When Life Gives You Oranges: chat+video w artist Uzo Njoku by da-AL


Books + Art = Happiness

Dear readers, that’s why, when I learned of Uzo Njoku through Bust Magazine (a lifestyle/feminist publication started in 1993), I thought of you. Many of you are novelists like me, most of you writers and creatives, and lovers of books.

"When Things Fall Apart," by Uzo Njoku: "My favorite book by Chinua Achebe."
“When Things Fall Apart,” by Uzo Njoku: “My favorite book by Chinua Achebe.”

Her self-published coloring book, “The Bluestocking Society,” launched the statistics-turned-art-major a couple of years ago when she was a 22-year-old college student. It’s filled with images and facts about all sorts of wonderful women throughout history. She also offers free printable coloring pages.

Uzo moved from Lagos, Nigeria, to the United States as a child. Here’s a writeup about her by the University of Virginia, and here’s another by their news magazine.

"When Life Gives You Oranges" by Uzo Njoku: "I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist."
“When Life Gives You Oranges” by Uzo Njoku: “I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist.”

Along with Uzo’s comments on these paintings, what follows are the answers she kindly emailed back to me…

Question: How does being bi-cultural play out in your day-to-day life and influence your art? And in terms of how you regard your own loveliness and potential?

Answer: Being in the middle of two worlds gives me more content to work with. My work addresses important issues such as identity, duality and spirituality, yet is approached with a particular openness snd beauty. The themes addressed in my work stem directly from my life experience as a female artist living and working between cultures, and yet the aim is to show how a single person’s ‘double vision’ can produce images that possess much wider social effects by collapsing racial and cultural borders.

"Stretch," by Uzo Njoku: "Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern."
“Stretch,” by Uzo Njoku: “Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern.”

Question: Many of my readers (myself included) are struggling creatives. How do you juggle making art, marketing, fulfilling orders, and attending university? How did you initially let people know about your amazing coloring book? How do you continue to expose people to your art?

Answer: Everything I have done starts from my friends supporting me. Constantly telling others about my work and word-of-mouth helping to spread the news. A lot of artists don’t have a business mindset, and I believe that is how a lot of them do get exploited initially. I took an arts administration class in college, and that really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes. This helped me understand more what it takes for shows to happen and the right people to reach out to.

I studied Statistics in college before switching over to art, so by nature, I am a very technical person. I see numbers alongside art a lot and understood when it was time to pay a marketing personnel to run ads when I released a new product on my website. I don’t really know exactly what to advise people because everyone is different, but I learned everything from Google and YouTube videos. So a lot of research.

"Strangers," by Uzo Njoku: "I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything."
“Strangers,” by Uzo Njoku: “I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything.”

Question: How has the horrific politics of late as well as the pandemic affected you and your work?

Answer: I am not a social artist, so I do not create art based on political events. But in regards to Oluwatoyin passing away, I feel it was my duty to beautify her image because I know a lot of media outlets would try to show her in a negative light. A good amount of the sales during this period I have been able to donate out to small BLM groups and artists struggling during this pandemic.

Artist Uzo Njoku in her studio.
Uzo Njoku in her art studio.

Question: How do you find and choose your marketing personnel?

Answer: My marketing personnel reached out to me. He had been following me for years and felt that he could reach new customers for me. Basically, anyone who understands how to market on Social Media is an asset.

Question: What are one or more mistakes you see artists making business-wise most often?

Answer: I would say the biggest mistake is forgetting to follow up on business taxes when tax season comes by. It can bite you if you’re not careful. Also, you need to get into the habit of having a second pair of eyes look at contracts with you, whether they are those of a family member, a friend, or a professional.

Dear reader, if you didn’t do what you do now, what would farm oranges…or what?…

A Dog Day of a Pandemic Summer in 12 Steps and a Cool Video by da-AL


What’s a novelist, writer, creative, any kind of person, to do amid COVID-19? Preface: I know I’m super lucky that to date, and fingers crossed that it stays that way,  my circle has been relatively unscathed by any coronavirus. That said, I invite you to join me in whining…

There’s only so much writing and reading I can do during this pandemic sheltering-in-place without feeling stir-crazy… lonely… and just plain hot. We’re into the dog days, the part of summer when there’s no evading stickiness and the persistent “fragrance” of each other……

Khashayar and K-D dog stroll the beach.
1. K-D likes the seashore, um, sorta…

These days, masking up, talking to people from afar through the muffling, and daring the germs feels like endeavoring a safari, albeit not a blood-letting one. (Dear reader, my condolences if you’re plagued by maskne.)

Nevertheless, we decided to make a foray — to the shore — dog beach, to be exact. Mid-week and mid-morning, we calculated, would be sparse. Once we got there, no lifeguards shooed us away, so the three of us were tight.

Khashayar and K-D doggie wet their feet at the beach.
2. …but K-D’s not so certain about liking water.

Masks on… it was time for our dear little K-D doggie to learn to swim!

After all, my lovely girl has water-loving labrador-ish-ness twined into her DNA. Unfortunately, her older lab-ish sibs taught her to be suspicious of water. The sorely missed Lola and Pierre would tremble through warm showers. Their hearts, nonetheless, were huge, their love of their hu-Man great. That water-fearing duo steeled themselves to wade into a shallow lake when they thought their hu-Man was drowning, never suspecting that he was play-acting.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at a stick floating in the water.
3. K-D spotted a toy! Alas, it’s in the water…

K-D is defined by two loves: playing and eating, in that order.

Khashayar and K-D doggie look at stick in water some more.
4. Khashayar assures her there’s nothing to fear.

Joy! She found something to play with; a stick.

Khashayar shows K-D a stick at the beach.
5. My bigger sweetheart wades into the water to show my littler honey how refreshing it is.

With gentle persistence, my dear Khashayar enticed her deeper.

Khashayar walks into water as K-D doggie looks on.
6. K-D worries when one of her fave people is getting wet…

It took time for play-mode to kick in — that plus her aversion to getting left behind by her fave hu-Man.

K-D runs along beach with Khashayar in tow.
7. K-D is perfectly aware of doggie on the far right and has already told all roving canines to ‘stay offa my stuff’…

At some point, she set down her toy to pursue other activities — but when another critter showed interest in it, she told ’em off. Three sessions of that, and she’d had enough. Dang it, she was going to play with it with her hu-Man… maybe…

Khashayar continues to coax K-D doggie into water.
8. K-D waits to be super-duper sure that water is ok…

Khashayar had confidence enough for both of them!…

Khashayar coaxing K-D doggie into water some more.
9. K-D subscribes to “better safe than sorry” no matter how awesome that stick looks…

… and Khashayar has patience…

Khashayar looks on as K-D doggie doggie paddles back to shore.
10. K-D wants me to tell you that they don’t call it “dog-paddling” for nuthin’. Note: she’s sheltering by watching Emergency!, wherein TV Californians talk lakka Chicagoans…

O-m-g!!! We should’ve brought a surfboard for her to hang ten!

K-D doggie swims past a wave as Khashayar looks on.
11. K-D also wants me to tell you that she never was scared…

Patience and love work well in all situations, no?

Khashayar looks on as K-D reaches dry land.
12. K-D, a natural water sprite!

Turn up your speakers and sit back for a cooling video of one of her many subsequent swims that day. Bliss out to wet ears flapping against a happy dog’s face, one who’s fresh from a doggie paddle frolic and free of the day’s worries…

Read more posts I’ve written to uplift you during the pandemic here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

How’s it in your part of the globe? How’re you personally weathering all this?

COVID19 Gratitude?! Plus I’m working on my 1st podcast ever! by da-AL


Podcast photo of da-AL with K-D for Happiness Between Tails.
We’re hard at work on an upcoming podcast for you to enjoy!…

“Stay safe.” How many times a day do you hear that? During this COVID19 era, whether the conversation is for business or pleasure, the majority of mine end with someone telling me, “Stay safe.” Then I ask them to do the same.

Here in Los Angeles, weeks have turn into months. No complaints from me, proud of the liberal blueness of my state as I am. Assuming folks remind me to ‘stay safe’ at home with super-clean hands, for my part, I mean something different. Stay safe, dear reader — stay safely happy as well as healthy.

Now that we’re on the subject, how are you managing that? Me, I do my usual keeping busy. Let me preface that with: it’s easy for me. I am most definitely lucky, lucky, lucky. I’ve got food, shelter, and all my people are sound inside and out. That includes my four-legged furry little girl. And I live in an area where Spring has sprung amid a fabulously mild climate.

Recently I heard that sheltering has affected dogs (surely the menagerie of other beloved pets too) — in a good way! It turns out that at least one doggie needed vet-prescribed relaxation to recover from wagging their tail so much. Ah, the sheer bliss of having one’s person(s) home ‘round the clock, ‘round the week!

My heart goes out to everyone who struggles as a result of the pandemic. Thank you, all who are working away from home. You are my heroes.

But I feel guilty. You too? Because for as terrible as the situation is…

These are some of the gifts that I will miss when sheltering is over…

  1. I live within walking distance from a commuter airport, and my home has single-paned windows. Fewer flights mean I’ve been sleeping better and now I hear more birds in the daytime.
  2. Though I didn’t eat out much even before the sheltering, stocking up for two weeks at a time takes rethinking errands and cooking. That’s not so bad — I’m finding that shopping far less often leaves me more time to write, to walk, to do all kinds of things.
  3. Nature too is getting a ‘reboot.’ Fewer drivers result in cleaner air, more birds singing this spring-time, and less road-kill. It’s nice to look up to a night sky of more twinkling stars, fewer airplanes.
  4. It’s lovely to see neighbors I never knew. They ride their bikes past my window, their kids following like ducklings.
  5. More pets are out with their owners. On my strolls, dog in tow or not, it’s a relief to not worry about rush-hour traffic mowing us down.
  6. People are adopting more pets!
  7. My expenses are down. Since this started, I haven’t needed to put gas in my car.
  8. I have less laundry and buy fewer clothes I haven’t gotten my hair styled, and I definitely use fewer cosmetics.
  9. My rare drives are a breeze in the reduced traffic.
  10. Definitely, it would be great to see my friends and family in person soon. On the other hand, with all this extra time, we’re keeping in closer contact thanks to Zoom and FaceTiming. Moreover, visual visits require us to really pay attention to each other.
  11. When I had my annual physical, speaking with my doctor didn’t cost me a co-pay, as it was a phone visit.
  12. Without the commute to parties and my beloved yoga studio, I’m keeping fitter with fewer days of over-indulgence and the daily zoom workouts.
  13. My husband is whiling away his extra time by assuming much of the grocery shopping and cooking duties.
  14. For all anyone knows, I’ve got a mustache and mask-tan lines on face — but I won’t tell!

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I asked my Facebook friends, they had plenty they appreciated. I forgot to ask permission to name them, so I’ll paraphrase. Some are exercising to videos and glad for more time to cook, garden, create art, and to watch old and new favorite TV shows. Personally, I’m totally on the same page as the friend who’s binging on “Monk” shows. Even my local newspaper, The Long Beach Post News’ columnist Tim Grobaty, reports some good fallout from all the pollution slow-down.

Need some self-soothing boosts? Here are three f-r-e-e apps that help me — this one from Australia, this one through a company that also features free mind games, and this one that utilizes tapping.

People are grateful for…

  1. Time to enjoy flowers.
  2. Along a beach on Lake Huron, Canada, the sky is breathtaking… clean, clear days and inky nights with exuberant stars.
  3. I’m using less gas, and I love how gasoline prices have dropped.
  4. Less traffic is excellent for motorcycling.
  5. Now I have time to practice meditation.
  6. Now there are a lot of swans at my park.
  7. I’ve got more time to garden. The clean air and bright sun are lovely on my walks with my dogs.
  8. I’ve taught myself new line dances as I practice in my kitchen!
  9. As a baking enthusiast, I’m taking cakes to friends stuck at home.
  10. I don’t like that I still have to go to work, but it’s nice to see others spending more time with their children.
  11. This is giving everyone a chance to reevaluate their priorities.
  12. My cat has more time to sit on me.
  13. My blood pressure is way down.
  14. I’m feeling more relaxed and healthier than I have in years.

What’ll you miss once the pandemic is over? Are there any gifts you’re determined to maintain?

More of Happiness Between Tails posts regarding the current crisis are here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Now about my first podcast — I’m hard at work on it! It’ll be ready for your listening pleasure soon!

Books forever! Guest Blog Post: Book Art w Video by Cecilia Levy


What do books mean to you? For me, the very sight of pages bound together conjures adventure, romance, joy. A book suggests an imagined memory of what a heaven-on-earth it would be to occupy the hugest reading room ever! In such a place,  librarians are sure to work at a great library that houses fiction (like my soon-to-be-published “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat” novel) and non-fiction, both revered as sculptures as well as media for knowledge. The magic of books is such that, once published, every book should continue to live endlessly.

Artist Cecilia Levy resides in the small Swedish village of Sigtuna, between Stockholm and the university town of Uppsala. Her art ensures that printed pages are neither discarded nor forgotten. In her hands, they are reincarnated, given three-dimensional lives as exciting as their first ones!…

Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.
Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.

“Paper Art” by Cecilia Levy

Cecilia Levy creates sculptural objects in paper, using old book pages, wheat starch paste, and papier maché technique.

Her work is exhibited internationally and is included in private and permanent collections, including the Swedish National Museum.

In 2017, her public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance to Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS, twenty plinths displaying over twenty-five of her unique paper sculptures.

Her home in Sigtuna, her studio at Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, she’s a member of Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, where her pieces are sold.

"Companion," teacup and strainer, 2018.
“Companion,” teacup and strainer, 2018.

I have a background in graphic design and bookbinding, and paper has always been my medium. I make sculptural objects in paper, using book pages. I only use old books, up until the 1960s. They have the paper quality, layout, and typography that I appreciate.

"Longing," mocha set, 2020.
“Longing,” mocha set, 2020.

Old book paper is a fragile and delicate material. It carries several narratives at the same time, both in content and regarding the passage of time. My works reflect this, the fragility of life. The pieces reflect my personal stories and memories. This is a mocha set called “Longing.” It’s a replica of a set given as an engagement gift from my grandfather to my grandmother.

"Chapter One," thistle, 2015.
“Chapter One,” thistle, 2015.

Visible traces from the passage of time, marks from previous owners and readers, paper quality, color and typography, holes in the binding, wrinkles and dog ears, olden expressions and spelling, and the (sometimes) odd content. All of these are all characteristics I value and are what determine my choice of working material. Every single piece of paper is chosen with care.

"Hobo – Homeward Bound," boots, 2012.
“Hobo – Homeward Bound,” boots, 2012.

My different pieces represent different sides of me. I often use everyday objects, those found at home, or in thrift shops. These Hobo Boots are special to me. They are appealing to the eye. They were fun and pleasing to make, yet they also have a serious underlying message about homelessness and poverty.

"Coltsfoot and Artichoke," medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.
“Coltsfoot and Artichoke,” medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.

My 2017 public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance of Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS. In all, twenty plinths held over twenty-five unique paper sculptures. I was inspired by folk medicine, especially plants and herbs that can be used for infusions, in other words, herbal teas.

The title of the commission is a play on words that indicates a fusion between art and folk medicine. “Contemplation” is used, in a sense, to look at/be aware of/be exposed to. It’s an essential term within philosophy and theology. People coming to a hospital are often anxious and worried. My hope is for visitors to halt for a while, and to let their minds wander.

Here’s a video of Cecilia at work.

Reach her at +46 706 54 39 65 – or at her site here – or at her Instagram here – or at her Facebook here – or here.

What do books mean to you?…