Museum Hack

My coworking guru Tony Bacigalupo suggested a MeetUp for coworkers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So a handful of us meet there on Wednesday, Lincoln’s birthday, to fire up our laptops and work. We also took a few quick breaks to see a few cool things with Museum Hack’s brilliant Jen Oleniczak.

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Jen gave us some insider info on Madame X by Sargeant. And then in honor of Lincoln, we checked out his death mask (created while he was alive). She was an awesome guide and leader — really passionate, smart, informative, funny.20140212-133801.jpg

We even got to groove on the vibe of the Visible Collection, a vast storage space I’d never visited before. Jen showed us a scary story here (you can tell, we’re scared). 20140212-133815.jpg

We hacked into the Museum so hard that we even got into the Media Lab. That’s me with a 3-D printer.20140213-194311.jpg

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Here is our group. And below, that’s the Met’s media lab manager Don Undeen, showing us some cool stuff the Met’s working on to marry tech with fine art. They’re making projects around smiles in art and around getting pathways mapped out for people with special needs. 20140213-194342.jpg

I am crazy in love with the flowers in the grand lobby of the Met. They never fail to blow me away.20140213-194411.jpg

The highlight of the coworkers’ hacking into the Met to celebrate Lincoln’s b’day?

Yup, we sat on the floor — and also sprawled out on the floor — of the Fragonard room. We looked up at the Rococo ceiling and took in the whole frilly mess. So cool. From the three hundred year-old floorboards, you can take in all the possibilities at the Met from a new angle — literally and figuratively. 20140213-194630.jpg

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XFR STN

Over at the New Museum on the Bowery, they’ll help you archive your old hi-8, VHS, 3/4″ tapes in the Transfer Station. I’ve wanted to digitize Mary Beth and Friends for years. I put it off because of the time and money. I let my old tapes collect dust under my bed and in the back of the closet.

In the mid 1990s, I produced and hosted Mary Beth and Friends, a show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. The show aired on Tuesday nights at 9 pm on channel 17. I interviewed artists, writers, and comedians. My mission was to showcase mine and my friends’ writing and acting and our comic bits. And to interview artists who were not profiled in the mainstream media — women and people of color. But eventually, I interviewed anyone making anything interesting.

This was before the internet. We had this urge — media by the people, for the people.

So yesterday, my time slot in the dubbing studio (transfer station) was from 3 to 6 pm. Going from analog to digital, you have to play your tapes in real time.

I knew I could only digitize a few episodes.  But I didn’t know which of the more than 100 shows to pick. You’ve heard of Sophie’s Choice. How could I choose one of my darlings to live and let the others languish?

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I worried about how I would feel, viewing my old tapes. I am, like, 20 years older (and 20 lbs. heavier?), than I was in those tapes. Would I be at peace with myself and how I have aged? Would I cry? Would I feel badly that the show was never picked up by a major network?

Several people I interviewed on Mary Beth and Friends have died, including my teacher and friend Mark O’Donnell. Should I find his tape and offer a tribute? I put off the decision for as long as possible, fearing it would take me hours to find the tapes. (It took all of 10 minutes to reach into the back of the closet and pull out a handful of tapes!)

I cannot tell you how affirmed I felt in those three hours in the media and edit suites.

Museum-goers puttered around us. Sometimes they’d ask what we were doing or Walter would just mention, non-chalantly, “Hi folks, This is Mary Beth, she’s an artist, who used to produce a cable access show in New York in the ’90s. We’re preserving her tapes. This is an exhibit of the museum. Take a look.” I felt a little like a show-and-tell project. But then, of course, having someone/anyone notice me and my show after all these years, well, that felt totally amazing.

We never, ever, considered what we were doing as art. We just wanted to amuse people. Being referred to as an artist blew me away, made me cry a little, reminded me that what we did, what we were trying to do, had value. My career in public access was not something to hide or be ashamed of. Those shows took time and effort. They turned out to be funny, too.

The two librarians/archivists, Leeroy Kang and Walter Forsberg, who set me up and guided me through the transfer process, were awesome. They were compassionate and matter-of-fact, like, just asking me, “What was this?” and “When was it produced?” And okay, “Let’s do it.”

Walter tweaked the brightness a little, making my whites not so bright. Leeroy asked me to fill in some info for keywords and tags for the archive.

The best part of the afternoon was talking to Leeroy about art projects and museums. We talked about how art is a conversation — like the one he and I had about Asian masculinity, while viewing my interview with the guys in Slant.

Museums should be places for conversations, not just places for staring silently at Van Goghs, snapping Instagram pics, and moving on.

For a museum to have this kind of exchange, for a museum to value living artists, totally blew me away, restored my faith in art. Art’s not about dead white male artists, but it’s about living artists, even middle-aged women like me, with a backpack full of old SVHS tapes from the ’90s.

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The tapes I grabbed were:

  1. My documentary-style trip with my aunts and uncles for my Uncle Kevins’s 50th birthday to Ireland in 1996
  2. A collection of funny skits from Mary Beth and Friends, including the Mafia Family Feud, featuring Jay Fortunato, John Christopher Jones, Leslie Body.
  3. An interview with novelist Valerie Block on the creative process of writing her first novel, Was It Something I Said?
  4. An interview with the performance art group, Slant, who had performed at La Mama in .
  5. 10 minutes of ephemera — yes, this is how archivists categorize home movies. This one was from summertime 2000 at Skenewood in the Adirondacks when my babies were babies.

In a month or so, the shows will be available on the Internet Archive, a non-profit site, a “free and open access to the entire world’s knowledge.” I found out about this project because I used to be a member of the New Museum and am still on their email list.

In the museum’s newspaper, there was this: “XFR STN might be described as looking closely at recent history in order to negotiate the present, perhaps even the future.” And an essay in the newspaper by Walter Forsberg that concludes with this, “How did these works once live, and how can they live on?”

I think that’s the point, to ask questions. What is the meaning of these creative projects?

I felt good knowing that a few of my old shows will live in a vast archive. But I felt better having had a real-life conversations about art in the museum, with Leeroy. Preserving old tapes is cool. Making new friends — talking to Leeroy about art — was cooler.

To me, this exhibit was more about the art o f conversation than conservation. But then, that’s what Mary Beth and Friends was about too. Conversations.

I blog about happiness and honesty

When I started blogging, I had four blogs:

  • My Beautiful New York, my NYC people and places
  • Running Aground, my goal to run a 5K
  • the Connected Life, getting my kids off technology
  • A Church A Day, on trying to find meaning by visiting a church a day.

Now they’re all rolled into one (thanks to web developer extraordinaire Felicity Fields). This one, To Pursue Happiness, is about those four goals and the primary goal: to stay happy.

I pursue happiness though I may have absolutely no reason or right.

I feel a loss that my kids are growing up at lightning speed. I feel a sadness that my husband is increasingly challenged by his Parkinson’s Disease.

While these are challenges, they don’t define me. I don’t have to enter or stay in a place of permanent sadness or loss. Life is about what you do with the hand of cards you’re dealt. And I’m dealing.

I’m thriving. I’m staying honest. I’m finding joy. Two great joys in the last couple of weeks were:

Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show
Curtain call at the Listen To Your Mother show
  • As a cast member of Listen To Your Mother at Symphony Space
  • As the leader of Artists’ and Writers’ weekend in the Adirondacks.

I was anxious about how these would turn out. Would I deliver the goods? Could I? I did!

In these forums, I could be honest, funny, and surprising.

I could write about and share a lot of feelings, including but not limited to sadness or happiness. A range of emotions, even ambivalence and anger, is acceptable and encouraged in my writing.

So while I still do feel, at times, lost, I can find myself through writing and in the company of other women writers. That’s how I pursue happiness.

***

from LTYM
Before the Listen To Your Mother show, the cast warmed up. And that’s Shari Simpson-Cabelin, assistant director, doubled-over, laughing. (I’m in the white pants.) (Photos by Jennifer Lee)

At last week’s Listen To Your Mother show, I was reminded that I am not alone. There are a lot of women telling their truths, deep stories about hardship and love.

Here are some of the Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) New York City posts from my fellow cast members.

Thanks to Shari’s blog for compiling these so I could repurpose! And thanks to producer Holly Rosen Fink, a steady presence, who made this show such a hit.

I got to work with the fab director Amy Wilson, who blogged on motherhood conspiring against her, even as she put on a show.

Here are more stories from the Mother’s Day show.

  • Co-producer Varda Steinhardt‘s piece was about tracking the orbit of her sons’ stars. 
  • Marinka received the dreaded call from the nurse’s office, It’s Always Bad News.
  • Kim Forde, 8 and 1/2 month pregnant, read Welcome To The Circus, a guide to the family circus.
  • Elizabeth (Kizz) Robinson wrote About Me, on how to be child-free and loving.

I haven’t posted my story yet. I want it to be a surprise.

Over the summer, you can see the show at the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel. There will be videos from all 24 shows across the country, some still going on. Also, upcoming are professional photos of our NYC show by the awesome Jennifer Lee.

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At my Adirondack retreat and at my LTYM show, I heard a lot of stories that make me go, “aww” – and I feel in the company of AWW — Awesome Women Writers.

Through relentless honesty, these women writers (and one guy) make it okay to be honest and to tell my story too.

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