Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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A•Musings from The House of Stuff

May 14, 2010

It’s good to be a seeker, but sooner or later you have to be a finder. And then it is well to give what you have found, a gift into the world of whoever will accept it.
• Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach)

Orville Wright wrote numbers on the eggs his hens laid so he could eat them in order. I read this somewhere and wrote it down. I collect such bits of strangeness. I collect lots of things, but those that fascinate me the most on my sliding scale of attraction are oddities, those small reminders of the idiosyncrastic sea I swim in daily.

You can never have too many books.

To discover what normal means, you have to surf a tide of weirdness.
• Charlotte Rampling

Rampling is right. There are waves of weirdness to be surfed, but many people do not see them. They float contentedly in their boats of normalcy and do not know that the depths hide unimagined delights. Or they see those things and find them ugly. Ignore them. Despise them. I understand this. I have my own contemptuous moments, although there aren’t very many of them. I actually like accordion music and am entranced by many things that repel those of you with good taste.

I've been good. Can I go out and play?

Junk is the ideal product. . .the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy.
• William S. Burroughs

As much as I love awful stuff—quite possibly the junk of which Burroughs speaks—I do not purchase most of it. Take Shoedini, for example. As delightful as it would be to have a shoehorn with a handle long enough to prevent the backbreaking work of putting on my loafers and saddle oxfords and get a free shoe polisher that never needs polish to boot, I do not bite. Not even when offered a second one absolutely free (just pay shipping and handling).

As I said, you can never have too many books.

Come good times or bad, there is always a market for things nobody needs.
•Kin Hubbard

So true. This is actually a much deeper statement than it might appear to be. Think about it. How much of what you purchase represents things you actually need? How much represents choices that could be filled by other cheaper and less tasty items, for example. Food for thought. (Second pun alert. Just FYI.)

So that’s the question today: What’s your list of absolute necessities?

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.
• Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka

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Collecting and Connecting in The House of Stuff or Did Ewoks Wear Ice Skates?

April 9, 2010

Every man’s [and woman’s] work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself [or herself].
• Samuel Butler

I am a collector and connector, and whether you visit my writing or my office or my closet or my home, you’ll see what I mean. I take this and I put it with that. I rearrange the pieces of my life kaleidoscopically, finding joy in combining old things with new to create the unexpected.

Here are three pictures from one incarnation of The House of Stuff:

Saddam, c. early 1990s, in The Amuseum of Un-Natural History

I don't remember Ewoks in ice skates, do you?

The Beatles' "Flip Your Wig" game and so much more!

I swim in a sea of stuff. I always have. I understand the simplification movement intellectually, but I’m not embracing it!

Whether you live in a house or a dorm room, there’s likely something to be learned about you from your space. What does your living space say about you and your interests?

Pictures help you to form the mental mold.
• Robert Collier

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Sometimes Words Are Not Enough

April 7, 2010

I love words, but I also know their limitations. I can tell you about Ewok ice skates or the Beatles’ “Flip Your Wig” game or my Saddam Hussein dart board, but actually seeing them brings them to life in the mind. I’ve been thinking about this as I reluctantly create a PowerPoint® presentation to accompany an exhibit I call The Stories in the Stuff. A slide from the show provides a glimpse into my eclectic collecting.

Bambi meets a pair of zebras.

As part of this exhibit, I provide lots of toys–small evocateurs–that can bring to mind memories of childhood. I invite pARTicipation, asking those who attend the event to write their stories on a tag, attach the tag to their chosen evocateur, and hang the tagged toy on a shared structure.

Toys and books from childhood are powerful. They return us to times when the future seemed limitless and possibility was endless. In The House of Stuff, where I live, and The Place Filled with Things that Make Me Smile, where I work, I surround myself with such evocateurs. When my students finish their first course with me, I ask them to choose something meaningful from a basketful of toys, hoping that seeing it will make them smile in the days and years to come.

What makes you smile? No matter what you’re busy doing–school or work or whatever–this is an important question to ask yourself.

When the dog bites. When the bee stings. When I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad. • “My Favorite Things,” Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, The Sound of Music

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Finding the Language of Your Dreams

January 20, 2010

I am a poet. This is one of my public dreams. Why do I write poetry? Of course, I’m a wordy kind of gal. Others may delight in mathematical equations and the dance of numbers, but I love words, and most especially I love the challenges of poetry. When I write an essay, I am not constrained by form. There are patterns to an essay, of course, but the content can go on and on and often does. Not so with poetry whose formulas often require subtraction, not addition.

I’ve been rereading Ken Robinson’s (2001), Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, and I refound (Note: Refound is a word even though your computer might not recognize it. If you Google® it you will find that it has multiple definitions, but here I’m using it linked to research. If you read or research a lot, you will discover that you “lose” crucial elements of your explorations and can refind them as you revisit favorite sources. This is why I am a believer in owning actual books and in flagging things of interest with fluttering yellow Post-Its®. Note within the note: I have Post-Its® of other colors, but like the good china, I find it difficult to use them except on special occasions.) the following information that makes sense to me:

Many people have problems with mathematics. Sir Harry Kroto sees this as a linguistic problem. People don’t speak mathematics. They see it as sort of a puzzle, the point of which isn’t wholly clear. Trying to appreciate equations if you don’t speak mathematics is like trying to appreciate a musical score if you don’t read music. Non-musicians see a puzzle; musicians hear a symphony. Those who speak mathematics look through equations to the beauty and complexity of the ideas they express. They hear the music. For the rest of us, grasping mathematical beauty is like trying to read Proust with a French phrasebook. (p. 131)

I speak poetry. I do not speak mathematics easily. I am a foreigner in its land and have learned to speak its language well enough to survive. Although I am married to a musician and am the daughter of a talented musician, the language of music is one that I once knew well, but have forgotten. Music is a competence I developed early in life, but it has never been a joy to me. I once played the piano quite well and it’s not that I cannot and do not appreciate music, but rather that it is not a primary passion nor a competence and talent that I choose to pursue. My only creative musical output now is the poetry of lyrics.

Robinson calls this finding your medium. If you are interested in actualizing your dreams, finding your medium is crucial. School can help, but it requires deliberate attention to discriminate among the things that are appealing and that you may even be good at, and those that will activate your passions.

What is your medium? What is the language of your dreams?

I get up at six in the morning. I wear cotton clothes so that I can sleep in them or I can work in them—I don’t want to waste time. Sometimes I work two or three days without sleeping and without paying attention to food.
• Louise Nevelson, artist

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Excavating Memory: It All Began at the Dump

January 14, 2010

I’d reached the age of thirty-eight and wanted to assess my life–figure out what had gone wrong, what had gone right. I started at the beginning: I started with my first memory. As soon as I remembered the first memory of my life, everything started to flow.
• Sting

My first memories are of my grandpa. He was a bad influence, at least that’s what grandma used to say, shaking her head about the scary radio shows he let me listen to, but still letting him take me with him wherever he went. She probably wanted some peace and quiet. I asked a lot of questions. I have always wondered why about just about everything, and I’ve never been very good at doing something just because someone told me too. I was mouthy. I still am.

Grandma never knew about the places grandpa took me when we were supposed to be going to the hardware store or the grocery store or out to glean in the fields. We did the errands, but we did them quickly. “In and out,” grandpa used to say, “In and out.” And then we were off on adventures that I learned very early to keep my mouth shut about. I can keep my mouth shut when it matters.

Grandpa was a pool player; in fact, my grandparents ended up staying in Springfield, Illinois, because they couldn’t afford to travel back to Indiana after he lost their travel money on a pool hall bet. He met his political cronies at the tavern and played pool while figuring out what candidate to back in the next election. I didn’t pay much attention to what he was doing. All my attention was focused on practicing my tap dancing on the tavern’s bar. It was heavy wood, with shelves beneath, and the tapping echoed, a sound I loved and haven’t been able to recreate since. I still marvel that no one seemed to mind the ruckus I was making.

Our other secret forays were to the dump where grandpa’s best friend Whitey lived in the Shantytown that had grown up around the looming mounds of trash. There were many treasures to be found in the heaped-up leavings edged with the carefully-stacked discards of post-Depression sensibility. The denizens of the dump crafted colorful homes from broken-but-still-useable mirrors, picture frames, wooden crates, and other detritus. Flattened tin cans, their labels tattering in the wind, protected many roofs, and the mosaics of discards delighted me.

“Keep a sharp eye out—you never know what you’ll see.” With these words, grandpa deposited me at the edge of the dump while he and Whitey searched its landscape, scavenging for things to barter. I was five years old. I read books with broken backs, rescued dolls with missing limbs, and combined this with that to make something else, always encouraged by grandpa who fixed cars and appliances, crafted furniture, revived houses, and supported grandma and me with his finds.

Not all of our education happens in school. I learned my lessons well at the dump. I am the woman of the sharp eye. I take this; I make that. I recycle, repurpose, reuse. I thrift shop and create outfits I love. I stretch one chicken into four meals. I decorate with discards, make art with the leavings of other lives. I am a bricoleur—a patchworker—always re-viewing what I have collected with the imaginative eye of possibility.

Our memories—our stories—are inextricably linked to who we become and to what we value. How do you learn? How do you prefer to share what you’ve learned? Why? What might you learn about yourself and your preferences and your direction in life from excavating your earliest memories?

What are your first memories and what can you learn about yourself from them?

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order. . .the continuous thread of revelation.
• Eudora Welty

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TITillation Nation: Following an American Obsession

January 11, 2010

We live in a tit nation. • Bette Davis

I collect quotations about many things. One of those things is breasts and I’m using this collection this quarter in ED 562: Human Development, Cognition, and Learning to illustrate that just about anything can become what I call a Collectory, multi-sourced research that is motivated by some kind of personal interest and expands to become much more. If you’re in my class, you can follow my weekly “breast watch” at breastwishes.wordpress. If you’re not in my class you can follow it too! The first post explains how and why I began my collection.

This topic is definitely significant in relation to adolescent development and to gender issues as well. I’m currently working on mounting another exhibit of Breast Wishes, a related art show, for women’s history month. This is a topic that’s linked to my personal autobibliography collections as well.

If you were to begin collecting quotations, what subject would interest you? Why?

I’m so scared girls look at my breast implants and think, “to get boys, you need big boobs. I tell them, “Don’t get it done. Those fears go away. You develop other insecurities, but breasts aren’t one of them.” I want to get them half-size.

• Jenny McCarthy

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Watch Out! I’m P-ing All Over the Place

January 9, 2010

There’s no telling what will get my brain going. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a quotation or an image or a television commercial. Sometimes a conversation will spark a completely unrelated thought, and sometimes I am distracted by ideas when I’m reading students’ essays. Recently I was reading a student paper that included Eve Merriam’s (1990) poem, “How to Eat a Poem.” I’ve read her poem before, but this time, I thought about the kind of poem I’d fill a plate with. I’m saving ideas for a class I’ll be teaching this summer and I knew that this could become an activity.

How to Eat a Poem

by Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the
juice that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

This is a great neurobics exercise to jumpstart your brain. It’s the kind of thing I might assign as a BrainPlay option—home•work that’s meant to activate creative thinking. I began this exercise by asking myself whether I wanted to write about foods I loved or about foods I hate, the things I had to eat when I was little because they were good for me. Things like liver and tongue and brains with scrambled eggs. Peas came to mind too—used to hate ‘em and now I love ‘em. What if I filled my plate with p’s? So I did, writing words on round pieces of green paper and arranging and rearranging them until I finally had it—a plate full of p-oetry. Please do not imagine that I believe that what follows is a good poem. I do not. It is not. It is the equivalent of the kind of bad fast food that you eat when you are desperate and nothing else is available.

They’re Good for You
by W-OZ

My mother told me, “Honey,
please be sure to eat your peas.”
I took her words quite seriously,
and now I’m eating these:

Penne pasta with pastrami,
pumpkin pancakes,
pumpkin pie.
Pureed parsnips over pilaf,
pomegranates,
and pad thai.

Portabellos and porcini,
pink persimmons,
pickled plums.
Pork chops topped with parslied peppers,
puttanesca,
pretzel crumbs.

Pepperoni on my pizza,
pinto pudding
and plaintains.
Prawns, potato chips, and popcorn,
peanut butter,
plump pig brains.

Yes, I listened to my mother
and I’m writing
here to hint:
Give me porridge and papaya,
pears, pecans, and
pork pate.
Serve me peaches and paella,
pu pu platters.
Peppermint.

Perfect pieces of polenta,
paprika, poultry,
Parmesan.
Precisely prepared portions of
profiteroles and
panfried pike.
Give me Popsicles and pot roast,
pitted prunes and
parboiled peas.
I’ll take pistachios and pralines,
potted pigeon,
pffefferneuse.
Pitas and popovers and other tasty puffy stuff,
all poached and planked and plated. . .
STOP.
I’ve had enough!

Pepperoncini.

Writing the words on separate pieces of paper actually helped me a lot since I could keep moving the p’s around until I was pleased. I’m saving this in the file folder I have started for the summer class. It’s easy to lose your ideas unless you deliberately plan to capture them.

What kinds of words might you have to eat? What kind of poem would fill your plate? What do you do to warm up your brain and get it ready to work?

I say some things, and gosh, I wish I hadn’t said them!
• Hubert Humphrey *

* This quotation from Hubert Humphrey is one I used as part of an anger management lesson, asking students what words they’d like to take back. We used paper plates and filled them with lots of inedible things we’d said to other people—words that no one should have to “eat” because they don’t nourish the spirit or mind. We also filled plates with words that help sustain enthusiasm and encourage growth. This all sounds a bit sappy, I know. Still, it’s easy to say mean things without even really meaning them, and they can stay in someone’s brain for a very long time. Be careful what you say in class–snappy and snarky comments meant to be funny can live on in unintended ways.