Blogathon for SSA Week: Imaginative Star Tattoos?

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This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 3:02 PDT: 436 Donors, $70,488.02
As of 4:03 PDT: 438 Donors, $70,573.02

So I’m thinking of getting another tattoo. A set of them, actually, to commemorate my surgical scars (five of them, I had laparoscopic surgery, so I have five little scars instead of one big one). I’m thinking of getting stars, one on each scar, so the set of them looks like sort of like a constellation.

Five pointed starBut I don’t want the stars to just look like regular five-pointed pentagram stars. I want them to look more interesting than that, more imaginative. I’m not a designer, though. So I’m crowdsourcing this: Does anyone with tattoo experience — or heck, without it — have ideas on how to do a star tattoo, or a series of star tattoos, that are clearly identifiable as stars, but don’t just look like pentagrams?

If it helps, you can see the scars (four of the five, anyway), and where they’re situated on my body — not great, but you can see them — in this picture. It’s the one where I’m half-naked with the word “MINE” written on my torso in lipstick, the one I did in support of Tunisian anti-theocratic activist Amina. They’re in an arc across my belly and above my belly button, with one more dipping down just below my waistband.


If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Street Art: “Picturesoteric” by Sirron Norris

So I was heading home today from a couple of pre-surgery errands. (Yes, I know, I have friends who will run errands for me right now… but I wanted the exercise and the outside time, especially since I have a stretch of house-bound boredom and cabin-fever ahead of me.) I was feeling tired and worried, sad and shut down, wanting nothing more than to be home on my sofa watching bad TV and turning off my brain.

And I saw this.

"Picturesoteric" by Sirron Norris

"Picturesoteric" by Sirron Norris

"Picturesoteric" by Sirron Norris

"Picturesoteric" by Sirron Norris

"Picturesoteric" by Sirron Norris

And I thought: I get to see this.

I get to be alive.

It sucks that I have cancer. It completely sucks that I got diagnosed with cancer two weeks after my father died. And it’s okay for me to feel shitty, to feel tired and sad and like I need to take a brain-break from everything.

But I get to be alive, here, and now.

And I get more than to be alive. I get to be alive in this neighborhood: so alive and so freaky and so very much a neighborhood. I get to be alive in this city, where art like this is welcomed and celebrated and has a home. I get to be alive in this century, when I have have a life expectancy of 80 and not 35, when endometrial cancer can be caught early and doesn’t have to be a death sentence.

Richard Dawkins said it really well:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

I get to be alive. No, I don’t get to be alive forever: this cancer is very treatable and will be behind me pretty soon, but mortality is going to catch up with me eventually. But I get to be alive. And I get to see huge, expansive art that is entirely made of joy.

“Picturesoteric,” by Sirron Norris. Corner of 18th and Bryant in San Francisco. Lots more details from the mural after the jump. Click. It’s worth it. [Read more…]

Grief Diary, 10/7/12


Ingrid and I went to the Cindy Sherman exhibit today. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have been the day to go see a challenging and disturbing art exhibition: we just got back home to San Francisco yesterday, and in a perfect world, this would have a day to rest, play with the kitties, maybe take a gentle little meditative walk. But today was the last day of the exhibit — we’ve been meaning to go, and things kept interfering — and I knew if we missed it, I’d hugely regret it. I’m feeling very “carpe diem”-y right now, very conscious of missed opportunities, and I didn’t want to miss this one. Very glad we went. It was somehow both cathartic and distracting: the exhibit was intense, on themes that resonate very strongly with me… but mostly not the themes I’ve been obsessing on in the last week. It was kind of a relief to be having intense, challenging, unsettling feelings about something other than loss and grief and paralyzing meta-meta-meta self-consciousness. (Although there was one photograph that was very close to home, one I kept returning to and flinching from and returning to again: one of the “centerfolds,” the one that to me looked like an entirely exhausted and defeated woman on the verge of finally falling asleep but with shell-shocked eyes that won’t quite close.) And I went out of my way to walk on the top-floor walkway, the one where you can see straight down through to the four floors below you. I think I wanted to have the experience of the ground not seeming solid under my feet… and experience it as adventurous and pleasurable, and know that it was actually safe. And the long walk to the museum — an hour, maybe a little more — was excellent, and much-needed.

Speaking of which: Memo to self about long walks. During this stretch of grief and depression, I’ll often have a moment during a long walk where I’ll think that I’m exhausted, a moment where I’ll think, “I can’t keep doing this, I have to stop, I have to sit down right this second.” It usually comes early on in the walk, not even fifteen or twenty minutes in, long before the time when I would actually be physically tired and needing to stop. Memo to self: I am not actually exhausted. Not physically, anyway. I am fully capable of continuing to put one foot in front of the other. And if I push through it — if I continue to put one foot in front of the other for a while, even if it’s in a zombie-like daze — I am always happy that I did. I push through it emotionally as well as physically, and feel more awake and alive.

Oh, I remembered what it was! The thing I wanted to say about ways that self-interest and compassion intertwine, the thing I wanted to say yesterday but couldn’t remember or put into words.

It’s this: I’ve been resisting, somewhat, the idea of letting people take care of me. (Except for Ingrid.) Lots of people have been saying, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know” — and I’ve been feeling reluctant to take them up on it. I’m somehow afraid that it’ll suck me into a vortex of self-involvement, that I’d be taking unfair advantage of their kindness. Or something.

But something occurred to me. When people in my life are grieving, or are otherwise suffering, I want to help. It’s not that I think I should help, that I feel obligated to help. I want to. I feel better if I can. I feel helpless and shitty in the face of suffering and grief, especially the suffering and grief of people I love — and being able to help, even a little, makes me feel better.

So letting people help me isn’t just self-involved or taking advantage. I mean, it wouldn’t be anyway, that’s dumb, my father just died and it’s okay for to ask for help. But letting people help me is also, in this complicated intertwining of self-interest and compassion, a way of helping them. My friends want to help me. If there’s a way that they can, I’m doing them a kindness by letting them. Besides, the help isn’t just about the practical help. It’s about the connection being created by the act of helping, and of accepting help. I’m reminded a bit of one of the vows Ingrid and I wrote for our wedding: “I promise to give you my help and support, and to accept help and support from you.” The second half of that is as important to the connection as the first.

Have been having thoughts about atheist views of death and meaning, and how we create our own meaning instead of persuading ourselves that it’s handed to us by God. But Kanani gave me her old Kindle today (she just got a new one), and I bought “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and I want to get into it. I’m feeling slightly less frantically and obsessively driven to record every single thought and feeling every single day in this diary, slightly more willing to let things simmer, and I want to go with that. The atheist meaning of death is not time-sensitive. It can wait until tomorrow.

Street Art: Rejoice

From Balmy Alley in San Francisco. Because of the angle, it was hard to get a good photo of the whole image: these are the best I could do.

Balmy Alley is sort of famous. It’s in lots of guidebooks; they give tours of it; I rarely visit it without seeing other visitors there. I could do an entire series of Balmy Alley murals, and maybe someday I will. But this is probably my favorite.

I love that it’s sort of tucked away: not tucked away exactly, but it’s up high, away from the rest of the murals, easily missed. I missed it myself the first several times I visited the alley, and didn’t see it until it was spotted by a visitor we were showing around. I love that you’re walking along the alley, drinking in the magnificent artworks… and you look up, and you see this. Like a reminder. The top item on your art appreciation To-Do list.

I love that the lettering and the background are in a style commonly associated with religious art, and that the word is one that we typically hear in a religious context… but there’s no actual religious content in it. It could be a religious message… but it could easily be an entirely secular one. It makes me think of the thing so many of us keep saying in the atheist and secularist communities: that we need to look for the things people are getting from religion, things like community and continuity, ritual and rites of passage, and find secular ways to provide these basic human needs.

And I love the message. Rejoice.

Take joy.

When I wrote my piece on Gaultier a couple of weeks ago, I had this to say about joy:

Gaultier’s work is full of joy.

That’s the place where discipline and frivolity connect. The willingness to devote hundreds of hours to a single gown whose design is based on sailor suits? That’s joy. It’s the willingness to see life as absurd — and to throw yourself into it headfirst, and participate in it as thoroughly as you can. Not just in defiance of its absurdity… but in a passionate, delighted embrace of it.

This piece gives me the same feeling. It doesn’t have the same playful frivolity that Gaultier’s work does… but it has that same blend of discipline and exuberance. If I’m in a foul mood when I see it, it lifts me, or consoles me; if I’m in a wonderful mood, it nails it in. Every time I see it, it brings me into this place, this time, and reminds me that I’m alive… and that as challenging as that can be sometimes, it is a wondrous thing, a thing to be witnessed and celebrated.


Street Art: Parrot

On the other hand… here is a nice picture of a bird.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a street art post, and I could use a little simple pleasure right about now. So here is a beautiful stencil of a parrot, on the sidewalk of either Valencia or Mission Street (I forget which). I’m a big fan of the big splashy murals and wall pieces, of course; but I also love how small pieces like this brighten up the city. Just little random moments of beauty, there to add a touch of joy to anyone who happens to pass by and notice. And I kind of like how the shadow of my camera is so vividly in the picture. Like the bird is about to perch on it.

If anyone knows who the artist or artists is/are, please let me know, so I can credit them properly.

Fashion Friday: Gaultier, and the Blend of Discipline and Frivolity

Gaultier striped hooded capeIngrid and I were at the Gaultier exhibit at the de Young a couple of weeks ago — many pics at the end of the piece — and I’ve been wanting to write about it ever since. The exhibit had my brain spinning with dozens of ideas: about the intersection of fashion and fine art, about the influence of street and fetish wear on high fashion, about the complex and screwed-up relationship between fashion and money. But the idea that’s really stuck with me from the show has to do with the blend of discipline and frivolity. [Read more…]

Street Art: Columbus, Ohio Dreamscape

When I was in Columbus, Ohio for the Secular Student Alliance conference, I saw this street art mural off of High Street, in or near the Short North (I’m still not sure where exactly the Short North begins). I was really struck by it: I like the cartoony dream-logic of it, and the tone that’s both malevolent and friendly. My favorite bits are the meditative rabbit, the angry stomping flowerpot, the watering can with the “this is for your own good” facial expression, and the irritated eleven-armed squid.

The first image is the best full shot of the mural I could get. Details, with more close-up views of each section, are below the jump.

[Read more…]

Street Art: “Like”

Continuing the street art series.

This is a spout in a wall of blue tile… which someone has turned into art, by affixing a thumbs-up symbol with the word “Like” above it.

I like this on so many levels. (Not least of which is how self-referential my “liking” of it automatically becomes.) There’s the obvious surrealist Magritte/ Duchamp concept, of turning ordinary things into art just by pointing to them, and of art being a way of looking as much as (if not more than) a way of creating. Plus I’m always fond of things that make you wake up to your surroundings, and make you pay attention to the beautiful in the ordinary. And at the same time, there seems to be a commentary on social media and Internet culture, and our tendency in those cultures to feel like we have to give a simplistic thumbs-up or thumbs-down to absolutely everything.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe it’s just beautiful and funny.

Seen either on Mission or Valencia Street, I forget which. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know, so I can credit them properly.

Street Art: Monkeys Repairing Bicycle

People seem to like the street art thing, so I’m going to keep doing it. Here are monkeys repairing a bicycle. Or possibly apes repairing a bicycle. I’m not up on my primate physiology.

Not sure what I like so much about this, apart from the obvious features of it being both beautiful and weird. I think I like the somewhat discordant blending of two common elements of San Francisco green/eco culture: the bucolic, woodsy, “back to nature” theme, and the bicycles. Also, it occurs to me that having prehensile feet would be a useful trait in the field of bicycle repair.

This piece is a detail from a large mural on Florida Street. If anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know, so I can credit them properly.

Street Art: Alien/ Elf Woman

I’m a bit of a fan of street art. I’m not an expert by any means — I don’t know the names and portfolios and histories of the art and artists, except for a handful of the most famous ones — but I love it. I’m happy to live in a neighborhood and a city with a lot of it (although honestly, the cause and effect probably works the other way — I’ve gotten into street art because I see so much of it). I stop and appreciate it and go “ooh! aah!” when I see it. I’ve been taking a lot of photos of it… and it occurs to me that maybe I should share them with the rest of the class.

So I’m going to start doing that.

Here’s a piece in the Mission district of San Francisco, on either Hampshire or York, I don’t remember. I’ve seen this artist’s work around a lot, and I like it. It almost always has one of these alien/ elf women with the pointy ears. Don’t know what it is about pointy ears. As Lore Sjoberg says on Brunching Shuttlecocks, “Somewhere in the back of the mind of every D&D-playing junior-high-schooler is the equation ‘pointy ears = cool.'” Anyway, I think this piece is beautiful. I love the elegance of the pearls, and the stylized brushstrokes in the background doing that Escher transformation into butterflies. And I have a special soft spot for delicate, elegant art in scruffy industrial settings.

BTW, if anyone knows this artist’s name, please let me know, so I can credit them properly. It looks like there’s a signature in the lower right corner, but I can’t quite make it out. UPDATE: The artist has been identified! It’s Amandalynn. And she has a blog. Thanks to commenter mykell for the ID.