Friday, July 31, 2009

Chatty Interviews

I've been interviewing friends on a variety of technology and art topics. Before I interviewed Lily Tung Crystal, I explained to Lily that I wanted to interview her using an online chat (Yahoo Messenger, Skype, AIM, name your poison). Lily, an oftentimes journalist, had never interviewed or been interviewed by chat. She told me she always interviewed by talking with her subject. I realized that maybe this was a new way of interviewing.

A long time ago, I worked in the news department of WDCR & WFRD radio. Most of my news broadcasts consisted of reading news stories from the teletype, but sometimes I got out of the station to investigate stories in the Hanover area. When sugar prices spiked, I went to the grocery store to ask shoppers about how higher sugar prices might impact them. Very exciting journalism, as you might imagine. Hanover wasn't spilling over with breaking news except every four years when the presidential primaries marched through New Hampshire.

What I've found by interviewing in the online chat medium versus the tape recorder medium is that I get less spontaneous responses from my subjects, but better thought out responses. If I were a news reporter or a criminal lawyer, I probably would miss the spontaneity of a verbal interview. For the interviews on this blog, though, I prefer well thought-out answers from the interviewees.

Here's a list of interviews I've done so far using online chat:
  • Brad Rubenstein: the latest on low-budget film production from the producer of Red Hook.
  • Chris Perez: the latest on Art Basel and the Venice Biennale from the owner of Ratio 3 gallery.
  • Peril Digest: the latest on 'zine culture from the (anonymous) publisher of Peril Digest.
  • Chris Chebegia: how Building Information Management technology enables the realization of very complex architecture.
  • Lily Tung Crystal: managing a "portfolio" career and the latest on Asian-American theater.

One big advantage of using online chat for an interview is that I can edit and annotate an interview with web links as the interviewee responds to my questions. A typical interview takes about 30 minutes, although slow typists may stretch that time. When the interview is over, I usually show the interviewee a first draft of the post in five or ten minutes to make sure there are no glaring problems.

I hope you're enjoying these interviews as much as I do. Online chat and all.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Virtual Life

Tom Boellstorff wrote Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. He describes virtual life in Second Life on the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge. If you connect to the audio on the program, go to 26:00 to hear his segment. It's about eight minutes long.

Boellstorff discusses many different activities on Second Life, from hanging out to getting (virtually) married, from running businesses (some people make $10,000 per month on Second Life) to learning foreign languages.

Virtual worlds are great for role play. Boellstorff talks about users who change their avatars' gender or race or age. Since users don't know the "real" user they are interacting with, according to Boellstorff, they get to know each other from the inside out rather than from the outside in. Just as relationships or emotions were intermediated by older technology such as, say, love letters, Second Life and other virtual worlds provide an immersive intermediation of emotions through role play.

While role play in virtual worlds lets users explore different sides of their personalities, it also has educational applications. This video shows an example of training for treating a heart attack victim in Second Life.

Linden Labs, the owner of Second Life, publishes economic statistics of activity. Nielson Games compares Second Life with other virtual worlds here. Second Life usage spans all ages and geographies, with older uses spending more time online than younger users. Linden Labs generates about $0.87 of revenue per hour used, and total hours run around 30 million per month.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interview: The Complex Career of Lily Tung Crystal

Lily Tung Crystal lives many lives, as actor, journalist, teacher, blogger, and proponent of Asian theater. You may have seen her recently in readings of new musicals by Jay Kuo, or in Cabaret at the San Francisco Playhouse (she's on the right in the photo), or reporting from China on NPR.

I wanted to know more about how she balanced all these pieces of her life and kept her creative juices flowing. Our chat this morning gave me good advice on managing a "portfolio career", then took me on a tour of Asian-American theater and new works on the horizon.

Steven Damron: The first time I heard the term "portfolio career" was at breakfast with you. I love the term. How does it describe your work?

Lily Tung Crystal: I love it too.

I do a lot of different things. For most of my career I've been a journalist and producer, and then in 2005 that led me to media and communications training. But I'm also a professional actor and singer. I have many interests and passions, and honoring them all is important to me and enriches my life. But there are people out there that might judge someone like me for what they perceive as sacrificing depth for breadth. I, on the other hand, still believe in the idea of a Renaissance person. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, after all, did many different things. They were artists, engineers. Michelangelo was primarily a sculptor and had very little experience in fresco when he was commissioned to do the Sistine Chapel.

At times I hid my artistic endeavours from people in the media industry where I made most of my living. But then I went to an interview with the owner of Make Your Point Communications, a boutique communications training company, and when I left, the owner Kraemer Winslow said to me, "You are a perfect fit for us because you have a portfolio career." And I thought, "Eureka! That is what I have." She really valued my plethora of experience in disparate, yet related fields (they're all media and communications related). And her positive perception of all that I did encouraged me to embrace my identities.

I realize that my portfolio career, like a stock portfolio, actually helps me in today's economy. I have a myriad of clients hiring me for varying reasons. It's a good way to make a living, and I'm never bored. all my interests and fields support each other, so that I have the time and means to pursue what I like.

SD: Looking at your website, you still separate out your acting from your journalism, but they coexist on the same page. Is that how you manage the two sides of your career now? Is it marketing, or do you feel like they are really different sides of yourself?

LTC: It really depends on the situation.

SD: Do you have clients who see you in one way or the other?

LTC: There have been times when i'm fearful that people in the writing/journalism world would find my acting/singing "trivial." But through the years, I've found that I haven't put enough faith in people. Most people admire it and sometimes even envy what I do. And I've also found that if a potential employer or client does not respect my artistic side, I probably don't want to work with that person anyway.

After embracing my two sides, I've also learned that they support each other. As a journalist/producer, I mostly write about the arts. In fact, in 2003, I was awarded a prestigious one-year arts journalism fellowship by the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. Being an actor enriches my arts knowledge as a writer, and vice-versa. I recently received a grant from Theatre Communications Group to write for American Theatre Magazine. One reason they chose me is because they liked that I was an actor and a writer. The editors there feel any working knowledge of the theatre only enhances a theatre writer's skills. And I love it because I can support the theatre, about which I'm so passionate.

Finally, being an actor helped me immensely in becoming a good media and communications trainer. Skills are skills. They're interconnected, and they all enrich each other.

SD: Any tips you'd like to give the readers on managing a portfolio career?

LTC: I've been a freelancer all my life, and many people ask me how to sustain a freelance career. I always have three pieces of advice:

1) Try to have a good cushion of savings. Freelancing can get stressful and nervewracking, especially when you don't have work for a month or two. But if you have, say, six months of savings, you can relax more and keep from freaking out if there's a slow period (like now).

2) Grow a good client base with at least 3 or 4 regular clients. That way when one client doesn't call, the other two or three may come through with work. Again, like a stock portfolio.

3) My third piece of advice has to do with having a portfolio career. Do many different things and do them WELL. The more valuable talents you offer, the more clients you can maintain and the easier it is to find work. I write news. Iyour current profile pics matches your current status perfectly, like serendipity or synchronicity or something. I copywrite. I produce. I media train. I act. I sing. This helps me build a client base.

Finally, embrace all your talents. Knowing how to do many things is something to celebrate! Many people stifle their passions, but life is too short to NOT do what you love. I believe in the power of optimism and putting energy into what you love. If you put energy into your passion and work hard, the universe will reward you with work in that field.

SD: You bring an actor's eye to any journalistic work on the theater. What theater are you excited about right now?

LTC: It's a hard time for the theatre right now, so I especially admire the theatres that are doing new, cutting edge work. It's harder to find audiences that will take a chance on new work, as opposed to a traditional piece they know they will like. The Magic Theater, ACT, and Berkeley Rep always have an interesting mix of work. But I really admire smaller theatres like Shotgun Players and SF Playhouse who are always doing innovative pieces despite their smaller budgets.

I just did a story for American Theatre Magazine about Shotgun Players' upcoming production of writer/director Jon Tracy's "The Farm." It's an intriguing adaptation of George Orwell's "Animal Farm" that's written in rap, hip hop, and spoken word.

Finally, I get excited about playwrights and producers who are creating more Asian-American theatre. There isn't enough material for Asian-American artists, so it's always great when a composer/producer comes forward with good writing for actors like me. One such person is Jay Kuo, who wrote "Insignificant Others," "Homeland" (now called "Worlds Apart") and his new musical "Allegiance." He deals with politics and race in his work and writes strong characters. Playing Mrs. Park in "Worlds Apart" is such a joy for me. She is a Korean immigrant mother that makes you laugh and cry throughout the musical, and an actor can't ask for more than that. "Allegiance" stars George Takei and centers on the Japanese-American internment during WW2 - good, heady, influential stuff. And the music is beautiful.

SD: I'm excited about Jay's work, too. It's great to see good roles written for Asian actors. What are the challenges for you and other Asian actors finding roles?

LTC: If you look at Hollywood today, there just aren't that many Asian-American faces on the screen. Many people just don't think about us much. I'm of two minds about it. The market is getting better - there is more color-creative casting, meaning if a character is not race-specific, directors are more open to casting Asian-Americans. But oftentimes if a character is non race specific, directors think of hiring a Caucasian first. They often don't think of hiring an Asian-American actor unless it's an Asian-specific character. It varies from theatre to theatre. Some theatres have that sensibility; others don't.

A good thing is that there are writers like Jay Kuo and Lauren Yee who are creating more work for Asian-American actors. As more of them come forward, there will be more work for us. There is also a new Bruce Lee musical that's being developed in New York right now.

I feel that Asian-Americans are in many ways experiencing what African-American actors experienced 20, 30 years ago. There is still an inequity in terms of African-American representation in entertainment, but there are more black actors on stage and on screen than Asian-American. A lot of people don't think about that. Part of it is our responsibility as well. We have to keep working hard and supporting our own work so that when opportunities come up we do good work.

My eyes were opened one day by filmmaker Justin Lin. From a story I wrote:
“Many Asian-Americans aren’t interested in their own artistic work,” notes Lin. “At the Sundance Film Festival I went into a studio marketing meeting. They had pie charts, and I saw slices labeled African-American, Caucasian and Latino. When I asked, ‘Where are the Asian-Americans?’ one executive said, ‘Look, Asian Americans put a lot of money into the community, but their spending patterns are white, so we consider them Caucasian.’ We’ll go see a white actor in a film; we’ll go see an Adam Sandler movie. Studio executives don’t think about racial politics, they think about making money. African- Americans will support their own films, so studios make specifically African-American films because they know they will make at least $7-8 million in one weekend. That’s where I see a glimmer of hope. If 10 percent of the Asian-American population came to an Asian-American movie, film executives would see a market there and start paying attention.”

SD: You mentioned to me earlier that you were interested in starting an Asian-American theater in San Francisco. Are you working on that?

LTC: Hopefully one day it will be an Asian-American theatre, but right now I'm trying to organize an Asian-American actors network. This would be a grassroots group of Asian-American actors, and it would offer acting workshops and business seminars so that Asian-American actors could get training and support and share their experiences in the acting industry. The longterm plan would be to grow this group into a production company.

I was recently one of five Bay Area actors to receive a Titan award from Theatre Bay Area - a $2500 grant that goes towards my acting career. Part of this money will go towards the founding of this network.

SD: Final thoughts on Asian-American theater?

LTC: I do feel things are getting better, but we as Asian-American artists have to be vigilant in creating material for ourselves, supporting each other, and working hard. I may not write plays, but I support Asian-American playwrights. Sometimes, I witness Asian-American artists saying that it's hard to maintain our skills because there is less opportunity to do so. That is true. But we still have the responsibility to work hard and maintain our skills as much as possible. If we don't, no one else is going to help us get out there.

And to theatres, directors and casting directors out there: hire us!

SD: Thanks for your time this morning! You have great insights into managing a complex career and American-Asian theater.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Internet Collaboration

Last week, I blogged about collaborative video making on the Internet. This week I'm blogging a quick survey of current Internet collaboration services. Internet collaboration is a kind of division of labor, where multiple people work on specialized tasks to accomplish an output.

One well known collaborative project is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia of knowledge written by individual contributors. You can build your own Wiki of information for a project or a business using open source TikiWiki software.

Which brings us to open source software, another well known example of collaboration on the Internet. The Linux operating system is perhaps the best know open source product. Source Forge is the best known online service for coordinating open source projects. Along with Youtube, it's possible for software developers to create a software product, then show users how to use it. Here's an example of a video that shows how to use free open source software products to create a website:

There are plenty of other collaborative services available on the Internet. Here are some examples that show the breadth of services and business models used in Internet collaboration.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk. A marketplace that matches tasks (called "Human Intelligence Tasks") with people who will perform them. For example, today you can earn $0.10 for performing the task "Write Information Technology News & Articles One Paragraph Abstracts."
  • Answer Sites (e.g., Yahoo! Answers, Amazon Askville). These sites help users answer questions that are difficult to answer using Internet search engines or sites like Wikipedia. One of the questions today: "Any ideas to make a boring locker a pretty locker?" Unfortunately, these sites are usually not useful for complex questions that require, say, market research.
  • User Survey Sites (e.g., Survey Monkey, Keynote). These services help website publishers collect survey information from users, often to improve the functionality of the website.
  • Dolores Labs. A start-up similar to Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with services to process more complex tasks with higher quality control.
  • Extraordinaries. A not-for-profit that distributes tasks to skilled volunteers via cell phone. Tasks are short, and include activities like translating documents and giving advice. With phone cameras, it may be possible to deploy a sensor network to solve simple problems like, "where are all the potholes?" Here is their video:

There are other collaborative services in which users solve problems, often to help identify images and often as part of a game or security check where it may not be obvious to the user that he or she is participating in a collaborative activity.
  • Google Image Labeler. A game where players type in keywords to describe an image. Players score points by matching keywords, while Google scores points by labeling images.
  • Clickworker. A service NASA used to categorize space images with help from users.
  • CAPTCHA. Captcha systems verify users are people and not bots by presenting text that is easy for people to read and difficult for computers to parse. When CAPTCHA is used to present words an OCR system can't recognize to people logging in — essentially creating a human OCR — it is called reCAPTCHA.
This quick survey of Internet collaboration shows the variety of ways tasks can be allocated to groups of people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Collaborative Video

I wrote last month about performance art on Youtube.

For your summer viewing pleasure, here are a couple more collaborative video pieces that have found their way to me. The first one is a promotion for a song from a Japanese group called Sour:
This music video was shot for Sour's 'Hibi no Neiro' (Tone of everyday) from their first mini album 'Water Flavor EP'. The cast were selected from the actual Sour fan base, from many countries around the world. Each person and scene was filmed purely via webcam.

It's smart marketing because it draws in fans, gets tons of views (over 665,000), and it's a fun video.

You can buy their music on Amazon, but it's imported and expensive!

Then there is the short animation called Live Music. According to the New York Times:
[The] upstart company Mass Animation kicked off a project many people in Hollywood thought was laughable: making a five-minute animated film using the Wikipedia model, with animators from around the world contributing shots, and Facebook users voting on their favorites.
Yair Laundau produced the film with sponsorship from Intel. The entire project is coordinated through Facebook:
The tools and 3-D models that animators will need to collaborate on this project including a limited duration version of Autodesk Maya 3D Animation software are provided, and can be accessed through the Mass Animation application on Facebook built by Aniboom.
Here is the trailer for the film due out this fall:

Next week I'll write more about Internet collaboration. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Interview: Building Information

Building Information Management (BIM) systems allow building contractors to manage all the information about a building project. Without BIM, complicated structures like Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall are nearly impossible to build. BIM also improves the economics of building less complex buildings.

disney hall exterior close up 5

Chris Chebegia studied Construction Engineering Management and now manages (BIM) systems for building contractors. I chatted with Chris about how he uses BIM on construction projects.

Steven Damron: How long have you been using BIM?

Chris Chebegia: I personally am not a modeler or designer. I manage modelers during the construction phase of a project, and this is my second large scale commercial project. Four years total experience for me.

SD: What was your favorite project?

CC: My previous experience with BIM was at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and I would call that my favorite project to date, with or without BIM. However, BIM made it an extraordinary project to be part of.

SD: Describe how you work with the modelers and designers.

CC: My experience has been in "design assist" - where the design is partially complete, and the model is being used to check the coordination of the design. Typically, the different disciplines of the design team do not coordinate their drawings through the traditional design process. BIM modeling makes uncoordinated design stick out like a throbbing sore thumb, as you see the design busts or conflicts graphically when the different design disciplines are combined and overlayed in the model. We then fix the conflicts prior to construction, thus saving potentially millions of dollars and months off completion dates for large projects.

SD: So BIM helps pull together all the information from all the parties in the building process?

CC: Correct.

SD: Did Frank Gehry get directly involved in the Disney Concert Hall?

CC: Yes. And Frank Gehry was one of the first architects to use the modeling and BIM process. He is not much of a computer guy himself, but he definitely supported the use of the digital model to convey his design intent. He adopted and modified for his use an aerospace engineering modeling program called CATIA, which had never been used for architectural purposes. I believe that program has served to better the traditional BIM models and processes that are more commonly used in architecture and construction industries, like AutoDesk (AutoCad, Revit, and other 3D programs).

SD: I imagine many of Gehry's buildings would be impossible to building without BIM. How does BIM help in less complex projects?

CC: That is correct. I was told that without the technology of 3D modeling, the Concert Hall could not have been constructed to the accuracy of the design intent. We actually set large steel members in place at Concert Hall based on the laser coordinates set in the field and lined up with cross-hairs that we established on the beams.

Regarding more simple structures, the modeling program helps to coordinate MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) like a dream, because you see all members to scale, in 3D.

SD: There must be a certain size or cost level below which the overhead of BIM is too expensive.

CC: Modeling may not be as cost effective for smaller projects. It just depends on the owners needs. For example, we are up to renew our licenses here on seven workstations, and we are looking at more than $30K in software licenses alone!

SD: What do you see in the future for contractors building large structures? Can BIM get better?

CC: My collegues and I would tell you that BIM absolutely is the future of design and construction. There are even machines now that download BIM data to survey equipment that can actually robotically layout reference points in the field! This equipment is still being tested and perfected, and many contractors don't trust it yet, but it is to design and construction what the Internet has become to the world of communication.

Regarding improving on BIM, yes, there are many things that still need to be improved, and integrated between the design side and the construction side. One major issue is getting City approvals on changing models. There needs to be a way for a BIM model to be saved, marked as a "approval copy", and sent to the authority having jurisdiction for record. There also needs to be a way for inspectors to track changes in the model, not just on printed docuements. These are things that involve bureaucracy and will take time to change. But the software has to be there first.

SD: You always seem very excited about your work, like a kid with a new lego set. What is most fun about your job?

CC: I really enjoy solving problems. There is always a new issue to overcome on a construction site. You can never anticipate what a day will bring.

SD: What was today's issue?

CC: Today the fire marshall was here and not happy with the egress (which changes hourly). So we had to revise our work plan for the rest of the week, re-strategize, and move on. Then the chief inspector was here asking why we did something different than the way the drawings showed it, so we explained, and have to re-model and submit details for City approval.

SD: I've never had those problems at my work. Is there anything else you want to tell the readers about BIM?

CC: Ha! I will say this: Attention! If you want to make a ton of money, travel the world, and call your own shots (as long as you don't mind long days staring at dual screens), then get some AutoCad and 3D modeling training and become a modeler. Talk about high demand! Those guys are at the top of the world right now.

SD: Thanks very much for your time, Chris. See you at a large construction project near me soon!

CC: You are welcome for a first class tour of Tivoli Village in Las Vegas whenever you wish. See you soon!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hamburger Eyes

Late notice, but you can catch the opening night of Hamburger Eyes at 111 Minna Gallery at 7pm tonight.

Hamburger Eyes Photo Magazine is based in San Francisco and published tri-annually by Burgerworld Media. The magazine features black and white photography with the aim to revitalize the sensation of photography as a craft, as well as a tool to record and document. The show celebrates the release of Hamburger Eyes Issue 013.

According to the gallery:
The shows title, “EXODUS” evokes not only the feelings of mass migration, but of transmogrification. Hamburger Eyes Photo Magazine, subtitled “The continuing story of Life on Earth”, has dedicated their pages to the study of the human condition. And, in this exhibit they intend to display their visions of transcendence from past, present, and future-kind. It is a mission of containing time by setting it free, thus shall begin the EXODUS.
If you can't make it tonight, the show runs at the 111 Minna Gallery through August 1, 2009.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Interview: Peril Digest

The zine world is full of small handmade publications catering to specific audiences. The Internet has fostered even more zines since publishers can print to pdf or doc files, and then email to a distribution list. Some zines have turned into websites or blogs.

I had a rare opportunity to chat with the creator of Peril Digest, a zine full of manly adventure. The editor, a friend who shall remain anonymous, draws and distributes Peril Digest on the side.

WARNING: most of the links below will take you to very adult sites.

Steven Damron: How long have you been producing Peril Digest?

Peril Digest: Two years.

SD: What was your inspiration?

PD: The lack of stories to accompany the plethora of exciting male (read: sexy) illustration on the interwebs.

SD: Were there other zines that you followed before you started peril digest?

PD: Only a few: Omeliscosmos web site featuring male transformation stories ... it was more of a website than a zine...guys like Pat Fillion, Bo Otokono, Kalabro, Iceman, Gengoroh Tagame, Juan Carlos Soto ... these guys were also looking for a way to share their creative juices and stories and we all sort of hooked up over the years. A lot of the guys simply creted blogs of sites, but I felt like what I was going for was more of a magazine format which i always found was more appealing in a sort of collectible thing, a sort of artifact stating that "I am here".

SD: Early zines were published, almost like pamphlets. Now most zines look like they are either episodic websites or distributions of pdf files.

PD: Yeah, and in their way they have a sort of low brow appeal! Like the piers had here in the west village in the 70s and 80s. I do think that Bob Mizer had kind of perfected the whole zine thing LONG before anybody with [his] A.M.G. and Physique Pictorial.

SD: You draw on paper and then scan your drawings for distribution?

PD: I draw, scan, write, and share the zine as a word doc.

SD: How do you find your readers?

PD: Mostly folks request my zine through three sites: Y!, the yaoi art site, Eka's portal, a "vore" art site, and Fur Affinity, a furry site with a very open art policy. I have pages at these site with examples of my work, but I choose to share the body of my drawings and stories with folks who go that additional step of emailing me and requesting my work, stating their age for the sake of keeping my largely adult material from falling into the hands of minors. I also put notice on Deviantart.

SD: What was in your latest edition?

PD: My most recent issue contained three stories: one was a sort of jungle piece featuring a recurring character, a botanist who. while defending the forest and nature, has some sexy encounters with plants, wildlife and people. He is a classic nerd-hero with a tan ... you can see the appeal, and I love to use the stories as a way of searching the internet to explore places I have never seen. In the most recent story, the botanist was in Mexico. It involved native peoples, symbols and landscape. Writing in general for me is a sort of vacation of the mind to places I'd like to see for myself (and perhaps sleep with some of the people there.)

SD: Did the botanist get to sleep with anyone?

PD: Well, it is true that he did, but there is quite a lot more going on: I like to spend copious pages describing his arrival at the airport, his journey into the jungle, to develop the character. Someone once said that museums were a sort of "embroidery of the imagination". I like that phrase because I feel that dimensionality even in one's sexual fantasies is key to fulfillment.

SD: I was wondering if he slept with anyone because you said that your zine contained mostly adult material. Does he arrive at the airport naked?

PD: Naked in the biblical sense?

SD: I suppose. I guess what I'm getting at is, what is the nature of the adult content?

PD: Transformation, capture, and redemtion ... it's an old trick ... in fact in American literature, it is the basis of the first pieces written in the new world: "a story of captivity among the natives".

SD: I know in your professional life, you deal with the interpretation of native culture all the time. Does that influence your work on the Peril Digest?

PD: Most correctly so. Certainly when one "goes native" it opens a whole pantheon of opportunistic expierience ... in the aforementioned narratives the sexual aspect of the tales was always referred to in an obscure manner, I am simply taking the next step, removing age old taboos against sexual encounters with the foreign, then alien, the cross species ... in some instances.

SD: We talked about influences already. Are there zines you've seen coming out that you like now?

PD: I'd have to say that Japanese Yaoi and Manga mags seem to be the most daring/edgy as far as exploring sexual variance, political and stereotypical mores and the like. Sunyapei Nakata, Tagame, Sadao Hasegawa, Ebiasu, these guys had and have a real enthusiasm for breaking boundaries and shattering inhibitions.

SD: What's next for Peril Digest?

PD: Well, I am currently working on a rather larger piece that involves a young man caught between his inborn talents and gifts and the whirlygig fates that place him in various situations and sexual circumstances. His openness to the tides of chance seem to be carrying him along on a sort of virtual wave. That wave, be it positive or negative, is one of self-preservation, experience, and pleasure. Not too far from what one might experience, given the absurd and oddly humorous world presented to us every day in the news, on the interweb, or on the bus. Since I am a hobbyist, the unfolding of the story, not yet complete, is also subject to a vast array of personal encounter.

SD: Anything else you'd care to let the readers know about zines and Peril Digest?

PD: Behind every pair of eyes one can find another universe. It is only by discounting that fact that we diminish the true vastness of experience. Although it may be convenient to edit out that which we intuit, it may not be altogether prudent :-)

SD: Do you want to give out an email address for people who want to read Peril Digest?

PD: A caveat: Peril Digest is a work of utter folly, it is FULL of ideas and circumstances that run directly counter to the norms of western society. Peril Digest and its characters are ALL adults.

SD: I think that's true with most zines, isn't it?

PD: My guess is there are many exceptions to that fact.

SD: Thanks for your time!

Writing about Works of Art

The novel I'm writing is about an ex-priest who starts an art gallery, so I have to write lots of scenes about art with lots of works of art. In some ways, the art pieces are like characters. They have physical characteristics. The main character interacts with them. They have to be believable. Did I mention I have to write about a lot of art work?

Art critics describe art all the time. If you ever find yourself with my predicament and need inspiration for writing about art work, imagined or not, pick up some art books. I mentioned Albert Elsen's excellent textbook The Purposes of Art in another blog post. An art book Nawaaz Ahmed loaned (well, now gave) me is a more casual look at contemporary art called The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa by Michael Kimmelman. Whereas Elsen looks at art from a social and economic purpose point of view, Kimmelman looks at art in relation to his (and, by extension, our) life.

Here's a description Kimmelman wrote about Ray Materson's art:
... Ray Materson sewed portraits of ballplayers in New England. As a nine-year-old Little Leaguer in 1963, he idolized the great New York Yankee team of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Whitey Ford. Thirty years later, Materson was in prison in Connecticut, serving a fifteen-year sentence for armed robbery. He took up embroidery, of all things, improvising with the rim of a plastic plate to make an embroidery hoop. Materson embroidered with unraveled sock and shoelace threads, using scraps of boxer shorts for backing. He sewed sports logos, flags, a group portrait of his prison baseball team, but most strikingly, pictures of his former Yankee heroes. They're each about three inches by two inches, smaller than baseball cards, 1,200 stitches per square inch: miniature portraits of amazing delicacy, each of which took him about fifty hours to complete. He embroidered a picture of Mantle swinging for the upper deck; Tony Kubek scooping up a grounder at shortstop, the bleachers behind him packed with fans; and Clete Boyer crouching at third base, baked by sunlight, casting a shadow toward the outfield. In Materson's embroidered memories, it remained 1963. The Yankees were still facing the Dodgers in the World Series, which they hadn't yet lost, and Materson was not yet in prison but nine years old and playing in the Little League on a perfect autumn afternoon that seemed like it would last forever. Materson, a lost soul, became an artist not despite his difficult circumstances but because of them.
Kimmelman paints a complete portrait of the artist and the artist's relationship to his work. The short story in this paragraph makes the artist come to life through the description of the process of making embroidery.

The Accidental Masterpiece helped me find better ways to describe art work. It also informed some of the ways my main character looks at art in relationship to his own life. While you're anxiously awaiting the publication of my book, read The Accidental Masterpiece.