COVID-19 Art: Connie D.K. Lane’s Light + Darkness

Artist Connie D.K. Lane honors lives lost to COVID-19 with her installation for Glendale Central Public Library.

Tragic times, including this COVID-19 era of death, illness, fear, misconception, and bigotry — can bring out the worst in us — and the best. The shadowed and the illuminated, the ugly and the beautiful, the narrow-minded and the caring…

The devastation of COVID-19 inspired artist Connie D.K. Lane to create an installation where viewers are coaxed to feel and think. Amid the sad emptiness of the quarantined Glendale Central Library, she invited volunteers to help her fill the space with color and movement to honor Los Angeles County residents who’ve passed away from the virus.

The project was funded by the City of Glendale Arts & Culture Commission’s Art Happens Anywhere COVID-19 relief initiative, an organization which also funds an impressive urban art program. They call it, “…both a beautiful and poignant reminder that while numbers of new cases are currently on the decline, daily case counts are still three times higher than they were in October 2020, and County reports have identified new strains of the virus in the community.” The project was unveiled by Supervisor Kathryn Barger and included the help of Glendale Mayor Vrej Agajanian, Arts & Culture Commission Chairperson Caroline Tufenkian, and Director of Library Arts and Culture, Dr. Gary Shaffer.

Connie’s “15,000 and More: A Plethora of Light and Darkness” employs over 15,000 Chinese joss paper ingots. Hanging from the ceiling, the ingots form a constellation evoking the overwhelming number of Angelenos who’ve passed away from COVID-19. Watch multi-media journalist Aziza Shuler report on it for Spectrum News1

Does Connie look familiar? I featured one of her art shows here and a sneak preview to another here that I took part in, and that show here with a video, and a video of another I also participated in here.

Has Covid-19 inspired you in a surprising way?

 

Making Music Blind During Covid by Noé Socha: with videos

Musician Noé Socha.

“Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God, this is fascinating!’” — Ernest Hemingway

Noé Socha is a musician who’s life is by no means falling apart due to his being blind. Goddesses, though, his life is fascinating!

Got writing blues? The Covid blues? The “when will the world learn that fear and hate aren’t the answers” blues? A couple of minutes with Noé’s guitar and harmonica will color them into rainbows.

CBS New York news interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.

I first learned of Noé thanks to Kenya Greaves, a friend I met online through her work as an online writing tutor. She’s a great help with editing my novels. Watch Noé’s video below (one of many at his YouTube Blind Selfie channel) for Kenya’s appearance as a backup dancer.

Noé grew up in Carpi, Italy (a lovely place that, like my Los Angeles, knows earthquakes). Now he’s based out of Brooklyn, New York, the part of the United States that Covid hit first. As a result, it got walloped extra hard.

He’s released albums and garnered top awards from the Berklee College of Music and Billboard Magazine. In addition, he’s toured, performed, and recorded with artists including Nona Hendryx (Labelle), Vernon Reid (Living Color), and Grammy winners, Javier Limón and Paula Cole. Breedlove, an Oregon guitar manufacturer, just added him to their stellar lineup of signature artists. The oldest harmonica manufacturer, Seydel, a German company founded in 1847, invited him to collaborate; here Noé demonstrates one of their harmonica holders on his Facebook page.

Even Mastercard recognizes he’s “Something Priceless.”

Read on for his thoughts in his words about living creatively through Covid…

My Experience as a Blind Musician During Covid by Noé Socha

The beginning of Covid was very strange for me. I’m from Italy, so I saw all my friends going in full lockdown a couple of weeks before the states, but I still had performances every day until March 15. It was hard to stay focused, knowing how everything would have changed in a very short matter of time. I was questioning myself; I felt selfish taking all these chances, but I also felt like I couldn’t do any different.

I came back to NYC from PA on Monday, March 16, and I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing Times Square deserted at 9 PM. It didn’t seem real.

The next month or so was very challenging for me, I didn’t have any inspiration to play, people were dying and getting sick, it felt wrong to post music. All my musician friends were doing online streams, but nobody was making any money from them. Teaching guitar online was hard, I don’t feel I can help people very much without being able to touch their hands, and I can’t have close-up shots of myself. I also live alone, so I would go thirty plus days without seeing anyone. 

I decided to start posting again when I realized I was losing my chops on the instruments, I couldn’t let all the work I put into it go to waste, and I needed something to look forward to artistically. I take selfies with my phone. The shots may not be very good, but I thought it would be interesting and different to have a blind person videotaping himself. George Floyd’s homicide and all the people that spoke out and told their stories after that gave me even more motivation to use my artistry to stand in solidarity and support.

In the summer, the gigs came back, sort of. I was playing outside bars, on the sidewalks, for tips. It was very nice to see how eager people were for live music, but it was also stressful trying to respect social distancing. I found myself hesitating when I needed help getting places; I wasn’t sure how to get people’s attention without getting close to them, and I didn’t want to make anybody uncomfortable. I am fortunate to be able to use Access-A-Ride, so I didn’t have to take public transportation.

Now we’re back in lockdown, and it feels like we’re in March again. I keep posting my videos, hoping to increase my followers and inspire people. I’ve realized that it’s important to have something to keep us motivated, even if we don’t see many results. Persistence is key. If I get somewhere with the videos, I want to show that all the work and struggle we’re going through will be rewarded someday, in ways we didn’t necessarily predict.

Has Covid impacted your creativity?

Celebrating Gloria Steinem, Feminist Icon by da-AL

There are many great feminists, but Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934, in Ohio) springs first to my mind. She takes risks to expose and educate, to enlighten the world via speeches, publishing, and more. Here’s a glance at her contributions…

Gloria Steinem addresses supporters at the Women Together Arizona Summit, Carpenters Local Union, Phoenix, Arizona, Sept. 17, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore Peoria, AZ.

She’s descended from human rights activists, raised front seat to legal and economic slights against her single mother. As early as 1962, Esquire magazine published a Steinem piece on how women are forced to choose between career and marriage.

In 1963, she made headlines — including about herself — for reporting from undercover as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. “A Bunny’s Tale” reveals how Hugh Heffner sexually exploited waitresses at his nightclub.

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem, reporting incognito, 1972.

In 1969 she attended an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, herself having had one at 22. Spurred into full-time activism, her New York magazine essay that year, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” solidified her a feminist leader.

“It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’ was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn’t [positive].” Gloria Steinem

“Sex and race, because they are easy and visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.” July 10, 1971, part of Steinem’s visionary speech.

Ms. Magazine

Did feminist magazines exist before she co-founded Ms. in 1972? Surely none sounded as loud a gong as Ms. continues to resound today. Did you know that the first Wonder Woman comics endowed the character with grit and superpowers that they later revoked? Thanks to Steinem’s re-empowered Wonder Woman gracing an early Ms. cover, the comic book publishers restored the character’s heroine status!

Thanks to Steinem, Wonder Woman got her powers back!

Steinem crusades for labor rights, people’s rights, reproductive rights and civil equality, against female genital mutilation and male circumcision — and more!…

A breast cancer conqueror, she has neither biological children nor living relatives. At age 66, she married once — to David Bale, father of actor Christian BaleWilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, performed the ceremony! Criticized for having denounced the institution as “the model for slavery law in this country,” Steinam explained…

“I didn’t change. Marriage changed. We spent 30 years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That’s not true anymore. It’s possible to make an equal marriage.”

When it comes to aging…

“At my age, in this still hierarchical time, people often ask me if I’m “passing the torch.” I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much — and I’m using it to light the torches of others.” Gloria Steinem

Who’s your favorite feminist?

Guest Blog Post: Discovery and Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri

Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere!

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

More about Maria Alfieri here. Her “The Silent Scream Anthology” is available in hardback here and here, in paperback here, and in both here.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Happy Birthday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice!

Cover of the biography, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik.

Determined and outspoken, “The Notorious R.B.G,” a.k.a. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born on March 15, 1933), is a genuine living superheroine!

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

Despite challenges since she started off as a non-devout Ukrainian Jewish kid in Brooklyn, New York, she’s achieved things that the rest of us only dream of. A lawyer and a jurist, she’s served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court since President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993. She’s the second of four women justices. She’s endured the death of her beloved husband, and she’s fought off multiple cancers.

Her mom passed away before Ginsburg was out of high school. She made sure Ginsberg got the best education possible. Already a young wife and mother, Ginsburg entered Harvard law school as a rare female student there. Later at Columbia Law School, she tied for first in her graduating class.

Regardless of her achievements, getting work required a fierce will. In 1960, it was still acceptable to not hire women. Even when she found jobs, employers were within legal rights to pay her less than her male counterparts.

Gender equality became her target when she was inspired while she did research in Sweden. There, women comprised twenty to twenty-five percent of all law students. One judge, still working, was eight months pregnant.

“It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.”

In the early 1970s, at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project. Her eyes on the long haul, she embarked upon an action plan. Each of her successes at arguing gender discrimination cases was meant to build upon the previous win. From social security and military benefits to drinking ages and the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy — she showed how discrimination hurts everyone. Her arguments emphasized ‘gender,’ not merely ‘sex.’

Cover of “My Own Words,” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“My Own Words” is her autobiography (written with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams) and she’s the subject of numerous books by others such as “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.

Check out Felicity Jones playing her in the movie, “On the Basis of Sex.”

Who’s your living superheroine?

Guest Blog Post: Happy International Women’s Day Pt. 1 of 2 by Denzil

Early poster for International Women’s Day. (Thanks to Wikipedia.)

International Women’s Day, initially proposed by German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, was initially honored on the streets of New York, March 8, 1909. It was decidedly socialist until feminists embraced it in 1968, and the United Nations joined the festivities in 1975.

This Wiki diagram shows where… hey, wait a minute — why, why, why is the United States blank? How do you celebrate International Women’s Day?…

Red: official holiday. Orange: holiday for women. Yellow: non-official holiday (gifts for women). (Author: Artemka at Wikipedia.)

Marie-Louise Habets went from nurse, nun, and war to fame. Here’s her story, courtesy of Belgian-British blogger Denzil Walton. He’s guested at Happiness Between Tails here and here. (He’s also a professional technical copywriter.) Among his posts about Belgium’s many wonders, he introduces us to the country’s incredible women!…

Guest Blog Post: Save the bees and the farmers by Stella, oh, Stella

Thank you, Freeimages, for this bee-utiful photo!

Bees — including the tiny not-so-flamboyant ones easily mistaken for pests — need global support. The most important step is to minimize poison in our lawns, gardens, and farms.

Here Birgit of Germany, who blogs from Denmark at Stella, oh, Stella and has been our guest here and here, tells us about the bee-utiful activism of India’s lauded environmentalist Vandana Shiva — which we can all learn from, wherever we live…

Vandana Shiva: photo by Elke Wetzig (Elya) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

“Save the bees and the farmers: Vandana Shiva becomes protectress of this citizens‘ initiative” by Stella, oh, Stella

The European citizens‘ initiative, “Save bees and farmers,“ just got prominent support!

The winner of the alternative Nobel Prize, Vandana Shiva, has officially assumed patronage of the initiative. We are calling for a gradual EU-wide ban on chemical-synthetic pesticides, measures for the recovery of biodiversity, and an EU agricultural policy that supports farmers in sustainable farming.

During her lecture tour through Bavaria, the Indian scientist and seed activist publicly declared her support for the campaign:

“If we don’t save the bees and insects, the farmers will also be lost. But we are also fighting for our next generation with the initiative. With great pleasure, I, as a godmother, will make an active contribution to making the European Citizens‘ Initiative a wake-up call to politicians in Europe to finally be consistent and courageous. “

Europeans — join Vandana Shiva by signing the European Citizens‘ Initiative now. Almost 160,000 people have participated. If we can collect a million votes across Europe by the end of September 2020, the EU Commission is legally obliged to deal with our demands. Can you help us save bees and farmers?

Everyone else — please do what you can to protect, to educate, and to get the word out!

How important do you think it is to protect bees?

Honoring World HIV/AIDS Awareness Month by da-AL

Pessimistic about the world? Have you written off activism as a dead end? Think again. Thanks to the courageous efforts of one activist at a time, we’ve come a long way since the hellish first days of AIDS. Once upon a time, being HIV positive meant early death and having to endure enormous bigotry.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay.

Fortunately, these days we have ways to prevent it. Folks who are tested early and are found to be HIV positive can live long lives with treatment.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to end the U.S.’s epidemic within the next ten years!

In addition, it’s working to end discrimination in the U.S. against patients with HIV!

Since 1988, each December, people worldwide show their support to end HIV, both as a disease and as a stigma. We pay our respects to those whose lives have been cut short by it, and to those who live with it.

Here are some of my impressions of the early days of AIDS, which I wrote in reply to my good David Hunt’s post here. He also wrote about it here. Another site with historical information is Gay in the 80s.

Do you ever feel like activism is useless? How do you keep from getting down?

Guest Blog Post: Pt 2 of 2, Ten Commandments of Coming Out by Rhys

The best love we can give each other, as well as ourselves, is to be accepting of who we are. Sharing our experiences, especially the difficult ones that helped us to grow, is the height of generosity. Rhys grew up in India and then relocated to the U.S., where he works as a physician. Together with his boyfriend, Nick, he hosts a truly heartfelt blog. You met him when he told us the first half of his ten commandments to coming out to one’s family.

Here’s the other rest of his commandments…

Photo by Aayush.

Part 2 of 2: “Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys

I hope this not-so-exhaustive list will be helpful for you all. (Part 1 of these 10 commandments is here.) Please feel free to reach out to me and/or Nick for any help!

  1. Have resources ready -> Again, going back to my comment about the use of technology, I would say keep some LGBT-friendly movies, newspaper articles, novels, stories of successful personalities, etc., handy. Make sure to say this to your peers and family “Take as much time as you need. Once you are ready, ask me as many questions as you want to. I can share some very helpful resources with you so you can understand more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
  2. Be prepared for aftereffects of the storm -> Coming out can be a SHOCK for some people (who are we kidding, it’s a shock for the majority of people!!). From the person who comes out to the people whom he/she/they come out to, everyone gets affected for a variable period of time. Aftereffects can range from minor behavioral changes to crazy fights (to the point of people being thrown out of their own homes, sadly!). So here comes the con of coming out on video calling – although you aren’t physically there to face those aftereffects every single second, you might feel guilty of not being there to support your peers (or at least I was made to feel extremely guilty for not being there and making a wrong decision of using FaceTIme). Whatever, I have no regrets of how I came out to my parents, and I think it was the right time!). Even the duration of these aftereffects can vary from a few hours to days (in my case) to few months or even years (Nick’s case and most people’s case too), which brings me to my next commandment.
  3. Be patient -> As I mentioned before, it can take up to 5-10 years (or maybe a lifetime) for your family to come to terms with your sexuality. Unfortunately, I know of some of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community whose families have not accepted them yet, despite it being >20 years. But don’t lose hope and be strong….
  4. Be strong -> As I mentioned previously that you must be 100% comfortable with yourself before coming out to people. Being comfortable with one’s self also helps to have that courage to face the world. It is NOT an easy process (but neither is life!). When I say that be strong, it doesn’t mean that you have to be the lone warrior on the battlefield. You have tons of resources at your disposal which you MUST use – movies, music (my coming out song to inspire me was Let it go from Frozen), stories of successful people (Ellen DeGeneres, being one of my inspirations), your partner(s) 😉 , best friends, etc.
  5. Hope for the best and have faith – Eventually, it will work out!! Don’t lose hope, think positive, and try to keep yourself occupied (especially in the immediate coming out period) to destress. Coming out is a tough step (in fact, a MILESTONE for every LGBTQ+ community member), so be PROUD of yourself and everything you have achieved.

I wish you all the very best for the next big step in life.

As I said before, Let it go…..

Love,

Rhys

A bit about Rhys in his own words: Rhys: A simple guy, who was oblivious of the gay world, fell in love with the most unexpected person… Now wants to share what it feels like to be in love and the experiences of being gay….!!!

Rhys and his boyfriend run a great blog.

Here is Part 1 of his 10 commandments.

Has a family member come out to you? What did you or what would you reply to them?…

Guest Blog Post: Pt 1 of 2, Ten Commandments of Coming Out by Rhys

A significant character in my soon-to-be-finished novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” is an American/South Asian gay man. While researching his identity, I encountered Rys’ excellent site! Indian by birth and now working as a physician in the U.S., Rhys shares some of his wisdom with us here…

Rhys and his boyfriend operate a great blog.

“Let it go! 10 commandments of coming out of that damn closet!!” by Rhys

As I had promised in my post about coming out to my parents, here are a few tips/tricks on how to come out, if you are very nervous and not able to decide what to do (as I was initially).

The answer to the big question, “how to come out?” is ………… “There is NO one way or magic trick to do it!”

Everyone is different, with different family structures, different backgrounds, and people they grew up with. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing I can tell you to guide you for your coming out process. So, here are the 10 commandments of coming out. I compiled these from mine and Nick’s experience. The list is in NO way exhaustive, but does highlight the most important points:

  1. There is NO need to rush to come out. EVER!! The best time to come out is when you feel like you are prepared – be it 10 weeks, 10 months, or 10 years!
  2. You have to be 100% comfortable with yourself FIRST before coming out to your family, peers, or any random Tom, Dick, or Harry (pun intended) 🙂 If you aren’t comfortable with yourself (physically, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and every way you can think of), it becomes hard to stay strong in such a stressful situation.
  3. It’s 2019 -> Make use of technology. FaceTime, etc., aren’t the most ideal way to come out, but I have realized that having the physical distance can help in decompressing some of the tension and harsh situations, which is VERY common during coming out. I used video calling to come out to my whole family. Since I had no plans of meeting my family for an extended period of time, and I was ready to come out. So, I thought video calling was the answer. Believe me, the physical distance was super helpful, especially to decompress the situation in the first few days (but video calling has its cons as well like not being there to actually encounter the aftereffects, which might make some of us feel guilty – read further below).
  4. Be direct -> If there is any situation in life where you don’t wanna beat around the bush, this is one of those times. The more you talk about random BS and take 30-45 mins to come to the point, your audience would have been exhausted already. (Remember, the average attention span for humans is 25-45 minutes.) I admit of being guilty at this myself too. I talk a lot (if in case you haven’t noticed yet :P), and sometimes, the main point is lost in my jargon. It took me 5 attempts (6 video calls in 3 days) to eventually gather the right words just to say it bluntly “I have a boyfriend, and I am gay!” Boom – silence follows (as if you weren’t expecting that – haha!).
  5. Divide and conquer -> This isn’t ethically the most appropriate title, but it was REALLY helpful. When I started coming out in my med school, I came out one by one to my close friends first. Using the same technique, I first came out to my brother and sister-in-law, and 6 months later to my parents. It serves a dual purpose: not having the added stress from everyone at once and also, the people you came out to already can help others come to terms with the “shock.” My brother and sister-in-law were a HUGE support for my parents at the time when I came out to them over FaceTime.

A little about Rhys in his own words: I am a physician from the East Coast of the USA, who grew up and spent 25 years of his life in India, before moving to the west! Currently living with my boyfriend, Nick, I often post on our joint blog, which we created in 2012 when we started dating. He is also a physician, and we love to travel, are big-time foodies (absolutely love brunches!), and are happy to make new friends always!

Here’s the rest of his commandments! Have you met new friends through blogs? What’s your experience with coming out in any country?…