visual art

A bit of everything: the collages of Ian Farrell

Introduction by Natalia Lehaf

Ian Farrell makes things. Music. Pictures. Collages. I’ve known him since my freshman year at NYU, as he was just beginning to decide what he wanted to study. Over the years, I watched him develop his personal artistry and, in doing so, add beauty and ideas to the world. Like any strong piece of artwork, Ian’s creations make you think. They stop you in your newsfeed scrolls and force you to look, stare, and ponder. I find the effect to be as impressive as the piece itself.

In particular, I love immersing myself in his collages. Some background information on Ian’s collages:

  • He started making collages in a class based on fairy tales led by a professor who often explored mixed media.
  • He finds inspiration in his mother’s house. She’s big on antiquing, and her house has always been full of old things.
  • Much of his work grapples with the female form and “The potential mysticism that can surround it.”

My recommendation to the TCBP audience: As you look at his collages, be sure to note his use of dimensions, new or foreign places, and colors.

Ian Farrell is a collage maker and photographer with a degree in photography from NYU. He current lives in Orange County, California. Find more of Ian's work on his website.

audio, interview

The years it took to Brave The Night

Matt Bravmann, under the stage and recording name of Brave the Night, is rounding the masses and taking them on a spiritual journey with his debut album, Mind on Fire. The album, which was released in early September, features a unique combination of bluesy and jazzy melodies. Matt’s fingers dance along piano keys and his voice distracts listeners of all else occupying their minds. The intimacy and vulnerability in his music can turn audiences into eavesdroppers; but, ultimately, this soul-reaching music invites self-reflection and contemplation. Mind on Fire is comprised of those overwhelming feelings weighing you down. His music is to be felt. It demands to be felt.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Natalia Lehaf:  I wanted to start with your background in music. When did you first start having an interest in music?

Matt Bravmann:  I started taking piano lessons when I was about four years old. I took them for a while and loved it at first and then I hated it. You know, I was a little kid; I just wanted to be outside and play sports. So I quit. My parents kept making me practice but I didn’t want to. I got back into it later on when I started playing songs I wanted to play as opposed to songs they wanted me to play. It was a lovely 360 because through playing shitty pop songs I had gotten back into playing the songs I originally didn’t want to play, like classical music. When I was eighteen I started taking serious jazz lessons with a really great teacher. I started playing gigs in high school. I played at –

NL: Nursing homes, right?

MB: Right, nursing homes and restaurants, because I didn’t live in a city so I couldn’t go and play in a bar. I traveled to New York City once to play at Brandy’s Piano Bar on the Upper West Side when I was seventeen. I remember that being a huge deal for me. When I went to college I started having steady gigs at coffee shops.

NL: Is your family musical?

MB: Yeah, my dad plays the piano. He gave me lessons for a bit.

NL: Do you play any other instruments?

MB: No, I tried. I tried the clarinet and the guitar, but I didn’t like them and I wasn’t very good. With the guitar, you develop terrible callouses on your fingers – especially when you’re first starting. With the clarinet, you need a tremendous amount of breath, and even from a young age my parents always thought I was a smoker because I couldn’t even hold my breath under water.

NL: Was music a big part of your life as a kid?

MB: Yeah, definitely. First of all, I grew up Jewish. Music is a big part of Jewish services. There are also a lot of minor chords in Jewish music, which is a little sadder but also more personal. At a young age, when I heard “Moonlight Sonata” or The Beatles or classic pop rock music, it was ingrained that this was important – beyond pop culture. There was something there that stuck with me.

NL: What triggered your return to music?

MB: I think just growing up and becoming more mature in my musical tastes. I would start to listen to music that I could play and wanted to play. We always had a piano in our house, sometimes two, so I would be playing every now and then even after I quit.

NL: What would you qualify as more mature music?

MB: I would say older artists. So much music has had an impact on me. When I heard gospel music for the fist time, my life changed. It was serious, it wasn’t fun. When I heard “Border Song” by Elton John, that was the first time I heard gospel music applied to rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and other elements. And that was something I wanted to do – I wanted to play that. Pink Floyd was another big one for me, when I heard The Wall and also The Beatles. Some songs have that rare quality where it’s like, “this is a big deal.” They hit you at the core and are spiritual experiences.

NL: When you were performing in high school, were you performing covers?

MB: Yeah, I only performed covers. I started writing music in college.

NL: Did you ever want to start a band?

MB: I wanted to start a band, but there was no connection with anyone where I thought starting a band was a realistic endeavor.

NL: So, you’ve spent a lot of alone time working on your music.

MB: And in general.

NL: How was that?

MB: I don’t want to say I was a lonely child, but in a lot of ways I was. I think being a performer, the alchemy is, you are sitting on stage and divided, literally, from the audience. The mass of people is looking at you and you are up there alone. It’s very symbolic of the process. There is an inherent separation between you and mass society. The alone time I spent as a kid was traumatic at times, but at the same time – this is going to get philosophical quickly, which I tend to do – all of my pain and weakness is also the source of my strength, creativity, and inspiration. You know, I needed that to write music. I never would have written music if I didn’t have that pain and solitude to look back on.

NL: I read that you started writing music to share your pain.

MB: Right. I don’t think that is unique to me at all.

NL: Is there anything in particular that you write about?

MB: It was more of a general sense of insecurity, and the pain that a lot of people experience but that you don’t know they are experiencing. You know, when you are growing up, you think you are the only one who has these problems – and in some ways you’re not, but in a lot of ways you are. There was never a specific event or incident.

NL: Do you think your music comes from a lonely place?

MB: Yeah. It’s interesting, because I started writing this album when I was twenty years old and didn’t finish it until I was twenty-four, twenty-five. The next album is going to come from a much different place, which is a tremendous challenge for me. It won’t be a place of desperation and loneliness, but of satisfaction and confidence and appreciation of myself and for others. That’s the way it should be: I think you need to evolve as an artist. I have no interest in making a sequel or follow-up to the last album. I want my music to evolve, but at the same time it is going to be difficult doing that. In the past, I’ve found my way of tapping into what I found to be my best stuff is tapping into the pain and the same melancholic places where I used to think inspired the creativity. I’ve started writing new music and it has not been easy.

NL: Was there a message you were trying to put out there with this first album?

MB: There wasn’t a coherent message. The message is in the title, Mind on Fire. The album is an identity crisis. It’s about contradictions and fear and insecurity and vulnerability. It’s about growing up. I’m on fire. It’s just very overwhelming to be a young twenty-year-old in New York.

NL: What was your song-writing process like?

MB: I wrote the first batch of songs while I was in college and about two years ago I wrote the second batch of songs. This album is the best of those batches.

NL: It’s very lyrically-driven. Do you have a favorite lyric or song you are proud of?

MB: You know, songwriters too often say, “every one’s my baby.” I don’t have a favorite lyric. I very rarely listen back to it. Sometimes I’ll listen and be like, “that’s a good line.”

NL: That’s interesting that you don’t listen to it, because I added the EP to my Spotify playlist. I find it really comforting.

MB: Interesting. I was very self-conscious when I released it - and still am - that it’s a downer, in the sense that it is kind of depressing. You know, “does it bring you down? Does it lift you up?”; almost universally, it doesn’t do either of those things. It’s more optimistic than I give it credit for.

NL: “Long Way to California” is one of my favorites, that one is cheerful.

MB: That one is a very optimistic song and I initially wanted to end the album on that. A big theme on the album is contrast – even the cover: a dark background with a very bright imagery up front. And a lot of the lyrics are melancholic but also hopeful.

NL: How did you choose the cover art?

MB: I had an idea for what I wanted the art to be and I hired an artist who took it from there.

NL: I know that you have a demanding job as the Digital Strategy Manager at the digital marketing, advertising, and publicity agency Brigade. How do you balance your music with your other obligations?

MB: My job is very creative, too, and I feel like there is a tank of creative energy that you fill up sometimes. It’s been hard and it’s not something I’ve conquered yet. I finished this album before I got this job. So my next challenge is writing my next album from a new mental and spiritual place and balancing this with my day job.

NL: Do you have any big dream musical ambitions?

MB: Yeah, to get better. I want the music to evolve paralleling my personal identity. As I evolve as a human being, I want my music to evolve. I make music for music. If I get paid for it, that’s great. But I don’t need to make a lot of money off of it. Five years ago, it was “do or die, make or break.” But now, I’ve made peace with it. I do it on the side and I don’t get the fame or notoriety from it — not yet — but there is nobody telling me what to do. I write what I want, I do want I want and that freedom is not something I take for granted.

To learn more about Matt and his music, check out Brave the Night's website, like the Facebook page, add the songs to your Spotify playlist, and listen on Soundcloud.


Women: A Tirade

Here are some stories, reflections, quotes and experiences I’ve had which have caused me to reflect on the state of women abroad and in America. Since learning what a feminist is, namely someone who believes in the equality of men and women, I’ve identified as one and since opened my eyes to a world of sexism, misogyny and discrimination. My bones are chilled and my heart is heavy.    

Feminism is believing that men and women are equal (see Emma Watson’s lovely U.N. speech on the subject here).  The problem worldwide is not necessarily the black-and-white idea that men and women are not equal. It’s not as simple as women know they are oppressed and are trying to break free. There’s a barrier of culture, tradition and expectation that makes the idea of equally valuing human female life revolutionary. (See female feticide rates in India or in China or just the contrast in male vs. female literacy rates by country).

 Human trafficking is just one of the many abuses against women worldwide, and often starts out less dramatically than in Taken. Women are simply sold by family members or lured to foreign countries by the prospect of jobs such as working as maids, but are instead forced into brothels where they are beaten for resisting (when that doesn’t work, perpetrators will get girls addicted to drugs). Often this takes place in countries where they do not speak the language, where they are not allowed to leave their dwelling, and where no one helps them because prostitution is so stigmatized.

More offensive, degrading practices towards women:

  • Kidnapping and raping a woman who refuses to marry you to strip her of her honor in Ethiopia
  • Exchanging a bride for her younger sister when her hymen doesn’t break on her wedding in Afghanistan (My source here is actually my aesthetician is from Afghanistan and knows somebody who this happened to!)
  • Moral police in Iran taking you to court for being seen in public without a male relative to chaperone,
  • Publically stoning a 13 or 14-year old girl to death for refusing to marry a Shabab commander in Somalia
  • A husband killing his wife in Pakistan so he could marry another woman
  • Acid attacks permanently scarring women’s faces in Colombia, sometimes simply for breaking off a relationship


Meena is an Indian kidnapped and trafficked into a brothel at 8- or 9-years old in Bihar, India profiled by Kristof and WuDunn. She was beaten into submission before spending years in the brothel, where she had two children that the owners had taken as hostages so that Meena couldn’t leave. Even though police officers were frequent customers and serviced for free, Meena took a chance and ran away to a police station hoping that they might take mercy on her. The officers sent her back.

My Firsthand Experiences

Seven years before I became aware of feminism, I went to Egypt with my family to visit family. I was 12. I didn’t know about culturally appropriate dress or the expected role of a woman in conservative Middle Eastern countries. I noticed women staring, but at that time I couldn’t make sense of why they would cover themselves up in this hot weather. I knew it was for religious purposes, but having grown up secularly I saw no reason to dress so modestly. 

It was a busy marketplace in Cairo, filled with jewelry vendors and children selling trinkets and toys. The humidity turned my straightened hair curly again. My attire of a tank top and Soffe shorts was weather-appropriate.

A man grabbed my behind. Among the rushing, the crowds, and all the veiled faces, it was impossible to even know which direction to look. I was too stunned to act so I just stopped and looked at all the possible perpetrators… I noticed one man who was walking just a little bit too fast. Had I even been sure, I had no idea how to act.

I wish I did. I wish I knew what I know now. The appropriate action would have been to shame that man: to yell, to point, to express my disgust in anger so such acts aren’t “allowed” to happen. But I was too shocked, too surprised, too taken off-guard, too unsure if I felt what I think I really just felt.


I wish I knew Gabrielle then: my roommate in India. When she was groped at a crowded Indian festival she turned around and immediately punched him in the face. She describes his shocked and unexpected face as priceless. (I wish I saw it.) It’s the official protocol for more moments I hope I never find myself in.

I did, however, get to witness Gabrielle in action on another occasion. We once went out to ice cream Hauz Khas in Delhi, India when a man with a group of friends passed us and pinched her behind. My friend, knowing exactly what to do, immediately yelled “Hey! What the hell was that?! Don’t touch me, you—” “Sorry,” the man turned around smiling with his hands on his ears. (In India it is common to place your hands on your ears when apologizing).

Smiling. Flirtatiously. Smirking as if he knew she didn’t really mean what she said. Even though she was yelling, she really welcomed the invasion of privacy, the implication that she was not a person enough to decide who makes choices about her body.

But more terrible than watching it happen to someone else is watching it happen to yourself. First, at the school I worked at in Bisada, India, when a group of (mostly male) students gathered around me and I yelled “SPACE” as I usually did when they started to overcrowd me; instead of the gradual dispersal of the crowd I felt a prod in my behind. And instead of reporting to the principal immediately, I yelled angrily at the mysterious student and hoped for it to die down because of course who wants their butt to be the subject of school news and a possible suspension? And of course I “let” the group of boys gather around me and I didn’t act quickly or sternly enough to control their behavior. A full-fledged feminist for three years at that point, I still managed to become my own victim in a classic victim-blaming scenario. Here, too, the desire to maintain privacy and forget embarrassing situations was strong. (And it was something that used to infuriate me in the past: reading about women’s stories of rape or sexual violence, I always wished, above all, that they took action against their perpetrators who deserved punishment or public shaming). I did take action, but after the school expelled the student they retracted the expulsion when he threatened the school with gang violence. By this point, the whole school knew about the incident. And another generation of students were taught that violating a woman was not a serious matter, for some simple threatening could get you out of any real trouble.

In India, parents didn’t consistently rejoice for their daughters the way they rejoice for sons. I saw this firsthand in Bisada, a rural village about a 45-minute motorbike ride away from Delhi. One of our teachers left school to take care of her “second child.” In attending the celebration of her birth, I learned that Anju ma’am had not actually given birth to her child, but had taken her sister’s daughter because her sister didn’t want to keep the girl. They had a pre-arranged agreement that only if a boy were born would the sister keep the baby.

By the time this baby shower happened, the gender selection wasn’t even shocking to me. I saw it everyday in the classroom. My school had students from kindergarten to 10th grade, and as the class got higher (and fees became more expensive), you saw less and less females. All of the students who could “afford” cell phones happened to be males. Families spent more on males because they were simply worth more in their eyes. Girls weren’t worth the extra tuition, the extra milk, the cost of an extra vaccine…

Girls were valued too little to be trusted with decisions like who they should marry or what, or who, happens to their bodies. Females needed to be taught a lesson for going out late with a man who is not family, as five men “taught” Jyoti Singh in December of 2012.

The Most Recent, Well-Documented & Publicized Atrocious Rape in India

Jyoti was a medical student from a poor village. She was a harbinger of hope for the impoverished family, working diligently so that she could support them one day. Early on and contrary to Indian tradition, she told her parents to put the fees saved for her wedding towards her tuition instead.

Before she was able to practice physiotherapy however, she was sexually violated and brutalized when she went to see Life of Pi with a male friend of hers. In what is now known as the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape, five men took turns raping Jyoti and pulling out her intestines before she died days later in a Singaporean hospital.

I watched Leslee Udwin interview these men and their lawyers in her BBC documentary India’s Daughter when it came out in March 2015. I had just returned from India at this point. Outraged and impassioned by the film, I could not even discuss it with my friends in Delhi. They were unable to watch it because the Indian government banned it because it could “threaten public order.”

Horrible India’s Daughter Quotes

“[Rape’s] just like that kind of action. Beat him. Put his hand forcefully inside.” – M. L Sharma, one of the rapists’ defense lawyers.

“If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.” – AP Singh, another of the rapists’ defense lawyers.

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” — Mukesh, one of the convicted rapists.

Short American Rant

Whether you live in India or any other country in the world, don’t take girls for granted. In America, we still have an unacceptable gender pay gap, and abysmal rates of reporting rape and convicting rapists. Need I remind readers that a six-term member of Congress, Todd Akin, argued that women that were raped had a mechanism for somehow blocking the unwanted pregnancy? Or the Steubenville case, in which two teenage football players raped an unconscious young woman, posted the video on social media, and then pleaded the girl not to press charges so that his football career would not be damaged.  Most recently, adult film star Stoya accused James Deen of raping her despite her clearly telling him “no, stop, [and] used my safeword.”  In a refreshingly positive light, the porn industry quickly believed the accusations and dropped him as a performer. From that same article, I like this segment, helping us to understand what kind of women are often victimized and why:

Part of the reason that rape is hard to prove is that sexist fairytales about what constitutes consent infect judges and juries just as much as the general public. Of the many myths about sexual violence, the most pernicious is that women routinely lie about it. That’s not true; the rates of false reporting for rape and sexual assault are estimated to be around the same as rates of false reporting for any other crime – the current figure is anywhere between 0.2% and 8%. Men are actually more likely to be victims of rape themselves than they are to be falsely accused of it.
Rapists rely on these myths, often targeting women and girls who they know will be too scared to come forward, or who will not be believed. That means women of color, young girls, and sex workers. Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw is currently on trial for allegedly stalking and raping 13 black women and girls, some of whom had previous arrest records for sex work. Serial rapists target the young, the vulnerable and sex workers, knowing how hard it is even for women deemed ‘respectable’ to be taken seriously.

But Most Importantly, Hope Lies in the Proles…

Change starts with you. Believing someone who has confided in you, or gone public wither story, is something small you can do to make this world a more gender-equal and less hostile place to be a woman.   

My suggestions: 

  1. Be an informed citizen. Make sure all your friends know about what a terrible problem gender inequality is, especially in the developing world but also in America. Change cannot happen before awareness does. This includes pressuring, or pressurizing as they say in India, politicians to care more about these issues. As Kristof wrote in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunities for Women Worldwide, “When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” Let’s make sure our government knows we care about women’s rights and safety because the U.S. government isn’t doing enough and won’t until we all demand it. (Namely: that guard telling Nicholas Kristof that he prioritizes trafficked DVDs over women because American companies have a larger stake in pirated cinema).  The CARE Action Network (www.can.care.org), can assist you in “speaking out, educating policy makers, and underscoring that the public wants against poverty and injustice.”
  2. Know that your words matter. They are important and shape culture. Sexist language makes sexism more real. Don’t say “you hit like a girl” or “don’t be a girl.” Think about why women “lose” their virginity yet men “take” someone’s virginity. Anything which demeans, degrades or dehumanize women makes it easier to devalue or violate them.
  3. Laugh so you don’t cry. Watch John Oliver covering women’s issues here or here.

Suggestions from Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, taken from Half the Sky – all of which can be done in the next four minutes:

  1. Open an account and www.globalgiving.org and support a grassroots project that focuses on education (which allows a woman better job opportunities, rather than only sex work and the stigma or sexually transmitted diseases that comes with it) or www.kiva.org, where you can support women to start their own business and earn an income independently, again without having to resort to brothel work.
  2. Sponsor a girl or a woman through Plan International, Women for Women International, World Vision, or American Jewish World Service. You can exchange letters with your sponsors and even visit them, as Kristof & WuDunn have in the Philippines, Sudan, and the Dominican Republic.
  3. Sign up for e-mail updates on www.womensnews.org or www.worldpulse.com, which distribute information about abuses of women and sometimes advise actions that readers can take to help these women.

Sarah is a lover of words, foreign films and gastronomic delights. She currently resides in New Jersey, where she is making the most of her gap year before continuing her education. Follow her on Twitter.


Greetings from Liberty City

Last summer I decided to get a Steam account. I don’t have much of an interest in video games, but when I was around 11, my brother Wil and I would spend hours taking turns playing Grand Theft Auto III, with one of us playing the game and the other one keeping an eye out for our mother coming into the basement. Against her knowledge, our cousin LJ let us keep his copy of the game after he completed it, and we always told her we were playing some Tony Hawk game.

Wil and I never really made an effort to do any of the story missions of GTA III; mostly we just drove around, blew up cars, and shot people so we could get a wanted level and flee the cops. We also tried to get hookers into our cars to hang out with them. We named the white lady prostitute Charlotte and the black one Cleopatra. Other characters had names, too, but I don’t remember most of them anymore. When Player 1 got either wasted or busted, it was Player 2’s turn.

We were virtual gangsters. For me, it was a way to escape the world of fear and distrust I was growing accustomed to with divorced parents having new significant others whom I hated but couldn’t do anything about, changing schools, pets and grandparents always dropping dead, and puberty ruining my once rockin’ hot kid body. It was almost magical to be Claude Speed, have the freedom to drive around Liberty City as we pleased, and not care about what these little video game people thought about us because they didn’t exist — and neither did we.

I find it interesting that Grand Theft Auto has come into my life when I am again asking the questions I started to ask at 11 — is this worth it? Is life worth all the letdowns? Who can I really trust? Do they like me or are they just pretending they do? I downloaded GTA III and GTA: Vice City one night after work because I couldn’t stand to watch anymore Netflix in my leisure time. It became too draining to watch a film and wonder if that’ll ever be my name in the credits or think about how many years of story ideas will be rejected before one might evolve into something. It even became a drag to talk about movies, since most conversations with people regarding film last two minutes and only cover what was good or funny or shocking. Which is fine; you can’t have in-depth conversations with everyone. But to think about how writers and artists slave away creating passion projects that to so many people will only be awkward icebreaker discussions before they move onto discussing startups and that time they did shrooms in college can turn wide-eyed ambitions into cold realities. I wasn’t giving up on my love for movies, but was instead putting it on a backburner until it didn’t make me want to vomit so much. 

If you are unfamiliar with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, there are only a few basic things that you need to know. The games take place in fictionalized cities in America — Liberty City is a version of New York, Vice City is Miami, and San Andreas is meant to be a combination of Los Angeles and the surrounding deserts. Often the protagonist is a man who has just gotten out of jail and is trying to work his way back up into the crime world. You get to steal cars, and sometimes boats and helicopters. You can kill people and take their money. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

I decided that when I bought the two games, I didn’t want to just idly drive around as I had done in the past — I wanted to play. During my recent 97 hours of play on the two early Grand Theft Auto games, I have realized some things about life that will leave a lasting impression.

Lesson 1: Be Cool

There is no shame in being late to the party when it comes to enjoying anything after it stops being new. Just because Breaking Bad has ended doesn’t mean that the show is anything less without the craze. The Wizard of Oz will turn 77 this year, but its message will always be universal. So why do we throw away video games once their graphics look dated? We still listen to songs after we’ve memorized the lyrics like the alphabet — so why do we toss video games to the side after we’re done playing? Playing a game when everyone else has moved onto its bigger and fancier successor is an under-appreciated experience — so cherish it when you can.

With that being said, be weary that “cool” varies as you age. For example, as an 11-year-old, I thought it was badass to pick up hookers, take them to a remote area, and watch the car bounce up and down, implying that the two in the car are banging (even though if you zoomed in you could see the two characters just sitting there). It’s cool to make two characters bone when you are only 11 and have a limited knowledge of what sex is other than “this goes into that.” But as you get older, if that is your definition of “cool” and you are not going out into the world and having consensual sex with real people, you will never be cool. Those are just facts.

Lesson 2: Speed Isn’t Always the Key to Success

Throughout both games there are numerous timed missions that are designed to be accomplished only in the final seconds. It’s easy to make the mistake of going fast in order to beat the clock, but relying on speed can prevent you from having the time to avoid obstacles that get in the way. For example, in Vice City, I often like to have the protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, drive a motorcycle. But in a mission where you are chasing the cartel or trying to lose the police, if you hit another car or run into a building, you will fly off the motorcycle and it will take even more time to complete. How does this apply to real life? Say you are running away from a serial killer. But you are running so fast that you don’t see the sidewalk has ended and so you trip into the street. It will take some time to stand up, address the situation, put pressure on your wounds, and find out where to run next, and before you know it, he has hacked you to death because you weren’t fast enough.

Lesson 3: Cheating Is a Necessary Evil Full of Consequences

I am not sure how players are expected to play GTA III or Vice City without cheats. One of the reasons I have not gotten obsessed with San Andreas is that the cheat codes on Steam are random letters jumbled together. For example, if you want weapons in GTA III, you simply type: “gunsgunsguns” onto your keyboard, and you have the entire set of weapons offered for the game. In Vice City, you can choose from “thugstools,” “professionaltools,” or “nuttertools.” I always go for “nuttertools” because you get a chainsaw. In San Andreas, however, the weapon cheats are either: “UZUMYMW,” “WANRLTW,” or “KJKSZPJ.” Maybe there is some sort of logic in these three cheats, but here’s the thing, I’m not an autistic genius who can crack codes in less than two seconds.

Cheats do make gameplay easier, but beware: in an excessive amount you can prevent yourself from winning. Not because “oh, but it’s against the morals of the game, you didn’t really win,” but rather, enough cheats can corrupt a file and make it unreadable to your computer. I learned this the hard way with Vice City. I had just completed a particularly difficult mission halfway through the game where you had to outrace this one driver, and I was super excited. I went downstairs for dinner and when I came back, Steam would not let me open the file, as there had been an unexpected hold. It was truly devastating, but a lesson well-learned. Sure, cheats will get you somewhere faster, but the aftermath if caught is severe.

Lesson 4: You Will Make Enemies

The closer you get towards finishing a game altogether, the more enemies you will have. You will have gained respect among your peers and have earned a boatload of money, but you will have pissed off others in the process. Life is a competition, and you can’t make everybody happy. You shouldn’t go out of your way to piss people off, but don’t pass by opportunities because you are afraid of who will hate you. (This is all assuming you are a good person with good intentions. If you are reading this and think that I am deeming it acceptable to exterminate a race of people or blow up abortion clinics, then you are drastically misinterpreting what I am saying.)

This aside, it is important to take into consideration what you will lose if you do become successful. Barack Obama is probably pretty grateful that he is the President of the United States, but he can’t go to a Starbucks by himself without getting bombarded by soccer moms who think he is just the bee’s knees. There are certain places in both Liberty City and Vice City that you can’t get to after you complete a certain mission because you kill too many of the mafia or cartel’s buddies and if you set foot in their territory, people will shoot you from many different angles and you will likely die.

Lesson 5: It’s All Just a Game

After I completed first Vice City and then GTA III, the high ended like air being slowly released from a balloon. There was so much hype towards finishing, and then when it happened, I was left there thinking, “Is this it?” The journey was fun. I liked getting to drive around the beach with ‘80s music on the radio and Ray Liotta’s voice mocking the people Tommy runs over. I liked unlocking the new neighborhoods I had never seen before in in GTA III. I enjoyed completing the missions, sometimes on one try and sometimes after dozens, and ultimately feeling like I had accomplished something great, though in reality, thousands of others had done this before me. It was my journey, and no one else’s. I didn’t care how long it took to get there. But when it was over, I just found myself driving around and shooting hookers, like I had been doing in the first place so many years ago.

I ask myself what’s the point of playing if eventually I’ll just wind up doing what I already had been doing. I suppose it’s kind of like asking yourself why bother to get potty-trained if you’ll just wind back up in a diaper in old age — there are a few decades in between where you’d benefit from not peeing your pants every day. Grand Theft Auto taught me that the journey is worth taking, even if the desired destination will be disappointing. 

Rachel Petzinger is a comedian. She has since moved onto other games, such as L4D2 and Half-Life. You can follow her on Twitter @chelpetz.

audio, interview

Art Collision: Francis Steakknife & Johnny Darlin


One of my favorite moments as an artist living in New York are those magical, perhaps slightly tipsy, one-on-one conversations with other artists. Whether they be friends, collaborators, or strangers you just met at a party, they almost always contain at least a morsel of intense value. Being an artist can be lonely — focusing on something that is part of your soul, and giving it most of your energy, creative and otherwise. When that inward experience turns outward and you are met with someone with similar dreams and living the same confusing but beautiful life, and who believes in you and whom you believe in, it’s impossible not to leave feeling encouraged or at the very least, a bit less alone. Like you’re not being left behind.

I’ve had the idea for a while to turn those moments that happen so frequently in private, into something more public and concrete, all while also giving artists the platform to premiere some of their work. To force two artists to become experts on the other’s output, and then throw them into a conversation and see what happens.

For this first episode, I have made myself, Michael Doshier — I go by Johnny Darlin as an artist — one of the artists. And I can’t think of anyone else Johnny Darlin or Michael Doshier would rather have as my partner than my first guest, Steven Zemanian a.k.a. Francis Steakknife. If the prerequisite for this is being an expert on each other’s work, there’s no one better to join me than Steven. We know each other very well personally and creatively; he produced four out of the five songs on my first EP, Mr. Monogamy, released last year, and is producing three out of the one coming out in 2016. He is a producer who can bring out the brightest lights and the deepest darks in any song I write. He is also a solo artist whose efforts as such I have seen draw hundreds of drunk mid-20s ghouls to a Halloween party in a basement where we shouldn’t have been smoking inside but we were anyway, and where I touched the stair railing only to have my hand soaked in vomit, then stood outside a locked bathroom to wash it off because people were inside fucking their brains out. (And by the way, there is no doubt in my mind the underlying sex drive pulsing in his beats drove these ostensibly sane humans into such animalistic territory).

Despite our collaborative friendship he is also a creative shrouded in mystery for me — especially when it comes to his solo work that somehow finds itself on the Internet seemingly randomly, enlivening my newsfeed with sounds quite different than anything we’ve ever produced together. I was interested to crack this case.

This is Johnny Darlin in conversation with Francis Steakknife, and our favorite drink together is Blue Moon.

Michael Doshier: Today I am joined by Steven Zemanian, also known as Francis Steakknife. I have worked with him on several projects, in fact, most of my musical projects. I’m very excited to have his perspective today. Thank you for joining me, Steven.

Steven Zemanian: I’m excited to be here, thank you.

MD: Steven has an amazing pet bunny named Marvin who is joining us in the studio today (by studio I am referring to his awesome apartment); how is Marvin doing today, Steven?

SZ: He looks pretty good; he’s flopped out right now; you were just here and he ate dinner in front of us so he’s happy but he likes to sleep after dinner.

MD: He looks very content.


MD: When it comes to artistic physical spaces that our work together has manifested itself within, I have a surprisingly large amount of places come to mind: a recording studio in Virginia, your parents’ attic in Virginia, this apartment, my apartment, NYU recording studios. And as you’ve mentioned before, space is an important concept to you in regards to recording. I’ve heard you say things like “it’ll be cool to get a vocal take in the same space we recorded the instruments.” And this has always intrigued me because I don’t understand it myself and I find it a really beautiful concept. I would love to get you to elaborate a little on that for me — what does space mean to you in regards to recording music?

SZ: Space is extremely important. It’s an important part of mixing and recording, to make everything sound like it’s either in a surreal environment or a realistic environment. You’re trying to put the listener in the best place to hear the sound when you’re recording and mixing. You kind of want to give them the best place in the house, and that house can be either real or imaginary, which is always fun.

MD: Still in this area of conversation about space, I will say that for me the Francis Steakknife eras that come to mind are Francis-Steakknife-in-Virginia and the work you’ve produced there and Francis-Steakknife-in-New-York-City and I’m curious as to how to the change in physical location has done for you creatively. Has New York made you see the world differently in any sort of way? And has that been affecting the music you’ve been creating?

SZ: Virginia is definitely a much slower pace, and I don’t know if I’ve necessarily thought about how the living environment has affected my music; I don’t know if my music is any faster or more aggressive now. But I loved walking around Norfolk, and that’s one of the things I love about New York is you can walk everywhere; you don’t have to drive anywhere. But yeah, the walking pace and maybe our natural tempos are very different between the two [places]; you can kind of walk however you want in Virginia, whereas in New York you have to keep up with everybody and pass people. Even if you’re not really going anywhere important, you have to act like an asshole and pass somebody; it’s just the way it all works.

MD: I was listening to Delusions — the first album I ever had of yours. That I noticed had more jazz and blues influences in certain songs than I have in more recent work you’ve created in New York.  What are your thoughts on these first Francis Steakknife productions?

SZ: The point with Delusions was I really wanted to make music with a lot of my friends, so most of them are featured on it from college. It was a lot of fun; the whole point was Vincent Van Gough — I loved and still do really like his artwork. So, all of the tracks are named after Vincent Van Gough pieces and I tried to think about how musically to interpret the artwork. The blues and jazz influences come from me being very much interested in strange chord progressions back then, and still am but have tried to reign it in a little more, because some of the things were a little far out.

MD: I want to talk to you about sequencing and cohesiveness. I remember when you asked me my thoughts on Groucho Karl before it had been released, one of my notes was how cohesive the album was from track to track and from beginning to end. As a playwriting student, I come from the world of storytelling and trying to get the story “right.” When we were working on Mr. Monogamy together, both sonically and lyrically it was important to me to put the songs in an order that told some sort of story.

SZ: As far as Groucho Karl goes, I really lucked into a three-act structure. It’s three failed concepts I smashed together, and I used gapless playback to drive that point home further; all the songs go into one other. The songs themselves are little sketches from my notebook I had at the time and I was really into the idea that it should be incomplete; I would sometimes try to make complete songs out of them but it wouldn’t work, so I’d just leave them how they were in little one minute and two minute things that lead into one another. When I ended up sequencing it, I was in New York and had a bunch of material (some of it wasn’t very good) and I tried to take the best parts of it and smash it all together.

MD: In that way, it’s a collection of ideas and thoughts and musical inspirations you’ve had throughout a long period of time in multiple areas. You didn’t sit down and say “I’m going to release this record in this amount of weeks,” it’s more a matter of you being in multiple areas and while you were in New York, finding the ones that worked together. You were building a cohesiveness instead of creating one from the get-go. That’s interesting that it’s something I consider very cohesive and it’s literally an album construed of things you consider failures.


Francis Steakknife (Steven Zemanian) and Johnny Darlin (Michael Doshier)

Francis Steakknife (Steven Zemanian) and Johnny Darlin (Michael Doshier)

MD: I have a sort of selfish question. I am curious as to what your favorite track we’ve done together is and if you could tell me why and what that process was like for you.

SZ: “You’ve Quit Praying for Me, Babe” is not out yet, but it will be.

MD: So what’re your first steps? For a lot of our collaborations, we A) work together in a studio and come up with melodies we like, B) sometimes you’ve done full productions on your own and are curious what I can add as a songwriter and vocalist on top of it, and C) sometimes I write songs on my own and send to you and see where they take you as a producer and you turn demos into full songs. So I’m curious what that latter option is like for you.

SZ: So I listen to it and give it a good think and think about what the overall message of the song is, and maybe go from there. If I can use some sort of element to add to that and drive home that this is the message of that song. And then I’ll think about what’s the main instrument of the song — a lot of times with you, it’s the piano, so I will build something around the piano and leave space for the piano that you will eventually play and work my own production around the piano.


SZ: There are a lot of things I don’t know about your process. I know with “Nervous Girl/Whiskey Shot” I ended up recording most of the instrumental to that in the Catskills. I really didn’t know what to do with it; I knew I wanted to make a banging pop song (which is sort of a weird thing to do in the middle of the woods). I had no direction lyrically, so I’m wondering what the song is even, broadly, about.

MD: My actual favorite part of the Mr. Monogamy creative process was “Nervous Girl/Whiskey Shot” and “~MaGiCaL! ;)~” because the challenge was that I would be writing to a beat like Ester Dean or some other titan in the pop industry who is given productions and asked to turn them into the biggest hit ever, so that was a very fun role to play. It’s appropriate that I’m getting a little bit drunk now because I did write that song in the shower. All my roommates were gone, I brought my laptop into the bathroom, I had a few pregame beers by my lonesome, and I took a shower and just played “Nervous Girl/Whiskey Shot” the instrument on loop over and over again, while at the same time having my phone on record so whatever I was singing in the shower would be recorded.

I had an idea called “Moody Girl/Whiskey Shot” because I liked the combination of those two phrases separated by a backslash, based off one of my friends who was the life of a party and everyone’s favorite girl at the party, but was getting drunker and drunker and messier and messier throughout the course of the party. I thought “this is a very typical image of anyone our age and of my relationship with her specifically, but I find something poetic about it.” So I channeled my own anxiety that I experience and substituted “moody” for “nervous.” So it’s a combination of that story and my own anxieties and how I act those out by drinking and turning up, which is fun and deals with anxiety in the moment, but I think the song on your end has a darkness to it that musically drives home that it isn’t necessarily the healthy option.

SZ: The next song is “My Sister Went out on a Date Tonight.” Walk me through the sentiment behind that song.

MD: My actual sister was getting ready for an actual date, and I was coming to terms with the idea of coming out to my family. So those anxieties were mixed with my sister who was going on dates that she did not have to explain to my parents, but not only that, they were excited for her and helping her get ready for it. I played a drum loop in GarageBand and started singing over it, literally telling the story of what was actually happening.

SZ: Marvin is freaking out in his crate.

MD: Yes, Marvin is ready to come out and talk to us about his debut album coming out soon.

SZ: I recorded the instrumentals for what came to be “Nervous Girl” and “~MaGiCaL! ;)~” both in the Catskills, at the woods in my Uncle’s house. I didn’t know what to do with it from there because it was a big maximalist pop song, and I sent it to you and you sent it back with something awesome. I really wanted the song to be a very happy instrumental but a very sad lyrical juxtaposition. I actually don’t know where you were mentally when you wrote the lyrics and melody to that song.

MD: As a queer person, I feel like romantic and sexual development for a lot of us is delayed, in the sense that minor crushes and romantic things that hit your heart and interests may take more of a toll on you than had you been dating and kissing and fooling around as a young person. A lot of queer people don’t do that because they’re repressed until they can do that on their own. So the chorus is “How magical that feels, after all these years.” And the line about “I wanted you to meet my family” is supposed to take on an extra weight, for me at least, because that’s a very lofty goal for a lot of queer people: to feel so strongly about someone else that you’d risk the awkwardness of introducing them to your family. So, it was sort of about, what it feels like when a relationship goes wrong in the context of this delayed development.

SZ: That leaves us to the final track of the EP, “Try (For Me).”

MD: I wrote the first version of it as a part of a musical I wrote in middle school. Then, I kept it in my head long enough for it to be there for the Mr. Monogamy process so I revamped it. It’s weird to hear eighth-grade Michael’s melodic thoughts and some of the same lyrical thoughts be released as twenty-three year old Michael’s output into the world and artistic space.

Because it was our first song working on together in person, it was highly collaborative. I remember you teaching me things about how the piano syncs to the computer and how we can manipulate the piano to sound like other things. That was a challenging thing for me to play the piano as if it was going to be the bass. Those were exciting moments for me to grow as a musician at twenty in your attic; it was our first real in-person, teaching each other things, expressing ourselves creatively, which adds an extra layer of it being special.

Thank you for joining me, Steven. This has been awesome and it’s so cool to talk about the past we went through together, but go into a deeper arena as to what we were going through individually in the process. I learned a lot about what you were going through throughout the making of our EP, so thank you for joining me.

I’m going to let 13-year-old me continue to croon as I say thank you to Steven for joining me today. Francis Steakknife’s prolific collection of music can be found at francissteakknife.com or francissteakknife.bandcamp.com.

And Johnny Darlin can be found at johnnydarlin.com or soundcloud.com/johnnydarlin. His Mr. Monogamy EP is also available on iTunes. Both expect to release new music in 2016.

And I want to also say that, as fun as it was getting to talk about my own process, I am excited by the opportunity to invite other artists — friends or strangers to each other — into my home, so that I can sit back and watch inspiration-via-engaging dialogue enter the room, as it did between me and Steven. I invite anyone interested to join me in this journey, whether you have an EP, a play, a web series, an art show. Whether you work as a vocalist, an actor, a writer of long form narratives, non-fiction, or poetry. Whether you’ve been reviewed by enough publications to gather a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes or just finished your first song yesterday and have a stage name no one has heard of but yourself. No matter what you do or where you are in that doing, you’ll make two new friends who will become experts on your work, and you’ll have it featured online through the amazing Things Created By People. If you’re interested, reach out with a link to your work and your favorite thing to drink over conversations like these. Until next time.

If you would like to contact Michael about participating in the next Art Collision, email him at michaeladoshier@gmail.com.

visual art, interview

Néha Hirve: the visual artist behind the Winter 2016 cover photo

Néha Hirve is a graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. When she created this issue's cover photo, she was a year out of NYU and getting a Masters in Photojournalism in Sundsvall, a small town in the north of Sweden, at Mittuniversitetet. She’d wake up, eat knäckerbröd with Kalles Kaviar for breakfast, go to class until five, sometimes grab a beer, and then go home. There, she did some reading to get inspired, and then as the sun set, she would head to the school’s media lab to use the tablet for her graphic designs. As she was usually the only person in the building at that hour, she would play music as loud as she wanted, having an illustration party until one or two in the morning. Néha sacrificed hours of sleep for her craft. She took every ounce of energy — an energy that for most people is nonexistent at the end of the day — and poured it into creating a vision. And given the final result, the sacrifice and labor seemed well worth it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Natalia Lehaf: You have a background in film at NYU. Did your studies impact your graphic design work at all?

Néha Hirve: I think that being a cinematographer at NYU taught me to see light and colour. My graphic design work heavily involves light and colour, most of my illustrations are set in the night time where the light makes itself present in strange ways. I think I always had the scenes inside me, but NYU gave me the tools to express them. I see things more cinematically since NYU. I also think more about narrative in my work.

NL: Do you have any pieces you can pinpoint as examples of that?

NH: Well, the piece with the bear (“It's hard to reach out to you...”) is an example of that. I recently moved to the North of Sweden and I took a camping trip with some Finns in the Höga Kusten (high coast) and that's what inspired that piece. Spending the night under those trees, such tall trees, I could really feel a presence in the history of that area. My work doesn’t necessarily have a fixed narrative or "plot" in terms of a beginning, middle, or end, as a film would, per se. But they're definitely a moment in a larger personal narrative. I like to leave it to the viewer to construct that larger narrative for themselves. My titles are sort of alluding to a larger story, too; they add another layer to the scene.

via nehahirve.com

NL: I wanted to ask about your tag lines for each image, actually. Where does the inspiration stem from? Is it the same place as the inspiration for the image?

NH: They're maybe snippets of a conversation I overheard once or a song or sometimes the warped memory of a song I’ve heard long ago. I always come up with the titles after the image, and usually they just fit with the overall feeling and atmosphere of a piece. For the most recent piece, it was sort of a joke — I'd been listening to a song by the Tallest Man on Earth on repeat for the entire process (which had something similar to that line in it), which took about 30 hours, and felt like a thousand years.

NL: Do all designs usually take that long?

NH: They're taking longer and longer. I am an impatient person, so my initial work I'd rush to finish; they'd take a few hours at most. Then once I started settling into my style, which is very detailed line work and hatching, I learned to get into a sort of trance state and really enjoy the labor of it. Once I discovered I could do it all in Photoshop, my canvas size became unlimited. So yeah, they're pretty tedious to do!

NL: Oh dang.

NH: Yeah, you need to be a bit obsessive to do this, I think.

via nehahirve.com

NL: Are you able to work on other projects while in the middle of a design, or do you only focus on one project at a time?

NH: I'm also a photojournalism student, so there are a lot of creative projects vying for my attention, so I focus on just one illustration at a time. I have a long list of ideas and images, but once I get into a project, I can't work on another until I finish it.

NL: I know that you are getting a Masters in Photojournalism in Sweden. Where are you pursuing your degree? How long is the program?

NH:I was born in India. I grew up in India, in the USA and in Switzerland. I only moved to Sweden a few months ago. The program is two years long.

NL: And are there certain stories you wish to tell via photography rather than film or graphic design?

NH: I'm inspired by my dreams, my memories, and the things around me. Right now, the woods and the sky are heavily featured in my work. The trees here are different, the light is different. Being so close to the Arctic Circle really changes the quality of the twilights. And after five years in New York City, I'm finally seeing the stars again.

via nehahirve.com

NL: That must be nice. What is your favorite medium to work in?

NH: I love working with ink and paper. I love the physical mark that it makes, and I come from a long background of scientific diagram-drawing, which I find very relaxing. There are disadvantages to that though, so I recently switched over to an all-digital workflow - a Wacom tablet and Photoshop. It's a steep learning curve, but it allows you to correct your mistakes non-destructively!

NL: Is there any story you are trying to tell with your work? Any message?

NH: Although most of the pieces are a bit surreal and unsettling, I want to evoke a feeling of a very distant memory or dream. Although the exact memory itself isn't defined or necessarily describable in any words, we all wake up from dreams whose emotions and colors are vivid and real. Even though they can be unsettling, we re-remember them over and over to get a 'hit' of those emotions and colors. I want to create this sense in the viewer. In a nutshell I would call my stuff "memories of dreams." I had all these dreams when I was a kid, of being outside, of being under the moonlight and looking in on lit up windows and longing for that comfort and warmth.

via nehahirve.com

NL: I know you are in Hungary right now. Has this experience affected any of your work thus far?

NH: I actually just got back to Sweden. I was on the Hungarian-Austrian border photographing and documenting refugees. I think that this experienced definitely changed me. We met thousands and thousands of refugees being funneled through the border, paradoxically made invisible. I'm working on a photo-essay about that experience, but I think it will also inspire my illustration. There were trains that would pull up in the dead of night, and literally two thousand people would climb out in silence.

NL: Wow. That's intense. I'm excited to see what these graphic experiences inspire in your upcoming work.

Néha is a photographer and visual artist based in Northern Sweden. Her work is based on memories of dreams she may or may not have had at some point in her life. You can find more of her work on her Instagram or website.

Letter from the Editor, Winter 2016

As the Copy Editor for Things Created By People, I’m in the somewhat unique position of seeing all of the pieces in the final stage of editing. We ask for submissions about six weeks before the date of publication, and the editorial team works closely with each author or artist to refine and polish their piece. By the time they land on my desk, they have either been through several drafts, or — in the case of visual and auditory pieces — the artist has been interviewed. As they sit on the precipice of publication, I read the submissions for spelling, grammar, and clarity, but I’m also afforded a first look at the zine, and how it looks as a cohesive creation.

When I first joined the team at Things Created By People, we would often talk about trying to take advantage of publishing online, since it allows for a range of mediums – written, visual, and auditory — to be showcased. I am so pleased to see this issue reflect that goal. In the absence of a unifying theme, each component of the zine takes on a direction and quality of its own; yet across the board I am struck by the honesty and integrity of each voice.

Sarah Nasra’s piece on feminism weaves her personal experiences in India with a broader conversation on the state of women today, and the roaming format of her essay permits the urgency of her communication to persist in her writing. In a similar vein, Emily Dalmas offers us an eye-opening look into the dynamic between Producers and Directors and highlights the troubling absence of women in television and film, a trend that persists from independent features to Hollywood.

Regular TCBP contributor Michael Doshier treats us to a recorded interview with fellow musician Francis Steakknife. Their collaboration over the years on an array of musical endeavours, combined with a mutual admiration for each other’s work, leads to a wonderfully illuminating conversation which dances between the process and inspiration behind their music. We also hear from Brave The Night — recording name for Matt Bravmann — and the impetus behind his new EP, Mind on Fire. The candidness of this interview sheds light on a deeply personal songwriting process and provides a thought-provoking context for his music.

Rachel Petzinger, another seasoned contributor, delivers again with her review of Grand Theft Auto, proving time and again her ability to marry childhood memories with an irresistible humor. Her essay The Stomach Bump remains one of my all-time favorite submissions to Things Created By People. Finally, visual submissions in this issue come from Ian Farell, who shares a collection of his collages, and Néha Hirve, who designed this issue’s cover. Both pieces give us access to the techniques and approaches used in their work, highlighting the time and attention that they dedicate to their respective art.

I am so excited for you to read this issue of Things Created By People, and I am confident that the breadth of content — and mediums — will provide a little bit of everything to you.

Chloe Isacke
Copy Editor