Monday, August 31, 2020



I support equality for women. It's in college when I opened my eyes to how deep-rooted and structural sex-based oppression is. It is when I became a radical, structural feminist.


I'm not comfortable wearing a t-shirt that says "feminist." Or other variations like "the sisterhood" or "love your tribe" or "the force is female" or "the future is female." No thanks.

I'm uncomfortable with the notion that there is some sort of genuine sisterhood among ALL individual women. Some of the most egregious acts of cruelty I've experienced have been by individual women. Many women DON'T help women. Women shame. Women gossip. Women sabotage. Women envy. Women take down. So do men. Not all, but many. That's because women and men are human. And many humans (not all) don't help humans (including myself at times). 

I'm also uncomfortable with "the sisterhood" because as Roxane Gay points out in her book BAD FEMINIST, race remains a big problem within some feminist circles.

Because there are those very special individual women who go out of their way to support misogyny, white supremacy, nationalism and ickiness in general to pursue relevance and celebrity ... like Kellyanne, Sarah, Dana, Ann, Tomi ... and quite frankly the 53% of educated white women who helped put disgraceful Trump in office. And in the deep reaches of my radical feminist heart, I say that there are individual men who are more my sisters than these individual women.

When I (mainly through art) criticize/satirize individual women like Kellyanne, there are some voices who tell me that if I am a TRUE feminist, I shouldn't criticize any individual woman including Kellyanne. And further, that I should (hashtag) believe-all-women. 

To which I say: bull fucking shit.

If I believed all women, I would have believed Carolyn Bryant, whose testimony in 1955 led to the lynching of Emmett Till and who 50 years later recanted her testimony.

I support equality for women. Therefore, I support structures that compensate Kellyanne with the same pay that say a Sean Spicer is compensated. That I support structures to not favor Sean over Kellyanne for the same work does not mean that I condone what Kellyanne says or does. Nor that she has immunity from criticism/satirization because she is biologically female. 

The future isn't female.

The future is.

[This essay is a slightly expanded version from an earlier draft published on Instagram in August 22, 2016.]

Saturday, August 29, 2020

FACE IT by Debbie Harry

Reading Debbie Harry's memoir FACE IT didn't make me feel like I was reading. It felt like I was listening to her talking, rambling, and meandering through the memories from her life. The book is definitely not a piece of literary elegance but still, it's endearing and filled with details of her journey for anyone who is a super fan of her work, which I am.

Harry loved experimenting musically, socially, and sexually; as well as being open to satirizing the status quo. And I think that's what makes her downright punk. When she saw that irreverent artistic essence in others, she admired it and became influenced by it. Like with Janis Joplin: "I loved the physicality and the sensuality of her performance-how her whole body was in the song" (page 46). 

Method acting is another thing Harry admired: where actors would deliver performances with a true emotional and intellectual connection rather than mere technical recitations. She applied that concept of method acting into her work as a musician and performer. To move beyond technical and into the emotional. True freedom.  
"I would be onstage and there'd be five thousand people pulsing their desire at me. You could feel the heat of it. The raw, animal physicality. Feel them transmitting this strong sexuality. Picking up on it, then working to turn them on even more. And the frenzied feedback cycle would keep building and building ... This was real. Very real" (page 190).
I think this method of interacting with the audience is also available for painters and poets. Provided that as we invest time in developing technical skills, we eventually find the nerve to exchange those skills for freedom (emotional, political, sexual and intellectual) that comes from the kind of underground sensibility of punk that IS Debbie Harry.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

SELF CARE by Leigh Stein

TRIGGER WARNING: This satirical novel (Self Care by Leigh Stein) takes aim at peddlers of: 

  • self-care
  • radical anything
  • expert branding
  • life coaching, and 
  • all others who seek to monetize a persona of themselves as flawless and virtuous (except for when their flaws are outed and then they have to figure out the perfect selfie and inspirational quote that reflect a combination of brave contrition and namaste), shout into the void with unsolicited advice about how everybody should feel and behave (even though their lives are a hot mess).
I thoroughly enjoyed the belly laughs I had in following the characters through the outrageous plot. Mixed with the laughter was a familiar melancholy about how we women search and search and frequently get bamboozled into boarding the guru bus of cliches, only to realize that the guru is just another bozo on the fucking bus that we can never get off of. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

AFTER DARK by Haruki Murakami


(The essay below was first published August 22, 2016 on my former blog. I am republishing it here, my current writing platform.)

There's a story that is told by one of the characters in Haruki Murakami's book: After Dark. I won't be spoiling the essence of the novel by sharing this one story, which concludes with two interesting morals. The story goes like this ...

There are three brothers and each of them are given a boulder. They are told that they need to push their respective boulders up a mountain and where they stop is where they can build their respective homes. They are told that if they can push the boulder up as high as possible, they will be able to see the best view they could possibly ever know.

So the three brothers start pushing. After a while, the first brother stops and decides to build his house where he stops. He tells his other brothers to continue pushing their boulders but that he will be ok where he is at, as he will be able to live off of the fish that swim in the bodies of water near his spot. He accepts his spot and is content with the idea that he will never know the best view.

So the other two brothers continue pushing. After a while, the second brother stops and decides to build his house at a spot higher than where the first brother stopped but not at the top of the mountain. He tells his other brother to go on without him but that he will be ok where he is at, as he will be able to live off the fruit trees near his spot.

The third brother pushes his boulder to the very top of the mountain. He finally is able to know the best view that can only be seen at the top and indeed, it is magnificent, and it is there he builds his house. For sustenance, what he has available is moss to eat and icicles to suck on.

The person telling this story points out that there are two morals to this story. The first one is that "if you really want to know something, you have to be willing to pay the price." The price for the third brother being moss and icicles in exchange for the best view.

The second moral of the story is that ...

everyone is different.

I think that the second moral is so important. We are all different. Even if the symbolic boulders we push are exactly the same (which they are not), our limitations are different, our goals our different, our priorities are different.

This second moral gets to a point that I've been pointing out for the last few years, which is that I reject messages from the universe that tell me to go to the top of the mountain or to "go big or go home."

Because you just never know. Eating fish on flat land may have its own nirvana that those who suck on icicles at the top don't ever get to enjoy. Big isn't the best. Small isn't the best. Medium isn't the best. Because we are all different. And who says real views are better than imagined ones?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Build Back Better


Yesterday, upon learning that Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris to be his running mate, Donald Trump stated that Harris is a "nasty woman" and that he couldn't understand how Biden could select her after she had "attacked" him on the debate stage during the democratic primaries.

What Trump was referring to was the moment during a debate when Harris called Biden out for having opposed a busing program some decades ago. A program that had been erected as a means of desegregating public American schools. Harris described a little girl who benefited from the busing program during that era and revealed that "that little girl was me."

It was a powerful moment.

The fact that Biden could move from that moment to self-reflect, learn, grow, hold no grudges, and ask Harris to be his running mate tells me a lot. It tells me that he doesn't need his rooms to be filled with yes-people. It tells me that he knows how to compromise, reconcile, and unite.

The fact that Harris could move from that moment to also learn, grown, hold no grudges and accept Biden's invitation tells me that she's able to say important things besides "yes" to Biden and to also compromise, reconcile, and move forward.

The fact that this type of collaboration befuddles Trump tells me that Trump needs all people in a room to say nothing but yes to him. And if there is anyone who veers off of being a yes-person or even looks at him the wrong way, it's not only off with their heads, but it's off with their heads with maximum humiliation. That's not American. That's authoritarian.

I'm proud to be supporting the Biden/Harris 2020 ticket because they are ready to listen, to be challenged by non-yes people, and to restore the soul of our nation. At a time when we are all asking why we are so polarized, I say let's ready our listening ears and steady our voices and join Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as together, we Build Back Better. 

(Art: Gouache and collage on paper.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Reclaiming NOW


One of the ways that patriarchy silences women is by wasting our time. In 2017, when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was wasting precious time (per House procedural rules) allotted to US Representative Maxine Waters, Waters kept repeating the phrase for everyone to hear: "Reclaiming my time." In other words, I know I only have a small amount of time to get to the bottom of this matter and Mnuchin is wasting it by evading questions and filling the air with seemingly innocuous but deeply meaningless words that are causing the clock to run while we get farther from the bottom of this matter.

I loved that moment. 

Some weeks ago, a friend told me that after many years of talk-talk-talking about losing weight and getting healthy, she was finally doing it. When she told me this, I wanted to reply without cliches. I didn't want to say:
  • "But you're perfect the way you are." Because I do not feel comfortable saying that any of us are perfect with no need to examine ways to better ourselves.
  • "Whoohoo! You got this." Because I didn't want to say anything that would inadvertently make her think it would be easy and quick.
What I ended up saying is (paraphrased): "You are reclaiming your body. I look forward to celebrating your progress in two months."

Last week, I hosted that friend and other friends to support and celebrate the reclamation of her body. She has so far lost 13.5 pounds. She has more to go and I'm excited to see her doing the almost impossible work of sustaining the discipline that had been lost but now is found. I'm here for her.

At this gathering, we each made a collage to declare what each of us want to reclaim. 

For me, I decided to reclaim NOW. When I read or listen to thinkers like Eckhart Tolle, I feel that I understand how to be present and quiet my ego. It's so simple that it becomes complex. Because as soon as I enter the next moment, I find worry and regret creeping into my head as NOW drifts away from me.  

As I was making the collage, I cut the letter M into a house shape. That made me think about that song by The Beatles that goes like this: "Once there was a way, to get back homeward. Once there was a way to get back home ... "

It is when I can sustain the discipline to fight for NOW that I find my way back home. 

Sleep, pretty darling do not cry. 
And I will sing a lullaby.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


I'm about a third of the way through reading Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel. I find the parts about Elaine de Kooning's (1918-1989) irreverence for convention exhilarating. In particular, I like learning about how Elaine sought to turn upside down, the power structure related to sex in art: "Men always painted the opposite sex," she said, "and I wanted to paint men as sex objects." 

The author points out, however, that Elaine's paintings of men were hardly depictions of sex objects. When I survey her body of work and view her male subjects, I agree. They aren't necessarily depicted as sex objects.

But the point I think Elaine was getting at is that she didn't want to paint subjects traditionally associated with what women painters painted. Like flowers, faces of pretty/proper white women, and other don't-rock-the-boat, keep-politics-out-of-it, subjects. 

Prior to Laura Mulvey's coining the phrase "The Male Gaze" in her 1975 essay within the genre of film, the concept of power's embeddedness within the act of gazing was discussed by Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), who posited that when a human gazes at another human, the dynamic automatically creates a hierarchy of power because THE GAZER (aka power) creates the frame and the filter upon the one who is being gazed at, with THE GAZED-AT becoming the power's object to objectify.

But what if the GAZED-AT enjoys being gazed at? Isn't that the million dollar question today, where a strand of digital feminism manufactures a disdain for the gaze while we clamor for apps and filters that can attract the gaze?

Perhaps Elaine wanted to be in the driver's seat and exert power to freely paint what she wanted. But I think she wanted to not only freely paint, but to also freely live:
"... people unacquainted with Elaine didn't know what to make of her eagerness and accessibility, her open sexual charm. Once, during a dinner party Elaine attended, the hostess on leaving the room invited the women to join her so the men could stay behind at the table and talk. Elaine remained seated, engaged in conversation with the man next to her. The hostess came up behind her and said, 'Come join us, Elaine.'
     'Oh I'm perfectly happy here,' she replied.
     'You must come,' said the woman, shaking Elaine's chair. 'You can't stay, it just isn't done.'
     'Well, it is done,' Elaine said. 'I'm doing it.'"
Digital feminism has a way of policing women in real life. It makes the "sisterhood" uncomfortable when a woman says no to a roomful of kitschy art and caddy conversation and instead practices open sexual charm in a roomful of male and female energy, not just to attract the gaze but to gaze. 

To grab power. 
To paint with power.

(NOTE: The term "digital feminism" is a term I use to describe a particular modern strand of feminism I observe within this digital age. I do not know if anyone else uses it.)

Sunday, August 2, 2020


Last week during our zoom discussion for the Summer 2020 online Art & Activism class (Unit 4), we did an "around the table" closing exercise where we talked about what each of our roses of the moment and thorns of the moment are. Some of the responses got us roaring with laughter, while others got us a bit contemplative and teary. 

My contributions were as follows: 
One of the through lines for many of the responses had something to do with people's gardens. From the challenges of keeping pests away, to the glories of harvesting cucumbers and making them into homemade pickles, I realized that keeping a garden requires constant upkeep.

For the last year, Gerardo has started dabbling with a vegetable garden that he grows in small pots. He is growing zucchini, tomatoes, and a few herbs. Every morning I see him go outside to tend to his garden and when he enters the house, he has stories to tell about caterpillars, wasps, worms, the sun, the dirt, water, and weeds. 

Recently, I made a painting to honor the Wall of Moms who have been out in Portland protecting its protesters. The person who bought the painting is an actual mom from Portland. During our interaction regarding the sale, I learned that she has been protesting for decades since her first protest against the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

Her biography made me think about some of the signs I've seen during protests that I've marched in. The ones held by older humans who have been marching for years as they hold up signs that say something like: "I can't believe I have to explain this shit AGAIN." 

All of this made me think about the song Empty Garden by Elton John  (a tribute to John Lennon) which starts off like this:
What happened here
As the New York sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there

Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop

And now it all looks strange
It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain

To be an activist is to be a gardener. It's about pulling weeds, controlling pests, and optimizing a social context so that greed and oppression and authoritarianism do not take over. Activism, like gardening, is constant. It's challenging. It's rewarding. It's never-ending. And if we are lucky, when the world looks upon our lifelong dedication to activism, it will recognize that we must have been gardeners that cared a lot. That we weeded out the tears. And we grew a good crop. 

(Art: Gouache and typing on paper)

Saturday, August 1, 2020


(This essay was first published on my IG account August 11, 2018. I am republishing it here, my current writing platform.)

We’ve known about the brutal 1955 lynching of #EmmettTill at the hands of two white men presumably defending the honor of a white woman (Carolyn Bryant) who at the time testified that Till whistled at her and grabbed her wrist to potentially rape her. The murderers were acquitted. And then in 2007 Bryant recanted her testimony. And said “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.” 50. Years. Later.

The author Timothy Tyson presents this history of America with a rich context of what it has been like in terms of race relations in America. It’s an essential read especially for anyone who scratches their head about the #blacklivesmatter movement and thinks that “In the beginning there was Black Lives Matter and angry black people.” No. In the beginning there was slavery. And ongoing brutality toward black people (the list is long) at the hands of white people. Efforts to suppress the black vote (which still goes on and why it’s important to get the vote out). Segregation. And round and round it goes.

We can pretend this history doesn’t exist and that players who kneel like #colinkaepernick deserve to be excluded from the @nfl . Or we can face this history and understand.


(The essay below was first published July 21, 2018 on my former blog, jennydoh dot typepad dot com. I am republishing it here, my current writing platform.)

There are so many parts of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's book: Coach Wooden and Me have deeply touched me. I want to talk about them all. But maybe I'll talk just about a couple and how they connect to other dots floating in my mind.

Like when Jabbar explains that when he was a young player, he felt a desire to find meaning in the game, and the fact that he was playing this game galled basketball: "I wanted the game to make sense in my life beyond just having a skill set."

Jabbar also explains that practices with Coach Wooden were highly structured because rather than just running familiar drills from a list, Coach spent hours preparing for each practice, making sure he was coaching per the uniqueness of each player: "... he [Coach] realized that a particular player was not the same player one day that he had been the day before ..." Like Heraclitus who said: You can never step in the same river twice.

I think Wooden knew that the player, like the river was always evolving, always becoming and that a good coach needed to be aware of that.

My favorite podcast as of late is ThinkAgain. Every episode is so packed with interesting info that I often listen to it twice. The latest episode is with Jason Heller whose insights really enriched my appreciation for David Bowie ... and how in his quest to be "inauthentic" and arguably disconnected from community ... with startling and almost non-sensical invocation of scifi fantastic into his music ... that his work became authentic and connected. Free jazz.

Heller also wonders if artistic authenticity is even possible, given that the artist (like the basketball player) changes and evolves ... almost immediately after the art is made. After the play is played. Like the river. Always the same. Never the same.

In Celeste Ng's Everything I never Told You, the character Lydia dies. That fact is not a spoiler alert as it's the first thing we learn. How she dies is a spoiler alert so don't read on if you don't want the spoiler.

So Lydia decides to enter the body of water even though she doesn't know how to swim. She is in that moment who she is and she does what she feels is right in the moment.

Having lost my brother to suicide, I often wonder if in the middle of the act he changed his mind but couldn't take it back. That's the one thing that really bothers me. What if in the middle of Lydia's decent into the water she evolves and changes but can't take it back?

It makes me think about the delicate balance of life. To be in the moment and have the courage to step in that water, knowing we will change and the water will change tomorrow.

But isn't that also true with other choices we make? Like to fall in love? To say yes? To walk away? To say no? To fight for the now?

Coach Wooden lived to be ninety nine ... who said about the game, which applies to life and death: "Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time."