
We'd rather regret emotion than
label it.


Broken beauty. Oxymoron.
of my Id. Is a larger whole
more valuable than a smaller more?
If it can't be shared, how will its
existence be validated? How
many voices ratify abstraction into
substance? Is it achieved or effortless?

Who determines the glamour of subtlety?

If I am what you see - can I determine
how you see - me when you glance
my way and enter into a power
play we can't understand or
control. we're oblivious until we

realize we can win. so we fight
to never play again. we're so
sure that our insecurities can
only withstand (up to a limit)
if we come out on top, barely
grasping the upper hand.