Happy 90th Birthday Dad

Would you ever believe what. crazy world we live in now? It is truly a mad, mad, mad world. Having lived through the end of the depression and world war ii, the korean war, the civil rights movement, and so much more, you never told me how “normal” apocalyptic times would feel. They probably just felt too normal to even consider as a topic for discussion. It’s just life rolling along. It’s true that daily life goes on no matter how crazy things get. This is something I want to tell my students. Despite everything, despite feeling like you should hide under the overs until it’s all over with, we have to just keep on keeping on. Staying aware of things going on, but not putting our lives completely on hold to wait for change. Change is incremental. Things accumulate like piles of dirty laundry or like any process of making or unmaking. We generate, we accumulate, we purge, mostly in small steps. And then looking back, it feels big, but in the moment, it feels small.

We never talked about stuff like that, or if we did, I can’t remember. It’s been so long. You’ve been gone 29 years. Happy 90th birthday by the way! Your death was probably my first big tragedy. Bigger than the divorce, bigger than any sorrow or violence I’d endured. The tragedy of your death was my lesson that life continues to go forward, even when it seems like it should all stop. I wish I knew then how to carve out time for myself to grieve. Instead I grieved while still in motion. Now I know how to give myself breaks, when I remember that I can. Perhaps I should tell me students all of this, plus remind them to step out of the stream every once and while so they can watch the current from the sidelines. Anyway, I miss you.

Regarding Soft Talk — AKA Innocuous Language — In Art Critiques

The chair of my grad program, Tracey Cockrell, was big on critique as democratic agreement. We spent a great deal of time through the course of my program defining what we wanted out of critique, a big one — no innocuous language. Meaning, no “that’s pretty,” “I like it” etc. Anytime we would make an innocuous, unhelpful statement in a crit, we’d have to back it up with substance. We all helped each other out with this but asking “why do you think it’s pretty” or “why do you think it’s disturbing?” Having us all working together on delivering the most helpful critique to not just the artist being critiqued, but everyone in the room, was a powerful process. I’m sure we weren’t always successful, but we started each critique with an attitude of generosity.

I just found this article about “soft talk” that reminded me of some of our critique manifesto. It includes a discussion of innocuous language but also mentions, as makers, we sometimes are not aware of biases, racially insensitive content, or classism that could potentially arm others. Innocuous language might be hiding sensitive conversations that need to come out.

“We might inadvertently manifest class privilege, for example, or a wish to intimidate or impress; our work might display unconscious bias, or it might reiterate and repeat the racism of our world.”

This got me thinking more and more about really uncomfortable critiques I’ve been in that involved racial stereotyping.

As a member of a critique group, whether inside or out of school, it’s vital to establish that the critique is a “safer” space (the word safer, I learned from Empress Rules). Meaning:

  • Critiquees should be comfortable putting work out, knowing that they are not their own work, and so any ciritque on the work is not necessarily a critique on themselves (though it’s very possible critiques will surface biases that the artist needs to self reflect on).
  • Critiquers should give feedback from a stance of generosity.
  • All parties should assume good intentions.
  • Listening is vital. If someone is speaking, don’t let ideas bubble up and impatiently wait for the person to stop speaking so you can start. Listen carefully, let pauses happen. Let words sink in.

Now that I think of it, innocuous language may not exist, because when there is unspecific meaning in our words, we tend to assume things and fill in the gaps. Practicing and helping others practice clarity of thoughts and ideas lets us all grow into better loving humans.

As an alum of two private art colleges, I have seen a tremendous underrepresentation of non-white identifying students. Much of this has to do with how uncomfortable it is to be a minority. How much overt and subliminal racism students of color have to endure in order to get a degree, and how little it done by (mostly white) professors in trying to create safer spaces for all. It is not the job of students of color to correct us whites. We need to take a few steps back, do the work, educate ourselves more, and help each other stop being unintentional assholes!

Much love. Much work. We got this.

P.S. Found this other general critique article on Kennedy-center.org while looking for photos for this.

A Letter to my students

Hi Students, I have some important thoughts to share with all of you. 

So… I just turned in the final grades. You all pulled off what I didn’t think was possible under the circumstances. I’m completely blown away. A little bit nervous too, and really touched by all of the kind words that you’ve been sending me. 

When I made the decision to make this class entirely point-based, and not so much on the skills assessment level. I’d considered my few experiences with teaching Interactive Media I and II and with all that’s going on in the world (pandemic, civic uprising, locusts), decided let’s just do points. If you turn it in, you get the points. I expected a range of point values, there always is. My experience has been, even if I throw points at you (let’s pretend points are bouquets), about half of you won’t catch them. Turns out, you all caught most of them. Holy moly! Most of you did more than you needed to! The grade range was B, A- and A. If there was an A+ available many of you would have gotten one.

I’m a little nervous they’re going to look at my grades and go, “wut???” So do me a favor, if you’re asked, please start reciting html/css/javascript at the person to show them how much I taught you!!!! Or something… I don’t know what.

BUT on a more serious note. I didn’t hound you on requirements for your projects and many of them are not near a state of completion. My requirement as your teacher is that you complete 2 projects, one of them portfolio-worthy. So MY REAL FAVOR is this. PLEASE work on your favorite of the two projects, fix it, clean it up, polish it, make it pretty, it’s going to end up in your portfolio. OK? And when you do, send me the link. And feel free to ask me advice on fixing things. Your projects are my investment too, you know? I teach because I love to see people make cool stuff, and I want to help.
OK, more videos coming tonight and maybe the last few tomorrow. Getting them out to you one by one.

Thank you for all being so awesome. 

XOXO -Alanna

More Good News

Dang it, life is so overwhelming. And I want to start writing in this thing every day. But I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel. I’m pretty sure the hamster wheel would allow me 5 minutes for a blog post. So yeah let’s do this thing.

This morning, I looked at my email and there was one from CNN: the title was: CNN’s Good Stuff. It was a newsletter with all good stuff in it. People who’ve survived covid, bandaids finally getting a color make-over, people helping their communities, hero stories, virtual getaways, and so much more. I audibly yelled: “YES!!!! Thank you John Krazinski.” He single handedly convinced the media that people want good news.

So that’s some great news. I’m a big fan of “yes, and.” What’s that? It’s tied to a growth mindset. Yes, and is the practice of seeing the positive and adding to it, instead of seeing the negative and squashing the conversation. It’s the philosophy that all things have a positive, and it’s possibly to grow exponentially from it if you chose to. So sharing good news with people can help inspire people to do more of the same, as well as inspire people to expand on ideas and make them even stronger. We need solutions right now but all we get from the media is the bad stuff.

I’m not saying we should close our eyes to the bad stuff, absolutely not! We should bare witness to it all, but also try and help make things better, however we can.

Here are John Krazinski’d eight episodes of SomeGoodNews if you haven’t seen them: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOe_y6KKvS3PdIfb9q9pGug

A Note From Ten Years Ago and A Bit About Water

I just found this in an old blog post. I was about 25 weeks pregnant at the time:

“I must do this for my daughter. I must show her that you can do what you love, that you don’t have to settle. That money isn’t as important as happiness. I want her to know hard work, when applied to the things you love and hold dear, gives great rewards.”

It makes me happy that I’ve stayed true to this. It has definitely not been easy but it’s been worth the journey. Every day my path feels a bit clearer and more focused. Of course there are still side trips, but I move in the same direction.

This weekend I’m in a writing retreat lead by Sarah Sentilles called the WORD CAVE. I’m getting back to a practice of writing. I’ve collected a million sources and today I will focus on just writing, not worrying about my sources. I’ve started to feel like I have to back up every sentence with facts. But I know I am an authority, I know what I’m talking about, and I offer plenty of sources to back it up. SO I need to let go of feeling like I have to prove myself.

Today’s meeting was beyond intense. So much hard work is being done this weekend. People are digging deep, writing hard things. I’ve thought about all the hard work I’ve been doing over the past 5 years. I want to go through my private writings and make some of it public, or at the very least revisit it. That might be a good project for the week, now that PSU is ramping down. I feel like this week will feel like a release of tension. Sarah said we should expect the regular post-intensity crash, so I promise to be kind and get lots of rest. Tom’s not drinking until his birthday so he’s been reading in bed and going to bed early. I’m excited to join him. So many good books are on their way to me now and the library is opening back up.

I wrote this today in our morning writing exercise. The prompt was “question and answer”. To simple ask a question and answer it. We’d had just an intense check-in, I couldn’t imagine writing even a single word, but the first thing that came out was, what is an ocean? I liked the question so much I decided to stay with it to the 7 minute exercise.

Here’s what I wrote, unedited, so you can follow my journey with the writing:

What is an ocean? The earth is an ocean with some islands on it. It is water, we are water, we came from water. The islands are made up of pimples erupting and crusting over. The earth is a ball of fluid with rock and fire inside, keeping it from freezing, like a heart pumping blood. We are all water too. Our organs keep things moving. The land masses give the ocean shape and change its flow into beautiful, intricate patterns. But the earth is water. The surface land is inconsequential just as our solid parts are inconsequential. Our spirits rest in water. The ocean talks to the sky. They are lovers, as we are lovers to the sky and universe. We are tiny oceans born from the mother ocean.

And in my email this morning was this:

Supporting Students During Covid-19

I posted this article on Medium. About a month ago I presented slides to educators at my code school about how to support students during the pandemic. I got a lot of good feedback so I wanted to share them further. Here’s the sideshow.

Some key points from the article:

Acknowledge that we aren’t just asking students to switch from in-classroom learning to online learning, we are asking them to do it in the middle of a very serious global crisis with people getting incredibly sick and dying.

Acknowledge that everyone is feeling the stress of this differently, and that all of it is valid and should be honored and respected. We all have our separate experiences of this crazy situation. We need to make room for other people’s experiences and not be judgmental.

Give your students more space and more options. Give them extra assignments so they can pick and choose to match their current abilities. Mix up the choices, make some more manual, some more visual, some involving expressive writing, some involving building things.

If at all possible, allow your students to create projects that feel like they are helping with the covid-19 crisis instead of just consuming stressful media/news. Give them opportunities to be positive producers instead of feeling like powerless witnesses/consumers.

Covid-19 Grief, Stress, Anxiety Articles

I had a bad day yesterday. I cried until my face burned so bad I couldn’t stand it and then my eyes just kept watering from the pain. I read articles about how crying (in moderation) is good for you. It helped a bit. The despair came in waves, I tempered it with fiction reading and dog petting. I wish everyone had pets to snuggle right now. I wish I could loan mine out to you.

I’ve been trying to keep track of articles I’ve read that are helpful and I’ll add them here. Hang in there everyone.

Harvard Business Review: “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”
by Scott Berinato
March 23, 2020


Portland Resources for Covid-19

The following is a random assortment of resources for people in Portland Struggling from various challenges posed by Covid-19 and it’s impact on life.

Small Business and Non Profit Resources

This one is only open until April 1, and you get cash in hand by next Friday. Wowza.

Our senator has a great list of resources here:https://blumenauer.house.gov/covid-19-economic-stabilization-resources

This one is for non profits, small business and freelancers/contractors types:https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/023595_comm_corona_virus_smallbiz_loan_final.pdf?fbclid=IwAR207GpqSnlmrpf3knU-bzCRr0ZxFzgm0M6cYHhz79TdxaOe_S4Ky4z1xCc

This link from NAO (non-profit association of Oregon) might be repetitive to other resources above, but just in case:https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Important-NAO-COVID-19-Update–March-26–2020.html?soid=1101049321997&aid=45GHhDxKbeQ&fbclid=IwAR0tZYHTvXBfiFcAJlUevFqlDuwqLicHP2sbrVhKwi8CEHY7WPm8-OT7KZs

Artist Resources

Foundation for Contemporary Arts

These one-time, $1,000 relief grants through Foundation for Contemporary Arts are for artists with experimental practices based in the US or US Territories (and with a Tax ID number) who have had performances or exhibitions cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. Please apply or share. 


This program will distribute $250,000 in grants, up to $2,500 apiece, to women-identifying visual artists over the age of 40 who have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Anonymous Was A Woman (AWAW) has partnered with the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) to launch an emergency relief grant program to support artists impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The program will distribute $250,000 in unrestricted grants, up to $2,500 apiece, to artists who have experienced financial hardship from loss of income or opportunity as a direct result of the crisis. As with AWAW’s annual award, the program is open to women-identifying visual artists over the age of 40 in the United States and territories, and aims to address the unique challenges faced by artists in middle age or older, particularly at this critical time. A link to the application form will be made available here on Monday, April 6 at 10:00 AM EST.

Stay safe and well, everyone!
Wendy Given

Free and Cheap Internet

Comcast is offering people the first 2 months of internet for free, after which you can cancel. This was the link she shared: https://www.internetessentials.com/covid19. And it looks like Comcast/Xfinity is also now offering free wi-fi hotspots all around the city to help remote workers.  https://www.kgw.com/article/news/local/technology/comcast-free-hotspots-waives-late-fees-coronavirus/283-98060649-cad0-4893-b634-c291bc70182b

“As our country continues to manage the COVID-19 emergency, Comcast is taking immediate steps to help connect low-income families to the Internet at home. New Internet Essentials customers will receive two free months of Internet service, which is available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month plus tax. Apply by April 30, 2020.” https://www.internetessentials.com/covid19

NDIA Free and Low Cost Internet Plans https://www.digitalinclusion.org/free-low-cost-internet-plans/

College Professors/Instructors Resources for online teaching

UC Riverside – It’s all about bite-sized pieces.

“It takes months of planning to break away from lectures and turn them into bite-size pieces,” she said. “You have to turn 10-week classes into all-online immediately, so put it online however you can.” https://news.ucr.edu/articles/2020/03/30/its-all-about-bite-sized-pieces

Great videos by Liz Davis on Zoom for College Instructors