The Responsibility of Freedom: Ending the Gun Debate

With my privilege of dual citizenship, I have chosen to spend the last 18 years of my life in the States. I debate moving back to Canada often, but the weather here in Southern California has a louder voice and wins every time. I miss Canada in a way that only another expat can understand, but there are plenty of reasons to love the country I choose to live in as well. There are also moments when I am just plain embarrassed by my decision. Right now is one of those times.

I fully understand that the “right to bear arms” is a complicated topic deeply ingrained into American history. I also believe that there is zero legit reason your average civilian needs to own an assault rifle and that there is equally no purpose in allowing mentally unfit individuals access to any guns at all. To be fair, however, those are my opinions and there will always be someone else who can justify owning a semi-automatic or come up with a reason why limiting gun access to the mentally ill is “complicated.” And I must give a kudos to that because in most other contexts, the freedom we have in this country to entertain our own opinions without (too much) fear of repercussion is a wonderful privilege. But like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With freedom comes responsibility” and I think that concept is a key piece of what has been missing in our discussions of this subject over the years.

When it comes to the matter of gun safety itself, I am confused why it’s still being debated at all. The choice seems simple to me: either this county loves its children and values human life more than its guns, possessions, and “rights” or it doesn’t. Either we stop projecting the “other” as being our enemy, seeing adversary in every person born outside of this county or every worst-case scenario we can dream of, or we wake up to the realization that we are the ones we should be afraid of. We are killing ourselves – our children – and wasting time.

Politicians continue to say that we need to have “honest discussions” about the topic, yet all that seems to do is create more debates and further arguments. Angry article after seething video after repetitive podcast all leading to nowhere except another mass shooting headline. All of this negativity hidden behind our “right” to have an opinion and shout it loudly to anyone listening: it’s all just a bunch of endless rhetoric that stalls any form of concrete decision. And in the meantime, spinning around the background in a giant black ball of hate, the problem continues to grow, feeding off of our rage and inability to act.

This topic is no longer up for debate – no one has brought anything new to the table in ages – what we need now is a viable solution. Everyone has their own beliefs and of course a country of over 323 million people will likely never come to a unanimous decision. That’s no longer the point and, in fact, has become a weak excuse for our immobility to move forward on this issue. We need to put down our emotionally-fueled opinions and self-righteousness and work together on a resolution. That is our responsibility in exchange for these freedoms we enjoy.

At this stage in the game, I doubt there are many of us left who can’t at least agree that this is a pretty damn serious problem that must be addressed. I mean we have children pleading for our help for heaven’s sake and we’re completely failing them because we’re too busy arguing about which one of us is correct. Remember how as teenagers we thought all adults were hopelessly out of touch? Turns out we were right: adults can be totally oblivious, in this case tragically so. We’ve gotten so lost in our self-imposed adulting we’ve forgotten what’s important, what’s at stake here. Instead of going on the defense every single time the subject comes up and starting the whole endless who’s right cycle all over again, let’s stop, put down our weapons and opinions about them, and work on this together. Seriously, America – before it’s too late.

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Hiking the Hollywood Sign

After over a decade of living in Southern California, I finally managed to complete the notorious Hollywood Sign hike. It had been on my “do someday” lineup ever since I watched Greg Araki’s beyond bizarre movie Nowhere back in the late 90s. I’ll be the first to admit, however, that I’m curious by nature and just about everything I’ve never done before is something that I want to do eventually. And so, as you can well image, I have one long list.

I’d like to be able to report that the hike was everything I expected it to be and more, but in reality the experience was both pretty cool and somewhat anticlimactic. First, the positive part: tucked into the side of the Santa Monica Mountains, there are a few different trails that will take you either near or to the sign, but I wanted to get as close to the letters as possible (more on that in a minute) and thus picked the longer route that ends above and behind the 44-foot tall DOOWYLLOH letters.

The trail was filled with all sorts of beautiful flora and fauna, the hike was just stimulating enough to count as a workout, and the views from the top were amazing. Seriously – if you schedule it on a clear day, you can see forever from up there.

Now for the meh part: I have watched entirely too many movies that make it seem like even though it’s illegal to climb around on the letters, maybe you still could somehow sneak into one of the Os and let your legs dangle over the side, taking in the views while spouting philosophy and feeling all badassery and free. Not so: apparently even if you can get past the fencing and sensors surrounding the sacred letters, the penalties are huge and police helicopters descend into the area the second they sense a breach. That sounds like a lot of drama for a little high. Sigh.

All of that said, I’m glad I did it and would probably go again if anyone I know needs a hiking buddy. And it’s probably just as well I didn’t take the trip until now, because any younger and I might have risked the whole “cops in helicopters” debacle to get just a few moments of that true Hollywood Sign bliss.

I Survived Zip Lining Through the Rain Forest, Sort Of: How I Came to Create the Best Scar Cure Ever

A few days ago I was talking to a colleague about scars and the best way to get rid of them. I told him that I always use a lotion I created out of desperate need a few years ago, which I still swear by. It’s basically coconut oil, aloe vera, A & E, and a few other natural products in generous amounts all thrown together in a jar. Shake it up and apply 2-3 times a day. It works like magic – I’ve yet to run across a scar it can’t handle, including the previously giant one on the back of my arm from a zip lining incident that I managed to bring home as a lovely Costa Rican souvenir. Thanks to that lotion you’d never know my arm once housed a massively infected 3rd degree burn.

Before I launch into the story of how I almost lost my arm in Costa Rica, a spoiler alert: I’m not giving you the name of the company that’s responsible for my near-amputation experience. Not because I signed a nondisclosure agreement with them, but because I truly believe it was an accident (albeit a negligent one) and also I can’t remember the name of the company anyway. It was three years ago – I barely remember the names of the towns we stayed in, never mind the companies we used for our random adventures.

That said, it’s probably wise to do research on the adventure companies you’re using prior to signing over your life and careening through the air hundreds of feet above the rain forest, especially if you’re in a foreign land and the directions are being given to you in a language you only kind of grasp (si, hace mucho calor – pura vida!). But don’t let this tale turn you off of visiting Costa Rica, because it was one of my favorite places to explore and I’d relive the entire trip again in a heartbeat.

Depending on the destination, I sometimes have very specific things I want to do while traveling. Dog sled in Iceland, bone fish in Belize, levitate above the mountains in Machu Picchu, dine with giraffes in Nairobi, eat noodles out of a box while singing, “One Night in Bangkok” in Thailand – you get the drift. For Costa Rica, the goal was to zip line through the rain forest and luckily my travel companions, Heather and Crystal, were more than happy to indulge me.

We booked the zip line tour through one of the hotels we stayed in, a beautiful resort filled with bright green lizards and tall exotic birds that casually slinked around the property. A van picked us up at the hotel entrance early in the morning and took us to a building down the road where we grabbed helmets, listened to a brief safety meeting, and piled into another van that took us deep into the rain forest.

Our zip line tour consisted of 7 runs, one of which was an entire kilometer long and another that sent us soaring over a waterfall. It was amazing: my adrenaline was pumping to the point where I couldn’t stop dancing around with a perma-grin plastered across my face and my only issue was that we weren’t allowed cameras and so I missed taking pictures of all the poisonous dart frogs. I was having an excellent time and could have kept at it forever. And then the 6th run happened.

Both Heather and Crystal had gone ahead of me for this line and truthfully, I don’t remember watching either of them take their turns. What I do remember is looking up right before I went and realizing that there had been a shift change and the guys who had been helping us out throughout all of our other runs had been replaced with different guys. I thought it was strange, but since I was on round 6 by this time I wasn’t concerned. I simply took off down the run like the last five times, loving every second of it. Until I got about halfway down the run and realized there wasn’t anyone standing at the end, minus my girlfriend Heather – who looked a bit surprised, which I only vaguely registered in the moment. I thought they had said they would throw out the brake for us on this particular run, but by then I was coming in fast and decided to start the braking myself because a head-on collision with a wooden post at 50 mph seemed unnecessary. Just as I reached back and started applying my hand brake, one of the new guys appeared, took one look at my incoming speed, and whipped the emergency brake towards me. He then promptly walked away without a backwards glance.

Technically called the emergency arrest device (EAD), this braking system was designed to be the backup when the primary brake on a zip line doesn’t perform. Or in this case, when the employee shift change occurs in mid-run and no one is paying attention to the blonde girl coming into the base at supersonic speed. This company’s EAD was basically a big plastic cylinder designed to stop riders on impact and would have worked just fine if not for three factors: I was coming in way too fast, I was already almost at the base by the time they activated the thing, and I had already started braking myself, which at that speed caused my body to start turning.

Unfortunately, I managed to turn right into the cylinder with the arm that was already up in the air (bare flesh exposed) and attempting to brake, which caused my arm to get pinched between the EAD and steel cable as I came to a dead halt. That sounds more painful than it actually was: in reality, my arm went completely numb and all I felt was deep, hard  pressure and a pulling sensation. I knew that I had jacked up my arm, but just not to what extent. I closed my eyes, said a little prayer that there wasn’t a chunk missing out of the back of my arm, and took myself off of the line while Heather raced towards me, looking somewhere between confused and concerned.

“Oh my God, are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, I’m going to turn around and I want you to look at the back of my arm. I already know it’s bad, but just tell me one thing: is it at least still there?”

“Uh, oh no. Tash. Yeah, it’s still there, but uh…oh dear…”

We managed to hail down one of the employees, who took one look at my arm, did a lot of swearing (how do you say, “bloody ‘ell, please don’t sue us” in Spanish?) and insisted on riding tandem with me for the last run so he could then cart me off and throw around iodine and band-aids.

In the end, my arm suffered a severe pinch, which created the most spectacular bruise you’ve ever seen that took over my entire limb, and a 3rd degree burn. I spent the remainder of our trip answering “holy crap, what in the hell happened to you?!” questions from total strangers, avoiding the pools, fighting an infection, oozing green goo on bed sheets all across Costa Rica (you’re welcome for that tasty visual), and eventually ended up back in the States with a massive scar and an odd dent.

Which brings me back to my miraculous scar cure: I had two doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, and every one of my friends and family members tell me there was no way I was getting rid of that scar. Naturally, that made me determined to prove them all wrong and so I invented my now infamous lotion. The stuff worked so well my niece still tells people I’m a chemist. In fact, thanks to that lotion I don’t have any evidence that the accident occurred at all, minus a trace of the dent, which is a bit of a letdown because who doesn’t like a good “how’d you get that scar” story?

 

What to Expect When You Go Deep Sea Fishing on a Charter Boat

I have been badgering my buddy Bob to take me deep sea fishing for years. I’ve always wanted an Old Man and the Sea experience and he’s an avid fisherman, so I figured who better to take me out on the water than him? He kept agreeing that yes, he should be the one to accompany me on my first ocean fishing trip, but he also never set a date, so after a few years I added it to my bucket list and figured I’d get to it someday. And then out of nowhere Bob sends a text asking what I’m doing the following weekend and the next thing I know I’m getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and stumbling around in the dark to find my way out the door.

Now, just to be clear: usually the only way I’d get out of bed at that hour is if my house were on fire, but for this I made an exception. No pain, no gain and all of that (took that line a little too literally for my zip lining bucket list check, but that’s a story for another day). Plus the combination of a sunrise*, boat ride, and fresh fish was just too tempting to pass by.

I should note here that I don’t have a lot of fishing experience, outside of ice fishing during the frigid winters of Saskatchewan. Although as a kid we lived in Iowa for a while and I remember catching catfish a few times with my dad and a vague recollection of sitting on the murky banks of the Mississippi, watching those whiskered bottom dwellers flop around the inside of a cooler. I also recall a rather gross incident back when I was in college that involved reeling in a jackfish after baiting the hook with a knee scab, but all told I’ve probably only been fishing a dozen times. And I’ve certainly never done it on a boat in the middle of the ocean, all Hemingway-style.

Never one to do anything halfway, my buddy Bob showed up for our adventure equipped with everything we would need to pull giant marlins and swordfish out of the water. Yes, enormous fish were exactly what I imagined I would catch out there, which Bob said made me the perfect angler already: chock full of exaggerated catch sizes and bloody battle stories. In addition to the numerous poles, weights, hooks, rags, and coolers, Bob had even bought me my very own fishing pole in my favorite colors, orange and gold. I was beyond excited, which says a lot considering it was pretty much the middle of the night.

After all 77 of us wannabe fishers shuffled onto the boat, we headed out into the cold, choppy waters, cloaked in darkness and eerie silence. Our first stop was a bait dock, a floating shack perched on a bobbing dock surrounded by barking sea lions desperate for a taste of the squid the crew was gathering. Once the crew was finished hauling bait onto the boat we drove for another hour into the golden rising sun – a magnificent sight worth every moment of lost sleep.

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We finally stopped, threw our lines overboard, and almost immediately managed to get tangled into one another’s lines. Have you ever seen 77 people attempting to untangle fishing line? I assure you it’s both funny and frustrating. Clearly, there were way too many of us trying to fish the same space, but eventually we all found our groove and started cranking in the catches.

I’ll just kill your anticipation right here and admit that no, despite all of my pre-trip smack talk, I did not reel in a 1,000 pound marlin or 10-foot swordfish. However, by the time we started heading back to shore, I did manage to possess seven rockfish (err, five of which I actually caught and two that Bob donated to my “I’m a natural angler, look at me go” cause). Considering I spent half of my time tangled in one of my neighbor’s lines, that’s not bad.

For those of you who would like to experience this adventure for yourself, there are a few things to know before you head out: for the highway robbery (or pirate price, in this case) cost of a buck a fish, the crew will fillet your catch for you, which I gladly paid because I am not even going to pretend I know how to do that. Also: dress in layers, bring Dramamine just in case, carry cash, pack rags for your soon-to-be filthy hands, and wear shoes or boots you don’t mind getting dirty because you will be stomping around in fish guts.

Minus the missing marlin, my deep sea fishing experience was everything I had dreamed it would be. If you like learning a new skill, enjoy boats, and love nature, I highly suggest you try it. And I’m not giving up on someday scoring that giant fish: I have my own pole now and know how to use it.

*This post is dedicated to the memory of my grandpa Curly, who got up early every morning just to see the sun rise and salute the promise of a new day.

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Facing Fear With the Greatest of Ease: Why Flying Trapeze Lessons Are Harder Than They Look

I recently read an interview between author Panio Gianopoulos and Kristen Ulmer, former pro extreme skier and current fear specialist, that discussed the topic of fear and why you should embrace it rather than avoid it. The main takeaway of the article seemed to say that facing your fears and feeling them will help you use those fears to your advantage and keep you motivated to move forward towards a happier life.

In the interview, Ulmer mentions that she hosts events to show people where fear has them stuck and then uses those events, which are usually an extreme sport of some kind, to work on getting them “unstuck.” One of the sports she uses for her events is flying trapeze lessons, which got me thinking about my own experience on a trapeze a few years ago.

Trapeze lessons were something I had wanted to do since I was a kid and read a non-fiction book about a boy who grew up in the circus. Filled with huge, glossy images of his acrobatic family soaring high above the heads of an impressed audience, I decided that someday I too would “fly through the air with the greatest of ease.” Or at least attempt it.

My friend Jen and I signed up for trapeze lessons at the outdoor SwingIt Trapeze venue in Anaheim, California. As we stood on the ground, looking up at the experienced acrobats swinging high above the safety net, I felt far more excited than scared. We received our instructions, watched a few demos, and got hooked up to our safety harness (a rope around your waist connected to a trainer on the ground, meant to keep you over the net). I was stoked and ready to go. Whoot whoot – trapeze bucket list, check! And then I scampered up the maze of scaffolding.

Let me tell you right now: 25-40 feet doesn’t sound all that far off the ground until you’re standing on the edge of an open-air platform, one arm hanging onto a pole and the other gripping a bar that’s just waiting to drag you down, all the while trying to remember the million next steps you’re supposed to take and hoping the chalk on your palms holds up through the flood of sweat your body is producing. But instead of giving all of that second-guessing fear too much attention, I thought “eff it,” removed my death grip from the pole, yelled “hep,” took a hop, and went for it.

And just like the little circus boy from my childhood, I sailed through the air with all of the grace I could muster and it was as liberating as I had always imagined.

It was also very difficult. See, the thing with trapeze lessons is you don’t get to just swing back and forth in the air a couple of times and then drop gracefully into the net. That’s only your first go at it – after your initial swing, you start in on the real stuff. Like figuring out how to use the momentum of the bar to hang from your knees, outstretch your arms, and back-flip yourself off into the net, never mind the skills it requires to potentially get caught mid-air by another acrobat. And all of those things take serious coordination, ab strength, and arm muscles. No lie: I was walking funny for a week afterwards, although it was totally worth it.

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Obviously, I enjoy a good bout of adrenaline now and again. And I suppose a lot of people assume I’m either fearless or crazy because of it. I won’t address the latter, except to say that I’m neither reckless with my life nor interested in leaving this planet anytime soon, but I will say that of course I feel fear. I am human, after all. However, I don’t allow it to mandate what I do. I’m with Ulmer on this one: I feel the fear, face it, and then do whatever activity I had planned to do. And I’ve never, ever regretted it.

 

Affordable Editing Services for Artists and Entrepreneurs

I am excited to announce that I recently started my own side company offering editing and proofreading services.

If you’ve recently written a book and want someone to look it over before you submit it to publishers or self-publish, I can help. Or even if you need an extra set of eyes on your latest blog post before you go live with it. I am also able to provide help for entrepreneurs with website copy, courses, e-books, and articles.

I offer all basic editing needs, including punctuation, grammar, capitalization, and spelling, along with any advanced editing you may require, such as sentence structure and copy suggestions. I have over 19 years of experience in the editing industry and have worked with numerous clients on their manuscripts, blog posts, courses, articles, e-books, resumes, websites, papers, and more.

My prices are quoted upon request and vary based on the type of service you need and the length of your work. I provide free, no-obligation quotes at artstreehouse@gmail.com. Feel free to pass this information along to anyone you know who is looking for an affordable, experienced editor. Thanks and I look forward to working with you!

Birds of Prey: Why I Tried Falconry and Will Do It Again

I received an email from Groupon the other day, asking me if I’d be interested in purchasing a local falconry lesson. My immediate thought was “heck yeah” because my first go at it was a total blast and something I’ve been meaning to do again. That’s right – I tried falconry about a year ago and it was pretty amazing.

Video: Me Taking a Falconry Lesson with Horace

Birds of prey are an interest of mine that started when I was about 15. Well, that’s not entirely true: between the ages of 8-9 I lived in a house in Iowa with a backyard that opened up to vast acres of land. We used to go on family walks out in the fields and one winter we came across a pair of snowy owls sitting in a tree. Everything about them was beautiful: their giant yellow-orange eyes, fluffy white speckled coats, haunting hoots, intelligent stares. In that moment, I instantly fell in love with owls.

Later, one grey afternoon when I was around 15-16 and living in small-town Saskatchewan, I found myself driving around with my buddy Steven. It was a pretty typical weekend day in our little village: drive around with your friends until you have to go home for supper and then come back out and do it again until someone invents a party where you trade driving for standing. After a few boots around the dirt roads, Steven aimed the car for the highway and we started heading out of town.

We didn’t get far, just a few miles down the road, before we spotted a big moving object off to the side. Steven pulled over and came to a stop so we could investigate. We got out of the car and realized we were looking at a huge brown hawk with a broken wing. There was a roadkill rabbit not far away, so we figured the hawk must have swooped in on the rabbit and gotten clipped by a passing vehicle. We decided to wrap him up in a blanket to keep his wing bound and drive him to the nearest nature conservatory.

I know right about now you think this tale is going to end with one of us losing an eye when we attempt to swathe a wild animal, but actually the poor guy (or gal?) seemed to sense we were just there to help and let us at it. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever held a giant, injured hawk in your lap in the front seat of a car going mock 10 over bumpy roads while said hawk’s beady, unblinking eyes stare directly into your face, which is hovering mere inches above his sharp, pointed beak. If you have, then you’ll understand when I say I was both in awe and scared to death at the same time. At any given moment this mighty creature could have lurched up and ripped my face to shreds, but he was so magnificent I couldn’t stop looking down at him, which felt a lot like tempting fate.

At some point during the ride I decided to name him Walter, after my grandfather who had a similar gaze – direct and somewhat serious. We managed to get Walter to safety, where he eventually healed and was released back into the wild. I choose to believe he lived out the rest of his life happy and injury-free.

As for me: I know I’ll never forget our day with Walter. He’s a big part of the reason I love birds and always stop and stare whenever I see a hawk circling in the sky. And he’s also why I’ll definitely be buying that Groupon – because there is nothing quite like a creature as impressive as a prey bird trusting you enough to let you hold them. Even if it’s just for a little bit of time.

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Sky Chaser News: I Reached the End of a Double Rainbow and It Was Incredible

I love rainbows (although who doesn’t really?), and admittedly get a bit geeked out whenever I spot one. To me, they’ve always represented love and good luck. Plus they’re pretty and seem somewhat magical. Given all of that, you can about imagine my reaction when some friends and I recently (and accidently) managed to drive through the end of one while booting down the side of a mountain. And a double one at that.  Yes, you read that right: Ms. Sky-Chasing Sunset Rainbow Nerd herself drove THROUGH the END of a DOUBLE rainbow. I basically inhaled a double rainbow and will now have good luck forever. 

Aside from being blessed forever and the obvious punchlines (insert leprechaun and pot of gold jokes here), you know what else happens when you reach the end of a rainbow? It disappears, which was a trippy experience in and of itself. It felt a bit like I had entered another dimension (cue Twilight Zone music) for a brief moment. Wait, where did it go? Did we actually eat the thing? Oh my, holy snap I just ate a rainbow, what’s happening right now? Maybe we’ll turn into unicorns. That’d be cool. Weird, but cool.

While it vaguely made sense that it would disappear on us (it is reflection after all), I still had to come home and learn the real reason it occurred (versus my super excited, in-the-moment kid story version involving mythical creatures and dragons and I’m now a super hero: Rainbow Chaser, code name ROY G BIV, yaasss, this year’s Halloween costume just invented, etc. and on and on).

According to my research, rainbows are caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by water in the atmosphere (this part I knew, but the next part I didn’t), and it turns out that technically, you can’t reach the end of a rainbow because the visibility of it requires distance between it and you.

 

Sad, but true: you can only sort-of reach the end of a rainbow, which is way less romantic than my version of this story. Either way, I still maintain that because we came about as close as you can to eating a rainbow, we’ve inherited a lifetime of prosperity. Or at the very least a fantastic memory and neat story. And I’m still dressing up as Rainbow Chaser for Halloween.

 

Why I’ll Absolutely Be Attending More Art Auctions in the Future

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to be her plus-one at a VIP event hosted by Park West Gallery. The weekend-long event took place at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey, California and included a free Ritz stay, excellent food and drinks, art auctions, raffles, exclusive previews of works from Peter Max, Autumn de Forest, and Godard, and artist introductions with de Forest and Godard. All of which translated into a posh, sea-side weekend filled with art, food, and wine.

Despite the fact that I run an online art magazine and have been involved with the arts in one way or another most of my life, prior to this trip I had never attended an art auction. A cattle auction, yes (what can I say, I’m originally a small town gal), but an art auction, no. I’m happy to report art auctions are way more exciting than I would have guessed: it’s kind of amusing to watch two people attempt to outbid one another while pretending they aren’t annoyed the other person hasn’t given up yet. And seeing someone spend tens of thousands of dollars in mere seconds is rather thrilling. It was hard not to get in on the action myself, but at this point I am about out of wall space until I get a larger place.

While the auctions were good fun and browsing art is always a brilliant time for me, I think my favorite part of the entire weekend (besides discovering that there is a drink called the gingerberry mojito and it’s about the best thing ever) was meeting the artists. Godard was hilarious and definitely knows how to work a crowd. He could have been a stand-up comedian just as easily as a painter. And listening to the young de Forest explain her creative journey with testing out various mixed media was intriguing.

Artist Michael Godard
Artist Autumn de Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the reason I interview artists for my TreeHouse Arts site is because learning the process of how their work is created – whether that art form be painting, photography, music, writing, or anything else – makes a huge difference as far as appreciation and understanding are concerned. Learning about the artist behind the art gives people a vested interest in the work. Getting to know Godard and de Forest, even on a superficial level, had that effect on me.

To see some of the work shown at the event, take a look through the slideshow below. And if you get the chance to attend an art auction in the future, I highly recommend it.

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