Quote of the Day—Nin on experiments

“One word I would banish from the dictionary is ‘escape.’ Just banish that and you’ll be fine. Because that word has been misused regarding anybody who wanted to move away from a certain spot and wanted to grow. He was an escapist. You know if you forget that word you will have a much easier time. Also you’re in the prime, the beginning of your life; you should experiment with everything, try everything… We are taught all these dichotomies, and I only learned later that they could work in harmony. We have created false dichotomies; we create false ambivalences, and very painful ones sometimes—the feeling that we have to choose. But I think at one point we finally realize, sometimes subconsciously, whether or not we are really fitted for what we try and if it’s what we want to do.

You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you’re not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn’t a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”
― Anaïs Nin (h/t Jeff Isaac)



Ten Things I’m Grateful for—Amsterdam and Berlin Edition

Continuing the gratitude-listing tradition from last week and beyond, here’s a quick post on ten things I’m grateful for as I close out the unbelievable second week of my artist-in-residence post at Hack42 in Arnhem, Netherlands. Only I’m not actually in Arnhem. That would be too residential. I seem to be in Amsterdam. No, wait, Berlin. No, wait, back to Amsterdam. Danke, Universe.

1. Embarrassment of riches of photos from my friend Dennis van Zuijlekon the Photographer’s second photo shoot, a portraiture one. That my friend B.R. the Editor—who recently started this cool podcast—helpfully points out makes it next to impossible to choose an author photo, because there are so many good possibilities there.

It’s a punk-rocker!

It’s a an actress!

It’s a hacker!!

Bwahaha. Oh, commitment issues. You’re fun. 

2. Van Gogh Museum, Oasis of Matisse, and oceans of bicycles in Amsterdam. Amsterdam feels like home. It’s so safe! So free! So cold in July! I want to have babies on bicycles here. 

3. Amazing journalist-activist Brenno de Winter, who has been targeted by police for his “acts of journalism.” A new hero. A feeling of refuge. An incredible cook. 

4. Art business insights from the kind folks at Berlin Noir by Checkpoint Charlie

E.g., people do not want the bracelets on the shelf. They want the one on your arm. And they do not want the toy cars in the tray. They want the ones in the back that look like the ones out front. 

Maybe people want what seems real? Or maybe we don’t know why they want those things, just that they want what they see. Like the stockings experiment that’s one of my favorites but I can’t find the citation for offhand… Nefarious researching researchers took identical stockings. Placed one, I imagine, on each arm. No—more proper. On benign objects, surely. And they had passersby in supermarkets feel them and say which they preferred. People can give you lots of reasons why they want what they want—and in this experiment, they did. But at the end of the day Woody Allen was right. The heart wants what it wants. (And people tend to prefer the stocking on the right, probably because of right-handedness and the effects of hand dominance on nerve ending development. That’s my guess, anyway.) 

5. Running into Claas, a very cool organizational change consultant who steered me to Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, a very cool artist space in Berlin. 

6. Talking with music producer Ksenija Ladic. Ksenija offered a brilliant insight that I’m grateful for as an artist, that might help others who do independent creative-intellectual work, too. “The deadline is the performance,” she said. This works on several levels for me as someone who used to be pathologically deadline-oriented. But deadlines are, in fact, only performances—for most of us, most of the time. And performances—showing up to play—are deadlines, too. Collaborative art is beautiful that way. 

7.     Singing with Olaf Bahn in the park between Art Center Betanien and the East Side Gallery. Olaf is the Director of what he calls the First Offline Radio, Veganes Funkhaus Europa, which roughly translates as Fuck You European Vegans. This seems like as good a time as any to cite to recent research on how sarcasm is really good for you

Anyway, Olaf was playing the guitar in the grass, and I started dancing and singing with him. We improv-ed a few songs that way that I wish I had written down now, as usual. My improv singing is my best, and it makes no sense because as an artist, I want it to be perfect, I want to compose, rewrite, produce, rehearse, and have it be so much better… But then that gets in my way. Just showing up and playing with other people is magical. Not only do I get over the crushing performance anxiety that sometimes keeps me from making a sound when I’m by myself. But I flow. Sometimes. Magic.

8. The discussion with a wonderful tutoring student thanks to my occasional employer Ingenius Prep that led to a fun interview idea. Invite: Eichmann, Arendt, Glenn Carle and Martha Nussbaum to debate similarities and differences between U.S. post-9/11 violations of international law and the violations thereof that landed Eichmann in Jerusalem. Is it weird that I want to make Eichmann and Arendt hand puppets, put on a suit that does not hide the fact that they are hand puppets, and interview Carle and Nussbaum that way? Or is it only weird that I would post that on a blog because I really, really want to actually do it even though I know it’s weird? (Sigh.) Message. Being on it. 

9. Poetry book pretty much ready to publish after 10-12 years of writing, a year off and on of intensive rewriting, structuring, and new writing. I ended up combining what were my first and second poetry book manuscripts, along with a bunch of paintings from the last year or so. So the online version of the single poetry book coming out of that will be illustrated with paintings, and probably the print version will be unillustrated since it’s so much harder to make a properly illustrated, physical book… The online version might be free, I don’t know… But I know I’m happy this is coming along, grateful for help along the way, and excited to cross it off my list soon and move on to the next priority project(s). Showing up to my life as an artist. Doing my work. Being open to changing what that means, life and art being changeable things.

10. Completely accidentally having the time and mental space now to rewrite some of my dissertation research as (Continental hacker) conference and peer-reviewed (political science) article submissions. As soon as I figure out how to add these to my updated publications page, you can read the first one—on advancing equity in medical diagnosis—as a working paper, along with my Chaos Computing Camp lightning talk summary. And another reformed diss chunk/infosec conference paper/article draft—on a confirmation bias, why it matters in tech-mediated security decisions, and how to neutralize it in lie detection—will be out under submission and up on that page soon as well.

11. Recharging with new friends.

12. Too many things to be grateful for to limit them to one list.

13. Good direction on my one primary goal for the next month. Probably mostly from Lisbon, I’m going to hone in every day to the process of one of the following goals as primary—

– (Re)writing the apocryphal album, (re)learning to play and sing while playing the piano, learning music production on a free copy of Protools I should get any day now, recording the album, doing open mics. Showing up to play as a musician.

– (Re)writing a novel, probably pulling the screenplay draft I wrote last spring in LA, chopping it off at page 60, and adding a bunch of new stuff, both updating it with a bunch of crazy shit that’s happened since then and fictionalizing more so it’s more plausible.

–  (Re)writing a nonfiction book, probably pulling a bunch from my old blog. 

–  (Re)writing a historical fiction collection of interviews that turns into a mystery novel, Interviews with Dead People, that I had also started on my last blog.

  (Re)writing and illustrating the first two in the children’s book series Where the Wilde Thinks Are, What Kind of Bird Am I? and Our House.

– Writing and illustrating the next two in that series, one on trust and justice as forgiveness, the other (or maybe the same one) on policing and the surveillance state.

– (Re)writing the critique of the surveillance state that may or may not have gotten me informally exiled, but I trust the universe, and it’s fine, it’s cool, I love the world, I have lots of friends who love me, I need very little and I am free. I feel so safe in Europe. I feel so at home in the Continental hacker community. And for the first time in my adult life, I feel worthy of love and like it’s actually only a matter of time before somebody kind and weird like me sees me for who I am, picks me up off the shore where I am only mildly dashed but completely autonomous and grateful to be here, and loves the shit out of me. I might even come around to talking about that fantasy in a sweeter way. As long as I can still do the punk-rocker hacktivist bit. 

 Shut down all the defunct interrogation programs like I’ve been meaning to do since 2008, by planning, testing, and launching a Kickstarter with a clear call to action for this purpose.

– Pick a field experiment, any on my list of over a dozen field experiments I’ve been meaning to run. Find an organization that wants to pay me to run it. Have fun with that. 

This choice must happen tonight. With 100% commitment. Or not.

This choice should be easy. I’m a writer first. What I want to do first is write. Writing makes me happy. I can do it anywhere. In fact, I have trouble sometimes making myself stop to do other things. I have in the past made money doing it. In fact, I have made five figures in half an hour doing it. (I gave it back.) Plus, I want to have published my first novel before I’m 30. At this point I have to settle for “while” instead of “before,” publish it myself, and do it before Thanksgiving or it’s not getting done. So probably I want to prioritize a novel draft. Just pick one and just do it. (Twitch, twitch. Must shut down defunct interrogation programs. Research question: Can I do that with a novel?)

But then a piece of me has always loved singing. I’m not getting any younger, and that matters for female artists even though I want to kick that little voice out of my head. And I worry if I find my voice, I can translate my poetry and politics for a mass audience like no one else—and if I don’t, I might hit the point I’ve reached a few times in the past, when I can barely make noise at all. And I can’t let myself be silenced, even if it’s only me doing the worst of it, because people are basically good. The world is basically good. I am basically good. And I am gonna show up and play. 

So I still have to pick one priority goal for next month, commit to it 110%, set it in stone—perhaps literally, with the help of a laser cutter— and then finish clearing this month’s goals—the second article manuscript rewrite/submission and poetry book publication—stat… 

And also work on all these as also-goals next month—

 Rewriting and submitting the psychophysiology chunk of my dissertation research to Psychophysiology already.

 Rewriting and submitting the public administration chunk of my dissertation research to Administration & Society already.

 Find a job that pays me money and stuff. (Research questions: Can I make money making art instead? Wasn’t that the plan? What about just not making money? How often do people literally starve to death in Western nations?) 

– Find a place to live where I have a place to sleep that is mine and stuff.

– Briefly consider rearranging order of these secondary goals.

– Take an acting class. Find a theater family. Make pretty stories with my body and voice in this way, with 

– Re-try stand-up again.

– Paint three painting commissions.

– Walk forever and ever, until my head clears with the summer sky and my thoughts fly like birds, not listless but without indentation.



Great Moments in Popular InfoSec, Installment #1

Information security is everywhere. It’s in the music we listen to on the radio, on and offline. In the water we drink when we’re not swigging mate soda like the hacktivist hipsters we are. And all over the Interwebs. I think the cats brought it in. This ongoing bloggular series examines its pawprints on the good carpet. 


“No one on the corner has swagger like us/ Hit me on my burner prepaid wireless.”—MIA, “Paper Planes

Q: How, oh how shall I communicate over phone lines that are relatively secure when the NSA is grabbing everyone’s metadata and perhaps even tapping my phone in particular since I went off on a surveillance state blogging binge last winter and the universe lost its shit?

A: With a burner prepaid wireless. “Little poison for the system.” 

How this works:

Step 1. Buy ten cheap used phones from a Pakistani vendor in East London. Share dates with him before Ramadan. Wonder aloud why he doesn’t do what he wants with his life if he doesn’t like running this shop—it’s really hard physical work, really long hours, and he had dreams—and he could have another job in four minutes with his language skills. Be reminded by his fearful response—“Oh, um, no, I was wrong, this is exactly what I want to be doing with my life forever never mind oops I misspoke kthankbai”—that you are a white chick with an American accent. Enjoy irony of fact that, while destitute, unemployed, and probably on some lists for criticizing the guvment, you, too, can still be mistaken for a possible spy while trying to have a human conversation!

Think of what you should’ve said to easily explain the burner prepaid wireless phones—a month too late: “I’m just a humble drug dealer!”

Sounds better than the truth, which is closer to: “I’m an itinerant poet-philosopher bouncing around foreign countries finding new friends on five-figure credit card debt and faith, scheming about how to make world peace through art! JOIN US!!!”

Step 2. Buy ten cheap used SIM cards on the Continent.  Place one used SIM card in one used phone. Give one person the number. Use phone a maximum of four times, indoors only. Throw phone away. Go outside.

Step 3. Sing MIA to yourself while walking around a gorgeous lake trying to figure out what your #1 goal is for the next month, after hopefully finishing the first-net goals of rewriting and submitting two dissertation chunks as peer-reviewed articles and self-publishing a poetry book by the end of your first artist residency next week.

Realize the permissibility of the singing of the refrain “All I wanna do is—bangbangbangbangbangbang, caCHING!—take your money” is also reflective of your position of privilege as a petite white woman from a wealthy Western nation. In your mouth, the words even become a joke. “That’s so cute! Snow White is gonna take my money! Tehehe!! Honey, bring me a cup of coffee.” Fantasize briefly about at least momentarily appearing threatening. Laugh and smile involuntarily with a passing bicyclist.

Step 4. ????

Step 5. PROFIT!!!!


Ten Things I’m Grateful for—Hack42 Edition

The first time I moved cross-country for my last job, from Virginia to LA, I made three lists every day for six months: gratitude, to-do, and doing/done. It kept me moored in positive thinking, next steps, and feeling productive.

Since moving cross-country again for the job (LA to Boston), and then leaving Harvard to travel and make art, I’ve kept up the gratitude listing. It’s a powerful positive psychology exercise, like push-ups for the soul. But it’s been harder to figure out what I’ve got to do and have done—in part because this time seems to be like a thesis prospectus phase for my next career/life move. And in part because what I want more than anything is to go home, but I don’t know what that means or how to do it.

So I’m working on combining the gratitude-listing with the present-and-future orientation of the to-do and doing/done lists. That way I can feel grateful for already having some of the things I’m really only working towards. Also in control—ah, lists.

Here, then, are ten things I’m grateful for that also represent things I’m in the process of doing—and will be in the process of doing for quite some time.

1. Cryptoparty London.

Week before last, I was minding my own business, roaming the streets of London singing (softly). My friend George Maschke suggested I attend a Cryptoparty one night when I didn’t have an open mic or anything lined up, so I turned up. Fellow psychologist-singer Silkie Carlo happened to be co-teaching with fellow surveillance scholar Arjen Kamphuisand they were both kindred spirits. So on a whim I signed up that night for the conference they were going to over the next few days…

2. Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer 2015 Conference.

We laughed, we cried, we got kicked out of the building by security in the middle of the night because apparently you can’t sleep there. (Maybe that was just me.)

Meeting other people who have made significant personal and professional sacrifices in the public interest because we believe in what we do was empowering and inspiring. It was weird to be introduced as a whistleblower. I don’t think of myself as a whistleblower. I think of myself as an artist. This led to lots of vibrant intellectual-creative exchanges—and my first artist-in-residence post…

3. Michael the Secret Producer and his angelic last-minute Couchsurfing hosting.

My penultimate night in London, two couchsurfing hosts fell through at the last minute. So I posted in the emergency last-minute group and waited at a Japanese café in East London, drinking cup after cup of free green tea with popped brown rice, frantically checking the site as the sun went down, and scribbling structure notes on my favorite albums as if to structure my own by example. Finally, when the waitstaff had moved me to a more out of way table and I had made a list of 30 original songs I could pick through, select from, and rewrite to construct an album I might like, I got a couchsurfing host. And after meeting a nice art dealer who was also waiting for a stranger outside the underground station, I met “Michael.”

Besides being an amazing couchsurfing host, cook, art aficionado, conversationalist, and fellow-traveler, “Michael” is one of the most successful music producers in the world. And he spent half the night listening to some of my terrible draft music recordings and helping me think about how to rewrite and produce my songs properly.  

“Michael” could’ve told me not to quit my day job. I have gone through periods when I barely spoke, and still sometimes have trouble making noise in front of other people. I’m so acutely aware that it’s not that good—anything I can string together. Or at least, that sometimes the magic works and sometimes I should’ve stayed inside.

He encouraged me instead. It takes a powerful person to lift other people up in their dreams instead of pushing them down when they’re vulnerable and you’re powerful. And to do that while offering your hospitality wanting nothing back but community—that’s what couchsurfing is about, and the share economy, and life.

4. Graeme the Riverboat Vagabond and his developing Art & Agency School.

The night before heading to Holland, I slept on something like a partially constructed plank bed on a small riverboat on the Thames, thanks to Graeme the Riverboat Vagabond.

Graeme lives in a boat that is currently somewhere in or around London. He’s not only an amazing couchsurfing host, cook, problem-solver, and accordion player. But also a champion of amateur art across disciplines, and the way in which engaging in it symbolizes and encourages self-creation in other realms. Accordingly, he’s working on starting an art & agency school that I look forward to writing more about soon.

5. Artist Residency at Hack42.

I have space to paint, so I’m painting! I have a kitchen, so I’m cooking and eating! I have friends, so I’m playing!

Other than writing poetry and making lists, I’m writing and thinking a lot about my next possible larger project. It’s Portraits of Peace + Wtf Butterfly Kits, and I’m doing a lightening talk (maybe) at the CCC in Berlin in August (more on this next). On something like the latter piece of this. This blob. 

Blob (Portraits of Peace) is evolving into two interrelated blobs celebrating and supporting everyday people who are part of the global refugee crisis or otherwise responding to political violence/oppression with peaceful resistance. 

The first part involves painting and interviewing people who want to tell their stories. I’m especially interested in drawing positive selective attention to people who have done amazing things like fled Syria and opened their own business or otherwise found a way to keep moving forward on their dreams. How do I find these people to start piloting the concept, and how can the idea be honed/improved? 

The second project or part of the same project, the idea is to make a reproducible (through 3D printers, USB drives, and such) art and information kit to aid peace-makers globally in keeping faith and sharing information security best practices. One of the things I’m really excited about including is a library of open source texts like canonical political theory and literature. But in translation as much as possible. And remade by people to their tastes as they pass it on… 

I know Juan Cole’s Global Americana Institute does some awesome work translating American/Anglophone PT into Arabic… I’m on the hunt now for other translation project/bank analogues, if anyone knows of anything.

To be clear, I want more than anything to go home. This involves launching my art career and meeting someone, getting married, and having kids in my fantasy future. So my logical next step was clearly to run out into the Dutch woods, where I can make art with twigs and meet many different types of ants. While thinking about how to get bubbles and USB drives to peace-makers in Syria.

6. Upcoming Chaos Communication Camp and Lightning Talk.

CCC is in Berlin this August, and I’ll be giving a short talk on some of these ideas about rebranding the so-called dark web and spreading bubbles, infosec, and free books wherever people take risks for self-expression.

7. Jos the Lock-picking Master’s accidental lesson.

Last Friday night at Hack42, I scored an accidental lock-picking lesson with the best lock-picker in Europe. Lock-picking is amazing because it works on many levels as a metaphor for security and life. Locks—like any security measure based on mistrust rather than trust—don’t keep out anyone who really wants to get in. And lock-picking—like life—works best when you’re not thinking too hard about it. (Or so I hear when I’m not too busy thinking hard about it.) 

8. Arnhem Nuclear Bunker Tour.

Yesterday at Hack42, SA007 gave me an amazing tour of a nuclear bunker here in Arnhem. I can’t post photos because they’re still not allowed—but I learned a lot about the history of public-private telecom partnerships that sheds new light on the context of mass surveillance—and the dangers of its costs in public trust.

9. A few good students—tutoring for InGenius Prep.

When I was in the process of leaving Harvard/UCLA to do my own things, a kindred Yale/UC Berkeley entrepreneur reached out to offer me a bit of work tutoring for his educational start-up. Noah Greenfield has given me his mentorship as a independent business-minded academic, the inspiration of his example as a start-up owner, scholar, and thinking religious person, and a few good students who remind me every week why I loved teaching, why I got a PhD.

10. Clarity of desires.

I worry that I don’t know what I want well enough to get it. That if I were to write something like a National Science Foundation grant proposal for my life, it wouldn’t get funded. The timetable isn’t clear. The budget is nonexistent. I don’t even know what hypotheses I’m testing. I want clear goals. One craft to hone. One dream to chase. Lacking this still, over four months after leaving academia to launch my own art business, I fire my ass. Then I remember I can’t fire my ass. I’m stuck with me. And I despair.

But I know that in one, five, ten years—I’m going to be a working artist running my own business, hopefully with a family and community that loves me. And when I look at what I’m grateful for that I already have, what I’m already doing, I can see that future budding. And I’m grateful.

I want to ask for help, but I want more to stay in this grateful space. And besides, who could help me know myself better, the better to check the baggage of an investigative series and postdoc at the art and entrepreneurship door?

Please. Help me if you can.

But I think I have to keep finding myself better by experiment, by ear and brushstroke. And remind myself I’m privileged to be on this adventure. Even, or perhaps especially, when I beg God to take me home and imagine that can mean something good of this world. That perhaps it already does. I can already be at home in the world, when I remember the world is our house.


Heading into the Woods to Make Art

As I wrote yesterday in my latest email newsletter update, I’m heading out into the woods this week to make art and friends for three weeks as artist-in-residence at hacktivist collective Hack42 in the woods outside Amsterdam.

Blog posting will probably be lighter as flow state art production will probably be heavier. Though I still have yet to commit to what exactly that means, and welcome suggestions as always.

Thank you, again, to everyone who has helped me. Whether our paths crossed briefly or at length, in person or through literature or some other alternate reality; whether you had to tango with my awesome stubbornness and partial silence, or only caught the exploding joy that also studs the landscape of my life—I’ve learned from you and gratefully take a piece of our being together with me into the unknown next. Out of the woods and into the forest.


Brighton Paintings

Some people can tell you exactly how long it’s been since they had sex, ate, or cleaned the tub. I can tell you exactly how long it’s been since I painted, or sang, or wrote a poem. 03/27 oils/last Friday acrylics. Last Thursday singing, and I’m about to take that video down, it’s embarrassing. Yesterday, the snippet capture—”I have searched my soul for a singular calling,/The only answer a feeling of falling.”

Sometimes, I think artists are just collectors of stray thoughts and pictures. I read the Bible every day, and it’s all in there. Every bit of poetry and philosophy. I’m reading the complete Shakespeare this year, and it’s all in there. Every story, all of modern psychology. People think artists do something new, but it’s impossible to do anything new. (Even that is Ecclesiastes.) We just curate the universal deluge in such a way that a face comes through the forest.

What Kind of Bird Am I? Peacock, oils on 16
What Kind of Bird Am I? Peacock, oils on 16″ x 20″. Wet and on a nice former stranger’s porch. 

Anyway, the deluge got to me and I painted today despite not knowing where I’m sleeping tonight or where I’m going, when. Brighton is sunny and calm like that. 

“Brighton Willow.” Ditto.

Now if I could just figure out how to sell oil paintings I make and store in random kind people’s homes around the world. 

“Sunrise in Oxfordshire,” ibid.

Or find more canvas. 

“Weed, Road, Light, and Sky,” same porch, medium, and size.


Options, Goals, and a Midsummer Work Schedule

I’m making good headway on all sorts of things, and I’d like feedback as I decide between four options, (re)set short- and medium-term goals, and formalize (for myself) a work schedule for the rest of the summer.

Pretend you’re my manager and tell me what I need to do differently or better. (Don’t worry. I listen but often disregard directions.)



Tonight I’m sleeping on a lovely development studies researcher’s couch in Brighton. I met her on the Tube on the way to my last couchsurfing place. So technically you might say I am homeless and sleeping with strangers (but not like that). Not where I’d like to be after being in a new country for a whole month.

But actually, I am kicking butt. Here are five awesome things I have done in the past month:

1. Executed a transcontinental move alone with no job, partner, or place to go.

2. Done improv, stand-up comedy, and singing in public. With people watching and listening. On stages. Out loud. 

3. Started couchsurfing alone… Going with the flow of people and places, beginning to learn the lay of the land. Left and right and all. 

4. Painted in public. With people watching and questioning. On the Thames. 

5. Realized what is the one thing I have to do when I’m upset or destressing, on a deadline or have all the time in the world, or happy and can do anything in the world. The thing is painting. It is so hard for me to admit I Just want to paint. I don’t know anyone who makes a living as an artist, a visual artist, much less a painter. So I had concluded that was the wrong model, the wrong way of channeling the impulse.

But that skips a few steps. Like, ten years of trying. Giving the world half a chance to value me for what I do. Getting better at knowing what that is and doing it well. 

To be fair, I started exhibiting my paintings ten years ago. At my first opening, an unknown buyer (a woman, not a suitor) bought a 16” x 20” for almost $300. When I opened an Etsy store in May, I sold 9 paintings in 4 weeks (and then put the remainder in storage).

When I have taken my work to market, there has always been a market there for it. In the interim—the ten years since my first show—I didn’t take the work to market as much as I could’ve. Instead, I got discouraged on one hand, and distracted getting a PhD on the other. 

But I kept creating and getting better while writing a dissertation, some articles, a poetry book, and an album’s worth of songs… And anyway I think now I have to value myself and what I do enough to try again to give the world half a chance to value me for it.

Or, in business parlance, make my elevator pitch clear. Pitch my goods and services to the right markets in the right way. Be sure they see the value and know how to pay me for it. Clarify the call to action. All that jazz.

Meanwhile, I have now identified one very specific thing that I do as an artist and entrepreneur—painting. And one very specific logistical problem to just doing what I have to do—space. I need space where I can make a mess and store wet paintings. (It would also be great if I could sleep there.)

Since I honed my desire to be a jobbing artist and run my own business into this more specific desire, two specific and two general options for getting the space I need to do it have appeared or become clearer. I’d like feedback on those options, and on the goals and schedule I intend to implement once the space thing is at least settled for more than one night at a time.


Space Options  

1. The South Galleries—a lovely art gallery near London, in Maidstone. I could keep the gallery open and use the space to paint. If I could get good enough advice from online message boards about how to teach at the gallery’s school within the terms of my visa, I could do that too.

Pro: Right field, nice people, free space to paint and store paintings, opportunity to learn how galleries work and sell work in one, close enough to London to take the train in for open mics, gallery openings, pitching, meetings, plays.

Con: I might be too messy (I oil paint and generally end up covered in the stuff). It might be too far from London to optimize networking. I don’t know where I would sleep. So it doesn’t give me my own artist hermit-hole in which to create undisturbed, which might be more specifically what I need. Even though another awesome thing I’ve done lately is be out of my hermit-hole all the time when I used to only go out for work and orange juice.

2. Hacktivist collective on the Continent.

Pro: People I can talk with about my transparency activism and political philosophy, learn from about encryption and other infosec stuff I need to know for my germinating Portraits of Peace project, people who might like and know people who might like some of my relevant political art (e.g., the Too Big to Surveil series), probable opportunity to see more awesome Continental painting, learn more languages, do different public art experiments, sing at different open mics, and enjoy lower cost of living.

Con: I might be more isolated outside of a big city, in a country where I don’t speak the language, with a group I don’t really know (but trust). I might not be able to ship paintings as easily if I got an online painting business up and running again. 

3. East and outer London. These are the best areas for a London artist of no means to live. I could research studio and live-work space shares in these areas. I’ve banged around talking to people and trying to figure it out, but not approached this one thing like it’s my #1 job.

Pro: Big city market. Vibrant arts and culture scene. Lots of open mic, gallery opportunities. Busking is legal in public spaces. Probably tons of options I don’t know about here. Felt good enough about London to haul myself here. Must be for a good reason, right?

Con: Cost of living is high. The city is not known for being particularly forgiving. But I keep finding nice people and safe couches, so I can’t complain. No specific anchor of person or place. This is such a general option…

4. Brighton and surrounding areas. Ditto.

Pro: Largest number of working artists I’ve ever seen, from the railway station—where I talked with a nice corporate businessman-turned-small shopkeeper with the most beautiful cubist tattoo, and played and sang with a bunch of strangers on the horribly out of tune piano—to the beach and city center. This must be the Santa Fe of Britain.

Con: Smaller market, more supply of artists than demand for their work (such is an artist haven). No specific anchor of person or place. Less known about this one than London—starting over in terms of reorienting, beginning to learn lay of land. But it feels good, too. These options actually all feel good. But it’s a little hard to know exactly how I feel. I need to paint to know that.


Re-Setting Short and Medium-Term Goals 

My work schedules are typically not feasible. I keep making them anyway, attempting them, failing, remaking them… And stuff keeps getting done. Now with 80% less saturated fat and self-loathing!


6-7 AM exercise, eat

7-9 write 

9-11 sing

11-12 eat, email

12-5 paint

PM: target 3-5 open mics a week, singing my own songs plus some covers; online art business stuff


This schedule serves these short- and medium-term targets:

       Minimum 1 gallery pitch, opening, or new public art experiment a week—starting next week, so by July 15.

       100 paintings in a month à reopening active online store for ecommerce—by August 9.

       Secure space to create those paintings within a week—by July 15.

       Minimum 10 painting sales in a month—by August 9.

       (Re)Write, (re)illustrate, self-publish first two of the illustrated children’s book series Where the Wilde Thinks Are within two months—so by September 9. At least on Kindle and CreateSpace, maybe on other digital platforms too.

       The apocryphal album recorded in three months—by October 9.

       Have a pilot/beginnings of a portfolio for the Portraits of Peace series within one month—by August 9.

       Have a product of the series within 1 year—by July 9, 2016—in book form, or an online series that’s a fuller portfolio I can use to get freelance art jobs, pitch galleries, and do other stuff with I can’t even imagine just now. (E.g., there’s a field experimental component of the project incorporating some positive psych stuff like from Pennebaker’s work on expressive writing that I haven’t hashed out yet. I want to listen deeply and see what feels right in the context of people’s stories first.)


Money as a target and how I will make it:

       This is the thing I have always been bad at so much as thinking about as an artist. Let’s correct that error now. Again. Or blog trying.

       I’d like to pay off my attempted business launch/move debts and have money to make art and travel. Ideally I’d make something like $110k/year. But most businesses take years to turn a profit. So setting a short-term goal that’s specific feels really weird. Overly optimistic. But I have to get better at doing it or it’s not going to happen.

       There are six relatively immediate ways to monetize my art:

o   1. selling paintings online and in person, getting a better sense of my market and pitching to them better, 

o   2. making prints and postcards to sell at markets or openings, 

o   3. properly illustrating and self-publishing the Wilde Thinks children’s book series, 

o   4. teaching (although I start to worry about the visa issue with this—there has to be a way for people to legally teach in other countries as they travel, but I’m not sure how this all works and want to follow the rules), 

o   5. working on the Portraits of Peace peace-maker interview and painting series, perhaps starting with Syrian refugees or folks who have come back from the war in London (Eliot Higgins says he can try to get me in touch with some relevant folks to do a pilot/get started on this—I’m happy if other folks can too), and 

o   6. offer painting-photography portraits (combining techniques using a camera, a printer or access to one, photo transfer using acrylic gel medium, photos to canvas, and paint in combination with that—but this seems like something I’d need to build up a clientele in a place doing, like any other portrait photographer), 

Clearly formatting is not one of the things I will be getting paid for in this life. Also modeling. 

Just painting and selling the paintings online as best I can seems like the simplest, most obvious thing here. Re-launching an online oil painting store has got to be the most analogue, weird, inefficient way possible to be a digital nomad. But it’s what I think I have to try next.

I don’t know if I’m doing it all wrong, but this is what I’m doing. I want to be a jobbing artist, run my own successful business, and be loved. Just doing what I have to do as an artist in a space where I’m allowed to make a mess—but keep getting out plenty meeting nice people like I have been—seems like a good place to start.

Let me know what you think in the comments, via Facebook, or send me an email. 


Full Song Performance Video

At last! My full song performance video has come along. From the lovely open mic last week where I got three nice people to film five songs on different devices, and still didn’t manage to walk away with a video. I am a multimedia mastermind. 

Now someone else please watch/listen and critique this so I don’t have to. That was the whole idea, and it’s gonna be so painful. I can’t right now. Just tell me how to be better. 


Story, Emotion, and Action

Story causes emotion causes action. Or so I think, in the continuing thought experiment in which I recognize how thought shapes reality and make a new life for myself accordingly. 

So I’m trying to get my story straight so I know what to say when people ask me who I am and what I’m doing. Instead of immediately thinking to myself, That is such a good question. 



Narrative is tricky. What is going on? What am I doing? What was I thinking and how did I wind up feeling closer to being at home than ever before, with the exception of driving and camping alone across the U.S.—but perhaps technically homeless, or more accurately, housing insecure, in a foreign country with no job or ability to legally work?

Possible narrative spines include:

1. Artist leaves stable academic life to become self as artist. Suffering and adventure ensue. Will our brave (or not so brave) protagonist succeed in identifying, articulating, and honing her desires into discrete goals with concrete timetables and outcomes, to generate means-specific yet adaptable plans for attaining those goals? Or will she perhaps try instead to deny that painters need a place to paint and poets need to write poetry, because those things are impractical?

2. Researcher angers Defense establishment by loudly and repeatedly pointing out she proved by releasing and distributing open-source documents that they lied to Congress about their interrogation programs—and it is very bad to lie to Congress, very bad to lie to Congress, very bad to lie to Congress—outs self as the person who did that (how did they not already know?), and is subjected to the technically legal version of contemporary domestic psychops.

The Stasi used to break into people’s homes to move stuff around, to convince them they were going crazy. Defense stops short of breaking and entering. Also, they’re kinda cute. Xo.

Then what? You have to show not tell how this works to even begin to sketch what happened, and that requires playwriting or screenwriting, story-making. Maybe they win if you’re defined by that kind of experience though—and you have to invest in the telling to tell that story, because you have to do it really well and really carefully or you sound crazy and it compounds the burn—instead of just walking away going huh, good game. I abhor evil, but who doesn’t appreciate a good punk? I mean, maybe people who value effective freedom of the press? All five of them. And they’re still busy reading the Snowden documents.

So this is isolating. It’s called a burn because it burns your social network and assets. But lots of life experiences are isolating and isolation doesn’t kill you if you get up and move on. And I can, because I didn’t break any laws and I left. And thank you for showing me my vulnerabilities. They’re just normal human vulnerabilities like the desire to be loved and the wish to keep other people safe. I’m not the one who has to live with playing on them to hurt someone else in the name of security. When we know from evidence-based research that actually, compromising liberty degrades security

3. Beyond broke, underweight, unemployable in her area of expertise, and lacking the kind of perfect clarity really successful people seem to have about their goals, mercilessly impractical waif of dubious pedigree and intolerably sad eyes who changed her name to Wilde and read The Complete Wilde moves to London to read The Complete Shakespeare. Runs out credit trying to figure out what’s next, following the law by not working without a work permit, trying to figure out how to make art and travel while making money online (because that’s legal and lets me be free). (I’m working on the eyes.) 

4. Smart, nice, attractive lady—former model, non-profit leader, and Harvard postdoc—starts a new life by changing her name and moving across the country a few times. Then gets back in touch with all her family after years of silence—clearing the way for connection, yet remaining isolated and disconnected. Turns that weakness into a strength—the complete freedom of nobody caring. Starts a new life again by leaving her day job and country to travel and make art. Goes where she wants to go, does what she wants to do, finds friends and her way.

5. Poet deigns to languish./Water doesn’t need sunlight or fish.

Feelings are supposed to help you choose between narratives. Research on motivated reasoning suggests, in fact, people can’t make decisions without emotion—it’s feeling that helps us decide. But feelings are tricky, too. How do I feel?



Possible emotional ecosystems of truthful resonance include:

1. Grounded elation. I’m a funny-looking little girl from Alabama in the Europe making art and friends. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted. I need more of a social justice component to what I’m doing to be happy, but first space, and I think I’ll work on that next. I like the anti-surveillance, secrecy, repression underground, so I think I’ll pitch to that niche market in my art next. Maybe the dark net needs an artist. I certainly need the dark net to talk to people who bureaucrats arbitrarily classify sometimes as terrorists and sometimes as freedom fighters, when I’ve already been under surveillance myself. So I have good direction and next steps.

2. Resigned despair. I’m thirty and I haven’t published a book or had a baby. That officially makes me a non-person as a writer and a woman. (Feeling not belief, mind you. Thank God today I have no manuscript to edit on deadline and no butt to wipe but my own.)

3. Crushing fear. What if I have nothing of value to offer the world? What if I can never articulate or put to use my big-picture insights because I am so visual and big-picture, yet so dyslexic I can’t take the IAT or find my way around my own neighborhood without a map—which is it, brain, high or low visual intelligence? So non-verbal and yet so hypergraphic, I’ve gone months at a time barely speaking yet routinely write thousands of words a day as if it’s how I think—but which is it, wordless or wordy? I make no sense as a character. Call the editor to complain. First be sure to freeze in worthlessness with me. Now mask it. Smile. Bring in the eyes, too. Good. 

4. Impatient frustration (with myself). What about that poetry book I was trying to get published, or that performance anxiety I was working on overcoming in my music, or that pipe dream of acting outside community theater I was going to explore in the big city? Maybe I should re-timetable all the things and worry more about doing little next-steps than planning outcomes I can’t control or honing desires I’m not done exploring? Is that immature or is that facing reality head-on? Is it unfocused or is it showing up to what it means to be an artist?

5. Relaxed gratitude. What an adventure I’m lucky to be on now. How I’m shining although I don’t see how it helps the world, where my passion and caring are going to meet people’s needs to make their lives better while building something of my own. Something that lasts.


So What?

That emotions list is supposed to help me with that story list in a way that helps me make better goals and plans. But I don’t know how.

This is what I know. Time is money and I’ve bought mine on credit. It’s terrifying. But it was the right thing to do. I don’t know what I’m doing. But it was the only thing to do.

If I was burned—and perhaps one shouldn’t speak of such things, in particular if one actually has faith in the power of good ideas and people to triumph in decentralized information systems over their lesser competitors; and if they are also probably true and can happen again; but it’s part of the context of my heart—I got a spark from the fire.

If I never figure out how markets work in practice because I’m really smart in some ways and really stupid in others, at least I will have trusted the system, the idea of the universe of abundance, the goodness of other people and potential worth of what I might offer—enough to have tried.

And if I wind up sleeping in the gutter, at least I’ve read my Wilde and I know where to look.

But—shock, surprise!—I don’t want to sleep in the gutter.

I really, really don’t want to sleep in the gutter. I hesitate to admit this because I think things never turn out as badly as I’m afraid they will, and so probably sleeping in the gutter would be fine. But I am, in fact, actively afraid of sleeping in the gutter. I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble. I always seem to be getting in trouble. I’m afraid it will be dirty—not good, outdoorsy dirty, but disgusting, city dirty. I’m afraid of people who find other people sleeping in gutters and see opportunity. I’m afraid of being afraid and thereby creating the world of scarcity in which Hobbes was right and I better be grateful for the Leviathan that protects my property rights sometimes, or I’m gonna get the anarchy in which I can’t protect them myself. 

I’m also afraid to give it a go with a rented art studio space I surreptitiously sleep in while letting myself get back into my painting flow state groove where I inexplicably want to be (inexplicable London, inexplicable painting), and giving the art ebusiness thing—that sort-of worked in May, when I sold nine paintings in four weeks via Etsy from Boston—another go, from London. But I don’t seem to have a better idea. I’m an artist and I need to make art. So I’ll do that now and see what happens. 


Thou Shalt Make Art (and Other Messes)

Slowly, a subconscious synthesis grows. I see pictures. I draw them. I paint them. I write. A lot. I sing. Softly. Sometimes, I say a bit. Then a bit more. Until, when I try to talk about what I’m doing next, instead of looking puzzled—people start to get excited, animated, smile or look dumbfounded—and tell me they think it’s a great idea. This happened with my dissertation. (Some of the oil paintings—and the eventual haiku summary—ended up in the UVA Library copy, available on my LinkedIn profile. Some are on display in that same library.) I like to think it’s happening again now.

But I’m still not sure I know what my next project is well enough to have these very conversations. Which is exactly when they’re most important. So I‘m having lots of them at the Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer 2015 conference. I found out about the conference the night before it started, at a Cryptoparty before a poetry, more poetry, and  music open mic. God bless London.

That was a very fast and indirect plug for my first original poetry performance—which was not much of a performance—and my singing, which was neither properly prepared nor recorded full through. I’ll have to critique and take down those videos soon. I really just made them to get a baseline to get better. Hard but essential to look at oneself with that kind of hopeful detachment. This is a tangent.


Wandering Not Lost 

But not.

It’s all about showing up to the process where you are, so you can take it forward. Identifying and expression desires in order to better hone them into timetabled goals with means-specific plans to try, adapt, try again. And yet, needing to hone the same desires it’s a struggle just to express. The freedom of expression. The constriction of honing and concrete planning. Big soul. Small steps. Big ideas. Small voice. The tension.

Sometimes, talking with the right people—usually accidentally, through the magic of elective affinities, positive selective attention, and dumb luck—eases that tension. For example, talking with Charlie Glass helped me see that I have a very specific public art installation idea he and his collaborators at Anything to Say might be interested in working with me on, or know someone who is.


Interactive Public Art Installation Idea

They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it!”—2 Corinthians 3:17, MSG

“Thou Shalt” is a sculpture highlighting the power of positive selective attention and the conceptual linkages between freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. It’s a huge stone tablet that looks like one of the contentious Ten Commandments monuments in the US. But instead of Thou Shalt Nots, the tablet is full of Thou Shalts. And the spaces after the 10 Thou Shalts are blank. The tablet is made of or those spaces are painted with a chalkboard material, and chalk is available. So people can interact with the installation in celebration of their dreams. 


Technology Combats Racial Bias in Diagnosis Idea

And then sometimes, I think about how I still haven’t written an executive summary of how my dissertation research showed medical diagnosis decision support tools might help combat racial bias in diagnosis. This for a company that gave me free research access to their amazing tool. A tool I found playing around on a computer in the med school library when my mom was really sick. A tool that helped me diagnose her (insofar as a teenager can do that), look up patient support groups for her rare disease, and find a doctor they recommended who could stabilize her.


Too Many Ideas Idea

This might seem like a problem of rational prioritization in the sense of needing to manage time better, do more work and less play, or otherwise act like a grown-up instead of not knowing or caring where I’m sleeping tonight. But it’s actually another Mona Lisa smile problem in cognitive terms.

Pascal and other creative problem-solvers found that working on different problems in different places from their priority problems in familiar places helped them make breakthrough connections. I didn’t even realize the potential importance of some of my dissertation research findings until now, years after I collected the medical diagnosis decision support tool data. Only now would talking with the right folks help me summarize it in a way that might be useful. Now I have to think who the right folks are, make the findings accessible to them in haiku summary form, and reshape the write-up for the right audience(s) if I want to share it with the world. Seems kinda important. But I have lots of other important stuff to do. And then the occasional urgent issue to address, like where I’m sleeping any given night.



Everyone makes attentional choices all the time. It’s the only way we make sense of the world, is to pick out a signal in the noise. I keep talking, thinking, and writing about this, because learning how to do it better has changed my life. It’s like I finally realized I’m a radio. I can tune myself to the signal I want to pick out in the noise. The tuning is the ideas in my head. The noise is the whole, wide world of stimuli and possibilities. And the signal is what I pick out through selective attention—how my ideas shape my perceptions and behaviors, and in turn reality, creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

 So. Here is one step forward towards a written articulation of my next priority project.


Portraits of Peace: Celebrating Life in the Global Refugee Crisis

In the global refugee crisis of over 50 million persons displaced due to political violence or instability—the largest number since World War II—people are starting over. They’re choosing to live not like refugees—unmoored people who have lost everything, victims of circumstance, lucky people in an unlucky world—but like ordinary people with extraordinary hopes and dreams. These are their stories.

This is where I launch into sample stories the portfolio of samples of Portraits of Peace that I haven’t created yet.

These are the things of value the series offers:

       Meta: Positive selective attention focus. Drawing attentional resources to a negative crisis in a positive way, so people don’t look away, have empathy fatigue, or get discouraged. Instead they can learn more about the crisis while gaining hope.

       Goods: Portraits of refugees. I’ve exhibited paintings in dozens of venues. I want to be drawing people’s souls shining through their faces, painting the spirit of places where people find peace in motion, adventure, adaptation.

       Services: Teaching refugees. I’ve taught children’s dance, art, drama, music, reading, and more. Also college-level political theory, public opinion, political behavior. It’s not my calling, but I could probably also be of service in this way in the course of traveling around learning from refugees. Learning should always be reciprocal… I have a lot to learn, and I have a lot I can teach, too. The tough part getting that cycle started is figuring out how to do it within an art-for-world-peace business plan that works towards longer-term goals.

Here is why I love this idea: it combines my hunger to make art and travel with my big idea that we can make world peace through art. It (in theory) gets me talking with lots of inspiring people, sharing their stories. And it uses all the skills I have plus a bunch I don’t have yet. So in theory, it gives me a way to be of service while making art, learn while helping learn, and become a successful entrepreneur, making my own dreams come true, while focusing attention on how other people—under the most challenging circumstances—are also successful entrepreneurs.


What Is This All About Now?

Here are five totally different ways to frame Portraits of Peace in elevator pitch parlance:

1. It’s a project about success. I’m the Napoleon Hill of refugee storytelling—studying, making art, and writing about how some of the people with the least material and social network resources in the world are still becoming successful as artists, entrepreneurs, dream-makers.

2. It’s a project about hope. I’m applying what we know from political philosophy and cognitive psychology about the power of positive selective attention (a.k.a. setting the terms of the discourse) to help draw more and broader public attention to the global refugee crisis while making people’s lives better instead of ticking off empathy fatigue.

3. It’s a project about truth. I fit in at the Centre for Investigative Journalism because people here understand and celebrate truth-seekers. (You don’t get much more serious about truth-seeking than doing a dissertation on lie detection and changing your name to Vera.) But sometimes, the under- or untold stories are the positive ones. The places you have to go where no one else is going, the people you have to listen to who have no one else to tell their stories—they’re not always the darkest possible places or people. Shining a light in the darkness can also mean walking in the light. 

4. It’s a project about faith. You have to believe we live in a world of abundance and not scarcity (though it can be both), that people are basically good and not evil (though we can be both), and that you yourself are basically improving (learning not static) in order to make reality from ideas. To know your dreams and actualize them, or self-actualize while trying. That’s about faith, secular or religious.

5. Above all, it’s a project about peace. Tim O’Brien and others have written about the ambiguity of true war stories. The pain and suffering. Not enough attention in and around war zones gets paid to the everyday, the basic human desires and dreams that people still strive for and often attain. We make peace in ourselves under a range of conditions. Learning from people who make peace in themselves and their communities despite facing violence helps us learn about the shared human resilience that is so much bigger than the boxes of prejudice, deprivation, and other constraints. We don’t actually know as much as we could about resilience. There’s a lot of funding for and attention to studying depression and trauma, and less for positive psychology and resilience. Pbbbbbbbbbb I say. (Ok, so the elevator pitches need work.) 


Is This the One Thing?  

If this is the one thing, I have to do it first and pitch it second. If this is the one thing, I have to plan where I’m going when (sort-of). If this is the one thing, I have to be absolutely certain it is the one thing before I can do it. Unless I have to try it first to know. 

I have faith in my ability to know my own desires, hone them into timetabled goals, make means-specific plans to achieve those goals, try to implement those plans, adapt, try again, and again, and again… And succeed. But is this the one thing I’m doing that with next?

I could chart an argument for yes, no, and I don’t know. But ultimately that kind of analysis doesn’t tend to help me as much as stopping long enough to listen to my heart. Trying new and different things to get out of my own head. Being in my body where I can feel the intelligence in my own blood and guts, the knowledge before words. And yet also being detached enough to see myself, not as I am when I look critically, analytically, to see how I can be better. But I still don’t have a recipe for doing that. Other than talking with people before I’m ready. Better a bit of sound and fury (and mess) than unproductive silence—although a girl’s got rights.


Painting on the Thames

This analysis paralysis is dumb. I’m an artist. I need to make art. All I want is to paint, I thought.

Yet! I’ve never painted in public around other people. Artists have to make our work, which can start out intensely private—especially when one feels the honing of the craft to be early and lacking—public. We have to do that to get recognition of value, to make it work. We have to do that to get feedback to increase the value, to make it better. A lot of artists, like me, don’t like to do it and then complain that we can’t make a living doing it. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I bought canvas and acrylics and set up on the Thames yesterday. 

Passersby mostly ignored me as I grooved to a nearby busker’s lovely sound. It was like being invisible under a bridge with the sounds of water and music, the London skyline, and a vibrant market nearby at the South Bank summer Festival of Love

Until I had made a few paintings, and then people started to notice.

“Are you selling those? Where did you train?” a group of passing art students wanted to know.

“I wish I could paint,” a man with a beer can lamented, too close to my ear.

“Would you paint our caravan? I’ll give you 15 quid and a coffee” another dude working the bank offered. But I was already out of canvas.

“Are those children’s paintings?” a passersby asked, earnestly.

“Are you selling those? Do you know that’s illegal?” plainclothes private security smiled.

And so my first-ever public painting experiment concluded with no sales and a private lesson in London public art laws.


London Public Art Laws

This was useful as an information-gathering exchange—if this is right. And the nice plainclothes security men were very nice.

Performance art in London: Ok if it’s music on public land, need permission on private land.

Art as goods selling in London: That’s peddling, and you need a permit for it on public or private land.

How do you know what’s public or private land? Ask other artists. Or set up and see if you get in trouble.

How do you groove when you’re being judged? Man (or woman) up and do it, because that’s how artists survive. Or so I gather.

And how do you distinguish between art as service or performance (painting, singing) and art as good (selling the paintings you just made, or the CD of the songs you’re singing)?

You play nice with security and don’t look like a Romanian gang member, because that’s who the legal regime surrounding public art in London is really designed to keep off various turf.

Because like in Mexico City, there are formal and informal systems at work here. Mexican police issue informal tolerancîa for people who don’t have the right permeso but aren’t causing trouble. When they feel like it. London private security tell you where artists go to break the law to not get caught… Making art in public. Because the laws at work deterring commerce and public art creation here aren’t really intended to deter commerce and public art creation. They’re really intended to deter crime and uphold property owners’ land rights. 

This still puts a damper on my desire to go test public art-making modes. It’s hard enough to figure out how to market poetry as a service and a good without worrying I’m gonna draw heat offering streetcorner haiku summaries.

Does that work? Can a poet make a living doing that? Is that a thing? 

Probably it doesn’t work. But I don’t know, I haven’t tried.

Do I want to risk hundreds of pounds of fine or detention finding out?

Not really. And I shouldn’t tempt fate thinking about the pro’s of getting first-hand experiences of different countries’ justice systems. 


Other Experiments

Most of the last few nights, I stayed in a mixed room at a hostel. I’ve walked out of those before, but this one felt safe. Although it wasn’t what I booked, and I got the hostel to give me money back on that count.

Last night was my first solo Couchsurfing night. Dinner was amazing—we all tried rabbit for the first time (yum). The young married couple I’m staying with are incredibly kind, creative, well-traveled, positive. Normal, vibrant people giving back to other normal, vibrant people in the share economy—for community, not for profit.

Their lovely mother/in-law told me about the amazing Indian food and cheap labor she misses, and we talked about how wonderful the public transportation and clean air are here. And came up with a hilariously perfect description of what’s different about the West, the infrastructure/community trust trade-off: “nice, neat, no one to talk to.” I like to think the share economy movement is changing that. Art changes that. Deciding that we can change that, changes that. 

This morning I attended an amazing Daybreaker (drug/drinking-free morning rave)—another first—with some fellow Google London Campus start-up starting-up folks. It was so good to be among fellow-feeling freaks who can’t sit still but don’t need another high. It made me remember how much I loved teaching children’s ballet, jazz, and storytelling through dance a few lifetimes ago. Like I need another dream floating around my head. But I could get used to early morning dance parties. 

Tonight, another new party of a different kind—Cryptoparty (hacktivist computer security class) with fellow world-peace-through-art weirdos. Probably a good idea to know something about computer security if I’m going to keep trying to figure out how to defeat ISIS recruitment on social media with art and positive selective attention

But in-between? I’m not sure what job to show up to next. I know social media is supposed to be business—all message, all the time—according to a lot of advice. But I have to write to synthesize information and figure out what I think, what’s next. Or even what the hell I did yesterday. So I rationalize: Part of my message is authenticity, and this is authentic. I’m learning. I’m showing up to not knowing a whole lot, especially (so it seems to me now) for a 30 year old with a Ph.D. 

My public painting experiment was a success insofar as I made some paintings, had some nice conversations, and learned more about relevant laws and not so relevant but interesting public safety issues. But the art didn’t sell and I can’t do it again. I’m not sure where I can try more active, in-person market validation experiments in art-making, playing nice within the public-private, goods-services matrix.


Stuff I Could Try 

In true recovering academic fashion, my priority is to prioritize. Continue honing my desires into concrete goals with attached timetables, and means-specific plans for achieving them. To this end, I’m continually trying to be better focused on one main thing. But to me the one thing is world peace through art, and that’s too broad. Too weird. Too meta. It’s an idea. A form. Not on this plane. That’s good in some ways (purpose) and bad in others (process).

In line with what I’ve been learning about the power of positive selective attention—butterflies are @#! everywhere if you are tuned into butterflies—what if luck and success work the same way???—I’m reorienting from this as a weakness I need to worry about fixing, to thinking of it in positive future ideational terms. I know my one thing that I’m about, that is the artistic process I show up to for hours every day, losing time, enjoying the flow state of that creative work-play.

If the one thing is painting, as it was in Boston in the fall and winter, when I filled my home studio with hundreds of oil paintings—then I need to be better about buying supplies, securing a studio space of some kind, getting on a UK online selling platform, finding art fairs here, pitching to galleries here, and hanging out with other painters here. I need to figure out how to make travel and oil painting as ecommerce compatible. 

If the one thing is poetry, I need to be trying more market validation experiments that might build brand for my illustrated poetry book before self-publishing it and/or the illustrated children’s books series I’m developing. For example, I could set up shop in an art market or square where it’s legal—I’m not sure where, but can find out by trying and asking and trying again—and try selling 10 minute, 5 pound (buck) illustrated haiku summaries of people’s life stories or dreams. Try it in a few areas for a half a day each at this point today. I’m not ready—I don’t have a sign, I don’t know where to go, I don’t have a draft pitch written and memorized—but this is improv-able as a set of experiments to pull off today to learn more by doing. 

If the one thing is performance-related—I’ve always loved reciting poetry and singing, but been afraid for a long time to make the imperfect noise—then there are fractal sets of next steps for being good/getting better at niches within that realm. And I keep experimenting with things in this vein even though I don’t feel like I’m that good at making noise. Plays and stand-up in grad school, a bit of singing my songs here and there, an invited open mic tomorrow where I can try combining original poetry recitation with my songs, in pairs of works on related concepts. And then rejoin the crowd to sketch the other performers and dance. Because I am a successful, focused, productive, jobbing artist. But art is not one thing.