• Monday, January 02, 2017 10:34 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Divine Ammunition: The Sculpture of Al Farrow at Bellevue Arts Museum

    Over 50 years ago when Eisenhower gave that speech, violence had reached a tipping point in the United States, and across the globe. World War II brought death and human conflict at a scale the world had never seen before. Nearly 70 million people died as a result of that war. As a result of human violence and combat. At that particular historical moment, making guns had become more important—and more financially lucrative—than ever before. 

    We make guns, but what do guns make? Do they make violence, or do they make stability and structure? And who decides? These are just a few of the questions Al Farrow asks with his show, “Divine Ammunition,” on now at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Farrow meticulously crafts sculptures of religious structures and devotional objects—scale models of mosques and cathedrals, along with menorahs, reliquaries, and icons—all out of guns and ammunition. For him, guns make religion.

    A scholar of both religion and war, Farrow has long been interested in the historical connection between violence and religion. In “Divine Ammunition,” he seems most interested in the forms and objects that emerge from the two—objects like guns and reliquaries. Bullets and flying buttresses. Church domes and Uzis. In Farrow’s work, the forms of violence and religion become almost interchangeable. You might not notice that the dome of one of Farrow’s mosques is made entirely out of intricately arranged copper bullets, or that a cathedral buttress is actually a handgun. But look closely, and the munitions reveal themselves.

    As Farrow reminds us, it is in objects that we as people come to locate intangible concepts like war and religion. Violence lives in our guns, the tools we use to inflict it. Religion resides in cathedrals and mosques, the structures we build to house it. Religious identity lives in menorahs and reliquaries, the devotional objects we use to invoke it. 

    With his work, however, Farrow questions all of this. For him, guns are no longer tools of violence, but instead are used as building materials. They become the foundation of the synagogue or mosque. They are creative rather than destructive. Stripped of their firepower and force, Farrow’s spent ammunition and dismembered guns are left only to their forms, becoming bronze circles and cylinders, miniaturized roof tiles and building columns. 

    Of course, we know that guns don’t make violence and churches don’t make religion. Humans make these things. It is we who are responsible for our technological advancements, for our industrial developments. It is we humans who figured out how to make double-barreled shotguns and double barrel vaults. And it is we who determine to what use these objects and forms are put.

    Hearing Farrow talk about the process of acquiring his materials—spent ammunition and hundreds of thousands of guns and munitions parts—one is reminded of this very fact. “I used to be very anti-gun and unsympathetic towards the American gun community,” Farrow notes. “I’ve shifted on that, though.” Now, he says, he is more understanding of the various uses to which armament can be put. “I’ve come to realize,” he says, “that gun culture and gun collecting is not so much about violence.” It’s about the object and the appreciation of its historical and cultural significance. Guns are not so far from antiquities and artifacts in that way. 

    “I am a part of that culture now, gun culture,” Farrow admits. His use—artistic creation—is just one of the many uses to which guns and ammunition can be put. The same object can be an instrument of destruction or of creation. It can kill and it can save. And as Farrow reminds us, creation and destruction will always be intimately intertwined—it’s impossible to have one without the other. The danger, though, is when we cloak that destruction and violence in the shroud of something generative, like religion. Because, as Eisenhower reminded us so many years ago, military strength can bring great power and possibility. But the real power comes in how we choose to use it.

    Lauren Gallow

    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, critic, and editor. You can read more of her work and learn about her immersive art project “Desert Jewels” at

    “Divine Ammunition: The Sculpture of Al Farrow” is on view through May 7 at the Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue, Washington. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:03 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Tabaimo: Utsutsushi utsushi at the Asian Art Museum in Seattle, Washington

    The fascinating exhibition by the world renowned artist Tabaimo at the Asian Art Museum tells us that the world is not what it seems. Behind mundane objects, in a clothing chest, in a toilet, in a bedroom, lurk other forces, other realities, other creatures, even escape to magic spaces. 

    The exhibition, which the artist also curated, includes four new videos that respond to works in the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection. Tabaimo invented the tricky title of her show, “Utsutsushi utsushi” based on the underlying idea of “utsushi” copying or studying a master artist’s work in order to not only understand it, but to grasp its deeper spiritual meaning, to connect across time to it and to honor it. She has turned the concept into an active verb, as becomes clear in viewing the exhibition. She does not just explore the style of the historic master works that she chose for the exhibition, she expands on them, imagining a narrative that takes place inside or beside, or above or below them. 

    Tabaimo’s work perfectly suits the present moment: uncertain, unsteady, unsafe, unpredictable, but it is also deeply poetic. The artist began by paying homage to her mother, Tabata Shion, a ceramic artist, who inspired the unusual title of the exhibition. Tabaimo’s mother practices “utsushi” as a ceramic artist. The exhibition begins with her work juxtaposed to her master, the artist Ogata Kenzan from the Edo period in Japan.

    Tabaimo practiced her own “utsutsushi“ with specific historical works in the collection of the Asian Art Museum, all of which are included in the exhibition. The most straightforward example, and perhaps the thematic heart of the exhibition (although it appears in the last gallery), is Tabaimo’s video in response to the Museum’s unique early seventeenth century six part panel “Crows.” The original awes us with its brilliantly conceived “murder” of crows (as a group of crows is called). The artist discovered that the crows were so subtly drawn, that she actually had to trace them for her own work, “Crow.” In her video a gold wall opens up into a receding space, as crows fly into it, or land above it. But crows also pop up, and fly into several of the other works in the exhibition. You can look out for them. 

    For another “utsutsushi” her point of departure are two hanging scrolls of “Dragonflies” and “Butterflies,” detailed naturalistic ink drawings and verses, the result of collaboration among over 70 late Edo artists. Tabaimo “liberated” the dragonflies and butterflies in her video, formatted like the scrolls. Now they fly free and disappear from view. But she explored the original work carefully as she recreated the creatures. 

    At the beginning of the exhibition, she pairs two 16th century Chinese wooden chests and a video called “Two,” 2016, which appears on the back of a transparent wall behind the chests, so that their silhouette frames the video. Here we see what I referred to in the beginning, the forces lurking behind the mundane. Initially we see a chest full of bed covers, but then an arm reaches out from a pillow! And it goes on from there. I won’t spoil the experience with too much detail. 

    “The Obscuring Moon” develops a narrative for a shadowy woman who barely appears behind a screen in an original print by Hiroshige. Tabaimo places her in the center of an elusive story. But she carefully emulates  Hiroshige’s colors, and we are treated to a roomful of his prints in order to enjoy that connection. 

    Another reference to women is “aitaisei-josei,” a story of suicide, based on a  seventeenth century story and a modern novel, “Villain,” by Yoshida Shuichi. Tabaimo creates connections between Ohatsu and Kaneko Miho, the main female characters of the two books, through metaphor and symbolism. 

    Among the pre-existing work, each surprises us in a different way. Most amusing is the “Public ConVENience,” 2006, a three walled walk in with projections of life size Japanese public toilets. The characters come and go with many unexpected actions.  

    “Hanabi-ra” gives us what appears to be a representation of a man covered in flowered tattoos and “haunted house,” on loan from the Asia Society, is a large screen city scape with unpredictable scale shifts, and narrative jolts. Tabaimo utsushi’d the spirit of the voyeuristic aerial cityscape from a 17th century Japanese painting that details the daily lives of city dwellers. We see the original example in the next room. 

    This exhibition is another Asian Art Museum coup, a cutting edge artist in our wonderful “other” museum in Volunteer Park. Just to give you an idea of Tabaimo’s status, she represented Japan in 2011, at the Venice Biennale, and her work is in the collection of Asia Society in New York.  

    Don’t fail to go, as the Asian Art Museum will be closing when it is over, for two years of remodeling and expansion, its first real remodel since it was built in 1933.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D. is an art historian, art critic, curator, and activist. She continues to address politically engaged art on her blog

    “Tabaimo: Utsutsushi utsushi” is on view through February 26, Wednesday and Friday-Sunday, 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. and Thursday from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. at the Asian Art Museum, located in Volunteer Park at 1400 East Prospect Street in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:01 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Simple as It Is

    The heart is lopsided as a grin

    first thing Monday morning

    at a patch of sun on the floor

    simple as it is

    barefoot being stepped in


    and at the sink the hands make

    a leaky old cup drinking from

    that wets your chin

    dribbling down your shirt front


    that only acts like it’s broken

    holding every drop you need

    and then some

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 10:00 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Farming for the Answer

    Given time and space alone

    in soft dirt afoot in the field

    after the known round of chores

    what is there more could you want


    than be paid like a king when

    even now asked your opinion

    there settles a silence a pause

    as the living things of your world


    each lift their slow grazing heads

    wave all their long greening arms

    gather themselves in your presence

    and wait for the answer to come

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 9:57 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Living on as if a Burden

    Toward the end of every living thing

    ripe a moment beautiful that

    decay sweetens in toward the pit


    that on the way sheds perfection

    until the skin scarcely matters

    where reluctant or fierce to be done


    its age that has borne the crumbling

    that tells mostly gone what has been

    falls away saying so far so good

    Paul Hunter

    Paul Hunter is a Seattle poet whose most recent farming book is “Stubble Field,” (2012, Silverfish Review Press).  These pieces hint at another farming collection—“One More Spring.” He has an autobiography in prose poems—“Clownery”—due in January, and is still a fair shade tree mechanic, if he works on a car with no brains.

  • Monday, January 02, 2017 9:56 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    It Matters

    Hardly anyone writes thank you notes anymore. But there are two I’ve been meaning to send. And I’ve learned to identify the feeling inside that knows when it’s not okay to send an email or text. I know there are people who say it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t think that’s true. What’s true is that it’s easy to stop remembering what matters. 

    It’s not like I believe there is nothing like the good ol’ days, I don’t. In too many ways they weren’t. But each day I’m trying (vigorously!) to balance my embrace of change with the unwise dark, dark side of embracing too much of it, blindly. 

    I was twenty-three when I taught my first beginning adult dance class. It was an effort and a half to keep myself from moving too fast, but I always enjoyed the challenge. For recital, I chose music slow enough for students with less experience to gracefully make their way through. 

    Except, clearly, it was still too fast.

    Two of my students, Leslie and Chen, were the best sports and the worst…well, the only good thing you could say about their technique was that they tried. At recital time, I choreographed a simple sequence for them, cross walks in a circle, but who was I kidding? It would be cute for children to do this, but it was 50/50 whether people would love adults for trying, or drop their heads in pity. 

    As recital drew nearer, Leslie and Chen’s smiles tightened to mirror what they were feeling inside. When I asked if they’d like to run the ticket sales at the door instead of performing, I could tell they were as relieved as I was. “We’re all best at something,” Leslie said with her arm around Chen’s shoulders. 

    One evening I heard Leslie say to Chen, “You say she’s your friend, but when I hear you talk to her, you don’t even sound like yourself.” It was such an intimate yet dicey thing to say, I remember turning my back to give them privacy.

    “What do you mean?,” Chen said.

    “Like when you said you thought Aaron (the only man in class) was weird, just because she thinks so, when you don’t even feel that way. You love Aaron.”

    “I don’t like to make her mad,” Chen said.

    “So what if she does get mad, if it’s how you really feel? At this age, you decide one of two things, to tell the truth the way you see it. Or tell hers.” 

    I didn’t know if Leslie was referring to Chen’s mother, sister, daughter, or friend, but I guess I no longer needed to know. 

    “I’m not like you. I don’t need to be right all the time,” Chen said.

    “No, but does that mean you need to be invisible?” 

    Chen walked away. A few seconds later, she turned back to say, “You coming?” But her voice was warm when she said it. I have a photo of them taken at recital. Chen’s arms are clasped around Leslie’s back. She is peeking out from under Leslie’s right shoulder and they are both laughing. The look on their faces told me things about friendship I was just beginning to understand: that there is dependable honesty between friends…if we are lucky. 

    I suppose there are some conversations you never forget, and don’t ever want to. Leslie and Chen prepared me for a lifetime of risky truth-telling, one of the most difficult demands of all on a friendship. In that sense, they turned out to be my teachers.

    And what’s lovely is that I finally get to thank them properly. Pen to paper. Next to nothing on my part, but it matters.

    Marylou Sanelli

    Sanelli’s latest book is “A Woman Writing.” She is speaking at Town Hall Seattle (joined by dancers from Cornish College of the Arts) on April 27, 2017, 7:30 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Wednesday, November 02, 2016 9:37 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    Bronze. Aluminum. Silver, gold, and copper. Iron. Cast iron. Steel. Forged steel, mild steel, stainless steel. 

    When I first saw the theme of this year’s BAM Biennial at the Bellevue Arts Museum—“metal”—it didn’t occur to me how many variations of the material actually exist in this earthly realm. It is one of the most base materials available to artists today. Forged from the ground itself, mined and dug up and extracted from the earth, metal possesses an inherently primordial quality in its very makeup. The flip side, though, is that metal, perhaps more than any other material, conjures a sense of the metaphysical, the cosmic, the supernatural. Metal means alchemy, that ancient sorcery of transforming lead into gold. Metal means magic.

    The 49 Northwest artists included in this year’s BAM Biennial “Metalmorphosis” explore this and many more of the paradoxes intrinsic to metal. It is both liquid and solid, soft and hard, stable and malleable. Metal has a long history in this region, as local Northwest tribes have made good use of the abundance of copper here for centuries. The maritime industry in the Northwest has also helped generate a large population of metalworkers and tradesmen here. Our region has a history of exploiting the technical possibilities of metal, ultimately resulting in the establishment of the aerospace industry here in the early 20th century. 

    Functionally, metal has a history of driving technological innovation and progress. Artistically, however, historians have long been fascinated with the question of how metal in particular has driven artistic breakthroughs.

    For many artists in the show, one gets the sense that metal and its infinite possibilities and associations are driving the form. Chris McMullen’s “Haystack” is a prime example of this—the giant wall-mounted steel rods and bronze bearings come alive when you turn the crank at the bottom. Undulating and swelling in time as you crank, the piece recalls a writhing insect in its movements, a sharp departure from the mechanized heaviness of the piece in stillness. 

    For other Biennial artists, however, metal is merely means of solving a problem or visualizing an idea. Kirk Lang’s “Constellation Series” uses a light beamed onto thin metal cutouts to cast shadows on the walls behind. The metal forms rotate and move, breaking the shadow image apart and bringing it back together as gears silently crank. The mechanisms producing this movement are clearly visible, but the magic of the image produced by the shadows somehow remains otherworldly. 

    Some of the most successful pieces in “Metalmorphosis” are the ones that explore the expansive, volumetric qualities of metal. That capture its ability to be both formless and any form at all, flowing through space like soft waves as in Ruth Beer’s work, or bolstering the fortress doors of a cabinet, as in Maria Cristalli’s “Perfect External Disorder.” 

    Maria Phillips’ piece “Mapping Monotony” immediately captures your attention upon entering the exhibit, certainly in part because of its scale. But then, its texture. Incomprehensibly whispy pieces of steel dot the white wall, cascading down in tufts and patches of metal that beg to brushed and combed. When I heard another gallery-goer describe the image as “snow-covered grasses,” I did a double take. The white wall now stood in as snow, with the metal tufts reading as plant-like protrusions. That is the beauty of metal—it can take any form we dream it to be. 

    Catherine Grisez similarly explores the malleability of metal in her collection of pieces, titled “Dignifier,” “The Compromise,” and “Surrender,” which all attempt to treat copper as a kind of skin. Melting off corners and sliding down edges, the works alternately resemble gooey caramel and that weird spray-foam insulation. Grisez is able to instigate the odd feeling that comes when you can’t tell what something is made of by its form. Her forms hint  they should be something they’re not. These pieces, made out of copper, should say, “Hard.” But the forms—squishy, layered, melted-ice-cream-like shapes—say, “Soft.” 

    Many artists in “Metalmorphosis” take a different tact, drawing not on the forms of metal, but on its association with machinery and mechanization—the technology that has helped us go faster and stronger as a society. However, rather than blindly embracing this forward movement, several of the Biennial artists question whether this is necessarily “progress.” David Keyes, in his work “Classicism Fleeing the Onslaught of Modernism,” features cast-bronze classical figures being flattened by the printing press. Literally—the piece incorporates a cast iron roller from an actual 19th-century printing press. Keyes makes us wonder how much our reliance on technology and mechanization has similarly flattened our culture, reduced as we are to looking at screens.

    Andrew Fallat’s kinetic sculpture, “Novelties in Simulacra,” is beautiful in its reminder of how clumsy this technology can actually be. Metal gears, levers, and weights clank together awkwardly, in no sort of rhythm and with no clear purpose. Coming to life at random times, I was in the other room when all of a sudden I heard it begin to move and ran to see what all the ruckus was. There is something ancient and imperfect about Fallat’s work, despite the gears and pulleys pleading of their modernity. 

    Perhaps this is the ultimate beauty of metal. As much as we pull and ply it into modern forms and shapes, it will always be ancient and base. The artists in “Metalmorphosis” remind us that this material, in its infinite uses and formal possibilities, will always speak of its original home. It will always bring us back down to earth.

    Lauren Gallow

    Lauren Gallow is an arts writer, historian, and editor. You can read more of her work and learn about her immersive art project “Desert Jewels” at

    “Metalmorphosis” is on view through February 5, 2017 at the Bellevue Arts Museum, located at 510 Bellevue Way NE in Bellevue, Washington. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. For more information, visit

  • Wednesday, November 02, 2016 9:10 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    The title of this stunning exhibition at the Wing quotes from Pablo Neruda’s “Odes to Common Things” which celebrates scissors in every imaginable way including cutting clothes for people from the cradle to the grave. In “Everything has been Material for Scissors to Shape” Stephanie Syjuco, Surabhi Ghosh, and Aram Han Sifuentes, create dramatic textile-based installations that comment on history, mythology and the exploitations of commodity culture. Adding resonance to their work, Portland-based Guest Curator Namita Gupta Wiggers incorporated historical selections from the Museum’s permanent collection into the exhibition. 

    As we enter the first gallery, “A Hair’s Breath, the Unfurled Sea” by Surabhi Ghosh, forms a canopy the length of the gallery, then drops down and flows over the floor. The artist painted the homespun khadi fabric with a pattern that suggests the waves of the sea on the ground and the scales of a flying serpent above. At one end the fabric ends in a curtain of long blue threads that resemble hair.  On the wall is an unpainted Khadi bag, its raw cotton physicality reminding us that Khadi connects to Gandhi who spun it, wove it and wore it and encouraged all Indians to do the same, as a means of resistance to colonial rule. Great Britain took India’s cotton at bargain rates, then sold it back as fabric at exorbitant prices. Today, khadi has near sacred status, it cannot be sold or exported, but Ghosh managed to bring the fabric back in her suitcase. 

    While the celestial snake Ananta supports the universe above our heads, the rest of the sweeping fabric refers to a dramatic story about Draupadi, the central female figure of the Hindu epic Mahabharatha. Draupadi asks Krishna to save her honor after she is sold in a card game and forced to disrobe and dishonor herself: her sari becomes endless, the long blue threads suggest her hair that is also protecting her. Celestial serpents, magic saris, and anti colonialism, all connect in this installation. 

    Stephanie Syjuco’s self portraits “Cargo Cults (False Villager)” seem to present a young woman dressed in traditional “native” garb, while actually the artist has purchased all of her clothes and adornments from import stores like Pier I. Syjuco creates the “look” of a “native,” from the fake traditional fabrics and objects, then returns all of them to the store. Around her neck in one photograph, she wears door numbers inverted, that look like a tradition-laden symbolic necklace. The term “cargo cult” refers to post World War II Pacific Islanders who gained status by acquiring commodity items dropped on them from the sky to support troops stationed there. 

    Facing the photographs and further playing with the theme of authentic/inauthentic, baskets from the Wing collection range from ancient and valuable containers to unidentified woven baskets that might actually be cheap imports. The creative display underscores the charisma of museum techniques that can endow objects with authenticity just by means of arrangement and lighting.  

    In the third gallery, Aram Han Sifuentes created “A Mend, A Collection of Scraps From Local Seamstresses and Tailors,” 2011-2013 with the cut off legs of blue jeans. Its sagging gapping forms suggests a weak wall with holes in it, an incomplete quilt, an incomplete story. The artist collected the story of each workers who cut jeans. She listed the people that she interviewed in a small chart which outlines how many years they have been in the US, how many worked as a seamstress, their country of origin, and what work (in many cases a profession), they had in their country of origin. Also paired in this display are archival interviews with garment workers recorded by Wing Luke Museum in 2001, from textile workers in the Pacific Northwest, women who created the clothing that has made us famous. 

    Finally, an interactive exhibit offers viewers an opportunity to create their own embroidery based on historical stitches.  

    The combination of hands on activity, stunning contemporary art, and connections to Asian Pacific American history is vintage Wing Museum. The museum pioneers community-based exhibitions, chosen and curated by community members, such as the second show on display, “Naga Sheds Its Skin” about Khmer Americans, their history, their language, their contemporary presence in the United States, and the horrifying statistics on their deportations. 

    Also on exhibit is Part III of the Bruce Lee exhibitions, “A Day in the Life of Bruce Lee,” which opened on October 1. Martial artist Bruce Lee defied racism in Hollywood and in his life. His gravesite here is an ongoing shrine and performance focus for people from all over the world. (There is a new biopic about him raising new accusations of racism from his daughter).  

    Opposite the Tsutakawa Gallery, the permanent display “Honoring our Journey,” presents painful histories (best known of which is the Japanese incarceration during World War II), and contemporary culture in the US of some of the fifty- one (!) ethnic groups included in the Museum. 

    Finally there is the historical tour of the other side of the 1910 museum building, the East Kong Yick building, the preserved living quarters and cultural center for hundreds of immigrants. 

    This remarkable museum in the International District is one of my favorite destinations in Seattle, both for its remarkable contemporary art exhibitions as well as its pioneering museology techniques that engage people of all ages and backgrounds.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D.

    Susan Noyes Platt, Ph.D. is an art historian, art critic, curator, and activist. She continues to address politically engaged art on her blog

    “Everything has been Material for Scissors to Shape” is on view through April 17, Tuesday through Sunday from 10 A.M. through 5 P.M. at The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, located at 719 South King Street in Seattle, Washington. For more information, visit

  • Wednesday, November 02, 2016 9:05 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

  • Wednesday, November 02, 2016 9:04 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)

    All This

    I’ve learned to be wary of women who walk up to me with a frown that is not mean, necessarily, but it’s not generous either. And while the downward curve of her mouth would seem perfectly normal had I just addressed, say, terrorism, my talk was about how we can better accept and support each other. Here she comes, I think, arms locked, question loaded. I’ve triggered something. She wants to take me down a notch, there is contempt in her eyes.

    “That was cute,” she said. 

    I just stared at her. And if my mind could have abandoned my feelings, it would have. I could feel a slow hiss seeping out of my pride, like when my bicycle tire rolls over a thorn. I’d just given a talk at the State Capitol for a group of visiting writers. Cute was not what I was going for. I thank God my skin has grown thick. 

    “So, where do you see yourself going with all this?” she said.

    “All this?” I said.

    “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

    I have a limited tolerance for this generic question. I never know if it’s a need to instruct or to compete, but the two always seem joined in people like this. They can’t seem to fathom that life can be less conventional and more entrepreneurial than they know it to be. 

    I wanted to say, this is my soul you are talking about, not an investment portfolio. What you are asking is beside the point. 

    What I did say was, “It hardly matters,” and, after a pause, “because if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is no brass ring five years from now, because there is no brass ring. ” It was one of the rare times when the words came to me without my having to wait until three in the morning. Mostly because of good advice I received from a colleague: “If you think everyone in the audience is going to be kind, you really need to consider doing something else. But if you stick with it, it’s good to have a few good comebacks up your sleeve. There is nothing more difficult than being clear and honest when you are taken aback.”

    Now, I wish I’d also said: “You know what? When I’m putting myself out there, I’m not the least bit concerned with five years from now, or even tomorrow. I have to be wholly in the present to be effective.”

    Today, I’m lucky to know people who’ve been at this business of writing and speaking much longer than I have, who get paid far more than I ever will. (I can still hope!) And I’m always surprised when, in the green room, they seem just as worried as I am that they will, to quote one, “flounder like a fish and sink like a stone.” 

    I once had so much to prove—to others, to myself—but not anymore. Now, I just want to be around people who find meaningful work reward enough, who have carved out careers with everything they have, raked their insides raw with the effort, who know what it takes to create a creative life, who understand that having work we love is “all this.” And much more. 

    Because the moment is all we have. And it’s everything, all at once.

    But there will always be the naysayer who wants to snatch it from us because, I suspect, they haven’t had one of their own to celebrate in far too long.

    Marylou Sanelli

    Sanelli’s works as a writer and literary speaker. Her latest book is A Woman Writing. She is speaking at Town Hall Seattle on April 27, 2017 at 7:30 pm. Visit her website at

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