It’s 5:00 a.m. and you are listening to Los Angeles

I hope everybody had a beautiful holiday season and that 2019 is off to a good start (though a chilly one for my Minnesota friends.)

Over the next year, I’ll be sharing more from It’s Never Going To Work - and more in general, including a few new articles I’ve been working on. In honor of the new year and many new adventures beginning, here is the opening chapter from my book.

Happy New Year!


It’s 5:00 a.m. and you are listening to Los Angeles

Lakewood, CA—September 2003

Brian and I woke up at the crack of dawn. We loaded up the car with our meager belongings, then circled my parents’ house one last time for anything forgotten.

My mom packed us two little coolers with snacks and treats, because she’s amazing like that. She stood at the edge of the curvy walkway that leads up to my parents’ house, arms crossed and trying to smile, my dad beside her. And there they remained as we backed out of the driveway, turned down the street, and gradually drove out of view.

As we wound round the mountain roads on our way out of the L.A. basin the sun began to rise, beautiful bright reds and oranges that almost made it hard to see the winding roads ahead. I knew my Social Security number by heart (thanks, college!), but I was twenty-three and still had no idea who I was. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life, exactly. But I knew I wanted to try life someplace new.

That was how I left California, after several months of planning and prep, in the wee hours of the morning. My boyfriend and I spent our last few weeks in my old room at my parents’ house, having escaped none too soon from a spider-infested apartment. And rather than it being stressful to live with my parents again, it was good to spend a few weeks of concentrated family time before leaving.

A mom now myself, I can only fathom how hard that must have been for my own mother. Even writing this makes me choke up a little and want to go wake up my finally sleeping toddler to give her a little squeeze. Adventures like these are a little ways off for her, but I know they’ll be here before I know it. When they come I hope I’m half as gracious, brave, and encouraging as my mother was—my whole family, for that matter. And as my travels would tell: attempting to live in a new place is one of the best ways to bust out of one’s comfort zone.


This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community illustrations by Athena Currier. ©2018 Jamie Schumacher.

It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.

Chapter Title - Mike Doughty.

How To Balance While Climbing

Setting: Minneapolis, MN — August 2006


We tidied up after the Guerrilla Art exhibit opening and sat around for awhile talking. Roger Lootine was one of the featured artists, displaying zines and artwork from his cheeky and politically savvy Residue Comics series. Eventually it was me and Roger left, and we decided to continue our conversation about politics and art on the rooftop adjacent to the gallery. We headed to the back storage room, dusted the rust off the handle, opened the window, and climbed out to our roof.

“You get a decent view of the Northrup King Building from here,” I said. “The grain factory too, or whatever that is. All I know is that sometimes in the winter, it totally smells like cereal!”

“Does that go to the other roof?” he asked, pointing up.

“Yeah, but I haven’t been up there. The reliability of that ladder freaks me out a little.”
 “C’mon, let’s go!” he said cheerfully. (My friends are far more fearless than I am.)

And so we climbed, me much more cautiously.

“If you keep three points on at all times you’ll be way more secure as you work your way up,” he advised, quite correctly. And just like that, little by little, I found my way up the ladder all the way to the next rooftop and over once again. A killer view of downtown, a killer view of Northeast, and a kindred spirit to share it with. It doesn’t get much better.

Every so often, less often now than before, I get an email from a stranger asking to meet for coffee. To talk about how to start a nonprofit or how to open a gallery. I’d like to say I’ve always been generous with my time, but there was definitely a period when I shied away from meetings in general. Especially in the early years, there simply wasn’t enough of me to go around. I wanted deep down to be more open with my time, and I’m the kind of person that likes being busy, but the impact of saying yes to everything is not sustainable.


A few years later I took up bouldering and rock climbing, through which I learned even more about balancing. Even when you’re strapped in with a reliable belayer to help secure you, there’s always the hope you don’t fall. So you make sure your footing is steady and your grip is strong before you make the next move up the rock face. And sometimes it isn’t up — it’s sideways or even down and back up another way. Regardless of whether you’re working your way up, down, or over, balance is key if you want to make it out intact.

It has taken me years to learn how to do this with any small semblance of grace. It’s learning to say no politely, while still being as helpful as possible. It’s learning to know myself and keep open windows to fit folks in for meetings since that’s something I value. It’s learning to take time for myself and my family unapologetically, and being supportive when others do the same. It’s making sure my footing is sure and my balance is stable before I take the next step, much less help somebody else with taking theirs.

The best part of the gallery wasn’t always the exhibitions themselves: it was the edges, the after, the in-between spaces where I was able to connect with artists and colleagues like Roger. One of the most important lessons I learned from them was to not only check my footing, but also to trust myself.

Note to self: call Roger, say hi.

coming out.

Here are things you shouldn’t need to know about me to make any of your decisions on wether you should be my friend, colleague, or acquaintance:

I’m coming out.

I’m 36 years old, I’ll be 37 this summer. (I think? ::checks her math.:: Yes, I’ll be 37.) I’ve got a beautiful not-so-little-anymore 2 1/2 year daughter and I’m mostly happily married. (Hey, raising a toddler can be hard for a couple! MOSTLY happy is still a lot of happy.)

So, why come out now? Am I leaving my husband? Are there big changes in store for me? None that I’m planning. Even though what I’m writing is about myself, this isn’t all about me. Also I’m coming out in a variety of ways. Welcome to the Pandora’s box that is my life - here you go, friends - enjoy!

Lately I’ve been hearing this word a lot more: “Self identifying.” Have you used that word before or heard that term?

As I, along with my fellow nonprofits, work on issues of accessibility and taking down barriers, we collect information on a variety of things. This helps inform the work we do, or at least that’s what we tell our boards and funders. We ask about audience members with disabilities - to which point we might then ask - “Well, do they self-identify as such?” We talk about the diversification of our audiences and “reflecting the community we serve.”

Not everybody with a disability identifies as “a person with disabilities.”

Not every body with a mental health issue identifies as somebody “with a history of mental illness.”

Not everybody that fits in diversity boxes puts themselves in one or the other, not everybody labels themselves in the same way others seek to categorize. Are there books at the library that could go on more than one shelf? If I had a dollar for every time I checked the “other” box I’d have enough money to hire a personal assistant so that I never had to fill out another form again. (Oh my god, that would be great.)

Without further adieu, here are those things.

I am a woman of color.

My father born in Sri Lanka. My mother was born in Poland. They met in this country and that’s where my sister and I were born. No, my name does not sound “exotic” and no, I don’t look traditionally Indian (because Sri Lankans aren’t Indian, that’s a different country.) I am a first generation American citizen of mixed ancestry. I am #HAPA. I might not look like a traditional “woman of color” but I’d really love to hear you describe what that looks like, really. Wanna give it a go?

When I sit at a board and hear people across the table from me talk about how we are not diverse organizationally, or when I sit through staff trainings that describe an organization I work at as an “All White Company” it makes me feel invisible.

Yes, these things happen. You would be seriously so surprised at what I’ve seen and heard come out of board rooms thanks to this wonderful cloak of mixed-race invisibility. Then again, maybe you wouldn’t be all that surprised.

This is why I’m coming out as a woman of color.

I am bisexual.

“But aren’t you married?” Yes, and?

This is something my husband knew when we met and hasn’t really affected our relationship - and there’s no reason why it would need to.

“But why bother coming out if you are married?” Therein lies much of the point of this post. Why ever would I need or want to self-identify especially in an environment of hate crimes, bigotry, slut-shaming and tropism? I had it “easier” because I happened to fall in love with and marry the man I fell in love with… but what if I hadn’t? And was it really “easier?” I mean - Have you *seen* Chasing Amy?

When you (or your colleagues) make a comment about sexuality being a “choice,” you are talking about me.

I am not trope. Those that I have told in prior lapses of poor judgement have taken this information and immediately asked about my history, made jokes about my close friends (as though that’s how this works) and questioned my sincerity.

And there are those in my family and my relations that still do not support gay marriage. Who continue to purport the myth that sexuality is a choice. Tell me, is it for you?

This is why I’m coming out as bisexual.

I am of jewish ancestry.

Why did my mother’s family come to this country in post-war Poland? Why did my grandfather have to flee Poland on September 1, 1939? Why is it a little less funny to me when you make jokes about Nazis and liken grass-roots public officials to people that are at least part of the reason I don’t have more first cousins on my mother’s side to rival the serious grip of cousins I have on my father’s side?

It’s certainly not the part of my ancestry that I identify mostly strongly with. I talk about this a little bit more here: (Are you Jewish? But it’s definitely something that I think about anytime somebody likens something to the holocaust, or anytime I read yet another mind-numbing article about somebody who is a holocaust denier. Anytime you make a joke about me being a grammar nazi. (Just kidding, I don’t mind those. This post might lead you to believe otherwise but I’m not entirely without a sense of humor, really.)

Because people ask me if I’m Jewish because of my nose.

Because I have overhead people describe somebody “Jewing somebody down to ____(a lower figure)___” and my jaw dropped because holy shit what decade is this?

Because denying the holocaust is insulting and it happens more often than you think.

This is why I’m coming out as having Jewish ancestry.

I'm agnostic.

I was raised in a religious household and spent most of my formative years in parochial school. After decades of thought and study, after having read the Bible (several times through), the Quran,  and a number of "major" and "minor" religious texts, after studying the history of religion extensively, I have come to only one place:

We don't know far more than we do.

Professing otherwise is arrogant and can be potentially destructive. And it has been deadly.

Agnostics don't really have a home. Atheists are typecast as angry and hyper vigilant. Maybe because those of us that are quiet about our faith (or lack thereof) don't speak up often enough, and only the squeaky wheels are being heard. Atheists and agnostics are not without values. We are not all angry nor are we all anti-faith.

That is why I'm coming out as agnostic.

I am a survivor of abuse.

Jokes about political disagreements and religious differences aside, my family is an infinitely happier and more positive one than what it was growing up. People grow and change and there are things that are culturally normal and accepted in other countries that aren’t (or shouldn’t) be here. These are things that many other immigrant families struggle with in a new country and we were not any different.

Out of respect for my family’s privacy I rarely go into details and will not here - this post is already long and personal enough. But the fact that I am a survivor of abuse is  something that absolutely and unequivocally affects the work I do, even single day. With new immigrant families, with domestic violence victims, with women who have endured abuse at the hands of their partners and caretakers, artists suffering from anxiety and depression.

Because you never know who you are working with or what their struggle is. When somebody flies off the handle or exerts their privilege and power, they’re not always thinking about what type of reaction or post-trauma level stress that might trigger in another.

Because the wounds of emotional abuse run deep, and they create very real scars for those that endure them;

Because YES, all women;

Because yes, these things happen - even though not everybody that endures them talks about them wears them as a label, nor do we need to, nor is it our obligation to educate you about them;

Because I learn that other people I consider strong, intelligent and wonderful have also survived abuse and this has helped me;

This is why I’m coming out as a survivor of abuse.

Why now?

There are a variety of micro-aggressions and deterrents that have kept me from “coming out” in a variety of ways, ways that have thus far outweighed the seemingly unnecessary need to label myself as one thing or another.

- Because sometimes others speak or joke about coming out as “easy now” or “cool” instead of encouraging others to also come out with the understanding that *everybody’s struggle is sincere and all their own;*

- Because sometimes others say people are playing the “race card” when they bring up or speak of their ethnicity;

- Because over the past years since 9-11, when other people ask where my family is from and ask with an eye of suspicion instead of what used to be an eye of curiosity;

- Because for a long time I worried that sharing this or wearing these things on my sleeve wound somehow bring shame to my family (it doesn’t, we’re better) affect my hiring it shouldn’t, I’m awesome) or affect my relationships (it won’t, it shouldn’t, and I’m pretty sure my family loves me a lot.)

Unless my board fires me and my family disowns me (both hopefully quite unlikely at this point) I don’t anticipate my life to change ALL that much as a result of this post.

But at an event last week I found particularly inspiring one of the speakers pointed out that “women tend to make choices that benefit themselves only when others are benefitted as well.” We talked about how our voice is one of the most powerful tools we bring to the work we do. We talked about how what we do and how we act shapes our children as they, quite often, mirror our choices and our identities.

My pledge was this: “In 2016 I will use my voice without apology (or a mile-long justification.)”

I thought about how it helps no-one for me to continue to check the “other” box. How it does not help anybody for me to remain invisible at board meetings without calling the bullshit I see at these tables *almost daily.* How it’s hard to preach about being an ally if I don’t support my own voice and be authentic about my own identity.

When I got dressed today I felt like it was a big day. I picked my dress and put it on and thought jokingly to myself “this is the outfit I will be wearing the day I come out.”

I wore a skirt. I usually do.

Anxiety, Agoraphobia and Altered Esthetics

Every now and again I’ll wake up in the wee hours of the morning, not to roll over and doze back to sleep -- but wide awake, my mind racing and full of thoughts. I’ve come into contact with other creatives frustrated with insomnia -- but insomnia isn’t exactly what this is. There’s a clarity and sharpness about these wee hours that’s unrivaled in the busy clutter of the day. Often I’ll wake up with a letter formatted, a poem aptly carved, a grant narrative more fully fleshed out, or a blog pre-written, emerging from webby corners of thought that need sweeping out. Over time I’ve learned not to fight this, and I’m not the only one. Apparently these “waking hours” are a past product of a bimodal sleep rhythm and have served as the golden hours for many artists over time, responsible for some of history’s great works of literature and philosophical inquiry.

(This post is neither of those things.)

Rather, it is a personal exploration of a dusty topic, shelved for a little too long.

I have a happy memory of an art opening at Altered Esthetics, circa 2006. The show was one of our classic videogame art shows, Level_13. A Mario mural by Lauri Svedberg adorned the wall, a circle of pixelated sculptures centered the room, and Caly opened the evening with some 8 bit glitch. I didn’t wear a black outfit and a beret, nor did I sip wine. Nothing against berets or wine, but instead I wore a Rainbow Brite hoodie, comfy pants and fuzzy slippers. Professional? Questionable. But that wasn’t the point - I was comfortable and the show was warm and open, as was the creative space we had cultivated.

There are certain things I’ve come to terms with as a community organizer, and they seem to be things I must re-evaluate and re-commit to on a regular basis. A commitment to convening and inviting folks to the table, even when the topic is challenging. Sending meeting reminders and reminders and reminders. Project management. (A not to distant memory that you were often *that kid* when you did group projects in college and high school.) But it’s not a bittersweet equation, it just involves an acknowledgement and appreciation that everybody has a different skillset and brings something unique to the table. Some of my favorite projects were ones in which I had little creative role at all, and instead worked within my skill-set alongside a group of talented individuals to make something remarkable happen. Big Funny, Rock Ink Roll, actually Altered Esthetics in general.

But there are other things that were a harder pill to swallow that seemed to be necessary parts of the equation. Public speaking. Shameless self promotion. Small talk.


Oh god, the networking.

Especially when I was on the board of the gallery I felt obligated to go out to other events - making appearances is part of the protocol, after all. But openings in particular were challenging. For one, it’s hard to actually see the art at a crowded opening. But then, there was the crowd itself.

j-me box head

j-me box head

So while working a crowd was one thing - there were always things to be done, places to tuck away and take a mental moment. As I learned more about myself, I came to know better when I had the energy to put myself out there and when it was a better option to stay home. I learned more about what exactly a panic attack was and how to avoid triggers. It was a weird thing to dissect, and a weirder thing to admit. I can be quite calm at as an event organizer... but what is it about other people? Was Sartre right this whole time?!

The longer I worked in the arts, the more that I met other people that felt *exactly* the same way. We found each other in crowds. We had conversations in bathrooms, relieved to find somebody else feeling a little bit out of place and awkward. Not quite introverted, not quite extroverted, but not quite good at whatever this social scene experiment was - but mostly, little by little, we discovered we weren’t alone. But I watched as these anxieties manifested themselves in a variety of ways.

I’ve left events early with artist friends that have spent all their social energy and need to remove themselves from the crowd.

I’ve worked with curators that have missed their own openings because their anxiety was so severe.

I’ve worked with more artists than I wish to count that stopped creating art or music because they couldn’t handle the social requirements involved, and that is a fucking tragedy.

I've had friends who have decided that enough was too much, and that one is almost too heartbreaking to list.

I once worked with a board member who was set on making sure artists had marketing skills so they could be better about self promotion. I countered that especially for some of our most talented artists, that wasn’t a part of their skill-set, nor was "getting themselves out there" a part of why they were creating. “Well, they should know how to do this” the board member said.


The older I get, the better I know myself - and all my flaws. I can be dry and humorous on occasion. I can be warm and thoughtful. I can also bring the awkward pretty hardcore. But I haven’t had a panic attack in more than five years, and I’m quite proud of that. I re-affirm my commitment to being the hardworking girl behind a spreadsheet and I’m far more comfortable with that role than I am schmoozing in a crowd, and I’m okay with that too.

Okay so - is there a point to this late night ramble? Telling these bits of my story is a rather long context.

I think if we want to be really successful as an art community - and I believe we’re getting a lot better at this already - we need to be more willing to accept everybody at their level. That includes cultivating a better understanding of anxiety and depression (among others,) and creating a variety of engagement opportunities for everybody active in this field, along with a willingness to accept those that for whatever reason may not engage in a traditional sense. There are more than 40 million Americans that suffer with an anxiety disorder annually and over 20 million suffer from some type of depressive illness. ( From my experience in the arts I would also hypothesize that a disproportionately higher number of artists suffer from these things, however I don’t have the statistics to back that theory up.

Statistics or no, here are a few small suggestions on how we can be a continually more understanding and welcoming creative village:

  • Artists, consider providing other opportunities beyond crawls and openings for friends and patrons to visit your studio. Regular open hours, drop-in windows, etc. Not everybody can handle a crawl and the truly shy might not call for an appointment.

  • Share your stories, your personal struggle or achievement, your awkward moment... There is safety in numbers.

  • Keep inviting your artist / caretaker / socially challenged friends, and try not to take it personally if they don’t make it out. It’s (usually) nothing personal.

  • Extend the welcome by including quiet spaces at your events for artist or guests. Places for conversation, thought, (nursing!)

  • Be kind and tend towards forgiveness rather than judgement. The adage “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about” is apt here.

  • Do what you need to do to be comfortable and don’t let anybody guilt you about your choice.

  • And last but not least, it’s cliche but important. Be yourself. Let your freak flag fly! People are often compelling and relatable because of their flaws, not in spite of them.

And now, I sleep.

Some resources of interest: