Category Archives: Celebrating Art

The contributions of our friends

Chief Dabbler recruiting creatives in San Francisco

Jemal “Jay” Swoboda developed two critical skills growing up with a dozen brothers and sisters on a midwestern farm: how to learn to do new stuff and how to get along with people. Both serve him very well as the Chief Dabbler of, a Chicago-based city exploration and local adventure platform now launching in San Francisco.

“You had to learn how to fix stuff,” Swoboda says about his childhood. “A lot of skills my family shared with me were ones I didn’t think twice about. Our limited resources made being resourceful a daily requirement. We reused the bath water for three to four kids to save water and money and when the hot water heater broke – we boiled water on the stove until we fixed it. There is a confidence that comes with the knowledge that I can fix something broken or take care of an animal that is sick and not have to spend a bunch of money for someone else to do it for me. Gardening, welding, plumbing, word-working, you name it, these are useful skills I learned just because of my upbringing.”

Dabble is all about creating shared experiences with people learning new skills or talents. Users purchase tickets to learning-based events that redefine the meaning of “diverse.” Classes range from important skills like welding and cooking, to more intriguing offerings like knife throwing, archery and how to dance like Beyoncé.

“For the price of a round of drinks or your monthly cable subscription, you can learn new things, meet new people and have a great local experience. Anyone can dabble,” Swoboda says.


Born to Dabble

Like all of the Dabble staff, Swoboda started out as a consumer.

“We’re dabblers and travelers ourselves. The team is made up of people who share their skills and experiences already. They are creatives who are inspired by the work and time shared with others. We created a platform we wanted to use,” he says.

The freshly launched startup that began in 2011 made a splash in Chicago, quickly emerging as a go-to site for finding new things to do, new hot spots or new talented people willing to share their skill set with others.

Swoboda, then a St. Louis resident with an entrepreneurial bent, helped Dabble expand. Beyond the viability of the business, he connected with it on an emotional level, seeing people dabble in learning new things, making things and connecting with others. It reminded him of home.

“There is a very clear connection in that world between what your hands do and how you live. This is important life stuff that we could really lose touch with if we’re not careful,” he says.

Swoboda had spent more than a dozen years as the founder and editor of What’s Up Magazine, a nonprofit publication written & sold by the disadvantaged and homeless of St. Louis. If he were a football player, he’d be described as having a “high motor.” His relentless energy kept him busy with St. Louis startups, building LEED-certified homes, teaching as an adjunct professor and racing in ultra marathons. Despite his full dance card, he dove deep into Dabble when the opportunity arose, heading up the company’s St. Louis expansion before moving to Chicago.

When Dabble’s founders shifted focus to other opportunities, Swoboda was ready to up his involvement. As the new CEO–or Chief Dabbler as he calls himself– of the company, he won an Arch Grant for $50,000. He brought in new investment funding and continued the bootstrapping effort to bring the site to more people.

Fans of the site are thrilled.

“I love me some Dabble,” frequent user Elise Taylor said. “A friend introduced me to it a few years ago, and since then I’ve done a class every couple of months.  For couples it makes a great date night–our last Surprise Date Night was an archery lesson–for individuals it’s great to learn a new skill.”


Taking the next steps

The next steps will be the most challenging in the company’s five-year history.

In addition to its strong Chicago base, Dabble has grown in Denver and St. Louis with pockets in more than 10 cities. With the next round of investment funding looming, Swoboda knew growth would be imperative to the site’s success. He targeted San Francisco and spent a couple of weeks in September making the rounds in search of the best teachers, classes and experiences in a city full of them.

“We want to dip our toe in the water of this Bay, because we know that is an unending limit of people and experiences here that we want to help share,” he says.

Soon San Franciscans will experience what Chicago resident Sara Omary talks about to friends all the time.

“I already love flying solo at Dabble classes, making new friends, and telling new Dabblers about the other great experiences I have,” Omary said. “I am down to try literally anything and have a good time doing it. Dabble has been an amazing way to learn new things, meet new people, and discover more of Chicago since I moved here in January.”

This, to Swoboda, is the other thing that drew him to Dabble beyond just learning new things. The People. Especially in urban centers that can seem isolating when compared to his upbringing. Swoboda loves the urban life but knows human connections are critical.

“What’s this pull to cities?” he asks “Why do we live in the middle of the bustle? We live here because of the energy, because living in cities collides us with this unending list of experiences and people.

“This is what makes a big city feel small,” Swoboda says. “We’re not just schelping classes.”

Calling all creatives, small business owners and artisans. Sign up your classes on Dabble now by clicking here. It’s fun, easy and doesn’t cost a thing.



Unleash your storytelling power in 1 minute

I guard my weekends. The times where I voluntarily gave up an entire weekend I can probably count on my fingers and toes and not even take off a shoe. But the times I pay to give up a weekend, well… I recall one: a video boot camp by the company Seenfire that I signed up for not realizing it would take an entire weekend. Had I known, I wouldn’t have gone. This was one of the best mistakes in planning I ever made.

Seenfire’s Founder Christoph Geiseler runs these video boot camps to train people to make high-quality videos. He has a simple premise. Keep your videos to one minute in length. Anything longer takes far more work and loses far more viewers. He also says to make your video in one day. Anything longer is obsessing that won’t usually result in better quality. Geiseler wants his company to become the online platform for one-minute storytellers.

I’m still amazed by how often I use the tools I learned in that video boot camp. Admittedly I didn’t pay too much attention to his highly detailed (err… I believed I referred to it as excessively anal under my breath during the boot camp, to be honest) organizational system and I quickly regretted it. I’ve since started to apply it in every video I make. My knowledge of Premiere Pro is probably like my brain… I may use 10 percent at best. But that 10 percent has remarkable power to create a visual story in a way I could have only dreamed (or paid heavily) for before.

I use these skills now in work, in play, and to express my Effin Artistry. I now think videos and look forward to the editing process of pairing words, music, and visuals in a finished, complete product.

The point here: Give up a weekend and get to one of these boot camps. The next one is in the Los Angeles are on the first weekend of April (click here to register and learn more). The seminar is limited to 10 people. Amp up your storytelling, and be one of the 10. If you are, report back here by replying and telling us how you liked the seminar.

Check out our first one-minute video at by clicking here.

Top 12 Books: A list that connects to lifelong memories

I love lists.

I can keep myself preoccupied for hours thinking about my favorite baseball players, my favorite foods, my favorite movie lines or just about favorite anything.

I also love to-do lists. I have them everywhere. I’m often making lists.

I thought about this recently when I stumbled across one such list I wrote down several years ago. It’s my favorite book list.

I hesitate to make this public because my list reveals an utter lack of fraudulent literacy. I don’t often go for “the classics.” I read Moby Dick and often challenge anyone else who says they did because it was one of the worst, longest, dreariest books I had ever read. Few of the great books, modern or classic, make my list for the simple reason I am often bored reading them, which says far more about me than it does about the great authors of the past.

For an editor and writer, my list makes plain that I lack sophistication in my choices. But, I’ll get out myself.  My list honestly makes no sense. It represents books that for whatever reason, touched me.

Here it is, for all its simplicity:

Just missed: The Last Night at Twisted River by John Irving (every book he writes is brilliant) and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Every book by Robert Parker in his Spenser series. And Blue Like Jazz, a forerunner to my unpublished spiritual memoir I didn’t know existed when I wrote it.

12. Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. One of the funniest books I ever read. And yet it had sneaky relevance tucked into the chicanery, a bit of “what if” quality about the son of God that helped me grow spiritually, believe it or not.John Steinbeck. This one makes me look a little better

11. East of Eden, By John Steinbeck. This one makes me look a little better. It lives up to the hype. Radical for its time, sparse in its prose and deeply insightful. Timshel: One of the best passages I’ve ever read, powerful wisdom in literary form.

10. Lonesome Dove, By Larry McMurtry. I only picked this up because I had nothing else to read. I couldn’t believe a “western” had been so critically acclaimed. Then I read it. All 900-something pages in one weekend. It was brilliant.

9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Compelling storytelling that made an entire culture approachable, lovely and dreadful. The ending fell off just a bit. I don’t know, but I suspect it was somewhat autobiographical about his move to the Bay Area and close to his heart, which is often the kiss of death for a novelist. But the rest of the book is so good, it weathered the lack of focus.

8. The Top of the Hill, by Irvin Shaw. I read this when I was probably seven years old. Maybe 10. I re-read it many times in the years to come. I didn’t know it at the time, but this early foray into “adult popular fiction” connected with an unconscious part of me that deeply identified with the flawed protagonist. It still amazes me how this book captured my childhood attention and held it for so long.

7. To Kill A Mockingbird, By Harper Lee. The highest standard of writing in the voice of a child and yet capturing vital issues every adult should know. Atticus Finch is a great literary character.

6. The Bridge of Madison County, by Robert James Waller. I am a hopeless romantic. But I don’t read romance stories. This had a rare combination of compelling romance with a fascinating story. Yes, it’s sappy and emotive and overly sentimental. But the writing is crisp, and the book was rejected by every agent who looked at it. It remains the forerunner to the possibility of self-publishing.

5. Middlesex,  by Jeffrey Eugenides. One of the best-written books I have ever read, a rare combination of great writing, fascinating characters and compelling story. Usually, one of the three is missing (often the last). This had them all.

4. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I think Hemingway’s legend does not match his actual work. For example, most people talk about his “sparse prose” and “active voice.” Yet he is a master of the run-on sentence, which is what makes that prose so compelling. Without that, sparse prose becomes– like so many who try to emulate him — too simplistic, almost a “see Dick run,” cadence that is a snore. This book is a masterpiece in both. When the shark first hits his fish, I’ve never felt such physical dread reading a story.

3. The River Why, by David James Duncan. This is another book that couldn’t get past agents, probably because it was too wordy and wandering, nothing like the boilerplate that publishers demand from first-time authors. But the Sierra Club published it, and a gem resulted. Funny, lovely, important and mystical, it remains one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

2. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven. I almost can’t describe this incredible book my mother first read to my brother and me when we took a summer vacation driving through the national parks. Craven was in her 60s when the short little story of a priest in a remote village became an unlikely best seller. It’s beautiful, but also, a spiritual signpost I return to often.

And my favorite book from this list:

1. The Shadow of the Wind, By Carlos Zafon. When I found this book it came in a dark time of rehab when nothing was very beautiful in my life. The beauty of his prose and the story filled me with a lightness no book had ever done before or since. It’s translated from Spanish and still beautiful, so I can only image how incredible it is in the author’s native language.

Share your favorites in the comment section below. Like all my lists, they can be revised often. In this case, I hope they do, because discovering a new Top 12 book is a gift I look forward to every time I enter a bookstore.

Litquake and Video Takes

“I felt a little better when Scot blew his part on our next try,” Dawn writes. What are friends for?!

Source: Litquake and Video Takes

Ever think EFF That (but let’s be honest, when we think it, we think the non-censored version). All the time, right. So much is… well, Effed. So what the hell is Effin Artist? It starts with a simple prefix that switches the focus on that mental state. We don’t say EFF that. We say UN-EFF That.

More to come, but for now, enjoy my partner in UN-Effin the world, writer Dawn Pier’s view of our three minutes of (sh)fame.

Hardly strictly the power of art displayed

Nearly a million people came for the #HSB15 music this weekend. They came for the celebration of art, for community, for friendship, for simply a place to go that doesn’t cost a damn thing. They jammed the open spaces of Golden Gate park so full you simply couldn’t find an open space anymore.

They came for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015, a free weekend music festival that very well could be the best of its kind anywhere.

“This is the great gift of Warren Hellman, the one and only, to not only the City of San Francisco, but the world of music.” ~SF Chronicle

For starters, let’s state the obvious: it’s free. Nothing is free these days. You can’t cross a bridge without a toll. Bus fares are rising. Libraries are still free (mostly) but they are forever threatened with government funding cuts (ironically, nobody threatens to shutter a jail for lack of funds, but just try keeping libraries, historical societies, parks and campgrounds open). Virtually everything costs these days, but not this incredible festival with the likes of Joe Jackson, Boz Scaggs, The Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, and Flogging Molly to name just a few of the more than 100 musicians who performed.

This is a rare gift of musicianship. And it’s free. Effin Amazing.

But more than the price tag drew people. Hardly Strickly is an event. It’s where people from all walks of life want to be. Sure, music is the draw. But look around. It is far more than that. It’s magic, most of which starts with people. Folks wanted to be with someone else, even if just near others who enjoy the same music.

HSB models how something so simple as art and community can pull people together more than most any other thing, which is basically the entire vibe behind Effin Artistry. We are most human when we are creative and positive and together.

Perhaps the entire Chi of the festival was best summed up Sunday morning by the lead singer of a local band, The Stone Foxes, who said:

“We live here in San Francisco where the rents are fucking high and the music venues are going away, but we’re here to say, the music still matters in San Francisco!”

A lot is wrong with our Golden City. But this is what’s right. No matter what this brutally hard life doles out, often a guitar and song, or a poem read aloud or a mural on wall can make us feel that much better than we did before.

That is what this festival is all about.

Let’s not pretend for a minute that alcohol and drugs don’t play a major factor in the gathering. The entire festival is by default viewed through the hazy, perma-stink of the stinky lettuce emissions.  Black-market booze sellers stacked cash like mobsters. What would this festival be like if it was also a drugs- and alcohol-free festival? That’s the interesting question for another time. Maybe an Effin Artist type of time.

Today, it’s enough to celebrate the power of the arts to bring us together. In being together, we are often far more human than we are apart.

Morning has broken and great things are ahead

I’m a morning person. I wake up and almost inevitably the first words out of my mouth are “thank you, God.” I start the day pretty on top of the world (and try to fend off slipping into the bog of life’s struggles the rest of the day).

I’m kind of surprised how few people I know share this basic head-start I feel to each day. Even people who say they are most effective in the morning often tell me they aren’t “Morning people.” I’m not sure I understand.

I think one of the first steps of genuine wholeness, the hoof-to-head balance and wellness that makes life better starts in the first moments of every day. It’s like the clothes we put on. It sets the tone. If we opt for joy, joy stands a better chance of meeting us throughout the day. If we consider how much we have to celebrate on this side of heaven, our most creative sides are freed to expand and grow.

An artist created us and sustains us. We are the result of Her craft and She called us “good.” When we let our artistic expression loose, we become more divine.

Or as Tony the Tiger the said, “Theeyy’rree great!” (He may have been talking about Frosted Flakes, but I like to think it was life in general that got that big cat going. He’s a morning feline for sure).

But the point here is not to coerce, but to enthuse. I’ve written before that my favorite word is ardor. My wish for you is you wake up today with ardor for the day ahead. May your energy be infused with the joy of life.

Here are some little helpers I’m offering that may help you get off to a great start today:

First, grab your coffee or tea or water with lemon, sit in a good spot and stare at something pretty while you press play to this:

It’s hard to not to feel cheer when you listen to Cat Stevens.

Next, give yourself a minute of nothing but quiet. Sit and do less. Ahhhh. Breathe. Slide the corners of your mouth into a half-smile, just a little uplift. Pet the dog. Then breathe once more and say, “Thank you, _____.” (God, divine, self, sun, spirit, universe, etc.).

I’d get up and move around a little bit. Maybe a few sun salutations if you do yoga or simply stretching to the heavens. Make a loudish noise like AHHHHHHHH or WEEEEEEE! You can’t help but snicker a bit.

Think ahead to your day and try to nail down one thing you’re really looking forward to. Maybe it’s dessert or a phone call to a friend, or doing something you love, or someone you love, or whatever. But if you don’t have one thing, figure out something and cram it into the schedule. Make it happen. No matter what else goes awry today, you’ll have that to look forward to.

And now before you dive into your routine, I leave you with the wisdom of the Rabbi Zechariah the few months before the birth of Jesus who sang,

“Because of God’s tender mercy
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
and to guide us to the path of peace.”

May the morning light of heaven greet you today.

Feel free to share this within a CHEERY GOOD MORNING to any “not a morning person” in your life. And return often just to feel the sun of positivity on your morning skin. Peace.

First brush can chart a new artistic course

Think of all the things you put in the blank at the end of this sentence: “I’d love to someday learn to ______.”

When I drank I only talked about the words that would fill in the blank. Now, I routinely fill do them.

Do yoga. Play the guitar better.  Foreign languages. Knit a beanie. Bake bread. Listen. balance my life. Meditate. The list grows as I take on things I’d only dabbled in before or never got around to trying. One of the big ones was paint.

My mom painted for several years when I was young and some of her paintings remain throughout her house. I never fail to look at them when I visit. My cousin Dona, is perhaps the single best portrait artist I have ever seen. For years and years I would see her art with a mix of thrill and envy.

One of my earliest memories as a child was a beautiful dream that felt like heaven with a mental image so powerful I recall it (mostly) to this day. For decades I wished I could paint that picture. But I never once picked up a paint brush and applied paint to a blank white canvas.

Until now.

I won’t forget my first brush stroke when I started to finally fill in the blank that someday I would learn to paint. I paused to enjoy it because I knew how much I had been waiting to try.


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It didn’t look like much, but to me it was the first brush of a new interest that immediately felt like something I should have been doing all my life.

The class was the genius idea of Art Social, a business that started out marrying art and wine, but really got it right with its name. It’s a marriage of art and social because the wine it turns out isn’t necessary. On this night, held in a large restaurant’s upstairs conference room, wine had little or nothing to do with the event. We ate a burger before the event and got serious about painting once it started. We even socialized a bit.

Fun was the order of the day, the instructor Katherine Yost said. With quirky humor and a stellar playlist of background tunes, she set a light-hearted approach to filling the blank canvas with whatever interpretation of Van Gogh’s Cypress Trees that came out of our minds and through our brushes. She offered enough instruction that folks could succeed, but absence of rigidity that would cause us to become art critics of our work.

As we slowly began to turn our canvas into a painting, I couldn’t help but be amazed. I could “see” things I wanted to do like my five-year-old dream of heaven, but for once my brush-weilding hand could execute what I saw.

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I knew I’d end up Monet-ing my Van Gogh a bit. He painted the Cypress Tress near the end of his crazy life (this is the dude who chopped off his own ear to paint it if I recall). The darkness that ruled his mind during these years shows in the blacks that dominate his art. Having had enough darkness, I purposefully went for more light while trying to stay true to the original form. Yost encouraged such freedom so I took it.

“I’m going to officially declare you artists for the night,” Yost said enthusiastically. Effin Artists, I thought. Yeah, man.

Yost, program director for, said she’s been an artist and art teacher all her life because as she played with art as a kid like we all do, “nobody ever told me to stop creating.”

If that’s not the best advice, I don’t know what is.

Toward the end of the night with wildly different interpretations created by the novice artists in the room, I couldn’t find a single person who didn’t look positively thrilled with their creation. Everyone had that look…. the “I’m an Effin ARTIST, man!” look. I know it was plastered to my face.

When I signed my first painting I had a sense of accomplishment that defies simple explanation.

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It wasn’t an act of crossing off an item on the bucket list. It was a greeting. Welcome to paint. I knew I’d soon have to learn more, do more and explore more. Knowing full well I’d never be “a painter” I now embrace this for what it is, an expression of something within that to this point hadn’t had precisely the right way of communicating. I continue to fill in this blank, just as I continue to struggle with foreign languages and guitar and surfing and a host of other things I want to “learn to do.” I don’t ever really arrive at these things, but life is so much more full with the pursuit.

And my newly redecorated bathroom has a personal touch as a result.

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I may never be a painter, but my life as an Effin Artist continues to evolve ever-deeper and richer, which has been the point all along since I decided to put down the bottle and start living again.

Paris as a mecca of black artistic freedom: chip in

Writer Lynn Brown is not going to celebrate her completion of grad school by backpacking through Europe, but she is going and she is going to write about her experiences.

Brown’s purpose for the sojourn is also likely to produce a work of art that will add to the experience of being young and finding your way in this world.

Brown is going to Paris to study the movement of black writers who found sanctuary from American racism and the freedom to pursue their craft. Brown wants to follow in the footsteps of the many lesser known black artists in Paris while pursuing the work of James Baldwin, a black artist and gay man who sought freedom to be fully both in Paris. Baldwin is at the centerpiece of Brown’s pursuit, called “Footsteps of Baldwin Anthology Project.”

Brown writes, “In the 1940s and ‘50s there was an exodus of African American writers, artists and thinkers, whose intention was to escape the constraints of a pre-Civil Rights America. Many of them ended up in Paris, where they were able to finally be just themselves. Many of these artists received extensive support and recognition for their work, so much so that we now consider them to be seminal to the African American experience.

“There is still a strong expatriate African American presence in Paris to this day. My goal with this project is to meet with artists from this community and talk with them about their reasons for deciding to spend their lives abroad. Are these artists there to follow in the footsteps of their creative forefathers, or are they escaping similar cultural constraints and oppression?

Brown is well-traveled, well-educated and well-prepared for this pursuit. She has the perspective of minorities in New York, New Orleans, San Francisco among others. She worked in the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency and written several of her own published works.

She can use the help of the artist community. She can use the help of the black community. She can use the help of those who simply embrace the long-standing value of patronage. If members of all those communities chip in a few bucks here and a few bucks there, her project will be funded so that it effectively reaches a widespread audience.

Please consider chipping in by clicking here.




Honor the craft: Busking is not begging

In a city known for its commitment to public art, I have to wonder why so often we treat its diverse artists with so much disdain.

The more I look, the more I see it and the more unsettling it is.

On a recent glorious Bay Area weekend, I ended up wandering around down in the heart of Tourist Central, the San Francisco Waterfront between Market street, the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. San Francisco is chock full of things to see but nothing so attracts visitors as sun, sea and shops, not to mention the notable Alcatraz tour, a newly built port for cruise ships, an artisan craft market and one of the busiest farmer’s market you’d ever see smack in the middle of the greatest city on the planet.

Suffice to say, people were everywhere.

Right along with them were a mainstay of San Francisco, the artists who perform for cash. Right along with them were the food and housing insecure folks who sit and wait for handouts and/or panhandle tourists for whatever they can get.

I know quite a few of the homeless in this neighborhood. Most suffer from the usual array of mental illness and drug addiction. Most will ask for a dollar or two without incident or aggression. Still the disdain on people’s faces as they pass is notable to anyone who really looks. The homeless: they look. They notice. They experience it.

But the street artists also confront their fair share of annoyance not at all dissimilar from the panhandlers. In short, people view all these residents of this great city as a nuisance, even though the most common thing they share is our disapproval. Street performers are not panhandlers, but we too often treat them the same. Poorly. 

As I wandered the city, the music and energy the artisans brought filled the air with something more than the bustle and anxiety of crowds trying to all get somewhere. Almost like listening to a radio dial, I’d hear the sounds of a country tune on a stand-up bass, meld into the metallic drums of Jamaica, which soon morphed into the laughter of people watching a magician or a the squeak of a man molding animals from balloons. In quieter times I have sat on a balcony and heard a violin being played in a nearby park with a sound so pure it could be a CD.

It’s not just a city thing. During a jog on an early-ish morning through downtown Ashland, Ore. I heard a violin being played even though few were out on the streets. I veered hard left across the street and dropped money in her case as I jogged by. I think I scared the crap out of her, but she never stopped playing.

How can any of this be a nuisance, I wondered. 

Regardless of your politics of homelessness, the art of performing in public–busking is the correct term–goes back as far as time likely does. Musicians and storytellers were the wisdom keepers of the tribe. Jewish culture is often sung, not read, from the Psalms. Kings and queens had their jesters and the great artists of the renaissance found their craft supported largely by patrons who simply wanted artists and their art nearby as a cultural enhancement.

Famous musicians have played on street corners, either before their fame as the likes of Janis Joplin and Tracy Chapman, or after they were big but headed out to the streets simply to perform, like the famous clip of Neil Young’s unmistakable voice playing banjo in Europe back in 1976. Bon Jovi is known to take to the streets time and again, and most famously Paul McCartney once went out and busked for video of a song.  Perhaps the greatest rocker of all time caught how people simply didn’t want to notice him:

“They just made me up and dropped me off. […] So I was standin’ there plunkin’ chords, doing this silly version of the song, and no one noticed it was me. No one wants to look a busker in the eye, of course, ‘cus then they get his life story. So they’d toss coins and I’d be going ‘Yesterday, all my troubles – thank you, sir – seemed so far away.'”

If we are annoyed by Paul McCartney something’s kinda haywire with our built-in prejudices.

So why the disdain? Because many hawk CDs or perhaps have an open instrument case to accept passing donations? It makes no sense to me. I’ve tried to wrap my head around seeing these musicians and performers as a pain the ass and I just can’t make the pieces fit. Buskers are not panhandlers.


The more I thought about this in my wandering, the more my meager dollars flew out of my pocket into cans and bags and guitar cases, the more frustrated I became. I texted a friend and said, “I’m having a crisis of confidence with humanity right now.” Thankfully I didn’t have to explain it. It was just an ache, like a bruise that arrives but you can’t recall how it got there.

I’ve found that whenever I get too high and mighty life kicks my legs out. So I guess I wasn’t at all surprised when riding on BART from an assignment in Oakland, I felt annoyance as a guy stood to make an announcement on the train as it ducked under the bay.

I don’t mind panhandlers at all, but I don’t want them on the trains. It’s too close, too stuck, too intrusive even for those like me who don’t mind panhandlers on the streets. My own hypocrisy began to seep out of my skin.

I tuned out the announcement and even rolled my eyes as he pulled out his guitar and began to sign, soon accompanied by his two sons.

My first reaction: “Oh geez dude, get an EFFin life. Don’t pimp your kids on a commuter train.”

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Then I listened. They played Take me Home, Country Roads, a beloved song from my childhood that couldn’t be more out of place on a Bay Area train played by a black family… on plastic tubs and kazoos no less! The song transformed my thoughts. I pulled off my own headphones which were blaring gangsta rap. The discordant thoughts, latent racism and classism, and everything seeming so out of whack caused my head to swirl to the lyrics of “…to the place, I belong, West Virgina, mountain mama… gotta take me home…”

My crisis of confidence in humanity was a crisis of confidence in my own selfish little self.

I made sure to look all three of them in the eyes. They were having fun. I smiled and nodded and clapped a bit. I dug out a five-spot and held it aloft as soon as they finished. I looked around and noticed others did the same.  The father made sure to say, “Don’t give it to me. It’s for them. It’s for their education.”

And I believed him. I didn’t even care if its some hustle. That’s not my issue. They played, I liked it, the commute was better, so I tipped them. I could care no more what they were about than the waiter I tip after a nice dinner, which is exactly how it should be.

“Don’t forget your bucket,” I said to one of the kids before they left to play for the next train.

“Don’t worry. I got a system,” he said with a wink. He was having fun. He was and EFFin Artist, man.

That night as I played guitar with my daughter who worked on picking up the ukulele, I asked, “What do you think of going up to North Beach and playing some songs so you can sing to people on the streets?”

“That’d be cool,” she said.

“It would. And you can keep whatever money they give you. Consider it a job.”

“Why not?” she said and nodded. “Sounds fun.”

Fun. She simply wanted to sing for others even if that meant on a busy street corner of one of the busiest corners of the greatest city on the planet. Why not, indeed.

Pastry artist hosts delectable showing at Sweet Mue Sunday

San Francisco’s food artistry will be on display this Sunday, March 8, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. during a pop-up at Sweet Mue on 22nd and Guerrero in the Mission District. Pastry chef Steven Cheung’s French pastries, desserts, and handcrafted confections with a modern twist — as featured on his Instagram account _sp00ns_– will be for sale until they are sold out.

These types of events are all the rage in this culinary gem of a city. Since we love food, especially the artistically delightful type Cheung creates, we decided to ask him more about this event. Read on.

EffinArtist: Forgive me but I missed when pop up stores and flash mobs became a real thing. Thank goodness flash mobs are gone, but pop ups stayed, because they seem pretty cool. Tell me your event?  

Steven Cheung: Of course I can Scot! So this Sunday on March 8th, I am hoping to showcase some of my favorite creations all while getting a feel for running my own business. The pop-up model that I chose to use is allowing me to experiment with my business structure and allow a lot more fun to take place for me and those who stop by to indulge in my sweets. I really hope to provide people with one last weekend thrill before having to go back to business as usual on Monday.

EA: So is Sweet Mue you or the store that exists that you are borrowing? Forgive my confusion. I’m brain challenged.

SC: Sweet Mue is the store front I’m using. I am not really borrowing the store front, but instead I had the owner, who is a long time friend of mine, sell my pastries instead of her own. In addition to that, I am also going to be there to help run the store front alongside my supporting friends.

sweet mue

EA: From a business standpoint I assume this is a way to launch yourself and build the brand. Is your own shop the goal? 

SC: I do hope to own my very own bakery here in San Francisco one day, but that may be a bit far off into the future. As of right now, I work as a pastry chef at Stanford for the Schwab executive service. At Stanford I am often creating intricate pastries for clients like Netflix along with the deans of both the school and the business school. Between the planning of the desert menu, training the new staff I am hiring and baking full time, there really is no time to invest in a full-time bakery. Instead, I thought that I would revitalize my baking passion by offering my pastries to the public through my pop-up and hey, if they remember me or my confections it wouldn’t hurt to gain more fans and followers.

EA. Where did you learn your craft? 

SC: I partook in the culinary arts and hospitality program at the Community College of San Francisco attaining my associate’s degree there, and afterward I had gone on to attain a certificate in professional patisserie and bakery management from the Hong Kong Culinary Academy. Since then and in between the schools, I have learned many different skills by working and apprenticing under other pastry chefs around the bay area.

EA. What’s your “thing.” I know you say “French pastries, desserts, and handcrafted confections with a modern twist” but what is the one thing I have to try when I come?

SC: I strive to be well-rounded in all pastry arts from breads to chocolate to classic French pasteries but if I really have to pick just one thing, I would say you have to try my Kouignettes. The Kouignettes are my absolute favorite, although not the easiest to make.  Each batch is hand rolled meaning I do not use machinery for the shaping of each layer. The outer layer is a made with a special blend of sugar which gives it an amazing crunchy and carmalized texture. When you bite into it you can taste and see each layer. This week, I am actually featuring an apple with cream cheese kouignette. You should definitely pick one of those up while you are here.

EA: Consider it done. Sounds Effin amazing. Where can people learn more about you, the event, etc.? 

SC:  Anyone can feel free to contact me at or follow me on instagram @_spOOns_

EA: What’s the one thing about you that I didn’t ask but I should have? 

SC:  I think the one question you should have asked is “Why come to your pop-up and not some other bakery?” (EA: Yeah, you’re right. Good question.) Being in the mission, there are so many options for a sweet bite or a quaint coffee shop to satisfy your occasional need to spoil yourself with treats or diet cop-outs. I encourage everyone to stop by my pop-up if you want to experience a memorable moment with food. I try to help people understand the roles of texture, the balance of sweet and savory, along with the ideas of light flavors that can work together to achieve delightful bites.There are two ways to eat my pastries, eating them for the sake of eating or spoiling yourself by savoring each bite and allowing the sensations to take over.

Yes, my weight watching effort continues as I beat back the infernal not-so-lovely love handles (Thank God the Bride is the only one I have to impress and she has permanent beer goggles when it comes to me despite our sobriety) BUT, yes, indeed… you can count on me being at Sweet Mue Sunday, trying that Kouignette as recommended (can’t say it but you can bet I can smash it!) and likely another item or two. Join us and celebrate this budding San Francisco original pastry artist. If you go, come back and post your comments here!