Tag-Archive for » art «

Tuesday, September 08th, 2015 | Author:


Selfies are not new. They just do something new.

For centuries, probably millennia, people have been creating self portraits.

The camera is a unique medium to create self portraiture with though, because while it is still an art form, it’s a mode of capturing as opposed to creating.

That’s the thing. Self-portraits used to be a mode of creating one’s self outside of one’s self. A way to let the world see how you see yourself.

What the camera did was allow us to see ourselves the way the world sees us.

I was born in 1989 and Jane Fonda doing aerobics in spandex didn’t put pressure on my body image as a young child. The first pressure about my body I remember feeling was that I wanted to look like Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. Mary Kate specifically because she and I were both a bit more on the tomboy side of life and I liked that.

My parents have a toddler picture of me hanging on the wall in their front entryway. I’m about two years old and I resemble Michelle from Full House. I’d heard people say that since I was young, so the comparison of myself to the twins as we aged was natural, and not a negative thing.

That is, until the twins, a few years older than I, got into their middle school years and their skirts got higher showing their thinned legs, and their shirts got tighter to show their developed, larger breasts. Meanwhile, my friends and I were watching Britney Spears music videos and I, a too-tall, small-breasted, wavy-haired, leggy-but-for-my-age-thick-legged 10-year-old started to understand that the way I looked didn’t look like our new ideal.

I’m amazed and grateful I made it to 10 before the media got to me. Quickly the media started to show me what all pretty girls apparently looked like. Images left and right in my daily life portrayed women who had straight, straight hair, and thin, thin legs with no hips to speak off, and the bigger the boobs the better. I was failing on all accounts and I wasn’t even a teen yet (though my teen years wouldn’t help me in those departments).

Then photoshop came along and exacerbated the already brewing problem. It was the time when photos went from capturing to creating again, except no one told us they weren’t just showing what was real anymore. We believed our real selves should look like that.

You have now, not just one, but multiple generations who have been shaped throughout their formative years by everything the media images have told them to be, and selfies are not to show the world how we perceive ourselves anymore.

Sometimes they’re to show ourselves how the world sees us. We have a false sense of what we look like because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to those images (now not just those of the rich and famous, but of our friends and that random girl who is only famous because of Instagram). An objective camera shows us what we really look like. Sometimes when I take pictures of myself I’m forced to admit that I’m prettier or more slim or what-have-you than I tend to think of myself being.

We then put that objective photo out there to ask the world for confirmation — “Um, hey world, hey friends, I took this photo, and it makes me think I’m maybe prettier than I thought. Can you confirm or deny that?” And they do. Our friends and sometimes strangers (depending on how much skin you show and what hashtags you use) comment letting us know that the camera and our assessment of it’s feedback is correct.

After almost two decades of Olsen Twins and Britney Spears and all the others that followed (and Kylie Jenner who I looked up on Instagram just last night to see what all the fuss was about and now I see that she, too, is oh-so-much hotter than I am), that feedback is a little gift to our ego that’s been battered for so long — and maybe it even helps our self-esteem. Maybe.

Then there’s the other reason for selfies. We create and share selfies to show the world not how we see ourselves, but how they should see us. It’s the creation game again and still.

We pose ourselves. We use props — a book on the lap, glasses for the #nerdygirl hashtag. If we have a more adult account, we position our backsides to look plump but to hide that bit of cellulite over there. We use filters — change the lighting to cover blemishes, change the contrast to make our features pop, change the saturation to make our eyes and lips look vibrant.

We share it not saying “Hey world, this is the objective picture my camera showed me and I think I look kinda pretty, do you think so?”. No, we say “Hey world. This is an objective image. I’m hot. You know it. Please like my photo so I know you believe it and then maybe I’ll start believing I look like this for real, and maybe I’ll feel better about myself over all. Maybe.”

After all these thousands of years, our culture is trying desperately to get back to the place where we know how we see ourselves. We’d like that perception to stop being self-loathing.

That’s not an unworthy pursuit. Behind our airbrushed role models and our iPhone filters applied to our own faces we lost site of what we look like in the world, and we’re trying to find it again. Though if we looked up from our screens, we might have a better chance. Please bear with us. #TheStruggleIsReal.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 | Author:

things we lost in the fire

With the fires blazing in Southern California, I’ve been thinking about this question again:

If the house were on fire, what would I grab?

  • When I was younger and living at my parents house, the answer was the boxes of photos. But now that I live on my own, I don’t have very many printed photos. Most of them are either on my laptop or my external hard dive. So I’d still really like to grab those. But there are highlights of many of the (thousands and thousands) of photos that I’ve taken available on facebook and other similar venues where I and other life participants have posted them.
  • I have a lot of art pieces accumulating in my spare bedroom. But I made them all. And I know that while I may never be able to reproduce them, I also may be able to. Or I could make something new.
  • I have a lot of clothes. If I was thinking clearly, I’d probably try to grab a couple shirts and a pair of pants, but they wouldn’t be first priority.
  • The jewelry I care about most is always on my person, and those pieces are few, anyway.
  • My movies could all be re-bought, but really I could live without them.
  • While it would be incredibly sad to lose my journals — the chronicles of my pain, my joy, my wrestling — I know that I lived through them. I know their stories, even if I don’t know their exact words. I would try to grab them if I could. And similarly, most of my non-journaled writings I have either put into online spaces, or emailed to myself already, so most of those are accessible even if my computer burned.
  • My Bible is the most irreplaceable book I own, though in reality, I don’t use it more than a couple times a week currently. It was a gift from my dying grandfather the year after my sister died. It has been with me through everything. It has water damage and ink stains (because of the spilled water). It is more underlined and noted than I can describe through the decade of life it’s lived with me. It has tear stains — literally. The leather cover is falling apart and the binding has come completely undone. I need a new one anyway, but I would try to grab this. But if it burned in the flames, I would accept it, because I know it’s time for a season of wrestling anew anyway.

I used to think about this question a lot as I grew up. What would I grab? It gets at the heart of what matters to you. I always had a list of all sentimental things that were a part of my answer — much more than I realistically would be able to rescue from a burning place.

But I think I’ve come to a point in life where I’ve become slightly accustomed to the art of losing. Losing things. Losing people. Losing dreams. Losing places. Losing relationships and friendships. Losing nearly everything I thought I knew and loved. And I’m still alive. I’ve survived, though at times it felt like I wouldn’t.

And now that I know that I can live through loss, now that I am an amateur artist in the art of losing, I don’t think there is really anything physical that would be too devastating to lose. Which is both sad and freeing.

I suspect many people experience that freedom when they get to the end of their lives and most of their people and things have passed on or been lost before them.

The last time that I had to move, one of the landlord’s children had assaulted one of my roommates. It was a bad situation. I had to find a new place within a week, which was stressful. Had to coach roommates through the legality of the situation, how to file a police report, what our rights as tenants were. And we got taken advantage of. When it came down to it, we had every right to take her to court, but it wouldn’t have been worth the effort we decided. The woman we were dealing with was changing her story every day. We were ready to just be done.
So we walked away, took care of business, lost our deposits, covered our legal obligations. And moved on.

People kept saying that I was “handling this all really well,” as we were moving out and I was trying to find a place to live. Which was baffling to me at first because I thought — how else would I handle it? I think when it comes to the loss of money or things, I have a quicker time accepting it — “what other option do I have?” is my mindset.

I remember preparing for a church trip abroad when I was younger and they talked about the “two hour rule”: Don’t take anything with you that it will take you longer than two hours to get over if you lose it.  At this point in life I don’t own something that would  fall outside that category.  And I’m not sure how I feel about admitting that.

But I think the gift is that it prepares me to live with abandon now.

If I could choose, I wouldn’t choose it. But I have been baptized into the art of losing, and I know that it’s shaping who I am and how I live now.

Maybe one day I’ll find roots again. But for now, I just have acceptance for loss, and the stamina to take a deep breath and start again. And again. And again.  I know the strokes of the art of losing. And I know that there is always life anew if you wait for it, if you build it, if you search for it. There is no other choice in my mind. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And still, we walk on.

This song is by a band called Bastille and I have come to love it. It speaks about this process. This art of losing. But the song itself is full, almost upbeat. It’s become a sort of anthem for me. “The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again.”

“Things We Lost In The Fire” by Bastille

Things we lost to the flames
Things we’ll never see again
All that we’ve amassed
Sits before us, shattered into ash

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

We sat and made a list
Of all the things that we had
Down the backs of table tops
Ticket stubs and your diaries

I read them all one day
When loneliness came and you were away
Oh they told me nothing new,
But I love to read the words you used

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

I was the match and you were the rock
Maybe we started this fire
We sat apart and watched
All we had burned on the pyre

(You said) we were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now
(You said) we were born with nothing
And we sure as hell have nothing now

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

Do you understand that we will never be the same again?
Do you understand that we will never be the same again?
The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again
The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again

These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire
These are the things, the things we lost
The things we lost in the fire fire fire

These are the things, the things we lost
These are the things we lost in the fire fire fire

Flames – they licked the walls
Tenderly they turned to dust all that I adore

listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGR4U7W1dZU

photo credit: eijeiii via photopin cc

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, April 01st, 2014 | Author:

What do you get when a Forester and a Therapist have kids?

Apparently you get 3 artists. What?

Before she died, my sister was going to school studying math and music. To be honest, she started as a math major, because she was brilliant. Truly. And then somewhere in there, she realized what she really wanted to do was to just teach piano, which she was already doing.

She was an incredible pianist, and she’d been teaching for a few years.  She was a pretty insecure person (as many of us are) and that made her come across as harsh a lot of times.  But when she played piano, and apparently when she taught piano, she was relaxed. She was in her element.

I’ve become friends with some people who I discovered were students of hers.  It’s a fun thing to see her through their eyes — because when she was in the midst of her art form, when she was at a piano, she was still fierce, and fast, and passionate, but she was raw. She didn’t wear her emotions on her sleeves in life, but she did wear them on her fingertips at the piano.

My brother, after starting to go to school as a pre-med student, because, similar to my sister, he is brilliant, has become a professional photographer. He can and does shoot everything from weddings, portraits, high school sports games, public events, clubs and nightlife, to car accidents and wildland fires. In this day of so many iPhone photographers, not everyone makes photography a true art, but he does.

He is an expert at capturing humanity, capturing nature, encapsulating moments that beg to be remembered. And he does it really well. His chemistry and physics professors, and many of us who know him, could see him being an astrophysicist, because his mind just works like that. But he has this desire in his heart to tell stories, to make art, to be a photographer. Maybe he will be an engineer or a physicist or something very brainy someday, too. But for now, he’s discovered an artist within his heart, and he’s letting that artist explore, breathe, learn and grow.

And I have not yet found my niche. My best subject in school was always math. It came really easily to me… and I hated it. I played instruments growing up. But I just made it my thing because I wanted to be like Julie. I took a photography class my senior year of high school. That’s not my thing either.  But in my freshman year of college I took my first journalism class, and I began to think, maybe I’m a writer. As I’ve moved forward, that idea has evolved: I’m a story-teller, and to this day I’m still discovering new ways to tell the stories. I’ve started a hashtag to catalog some of my drawings/paintings etc.  It’s #artstuffbyjo . I went with the vaguest thing I could think of because like I said, I’m still learning what my “thing” might be. For now, I just know it’s “art stuff.”

My words, my charcoal, my paint,(maybe someday my acting?), these are all ways to tell the story. For Jason, he tells stories through photos. For Julie, she expressed something in music that hits the human soul in a way that words cannot. We all ended up artists. Jason is brilliant in the sciences. Julie and I both have the math brains.  And yet, our expressions, the work of our hands that holds meaning for us — those things are not numbers and chemicals and formulas. They are expressions of what it means to be human. What it means to feel.

We’ve always joked that “as a family, we’re good at lots of things, but art isn’t one of them.” We thought we’d missed that gene. We were wrong.

Why are we like this? How did this happen, coming from two artistically challenged parents? We all grew up reading whole book series out loud as a family.  Before we could speak, as young babes, we could listen. Story-telling has been a part of our lives since then.

That’s where we got our artistic and story-telling inclination. But we ended up each deciding to follow it because of this: We had two parents who both did what they loved.

My mom works in the therapy world and she comes to life by helping people get healing in the most wounded areas of their lives. My dad was a forester, and the man will get very interested in a conversation with you if you would like to know about what kind of tree that is over there.  And he can map out areas of the forest for you (literally… he does cartography).

And aside from loving what they do, they’re both really really good at what they do.  My dad has been an expert witness for the department of justice in several cases about forest fires. My mom has people who have come from literally around the world to see her as a therapist.

But you know why any of that matters? Because they told us that old adage that people scoff at: “You can be anything you want to be.” They always told us that and I think they believed it. And we believed it, because they lived it in their own lives. They both did what they loved to do.

We have plenty of our own family drama and dynamics, like any family. But one thing I have always known deep in my soul is this: My parents believe in me. And in Jason. And in Julie.

They’ve always believed in us. They’ve always been impressed with our accomplishments, and their support has encouraged us to dream big, and given us the permission to dream small. They made space for us to discover what we wanted to be.

With the knowledge that they believe in me has also come the knowledge that they will still love me even if I fail. They have accepted us as we’ve each individually turned away from the traditional path of “success” that our skill sets and the world had set out for us, and turned toward something that was riskier, yet meant more to us.

Because we believe in each other, we believe that anything could happen. And we’ll support each other no matter what happens. Somewhere along the way, our family recipe for success, “do your best,” was replaced with the riskier, more audacious, “you might as well try.” And that, perhaps, is the greatest atmosphere we could have to turn our potential energy into kinetic energy. To turn our dreams into reality.

That is how we O’Hanlon artists were born.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon


Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Author:

I had this thought the other day: This is the renaissance of my life.

I am learning about music that I like, music that is out there, music that I want to sing along to. Music I want to dance to and music that dances with me. Music that makes me cry, and some that makes me smile involuntarily.

I am making art. All kinds of art. My finger nails have charcoal dust under them that will not come out with one or two washings.  Charcoal similarly cakes itself into the cracks of my hands that are drying out from how often I’m washing them. My leggings have varnish on them from the bench I stained. My shoes have sawdust in them from sawing the wood for that bench. My table has sticky sections of it from glue that ran away and off the page. My walls are lined with blank canvases and empty picture frames leaning up against them, waiting to be filled with what I create.

I am writing. Sometimes even poetry. My blog and my journal give testament to the words that come from my pen, from my keys, from my pain and my hope.

I am reading again. Everything from Chelsea Handler, to biographies of Napoleon, to Calvin & Hobbes, to Dan Brown mysteries, to Hemingway and Austen.

I am learning again. Not just about art and technique, but languages — I’m learning Italian and I’m loving it. I’m eager for the knowledge and the application.

And I’m curious (as I have always been, but still) about history. I want to know more.
I’ve asked myself, “why?” Why am I doing these things? Why am I making these changes?  Am I just now really discovering who I am? The typical 20s self-discovery thing?

When I’m honest, the answer is “no.”  I’ve known who I am for many years now.  I am not just now figuring out what I like and who I am. The fact is that what I like and who I am is changing.

I had a hunch, and in doing some brief research, I found that I was right…

The Renaissance of the 14-16th centuries started right after the black plague hit the European continent.

The “Rebirth” came out of death. Out of loss. Out of panic. Out of the forceful need to move on from “old normal”.

I am being re-born. That’s what renaissance means: rebirth. But why? Why now? Why change?

Because I lost everything. The town, the church, the friends, the family, the job, the daily activities, the passion.

Because it was time for new. There was no choice in it.

Because I am coming out of my own years of black plague. Of death. Of loss. I have emerged from my dark ages, and I, while the same person, am discovering new things, am developing new interests.

And what started out as writing to just get my thoughts on page, turned into the desire to tell a story, to relate to the common human things that we all experience. A story-teller re-born, with more freedom to tell the stories that ring true.

What started as writing poems because I needed some short form to get my words out turned into becoming a private poet. Writing poems down on napkins and in “notes” in my phone — when I’m at a stoplight, when I’m running and pause for breath, when I’m trying to sleep, when I am just so sad or so happy and I have to let it out of me, there comes words in verse, lines in waves — a poem is breathed. A poet is birthed.

To be embarrassingly honest, I started making art recently as a way to avoid something I needed to write that I knew would be emotionally exhausting and difficult. Every time I had time to write it, I’d create a charcoal artwork instead. Beauty from ashes before my eyes. I knew it would die down once the need for avoiding responsibilities was gone — but I was wrong. The desire to create is even stronger now. An artist has been born in me.

And what started as listening to music while I journaled grew into a hunger for music. I want to hear more. I even want to make music again. I don’t know how or if that will happen, but there is still plenty of time to change and discover.

I am being reborn. I am coming alive again.  And I don’t know what my new passion will be. Where my new path will take me.  But maybe it will take me many places: Jane of all trades, master of none. I have peace about not knowing, and joy at the thought of the journey to find out.

Maybe I am meant to be a renaissance woman, after all.

Jo coming alive in Israel

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: jrolicious         twitter: jrohanlon