My Post-Election Commitments – The #commit2unity Challenge

Like for many Americans, these have been the most hurtful and distressing elections in my lifetime. I’m still grieving – and sometimes panicking – as I realize that many of the advances society has gained in the past decades are at risk, and if everything continues moving in the same direction, things will get a lot worse before they get better. What I’ve seen in these elections was a polarized society driven by intolerance and the surge of extremist groups from all sides of the spectrum.

I’ve taken time since the election results to reflect and listen to different points of view to understand why this happened to my country. I’ve been reading news and analyses, listening to people’s reactions and what they are planning to do now that we know that someone with unpredictable, erratic behavior has taken the most powerful job in the world.

I should say, much of the people I talk to – including myself – are pessimistic and afraid about their future. There are just too many things out of our control that can be disastrous for our safety, wellbeing or even our lives. Despite that, there are somethings within our control that we can do to bring more peace and unity to our surroundings. These small, personal actions may seem insignificant at a national (or global) scale, but if everyone of us commit to doing something in their capacity to bring unity, change is possible.

Inspired by a Facebook acquaintance who has shared her post-election commitments, I’ve decided to write below some actions I plan to carry out to bring peace and unity to my surroundings. Here they are:

  1. I’ll do everything in my capacity to be an instrument of peace and forgiveness. I’ll see any disagreement or conflict as an opportunity to love my enemy. I will always seek dialogue and understanding as opposed to judgement or name-calling. I will do my best to hear all perspectives that are different from my own and don’t evade from sharing mine in a respectful manner. I’ll be open to discovering new points of view and integrating them to my own opinions.
  2. I’ll oppose all forms of racism, bigotry, intolerance, torture etc. by speaking out and denouncing whenever I see someone doing these things. If a friend or acquaintance does any of those things, I’ll try to stop them in a respectful manner. If they prefer not to listen and continue to carry out these harmful actions, I’ll at least pray for them.
  3. I’ll strengthen my faith by praying more and seeking more personal time with God. I’ll write every day and seek daily moments of contemplation and silence. I’ll lead by example and will never, never, never force my faith onto other people or expect them to have the same actions or perspective on life as I do.
  4. I’ll fight for the planet and defend all creatures on earth and their natural habitat. I’ll condemn poaching, trophy hunting, irresponsible fishing or farming, deforestation, pollution etc. I’ll buy organic, local products as much as possible and gradually decrease the amount of meat and dairy I eat. I’ll drive less and walk or use public transportation as often as possible. I’ll encourage people to do the same.
  5. I’ll commit to making art that heals and bring about connection and understanding. I’ll try to show the world that we as humans are capable of loving, and that beauty can change the world for the better.

With those commitments in mind, and knowing that love and compassion can be passed on from person to person and reach people and places well beyond an individual’s social circle, I’ll challenge two friends of mine to share their post-election commitments and pass on the challenge to two additional people. I’ve created simple and flexible rules for this this challenge so it can be scalable to as many people as possible. Here are the rules:

  1. Once you are challenged, create your commitments to peace and unity. These commitments don’t necessarily need to be written down in a list like mine, but it should be communicated the way you feel more comfortable. You can communicate them through a video, painting, monologue, poem, photo, song or anything sharable on the internet.
  2. You can have as many or as few commitments as you wish.
  3. Don’t diverge from the theme Peace and Unity. This challenge is not for you to share your political views or generate any discussion that can bring controversy.
  4. Once you crate your commitment(s), post them to your favorite social media platform on a public way and use the hashtag #commit2unity
  5. Challenge two other social media friends to do the same.
  6. Refer to this blog for the rules.

Are you up for the challenge?

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Election Night

Tonight
A spear pierced my chest
It injected in my core
The pain of all humanity

All of us
From the lowliest to the loftiest
Poor, rich
Women, men
Immigrant, native
Gay, straight
Of all races, countries and religions
I think of them all

But tonight
My chest bleeds
For the most forgotten
The pain of the menial is the pain of mine
Their torment is my torment
Their tears are my tears

Tonight
I want to scream to the world
With the thin air dribbling out of my bloody lungs
That there’s someone praying
Quietly, droopingly, but incessantly
For the lowliest of the lowliest
The poor, gay, black…
Or anyone
Who didn’t have the luck
To be born white, male

Tonight
My will is to give a universal hug
Embrace the forgotten
Comfort them all in my arms

But I also want
To embrace my fiercest enemies
The very people who think I don’t matter
The ones who grope my pussy
Who think I’m worth less because of my gender
Who call me rapist because of my country of origin
Who mock me because of my disability
Who lynch me because of my race
Who call me terrorist because of my religion
Who hate me because of the people I love

Tonight
I’ll embrace them all
The oppressed and the oppressor
Equally

Because I want to believe
That love is still possible
That forgiveness is still the answer
That the prayer of a stabbed soul is still worthy
And that humanity’s end goal is still heaven

A Ride to the Top

Whitney Lyman and William (Bud) Ransom remember vividly the first time they played together to a big audience. The PONCHO Concert Hall at the Cornish College of the Arts was full of students, faculty and community members to watch the Scores of Sound Student Music Festival, a non-curricular recital for Cornish students who choose to present their work to a crowd outside the classroom.

The Elderly at Columbia City Theater on June 10. Picture taken from a cell phone camera.

Lyman and Ransom performed four songs they wrote together. Both nervousness and excitement occupied their thoughts as they showed the public the fruit of months of rehearsals.

“When we got off the stage, there was this huge thrill,” Lyman recalls. “People were telling us they really liked what we were doing, and that was a good sign.”

Good signs of success are what bands like Lyman and Ransom’s are looking for on the journey toward broader acclaim. The duo started playing together in 2007 as music students at Cornish, and in 2010, they officially formed their neo-folk band, The Elderly. The story of The Elderly is an example of what local musicians go through to break out of the pack and gain recognition outside the Seattle area.

While Ransom writes the songs, plays the guitar and sings, Lyman creates the harmonies, sings, and plays the banjo and the percussion. The mix of string acoustic instrumentation and light tambourine beats creates an unhurried, rustic sound. The Elderly’s songs abound in vocal harmonies, and lyrics communicate idyllic settings. Occasional claps bring playfulness and reveal the easiness of the duo’s songwriting style, which always seems to arise from a walk in the park.

American folk-rock from the 1960s and ’70s inspired the band, and the name The Elderly is a nod to that influence. The band sounds like a male and female version of Simon and Garfunkel, with deft guitar playing and carefully placed banjo arrangements.

“In the 70’s, my mom and her four sisters had a folk music band,” Lyman said. “That was the first music I grew up listening to – folk music inspired by the times of the 70’s, but I was listening to it when I was a kid in the 90’s.”

“All the music I listen to is old,” Ransom added. “Don’t think of ‘the elderly’ as old people; think of it as sepia photograph.”

While the band’s influences ooze from the past, its drive to create music and perform is very present. In the last few months, three new musicians joined the band: Judd Wasserman (bass and vocals), Nick Ptacek (guitar and vocals) and Devin Anderson (drums).

“The new band members open up a lot of options,” Lyman said. “They bring their own ideas – which would have never been created if it was just the two of us. Musically, the sound is different, but it’s the vision Bud and I had from the beginning.”

In addition to drawing more members, The Elderly has been an active participant in Seattle’s music community, a must-have pass for gaining local influence.

“Being part of the community is how you get people to find you,” Lyman said. “It feels like it’s a group of friends – having this personal connection is important because people go to your shows because they like you as a person.”

Bassist Judd Wasserman added: “There are different circles interconnecting. When there’s a show of any band inside one of these circles, everybody from this circle goes to the show because they know they are going to get good music.”

This community environment makes it easier for the success of one band to prompt the success of another. When folk band The Head and the Heart signed to record label Sub Pop last November, the entire local music scene got a boost of visibility. With its origins in the Seattle independent circle, The Head and the Heart now tours across the country – as well as in Europe – playing shows and expanding its fan base.

Wasserman is friends with the folks on The Head and the Heart. “Just seeing what happened to them over the past year is unbelievable,” he said. “The Head and the Heart opened a big door for a lot of acoustic music.”

Wasserman believes the band reached national success for a mix of reasons including its members’ business savvy, smart use of social media, honest chemistry between band members and the public, entertaining live shows, and personal connections with influential people.

“The Head and the Heart was the first to stand out,” he said. “I’m sure there will be many other local bands that will break because of them.”

As The Head and the Heart attracts new fans in distant places, The Elderly has been enjoying a period of fair visibility among local concertgoers and press. The Seattle Weekly recently reviewed the band’s show at the High Dive on March 29 calling Lyman and Ransom an “intriguing couple” who clearly has “the tools both lyrically and musically to distinguish themselves from the flock with an infusion of texture, variety, and risk.”

Although getting a review on the paper is a required checkbox for any band that wants make it big, it is certainly not enough for a band to secure national prominence. The Elderly – as most independent bands – is not a profitable enterprise. All band members have day jobs that allow them to reconcile their strenuous rehearsal schedule with their need for money.

“We want to play music for living,” said Ransom who bartends part time. “It’s a way of going through life; to do music as a lifestyle.”

Lyman, who cooks pizza in a restaurant in Capitol Hill, added, “Our goal is not fame or money, but to share what we create. It’s communicating without talking. If this could be our job, we’d do it.”

While fame and money may not be the band’s main goal, these themes constantly permeate its members’ thoughts.

“Of course we’re not close to there yet,” Ransom said. “I worry a lot about my band members. As we’re are trying to make it, tons of bands are doing the same.”

“Choosing a music career is an emotional roller coaster,” Lyman said. “There are the extreme highs and the extreme lows. You get really excited about something, but it doesn’t happen. The challenge is to keep your motivation going. You have to remember the wonderful high moments to help you carry through.”

As The Elderly’s ride continues, the band matures and its dreams grow. “We want to reach as many people as possible, affect people in a positive way,” Lyman said. “Maybe the next step is doing a full-length album, or get on tour.”

On Friday June 10, the Elderly will play at the much-hyped Columbia City Theater. For many bands, playing there is a steppingstone to shows in festivals and broader visibility.

Although the band feels it’s moving in the right direction, all members know the unspoken truth: making it nationally is for a lucky few.

“The challenge is to convince myself that it doesn’t matter if we make it or not,” Ransom said. “It’s hard to stop and let go of the fear of not having done everything we have to do. I have to convince myself that we all have jobs, we all love each other and playing music together, and that’s what matters.”

A Place to Live, Love and Leave

Cracked walls, unlevelled floors and virtually no assistance from the landlord – this is not what you expect to get when you pay the rent. Unless you are an artist who lives or works in the 619 Western building in Pioneer Square.

A wall like many others in 619 Western

Built as a multi-purpose warehouse in 1910 at the corner of Western Avenue and Yesler Way, the building has collected over the century serious structural flaws. Cracks are as wide as a tennis ball; the building’s east face leans forward and its foundation is slowly dissolving into the earth. When converted into an all-arts building in 1981, the deal was simple: owners would do minimal to no upkeep, and in return, artists would get cheap rent.

Visual artist Edd Cox, 63, was one of the first to move in. “We cleaned the space up, built walls, and put a new toilet in,” Cox says. “That’s the way every floor in 619 was done: not to code; just by people pooling their cash and building a little bit more.”

“There was a lot of hammering, a lot of sawdust, and this construction energy going on,” he remembers. “It took us three years to get everything finished.” And by “finished” he means having access to hot water.

Since 1981, Cox hasn’t lived anywhere else. His studio is a two-room space at the southeast corner of the building’s fifth floor. The bigger room, facing south is the living room, office and painting studio. The smaller area, facing east, is the kitchen and bedroom. Paintings, tapestry and 2-D mixed-media art fill the space’s few walls, while ceramic sculptures and pottery lie on tables. The bathroom – which has a toilet, a shower and a double-utility sink – is outside of his apartment, part of the floor’s common area.

The building doesn’t have central heating – portable heaters are Cox’s source of warmth. To do his laundry, Cox has to take the bus to Capitol Hill, but he doesn’t mind. “It’s my great achievement for the day.”

In spite of the lack of amenities, Cox has a view only luxury downtown condos offer. From the eight-foot-tall windows of his studio, he can see the Smith Tower, the Pioneer Square Pergola and Elliott Bay (although obstructed by the Alaskan Way Viaduct). From these same windows he used to amuse himself watching the homeless sleep in the station wagon he used to own and use its roof as a dance floor. “If I could just record it,” he muses.

On first Thursdays, when Pioneer Square holds its art walk, Cox opens his studio to all visitors. In addition to this monthly appointment, Cox’s place has been the great room for artist gatherings, meetings and carouses.

On a New Year Eve in the late 1980’s, Cox threw a party in his studio. “Three other parties were happening in the building and all of a sudden, the parties started to mix and 30 more people would arrive.”

Letting in uninvited guests was part of the game, but he didn’t expect that one of the gatecrashers would be a one-year-old crying baby.

“My friend comes up in her high heels with this little boy in diapers and says, ‘I heard this crying, went downstairs and saw this little boy at the door’.” They later found out that the baby was the son of one of the partygoers on the floor below, who thought it was okay to leave his son in the hallway while having a couple of drinks inside.

The party continued until after midnight when all guests were drunk, and to move from one space to the other meant walking over the people who passed out. “There was so much beer I actually surfed… I slid over the floor to get a drink at the bar,” he says.

In all parties Cox has had in his place, guests (invited or not) inevitably mingle with multi-thousand-dollar-worth works of art hanging on the walls. “You’re not in control, but I’ve never had any real damage,” he says.

Although social gatherings have been part of the essence of Cox’s studio, it was the more intimate events that captured his fondest memories.

“When you fall in love, it changes everything; magnifies everything.” Cox is talking about the love of his life, a physician assistant named Susan who he met at a friend’s party. He was about 46 years old when a common friend took Susan to his studio for the first time. “As they were leaving and saying goodbye, I took Susan by the waist and kissed her.” Cox and Susan kept their relationship for 14 years. They broke up a few years ago.

“Every time I fall in love in my studio it helps my art; it helps me dealing with the people in the building; it helps my teaching.”

But Cox won’t be able to fall in love in his studio any more. Because the building won’t withstand the commotion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, all artists living and working in the building will have to leave by March 2012.

“One thing that stuck to my mind was that I had to leave; I had to pack up,” Cox says about the moment he heard the news. “I just went out, and on the first ‘For Lease’ sign I saw, I phoned them up and met the next day with a real-estate agent.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation announced on March 3rd a proposal to spare 619 Western from demolition. The former plan had been to tear the building down, but the City Council, historic preservation groups and the community of artists strongly opposed it. Even with the decision to retrofit the property, the building needs to be vacant by next spring.

As Cox and the other 90 plus tenants of 619 Western plan their departure, the building slowly changes its mood. “It’s still there, but there’s a shadow growing taller,” Cox says. “We feel like we’re saying goodbye to each other, we’re breaking up. We have a distance to go, and every day we get closer to that destination.”

Cox will enjoy the view from his windows until his lease expires on December 31st. “When I’m working at my computer, I can look at the winding clouds, the seagulls, the buildings turning golden in the sunset. I’ve had 30 years of beautiful sky, and that’s a miracle.”

Update: Although Cox still lives in 619 Western, he recently moved his studio to another Pioneer Square location (313B 1st Ave S). From 6:00 to 8:30pm today, gallery visitors will be able watch a performance by Oleaje Flamenco.

Welcoming Florida

I’m walking down the Florida Mall when a sales guy from the bed sheet kiosk approaches me.

“Quer experimentar o lençol?” He asks.

Wait… This guy is talking to me in Portuguese. And I am in Orlando, Florida. How does he know I understand?

Vero Beach: the best ocean swim I’ve had in the the US

Orlando is a piece of Brazil in North America. People here not only speak Brazilian, they also dress, behave and look Brazilian. Sometimes I have to remind myself I am north of the Equator.

Later in the day, I stop by a nails shop owned by a woman proudly wearing a Brazil-flag t-shirt. I see ads in Portuguese on billboards. I hear conversations in my native language. For the first time in my seven years living in the United States, someone correctly pronounces my last name.

Having a Brazilian experience in a foreign country is like going on a cross-continental trip to the south. You witness familiar behaviors, recognize accents, eat your childhood food.

In Florida, you swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

I’ll certainly come back to this place. These few warm days I’m spending here are just a homecoming invitation. Next time, I’ll bring my parents.

Zumba and the perpetuation of the human species – how dancing bring us closer to our inner cavewoman

That Zumba is a hit among women is no news. What is news is that I recently found some compelling Evolution-theory-based evidence that explains why this workout is so popular in the female world. (For those who don’t know, Zumba is a type of exercise inspired in Latin dance that involves intense hip movements.)

The theory is simple: women like Zumba because it awakens their most fundamental instincts of reproduction, perpetuation of the species and natural selection. If you are familiar with the animal mating dances from Discovery Channel, you’ll probably find striking similarities with the Zumba dance that happens every day, right at the gym you go to. The difference is that humans, not birds, are the performers.

Photo credits: Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Let me clarify this scientific rationale. There are three main types of female Zumba dancers. The first one is the “ready-to-mate” woman. All females of this type dance very well – they are the goddesses of hip shaking. No matter if they are taken or available, there’s an unannounced competition among them to identify the one with the most sensual movements. They smile and pout while dancing (see picture), shake their hips and shoulders fiercely and generally wear stretchy, tight-fitting black pants and sleeveless tops.

Females of this and other types alike can smell these women’s fertility hormones from afar – a sense that can be very intimidating for all women who do not belong to this class. Additionally, the sweat generated by the dance probably helps propagate the scent even further. The ready-to-mates look extremely self-confident, go to the gym frequently and generally prefer not to have the company of other females during class. This class of woman is the most likely to find mates and win the competition to pass on their genes.

The second type is comprises the “I’m-here-just-to-have-fun” ladies. This group also consists of healthy, fertile women with one key difference: they can’t dance. Women of this breed generally go to the gym in pairs or groups of three – if they are to embarrass themselves, they would better embarrass themselves together. They laugh, point at each other and pat on each other’s back frequently. When they have a moment of lucidity, they look at the ready-to-mate woman in front of them and try to imitate her moves.

The I’m-here-just-to-have-fun women generally wear fancy gym clothes, jewelry, excessive makeup and impeccable hair. After all, their poor dance skills need to be compensated in some way. Unfortunately, these pretty ladies don’t have the same level of endurance of a ready-to-mate and will most likely lose the mating competition. At the end of the class, they are as dry as coconut shells. Useless, but fun workout – yay!

The third and last type of Zumba goer comprises the women who have already gone through menopause, the “I’m-more-concerned-about-dinner-than-appearance” ladies. This breed is no longer in the mate-finding race and really don’t care about the way they dress. A loose white t-shirt (probably from their son’s wardrobe) and spandex shorts are just fine.

Women of this class are actually the winners of the matting race. They’ve accomplished their role to reproduce and perpetuate their genes; however, exactly because they are no longer competing, they can be easily ignored – or even despised – by the fertile crowd.

Next time you go to the gym, pay attention to these types. If you are a woman, you’ll be shocked to find out how a favorable environment (gym) with the right sensorial stimuli (music, dim light etc.) can make us more similar to our cousins from the animal kingdom than to the homo sapiens sapiens we’re supposed to be.

Ten ways to fall in love with Seattle

1. Embrace the rain
Buy a North Face jacket
Puddle-jump around Green Lake
Never use an umbrella

2. Enjoy the summer
Buy a pair of Crocs
Boat on Lake Washington
Try SUPing on the Sound

3. Hike
Wear New Balance shoes
Admire nature
Camp often

4. Overcome the freeze
Expect neglect from acquaintances
Get used to online dating
Find friends on Craigslist

5. Drink coffee
Say you drink Starbucks
Due to lack of options
Discover boutique coffee shops

6. Love food
Get to know Tom Douglas
Do the Savor Seattle tour
Like seafood

7. Be a tree-hugger
Recycle always
Buy at farmers’ markets
Consider becoming vegetarian

8. Be a Sounders fan
Hang a scarf on your office wall
Go to Mariners games
Just to catch up with friends

9. Underdress
Go to work in jeans
Dress up
To impress

10. Have a dog
Ideally from a shelter
Play in your yard
Gather with other doggies

Please save these instructions
This is your manual
To get to appreciate
And love
This paradoxically dazzling city