I grew up amongst things would seem to have little or nothing to do with each other, and I think it affected my brain. It shaped how I think, and why I’m an artist, and what kind of artist I aim to be.
All of my work is rooted in exploring boundaries – physical, mental, media, human, technological and otherwise. I believe we invent the world, and that, as Frank Zappa said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
I was born in Livermore, California, situated on the outer edge of the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s close to and influenced by Oakland, and of course SF, and also the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim, and being California it gets a good dose of Mexican culture – and many other cultures – as well. On the East side it’s near the Central Valley, and so Livermore summers topped 100 degrees regularly and coyotes and snakes cruised around the rolling gold grassy hills.
As a kid I loved sports. I grew up with Ray Guy and Ken Stabler and Dave Stewart and Hendu and the Stompers and the original Earthquakes. As a girl growing up in the 70s, I played in the first girls’ soccer league in my town. The league rule was, we had to name our teams after flowers. The boys got to name themselves after natural disasters.
Livermore is home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, or the “Rad Lab” as it was called when I was small. Which didn’t mean it was “rad,” but rather that there was “radiation.” They did actual rocket science there. My dad worked in the NMFECC, or National Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center. At the Lab they built solar cars, and simulated nuclear winters inside computers. The computer room in my dad’s building, with its white floors, was part of the setting for the movie, Tron.
Each year we went to Family Day at the Lab, where we got to look at the big round Cray supercomputers. That’s where I first encountered an interactive computer game on a terminal in the hall, where you typed in queries and got answers on tractor-feed paper. It was fantastic. I did my high school FORTRAN homework on one of those Crays.
Livermore also had cows. And horses. Many of my friends were in 4-H, and I hung out with them while they groomed sheep and raised animals that they ate later. Livermore was dusty, edged with long low wood fences. A horse lived adjacent to my middle school. It was old and grumpy and we weren’t supposed to bug it. But we liked it anyway.
And there were grapes. Livermore is a wine-growing region. That culture has expanded in recent years. Big houses have grown up on new streets named after wine varieties. But back then the grapes just seemed like an extension of the rolling ranch land. I was outside, all the time. I biked from one end of town to the other, balancing a tennis racket on my handlebars and with a wet swimsuit rolled up in my backpack.
And there was music. The house where I lived was situated around a grand piano, which my dad played for hours each day. My brother, when he was small, would lie on the rug underneath and listen. My parents were in a theater troupe. There were madrigals, and church music, and readings and rehearsals in the living room. There was always a performance of a play, or a concerto, or The Messiah, or something to go to in which I would sit there and root for whoever in my family was on the stage. Or sometimes, they got to root for me. Like when I played Winnie the Pooh.
As I grew up and went off to college, this mish-mash I had emerged from began to feel less like a norm and more like an exception. At school people talked in terms of “fuzzies” and “techies.” This meant nothing to me. I was an artist, I could program, who cared? Things were divided into subjects, starting in grade school. These subjects received more or less funding based on some rules of value that I did not understand. When Proposition 13 passed in California, and the schools started to crumple up, the various disciplines retreated from one another in a fight for money. Some of them, like music, lost.
I completed a Dual Bachelor’s, something they let you do at Stanford, where you get two BA’s at once. I studied painting, but I also studied media. I took some programming. I was not pre-med or pre-law or pre-biz. I was a person figuring it out, bumping into more and more boundaries as I went.
After college, you get to go into a career. Here you must decide what you “are,” or what you “work in,” so people know how to hire you. Here, my tendency to blur boundaries was a complicating factor but also the driving force that took me to amazing places and put me in contact with stupendous, brilliant people. I started in film production, which then became graphics and animation, which became software, then design, then information architecture, then video games.
All along the way, I was cartooning. King Features picked up some panels and put them in “The New Breed.” I kept a notebook by my bed and in my car for writing gags. Today, over 2,000 panels later, these little drawings go all over the world without me. One cartoon travels with the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory’s exhibit on black holes, and if you look really close, one of my cartoons (a gag about predicting earthquakes) is on the cabinet in Paul Giamatti’s office in the movie San Andreas.
In my career(s) I’ve built things that ranged from experimental to untested and back again. I developed a knowledgebase and repository for implementing enterprise software before the tools to do that existed. I helped Xerox redesign their online presence when dynamic pages were just coming into use (my product search design for them is in Jakob Nielsen’s 2000 book, Designing Web Usability). I led design for Electronic Arts’ earliest online gaming platforms, when there was no common architecture amongst their RPGs, Sports, or casual gaming titles. I kept publishing cartoons. In 2001 I had my first of two kids. My work expanded into writing, including three science fiction/fantasy novels: Silverwood, Silver Shard, and Silverwood: Origin and an illustrated serial story titled Neptune Road, about reject humans inhabiting a terraformed Neptune. I became president of a nonprofit community theater. Now I’m on the board of directors at California Shakespeare Theater, where again, we are crossing boundaries and making space for people.
And so, you could say, being a mish-mash, a mixed bag, has given me an instinct for expansion, boundary-breaking, and cross-disciplinary work. And it’s made me ever more painfully aware of how our divisions are killing us, and how badly we need new vocabulary and skills for making space and understanding and encouraging difference.
I still live in the East Bay, with my brainiac patent attorney husband, actor and powerlifter daughter, multi-instrumentalist philosopher son, two peculiar and opinionated cats, and Ashley, a mellow but very hungry tarantula.