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The Global Brain


Although the idea of a Global Brain may sound like something you’d read about in a 21st century science fiction novel, it is in fact a concept that first emerged in the social and biological sciences in the late 19th century, when an increasing number of evolutionary and social theorists began to realize that the entire human system was, in a sense, “behaving.” As scientists began to identify underlying patterns in global human systems – that appeared to be structured and self-organizing, in the same way as are those of any biological organism - scientists hypothesized that our species could, in fact, be understood as a “superorganism” as opposed to a random collection of individuals, families, groups, cities, or nations.

One of the first things to alert scientists to this possibility was the very nature of human, animal, and plant metabolism itself – which is the mechanism by which individual biological organisms process matter and transform it into energy, allowing us to live, reproduce, and function on a daily basis. The metabolic process is a highly complex one, and it is probably safe to say that no one understands it in its entirety. We do know, however, that metabolism consists of eight primary functions or “functional subsystems,” all of which have been identified and discussed by cyberneticist Francis Heylighen in his 2007 paper on the Global Brain:

• Ingestor - i.e., eating, drinking, inhaling
• Converter - i.e., digestive system, lungs
• Distributor - i.e., circulatory system
• Producer - i.e., stem cells
• Extruder - i.e., urine excretion, defecation, exhaling
• Storage - i.e., fat, bones
• Support - i.e., skeleton
• Motor - i.e., muscles

We also know that within our very own global society, we can find an analogous mechanism that perfectly mirrors the metabolic function of biological organisms, and in which we can identify the following “functional sub-systems:”

• Ingestor - i.e., mining, harvesting, pumping
• Converter - i.e., refineries, processing, plants
• Distributor - i.e., transport networks
• Producer - i.e., factories, builders
• Extruder - i.e., sewers, waste disposal, smokestacks
• Storage - i.e., warehouses, containers
• Support - i.e., buildings, bridges
• Motor - i.e., engines, people, animals

If we take the time to look at the world in this light, it is easy to see that human systems - taken together – can easily look like a giant, planetary superorganism.
But, if this is true, then where is the brain in this superorganism?

Most complex multicellular organisms have some type of nervous system, and many have centralized brains that allow them to process information, to learn from past events and experiences, and to non-randomly predict the future. Do we see evidence of this type of activity in the human superorganism? Do human systems, examined globally, display the ability to process information, to learn from past events and experiences, and to non-randomly predict the future?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists could not identify a global nervous system. And it is no wonder. During this period in human history, our communication systems were quite primitive, with most of us relying on postal services, physical meetings, and landline telephone systems to interact at even the most basic level. Only toward the mid-20th century did computer scientists, evolutionary scientists, physicists, and a few science fiction writers begin to suspect that a global nervous system was developing or emerging. Some came up with the idea that a "noosphere" could explain the organized, behavioral nature of human systems, that evolution was, in fact, pushing us towards a kind of planetary consciousness. Others saw the possibility that a global world knowledge center consisting of all human thought – was in the process of being created.

But what could create such an entity?

Well – the Internet, of course.

With the development and widespread use of the Internet, scientists could finally identify the emergence of a nervous system. From the very beginning, humans have been quick to adapt to its many uses, to rely on the Internet to store, catalogue, and process vast quantities of information – and most importantly, to facilitate communication and data transmission, breaking down more and more physical and geographical limitations as time went on, and in so doing, changing the very way humans relate to one another on a daily basis. Very few would disagree that the Internet, still in its infancy, has already completely transformed our planet and our species. With the advent of the Internet, there is nothing to prevent humans from forming connections, building social groups, and collaborating with one another, regardless of where we are on the planet.

Thank you Internet.

But is this nervous system comparable to the nervous system of a biological organism? Again, the patterns and functions seem eerily similar. In an animal’s nervous system, the following functions can be identified:

• Sensor i.e., sensory organs
• Decoder i.e., perception
• Channel and net i.e., nerves, neurons
• Associator i.e., synaptic learning
• Memory i.e., neural memory
• Decider i.e., higher brain functions
• Effector i.e., nerves activating muscles

In the global nervous system, the following functions can similarly be identified:

• Sensor i.e., reporters, researchers, etc.
• Decoder i.e., experts, politicians, public opinion, etc.
• Channel and net i.e., communication media
• Associator i.e., scientific discovery, social learning, etc.
• Memory i.e., libraries, schools, collective knowledge
• Decider i.e., government, market, voters, etc.
• Effector i.e., executives

All that said, the question remains: Are we in the process of building a Global Brain?

To answer this question, it would be a good idea to back up a little and define what we mean by Global Brain.

Right now, the idea that a Global Brain may exist in the future is merely a hypothesis, according to which scientists have posited that a higher distributed intelligence may, in fact, be emerging from an otherwise complex network of people, machines, and ideas. According to this hypothesis, a Global Brain would, through our continued collective action and/or consciousness, eventually have the ability to mediate and to regulate all human activity. Now, before we begin comparing the idea of a Global Brain to that of an Orwellian Big Brother, let's remember that the Global Brain is a “distributed” intelligence. Such an entity would not be controlled by any one agent. In fact, the Global Brain's existence would depend exclusively on the behavior and existence of its neurons (i.e., us). Just as your own “global brain” (i.e., you) is produced by the collective behavior of your neural networks, the Global Brain’s behaviour would be dependent on the collective thoughts and wishes of individuals and organizations around the world.

In my opinion, the evolution of a Global Brain is – in the very least - theoretically possible. After all, many technological and system-level trends appear to point towards the emergence of such an entity sometime during this century.

Consider, for example, the following trends:

1. Everyday, humans around the world continue to provide increasing amounts of data to the Internet, including information that we had once considered personal and private.

2. Everyday, humans around the world are spending increasing amounts of time on the Internet.

3. Everyday, humans around the world have increasingly easy and cost-effective access to the Internet.

All of these trends are likely to continue. It is not difficult for most of us to picture a world – in 2030 - when all humans are on the Internet, all the time - sharing, liking, tweeting, hash-tagging, commenting, discussing – generally outsourcing our lives to a medium that has access to all of our personal and collective information. Assuming that these trends will continue, one can easily hypothesize that at some unfixed point in the future, most or perhaps all human interaction will take place there.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that a Global Brain does, in fact, exist – or is in the process of development - and that we are simply the neurons that make up this vast nervous system. Using the analogy of a human brain, we know that a Global Brain could not function if its neurons were not fully connected with it, if its neurons were not engaged in a continuous stream of communication with one another. A Global Brain, after all, could not exist if its neurons were disconnected from it or from one another.

In the last decade, we have seen computers shrink in size and weight, becoming increasingly portable, accessible, and user-friendly. Whether in the form of laptops, tablets, or other mobile devices, we are using computers in more intimate ways. We have come to rely on computers on a daily basis for all kinds of reasons and they, in turn, have become ubiquitous in our lives. In the 1970s, computers could be found only in laboratories, research facilities, and universities. In the 1980s, they invaded the work place. In the 1990s, computers found their way “en masse” into our homes. In the 2000s, they found their way into our pockets in the form of mobile gadgets, portable phones, and listening devices. In this decade, we are already beginning to witness the emergence of "wearable" computers (i.e., Google Glass, Smart Watches). In the 2020s, computers will make our homes, businesses, and transportation grids intelligent, and in the 2030s we will probably begin to allow computers into our own bodies, so that they can interface with our organs, including with our brains.

In this light, it is easy to see that a global nervous system may indeed be coming to life, and that once the Internet is connected to or somehow integrated into our brains, we will have given it the power to mediate everything we do, say, and think, and that we will be able interact with it as seamlessly as we currently do through the medium of spoken and written language.

The Global Brain refers, in short, to the Internet at its full maturity. It will be an intelligent planetary network of people, machines, and ideas – a collective system within which we will probably spend most of our existence. Will it be conscious? Well, WE are conscious. So if all human consciousness on the earth is merged together on one planetary communication medium, my guess is that this will give rise to a meta-consciousness. Evolution, taken to its natural next step, will permit us to create an all-encompassing global consciousness endowed with its own intelligence and its own nervous system, opening doors to innumerable possibilities that could never have existed otherwise.

If you’d like to know more about the Global Brain, come see me at where I am attempting to raise money to fund my research, and where I have included additional information about this very exciting project. I look forward to answering your questions at:

Photo Credit: Istockphoto

Cadell Last is a science writer and evolutionary scientist with a Master’s Degree from the University of Toronto, with experience in the fields of anthropology, biology, cybernetics, and history. He is in the early stages of his doctorate research at the Global Brain Institute in Belgium, working under cyberneticist Francis Heylighen. If you are interested in supporting Cadell’s groundbreaking research, or would like to find out more about it, please visit or contact him directly via Twitter (@cadelllast).

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Ivan The Superhero P2

by J.D. Coburn

(Continued from "Ivan The Superhero P1" ) ***** Story 4: Death and Life Great Aunt Ivan was eleven years old when her father, my Great Grampa Joe Boss Emmett, died unexpectedly. She had three brothers, Al, Howard, and Ray, and two sisters, both of whom had passed before their tenth birthdays. With her father gone, the show was over. My Great Grampa had been a headliner in Chicago Vaudeville, and a minstrel who liked to brag that he was working fifty weeks a year when no one else was working at all. He died of ‘consumption’ which is Irish-speak for—well, for over-consumption. Ray, who had just sprouted something that looked like a mustache, was the eldest. “There’s something on your lip, Ray,” Great Grandma Petranella chided. “Put a little cream on it and the cat’ll lick it off.” Ray loved school and excelled in every way with his studies. His father’s passing meant giving up what he loved to do to ‘man up’ to his familial responsibilities. His first job was breaking horses. One day, after enduring insufferable begging and conning, Ray finally succumbed to the demands of his little sister Ivan—who was calling herself ‘Bolt’ at the time—to let her accompany him to the corral, to watch and maybe learn a thing or two. Somewhere, in some language, there must be a word for those instances in life when we are deafened by the sound of our own pounding heart, when our eyes are filled with tears of wonder, our breathing reduced to short violent bursts—when we find ourselves bouncing from one foot to the other, suddenly overcome by an overwhelming desire to pee. Ivan found herself so overwhelmed. She was beside herself with the spectacle. There was her big brother, her hero, climbing onto a wild stallion, tying himself by one arm to the neck of fifteen hundred pounds of unbridled power. Ray yelled, “Come on ya big stud, let’s see which god you serve!” “I can’t faint,” Ivan thought. Her breathing was shallow and she felt lightheaded. “I’m watching every scrap of this.” In the time it took to blink, there was her hero, lying in the dust, covered in manure from elbow to neck. And Ray was pissed! Now, I remember pissing off my Grampa Ray once before. I can tell you that I’ve borne the welts of my shortcomings for a couple of days. So, I know, with a high degree of certainty, that this horse, a Mustang named Dakota, would soon be licking his wounds and hoping for all the world that he’d never have to go through that again. That’s true horse sense. Twenty minutes later, Dakota’s will was finally bent, though unbroken, having gone from willful to willing. Ivan felt her chest swell with pride at her brother’s accomplishment. “Ya near bit offer’n his ear, Ray!” yelled a stable buck, seeing the clear outline of Ray’s bite in the Mustang’s fur at the base of his right ear. “Ol’ Injun trick,” Ray laughed. “Horse hockey,” teased the stable buck, “You ain’t no ol’ Injun!” Ivan felt embraced by the stable hands’ camaraderie. Then, it occurred to her eleven-year-old boy’s mind that ear biting was the key to establishing a bond with the stable hands. Late that night, after they were regaled with stories about Ray’s feats of heroism, the family finally bedded down for a well-deserved night’s rest. There in the darkness, Ivan made plans for the future. She decided that the thing she wanted most in life was to be in the company of good men. She would take the path that would bring her to that estimable height. The next morning, the whole family woke to shrill inhuman shrieks followed by the kitchen screen door banging open and shut, the shadow of a spaniel disappearing in the darkness. “What the H-E-Double Barreled Bull Roar is going on down there?” bellowed Ray. “Nothin’,” was the impish reply. It turned out that Ivan—Bolt—had decided to ‘break’ the already house-broken family dog. In her determination, she had bitten half-way through the poor mutt’s ear. After admitting her error, Ivan resolved to learn everything she needed to know from the ground up. She spent the next few weeks at the foundry where horses’ shoes were cast in iron. Watching every move with great care, she observed as the molds were set, the sprues placed for the molten iron to enter the cast, and as the fine semi-moist sand was carefully packed into each side of the die. Once set, the molds were carefully removed, and the two halves of the die were clamped together. The bright heat from the blast furnace turned the iron pigs from yellow to white, from solid to liquid, as the crucible sputtered. Finally, the pour was made and the die was cast. After cooling overnight, the casts were broken open. The shoes were so hot that when they were dunked for tempering, the water boiled. Finally, the sprues were cut away, and what remained was a perfect iron U. Next, Ivan followed the shoes to the smiths. Cross pin hammers pummeled the fresh iron, each blow shaping the shoe to be perfectly fitted to the hoof it would serve. The smiths themselves were an amazement to Ivan, and she wished for all the world that one day she would have such forearms, her hairs singed back to the elbows. A black leather apron would be the only apron for her. The smiths rasped the horse’s hooves back, and chose between clipped and unclipped shoe, or even a wedge shoe depending on the horse and its duty. Finally, with farrier hammers, they tightly tacked the perfectly fitted iron to each hoof. Before long, Ivan had changed her name to ’Smithy.’ She was being groomed as a groom. And boy, could she pitch manure! In short order, Ivan’s attention was drawn to the tack. So proud was Ivan of her talents at pounding the shiny copper rivets into the carefully punched holes in the thick hide that she didn’t even wait for the reins to wear out. In the minds of the stable bucks, the reins were ruined, but they couldn’t stay angry with Ivan for very long. Ivan took the newly finished reins in hand, carefully cutting them up into smaller pieces and joining each end, one to the other, with perfect execution. She showed her work with pride to the stable bucks. Ivan had done a first rate job. So, by the age of twelve she got a job, repairing tack. Over time, Ivan became a master leather crafter, but she only pursued the task because it brought her closer to the horses. Ivan wanted to be just like her big brothers, Al and Ray, who now supported the family, in every way possible. When Ivan started bringing in over four dollars a week to contribute to the family’s well being, she felt a sense of accomplishment. Ivan's pride grew to full capacity as she passed sixteen dollars every month across the table to her big brother Ray. Both of the younger boys, Al and Howard, had part time jobs after school but Ivan’s earnings outpaced their own and made the difference between living life and living the good life for the entire family. There was no call for girls to go to school in those days but having completed her primary education, Ivan entered the work force, earning a man’s wage and caring for her family. Even during those intensely difficult adolescent years, as her body transformed into that of a woman, she was indistinguishable from the other men with whom she worked—eating, spitting, cursing, smoking, farting, and laughing with the others. “The mouth on her made the hangman blush!” her brothers would boast later in life. Ivan loved her life as a young man. She’d be damned before she ever took a day off while the other men in the house worked. Nor did the awkward monthly ‘female troubles’ ever slow her down. By the age of eighteen, she’d taken to the woods, topped her first spruce, pulled green chain behind her first team of Warmbloods, and completely endeared herself as a man’s man to the toughest of them all. Ivan slept soundly, content with life and her role in it. She came to peace with God, surmising that He was every bit as fallible as the creations He’d made in His own image. “God don’t make no mistakes,” Ivan told her mirror each morning as she strained to see any hint of the mustache for which she prayed. “I’m as good as any man, just the way I am.” Ivan worked better and harder than any other man on the crew. She had found her place and reveled in it. Her die was truly cast, unencumbered by the sprue. “That’s fine,” Ivan said to herself. “Whatever’s cast in iron is of no use anyway, until you cut the damn thing. I was born finished, that’s all.” ***** Story 5: Ivan, Husband & Lover Ivan married late in life. Great Grandma Petranella called her ‘persnickety’. Ivan wanted only someone who looked like a pixie and had a razor sharp mind. She wasn’t going to spend eternity explaining things, she determined. Dating and mating had been self-appointed taboos for all of Ivan’s twenty-two years. There were things she wasn’t sure about and what she was sure about made her feel frightened and alone. Ivan thought she was the only one in the world with feelings like that. Her heart leapt with hope when Ivan met her new sister-in-law, Lenora—Ray’s bride, my Grandmother. If Ray could do it, Ivan thought, then it could be done. Ivan warmed to what she imagined might be her own prospects. “If there’s someone out there who could love that irascible son of a…” As Ivan daydreamed, she realized that the well from which she could draw was substantially narrower than that of her big brother’s. After all, Ray was flexible, more willing to change. Ivan, not so much. “I will have to find someone willing to take me ‘As-Is,’ she resolved. Ivan, as it turned out, had no more choice in the matter than she did in being a man. Lenora—“Nora”—was the youngest of seven girls. As parents of any large brood will know, by the time you get to child number seven, you become so good at parenting that said child turns out to be a gem. The others might certainly be as well, but the last one seems to have a polish and a fire that shines just that much brighter. That was my Grandmother Nora. Ivan decided to test the new girl—she was really testing Ray—but a test was in order and Ivan quickly took her position to see if the quizee was up to snuff. “Did you know that sugar and sumac are the only words in English that are spelled “S-U” but make the “Sh” sound?” Ivan's eyes drilled squarely into Nora’s. She was looking for the truth. Without batting an eye, Nora looked straight back and in a clear steady tone said, “Sure.” Then she batted her eyes. Now, my Grampa Ray had, by my own count, forty-three different ways of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Each was unique and perfectly fitted to the demands of the moment. The shrieks of giggling schoolgirls from the house would have brought out the most robust of these. With the particular defamation poised at his lips, like bullets waiting for the pull of a trigger, Ray—fully expecting to find his sister, Ivan, holding down his new bride, Nora, with a rawhide lasso—burst into the kitchen, only to discover the two culprits punching a huge pile of bread dough with their fists and laughing out loud. "From your shoulder," Ivan laughed, "You punch him like this!" Ivan was instructing Nora in some pugilistic technique that Ray immediately saw as threatening. He was certain that it was NOT something in which he wanted his new bride to become practiced. Ivan was teaching Nora how to punch her weight! (Heaven forbid she'd teach her WHERE to punch!) “JEEzu—?” came his familiar overture. "Ramelia Oscar Emmett, you watch your language," the two demanded in unison. Ray stopped, stunned in his tracks. No one knew that his real name was Ramelia. The combined weight of these two, whispering and giggling wildly—the two in all the world who knew every one of his secrets—was staggering. “This does not portend well,” Ray thought. He felt vulnerable, and a little violated. Then it got worse. Ray had seen that look before. He’d just never seen it on Ivan. Only one kind of person could have that look in his eyes, and for the first time in his life, my Grampa Ray saw his sister, my Great Aunt Ivan, for the man he was. Ray was jealous. He’d envisioned his brother Al making a move on his seventeen year old wife. He also knew that their youngest brother Howard, who was much closer to Nora’s age, would most certainly need to be watched. But Ivan? If my Grandfather had been just a little more sensitive to his surroundings, a little more aware of what was happening around him—instead of being so focused on whatever job needed doing at that particular moment—he might have seen this lovely man, a man who only moments earlier had been his little sister, crying with joy over the possibility that he might, one day, find happiness. It wasn’t Nora who had turned Ivan’s head. It was Pandora. I’m sure you’ve heard that when Pandora’s box was opened, all the troubles of the world escaped. What you may have forgotten is that afterwards, Pandora quickly closed the box. What remained therein was the one thing we seek when all is darkness. Hope. Ivan feared he’d been born damned, that somehow he had been possessed by a dark heart, rather than blessed with a heart that could love. Within just a few moments of meeting the young woman who would eventually become my Grandmother, the hope that springs from possibility erupted in Ivan. That’s when things started to change for Ivan. He started to relax, just a little. Over the months that followed, he became more and more acclimated to contentment. He spoke less, smiled more, and discovered a sense of humor buried deep beneath his sense of responsibility. It was at this time that Ivan met Jewel. You couldn’t find a better man than my Great Aunt Ivan, but Jewel made him want to be one. There he was, changing just like his newly married big brother, Ray. He minded his table manners, and scraped his boots before he came into the house. Ivan even heard himself say the words, “Yes, Ma’am,” as if his tongue had been made to say them. Ivan and Jewel never thought or talked about going to church together. They just did it. Jewel always went to church, so now, Ivan always went to church. They sat together in the back, and held each other's hands on top of Jewel’s Bible. After a time, Ivan learned the words of the hymns and sang them with depth and sweetness. Then one day, Ivan took Jewel home to meet his mother. On the verge of tears, Ivan feigned his familiar bravado: “You’re not my best gal anymore, Ma!” But Ivan didn’t fool anyone. He just didn’t have all that huffing and puffing in him anymore. Finally, he smiled and said, “Ma, this is my Jewel.” My Great Grandmother Petranella took a single look at Jewel and said, “Well, it’s about time.” It was only a few years later that Scarlet Fever took the couple within a week of one another. Ivan and Jewel are buried side by side, nearby Joe and Petranella, in a little cemetery in Menasha, Wisconsin under the single name “Emmett.” They weren’t really married in the eyes of man, but man and wife they were, Ivan and Jewel. In the eyes of God, and in the loving eyes that met their gaze at sunrise each day for the best of their lives, Ivan and Jewel were man and wife. And they were content. ***** EPILOGUE The point of writing Ivan's story is this. Somewhere, there are little kids who feel that the whole world is against them because of who they are. One of those little kids was me. When I was a kid, I would have liked to have read about a hero like Ivan. Not a superman or superwoman leaping over tall buildings, but a super person whom one could trust to do the right thing, every time. Someone who would be on my side and stick up for me. If it's any help, I'm everyone in the story. I’m the little kid being bullied in the schoolyard. I’m the bully standing down before Aunt Ivan. I’m Archie and Pearl getting my hair stroked and hearing my name sung in a whisper for an hour every day. I'm the young hand who makes a pass at Ivan in the bunk. I'm the fellow on his way to the outhouse with my collection of French paste cards. I'm the guy who Ivan tosses aside because I couldn't handle my part in a bucket brigade. I’m the little kid lost in a train wreck who can’t find his Mother. I’m just not Ivan. I could never seem to do what Ivan did. I think I could have been a better person if I had done things Ivan’s way. Maybe I just needed the inspiration. I needed a clear, actionable definition of values and character. I believe that these stories about my Great Aunt Ivan offer the kind of inspiration and direction I needed. Maybe they will for some other kid too. My only wish is that I was a better writer, because then, I could tell Ivan’s story a little better. ***** Image Credit: Aunt Ivan Emmett, Used with author’s permission

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Win an iPad Mini

SUPERSTARRED is a global online platform that features talent contests in many categories, and in a nod to the collaborative power of the Internet, it leaves the judging up to the fans. In July 2014, Budapest-based founders Adam Szabo and Bence Horvath launched Superstarred’s first singing contest in beta, and have to date attracted over nine hundred registered viewers who actively vote for their favorite contestants. Twelve singers participated in the first contest, and an iPad Mini was awarded to the winner, the talented and charming Anna Pena, who managed to capture viewers’ hearts. The second singing contest attracted thirty-four participants. The lovely Holly Sergeant was the winner, and she too was awarded an iPad Mini. Adam and Bence now invite interested participants to submit their applications to participate in Superstarred’s third singing contest at the following link: Applications will be accepted until October 12, 2014. ***** In the following interview, Adam answers your questions about Superstarred: Q. Who can enter your contest? Anyone can apply from all around the globe, but they must be able to communicate in English. There are no other requirements. Everyone is welcome at Superstarred. We welcome entries from participants from all countries. The more diverse our contestants, the happier we are! Q. What requirements must participants satisfy to enter? Participants can sing any song in any genre of music, but at Superstarred, we focus on the performers, so we only accept applications from singers if they are visible in their videos. The majority of the video should consist of a solo performance, but it’s absolutely fine if, in some parts of the video, the contestant is accompanied by other musicians too. Q. So, how does the contest work? Our contests are three weeks long. The winner of each contest will be awarded an iPad Mini. The top three performers will qualify for the Superstarred Final. Q. Can you tell us a little about the judging? We don’t have judges. The decision rests with the viewers themselves. Whoever collects the most points wins the contest. Q. What tips and advice can you provide to people who are entering your contest? It’s important to remember that our contests reward activity. Besides the usual activities, like sharing your portfolio on social channels to collect votes, etc, you should make sure to reply to fan questions and to fulfill requests. We reward each interaction. Q. What has the response to Superstarred been so far? This is the part I'm most proud of. Superstarred has received a truly warm welcome from the online music scene. We understand how busy today's performers are, so we’ve focused on making it easy for musicians to participate in our contests from day one. This has really paid off. Performers tell us they love our one-click solution for adding videos to the contest. And we’ve had more than two hundred covers and original entries added to the second contest! We’ve also set up performers’ profiles so they don't have to start from scratch all the time. And, we’ve lowered the entry barrier by eliminating video uploading. We use embedding instead. This way, we increase traffic on our contestants’ channels. Q. What are your plans for Superstarred in the next year? We want to become the number one online talent contest site and we have every reason to believe we will be able to make this happen. We are also launching contests in other categories besides singing, like dancing, beauty and fashion, sports, cooking, comedy, and so on. Q. Do you have any advice for any aspiring musicians out there? How can Superstarred help them develop their passion? The global music scene is huge so I definitely recommend applying to contests like Superstarred to help you stand out of the crowd. A fresh, curious audience can work wonders for musicians, and this is exactly what Superstarred provides. We’ve noticed that after performers join our network, they become a lot more active, and that they record new covers and interact with viewers like never before. We invite everyone to participate! ***** Applications for Superstarred’s third singing contest will be accepted until October 12, 2014. The contest will begin on October 13, 2014. For more information, please go to: ***** Image Credit: Used With Superstarred/Adam Szabo’s permission Image Description: Holly Sergeant holding her iPad Mini

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Koosje Koene

Using colored pencils, pens, watercolors, and a sketchbook, Amsterdam-based visual artist and art instructor Koosje Koene creates lively, expressive, and humorous images, recording the colors and textures of her surrounding world in vivid detail. Objects, places, people, and landscapes that normally recede into the background—a pair of coffee mugs, a plate of brussels sprouts, a deli counter at a local restaurant, even an orange peel—all of these become the subject of Koosje’s affectionate artwork, as she imbues the things we encounter in everyday life with the joyful light of wonder and curiosity. In the following interview, Koosje—who also happens to be co-founder of an innovative new online platform called Sketchbook Skool—talks to us about her life, her inspiration, and her art. Q. Can you tell me about your background? After completing my education in graphic design, I went to art school to study photography. I hadn’t considered learning photography as an option before, but while I was learning some fun stuff in school—like black and white photography and developing in the dark room—I realized that I really, really liked it. Since I was still young when I graduated, I applied to art school to become a photographer. Afterwards, I worked as a freelance photographer for magazines, advertising agencies, and designers, doing mainly portraits, surroundings and ambiance photography. I love photography, and have happily worked as a freelancer in the field. But at some point, it felt more like a ‘job.’ After almost ten years, I got itchy. I didn’t feel that I was following my passion. That’s when I started getting my pencils and brushes out more often. I realized that I am still more passionate about making pictures than I am of taking them. I wanted to start making things that I wanted to make, instead of making things I was told to make. My pens, pencils and brushes allowed me to do that, and while I took a job on the side—I was a chef in a lunch restaurant, worked in a cubicle, and made many coffees as a barista—I began exploring my drawing skills, and took a few online courses. Then I started a blog, because I wanted to have a place to share my art. I realized that I had developed a nice range of drawing skills and felt the urge to inspire and help others. So that’s what got me started with developing online classes. Q. Were you introduced to art at an early age? Before retiring, my dad, Frans Koene, was a professional photographer. His specialty was food photography. My mum was an occupational therapist and later worked for my dad’s studio as a food stylist and cook. Both of my grandfathers were creators. My dad’s father was an architect, painter and sketcher, and my mom’s father was an artist and art teacher. In the beginning, my dad ran his own professional studio from home, so as a baby, I used to crawl around on the studio floor. Later, he found an amazing place where he successfully expanded his business—which, by the way, still exists and is flourishing. So I was brought up in a very creative and entrepreneurial environment. On the walls of the house I grew up in, there were many art photos, taken by my father, as well as paintings by both my grandfathers. As a kid, I always used to draw, and never really stopped. Q. I've noticed that your food illustrations are remarkably evocative. What draws you to sketching food? I love cooking, eating, food in general, and the social aspect of eating with others. It’s an important part of my life, and therefore I sketch it. Plus I often think food looks so good—it’s appealing in so many ways. A well-prepared dish can look like a gorgeous painting, but also the ingredients themselves often have wonderful colors and shapes. They are perfect to draw. I really enjoy looking at botanical illustrations of fruits and vegetables too. And, we all eat at least something every day, so food is always good to draw when you don’t know what to draw. Q. I've noticed that you often work with colored pencils. Why are colored pencils your medium of choice? The technique of layering with colored pencils allows me to create realistic drawings. To me, the process of making an elaborate colored pencil drawing, and seeing the picture grow with every layer, while the colors deepen and the illusion of depth gets stronger, feels like a meditation, and is very satisfying. It takes time and patience to finish such drawings, so when I go for quick sketches, I often choose pen and watercolors, which I love to splash around with. Q. Can you describe your creative process? The process totally depends on the thing I create. When I draw in my daily art journal, I sit down and draw whatever appeals to me at that very moment, in whatever medium I feel like. It could be a quick sketch of my coffee, a drawing of something taking place outside, or an elaborate self-portrait, to name a few things. When I make an illustrated recipe for example, I need to prep some more. I will, of course, first check all ingredients and instructions, then sketch and doodle to find the right shapes and to plan the layout. Then I choose my materials carefully and make the final illustration. I love making elaborate and realistic drawings using colored pencils, but I also really enjoy drawing with a fineliner or fountain pen, and then loosely coloring with watercolors. I can enjoy myself for hours with a simple piece of paper and a cheap ballpoint pen, or study values and gradations using a simple pencil. So far, I’m not much of a painter, except for those watercolors, but you never know what’s still to come. In all cases, there’s always a large pot of herbal tea at arm’s length, plus I keep myself well caffeinated throughout the day, drinking coffees ranging from slow brewed filter coffee, foamy cappuccinos and strong double espressos—to iced coffee in the summer. Q. What do you think of formal art education? Is it something that you would recommend to young artists? It depends on what their goal is. I think in formal art education, you can learn a lot of techniques and get deep into art history, find out about styles and conceptual thinking. I myself never finished art school because I got a little tired of all the talking and just wanted to get to work. I guess it also really depends on the school, and perhaps art schools in Europe are totally different from the ones in the US. Partly maybe, I was getting tired of going to school. Right after high school, I went to study graphic design for four years, and after graduating, I hopped right into Art School. The teaching approach was very different from what I was used to—a lot of conceptual thinking, less productivity. I am a do-er, if that’s a word. If I have an idea, I like to execute it, create it, or at least start planning the project. In Art School, we talked a lot about ideas, the ideas behind the ideas, and so on. It made me feel less enthusiastic about starting a project, since the idea wasn’t fresh anymore. All the thinking sort of sucked the passion and excitement out of me, and that showed in the results. In a bad way. Once I found some commissioned work during my third year in Art School—it was the intern year, which I loved!—I realized that I just wanted to work as a photographer, instead of being educated as an ‘image creator’ or an Artist, with a capital A. So in my fourth and final year, I made the leap and left school. It was quite a relief, I have to say. I like the principle of, “Jump off the cliff, and build your wings on the way down.” This is actually a quote by writer Ray Bradbury. I also found something else he said: “Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things.” I think that pretty much boils down my way of working. Of course I do think. In fact, as an entrepreneur, I’m a bit of a strategist. But when it comes to making art, I am totally with Ray. Q. I understand that you teach art classes online, both on your own and as a part of Sketchbook Skool. Can you tell me more about that? For several years, I taught online classes on my own, starting out from scratch, with no budget. I offered my first online course on a blog. It was protected with a password, and people could share their work for feedback in a private Facebook group, or through email. The very first online course I developed was “Just Draw It!,” a five-week online drawing course with lots of drawing techniques for both beginners and students who are more advanced. I launched it two years ago. In November, it will be running for the tenth time, and in those two years, I updated, changed and improved the material based on the needs and feedback of the participants. After “Just Draw It!” I developed an online workshop on drawing food and illustrating recipes, called “Draw It Like It’s Hot!” I also developed an online workshop on developing your own character for a cartoon or children’s book called “How to design a Character,” and an online class on art journaling, “Awesome Art Journaling,” which is basically a kick-in-the-butt to make art everyday, and have fun with it too. I keep my classes fairly small, so I can give feedback to help participants develop even further during the courses. It’s so rewarding to see people develop their art in a few weeks time, and I always feel very inspired by the participants, their enthusiasm, questions, and art. I very much believe in just jumping in and building the things you need as you discover and go, working with the resources you have and expanding when you can. So I decided that once I could afford it, I would use a course platform that was designed for my needs and the needs of the participants. Q. How did you meet your business partner and co-founder, Danny Gregory? How and why did the two of you decide to start Sketchbook Skool? A little over a year ago, on his blog, Danny wrote about his upcoming visit to Amsterdam, where he was going to be the keynote speaker at an event. He was hoping and planning to use his visit to Amsterdam to have a few encounters with Dutch sketchbookers and asked if anyone reading his blog was familiar with the drawing scene in Amsterdam. Several people—friends and followers—referred that blogpost to me, so I posted a response and sent him an email. He replied that several people on his end were pointing him in my direction, and that he wanted to pick my brain about the online classes I was teaching. We made an appointment to meet for coffee. That’s how we met. We drank coffee, sketched, and chatted about sketching, art journaling, blogging, and teaching. After coffee, we drank a beer and decided to also have dinner. We had a great time. After that, when Danny was back in NYC, we emailed each other. I had been walking around for quite a while with an idea that I hadn’t quite found the right shape for—Since I was teaching and developing online classes, I realized there was so much more knowledge out there. Through blogging, I had found out about many artists worldwide, and I knew that I would love to learn from them. I wanted to bring all those inspiring artists together, so they could spread their knowledge and show their skills. Should it be a seminar, a webinar, a book, an e-book, a course, a workshop…? I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, what it could look like, or even where to start. So I asked Danny if he would like to collaborate and think about this idea with me, to help find a possible shape or form. He replied, “When can we Skype!?” And a huge brainstorm started. Danny claimed the url and from there on, we took off and molded the idea into a real and very exciting product. For Sketchbook Skool, we invested a little bit right from the start, since we wanted a solid platform, with reliable customer service for us as a Skool, and most importantly, for the students. We are learning a LOT as we go, and we are lucky that the team at Ruzuku, the course platform we chose, is eager to learn and develop, and improve the student experience. Going to Sketchbook Skool is an experience you won’t find elsewhere. Students are learning from and getting inspired by six different teachers in six weeks, looking over their shoulders as they fill their sketchbook pages, while the teachers talk about their approaches to making art. The students are encouraged to make art in different ways, do it more frequently, and enjoy it. The beauty of it all is that you’re not alone. At Sketchbook Skool, there is a growing community of like-minded people, young and old, beginners and more advanced, who are learning from each other. It’s a very warm, safe, and encouraging environment. Q. What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out? The only really effective way to do it is—Just do it. Every step you take is progress, and all of us never stop learning. It can be very scary to pick up that pen and put the first line down, not knowing whether your drawing in the end will look anything like the masterpiece that’s in your head. But if you don’t even start because of the anxiety, you’ll never know. And you might as well enjoy the ride while you’re at it. The process of making art may actually be more important than the art itself. And also: Don’t measure yourself by what others do. You might feel intimidated by great artists you admire. But they didn’t start out as talented creatures that just created fabulous art without needing any practice. Once, they were beginners too. Just like learning to play an instrument, making art needs a lot of practice. Q. Does the work of other artists inspire or influence your work? If so, can you tell me who they are and how they have influenced your art or your life? Each time I visit a museum or gallery, I feel inspired, no matter who the artist is and no matter what kind of art. I think being surrounded by the art made by both my grand dads has influenced me in some way, and I definitely inherited the clean style of my father’s photography. But I also love to see Van Gogh’s art—and Vermeer, Magritte, Mucha. Looking at old botanical drawings inspires me, illustrations by Quentin Blake, Shaun Tan, Robert Crumb, Maira Kalman, and many bloggers and urban sketchers. And to state the obvious—all of the teachers at Sketchbook Skool, and the students too. Q. How have people responded to your work so far? Since first sharing my art on my blog, I have received comments and responses from people all over the world. The very first time that happened, it felt like a revelation! People responded in such an encouraging way. And I love it when someone leaves a comment, saying they feel inspired. I also sometimes get commissioned assignments because of the art I make and share, so I guess I can say the responses have been very positive so far. Q. Why is sketchbooking important to you? It keeps me sane. I do it every day and whether it’s a five-minute drawing or a two-hour spread, I enjoy every minute of it. Drawing empties my head, and as if that’s not enough already, the results can be very satisfying too. I like giving myself mini-challenges by picking a theme or a certain subject. This way I keep broadening my comfort zone and skills. Keeping a daily sketchbook is a valuable way of documenting my life. When I worked as a photographer, I always carried a small camera with me in my bag. I took photos of random and not-so-random things, on a daily or weekly basis. I guess I just feel the urge to document my days in some visual way. The camera has been replaced by a sketchbook and pen, and instead of taking pictures, I am making them, using basic tools. Q. Why do you think people are so intimidated by the idea of making art? It’s mostly expectations and “what if’s.” What if I mess up the drawing? What if the drawing doesn’t look like the one that’s in my head? If you sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen in hand and you expect to draw a masterpiece, then the blank paper is indeed very intimidating. If you learn to get rid of those thoughts, and just let go and enjoy the ink flowing onto the paper, the drawing unfolding in front of you, that’s what it really is about. When you enjoy the process, it will show in the results. And if you’re not happy with a drawing, you can always make another one. And of course, when you make art every day, it will become a habit, and you won’t even think about it anymore. With practice, your skills will grow too and you will get more confident. That threshold will start to shrink and maybe even disappear. As an artist, you need to keep developing and learning. When you finish a piece, you will realize that there are always things you could have done differently. So then you take that with you next time. Perfection is something that can be paralyzing. You can learn so much from so-called mistakes—or are they happy accidents?—and also, flaws can add a lot of character and personality in art. So let’s feast on failures! Q. As an artist and as an individual, what are your aspirations for the future? To immensely enjoy the process. To feel satisfied and proud, and challenged. To inspire others. I want to always keep learning and developing. Not just in art, but also in life. I love traveling and exploring to broaden my horizons. And while doing so, I want to share everything I’m learning so I can inspire others to make art. Art has always been there in my life, in some form. And I can’t imagine a world without it. ***** For more information about Koosje’s art, please go to: For more information about Sketchbook Skool, please go to: At Sketchbook Skool, Koosje teaches in the BEGINNINGS Kourse which is about drawing in public and playing with colored pencils. She also teaches in the SEEING Kourse—which is about self-portraits and how we see ourselves as artists—as well as in the STORYTELLING Kourse—which is about communicating visually with others and about how to explain things clearly through illustration. ***** Image Credit: Koosje Koene

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Ivan The Superhero P1

by J.D. Coburn

In the following article, American writer JD Coburn shares the story of Ivan, a transgender man who lived in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century. Publicly, Ivan was known to the author and to his family as “Great Aunt Ivan,” but according to the author, “he lived his life as a man, a good man, maybe the best man one could know.” To honor his memory and his life, JD has agreed to publish Ivan’s story here. ***** To most people, ‘True Grit’ is a movie. They think grit is something that gets caught in your teeth. Back in the day, before the nightfall of the present, grit was the element a fellow possessed that made it impossible for him NOT to ride toward four or five highwaymen, reins between his teeth, a pistol in each hand, and the love of home and family in his heart. They were people of character who gave America its strength and built everything you see around you today. My Great Aunt Ivan was my maternal grandfather’s sister. She shot from the hip of righteousness with barrels a foot long. Ivan was a true super hero. ***** My great aunt had not been christened Ivan. That was not the name with which she had been baptized. She chose the name, Ivan, after a long succession of trials with other names. Women’s names, names of small towns, dogs, proper nouns, adjectives, seasons, colors, weather features—like Sunny, Cloudy, Stormy, etc.—and finally, men’s names. All took their turns as Ivan’s monikers. Rex and Lumber were both strong contenders for permanence, each lasting years, but once she reached the age of eighteen, she pretty much stuck with Ivan. “I’m not all here,” Ivan complained as a child. The family chuckled and agreed, tongue in cheek, and referred to her complaints as her ‘growin’ pains.’ From the age of four to the day she passed, Ivan’s ‘growin’ pains’ never quite produced the growth for which she pained. Ivan tried many jobs. Being from my family, she worked her first job at age four when she was introduced into ‘the show.’ Vaudeville is the family business, and has been for over one hundred and sixty years. My family is theater, in every sense imaginable. In Ivan’s days, every member of the family worked in the show in some capacity. Ivan would come center stage dressed half in knickers and suspenders, sporting a boy’s shirt, one bare foot, and half a cap. Her other half was in a pink tutu and tights, a slipper, and a bow in a curly blonde pony tail. There she would sing a plaintive ditty about being ‘different’ called “They Always Always Pick on Me.” When I was born My Ma and Pa They looked at me and said, “Oh, pshaw!” The doctor said, “It’s a boy, I think” Then Pa went out And got a drink Then Ma said I looked just like Pa Pa said I took after Ma Aunt Jane said I looked like the Sphinx And I’ve been a stepchild ever since. They always always pick on me They never never let me be I’ve been so lonesome, oh so sad It’s been a long time since I’ve been glad I know what I’ll do by and by I’ll eat some worms and then I’ll die And when I’m gone, you wait and see They’ll all be sorry that they picked on me! Ending with a one-legged tap dance to lively exeunt music, off she’d go, stage left. All six of my great-grandfather’s kids did this bit. All six of my grandfather’s kids did this bit. I did this bit when I was four. How do you think I know the words? Ivan didn’t have a lot of options as a woman in the work force. She was, however, fearless and anxious to best the fellow who could not be bested. Ivan was best at lumberjacking. She looked completely alive and at home in her costume of red suspenders and plaid wool shirts, her cuts, and corks. Her stage was the forests of Wisconsin during the previous turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. Ivan wielded a double bitted axe with aplomb and adroitly handled her end of a buck saw or a peavy. Donning cleats, she could scale a hundred feet of Douglas fir in a matter of seconds, not minutes. She even introduced herself as Doug Fir for a while as she worked in the forests. She loved the animal energy of the wilderness, and put great thought and care into everyone’s safety. The job spoke to both sides of Ivan. The side that really spoke to Ivan was the little freckle-faced boy in her—frog in one pocket and slingshot in the other. With scuffed knees and bruises, she held a rock in one hand and a bouquet of dandelions in the other for her sweetheart, her mom. She never courted, and, well, no fellow ever courted her either. She would readily arm wrestle a fellow but that was about all the physical contact she needed from a man. Ivan pined for no man but herself, resulting in a predictable and omnipresent heartbreak. There is a family story that she once won a bet with a fellow, waging that she could, in fact, pee over a barrel. The ‘how’ of it was sketchy but everyone agreed that she’d done it and that it involved lying down on the ground, making it all the more difficult. If Ivan wore a dress, you could bet that she wore a pair of dungarees under those ruffles—and you’d win. Ivan walked with purpose. She stood tall, and didn’t stand long for those who did not. She didn’t suffer fools. (I’m told I inherited this characteristic from Ivan.) I thought for a long time that I would one day write a play about Ivan. The coincidence of Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” (Vanya is Russian for Ivan) kept me from doing it. And Patrick Dennis’ story “Auntie Mame” also treads perilously close on many levels to Ivan’s story. So, I decided I’d try telling her story. This was almost impossible to do since everyone who knew her had died. I knew that Ivan was a transgender man, and that Ivan lived at a time when there was little understanding of what it meant to be “different.” I knew that she loved dogs, that she took on men’s and women’s names, that she worked as a railroad conductor, and in logging and farming. Based on these facts, I began to come up with stories about her life, hoping that other people—like me—who are “different” in any number of ways, who don’t quite fit in, might find grace in her stories. That’s what Ivan did. Ivan was a sparkling, imaginative, elegant and terrifying storyteller. She told stories about life—by living out her life. I only wish that I could write the one happy ending for which she yearned—to be who she really was. Who Ivan really was, was delivered in her values and character. She described values as those things in life which mean nothing to anyone else but everything to you. Ivan said character is making sure that the world knows what you stand for and what you will NOT stand for. My youngest son, Nikita, believes in super heroes. I want him to know one, his Great Aunt Ivan. The following stories are for him. ***** Story 1: Ivan, The Storyteller A jerk-line skinner might hire out and keep a team of eight to twenty horses or mules but Ivan only had tack for two: Archie and Pearl. Archie was a spanking Bay, while Pearl was a Dapple. Warmbloods, each stood at eighteen hands high (about six feet to the withers). Alone they could pull a day’s wage out of the hay fields. But with the brace, Aunt Ivan never needed to look for work. Work looked for her. It wasn’t just her team or her reputation as a first class skinner that brought joy and lightened the load of the buckers. It was the very look of Ivan, reins in hands, a stub of a pipe clenched tightly between her teeth, her broad-brimmed hat worn at a rakish tilt that made the day go smoother, and that alone was worth her fifty and found. Plus, Ivan didn’t seem to bother much about bunking with the men. Her presence tended to make the younger hands jumpy at first but the older fellows knew her. They knew there was no holding back and NO holding at all with Ivan and woe to the fellow who entertained such thoughts. The sunbaked fields gave every man a ruddy flush to his countenance. Ivan’s cheeks were rosy in winter but by harvest, after a long hot season, the rose blushed to ripe red against the brown leather of her face. Now, Ivan was firmly built, tall but not soft by any stretch. “Big boned” they called her, and she swore she could consume her own weight in prime rib. She could certainly drink to capacity and put many a man under the table when the stakes were right. Some nights, Ivan would sing to the stars with a softness and lightness that brought a tear to the eye. Ivan sang for the men, who day dreamed of their homes and the lustful pursuits that had made up their rough pasts. The farm made its own music. Crickets and frogs sang their night songs, the buzzing of mosquitoes and fireflies making up the string section, while the windmill churned rhythmically in the distance. A stand of poplar along the windward horizon silhouetted the dusk sky, like a lace border to heaven. The musk of fertile soil would stay in the nose of a farm hand for months after harvest. Dirt filled pores never seemed to scrub out, and that which found its way beneath the nails of knotted fingers remained for years after a man’s day was done. Ivan’s contentment was one that came directly from earning her way. A day’s wage for a day’s work was all she craved, after, as a matter of course, Archie and Pearl were well groomed, well fed, and well stabled for the night. Ivan got what she gave with those horses. The only male who ever wormed his way into Ivan’s heart was Archie. Pearl, Ivan surrendered, was her equal—and that earned her respect. Each brush stroke across the broad backs, bottoms, manes and legs of those horses was accompanied with a whisper of the horse’s name. The sweetest sounds those horses ever heard was that of their own names being sung by Ivan. So, when she barked “HO, ARCH” or “WHOA, PEARL” they responded with heads held high, nostrils flaring with pride. Devoted stable mates, they tugged or stopped with a unified might. Ivan’s life was that of core virtues, of goodness prevailed, a life of candor with God Almighty. In her heart of hearts, she struggled with her secrets, but knew that hers was a noble use of life—even if she couldn’t have what her heart desired. Dawn cracked and Archie and Pearl burst forth from the barn, rearing and raring to pull. Three wagons in tow, the buckers got to ride to the North 40. In mid morning, they gulped hot breakfast pie and even hotter coffee. Hocks, beans and cob corn came ‘round by five, then a big chuck back at the bunk by sunset. Great black roasts, carved paper-thin were piled high on sourdough with a gravy so thick it spoke with an accent. Fresh from the kitchen garden, the spuds were steamed and mashed and buttered to fattened perfection. Ice-cold buttermilk dripped and drooled from mustachioed lips to the tune of belching and loosened belt buckles. Gas was passed outside by decree of the bunk. As the night slipped into cool, the boots came off and stocking feet met the brass rail that surrounded a sweet little pot-bellied stove in the center of the bunk house. Out came a secret pint of sippin’ whisky, carefully snuffed cigar remains, a deck of cards, the spots near worn off, and the stories and jokes typical of a bunkhouse. All of which made the air thick with smells, smoke, lies and laughter. Given her misspent youth in Vaudeville, Ivan’s stories elevated the air of the room to the rarified. She had actually been in the dressing rooms of the Burlesque dancers and told of the sights she’d seen in tormenting detail. For effect, she would hesitate on words like, “nipples,” “lips,” and “garter belts,” lingering on the adjectives, “tight,” “round,” and “firm,” and in so doing she sent many a stout fellow to the outhouse, a tightly held collection of French paste cards in hand. Ivan’s exclusive platform of delivery was the other fellow’s imagination. Ivan loved women, and knew innately what these men would like. ***** Story 2: Ivan, The Protector Ivan was a conductor on the Coast Starlight, a rail line that travels along the western edge of America, from the Mexican to the Canadian border. She rode the bone rattling cars with grace and purpose, and was a welcome sight as she meandered through the aisles of the rail cars. She shared a bawdy joke with the carpetbaggers, a warm word of assurance with the mail-order brides, and a penny’s worth of rock candy with the distraught young’uns. She looked smart in her conductor’s cap and blazer, the stripes down the long legs of her trousers meeting her old steel-toed corks (hob-nail boots worn in logging) which she wore for extra traction. On sleeper cars in particular, aisle-passing maneuvers, especially when trying to edge by men in the early twentieth century, could sometimes take on an unwelcome measure of intimacy. Ivan had discovered a few moves that seemed natural on a lurching train but always resulted in a painful lesson for any gent who thought too well of himself. No man ever complained that she’d made the transition ‘rough’ on purpose. Ivan knew well that for men, humiliation meant silence. Ivan had feelings like a woman, but she never felt like a woman. She felt like a man. Civil War veterans on both sides complained that they felt pain in legs that had been amputated and were no longer there. Ivan knew that pain, but it humiliated her in the same way that it humiliated the veterans. She never spoke of her humiliation, not once, to a living soul. Still, everyone seemed to know that she suffered. People admired Ivan for her strength. Ivan had the iron will of the soldier—the ability to set aside her fears and stand up. As happens sometimes, big things break. When a thing as big as a train breaks, there is a lot of damage beyond the train itself. Some of that damage can have a human toll. It’s terrifying when a train derails, but even more so in the moments that follow because there is no way to predict what will happen after that first car turns or tips too hard. The cars and trucks weigh many tons each, their payloads of coal, grain, rock, and crude oil, not to mention mail and passengers, all moving at high speeds adding exponentially to the impact. Through the steam, smoke and flame, through the wreckage and chaos, strode Ivan. Emerging from hell’s fires, surefooted and with assurance, she would find the lost parent or child, reunite them, then head straight back into the fray. The children and dogs were easily distracted with a treat. The adults, particularly the wealthy, felt the entitlement of birth and rank, believing they should be helped first. Ivan’s priorities were—as my grandmother would always tell us, “To help the ones who need it the most.” Protecting those who were smaller and weaker was built into Ivan. She was put together with steel in her convictions, a power plant for a heart, and the impermeable malleability of a cloud. She moved through chaos like a breath of life because she intended to do so. Ivan did those things because she said she could, not because anyone else said she couldn’t. ***** Story 3: What Does It Mean To Be A Man? If you want to learn how to be a man you need only look to my Great Aunt Ivan. Even in the schoolyard, she never picked on the smaller, weaker kids. Ivan was the one who stood up to the bullies and faced them down. In doing so, she earned the respect of both the weak and the strong. That’s what a man is supposed to do. Do men fall short of this ideal? Many do. Aunt Ivan did not. Growing up in farming country, Ivan learned very young that what happens to your neighbor can just as easily happen to you. A bumper crop, ruinous draught, a good well dug, even a small fire, and much more can be the impetus for wealth or ruin. A fire at a neighbor’s barn could be seen burning for miles across the tops of the fat grain and corn, day or night. While others ran away, Ivan rode into the fire. Out of the darkness, Ivan faded into the firelight like a glowing red demon. Roman-riding her team, Archie and Pearl, one foot planted firmly on each of the broad backs of her horses, Ivan’s shrill whistle broke the air. Holding the reins in one hand and their ends in the other, snapping side to side, pulling a water wagon, Ivan looked like some fiery ancient war goddess riding into battle! From atop her horses, she could survey what needed doing first and would direct the relay of buckets. The poor fellow who didn’t move fast enough was tossed aside like stale candy so that Ivan could step in and show him how it was done. By example, the others imitating her, Ivan led her neighbors to victory over disaster. After a barn raisin', a celebration would follow, and Ivan would be pointed to as the hero of the day. “Ah, freeze your teeth and give your tongue a sleigh ride,” cried Ivan, as she would have none of it. When it came to foaling, calving, and whelping, people came from miles around to see Ivan. Puppies were her specialty. She would take the pregnant bitch out to the shed or the barn, curling up with her in the clean hay and softly speaking her name. Petting and rubbing, she would help her through the rough spots of labor and delivery. The morning found Ivan with the new mother happily nursing, and eight to twelve happy, healthy pups napping, nuzzling, and sniffing about. Life was precious to Ivan. No pups drowned on her watch. If there were too many for the mother to feed, Ivan would bundle one or two of them up, zip them up inside her jacket, and take them home. She would nurse the pups with good cream and keep them warm in a box by the stove. Once the pups were strong enough, they’d come along on the wagon with her where they got ample love and attention all the day long. One pup stayed with her for many years. Born with only three legs, “Trip” lived up to her name as a puppy—but like Ivan, she never quit and she never gave up. Ivan understood that dog and often spoke of their time together as “the best ten years of my life.” She too was missing a part, but nothing could ever stop or slow her down. ***** To read Story 4 and Story 5, please click here Image Credit: Used with author's permission

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by Udoka Gabriella Okafor

San Francisco-based independent singer-songwriter Brandon Zahursky, who writes and performs under the moniker “Rivvrs,” is well known for his beautiful, heartfelt single “I Will Follow You” which was recently featured on NBC’s TV series “About A Boy.” Cheeky, introspective, and full of affection, “I Will Follow You” speaks directly to the heart of every person who has ever been in love. Characterized by the artist’s signature raspy whisper, poetic lyricism, and a humorous kind of optimism, Rivvrs’ four-song debut album “Hold On” explodes with color, rhythm, and youthful sincerity — and once again, speaks directly to the heart. In the following exclusive interview, our contributor Udoka Gabriella Okafor talks to Rivvrs about his life, his music, and his debut album—which was released on August 15, 2014. ***** Gabriella: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself—your likes and dislikes? Rivvrs: As a musician, it may not come as much of a surprise, but I love listening to music. I have to listen to an album start to finish. Usually a certain song attracts me and then I get the album and play it on loop for a few weeks. I don't do it as much as I used to, but I'm also a pretty avid reader. When I was a kid, I walked around with a book in my hand, whether I was at the grocery store or at a soccer game. My social life is definitely based around live music, even if I'm not performing. I love going out to see people perform. I love movies. At the end of the day, I look forward to mellowing out and falling asleep to a good movie. I really dislike driving. If I can walk or take a cab—these days, it's Uber—I prefer that. Gabriella: Tell me a little bit about your early life and your favourite childhood memories. Rivvrs: I was born in San Francisco. My dad raised my little brother and I as a single parent and we hopped around the Bay Area of California for most of my life. I graduated from Capuchino High School in San Bruno. I won't get into the details, but my mom wasn't around when I was a kid. It was just my dad, my brother and I. Because of that, my dad worked really odd hours to support us. He was usually gone from the early afternoon until we went to bed. In middle school, my uncle moved in with us to keep an eye on us kids. He's a carpenter and some of my best memories were at job sites he went to. I liked to tag along and watch, or do really simple tasks like digging holes. I don't know why—I just really liked the smell of a house being built. When I was fourteen, I got my first guitar and [started] religiously watching YouTube videos to learn how to play it. Since my dad wasn't around to tell me to do my homework after school, I usually played for hours at a time and did my work at the last minute. Early on in high school, I was a bit of an introvert and only had a handful of really good friends. One of my best friends was someone named Vince and he was my partner in crime. There were a lot of firsts that he and I experienced together, and it definitely helped me get out of my shell. My favourite memory is [of] the trips I used to take to the record store. Being a teenager, I relied on the bus and train to get me around. Every weekend, I used to take a train to Rasputin Music in Mountain View. I would buy ten to fifteen used CDs for a few bucks apiece and listen to them for a few months. I would trade the old ones in and get new ones, and I was able to get a healthy dose of music for practically nothing. A day without headphones was a weird day for me. When I was sixteen, I met a girl named Gina who was a singer. I would play guitar and she would sing. Up to that point, I was very shy with my voice and didn't really write much of my own music. When she heard me sing for the first time, she was nothing but supportive and gave me confidence to sing in front of people. I really wouldn't have had the courage to do it without her help. Other childhood favourite memories… We used to camp a lot with our family and extended family. My dad's best friends from high school are still very much in our lives and we spent a lot of time together growing up. All of our families became one and it made for really awesome get-togethers and trips. I love spending time near the water, jet skiing, swimming, fishing, anything that's outdoors. I spent a lot of time outside as a kid and still do to this day. Gabriella: Who were your role models growing up, both inside and outside of the music industry? Rivvrs: My dad listened almost exclusively to classic rock, and I fell in love with it. He was my biggest role model growing up and still is. When I was thirteen, I wanted to be Angus Young from AC/DC. I bought the electric guitar he was notorious for playing—a Gibson SG —and that's the guitar I learned on. I must have listened to the AC/DC records a hundred times each. Bon Scott, their singer, was my favorite vocalist. I also idolized people like Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Paul Simon, and Tom Petty. Outside of the music industry, I had a couple of teachers who were huge role models to me: Mrs. Rutigliano and Mr. DeLacy. They were both incredible people who encouraged me to be creative and follow my dreams. Gabriella: When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music as a professional career? Rivvrs: Well, I've always wanted to pursue music—as far back as high school. I remember a conversation when I was fifteen, on a bus. My friend and I had been playing music together and we had the whole “What if we could do this for a living when we're older?!” conversation. I took it to heart and remember vowing to myself that I would never stop playing music. I remember having the idea to “pursue” music fully when I was about eighteen. I read a book called “The Celestine Prophecy” and it totally shifted my thinking and gave me this excitement to get out and experience the world. Gabriella: The first time I heard your music was on the television show “About A Boy.” How did your song come to be featured on the show and how awesome was it to hear your music on the show, knowing that millions of people were hearing it as well? Rivvrs: That was all my manager's doing. I have tremendous faith in our relationship, and his ability to kick total ass. He's a really great guy. It was very random. We were talking on the phone and he goes, "Guess what?!" and I had a hard time grasping what the placement really was until things became more official. It was very surreal to me, and I just feel incredibly blessed. Gabriella: Okay, I have to ask, what inspired the name Rivvrs? Rivvrs: Ha-ha. It's not a very interesting story. I used to go by the moniker “River Shiver.” It was kind of a band, kind of my solo project. It always felt awkward to call myself “River Shiver” on stage. I opened a show for a larger artist last year and mentioned “River Shiver” before I performed. The whole night, people called me “River,” assuming that was my name. It didn't feel as weird as I expected. In February when I got the “About a Boy” placement, my manager, Tony, told me I had to decide on a name, because it would be mentioned in the show. “Rivvrs” came up as an idea pretty naturally and my manager threw out the idea of a double “v.” For copyright purposes—and maybe some originality—we decided on the spelling R-I-V-V-R-S. It feels comfortable, and keeps the moniker pretty arbitrary. It doesn't really have any hidden meaning, otherwise. Gabriella: I know that you are a singer-songwriter, so did you write or co-write all of the songs on your debut album “Hold On?” Rivvrs: I write most of my songs on my own, but for this four-song EP, all the songs were co-written. I had all four songs started at home and brought them down to LA and sat with different writers/producers who helped me fill in the gaps. Gabriella: Can you describe your song writing process? Rivvrs: There's not really a set process. I actually really dislike the idea of sitting down to write intentionally. I feel like it's kind of forced if you do it that way. Usually it starts with a concept and an acoustic guitar. Once I know what I'm writing about, I have every lyric tie back to that same theme. For “I Will Follow You,” the first line I had was “You make it all go away” which ended up being used in the bridge. From that one line, I based the whole song around someone who makes everything bad go away. Sometimes I'll just randomly get a lyric or melody stuck in my head and I instantly record it onto my phone. After a few weeks, I go back and listen to everything and usually end up with little sparks that become full songs. Other times I can write a song in one sitting in a matter of minutes. I never know how the moment will strike. Overall, I fancy myself a strong lyricist above all. I won't be winning any awards for my guitar playing. Gabriella: Can you describe the production process that your album underwent, from draft to finished product? Rivvrs: It was really laid back! There was no set release date and no immediate plan to release “an album.” The lack of pressure was very helpful. I started writing songs and as they started to take shape, I began to record them. Each song began in my living room and ended in a music studio. I knew I wanted to do something new and I went into my writing sessions with a fresh outlook and no limit on what I could [do]. Next thing I knew, I had a bunch of songs finished. Once I finished “I Will Follow You” I set out to release a set of songs that were happy and represented hope and optimism. I used to write a lot of sober stuff, and having some upbeat material really inspired me to keep things positive and happy. I chose to release a small batch of songs to start, even though there are plenty more to be released. Consider it a teaser for what's to come. More music is coming soon!” Gabriella: Before your album was released, you published an official list of songs that were to appear on the album. One of the songs “Terrified” never made it to the album. Will we ever get to hear that song? Rivvrs: Ah, you really must have been watching closely! I regretted posting that after I released the album. “Terrified” will be on the next release. I wrote and recorded that song about two years ago and it ultimately didn't vibe well with the other four, so we cut it from the final EP. It was nothing more than a creative decision. It didn't feel right. The song is done, and will definitely be out someday. I just can't say when. I definitely love the song, though. Gabriella: How difficult and rewarding was it for you to release your first album? And what do you think are the pros and cons of being a new musician in the industry? Rivvrs: “Hold On” is technically my first album, though I have released previous material as “Brandon Zahursky” and “River Shiver.” Knowing this is the first set of songs that I am truly proud of feels like a tremendous personal accomplishment. It wasn't really difficult. It just took a lot of time to progress. I'm just grateful that people like the songs. I think as a newbie to the music industry, it's easy to be overwhelmed by what you haven't done yet. I try not to focus on that as much as [to] be grateful for the opportunities I've had. Since “Rivvrs” is a whole new thing to me, a pro is that I have this feeling of being reborn. All the old albums, the old songs—good and bad—the trials, the errors, the regrets, they're all gone because I started over. It feels amazing! It's definitely gone into the feeling of the record. Gabriella: Are you currently working on any new songs or musical projects? Rivvrs: Always! Aside from the other batch of songs that are already recorded, I have about fifteen other songs either finished or half written. I'm going to wait a bit before releasing another album, but the songs are done! Gabriella: Can you tell prospective fans why they should pick up your album? Rivvrs: I wouldn't know. I'd say that's for someone else to say. I like to think that these songs will all have one underlying tone—optimism and hope. Whether or not that separates me, I'm not sure. I just think there's so much negativity in a lot of music, and my goal is to focus on the happy stuff. Gabriella: What advice do you have for young and aspiring artists out there, or to young people in general? Rivvrs: Keep your eyes and ears closed to the world—to an extent. No one can tell you who you are. Don't be afraid to be different, or to pursue a career that isn't traditional. Also, definitely don't choose a career based on money. If you have a passion in your heart, follow that passion with every ounce of your soul and you will find happiness. For more information about Rivvrs, please go to his website: To purchase Rivvrs’ debut album “Hold On,” please go to: ***** Image Credit: Steven Bailey Cover Image Credit: Steven Bailey Featured Track: “I Will Follow You” Music and lyrics copyrighted to Rivvrs/ Brandon Zahursky

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Aaron Schwartz

Fascinating. Thanks, The People Project.

10 days ago

Eduardo Ribeiro Alves

I like (very much!)

9 days ago

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