Remembering ‘The Voice of Mission Control’ on the Apollo 11 Anniversary

It’s a pretty exciting time to be in Washington D.C. The whole town is amped up over the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The Saturn V rocket is being projected onto the Washington Monument, Neil Armstrong’s space suit is back on display at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Symphony Orchestra is putting on a special tribute concert at the Kennedy Center. (See even more ways to celebrate here).

I mean, how cool is that? Image via @johnkrausephoto on Twitter

But all I can think about is my first boss, Paul Haney.

Paul Haney was the “voice of mission control,” providing live commentary on some of NASA’s earliest space flights. He worked at NASA in its early days, becoming director of public affairs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1963.

Paul Haney at mission control via Popular Science

As a former newspaper reporter, he often butted heads with NASA bureaucrats in Washington on the need to have full agency transparency and provide the media and public with full access to information on NASA’s programs and astronaut training.

Without Paul’s input, it’s likely the American public would never have seen the moon landing televised in their own homes, the Houston Chronicle posited (although, they quoted Paul’s boss, Julian Scheer, where most other news articles I read, including his New York Times obituary in 2009 credit Paul for NASA’s transparency).

That insistence on full openness is also what got him fired 10 weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Otherwise, we all would have heard Paul’s voice counting down the Saturn launch. Instead, it was Jack King. It must have been an especially bitter pill for Paul since the moon walk occurred on his birthday, July 20.

Paul on the right hanging out with Barbara Edin and Bob Hope. (image from NASA/CollectSpace.com

After further stints in reporting and corporate public affairs, Paul and his wife Jan “retired” to Horizon City, right outside El Paso and took over a small community newspaper called the Homestead News. In the 1980s, Paul wrote, edited and published the Homestead News. The staff was basically Paul, Jan, her son and his wife. Plus me.

I can’t remember when I first stepped into the Homesteader offices. It must have been the summer after my sophomore year, maybe? My mom drove me over and waited while I went inside and asked if they were hiring. Paul and Jan looked at each other incredulously and said no, they were already fully staffed. I went to the car dejected and my mom said, “So, you’re just going to take no for an answer?” With the prospect of a long, hot, boring summer at home stretched out in front of me, I went back into the office and offered to work for free. “I just want the experience,” I said.

That’s how I became the Homestead News “intern.”

I can’t remember how long I worked there. It was pretty sporadic, mostly in the summer, but a little bit during the school year, too. The Haney’s did eventually start paying me, mostly out of guilt, I suspect. It was something like $50 a month, I think. But it was an experience you could not put a price tag on. I learned all about the newspaper business, everything from ad sales, clerical work, writing, pasting and layout, and even accompanying Paul when he physically took the mounting boards to the printer (these were pre-e-mail days, kids).

Every day at around 5:30, Paul would make himself a screwdriver, grab a small cup of dry roasted peanuts and retire to the hot tub on the patio (they moved the office to their home shortly after I started.) While letting the day’s stresses float away, he would regale me and poor Jan (who had already heard it all) with stories of his reporter days in Ohio, Washington D.C. and later in Galveston and South Carolina, as well as his time at NASA. I remember I used to stare in awe at this plaque he had on the wall that was given to him by his former NASA colleagues. It said “happy birthday” and had the date of the moon landing, and a small moon rock mounted on it. Pretty incredible. I wish I had a picture of it.

Paul with turtle cue card. Picture and story behind it can be found at ApolloArtifacts.com

Being a know-it-all teenager, Paul and I used to get into some heated debates sometimes (refereed by Jan, of course) because—and here’s that age-old generational thing at play—while his generation had fought wars (he was in the Korean War) and put a man on the moon, subsequent generations hadn’t done very much worth admiring (in his words). This was when I was like, 17, so, of course I had no real comeback! Jan always stepped in and told him to stop being an old grump.  

Anyway, I distinctly remember when the Berlin Wall fell and communism was declared over. Paul grudgingly admitted that my generation might be on the right track after all. Which was pretty high praise coming from him.

I didn’t keep touch with the Haneys after high school and when I moved away. I heard that Jan’s son and daughter-in-law took over the Homesteader and the Haneys retired to a cherry orchard in New Mexico, before cancer (first melanoma, then brain) took Paul in 2009.

I, of course, wish I had stayed in touch. I think Paul would have gotten a real kick out of knowing I did pursue a career in journalism and so many of the journalistic ethics he taught me – treat your sources with respect and don’t betray their trust; check the facts not once, not twice, but three times; always be curious and follow up; be open and transparent; get both sides of an argument and be fair; don’t insert or share your own opinions in an interview and definitely not in a story – stayed with me forever.

So while I’ll be enjoying all the hoopla around the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’ll be thinking of Paul and trusting that he’s got a good view of it all somewhere.

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Lessons on Professionalism from Bravo’s ‘Below Deck’

I have a client in the meetings and events industry and I was submitting a couple of story pitches to them this week, based on a new survey of event planners.

One of the key takeaways from the survey is that 59% of planners say a lack of professionalism among the venue management and staff is the primary factor that deters them from giving the venue repeat business.

As a former, failing member of the hospitality and service industry and as a current, small business owner, I thought that statistic on professionalism was very, very interesting. So I did submit a pitch on that topic/statistical point, but after reviewing the client’s website, I went with a pretty safe pitch.

But what I really wanted to pitch was something a bit more trendy, a bit more current, a bit more reality-television focused. I wanted to discuss my current favorite TV show, “Below Deck Mediterranean,” which the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever recently declared to be “TV’s ideal mental vacation.”

And while I respect and admire Hank, and read everything my former Austin American-Statesman cohort writes, I disagree about the mental vacation aspect. I actually spend a lot of mental time wondering just how the heck some of these yachties get away with hiding their total lack of professionalism from the charter guests and sometimes even the captain? From sleeping with the guests (and each other) to dropping a guest on the ground and breaking a glass that a child then cuts his foot on (both in one episode, aptly titled “Flesh Wounds Are Not Five Star,”) it’s all pretty ballsy.

So here are my lessons on professionalism from the crew of “Below Deck.” Because, really, doesn’t everything in life tie back to reality TV?

Don’t lie about your abilities and think no one will notice. Yes, I am specifically thinking about Chef Nachos de Mila this go round, honestly, she’s not the first “professional” to outright lie about her abilities to gain employment on a “Below Deck” superyacht and I don’t think she’ll be the last.

She looks in over her head. And, she was.

Remember third stew Kasey Cohen in last season’s “Below Deck Med?” She lied on her resume about having barista skills and being trained in silver service. It was soon obvious that neither of those things were true. And remember deck hand Andrew Sturby way back in season 2 of Below Deck? He lied about his experience level as well.

Real service professionals know that this is not an industry where you can just “fake-it-till-you-make-it.” That goes for event and venue professionals as well.

Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and throw a beach picnic or pull out all the water toys. Listen, I promise, as a former member of the service industry, I would never, ever ask the crew to haul half the galley to the beach (or worse, to the top of some mountain castle ruins) just so I could eat a meal in a different location. Eating a salad and sandwiches in a Jacuzzi on a SUPERYACHT is plenty exotic and entitled for little ole me. And don’t get me started on those water toys? What a hassle! I’m Team Chrissy Tiegen here: Just say no to the slide.

So believe me when I say: I totally get it. But listen, people pay big bucks (around $35,000 to $75,000 plus a 10 to 15 percent cash tip) to come on this amazing boat and make stupid, annoying demands. And apparently, rich people get really bored, really easily and have to be entertained constantly, preferably by watching others break their backs jumping through hoops for a tip.

Josiah Carter, the ultimate yacht professional.

Providing good service means an event professional has to make it look like they’re positively thrilled to do a back breaking amount of work for finicky, short-attention span clients.

It’s always a good idea to treat the client with respect, even if they look and act like Snooki and crew. In season 2’s episode 9, head stew Kate, who I love and adore, showed her not-so-nice, terribly elitist side, looking down her nose a group of (admittedly, questionable taste levels) charter guests from New Jersey, noting that she went into yacht waitressing to serve the Leonardo DiCaprio’s of the world, not the cast of Jersey Shore. Not very professional, Kate.

While she and the rest of the crew provided good, if albeit, chilly service on that charter, Captain Lee picked up on the attitude, calling out the entire crew for prejudging the guests and reminding them that they (the crew) work for them (the guests) before handing out the fattest tip envelopes of the season. As “Below Deck Med” alumni Julia D’Albert Pusey wisely said, “Five-star treatment is holding someone’s hair extensions and wrapping them up in a napkin, with a smile.”

Sometimes, being professional means looking the other way.

Always follow the preference sheet. And I don’t even mean for their likes, but mostly, for their dislikes. Chefs tend to get so much more heat not for ignoring something that the guest said they liked on their preference sheet, but for going along and making something they specifically said they hated. Like, onions. Honestly, “Below Deck Med” Chef Adam’s obsession with sneaking onions into everything that non-onion liking charter guest ate was self-sabotaging and borderline psychopathic. It was unexplainable.  

Particularly in the event and hospitality industry: clients spell these things out. It’s a good idea to hew close to those written guidances.

But, you also have to be flexible and accommodating. OK, I know I said always follow the preference sheet, but that “always” is really encased in invisible quote marks. A professional also has to be willing to shift gears, especially in the event or services industry.

In season 3 of “Below Deck,” Chef “Beef Cheeks” Leon butted heads repeatedly with head stew Kate over his lackadaisical service and lackluster menus. But even worse, he was very rigid and refused readjust his menu or cooking plans to accommodate guests. Listen Chef Leon, if a guest wants sliders and quesadillas after a long day of drinking and hot tubbing, you better get busy in that galley. Plans change. A professional can handle it.

Just look at how Kate improvised mojitos in season 2 of Below Deck, using mint extract and some mystery green herb (Parsley? Cilantro?) after discovering they did not have any mint on the boat. I’m not saying a professional shouldn’t come clean with a client, but I do admire her ingenuity. But yeah. She should have told the client they didn’t have the ingredient and offer to make them something else. A professional should definitely not lie (see lesson 1).

When Bees Don’t ‘Do It’ – Summer Gardening

My client’s big event wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, which means…..

Summertime GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Summer, summer, summertime.

I actually have two big, yearly client events that I provide content support for, one of which is usually at the end of May or June. And after it wraps up, things slow waaaayyyy down.

I mean, I have a few recurring assignments/projects, but nothing like the crush of deadlines I have during the first half of the year (or the last quarter of the year).

In the early days of my freelancing, I used to freak out about this summer slowdown. Now, I take it in stride and use it as an opportunity to meet up with friends and colleagues over lunch or drinks, attend networking events or conferences, update my portfolios and do all of the many, many other non-glamorous, administrative stuff that comes with running your own business.

This year’s other big thing: forcing plants to have sex.

I like big melons and I cannot lie.

We planted our contained bed garden in our backyard in mid-April. We planted green beans, carrots, jalapenos, cubanelles, a variety of herbs, and one squash plant and one mini watermelon plant.

So far, the carrots and green beans have been coming in like gangbusters, as have the herbs, but the squash and the watermelon need….a little help.

Apparently, gourds and the like only grow if they are pollinated, and well, we don’t have a whole lot of bees in our urban, concrete backyard landscape. Or any pollinating insects, really. (In fact, bee colonies in Virginia are dying at a faster rate than in the rest of the country.)

We’d actually run into this problem a few years back when we planted a zucchini. We got just one giant zucchini out of it the whole summer. During a late-summer trip to Austin, I was complaining about my lack of a green thumb to a nice older lady who clued me in to the problem: we needed to hand pollinate our gourds.

I was stumped: Is this true and if so, how do I even “do it?” Do I need to play some Barry White to get my vegetables in the mood for sexy time (Answer: Nope). Do I just stick my finger in every flower and swirl it around? (Answer: Nope). I had no idea on how this pollen transfer business was supposed to be accomplished.

So, when we went to plant our garden this year, I was a bit hesitant about trying squash again. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t even realize that the same pollinating problem could plague the mini watermelon. I didn’t really think of watermelon as a gourd. It’s a melon, right?

I may not know anything about gardening, but I do know where to go to learn everything about just about anything in this day and age: YouTube.

One short video tutorial from Scrappy Patch has made me an expert on hand pollinating. So now, during my summer slowdown from work, I’m adding plant sex facilitator to my skills set. Every morning, I rush out to our backyard to see if the squash or watermelon have any open blooms that I can cross pollinate.  

To be honest, it’s been pretty frustrating. Most mornings, there will be just one squash blossom open. Or, more often, there will be more than one blossom open but they’re all males, which, for these purposes, won’t work. I truly wish we could grow the first big rainbow-gay squash or melon, but alas, it appears we need a female bloom as well.

Damn. Mexico beat me to it.

The other tricky thing is that, at least in the case of the squash, the blossoms only bloom like, one or two days, so I’ve got to jump on that short window of opportunity. So far, I’ve only had one day where there was both a male bloom and a female bloom, so fingers crossed, we’ll be the proud parents of a squash in a couple of weeks.

And, we’ll keep trying. I see a couple of potential female blossoms just starting to bud. Plus, I’ve got the whole summer to obsess over plant sex.

Terrifying.

Procrastinating on my New Year’s Resolutions

Hey, have you heard? It’s a new year or something. And we’re all supposed to make big resolutions or goals or intentions or whatever.

birdbox
Going blindly into 2019.

I’ll admit it: I do get caught up in that whole resolutions business. It’s just the excitement of closing a chapter on something old and getting a fresh new start on something new. If my unconventional, nomadic childhood taught me anything it’s that you can totally run away from your current, crappy situation and start all over somewhere else with a new fake life and backstory. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

But to be honest, 2018 wasn’t that bad for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like earth shatteringly great of anything either, it was just…..there. I guess it was better than 2017, but not “my best year ever!” or anything. And that’s fine by me. There’s something to be said for just an average year with no major highs or lows.

24-it-is-possible-to-improv

Professionally, 2018 was a pretty good year. I’m getting the hang of the freelance life cycle. I had a couple of clients cut back or go away completely, had some new clients and new projects to work on, the usual ebb-and-flow, and I was prepared for all that, both financially and emotionally.

Last year, my professional freelancing resolution was two-fold. The first was: Say yes to everything, even things that I think I don’t know how to do or areas where I don’t consider myself an expert. And I did do that, for the most part. I took on projects in areas that were challenging and guess what? I figured it out. I had to Google a lot of stuff but I got it done.

The second part of my 2018 professional resolution was to walk away from projects that weren’t worth the time or trouble. Which I did in a couple of instances. I went with my gut and walked away from a couple of projects that were more stress than payoff.

Now, I find myself thinking about what I’d like 2019 to look like. And, I don’t really have any great answers yet. I’ve read a bunch of other blog posts on setting goals, listened to a couple of freelance podcasts, and even recently joined in on a freelancers Twitter chat on the topic.

And what I learned is, man, freelancers really REALLY love to make goals. Like, really specific, actionable goals. And they love to make lists of all those goals. Lots and lots of lists.

It made me think that I really need to get my shit together. To really sit down and think about this a whole freelancing business a whole lot more. Maybe I need to do like a whole Poe Communications Freelance Business Retreat.

So, after all this, my resolution is this: I resolve to make some really good resolutions at some point in the future. Maybe in like 2020.

planning-some-big

But if you too are looking for some resolution inspiration and can’t wait for my retreat, the fine people at Goop have a list of some incredibly inspiring and impossible ones (because….of course they do). I do suggest, however, ignoring anything that Mario Batali has to say: he’s gross and we all know the real reason he wants to “unplug” from social media, emails and texts.

How I Plan to Be Super Chill and Eat Waffles in 2018

Here we are a week into the new year and I must say my overwhelming feeling so far in 2018 is that the dumpster fire that was 2017 is far from over.

That seems mighty pessimistic, I know.

tina fey cake giphy

On a personal and professional level (and without getting too personal), last year was a bit bumpy, to put it mildly, pretty much from start to finish.

And the state of the world and society in general from a national and global level….well. I have thoughts and opinions.

You often hear people compare 2017 to a roller coaster. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. For one thing, some people really like roller coasters. And with a roller coaster, you can generally see the loops and dips and swoops that lie up ahead.

No, I think of 2017 as more like a pinball machine, where we’re all careening around recklessly, slapped about by seen flippers and slingshots yet also gut punched by those little knobs that pop up out of nowhere all the damn time.

LK super chill giphy

And while I can’t do much about the state of the world and society (I’ll leave that to Oprah for now), I can do something about my personal and professional spheres of being.

One thing that I subconsciously did last year was improve my interpersonal relationships. I didn’t set out to do it…I’m actually a bit of a hermit crab who wants to stay home, curled up on the sofa in my yoga pants with a cat on my lap and a glass of wine within reach, watching anything that Bravo wants to put in front of my face.

lizlemon

But when I look back on 2017, the memories that pop out the most are the ones involving family and new and old friends. Times when I made an effort. Times when I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to people I barely knew or talked to people I had just met or reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in a long time.

My sister came and visited me for the first time here in D.C. and we got to spend some time together for the first time in years. Some of it was great, like when I played tour guide and dragged her all over town in the freezing January cold or showed her some of my favorite Old Town spots. Some of it was difficult and uncomfortable as we sorted through some of our vastly different memories and perspectives on shared events.

And I made a point to visit her when I went to Texas for a freelance conference later in the year. Again, some of that visit was good and some of it was awkward as we continue to hash out the perimeters of our relationship, but I think that might be what family dynamics are all about. They’re not cut and dried. They’re actually quite hard. It’s a feeling and situation I’ve tended to avoid more often than not. But at least – on that relationship – we are making inroads, I think.

tenor sisters

About that freelancing conference: it was, quite honestly, pretty much a bust (in my opinion) and I won’t be attending it again. But by just attending it, I met and learned a lot from my fellow attendees (we even joked about starting our own better-organized and useful, practical freelancer conference – maybe a goal for 2019?).

I also came back from that conference convinced that 1) I’m actually doing some things right in this old freelancing biz, 2) I have wisdom, experiences and advice that I’m happy to share with others, and 3) I shouldn’t be afraid to make friends, even with people I view as potential competitors. What I learned is that there’s honestly enough work out there for all of us.

When I got home, I doubled-down on attending networking events and reaching out to other freelancers for coffee, lunch and drinks. And I checked my motivation and expectations at the door. I made sure that my efforts were NOT for the purpose of generating job leads—which has never worked out for me at a networking event—but just to be social and have a laugh, and sometimes to commiserate and share advice. That’s something that I intend to continue throughout 2018.

That bummer of a conference also allowed me to reconnect with old Austin friends, some of whom I didn’t even think had missed me or would want to see me! I left Austin about 15 years ago and I figured we’d all just grown apart and moved on with our busy lives so it honestly didn’t occur to me that they would want to rearrange their schedules to meet up while I was in town. I just didn’t think we were “those type” of friends anymore. But they did! And I was so moved and humbled by that. It really made me reassess how I myself treat old friendships that I thought were “in the past.” I look forward to the work I need to do on improving those friendships in 2018.

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So that’s my goal for 2018 — work on the stuff that I have control over, including and especially, relationships. That, and cut back on cussing, but that’s damn losing proposition.

How to Deal with Freelancing Uncertainty Explained via Vanderpump Rules GIFs

I feel like a broken record, but hey there. I know, I know. I’ve been MIA in the blogging world.

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Well, I am contributing to blogs, but they’ve been on behalf of clients. Not this blog. This blog has been neglected, like a lonely, unwanted redheaded stepchild.

Which is part of the “problem” and a good problem to have…..I’ve got clients and they need words!

But I miss writing on this blog all the time. There’s hardly a day that passes that I don’t think of or run across something that I think would be blogworthy. Or, more likely, something that I think I’d like to remember in the future and that I don’t trust my rusty, old brain to remember.

Throughout my teens and 20s, I wrote in my journal pretty much every night. I still have a lot—although not all–of them. Mostly, I have the ones from my late 20s. And they are hilarious and cringeworthy and poetic and wonderful—all at the same time. It’s a regular, low-rent, pre-social media version of Vanderpump Rules in there. I can usually only read a couple of entries before I become exasperated or embarrassed by the whole, ultra-meta exercise, but nevertheless, I’m so glad I have them and can refer back to them. And there are actually some really beautiful and moving bits in there that I’m really proud of, although those are the least likely items to ever be shared.

Anyway, now to the present. Or, actually, to thoughts of year end. As 2017 closes, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the past year has gone, especially professionally. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster career-wise, to say the least.

getting real

I guess if I had to sum up 2017, I would sum it up this way: How comfortable am I with uncertainty? And also, because I’m not in this alone: How comfortable is my partner with my work uncertainty?

The first two years of my freelance career were pretty dang awesome. I had a lot of former colleagues sign up as clients right away and I am so, so grateful for that. I was also smart enough to take my own freelancer financial advice: cut way back on the spending and kick up the saving, so I was able to put aside a good chunk of rainy day funds.

2.-James-Kennedy-

So, when a client decided not to renew my contract at the beginning of the year, I didn’t stress too much about it. I figured I’d find some other clients, and while I certainly have, they definitely haven’t been the lucrative, retainer-based client that I’d lost.

Another regular client has scaled back their needs quite a bit (but is still providing some work) and a couple of others who dropped off were never really consistent anyway, so again, I didn’t sweat it. I thought I’d just kick up the networking and new clients would be lining up.

a catch

It wasn’t exactly like that. It took a while to line up new clients and there has been a lag while we got up and running on projects and another lag between when I turn an item in and when I get paid.

For the first time since I started freelancing, I felt like I was churning and churning output and not feeling financially secure. For the first time, I had to dip into my rainy day fund to pay myself, which, mentally, that’s fine, that’s what it’s there for, but is still a bit scary nonetheless. Not just for me, but for my ever-patient, ever-supportive boyfriend. There were unspoken questions that hung in the air between us during every conversation about my money and freelancing: What’s my plan? How many months would I dip into my savings? Should I start applying for a steady job?

Luckily, it hasn’t gotten to that point. Slowly but surely, things have started to pick up again. In the past six months, I’ve taken on a variety of new projects – small ones that are big lifts with low pay but satisfying in other ways, medium-sized ones that are not the most exciting in scope or topic, but pay well and are consistent, and a large-sized project that is scary and challenging and is stretching my skills as a writer.

When I talk to other people who are looking to get into freelancing, one of the first questions they have is “how do you balance your projects so you aren’t taking on too much and still making enough?” I definitely do not have the answer to that. Three years in, I’m still figuring it out.

Right now, I’m saying yes to almost every project I get offered. I know that’s not sustainable long term and some difficult decisions will have to be made at some point. But for now, I’m going full throttle. As a result, this blog will get updated when I can. In fact, I’m also trying to set a better work schedule for myself in 2018, and blocking off time for blogging is definitely one of my work schedule goals. We’ll see.

cautiously optomistic

So, back to my 2017 theme: how comfortable am I with uncertainty? Throughout this slow summer, I discovered that I am surprisingly comfortable with uncertainty. Blame it on my nomadic, gypsy childhood, or the fact that I’ve had to pull myself up by my bootstraps more than a few times in the past, but something makes me sure that I’ll figure it all out. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sleepless nights and anxiety attacks over all this uncertainty, but I just believe in myself. And so does my wonderful life partner/manpanion and boyfriend, who actually might believe in me even more than I do, and for which I am also very grateful.

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Museum Hack and 5 Reasons DC’s National Gallery of Art is the ‘Best Museum in the Entire Country’

Assassinations, forgeries, illicit affairs–of both the straight and not-straight variety—Disney’s “Little Mermaid conspiracy theories and shark attacks. If any of these things interest you (and, let’s be honest: ALL of these should absolutely interest you), then you need to go on a Museum Hack “Un-Highlights” tour of the National Gallery of Art the next time you’re in D.C.

Museum Hack
Museum Hack’s motto

Museum Hack is a company that host hundreds of tours at museums in cities across the U.S., including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But, as the name suggests, this company is out to hack the usual generic museum tour and make you fall in love with museums. The best part is that they do it in the sneakiest way: By employing a fun, irreverent, renegade group of museum lovers/tour guides to tell you all the juiciest stories behind those staid, stagnant pieces of art work.

Hannah was my excellent and entertaining guide during my two-hour tour of the National Gallery of Art, which she definitively declared (on more than one occasion) as the best museum in the entire country.

Museum Hack Hannah
Museum Hack Hannah

By the end, I think she had me and my fellow newly-initiated art lovers (Chris, Michele and teenager Ben–all from California) completely convinced and ready to argue the fact with anyone who disagreed.

Here are 5 of Hannah’s most compelling reasons.

1) Because it was built on the site of a presidential assassination

And surprisingly, not too many museums can say that! The National Gallery of Art occupies the former location of the Baltimore & Potomac Railway train station. It was here, in July 1881 that President James Garfield—seeking to escaping D.C.’s oppressive summer heat with a little lobster-roll-filled vacay in New England–was shot by an assassin on the station platform. The nation’s 20th president then lingered for 11 weeks before finally dying in a most gruesome and puss-filled fashion. Then some other stuff happened and the National Gallery of Art was built and opened in 1941.

2) “Museum sugar daddy” aka Andrew Mellon aka Hannah’s main man.

Listen, we wouldn’t even have a museum to hack if it wasn’t for ol’Mr. Mellon. Man, it is good to be rich. And if you’re going to be rich, you’ve got to find a way to spend that cash, preferably in a manner that will give you some major street cred, or a lasting legacy of beneficence. Mellon was, of course, a well-travelled man, and when he saw London’s National Gallery and realized that America didn’t really have anything equivalent to a national art collection in the United States, he said, “Let’s do this.”

3) The National Gallery holds the only painting by Leonardo Da Vinci on public view in the Americas.

Just let that sink in for a minute, because I had to when I heard it.

Da Vinci's Ginevra de'Benci

What is widely considered the finest example of a Da Vinci painting—the double-sided “Ginevra de’Benci” —was acquired by the National Gallery after a protracted MMA-style museum-fight throw down with a ton of other museums, most notably, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At the end of the odd and protracted negotiations with the Princely House of Lichtenstein, the Alisa Mellon Bruce Foundation (yes, those art-loving Mellons came to the rescue again), paid $5 million—a record in 1967—to bring Da Vinci’s first portrait and first work done exclusively in oil to D.C. Interesting side note: the $5 million supposedly went to pay off the gambling debts of the Prince of Lichtenstein. And the Met was left without a Da Vinci, which then led them to say all kinds of mean things about the painting in the New York Times. Talk about sore losers.

4) An amazing collection of Impressionist and French art (including a fake Van Gogh)

American banker and patron of the arts Chester Dale liked to play games. His primary source of fun was to lend out pieces of his amazing collection of French paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries (which he referred to as his “children”) to various museums throughout the country and then recall them at a moment’s notice when he missed them. No one dared say no because they were all hoping for the big prize—an endowment of his collection when he passed on to the great bank in the sky.

The National Gallery won, becoming the recipient of over 240 paintings, including a fake Van Gogh self-portrait that Dale apparently knew was a fake, but kept on the DL, saying, “As long as I’m alive, it’s a Van Gogh.”

Fake Van Gogh
Fake Van Gogh

5) It holds the largest collection of Edgar Degas sculptures in the world (again, thanks Mellons!)

This time it was Paul Mellon who had the good sense to snap up most of the collection when it became available at a New York exhibit in 1955 for the insanely low price of $400,000. The National Gallery owns 52 of the surviving 69 sculptures Degas created in his lifetime, including the original “Little Dancer” sculpture. You’ll see bronze copies of the “Little Dancer” at museums around the world, but the National Gallery has the original beeswax and found objects sculpture which features real human hair and tulle.

Little Dancer at the National Gallery of Art

So that’s 5 reasons, but honestly, Hannah gave us a ton more. For example, we got to participate in a tableaux vivant, which is a live recreation of a work of art. Ours involved a painting of London Mayor Sir Brook Watson, who lost a leg in a shark attack and then convinced artist John Singleton Copley to paint a recreation of the whole shark fight/rescue. I don’t know what the tableaux vivants at the other Museum Hack tours involve, but ours has to rank up there as pretty badass.

Museum Hack tableaux vivant
Our Copley reenactment. I’m using my purse as shark jaws (I was the shark, in case that isn’t clear).

And I didn’t even get to the story about the lesbian Queen of Sweden who abdicated her Lutheran throne to become Catholic, thereby earning her apartments at the Vatican where she proceeded to hang the portrait of her former “bedfellow” Countess Ebba Sparre in her room at the Vatican. Tsk, tsk, you naughty minx.

Or the painting of Guiliano de’Medici who was killed during Easter mass in the Florence Cathedral in front of about 10,000 worshippers, which is recreated in the “Assassin’s Creed” video game.

Or the Van Dyck painting of Queen Henrietta and her dwarf, the very interesting and resilient Sir Jeffrey Hudson.

Or the super swaggish, Beyonce-posing Andries Stilte (and his modern day contemporaries brought to us by Kehinde Wiley).

National Gallery of Art
Making it rain (sort of) in the National Gallery’s Stuart room.

We also played games like “Find Ginevra a New Man” and “Match the Emoji to the Painting” and “Pose Like a French Statue.” Those are not official game titles, but you get the idea. Plus there was some elicit chocolate sneaking, and pictures and prizes at the end.

Seriously, I don’t know if I’ll ever look at a museum tour the same way again.

Museum Hack provided me with this tour free of charge. The opinions expressed here are my own, because, if you know me, you know I freely give my opinions. 

 

 

 

Post #987 on Why I’ve Not Been Posting More Regularly

My absolute favorite blog in the entire world is the Everywhereist. In fact, I almost don’t want to talk about it because I’m afraid you’ll wander over there and abandon my modest musings forever.

Every single post gives me the same mixture of emotions in this exact order: First, giggly amusement and head-nodding recognition. Then the real shit-storm begins: I’m overcome with intense jealousy (why didn’t I think to write that?), blinding inspiration (I’m going to write something just as good!) and finally, debilitating despair (I don’t think I’ll ever be as good a writer), all in the same millisecond.

So basically, I’m saying it’s all Geraldine’s fault that I’ve been lapse in my blogging.

Actually, she just had a post that perfectly sums up the agony of sitting in front of a blank screen every single day and trying to write for yourself or your imagined audience, or blessedly, most days, for profit. Even if writing is something you love, we all know that it is the things you love that can sometimes cause you the most angst.

And the thought of letting anybody down? Well, it’s paralyzing.

There are so, so many things I love about this post, but my favorite bit has to be this one, perhaps because it sums up the current sluggish blog-publishing situation I’ve found myself in:

 “I’ve noticed you haven’t written anything in a while.”

Really? I haven’t? Thank you for bringing that to my attention. Because it’s not as though I’ve been obsessing about that as I stare at my ceiling in the middle of the night trying to coax the words out of my head while feebly fending off crushing feelings of self-doubt. Nope. Definitely not.

Dear and incredibly-patient reader: This is very true. All of it is true. The whole damn post. I promise.

I’d love to tell you I’ll get my shit together soon and do a better job balancing the paid gigs with this little love-project, but who knows, really? More than likely, I’ll write a blog post here and there while I’m procrastinating on a paying gig on a topic that isn’t really my cup of tea. Like, today’s post, just for example.

b094c075c449e815b16b877d926a4c47

Introducing the New World Headquarters for Poe Communications

After a very trying five weeks full of dust, construction and contractor butt cracks, I am back in my office (sort of) and y’all….it is gorgeous. Poe Communications aka Poe Industries Building/Construction/Contracting Services and Project Management Inc. got a major upgrade (thanks to all the damage done to my office when we had to get completely new framing done on our house, but I digress).

I say “back in my office (sort of)” because just like “Brokeback Renovation,” our contractor just can’t seem to quit us. He’s got a few little details to attend to (some wall patching near a couple of outlet plugs, some sink scratches in the adjoining bathroom caused by haphazard painters and their trowels), but he keeps putting off the final bits and blobs. So I haven’t hung my artwork back up yet, and my desk is floating in the middle of the room so the workers can eventually do the patches they need to do.

But, here are a few pictures of my new office from the other morning. The lighting is crap because it was a lovely sunny morning, but I was too excited to wait for good lighting.

Office overview

Obviously, when considering what I wanted my worldwide headquarters for my multi-media infotainment empire to look like, I did what every self-respecting work-from-home writer does: I stalked Pinterest. (*I also relied very heavily on the advice of my own personal interior design guru, XFE).

From Pinterest, I immediately gleaned that my previous desk was far too modest for such an impressive endeavor as content creation and promotion. So, I immediately upgraded that bad boy to a giant frosted glass and chrome slab of sleekness (from Ikea. Sorry, Pinterest. I know everyone else had Jonathan Adler desks, but I didn’t win any lotteries this week. And I really, really like my Ikea table/desk!).

Desk

I also saw a lot of blogger offices with those twee little bar carts with cute little mint julep cups holding cute little striped straws. Yeah, that’s not me. I see you’re stupid bar cart and raise you a wine fridge. Also, note the lack of glassware. At Poe Communications, happy hour starts whenever I say and we drink from the bottle.

wine fridge

I also saw a lot of blogger offices that used a gold Moroccan poof as an additional seating option, but I knew that was not going to fly here. After considering a bean bag alternative, I finally settled on a nice, roomy velvety throne like chair for Petunia, the president of HR here at Poe Industries to sit on.

chair

Apparently, she prefers the sunny spot on the floor.

HR Petunia

But I did cave to conventional blogger dictates when it came to the lighting. I would have to get a chandelier. And, it’s probably my favorite thing in the room (besides the wine fridge. And the striped wall, which was XFE’s idea).

chandelier

Isn’t it glorious? And my second favorite thing (or is it my fourth?): XFE moved my rarely-used-but-when-needed-it-is-essential printer onto a shelf in the linen closet. H

printer

Poe Communications sure has come a long way from it’s early days at the dining room table. From this first office incarnation:

early office

To this inspiring space:

Office overview 2

Now maybe I can get back to work! (and blogging).

This Other Blog That Sometimes Lets Me Write for Them

Heading over to the gym for some more pain, but I wanted to shout from the interweb rooftops about a new blog that I’m contributing to. It’s part of Project: Time Off, an initiative to encourage people to take time off from work, which seems like such a no-brainer to someone who not only took ALL of her vacation days when she worked a 9-to-5, but usually ran a deficit at the beginning of each year.

Anyway, the new PTO website and blog was launched today an includes a post from your’s truly on getting your Jurassic World fix without getting eaten. Go and check it out, sign up for updates, share your own vacation Instagrams or time off experiences. And take some time off!

Dinosaurs on vacation, get it? By MP Davey, a fine artist I had never heard of until today.