Tuesday, September 30, 2008

naptime evolution

m has been a little houdini since birth. none of the readymade velcro swaddlers worked on her, because she would inevitably wriggle out in minutes. one blanket didn't work either, because she would work her little arms up her chest and loosen the blanket, while kicking her legs for momentum. smart, yes. helpful for her to achieve sleep, no. it took a tutorial from my friend shauna before we figured out how to get her in a secure swaddle- which was her happy place even if she fought it tooth and nail.

we used to have to wrap her in double blankets tight as can be, until she looked like a glo worm (see above, for nostalgia's sake, all you 80's kiddos). she's evolved from the full swaddle (top pic), to the one arm swaddle (which i called the black power swaddle), to both arms out with the rest of her body swaddled. these days she still is a fan of the swaddle more or less, but part of her naptime routine is also to make her way out of the swaddle. i always find it comical to see how she ends up once she's asleep, after having fought the blanket and having rolled, twisted, scooted, flipped, and completely turned in another direction in her crib. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

new painting...

"the cypress- an elegy"
, goauche on paper, 24" x 36"

artist statement that goes with image...

i made the following piece a few weeks ago for a show about california history. thought some might want to read the statement to give it some context:

For many, the physical environment of California, and in particular its predilection for earthquakes, evokes mystery and uncertainty. Without warning, an earthquake has the capacity to completely ravage and disrupt the landscape; the fissure is at once erasing and revealing.

This piece recollects the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which, in its fifteen-second duration, caused considerable damage and fatalities throughout the Bay Area. One of the most significant areas of destruction was the Cypress Section of the 880 Freeway in West Oakland which collapsed, destroying the freeway and killing over forty people. Beginning in the late 1880's, the story of West Oakland has been one of laborers and immigrants moving in to the area to work on the railroad, on World War I or II related work, or in the shipyards. Following the Depression and World War II, West Oakland has been characterized by unemployment, poverty, and urban blight. Since its construction in the fifties, this portion of the 880
bisected this historically low-income area of Oakland, leaving its' residents further isolated from downtown Oakland and their histories lost.

Just as fault lines are present but imperceptible until they shift, elements of societal unrest often reside undetected: issues such as class, race, and gender exist below the surface until revealed by some friction. The image of this freeway collapse acts as a
metaphor for these buried yet ever-present problems; issues which can lead to upheaval, but are often issues connected to poor, and thus, forgotten communities. The image of this damaged structure is an elegy to West Oakland's
unknown narratives, to its inhabitants minimized due to their ethnicities and class, and finally, to the lives that were lost on the Cypress in October of 1989.

today's points of joy

(in no particular order)
  • talking with friends at art openings
  • studio time! time to paint again...
  • crunchy sweet apples from farmer's market...the first of the season
  • hanging at the fire pit in our backyard with friends
  • when our next door neighbor omari hangs out with little m 
  • my brothers feeding little m baby food
  • little m grabbing her feet and playing with her toes
  • matt's made from scratch pasta. butternut squash ravioli with browned butter & sage (yum)
  • our freshly painted livingroom wall

Sunday, September 28, 2008

watch this

our friend justin has been working on the movie call + response for a while and it is finally coming out in theaters! it is about the horrific reality that 27 million slaves are at this very moment working for another human being. please consider getting tickets and going to see this the first weekend it is out- so that it will be in theaters for more than two days and that people will have the opportunity to engage this issue. the movie is chock full of amazing stuff- we saw a rough cut a few months back, and even then, before editing and adding in more stuff it was pretty incredible.

so. drop ten bucks to see it. go to the website for more info and to find a theater near you; take some friends and fill up some seats...for you bay area kids, there are showings on both sides of the bay. so no excuses! 

ahh! the video is being silly and won't upload. check out the trailer at www.callandresponse.com

the smallest consumers

lately it has really bothered me that even newborns are unknowingly and instantly immersed in our consumer culture...i kid you not, from birth.

for example, the itty bitty disposable diapers that baby m wore at night her first month of life? they had disney characters emblazoned on them. is that really necessary? and of course, there are promotional tie ins and product placements on virtually every product sold for infants and children, from clothes to books to sippy cups and fast food meals. i tried to find an e-card online for my friend's four year old daughter, and the only e-cards i could find were barbie or some disney princess. we went to the pediatrician recently for shots, and the band aids were printed with dora, spiderman, and hello kitty. granted, these band aids are way cuter than straight up crayola skin tone color band aids, but still. it seems a little crazy that our little ones are exposed to branding from the day they pop out of the womb.

i'm not saying that kids should never own or wear things that are related to a tv show or movie or etc. i know that kids like disney princess outfits, and shiny plastic pink barbie cars, and thomas the train characters, and so on, and it's unrealistic to expect for them to not be drawn to these products. {i mean, my daughter is playing in a baby einstein exersaucer as i write this, which we all know is the gateway drug to hannah montana t-shirts a few years from now...} and i realize this is also nothing new; matt finally donated his dukes of hazzard and star wars twin sheet sets that he's held onto for twenty years a few months ago to make room for little m's stuff. but there is something sad to me about the fact that so quickly children in our society unwittingly become consumer evangelists because their clothes, diapers, book, toys, car seats, lunch boxes, etc are branded. 

my friend k's theory is that these toys provide a pre-made narrative for kids- so when your son colors in his nemo coloring book, he is instantly a part of a complex and readymade narrative that is more appealing than the nondescript stack of colored wood blocks. i wonder, though, if kids will increasingly lose their ability to construct their own narratives and to foster imaginative play. thoughts?

Friday, September 26, 2008

call + response

i saw this poster online, and it made me think of something far more serious than supercute decor. (although i think it is that as well)

go check out www.callandresponse.com

i'll post more in the coming weeks...

road trips + siblings = the best of times/the worst of times

the ruff family went on lots of road trips growing up...from pennsylvania to maine, from california to pennsylvania; we criss crossed the country going north and south, east and west. today i was reminded of all of the glories and headaches of driving long distances with siblings, when matt and i drove with our friends and their 4 year old twins up the california coast. we were in the car probably only 4 hours total, but suddenly i remembered...
  • sitting on the vinyl bench seat in the back of our ford fairmont, sans air conditioning and driving over thousands of miles of freeway. since we mostly drove in the summer, my legs stuck to the sticky seats countless times, embossing the seat's braid pattern onto the backs of my thighs. i can still remember that yellow ochre vinyl as if i just drove in that car this afternoon.
  • staying up late, talking to my dad while the rest of the car, all of my siblings, plus my mom, slept. once, in ohio, as everyone slept, my mom sat to my right, her jaw dropped open and sound asleep, and my dad sat to my left, driving the car. the two of us had an extremely serious conversation about what i wanted for my twelfth birthday. (some things never change: i think i probably detailed my entire vision for bday # 12 for hours. my dad must have been very patient) one of my wishes was 12 horses, naturally. because why not ask for 12 when you don't even have one. or know how to ride a horse, for that matter. anyway, my dad asked me what qualities i wanted these horses to possess, and apparently i had high hopes for them, as my dad made up a little song just for me and one of my horses. he named one of the horses "oh my" and as we drove past miles of cornfields he sang, "oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my, the singing, swimming horse." sadly, my dream of twelve horses never came true, but it lives on in the oh my melody.
  • driving late at night, and arriving at a hotel when it had been dark for hours, only for my dad to get back in the car and say, "sorry kids, we've got to keep driving" so that we'd end up at a hotel with a pool. (we kids required a pool at whatever hotel/motel we stayed at- nothing more, nothing less.) then in the morning we would get a late start- i always thought that it was a completely selfless act on the part of my parents to let us swim all morning, but now that i am an adult and i recognize my dad's love of sleeping in and his tendency to take a while to get ready...i realize that maybe it wasn't 100% altruistic. who cares - we swam, he snoozed; everyone was happy.
  • sitting in the middle seat of the fairmont, with jonathan falling asleep on one of my shoulders and rebecca falling asleep on the other. (hmm. it seems a theme is that everyone else slept and i was somehow awake all the time.)
  • making up silly car songs with my siblings... um, "north american van lines, we do chicken right?" that's one line of a favorite ditty we invented- i have no idea what that song was about. uh, johnny? bec? any clue?
  • racing through parking lots to touch the car first and win shotgun. (so safe to dart about parking lots, i know.)
  • fighting over who sat where. and for how long. and making invisible boundary lines in the back seat, and then crossing them. and getting tired, and bored, and cranky. breaking up into sibling cliques for the day (you can do that with 4 kids, you know) and then switching to another favorite sibling the next morning.
  • listening to the only music we had in the car over and over: one summer it was the beach boys greatest hits- we listened to that tape on repeat all the way across the southern route of the u.s. i swear, still every time i think of the massively huge state of texas i start humming the tune to "california girls." one trip the soundtrack was mc hammer (awful, right?), and then there was the michael w. smith "go west young man" era. yikes.
ah....so many more memories: all getting the flu in the middle of the midwest, then downing alka selzer in a random supermarket parking lot, the umpteen museums and national parks we went to, panning for gold, picking peas in ohio, dune buggies in michigan, stopping at dairy queen, going to theme restaurants, pulling over at hundreds of rest stops, staying at random people's houses, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends... 

i'm sure i've forgotten most of the specifics, but i know that my parents loved to take us cool places, even if things didn't always go as planned. i also got to see most of this country by the time i was 12 years old, from big cities to little towns and from crappy amusement parks to cultural landmarks. that's a pretty amazing gift to give a child, even if i've forgotten most of the details.

thanks mom and dad. i'm glad you put up with all of our drama to take us on vacation. and thanks for having johnny, bec, and b. i would've been really bored in that back seat all by myself. 

long live the ford fairmont!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

today's thoughts on painting, by others

as i get ready to go into the studio this week, i am thinking through these thoughts on painting by other makers:

... putting down what I felt in terms of some overall image at the moment today, and perhaps being terribly disappointed with it tomorrow... trying to make it better and then despairing and destroying partially or wholly... getting back into it and just kind of frantically trying to pull something into this rectangle that made sense to me... (Richard Diebenkorn)

I had the landscape in my arms as I painted it. I had the landscape in my mind and shoulder and wrist. (Helen Frankenthaler)

To paint is to know how to put nothing on the canvas, and have it look like something when you stand back. (Robert Henri)

for instance...

this cartoon from 1993, which was published originally in silent news and then reprinted in the new yorker, illustrates how cochlear implants have not always been very welcomed by some of the Deaf community. when i was talking trying to explain where we were coming from, i kind of felt like i was saying we were these parents that wanted option b (above) for her. i hope we're not just trying to justify this choice we're making, but i guess our hope is that it won't be the way this cartoon depicts things...

Monday, September 22, 2008

happy monday!

we're headed out on a walk. hope you have a great day! little m has glorious monday morning bedhead today...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

living in the o

we do not live in a quiet neighborhood. this is nothing new; we have lived here for two years, and let's just say there is a lot of action going on around here 24-7. i discovered even more how noisy our street can be when i was first up at all hours nursing little m. i'm a pretty sound sleeper, so many of the middle of the night side shows, bass blasting cars, incessantly barking dogs and random firecrackers were lost on me.  before we knew that m was deaf i sort of congratulated myself on the fact that she seemed oblivious to all of the noise; i figured we must have acclimated her well in utero. anyway, it is so common for people to set off fireworks year round, that i don't really even think about it. once in a while, i'll think it sounds more like a gun, but i rarely think about it for more than a few minutes. 

last night, around 10:45, as we were getting ready to go to sleep, i heard 5 shots? 5 fireworks? going off in quick succession. hard to tell, but it sounded much more like shots than usual, so i ran into the hallway, kind of freaked out, to tell matt. as usual, all of the neighborhood dogs started howling, but it also sounded like a woman was screaming. matt went outside to see if he could hear more or if  he needed to go in the direction of the sound to help. we still were unsure of whether they were actually gunshots, but within minutes we heard sirens approaching our neighborhood (not unusual)...

today, checking email, i saw a news item on yahoo local news confirming that they had been gunshots. a young couple walking their dog on the street behind us had been shot at, killing the young man, and injuring his girlfriend. of course, there is a very strong likelihood that this shooting was not just random; shootings like this rarely are, but it is sobering. the fact that oakland has had 103 homicides at this point in the year is not ok. i don't care if they are gang related or drug related or miscellaneous related. it is still not ok. 

does it make me want to move? if not out of oakland at least to a nicer neighborhood? some days, i guess. but most of the time, no. even more than scared to live here, i feel powerless and overwhelmed. i feel like there are root causes that are deeply ingrained which are not being addressed. i have no clue how to be a part of a neighborhood in a way that brings renewal and hope and reduces violence, without at the same just bringing gentrification. i really am at a loss, but still with a kernel of hope for something.... what that is i don't know.

Friday, September 19, 2008

little m's favorite nap location

there is a peet's coffee 2 miles from our house, and little m and i walk there a few times a week to get out of the house. i discovered early on - in little m's crazy fussy weeks, when she would cry for hours on end with no respite- that somehow, and to my GREAT delight, she loved peet's. maybe it' s the dark brown walls, or the lights dotting the ceiling, or the smell of coffee. or maybe i am content sitting there so she catches the vibe herself. who knows.

i do know that one of my favorite things since her birth has been to walk there with her and then sit for as long as she remains mellow (it usually entails a small small nap and a feeding before she goes stir crazy) until it is time to head home. we often run into someone there we know who is stopping in for coffee, working at one of the tables, or walking by outside to go to the grocery store. it is a reminder to me that even though we live in a city, that we also have community in this place. 

one morning, when m was still quite small, and therefore consistently fussy, she began crying inconsolably while i was sitting at a table inside. being a new mother, i was super sensitive about her crying noises, and didn't want to bother the other patrons, so we headed out to the corner. as i stood there, bouncing m to calm her down, i was struck that in that very moment, on fruitvale avenue, it seemed as if i was somewhere far more cosmopolitan than the dimond neighborhood in oakland. an african american couple sat chatting next to me on a bench; four middle eastern men- a grandfather, father, and his teenaged sons were crossing the street from my side; a trip of co-workers, two of them asian and one latino, were coming from the other side of the cross-walk. and there i was, so thankful that i live, and will raise little m, in a place of many generations, cultures, ethnicities, and languages. there may be a lot of crap in oakland, but there are also some wonderful gifts that come with living in such a diverse and vibrant city. 

i know my months (yikes, maybe weeks) are limited doing this particular ritual with her; soon she will be crawling around, trying to pick up all of the little doodads that are for sale throughout the cafe, climbing all over me, losing interest with sitting in any one spot after moments. but for now, it is one of my favorite ways to spend the morning with her, and one of my favorite ways to remember that despite some of the drawbacks, i love living in oakland of all places. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

to blog or not to blog

so, i've been debating for a while whether i'd write a blog. i sort of started on a super trial basis (see below posts from june), and then stopped, and now after a few months, i'm starting again. i guess in a lot of ways it seems like a good way to keep people abreast of life, especially as we progress with choices about little m's hearing loss. at the same time, i suppose i'll post about the rest of life too: figuring out what it means to be an artist and a mom, ranting about my latest irk, discussing my favorite new art show or podcast or habit of little m's, waxing philosophical about food. who knows. i think it will evolve, and maybe become a habit or disappear. that remains to be seen. 

for now, i'll post a couple of updates about where we are with m's hearing. and where we have been. and where we are going. 

a lot of times i talk about how life feels good but hard, or maybe if things happen to be on the tougher side, hard but good; it seemed appropriate for so many things in my life right now: living in the flatlands of oakland; being a mom; having a deaf daughter; having/seeking/working through my spirituality; being married to someone i adore, but who challenges me on pretty much every topic; making art; trying to have new and old friendships, and so on...some days i feel weary. and other days i am so thankful for exactly where i stand. here's a little of where i am at.

little m begins in on rice cereal...

...and a little of it actually ends up in her belly. the rest? is all over her, or on us.

more info on the show...


We Are California History
Sept 17 - Sept 27, 2008
Reception: Sept. 27th 5-8pm
Participating artists:
Timothy Buckwalter, Jessica Cadkin, Paola Coda, Alika Cooper, Kamil Dawson, Narangkar Glover, Daniel Healey, Robbin Henderson, Hannah Henry, Amy Hibbs, Jeanty, Therese Lahaie, Scott MacLeod, Jill McLennan, E. Minnow, Colleen Mulvey, Claire Nereim, Russ Osterweil, Nathanial Parsons, Susannah Prinz, Jasmine Shahbandi, Julia Shirar, Andrew Ütt, Susan Vander Mellen, Patricia Wakida, Jeanty, Janet Silk Gabrielle Thormann.

We Are California History is a unique juried show created by Jo Ford for the Oakland Art Gallery. Jo invited artists to submit pieces that either recreated or summed up their first "California History Moment". A moment that could have been based upon personal memory as much as "historical fact".

California has often been invoked as the furthest frontier and the seedbed for the future of the country. This exhibition was an opportunity for California artists, both recently arrived and "native", to explore the relationship between their own recollections and experiences and public conceptions of the state's history.
The closing reception at the gallery on September 27th 5-8pm will include an exciting artwalk. No art will be bought or sold, however, art can be won during the artwalk activities!

This fun event is also a mini-fundraiser for the Oakland Art Gallery! Tickets will be sold on a sliding scale donation of $40 - $100 allowing participants to enter the artwalk and win a piece of art. Special limited edition prints by artist Rachelle Cohen will also be available to win during the artwalk.

If you do not want to participate in the artwalk activities, but would like to come enjoy the event, the entry is FREE.

new art up

soooo....i have a piece up in a group show at the oakland art gallery, which is downtown next to city hall. 
just on painting on paper, but perhaps you can go see it...the piece i did is connected to the cypress structure collapse in the 1989 loma prieta earthquake, and the show is called california history walk.

the show is up now through september 27th. the closing reception is saturday, sept 27, from 5-8 pm. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

after cochlear implant appointment #1

our appointment went well and i think we both really liked the surgeon a lot. she does all of the cochlear implant surgeries for children's hospital okland as well as for california ear institute in san ramon, so she has done many ci's on infants and children. little m charmed the surgeon, as she always does with these doctors :). i guess our audiologist had told her about little m months ago, so she knew all about us already. she was very positive, and she encouraged us with the news that everything looks good structurally in little m's head/ears and that she thinks surgery would be successful. when we asked some specific questions about losing residual hearing and so on due to the surgery, she was pretty upfront in the fact that little m does not have much residual hearing at all. i forget the exact words, but she said that she is definitely profoundly deaf on both sides, with very very little in terms of any hearing at all. (which makes sense especially as we notice little or no change with her hearing aids in)

the shocking and good news: if we want to go ahead with the implants, she would do them (pending insurance approval) at SIX months! wow. that is in the next month or so. with insurance it may take longer, especially as we'd like to do both sides at once (that may get rejected at first, but the surgeon says they always get what they want from the insurance companies, ie both sides implanted, in the end). we were really surprised, so we have a lot of thinking to do. but we essentially have to say the word and they will get the ball rolling.

also, she was very encouraging about little m's likely ability to speak/"hear" with the implants with such an early prognosis. she highly recommended the oral school where our friend mary claire works/ed in redwood city for monrovia, over other programs which incorporate more sign and which often have kids with lots more issues or later diagnosis than monrovia. you can pray for us as we begin to try to get that funded through the school district. our audiologist told us that our priority right now should be to get the IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan, which is the school districts support for us from birth through age 3) to state which gets us services at that school. so we essentially have to prove that the districts services are inadequate for our needs compared to this program.

i guess the hardest part of the appointment was hearing some of the very scary complications that can happen. she is so small to have such a crazy operation. it's also hard having to answer so many questions about my pregnancy/labor (did you have any fevers or viruses, did you take any medicine, etc etc.) that basically make me mentally scroll through my pregnancy and labor to try and remember if there was something that could have caused this...if i should have noticed something or done something differently. that part is always difficult for me, because it has been hard not to blame myself already.

SO. lots of decisions to make, and another team to see next week. although in some ways we are content with who we've met here and feel happy to stay with this team. in the meantime, she is growing, discovering and changing daily, and we are ever so thankful she is our daughter and no one else's!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

where we're at

So....We take Little M for her first cochlear implant consultation. We will be meeting with a potential doctor, who we might if we decide to get implants for Little M. We are definitely headed in that direction, and talking with this doctor today will give us the opportunity to get her opinion on whether Little M is a candidate, at what age she could get implants. The surgeon will be looking at M's CT scan from a few months back, among other things.

This doctor works with the cochlear implant team at Children's Hospital Oakland. Next week we meet with part of the team from Stanford. Basically in addition to getting feedback from these surgeons on whether Little M can get implants and when, this is an opportunity for us to see which team we feel most comfortable with and who we click with (just like picking any doctor).

As we move closer in this direction, the primary conversations we have had have been the following: one, our concern that we are not trying to make Little M "normal". A number of people we have talked to about implants (and you can also hear this sentiment in the movie Sound and Fury (below)) have mentioned that now their child is normal. (Whatever "normal" is. Someone just told me a story yesterday about how someone they knew had a deaf child and then their second child was (her words) normal. I am so sensitive to that these days...) We love her completely and believe that part of who she is is her deafness. Of course we would want her ears to be healed and for her to know the joy of sound and of not only our voices but of the sounds of the world around us (As I write this sentence I hear the sound of the neighbor's granddaughter talking, birds in the trees out front, a car passing our house, a neighbor's door closing...It is amazing how much more i hear on a conscious level now, and how I wish she could hear these same noises) The reality is that even with implants M will be deaf, that anytime they are not on (in the bath, pool, at nightsleeping, etc.) she will still be unable to hear anything. We love her as she is and don't want to fix her, and we know that we will learn from and through her as she will experience this world differently than Matt and I do as hearing people.

Our second main conversation has been the fact that we want you, our family and friends to be able to speak in meaningful ways into our daughter's life. We believe that with implants she would be able to communicate with so many more people than if she was only able to sign. We desire for her to benefit from the richness of the community that we have around us (near and far), and we are depending on you to be a part of the community hat loves her, supports her, and communicates with her as she grows up. I think it would be pretty sad for her if she had to miss out on deeper interactions with our family members and friends. At the same time, we hope that she is able to learn ASL and communicate and know other deaf people that are like her.

It is hard to make so many decisions, and weigh so many options when she is only 5 months old- from this surgery to what kind of school she should go to (yes, that is already something we have to decide. crazy, no?) to the normal stuff like how to best get her to sleep through the night. It is overwhelming. Often. And yet, she breaks through the hard parts of this because she is just pretty amazing. She continues to delight us every day. She looks so intently at everything with such a curiousity and concentration, from shadows to paintings to trees. We love to watch the 24 hour Little M Channel, as the author Anne Lammott would say.

For more information on what a cochlear implant is:

For more information on the actual surgery:

A good documentary that you can get from Netflix about some of the issues surrounding cochlear implants and Deaf culture: Sound and Fury