Fly Me to the Moon: Lessons from the Crowd

When I started this piece many months ago I intended to write about the ways in which technology and multi-disciplinary storytelling has changed the way we engage with our senses. The plan was to look at two, equally compelling, modes of storytelling about a single event in history, and tease apart the ways in which each were constructed to build meaning and connection. 

The first of the two experiences was Earthrise, a musical, presented at the Kennedy Center from July 18-August 4, 2019. The second was the National Air and Space Museum’s Apollo 11: Go For the Moon, July 19-21, 2019, which used projection mapping to create a one of a kind experience on the National Mall

In both cases, the audience was central to the experience. The crowds, the people we stood and sat next to, built tension and enhanced the production in unexpected ways. 

But we are now in mid-November, almost a year and half past, and the world is a very different place. 

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What the Constitution Means to Me

For the past eight months we have talked a lot about self-care, a state of being where we look inward to center ourselves, to focus on our own mental health in order to make it to the next day, and the next, and the next. We read romance novels, and binge re-watched all of New Girl. We learned to bake bread, and more recently began the easy process of mocking holiday movies on Cable TV. We gave ourselves leeway to not be productive, to deal with our emotions, our fear, and the uncertainty.

Mike Wilkens, Preamble, 1987. Smithsonian American Art Museum. I used this image as a central piece in a 2005 essay I wrote called the Visual Representations of the Constitution.

And amidst all that self-care we’ve realized—well most of us at least—that we need to be more aware of what is happening beyond ourselves. That in a lot of ways what America is, and what we will become, depends on that single choice. To care more.

We have all been changed by this year, and we cannot go forward without acknowledging that a single election, for good or ill, will not fix what is broken. While we wait with baited breadth for the results that will begin to roll in on November 3, the real challenge, no matter the result, comes after: the next day, and the next, and the next.

But let’s take a step back.
Let’s talk about me.

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Genetics (& A Pep Talk)

Twenty-Twenty has been a year of forgotten dreams and lost intentions. A year of stasis, and moments of deep grief in wells of unexpected sadness.

This weekend we lost an incredible leader. While I won’t hold her up as a paragon of perfection, Ruth Bader Ginsberg stood at the vanguard of fights to provide women in this country more agency and autonomy then they had ever had before. However, it is so hard to talk about the importance of her work, without acknowledging how her life was, for many, a tenuous thread holding a web of wavering hopes together.

Image of RBG at a candlelight vigil.
On September 19, while many gathered in front of courthouses around the country, I held a very small vigil outside my home. As safe as it may have been, my fears around COVID held me back from going to stand in front of the Supreme Court.

If there is one thing I’ve tried to cling to in this hellscape of year, it is that glass-half-full perception that I define my life by. And as frustrated as I have become with the world, and my personal circumstances, I am searching, constantly, for beacons to offset the fear.

And so, I wanted to write about life—not death.

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2019. Begin As You Mean to Go On

This was a year where I saw the endless sky above Montana, smelled the ravages of fire in California, and stood at the edge of the fantastic, sensing and savoring the sublime magnificence of edges along the Grand Canyon.

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At the Grand Canyon. April 2018. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

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2018. Just Be.

Today is February 20, 2018. Hello world.

I wish I had a great excuse. A reason why this post (that no one is really looking for but me) is only going up today.

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A piece from Adrian Villar Rojas The Theatre of the Disappearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Taken on a hot summer day in the middle of 2017, the roof was filled with energy, but the sculpture brought a sense of peace and in some ways defeat. | Credit: Priya Chhaya

There are a lot of good reasons to put the blame on. On being too busy. On the state of the world. On the unexpected. On letting fear of change effect the way I feel, think, act. On a surprising lack of will power. On procrastination. On having nothing to say.

That’s all a lie.
But also all true.

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75 Years Later: Allegiance and Executive Order 9066

Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. – Excerpt from Executive Order 9066. Signed February 19, 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

When I was in graduate school I was assigned Only What We Could Carry for a course on visual and material culture. This text used objects, poetry, photography, and art to reveal the wide ranging experiences of Japanese Americans (and permanent residents) that were forced, seventy-five years ago, from their homes into internment camps.

Members of the Mochida FAmily awaiting evacuation. | National Archives
Members of the Mochida Family awaiting evacuation. | Dorothea Lange via/ National Archives
One of the first artifacts photographed is an evacuation tag. At first glance looks like a label you would place on an inanimate object with basic reference information. For the evacuees forced to leave their homes, this tag removed identities paring individuals down to a name, family number, and a time and a place to report.
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Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I am
afraid. Folded in by the weight
of postcards and calls
links and 140 characters.
Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality  
between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.

I am
certain that I have fingers
toes, a heart with blood pumping
slowly through my veins
as do you,
and them,
and us, but those that lead find
different ways to say
You Don’t Belong.

I question
my ability
my strength for this
test.
Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles
And God cannot do all the work

And so

Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready.
I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:

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Rituals: Vote 2016

Dear America

I am standing in line to vote. It is the longest voting line I have ever waited in and admittedly not the longest citizens will wait today. It is winding, not unlike our first political cartoon that shows a fragmented snake, (1754, Pennsylvania  Gazette) split into seperate colonies. Below the image a proclamation from Benjamin Franklin “Join, or die.”

At the time this was a call for unity. A call for a fragmented people to come together. Today, that snake looks awfully familiar. For the last year I have had it coiled within me, an invisible knot in my chest, twinging when I thought about today. 

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Alex and Mike: A Love Story

A few months ago two friends of mine asked me to do a reading at thier wedding, and after I offered to write it for them they said yes. I wanted to share the piece with you along with a recording of a portion I had to cut due to time constraints (and that it didn’t quite fit in with the broader piece). 

Here is the final reading from the ceremony this weekend. 

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