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Jenie Gao running through electrical wire at the finish line of the Tough Mudder

“Only a fool trips on what’s behind him”

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“Only a fool trips on what’s behind him.”

I had a thrilling, amazing, tumultuous, nerve-wracking, at times unpredictable, unforgettable, educational, creative, and fulfilling 2016. Full of growing pains and gains, a few ugly cries, a lot of swearing, and a lot of laughter.

I celebrated two years outside of the “corporate world” and of working independently, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I’ve gotten to work as a creative in so many different capacities for the causes I care about. About halfway through the year, I wondered if I should quit. I had turned down contracts for projects that might have paid well but that I didn’t believe in, and this made me anxious. I wondered if I could handle the unpredictability of a creative entrepreneurship, and even if I could handle it, if it were worth pursuing. I found myself feeling lonely working as a freelancer. I found myself wondering if I were still on track to hit “life milestones.”

The main thing that made me stick to this path was the terrible gut feeling that if I quit, I’d always wonder if I threw in the towel too soon. Sure enough, through the loneliness, I found other freelancers, independents, and remote workers who felt the same way, and so we became “coworkers.” Sure enough, any time I wasn’t sure what the next contract would be, an opportunity would appear. As of July, I’ve even turned a small profit in my art business. I’ve built momentum and am now gearing up for some new, exciting creative projects in 2017. The hard work is paying off.

It’s been an intense and saturated year, nationally and globally, but perhaps because of that it’s all the more so a chance for each of us to grow personally. To question deeply. To act wholeheartedly. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to do. I hope that goes for many of you, too.

Here’s a recap of my 2016. And here’s to kickin’ ass in 2017, y’all.

7 art shows, including my solo show, “Our Relationship with Power,” at Arts + Literature Laboratory.
4 talks/presentations at ALL, DreamBank, Ignite Madison, and TEDx Madison, among several other cool guest demonstrations/workshops/events I got to contribute towards.
First big mural project: Migration Story, with Artists Working in Education, artist Gabriela Riveros, and the students of Escuela Verde. Goal to do my first mural is complete, now for the next ones in 2017. ;)
Helped Thomas Ferrella harvest and install the willow for this incredible project, ECO EPHEMERAL, on UW-Milwaukee’s campus.
Thomas Ferrella’s project at night. Read a review of his project in the Journal Sentinel.
Another successful Maker Faire / Steamroller block printing event, September 2016.
Another successful Maker Faire / Steamroller block printing event, September 2016.
Our trusty steamroller for September 2016.
Standing with Veronica Lazo, the director of UNIDOS Against Domestic Abuse in Madison, WI, at the 80th Anniversary Planned Parenthood Fundraising Event. I got to be a project manager on the amazing team that made this event happen. October 14, 2016.
Giving my talk at TEDx Madison, October 29, 2016. The theme of the event was Think Deeper, and my talk was called, “The Power and Purpose of Creativity.” The video will be released in early 2017.
With fellow TEDx speakers and organizers. Amazing, impressive, inspirational group of people to get to work alongside.
Finished my new series, Las Pioneras (The Pioneers), after I collected stories on immigration from survivors of domestic abuse at UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence. Read a review of the work in Madison365.
Served on two nonprofit boards and joined the From Here to Her Collective to put on the show, Mothers of Our Nations. The show honored women who have been the leaders of our most critical social movements in the past year, from #NoDaPL to our local/regional movements in Wisconsin.
With my three pieces for the Mothers of Our Nations show. These three will be donated to UNIDOS, for their office and organization that have become the home and support system for so many community members.
“In Security,” ink on paper. The piece calls into question what it means when our security depends on the destruction of others. It’s one of my new drawings in the series, Las Pioneras (The Pioneers).

Further Personal Growth

Persepolis - by Marjane Satrapi
I read 18 books, for a total of 5884 pages. Including this gem, Persepolis. by Marjane Satrapi. Sadly, my reading habit faltered midway through the year, and I fell short of my 10,000 page goal as I immersed in political articles/research and became oversaturated with information. I went from reading 3 books a month down to 2 and 1 towards the end of the year.
I track what I read in a Google spreadsheet, and number of words aside, I decided to add a couple other things about the books I was reading towards the end of the year. I was alarmed to learn that my reading queue at the start of 2016 had a near 50/50 split of male and female authors. By the end of the year, 80% of the books I read were by men. So what the hell happened?!? I realized that I joined a couple book clubs earlier in the year, which were reading books by men, that pushed out my original queue. I’m also always taking book recommendations from friends, and turns out….people usually recommend books by men. I read some “top-reviewed” business and historical books this year, which were, surprise, surprise, by men.
So this is how things work out so far on my book list for 2017. I’m going to have to be a lot more diligent about which books stay and which ones go as the reading list changes over the year. I plan on writing a more comprehensive post on what I’m reading soon (and why).
Camping and canoeing with these goofballs at Apostle Islands. Because summer people, and some are not.
In Door County, WI, just one of many weekend escapades of 2016. I baked a lot of pies and other goodies.
*Finally* had the patience to grow out my hair and chop it off for Locks of Love. 13 inches gone.
Speaking of hair, I participated in Movember for the first time. Here’s how I did.
Celebrated two years of being out of “corporate life” by treating myself to a vacation. I visited Washington, DC, for the first time.
The Gettysburg Address. Still relevant today. Though I don’t think any city in the US has as many quotes all over its walls as Washington, DC.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by Maya Lin, in the sunset with Lincoln Memorial in the backdrop. I’ve always loved the backstory of this memorial and am so glad to have finally gotten to see it in person.
Holidays with friends and ZooLights twice, from Washington, DC, to Madison, WI.
This is both a throwback and a projection. Several years ago, I made these crazy, fabric fish with removable organs and gill pockets. From January-February 2017, I’ll be the Artist-in-Residence at the Bubbler in Madison Central Library, making larger-than-life migratory birds. And I need fabric donations, y’all. Read more about the residency here. This is just one of three, exciting projects I’ll be starting in 2017. More news to come. :)

And some things will likely stay the same

Charlemagne and me. We’re growing older together, it seems.

**The cover photo for this post is from fall 2015, but let’s be real. It’s still the best photo of me taken to date, of when I went through the exposed electrical wire to cross the finish line at the Tough Mudder. It’s a good reminder that it’s better to trip on what’s in front of you than what’s behind. ;P

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