Here’s a drink to you, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I confess, I’m a little sad. It was a good year. Nay, a great year. The kind of year you look back on and think: “Gee, I hope I have another 2012.”

I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit
I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit

2012 got off to a rickety start. I was frustrated at work and play. I was suffering from typical mid-winter doldrums, the kind that come with a restlessness that makes you start looking at new job postings or considering applying to culinary school. On January 2nd, I had lunch with a guy I had met online and thought would turn into Mr. Right. He didn’t call me back. Humpf. I was uninspired as January began to click down.

By March, I was singing a different tune. Life was off and running. After a few small-scale successes, I was curating my first marquee exhibition for my organization. I’d see a raise, a promotion, and  a full-page spread in the New York times. There would be failed but funny first dates. The guy that didn’t call me back became a trusted friend.

Old friends made their mark as we planned new adventures. Reunions happened on a grand scale. Close friends got engaged or said their “I-dos” with joy and really delicious wedding cake. Love blossomed under a moonlit canopy and carried through the summer into late autumn, when the changing weather brought with it new prespectives. We closed one chapter and began to write another.

Guadi stole our hearts in Spain
Guadi stole our hearts in Spain

My mother and I packed our suitcases and gallivanted across Europe, embarking on the kind of ramble through five countries that can only be summed up as a trip of lifetime.

A hurricane hit. We were left relatively unscathed, but others were less lucky.

Yes, as it turns out, 2012 was one exciting, raucous ramble from beginning to end. There were some rough patches, some catastrophes, some heartbreak, some unpleasantness that will leave their scars, but all in all, 2012 was a year of highlights for me. I’m lucky, and grateful to be so.

My wish for you, and perhaps my hope for me too, is that 2013 is the kind of year where we’ll all look back and say: “Gee, I hope I have another 2013.”



Just Call Me “Duckie”

Keep Calm & Carry On.
Keep Calm & Carry On.

My parents are children of the Common Wealth — this means, Keep Calm and Carry On is something of a family motto. Indeed, as I grew out of a student into the professional world, I’ve become characterized by a cool-under-pressure, feathers-never-get-ruffled demeanor.

“The whole building could be burning down and you’d just be chugging along, with a smile on your face, telling everyone everything is going to be fine,” a friend said to after he witnessed the crises of miss-printed labels, wine shortages, hidden-ladders-becoming-unhidden, and the myriad of other assorted exhibition opening night calamities that I quietly wade through.

I think I was flattered at the time, but then I realized, sometimes being known as the girl who keeps calm and carries on can get you into trouble.

When the metaphorical building is burning, you’re always the first sent into battle the blaze.

Alternatively, when all of a sudden you don’t look so calm, the people around you start to panic.

koln 2010 079
Sisyphus and his uphill battle, but one must imagine him happy… he owns that rock.

I confess — as far as my life is concerned, things have gotten crazy busy. Working weekends, travel, exhibition installations, committee meetings, public lectures,  holiday craft markets, exhibition openings, de-installations — all things that need organizing and completing. Indeed, the stretch between now and the end of January is the relentless, burdensome push of a boulder uphill.

Just call me Sisyphus.

Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.

 One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

About two weeks ago, somewhere in the early stages of my stretch of craziness, I walked into work on Monday morning carrying a bouquet of my favorite flowers. My eyes were puffy with fatigue and my skin chalk white and my boss immediately commented on my pallid complexion.

“Why are you so white?”

“Am I? Oh. Well, that’s what I look like without makeup.”

Then she saw the flowers.

“Who are those from!”

“From me! I thought it was a good week to have some flowers at my desk. The Italian exhibition. Gala. Ya know. Lots going on!”

“I was hoping they were from the boy. How is he?”

“We broke up on Saturday.”

“Oh! Really! Why?”

“We’re still friends.”

A few hours later, she called me into her office.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m great!”

Just Call Me Duckie
Just Call Me Duckie

I think I probably started to well up at that moment. It wasn’t that I was upset about the break-up, quite the contrary — there’s no way anyone witnessing the evening would have believed the two people sitting across the table from each other were ending a romantic affair, it was that congenial. No, the tears started to build because, frankly, I felt overwhelmed. And the last thing I needed was to be asked if I was okay. I just needed things to get done.

When I was in high school, my English teacher assigned the class a “quote” personal essay. We had to find a quote that described us and write a personal essay illustrating how. I chose something uttered by the great actor Michael Caine:

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath.”

I walked out of my boss’ office feeling very much like a duck.

“I’m going to get those exhibiting artist emails off now,” I said and walked back to my desk, feet paddling like the dickens to stay afloat.

Thanks America! Big Bird & I Get to Keep Our Jobs

When Obama won the Presidency in 2008 I was a graduate student living in Harlem. The streets erupted with joy.

A new age had been ushered in.

I wandered out of my shoebox of a studio and walked through the streets, reveling in our victory for America. Eventually, I ended up at the apartment of a younger guy friend who liked to have me help him with his term papers. We got high.

In the morning, I woke up with a headache and the promise of the possible.

When you work in an industry like “the arts,” you learn to navigate a complex funding system that includes everything from federal grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to county-supported grants to corporate grants.

It’s a system of non-profits supporting non-profits where at the end of the day, government endorsement is key to keeping the support system in place.

Big Bird and I were getting ready to find our street corners.

When Governor Romney said he wanted to cut the federal funding that would go to supporting things like PBS, the repercussions of that went well-beyond the assassination of Big Bird.

I live in a region of New York state represented at the State and National levels by Democratic candidates. But, my county is run by a traditionally Republican Republican executor. A Republican executor who plans to eliminate a quarter-million in funding to the organization I work for.

And so, every year between September and March, my organization has to go to war.

State budget hearings in Albany.

County budget hearings.

We call in the troops and head out, en mass to tell the local government that the arts matter. Our ability to stay open and in turn, support hundreds of cultural organizations in communities throughout the region depends on the benevolence and good-judgement of legislators who realize “place-making” is about more than building highrises.

Blouin ARTINFO ran a summary of the Arts Action Fund’s analysis of  how the 2 candidates fared when it came to the arts. The punchline — a Romney presidency could easily have undone what Presidents since JFK have maintained as a cornerstone of American cultural stewardship.

The NEA, the IMLS, PBS, Title I… all of these faced uncertain futures. All of these provide my organization, and thousands of others with the funding support that allows them to keep arts professionals employed and the community engaged.

To be very blunt, my job and my co-workers’ jobs depend on having Democrats in public office.

How sad is that?

So today, the day after election day, all I can say is: Thank you, America! Big Bird and I get to keep our jobs, and you get to keep Downton Abbey.

Thank you America!
Me & Big BIrd

When It’s Time to Ask Yourself: Do I want to Try to “Have it All”

About a month ago, my closest male friend from college married the woman that became his better half. They’re a lovely couple, best friends really. They’re also both smart, funny, and driven career people. I admire them.

Marriage is an interesting thing. It changes everything. About a week ago, my friend’s new wife launched a call for help on facebook:

“To my ladies: do you think it is possible to have it all, amazing career and family life? Cause I really don’t see how one or both won’t suffer. Send some tips my way if u have any.”

We’re all her contemporaries, women in our late 20s, so most shrugged but praised their own mothers for somehow managing both a career and motherhood. Someone shared the famously talked about article in the Atlantic. Appropriate. I shared some advice I had heard a few days earlier from the keynote speaker at a luncheon…

Cut to the buffet spread in an upper crust Westchester suburban yacht club. Enter Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Judge Judy had some advice for the young women in the room about “having it all”

Yea, that’s right. THE Judge Judy.

I was at the Her Honor Mentoring 2012 kick-off luncheon. I had just re-met my mentee, a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for all things art and aspirations to travel in adulthood. My fellow Mentors were the county’s leading businesswomen and government leaders. What was I doing there?

No matter. On to the speech:

“You may hear that you can’t have it all – a career and a family. But I’m living proof that you can have it all… if you learn how to negotiate…

In my day, you only left the house in either a white dress or a pine box. But I’m telling you that you don’t have to get married as a high school senior. Or as a freshman. Or as a sophomore or junior. Maybe, by the time you’re a senior you can start to look around to see if there’s anyone you find appealing. But just remember: you may have your act together when you’re 22, but they, well, they may not have their act together at 55.

So have your career. Set the bar for your career high and go out and achieve it. And then, and then start to look to have that family.”

It was a message I was surprised Judge Judy would share with a room full of college seniors yet to make their way and professional women who had all pursued unique paths in their lifetime. On the subject of “having it all,” it was surprisingly pragmatic. As I chuckled and applauded (I was the soul “ain’t that the truth, sister!” shouter in the room), it occurred to me that I was the youngest mentor.

I’m just starting in my career. Sometimes I feel like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes…

Unlike the other “dynamic,” successful career women in the room, I was really just starting out.

My mother married my father when she was 17 and he was 21. Two weeks ago they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. If you do the math, that means they were married some 24 years before I was born. Over that quarter century, my mother made a career for herself, allowing her to retire as a top banking executive when I was starting high school.

Since the Atlantic article came out, there seems to have been another resurgence of feminist talk — or maybe it’s more of another re-evaluation of feminism.

Did you catch this Sunday NYTime’s Opinion piece by Alissa Quart? The one about women hiding their pregnancies in the professional world?

What about the brief speech by a new character on the Good Wife?

What about that other op-ed piece about the “Myth of Masculine Decline” in the work place?

I guess I never questioned the idea of “having it all.” I grew up with Judge Judy’s advice as my own game plan because it was a successful path I had watched unfold.

But then my own life began to happen.

I don’t have an answer for my Californian friend. Or for any young woman in our position. Frankly, no one really does.

Here’s what I can say…

The women of our generation are lucky because we have choices. We can choose to be career women. We can choose to be career mothers. We can choose to be both careerwomen and mothers. None of the above paths are easy — none are achieved without sacrificing or without negotiations.

As for me, well, the question of “having it all” isn’t as relevant now as it will be later. But I will say Nicole Sheindlin’s words from that luncheon have stayed with me.

A career is a woman’s insurance policy for independence and self-confidence.

True that, sister.

Writing the Closing Chapter: Why this Blog Was Not Be Ready to Become a Book

Coming off two back-to-back Freshly Pressed posts, I thought I was ready to write a book.

About two years ago, I started exploring the possibility of turning this little blog into a book. I was coming off 2 freshly-pressed posts and a slew of new subscribers. It was both fashionable and marketable to be a single, 20-something, broke female and I was a single, unemployed, 20-something female. The timing seemed right and the iron seemed hot, so I thought, now’s the time to strike.

And thus began the self-pimping.

I tried everything, even stuffing my calling card into Sloane Crosley’s hand at a cocktail party for athletes (she was dating an Olympic speed skater who was friend of a friend at the time, and I was the only person in the room who knew her at sight). I didn’t really expect that to get me anywhere, so I met with a writing coach. I must have sold him, because in an uncharacteristic move, he put me in touch with his editor after our first meeting.

Bam! Was this really happening? Was I officially on my way to being the next blog-to-book phenom?

I quickly beefed up a few of my better posts and started to throw together a pitch. But as I sat there working out the plot-line that would drive my collection of essays, I hit a road block: what was my ending? I had  a premise, but what was going to be the punchline of “They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband?”

Should I end with a relationship? With a rich man? With a poor, struggling academic? With the next Damien Hirst? But, I wasn’t dating anyone… like, I couldn’t even use artistic license.

I was ready to write a manuscript, but did my collection of essays have a point?

Since I so often talked about the difficulty of finding a job in the contemporary art market, does it have to end with my finding a job? Maybe starting my own gallery? And that perfect piece of real estate? And free health insurance? I was still several months away from getting hired.

Or could it end with me as I was — still in limbo?

If that was my ending, what was going to be the moral of my story?

This is the challenge a lot of  bloggers who want to become professional writers forget — a book, even a collection of essays, moves in some direction towards some kind of conclusion. Blogs are amorphous, moving in any direction we want them to go. Thematic, yes, but endless. Now, a book’s conclusion can be relatively inconclusive, but still, there still should be some kind of moral.

This is what I thought of my original “ending” for TTM2FaRH

At the time I decided my moral would be: it’s okay if you don’t meet the world’s expectations for you, because times are rough, your 20s are uncertain, and eventually, you’ll hit your stride.

And then I decided that was lame.

So I shelved the manuscript and decided I needed to gather more material.

Luckily, a lot of life happens in a short period of time. Last week, as I toasted and thanked my staff, my friends, my family, and my boyfriend at my gallery’s opening, I felt it might just be time to revive They Told Me to Find a Rich Husband, the book. Somewhere in all the hullabaloo of the last two years, I had found the topic for my concluding essay.

But don’t worry. I’m no Disney princess. I’ll keep it real.

The Loose-Leaf Worries

carton (c) The New Yorker

At 4AM my eyes shot wide open for no particular reason, as far as I could tell. For the next several hours, until my alarm clock went off, I spent the minutes tossing and turning, my brain operating at full-speed, dreams mimicking all the awake moments of days past and days to come.

It’s a scene I’m used to: Late August Insomnia.

Sometimes, I sit up in bed and read or write until my body finally agrees to a system shut-down. Other times, I attempt yoga breathing exercises hoping to force a blank-slate on my brain. In theory, I’m supposed to wipe it clean of my thoughts and hide the chalk. This is a method I’m new at and therefore find it largely unsuccessful. So most nights, I just try to tough it out, hoping the physical exhaustion of flipping from my right side to my middle to my left will eventually put me back to sleep.

I realized this is an annual occurrence. A sort of seasonal allergy. But instead of ragweed or pollen, the root cause of sleeplessness is loose-leaf.

Yes, loose-leaf.

I used to believe that my Late August Insomnia was the result of excessive sleep stores. Perhaps I had slept in too much in July and my body was some how trying to return to equilibrium? No. It was because of loose-leaf.

Loose-Leaf. The root cause of my Late August Insomnia

It was usually around mid-August that I began my back-to-school supply shopping. It was, as the Staples commercial is so keen to say, the most wonderful time of the year. Fresh notebooks. Clean binders. New pens and just sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. It was exciting: Nothing holds as much potential as a clean first page in a brand new notebook.

But with back-to-school shopping and my new stacks of loose-leaf, so came a boatload of concerns to keep my head spinning into the wee hours of the morning.

Worries that I hadn’t completed all my summer reading assignments on time or to standard.

Insecurities about lunch-time cliques.

Aspirations for athletic glory.

Hopes for young love.

Concerns that I hadn’t bought enough loose-leaf.

All of it kept me awake at night.  The funny thing is that it’s been nearly 4 years since I’ve had to do back-to-school shopping, and yet I still find myself suffering from Late August Induced Insomnia.

First-day-of-class anxieties have been replaced with real-world “grown-up” worries. In the art world, a gallery season often kicks off in September. My next opening looms right around the corner. Offices return to full-steam-ahead. Galas and fundraisers sneak in before the close of the fourth quarter. Holidays creep closer. Somewhere in all the hullabaloo of responsibility, I have a social life, a family life, and a romance to maintain.

It’s past my bed time as I put my head to my pillow on Labor Day night, but I’m far from sleepy. For a fleeting moment, I wish my biggest worry was a book report on The Great Gatsby due in class tomorrow.

…But maybe that’s only because I know the grown-up me would ace it.