Thursday, February 10, 2011

Author Tina Collen On Tour

Author-artist Tina Collen stops by Thoughts in Progress today on her virtual tour of blogdom to promote her award-winning memoir, STORM OF THE I: AN ARTOBIOGRAPHY.

Tina stops by to talk about her writing. Be sure to check the end of the post for details about a contest Tina is hosting.

Every time I see a stack of my books, I can hardly believe it. They look so neat and well-behaved, so innocent, considering the torment and all-nighters it took to create them. I was so consumed by it all, for 5 years I disappeared from my normal life. It seemed like a giant detour—it turned out to be a life-changing experience. And I didn’t see any of it coming. 
I should have suspected, though ... because from the time I was a kid, I made everything in my life into an art project. I always have. What other kids would see as a pile of popsicle sticks, I’d see as a castle for hamsters waiting to happen.
I’ve just never done anything like writing a book before—I’m an artist and a graphic designer. But apparently what needed to come to the surface this time was my story, my memoir. Though, I couldn’t resist the urge to put art pieces into the book and playful interactive features like cut-outs, fold out panels (one is a series of paintings that gave me pause to consider whether we leave hidden messages to help ourselves along the way). There's even a pop-up that hands the reader a fortune cookie with a suggestion inside.
But I think all that entertainment was just my way of helping the medicine go down, because underneath this was actually a difficult story for me. One that I’ve been carrying around in my heart since I was a little girl.
When I was a kid, my father didn’t speak to me for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I rarely knew why he was so angry at me. I was a good kid. I got good grades. My sister and brother and I were all well behaved. Yet somehow, I was singled out.  
At the time I finished writing this book, he hadn’t spoken to me for fifteen years. My mother even asked me not to call the house, because he’d told her that if I did he would rip the phone right out of the wall. So I stopped calling. Though I was never physically abused, my father’s anger was the crucible in which I was forged.

Here's a passage about dinner time at my house when I was a kid. At the top of the page it says:

Navigating childhood is a daunting feat for anyone,
particularly a child 
"When my sixth-grade science class was introduced to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, I was intrigued by the idea that basic self-interest is the driving force in all forms of life. That night at the dinner table, I couldn’t wait to recount what I had learned about natural selection. But I was blind-sided by my father’s reaction. “Sure you’d think that,” he said glaring across the table at me, his voice suddenly sharp. “Survival of the most selfish,” he muttered. Everyone stopped talking. The only sound we heard was his knife cutting the flank steak, scraping the plate. 
“But I learned it in school,” I said. “Survival of the fittest—it’s in my textbook. It wasn’t my idea. I just think it makes sense.” 
“I’m sure you do,” he snapped back, color flowing into his cheeks, “but that’s no excuse for doing what you want all the time. Where would you be if I didn’t put food on the table? You think I like getting up every morning and going to work? What if I only thought about myself and did what I wanted?” 
By this time, everyone was chewing in silence, looking down at their plates. I could feel the tension in the room seeping into my body. Adding to my misery was the feeling that I was responsible for making everyone else suffer. 
Back in our room after one of these blowups, my sister said to me, “You know it doesn’t matter if you learned it in school.” She was upset too. She put her hand on my arm. “Why do you have to cross him?” she asked me softly. 

I was silent for a while. Finally, I replied, “I don’t know.”

As the years went by the attacks got worse, much worse. So as a child I found creative outlets to nurture and distract me, to entertain myself. They gave me a sense of control in a situation over which I had no control at all. In the art I created, I made everything look nice; tried to make everything perfect. In this way I was able to soothe myself, able to let go of my father’s vision of me and create my own vision. 
So art is what centered me and from this safe place I went on to create a full life, to have a loving family of my own. I had a career that included not only graphic design but fine art—there were exhibitions on my work in Paris, Barcelona and a tour of museums in Germany. I designed toys for Mattel and made several entrepreneurial forays into the business world. I'd left my childhood behind. 
But the bookcase here in my house in Boulder, Colorado, a repository for the things with which I've surround myself … that bookcase tells another story—the story of my inner life. It's what gave birth to my artobiography, Storm of the i, the book that set me free.
We’re giving an autographed book away in a contest, asking people to leave a comment answering this question:  Oftentimes the objects we hold onto contain cryptic clues that point towards something deeper about ourselves. Take a look around your house (or your room) at the things with which you have surrounded yourself. Is there anything you are still hanging onto that seems to contain a hidden message for you? What do you think it is?

If you'd like to see a bit more about how Artobiography came into existence click here.
To purchase a personally autographed copy of Storm of the i go to and in the comment box include how you'd like it signed. Books are also available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon. If your favorite bookstore doesn't have it on the shelf they can order it for you. I look forward to hearing from you. Tina

The last stop on Tina’s blog tour is tomorrow, Feb. 11, when she’ll be visiting with Linda Lou at
Tina, thanks for guest blogging here  today. It’s always interesting learning how a story came about.

Now for a bit of background on Tina. She has been an artist all her life. Educated in graphic design at Pratt Institute, she has designed toys for Mattel and made many other entrepreneurial forays into the commercial world. Her artwork has been exhibited in Paris, Barcelona, Frankfurt and on a year-long tour of museums throughout Germany. In New York City it was shown at The PhotoForum on 5th Avenue and at The Erotics Gallery in SoHo. She lives in Boulder, Colorado by way of Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Aspen. For more on Tina, check out her website.

{Note from me, Sorry I haven't been around here or visiting your blogs lately. Work has gotten crazy and I haven't had a chance to check in during the day like I would like to. Hopefully, I'll get back to visiting everyone soon. In the meantime, thanks so much for stopping by here. Y'all are the best!}


  1. Tina, thanks for guest blogging here today. Wishing you much success with your writing.

  2. I feel the same way about writing. It does give one a sense of control which might seem missing in a world not always sane.

    The only thing I feel I still surround myself with are books and video games in the Sims series. These give me the subtle message that I like control.

  3. Glad you found a creative way to deal with such a crappy experience.

  4. The experiences you had couldn't have been easy, so I'm glad that the good that came from them might well be your creativity. If that aspect of you grew from your childhood, then you've created a gift for others to share.

  5. Hello, Tina, Angry fathers attempt to kill a child's soul. When we are supposed to feel safe, instead we are on guard--all the time.

    This is silly, but growing up our family had an outhouse for years. At 12 years old, we built a bathroom on our house and it was heaven. But, we had five people sharing. Today, I have three bathrooms in my house. The thought of not having at least three gives me anxiety. Funny! I'll look for other clues today. :)

    Mason, don't EVER worry about stopping by. You always make time for Bloggers if you can. And, if you are absent, we know there is a reason and a good one. I'm hoping work lets up on you.

    Thanks for hosting Tina.

    Four more inches of snow yesterday. (Big Sigh)

  6. Writing is cathartic, or at least feels cathartic. It may all be an illusion, but who cares as long as it works? Your book sounds fascinating, Tina. And that is one of the best titles I've run across in a long time.

  7. Well I hate to talk about your dad, but - dang - what a jerk!

    Glad you survived such a 'shut down and out' kind of childhood and turned into a productive artist. As a memoir author myself, I know the cathartic (and at the same time difficult) experience it can be ... I wish you all the best and much success with it and your tour!

    Marvin D Wilson

  8. You are to be commended for your courage and tenacity. Congratulations and best wishes on your book and much success. I surround myself with my father's soapstone sculptures and books. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  9. Mason and Tine - thank you for this.

    Mason - not to worry about not being around! We know where to find you! LOL! and know we'll see you when you're able.

    Tina - I appreciate you sharing this story. I applaud your ability to move on from this. It's hard, I think, for people to realize they weren't, and aren't, the reason for parents' anger and issues. Good for you for finding the outlet you needed to not only stay alive, but to flourish. You deserve HUGE amounts of credit. I'm off to buy your book, but would still love to enter the drawing. One book to keep, one to share with a much loved girlfriend - what could be nicer?!

    What do I have here that contains a hidden message? Something from my father, actually, who is no longer with us and who I miss (and still chat with) every day. It's a whimsical (but ugly, really) music box. It looks like a demented goofy dragon. But. It plays the song my mom and dad and I sang during every car trip we ever took. "Playmate, Come out and play with me." Mother tells me he looked for years for a music box that played that song and he finally came up with one. He agreed, it wasn't what he had in mind, but it was better than nothing.

    Again - many thanks to you both.

    barleykw AT appstate DOT edu

  10. A real story that has been waiting to be told. I want to find out what happened now.
    Great how you turned the bad things around.

  11. It is upsetting that you had to grow up in such a bullying and destructive environment but you trimphed and are successful. Love your story.

  12. Ever since I read Storm of the i, I've been looking at all of my memorabilia and wonder why I've kept an item all this time.

  13. I wanted to reply to
    Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh who said said...

    Glad you found a creative way to deal with such a crappy experience.

    And to some of the other kind comments:

    Alex (et all), let me tell you what happened after I wrote the first version of the book. I thought I was finished, but as I re-wrote and worked on it, an interesting thing began to happen. The blame started to come out of the story. It wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. Something inside of me wanted to keep on blaming, keep on being self-righteous, keep on being the victim. But as my emotional life became imbued with my objects and my writings about them, and everything stayed in front of me day after day, the blame somehow started to dissolve. And as it disappeared from my writing, it started to disappear from my life as well. I was able to say “This was my story instead of this is my story. A simple change of tense changed my life, moved it out of my way, put it someplace I could always find it if I needed to.

    Warm regards to you all, Tina


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.