Forward/Story or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Critic

Expectations and judgment stifled me for almost three years. After my wife and I had a child, I shifted focus from making art to raising our daughter. It was love beyond belief to care for this beautiful, sweet girl, but the longer I didn’t make art, the easier it was to let fear and rules prevent me from creating.

I listened to the voices: Telling me I’m not allowed to write others’ stories. Telling me I need more formal education to succeed. Telling me success is about money.

These voices weren’t others’. They were in my mind. Not literal voices. I’m not mad. But sometimes, that screaming inner critic felt like it was pushing me to madness.

Long ago, I told someone, “I want to use my powers for good.” These powers are imagination and creativity — voices spinning stories in my head. Fiction disguised as fact. I must share the tales, or they’ll eat me inside out.

Recently, I let it all go at Forward/Story, a storyteller’s retreat/lab in Nosara, Costa Rica organized by Lance Weiler and Christy Dena. It was joy and wonder. It was spiritual. It was a breakthrough. I finally found my soul again. These aren’t hyperbole. I reconnected with my powers.

On the beach, I spoke with another artist who works in a different genre than I, from another country than I, of another race and gender than I. I learned. I grew.

In a creation session with three strangers, we synchronized, bounced ideas, and fashioned a fun experience. Harmony in work. I’d forgotten it exists. I remembered.

Feeling judged. Laser eyes piercing my body and splitting it into a million pieces. Then, I remembered it’s not about me. It’s their hang-ups. The fear isn’t real. It’s a story I’m telling myself.

Jumping off the edge of a cliff and flying through the jungle on a cable the size of my finger inspired freedom. Fears and rules will bound me if I let them. Forward/Story liberated me from rules and shed my fears, which freed me to take flight.


vine enters the terrible twos: artists start playing together

A couple months back, I profiled “10 Artists to Follow on Vine who are not Adam Goldberg, James Urbaniak, Will Sasso, or Steve Agee.” In the life cycle of social apps, Vine was a baby, spitting up, pooping a lot, and screaming for attention. It had moments of brilliance mixed with a bunch of crap. Since then, something wonderful happened:

Vine entered The Terrible Twos.

That’s to say, it’s a walking, talking, wonderfully messy, sometimes belligerent, and still generally brilliant network of creators having their first conversations and collaborations. Yes – collaborations. Unlike Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the rest, Vine is not just a virtual playground. It has become a real life place for artists to collaborate.

I initially noticed it with one of my favorite Viners, Meagan Cignoli. Cignoli is a Brooklyn-based photographer who frequently Vines models on photo shoots, uses household objects to make magical eye candy, and was a finalist in the Tribeca Film Festival’s (TFF) #6SECFILMS competition. She’s also one of the first creators to feature other Viners in her videos.

It started with Virtuosic Dance, a dance company founded by choreographer Chelsea Robin Lee, also from Brooklyn. Cignoli featured Virtuosic in one of her #6SECFILMS submissions to TFF.

After I saw Cignoli’s collaboration with Virtuosic, I quickly searched the company and discovered they had previously worked together, shooting video and stills, so it was unsurprising they would make Vines together. Cignoli told me she didn’t initially see it as a collaboration, since they knew each other.

“As a photographer, when I see someone who does something interesting that I want to capture I have always just reached out to them and I say, ‘Hey let’s shoot,'” said Cignoli. “So with Vine, it was the same thing. I thought dance would look cool in stop motion, so I asked her to work with me a bit.”

A few weeks later, Comedy Central launched #ComedyFest on Twitter and experimented with Vine. They featured some of the aforementioned amazingly funny performers, Steve Agee, James Urbaniak and Adam Goldberg, who, you might say, was the first collaborator on Vine, creating accounts for his girlfriend Roxanne Daner and her friend, Merritt Lear, and making wildly bizarre Vines with them. Stir in one of the funniest people on Vine, Marlo Meekins, and you had the makings of some fun crossover Vining.

One day, shortly after the Comedy Central Vinefest, I saw this:

Aside from the organized collaboration by Comedy Central, this was the first time I saw one Viner – who did not know the other Viner before the advent of the app – appear in another creator’s work.

Nicholas Megalis is a musician from Cleveland (now, also based in Brooklyn). It’s hard to describe exactly what Megalis does on Vine. The general category is comedy, but unlike YouTube, which begs for a longer more engaging narrative, Vine allows performers to create mini-performance art pieces. Megalis sings, dances, eats gross food, raps, and spontaneously interviews people with bananas on the street. His short bio on Vine reads, “Musician/Artist/Idiot.” I’d add “Vine genius.”

“I thought he was very clever and cool and I wanted to capture his essence,” said Cignoli about Megalis. “So I emailed him and asked him to collaborate. At first he was like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ So I sent a long list of ideas and he was like, ‘YES.’ So he came over a week or two later and we just started making cool things together. It was a lot of fun.”

Since their first collaboration, Cignoli has featured Megalis in more of her Vines, and recently she celebrated her birthday with these wild and wacky dudes: Michael LoPriore, Nicholas Megalis, Jerome Jarre and Rudy Mancuso, all prominent Viners on the platform.

New collaborations can be unwieldy, too. Vine is, like other social apps, an ego driven platform. Most creators work in their own bubbles. Bringing strong, creative minds together doesn’t always lead to productivity.

“We are all idea people so the hardest part is that we have too many ideas and too many big personalities,” said Cignoli. “The other problem is that we all get along so well, it’s hard to get any Vines done. We just want to hang out and joke around, have fun. Too bad there are not more female viners in NYC. I can’t wait to work with Marlo Meekins and Brittany Furlan.”

Marlo Meekins rocketed to the top of the Vine, and recently she made the move to Los Angeles from her base in Toronto. Since Meekins’ arrived in Tinseltown, she’s featured cameos from celebrity Viners, Andy Milonakis and Gillian Jacobs. She also appeared in Steve Agee’s Memorial Day Vines with Andy Richter.

These collaborations are exciting because they feature famous people, but I was most impressed with this gem:

If you’re not on Vine, you probably don’t get it. But all of these artists (Jordan Burt, KC James, Brittany Furlan, Nick Confalone, DirtyCurt, Jethro Ames and Jerome Jarre [with cameos on both coasts!]) are blowing up on Vine. Some of them have over 170 thousand followers.

This past week, it seems another top tier Viner, Nick Mastodon, known for his Disney cartoon/pop music mashups, LNAJ (Late Night Awkward Jams), and an unhealthy obsession with Ricky Martin, is in Hollywood from his native Minneapolis and hooking up with new friends. Here’s Meekins “celebrating” Mastodon reaching 40 thousand followers:

Artists are traveling to far away cities and connecting with other amazingly talented creators to make six second videos. People aren’t just liking and commenting on Vines, they are meeting up in person to socialize and make new work. It’s a fascinating sociological evolution.

And, when artists can’t be in the same city, they’re creating musical loops over which other artists can layer in their own tracks on the #songcollab hashtag, spawned by Jason Coffee, way over in Hawaii. Nicholas Megalis whipped up this witty ditty:

And Coffee responded with this. Search the hashtag, and you’ll find other collaborations, too. Sometimes, the #songcollabs go as deep as five or six musicians.

Fans following these inventive artists love it. When Meekins appeared in Mastadon’s 40K celebratory Vine, commenters lost their minds. Who knows what the next baby step is for Vine? The toddlers are playing together in this fantastic freaky sandbox. I can’t wait until they hit their tweens, and the awkward stage begins…

Pimples and pubes!

Wait. I’ve already seen both of those on Vine.

always now

This morning, I exited my apartment to find Jim, our next door neighbor, walking his dog. Jim and I cross paths most mornings. We always exchange a quick hello and, “Have a great day.” He typically looks like he just rolled out of bed. Today, Jim wore a suit under his overcoat.

“Looking sharp,” I said.

“Why, thank you!”

Jim could be my grandfather. Smokes cigarettes and wears white whiskers. He and his wife own the house next to where we rent. They’ve lived there for over fifty years.

“Why so spiffy?” I asked.

“Going to the wake of a dear friend.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. I’m actually going to a wake today, too,” I said, holding up my suit bag. “Christy’s cousin passed away earlier this week.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that. Give my best to Christy.”

“Thank you. Something we all have to deal with.”

Jim smiled a wide grin. “True. True.”

We wished each other well, and I left Jim to head into my day. As I walked to the subway, a couple plodded in front of me. I’d seen them before. They are an Asian couple who live at the senior citizen apartment complex on the corner. They always look beautiful. Today, I shot a little video of them, and I wrote a quick haiku.

Hand in hand they walk
Morning rays on wrinkled skin
Once more, together

I imagined morning walks with my wife in 40 years. I thought about the last time we held hands. I remembered I’m going to see our cousin’s face for the last time. Someone who went too soon. Someone who won’t ever hold hands again.

A few hours later, I read this: Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82

Things Fall Apart shaped my childhood. It was the first time I understood how storytelling creates empathy. As a white, middle-class boy from a small town in Illinois, I felt for the protagonist Okonkwo, and – though I didn’t know it at the time – his story influenced my views on racism and colonialism. It taught me nothing lasts forever. I love this tale.

Tears filled my eyes. Time quickened.

A text popped up on my phone from my father. It was about my stepsister:

Jessica had baby girl at 9:17. She has reddish blonde hair. No weight or measurements yet. Both mother and baby doing very good.

And so it continues. Another day. Another death. Another life.

In a week, Christy and I move away from Brooklyn, where I have lived for 15 years. I won’t see Jim in the morning any more. Who knows if I will ever see him again? But it was good to see his sweet smile today. That is what matters. Today.

Recently, on the online social spheres, I shared a personal insight I had. I’m offering it again here because I want to remember:

Woke this morning and realized this is the best time in my life. Wishing you similar realizations. Now.


PS. I suggest playing India Arie’s Growth while watching the video of the couple on the street.

10 artists to follow on vine who are not adam goldberg, james urbaniak, will sasso or steve agee

For the past 45 days, I’ve been slightly obsessed with a new app called Vine. You’ve probably heard of it. Either you signed up to try it out, got bored and left, or you have made MANY more six second videos that you ever imagined creating before this mini-movie app appeared in January.

vine-logoFor those who haven’t heard about it, Vine allows creators to make six second shorts by tapping on an iPhone screen to shoot quick snippets of video. People typically use it to make tiny comedy sketches, mini stop motion stories, manic animations, and (of course) cat videos.

One of the biggest criticisms of the app (aside from some complaints with its UI), is that many Vines are so bad they induce nausea or seizures. It’s true. Most people don’t know how to make a good video. It’s much harder than a single shot on Instagram. And Vine doesn’t have funky filters to improve that crappy video of your lunch. It just shoots what it sees (and hears – you can’t mute the sound, so no MOS).

Still, there are some talented people on Vine. And I’m not talking about Adam Goldberg, James Urbaniak, Will Sasso or Steve Agee. These guys are all shooting fun work. I follow and enjoy them. They’re featured everywhere. But there are other spectacular, non-famous Vines artists who should be getting props, too.

For the naysayers who think Vine is a vomit-inducing mess of crappy videos, or for Vineheads seeking new, talented, non-famous creators, check out my list of 10 artists to follow on Vine.

(In alphabetical order. Click the artists names to see all their videos).

Brittany Furlan
It took a few videos, but Brittany Furlan grew on me. And that’s a good thing. A sketch comedy performer out of “Hollyhood,” Furlan has three schicks: booty dancing in inappropriate places (funnier than it sounds), a reoccurring show “Jokes with a Beekeeper,” and conversations with her asshole dogs, which are goddamn brilliant. She does other bits, too, but these are my faves.

Andy Martin, is an animator, illustrator and music maker from the UK who uses these skills to make some of my favorite stop-motions on Vine. Essentially, they are studies of music and colored clay. Andy imbues globs of earth with personality by revealing secret sounds from within. They are are super cute eye and ear candy. Check out his website, too. His long form animation reel is gorgeous.

Jack Shelby
Want to have your head messed with? Check out Jack Shelby’s simple, twisted illustrated loops. His edits are superb, creating a trance-like state for the viewer. “Stabby Mouse” is one of the most disturbing videos I’ve found on Vine. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but watch it twenty times in a row and you’ll have nightmares.

Jack doesn’t seem to have a Twitter account. Twitter is the only way to embed vines on Word Press, but you can watch his work at It’s the closest thing to Vine on the web, since Vine doesn’t have its own web-based aggregator (much like Instagram in its early days.)

Jack Shelby Vine #1

Jack Shelby Vine #2

Jack Shelby Vine #3

I debated adding Khoa Phan. Mainly, because (as of this writing) he has 10,672 followers on Vine. This is a list of Viners who aren’t famous. In a very short time, Khoa’s construction paper stop motion vignettes have swiftly risen to be one of the most popular feeds on Vine. There are a couple reasons for that. They’re damn good and they’re damn cute. And they’re timely. He made Vines for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and even Dr. Seuss’ birthday. And they’re all fun and imaginative. Khoa isn’t famous outside of Vine, but he should be. And that’s why he’s on this list.

Marlo Meekins
A cartoonist by trade and a kook on Vine, Marlo is another early Vine superstar (she just cracked 10K followers and made a perfect video to celebrate). It makes sense a cartoonist might master a six second video medium. After all, they typically tell stories in three to six illustrated panels. Now, the panels can move. Mostly, Marlo’s Vines are set up expectations that she smashes with her warped sense of humor. Her Vines range from the ridiculous to the really ridiculous. Oh, yeah. And she plays the ukelele. Swoon.

MC and Friends
Whether taking the piss out of CSI: Miami or manifesting Dupstep Oprah (hilarious), the funny voice impressions and simple flip-book illustrations make use of Vine’s time limit in a different way. Instead of stop motion, MC and Friends literally flips pages and adds to the silly snippets of weirdness.

Watch Dub Step Oprah here. (C’mon. You know you want to.)

Meagan Cignoli
Meagan Cignoli is a joy. She plays with household items, like bottles and chopsticks. Sometimes, she plays with her food. It’s all stop-motion, but not in the classic sense. She’s not creating characters out of clay or construction paper to tell a story. Meagan uses the items to create seamless loops. Her designs are delightful. She’s a prime example of someone who is experimenting with the form and (I presume) reflects the aesthetic from her other work as a photographer of people.

Peter Heacock
Peter is from Philly. He’s super sweet. And he is in PR. My interactions with him were the first that really felt social on Vine. The comments he leaves on my feed are encouraging, and he genuinely appreciates the love people give him. His coolness earned him a follow from me on Twitter, too. Aside from his winning personality, Peter experiments with light and sound, and he seems to have started his own “news channel,” ViNews. But my favorite videos feature Peter teaching his baby boy about The Wu-Tang Clan. Those Vines, alone, are worth following Peter.

An Indonesian father of three glorious children and a graphic designer who lives in Kuwait, I want Pinot to be my dad. Okay, not really, but when I have children, I want to play with them like Pinot does his kids. Primarily working in stop motion, Pinot creates time-lapse Vines of illustrations that make you want to watch them over and over for each detail he drops into the frame. His “painting in the air” series is mind blowing, and the stop motion Empire Strikes Back he created with his daughters is just about the cutest thing you’ll find on the platform.

Yell Design
Matt Willis takes playing with his food to a new level. From Australia, Matt is another artist I started following on Twitter because he is so darn genuine. The Vines Matt makes are pretty intense. They’re not just your run-of-the-mill-stop-motion. He deconstructs and reconstructs whole pineapples. From the can. He resurrects raisins to grapes. And he gives breakfast in bed a whole new meaning.

Of course, I’ve been having fun with the app, too. Sometimes, I shoot spontaneous Vines inspired by my surroundings, and others are more planned out, like a mini-series I’m calling #jdjames. It’s a glimpse at my id. Or, something.

I hope, if you were a naysayer, you’re showing a bit more interest. If you’re a Vine lover, you discovered some new artists. Who knows if Vine will be around in a year? For now, I’m enjoying new bits of art from around the world. And that makes my present moment a little bit better.

peaking at the new frontier

Sometimes, things just work out.

That’s how I felt Saturday night as I fell asleep on the red eye departing from Salt Lake City. My wife and I just completed a week vacation with her parents and brother skiing in the mountains of Utah, and we capped it off with my first visit to the Sundance Film Festival. We scheduled the vacation with short notice, and it was only after setting the trip’s dates we realized its tail end would overlap with the start of Sundance. We didn’t have tickets to any films, but I knew I wanted to visit New Frontier, the social and creative venue that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, and transmedia experiences.

First, we went to another venue to see if we could get tickets to a documentary, but it (like all the other films that day) was sold out and had a very long waitlist queue in which we would need to stand for over an hour before getting a number to hopefully be selected two hours later, when they assessed open seating and called off numbers. Needless to say, it didn’t sound like our idea of a fun day. We headed over to the New Frontier venue.

WelcomeToNewFrontierSandwiched between one of the park-and-ride lots and The Blind Dog sushi bar is The Yard, a 100,000 square foot multipurpose space that houses the New Frontier venue. Divided into three parts, the main area features a gallery-style space featuring the New Frontier artists. The other two spaces offer a theater specially designed for the venue and a bar/lounge area for press interviews and parties. I spent most of my time in the gallery and saw two short films during our visit.

We arrived at noon, which is when the venue’s doors open. Immediately, I asked for the box office because I knew Coral: Rekindling Venus screened at 1:00pm, and I hoped we could get on the waitlist. Being the first to arrive, we got on the waitlist with no problem. While we waited, the New Frontier volunteer staff helpfully explained the photographs of coral hanging nearby trigger an augmented reality app that takes you “inside” the photograph, animating it as if you are under the sea.

coral2     coral1

You can download the iOS app here or Android here and use the pictures I took to try it out. Click the thumbnails for larger images.

An hour later, we were lying down on mats and beanbags in a small planetarium, which reminded me of a yurt one might find at Burning Man. Inspired by the first collaboration among the international science community to witness the celestial transit of Venus in 1761, Lynette Wallworth’s Coral: Rekindling Venus is designed to nurture an emotional connection between a global audience and the planet’s endangered coral reefs. It has a trance inducing effect as one reclines, opening to ocean animals, including sea lions, deep sea bio-luminescent creatures, and of course, stunning time-lapse coral shots.

Prior to the screening, Evans & Sutherland, the company that created the planetarium, offered a demonstration of the numerous projects using their technology. The demo was almost as interesting as the film, for it included examples of real time, interactive tools for teachers. My mother-in-law, a retired junior high school science teacher, looked like a kid in a candy store and marveled at how this technology will change how we teach science. Way cool.

Next to the planetarium was a wall scrawled with graffiti and donning a poster of a large rock. I immediately recognized the rock as the handy work of Yung Jake. Prior to our trip to Utah, I visited the Sundance New Frontier website to check out the artists. I discovered Yung Jake’s, a wild, truly innovative music video that takes over your browser. Seriously, click on the link above, hit play, watch the video, and then come back and read the rest of this.

yoongjakerockAfter I found Yung’s work, I followed him on Twitter and shared Yung DMed me and offered a beta test of the app he’s premiering at Sundance. It’s a trippy, 3-D, interactive music video that plays on your phone or tablet called Augmented Real. You can download the iOS app here. (No word on Android.) Point your device at the rock image above and press play.

I’m only sad we left town before Yung played his live performances. He performed a sold-out show last night. If you caught the gig, let me know how it was. He has one more show tomorrow, January 24. It looks like there are still a few tickets left. You can buy them here. According to L.A. Weekly, Yung Jake, may very well end up being the breakout star of Sundance.


Pulse Index, by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Pulse Index is an interactive art piece that does what I love most. It makes its audience into the art. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s installation records the heart rates and fingerprints of participants and displays them in a Fibonacci pattern. You place your finger into the custom-made sensor, and your fingerprint appears on the largest cell of the display, pulsating to your heartbeat. Your print then travels down the sequence to join those of all the others who have visited the room. The mosaic of pink prints cover the walls of the room, constantly shifting the energy of the space. It’s breathtaking.


My wife and mother-in-law cheesing amongst the pixelated prints.

My favorite piece at New Frontier was What is He Building in There? Inspired by the Tom Waits song of the same name, Ricardo Rivera and the Klip Collective transformed the front facade of the New Frontier venue into a 3-D, projection-mapped parable. Lately, I’m a sucker for 3-D projection-mapping, and this Kafkaesque, existential concoction of live action and animation blew me away. On the surface, the building looks like the outside of a factory, but throughout the film, walls dissolve away and windows slide open, showing the never ending toil of a solitary worker building…something.

“What’s He Building In There?” Sundance 2013 New Frontier documentation from Klip Collective on Vimeo.

One of the best parts of this was when a woman approached the entrance of the building and she waited for the projection to “open the door.” When it “opened” and she tried to walk through the door, she discovered the actual door still blocked her way. A true testament to the projection’s precision.

I didn’t get to check everything out. I heard Eyjafjallalokull, a three-dimensional, audiovisual mapping, optical illusion installation inspired by the 2010 Icelandic volcanic eruption, was wonderful. We couldn’t get tickets to North of South, West of East which wraps the film around the entire room in a 20-seat theater with swivel chairs. And Cityscape 2095 placed spectators on the observatory deck of a skyscraper, where they take in an imaginary city as it glitters over the course of one day. It was super cool, but I couldn’t stand there all day to watch it change.

Cityscape 2095

Cityscape 2095 by Yannick Jacquet, Mandril, and Thomas Vaquiée

We arrived at Sundance on a wing and a prayer, and as luck would have it, we enjoyed most of the New Frontier exhibition. If you’re in Park City this week, I highly recommend checking these exhibitions out. It’s not a crowded as Main Street, the volunteers are more than happy to help you explore the interactive aspects of the art, and you might just have your mind blown.

It was definitely a high point of my week in the mountains of Utah. The only thing I’d do differently next time? Plan ahead and schedule more than one day at the festival. So little time. So much to see!