Get Me Some Book-Larnin’

Drawing: Samuel ClemensJust because I have had the benefit of a decent education doesn’t mean I am smart. We all know that it’s entirely possible to have any number of degrees and diplomas, plaques and endorsements, letters and titles decorating your name and still be a complete fool. Idiocy is a far less rare condition than the number of high school and university graduates would have us believe.

Indeed, I have read a great quantity of writings during the course of my life, but I would never go so far as to say that I am well read. Among other contradictions to that claim would be my incredible slowness as a reader, both in speed and in comprehension: as a multifaceted dyslexic, able to turn words, letters, numbers, directions and relative spatial placements all inside out and upside down without even trying, I can easily spend four times the amount of energy and hours reading that any decent reader would need to get through the same amount of text. And of course that doesn’t guarantee that I will actually understand what I read in precisely the way the authors intended.

A more important reason that I don’t consider myself well read is that I have managed to conquer only a relatively small segment of the library most scholarly and literate persons would consider to be well written, informative, accurately researched and defended, or just plain must-read, important stuff among books. Long before I knew why it took me so long and so many tries to read a mere paragraph, let alone a book, I was required to tackle a handful of the so-called Classics of literature, and a bit of contemporary contenders for the title as well. It’s just as well I didn’t imagine I had such an anomalous reading style or that it was considered a disability by others, because I might have had yet more frustrations and difficulties in trying to fit the mold of how one was expected to overcome such things, instead of finding that by plodding through in my own backward way, I became attached to some of the books and stories to an equally unexpected depth. Whom should I, as a struggling reader, admire most among authors but those champions of the dense and complicated, say, Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies.

On the other hand, it’s probably less surprising that I also favor the purveyors of the most outlandish and appalling and ridiculous, from Ogden Nash, Evelyn Waugh, and Edgar Allan Poe to Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman and Franz Kafka. This part at least makes some sense, if you tend to believe I’d read writers who reflect something of my own mind’s workings or the weird ways in which I see the world. In any event, this latter crew might explain a little more about my tending to choose the least arduous paths in life, since I find a certain sort of familiarity in the strangest of their inventions and so can perhaps navigate their writings with a surer strength than otherwise.

So while I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer or the most edified of readers, I have at least a few pieces of proclamatory paper in my coffers to prove that I did my homework somewhat dutifully if not doggedly. My degrees don’t confer any special wisdom upon me, but they at least excuse my curmudgeonly attitude about how long it takes me to read my own posts, let alone anyone else’s books and articles and poems and proposals, no matter how brilliant and scintillating and clever and beautiful they are. I’m still trying, but give me plenty of time!

Peter Pan vs. Mother Earth

Maturity is a hard concept to nail down. So few of us would willingly embrace the larger idea of maturity after all: the implication is too much doused with the odor of aging and the loss of innocence, playfulness and joie de vivre.

But if I can move away from those irksome, unflattering aspects of maturation, there is a whole world of better and more admirable traits awaiting me. To refuse to grow up, as so famously done by Peter Pan, one has to reject all of those pleasures and opportunities afforded only to those willing to submit to the passage of time.

I will continue to avoid becoming ensnared in the traps and trials of aging as long as I can get away with it, and probably further. Who wants to become exclusively serious, constantly responsible or particularly predictable? Not I! Age may force me to slow down my physical pace or even make me willing to concede that there is such a thing as a skirt too short or heels too high or a blouse too fitted to be quite seemly for my years, never mind that choosing certain forms of entertainment or places to go or goals to achieve are not particularly well suited for me anymore.

But I am also glad to let down the barriers to other aspects of maturity, and to embrace my aging with a certain relief when it comes to those. I care less and less, for example, about whether I look fashionable or impressive, so the heels and hems can be whatever altitude suits my comfort and mood. I’m happier in my own skin with every year spent getting to know and define and design it.

That, my friends, is the greatest gift of aging: I am freer from the worries, demands and expectations of the world around me and can work at shaping who I am, what I want, and how I feel more deeply and contentedly than when I thought there was a greater need to conform. Youth is not nearly so unfettered as we idealize it as being; so long as more mature people own our territories of home, school, work and even play, they also rule our lives. So long as we concern ourselves with comparison, competition and popularity, we let others have the power as well. When we learn to fit in and find community by being our truest selves, it changes the tune entirely. This is the richness, ripeness and harmony–within and between–conferred by true maturity.digital illustrationAnd while I’m thinking about musical metaphors, I really must give you a link to my husband’s latest YouTube appearance, conducting the beautiful and magical Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 with the Collegium Singers and Baroque Orchestra of the University of North Texas, with some tremendous guest artists singing and playing alongside the artful student and faculty musicians. This production was the premiere performance of the new edition of the Vespers that was developed by UNT professor Hendrik Schulze and ten of his graduate students, and among the instrumentalists playing on marvelous period instruments were some of the greatest players now gracing the halls and stages of the Early Music genre. Enjoy!

Twists of Fate

It shouldn’t surprise me, as little sense of direction as I have and as seldom as I have an inkling where my path is leading, that I end up in some weird and completely unpredictable spots at times. Take the time I was at a luncheon with the queen and king of Norway. It’s entirely safe to say that they forgot the occasion right about the minute their motorcade zipped off with its Secret Service escort to ship them back to the White House for their next performance. Having lunch with a bunch of foreign academics, even if it’s coupled with getting a doctoral degree (Queen Sonja was receiving an honorary doctorate for her humanitarian work) and having a permanent outdoor sculpture dedicated in your honor is so yesterday. Like that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to royals every day of the week. I, on the other hand, don’t have that sort of thing occur very regularly in my life and found the events of the day pretty memorable.

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(Left to Right: King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway; Pacific Lutheran University President Loren Anderson; Gene and Esther Grant, donors; the Rev. David Wold, Bishop and university board Chairman; li’l ol’ me, sculpture designer; David Keyes, professor and chief fabricator of the sculpture; Frank Jennings and other assorted faculty and board representatives. That’s the sculpture, Generations of Oak, behind me.)

It was amusing to take part in the bizarre hoopla that takes place when an assembled group of citizens in a country that takes itself far too seriously as being above such things as royal-worship (erm, Have you not looked into the mirror, O nation of celebrity-slavish fools?) gets a chance to suck up to the high and mighty of another nation. To experience the hilariously artificial and probably pointless stiltedness of security instruction from our friends the Feds; to shake hands with other humans who have been designated super-important and wonder why they would bother to shake hands with me–or, admittedly, I with them–and to hear all of the earnest speech-making and watch the well-meaning maneuvers; all of this was really educational indeed. That it was so for me in the context of the university where I taught was certainly not lost on me. I almost felt like I should get some undergraduate credit in sociology or anthropology for being involved in my little way.

But I’ll admit that most of all, it was entertaining to realize that through no particular virtue of my own I had once again stood in a spot that others might envy and reaped unearned rewards that would remain in my memory-book for a long time to come. Just call me Lucky.

It’s Good to Set a Poor Example

photosI’ve been looking through a batch of old photos, ones taken at the home where my partner and I lived in our first years together, and find it quite striking how time changes my attitudes. Yes, of course, my tastes change dramatically as time goes by, like everyone else’s, and sometimes when I look at old photos (of house, hair, habit–) I am mortified, sometimes I’m mystified, and much of the time I’m just too busy falling all over myself laughing at my ridiculousness to worry much about it all. This time, however, as I looked at my pictures I was struck rather pointedly by another aspect of surprise in revisiting what had once been familiar almost to the edge of invisibility.photosThe photos looked remarkably foreign. It felt a little odd that I’d forgotten so much so completely in a relatively small number of years; is my personal fad-of-the-moment so shallow that it’s obliterated from my memory the instant it’s not in front of me anymore? Well, yes, probably so. I know when we downsized significantly to move from that place we sold or gave away tons, including beloved antique and heirloom items that I feared I’d regret losing, yet in truth hardly ever even thought about again afterward. But the stronger effect was that I am amazed to remember now, on seeing this former home of ours, how much of its DIY character and even the design choices I made were directed and colored by the modesty of our income. Just as I had never clued in when growing up that my family wasn’t rich because I wanted for nothing truly important (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the choices you made!), I never thought of it in those terms either when my husband and I lived in our first together-house–au contraire! I was happy that not only did we live in a place that reflected our tastes and comfort level and our own labors but our friends and family seemed to enjoy visiting there, feel at ease there too, and even admire it as a nice place. No one would ever have mistaken it for upscale, palatial or a showplace, but its humble charms seemed to be more than enough for us to feel glad of it.photosPeople even hired me to do design (interior, objects, exterior and garden) projects based on what they liked of my work in, at and on our home. I was asked to allow a garden club to tour our yard the year after I had it bulldozed and reinvented it to my own tastes. I got hired to redecorate and consult on homes and offices and churches. Was it the swanky air of chic pouring out over every windowsill and sprouting in every flowerbed of our home, the hipness of our up-to-the-minute styling? Certainly not. But would I ever hesitate to invite any trustworthy person who came to the door to come in and make him- or herself at home or fear that I would be unkindly judged or seem uncool? No, even in my shyest and most anxiety-ridden moments, my insecurity never moved outside of my own being: I have always been confident of the niceness of my nests.photosThing is, I was most taken aback by recognizing in these old pictures a home happily occupied by a couple of people getting by on teachers’ incomes and setting up our grand estate on the masses of free time afforded by our having two full-time teaching jobs, his having two additional ‘outside’ choir gigs and my doing extracurricular commissioned design and art projects. As an adjunct faculty member I was in the familiar position of working over a decade full-time before getting to the pay level of the New Kid who came into the department that year straight out of grad school into an assistant professorial position (and I got to argue plenty for a huge percentage raise in my paycheck just to scrape up to that point)–those of you who have worked in higher education know full well what I’m talking about and also why teachers rarely work ‘only’ the fabled nine-month year of the academic calendar without having to supplement by taking side and summer jobs. Still, we were most certainly affluent compared to many, just not in that fairytale way of Having Money to Throw Around.photosSo the intriguing thing I saw in these photos was that much of my fanciful decorator achievements were then, as now, created by use of the designer’s equivalent of sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. DIY. And lots of throws, slipcovers, repurposed and recycled and upcycled goodies of every sort. All of this to say that, far from being ashamed at the obvious poverty of my resources, I was and am proud of finding ways to make whatever I do have the best it can be and making my surroundings better with what I can manage. Nowadays I tend to think in those terms less because I actually can’t afford the more extravagant approach and more because I’d rather do it in a way that conserves and respects the resources more fully. And because I’m enough of a snob to know by now that what rich people consider Simplifying or Conservatism or Mindfulness is a far cry from the poor person’s point of view. The beauty of Home lies far less in decorative statements than in clean, secure shelter, in warm hospitality and kind hearts. If being impecunious can be motivational, then why indeed not do it well!photos

This Business of being an Artist

mixed media process montageThere’s been an interesting, if hardly new, thread of conversation taking place in one iteration via LinkedIn, where a Mr. Duane Bronson posed the eternal question thus: “Does an artist have to have a recognizable ‘STYLE’ or a cohesive body of work to be of interest to a gallery and marketable?” My short answer would be a resounding Yes, but I couldn’t resist expanding on what is for me a perpetual problem. I said:

A good, thought-provoking read here! I have experienced much of what is discussed by the various commenters who precede me and think that all have some valid points for our consideration. My own answer to Mr. Bronson’s original question is that I might state it a little differently: to be of interest to a gallery as what it/they would consider marketable. Anything is marketable, if you put the right seller and buyer together under the right circumstances, but galleries, no matter how much they might pride themselves on being ‘in it for the love of art’, are businesses, and (logically enough) are not particularly interested in anything they don’t think is a relatively easy sell. [Commenters] Messrs. Bruland and Moore are absolutely right in recognizing that art does sell–at the confluence of the right forces. Figuring out what those are and how to orchestrate their intersection is the big magic trick that few of us can perform.photo of mural [with artist]I was approached by gallery owners when I was finishing my undergraduate art degree; one of them (the more successful in business, not surprisingly) met with me mainly to encourage me to produce a larger body of the same kind of work so that he could later represent me; the other, being a fledgling in the business, was willing to take what little I had already produced at my young age and give it a go. Of course I was inexperienced and had no concrete plans or prospects, so I opted for the latter, with the predictable result that that gallerist, with such limited experience and connections, was too busy simply trying to work out the logistics of her own business to actually represent any of the artists she hoped to promote. Thankfully, I’d only agreed to half the proposed trial period as part of that ‘stable’ of artists and retrieved my entirely unsold (and as far as I could ascertain, also virtually unseen) work and go forward at the end of it. [And only a year or two before it was also the end of that particular gallery, as far as I could ascertain.]photoIt wasn’t until many years later, after working in construction for a few years to save up for grad school (I suspect I’m of the same vintage as Ms. Senn, having had many similar experiences 30 years ago in that field of work) and then going through the grad program and then teaching for a couple of decades, that I could afford the luxury of devoting real time to focused practice and larger productivity of my own artwork. Along the way, however, I had continued to produce smaller quantities of work. As I’m quite sure many of the artists commenting above have experienced, what pleases me most in my own practice is to do what inspires me at the moment, to experiment, and to follow the serendipitous occurrences that happen along the way, resulting in a recognizable character in the works but not a whole lot of terribly similar subjects, media, and techniques. So I, too, have been told by many a gallerist that he or she thinks my work is terrific but, no thank you, they don’t see how they can possibly ‘package’ and market me.digital collageThe upshot of all this is that I can only echo what others have already said or intimated here: keep doing and being what is right for you, but know that you’ll likely continue to labor in obscurity unless you simply find that combination of luck and resources and persistence coming into perfect confluence. I must assume that all of us are here because making art of whatever sort matters enough that we will do it endlessly, whether it profits us in any way other than inwardly or not. Hurray to being successful, financially of course if we can, but if not that, then as wildly successful in satisfying the artistic urge as we can manage to be.I will add to this that I am no more going to stop making art because I don’t come close to making a living at it than any of the millions of others who can’t ‘get by’ doing what they love best would quit their passions. You might, just possibly, have noticed that I’ve been hanging out here in the blogosphere for some time just churning out art of the visual and written kinds and handing them out daily like free candy. But like many others, I also keep the business side of art on my radar, looking around me to see if there are any connections and opportunities I have overlooked or ways to introduce my work to others who may find something in it that speaks to them as well and (miraculously!) be willing to pay me for it. I guess this is simply my love letter to any other unsung heroes reading this, saying that we’re all in this together and yes indeed, also that I have no plans to leave off pursuing my dreams any more than you have. Might see you at the bar later, though. Everybody needs an outlet, whether it’s on LinkedIn or in the studio or somewhere else entirely. Cheers!graphite drawing

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

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Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

More Myths about Inspiration & Creativity

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Don’t accept a falsehood for your reality–if you have to create your own, then do it!

Back on that old topic of whimpering: of all the [wonderfully dire and woefully valid] reasons I can’t possibly do the enormous amount of work required by this assignment, there’s none simpler or more honest than Number 11:

11         BUT I DON’T WANT  TO _______________ (you fill in the blank)!

            Boo Hoo.  It’s not always optional, is it. Just keep firmly in mind that sometimes doing the required thing leads to unexpected delights in the end product. Not to mention the thoroughly predictable delight of having it done, finished, off the To Do list and out of nagging territory. Just get it out of the way now and you’ll be ever so relieved. Maybe even pleased with yourself!

12        ALL CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE (take your pick):

Eccentric; loose; savants; savages; radical; anti-intellectual; uncontrollable; fluff-headed; egocentric; snobbish; smelly…

Everybody is one or more of the above at some point; look at all of our pop-culture idols who get hung out to dry on a daily basis, not to mention all of the religious, educational and political Saints who irk the multitudes so regularly.  So imperfection is hardly a reasonable excuse for avoiding being (or being in the company of) an art maker.

13        IT’S SELFISH &/OR IRRESPONSIBLE TO BE AN ARTIST.

How about how selfish and irresponsible it is to be good at something that enriches lives and shapes culture and to refuse to exercise, to share, those gifts.  How unkind it is to stifle your true self and passions (and spend your life unfulfilled or with a chip on your shoulder) so that you live a half life and cheat your friends and loved ones out of your rich complexity.  How about that for selfish and irresponsible, huh? Choosing a ‘safe’ path never guaranteed anyone’s actually being safe, anyway.

14        NOBODY (read: Not Everybody in the Universe) WILL LIKE IT.

If you find anything that everybody likes, let me know.  For that matter, if you find anything NOBODY likes, I’ll be mighty surprised.  So, isn’t it good enough for you if you think your work has some value?  It may not make you a market mogul, but it’s amazingly fulfilling to be an artist, and (other than food, which is admittedly desirable) practically no other wealth compares.

15        THE GREATEST!!!

Who says?  There is no single Greatest of anything that everyone will agree on yet, and the odds are pretty good that they won’t all agree anything you do is the Greatest—or worst—ever, so why lose sleep over an untried concept.  Do your best and be done with it.

16        IF YOU CAN’T SAY (do) ANYTHING NICE (or well), DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.

A half-baked effort is usually better than no effort at all; no effort guarantees a lack of (or negative) result, and misguided or incomplete efforts can occasionally be rescued or luck into a better-than-deserved result.

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Think beautiful thoughts!

17        IT ISN’T AS GOOD AS _________________’S.

Probably nothing anybody else ever does will be as good as my work, but aside from that impossibly high standard, you have as good a chance as any of doing work better than somebody’s, at least occasionally, as long as you do work.

18        ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT.

But they don’t come to all of the specific people who desire them, or ‘on time,’ or in the desired form.  Your dream might end up in someone else’s stash of prizes if you don’t put up a fight for it.

19        I CAN’T DRAW A STRAIGHT LINE.

No, but a computer can do it for you, or you can use a straightedge, or you can hire a stand-in to draw your straight lines.  Don’t tell me your whole oeuvre as an artist/designer is going to be straight lines.  Sheesh.

20        CREATIVITY = INTUITION.

Intuition is an indefinable sense or sensation that can bring soul and emotional depth to the work (both process and product), but true creativity takes that nebulous touchy-feely power and combines it with study, effort, logic, research, skill and courage and synthesizes all of the elements of an artist’s knowledge and experience and passions into a concrete Work of Art (process and/or product).

21        THERE’S NOT ENOUGH TIME.

True.  We’ll never be given enough time for everything that’s important.  So it’s up to us to TAKE the time.  And MAKE the time.  There’s no real alternative.  It’s called Making Choices (and living with them).

22        YOU CAN’T FAKE INSPIRATION.

Maybe you can’t, but I can.  Seriously, folks, most people won’t know the difference if you substitute delirious hard work and enthusiasm and use all of your know-how to its limits.  If that isn’t quite Inspiration, at least it’s mighty inspirational.  When in doubt, review Item Number 10 in Tuesday’s post (linked above).

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Go ahead: try your wings!