Thursday, July 14, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Spring Painting Lessons.

It's strange how some things just come to memory randomly and completely out of the blue.
One summer I was taking a class at an artist studio, located at his country house not far from Moscow. It was a couple of boys and me and we had to take the train to get there. Each time we'd bring our sandwiches and something sweet to eat while drinking tea. We'd all meet up on the train station, take the train, hop on another one and finally arrive on a small countryside station that had a path leading to the village. The walk was not more than ten minutes, but it always seemed like an adventure. Maybe a part of that had to do with the fact that I was 16 and the boys were older, so it always felt special. We'd walk the quiet street, talk and finally arrive at the house. It was old and rickety, and had a special smell only very old houses have. There the artist would meet us and we'd all have tea together. It was spring outside and the peonies just start blossoming, the weather was soft and warm and you could hear distant sounds of neighbors, but mostly just birds and quiet. I realized that I've only "heard" that silence twice in my life: when I was little vacationing at a small country house with my parents and that year at the painting studio. You don't get that in many places, especially not in a big city.

After drinking tea that became almost like a ceremony, we'd all start painting. The house and its surroundings had an abundance of still life objects. There were all kinds of vases, dried flowers, fake (and real) fruit, statuettes, etc. We'd sit down on the old stools, put on aprons already dirty on the front from someone else's work and paint. We'd sit there for hours, occasionally interrupted by our instructor's critique or a friendly chatter. I honestly don't remember what I was thinking about during those quiet hours, but those were probably the quickest hours I spent working up to this day.

We'd have tea breaks and a long lunch, spent talking and laughing. In the evening, around 6 or 7, we'd pack our things and go back. I remember those walks like they happened yesterday. A soft, unpaved country road, familiar houses, private horse stables and the rays of the setting sun. There was this rare, almost tangible feeling in the air that was completely overwhelming. I think it was a feeling of being very young, carefree and happy. I know it sounds cliche, especially because I'm not old enough to be reminiscing about youth, but I don't think the essence of those walks can ever be achieved again. Even if the same people were put in the same geographic location at the same time today, we'd all feel and act different. We've all changed, grown up and had completely different experiences. That spring, however, and those painting lessons are the one point in time where our lives met each other and "walked" together for a moment. That point is when we all felt the same way and a point that we won't ever be able to get back to.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some thoughts on 9/11

I've been thinking about 9/11 a lot lately. Maybe it's because I'm old enough to fully understand what it was. In 2001 I was only 12 years old and although I knew that something terrible was happening, it was something distant. I was in Moscow at the time and because of the time difference, morning in NY was evening in Moscow. I remember coming home from school, getting dinner with mom and waiting for my dad to come home from work. That evening, dad literally ran into the apartment with what I can only describe as horror displayed on his face. We turned on the TV and there it was: something straight out of a horror movie with unrealistic special effects. That sight of the twin towers with gaping holes in them on fire is something I don't think anyone living that day will forget. Another sight that is permanently embedded in my mind was the clip of some palestinians celebrating 9/11. Those shots alongside Manhattan bring the worst chills through my spine.

Now 10 years later the tragedy somehow got closer. Living in this country and making it my own gave me a better understanding of the full scope of the tragedy that happened that day. I found many sites telling stories of the lucky survivors, but also sites that told the stories of the people who never made it out of the World Trade Center. This particular NY Times article Accounts from the North Tower I am sure brings tears to any person who reads it. Stories like these need to be known and read by everyone living in the US. They make you realize just how strong any country that was able to survive this is. One person responsible for 3,000 deaths of innocent people and the lives of everyone who was affected.

This brings me to something that happened in the days after Bin Laden's death. Some people, including myself, were proud of the people who were able to rid the world of a monster responsible for 9/11. Loved ones of the victims and just regular people were finally able to get some kind of closure. I personally think that Bin Laden did not deserve a bullet to his head, he would justly have to experience death 3,000 times the way those innocent people did and I still don't think that would be enough. Am I a bad person for being happy that Bin Laden was found and killed? The world now doesn't have the one person who decided to kill thousands of people to prove something.

While some people were on Ground Zero celebrating, facebook and other social media displayed a quote that was of a completely different nature. ‎"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." The quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. has a pretty obvious message: do not be happy about anyone's death, even if he or she murdered thousands of people. I obviously don't agree with this message in relation to 9/11, but what is more important, the message was misquoted. Here's an excerpt from an article in Washington Post: "Only, as too many things are now a days, the quote is only half accurate. We sought solace in misattribution. The first sentence of the quote, as Megan McArdle found at the Atlantic, does not seem to have been said by Martin Luther King Jr. (The rest of it — “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate:only love can do that.” — is King’s writing.) When people started hearing it wasn’t King, some switched the attribution to Mark Twain. It doesn’t look like Twain said it either." The first part that seemed relevant to Bin Laden is not even by Martin Luther King Jr.! Regardless of who came up with the quote ( although I think that spreading something that is not from a valid source is stupidity) the whole quote phenomenon bothers me. Who are these people to judge how we're supposed to feel towards Bin Laden. Most of the people who posted the quote did not have a loved one trapped in a burning building hight above the ground with not way to escape. They did not get phone calls from their relatives saying it is hot in the building and the final "I love you". I believe that the only people who can publicly cite quotes about forgiveness of the enemy are those who were directly affected by him. If you are, like me, lucky enough to never have had a tragedy like that in your life - great, but don't go judging people who felt that they finally got some kind of justice.

I might sound like I'm just overly angry, but i've never been too quick to judge anyone. If someone thinks the mentioned quote is appropriate for Bin Laden's death, that's their right, but they should also keep in mind that citing it everywhere on your facebook and twitter can be offensive to someone.

This year on the 10th anniversary a memorial will be opened. The concept of 3,000 trees and two large square pools with cascading water and victims' names on the perimeters is beautiful. A memorial like this is a reminder of that day and the fact that no day should be taken for granted.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A night of music.

I have been pretty fortunate to be surrounded by creative people for a significant part of my life. Fist it was art classes where you always wanted to be good at what you do, then it was art school where you learn soon enough that you have to be good because the art/design industry is very competitive and at times brutal. Spending time with talented people made me notice that the most successful works seem to be those that people enjoy doing. Many designers, myself included, get their inspiration from constantly noticing things around them and constantly seeking new visuals around them. I also know designers with a deep understanding and appreciation of music, whose love for sound and melody make their design work dynamic and in many ways musical. I'm a little jealous of that because even though I can appreciate good song with a genuine attitude and thought through lyrics, I don't have an almost innate understanding of rhythm, melody and musical instruments. At least not the kind I'd like to have.

Yesterday I went to a small performance by a local band called Loss Leader. One of my former classmates and a former typography instructor are two of the members, the other two are also local designers I've heard a lot about in school. Last night they were playing what I would like to call strong, meaty rock 'n roll. I absolutely loved the music, but the thing that struck me the most was how much those guys were enjoying what they were doing. It seemed like pure fun for them and that whole attitude transferred to the audience. I'm usually the girl that pays attention to songs for the first half of the show and then gets caught up in her own world in the second. They played maybe 5-7 songs, but I enjoyed every single one and really didn't want them to stop. I don't know if that's an effect of live music or I was simply in the right mood.

The band that played after them was radically different. They played kind of depressing rock and seemed to care about their appearance far less than I consider appropriate. I'm just being mean, but I did not enjoy that band at all. Those guys definitely liked their music and enjoyed themselves as much as Loss Leader did, but their excitement was strangely confined to their own little group. I can't speak for everyone else, but I felt like I was just surveying a band practice in someone's basement. That band did not interact with the audience at all. All I can say is: boring.

Looking back at last night, I'm starting to realize that good music is like good design: it inspires the audience, provokes it and stays memorable. That is not to say that good musicians and designers do everything to please the public. You obviously enjoy what you create, but you also know how to make people see that. Maybe I don't have a great sense of rhythm, but I feel like I can definitely tell a good performance from a mediocre one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

End of the world? Not really.

Yesterday was supposed to be the end of the world, predicted by some lunatic in California. Bluffs like that come up once every few years, but this one seemed to get a huge response. Looking at my Facebook newsfeed yesterday made me think just how little people have to do and care about if 80% of their statuses and conversations were about the rapture. I know that most of the stuff posted was meant to be a joke, and I agree that there is something humorous in the whole idea. I mean how many people actually believe that people will be lifted up into the sky? When, however, by the end of the day all I could see in the social media was pictures of post-rapture looting and articles about that modern-day Nostradamus I've had enough.
I remember five years ago, the summer when I was just graduating from high school some movie about a devil child created a pretty successful campaign. The movie was coming out on June 6, 2006 which made it 06.06.06, the devil's number. It so happened that it was storming that night in Moscow and a few of my classmates, not without the help of alcohol, were genuinely terrified. Of course all the kids went to see the movie that I heard was not even good. It seems that there have been many end-of-the-world predictions ever since I can remember. Someone predicted a world-wide nuclear war in 2000 and something else in 2002. We're all still here so why on earth are there still people who go crazy about something a most likely high senile old man came up with?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


One of the perks of celebrating my birthday as a kid was having a party for me and my friends that I did not have to worry about organizing. I had a few of those and even thought most of them were fun, over time my birthday celebration memories snowballed into a general feeling of content and happiness. The one birthday that does stand out, does so for an unexpected reason. I think I was turning seven, still in the age where everyone is your friend and you're happy with everyone who shows up. My mom always went through great lenghts to make the celebration fun for everyone involved: easy contests and games that were always rewarded by little souvenirs like keychains, school supplies, etc.

No parent in the world, unless they're Supermoms or have too much time on their hands can plan so that every gift is unique. After one of the games, later in the afternoon, my friend Tony and I ended up with the same toy: a plastic mechanic turtle that paddles through the water if you twist a little key on its side. The flippers spin and the turtle moves. The toys were the same with one little difference: mine accidentally had one flipper stuck and would not float. There I was, standing in the middle of the room, trying desperately to make that flipper move. You'd think it was not a big deal, considering that it's a plastic toy that I'd probably forget in a day. After a few fruitless attempts, little me decided that she should have only the best, came up to the little boy and exchanged the turtles without explaining anything. It wasn't and still isn't anything that I do on a daily basis (or ever) and I've never been told or felt like I have a spoiled only child syndrome. Maybe that day being my birthday made me see things differently.

No little detail seems to go past my mom. After noticing that there is something "fishy" about me trading a toy for another one that looks exactly the same, she came up to me and figured everything out. Not that it's that complicated to get a confession out of a shy seven-year-old. After that I remember shamefacedly going up the boy, giving him back his toy and explaining why I exchanged it in the first place. I don't think I felt more ashamed in my life. I knew the boy was so nice that he'd never say anything even if he'd noticed. That made the feeling of guilt even worse. There was also something my mom told me that I will never forget. Knowing how much I loved animals and specifically turtles (I had a real one) she said: "Think about that poor turtle. Do you think she's not as good as all the others just because she's not the same as the other one? How do you think she feels that you don't want her?" I know it sounds a little strange that my mom referred to a piece of plastic as a breathing thing with consciousness, but I loved my toys and it was a good way to get through to me.

It was not the presents I got or who was at my birthday that I remember. That memory made me think of how the biggest life lessons you get are not the ones you think you will remember, but the ones that hide in the back of your head and pop out years later. An easy lesson I got from that unpleasant moment was to be honest, but I also started to grasp the importance of tolerance and compassion. Everything my mom said can be applied to a person, animal, living being. Maybe if my little stunt went unnoticed and I got away with a functioning plastic toy, I'd think differently about handicapped people and animals. There's a big chance I'd be less accepting of people who don't look, act or think like me. Unfortunately, I don't have that turtle anymore, but who knew that a piece of plastic can make such a difference.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A year later.

Around this time a year ago I graduated from college. It was strange, fun, exciting. I'm finally done with all-nighters and classes! What am I going to do with all this newfound time on my hands? What if I don't find a job?
I remember a short time before my graduation I attended a party with a few people who graduated a year earlier. Most of them did not have a full-time job and were saying that it was their choice: freelance and occasional projects give you a lot more freedom, both personal and professional. One comment that stuck with me was: "You're not going to die if you won't have a 9-5 job". That came from a fine arts graduate who had little to no chance of getting that job. That evening I confirmed to myself that I do not want to be in the same situation a year from then or ever. I know that the current economic situation with its high unemployment rates, lack of job openings and thousands of people coming out of schools every year is not exactly a job seeker's paradise and some people can't find a job no matter how hard they try. I don't have an issue with that, but I'm deeply disturbed with people who don't move a finger to make a living and get sarcastic about those who do.

Now, a year after graduation is a time when many of us question themselves about what they've achieved that year. It's a wake-up call to see new graduates in their tasseled hats and cheerful faces. Have my expectations of the near future proved themselves? I was one of the lucky ones who got a job soon after graduation, had some fun freelance projects on the side and learned things I have not known before. I can't say that there wasn't a second this past year during which I wished I was still in school or was a "free-roaming" artist, but in the end I did not waste my time. A year after I'm a designer with almost a year of professional experience and better knowledge of the industry.

A lot has changed since graduation. I have a less romantic approach to the job search, I have a better understanding of what happens when you get an opportunity that seems too good to be true. This past year taught me about (professional) friendships as well. I'm now a firm believer that you can tell a true friend not by the amount of care you get when you are at the lowest in your life (a good person will gladly express concern) but from their long-term reaction to your success. We're all human and it's oh so difficult to be happy for someone when you yourself are not.

What would I tell myself a year ago if I had the experience that I have now? First of all, I'd say "Be prepared". Be prepared not in an interview kind of way, but in terms of failures and achievements. Even if you're lucky and your job search lasts only two months and not two year, you'll encounter rejection and approaches that differ from your own. I'm idealistic enough to think that if I was a recruiter, I'd do my best to not leave one single applicant without a line of response, even a generic one. Turns out 80% of the places you apply to don't have the same approach. Many companies don't think they need to formally reject you even after two interviews. You still can't get discouraged. When I was applying for jobs last year one art director kindly told me that in order to succeed and get a job in this economic environment I should be prepared to send out hundreds of letters even if it'll becomes so tedious I'd want to quit. I still think it's the best job search advice I've gotten so far.

I'd also tell myself that even though I have to believe in myself and expect the very best, there will be disappointments. In school we were taught to think that with the education we got we are very competitive and will be eventually hired. We were told that we should aim for the highest job positions at firms with big names. Truth is, not everyone thinks that if you're a Kansas City Art Institute design graduate you are automatically great. In fact, not everyone knows what on earth KCAI is. As a recent grad your really need to learn to wade through some professionals' ignorance and/or preconceived notions about whatt a junior designer is capable of. You have to know what you're worth, where you want to end up and what you want to do as a designer.

One last thing that I'd tell my just graduated self is to shut up about your career success until you know it's actually a success. With facebook, twitter, email and whatnot it's so tempting to scream at the top of your lungs that you are finally employed and fantastic. Job statuses on facebook are a lot like relationship statuses: it's exciting to post one at the beginning, but painful to take it down in the end. That's why I made a rule not to post either one no matter how happy I am on the inside. Tell a friend, parent, dog, but save yourself the embarrassment of letting all your 1,000 facebook friends know everything about you. Having said that, I should say it's just a rule I go by and by no means a universal one.

A year after graduation I'm pretty happy. I definitely would not tell anyone they'll die if they won't find a 9-5 job after graduation, but I'd strongly advise them to do everything they can to get one. Like I said, I don't think I wasted a minute of my time last year and I hope I will waste even less this next year to come. This case is probably one of the few times where I don't care to see where I will be in a year. Whatever happens, happens.