Callie Garp: Sometime back in January, I was working away in my basement studio, listening to the Elise Gets Crafty Podcast, which, for the record Keena still has not listened to, and I was inspired by Elise’s 100 day project from 2017. The 100 day project, from my understanding is basically when you do one thing every single day, for 100 days. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Heh. Feeling the weight of winter upon me, and the need to do something creative and energizing, I figured it was time to dig into something exactly like this.
So, about a whole month later (because that is the realistic speed of my life), I’d realized I didn’t have enough queer women in my work. I spent all of January, February and some of March revamping my website. I had to go through every single illustration in my archives and this pointed out a queer femme inadequacy, which as a queer woman I was kinda annoyed at myself for. So pretty much off right off the bat, I knew I wanted to spend 100 days on queer women. And I knew that with as busy as life has been, and probably will be forever, I needed a support network to keep this newfound energy going, so without pausing a beat I hopped on the Marco Polo app (highly recommend, #notapaidpromo) and reached out to artist and best friend Keena Tarrant (no stranger to the Fab Feminist platform).
Keena Tarrant: Okay yes, you’ve been talking about Elise for a year, and yes I did add her podcast to my list. I’ve even looked at an episode, but I was and am in the middle of exploring science fiction writing from the 1960’s. Elise is just not where I’m at, but I know you enjoy her and I will get to her.
For the past year, I had been out of commission in making any art. I spent all of 2017 working on improving my overall spine health with physical therapy, injections, and finally ablation.
I had a hard time conceiving of a world where I could make art, and not just for the past year but at least the last four, because so much of my mental energy went to surviving the day - every single day. For the first time in years, after the ablation in January, I finally saw a world where I became excited again about art and books, and engaging in conversations about art and books and feminism. Everything finally came back into focus. It was so hard to do anything but not think about death before. To clarify, I mean it felt like I was walking side by side with an old friend through the darkest pits of hell as he pointed his finger across the acrid desert where everyone in that space did nothing but suffer and beg for Death to release them from their suffering as he walked by. To simplify, I felt like I was on fire from my neck to my toes. The pain was constant and intense.
So, it’s February, I’ve probably been in recovery for three weeks, with three more to go, and Callie sends me a Marco Polo. She’s has this idea, and she didn’t tell me she was hoping to make work about queer women - we didn’t even talk about it until recently. But she said she wanted to make some work and that I might be interested, and I thought this would help me get back into it. Of course I said yes. And then I was like, shit, well what am I going to make work about?
So then I spent weeks going over tons of different ideas. Many that were great, and all of them I threw out, except the idea of… The Ghostbusters. End scene. No wait, the REAL Ghostbusters!
Callie: And I told you I thought you were going to get bored.
Keena: And I said, ‘Yeah you’re right you know me way too well’, which led to a couple weeks of angst and emotional turmoil as I tossed and turned over the ideas of what would and would not make for a solid 100 day project commitment.
When we were in art school, the professors and even the students would say if you don’t have a solid idea and thesis, and a reason to do the work, you shouldn’t do the work. The entire graduate system is built around making the best and most intense thoroughly developed pieces of work for your show with the intention of maybe meeting someone who'd like to show your work in a gallery or become your art dealer. The program forces you into a process of deep development that is essentially a stream of visual conscious that you're supposed to maintain after you graduate.
The 100 day project, on the other hand, shouldn’t be so purposefully painful - because sometimes art feels like cutting your heart out for an audience and the dream of success. If I hadn’t had your support throughout that process, going into the spaces of my different short-term ideas that I couldn’t get behind, I couldn’t have found the thing that I thought I could get behind and have FUN. Also, if I hadn’t read The First 20 Hours, I wouldn’t have realized I was looking at it so seriously either. The book was reminding me that I didn’t need to be so serious about something that I didn’t actually need to master in 100 days. Ironically, it's a business book about learning new skills which posits you only need about 20 hours to really learn a new skill.
Callie: I think what’s funny about that is you had already found the thing. When you said without my support you couldn’t have found it… You already had. I questioned it and then you had to commit to it. So, like, there’s this question of, is it helpful that early on to question at all?
Keena: Yes, the issue for me wasn’t the question of what to make per say, but if I could commit to it. I mean, I have commitment issues anyway. That’s … … one of my problems, ok? Like, I really enjoy being single, having my space to myself… The biggest commitments I’ve had to make were deciding to go back to art school to get out of the professional career I'd become burnt out in, committing to physical therapy (10 months straight with many weeks of no end in sight), and committing to immunotherapy (5 years), so someday I can commit to owning a dog. Choosing to make something for 100 days straight is like choosing to date someone for 3 months. Who does that? Do people do that? I look at someone and I’ve already decided you’re not going to make the cut. Ok that’s a huge flaw, but there it is. And I’m terrified. Here I am: 100 days of the Ghostbusters. What if on day one I’m in and it’s amazing and come day two I’m freaking out, screaming, ‘I hate the Ghostbusters!!!!” That panic is real!
So it was really important that you questioned if I could actually do it, because I needed to check into myself on what I was actually willing to spend 100 days doing.
Callie: I think that is why I needed to start out with a broader structure. Which, has gotten a little more restricted as I have gotten closer to the actual project starting, but anyway… Deciding to make work about queer women almost immediately meant needing to evolve linguistically, because I wanted to make sure that my aims of intersectionality were being clearly communicated, and really I just wanted to make more work about queer people who identify as and express themselves as queer women, queer femmes, femme-leaning. It’s hard to categorize all the intersections of identity that I want to include in this project, while still being succinct in my language, and it was pretty obvious that was going to be a problem as soon as I started thinking about how I would go about this whole process.
Keena: I didn’t really have any idea what you were thinking about in your project until about a week ago when you mentioned you put out a call for images. We’ve been talking about you engaging in literature and art written by women or queer women, femmes etc. for many months now. So it made complete sense you would reach out to the community, and I thought what a great idea! What better way to get what you need to sustain great work than to reach out to others? It also really made it real that our project was going to begin in two weeks. AND that I hadn’t really committed to a distinct project I felt passionate about, that I could really explore philosophically with some meat and a bit of turmoil.
At this time I’m not sure what direction this work will go in. Is it a painting? Drawing? Mixed Media? Does it need to be a poem, sentence, or even a picture? Does it need to be that defined? Why or Why not?
From what I can gather, just by having to sit, be here now, and actually write about where I’m starting at, it’s almost like a running monologue of what it is to completely dive into the 80s cartoon-like visual conversation of the Ghostbusters, which is, I think amazing (and also ridiculous). I love this show so much and I was so glad when they put it on Netflix.
I found it again after coming back from my cousin’s wedding in Texas last June where I had acquired a nasty round of bronchitis. I had all the time in the world (four days), to be at home and watch it all the way through from the first episode to the last. And I was like, Oh my god, there is so much happening in this show. There was of course the nostalgia and warm feelings. (But) it had me going back and forward in time asking myself the questions of what it was to go back and watch the past and think about where the show came from, why the show didn’t work as it neared the end of 117 episodes, why they made changes throughout the seasons with the characters and the relationships of characters, how they even made 117 episodes.
Each episode challenged me to find something in it that I loved, even if the episode was really kind of boring. I questioned what Ghost as other could mean. I still don’t know, but Slimer lives in the house with them as a ghost, when the four men in the firehouse hunt ghosts. Further, it has become this really interesting conversation about grown men and their male relationships, what it meant to be a man in the 80’s. What it meant to have male friends and live in the same house and be cis-gendered males who had close relationships. I’m not a man. I don’t live in a firehouse with three other men. I don’t even have a brother. The relationships are based on friendships, shared mission, and shared vision. It’s about the maintenance of those relationships; male relationships and male family, and the community that they’re in in NY.
I digress. There are so many interesting, curious, provocative things that we could never do now, and we should never bring back, that they did then. It reminds me that this shaped me, in a way. I can’t remember being six without thinking about the Ghostbusters Firehouse and playing Ghostbusters with David - whom I’ve never seen since, but he’s part of that memory too. And in a way, his passion about Ghostbusters has stuck with me all these years because he loved it enough to ask for the Firehouse play set.
It’s also astonishing, because there were never any attractive women of color used as plot devices - the women were usually blonde, youthful and beautiful, or a family member. The first time you see people of color is in the episode about the Boogie Man that’s tormenting these adorable little African American children. Their parents don’t believe it’s real, but by the end they’re grateful for the intervention of the Ghostbusters. The mother in this episode and her husband are older, not vibrant young intellectuals with high paying jobs. These kids only have a piggy bank which they offer to pay for the time and resources of the Ghostbusters. Peter blows them off, but Egon takes them seriously, and Winston goes to check on them and protect them when the boogie man comes back. This might be the only episode where young children are also a main theme. But thankfully this family was shown as a unit which in a way speaks to the forward thinking space of the Ghostbusters.
The other time people of color make an entrance, the episode is about a woman who sees that Winston is the reincarnation of Shimibuku. She’s older, and for her place in that episode she needs to be older, have diminished power in her older age to be able to request the rest of the team to surround and support Winston - give them their energy and power- as he finally believes in himself to see past what the Demon says he is, a slave man, but not a powerful reincarnated Shaman from 10,000 years ago. It’s one of my favorite episodes because they acknowledge something so often missed in cartoons. Did the creators of the Ghostbusters realize what an impact this would have 30 years later? How important this episode would mean to me? I don’t know. But I’m so glad they did it.
Just to backtrack for a moment, I’m not offended this show is not about black women. It’s not about me; it’s about men. It’s about the misogyny of Peter Venkman - I’m ok with leaving it in that space. It was the 80s where people were getting into pyramid schemes, the excess of wall street, and shoulder pads. It was also about Jem and the Holograms, Barbie everything, and Claymation. But those aren’t things I’m interested in exploring. There are things in this show that I would not be okay with in our present time, but there is a space to talk about things in the history that we have moved on from. People would probably say that we should get rid of these things, but I don’t think so. Instead of erasing our history we should acknowledge it. We can’t change the past, but we can honor it and keep it in the context of that time period. In some roundabout way, this is always what my work ends up being about, acknowledging spaces that no one wants to discuss, and try to give honor to those now dark places.
There is a clear tipping point in the show when Peter becomes nicer, his voice changes, along with Winston’s and Janine’s. Janine’s appearance changes several times throughout the show, and it’s clear, with these visual and auditory transformations that there’s something that the show has lost and they’re grasping at straws to keep the audience. The kindness of Peter is grating - I loved him for being a jerk and sort of keeping his love focused on the ladies and rejecting the love of Slimer but also turning around and feeding Slimer when no one was looking. As he became nicer the show lost its edge.
Janine is the most prominent woman in the show just by the nature of her job and relationships to everyone in the Firehouse. I still become frustrated that they changed her. In much of the early series she was a badass woman from Brooklyn Heights who would put her foot down and tell those men off without thinking twice. She was confident in her style, her feelings, and her tone had the hard edge of a no nonsense New Yorker. That changed as they softened her hair, her voice, and even her glasses culminating in the final season where she expresses frustration about Egon not loving her. This late in the game Egon says that everyone in the house loves her for who she is. But would early Janine Melnitz really give a damn that Egon didn't see her the way she saw him? Probably not. We all have crushes that don't pan out. Since I believe in true love I still believe that Egon and Janine would've eventually gotten together, and she wouldn't have needed the softening of her character to get him or some stupid fairy godmother spirit to change her appearance. Janine knew she was hot, and hello, she practically ran the containment unit when the guys were out! Clearly she's intelligent working with mad scientists and possibly life threatening physics and engineering which could blow up at any time. Hell, now early Janine Melnitz is a saint!
This is probably why the show lost it’s magic for me. The most firm character became the weakest and somehow way too childlike for me to respect her previous authority. It's so obvious the 90s ghostbusters is very different from the 80s, and you can see it, you can hear it, and it’s sort of so disappointing you just want to end each of those final episodes early.
Callie: Do you have ideas for what you might want to do going into the project?
Keena: I’m not sure where this project will go. I want to explore portraiture, characters that I have found along the way that call to me, and that deserve a little more screen time than 20 minutes an episode. The work never reveals what it’s doing until it’s done for me. But I made myself some rules to help me stay focused, and by focused, I specifically mean staying off the serious and emphasizing FUN. I haven’t had fun or just played around in art for so long I’m not sure what it feels like. My pain increased over the last 7 years to a point I felt like a very close friend of death, but everything has changed now. I'm so excited and alive! And six year old Keena still thinks this show is FUN. What can 34 year old Keena do with that energy? I don’t know; I’m not sure.
Seungsahn author of Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake says we should ‘stay in don't know mind’, because if you think you know the answer you not only don't, but you're also limiting yourself from seeing the truth - whatever that truth is. Not knowing is literally the very best place I can be right now. I have no expectations, no real end goal, but to stay committed to 100 days, and support you as we go through this adventure together.
We’re preparing a journey I have no idea what to pack for. But I know we will talk about it along the way. You see patterns and symbols in my work long before I do. Even in conversations you pick up on the signage and symbology of things and then just hold that space until I’m ready to talk about it.
Yeah, doing this project is like us going on the adventure akin to the Hobbit. We’re definitely going to grow, and I’m not sure who we’ll be when we finish but maybe we can make a book about it like Bilbo - There and Back Again, A Not-Hobbits Journey.
Callie: I am definitely looking forward to documenting this process and checking in maybe every couple of weeks or so. It will be nice to look back on our conversations. Will you be sharing visual documentation somewhere?
Keena: I hadn’t thought that far ahead… Sigh, (rolls eyes) I guess I can put it on my website. What if people actually look at it?
Callie: I guess I have been thinking of that as kind of the point. But, of course, this could be totally about personal development and have nothing to do with other people. Then again, the internet is vast, and web traffic can be hard to come by, so is there a huge risk in putting it up on your site?
Keena: That’s true. I don’t think too many people visit it… or care that much about Ghostbusters… sigh…. I’ll make a page for it. I mean it’s important. It’s literally the point of exploration where I am. I shouldn’t avoid it. Yeah. I just never really gave it much thought. I am being excessively dramatic about it though.
Callie: Well, you might be surprised. People get really attached to their fan cultures, plus there’s more interest in feminist communities in Ghostbusters after the live action movie came out.
Keena: I hadn’t thought of that either. It’s really not a big deal. I just don’t do instagram. So it’s not like, hey friends look at this cool thing I just did with the hashtags… I’m showing my age. Oh well.
Callie: That’s hilarious, because let’s be real, how old could you possibly be, dinosaur? I for one will be sharing all my updates on Instagram, but that’s because it’s a platform I really enjoy and I’m hoping to connect with a larger audience.
Keena: I am so glad you’re putting it there. I love how you’re asking others for images, to give back to them in a Callie way, which then people will act or react to, and it’s a socially-engaged feedback loop. And lot’s of people really love Instagram. I think your work, your artistic practice has developed a wider range just by being visible and asking others to engage. Just seeing your work, you’ve had to dig deep into the things people in your online community are talking about. They bring up social problems, you think about what they have to say, mull it over and this entire social engagement for you has really pushed your work. You’re 100% engaged in the process of creating with them at all times. It’s been really interesting to see that part of you grow into that space. Your thousands of illustrations become something more. They’re not just objects; they’re really fine art. That’s why you putting it on this platform is so important.
Callie: It can be a really fine balance to take feedback from others on the kinds of work and illustrations they would like to see, while committing to making the work that feeds me, or addresses something I know I need to work on in the moment, or a topic that comes up suddenly and I need to do something with. That’s something I have been working on over the past year, for sure.
Keena: Yes. Although, I’m curious, knowing you work in such a collaborative space, how do you negotiate space? Find the right balance? Manage the feedback? Feed yourself? Your statement makes sense to me, but at the same time it doesn’t. I am more of a solitary worker; like a hermit, come out to show work and then go back into the darkness like a crab.
Callie: I would have to say that a lot of the time my work really is a lot less collaborative than it used to be. I pick the direction and the entry point and from there I might ask for people to weigh in, give me their perspectives, but I am always filtering that feedback through what I actually want to do. Unfortunately, or maybe it’s not really unfortunate but a fact of reality, I do need to consider ideas, phrases etc that might speak to a larger audience, because at the end of the day I am running a business that literally has to feed me: I have to pay my bills. So, I have to consider what might be popular, vs what might really speak to me. I’m hoping to do some more work on the speaking-to-me side of things.
Keena: I was just talking about how we work to feed ourselves at work today. Yeah, you’re right, but you’re also really good at it. From my perspective you’ve got that negotiating part down to an art. But since we’re focusing on feeding your artistic practice more, tell me more about how you came to the decision to make work about queer women and femmes. I love the work you’ve already done over the last year. And I love that there will be 100 days of it, so 100 pieces will come from this.
Callie: Actually, my wife and I have been talking a lot about needing to have more queer everything in our lives lately. We live in a small, rural town in New Hampshire, in a pretty conservative community. It wasn’t until we started re-watching the L-Word (problematic as it is) for the second time in our 8 year relationship that I realized I really wanted to just focus on queer women in my work. I wanted to immerse myself. We also planned to start a podcast forever ago called Queerly Yours, where we’d talk about queer movies and tv, books and daily life. We recorded one episode but haven’t gotten back to it. I thought really digging into queer femme culture for 100 days might be the kind of inspiration we needed to get going on that.
I also am hoping this project might be an opportunity to make new connections with queer femmes out there. Since I am illustrating portraits of queer women and femmes, individually or in couples, I was really excited to open the project up to the wide world. Maybe I’ll end up with some internet friends? You never know.
Keena: OMG THAT’S SO CUTE!!!! I would totally listen to your podcast! PLEASE TELL ME THE MUSIC ARTISTS I HAVE TO KNOW RIGHT NOW, TOO. Tell me the clothes and shoes and makeup! There was this show a billion years ago in dinosaur days before youtube that I used to watch on the cable, and it would inform me of what was hot. Of course being inundated now with everything and having to sift through things… it’s not my specialty. I loved the L Word. I watched it when it first came out. I laughed, I cried, I also agreed that the Alice’s Ourchart was… it just was. I love that show. Still. Please Callie, I’m ready for Queerly Yours. I HAD NO IDEA. (Insert heart eyed emoji).
Callie: Yeah, I mean I illustrated a logo for it and everything. I think we both just felt anxious jumping off the cliff, you know? But I think at a certain point you just need to go for it, and don’t care so much if whatever you first make is amazing, or polished or even all that interesting. We all start out rocky and that’s how things evolve.
Keena: Yes I totally understand. And I agree. That is, I think, the very essence of doing the 100 day project. I just didn’t realize what this meant to you. I’m even more excited to see where, how, what this will evolve into for you. You know what is missing from our conversation that I just realized? Over the years you’ve been building your Etsy, becoming a business woman, and really stepping into an intersectional feminist leadership position, you’ve really had to toughen up. I mean we talk every day so it’s easy for me to to roll with our conversations, but you haven’t mentioned any sort of feelings on this project, which I think is a byproduct of graduate school and also just having to be self-employed. But I want to know about your feelings that led you to decide, yes this is it. I’m feeling x so this is what I need to do about it, so I can have the thing that I’m missing. You mentioned your business feeding you, but now here you are dedicating 100 days to making work specifically that feeds your soul and your heart. You’re committing to a project that not only you believe will bring you joy, but also your wife. I think that’s really huge, especially since you know I’m like - commitment? Girl please.
Callie: You want me to talk about my feelings??
Keena: Yes. Give it to me! This might be the only thing we have to remember where we started. I mean, I can barely remember things… the pain and those meds from my treatment make it hard to recall things from a year ago. So I think it’s super important to put it all here.
Callie: I guess I’m not really full aware of my feelings. I mean, living in a rural environment definitely makes me happy, because I think I need to immersed in nature to feel good on a pretty basic level. But, it also means that there aren’t a lot of people around, and by sheer factor of percentages and whatnot, there aren’t a lot of queer people around. So, the community that I do have is largely based online. When you don’t see yourself reflected in your in-person community, or in the media, it’s obviously isolating. Of course as a white cis woman, I’m more privileged than plenty of people in that arena, but my desire to illustrate queer women and femmes was about me wanting to celebrate myself in a way and feel a little less isolated. I imagine there are a lot of other people who feel exactly the same way.
Keena: You have felt isolated, I can absolutely understand this, and for me that space is pretty lonely. When you put out your call for images, did that change anything? I love that image. It was definitely a celebratory image.
Callie: Yeah, I knew I would need to create at least one image to start the project with.
Keena: It was clear for me that there was a lot of passion in it when you working on it. You were so excited when we talked about it and I saw you working on it. Your eyes lit up with excitement and childlike delight.
Callie: Yeah, once I had committed to doing a project illustrating queer women & femmes, I just wanted to get started. And, once I realized it was an obvious next step to ask people to submit their photographs, I also knew I needed to give an example illustration to demonstrate what my work looks like and give people and image to share if they felt so inclined. I’ve been going through some, shall we say, challenges lately and taking a couple hours each day to work on the illustration I’d selected felt really relaxing and affirming in a way.
Keena: I know you were determined to get that hair do to what it was supposed to do. That’s dedication. I would’ve given up and been like, yeah hair, whatever. But that’s what I do with my hair on a daily basis. I was so impressed you stuck with it! How was the response to that image and your request?
Callie: Well, that’s being a little too generous I think, but I felt like this illustration needed to really work. I was actually pretty surprised with the initial response on Instagram. I expected maybe 5 or 10 people would send me some photos, but a lot of people have reached out, and that’s really exciting. I am hoping for lots more. Who knows, maybe this project will go on beyond the 100 days. I’m getting ahead of myself here of course, but it feels great to have so many people interested in the project. Hopefully that’s because it’s a fair exchange - every image submitted that I chose to work with will eventually be made into a print, and that person will get a print of their illustration, which feels like a nice give and take.
Keena: Too generous? If my hair takes more than like 5 minutes I’m out. I have no patience. I also appreciate that you didn’t think so many people would respond. DID YOU SEE WHAT YOU DID WITH THAT HAIR? Omgggg that’s so beautiful. I want to be pretty in a Callie picture. I know what you can do with hair! Okay I’ll stop.
Callie: So, the literal days and hours leading up to the project are whittling away. Do you have any final reservations, anxieties, thoughts as we are about to head into 100 days of commitment?
Keena: Surprisingly no, since I’ve literally put them all here. And just acknowledging what even getting to the beginning is, is helpful. I mean, I still don’t know what I’ll feel on day two. Hell, even day one. I just don’t know. But that desire to run screaming from the altar at the point of saying, “I do,” to the Real Ghostbusters isn’t so extreme. I just want to sort of back away with an awkward smile on my face…. And you know, still say, “I do,”… wave and then run out of the chapel. “See you in 100 days!” How about you? Any last reservations?
Callie: Umm I think mainly I’m just worried that I have bitten off more than I can chew. As you are well aware some illustrations take me F O R E V E R and doing one illustration a day can be a lot. I think it’s going to be about time management and prioritizing. Because, I still have to do all my other work every day. And walk the dog. And you know, be a person.
Keena: HAHAHAHAAH yes, they do. For both us of this will be time management for sure.
Callie: Well, I guess on that note, here’s to time management! And that’s something we can definitely check in on when we write another one of these updates!
Keena: To time management! I love you! I’m so glad we’re in this together! We don’t have to get tattoos or anything, but it did cross my mind.
Callie: I love you too, and I’m so excited to get started! And who knows, maybe I’ll end up illustrating that tattoo ;)
Callie Garp has a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Tufts University. Keep up with Callie here.
Keena Tarrant is a full time professional, and a full time philosopher. She has a Masters of Science from Eastern Virginia Medical School and a Masters of Fine Arts from Tufts University. You can check her work out here.